Category Archives: Teaching

kellytumy

READ the Map!

This post is written by member Kelly Tumy.

Young adult literature has earned a place in secondary classrooms, but are we doing enough to recognize the different elements in this genre, allowing students to experience the complete book?  Examining what YA authors do when they create maps to use in their narrative spaces and taking time to really read a map will open new avenues for every kind of reader in our classrooms. Have you ever really looked at a map? I mean, really looked at it, and not just looked at it, but examined it, READ it? YA authors have, and their maps have real purpose linked to their narratives that is just waiting to be discovered.

I had the opportunity to develop and present a workshop this year with a geography professor from the University of Houston-Clear Lake—Dr. Jeffrey Lash—who opened my eyes to the wonders of maps. I had always been curious about why maps were included in many of the YA books I read, but the intent didn’t dawn on me until I was in a session with Jeff, and he asked us to read a map. Read a map?  Don’t we just look at maps and draw conclusions and find our way?  I was shown such an enlightening path to working with maps that I knew I wanted to go back and re-read books with maps and make map-reading a part of the learning environment for both teachers and students.

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Credit: Jordan Saia (jordansaia.com)

Choosing books was easy as Six of Crows had just come out, and I was intrigued by the double map in the front of the book.  I then added Snow like Ashes, We Were Liars, and City of a Thousand Dolls. Starting with some popular YA sites like Book Riot, I found some articles that actually address how maps become a part of a book’s narrative.  Then, making connections between how the setting influences the narrative, why the map was included, how characters change over time, and how the maps influenced my understanding of that character and those changes, I began seeing how maps shaped each narrative.

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Miriam Forster, A City of a Thousand Dolls

But the real gem of doing this work was the collegiality and the cross-curricular connections I was able to make with Dr. Lash. He dutifully read all the books I sent him; he shared map resources from National Geographic and took all the participants, including me, on some incredibly deep map-reading exercises.  Building on the work of Phil Gershmel, we navigated the shores of Ketterdam from Six of Crows with a new lens—a geography lens. We read the map and learned how to identify and analyze patterns, regions, movement, and hierarchies.  We practiced comparing places and interpreting how elements on the map were connected or influenced each other all the while making connections back to each narrative. In We Were Liars, we explored the fictitious yet ominously real island off the coast of Massachusetts inhabited by an incredibly wealthy family. We made comparisons, we made associations with another famous family, and we examined how the island changed over time based on traditional and nontraditional inhabitants. In short, we gave the narrative dimension by examining, reading the maps. Lash shared he was not a reader until a middle school teacher gave him a book about the Lewis and Clark expedition complete with a fold-out map, and then he was hooked—all he wanted was a book with a map to explore, read, and keep him engaged in reading.

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Six of Crows Leigh Bardugo

What are we doing to keep learners engaged in reading?  I never would have believed that maps would have such an influence on me as a reader—I took the road less traveled and found something new about the YA genre that I love.  Teachers need to remember that literature will always create a sense of place—how we examine that place outside of traditional language arts study will determine the number of children we engage and how many lifelong readers we grow in our classrooms.

Kelly E. Tumy is the curriculum director for English language arts and social studies for the Harris County Department of Education in Houston, TX. She is currently the vice president for membership and affiliates for the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts and a passionate advocate of young adult literature in the secondary classroom. 

erinoneillcarlos

What Happened to Carlos?

This post is written by member Erin O’Neill Armendarez, NCTE’s Higher Education Policy Analyst for New Mexico.

One semester years ago, after noticing a student’s uncharacteristic absence, I asked the students who usually sat next to him, “Where is Carlos?”

“Oh, he was deported, ma’am,” was the casual response. Deported? Wait. Carlos — not a US citizen?

From time to time, I still wonder about him.  Occasionally I find myself remembering an essay written by a student from Juarez, Mexico, who often crossed the border to visit family and friends. His essay described an afternoon in Mexico when suddenly the loud, staccato sound of automatic weapons fire sent the entire street into immediate panic. Finally summoning the courage to explore, my student encountered two strangers lying dead on the street, haloed in rings of blood.

“How did that make you feel?” I wrote in the margins of his essay, fumbling to prompt him toward some larger purpose. “I don’t know,” he said when we discussed it. “It just happened. It happens a lot.”

Right. Okay—pretty good structure, development, and punctuation — we will give the essay a pass.

With my nose to the grindstone teaching, I did not know much about the DACA program, New Mexico law with respect to undocumented students, or even why an undocumented person would not do the obvious thing —  get into the citizenship pipeline and out of the spotlight.

Now I find I have to think about these things, because I care about all the students who have a legal right to be in my classroom, about their ability to learn and their freedom to come to class without having to worry about whether their parents, grandparents, or siblings will be unlawfully questioned, apprehended, and taken to one of the nation’s detention centers before the evening meal.

After ICE raids in February 2017 coincided with “A Day without Immigrants” activities, absence spiked almost 148% in Las Cruces public elementary schools. Officials saw a connection and immediately made a public announcement that schools and buses are considered “sensitive” spaces where inquiries and arrests would not be made without a warrant or some other compelling reason.

Newer, tighter federal regulations probably will not cause families to voluntarily send their undocumented members back to wherever they came from, as the risk of returning for most far outweighs the risk of staying. Many families immigrated to avoid ongoing, life-threatening violence in their communities. Alternatively, they immigrated to avoid the desperation of poverty and to take advantage of the chance to work and to meaningfully contribute to a society where a stable, prosperous life might be possible. Nevertheless, this new climate of fear could keep students in the shadows indefinitely as they and their families do their best to avoid sudden detention or deportation.

Whatever we might believe about public rhetoric and federal policy with respect to undocumented immigrants, I hope we can all agree on this: children should be in school. To learn and to grow as they should, they also need to be cared for by stable families able to meet their basic needs.

Yes, our schools are already populated with too many children whose parents are US citizens struggling below the poverty line; too many children in our nation’s schools are exposed to horrifying trauma and crime. New Mexico hovers at the top of the national rankings for child poverty and for violence against children. However, addressing the needs of one group of children should not necessitate abandoning the needs of another group. Kids are kids.

The needs of all children should be prioritized. Children of refugees often have trouble learning and focusing in school. The American Psychological Association and other mental health agencies have convincingly documented the depression, anxiety, and PTSD suffered by refugee students scarred by past trauma and the constant threat of separation from loved ones. If that were not enough, many immigrant children are bullied at school because of obvious differences in dress or ethnicity.  Some suffer the humiliation of having their spoken English mocked by classmates.

Children have no power over their own legal status; they are completely dependent on the adults around them and on our legal system. For a variety of reasons, legal status can be virtually impossible to get for many family members of documented immigrants and US citizens. In the best of circumstances, for many it would (and in fact does) take decades. Meanwhile, for their children enrolled in classes in the United States, the very real possibility of deportation or detention (de facto imprisonment) looms.

As educators we are not able to solve all of these complex problems. But at the very least, we should be willing to welcome each and every student who is legally admitted to our classrooms, unlike an Albuquerque high school teacher who posted on Facebook that she believed undocumented students should be deported to “better serve American citizen students.”

Before posting, she probably did not think carefully enough about how her words would hurt her students, kids who were already hurting in ways she knew nothing about.

As educators we are constantly searching for the best ways to serve all of our students. Although it can be a struggle, we strive to offer the best possible educational opportunities to every single one, offering them a haven against violence, prejudice, and ignorance.

I understand educators will have varying opinions on this topic. My point is that until the recent ICE raids, I never thought carefully about the issues undocumented immigrants — including students — face beyond their struggles with our perplexing idiomatic expressions and our less than intuitive system for spelling in English.

Now I want to be sure that all of my students are able to attend all of their classes. I want to be sure they know they are truly welcome, respected by all in my classroom and on campus.

It is my job to support their dreams with high-quality educational experiences no matter where they came from or how they got here. While I do not know where they have been, I know what they might become if given a chance.

Erin O’Neill Armendarez teaches writing courses at New Mexico State University Alamogordo, a community college in southcentral New Mexico. 

Please read NCTE’s 2015 Resolution on the Dignity and Education of Immigrant, Undocumented and Unaccompanied Youth.

An LGBTQ + Identity Toolkit for Educators

 

We’re living in scary and challenging times as educators. Issues connected to LGBTQI+ people have been brought into a heightened focus in the news, and this means it has never been more urgent for these issues to be folded into conversations within our schools and classrooms. But many teachers find themselves ill-equipped and ill-prepared to guide these discussions and meet the myriad emergent needs of their students in this space. That’s why I’m excited to share a new set of resources I’ve helped to create with you.

WNET, the education department of PBS LearningMedia, convened an advisory boardwhich I was part of—and these five individuals, including educators and representatives from the NYC Department of Education’s Guidance Office and the LGBTQ+ Community Liaison, created The LGBTQ+ Identity: A Toolkit for Educators Collection.

The advisory board workshopped the content to ensure it aligned with instructional goals that directly support educators and students. The kit includes a series of digital media resources that will help administrators, guidance counselors, and educators understand and effectively address the complex and difficult issues faced by LGBTQ+ students.

The collection features short segments of video content from WNET’s groundbreaking LGBTQ+ series First Person, a digital series that delivers candid personal narratives illustrating larger conversations about gender, sexuality, social norms, and identity development. The video content is scaffolded by educational resources (background information, conversation guides, discussion questions, and teaching tips connected to the standards) to facilitate their use in educational settings. When used in tandem, the videos and accompanying educational resources will help promote understanding, awareness, and self-esteem.

The collection is distributed free of charge through PBS LearningMedia (pbslearningmedia.org) and is truly the destination for high-quality, trusted digital content and solutions that can inspire students and transform learning. New seasons of First Person are in the works now.

Please share with others, and don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions!

For viewing of Season 1 go to: LGBTQ+ Identity Collection on PBS LearningMedia; watch the first video of Season 2Boundless Black Masculinity.

donnabrown

Listing the Difference

This post is written by member Donna Brown.

As educators, we are constantly being asked to do more and perform better.  These expectations are an energy drainer that leads us to question ourselves.  Why do we teach? Are we truly making a difference?  Do policymakers really have the best interests of educators and students? These questions and many more can lead us to a place of negative thinking. I often find myself falling into this rut from time to time. Meeno Rami suggests that we take stock of energy drainers and find ways to refuel ourselves as teachers.  We can choose our attitude and how we interact with others.  I realized that how I take in information and store it in my mind controls my attitude.

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A tip that has helped me when I get to feeling negative, drained, or overwhelmed is to make lists.  The lists are not just what I need to do, but what I have done.  There are so many things that we do as teachers automatically, but do not give ourselves credit for.  We always have our “To Do” list.  The “To Do” list for me was an energy drainer.  I found that I always created a list that contained many tasks that no one could really accomplish in one day.  In order to make it a positive experience, I started a list for “I did this today. . . . ”  At the end of each day, I would take a few minutes and reflect on where I made a difference.
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For example:

  • I recommended three books to a reluctant reader and he took one.
  • I helped a parent relax through an email.
  • I taught an awesome lesson using persuasive texts.
  • I discussed writing with 14 kids today.
  • I said encouraging words to a colleague who is struggling.
  • I walked away from a debate that could take away my energy.

I would then sit back and reflect on what I have done. My lists are a positive reminder that my work matters to many people and that I make a difference.

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The questions of valuing our work will always be here.  As educators, we know that many people do not understand the needs or realities of teaching.  Those who make the laws and influence some of our day-to-day work do not see the entire picture as passionately as we do. We cannot allow the perspective of others to cause us to lose hope educating the students we see each day.  Negativity is always present. This is part of the world we live in; however, we can structure our own day and choose to live positively, making a difference to future generations.

Donna Brown is a Humanities Instructional Coach in Clear Creek ISD located near Houston, Texas.  She supports ELA staff in elementary and secondary schools.  Donna also is the Technology Chairperson for Texas Teachers of ELA and offers professional development to schools on ELA, instructional coaching, and best instructional practices.  Twitter @DonnaBr105

matthewboedy

Professing While Teaching

This post is written by member Matthew Boedy. 

As is usual in first-year composition, I assigned a research project to my students. In a course I titled The Rhetoric of Higher Education this semester, I proposed to my students that they embark on a research agenda of an issue affecting higher education.

Some of the perennial subjects showed up in student choices: student loan debt, tuition increases, paying student athletes, and “safe spaces.” These were all subjects I put on the syllabus. I listed on the syllabus other issues such as academic freedom, the role of the humanities, and the ways in which colleges have branded themselves. I provided a few readings for each topic, and we spent a week discussing each subject. Many of these sources showed up in the final papers, though many students had other, better sources.

I also strategically scheduled a week on the syllabus for an issue I have been involved in: the fight to prevent allowing guns on college campuses. I deliberately put that issue on the syllabus on the same day I also assigned the first step in the research process, hoping students would claim that issue.

For two years I have written (most recently here) and spoken against bills in our state legislature that would give those age twenty-one and older permission to carry a concealed, permitted weapon on campus, albeit in limited areas. That advocacy has gotten me placed on a conservative “professor watchlist” (I won’t link to it), some indirect pushback from my administration, and not a few insulting online comments.

My syllabus scheme was somewhat successful. About twenty of my sixty students chose “campus carry” as their research project. Why did they? In my class, at my university, and in my state, the overwhelming majority of students (not to mention faculty and staff) are against guns on campus. So I assume that those who chose to write about it did so because they share that opinion. But a few students chose to argue in favor of the idea. In Georgia we have a strong “gun culture” and a state law that allows concealed weapons in most public places, though not college campuses.

Of course, the question of grading comes up. Do those students writing in favor of guns think I am biased? I am never sure. I probably hold those who agree with me to a higher standard, checking more closely their sources and arguments even in the last, rushed days of the semester.

Some might argue that if I am doing my job correctly, it doesn’t matter whether students think I am biased. To these people, the question is whether I can set aside my personal bias to grade fairly, given the assignment and expectations for citations and conclusions.

But this issue is not merely one of personal bias for me. I cannot set aside my conclusion that campus carry is dangerous. And what is fair here? In student assessment, it is not a simple matter of presenting evidence to back up conclusions. It is also a matter of credibility, audience, and ethics.

For example, students in my class who favor campus carry, echoing sources they have read, point out that my school already has guns (we have the usual campus police and we are a military school, though my particular campus does not house military personnel). They transition from this point to champion campus carry by concluding we should not fear guns at all because we don’t fear those other guns. Yet this is a weak argument because it is a non sequitur. The comparison is not apples-to-apples, because military and police weapons are handled by well-trained individuals and securely locked away when not. I discount the paper that makes this argument.

On the other hand, those students who agree with me and who quote my work in their essays sometimes don’t quote me well, and I discount them for that. And here “well” means using my information to make their own claim, not merely summarizing my points.

Overall, in class I seek to give all students the opportunity to practice their thinking and show them ways to do that well. In doing that through the topic of campus carry, I aim to provide national context (each state’s version of this bill is different), historical context (the rise of such bills since 2008), and the importance of stakeholders and audience (I stress to students that I am their reader, not their audience). I hope this experience has taught them that nothing we do in the classroom – especially any type of literacy instruction – is free from politics.

This assignment was a teaching moment for them but also a learning moment for me. I continually have to learn how to be political without, well, being political. The question for me this semester has been how to balance my advocacy and my teaching. And whether “balance” is the right metaphor. I don’t feel I have to mention a claim from “each side” when I bring up the issue.

But I did make sure that the readings I included on the syllabus for the week we spent examining campus carry were about equal in number for each side. While I did not fact-check every claim in the pro-gun sources, I knew many would be rebutted the next class period by readings from those against guns on campus. I also did not disparage the pro-gun sites in general. (I used links from the NRA and groups committed to campus carry in my state. On my side, I used some of my work, the governor’s veto from last year’s version of this bill, a survey from another university conducted by the student government association that showed 70% opposed, and a tweet from REM front man Michael Stipe, who was among a handful of celebrities from Georgia to announce their opposition.)

I made clear my position in class while also suggesting that those on “the other side” were sincere and informed, to be taken seriously. Yet not every claim made in this debate is accurate and ethical. A question for my students is who to believe on this issue. There are many voices and I am one, but I am a voice with built-in credibility and authority. And so with great power comes great responsibility. In that vein, I invited two state legislators into my class – two gun rights advocates who not only voted for the bill but who also represent my students and me.

I decided before the legislators came that I would not interrupt or speak in opposition during their time in my class. I did not want the class to become a debating ground between me and them; this was for the students. I thought any dissension from me would create unneeded discomfort. I wanted to show some civility and give the legislators room to make their case. I did not fear they would convince students, as I knew my side also had compelling arguments. And the legislators used many different types of appeals to convince the class – mainly invention strategies we had talked about in class during this semester. It was helpful for students to see effective rhetoric at work.

During the Q&A period after the presentation, one student asked about the lack of training required to get a concealed weapons permit in our state. The legislators encouraged any permit holder to get training. Another student questioned why there was a need for guns after a law passed last year allowing Tasers and stun guns on campus. The legislators suggested those devices would not help those physically weaker.

Then the legislators argued that there was a massive crime increase on some campuses in our state. I stayed quiet, knowing these stats were misleading. But the next class day I felt compelled to provide needed context to the statistics the legislators cited. I praised parts of what the legislators said (they effectively used enthymemes and had a credible personal history with guns, for example). Then I pointed out what the FBI says about crime stats: using one number in a narrow way as they did is not prudent. Then I pointed to contradictory numbers put out by the same university the legislators quoted. Then I showed students how some universities in the same state report crimes that happened in places they can’t verify, i.e., off campus.

Finally I asked my students how we decide which numbers to use. One student responded that we use the ones that best fit our case. I cried a pox on both our houses, because many people in this debate do this. So I asked, in a larger context, how do we frame statistics? Students provided few answers within some awkward silence – perhaps the first time they had ever been asked to grapple seriously with the question.

I ended the conversation talking about the connection between facts and who presents them, how pathos appeals are intertwined with statistics, and how our literacy practices are fraught with complexities. Then I told students that I can’t and won’t tell them what to write. I can only put them in situations where they try out rhetorical strategies I have taught and so create credibility for themselves as writers. This is illuminating a path to learning, not necessarily a teaching of composition. This point is worth making in a political climate in which so many think we professors (especially in the humanities) bar or demean certain student opinions. It is also worth advocating for the asking of important questions. And the silent struggle to understand.

Dr. Matthew Boedy is an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric of Composition at the University of North Georgia in Gainesville, Ga. He teaches sections of First Year Composition and advanced professional writing courses.