Archive for September, 2007

Collaboration Without a Wiki? The Devil You Say!

Oh yes, it can be done, and over my bereavement leave, a few teachers at my school did just that (boy, you take one week off…).

I teach an interdisciplinary course called Multicultural Studies. More accurately, I co-teach with a Social Studies teacher. It’s one of my all-career favorite courses to have taught, due to the overarching themes of promoting understanding, acceptance, and diversity (buzzwords, to be sure, but descriptive enough for a blog post). Two of the main ideas we stress are 1) the importance of social action in promoting social justice and 2) the benefits of an inclusive society. In our introductory unit, we discussed a growing minority population at our school: LEP/ESL students.

We discussed the positives and negatives of our school’s ESL program, and even had one of the ESL teachers visit to give a frank talk about the current state of the ESL program, a topic about which our students were entirely uninformed. It’s hard to blame them; after all, there are deep dividing lines that run between the native English-speaking population and the ESL population, and in our case, both groups are partially at fault.

Collaboration #1:
My co-teacher and I reflected on the topic after school one day, and we decided that we needed to follow Dr. Sonia Nieto’s advice and take the learning one step further by making it authentic. Let’s not just learn about the systemic inequalities and stroke our chins, let’s DO SOMETHING to CHANGE IT. We kicked some ideas around, and ultimately decided that we should get our class together with the ESL class in a lightly structured environment, provide some rated-PG social lubricant in the form of snacks and soda, and get them talking with one another about their respective experiences.

Collaboration #2: In the four days I was out, my amazing co-teacher not only arranged for this to happen with two of the ESL teachers, he pitched the idea to our 29 kids, had them prep some questions they would want answered, and executed one of the most valuable learning experiences in which students in this course have ever participated (top 5, no doubt!). Although everyone was a bit shy at first, the three teachers involved split the kids into small discussion groups, everyone got themselves some snackage, and kids talked – not about Twitteresque banalities, but really talked – mostly about their vastly divergent experiences living in the same country. Kids who have never wanted for a material good in their lives listened intently as other students told of walking for days to cross the US-Mexico border. One student showed the bullet wounds he received from a local gangster in his hometown. Most of the ESL students were Spanish speakers from Latin America, but there were also French-speaking Congolese students. Luckily, an Ecuadorian exchange student in my class also speaks fluent French, and was able to translate for them as well. By all accounts, the 85-minute session was a resounding success. I just wish I had been there to experience it, too.

Is our job here done? Not by a long shot. Without a continued connective presence, this will slip back into the category of, “Hey, Remember When We Did That Cool Project?” It’s up to us as teachers, but also up to the students whose community this is, to build upon what got started last week. We can schedule future “socials”, but the kids on all sides of the linguistic divide have got to follow up outside of the classroom, too. They alone can take down the classroom walls and continue building their own authentic, first-hand learning experiences that could, if they wanted them to, outlast high school. Those kids and teachers achieved many of the goals that “Web 2.0” folks (myself included) tout: collaboration, authenticity, meaning, personalization, and discussion.

And they didn’t get within a country mile of Wikispaces to do it.

A Heartfelt Thank You

Whether you left a comment or sent positive thoughts my way this past week, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.   This week has seen the start of a process of grieving and healing that will likely take a very long time, but the journey of a thousand miles, etc. etc.

Your kind thoughts and words are all greatly appreciated.  I’m looking forward to sitting down and writing a proper post soon (as soon as I get some back grading done!).

Temporary Radio Silence

This feels so bizarre to be posting on my blog, but here goes. We had a very unexpected death in the family this past week, and I doubt I’ll be around to post much over the next week.

Whether or not you believe in a higher power or supreme being, any positive energy or kind thoughts would be much appreciated. We lost a very special person this week, decades too early.

The past 48 hours have been among the most difficult in recent memory, possibly my life, and there’s a long road yet ahead.

My First Week at School, by Damian, age 6

Many moons ago, Todd asked, “How Was It For You?” Since he started about a week ahead of me, I couldn’t respond at the moment, but in the spirit of reflective teaching, I’ll now answer the same questions he asked himself.

What went well? Did you do anything this year that you keep telling yourself you should do?

While nothing went totally pear-shaped, I’ve had better first days. My enthusiasm levels were, admittedly, much higher than I thought they’d be, but it didn’t rub off on the kids. My kids’ responses to me on last year’s opening day wowed me; I guess I was spoiled. Like Todd, I did an activity with songs with my sophomores, did a Stick Figure Theatre show with my Shakespeare class, and asked my Multicultural Studies class if “tolerance” was something to strive for. I don’t think my kids were prepared to have the onus of activity put on them from the first day, because they never quite got up to speed. I ended that first day a bit down, but I’m happy to report that everyone is into the swing of things by now, and I’m really enjoying all my classes.

Did you start off with the right tone? Is there anything you’re not happy with? Did you do that thing again that you keep telling yourself not to do?

Despite what I said above, I think that from a planning standpoint, this year was the tightest I’ve been (as it should be). Structured questions and activities with almost no downtime (there was that time that my tablet froze up and prevented me from opening my attendance). I went out of character and did an ice-breaker activity with my Shakespeare class. I’m normally not a fan of the ice-breaker in an educational setting, but some criticism I got from last year’s Shakespeare students was that they felt intimidated to read aloud and act because they didn’t feel entirely comfortable doing so in front of a bunch of strangers. I don’t know how much of that is valid, but I figured I’d give it a shot to see if it made a difference. It seems to have (see below).

Looking back, if I had to do anything differently, I’d probably have spent less time on administrivia in my Multicultural Studies class. I still have yet to find an awesome opening activity that really fits the context of that class. It wasn’t a disaster, and the kids were respectful, but it wasn’t my best performance of the day, either.

How are your classes looking, just from your brief introduction?

Like I said, I wasn’t impressed with the participation on the first day, but I guess that has to be expected. That has improved tenfold in just a week, and though we still have a ways to go, we’re definitely moving in the right direction, especially in my Shakespeare class. There are a lot of students in that class who are willing to take risks and read and act, which was something I felt was slightly lacking the last time I taught the course. Our new principal is cracking down on tardies with a few new policies, and in the first week they seem to be working out well – not just in my classes, but schoolwide.

So there we have it. Tomorrow my sophomores are getting set up with their Twitter and Wikispaces accounts (reviewing my plans, 84 minutes may not be long enough – Twitter might have to wait until Monday), my Shakespeare kids will be doing more acting, as well as watching the first act of Trevor Nunn’s Twelfth Night, and my Multicultural Studies students will watch a video on American neo-Nazis and discuss the connection between extremism and education. It should be a great day and a nice transition into the weekend.

Now allow me to pass the baton: Audrey! Jeff! Ken! Jeff W! David R! Dave S! Doug! (on Comet, on Cupid…) and anyone else I may have missed: how was it for you?