Friday, July 20, 2012

In response to John and Steve

This morning I've been Skyping with Steve about this blog post that he wrote into response to John's post.  Steve and I started pounding away on the keys, still wondering with John about the sustainability of student blogs.

Steve and I were wondering together about how many of the SI-er's will continue blogging after today, after the push to inquire in those spaces as a part of a course is over.  And I'm wondering about my own blogging over the past two weeks.  I have really enjoyed "having" to blog.  I say "having to" because it wasn't fair to ask the teachers participating in SI to do it if we weren't going to do it ourselves.

We are wondering together if part of the motivation to blog in classroom spaces is the immediacy of response.  It's part of the grade and we offer that space in class, so response definitely happens. I'll admit too, that I do really like the way blogger shows me how many views a post has gotten.  So maybe it's not even the responses that drive my motivation to blog, but just knowing someone is listening?

I'm going to be using blogs for the first time this fall in my first year writing course and I'm thinking at the moment that I'm going to model that very much after the way we've used them in SI as place to think through inquiry projects with the rest of us.  They will also have daybooks of course, so I'm thinking of the blog as one step away from personal, for the self writing.  I'm thinking of them as places to put the messy pondering of inquiry out into the world to find others to inquire with us.  That's not "polished" publication though.  I've dealt with that here by using a "messy, drafty thinking" label.

Like Steve, I'm trying to think of a way to connect our thinking up with the conversations we are inquiring into. So, I'm imagining a "polished for now" (because you can't really "finish" a piece of inquiry writing in a semester) or two.  I'm imagining that these pieces will get tweeted into conversation with others outside of our classroom.

And I'm really, really interested in the co-op blogs that John mentioned in his response to Steve.  I'm imagining these as multi-author blogs and thinking that may be just the thing to take some pressure off of some writers and create small communities within the large class community.  I'd like to hear a lot more about that.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

On the Closing of SI 2012

I've been participating in UNCCWP Summer Institues since 1999.  In fact, I often mark years by the Summer Institutes, for example, thinking back when someone ask me when such and such happened to the year that X happened in SI.  That may be a little weird, but I'm putting it out there because I'm trying to explain here how much this experience has meant and does mean to me.

There's just something powerful and amazing about a group of teachers voluntarily coming together for six hours everyday over the coures of weeks to think this hard about what happens in our classrooms.  We almost lost SI in the spring of 2011.  I still remember Lacy, Lil and I sitting in Lil's office, crying and cursing because the NWP budget had been cut.  We'd already invited 18 amazing teachers and we didn't have the money now to run the program.  We scrambled and rearranged and made it happen, but we didn't know about this year.

But SI 2012 DID happen.  It's still happening right now, even though tomorrow is the last day.  It happened in ways we've never done before. In ways we couldn't have imagined.  And it is one powerful, amazing group of teachers.  So, am I nostalgic tonight? You bet I am, and I'll not apologize for it.  Because these people came together, I have a stack of blog posts and thinking and ideas and passion that will fuel me for the coming school year.  I have a new groups of amazing colleagues that I honestly call friends because we have spend this time inquiring, puzzling, furrowing our brows and out loud laughing together.  We have blogged and tweeted, which was especially important to me because I have not been able to share the physical space this past week.

This group has reminded me yet again what Writing Project means to me!

Thank you SI 2012!   See ya'll at Amelie's tomorrow for open mic!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Thinking with Cowhey's Black Ants and Buddhists

I'm thinking this afternoon with Mary Cowhey through her amazing book, Black Ants and Buddhists.  This book has been an inspiration to me for years, since I picked it up because I was intrigued by the title.  This is the book that push on just about every teacher I meet who has any interest in critical teaching, or workshop classrooms or teaching for social justice.

I dug it out today wanting to re-read Cowhey's story of what she and her first graders did instead of the traditional Thanksgiving can drive.   She writes of participating in canned food drives as a child and wondering who "the poor people" were.  In the next line, she writes of having bologna for Christmas dinner and thinking it a huge treat because they usually had peanut butter and jelly.  When she asked her parents about the treat, she learned that she and her family were "the poor people."  Activities like this serve to further stigmatize the low-income children in our classrooms.  On the other hand, Cowhey's mother would not allow the family to use the words "poor people"  instead, they talked about those who are "less fortunate than us at this time" and they packed up their outgrown hand-me-downs for "those less fortunate than us at this time." (pg. 26)

Cowhey's book reminds me of the stereotypes propagated by things like canned food drives and even my children's penchant for tomato gleaning.   Having one's mom pick up cans for the school can drive so that the class can win the competition has more to do with the amount of disposable income in the class than it does compassion and caring Cowhey reminds us.  "It makes 'poor people' seem like a predestined, anonymous group.  It makes poverty seem like a permanent, almost genetic condition."  "It stereo-types low-income people as passively 'in need'.  "It fails to acknowledge the creative problem solving, resourcefulness, resilience, persistence, and enduring spirit of people who take nothing for granted." (pg. 26)

She and her students baked pies from pumpkins grown in her garden, then walked to deliver them for a Thanksgiving Dinner for the homeless in boxes donated by a local bakery.  They also met with local advocates for the homeless where they learned about the circumstances that could make a person homeless, and what life is really like for the homeless.   She tells her own stories, focusing on the creativity and resourcefulness of her parents.

So Cowhey's got me wondering, how can we make "helping" something available to ALL of the children in our classes.  When I look at her Thanksgiving project, I see that no money was needed from the children.  It was all action.  And as the Dalai Lama says (and Cowhey' reminds me) "It is not enough to be compassionate.  You must also act."

Acting doesn't mean token gestures of charity.  So, I'm trying to imagine more about how this can look, thinking particularly about the reading program I'm working with in my children's school.  How can we shift our program so that ALL students have access to "help" with reading, in our school and in our communities?   If I think about it, that's what The Fire Cat is about.  Pickles finds his place in the firehouse, where he can use his big paws, teach children about fire safety, and help kittens get out of trees.  He doesn't do all of this himself, no boot strapping for Pickles.  He finds this place with the help of Mrs. GoodKind, the fire chief, and the other firemen.   

Still thinking on this one. 

Issues With Adjustment

            Soft and subtle
            strong and transparent
                        protected when necessary
                        by removable armor.

Should I adjust or
            Definitely not.

           Re-Vision myself.

The debriding,
            removing thick, calloused, tough
            fire-proof, bullet proof

Leaves me pink
            Sensitive and raw.

Telling myself that maybe
            If I can stop struggling and fighting
and shivering,
           If I can accept rawness
            for now.

I’ll have the energy to grow
            the skin “they” say I should have.

Outwardly, I academically inquire
            into help.
            Who gets to give it?
            Who has to receive?
            The socially constructed boundaries.

The critical lens turns here and shows
            I’m locking out help.
            Yanking hard again
            On my bootstraps.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Pickles and Tomatoes with Heroes

First thing this morning, Mary had us all thinking about social action in our classrooms, and how "real" it might be in terms of the student's participation.  Okay "real" is my word, not hers, but that's what it's got me thinking about.

Anyway, Lacy and I were out in the hall trying to place our actions on Hart's ladder with the rest of the participants and I started telling a story about my children asking to go with a neighbor to glean tomatoes "for the people." I was focusing on the fact that this is something that my children ask to do.  But Lacy immediately problematized me about the language my children are using, "for the people." So, this thing that they are doing is totally disconnected from the community "getting" the tomatoes.  "The people" are made passive and not "allowed" to be involved or even voice their ideas about it while the white middle class children "help" by gleaning the tomatoes. 

And all of the sudden, we were right back into the conversation about "help" and all of the power dynamics around who gets to help and who is seen as "needing" help.  And then the twitter feed started blowing up as we came back into the classroom to discuss.

And then, with tomato gleaning is rolling around in my mind with Pickles the cat, Reynelda moved us into "making" through an activity that had us pulling apart the social construction of the word "hero."

Lots to ponder heading into the weekend with some time to write about the rhetoric of help!  Thanks SI-er's  Ya'll ROCK!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Trust and Assignment Making

Jesse did a demo today getting us to explore the idea of assignment making and how our students see our assignments.  When she was telling me about it, I thought it was such a powerful inquiry for thinking about "why" sometimes students don't seem to follow directions, but the way she went about the demo opened the inquiry up for me in an even deeper way.  Because one person had to be blindfolded and then guided (kept safe) by the assignment maker while trying to fulfill the assignment, we really got into an amazing discussion about the trust that we are asking students to have in us when we make assignments and take them up. Christin was my partner.  You see her consternation at being blindfolded.

So, now, I'm seriously thinking about anxiety and trust issues when I struggle with my students trying to get them to risk and explore, when they get so aggravated with me when I won't give them an example or describe exactly "what I want."    I do that because I know that when I leave some space for interpretation, they come up with ideas I could never dream of, but, that is a HUGE HUGE risk.  I think I need to do more to earn their trust, to really help them feel that I have them, that I won't let them trip, or fall off the top of a building or get smooshed by a car.

And I think this all comes back to "help."  Is "help" telling someone exactly what to do, or is it giving the support to explore and amaze.  How do "helpers" in schools, groups who come to "help" the "underprivileged children" define "help."  Heck, how do I define it when I'm asked to "help" with a school's writing program?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Thinking Digitally

Though I've always loved seeing what other people can do with digital tools like Prezi and Jing, Animoto and Devolvr, I tend to shy away from actually creating those things myself.  I get intimidated by the open-ness of the spaces and worry that what I have isn't worthy.

Last February when it was time to defend my dissertation though, I kept seeing my research as shifting, moving and flipping and Prezi seemed like the only way to show that without waving my hands in oddly distracting ways.  The time I took creating the prezi though, really helped my get my research off of the pages and talk about, represent, what I was trying to do and the way all of the methodologies worked together.  Making that Prezi made it possible for me to boil my 200 page project down to a 30 minute defense.

Now with that little hoop behind me, I've been thinking towards making the diss a book.  Last week I had and incredible conversation with a NWP representative who helped me see that I needed to tell the story of my research.  Yesterday, I woke up thinking about the gallery crawl we were having today and the i-movie I was working on.  I just wasn't feeling it.  I kept thinking, 'that Prezi is the best digital thinking I've ever done, I wish I could make it stand alone.'  That thought bumped up against the notion that I needed to tell my story and wallah, I was playing with Jing to do a screen cast.  The project forced me - again - back into all of those pages, all of that thinking, to re-vision it for another context - a sort of elevator speech about the story of my research.  The product is far from what I'd call finished, but the thinking involved in putting this together has me feeling like I'm well on my way to the next draft of my book proposal.

 I am reminded of the great worth of thinking with digital space, of moving any composing into another mode, or medium, or genre, or lens, or form, or space - to see it from a different angle, for a different audience, thinking about entering a different conversation.    For me, it busts my thinking out of whatever box it was stuck in before.  Magical!

Complex Texts and Critical Literacy and Help

Beginning with our reading of Foucault with Pencil in hand all the way through Rashid's rockin' demo that has us pondering the reality of the American Dream and debating Obama Care, I've been thinking about the idea of Complex Text, what makes a text "complex,"  critical literacy and my help inquiry.

I found myself scribbling again in my daybook about Pickles the cat.  And I'm thinking too that this "early readers" children's book is really, REALLY a complex text.  I haven't gotten past the first section yet in my thinking and I've read this book thousands of times.  It was a favorite of mine as a child and I've read it to my children thousands of time.  And this read, this time on that day, hit me in a totally different way.  Complex, complex text.  Going to be spending a lot more time with my pal Pickles.

Monday, July 9, 2012

SI July 9

The discussion that came out of Steve and I's Peer Writing Group Demo really has me thinking hard about what Demos do. On one hand, both Steve and I were showing some "stuff" from our classrooms that "work" for us in terms of Peer Writing Groups. On the other hand, we were working to think with the group about on-line and face to face groups- and how all that might work. It's a strange sort if balance. So often as teachers when we are in "presentation" mode, we feel like we are performing and need to have all of the answers. Having inquiry as a part of this, where we were genuinely asking the group to think with us felt a little bit disconcerting at first - even though I've done it many times before. However, I am walking away from the demo with some real important thinking about things like access and the need for some face to face time as well as screen time. To me, that's the beauty of Demos. Not only do we get tons of cool ideas, but we get extensions on those ideas. So I'm ending the day in the same place I began it, thinking about Steve's Where Ideas Come From video and the importance of "creating a space where ideas can mingle."

Playing With Lines

Lacy's demo had us thinking about placement of words on the page in order to get the message across.
I surprised myself here with what happened on the page with these three words. It's got me thinking about how placement on the page is actually a craft point. Wondering now how much of this craft point gets lost in lined paper and even in word processing and our concepts of what a "paper" looks like.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

In Need of Help? Says Who?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of the rhetoric of help and an inquiry project based on that.  I’ve been working to get a summer reading program I was asked start in my children’s school into a community center that serves the majority of our school’s 48% free and reduced lunch population.  If I'm honest with myself, I assumed that the center needed my white, middle class, Phd holding “help” to make sure the children had access to the reading program.

I’ve exchanged e-mails and even met with the two folks who run it face to face.  In all of these communications, both have seemed really excited about the idea.  And yet, they have yet to respond to my offers to come to the center and run regularly scheduled “read-ins” over the summer. 

Today, I was running a poorly attended read-in at a local business (also interested in “helping.”)  I chose, The Fire Cat to read when kids got tired of reading on their own and as a book for critical discussion.  I was struck by the way Pickles the cat didn’t WANT to live in Ms. GoodKind’s house.  He liked his barrel.  Her house was too small.  He had big paws and wanted to do BIG things. 

Ms. GoodKind meant well.  She really wanted to “help.”  But she underestimated Pickles.  She slotted him into the “bless your heart, let me give you a better bed and better food” column instead of the “this soul will do great things” column at first. 

So this has me pondering . . .  how am I coming at this reading program thing as Ms. GoodKind?