Online teaching can be challenging. One piece that has worked for me is maintaining a routine. My virtual lessons follow the same format that my classroom lessons did–a warm up, a lesson that includes review, goals, and teacher modeling of the concept. Then, there is an independent assignment.
In my district, we use CANVAS, an online teaching platform. My video lessons, recorded on Zoom.com, often include MS PowerPoints because there is an option to add recordings over the slides. With Zoom, there is a screen share option, so the teacher can interact with documents and preview the online assignments. Another helpful tip is that other teachers have added me as an observer to their teacher pages, so I can see how my colleagues are using resources and creating lessons.
My teacher page also includes an OPTIONAL Pandemic Journal Project. By opening a discussion board with several prompts, the students have the option to write about their personal experiences or not. The next step for me is to create virtual conferences and peer group discussions using my district resources. Online teaching is still a work in progress for me, but I am adjusting to the change.
Call for Distance Learning Blog Posts
The PAWLP Blog would like to hear from you! What does distance learning look like for you, your students, and your school district? What digital programs are you using? What lessons have you tried out? What routines and expectations are you establishing?
Blog posts will be featured in our Distance Learning column each Monday. Please email the PAWLP blog if you are interested or would like to find out more information.
Written by Gwen Dandrea, Kristen Mascitelli, and Morgan Schwalbe
Cornelius Minor’s, We Got This: Equity Access, and the Quest to Be Who Our Students Need Us to Be, is an empowering resource that emphasizes the importance of effectively listening to your students, changing the way you teach to best support learning, and working towards more inclusive practices. Minor identifies tools, traits, and strategies that help teachers craft effective and meaningful instruction to reach the diverse learning styles in our classrooms today. One of his most valuable messages is the importance of listening to your students. Much of his book is devoted to learning how to truly listen in order to meet the needs of all your students. Minor (2019) begins with this powerful quote that summarizes his beliefs, “Our journey starts with an understanding that no great good can be done for a people if we do not listen to them first. Powerful teaching is rooted in powerful listening” (p. xi).
The book is broken into 2 parts: Part 1 – This Ain’t Everybody’s Hero Story – It’s Yours and Part 2 – Taking Your Dreams off Deferment. The first part focuses primarily on the idea that teachers have important powers and responsibilities. Teachers must not only understand our students, but also act on that understanding. It is also our responsibility to recognize the need for change and effectively find ways to better serve our students. The second part focuses on the circumstances that teachers are presented with every day and how to create a space where kids feel safe. Lastly, Minor urges educators to truly reflect on curriculum and the way we teach in order to be the best employee/teacher we can be. “Any curriculum or program that we buy, adopt, or create is incomplete until it includes our students and until it includes us” (p. 104). The power is ours to have and it is imperative that we act upon it. “We got this!”
Chapter 1 – Begin by Listening
“We lose lots of human capital each year because people bearing essential insights and experiences are wearing labels that we’ve been conditioned to ignore” (p. 11). In chapter one, Cornelius Minor explains that testing and mandates are problems, but they are underbosses to the real enemy; business as usual attitudes, binary thinking, and inflexibility. He tells us that each time we accept a label for ourselves; we are not covering our whole humanity. If we continue to do things as they have always been done our students become data points.
Minor does an excellent job of hooking teachers in with relatable examples. For instance, some teacher labels are new teacher, veteran, admin, rural, suburban, and urban. Wherever you are in your teaching career, you are one or more of those labels. By making the reader think of herself as a label, Minor triggers feelings of empathy for students.
“The antidote to all of this – our teacher superpower – is not some mythical teacher goodness or hyperbolic self-sacrifice” (p. 11). Our superpower is listening. There are three components: the act of listening, naming what we think we heard and planning a response, and making active and long-term adjustments. One of the things he encourages us to do is to build a bridge between what we do in class and our students’ lives right now. Teaching is dialogue and it is important to be clear about why an experience is happening in our classroom. Although listening will not make teaching easier, it will give us our children back.
In summary, we need to listen to what students are really communicating and teach them how to use their voices. We must allow children to have choices so they will not feel the need to fight the teacher as an authority figure. When this happens, you become a better teacher. It is not always easy to stand up for children, but by listening, that is exactly what the teacher can do.
Chapter 2 – You Can Disrupt the Status Quo in Your Class
“When our vision for kids and for classrooms is guided by a community’s vision for their own children, our work becomes real to children and to parents” (p. 28). In chapter two, Minor discusses the need to disrupt the status quo in the classroom. He shares a story about a student named Jeff. In this story, Minor does not stop to think about Jeff’s need for routine. Rather he thinks of his own need to have his students finish a project. At the end, he realizes that he understands Jeff, but that he did not act on that understanding. He goes on to tell us that racism, sexism, ableism, and classism are systems.
“The hard part of knowing that oppression lives in systems too is understanding that systems don’t change just because we identify them; they change because we disrupt them” (p. 31). Minor explains the importance of understanding that identifying these systems will not change them. He offers some actions that can influence how to identify what can be changed “right now” in order disrupt the status quo. By changing the status quo, students are able to be included. Being included does not mean that you are simply present. It means that you are in a place where you are able to thrive. Education has ensured that power has not shifted due to our established systems. Minor argues that we need to make a shift in that power. “When considering if I am doing the right thing, I’ve got to define what the right thing is. To me, the right thing is any practice that gives children greater access to literacy, to math, to the arts, to science. To power.” (p. 44).
In conclusion, it is okay to make mistakes. As long as you are thinking about and striving for the maximum number of students to have productive access to classwork, you will be attempting to disrupt the status quo. The ultimate goal is to work toward more inclusive practices for the whole community.
Chapter 3 – Do You Homework and Then Go for It
“Sometimes the things that we have to do become tradition, and as tradition ages sometimes those practices do not serve all children. Sometimes we have to change an established way of doing things in order to better serve our kids. Most times, changes that enrich the student experience are sought and welcomed, but sometimes the need for change surprises or eludes us altogether” (p. 49). As educators, we often become so accustomed to our teaching practices that we fail to recognize the need for change. Other times we conform or comply in silence in order to not rock the boat or upset the establishment.
In chapter three, Minor calls for the urgency in teachers to recognize a need for change to ensure that we are reaching all students. He first emphasizes that this will take time and involves true self-reflection. “After all, it takes time to be a hero” (p. 49). A blank template is provided with questions that help recognize the need for change. These questions focus on what is not working for our students and other teachers, ways to be more effective, and why the need for change.
Once you have decided the change that needs to be made, it is vital to focus on how that change would most benefit your students. This requires research and time spent following “your hunch” to find the best answer or approach to implement your vision. An informal research template is shared to aid in this inquiry.
Next, Minor urges you to decide what to do and make a plan for the change. He encourages you to reach out to colleagues, coaches or mentors to assist in this process so that others can support your vision and prepare you for the journey ahead. In order to attempt change in this way, it is also important to be prepared to “make it happen”. Be sure to realize that this change should be small in scale and not yet ready to take on the entire system. The following suggestions are offered when making your plan
Imagine how this change might happen.
Select a small population of students to study.
Make a five-day plan for how you will implement the changes you have chosen.
Choose how you will measure the impact that your work is having on students.
Decide how you will share your findings.
Now, it is time to set that plan in action. Minor reminds the reader to be prepared that it may not go as planned. It is important to continually revise your plan as you begin to implement the change. People will support you if your plan is well researched, thought out, and based on data produced from your classroom. Keep in mind your reason for change and ultimately have your students’ best interests at heart.
Finally, and maybe most importantly “find a productive way to say no”. It is vital to recognize that not all change is good, the need for change may vary, and that things may not go well from the beginning. There are many variables that affect what we value in our classrooms. Minor emphasizes how our values and the students we teach impact our decisions to make a change.
In conclusion, chapter three provides a structure for identifying and changing things that are not effective in the classroom. Minor’ rules of conduct for change advises that you do some reflection, conduct research, make a plan for implementation, determine the impact of the change, and finally communicate your findings with administration. “This work is not about saying no just because we do not like a thing. This is about carefully considering the needs of our students and using our no power to ensure they get what they need” (p. 70).
Chapter 4 – Show Kids That You Hear Them
As educators, how quickly do we take our students and turn them into enemies (p. 80)? This powerful chapter urges teachers to ask ourselves this profound question and truly reflect on how we view our children. Are we quick to judge students with disabilities? Do we characterize them based on their behavior? For whatever reasons, our unspoken actions and reactions often do not allow us to look deeper into our students’ beliefs and perceptions. “The kids are not the enemy. They are simply responding to the things in their world in the best ways they know how” (p. 80). It is up to us as educators to simply listen to them.
The idea in this chapter is to show kids that you hear them. As a classroom teacher, we have the power to create a space where “kids feel safe” and will in turn become active listeners holding the same power as you. One suggestion is to plan for and hold regular classroom meetings. Minor believes that these simple meetings will build rapport with your students and work towards maintaining a successful classroom community. Meetings can address many topics and can take place in many unlikely places throughout the day. “These meetings do more than feed you information. They give your students the experience of being heard” (p. 83). The relationship building that occurs during this time is so valuable in allowing your children’s voices to be heard. Providing the time and structure of a classroom meeting will greatly impact your classroom practices.
It is also important to hear your students through designated feedback. Giving students the opportunity to be heard shows that you value them and their opinion. It also allows students to work on self-improvement and positive communication. Minor asks for feedback in these three areas: use of time, the clarity of his demonstrations, and how well assignments and assessments are constructed. These areas help to build trust, student engagement, and a positive classroom community. He believes that after time with these types of feedback will in turn “condition” them to begin to discuss your teaching practices and how to better suit their individual needs.
Finally, Minor calls for a shift from a punitive to an instructive mind-set. “We often assume that kids know and have what it takes to succeed in our classroom. This is a dangerous assumption to make, because it leaves so many children without a way to access success” (p. 92). This profound statement challenges educators to again show kids you hear them by providing them the skills and resources to be successful. Being prepared for the challenges that lie ahead allows you to begin that shift in mindset. A blueprint for shifting your mindset is provided to facilitate success each week and finding ways to help each other in the classroom. These approaches will help foster a sense of community, as well as a shift towards student independence.
“My job as a teacher is not to teach the curriculum or even to just teach the students; it is to seek to understand my kids as completely as possible so that I can purposefully bend curriculum to meet them” (p. 101).
Chapter 5 – Make Curriculum Work for Your Kids
“Crafting and sustaining an inclusive approach and pairing that with academic content takes insight and time and research and resources that I don’t always have” (p. 105). Chapter five focuses on learning experiences that are accessible and meaningful to students. In order to create curriculum and lessons that students can access, we need to know our students. By understanding students’ background knowledge and learning styles, we can help students create connections between curriculum and their own experiences.
Minor shared several ideas for teachers to think about when planning from a curriculum that we have been given. He said when we are working with a Universal Design Framework (p. 109), we should think about how individual children seem to respond when we…
… consider different ways that the information that I present can be represented?
… create different opportunities for action and expression in the classroom?
… foster multiple ways to sustain engagement?
By readjusting our instruction to meet the needs of the students in our classroom, we create more opportunities for them to experience success.
Additionally, Minor talked about the importance of teacher collaboration. Whether it is planning or just conversing with a colleague, these conversations about curriculum allow us to determine how to best deliver our instruction and make it accessible for all students. Minor’s chart about dissecting a lesson (p. 116) encourages teachers to look at curriculum through a different lens to focus on purpose, importance, delivery, assessment and reflection.
Finally, Minor addresses a topic that many teachers can relate to test prep. “It has been well documented that standardization, assessment and measurement are not bad things at all. But an unhealthy emphasis on any of these things can be detrimental to a learning community and harmful to children” (p. 119). While test prep is a reality in many schools, he reminds us that test prep is not teaching. It is more of helping students apply what they already know in different situations. Minor’s final reminder is that it is most important to be mindful of how we are presenting information that is effective and meaningful for all of our students.
Chapter 6 – Being a Good Teacher Versus Being a Good Employee
“When we want to be self-determining in terms of our professional growth, the first thing that we can do is believe that things can be different” (p. 129). Minor focused on the importance of teacher mindset. Our attitudes towards any aspects of our career drive our decisions and expectations. It is time for a shift in our thinking when we begin to complain and gossip about things happening in school.
Minor provides a number of tools to engage in mindset work. It is important for us to be open to advice from others. Searching for creative ideas to incorporate into the classroom betters our instructional practice. Setting goals and communicating them with students, colleagues and administration helps to hold us accountable for following through with mindset work.
Keeping a universal design framework in mind, feedback is a key component in this process. “There are three kinds of feedback that I consistently seek in school – mine, kids’, and colleagues’. Most times I seek them in that order” (p. 137). Being reflective as a teacher enables us to determine strengths and areas of growth. Student feedback is important because they are the ones being directly impacted by our instructional decisions. Feedback can be evident in a number of ways, especially in students. We need to focus on the verbal and nonverbal feedback because this can be powerful. Being receptive to feedback from colleagues allows us to grow professionally, too.
As teachers, our ultimate goal is to help students be successful in and out of the classroom. Having a reflective approach towards our teaching allows us to be a great teacher instead of just a good employee. We can inspire positive change within the school system and empower our students to be responsible for their own learning.
We would recommend this book to any educator who is looking for a way to change or improve their classroom practices. It is a quick and easy read to help navigate change, make curriculum relevant, and provide equal opportunities to all students by simply listening to what they have to say. Additionally, a user-friendly book provides a number of graphic organizers to help teachers be more reflective in their own teaching. Minor’s ideas and theories are applicable across grade levels, fields of study and diverse socioeconomic school settings.
In conclusion, this text is a powerful resource for teachers who are seeking individual growth as an educator. By focusing on equity, collaboration and engagement, Minor provides countless opportunities for teachers to reflect on their own instructional practices and make small adjustments that can have a long lasting impact on student achievement. Minor’s ultimate goal is to inspire teachers of all levels to promote change and to be heroes in their own classrooms.
The sun’s rays stream through my slider door, painting golden streaks across my floor. Someone’s weed whacker, aggressive and annoying, threatens my concentration. I breathe and return to the world of dystopian YA literature. Twirling my mug of steaming hot tea, I turn the page, hanging on every last word. And, then . . . I read my line of inspiration: a smile and a reunited love interest. Immediately, my mind sparks alive as I quickly swap out my book for a pen and notebook. Furiously, I write, pouring possible leads onto the page. Finally, I realize the boy I mentioned in my prologue—a quick write I wrote more than a year ago with my students—is not my main character’s love interest but the key to taking down the enemy. Just a week ago, I had not the slightest idea of how he would fit into my story and wondered if I even needed him at all.
The summer of 2019 marked two years after taking PAWLP’s Invitational Summer Institute, and I had the itch to create but no plans to write an article. I just so happened to be out with two of my best childhood friends—a kickoff to summer. Mentioning a story that I started writing with my students during quick write time, they asked if I would continue developing it over the summer. The next thing I knew, they were challenging me to continue writing.
Well . . . Challenge accepted. But, I had no routine.
Don Murray’s words of wisdom from “One Writer’s Secrets” kept playing in my mind:
“Pick the best time for your writing and try to protect that time. Be selfish.”
“Read widely as well as deeply; read writing as well as writing about writing”
“Keep a list of questions to which you want to seek answers.”
“Write for yourself.”
“Write to discover what you have to say.”
“Lower your standards.”
“Write with your ear.”
With Murray’s secrets, I set out to find the time and space for writing that worked best for me. I felt like Goldilocks, trying out the kitchen table, living room, and porch. I experimented with reading and writing during breakfast and after breakfast. Before or after a walk. Read first then write or write first then read.
In my search, a new pattern started to emerge: after reading a YA book, I found some sort of inspiration whether it be the story arc, characters, writing style, word choice, etc. Pausing to recognize this observation and all of my experimentation, I established some consistency:
Over the day’s first cup of tea, I read a YA novel. Usually a chapter or two.
As soon as my mind wandered to my own story, or I found a nugget of inspiration, I would switch to writing.
I established a goal to write at least three composition notebook pages each day.
But, I also realized that I needed flexibility. Some days I wrote creatively, others professionally. Some days I listed ideas or sketched. Some days I wrote first.
If the day was going to be a real scorcher, I either woke up earlier or walked first.
Interestingly, I found that I liked to read and write in all of the places I tried—the kitchen table, living room, and porch. I allowed the day to dictate which worked best for me.
When I was away with my family, this schedule proved more difficult, but I never left home without a book and a smaller bound notebook that my mom gave me. When school started, I kept to this schedule for September and October, but then there was graduate school and daylight savings—which are no excuses—but I found my mornings filled with professional writing and a little bit of extra sleep.
The good news was that I carved out time on the weekends for my routine. I also found time most school days at lunch to read roughly 15 minutes, and I wrote my story each class period during quick writing and self-selected writing. Discovering this time, allowed me to continue being an authentic participant in our workshop. Moreover, I was still finding most of my mini-lesson examples from the YA novels I read, book talking the books I was reading, and sharing my writing with my students.
I am finding it equally challenging to remain on a reading-writing schedule with distance learning. I will admit it: I am staying up late to watch throwback movies with my family, so I am not getting up early enough to read and write before distance learning begins. I do not have the official pause to write with my students each day or a lunch period to read. It is also difficult to turn off the teaching switch once school is ‘done’ because my classroom is my home.
After reading Courtney Knowlton’s piece on priorities, I am striking a balance. I am taking back my mornings and resuming my reading-writing routine. I know this needs to happen—and I know I can do it because the first two weeks of distance learning I stuck to my morning routine. During that time, I revised the below portion of my story—after being inspired by the flowering magnolia trees in my apartment complex. I shared this section as my example for an assignment two weeks ago.
I know I am a better teacher when I am reading and writing for me and can share that experience with my students. In a discussion board conference, one of my students shared how she had writer’s block, and I responded with three possible ways to get out of the funk—three ways that help me. It worked for her, and she recommended those tips to one of her peers during a small-group Teams meeting.
In order to maintain my personal and academic reading-writing life, I need to dedicate the time to read and write creatively and professionally. Reading and writing are some of my most favorite things. I do not want to let anything stand in my way.
So, I challenge you! If you lost your reading-writing routine—for any reason—reclaim it! Take back that sanctified time! Do it. For yourself. For your students. For your profession.
Back in mid-March my principal sent an email entitled, “Emergency Staff Meeting at 3:15 pm.” It was a jarring phrase to read in the middle of an otherwise ordinary day. The purpose was to let us know that students would be off the following Friday and Monday, so we could prepare ten days worth of plans for distance learning. Little did we know that Thursday would be the last time this school year that the students gathered at the front doors of our school and we would need distance learning plans for much, much longer than ten days.
That Friday I sat in a classroom with my colleagues to develop a preliminary plan, and for the last four weeks we have taught our students from a screen. One of the most challenging parts of designing this online learning experience was sifting through the bombardment of resources. I received over 40 emails touting “virtual offerings” and “free access due to school closures.” The distance learning paradox is that I seem to have an unlimited supply of free resources, but I have a much more limited amount of time to interact with my students on a weekly basis. It felt overwhelming at first, but I discovered a process that helped to make the best of these challenging times.
When visualizing how to reach students virtually, it helped me to brainstorm a list of priorities. Here is my list so far:
I want to show students that I care using whatever means necessary, whether we connect by video chat, phone, or mail.
I want to develop something that my students can depend on, since they are dealing with so much change.
I want to incorporate elements that my students are familiar with to give them a sense of comfort.
I want to give students choice during a time that they may feel that so much is out of their control.
I want to use technology to my benefit to give students more one-on-one time and specific feedback.
I want to find ways for students to interact with each other.
I want to assess students with high expectations, but also with flexibility and understanding knowing they have different levels of accessibility and different home situations.
I want to remember to think about my own health and wellness and try to maintain a work life balance.
Throughout March and the beginning of April I have tried to keep these priorities in mind when creating my Google Classroom. So far, I would say I have been most successful with 1, 2, and 5, and honestly 4, 6, and 8 have been quite a struggle. For me, it was an act of inquiry. I would try something, see how my students responded, and adapt accordingly.
Regarding connecting to students, I learned most of them could be reached using the announcement page on my Google Classroom or via messaging their parents on Class Dojo. Thankfully my school was able to give out Chromebooks and once all the students had access to the technology, the best way to explain how to use it was by inviting them to a video chat and sharing my screen with them. Then, I could model how to navigate the site. I learned to be patient. At first hardly any students attended the chat, but over the weeks more and more logged in. Video chats were also a great way to bring a little fun into our situation. For example, we did one to sing happy birthday to a student, and I found an old party hat and bright pink noise maker in my basement that made the students laugh.
To create something the students could depend on, I consistently provided information for them and their parents on our Google Classroom. At the beginning of the week I posted a grid organized by day number with a numbered list of work. Then, within the assignments tab, I titled each assignment using the format: Week #, Day #, Description. When the students clicked on the assignment they found two resources. The first was a video that I made using Screencastify. Each video showed my computer screen, while I explained the directions for the assignment. The other resource was their own copy of a Google Doc that I created for them to submit their thinking. Sometimes after checking the students’ work, I realized my weekly plan needed to be tweaked. If this happened, I would add CHANGE IN PLANS to the assignment title. Even though the work was different week to week, I found that keeping these elements consistent helped to minimize the amount of questions I was receiving for how to complete it.
Over the next few weeks, I will continue to look for guidance with my priorities. Attending Zoom meetings with my professional communities has made me feel more grounded and better equipped to handle teaching from home. In some ways this shift to distance learning has made me feel more alone, but in other ways it has given me new ways to connect with others on a global level.
Call for Distance Learning Blog Posts
The PAWLP Blog would like to hear from you! What does distance learning look like for you, your students, and your school district? What digital programs are you using? What lessons have you tried out? What routines and expectations are you establishing? How are you finding a balance?
Blog posts will be featured in our Distance Learning column each Monday. Please email the PAWLP blog if you are interested or would like to find out more information.
Written by Katie O’Neill, Kimberly DiBiasi and Michelle Ruiz
In Pose, Wobble Flow: A Culturally Proactive Approach to Literary Instruction by Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen, readers gain strategies for incorporating literacy into their diverse classrooms. Acting as professors to pre-service teachers in Colorado, the authors of this text emphasize that teachers should strongly consider what they hear from their students, as well as the contextual factors impacting their students’ lives, not just the standards laid out in the curriculum. They argue that these factors should shape and guide a teacher’s instruction, rather than simply following a one size fits all, curriculum-based approach to teaching literacy. To accomplish this goal, the authors suggest that readers must do three things: pose, wobble, and flow.
Posing entails teachers taking a stance on particular topic or idea, both within their classrooms and beyond. In order to establish a pose, however, the authors suggest that you must first wobble. By wobble, the authors intend for you to struggle and be open to different perspectives and stances, often going outside of your comfort zone. As the authors state, “It (wobble) causes us to stare and consider. Wobble taps us on the shoulder and induces us to ask why. It nudges us towards action” (Garcia & O’Donnell-Allen, 6). Flow is the ultimate goal that one accomplishes after a period of wobbling; “This harmonious and effortless state occurs when we feel immersed in achieving a worthwhile goal that is precisely appropriate for our level of ability” (7). The authors intertwine this framework throughout the text and use it to organize each of their six poses that they present in the text, making it an easy and enjoyable read.
Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen’s first chapter leads teachers through the development and maintenance of their first pose, culturally proactive teaching, which they claim ties together all of the other poses in the text and helps teachers to achieve the ultimate goal, “praxis.” The authors define praxis as “that inextricable union between critical reflection on oppressive conditions and the social action necessary to transform the world into a more just and equitable place” (17). They admit the difficulty, awkwardness and discomfort that culturally proactive teaching entails, as it involves dealing with issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality, but they also emphasize the powerful end result. The authors’ use of bullet points and sidebars summarize this pose well, helping teachers to understand the key features of culturally proactive teaching: questioning existing inequalities in your school and society, anticipating students’ needs, adapting teaching to students’ interests, forming your own cultural personality, reflecting on how it impacts your teaching, incorporating your students’ backgrounds into your teaching, and teaching literacy skills with the purpose of using them for social change. The authors suggest that teachers must reflect deeply and “recognizing that you possess privilege is the first step in using your unearned power for good” in order to achieve this pose (20). This message may be difficult for some readers to hear, but it adds to the overarching theme of wobbling in order to achieve flow. The authors end with a call for readers to disrupt the status quo and work with other teachers to enact change and bring about a greater sense of culturally proactive teaching. In the final lines of the chapter, the authors reiterate Bob Fecho’s powerful message; “The idea is not to achieve perfection, but to incline toward perfection” (30) This ideology of making change one step and one day at a time is one that all teachers can apply to their own classrooms and lives.
While the first chapter focused on a shift in teaching ideology and general teaching practices, the second chapter’s focus was more language arts specific. In this section the authors introduce the pose of “hacking,” one they claim will lead to culturally proactive teaching. As put simply in the opening lines of the chapter, hacking means we as teachers must “figure out how to fiddle with it in order to improve it” (33). While the authors acknowledge that this may be a difficult pose for new teachers, they challenge all teachers to wobble in this area. They align the traditional classroom to a “banking model,” suggesting that teachers actively deposit knowledge into students and then later withdraw it for the purpose of assessment. In this relatable and accurate model, the authors emphasize the passive and meaningless role that many students have in their own learning. In contrast, the authors suggest that teachers enact changes to create an environment that supports vulnerable learning, views learning as production oriented, and positions and views students as makers. Furthermore the authors encourage teachers to wobble by pushing back against systemic constraints that could limit student learning. Rather than the traditional banking model, the authors present scenarios and examples of vulnerable and inquiry driven learning where students learn that not knowing something is an essential part of creativity and of learning. This pushes students towards their “learning edge” where they can “take risks to consider new perspectives and ideas…to consciously take risks to learn something new” (37). The authors reiterate the importance of creating a safe and nurturing environment with clearly established norms in order for students to allow themselves to be vulnerable and engage in this new style of learning. As always, it must start with the teacher; “By taking on the pose of Teacher as Hacker, you can be a powerful model for your students that learning involves vulnerability, uncertainty and change” (34). The authors conclude with concrete and adaptable examples and activities to support teachers in establishing this flow in their own classrooms.
In the third chapter, a call to teaching social change through civic engagement is prominent. Antero and O’Donnell-Allen suggest that teaching reading and writing civically is our duty as educators and should be done using specific audiences and with tangible results our students can see. Some ways they suggest accomplishing this is through the use of technology, which students connect to more today than they ever have. “Henry Jenkins, et al. write, ‘Participatory culture is emerging as the culture that absorbs, and responds to the explosion of new media technologies that make it possible for the average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways’” (63). The access to digital information expands the platform for civic education and allows it to transcend from the classroom into the real world much easier than in the past. It also allows for more accessible topics to be discussed. Although examples in the text include using events such as Ferguson and the slaying of Michael Brown, which are much heavier than our fourth graders can handle, they can still become involved civically through events happening in Springfield or even in Philadelphia via newsfeeds, blog posts or local news sites. Teaching them to have a voice and a stance young can also give them confidence in their writing that can grow and evolve throughout the years so that they are ready to handle the more weighty topics Antero and O’Donnell-Allen described.
Following chapter three’s focus on civic education, chapter four discusses the pose, wobble and flow of turning the teacher into a writer, which was quite an abrupt shift in topics. To establish ourselves as writers, the authors suggest creating a routine for ourselves. “To write requires doing what writers do. Writers must create routines and habits that help them embody their writing identities” (79). By creating this routine for ourselves, we are able to reflect upon our preferences as a writer and apply those ideas in our classroom, which can sometimes feel like it’s easier said than done when so much starts to pile up. What Antero and O’Donnell-Allen do well here, though, is remind us that we need to experience the role of writer if we’re going to teach children how to be writers, which means making the time to write. “To adopt a Teacher as Writer pose means to commit fully to being a writer.” Our students need to see us struggle, they need to see us enjoy ourselves and they need to see us in our writing identity if they are to be writers themselves. This is a great reminder to educators that it’s acceptable to make mistakes and struggle in front of our students.
Chapter five focuses on rethinking reading in the classroom. It expands the idea of “text” and “reading” to explain the wobble teachers face in repositioning themselves as curators in their classrooms, schools and districts. Wobbling with curation means becoming an attentive reader. Teachers are the ones who help create a love of reading to their students. We need to be thinking about the types of books that are chosen for students. We cannot think of just creating a list of “right” books, but instead pick books that promote culturally proactive teaching. We have to think of the students who sit in front of us each day. As educators, it is our job to teach the classics, but not only the classics. We can not forget that our students want to read about issues that happen in their lives. It is our job to blend these types of books for our students and give them a choice. “A guiding principle to remember is that the texts that count in your classroom and in your teaching practice are the texts that you curate as valuable” (93). Our students will value what we value. We need to show our students that we read and not only one genre. They learn from us, so it is important for them to see us read a variety of books and struggle through some of them. “To see themselves as readers, students must also have opportunities to make decisions about what they will read” (98). Not only do teachers need to be curators for their students, but for themselves. Teachers need to remember the importance of reading education research and not just for them, but to share with their fellow teachers, so everyone’s teaching can be enhanced.
The book concludes with the pose of the Teacher as Designer. We need to shape culturally proactive classroom space, but also think of the other spaces for learning. Classroom learning is limiting, there are many obstacles that teachers face, which are out of their control, but we need to learn how to push through those obstacles and become the designer of our classroom. “The world, be it a classroom, a home, a park, a student commute from home to bus to school, must be understood and read” (109). Any space can be turned into a learning environment. Students come into the classroom with feelings regarding school, it is our job to change those negative feelings and create an environment that is welcoming. Students need to feel that they belong and they have ownership within the classroom. Students should be part of the design of their classroom. Technology has become a huge part of the classroom design, but if technology is not used effectively, it just takes up space in the room. In attempts to fix long-standing educational problems, technology is added to classrooms. Without proper training, the technology will do nothing to fix the problem in the school. The pose of Teacher as Designer should not stop at the classroom door. We need to support students inside and outside of our classrooms. The classroom needs to be a place where literacy is taught, but it should not end there. We need to engage the students beyond the classroom. Finding your “flow” can take time and you will most likely experience some big-time fails, but when working with your students, you can create a learning environment that works for everyone. When students help design their learning environment, they are more willing to feel a connection to the space and in turn learn more easily. The space needs to be a place where they can be heard and should reflect their culture. Remember that as you wobble with the pose of Teacher as Designer, don’t get discouraged, you will find your flow, but it might take some trial and error.
This text has many features that make it accessible and applicable for a variety of educators. For educators like us that have limited time for professional reading, this book serves as a great guide, providing modifications and changes that teachers can implement immediately to support and encourage a classroom that is accepting of diversity. Each chapter is a blend of specific teacher-student scenarios and a follow up description by the author of how this pose or ideology can be applied in the classroom. In addition to success stories, the authors were willing to share failures. These relatable scenarios make the reader feel that they are not alone in their wobble.
The organization and theme of “Pose, Wobble, Flow” permeate throughout the chapters. Even though different cultural stances are discussed in each of the six chapters, there is a consistency that incorporates the larger framework of pose, wobble and flow. This makes the text a predictable and flexible read. Similarly later chapters reference earlier chapters and “poses” from the text so that readers are constantly reminded of previously discussed concepts and see how they connect. One could sit down and focus on a single chapter or stance at a time, or read the entire text in one sitting.
As readers, our biggest take away is that as modern educators, we need to push ourselves outside of comfort zones in order to create a culturally relevant classroom. It is imperative for us to struggle in order to recognize the struggles of our own students. For some teachers this struggle is about being open to sharing oneself within the classroom in order to connect and understand one’s students. The authors emphasized how it is the responsibility of the teacher to draw a connection between the lessons in the classroom and the real world. This might also include changing your perspective from “my classroom” to “our classroom.” The authors provide relevant strategies for collaboration.
As much as the authors discuss the pose, wobble, flow concept and make it relatable and meaningful for teachers of all grade levels, many of the examples used in the text are not applicable in our fourth grade classroom. All of the sample scenarios are set in an urban classroom setting where teachers have more discretion to discuss controversial topics. As fourth grade teachers in a conservative, suburban school district, we have to be more careful about what we do and say in our classrooms. We noted this continually while reading the different scenarios and poses. Additionally, regardless of demographics, our fourth graders do not have the developmental maturity or experience to handle these weighty topics. Therefore, secondary teachers may benefit more so from this text than elementary teachers. While we were able to make connections and find applications throughout the text, we feel that the scenarios are better suited for an upper level teacher.
While Shakespeare is well known as a sonnet writer, anyone who has studied any of his plays, knows he had a few more poetry tricks up his sleeves. So, each year as my students study Romeo and Juliet, we notice his poetic language and use it to inspire our own poetry writing. The following are just a few of the poetry freewrites and prompts we experiment with together.
When Romeo and Juliet first meet, they speak to each other in a two-voice sonnet. After we spend some time discussing the back and forth of this conversation (and the implications for their budding relationship), we look at other two-voice poems for additional inspiration.
One of my favorites to study is Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye’s “When Love Arrives.” In this poem, Sarah and Phil go back and forth, sometimes overlapping voices, to describe the different phases of love and relationships. It is a great model to watch and notice how they crafted their delivery to enhance the poetic meaning. Students also notice and discuss the contrasts between the relationship described in this poem and the short lived relationship between Romeo and Juliet.