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.

Celebrate the first day of summer with summer reading.

SummerReadingSummer reading is an important component of an overall reading program. Research shows that summer vacation often has a significant negative effect on student learning. Providing opportunities for students to read regularly during the summer can prevent documented reading achievement losses. The bottom line is that students who read during the summer do better in the fall.

A June literacy fair for students and their families is the perfect way to end the school year and get students off on the right track for the summer. In addition to standard carnival fare (face painting, games of chance, etc.), offer a variety of fun literacy-based activities!

  • The cost of entrance? Ask students to bring a lightly used book as an entrance pass, to be collected on a table or display. As students leave, each person can select a book to keep from the donations.
  • Hold a literary trivia contest, with new, donated books for prizes.
  • Invite an author to your school for a book reading/signing event. If the author can’t attend in person, have the author Skype in to talk with the students.
  • Don’t forget to invite families to your event and to include informational material.

How will you kick off the summer with reading?

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. 

bethgulley

MLA 8: We Are Here, But Should We Have Come?

(American Attitudes toward the New Version of the Popular Documentation Style)

This post is written by member Beth Gulley.

I’m spending my sabbatical year teaching in Xi’an, China. As part of my work here, the faculty invited me to present something at an international workshop on comparative language education.  I wanted to speak on a topic important to US  teachers that would have relevance to the Chinese and European audience. I remembered that before I left the United States in August, faculty were wrestling with the new MLA guidelines. While I am teaching writing to English majors here in China, research and documentation seem to be absent from the textbook and other teaching materials. Teaching documentation could be a meaningful topic. I resolved to find out how American teachers thought the transition to MLA 8 was going.

In February 2017, I sent a query out to the Conference of Basic Writing listserv, the TYCA listerv, the Kansas Association of Teachers of English (KATE) Facebook page, and the Comp I listserv at my own institution—Johnson County Community College. (These are NCTE affiliate groups except for my own college.) I invited colleagues to send me answers to four questions:

1) Are you teaching MLA 8 to your students? If so, what level of
students are you teaching it to?
2) How are students responding to the change? Is MLA 8 easier or
harder for them to use than MLA 7?
3) What advice would you give to someone who was teaching MLA 8
for the first time?
4) What is the value of teaching a documentation style?

Shortly after I posed the questions, I received responses from all four of the places I asked the questions. In all, I collected nineteen responses that I could use; plus, three people responded just to say hello to me. Of course, English teachers are the best people in the world, and they often engage in the conversation in meaningful ways that do not in any way follow directions. Everyone wanted to share advice and resources, most people shared what they thought the value of teaching documentation was, but some people did not answer the question about how students are responding to the change.

In response to question one—Are you teaching MLA 8?—fifteen people said yes. Two people said they were teaching APA instead. Two people said they were still teaching MLA 7. The most important thing to me is that no one in the United States said they don’t believe in teaching documentation at all. The level of students learning MLA 8 included first-year composition students, basic writing students, English language learners, and high school students.

Fewer people responded directly to question two about students’ responses to the change. Of the people who answered, eight said they thought MLA 8 was easier for students. One said MLA 8 was harder for students. Four people were not teaching MLA 8. Six people did not answer the question. The main reason people thought MLA 8 worked better for students was because MLA 8 is more forgiving. The idea of the containers seems to connect with students as well. It doesn’t hurt that all the citation machines and writing center handouts were recently updated, too.

The richest part of the survey results were the answers to questions three and four. In fact, I was so honored and excited by the resources people shared with me that I built a website to house them so I could share them (MLA 8: We Are Here, but Should We Have Come?). In addition to the resources that are already there, I would be happy to add new ones that people share with me. The resources included handouts, presentations, lesson plans, and templates. One of my favorite lesson plans asked students to translate a works cited page from MLA 7 into MLA 8 after finding the sources from the page. Another teacher made pads of the MLA Practice Template for her students to use while working on their research papers.

After going through the responses, I found excellent arguments for teaching a documentation style. Mainly, in doing so we teach the values of our discipline—importance of authors, the location in a text, precise language. We help students think about the rhetoric of the citation as a way to evaluate their sources. We teach them academic honesty, to be excellent in small things, to use their handbooks, and to be organized. The complete list is on the resources website.

In the United States, we universally teach students to document their sources, but in China, teachers seem more apt to expect students to figure out documentation on their own. Despite this fact, my presentation was well received. Thank you to everyone who shared with me.

Beth Gulley teaches composition and basic writing at Johnson County Community College. She is currently using her sabbatical to teach English in Xi’an, China.