Once a learner, always a learner..the power of inquiry.

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“Most importantly, remember that you do not need to reinvent the wheel. YPAR does not involve completely disregarding the skills and activities involved in traditional research projects; instead, it takes those skills to the next level with an infusion of purpose and critical agency.” 

This piece of information was really eye-catching when reading the article, Revolutionizing Inquiry in Urban English Classrooms: Pursuing Voice and Justice through Youth Participatory Action Research. Where to start? The title of a specific section in this article and the number one inquiry that keeps me up at night…So, where do I start? My mind is filled and moving fast with ideas involving invention, creativity, voice and interests. I want to implement these ideas, but always lean on the question, where to start? And now, after reading a couple articles, I still remain “wobbly,” but at the same time reassured that I do not have to start from scratch, but rather use what I have and take it to the next level. So, what do my students and my classroom have? They have background knowledge. They have rules of grammar and an abundance of vocabulary. Why not help them connect with their community and others just like them outside of their community and in the target language. Antero Garcia’s story keeps me engaged. He felt stuck. I feel stuck right now. I loved reading about his ability to take what they were reading in class and alter the assignments. Instead of student-produced analytical papers, his students took the historical social movements from their readings and created a play, produced from research and data, about a real-world issue in their own backyards. I have so much respect for this teacher and his students. He managed to still “teach” the content and then have them demonstrate their understanding through a meaningful and creative and student-centered way. Technology is evolving and so are our students. As long as we are mindful of our technology usage we can do some pretty amazing things!! But, even after reading about Mr. Garcia’s experience, defeating his wobble and seeing some flow, I am still brought back to my wobble..where to start? The Hispanic community continues to grow in the our district. I think it would be rewarding and memorable for the students to become involved within their own community. They could educate the community about getting involved in the school district. This continues to be a growing problem, so why not have the students create a welcoming and comfortable environment for the families. And I strongly believe by creating these opportunities for my students the language and culture of Spanish would be exciting and engaging! In general, it would make the learning experience better!

According to Susan Lytle, in her article, At Last: Practitioner Inquiry and the Practice of Teaching: Some Thoughts on Better , she explains how a doctor took the stance of a learner in order to better her and her treatment. He paid attention to date and her specific situation. I think any human being would be appreciative of this experience. It is never a warm and alleviating encounter with a doctor when they are just spitting out medical jargon, but when a doctor creates an atmosphere that betters you by providing you with specific data about you, it is reassuring.  Throughout this article, Lytle, tells us about the life of Atul Gawande, a surgeon and public health consultant. It’s evident that improvement and betterment that come from change are necessary in all fields. Gawande mentions that despite the obstacles that arise, we are still obligated to improve/get better! His 3 simple requirements in order to be better include, diligence, to do right and ingenuity. These 3 requirements are absolutely manageable!  We expect earnest effort from our students, right? Our principals expect earnest effort from us, right? YES! We should be doing what is expected of us and put forth the effort that is necessary when completing tasks. Last year, I started implementing a flipped classroom here and there. Through observation and data collection I found that students were really thriving while watching the content-filled videos as they were moving at their own pace. It is my duty to continue to create videos and practice so that they can continue to improve and by doing so I better their learning environment and experience. Lytle also writes about a teacher at the Community College of Philadelphia. She faces a moral and ethical dilemma in her class as students enter because  they have not scored high enough on placement tests, despite the fact that they have been accepted into the college, therefore they have to take and pass non-credit courses. I can relate to this situation, as a learner. I, too, had to take a non-credit course my first year of college. It was a writing course. While I felt defeated and set low expectations for myself, I ended up on top because my professor, like the teacher described in this situation inquired: What am I doing here? What am I doing it for? Who am I to be doing it? He made us feel significant. He encouraged us to explore and write about our interests. He provided constructive and meaningful criticism. He made us better writers. And now as a teacher I find the “to do right” requirement in order to become better relate-able. As a middle school Spanish teacher, my class can become a “dumping ground” for students who do not have any other courses to add to their schedule. And in most cases, they come in discouraged and unmotivated, which I get. They are taking a course they want nothing to do with. But, I do not let that effect my relationship with them. As the year goes on, I motivate and encourage them to see their potential and push them to their potential. Being consistently diligent goes hand in hand with ingenuity. We must continue to invent what is best for our students and we do this by being resourceful. We need to create what works for them, observe them and their work, use the results and continue to make things better. Reflection must be present and consistent.

I reflect on lessons, reactions and responses daily, mentally and sometimes make notes, and now I am going to dig deeper and explore who I am becoming as a connected learner and continue to investigate connected learning…

10 Self/10 World Questions:

Questions about myself as a connected learner…
1. How can I get my students to connect with each other?
2. How can I encourage my students to connect to the world?
3. How can I learn to connect more through my students?
4. How can I connect more with my colleagues?
5. Which one (or some) of my colleagues would be the most beneficial to connect with?
6. How can I connect more with other language teachers?
7. Where do I begin when connecting online?
8. Should all of my connecting be done online?
9. How can I connect with my students’ parents?
10. How can I connect with administration about the importance of becoming connected?

Questions about connected learning and equity…
1. Who (students and parents) has access to technology?
2. Can I create equity in connected learning if resources are not available?
3. What technological skills are necessary to possess in order to connect?
4. When connecting, does everything have to be available online? Is printing still an option to those who do not have access to online connection?
5. How can connected learning contribute positively within the district?
6. How can I implement equity into my foreign language classroom?
7. How can I aid my students in becoming more open-minded through connected learning?
8. How can social media be used effectively and safely with the district?
9. Will connecting internationally aid my students?
10. How can myself and my students participate more actively in our already established networks?

Which one (or some) of my colleague(s) would be the most beneficial to connect with?

As connected learning and technology continue to grow so does the desire and motivation to grow with it! Teachers continue to want to better their themselves as teachers as well as the learning environment for their students. Teachers are continuing their education and exploring formally and informally online and not online in order to find new and engaging techniques to bring to their students. Last week, there was a technology conference in Hershey, PA. Five teachers from the middle school attended the 3 day conference. Upon their return, they were refreshed, motivated and ready to share. While not all teachers are quite ready for change in order to better their lessons and learning environments, so of us are! I sat with two of the teachers and was briefed on A LOT of great tools and ideas to bring into the classroom. One of the teachers I met with is a computer teacher and the other is a science teacher. The science teacher has been utilizing apps like Quizizz. He implements a flipped classroom, therefore his students watch a video about the periodic table at home and then played during class time, check it out!  He really is creating a playful and engaging environment. (Feel free to check out some of his work @MrRyneAnthony). Despite the differences in content among the 3 of us, we can learn from each other. I have been invited to observe the new implementations in their classrooms. Through observation I will be able to collect data in order to better my classroom. By connecting with my colleagues I am able to leave my comfort zone and create what my students need. So, how can we emphasize the importance of connecting? And I think the most important question to come from this idea would be, how and when can we find the time to connect? 😉

By connecting with my colleagues I am able to leave my comfort zone and create what my students need.

Check out my Pow Toon! above, which highlights what I want to get from making connections with colleagues.

 

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Pose, Wobble, Flow…

Where there is wobblechange is occurring…

These 3 terms are totally new to me. I was nervous about approaching this week’s reading and blogging because of this word wobble. But, after finally committing to the readings and reflecting upon my lessons this week, holy moly I wobble all the time! And then, I rely heavily on my mentors and allies to pick myself up! I usually go into a new school year with at least one, if not more, goal. So, this is my pose. And then after a couple days, weeks or months, my pose sometimes changes as I reach my wobbling point in hopes to reach a flow. And what’s really great after reading this week is that the whole process of pose, wobble flow has helped me reflect at home as well. My husband is currently away for 3 weeks (military duty) and I am working and balancing our home life with a now 4 years (on Friday) and a 5 year old. My 4 year REALLY knows how to challenge me and test my limits, thank God for the 5 year old who levels me, hehe! I strive to set boundaries and consequences for him. When my husband is away these boundaries quickly fade as I convince myself I am in “survival mode” and especially after a long day at work and school there is  some chaos, but of course some of it is organized ;). So, I begin to wobble. Elements need to improve and change needs to occur, I cannot dismiss what he needs from me. I leave my comfort zone of structure in order to keep him happy, but I need to make decisions that are going to make our time safe and fun and promote making good choices that will effect our future. So, this week we made some changes and we were definitely in a flow, which included more communicating, consequences and snuggles! I listened to him. I observed him. I saw how he reacted towards me. I used his interests and passions, and implemented my structure and routine. It worked.

Throughout the year, hard questions are definitely raised from my practices and it was reassuring to read some stories of fellow educators and their wobbling experiences on Bob Fecho’s site Storri. The first experience that I read was Privileged Expectations, written by a high school English teacher. Before taking on his new high school positions, he described his classroom as rigorous and structured, utilizing a “curriculum menu” as formative and summative assessments, showing mastery of concepts.  His students were engaged and scoring high on standardized tests. When it was time for him to transition intro the high school that is when his wobble occurred. His past students and their parents did not want him. They wanted the “easy A.” I think what caused his wobble was his passion for his idea of the “curriculum menu” and the positive results. But, was it positive for all of his students? Could they demonstrate mastery of the content in a different way? After reaching this wobble, he reflected and changed his outlook. He expressed that he wanted his students to develop skills and necessarily the content. He developed a setting that provided more creativity, freedom and made it more real-world. I can relate to this. As a language teacher I would love for my students to focus on developing skills for more communication, but I feel like I rely heavily on the content. But, isn’t that what I am supposed to be doing?

Another story I read from Storri was It Takes More Than One Victory, written by another English teacher. She writes about a 7th grade student, Liam. She describes him as an “in and out” student. I have A LOT of them. On their good days they are good, sometimes even great! But, on their not so good days, the continuous interruptions cause frustration for me and their classmates. But, when they shine, they truly shine! She writes that her wobble came from his inconsistency to perform in class, which then made her doubt his commitment to the school’s poetry slam that he showed interest in. I, too, am guilty of doubting some of my students. In life, we all make assumptions. But if we are making daily observations of our students, it makes sense to have these assumptions. “Sometimes you just have to hook  students with compliments, encouragement, and faith, and they will pull through. Sometimes.” This is what the English teacher in this story tells us…Liam did it, though. He participated in the poetry slam. He went on to districts and won. He was the youngest winner ever. When we find their interests and provide them with opportunities to shine in their comfort zone, they thrive. In Liam’s case here, he still continued to have his good and bad days. I see this more often than not. For my inconsistent performers, I really, really try to encourage them. And when I do, I can see it on their faces, that it does mean something to them.

I am currently reflecting on my week last week. I feel like I had very different expectations for my students than they were expecting, which caused some wobble..stay tuned!

Is it possible to show what we know and think through play? It is, it is! But, when and how?

While we play we make..this is the reoccurring theme in my readings this week. So, what we make is in fact proof that we know how to do something. And that knowledge may have come from reading or from just old-fashioned creation!

A child’s play is not simply a reproduction of what he has experienced, but a creative reworking of the impressions he has acquired. – Vygotsky, psychologist 

I feel like my students use a decent amount of class time playing. But after my experience playing, and then reading and watching videos makes me think that they aren’t “reworking,” but they are indeed reproducing. I’m not really sure. They play vocabulary games like ¡Pesca! (Go Fish!) and different types of verb conjugation games. I rarely give students anything open-ended or unstructured. I have also created so many manipulatives that require students to put a puzzle together using grammar and vocabulary, construct logical sentences using different cards, even create a tower of legos matching subjects with verb conjugations. So..are they reproducing the information I have taught or are they using their knowledge and understanding creatively reworking it?!

This week quickly reminded me of the love of had (and still have) for video games. Any game, really. I used to love anything from Sonic the Hedgehog, Mario Kart, Oregon Trail and absolutely any board game. I actually played, at least once, all of the games that as a graduate student I was encouraged to play! YES! I played games for grad school, how cool right? I really got sucked into playing a few games on Games for Change, like The Foos and Immigration Nation. I was having fun and demonstrating knowledge. I decided not to read any directions and just started playing. Similar to James Paul Gee’s approach to playing. Would reading the directions help me succeed/win, sure why not. But am I also capable of succeeding/winning through investigation, absolutely. I have background knowledge to do so. It was surprising rewarding to succeed by trusting my instincts and exploring in order to seek understanding of the game. Another game that I focused on investigating was Five Card Flickr. Watch my screen cast here to hear/see my review. I found this particular game to be really relevant in my content area of teaching. And here is my story La rana…pobrecita! This game came easy to me. Write a story. Whether I was writing in English or Spanish, I knew how to write. While the writing demonstrated grammatical rules, it was fun and it was a worksheet. It required me to be creative.

Now, some questions arise. When playing in the classroom, do teachers really just say, “Okay kids, it’s time to play!” And then they play? I really want to know more! Is it after teacher-led instruction that they then create? This unknown is what gives me anxiety about providing my students with this freedom…to play.

I had fun playing this week. There was a different tone, a different atmosphere. But now, I feel eager to allow more play, but apprehensive because I don’t know how to get them to play, the right way..

Working towards understanding and implementing equity…here we go!

This week’s discussion came at a really good time! The word equity has, embarrassingly, confused me. Dictionary.com, defines the word as “the quality of being fair.” Easy enough. And then I reflect, do I usually practice fair practices, at work and at home? I try..I believe my school district tries…I feel like I try…

My first focus is on exploring option 1: what teachers are doing to design connected learning opportunities for their students. The LNRG Innovation Challenge is pretty awesome to read about. The several articles I read have done a nice job of displaying the student-driven work and the positive outcomes and creations are really amazing. The idea behind these passion projects is cool. Student engagement, learning and FUN is present! Schools are connecting learners of all ages and it’s working! They plan together,  create together, test together and make a difference together. And what’s really breathtaking is that Liberty Elementary School, located in California and highlighted in the article above admits that there are obstacles and challenges, but focus on their motto, “No Excuses University.” They thrive amidst their limitations. WOW! They are seeking equity, fairness. They are finding and utilizing resource effectively, which is leading them to create and learn. Way to go! But, some questions to arise from my discovery of these passion projects…

  • Passion projects are student-centered/student-driven, but are teachers modelling how to create? If so, is that then teacher-driven?
  • Are teachers teaching about these concepts in science, math and other curriculum and then encouraging students to create or is it like here is the content and available tools, now learn??

I truly gravitated towards the article, Linking Communities with STEM Puts Compassion and Service Into Practice. This here is what interested me growing up and even now. Volunteering in my community and then in other communities did help me evolve with society. My service made me aware of the fact that we need to rely on each other in order to grow. Students and teachers in the Pittsburgh area have created a community of empathy, excitement and passionate learning and all for others, while including science, engineering, creativity and caring. Together they are finding ways to minimize food waste, increase food accessibility and educating the community about these resources. A retired teacher used to head a sustainability club that provided service to the community and raised awareness about Water for Waslala. This is a project that I could reinvent. It is relevant, after all I am a Spanish teacher in a populated Hispanic community. There is a also a local food bank already established in the community and it is used, very used. An opportunity for students to help their community even more would be great. But… unsteadiness and insecurity about starting from scratch seem to get in the way, which brings up some questions for the teachers in Pittsburgh…

  • How do you get started?
  • How do you present this idea to the students and then encourage to elaborate and make it attainable for the community?
  • How do you keep them motivated and driven?
  • How do you get someone to help you get started if you have nothing to start with?

I’ll end my first area of focus with this… collective wisdom and knowledge is connected learning. I like that thought!

My second focus this week is on technology and equity. I am fortunate to work in a district that does have a grant issuing an iPad to each student in grades 7-12 (if they pay a $50 technology fee). Therefore, before reading, I assumed there was equity in my school considering all, well most, students have an iPad and internet, well when they are in school. I quickly discovered that my thought isn’t all that right. Smart Tech 4 Equity poses a strong question: Does this use of tech help support the full human talent development of every student and all groups of students? Or not?

This is something that I really need to reflect on. I use quite a bit of technology in the classroom including websites like Quizlet, Conjuguemos and FluentU.  But are these resources effective for all of my students? DOUBT IT! While I do know that what I am doing with technology is relevant and aiding some students, it’s not helping all, therefore equity is not occurring. I think that I am able to find and then create authentic uses for technology through more investigation, which will include trial and error. I have technology goals, but I also have excuses for not implementing them into my classroom. I don’t want to make excuses, but sometimes when I look into a sea of 30 students in my room I am overwhelmed and concerned about failure of whatever it is that I am technologically implementing…

As a teacher I want to explore and assess. I need to. One of my goals is to implement live chatting with Spanish-language learners in other districts. I have established relationships with other language teachers in surrounding districts, so the idea is accessible. I would love to see students of different cultures connect and share ideas. So, some questions I present here is:

  • What if the technology does not help the student(s)?
  • Do we give up on implementing it for that particular student?
  • Will all students thrive when utilizing technology?

As for now, I will continue working towards understanding and implementing (through technology and creation) equity…