“I’m reading kids’ narratives and just trying to think of ways to stay strong for them. Tengo varios sin papeles. One mentioned it in her narrative”
“I was hoping you would remember the name of the song/video that you shared with me a couple of months ago. The video showed the struggles of immigrants, but I can’t remember the name of the song.”
“I’ve been sad all day. Now I’m realizing why. How do you balance out the emotions seeing white little kids being privilege enough to learn Spanish while also seeing how native Spanish speakers are seen as having a deficit?”
These are some of the messages that came my way this month. This work is tough. We need to seek support, thought partners, and engage in consistent ways if we are to take care of ourselves to better teach the students in the classroom. Even though I’m thankful for the many communities that sustain me, I need to be reminded to not go about this work on my own. This month, I had four very different kinds of learning community experiences. I share my reflections on them, along with resources, hoping that you will also seek to partner with others in your journey!
September Learning Community #1
Social Justice Saturday: Leading in Troubled Times
Hosted by the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project
Cornelius Minor opened the day with some moving words (see my tweets for the day here) that set up the urgency for this gathering, the need for disrupting systems and the hope that he holds on to. “Not everything is lost” Cornelius shared, referring to poet Naomi Shihab Nye’s line from Gate A-4. Author Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrator Brian Pinkney shared from their books in the keynote, #BooksBuildHope and I tried my best to keep up with their amazing texts here! I loved listening to their storytelling, getting lost in the illustrations, all the while being reminded of the power of culturally sustaining texts.
For the first session, I learned from Colleen Cruz and kept wanting to tweet “drop the mic” gifs through her workshop! Colleen discussed the master narrative present in children’s literature and presented ways to integrate counter narrative storytelling through mentor texts and writing instruction. She recommended the following for the times when we are teaching students how to collect ideas for stories: asking what if, consider settings that are hot spots for trouble, remember or create turning point moments, and share counter narrative mentor texts. She also had us practice these (my favorite part of these workshops is trying out the work before we go ahead and ask students to do something we haven’t practiced ourselves). Afterwards, she showed us how we can teach students to play with: active characters, arcs, obstacles, perspectives, alternatives, and solutions. I wish I had pictures and more notes on her other amazing tips but I had a panic moment with wifi issues on my laptop prior to me presenting next! So a quick shout out of immense gratitude to Tim (and team) at TCRWP for always being there for quick tech support!
For my session, “Language and Power: Implementing Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies in Solidarity with Bilingual & Multilingual Students,” I walked participants through a reflection on their language ideologies, examples of my own students’ bilingual autobiographies, and mentor texts that help us process these issues. First, I asked:
- What are our language ideologies?
- How do these impact my teaching?
- How does my teaching impact bilingual and multilingual students?
Then, I shared two text sets that help us get to know different experiences in order to better understand our own approach. Some of the texts are books, some poems, some video clips.
Checking Our Language Ideologies: K-5 Text Set
- My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits and Gabi Swiatkowska
- The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
- Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat & Leslie Staub
- I Hate English! by Ellen Levine and Steve Bjorkman
- Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Ali Badr
- Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh
Checking Our Language Ideologies - MS & HS Text Set
- Narrative: “Inside Out” by Francisco Jimenez
- Narrative: “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” by Gloria Anzaldúa
- Poem: “Tongue Tactics” & “Abuela” by Mayda del Valle
- Poem: “3 Ways to Speak English” by Jamila Lyiscott
- Nonfiction Excerpt: “The Skin that We Speak” by Lisa Delpit
- Narrative: Chapter 1 from Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez
- Bilingual Poem: “Coming Up the Archipelago” / “Subiendo por el archipiélago” por Rosario Ferré
For the next session I loved being a part of a conversation around texts! Audra Robb and Emily Strang-Campbell from TCRWP discussed ways we can teach students how to have book club conversations around social issues. First we began with a study on communication or how a book club talks about texts. Audra and Emily showed us a video clip of a book club and had us analyze by each of us (in groups of 3) focus on content, communication, and what they call citizenship moves in the book club. Then, they recommended that we start with a discussion on individuals and studying issues of power, followed by groups. We can show students a video clip (as an example they used one of the video clips from the NY Times 25 mini films exploring race and short video clip of Sam Gordon discussing what she liked about football) and ask “what about this feels like there are personal issues vs. issues related a group they belong to?” Audra and Emily finished the workshop with a read aloud of Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Shoulders” and asked group members to share their interpretation of it.
It’s really tough for me to put into words what I felt throughout the closing keynote with poet, author, speaker, Janet Wong. You can read what I tweeted throughout the keynote but I want to emphasize two things: the power of poetry and the importance of reading poetry, writing poetry, and listening to poetry in our classrooms! I’ve been immersed in poetry since my childhood. I loved writing poetry growing up and completing the tasks in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron the last six weeks has revealed that this is one of the practices that makes me the happiest. So when Janet Wong went through poems from her books, had us read along with her, showed the poetry in protests, and shared creative ways to weave this in our classrooms, it all really touched me.
I write this as I look at books on my desk (those I reread/read this summer), some of which include poetry such as Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson, Solo by Kwame Alexander with Mary Rand Hess, and Under the Mesquite by Guadalupe Garcia McCall. I haven’t yet processed this feeling and it’s been almost two weeks. But I know this: I need to make more room for my own poetry writing and sharing it. I have already added Janet Wong’s Poetry Anthology texts to my wish list for the texts for my Read East Harlem teachers (see September Learning Community #4 below). Janet Wong left us with the following call: “every day present a call to action.” Let’s do this!
September Learning Community #2
Bi-Coastal Writing Partnership
Last month, my friend/writing partner/future co-author of our first book, moved across the country and we had to rethink the way we share ideas! Thanks to a co-created writing plan and checking in with weekly feedback, I feel less alone in this writing journey. I also feel excited to write and to get to those days when we share, work through some tough questions, and check in on our lives as we try to balance our many responsibilities.
September Learning Community #3
Another unique way of learning was The Educator Collaborative’s #TheEdCollabGathering. It was a Saturday of online keynotes and workshops all on topics connected to literacy and teaching. Take a look at the agenda here and consider partnering with a friend, colleague, teacher team or study group to watch some of the sessions. Just click on any and you’ll be directed to the archived keynote or workshop. Luz and I loved planning and leading the workshop titled “Decolonizing Bilingual Curriculum and Pedagogy (K-12)” and later reading tweets from those who were watching!
September Learning Community #4
Read East Harlem Second Grade Planning & Teaching
My weekly partnership with a second grade team in a neighborhood close to my heart, El Barrio, East Harlem in New York City, is one that may sound familiar to those of you with weekly team meetings at your schools. We plan lessons, co-teach or give each other feedback when one of us teaches a lesson, listen to students together, and analyze student work. What I find super inspiring from my moments in the classroom is the thoughtfulness across the classrooms. Teachers think carefully about our book selections for shared reading or interactive read alouds and ways to make sure students have time to engage in a variety of literacy practices. I always leave the building with excitement and gratitude. If you’re not leaving your teacher team meetings or co-teaching experiences the same way then let’s rethink the work that happens! Here’s a brief overview of my second grade team’s experience yesterday and you can read more about our Read East Harlem partnerships here:
Quick update on reading and writing workshop (2 teachers) - After giving a few hugs (I love hugs) and greeting some of the teachers on the same floor (students were lining up outside of the classrooms preparing to go inside), I went into one of the bilingual dual language classrooms. Both classroom teachers give me the weekly update which includes which interactive read aloud text they’ve read, the lessons they’re up to, and the student work they have already looked at or just collected.
Morning meeting and Word Study (2 teachers) - Both teachers lead this time and I contribute some ideas, challenging students with their word study work.
Shared Reading Demonstration/ Bilingual Celebration (me) - I did a quick (15 mins) bilingual shared reading activity with Tortillas y cancioncitas / Tortillas and Lullabies by Lynn Reiser and "Corazones Valientes" (artists in Costa Rica) just to show some of the beautiful work we can do with texts.
Teacher Feedback on My Teaching (2 teachers and myself)- The teachers first of all were shocked to see how engaged the students were throughout the reading, especially with the part of the book in Spanish. They had been concerned that most of them felt uncomfortable speaking in Spanish during other activities. This time though, the students were eager to read together. Although one teacher was concerned that a lot was happening throughout the demonstration, I clarified that I was just showing some of the work they could do throughout the week when they return to a text (song, poem, big book, scene from an interactive read aloud, picture book). The teachers were so enthusiastic with what they saw in the students during the shared reading that they began to look for bilingual texts in their library! I almost cried. Well I kind of did once I walked on third avenue towards the 6 train in El Barrio. I was really worried about the children's bilingual journeys and I’m happy that we could be purposeful about our teaching even if it begins with just 15 minutes a day with this kind of work. I was also emotional because some of the students brought up Mexico, the earthquake, Puerto Rico and the hurricane. That was the way we started the shared reading experience and we then transitioned to talking about our traditions with families.
Professional Development Planning Meeting (grade team and AP) - Part one of this planning was with the whole grade team where we first asked each teacher what they were doing with regards to word work, discussed the rationale for a consistent approach across the classrooms, and shared some recommendations for what can happen for the next two weeks before grades one and two launch a consistent approach. Part two of this planning continued with one teacher representative from the team, an assistant principal, and myself. We looked at the school calendar and considered a feasible way to launch this with both grades.
Narrative Writing Planning Meeting with a Teacher (teacher and myself) - one of the new teachers to the second grade team is coming from the first grade, moved up with her students, and her most pressing questions were around supporting students in small groups and writing conferences. We discussed two different ways for setting up this support and keeping track of our notes: google forms (creating checklist with the characteristics of narrative writing) and spreadsheet (list of students with writing moves across the writing process). We then looked at sample narrative writing at the first and second grade levels. We compared these with student writing.
Wow, that was a lot! This first month of school (for those of us in NYC) has taught me so much and I just had to share! Remember, you are not alone in this journey. Like I told my second year teachers/New York City Teaching Fellows/students this week in class: find ways to be in community with other educators! For some of you it might look like what I just described through teacher team meetings. For others it might be more online through social media (see #EduColor #TCRWP #TheEdCollabGathering #HipHopEd for some chats on twitter). Or maybe you are like my students who have a more structured community through a course or book club (we are reading Jose Vilson’s This is Not a Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education this fall).
Thank you to those that have contributed to my sense of community in person, online, through phone calls and texts.