27 July 2012

Inclusion, Exclusion: Rights, Reasons, and Excuses

I can't help it: I love controversy. What's more, I think it's essential to have a safe forum to discuss important social issues with young people. The trick is to be open-minded, but not so open-minded your brain falls out* OR so open-minded that you allow one group of students to trample the rights, voice, or feelings of another.

I discovered the article "Boy Scouts de Panamá también cierran puertas a gays" as part of my summer graduate class on the Media (and so like the Fusion Project, there will also be a breakdown of the lesson on the class wiki). My son is almost old enough to be a Tiger Cub, and as the daughter and wife of Eagle Scouts, I have a lot to think about. That this issue has spread to the international stage is fascinating, especially when Panama's neighbor, Costa Rica, is taking the opposite stance.

I've thought long and hard what the deeper fundamental point students need to think about could be, a point independent from sexualized or religious talk. That point is inclusion versus exclusion, where (and if) group rights end and individual rights begin.

Project Idea: 

students establish school clubs and rules for membership

Driving Question

Who has the right to decide who can join?

Content Addressed:

NM.CLL.1.1 Use memorized words and phrases to exchange information on familiar topics, such as likes, dislikes, emotions, everyday activities, and immediate surroundings.

NM.CLL.1.2 Use memorized responses to simple questions, statements, commands, or other stimuli.

NM.CLL.2.1 Understand the meaning of memorized phrases and questions about familiar topics and surroundings.
NM.CLL.2.2 Understand the meaning of memorized words and phrases in sentences.

NM.CLL.2.4 Infer conclusions from simple spoken and written passages about familiar topics, using context clues and cognates.

NM.CLL.3.1 Use memorized words and phrases in presentations on familiar topics, such as likes, dislikes, emotions, everyday activities, and immediate surroundings.

NM.CLL.3.3 Use appropriate pronunciation and voice inflection in spoken presentations.

NM.CLL.4.1 Compare basic cultural practices of people in the target culture and the students’ culture.
NM.CLL.4.2 Exemplify instances of cognates and loan words.

NM.COD.1.1 Use memorized words and phrases to exchange information about the classroom and school 
NM.COD.1.2 Use memorized responses to simple academic questions, statements, commands, or other stimuli.

NM.COD.2.1 Classify memorized words and phrases in the target language by key academic concepts.

NM.COD.2.3 Interpret short, non-fiction passages from academic content areas using context clues (signs, charts, graphs, etc.)

NM.COD.3.1 Use memorized words and phrases about the date, seasons, numbers, and daily classroom activities to give a spoken or written presentation.
NM.COD.3.2 Use memorized words and phrases to describe common objects and actions related to other 
NM.COD.3.3 Use readily available technology tools and digital literacy skills to present academic information in the target language.

NM.COD.4.2 Identify information about target culture perspectives and practices.

NM.CMT.1.1 Use memorized words and phrases to ask and answer simple questions on familiar topics.
NM.CMT.3.2 Use memorized words and phrases to participate in school or community events related to the target culture

Major Student Products:
  • Poster ad for club
  • Calendar of events (1st month)
  • By-laws
  • Panama vs Costa Rica journal
  • Rule defense debate
  • Recruitment video/presentation
It just so happens that my new school is in need of new clubs. And it also happens that students have made some suggestions about what kind of clubs they want. There was an overwhelming demand for art club, a few calls for yearbook, and one or two for drama/debate and service clubs. So here are are my suggestions for clubs we could work on founding in, say, Spanish II:
  • Green Team--environmental service and outdoor recreation
  • Art Lovers Anonymous--experimenting with different art forms and art appreciation
  • Acting and Arguing--speaking skills and competition
  • Yearbook--photography and publishing
New clubs, of course, need members. And rules. So first students will create campaigns in Spanish to recruit members (which, granted, is perhaps not entirely authentic, since I believe the ELL rate at our school is not terribly high). Then, they'll have to make by-laws...and exclude members. I will help them out with a little research, of course, to help them decide who is not really suited to their club.

For example: blue-eyed students will not be allowed to join the Green Team because scientific studies indicate that outdoor activities are too risky for their health.
I'm still coming up with reasons/excuses for banning people from the other clubs. Maybe Art Lovers can't accept people with corrective lenses or lefties. Acting and Arguing might exclude people with GPA's too low. Yearbook might exclude underclassmen. I'm not sure if I'll be able to find research to support all of these, but I think it makes for an interesting mix of inflammatory and arguably justifiable exclusionary practices.

We will not observe recent decisions about Boy Scouts in the United States before diving into Panama and Costa Rica's stances, getting students up to speed with a video like this perhaps:

At no point will we have class debate about this issue (unless I get REALLY comfortable with these kids quick and feel like they can handle it), but they WILL express their opinions in writing in a personal journal. That way they can be "heard" and use the TL, but neither I nor they will be responsible for making someone feel bad about their opinion--and I get to know them a little better.

19 July 2012

Fusion Project

Fusion is the name of the game. Peruvian artist José Cabana combines the puppet theatre of Japan known as Kamishibai with the imagery of artisan arts of northern Peru. But why stop there? Students in an advanced class can first explore what Cabana has created and then do their own creating.

I discovered the article linked above as part of my course on Media in Spain and Latin America and created a page on our class wiki with resources (adding more soon) and a breakdown of the unit's progression, but I also wanted to align the project with the project-based learning guidelines I learned by participating in the Buck Institute training sessions.

Project Idea: students choose a tradition from a Spanish-speaking culture to fuse with a tradition they're familiar with to explain an important value--perhaps to a local kindergarten class?
Driving Question: How can you combine elements of two cultures to teach children a value that is important for both?
Content Addressed:

NH.CLL.2.3 Summarize simple texts containing familiar vocabulary in terms of the main ideas and supporting details.

NH.CLL.3.2 Use the language to recite and act out poetry, songs, and simple stories from the target culture.

NH.CLL.3.3 Produce simple dialogues and short skits using familiar structures and vocabulary

NH.CLL.4.1 Classify basic cultural practices of people in the target culture and the students’ culture.

NH.COD.2.2 Analyze simple texts containing familiar vocabulary from other disciplines in terms of the main ideas and supporting details.

NH.COD.3.2 Produce a sequence of simple phrases and short sentences relating common themes in other disciplines.
NH.COD.3.3 Use readily available technology tools and digital literacy skills to present academic information in the target language.

NH.COD.4.1 Understand cultural practices and perspectives from the target culture.
NH.COD.4.2 Identify the products of the target culture.

NH.CMT.4.1 Compare traditions and events of the target culture and the students’ culture.
NH.CMT.4.2 Identify examples of products, practices, and perspectives in the community related to the target culture.
NH.CMT.4.3 Identify key characteristics of target culture and traditions.

Major Student Products:
Class traditions prezi--students collaborate to collect images of different artesania from around the Spanish speaking world that interests them, plus titles and links for more information
Traditions collage--students collect images (including maps) and key words of the traditions and people of the 2 cultures they intend to combine
Artist's statement--students explain to small groups what value and traditions they chose and why
Materials list and calendar--students plan what they need when
Fusion fair booth?

16 July 2012

Quick & Dirty World Language Essential Standards

Sifting through North Carolina's common core document for world languages to find what I need in order to plan a unit or course is an absolute chore. And so I present the quick and dirty version of what you need to get out of the document, at least if you teach Spanish.

It's somewhat heartening that the common core proficiency standards are based on the ACTFL proficiency standards, so they are not completely out of touch with research in our field. Below is a nice visual from the NCDPI document to show about how far we should expect students to be at each level:
Basically: students should achieve Novice Mid by the end of their first year in everything except presentational speaking, then move up a sub-level each year in everything.

from CAIS.org
I'm a little ambivalent about how Common Core breaks down the 5 C's (Communication, Culture, Community, Connections, and Comparison). On the one hand, they went and made the whole thing WAY more complicated than North Carolina's Standard Course of Study, where there was basically one competency goal for each of the 5 C's, and the whole thing was broken down course by course. On the other hand, the Common Core really attempts to dissect where the rings intersect as well. Furthermore, the continuum is much more realistic, more descriptive, more in-line with how language is acquired than a bunch of disparate blocks.

Strangely, the standards are broken down into only 3 strands: CLL (Connections to Language & Literacy), COD (Connections to Other Disciplines), and CMT (Communities), and each of those is broken down into the SAME FOUR standards:
  1. Engage in interpersonal communication
  2. Understand words and concepts (interpretive)
  3. Present to an audience in the language (presentational)
  4. Compare student culture and target culture
What you'll find is that the standards ARE differentiated by the Clarifying Objectives, which, though often repetitive, are more specific than previous NC standards. Each standard gives specific subgroups that should be covered.

For example, Novice Low-Connections to Language & Literacy 1.1 (NL.CLL.1.1) suggests "needs, preferences, and feelings," much like. That is, you still teach kids to say "Me gusta, no me gusta" and "¿Cómo estás?" first thing.

So as near I can figure it, here is what you need to cover at the Novice levels (ie Spanish I and II):

Novice Low
CLL: memorize phrases, questions, greetings/courtesy (see Linguafolio Novice Low); recite
COD: vocabulary--weather, dates, class/school stuff
CMT: target culture traditions, arts, sports, games, media--IDENTIFY

Novice Mid
CLL: likes/dislikes, emotions, routine and "surroundings"; context clues; recite
COD: class/school/academic "environment" (objects) and questions/commands, 
CMT: target culture traditions, arts, sports, games, media--DESCRIBE (words and phrases)

Novice High
CLL: "familiar topics"; recite AND act out
COD: topics/simple processes/common themes of other disciplines
CMT: target culture traditions, arts, sports, games, media--DESCRIBE, COMPARE (simple phrases, short sentences; key characteristics); conversations about family, friends, activities

Of course there are a lot of other things you have to work in along the way, like identifying/understanding/using cognates and loan words and presenting information to an audience, figuring out how the culture's products, practices, and perspectives change the world. You know, the usual.

All in all, I think the Common Core Essential Standards for World Languages are pretty much as doable as the state standards they replaced--at least here (I still resent being the only discipline that is REQUIRED to stage school-wide and/or community-wide activities as part of our curriculum). At the same time, they're more descriptive, enough to kind of keep a department or district on the same page--without a mandated lock-step verb form by verb form pacing guide.

It's a lot to digest, but you'll be happy to know that the aftertaste is pretty tolerable.

06 July 2012

IMAGINE in MY school

Click here for Amazon listing
I have a hard time wading through classic Educator Lit and authors (I tried, Alfie, I tried), and though Imagine by Jonah Lehrer is not Educator Canon (yet), it has inspired me as a person and as a professional. About half-way through, I was struck with the vision of starting my own school. And that was even before I got to the chapter featuring a revolutionary school!

There is still a little bruise on my heart that circumstances conspired against me, leading me to turn down the chance to get in on the ground floor of this school, though I do have the chance to take my experience "building the airplane as we fly it" at a redesigned high school to a kind-of-new early college high school this fall. But one of these days, I dream of founding a school with other educators, visionaries in the field, based on what I know to be true about learning and young people. A lot of what I have seen first-hand was condensed and corroborated in this book.

I have to say, I highlighted the HECK out of my little Kindle app book while I was reading. I was going to share all the wonderful insights from this book, but there are FAAAAR too many for a blog post. I will try to highlight the highlights in another post, but for now, here are some of the most important takeaways I found in this book as an educator:
  1. Brains must be handled a certain way to tap into creativity.
  2. Creativity thrives on community: a balance of the familiar and fresh.
  3. We must implement 3 crucial meta-ideas in society to maximize creativity.
brain from Wikipedia
The anterior superior temporal gyrus (or aSTG) appears to be where the magic happens in the brain. According to Lehrer, "this small fold of tissue, located on the surface of the right hemisphere just above the ear, became unusually active in the seconds before an epiphany." Studies had already connected this region with some of the higher order aspects of language comprehension, such as "the detection of literary themes,   the interpretation of metaphors, and the comprehension of jokes." Now if that isn't a mixed bag of tricks, I don't know what is! But when you think about it, are these not the kind of stretches one expects of a brain engaged in creative thinking?

What creativity seems to boil down to, according to Lehrer's research, is the connection of concepts that ordinarily would not be connected, whether it's adhesives and sandpaper or Disney and computer engineers. And it seems these seemingly random connections happen best when we are relaxed, free from stress--that's why you keep a pen on your nightstand or right outside your shower, right? Lehrer's sources speculate that that is what dreams are: the uninhibited crossing of synapses that leads to inspiration. That is why 3M and Google have allotted dream time in their workdays: the unstructured mental recesses have been the greatest source of new products and advancements! Stress, however, would prevent us from producing wow-worthy work: it shorts out divergent thinking.

Convergent thinking, however, is fueled by stress. It is the refining stage that makes geniuses geniuses: even Kerouac refined his work, even if On the Road appeared to flow out in one take. The divergent thinking kept the ideas flowing, but they had to be honed. Some of Lehrer's sources suggest that the troubled artistic mind is either the direct cause or the direct effect of this careful attention. Einstein famously insisted he was not so smart, just that he stayed with the problem longer--Lehrer defines this as "grit." And isn't that what all of the greatest creative minds do?

NOCCA cultivates creativity in teens.
In MY school, therefore, there would be play time. However, as we are dealing with teenagers, there would be parameters, perhaps like NOCCA's, the New Orleans arts school cited by Lehrer. The students come to the school with a purpose, a skill they hope to refine. Maybe it would not be an artistic skill at my school, but they would have to have something they will WORK for.

NYTimes: "David Byrne, Cultural
Omnivore Raises Cycling
Rack to an Art Form

I confess I got a little bogged down in the section on the creative power of cities. I confess, too, that it played a role in my decision to work in a school affiliated with a community of over 80,000 rather than one closer to 600. It also made me feel a little better about not having spent my first 9 years in ONE classroom, but rather having spent no more than 4 years at any school so far (albeit for various non-creativity-related reasons).

The city is where all kinds of ideas are physically mashed together, so the conflation of seemingly unrelated ideas is almost inescapable. Talking Heads singer, David Byrne prefers to take the City in through his pores, biking everywhere, inspiring whole new genres of music and not-so-New-Wave side projects. Likewise, Pixar studios are built around the principle of making sure everyone meets up with someone different, by forced chance, throughout the day, even if it's in the unisex bathrooms.

But it is not just the unfamiliar or comfortable that stimulates us--perhaps related to the idea of relaxation leading to more divergent thinking? The theory of Q, that elusive balance of proven teams and infusions of new colleagues that led to West Side Story and Silicon Valley, is the goal in a community. Neither does mixing every one up all the time make for maximum creative flow. Switching around departments periodically, changing companies every few years: this allows people to get comfortable, but not too comfortable. Likewise, constructive criticism sessions have been found to be more productive than totally unfettered brainstorming.

In MY school, therefore, there would not only be play time, but collaboration. Not only collaboration, but constant and varied collaboration--not unlike that suggested by the Buck Insitute.

The Complete Works at MIT
Lehrer cites 3 meta-ideas (social concepts that support other ideas as introduced by economist Paul Romer) that made the Elizabethan outpouring of creativity possible: "benign neglect of the rules," "the concept of intellectual property," and "the single most important meta-idea of Elizabethan England": increased access to education. The first two almost contradict each other, in that Shakespeare would not be the hero he is today if he had not almost wholesale plagiarized his contemporaries and plots from Italian pulp fiction, but at the same time, the idea of patenting and copyrighting for the first time made ideas almost literal currency. The last is, of course, a no-brainer for those in my field.

In MY school, these meta-ideas would manifest somewhat differently than in Britain's Golden Age of literature. For intellectual property, the English teacher in me is a stickler for citation of course, and I do not yet see a clearer application of this meta-idea. Benign rule neglecting, however, will be key. Beyond fear of copyright retaliation, Shakespeare did not have to fear beheading if he upset the wrong royal. Basically, he'd be forced to re-write if his lines got a little too...dangerous. I can think of no more perfect "punishment" in a high school classroom! It does feel more like punishment for a teenager, of course, but if it is tempered with the ability to, say, explain why they thought Shakespeare should be taken out of high school English (one colleague's Buck Institute project idea!), then the trade-off might be worth it. As for equal access? I do kind of dig my new school's focus on "the middle 60%" and lottery system. Cherry picking is a luxury, but it comes back to the play time purpose: they have to find one to make it at MY school.

The CEO of NOCCA issues this clarion call toward the end of the book:
Everyone agrees that creativity is a key skill for the twenty-first century...But we're not teaching our kids this skill. We've become so obsessed with rote learning, with making sure that kids memorize the year of some old battle. But in this day and age that's the least valuable kind of learning. That's the stuff you can look up on your phone! If our graduates are going to succeed in the real world, then they have to be able to make stuff.
 So, my fellow educators, let us remember to keep our eyes on fostering creativity, making sure our kids are able to make stuff, and not just become handy devices that can pull up trivia at the touch of a button. Immerse yourself in Imagine and imagine with me what we could do in OUR schools.