Why Every Teacher Should Watch 13 Reasons Why and To the Bone

Possible Trigger Warning: For anyone who has or may still be struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, or eating disorders, please be aware that this post will touch on these subjects. Please continue reading only if you feel ready to engage with those topics.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or eating disorders, please contact the resources below:

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386

National Eating Disorders Helpline: 1-800-931-2237

Additionally, don’t hesitate to seek out help from a trained professional. There is so much strength in seeking help.


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What I Learned From My First Full Year Teaching

It’s been quite some time since I posted on the blog, and I hope that this post will shed some light on why I’ve been so neglectful (see #4 below).

On June 20th, I finished my first full year of teaching. This year has been so many things– exciting, exhausting, challenging — but, most importantly, it has been enlightening. I have learned so many things from this first year, and to ensure that I never forget these valuable lessons, I thought I’d share them here. Continue reading

You Should Be an Actor

At least once a week, I hear a student say, “You should be an actor” or ask, “Why weren’t you a drama teacher?” I always laugh and remind students that my passion is English, but it’s a question I’ve been reflecting on a lot recently.

Of course part of the reason for these comments and questions is that when we read plays, I enthusiastically teach acting skills and the importance of purposefully using one’s voice to deliver lines. However, a bigger reason for these questions is due to how I deliver my lessons. I am constantly playing with my voice in the deliverance of different parts of my lessons.

For example, I’ve had both students and colleagues laugh at how I call out names when I’m passing back materials; frequently, I call names as if I’m introducing them at some sort of sports game. Sure, students will cringe and might laugh at me, but I get a little chuckle and smile from them, and that’s what’s important to me. I find doing silly things like calling out names in an announcer voice or cheering someone on when they pass in work has made my students much more open with me. And although my students might act like they’re embarrassed for me sometimes, I can tell that also think it’s fun. I had a student recently who passed in some work late, and when I replied, “one more assignment to go” (in a chipper, but not DJ-announcer cheering-voice), she said she was upset I didn’t cheer; when she passed in her last late assignment, I happened to be working with someone else, and when I finished with the other student, she reminded me that I said I’d cheer for her, so off I went with my “woos” and clapping. Did I look strange to anyone who might have walked by room? Probably. But she went back to her seat with a smile on her face, and that’s what counts!

I joke with my students that my weird tones make the class even more exciting and keep them on their toes, but there’s actually a much deeper method to my madness. I am not afraid to be weird in front of my students; I’m not afraid to make a fool of myself, and this is important to my teaching philosophy and how I want my students to engage with learning in my classroom. I’ve had students get anxious about reading in class or answering a question (for fear of being wrong), but I’m able to say to them “‘Insert name,’ do you see me every class? You can never look as silly as me! Don’t be worried!” And do you know what my students’ responses often are? “True…” and then they try. By being dorky and silly in class, I am able to empower my students to take risks that they may not be willing to take otherwise. I want my students to view learning as an exciting process, and I want them to be comfortable making mistakes, taking risks, and, well, being a little dorky!

I don’t write this post to suggest teachers should always be dorky and goofy; I’m certainly not like this all of the time. My goal is to teach my students the skills they will need to move on in education, but the best way to do that is by making a connection with my students, which, I believe, this does. 

My First Classroom

Hi there! It’s been a while since I posted; my first year of teaching has been crazy and has left me with little time to blog (let alone sleep).

When I found out that I would be teaching at Haverhill High, I immediately began thinking about how I would decorate my classroom. It was important to me that there was plenty of room to display students’ work, but I also wanted to put up some permanent decorations to make the classroom inviting and inspiring.

The desk/chairs were a particular issues for me. I really wanted to encourage discussion, so rows weren’t going to work, but because the seats are attached to the desks, it’s difficult to have the desks too close. The compromise I decided on was putting the desks in 3 “rows” or semi circles facing the Smartboard at the front of the room.

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The book pages trim on the bulletin boards and the book page banners were inspired by my wonderful friend Danah Hashem. She had a similar theme at my bridal shower (which the book page flowers are from!), and I knew it would be perfect in my classroom!

My husband helped me make the #read and #write signs, which are so perfect! The gallery wall includes all things that I find inspirational and motivational. The clipboards are things I especially think are important for students to know and believe.

Since taking all of these pictures, I have made some changes and improvements (including some great student work being displayed)! Let me know what you think!

Teacher Friends and Group Texts

As I mentioned in this post, I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with some incredible teachers and scholars since I started my academic journey at SSU. My hope to continue working on projects with these people has come to fruition several times this summer. Today’s post, in particular, focuses on a project I’ve worked on with Danah Hashem and Megan Grandmont.

These ladies have been great sources for talking through academic issues and questions, and this summer, after Megan posted her transmedia series on her blog, we began discussing the difference between transmedia and transmodality in a (very) long group-text. Through this conversation, we attempt to determine what these concepts mean, and although I’m not sure we all still completely agree on the definitions, the resulting conversation was fascinating. At the end of the conversation, Megan suggested we turn our long-winded and (dare I say) interesting group-text into a Storify. Over the next few weeks, we created a multimodal story that exemplifies our process of determining meaning for these two complex terms. Please enjoy our Storify!

View the story, “Transmedia and Transmodality — Let’s Text About It” on Storify

Transmedia and Summer Reading

Today’s post is inspired by the transmedia series my friend and colleague, Megan Grandmont, just finished on her blog, A Classroom With A View. You can read the series here (and I highly recommend you do as it will likely put this post and its content in context with a larger conversation and topic in academia). In her second post,

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Source: luna-maries-diary.tumblr.com

she links to a transmedia project I created (which also happens to be a kind of fanfic of sorts) for a young adult lit course I took at SSU. The project can be found here: Luna’s Diary Vlogs. For today’s post I wanted to talk about this project in depth (ignoring my cringe-worthy acting) as well as the potential of using something like this for a summer reading assessment.

 

As I said above, this project was created as my final assignment for my SSU young adult lit course. For this assignment, I created a proposed assignment for a high school ELA class that asked students to create a transmedia (and multimodal) text in which they rewrite at least one scene from the perspective of another character. As part of this project I also created my own ‘fanfic’ version of Julie Anne Peters’ novel, Lunaas a model to show students.

So what makes my Tumblr page transmedia? The important part that makes this transmedia is actually that it is not all hosted on Tumblr– some of this story is created through vlogs hosted on Youtube. Were every video, image, and alphabetic text posted directly on Tumblr, this project would be multimodal but NOT transmedial. Now, for the sake of privacy (and potential copyright issues– even though technically this is all for educational purposes and therefore falls under fair use), originally everything associated with this project was private and password protected. However, for the sake of Megan and I blogging about it, I made the tumblr page public but kept everything else private. I mention these privacy concerns in terms of posting to multiple platforms (a necessity in order to be transmedia) because it is important to the assignment I am about to propose.

This leads me to the second part of the title of this post– summer reading. I have often heard from many teachers that assessing summer reading is difficult or becomes boring. For some, it is difficult because students are given 10-20 options for books (and sometimes, you just can’t read all of them as a teacher), but for others, they don’t want the assessment to be something boring like a quiz or essay to start of the year because it attaches grades very clearly to something we want students to find fun (you know, reading during the summer, seriously, it can be fun!). So my proposed assignment, although outside the box, is a transmedial ‘fanfic’ of students’ summer reading book. Let me just clarify before I get into the assignment, that this would require teaching transmedia as well as the tools to create a transmedia text to students beforehand (either freshman year to have them do it every year following or the first week of school). So here’s the assignment (a PDF version can be found here):

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Screenshots from assignment’s PDF

I want to note that due to privacy and safety concerns students may technically post everything on one platform, but using the fake social media generators, they are privately and safely pretending to post a transmedial text (and the concept is what’s important to me rather than technical execution since these students are largely minors). For some, not being literal to the term by having students actually use the platforms might make this assignment seem less worthwhile and meaningful for their students, and I can understand that. However, for me, the distinction between actually doing transmedia versus demonstrating understanding of the concept via fake social media generators is still meaningful and worthwhile. This is, for me, just something that would need to be explained to students so that they leave this assignment knowing what transmedia is in a literal sense versus what they safely did as a ‘psedo-example’ of transmedia.

Obviously an assignment like this needs a great deal of scaffolding (like I said earlier, either at the beginning of high school to continue throughout their 4 years or at the beginning of the year), but I do believe this would incredibly fun for students. It also gets them engaging in an important discussion about about online privacy and safety. Furthermore, I believe the more we can utilize multimodality and digital resources in our classroom, the better off our students will be in their future high school career but also their careers outside of the classroom. However, I am aware that an assignment like this simply couldn’t be done in all districts. In districts where access to technology isn’t an issue, this could be really fun, and I would not recommend an assignment like this in a district where at-home access isn’t certain (transmedia and multimodality can be taught in other ways, in school, so you don’t ‘punish’ students without access).

Have you ever had students create a transmedia text before? Have you ever read transmedia texts (or used them to accompany canonical texts)? Let me know!

 

 

Reflecting in the Wake of Tragedy

Today’s post is a difficult one for me to write, and perhaps, that’s exactly why I should write it. With more murders of Black men and women occurring at the hands of police officers (at the hands of other also), I find myself trying to figure out what I can do to stop these tragedies. As a teacher, I know that it is my responsibility to educate my students about systemic racism and privilege. And I know I need to make sure my students have a voice that they are confident and capable of using it, but I must also teach my students to listen

Listening, in my classroom, will begin not only with my reading and watching everything I can find but will also include having my students read and watch as much as possible. I am fortunate to have colleagues who share incredible readings and videos with me, but I am also a strong proponent of asking students for their input.

The bulk of this post will consist of me reflecting on an experience teaching a race and diversity unit during student teaching at Newburyport High School. I do, however, want to acknowledge that I am by no means an expert on this topic, and as someone who has not experienced this firsthand, as someone with privilege trying to empathize and listen, I want to make sure that it is understood that I am not an expert, do not claim to be, and do not want this post to speak for or over the experiences of anyone.

After spending some time with my seniors at NHS, I was very much interested in teaching a unit on race and diversity with them. With my sophomores, it was obvious that social justice was always on their minds and constantly acknowledged– my sophomores were the kind of students who knew, at such a young age, that they had privilege. However, my seniors weren’t as vocal about this understanding. Because I wasn’t sure how much my seniors had been exposed to the issues of diversity, race, and privilege, I spoke with my amazing cooperating teacher and we agreed to create a two week mini-unit right before I left for the seniors. When we first envisioned that unit, we planned a lot of readings, but we quickly realized just how fast two weeks would pass, so we decided to forgo some of the readings in favor of some videos. For a list of different videos and readings we either did or considered using, check out the blog I created to store everything: Senior Seminar (note: some of the readings we wanted to use couldn’t be posted on WordPress for copyright reasons, so this does not include everything).

I want to talk about one of my classes in particular, and their reaction to this unit. This class amazed me. First presenting the topic to this class, I had them fill out an anticipation guide in which they had to agree or disagree with different statements about race and diversity. I chose 3 to discuss in a 4-corners style activity. Before we discussed I gave them a long speech about respect and the importance of listening and thinking before we speak, etc, etc. I was really scared the conversation would go poorly like another class’s had. But they were incredible. Students who usually made jokes out of class discussions were making articulate points about racism and how they believe it is still a problem. One of my students in particular truly inspired me; this was a student who was fairly quiet– he was clearly a smart, sweet kid, but he didn’t participate a lot in class and was sometimes disengaged. He made articulate point after articulate point, talking about stats he learned from different videos. He later gave me the name of a Vice video (Driving While Black) and asked me if we could watch it with the rest of the class–he thought it was really important. Now this is where the important role as a teacher-listener comes in– you need to be willing to listen to your students and learn from them! We watched the video as a class, and these students continued to amaze me with their discussions and their journals.

Now obviously, this was a class that was very accepting and knowledgable about these issues. I am not naive enough to think that it would go this well with any and all classes (trust me, I saw it go differently as well), but I think not only do we need to talk about these issues in our ELA classes for the students who are already allies, making them even more knowledgable and vocal in their fight for change, but also for the class that doesn’t understand anything about racism and privilege– this class needs to at least be introduced to these issues in hopes that they will eventually see what is really going on in the world. And with a more diverse classroom, reading minority authors and talking about social justice not only allows them to listen to authors with (potentially) similar experiences to them, but also helps them find their voice so they can speak up for themselves and speak out against the injustices and the tragedies occurring in our country.

Please let me know if you have any resources about this topic that you can share. I am listening, and I want to learn more.