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Saving Summer: Flat-lining.

The Ongoing Battle Between Science Teachers And Fake News

NPR-Ed posted an article this morning about how science teachers encounter young minds already signed onto misconceptions and falsehoods. This touched a hard nerve with me, as for years I’ve done my best to straddle the dangerous tightrope between critical thinking skills and teachings of celebrities/prophets. Every time I teach a mythology or origin mythology unit I state a disclaimer that this is just what other cultures believe, and if they practice a religion/faith, their leaders at their place of worship have studied these same stories, too, to gain better understanding into their own ideas, beliefs, and faiths. This seemed to work most of the time. I strove for diplomacy and inclusion.

But these are not ordinary times, and I need to think differently.

via GIPHY

And I appreciate the final piece of advice, perhaps the only piece of advice there is available to us:

“For cases like this, Yoon suggests teachers give students the tools to think like a scientist. Teach them to gather evidence, check sources, deduce, hypothesTize and synthesize results. Hopefully, then, they will come to the truth on their own.”

Though I am not a science teacher, last time I checked I am a human on this planet and am bound by the same rules of physics and biology. The ELA teachers’ tasks include those critical thinking skills in any discourse about literature or informational media. The same advice for the science teachers serve all content area teachers, but it may not go far enough. The questioning techniques such as flipping a question around, as well as helping students understand their neurological processes of being stuck in “right-fight” mode. When we think we’re right without evidence or based on wobbly beliefs/bad arguments, we are already on the defensive. How can one come to ‘truth on their own’ if they already think they live there?

Examples:

What if the earth is flat? How did thinkers prove it wasn’t? Why do people want to believe this?

What would result if they’re right? What does it mean if they’re wrong? Is it okay to believe something that isn’t factual? When?

Why is this cartoon funny?

 

How to Prove to Yourself (or Shaq) the Earth Is Round

Top 10 Ways to Know the Earth is Not Flat

How To Tell Someone They’re Wrong (And Make Them Feel Good About It)

A philosopher’s 350-year-old trick to get people to change their minds is now backed up by psychologists

And if you need a list of handy-dandy critical thinking skills, here you go.

In the daily bombardment of hateful rhetoric, dog whistles, and profanity, perhaps cooling down and allowing for mindful space to think is going to keep us all sane. We are all a mix of beliefs, truths, opinions, and facts. Maybe just remind our students that some things they believed when they were little they don’t believe now, and that it’s okay to change minds. What things do they want to see in the world to change, and what is their plan on trying to get others to think about things differently?

 

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Saving Summer: The Expert

 

My best skill, my most beloved gift,  is teaching writing.

Hold that thought.

This morning it occurred to me that my task every summer is not to just ‘take a break,’ or enjoy the nice weather, but to clean up my mental lag, too. (Notice how I used the words “task” and “break” in the same sentence? That is the paradox of teachers’ years.) Little phrases or incidents roll around in my noggin until they lose their centrifugal force and drop off of my mind. All the little slings and arrows, missteps and frustrating meetings and discussions, worrisome students, and…other stuff. Just. Other stuff. It takes awhile for it to go down my mental head drain, and then a few weeks in, right about now, I’m feeling confident again, have my sense of agency and rest, knowing in those few weeks until school begins again I’ll be refreshed and capable. And more importantly, take back some modicum of control over my responses to outside forces. That’s is what these weeks are for. That and dentist appointments.

And today, very timely, preternaturally coincidentally, a friend posted this Medium essay by Jose Vilson, “Why Teachers Need to See Themselves As Experts.”

Mr. Vilson says many wise things, strong things–but not radical things. We teachers, who spend hours searching for the best and better ways to practice our profession, do not need permission to own what we know, our expertise, and our talents.

If this happens to our most visible spokespeople, what does that say about the rest of us? We have systems that constantly bombard us with deficit modeling. I’ve sat in a billion PDs where we’re told that we’re failing our kids, even when the kids themselves say otherwise. The person saying it is usually a professional developer who isn’t worth their weight in whiteboard ink. Politicians tell us that we’re not yielding results with measures that are both inappropriate and wildly unstable. Then, they turn around and tell us they can’t alleviate and eradicate oppressions like poverty, institutional racism, gender inequity, and the prison injustice system. We’re told by any number of folks that they’d left the classroom for greener pastures but still taut the “teacher” title and get to speak on behalf of us. (Nah.) We get stacks of books from folks we love (few) and folks we have no love for (many), but the letters “Dr.” or “Ph. D” legitimized why a district spent thousands of dollars on folks who may or may not have better pedagogical knowledge than the folks being handed these books.

Can I get an “Amen?!”

He’s not suggesting bragging for bragging’s sake. The most skilled professionals know it is safe to say “I don’t know, but let’s collaborate and figure this out together…” No one knows everything, nor should they. There is no growth, no creativity, from a vacuum in professional development space. I’ve said many times that there are those who know how to naturally, seamlessly collaborate: they ask questions not assuming the answers and have the flexible thinking skills to roll new thoughts in their heads like Play-Doh and create something new.

“In our quest to demonstrate humility, we can tip over into modesty, where we don’t acknowledge the fullness of the gifts we’ve been given. We don’t have to pretend to have it all together, either. I’m more suggesting that we should be allowed to express the depth of what we do and put our strongest foot in the work we’re already doing with our students and communities.”

 

Now I am ashamed to say this is my first time knowing about Jose Vilson, and he is the real deal. Go to his page and read his bio. I’m an NBCT, too, and an NWP Fellow. And if he says I should own my expertise, then own it I shall. It’s for my students anyway, because it gives me the joy to see them grow and find their voices, too. That simple. I know how to teach writing, and help students become writers. That simple.

And I have made a promise to myself, that if I am ever at a meeting like one that occurred in December, I will respectfully, politely, leave. It won’t be an act of defiance, but self-respect, and respect for our work.

“Teachers who do the work model justice in this way. When given a platform, the best of us can look at the rest of the society eye-to-eye, feet firmly planted, and let truth sprout from within. That’s the work, and if a teacher’s already there, then they should take a mic and pump up the volume. Shake the corridors.”

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Saving Summer: More Good Things

Literary Analysis, Themes, and Essay Writing, Oh my!!

How did I not know about this? (probably because of PG-13 language: I’ll get permission slips, promise!)

ThugNotes is narrated by Sparky Sweets, Ph.D., and yes there is some language, but the plot summaries and analysis are epic. For a secondary audience, this modern version of CliffsNotes is helpful and entertaining. Since I’m teaching a unit on Lord of the Flies next year I am thankful for his analysis and insight.

Next: thinking about essays and writing structures differently:

An Essay Primer for Adults: Six Essay Types You Should Know by Lorraine Berry

An Essay Primer for Adults: 6 Essay Types You Should Know

Here they are to preserve and keep:

The linear narrative essay: This essay structure is self-explanatory. The story is told in a straightforward narrative, and is usually told in chronological order. Sometimes, there are flashbacks contained in the essay, but that doesn’t disrupt the forward motion of the narrative. One essay that may be of interest in the coming weeks as we approach the August 21 “Great American Eclipse” is Annie Dillard’s “Total Eclipse,” which is published in her collection, Teaching a Stone to Talk.

The triptych essay: Just as a triptych painting features three panels, so too does a triptych essay feature three separate sections that are not continuous with each other, but that may shed light on the other two parts. See “Triptych” by Samina Najmi, which was published in World Literature Today.

The collage essay: This type of essay features bits and pieces – vignettes – of prose that are collected together to form an essay. They often resemble poetry as the writing for a collage essay tends to be lyrical. One of my favorite collage essays is Sherman Alexie’s “Captivity,” which appeared in First Indian on the Moon.

The experimental essay: These essays seem to buck all known structures. One of the most unusual of these essays is “The Body” by Jenny Boully. The pages of the essay are blank – except for the footnotes, which are extensive. It turns out that the footnotes are the entire essay. “The Body” is characterized as a lyrical essay

The last two forms of essay that I wish to discuss are the “hermit crab” essay and the “braided” essay, and here I’d like to offer more exploration of two particular essays that are examples of them.

The hermit crab essay: In 1972, John McPhee wrote “The Search for Marvin Gardens,” and it was published in the New Yorker. He used the original game of “Monopoly” – the original American version that was based on the streets of Atlantic City, New Jersey – and he uses going around the board as the frame for the essay, making this a perfect example of a “hermit crab” essay.

In the essay, McPhee is playing a game of Monopoly but he is also recounting walking the streets of Atlantic City. The game is taking place at an international singles championship of Monopoly play, where it is possible for two skilled players to play an entire game in fewer than fifteen minutes.

McPhee intersperses the history of America in the details, but also how Atlantic City was the planned “invention” as a railroad terminus that would be a “bathing village.” In preliminary sketches, the village was labeled as an “Atlantic city,” and the name stuck. In the early 1930s, Charles B. Darrow took those early sketches of the city and based a game board on it.

So, as McPhee lands on each property or group of properties, he tells the story of each part of town. When McPhee’s piece lands him in jail, he uses it as an opportunity to visit the city jail, which in 1972 seemed to be chock-full of drug offenders. He also documents the “facade” aspect shared by resort towns. Once you travel off the beach-side main drag, you are in “the bulk of the city, and it looks like Metz in 1919, Cologne in 1944. Nothing has actually exploded. It is not bomb damage. It is deep and complex decay. Roofs are off. Bricks are scattered in the street.”

He walks these streets and sees long lines of people standing in line at the unemployment office. Newspapers in 2017 tell us that we have an “opioid crisis,” but a multiplicity of signs urging addicts to get help are present in Atlantic City in 1973 (perhaps another reminder that something doesn’t become a crisis until middle class white kids in the suburbs are dying).

McPhee walks through these neighborhoods looking for the one Monopoly property he can’t find: Marvin Gardens. No one with whom he speaks, those living in their bombed-out neighborhoods, has heard of it. It turns out that Marvin Gardens, “the ultimate out wash of Monopoly, is a citadel and sanctuary of the middle class.” It is a suburb within a suburb, what we might now refer to as a “gated community,” separated from the rest of Atlantic City and patrolled with a heavy police presence to keep the rest of the city out.

If you’ve been paying attention while reading, you realize that McPhee has used his hermit crab essay to write a critique of capitalism.

The braided essay: “The Fourth State of Matter,” by Jo Ann Beard is, I must confess, my favorite essay. It, too, was originally published in the New Yorker in 1996. Beard offers a braided essay – in which she is telling a number of stories that are all related to the time she spent on the editorial staff of a physics journal at the University of Iowa. Over the course of the essay, which begins with Beard’s poignant description of the daily routine she experiences as she cares for her aged, incontinent dog, the reader is braced in anticipation that the dog will die.

 

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Saving Summer: Rethinking Themes, Essays, and Media

I’m about to do a dangerous thing: post a document long before it’s “ready.” It is not even close, and I think–that’s where it should be. A finished document would mean there is no room for growth or adaptation; it’s a sketch. Flipping my thinking around about the silo type of units, students would be better served if we took a gravitational, or centrifugal force idea. While we’re spinning, we stay connected and use metacognition to be cognizant of what draws us in. Choices are key, here, with a map for guidance. In essence, every UBD and essential questions demand a variety of genres and modes of texts. We think about big issues in a kaleidoscope way, not linear. I started thinking about units I’ve created in the past, and some of the theme topics, and came up with this document:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0ByKyQvl3l_F5QWxjM09NbzAyZjA/view?usp=sharing

Ethical ELA is a huge influencer, and sites such as

https://www.discoverartifacts.com/

https://www.commonlit.org/

Nothing should be off limits: essays, short stories, podcasts, films, novels, poetry, letters, texts, tweets, news, classics and modern re-tellings, pop culture, graphic novels, series: sources for texts and media are bordering on the infinite. If you can write it or read it, it belongs.

Oh, and for the curated list, a wonderful collection of essays that may come in handy:

10 personal essays that will teach you how to write

What big questions are ones you come back to again and again in your teaching? No matter how many times I watch Descendants, I see something new.

Descendants from Goro Fujita on Vimeo.

 

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Saving Summer: Why do I need this?

Relevancy: how many students passively sit in class, waiting to be entertained? Engagement is key, but as the wise man said, “I’m afraid that some times you’ll play lonely games too. Games you can’t win ‘cause /you’ll play against you.” In other words: sometimes you’re going to have to enjoy your own company and think/create your own thoughts.

Why Humanities? Why read? Why listen? Why talk?

To be an interesting human.

The other morning scrolling through social media I watched a Buzzfeed talk — and immediately recognized it as a character analysis. “Captain Obvious,” yes, that may be; however, many students watch and critique the media they love, or hate, all the time–they may not know it. The trick is to make school not so “school-y.” Still a work in progress for me.

@BuzzFeedCocoaButter posted this on Facebook. I could not find it on Youtube, so this is a screencasting. My apologies for the quality.

 

CocoaButter does a beautiful job of how this character relates to her personally (“If you could be friends with this character…?”) and how the character relates to the whole of the narrative, including her own parallel narrative in the series.

This article in Edutopia outlines precisely how to teach literary analysis:

Teaching Literary Analysis

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/reaching-literary-analysis-rusul-alrubail

What may be the bridge between this example of literary analysis (with its focus on character) is explaining to students (the teaching part) that CocoaButter didn’t just talk off the top of her head. She went through this process of discussion, gathering evidence, etc. It would be an interesting lesson to see if students can deconstruct her process. But most of all: the topic of Jodie Landon was clearly important to her, and she brought the “So What?” importance to her topic. It’s not enough to summarize and answer questions rotely–students must connect emotionally to their ideas and topics, and then have the tools and platform to share.

“Analyze”

This critical stage is often a learning curve for many students. It’s important that the teacher helps them distinguish between descriptive writing and analytical writing. Descriptive writing answers the “who,” “what,” “where,” and “how” questions. It often tends to summarize the text. Analytical writing, however, answers to the “why” question. When students consider the question, “Why is this point important?”, it pushes them beyond mere description into ideas that are convincing, argumentative, and defend a position.”–https://www.edutopia.org/blog/reaching-literary-analysis-rusul-alrubail

This infographic is going to be a big part of the writing process, too, as well as a path for literary analysis. This is an important step before I bring them to the funnel writing method.

What character has changed how you view the world or connected with you on a visceral level?

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.1
Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences are drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.2
Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.8.3
Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.
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