Karnka Tjukurpa (Crow Dreaming) by Katrina Pollard Nampitjinpa, 2008
Karnka Tjukurpa (Crow Dreaming) by Katrina Pollard Nampitjinpa, 2008
There are only two places in the world where time takes precedence over the job to be done.
School and prison.
Over the past few years, I have focused much of my volunteering and work in public schools on ELL students and programs. What does it mean to be (labeled) an English Language Learner? What is (or can be) done to support these students in English-only learning environments? What are the benefits of alternative models of education, such as dual language programs?
As a part of my teacher certification program, I am now forced to learn a new language: the language of digital and social medias. Although this may seem a bit abstract, the ability to utilize and navigate these cyberspaces and digital technologies is much like the ability to speak a different language. I know what I want to say and show, and now I have to translate this all into a format and framework I am not yet fluent in. I have had enough exposure to these technologies that the new softwares and cybertools feel accessible to me, yet I am still struggling to fully learn, comprehend, and utilize them, and easily become overwhelmed. I am not even close to the level of fluency required to teach these languages to someone else.
When I observe my classroom and watch my peers working with these digital technologies, I am quickly aware of the diverse levels of fluency we each have with these languages. For students with smart phones, iPads, and social media accounts, many of these new concepts and cybertools seem to be a bit more intuitive and accessible. Much like with language development, more exposure to these technologies seems to correlate with a higher level of fluency using them and learning new forms of them. However, for students whose exposure to these technologies has been more limited and restricted, the process of learning how to use them seems to be more challenging and difficult. Much like the ELL students I have worked with, these students seem to be at a disadvantage due to their lower level of fluency.
How can/should we teach DLLs (Digital Language Learners) in a way that is equitable and effective, especially within classrooms of fluent digital technology users? What would a “dual language” approach to digital technology instruction look like and feel like? What languages do DLL students know that could be taught in tandem to the digitally fluent?
The more I take on and experiment with the role of Teacher, the more I am beginning to see this practice as a magical play of energies. From the way we set up our spaces for learning to the specific things we say and how we say them, we mold and shape the energies of the classroom space. From the physical movement of student bodies as they transition between tasks to the social dynamics framed within the communities we build, we facilitate the daily exchange of energies among and between diverse groups of learners. Just one word or phrase from the mouth of the Teacher can completely shift and even transform the climate of the classroom—what an incredible power!
When we are given the space/opportunity to manage a classroom, we are given these magical powers to mold and shape communal experience. With what appears to be the simple wave of a wand and incantation of a few spells, twenty+ bodies are forced/guided/led/inspired to behave/move/attend/interact in particular ways.
The discussion skills and techniques we are learning/using are like a collection of incantations for controlling and creating constructive classroom spaces. When we refine our skilled use of these incantations, we harness the magical power we are given as Teachers. How can we ensure that we use this Power for good purposes? What are the things that will tempt us to use this Power in ways that are not for the benefit of our students? How can we ensure the intoxication of power does not blur our vision of our goals and focus—the Students?
Over the past few months, I have witnessed a major transformation in myself. Before starting this program, as I contemplated the possibilities for my eventual teaching practice, I was very focused on my teaching practice. My plan was to get through my certification process, get into a classroom, and then do the (subversive) social justice work I want to do. However, I have come to realize that this is not a project that I can, or should, embark on alone, or under the radar. As I continue spending more time in classrooms and schools, build relationships with students and teachers and parents and administrators, I am really starting to realize the practicalities of working in a field where relationships are at the core of this practice. This project is messy! I now think my work must be transparent, justified, and in dialogue with everyone in the networks of individuals that make the process and spaces of education a reality/possibility.
Time to stop being a hermit, isolated within my own classroom, and really build the professional and personal networks that are and will be key to my practice as an educator.
This past week, I started my placement in an 8th grade humanities class. Initially I was a bit nervous about jumping from 1st grade to middle school. In my eyes, this was a shift from little children to young (hormonally insane) adults. My focus has been greatly limited to primary grades—how will this translate to a middle school classroom community and curriculum?
To my surprise, the 8th graders were not nearly as intimidating as I had anticipated. Despite the fact that they are generally more (outwardly) independent than the 1st graders I am used to, they still felt like (young) kids. What surprised me even more was the overlap between the teaching strategies used by the 8th grade teacher and those I witness in the 1st grade classroom. For example, the Turn-and-Talk method seems to cater to the elementary classroom. However, when the 8th graders were told to turn-and-talk with their neighbors, they all jumped at the opportunity to express their thoughts/ideas. When I was in junior high, I remember being able to go through entire class periods without saying anything—this is not an option in the middle school classroom I am placed in. Everyone is accountable for participating, and this daily participation is key to literacy development. And, of course, facilitating this participation relies on the cultivation of a safe classroom community (which has clearly been established within this space).
Now I am really starting to understand more of the logic and applications of some of the pedagogical methods we have explored/examined. As I see the applicability of some of these strategies in contexts I would not have imagined them to be so useful, I am curious to witness what other methods are transferable between these contexts. What else from 1st grade can we bring into the 8th grade classroom? What elements of the 8th grade classroom might be useful in a 1st grade context?
My hope emerges from those places of struggle where I witness individuals positively transforming their lives and the world around them. Educating is always a vocation rooted in hopefulness. As teachers we believe that learning is possible, that nothing can keep an open mind from seeking after knowledge and finding a way to know.