Mirror to the Soul

Viewed from this angle, teaching holds a mirror to the soul. If I am willing to look in that mirror, and not run from what I see, I have a chance to gain self-knowledge–and knowing myself is as crucial to good teaching as knowing my students and my subject.

When I was in school, I had a variety of great teachers. Granted, I had some bad ones, but most of them were good. They made an effort to always make students try to learn the material that was being taught, instead of just reciting the information (unlike the Ferris Bueller clip we saw in class today). Since I shared with the class my story on Coach Garrison, I will share a new teacher. She had a big impact on my life as well. Mrs. Brooks was my English teacher all throughout high school. She was a kind woman that always wanted to make the information that we would be reading or studying more interesting. She read to the class when she could or she would have the class reenact scenes from a book or play. She really put all her energy into whatever topic it was that she was teaching. She made herself available all the time, during lunch, after school, on weekends if we needed it; all we had to do was send her an email.

After I graduated high school, I told her that I was headed to college and she was thrilled. Not too many people from my graduating class had made it to college or trade school, so she was genuinely thrilled. When I told her that I was going to school to be an English teacher and that I was worried that I hadn’t varied my background much more than the novels we were required to read, she told me to follow my passion for knowledge and teaching and it will lead me to new information. That is something that I really took out from this reading. The want to look inside myself first for the drive to learn and teach can be powerful. Its that drive to never quit learning that can make a great teacher.

Image by Tom Hussey in a portrait series titled Reflections: A Portrait Series Looking at our Youth @ www.tomhussey.com

Final Reflections

Culture is a multifaceted object that takes continuous learning to understand. Knowing that about culture can definitely help you as a teacher grow, and when you grow as a teacher, so do your students. The benefits of a multicultural classroom  are major. Instead of having a day or a unit where you learn about a culture, you can mix it in the school year curriculum.  It’s so important knowing about multiple cultures, it really supplies a base for learning.

Background Knowledge, Community Gap, and Parental Involvement are the words that I chose from the Multicultural Education word wall. I chose them because I feel that they are thinks will be very important in the classroom. They are also things that I feel directly apply to the teaching strategies that I learned in this class. Its important to know that not every student has the same background knowledge about a subject that you may have. It may be important to assess that background knowledge before you assume that they have it. The community gap that exists in a school system is a really important issue. The fact that a community gap exists is something that I never really experienced until reading BH&H. I come from such a small town that the entire town is involved in nearly every aspect of schools. From becoming members of the school board, to attending basketball games. I believe that with such a strong community engagement, the students will feel more in-tune with their school and community. Parental involvement is something that I feel could strengthen the bond between students and schools. In BH&H, the parent wasn’t sending their student to extracurricular activities because they didn’t know about them. With parental involvement, that wouldn’t happen (or at least not for that reason).

I plan on teaching my lesson plan this upcoming year. The content is really based on the knowledge of a culture bearer and having them involved in the classroom. I feel like it will be so beneficial for the students to be involved with elders. They are a vat of knowledge that the students could definitely utilize.

Curriculum Standard D

Culturally Responsive Curriculum Standard D:

A culturally-responsive curriculum fosters a complementary relationship across knowledge derived from diverse knowledge systems.

A curriculum that meets this cultural standard:

1. draws parallels between knowledge derived from oral tradition and that derived from books;

2. engages students in the construction of new knowledge and understandings that contribute to an ever-expanding view of the world.

Our group reviewed and assessed Cultural Curriculum Standard D (as seen above). The importance of this standard is incredible. Our group talked about the importance of inviting elders into the classroom. We talked about the variety of knowledge that we can learn from their oral traditions. It was brought up by one of the members of the group that until recently (in the span of human occupation in Alaska), all of the history and traditions were passed down orally.

We discussed a few possibilities to interpret this standard. The photo that you see here was the final outcome. The person is listening to a traditional story about how Athabascan people got to use the birch tree as a resource. He interprets that with traditional styles of canoe building. Mixing traditional oratory with the book knowledge of how to build a canoe, he mixes the two forms of knowledge to come up with a final product or idea.

Lesson Plan & Additional Resources

LessonPlan – Lewis Additional Story Resources

D) A culturally-responsive curriculum fosters a complementary relationship across knowledge derived from diverse knowledge systems.

(1) draws parallels between knowledge derived from oral tradition and that derived from books.

This lesson takes the knowledge and information of the elders or culture bearers and combines it with that of written knowledge. The stories that will be examined in this lesson will be told via oratory, but can also be read. I feel that it will be more culturally responsible to include culture bearers into the classroom.

Not only do the culture bearers have the information told in their stories, but they will also have background knowledge of the area that they’re from. Students can learn so much from elders and culture bearers; this lesson will try and harness some of this knowledge.

The Last American Rainforest

The Last American Rainforest written by Shelley Gill and Shannon Cartwright is a picture book that follows a grandmother and her granddaughter in their quest to find spruce roots to harvest for hat making. The setting is the Tongass National Rainforest. The imagery written accompanies the painting in such a way that pairs like fine wine and cheese. We have imagery that is developed to give the readers a clear picture of the flora and fauna in the area, as well as the development of logging and clearcutting.

The book could easily be used in an English classroom. Like I had mentioned earlier, a lesson could be built off of the way that the imagery is written, or even how the dialogue is written.

Gill, Shelley.  Tongass, The Last American Rainforest.  Sasquatch Books. 1997.

Community Gap – BH&H

In our small group, we discussed the section of Beyond Heroes & Holidays titled Anti-Racist Education: Pulling Together to Close the Gaps written by Enid Lee. In this section, she discusses the three gaps in academic performance: racial gap (the most talked about), individual gap, and community gap. While the first two gaps are legitimized in institutional learning, our group discussed the importance of closing the community gap. We felt that when we close the community gap, we will essentially close the other gaps.

The community gap is what robs a certain community of people from some of the basic rights they deserve: a good education, long healthy lives, and equal protection under the law. Things that were talked about was bridging the gap between community in the way that schools can move meetings to a common meeting place. Schools could survey what area most parents are coming from in order to attend school meetings and move the meeting to them (a community center of some kind). That way these parents aren’t taking two or three busses just to be able to see what their student and the school is up to. One of the sections that I found most intriguing was when Lee discusses a situation in which a teacher asks the class about where they would take a visitor to their community. Some students say that they would take the visitor to the mall, others say that they would take the visitor to a restaurant, and then one student said they would take the visitor to the museum. The teacher was enthused by this answer. This seems a bit irrational to think that there is one “right” answer for this prompt. The students were responding with their culture and then were essentially shut down. Learning about these students culture and incorporating it into our lessons is something that we should be doing as teachers.

Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT)

Culturally responsive teaching is a style of teaching that that will include some aspect of a student’s culture in order to help benefit their own learning styles. Culture can be something that will help a lesson imprint itself on a student. We were able to view a number of culturally responsive teaching tactics while at the Goldbelt Heritage Institute Culture Camp. The most prominent to me was the different science and biology lessons that went into preparing and harvesting different kinds of animals. The one that stuck out to me was the preparation of the porcupine (partially because I helped the kids prepare it). It seemed like they were all enthused to learn about this creature. Questions they posed were: Why are they so spiny? Can we eat porcupine? What will you do with the hide? What would be done with the quills? Can we have a quill? Each of these were answered by Jasper Nelson, the resident science teacher. He posed a lesson based off of a Tlingit story where porcupine women would rub their bile on a mans face in order to heal it. Jasper would harvest the contents of the stomach and conduct a science experiment with the students, introducing the bile in the stomach to bad bacteria. The students would pose their own hypotheses about what they think would happen.

It seemed that when students were introduced to something that they found intriguing, but also culturally relevant, that they really committed the knowledge to their longterm memory faster. They were also more enthusiastic about the learning process. This could be said about other curriculums as well. Our job as culturally responsive teachers is to include the culture of students, not just as a single lesson, but in a daily fashion.


UPDATE:

Thinking on the second round of CRT strategies has really opened an eye to me on what a culturally responsible classroom look like. When master-teacher Kathy Nielsen came into the classroom to discuss the use for children’s books in a secondary classroom, I didn’t think that I could utilize the method. After discussion, we talked about introducing them to a topic (maybe a historical or difficult one) in order to start a lesson plan or unit. I have even utilized this method in my lesson plan. I’m using this idea to start the lesson as my “spark” to introduce the students to the variety of traditional stories.

Something really stuck with me in Ernestine’s book reading (not necessarily the sections that she chose to read to the class, but what she said in the few minutes after her snippets). She said something like, “You don’t need to lift students up. You as a teacher need to be there to support them and they will lift themselves up.” That is such a beautiful concept when it comes to teaching. Students don’t necessarily need to be lifted up to be successful, they just need the support of the teacher and they’ll do the job on their own. That makes me think of the Beyond Heroes and Holidays reading. There was a section about a teacher raising the expectations of the class. The teacher says that the students are a real hardworking bunch of people. After enough of the teacher saying that, they start to believe it.