Mr. Alley

tuba man

Mr. Alley was my band teacher from fifth grade on up to tenth grade. He was a short round little man with thinning hair and glasses, but man was he passionate. When he got a baton in his hand he was practically bouncing on his feet in time to the music. It was like he was really listening to and really feeling what we were playing. When he stopped the band to correct us, it was never with any kind of negativity. He would just explain, ‘this is what I need to hear…bum da da da bum da bum,’ his feet bouncing and his baton waving. Sometimes he would grab his tuba and demonstrate or he would go sit in the brass section and play with us. His enthusiasm was infectious.

When I moved from Colorado to Montana in the middle of my fourth grade year, I struggled to make friends and fit in. I always felt like an outsider and my home life didn’t help any. Somehow Mr. Alley was able to transcend all this. When I entered that band room and picked up my clarinet I felt like I belonged. Even though the only interaction I had with most of those  kids was playing music together, there was a sense of community and belonging.

The last year he taught we were working on some very challenging pieces for a festival. We could tell that this meant a lot to Mr. Alley. We all worked extra hard. Playing in that festival is one of those memories that remains quite vivid in my mind. I can feel the excitement and intensity of the moment. I can feel the edge of the metal seat underneath me and see the sweat beaded on Mr. Alley’s forehead. I don’t remember what our score was. I just remember that I felt so alive and present in that moment. I wanted to be my best self. This is the gift that Mr. Alley gave to me, the gift he gave to us all.


ED 680 Final


“There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument that is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes “the practice of freedom,” the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.” -Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

  1. When I think of how my understanding of culture and power affect my teaching, I think about a picture book I read last semester. This book was highlighted as one that did not meet the multicultural standards for use in the classroom. I don’t remember the book in its entirety but I do remember that on my first read through, I was confused. What was wrong with this book? It seemed a very positive portrayal of coming to the US, and how one young immigrant become an Olympic competitor through hard work and determination. The mental and emotional process I went through just to unpack my own thinking on a seemingly simple picture book was pretty involved and uncomfortable.

I had to drop my defensive posture to be able to acknowledge that my experience and my reality is not everybody’s experience and reality. I had to acknowledge that because I am a white, female born in US, I have a certain amount of privilege that others might never experience. I had to acknowledge that my “bootstrap” mentality was fundamentally flawed. People of color really are judged by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.

It was unsettling to me to realize that I thought that I already knew all of this. And yet here I was, staring a form of racism right in the face-written and illustrated in its most basic form for child consumption and I was unable to see it for what it was.

What does this mean for me as a teacher? Well I like to think I’m not completely hopeless or helpless. While the term ‘institutional racism’ points to faceless and shapeless organizations, what lies being those facades are people; human beings, most likely with good intentions, but also with skewed views of the world and how it operates. If I am able to do the uncomfortable and messy work of sorting out my own mind, then I still have hope that others can as well.

I think that to make any progress toward real equality in my classroom, in my school and in my community, it will take an uncomfortable kind of vigilance on my part. I need to ask the same questions I asked when I was struggling to look beyond the surface of that picture book. Who’s voice is missing? Is this true for everybody? Who’s voice can I bring into the classroom or staff meeting to balance this out? What barriers are here that need to be removed?

Another aspect of this is creating a culture within the classroom that embraces differences and fosters critical thinking, that is transformative. David Katzeek offered us a very beautiful and very real solution. We need to see and treat each and every student as an intelligent human being. We need to realized that they ALL have what it takes to learn and to grow and to succeed inside of them. Our job is to help them to see that in themselves and others.

2. The three terms I picked were tolerance vs transformation, critical thinking, and multiple realities.

Tolerance vs transformation jumped out at me right away because I think that it is critical to evaluate where you stand along that spectrum between the two with regards to your mindset and practices.  There is a level of understanding that needs to be reached before real transformation can happen. And it is not so much a destination as a journey. It is a mindset. So much of the educational material that we have and the methods that we fall back on are inadequate. If our goal as educators is to empower students to be critical thinkers, than we must be constantly striving toward transformative teaching. We need to create those safe spaces within the classroom to be able to explore sensitive issues.  When we do this we will enable students to look beyond themselves, to see that there truly are multiple realities.

3. How can I be culturally responsive this year? I see this as a multilayered process. First and foremost I want to get to know the students and to let them know that I care. Peter told me that he used to stand at the door to his classroom to shake hands and welcome everybody to class. I would like to adopt a similar practice.

As far as material goes, I want to incorporate literature from writers of different ethnic backgrounds, in order to give alternative perspectives. I also want to create creative gateways into higher levels of thinking by accessing students prior knowledge with things, such as song lyrics, that will be familiar to them.

I believe that my culturally responsive lesson that I created meets these objectives and will be a great way to test the waters. I have grounded the lesson in Alaska, utilizing a native Tlingit story. I have the modern comic version of the story to show how the values and lessons in the original translate to today. And I have included folktales from all over the world to show the value in all cultures and ways of thinking-which will be very important in a diverse Anchorage classroom.

As I head into the second semester I want to create structured literature groups. I want to be intentional about my planning and scaffolding, creating a lot of opportunities to get as many voices into the room as I can. I want to utilize student journals, teacher/student conferences as well as peer conferencing, and small group and full class discussion strategies.



ALST 600 Final-The Messy Work of Learning

mr messyThis iBook project was a challenge for me on many different levels. First of all, our objective seemed too vague. I feel like we needed a lot more guidance so that we would have a clearer more cohesive picture of what our end product was supposed to look like. I understand that giving students a choice is empowering but, a completely hands-off approach can be bewildering.  From a teaching perspective, I feel that students need to be clear about their objective in order to be successful.

Working with iBook is interesting and fun but one of the biggest issues I had was finding balance between style and substance. How much of that iBook page is me and how much is linked to others work? How much of the book should be devoted to flora and fauna and wildlife, and how much should be devoted to multicultural issues, politics and history? We only had a limited amount of time so in order to do our best work we needed a clear plan of attack.

I took a class last year where we discussed how to structure successful literature circles.  Supports need to be put in place early on in order for the groups to become autonomous as the year progresses. Specific roles are assigned within the group, regular teacher/student conferences are scheduled and student reflection journals are checked in order to evaluate student understanding, time is carved out for group reflection/evaluation time.

This is the kind of structure that I think would benefit any kind of group work in any class.  I understand that we are in a graduate class but, considering the nature of the project, a certain amount of structure is essential. I would have like to see some time carved out for teacher/group conferences in order to really look at the work, individually and as a whole, to see where it is going.

The editing/proofreading groups we had at the end of the class were amazing. If this could be structured into the process early on, it would be extremely helpful. It allowed me to see what other people were doing, which gave me ideas on how I could improve my work. It also created a space where I could get at least five other pairs of eyes on my work proofreading and evaluating for content.

This project was a great learning experience. At the beginning of the class, you said that you consider yourself to be a designer of learning experiences.  Struggling through this process of putting an iBook together, I clearly see the importance of design- scaffolding, clear objectives, and varied and frequent assessments. With the right preparation and supports in place students can be successful doing the messy work of learning.









Oral Traditions Lesson Plan

Oral Traditions Lesson PlanStrong Man

My lesson embodies Cultural Standard D

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.

I tried to scaffold my lesson so that students would be able to understand the significance of all oral traditions – to see that they are more than just bedtime stories but a way in which a people can pass on their cultural knowledge and values to the next generation. I think having an Elder tell the story of Kagaasi initially, would help create those connections for students. Actually getting Ishmael Hope in the class to discuss how these traditional stories have influenced him in his life would be even better.

As far as constructing new knowledge and developing an ever-expanding view of the world, I tried to address this standard with the culminating project. I had a very diverse Anchorage school system in mind when I was planning this out. This is why I wanted students to be able to select a folktale from around the world. So the lesson is grounded in Alaska native culture but I want them to also look beyond Alaska. I am hoping that by digging for some historical and cultural context surrounding their chosen folk tale they will come to appreciate the stories in deeper, more meaningful way. And creating their own stories will allow them to process how these themes and values translate to modern day.



Standard C

COLORED-animal-alphabet-coloring-cA culturally responsive curriculum uses the local language and cultural knowledge as a foundation for the rest of the curriculum.

Standard C is all about grounding your lesson in place. In our case, place is Alaska. For me specifically, I will be in an 8th grade language arts classroom in Anchorage, which has a very diverse population.

I see myself incorporating a lot of Native stories into the curriculum, which will allow the student to explore and appreciate the culture. The lesson plan that I am developing right now taps native oral storytelling. We are looking at the Tlingit story, Strong Man. After we examine the original story then we are going to look at the modern day comic retelling of the story. This is an example of how we can tap into the culture and then help students understand how the ideas and values presented are still relevant today.

Inviting an elder to come into the classroom for the first reading (or telling in this case) would be awesome. Then we could hear the language and ask questions. We could learn some new vocabulary that we can incorporate into the lesson and the classroom. I think having an actual person telling the story helps kids realize that these oral traditions are not just a thing of the past.

The Prince and the Salmon People


The Prince and the Salmon People by Claire Rudolph Murphy is a story with a lesson. We experience this story through the eyes of a native Alaskan prince from a Northwest coastal tribe.  The people in the Prince’s village become complacent, setting aside their traditional songs and ways of showing gratitude toward the animals that feed them. Because of their thoughtlessness they begin to experience a famine- the salmon no longer swim upstream to their village. After a fight with his mother, the Prince runs away from home and is meets the Salmon People. The salmon people remind the Prince of the correct way to catch, prepare and eat salmon, in order to show them respect and honor them. The Prince is eventually returned to his village where he passes his knowledge on to his people. The people listen to the Prince and the salmon return to the village, offering themselves to the people.

This story illustrates the importance of following tradition. There is a reciprocity between the humans and animals. Balance needs to be maintained. When traditional ways are ignored, when the people become lazy, disrespectful or selfish, they show a disrespect for each other, the environment and the animals which sustain them.

This text is a great starting point in exploring native cultural values and beliefs. From this point you could branch out into cross cultural comparisons of oral traditions -meaning, themes, symbolism etc.

How do stories change over time? How can some of these themes translate to modern day? What are some modern day symbols? How would you write these stories for a modern audience? Students could choose a theme and write a modern take on an old story or create a completely new story and perform it for the class -oral recitation or as a play.

Everybody has a story. What stories do we hear today? Where did they originate? What is the purpose of retelling these stories? We could capture these stories in many forms -podcast, vidcast, comic, play etc.  Students could also learn the art of interviewing and capture other people’s stories for future generations with the Story Corp project.

Multicultural Evaluation

Quality Literature -rating 3  The book is well written and illustrated. I felt like the story was well developed. It held my interest all the way to the end. Traditional Native stories that i have read do not really flesh out the characters. You have to judge them by their words and actions. And so it is with this story.

Authority – rating 2  The book seems authentic but I know that the writer is not a native. I checked out her website. She is a history buff and an English Professor. She has published other historical books focusing on people who have been marginalized.   The premise of the story seems sound- in harmony with what I have read regarding native traditions so I think she did her homework.

The authenticity of the characters, setting and discourse and theme all seem sound. I would give them a rating of 3. As a non native I would probably elicit some other opinions before I used it in a class. It is always good to get other perspectives. I might not have caught something with my brief read through.



Think about what you’re thinking-metacognition

unknown unknowns hellYesterday I talked about a This American Life podcast, Tell Me I’m Fat, but the buzzer went off and I did not really explain how it related to our topic of teaching white people about racism. I felt uncomfortable talking about this podcast because I felt like it might be offensive to some people but, I also felt like the story really illustrated how blind we can be to the effects of prejudice and racism.

We see the world through our own personal filter, which is colored by our limited background and experiences. After Elna lost weight it was like she was able to experience a completely different reality. She was suddenly able to step into this parallel universe where doors that were usually closed to her were now open. People that ignored or criticized her now openly embraced her.

Similarly, White people have no clue that there really is this parallel universe where the rules that govern their life –the social constructs that allow for their upward mobility and smile favorably upon them- do not apply.

I listened to another podcast about what it takes to change people’s minds on controversial subjects like same sex marriage or abortion. What they found was that going door-to-door inundating people with information did not work at all. What really got people to change their minds was an open dialogue. The canvasser would ask a person about their opinion on abortion or same sex marriage and then they would listen- not passing judgment or trying to counter with statistics or reason, but instead asking probing questions, encouraging the person to explore and actually articulate their own thinking. The responses they got were overwhelming. Most of the people that they engaged in this way had changed their minds by the end of the conversation. And even months later, had not gone back to their old opinions.

So how do we teach white people about racism? We need to get them to articulate their thinking. Going through this metacognitive process is not an easy task. It takes a lot of time and patience. But as teachers, we can find ways to start these conversations within our classrooms and our communities. We just need to be wary of complacency. As many of our classmates mentioned in their presentations, if you get to a point where you think you’re done, you’ve got a problem.