Welcome to a new year of school! It is only the second day of school, but there is an air of excitement, possibility , and hope I have never felt before at my school. Past readers may know that my elementary school was classically bad. And I mean hopelessly bad.
But the last year has brought about many changes, and now, we have a staff of motivated and enthusiastic teachers, a staff made up of primarily the exact same teachers as before. What do I attribute this major change in culture and attitude to? The abrupt replacement of our now ex-principal with a knowledgeable and able leader who shares power and demands that her teachers wields that power in service of students’ education.
So, let us raise a glass to a wonderful year where both students and teachers learn!
My previous post explores some of the philosophy behind Culturally Relevant Teaching (CRT), or the whys. This post, I want to explore some of the hows. That really is what we need.
If you are reading Part 2 of my posts, then I assume that I am preaching to the choir. You already intuitively know why CRT is a good thing and you want to do it. So how do we go about integrating CRT into our daily instruction to maximize student learning?
High Expectation – from Can’t to the Absolutely Can
Do you have high expectation of your diverse students? Do you really believe that everyone can learn and succeed? OR Do you answer, “Yes, but ______.” If you qualify your answer with “but” then you do NOT have high expectations for your diverse students. You can stop reading this post right now and go pick up some books with researches that prove again and again that ALL students can learn, regardless of color, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic background, parental involvement, whatever. Until you believe absolutely that all of your students can learn, can be the A student, then nothing that you read or try will help your students any. I don’t know how else to put it. The anonymity of the internet blog allows me to write this, “If you don’t have high expectations for all your students, then you SUCK as a teacher compared to what you can truly do.” (I just know I’m about to get another slew of e-mails attacking me. *ducks*)
What does high expectation look like in the classroom setting? Here is another real life example from my school.
All teachers are trained to use Thinking Maps, targeted graphic organizers. In particular, all teachers are trained to use these graphic organizers along with sentence frames to help students communicate orally and in writing. All teachers. I took a walk with many other teachers, just to see examples of writing in the classrooms, as part of our professional development. With one exception, all first grade teachers had their students copy teacher created writing samples from the board. By this I mean in all subject areas, in all topics, just all writing samples were teacher created, student copied. These teachers expected that their students can not write and so do not even give them the opportunity to try. The one exception is a first year teacher who doesn’t have that low expectation. In fact, she has high expectation. She expects her students to write coherently and she gave them the support they need to do so. She gave them the sentence frames, without filling it in for them. She gave them Thinking Maps from which they can pull words and ideas. She lets them go at it. Some students made mistakes and she helped correct the mistakes without taking over the students’ writings. High expectation.
Having high expectation is probably the most difficult part of being culturally responsive, because it’s just so easy to blame the students for failure, and so hard to say, maybe I’m not teaching very well.
If you answer with an unqualified yes, then let’s move on to other, easier strategies for integrating culturally relevant teaching.
Part 3 – We Communicate Differently – Coming soon to a blog near you!
Our dominant, white culture communicates very differently from the cultures of our diverse students. Visit my post on how we organize our communication differently. Next post will go more in depth into this and how to utilize this difference in the classroom.
As a teacher, we’ve all heard the terms. We’ve all been told to use it. We’ve all been trained. I know I have. We’ve even piecemeal integrated one or two strategies into our teaching. Many of us are still VERY confused as to what it is and how it’s any different from what we’ve been doing. I know I was!
Here is an exploration of Culturally Relevant Teaching from the perspective of one teacher who is beginning to take ownership and really see direct impact in his classroom.
Primary Resources: Culturally Responsive Teaching by Geneva Gay and How to Teach Students Who Don’t Look Like You by Bonnie M. Davis. Geneva Gay’s book really explores the theory and the whys of CRT(Culturally Relevant Teaching). Bonnie Davis’s book explores YOUR experiences and gives practical strategies.
What is Culturally Relevant Teaching?
It goes by a few name. Culturally Responsive Teaching. Culturally Relevant Pedagogy. Variations thereof. In a nutshell, CRT is respecting the student’s complex culture and individual strengths to teach in a rigorous manner that will lead to academic success. That’s a mouthful.
We want all of our students to be academically successful. Every year, the faces that look back at us in the classroom is more and more diverse. The numbers from standardized tests tell us that there is a persistent “achievement gap”, meaning students of color are not doing as well as white American students. The students are becoming more and more disconnected from education, with worsening behavior problems, and less and less motivation to succeed in school, or so it seems. Many teachers feel frustrated, some even hopeless.
CRT proposes a very convincing argument as to why that achievement gap persists and how we can change our teaching so that our students of color has the best chance of academic success.
Culture counts. That is a premise of CRT and two powerful words that truly affected me. Culture counts. The culture of the diverse students, absolutely, but also the culture of our educational institution and the teachers teaching.
The American educational institution was built by and for the dominant culture, white, middle class, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants. That culture has been entrenched into education to such a degree that we, as fish, don’t see the water through which we swim, nor do we see the cultural norms that exist and force upon our students who DON’T in fact, come from a white, middle class background.
We expect students to sit and listen attentively. That sounds perfectly logical to those of us raised in a middle class educational environment. It is, in fact, logical in all culture. It just looks different. When we say “sit and listen attentively”, we mean sit straight up in the chair, eyes on the speaker, hands still, mouths quiet. In many other culture, African American culture for one, “sit and listen attentively” means moving, nodding and clapping in agreement, yelling out encouragement, nudging the person sitting next to you, and quite often, being really attentive means standing up, not sitting at all. So, when our little black students start moving in class when we speak, we yell at them to sit still. We’ve also just told them to stop listening.
We expect, and teach our students from a young age, to raise their hands and take turn to speak so that it is fair to everyone. Conversation in the classroom is between the teacher and one other student only. Everyone else is expected to listen until it’s their turn. In our individualistic society, that makes sense. In other, more communal society, it doesn’t make sense at all. Everyone is expected to contribute to the conversation. In the classroom, what this looks like is that our students of color call out to the teacher and to each other during discussions. Once again, we tell our students to raise their hands before speaking…and we’ve also told them to stop contributing to the conversation.
Two of our most basic assumptions about teaching clearly clashes with the cultures of our diverse students and tell our students to stop learning! And our students obey. They stop learning. A little at a time until, by fourth and fifth grade, teachers throw their hands up in despair, wondering what they could do.
How to Teach Students Who Don’t Look Like You by Bonnie M. Davis does a great job of helping us to examine our cultural lenses and then readjust our teaching so that we can actually teach our students. Do take a look at it and see what other assumptions about teaching that we hold as logical norms, when in fact it is detrimental to our students of color.
Why should we be mindful of CRT and actively seek to integrate it into our daily classroom instruction? I won’t go deep into this discussion. I figure, if you’ve read this far, then you already want to do it, you just want to know how. Culturally Responsive Teaching by Geneva Gay does a fantastic, and thorough job of discussing why we should use CRT. I highly recommend that every teacher should read Geneva Gay’s book.
One of the tenets of Culturally Responsive Teaching is that students from different cultural background would have different communication styles which may clash with the communication style of the teacher. So, how do we teach students who communicate differently from us?
In America, the dominant way to organize communication is “topic-centered”. We focus on one topic at a time and logically follow through to a conclusion in an orderly manner. It’s very linear. If we are part of the dominant culture, we automatically think this is the correct way of organizing our thinking, our speech, and our writing.
Research have shown that Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans and Hawaiians are inclined toward topic-associative style of organizing communication. This style is thematic, associative, and integrative. A topic-centered communicator would view this form of communication as rambling, straying off topic, and not organized, when in fact, the topic-associative communicator is giving you ALL the information, ALL the associations, EVERYTHING relevant to the topic.
In the Classroom
Be honest, in the classroom, particularly in a culturally diverse classroom, how many of you teachers think that your ethnic students are ramblers and don’t communicate well and that their writing is awful and disorganized? I can point to each child and give an illustration of how the child is a topic-associative communicator in my classroom, and if I didn’t know about the difference in communication style, I would have immediately said my students are disorganized thinkers. In actuality, they are organized in an associative manner, not topic-centered.
Here’s an anecdote. My grandmother would try to tell these stories about her past. However, for us young grandkids, she never quite got to the “point” of the stories. She never gave us a plot with a problem and a solution or a punchline. We never got to hear the ending of the stories because we got impatient and walked away. Why? She would spend all her time talking about the people and places related to the stories. “Once, your grandfather took me to visit Uncle so and so. Remember Uncle so and so? He had that daughter who married so and so. What was her name? I think her name was so and so. He gave her a pig for her wedding day. That was a great day. Your aunt so and so was there…” We missed the entire point of why grandmother was talking with us..she was talking about people, not plotlines. Grandmother was very much a topic-associative communicator.
How to Bridge the Styles in Writing – An Example
As a culturally responsive teacher who wants to use the students’ strengths to build a bridge to academic success in a dominant culture that IS topic-centered, what do you do?
Well, I’ve been thinking about why the way I’ve been teaching writing has been such a success with my inner city students. I build in all sorts of scaffold. I give them all sorts of graphic organizers. I expect and receive successful writings. All this and more.
But, looking at it through the lens of communication styles, I can clearly see now that I have created a bridge from one style to the other for my students, using the strength of one and carefully teaching my students how to do the other. Or, to be more precise, “Write from the Beginning”, the writing program, has built this bridge. I merely strengthen it.
Looking carefully at how I teach writing using Thinking Maps, we can see that we start with my students’ strength, topic-association, by using a Circle Map. First in conversation, then in the graphic organizers, my students are encouraged to think about and write down everything that is associated with and related to the writing topic. Because we are using a circle to organize our thinking, everything is related and nothing is more important than the other. We honor all associations.
Next, we start making decisions about what we need to focus on, beginning the bridge to a topic-centered piece of writing. We do this through a Tree Map, picking out three main ideas. We then move to a Flow Map and piece, by piece, organizing our ideas in a topic-centered sequence, moving from one completed idea to the next and coming to a conclusion.
Our final writing is very much topic-centered and would please any topic-centered communicator.
When I remove this bridge, my second graders immediately produce writing that is topic-associative because that is their communication style. That bridge is clearly not solid yet and my students still need scaffolding, but as we continue working together throughout the year, my students will become more adept at crossing that bridge independently.
My goal of course is for my students to be able to use two styles of communication and be able to make decisions about when is appropriate to use one or the other. Already, I see two students who are able to do this by themselves, with minimal guidance.
For this coming week, I will be participating in Unit Opener Planning Week (and hope you will be too!). This is primarily geared toward Open Court units, but always take ideas that you like and tweak them to suit your needs!
Okay, here’s my first idea which I heard through a colleague and hope to implement at my school.
Have collaborative unit openers among your grade level.
Among your grade level, have each teacher create one truly exciting 30 minutes unit opener lesson, rather than plan for an entire day of unit openers. On the day of the unit opener, each teacher will teach the one lesson to each class, rotating from one classroom to the next. The benefits are many. Teachers collaborate. Teachers are only responsible for planning one 30 minutes lesson, but students benefit from 3 or 4 or 5 excellent lessons. Students get to meet and experience being taught by different teachers, different modalities, different styles. On a more selfish level, because teachers are teaching someone else’s students and know that other teachers will be teaching your students, you tend to feel competitive and want to create the “best” lesson, pushing your unit openers to a higher level of rigor and fun.
I can’t wait to try this at my school!
This video was taken by a friend during our writing process about two weeks ago.
This student was absent during the days when we worked on our Flow Map so he had to use the class created Flow Map for his writing. The other students use their own Flow Map. In the video, the student is orally rehearsing his writing prior to writing. He is doing what we call “Pull Out and Talk”. For a more detailed explanation of our writing process, please visit this previous post.
This was our second major piece of writing in the second grade Open Court unit, Kindness. The prompt was: Please write a thank you letter to the elves as if you were the shoemaker.
Why Oral Rehearsal?
Why do I insist that my students orally rehearse before writing? Almost all of my students are stronger in the oral language than they are in the written language. I found that they were intimidated by writing and could sit for hours staring at a blank sheet of paper before writing or would write everything in three or four incomplete sentences. Allowing my students to talk and think aloud reduces the affective filter. Also, allowing my students to make plenty of mistakes while talking and then fixing their mistakes orally ensures that less mistakes show up on paper. With oral rehearsal, my students’ writing is stronger and more detailed.
This video was taken in my class two weeks ago by a friend. The video shows two students playing a math “game” while independently practicing two digit addition. Using two dice (or die, I could never tell), one student rolls the “tens” while another student rolls the “ones”. They do this twice, writing down the two digit addition problem they have created. Then, they add using manipulatives. Listen carefully to the boy’s think-aloud. He actually says he “expands” the number using manipulatives. Then, the two students add using “Spiderman” math. Spiderman math is just a fun way of calling addition using expanded form.
Spiderman math is the scaffolding step between using manipulatives and the standard algorithm. These two students are not quite ready for the standard algorithm yet, but they are more than proficient with manipulatives…they are in the in-between stage, thus they use both manipulatives and Spiderman math.
These students are not ready to regroup, which is the old fashion carry and borrow concept. The next problem they do which involves regrouping, they become totally confused. They are able to do the problem using manipulatives, but don’t know what to do even in Spiderman math. Imagine forcing these students to use the standard algorithm immediately. They will spend the next two to three years of their lives randomly putting a “1” on top of their addition problems. Ask third and fourth grade teachers if this is not true. Allowing them to first explore addition using manipulatives, then Spiderman before the standard algorithm will help them understand when and why regrouping is necessary.
Other students in the class are at various stages. Six students can only use manipulatives, and even then, two or three are having difficulty counting. Two students are able to add two and three digit numbers using mental math quickly and accurately because they can visualize expanding the numbers, mentally grouping the tens and ones together. And yes, I teach them this because if they can do this, they are truly understanding addition. They are definitely NOT adding one column of number, then moving to the next to add that column of number, which is what many teachers demonstrate to students, thinking that the shortcut will help the students get the right sum. Yes, the shortcut will get the students to the correct sum, but it will not help them understand addition and learning how to regroup will become even more difficult. How do I know that these two students are not simply adding one column, then the next? I listen to their think alouds.
Our class have not started learning to regroup yet, though most of my students are already able to do it using manipulatives.
I like teaching math like this. I use games rather than an impersonally generated sheet of problems because the students are more motivated and they have fun. Given a choice between a sheet of problems and generating your own problems using dice, which would you have more fun with? Here, I am also tapping into many different modalities. My tactile students have the dice and manipulatives. My social students have partners. Obviously, my verbal student is talking himself through his problems. My visual students can see the numbers using manipulatives. What other modalities can I tap into?
This is a piece of writing my second grade students work on for two weeks. It helps prepare my students for the Open Court Unit 2 writing assessment. This is the first major writing assignment in Unit 2 for us. I used the writing process that I learned from Write From the Beginning because it explicitly teaches many skills and makes clear the writing process.
Please write a thank you letter to Ms. R using the friendly letter format.
The class rubric is charted and hangs in front of the class through out the entire writing process. I refer to it again and again daily as well as whenever I teach a particular skill that is mentioned in the rubric. Every student knows exactly what needs to be done to get a good grade.
While working in the computer lab one day, the fire drill alarm went off and drove us out of the computer lab. Ms. R invited the students to return after recess to complete the presentations that they were working on. The students felt grateful and excited at the opportunity, and I immediately grabbed at the chance to do a major piece of writing using a shared experience. Also, I couldn’t resist the urge to do some relevant writing with a real-world purpose. Ms. R was very happy to receive these letters.
Pre-write: The Circle Map
We started by brainstorming some things we want to write about using a Circle Map. We did this as a whole group using Think-Pair-Share and small group discussion strategies. Then, the students created their individual Circle Maps. Students were encouraged to “pull out” from the class circle map and to add their own ideas.
For the past 7 weeks, I have used this modified triangle as a graphics organizer, originally developed by Andrew, to teach my second grade students math fact families. Fact family is part of our daily math activities. For about five minutes every day, we look at one new fact family and explore relationships between the members of the fact family. Here’s a picture of the latest fact family that we are working on.
As you can see, it’s just a laminated piece of paper that I reuse every day.
Our math assessment, which we took just last week, showed me how incredibly successful using the triangle is in teaching fact family and many relationships that are embedded in fact family. I’ll give you the hard numbers when the scores come back from the district, but a teacher look-see showed me that almost all of the students got all of the related fact family questions correct.
My students and I do what we call “Daily Math”. We break up our one hour of math time into two parts. We spend 20 minutes a day on daily math and 40 minutes on a new lesson. Currently, daily math contains counting time, which I will blog about later, “Today’s Fact Family”, patterns, and one word problem. We do daily math as a whole group on the carpet. Daily math is where I build number sense and practice key concepts.
This past week, my students and I started an exciting new project. We are learning how to create a presentation using Apple’s Keynote! Keynote is rather like Powerpoint. It is a part of the iWork bundle.
So far, so good! The kids are excited. They love adding animations and effects to their images and words.
I started the lesson by using a Powerpoint presentation on “Kindness” from OpenCourtResources.com. “Kindness” is our literacy unit for the next 6 weeks. I prefaced the lesson by explicitly telling them that this is a presentation, that adults use this to share information, that we will learn how create our own presentation as an option for publishing our writing and sharing our ideas, yadiyadiya. Then, we started creating our own “Kindness” presentation as a whole group, which is to say, every student is creating an identical presentation at their own workstation by following the teacher step by step. My rationale for doing it this way? Most of my students only ever touch a computer at school, usually to play a “learning” game, and have never seen a presentation before. Whole group is the only way to go.
During this lesson, I found that I had to teach them EVERYTHING, down to what double-click means. That’s expected since they are a) second graders and b) mostly computer illiterate because c) inner city students have very little access to technology.
I am so thankful that (though our classrooms have ten years old computers that is no longer serviced by LAUSD), our computer lab has (slow, but functional) computers and a projector. Also an excellent computer technician who looks out for these programs for our students. Her only wish is that teachers would make use of these programs, rather than stick the kids on “learning” games for 40 minutes, once a week.
btw, I’m looking into having my students blog, but it won’t work on the computer in my classroom. I’ll have to first get everyone’s parents consent for the students to get on the Internet, and then maybe settle for blogging as a twice a month thing done only in the computer lab. We shall see.