Guest Post: Culturally Responsive Teaching

Guest post by Chris Orlando @Dr_ChrisOrlando

When COVID-19 struck in the spring, it forced an unprecedented portion of our country’s schools to suspend brick-and-mortar instruction. Teachers were thrown into distance teaching—referred to by many as “crisis teaching”— with little preparation. It was like trying to build a plane while flying it.

The crisis has exposed societal inequities impacting our students’ daily lives including food deficits, inadequate health care—including mental health care, issues with housing stability, and insufficient access to the internet.

This fall, to ensure that I’m meeting the needs of my marginalized students even as I shift to a new learning environment, I plan on creating a culturally responsive digital classroom, one that can provide a space where students feel welcomed and valued. Culturally responsive instruction centers on building the learning capacity of all students. According to Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, “There is a focus on leveraging the affective and the cognitive scaffolding that students bring with them.”

Here are three ways in which I plan to implement culturally responsive teaching this year:

Building Relationships

The single greatest investment teachers can make is to build relationships with their students. Relationships boost motivation, create safe spaces for learning, build new pathways for learning, and improve student behavior. The question, of course, is how can I build relationships with students who I might never see in person?

First, I plan to master the soft start to class in order to ease students into our learning environment each day. Though often thought of as an elementary school strategy, my middle schoolers respond well to soft starts. It allows time for students to transition and to re-engage their mental muscles with a short game, puzzle, brainteaser, reading, or interesting “Would You Rather” question. Be cognizant that typical icebreakers like, “What I did this summer” may leave children with nothing positive to share and create a social hierarchy of who had the most impressive summer break. Instead, pose questions like, “Imagine your best day ever. What would happen?” or “If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?” Taking even ten minutes to check-in with students at the beginning of class each day is vital because high-trust, low-stress environments can help marginalized students effectively process and retain learned information. Additionally, I plan to do the following to build relationships and increase connectedness virtually:

  • Learn my students’ names promptly and use them as much as possible. As a teacher who often mispronounces my students’ names, I’ll assign students to create a short video in which they pronounce their name so that I can reference it.
  • Ask for student feedback regularly through an ungraded video or Google Form known as “Friday Feedback”
  • Host informal office hours that will encourage one-on-one communication
  • Collect and share virtual notes of gratitude and appreciation

Be a Personal Trainer of Students’ Cognitive Development

As a teacher who is preparing for Round 2 of distance teaching this fall, much of the success or failure of this upcoming school year will depend on my students’ ability to work independently. In order to foster this independence, I will be providing students who are dependent learners with cognitive routines and tools that will help them organize their thinking and process content. Consistently using a regular set of prompts in all assignments helps students internalize cognitive routines so that they can use them when I’m not around. After all, isn’t the goal of education to help students become lifelong learners who can marshal their critical thinking skills long after they’ve left the classroom? Internalizing cognitive routines will help expand the learning capacity of students who have been historically marginalized and work to dismantle dominant narratives about students of color.

Make It a Game, Make It Social, Make It a Story

Each day students walk into our classrooms (or this year, log in to our classrooms) armed with their own learning tools, but too often teachers fail to use them to maximize student learning. Students’ culture can inform us whether they learn best on their own or by collaborating with others. In a distance learning context, students are often given packets and assigned independent projects, which serve independent learners, but are a detriment to communal learners. For example, diverse students who come from oral traditions, might benefit from activities that require social interaction, physical manipulation of content, or narrative. In other words: make it a game, make it social, or make it a story. Utilizing breakout features in Zoom and apps like Jamboard, Flipgrid, and Socrative can help engage communal learners. However, it’s important to remember that culturally responsive teaching isn’t simply a set of strategies. It’s consistently mirroring students’ cultural learning styles and tools.

My job is to be responsive to students’ individual and collective lived experiences, and in particular this year, their experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic. That will require me to integrate my students’ cultural learning tools into my pedagogy and be a warm demander of their cognitive development. But above all, this year will be about relationships. Creating a learning partnership that encourages my students to take ownership of their learning has always been important, but this year it will be paramount to address gaps in learning outcomes between diverse students and their white counterparts. Through robust reflection of my own pedagogy and the adoption of culturally responsive teaching practices, I plan to make learning exciting and joyful for my students so that they’ll be motivated to take ownership of their own learning. Students will be seen. They’ll be heard. They’ll be loved. And we’ll make it through this school year together.

Gonzalez, J. (2017, September 10). Culturally Responsive Teaching: 4 Misconceptions. Cult of Pedagogy. https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/culturally-responsive-misconceptions/

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

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If it ain’t broke, then break it

 

Guest post by Cory Radisch, Follow Cory on Twitter @cradisch_wc

Wait, that’s not how the saying goes! However, even though data still demonstrates consistent opportunity and achievement gaps in schools, there are many who think things are not broken. It doesn’t matter that the data tells a different story. In many places, if adults are satisfied and comfortable, many believe the system “ain’t broke”! My longtime mentor, Marc Natanagara, used the title of this blogpost with former staff, not only to inspire them to challenge the status quo, but also to let them know it’s perfectly acceptable to break the system! It was appropriate long ago and it’s even more appropriate today. If we are going to truly transform education, then we just may need to break it. 

  • We need to break the system that marginalizes students!
  • We need to break the system that perpetuates learning and opportunity gaps!
  • We need to break the system that disproportionately disciplines students of color!
  • We need to break the system that disproportionately has fewer students of color in AP and advanced classes!
  • We need to break the system where your zip code usually determines what level of education you receive!
  • We need to break the system that fails to recruit and retain teachers of color!   
  • We need to break the system that teaches a unilateral perspective of history!

 

Breaking the system is not blowing up the system. Breaking the system is about addressing and interrupting implicit and explicit bias in our policies, curricula, and procedures. It will undoubtedly cause discomfort. Then again, when has breaking something not created discomfort? We can either be comfortable or we can grow, but we can’t do both!  I would love to know what you will break in order to ensure equity in your district, school, or classroom.

This post is dedicated to my longtime mentor and friend, educator Marc Natanagara, who recently retired after 33 years of breaking things that weren’t broken!

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Unconscious Bias

Guest post by Sari Goldberg McKeown @sgteach_sari & Jessica Liakonis @MrsLiakonis

Opinions expressed are  those of the guest blogger. 

 

I embrace education as an opportunity to inspire and empower. As an educator, it is my goal to enhance student learning as a transformative experience. Teaching is a privileged position. It  demands humility as much as respect. It is crucial that as educators, we recognize the power inherent in our role and are self-reflective about our actions. It is critical that we are mindful of our position as a role model and the kind of learning we strive to promote among students. Our students are always watching. They are always learning from us. When the image below was recently posted by Adam Welcome, it forced me to stop in my tracks. This small image has a BIG impact.

“We say we teach all children, but do we teach all stories?  Do we teach the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, or just the sanitized version that will not ruffle any feathers? I can choose to bring others into our classrooms so that their stories are told by them. I can choose to model what it means to question my own assumptions and correct my own wrongs.” As Jessica and I unpacked Pernille Ripp’s post “These Divided Times,” with our Voxer group #StrongTies, Pernille’s words swirled in my head. This conversation brought my own assumptions to the forefront. Do I support all stories? Do I create a space that encourages the whole truth? What do I model? -Sari

 

𝕊𝕒𝕣𝕚 𝔾𝕠𝕝𝕕𝕓𝕖𝕣𝕘 𝕄𝕔𝕂𝕖𝕠𝕨𝕟@sgteach_sari

How do you flatten the walls in your classroom? @pernilleripp @kemnitzer3 @JamiePandolf @AKennedy61 @MrsLiakonis @lopescommack @ChrisKauter @MrECuff

View image on Twitter

Who’s different? What’s fair? As a society, discussions about bias, discrimination, culture, and social justice tend to happen more in middle and high schools. Educators sometimes believe that younger children may not understand these complex topics, or maybe they just want to delay exposing them to injustices as long as possible. However, young children have such a passion for fairness. They want to do the right thing; they want to be fair. The best though is that they notice differences without apology or discomfort. Why does your hair feel different than mine? What is that in your lunchbox? How come you have two mommies?

As Sari mentioned, while we unpacked Pernille’s post, I thought to myself, bias can be unlearned or reversed if children are exposed to everyone’s differences in a positive way. The burning question, how do we do that?  -Jessica

Searching Inward

I quickly realized I had a lot to learn. I am so grateful for the time that Pernille spent with us that week digging deep into this meaningful work. As Pernille shares in this message (that I highly encourage you to listen to), this is messy, exhausting work that is so incredibly important. Before we can do the work with our students, we need to do the work with ourselves. I needed to search inward and identify my own personal bias. Bias. What does that mean? I used to believe that word had a very negative connotation. This learning journey has shifted my perspective.

To have personal biases is to be human. We all hold our own subjective world views and are influenced and shaped by our own experiences, beliefs, values, education, family, friends, peers and others. Being aware of one’s biases is vital to both personal well-being and professional success.

Our lens is created through our experiences. These experiences create our bias. That does not make our lens wrong…it just makes it personal. Believing that our lens is the only lens or the correct lens, is wrong. – Sari

The Power of a Story

Yes, Sari! We must identify our own bias first, and it’s not always easy. Once we can understand and recognize this, we can begin to teach students how to acknowledge their own. The early years are the time to begin helping children form strong, positive self-images and grow up to respect and get along with people who are different from themselves. So, how can we start beating bias? With books!

Jessica Liakonis@MrsLiakonis

Day 46 Another great story by @bwittbooks & @LondonLLadd set in 1959 about Bernard’s wish for the Red Sox to finally integrate their baseball team! @JLVacchio @miss_anderer @WilletsRoadMS Ss loved learning from the back matter! @EastWillistonSD

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Jessica Liakonis@MrsLiakonis

Day 160 An important topic told in a fairy tale. Student discussion was powerful. Thank you @DanielHaack @EastWillistonSD @WilletsRoadMS @kemnitzer3 @sgteach_sari @JamiePandolf @AKennedy61 @dmgately @pernilleripp

View image on Twitter

Children’s books continue to be an invaluable source of information and values. These books can begin extremely positive and powerful discussions in your classroom, if we allow them to. We must allow them to. The experience of listening to others read aloud or reading picture books with an anti bias message provides an opportunity for young children to see and identify with characters often different from themselves. They can also experience a wide range of social dilemmas and points of view. These stories teach students how to look at events from a variety of perspectives, in other words, feel what it is like to “be in another person’s shoes.” Jessica

Jessica Liakonis@MrsLiakonis

Day 70 The Undefeated by @kwamealexander is an ode to black Americans through history: the dreamers and the doers who have made a difference despite the many injustices endured and challenges faced. @JLVacchio @miss_anderer

View image on Twitter

Continuing the Conversation

Pernille ignited a flame within me. Jessica and I gravitated towards one another. We shared a strong desire to seek more answers. This marked the beginning of our journey. We continued to dig deep in an effort to understand our own personal bias. We explored books, podcasts, TED Talks, hashtags, blogs, and workshops that have stretched our thinking. Please click here to find the list of resources that have opened our eyes. This document also includes many of the incredible read alouds Jessica has utilized as a catalyst for these important conversations with students. (Please also reach out to us with recommendations to help support our journey!) We developed a workshop, Unconscious Bias. To date we have facilitated sessions at EdCampLI and The New York State Middle School Association Regional Conference. We designed this workshop not as experts, but as learners. Our intention is to create a space to continue the conversation and learn with others. – Sari

I read picture books to my students on a daily basis as part of #ClassroomBookADay. Recently, I decided to look back on some of the picture books I have read to my students and connect them with our current Civil Rights unit, as well as current events. Having the students explore the literature and discuss hard topics was just what we needed in order to reflect back on our biases. 

Through meaningful activities that promote critical thinking and problem solving, based on carefully selected books, our students can begin to build the empathy and confidence needed for becoming caring and knowledgeable people who stand up for themselves and others in the face of discriminatory behavior. Let’s continue to teach them the beauty of others.  -Jessica

Ed Kemnitzer@kemnitzer3

This presentation is just amazing! Great conversation on bias, putting all stories on bookshelves, and engaging all voices. Using gentle stories to talk about heavy topics. Shout outs to @pernilleripp and @dmammolito. Great work, @MrsLiakonis and @sgteach_sari.

View image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on TwitterView image on Twitter

____________________ Thank you Sari for the Guest Post _____________________

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Kindness and Equity in Our Science Classrooms

Guest Post by Kathy Renfrew (@krsciencelady), previously published on Middle Web

A while back I bought the novel Wonder. As with many good intentions, life got in the way and as the days turned into weeks the book sat lonely on my nightstand.

Finally, in August, with a new school year starting soon, it seemed an opportune time to finally jump into the text on my nightstand.

I dove in head first and was instantly smitten by the characters in this multi-award winning book and began to see the many ways to apply the learning in Wonder to my work in the classroom.

While reading I began to wonder how I might ‘choose kind’ if I had been a character in Auggie Pullman’s story. What would 9 or 11-year old Kathy have done? Would I have chosen to befriend Auggie?

start-joy-09-09-19

As our school focused on “choosing kind” to foster students’ social-emotional learning, I went in search of additional resources to use along side this brilliant text in my daily work. Resources like this one from the Teaching Channel shared tips that I would be able to enact instantly.

What do students think?

As posters of #choosekind appeared in the hallways of my school, I was curious to know what students across the country thought choosing kind might look like? Moreover, I was curious to learn how the idea of choosing kind transferred to the three-dimensional learning we teach in science classrooms.

Leveraging the power of our global professional learning network (PLN) through social media, I shared this question across my twitter PLN and a fourth grade teacher in Michigan, Jennifer Ladd, responded.

Click to enlarge

Ladd likes to use one of my favorite learning tools, Padlet, and asked her students to respond to some prompts. Their answers were both inspiring and thought provoking.

Students instantly identified attributes of the 4 C’s including collaboration and communication. For instance Ryan shared, “I think choosing kind in science looks like when someone has a question you don’t say ‘oh that question is not smart’ you try to work together and figure it out and include people.”

Students shared general and specific strategies for choosing kind in science classrooms from the ideas of teamwork and friendship to how to ensure all learners have access to tools for success.

Ashlyn wrote, “I think choosing kind in science looks like teamwork and friendship. Science always should look like what teamwork is. Teamwork and friendship is like people passing around the batteries and wires. Teamwork accomplishes big things.”

Inspired by these fourth grade learners, I began observing students in the classroom to see what they were talking about to their first reading buddies. The fourth grade and the first grade had partnered together to create a shade structure in the outdoor classroom.

In one observation I heard a student choose kind when she said to her group, “I will do the math, all the adding, and you work on the structure. Tim, will you please help Joe with the tape on the structure.”

After hearing from my PLN nationwide and visiting classrooms, I decided to reach out to friends to see how they foster kindness in their science classrooms.

Fellow squadster and teacher laureate Meg Richards shared how “choosing kind in my science classroom has students being open to new experiences and new ways of thought.”

“We spend time talking about how science is a place to wonder, where right answers can always get better if we are open to them,” Meg says.

“After all, in the wise words of Miss Frizzle (of Magic School Bus fame), ‘If you keep an open mind you never know who might walk in.’”

Moving with kindness to equity

#Choosingkind is a great start in acknowledging the small steps we can each take towards creating a more equitable and just world. But it is just the first step. How do we move beyond kindness to include equity where all learners have access to the tools they need to find success?

What are some tools we can implement right now that will help us create kind, safe, and equitable communities in science and across the school building?

One tool that may launch these conversations is called STEM Teaching Tool #54 from the Institute of Science + Math Education. This tool helps us better understand exactly what an equitable classroom is and provides some ideas of how to move forward.

For instance, resources such as the Story of a Name teach respect for each person’s choice of name which helps learners and educators honor their colleagues and students, resulting in greater respect and collaboration. Other options include The Shoe Game – Equity versus Equality (exploring the value of differentiation) and Pictures of Our Lives (sharing stories of our diverse experiences).

Students may also opt to use a Science Journal Quest to foster effective classroom talk together. Intentionally engaging with resources like the STEM Teaching Tool and others are small steps toward a much larger goal of equity and mindfulness in the classroom.

If we have the goal of building equitable learning communities, we are making a step in the right direction. In this way we are modeling for our students, our colleagues, and our community what it means to be kind and just, and maybe, just maybe, #choosingkindness will become a part of who we all are.

Edutopia has an article by Sarah Kesty about the use of the engineering design process to foster collaboration and kindness, called Social And Emotional Learning in Science Class. I found I was using this article to stimulate my thinking around this topic.

I also connected with a story from EdWeek which talked about some work a middle school was doing to really think about the whole child and find opportunities to integrate Social and Emotional Learning into what they were already teaching rather than have another siloed subject to teach. See: How One District Is Spreading Social-Emotional Learning Across All Its Schools.

Keeping SEL out front in science class

During this school year, I’m going to be thinking a lot about how we can keep social and emotional learning out front – something that’s always important for us to be thinking about. How can we make our children feel safe and yet very excited about learning? I think we need to remember that our children live in a world that can sometimes be very scary.

After writing and reflecting on this article, I see that the implementation and implications of the student-centered New Generation Science Standards offer us many avenues to help our students feel safe and enjoy learning again. I think the title of my next blog will be something like “How Phenomenon-Driven Instruction Can Make Our Classrooms More Equitable Places for Learning.” I believe by focusing on questions like this, we’ll find even more ways to incorporate social and emotional learning into our science classrooms.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

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