American Identity in Education

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At the beginning of the school year, I asked students  in my American Literature course to consider their identities as Americans and to examine their America through a lens of their own choosing.  Some responses included:

“Hard Work brings reward, this country was built on risk for reward, if you risk everything then the feedback that you get will be even greater. America is the working man’s country and it will always be the working man’s nation.”

There are many things that people can do as Americans, that they take for granted, that others around the world would die for.  I have been given many opportunities and many chances to rise up.  America is a great country, where we experience many luxuries, that others may not experience.  In America we get to vote, we get to say what we want, and we have the freedom to practice the religion of our choice, but most importantly, we have one very important right; the right to have an education.  A good education is vital in being successful in life.  The opportunity to an education has allowed me to be a student in the American education system and experience a wide array of learning opportunities.”

“America is a complicated place. There are so many different cultures and ethnic groups. Americans tend to be fearless people.  Our history is built on the fact that settlers arrived in a new country that was not settled and little was known about. If that is not bravery then I don’t know what is. All this because the original settlers were looking for a better life and freedom.”

“America: The “Land of Opportunity”, “Its gold-paved streets”, the “Land of the Free”, the “Home of the Brave”.  America is freedom, opportunity, liberty to many people.  But this is just the general idea of what America enforces.  To everyone, there’s a little bit of a variation of self-identity.  Who are we exactly? What’s our purpose? How can we fulfill that purpose to make this nation better? … With these freedoms and liberties and rights they give us, and by enforcing them and practicing them in our everyday lives, we are given a chance to become the greatest possible version of ourselves.”

Over the course of our initial discussions, I was intrigued by the fact that one after another, students found only positive things to say about what is means to be an American.  Their responses centered around idealistic views of America and there was much mention of the  “American Dream.”  In many ways, I wonder if they believed that their perceptions about America directly reflected their identity; therefore being unwilling to say anything negative.  After those initial conversations, I introduced students to the idea of Conflicting American Voices.  We examined the idealistic views of Jean de Crevecoeur in “What Is An American?” and then the realistic expressions of John Steinbeck in “What’s Happening to America?”  I also showed them a clip from Newsroom, in which the lead character challenges the claim that America is the greatest country.  Those texts allowed us to examine idealistic and realistic expressions.  I see one of my responsibilities as being to teach students how to view their American objectively. I also want them to acknowledge that the lenses through which they view America are created through their experiences and can be different from other people’s views.  Therefore, they must respect every perspective, even if their lenses do not allow them to see things that way.  I also offer as many perspectives to students and lead them to articulate what they see.  We also discuss the sources of those voices and consider the extent to which the are “mainstream” or “edge” voices.  

As their teacher, I do not believe that it is my responsibility to define their America; instead, I teach them how to use their lenses to see as much as possible and listen to as many voices as possible and then create their own views and find their own voices.

Visual Profiling in Educational Settings

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Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk about the relationship between body language, communication and power has left me to re-examine the worlds to which I belong.  As an educated and perceptive individual, I have always known that we speak in many ways, including with words, gestures, mannerisms, posture and clothing.  I have also considered how our, or other people’s, body languages can reveal messages, whether intentional or not, while communicating.  However, I had not considered the deep psychological relationship between body language, power and impact on the ways we see ourselves.  I was intrigued by Cuddy’s advice to practice assuming positions of power, some of which might look very unlady-like, and to “fake it until you become it.” It is almost like the adage that my mother repeated to me over and over when I was a teenager, which was, “What you confess is what you possess.” Placed in this context, it is “What you practice, you will become.”

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One of the purposes that Cuddy’s advice serves is that it equips individuals with the armor necessary to combat visual profiling, a practice that is quite prevalent in educational settings.  As a part of our collective understanding, I feel as though we have created expectations for what teachers are to look and sound like. First off, when we think of an elementary school teacher, many of us would envision a younger female who is energetic, kind and caring.  I was even surprised at my own reaction when viewing the Annenberg Learner professional development video.  Prior to viewing, I prepared myself to examine the teacher through the lens of appearance. However, my first momentary reaction was that the teacher was a young male teaching the fifth grade.  What about that view conflicted with my created notion of what a fifth grade teacher should look like?  Now, as the mother of a 9 year old boy, I would love for him to have his first male teacher, so why then, did I experience that initial reaction to the fact that this fifth grade teacher was male?  Perhaps it is because I have absolutely bought into the collective view of a typical elementary school teacher.  As discussed in “How We Are Judged by Our Appearance”  from Psychology Today , “all our perceptions…help to shape and construct the more complete picture we consciously perceive…In our perception of people, and their perceptions of us, the hidden, subliminal mind takes limited data, and creates a picture that seems clear and real, but is actually built largely on unconscious inferences that are made employing factors such as a person’s body language, voice, clothing, appearance, and social category.” I did not have the same reaction to the second video, entitled, “Rick’s Reading Workshop,” perhaps because I had already identified and negotiated my bias while viewing the first piece; therefore, my attention was drawn instead to Rick’s physical appearance and his free-flowing mannerisms with his students . His appearance seemed inviting and laid back without the formality of a dress shirt.  Interestingly enough, during a conference with a student, he says, “You gotta wear the right clothes. I certainly acknowledge that “the right clothes,” is very dependent on who is viewing.  To some, Rick might seem approachable and real, while for others, viewing him might conflict with their preconceived ideas.  Their views are the result of lenses that they have created on what that image should look like.

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The image above shows an initial Google Image search for “Elementary School Teacher.”

Before I started my first teaching job at the age of 22, I remember going shopping for the “right clothes.” That was when I purchased my first of many suits and my professional attire has really not changed.  At that time, my clothes was a way for me to assume and reflect power in the classroom because, as a young teacher, I felt like I needed to project that sense to my students and among my colleagues.  In some ways, it was to convey that I belonged there.  After being in the classroom for 15 years, II still dress in a similar fashion, but now it is mostly because I feel as though I have a responsibility to model for my students what it means to be a professional and clothing, along with certain behaviors, certainly plays a role. 

On the subject of body language, I definitely see that there are moments when I assume positions of less power.  However, I am beginning to think that some of that is somewhat deliberate because in those situations, I want to allow the other person to feel powerful.  For example, when speaking at a parent teacher conference  with one of my children’s former teachers who was in her first year of teaching, I assumed positions of less power because I knew that she was nervous and it was my way to make her feel empowered during our conversation. Also, when conferencing with my students, I never sit at my desk; instead, we sit at a table where we are on the same physical level.

Therefore, in thinking about visual profiling, I realize that it a practice that is so ingrained in the ways in which we view our world–so much so that we hardly notice it in ourselves.  I would like to be more thoughtful about what I am projecting to others through my body language and appearance.  I would also like to be more perceptive about what others around me are projecting.

Form Notes:  I chose to use a blog form for my discussion because it presented an opportunity for my readers to experience visuals to accompany my thoughts.  At first, I considered a video presentation, but decided against it because I felt like seeing me present might detract from the subject because they might be busy reading my body language and appearance.

The Impact of Cultural Models on Education, Language and Identity (Part I)

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According to James Gee (2012) in Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideologies in Discourse, a cultural model or figured world is defined as a “ picture of a simplified world that captures what is taken to be typical or normal” (p. 99). In other words, these are our created interpretations and representations of how we, and others, should behave, think, act, sound, look, etc. These models, when examined carefully, are found to be “made up of culturally derived ideas and practices that are embodied, enacted, or instituted in everyday life (Fryberg & Markus , 2007). Further, they become “so ingrained in our everyday lives that we often presume that other people share the same ideas and practices” (Fryberg & Rhys, 2007)) After time, these models become our norms and we relate to our experiences through the lenses formed as a result of them. It is important to note that “figured worlds are not static” because “as society changes, what people take as typical can and does change” (Gee, 2012, p. 99).  

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After examining cultural models within my school, I realize that one of the lenses that we have created for ourselves as a community and operate from within, is that of self-advocacy through conversation.  We encourage students, on a daily basis, to seek out their teachers to talk.  We want them to visit and ask questions about their assignments and to conference about their ideas.  In fact, our physical environment is meant to support this culture of self-advocacy in that every teacher in our building has a desk in the “Resource Center.”

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Resource Center

Next to each desk, is a chair, inviting students to sit and engage in conversation. Personally, I reinforce this figured world by constantly inviting my students to “see me in the resource center.”  I also included, in my course syllabus, the note that I will not discuss grades or assignments via email and reminded parents, during open house, that if their children are struggling or have questions about their work, they should encourage them to see me.

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Mrs. Kailan’s Desk

This idea of teaching, and reinforcing, self-advocacy in children and adults is certainly tied to socioeconomic status, which to a large extent, determines how parents raise their children.  Gee (2012) discusses the work of Annette Lareau (2003) who found that typically, parents utilize one of two models when raising their children: natural growth and cultivation. Parents who subscribe to the natural growth model “cannot intervene as much…because they are busy working and surviving” and they “talk less to their children and use less book-like and adult language with them (p. 85).  Vastly different from the natural growth model is what Lareau called the cultivation model, which is “applied mostly, though not exclusively, by middle- and upper-middle-class families” (p. 84) Within this model, parents “talk a good deal to their children, especially about topics that do not just involve the here and now” (p. 84).  Further, they use a good deal of ‘book language’ and adult vocabulary” which ultimately allows children to “get lots of practice in developing arguments and explanations” (p. 84). As Dr. Tod Risley concludes in  Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, there is an exceptionally impressive correlation between the amount of talking done within a family unit, the child’s language development and his or her sense of identity.  Although there are some exceptions, the model to which our school community is most closely aligned is cultivation.

This relationship between socioeconomic status, self-advocacy and language development is further emphasized in Malcolm Gladwell’s (2008) Outliers: The Story of Success where he also references Lareau’s (2003) work to illustrate that “wealthier parents raised their kids one way, and the poorer parents raised their kids another way” (2008).  For example, before going to a doctor’s appointment, a mother, who is a wealthy professional, says to her son, “Alex, you should be thinking of questions you might want to ask the doctor…You can ask him anything you want. Don’t be shy. You can ask anything” (p.44). While in the office, the mother steps back and allows the child to ask his own questions, but the priming has been done before the appointment.  What I am seeing is that within our cultural model of self-advocacy, we have, consciously or not, created an educational setting that directly reflect the norms and practices of the community that we serve.mother and child

Image Sources:

Image 1Image 2, Images 3 & 4: Kailan, Image 5

Note about Form:

This week, I chose to write my response dealing with cultural models within my school setting.  At first, I thought about creating a Slide presentation and narrative my “presentation,” but I decided that so much of presenting deals with audience interaction, facial expressions, reactions, etc. that I needed to be able to “read” my audience if I were presenting in a formal setting.  Then, I thought about a podcast, but decided against it because it was pretty important to include visuals to show our figured world.  I did choose, however, to relate my thoughts about voice and identity in a podcast to reinforce the power of the sound of a human voice.

ORMS MOOC Module 1: Reflection on 1st Multimodal Tutorial

For my first multimodal tutorial, I demonstrated, for my students, how to create an account for Turnitin.com and submit an assignment.  Although I have not actually used it yet, I plan on doing so within the next couple of weeks. As far as using multimodal tutorials in the classroom goes, I feel as though they can play a role in some of the procedural work that we do.  For example, I teach students how to craft an assertion statement using various levels (Lynn Erickson’s Concept-based Teaching and Learning).  Since this method is new to many freshmen students, they would benefit from being able to review it at home, and a multimodal tutorial would help in those cases.  I do not foresee myself using screencasts to assess my students’ work because I believe that it would be too time-consuming and I am not sure that the benefits would justify the time that it would take.

When re-examining and reflecting on my multimodal tutorial, I realize that, although I accomplished the task of giving students information about sign-up and submission to Turnitin.com, there is certainly room for improvement in my construction and creation of these tutorials

What worked:

  1. The actual screencast video portion of my tutorial was 4 minutes and 58 seconds, under the 5 minute mark suggested by Ian O’Byrne in Teaching Online and the Time of Screencasts, so I did well there.  
  2. I did create a new account for the purpose of my tutorial, as suggested by Dan Nunez in Dan Nunez’s Screencasts Commandments.

Things to Consider for Future Multimodal Tutorials:

  1. Since I might have included too many screenshots (I had 12 altogether), a better strategy might have been to break up the tutorial into two separate ones so that one focused on creating a new account and the other on submitting an assignment.  For my next tutorial, I will pay attention to the amount of information needed and make a decision about whether or not I should separate the content.
  2. Since some screenshots were small, it might be difficult for student to see everything, therefore,  will pay attention to the size of the images used in the tutorial and enlarge any portions that might be difficult to read.
  3. For the video part of my tutorial, I simply included the following at the bottom of the page:  Click on this Video Tutorial to view the entire process of creating a new account and uploading a file.  For future tutorials, I will work on embedding the video screen instead of just including the link.  I will also consider whether it should be at the top of the page or bottom of the actual tutorial.

On Code Switching and Popular Culture

For many students, code switching, or the ability to “move between variations of language in different settings,” is an integral part of their everyday experience (Code Switching 2012). For some, this “language” alternation may be  subtle in that they maintain the same language, but has “tonal variations,” meanings and abbreviations change, while for others, they have to switch drastically because it “involves alternating between two languages” (Code Switching 2012).  For the students who are asked to switch drastically, what they are actually doing is disengaging from their home-based identities and come to school to assume new ones.  While I have come to believe, based on my personal experience, that once an individual has mastered this art of code switching, they can thrive in various settings, for young people who are asked to switch, they may be challenged with questions about who they are and why it is that they need to behave differently to be like everyone else.  

In the words of David Foster Wallace in This Is Water, these students are well aware of their environments and the fact that they are in water; therefore, they are reading their surroundings, examining other fish and adjusting while doing it.

I am actually quite intrigued by this concept of code switching because it is something that I have been doing for many years.

As discussed in a previous post, I was born in Guyana and moved to New York City at the age of twelve. Although I have always spoken English as my only language, the English language of my childhood was Guyanese creole.  Even though it has been many years since I moved, I can still switch back and forth between the language of my childhood and what we know as standard American English. Often times, the decision to switch between the two is not even a conscious one because I know that when speaking to my grandmother, I will speak creole, when speaking to my students or colleagues, I will use standard English and when speaking to my children, I have the liberty of going back-and-forth between the two. Another nuance of my code switching habits comes from my personal identity as a New Yorker.

Recently, my daughter and I visited my parents who live in the Bronx and decided to take a walk down their street. While walking, we encountered a former high school classmate and stopped to chat about what we were both doing, who we had married, our children, and old friends. It was a conversation into which I fell easily and enjoyed thoroughly. What struck me was what happened after we said goodbye and my daughter and I continued walking. After taking a moment or two, she said, in her eleven-year-old animated voice, “Mom, when you were talking to your friend just now, you sounded SO like a New Yorker!” Although I was not aware that it had happened, I had made an adjustment to my language to suit the social context because after all, I was in the Bronx and I was having a conversation with an old acquaintance from the Bronx.

I used to feel very insecure about my ability to switch depending on where I was and with whom I was speaking because I thought that it was an indication of not knowing who I truly am. What I am realizing instead, is that the ability to switch is not vulnerability; it is my way of “reading” situations and acting according to my perceptions of it.  Further, I have decided that it can be quite empowering because what it means is that my identity is multifaceted and that I can embrace every one of those facets. Actually, it’s a lot of fun!

If we believe, as Gee proposes in Social Linguistics and Literacies:  Ideology in Discourses (2012) that one of the points of education is to prepare young people to develop “behaviors and attitudes appropriate to good citizenship and moral behavior,” then we must accept that there are rules and expectations that are non-negotiable.  For example, one of the first lessons that children learn in school is that it is important to share with their friends and treat each other kindly.  These expectations, as Gee points out, become more complicated when “different sorts of behavior and attitudes” are expected “for different classes of individuals”(2012).  This act of setting children apart based on certain criteria, can set the stage for a “culture of inequality” (Steele 1992).  Based on my experience in the classroom, I can say that there are inherent problems with a tracking system because in many ways, it reinforces this “culture of inequality” (2012). I have found that when students are identified and placed in “ AP” and “honors” level courses, the result is that they begin their preparation to become “leaders” who “create innovations” (Gee 2012). In the same way, students in the academic level track are trained to be “‘knowledge workers’ who must bring technical, collaborative and communicational skills to the workplace” (2012).  The question then is, how does one become a part of a track?  The answers are many, but one that stands out as an overwhelming factor is the child’s early childhood experiences.  

A case in point–at the beginning of this school year, I asked all of my freshman students to describe their earliest memory related to reading.  All of the students in my honors level class shared touching stories about crawling into a parent’s lap and listening to their favorite bedtime stories.  When I asked my academic or middle-level students the same question, very few of them were able to recall a memory from childhood.  Even when prompted about a favorite book or someone reading to them, many could not come up with an anecdote.  What I am learning is that there is a distinct correlation between early experiences and identity because many of individuals struggle to see themselves as students.  It is important to note that I make a conscious decision to deliver the same content, experiences, challenges and skills to every one of my students–no matter the track.

As we continue to consider concepts of literacy, identity and code-switching, we are forced to also examine how we choose to express ourselves, which parts we will show, and our audiences.  When switching languages in person, we know the context and so, can alter based on our perceptions; however, when the medium becomes  far-reaching and the audience more ambiguous, which version of ourselves will we showcase?  Will it be the standard English version or the informal, text-language version?  Do we have total control of how the information will be perceived by the audience and what if we can not actually anticipate their reaction?  How do we alter our code to fit?  Perhaps then, the safe route is to take our cue from popular culture as depicted in various media?

On the note of popular culture, one of the things that angers me is the way in which some television shows, geared toward younger children, portray the role of fathers.  When my children were younger, they loved to watch shows like iCarly, Austin and Ally, Zach and Cody and Jessie.  What I quickly realized was that in every one of those shows, the father figure was either absent or portrayed as comical and one to be made fun of.  Although I did not discourage my children from watching, I did have conversations with them about how children should treat their parents and the respect that is owed to them.

A Note on Form:  This week, I spent a considerable amount of time thinking about the readings and about the practice of code switching.  Throughout the process, I also spent time thinking about the written and spoken word, as discussed by Plato (spoken is best) and Thoreau (spoken is transitory, but written is held up like stars for future astronomers to read), I decided to write my response–not because I feel that my writing will endure the ages and be held up for all to read, but because I spent quite a bit of time considering and reconsidering my understanding and perspectives on literacy, language, social contexts and code switching and writing afforded me the opportunity to draft, revise, draft and revise some more.

Reflection on my Digital Learning Hub (Week 2)

As discussed in my previous post, “Thoughts About Creating My Personal Learning Hub,” I have created a digital learning  hub to use as a tool for my students. During the first week of school, I introduced students to my site and since then, have been posting weekly homework assignments with relevant links.

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What I have found is that although some students referred to the site frequently, I had to remind others that their assignments are posted online.  Further, there are some students who have not been using a planner or calendar because they know that their work is posted online.  
Recently, as a part of my presentation to parents at our open house, I introduced my site as a tool they can use to access current assignments. I also noted that I do reserve the right to adjust assignments based on our work and pace in class.  The initial reception was positive.

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Over the course of this past week, I have been thinking about extending the function and purpose of my learning hub. As such, I decided to create a page dedicated to resources that will help my students with their study of Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Included on this page are things resources such as a full text version of the novel, a link to a PBS interview with author, Ray Bradbury, Sherry Turkle’s TED talk entitled, “Connected, but Alone?”, relevant images and related articles. During the coming weeks, students will be required to use these resources as a part of their exploration of the text.  In the same way that I have culled resources for Fahrenheit 451, I will create pages for my juniors where I will include resources for unit studies.

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In addition to including resources to support acquisition of content knowledge, I am also considering adding other information that my juniors would need throughout their year. For example, many of them will be taking the SATs; therefore, links to SAT prep would be helpful. Further, when they begin to write their research papers, my hub can serve as a place to house key documents to support their research process.

Exemplar of Digital Learning Hub (Post 1)

This week, I did not have to look very far to find an exemplar of a digital learning hub because I found it in my daughter’s 6th grade class.

Below are some images and attributes of this hub that, in my opinion, makes it effective:

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  1.  This is a shared site by four teachers, which exemplifies their collaborative efforts and continuity between classes.2
  2. It is easily navigable with useful links that students will need when visiting the site.3
  3. The information presented on the site is updated and useful for students.  In posting nightly assignments, this hub becomes a place where students will visit frequently.  It can also serve as a place for students to access information if they are absent from school.

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4.  This digital hub houses important links to key content, including sites for extra math practice, reading suggestions and computer games.

Other key features of this digital learning hub includes links to Google forms and docs, biographical and contact information for teachers and images that add visual interest, but do not distract from the content.

As a testament to the usefulness of this digital learning hub, my daughter has visited it often and used the information included in it.

Additional Resources:

25 Best Websites for Teachers by Hannah Hudson

https://sites.google.com/a/trumbullps.org/shupp-english/dashboard

Thoughts about Creating My Personal Learning Hub

Inspired by my work with instructional technology and digital media this summer, I have decided to implement two new tools into my classroom this year: a Google Site and Google Classroom. The reason I chose to use a Google Site is because I wanted to create a place, or hub, where I can post assignments and make them available to all of my students and, if requested, to their parents.  I thought that having a digital hub would also allow me to communicate with students who might be absent or those who might leave class without writing down their homework assignments.

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Although I started my site with the intention of simply posting homework assignments, I am now considering how I might be able to further capitalize on using it to support student learning. For example, after reflecting back on our first week of school, I realize that there were several documents and tools that I could have included on my site, including a Wordle, concept lists generated in class and a YouTube video.  All of these are currently saved on my personal drive with no way for students to access them. As we get deeper into our coursework, it would be important for students to be able to access some of that content.  Therefore, using Google Sites as a place to not just post homework, but also include class content, is something that I am strongly considering.

In addition to starting a Google Site, I have also decided to use Google Classroom. I am not sure if the two will be redundant; so, as I continue to examine how they are working, I may make changes. However, at this beginning point of the school year, my thought is that while Sites will serve as a place for me to make information available to students, Google Classroom will serve as a receptacle for student work. In other words, students will receive via Sites and submit via Classroom. Again, as I go through the first month or so of school, I will be reflecting on how these two tools are working and adjusting as necessary.

Site 2Since my students are the primary audience for this site, I have created  links to resources like Turnitin.com, school-wide rubrics, and our homepage.  I may also include links to Word of the Day and Purdue Online Writing Lab.

One thing that I am still considering is the privacy setting for my site. Currently, my site is public; however, I am strongly considering changing the setting to anyone with this link can access. In that way, if parents want to be able to access the site, I can easily share the link with them.