Category Archives: Professional Development

Stevie’s Legacy: Horn Book Presentation

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Stevie (image from Amazon)

I presented at the Horn Book Colloquium in Boston on October 7. While there were so many highlights (probably the best being meeting Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give and experiencing living legend Ashley Bryan lead us all in a poetry rendition), I was able to lead a discussion with attendees about books for Black boys. I used John Steptoe’s Stevie as a foundational text, then we worked our way through books that are entry points and extensions for this group.

Lots of books on my bibliography were unfamiliar to the audience, and that desire to learn more about what is really a historical legacy of excellent books for Black children sparked a substantial part of the discussion and what we can do to make these books accessible to all children and those of us committed to their care.

If you’re looking for a place to start, click here for Stevie_s Legacy- Black Boys in Children_s and YA Literature- Selected Bibliography and get to reading. Please note there are many, many more books that could be included here. If you have ones to recommend, please leave them in the comments. This is collaborate work we’re doing here.

I remain forever indebted to the work of Drs. Violet J. Harris, Rudine Sims Bishop, and Jonda McNair, whose expertise and brilliance I build upon in my own work.

P.S. Here’s the video of Gordon reading Stevie from Sesame Street.

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Back on the Case: On Being Named a #hfellows Heinemann Fellow

I’ve written about how this year has been difficult largely because I’ve not felt as intellectually challenged as I have in previous years. As a teacher-scholar that has always found something to think deeply about, work on, or consider, that I had to grapple with that issue was one that made me think seriously about the reasons why many of us both choose teaching and choose to pursue lives beyond teaching.

Then, though, a series of events happened. The first was that I collaborated with colleagues to produce a wildly successful Educators of Color Conference that convened so many amazing educators of color sharing their work, celebrating excellence, and simply exhaling together.

The next was being named one of 11 educators from across the nation as a Heinemann Fellow. A primary undertaking over the next two years of this fellowship is to conduct an action research project. Essentially, I get to think deeply about what has been happening in my classroom and focus on a question I’d like to set about investigating. I’d been taking lots of notes during our initial meeting last week, but when our leader, Ellin Keene, began explaining why it’s important to follow our hunches and to think about what is most curious or most troubling about our teaching, I felt my gears start to shift into motion again. 

I have hunches all the time. I ask questions all the time. I write them on Post-Its and in notebooks that I rediscover randomly. For the most part, though, I’ve not spent any meaningful time thinking about how to answer them because of a host of reasons. Largely, though, I’d venture that I’ve not felt compelled to pursue them because I’ve had neither the time nor the compunction to do so on my own. Such a realization is a huge one for me, as when I began teaching I was largely a lone wolf, content to work on my own (for better or for worse). It was only once I got my teaching sea legs that I realized how much more powerful (for myself and for my students) it has been when I go with others. And here I should add that the reason I have been able to remain intellectually engaged over the last two years has been because I have a fantastic colleague that refuses to let me do things alone. Refuses.

Now, though. NOW, THOUGH. Two of my strongest academic experiences were shaped with the help of other people. In graduate school, there was the Dissertation Support Group (the DSG), comprised of three of us working on our Ph.D.s We met often, pushed each other through completion of classes, exams, dissertations, and now, tenure for one of us. Then, there was the Cultivating New Voices Among Scholars of Color (CNV) for NCTE. I was part of a larger cohort of 10 of us that were defending dissertations, applying for tenure-track jobs, figuring out where they fit: in a secondary classroom or in academe (me). In both of these experiences, I was a part of something greater. I was a member of a family. And man, I got some incredible work done!

As a Heinemann Fellow, I am part of a cohort again, and they are some of the most interesting educators I have met in a long time: dedicated, smart, doing great work with young folks. And we’re all doing the work together. TOGETHER. 

Getting back to the research: I had two of the best qualitative methods professors I’ve ever had and I remember both of them talking about hunches and then setting out to see where the data takes you. That, to paraphrase Anne Haas Dyson, is what it means to be “on the case.” I remember being vaguely terrified because, well, that meant that hunches might or might not pan out and what then?!

I’ve come to realize that the what then is actually where the magic happens. That, as one begins to listen, to think deeply, and to simply be willing to be open to what one sees, truth reveals itself. That truth is oftentimes nothing close to what was initially anticipated, but that is okay. Being brave enough to ask the questions is what starts this entire amazing process.

Being named a Heinemann Fellow has reminded me to be brave enough to ask the questions again, and to follow where the case leads. I am beyond excited about this next part of my journey.

 

 

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Filed under Heinemann Fellows, Professional Development, Teachers as Scholars

Teachers: Stop Giving It Away for Free

I’m returning from blogging over at Single Mom So Far, where I spent March participating in the Slice of Life Challenge created by Two Writing Teachers. It was quite nice to work out my current feelings about motherhood and how my life has changed.

We are brilliant teachers: more people should benefit from what we know.

During March, I thought a lot about teaching and some writing projects I finally think I’m ready to undertake. I also had some conversations with fantastic educators. They are brilliant teachers of young people at all levels and abilities. The biggest oversight is that administrators and even other teachers don’t seem to realize that these experts are either next door to them or within their buildings. We sit through PDs that these folks could teach effectively and responsively, yet, they are never asked. On the off chance that they are finally asked to do something, there is often no compensation for the time invested for preparing an excellent PD.

It drives me nuts.

I did the same thing: offered up my resources, thinking and knowledge because I was so flattered whenever someone asked me. It finally took a scholar I admire to remind me that I should not be giving this information away for free. And that’s what I want to remind my fellow teacher-scholars: we have expertise that is valuable. Think about all the emails you’ve fielded about folks wanting to ask you questions about what you’re doing in your classroom. It’s because they know that we’re doing amazing work.

I’m not saying to set up a Teachers Pay Teachers or Gum Road account, but, at the very least, we should learn how to negotiate better. Think about the best lesson plans and units we’ve written. Someone needs those. Think about the presentations we make. Someone would most likely pay for us to present those somewhere (particularly if it’s a business or company of some type). Why not even create a short ebook and sell that like Dave Stuart Junior (I love him) or the Cult of Pedagogy?

We need to stop underselling ourselves. It’s not a matter of modesty: we’ve all seen too many bad instructional materials, know that we can do it better. Thus, we should. And we should attach some sort of value to what we do because if we don’t, people will keep taking it until we have nothing left. Know your worth.

A few other suggestions:

  • Consider consulting: what are you really good at? Determine a rate and use that to either approach potential places (conferences are great for this) or to have it on hand when they come to find you (this can happen, particularly if you begin putting your awesome work out there). It’s better to have a number in mind. Also, don’t forget to account for the time you’ll need to prepare, travel, etc.
  • Have some sort of online presence: a website (lots of free ones are available but I’m being convinced that it makes sense to set up something that a pro designs–maybe)
  • Make a list of everything you’re good at and make that your calling card. I love it that Marie Levey-Pabst offers organizational help for teachers. It’s brilliant! My wonderful friend Lillie Marshall has parlayed her love of traveling and teaching students into presenting at conferences all over the world and visiting incredible locales. She is a brand and it is her passion: she’s found a way to make it work for her. We need to take notes and use these teacher scholars as models.

It’s that whole idea of “whatever you are, be a good one” (Lincoln). We are good at what we do. We need to get better at making sure others know that, too.

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January PD Workshops for the New Year

I’ll be leading several workshops in the new year. If you’re looking for some great Professional Development opportunities, come join me!

January 11, 2015: From Freedom Summer to Ferguson: Teaching Dr. King in the 21st Century: Boston, Simmons College

Join us for a teachers’ workshop focused on the newly published anthology, A Time to Break Silence: The Essential Works of Martin Luther King, Jr. for Students. Educators will learn close reading strategies, historical connections, and writing ideas that will enable them to share King’s work with their students and meet the demands of the Common Core State Standards.

An ELA workshop (grades 7-12) will be led by Dr. Kimberly N. Parker, English faculty at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School. A History workshop (grades 7-12) will be led by Dr. Andrea McEvoy Spero, Director of Education for the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute. Breakfast will be provided. All participants will receive complimentary teaching materials, including a copy of the anthology.

All attendees will be entered into a drawing for a chance to win a class set of A Time to Break Silence.

Note: Note: workshops will run concurrently. Choose one workshop when you RSVP. Space is limited to 25 ELA teachers and 25 History teachers. Register here: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/from-freedom-summer-to-ferguson-teaching-dr-king-in-the-21st-century-registration-14925047218

Tuesday, January 13: Raising an Upstander: The Power of Stories and Books, Sponsored by Facing History and Ourselves as part of the Raising Ethical Children Series, Post 390, Boston, 6-8 pm

I’ll be chatting about how to diversify your child’s library with books that feature a range of multicultural stories (primarily targeted to ages 0-12). More information is attached. Raising an Upstander 1.13.15

January 31, 2014: Teaching Dr. King in the 21st Century, Morehouse College, Atlanta

I’ll be co-leading a day-long workshop for Atlanta Public Schools teachers about the MLK anthology. Hosted by Morehouse College and sponsored by Beacon Press.

I hope to see you at one or all of these events (that would be great!). Space is limited; RSVP soon. Happy New Year!

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Poems About Ferguson

In preparation for a poetry unit that looks at the role of the poet in society, I went searching for some poems about Ferguson, MO. The Google Doc I created is a work in progress, but it’s a start. Here it is in case you’re looking for resources.

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Sophomore Slump

Once you reach a certain age, you really shouldn’t blame other people and circumstances for your personal decisions. I have a pattern of staying in places for two years, then moving on to something else. While it was easy to rack up reasons for those decisions: too suburban, too this, too that, I missed teaching in urban schools, etc., (and I’m mostly talking about teaching here), what has become most clear is this:

I love the first year in a school: it’s full of possibility, you can try new things, the kids are all new, your colleagues offer the potential for new discussions and learning–rose colored glasses fully activated. Near the end of that year, though, you realize that the current place has its own challenges and, while they are challenges in this new space, they really aren’t that different from what you left.

Thus, when I roll into year two, the glasses are off and the papers are stacking up, and the job gets hard and I, usually, get an itch to do something else. I miss the new. It might be some mix of my being a creative and loving the challenge of figuring something out, but, now, I understand that by leaving, I really haven’t given myself a chance to figure it out.

Until now.

So I’ve dragged my heels mightily in objection to teaching AP Lit. I was able to get away with it last year, but my department head dropped the hammer and said I had to do it this year. I have my issues with the AP: primarily that it becomes this test-driven industry that really doesn’t mirror ANY of the freshmen lit classes I took in college or, well, ever. And then, too, I am not the lover of literature I was in college or since I began teaching. I love writing, and teaching kids to write well, but I can take or leave most texts as long as kids read SOMETHING.

I had this interaction with my former department head at NCTE in November, wherein we essentially made peace, but I think about that interaction often because that two-year sabbatical in the suburb taught me more about TEACHING LITERATURE than I was ready to admit.

Herein, I condense those lessons:

  • My colleagues were brilliant about how to get into a text: how to teach it upside down, around and through, to all types of kids. I think if anyone wants to know how to do “close reading” they should start with these folks, because, essentially, close reading is simply what good readers do.
  • They created some amazing materials–that they readily share with me, STILL. Perhaps this is why I am not fearing traveling back in time with Hester Prynne and The Scarlet Letter. Perhaps.
  • Most importantly, they taught me that this stuff takes time to learn: that you can’t just do two years and leave in a fit of annoyance or a desire for the new. You’ll never get it. Thing is, I don’t think I ever would have come to that understanding if I stayed there. I simply wasn’t comfortable and I felt like I needed time to come to that. But I see it in my practice: how strategies and skills that I thought I would never be able to do (and there are many) now seem natural (ish). The way I approach a text, which used to be much more about activities, I am sure, now are about clearly focused objectives that matter to mastering the material. OMG–I am finally becoming THAT teacher.

Don’t get me wrong, though: the struggle is real and daily I ask myself a thousand questions, but, at this moment, I’m content to remain HERE, in this school, and attempt to figure them out.

See: growth can happen. Now, let me get back on this scaffold.

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Between Tweet Summaries, Shylock’s Defense and Sour Patch Kids: Places Where Learning Happens

I’ve been away for a bit to help with the National Council of Teachers of English annual conference, which was ultimately a wonderful success. While it was a good amount of work, the conference came at exactly the right time: my morale wasn’t particularly high, I was frustrated with administrative structures, annoyed that larger class sizes have slowed my ability to know my kids as well as I usually do, and concerned that the overall vibe of myself and colleagues was one of low morale, too.

Nothing like a conference full of good ideas, friendly faces, chats about books, favorite authors and everything else to change that! What is also important about conferences, and about this one in particular, is that NCTE got introduced to an entirely new audience of younger teachers, or teachers who had been teaching for years but had not been to a conference. I realized how much belonging to a professional organization matters. Already, being back in my school, the teachers who attended (my whole grade level team and most of the grade above me) have been simply ebullient about sessions they attended, new information they learned and are eager to try…there’s a spirit of re-invigoration.

Given that I’ve been away for a few days, I was not necessarily looking forward to returning to my classroom. I worried that my desk would be a mess, kids would have completed none of the work I’d left for them to do with their sub…overall chaos would await me. Luckily, none of that was the case. Desk was orderly, kids were happy to see me, wanted to know about the conference, if I brought them anything (books, books, books), and they turned in the work they completed. (That’s another story about how quickly I will get that all graded–I have to get better about these things).

My student teacher attended the conference. She’s been a great colleague because she actually has the time to observe what’s happening in class between students and me, between students and other students, etc. As is typical of a new teacher, most of her observations focus on behavior and classroom management. I don’t know if you remember, but this is the year I’m piloting a class with a group of sophomores that have a desire to enter Honors English classes but need some skills work (academic and habits of mind). While it’s by far my most difficult to teach, it is my joy every single day. I can see why she gets concerned with their behavior: they talk out, they get off task, they get me off task (I got caught up in a conversation about “Scandal” that was about 10 minutes too long, but it was so compelling…), they sometimes don’t do their homework, they can be resistant, they take everything personally…

So yesterday, on that first day back, after she voiced her thinking about students, I had to remind her about all the reasons I’m quite pleased that these kids are going to be ready to enter Honors in January. I had to give her a different way of looking at student progress that extends beyond classroom management.

In short:

  • We administered the Gates-McGinty reading assessment to get some sort of data about their current reading levels. Once I got the results, I asked the kids if they wanted to know their levels, reasoning that it’s just one type of data, and it’s good to be well-informed, because then you know where you can improve. While a few of them are reading on the post-high school level, many of them are hovering around middle school, but I told them that all they need to do is read more challenging books and write a lot, and they would raise those levels in no time. They just needed to be persistent. Add to that that I told them they needed to read 15 independent reading books over the course of the semester (why not set goals that are ambitious? If they read 10, I’ll be happy; what’s good to know is that they are all reading), in addition to the core texts. Lots of them like reading YA (who doesn’t?), but I told them that they needed to balance their reading diet with some more challenging texts (I have a great analogy that involves Doritos). Thing is, when you make such recommendations to kids who aren’t big readers, you best be ready to start pushing books at them. I’ve been bringing my books from home (I used to have a really great classroom library that I tend to donate to teachers when I leave schools, so I’m not at my current levels, but I still have some good ones), but we also have a fantastic school library. We read for 20 minutes to start every class, and kids go to the library when they need to. Yesterday, five kids needed to go, so I went with them. They wanted to read more challenging texts, and I was tired of them saying that and returning with YA, so we had a spontaneous trip, which yielded some new books and new interests. I also remembered that librarians don’t know all types of kids–my school librarian was recommending texts that I knew they weren’t going to read, or ones that were too challenging at the moment, or too…boring, so I had to pull books myself for them. But that’s progress! They want to read, they want to improve, they are on the path to becoming readers, and I need to step my own game up because they need my help.
  • To get some semblance of a status of the classroom, I had kids write a Tweet summary for an assigned act and scene from our current all-class text, The Merchant of Venice. After having arguments about characters and spaces, they summarized key points, used hash tags to emphasize the most important parts, and created a review sheet for their peers. More progress: they can distinguish between what is most important and what is interesting. 
  • On that same note, they then had to re-read Shylock’s defense and argue if he was a villain or a victim. It’s now become habit for them to remind themselves and each other to include textual evidence to support their claims, and to analyze that evidence. They would have just written their opinions and turned it in a few months ago.
  • I was at the candy store after school yesterday and ran into three of the kids from that class. It’s so great to see kids in environments outside of school, when they are themselves, and funny, and free. I made some fuss about scholars and Sour Patch kids and being happy to see them (why not make a fuss over them? Can’t be sure if anyone else will, so I make sure I do) before they wished me well and made their way into the evening. What is most important, too, is that they see themselves as part of a community of achievers that extends beyond what happens on the fifth floor. That community will see them through.

Progress happens, but sometimes it occurs on such a minute scale that we can miss it. I told my student teacher that we needed to remember those signs, and we spent a moment recounting those and others, just to make sure we don’t get so bogged down in the other stuff that we forget that these kids are moving forward, and that I just know they’re gonna do it. Don’t get me wrong, there have been moments over these last few months where I’ve wondered if it was going to work, but then, something like that happens: I either run into a kid outside of class who wants to show me something they’re reading, or invites me to come see her in the school musical, or submits what is a fantastically written paper, and I remember: we are going to do it, and for that, I’m grateful.

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Filed under Lab Classroom, Professional Development, Reading Lives, Student Interactions