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Hot off the press! Congratulations to the +National Writing Project  and all the many educator editors and authors of this new collection: 


When this week ended, I had to reflect on all that transpired during our class.  The article written by Pedro A. Noguera,  "Schools, Prisons, and Social Implications of Punishment:  Rethinking Disciplinary Practices explained a lot.  The article began with a vignette of an assistant principal giving a tour to the author.  When they came across a student in the hallway, the assistant principal predicted the future of an 8 or 9 year old boy stating that he was more than likely to end up in jail.  He based this notion on the child's troubled family and current behavior.  When the author asked him what was the school doing to prevent him from going to prison, the assistant principal replied that it wasn't his responsibility to keep the child from following a path to prison.  He was just going to indefinitely suspend the child.  Now, I remember first thinking when I read the beginning was this..."if not him, then who?  Are we supposed to be saviors, child advocates or both?"  Also, I had to think to myself if I had committed this unspeakable crime.  Had I sized up a 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th grader?  After 10 years of teaching and changing school to a new school in my 10th year, the answer was an upsetting yes.  This past school year, I found myself in a new school and in a more urban-crime filled area of my beautiful city.  I had never encountered disruptive students who did not care about learning a thing.  I had a classroom of 31 and they were a handful.  Discipline had never been an issue for me because I had always been known to be the one to "hold it down." Well, there were about eight boys in my classroom that were determined to dispute my crown.  They put the "D" in disruptive and this is where my point comes in.  I, too, just like the assistant principal in the article had predicted the future of those eight boys.  I committed the crime in already claiming that they were headed for street corners and jail cells.  Teaching at this school felt like teaching in a prison.  The students rank wild and some teachers had given up and we hadn't even reached Christmas yet.  I, on the other hand was fuming.  I kept telling my students, including the "good boy group" (Yes, that is what I called them..."the good boy group) that they needed to want more out of life.  That the corner wasn't where I wanted to see them end up, and that they should reach for stars...literally.  That lucky number of 8 dwindled down to 3 by the end of the year.  I never gave up and I searched out people to help me.  Suspensions were not an answer for me because they would be missing the education that they so rightly deserved.  Another point in the article is a form of sorting students is something called the "triage approach."  This is where administrators mete out punishments typically rationalize their actions by suggesting that removal of difficult students is beneficial for those how want to learn with the acceptance that not all students will succeed and some students must be deemed expendable so that others must be saved.  When I read this point, I equated "triage" as this:  You go to the emergency room with a severe headache and the ER staff doesn't see you right immediately because they are working on the most needy.  The ones that have been shot, bleeding or near death.  But here it is you sit, head cocked to one side in excruciating agony and you haven't been seen yet.  The word "triage" itself means sorting according to quality.  You would think that they wouldn't remove the difficult students but "tend" to their needs.  Dig deep and find out what is truly going on.  Now, being a district employee as of today, I am wondering how will we survive this upcoming school year.  In the wakes of being employed yet losing over 3,700 SD employees, over 30 schools being closed, bunches of schools merging, and the loss of 160 assistant principals, our "emergency room" of a classroom is going to struggle more than it has previously.  I as a teacher, am subjected to "sorting"  Having students removed from the classroom is not an option for me.  Who is going to help them, if not me?

Reaction to Racial Microaggressions in everyday life: Implications for clinical practice
Students and teachers alike enter the classroom with “deeply ingrained, nearly invisible” (p. 271) impressions of each other and the educational environment. Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Implications for Clinical Practice was written with a focus of the white therapist/client of color dynamic. However, the deep reaching, entrenched, damaging dynamics of privilege and color extend far beyond the therapy environment. It is a challenge and a responsibility for teachers to bring a sensitivity about privilege and color proactively into the classroom.
The biggest challenge in implementing this awareness is not my intentions; it is the way that I see and hear my students. If aspects of my behavior and aspects of the students’ responses are “nearly invisible” to me, how do I change to more effectively see and hear the young people in front of me? These questions are important. A few of my students are unlikely respond to microaggression or invalidation in the restrained, diplomatic manner that the senior author described himself reacting to a microaggression. The authors observe that some reactions to microaggression are “likely to engender negative consequences” (p. 279). A few of my students and a few of their parents are more likely to “respond with anger and striking back” (p. 279).  In the case of a classroom, the negative consequences of “anger and striking back” quickly ripple through the room. While it is vital to acknowledge the frustration behind a student’s anger, it is also vital to maintain a level of community and harmony in school. The minefield of misunderstanding can become exponentially more complicated when multiple groups with differing cultural codes of respect are found in the same room.
One step toward implementing respectful cultural awareness is to examine the chart on pp. 282-283. What kinds of behaviors are viewed as microaggressions? One identified means of microaggression is environmental: does the space affirm students’ heritage?  The hallways and murals of my school provide an environmental validation of the students’ Latino culture and language. Some of the same can be included in the room. The validation may be a Puerto Rican flag, it may be my learning the pledge in Spanish, or it may be a poster that features Latino people or Puerto Rico.
A second step toward implementing respectful cultural awareness would be to conduct research about classroom situations in which students raised cultural issues or reacted “with anger and striking back”. Are the situations teacher-student or student-student? Are the precipitating factors identifiable on the chart of microaggressions?  John Kabot-Zinn validated an acknowledgement of the invisible baggage that we carry: “Wherever you go, there you are.”    The challenge in a classroom is to acknowledge exactly what I am bringing into a classroom and move beyond cultural separation to insure that I validate and respect all the students in the room.


Raising Children’s Cultural Voices   8/2/2013

I like that this article begins by addressing the “elephant in the room”.    We live in a racist society.  Many teachers feel that as long as we treat each other fairly and respectfully in the classroom, this is enough for the multicultural child.  It doesn’t even come close.  The authors understand that multicultural children move between two cultural worlds and the movement is constant. 
These teachers use art as a gateway to literacy.  Combining these symbol systems, students spend time with shape an colors before they take on the task of drawing a picture.   Students spend time with ideas and bring them out in conversation before they take shape in a manuscript
Sheltering strategies such as building descriptive language by talking about family pictures or drawing are used.  Word banks  organized in categories such as colors, feelings, textures, geographical locations, and the use of repetitive phrases such as I know that this is a piñata because……….. (p.151).
I like the example given of using a sample quilt square.  An avid quilter since 1974, I connected immediately to this use of visual description to build vocabulary.  Students describe the art making process and  generate lists of words as resources for the whole class to use.
The article talks about using real-world audiences to raise student voices.  Math journal writing is used to describe how a problem was solved and to describe ways of thinking about math., such as creating real-life math stories. Teachers use internet projects to invite other students to share their math stories.
I thought this article was very insightful, full of great ideas that I can use in my classroom.

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Our multigenre museum gallery walk was today. Enjoy. #snwp #multigenre
24 Photos - View album

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This was our Scribe Report Hootenanny on Friday. Enjoy. #snwp #scribereport 

July 29

The book group that I joined on Monday discussed A Day’s Work, by Eve Bunting.  It’s the story of a young boy, perhaps 9-11 years of age, who is responsible for taking his grandfather to a parking lot, where they will wait for work.  The grandfather is newly arrived from Mexico, and speaks no English.  This puts the child in an interesting position of power, as he must translate and decide which job he and his grandfather take.  

I’m impressed by the confidence and maturity that this child shows, as he aggressively pursues a gardening job, and convinces the owner that he and his grandfather are the right people for the task at hand.  The child even goes so far as to push aside a man who tries to jump onto the truck with them.  I find myself wondering if this child’s maturity reflects an aspect of his culture.  I have no Mexican children in my classroom, so my first-hand experience with the culture is limited.  I harken back to my own childhood, and I can’t imagine that I would have been able to communicate with adults in this manner.  Is it because I never had the burden of putting food on my family’s table, something that the character feels responsible to do?

Which brings me to one of the messages that I took away from this book- that honesty/telling the truth should be held in the highest regard.  One week into the Institute, I find myself rethinking some of my practices.  Should I continue to teach honesty as if it's a universal value?  I’m struck by disparities that sometimes exist between what I value and what my students/their families value.  Since reflecting on Jennifer's scenario from yesterday, I've come to realize that things may not be as clearcut as I once thought they were.  

PHILWP: Journal Group Writing 7/31/2013
Response to: Racial Micro-aggressions in Everyday Life

Where are you from?  Brooklyn.  But where are you really from?  If I had a nickel for every time I had to engage in that conversation… This is only one example of my encounters with a society that refuses to accept me as a member and insists on categorizing me as other.
Have you ever been followed by store security in a department store?,  stopped on a highway in a foreign country by a machine gun wielding soldier?, singled out from a group of 500 cruise line passengers at customs? . I say yes to all of the above.  Still more humiliating was being asked to disembark from the plane when I was returning from Puerto Rico after attending my father’s funeral.  All of this occurred because I made the flight attendant uncomfortable. 
Closer to home I had the experience of being stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike.  The police officer came over to me and asked me what was I had sitting in my lap. The sad part was that I was not the driver, the driver was not questioned, and all I had on my lap was a bag of pistachio shells. When we asked why we were stopped the response was that we had spent too much time in the middle lane. Why then did the police not go over to the driver???
All of these incidents have instilled in me a reluctance to enter certain types of restaurants, shops, and or visit parts of the country or world. I even have misgivings about going to visit my sister in Mississippi this August.  The terminology may have shifted to micro-aggressions but there is nothing micro about them.

An Ode to Language.
Please Press!

When in the course of life we’re called to serve,
And homage pay to that which makes us great,
Within our souls we sense strong passions stir,
And in our minds we see great things take shape.

Our bodies wake,
And by command begin to animate

To manifest what can’t be spoken pure,
But with some other medium must mate, must pair,
Else all we seek to share is lost for sure,
And left are we in desolate despair.

Say some, unfair,
Seized by sadness, sickness gone uncured,

Left low and in a state unworthy praise,
To seek eternal ways to sing the song
They’ve left unsung, to find a way to phrase
The many things that made so many rights of many wrongs.

Days long, days gone, 
Spent sulking in the folly of the past.

Left longing so these souls imprisoned,
Victims of fictitious vanity.
And if you have the strength of heart to listen: 
Voices on the edge of sanity.

But no, not me.
My time is come, so witness here today

My ode to language. Ah! To be so bold!
That I should say, should think that I could do
To tell a tale some countless too have told,
And do it justice here in front of you.

Yet all of us owe thanks to something, yes.
That, at least, is true.

Where to begin? Its—practicality?
The daily service to us it provides?
That we might live each day productively,
And bring success and profit to our sides—?


Where to begin? Its beauty or its art?
The subtlety, the nuance, turns of phrase?
And puns are tons of fun, don’t let me start.
I’m sure our host won’t want us here for days.

Where to begin? The places we can go?
The magic of imagination lies
In language, building, bubbling, bound to burst
And in this darkness opens up our eyes
(An old cliché, but it might have been worse)

Where to begin? The laughter it can make?
The smiles brought about by words alone?
Words spoken by young ones before they take
A step?
Words whimsically assembled to atone?

Where to begin?—The suffering it can heal?
The kindness of a softly spoken word
Speaks to another, in fact, seals a deal
That you will hear what they want to be heard,
And with them feel, and by them ever stand
With ever ready words of consultation,
Ever forward, healing words and friendship hand in hand—

Where to begin? The knowledge it can bring?
To read and write and listen and transform?
To take a song and make it yours to sing,
To criticize and challenge, not conform,
To strike down norms, let freedom ring,
Let language storm, with words of thunder,
Flashes of enlightening 
To minds inform
And free from bonds of tyranny—

Where to begin? The people we can know?
What understanding grows from stories read
As if to take your own cap off and throw
It down to leap inside another’s head—
And there instead then see another whole.
And there instead then find another’s pain.
And there inside peer down into their soul.
And all at once this life is made so plain—
We’re all the same, 
And where you stopped at looks you stoop to shame—

So where to end?
The language of the past will keep—
Keep us fighting
Keep us searching
Keep us wondering—
The future
Still unspoken
Still unwritten
Still unread
Still waits in words.
So where now to begin?


This morning’s guest speaker, Loretta Solomon, made me really stop to think about children’s literature. As a high school teacher I have never really considered the use of “kid’s books” in my classroom for a few reasons. #1 My students would yell at me and call it “baby work.” #2 I figured most of the texts were at a lower level than my students, not necessarily in reading level but idea level. However, reading a few of the books Loretta brought made me seriously re-think this idea. The book my group read, Rose Blanche, was very mature in its content and theme and definitely not below my students’ levels or needs. The story is about a German girl during WWII and her experiences as soldiers take over her town and her eventual discovery of a concentration camp not far from her home. I teach a unit on human rights where we explore the holocaust and I could see this book fitting in perfectly. I also thought of many ways I could use the book and potentially mask the “babyness” of its presentation. I could show the students the pictures and have them write the text, or read it with the class and have the students create similar picture books that explore a human rights violation, or have the students compare Rose’s focalization to those of child narrators in other texts from the unit. I like that the text is short, and so easy to incorporate, but also complex enough to produce many potential assignments and good discussion. I kind of feel like a whole new world of literature has been opened to me, and I’m looking forward to exploring some of the other texts Loretta suggested to see if they could fit into other units I’d like to revise.
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