Working for educational equity is not a job for the faint of heart. It demands a sense of urgency, perseverance, empathy, humor, and,most importantly, an endless supply of humility. We can never know ALL there is to know about ALL the delicate cultural nuances that make the people around us who they are. But, we can strive to approach one another with a genuine sense of curiosity that is rooted in love and be willing to admit when we’ve made mistakes.
It is with this in mind that I write today. Recently, I was schooled on the term “codeswitching” and I want to share my new understanding as it relates to what Dr. Sharroky Hollie calls, VABBing.
First of all, for any of you readers who may not be familiar with the term VABBing, it is: “the validation and affirmation of indigenous (home) culture and language for the purpose of building and bridging the student to success in the culture of academia and in mainstream society” (Hollie 13).
When I first learned about VABBing, I could easily get my head around the validation and affirmation part, but I struggled with the notion of building and bridging. The idea that I should try to teach students to fit into the mainstream went against so much that I believed in. However, the more I read and the more I practiced VABBing, the more I realized building and bridging isn’t at all about forcing students to assimilate. It’s about giving our students the tools they need to be culturally dexterous. It’s about honoring and loving our students for who they are, first and foremost, while giving them the tools they need to navigate a complex, and often inequitable, human system. It’s about opening up the playing field so they can draw on their strengths while practicing the skills necessary for success beyond the classroom walls. I thought that this was what it meant to “codeswitch.”
It was with this understanding that I went forth into the world fielding questions about situational appropriateness and codeswitching, mistakenly assuming they meant the same thing. I had read Dr. Hollie’s book, studied the binder, wrestled with my own ideas about building and bridging, but never did I realize that I was misusing the term codeswitching. Today, I wanted to share a document that Dr. Hollie recently shared with me that clarifies the difference between VABBing and codeswitching:
Before reading this, the negative connotations behind the term “codeswitching” had never really registered with me; I had simply been using it as a synonym for cultural dexterity. But, because I strive to examine the moments when my implicit bias or a deficit mindset creeps in, I have been working to change my language.
Once again, I reiterate that this work is not easy. It takes time and openness to make change. It is my hope that all of us can feel supported as reflective practitioners as we walk along this road together.
This post brought to you by Kim Eversman, E-12 Equity Implementation Associate
What is visual literacy?
Visual literacy is reading, viewing, and thinking about images. Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward describe the importance of visual literacy:
This past fall I was book shopping with my son. He is a child that I have struggled with to get him engaged in books and to fall in love with reading. While we were checking out different books, he gravitated toward the graphic novels. He ended up choosing the graphic novel, Mighty Jack by, Ben Hatke. As we were driving home he starting reading his book and he was telling me about some of the things that he was noticing with the text. Then he set his book down and said, “Mom, now I can visualize!” He then told me about how his third-grade teacher was reading the book, Poppy, to his class. He said that they had been working on visualization. He confessed to me that he was having a hard time with visualizing and he explained that reading books like Mighty Jack helps him to visualize and better understand what was happening in the story. I never would have imagined that allowing my son to read a graphic novel would help him to develop a deeper understanding of the literature standards that he was working on in his classroom.
Why are graphic novels great?
What constitutes a graphic novel?
In the primary grades, we don’t hesitate to use illustrated texts and picture books with our students. I also know many intermediate grade teachers that use picture books as mentor texts, when teaching literature and writing standards. Graphic novels can also be used for teaching, practicing and reinforcing literacy standards and strategies. We know that a graphic novel is a narrative told using pictures and words. Students need to examine the pictures, as well as read the text to get the full understanding of the story. Graphic novels also contain the same key components of traditional novels. For example, they follow similar plot structures and are meant to be read as a full-length story.
What skills can students develop while reading graphic novels?
Many literacy skills are developed when reading graphic novels. Some of these skills include understanding sequence of events; understanding character traits, motivations, and feelings; making inferences; building vocabulary; and understanding story elements. Most importantly, graphic novels can remove barriers for students who struggle with dyslexia, who are English Language Learners and other readers who are achieving below grade level. Visual cues through illustrations and various text (bold, italics, different fonts) allow another way for readers to explore for context clues. “Moving beyond words supports the specific learning needs of some students and builds a new set of skills in all readers.” (Sarah Knutson, “How Graphic Novels Help Students Develop Critical Skills” Room 241, A Blog By Concordia University-Portland)
As educators, we all share the same goal of wanting all of our students to develop a life-long love of reading. Graphic novels are an example of one format of text that can be utilized to remove barriers for readers and help to bring them the joy of becoming deeply engaged in a story.
This post brought to you by Nicole Voss, Reading Specialist at Franklin Elementary & Lincoln K-8
Feel free to connect with Nicole via email or phone
The Truth about Graphic Novels
How Graphic Novels Help Students Develop Critical Skills
Reluctant Reader or Visual Reader? Making the Case for Visual Literacy
From Striving to Thriving How to Grow Confident, Capable Readers By, Stephanie Harvey and Annie Ward
I recently had the opportunity to travel to UCLA to hear Dr. Brene’ Brown speak. She spoke of vulnerability, shame and hurt, but she also spoke about living fully, loving more, being courageous and daring greatly, which by the way is also the name of one of her bestselling books.
As I was listening to her speak, one of the things that was on my mind was the immense pressure and joy that come from working in education. When I returned to Minnesota I spent some time looking into what she has to say about being an educator. I found a speech online that she delivered at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in 2017. In this speech she talks about the power that we, as educators, have to effect the outcomes for our students as well as the power that we have to effect outcomes for ourselves.
A few questions you may want to consider as you are watching:
I am cutting my writing of this blog short in order to allow time to watch the video. Think of it as a treat to yourself. It just may be exactly what you need.
This post brought to you by Ann Miller, K-8 Math Specialist
Sitting on my roof the other day taking a break from trying to remove the four-foot snow drift that had accumulated there, I just had to wonder, will this winter ever end? I know many people share this sentiment as social media has exploded with pictures, memes, stories, and posts about personal experiences with what I now refer to as Snowmageddon 2019. Attached is my favorite viral YouTube video from people documenting the attempt by apartment dwellers in Rochester, Minnesota to get out of the complex parking garage and lot.
Watching it for the first time, I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry. The struggle is real. But I also know, as a lifelong Minnesotan, “this too shall pass” and “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. It doesn’t feel like it now, but we know summer will eventually arrive and we will sit by the lake and swap winter survival stories and laugh. We can do this because living in Minnesota, we have to be resilient to survive. This is an important trait for our children to develop as well. So important in fact that it is one of the six traits listed on the Rochester Public Schools Graduate Profile.
Resiliency can be defined as a set of attributes that provides people with the strength and fortitude to confront the overwhelming obstacles they are bound to face in life. (ASDC-Richard Sagor)
Essentially the question becomes; what is it that students need to be able to build this trait? Author Richard Sagor uses the acronym CBUPO (the feelings of Competence, Belonging, Usefulness, Potency, and Optimism. To really help students to construct these feelings, we need to look beyond occasional feel-good assemblies and smiley faced stickers on a well-done paper. As educators, we need to provide well planned educational experiences throughout our daily routines and content areas that enable all students to experience these feelings. Let’s take a closer look at each of these feelings.
For more insight on how to cultivate resilience, you will want to watch the following TEDx Courtland talk given by Greg Eells, Executive Director of Counseling and Psychology Services at the University of Pennsylvania.
Final parting thoughts: Resilience is something that can be taught. When contemplating whether an event is good or bad, remember to take on the attitude of the Chinese farmer in Greg Eells’ story, “We’ll see, who knows what tomorrow will bring.” And finally advice from a Minnesotan, it is easier getting on the roof than off the roof. Stay warm my friends!
This post brought to you by Julie Ace, Elementary Implementation Associate
As I was munching on goodies and enjoying the ads during the Superbowl game, I thought about growing up watching football with my family. Then I thought about how much fun it was to play rugby with my brother and his friends. As a young girl, playing rugby with a bunch of older boys was intimidating, but a ton of fun at the same time. My friends had no idea what the games was and, honestly, I didn’t really know what I was doing either. I just listened to my brother as he told me what to do and where to go. It made me wonder about how many people are familiar with American football, but unfamiliar with other sports like rugby that are popular in other parts of the world.
We encounter so many unfamiliar things all of the time and need background knowledge to navigate our world. Yet, many of our students lack the background knowledge they need to navigate their learning. How do we provide this for them?
As an EL teacher, I always struggled with balancing providing students background knowledge when there was so many other things I needed to teach (decoding, comprehension, writing organization, and so much more!). How do I tap into my students’ prior knowledge and provide them with the information they need, and still have time to teach it all? I could teach background knowledge all day, but then my students would lack other essential skills. How should one balance it all?
How important is background knowledge really?
According to Robert Marzano in his book Building Background Knowledge for Academic Achievement, “What students already know about the content is one of the strongest indicators of how well they will learn new information relative to the content.” We all have experiences that make up who we are but it is the academic side of background knowledge that assists students in their learning. So, how do we provide background knowledge to our students, specifically our English Learners, concisely and efficiently?
Framework for Building ELs’ Background Knowledge
Diane Staehr Fenner and Sydney Snyder in their book Unlocking English Learners’ Potential created a framework to help educators determine how and what to teach in regards to background knowledge:
Staehr Fenner and Snyder suggest teachers ask themselves the following questions to assist them in determining what background knowledge their ELs need (183).
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Do non-ELs have background knowledge on the topic?
ELs should have a comparable amount of knowledge of a topic as their non-EL peers. This provides equity amongst all students.
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Does the background provide information in place of what the author is going to provide in the text?
If students are going to gather the information in an upcoming text, then don’t spoil it! It is still crucial that we provide students support and scaffolding as they access this information.
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Is the background knowledge about big issues that will help ELs make sense of the text?
Teachers don’t have to provide students everything about a topic. Rather, provide them information that is critical to comprehending the information.
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Is the background knowledge you’d like to provide concise?
There isn’t a need to take up an entire hour or class period on background information. Take just enough time to provide the critical information and move on.
The figure below is also a great reference to refer to when you are unsure about which background knowledge to teach. Keep it in your lesson plan book!
What are some quick strategies I can use to teach background knowledge?
The key to all of these strategies is to find out what students already know and determine what critical information to teach quickly and concisely.
Back to Rugby: an example.
I know you are still thinking about that rugby game, right? Here is a brief clip with the rugby rules along with visuals, websites and even a rally table. Maybe when spring comes around again you can try rugby. Trust me, it’s really fun!
Please reach out if you are interested in exploring more ideas for building background knowledge for your ELs.
This post brought to you by Katie Miller, K-12 EL Implementation Associate
When we share stories with one another we become bound together in powerful ways. Stories provide hope: they have the potential to shine a light into the darkness and challenge us to change our thinking. Stories matter. Stories are powerful. Each month, the Department of Curriculum and Instruction partners with the RPS equity specialists and American Indian Liaison to share the stories of those in our own backyard who are often silenced.
A song would get stuck in my head. I would have to either sing or listen to it in its entirety to stop the broken loop going through my brain. For a person who can never remember lyrics, I would google the words, play the YouTube video, and sing along to break the cycle. Yet, the next day, I am back to where I started, every time. This particular morning, going to work, I find myself singing and remembering most of the words to Michael Jackson’s Man in the Mirror. I walked into my assigned high school, planning to discuss restorative practices with a team of teachers. Our discussion ended. I walked to the front office and one of my principals cued me in on a situation that happened on social media the previous night. I heard myself say, “I’ve gotta go see the kids. Where are they?”
In this post, I will explore three questions that address cultural relevancy, encourage sensitivity toward others, and end with tips to create relationship-building.
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“The conventional system of teaching makes mathematics a dud and boring subject. Students are unable to visualize the concept taught by the teacher. Therefore, their interest level goes down. Hence they start developing a disassociation with the subject. If this disassociation continues for a longer period of time, the child starts hating mathematics."
“This damaging idea has been challenged in recent years by neuroscience showing that mathematics is a subject, like all others, that is learned through hard work and practice.”
Research suggests that parents and teachers with anxiety about algebra and equations transmit those feelings to their children and students, who then perform worse on math. Math anxiety has been recognized as an impediment to math achievement. As teachers, our attitude and confidence with math skills have a direct impact on our student's achievement rates in math.
In a recent study, Boaler and her fellow researchers recruited 40 5th-grade teachers from the Central Valley to take a 12-hour online math course she and her team created. The course, “How to Learn Math for Teachers,” covers perceptions about math, how anyone — with enough practice — can develop the brain skills to understand complex math problems, and how math is used in everyday life. The course also covers basic math concepts, such as number patterns and reasoning, and offers tips for teaching those concepts.
When commenting about the impact of the Stanford study, published in the journal Education Sciences, Jo Boaler said,
"Changing the way teachers felt about their own mathematical abilities led them to like the subject, which boosted their enthusiasm for teaching it, [she said]. Their enthusiasm spread to their students, who in turn changed their own attitudes about math and performed better on tests.”
Changing perceptions and skill sets is difficult. Where do we begin? The first step is to adopt a growth mindset. A growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. If you have not read it already, I highly recommend you read Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.d. This philosophy has been a game changer for many. (This one, in my opinion, is also worth a second look even if you have already read it).
About a decade later, Dweck’s Stanford University colleague Jo Boaler piggy-backed off these ideas and applied it to mathematics. Mathematical Mindsets was published in 2016 applying advanced neurological research to how students best learn mathematical concepts. This book sparked an international resurgence in mathematical best practices. This is a must read for any teacher of mathematics. In it, Jo Boaler explores the power of mistakes and struggle, the concept that there are creativity and beauty in mathematics, (A concept I did not get at any time during my math education), the importance of developing flexibility with numbers and how mathematics is a path to equity.
"This wide gulf between real mathematics and school mathematics is at the heart of the math problems we face in education. I strongly believe that if school math classrooms presented the true nature of the discipline, we would not have this nationwide dislike of math and widespread math underachievement.”
Best Way to Change Scores is to Change Teachers Attitudes
Challenging Myths About Learning
Jo Boaler Ted Talk: How you can be good at math and other surprising facts about learning.
(2008) Foundations for Success: The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, National Mathematics Advisory Panel (U.S. Department of Education, Washington, DC).
St.Myers, Andrew; Carey, Bjorn (15 July 2017). "Maryam Mirzakhani, Stanford mathematician and Fields Medal winner, dies". Stanford News. Retrieved 17 July 2017
Jacobson, Howard (29 July 2017). "The world has lost a great artist in mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
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