27 May 2012

Jenny, you've got my number

There are about 10 (current) students that have--and have used--my cell phone number. I have been glad of this fact seven times this week.

One time, it was just handy to be able to text a mysteriously absent student that I didn't have her mysteriously missing assignment that was due the day before, and she was able to text back from her mysterious absence that it was mysteriously just turned in the wrong way (WHY do they put things on the Edmodo wall instead of using Turn-In??).

Another time, I almost missed the final performance of the play based loosely on our Spanish 3 class's experience writing a (first-prize winning!) skit for a language festival. The playwright himself had my number, as did the two actors playing themselves (all being on my debate team and having sent me many tournament-related texts previously). Had one of the actors not had my number, I would not have been able to get my napping children together in time to witness my first on-stage portrayal!

Another student contacted me three times in one day. We'll call her Jenny. This is not normal for Jenny, mind you. But this has not been a normal year for her either. Once a shining star academically, Jenny has succumbed to a host of pressures this year, not the least of which being a parent with serious health issues. Yet when she was late to project lab (kinda like study hall), Jenny was able to text me to let me know she'd be there a little late. Not necessary, but she knew she could connect with me, and I knew that she was still committed to picking up the pieces of her coursework this year. 

Then Jenny stayed with me after school--for over 3 hours to make up time missed, mostly for the parental health issues. If she had not had my phone number for those 3 hours, Jenny would have been locked out after she went into another hall to record her missing Voicethread--OR locked IN when she did not realize the gates were locked and went out the wrong door when her time was up.

Now, Jenny has gone on record saying I get her goat, in no uncertain terms. But I know that her burdens are more than a high schooler should have to bear. And I know that the amount of support she has to cope with those burdens is not equal to the burdens' weight. I also know I am not who she wants to call when she needs help. But I know that she knows she can.

I don't give out my home phone number on my syllabus like I did in my younger days, although the homework questions on my answering machine that ended with "me gustan mujeres blancas!" were rare enough even then. In truth, I would give my cell phone number to pretty much any kid who asked. Goodness knows I make pretty much all of my parent phone calls from my phone, since my classroom phone doesn't dial out, and I've only kind of regretted the access that gave parents once or twice--nothing serious.

Now, however, I'm contemplating moving to a school with so many more than the 150-ish students at my current school, and the implications of sharing my personal phone number are much more daunting. And actually, pretty much all of those 10 students are either on my debate team or in my school "family." So not only do I know these kids better than most of the other 90% of the school, but it is kind of part of the deal to meet with these kids outside of school, so being able to contact each other is almost necessary.

Should every teacher give out their phone number? No, it is definitely a personal choice. Can it be dangerous to give out your phone number? Yes, certainly, when boundaries are too blurry on one end of the conversation or the other. Would I do the same thing in a larger school?

I might. Then again, between Edmodo alerts and Google Voice, I might not have to.

But if I have another Jenny, even at a big school, I think I would still feel better knowing she knows she could call if she needed to.

13 May 2012

Experiencia Afrolatina, Part 1

My unit on the Afrolatino Experience has evolved since last year. I have 4 distinct countries whose experiences we survey, a few key texts--of truly varied forms--for each, and essential questions that facilitate reflection, comparison, and contrast among the four countries.

Essential questions:
  • ¿Cómo se expresa la herencia africana en estas culturas?
  • ¿Cómo se perciben personas negras en estas culturas?
  • ¿Cuál es la historia tras estas actitudes?
These questions, I feel, highlight some of the most salient similarities and differences among the countries I've chosen and can be observed in the texts I offer up to students. It is interesting to see how varied perceptions are and to observe the intricate subtleties that separate the history of the afrolatino community in each country we explore.

  • Colombia
  • México
  • Cuba
  • República Dominicana
I might vary the order depending on the class, but I find that the music of Colombia and the message from the interview I like to tie in with it are a good way to catch students' attention and establish some familiar territory that is, at the same time, tantalizingly exotic. The scandal associated with Mexico and the stark contrast of attitudes and circumstances there versus in Colombia lays the ground for some healthy debate. Then I can go a little more historical with Cuban classics and end with the powerful and eerily familiar tension between Haiti and the DR.

Authentic texts:
These are the texts I used this time. I have a YouTube playlist with more (including a few English videos, I confess), and I'm planning a separate post for each individual country with more resources, including some I've discovered through the intrepid @karacjacbos and @zjonesspanish.

República Dominicana
Tying it together
After each country, we stop and debrief on the texts and people/characters we're using to understand that particular culture using a graphic organizer with the essential questions aligned. And now that we're wrapping up the final sub-unit, students are going to form groups and choose one of the subsets to explore more deeply for a final presentation project (which will also get its own post, some time around presentation time).

Reflection thus far
I have to say, that this year has gone a little smoother, thanks in part to some streamlining of sources, keeping each unit to about a week, and breaking down interpretation tasks further. 

I've also done some tailoring to this year's clientele by largely eliminating--or at least postponing--the Spanish debate segments. The students want to comment on what they're reading, but remain intimidated by the prospect of expressing their commentary in Spanish. I'm allowing them to comment in English, and have HOOKED three or four of my toughest sells by doing so. It's not exactly a "silent phase," but I consider it a sort of pre-production phase. As they're working on researching and assembling their final presentations, I might re-introduce the debate as a way of scaffolding between their English comments and their Spanish presentations.I have been somewhat remiss in the interpersonal department without those debates, so that is definitely something I'll be tinkering with as part of the post-sub-unit, pre-presentation wrap-up.

I hope to share more of the resources I have collected and created before the school year ends.