Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Freak The Mighty

My 6th graders and I started this book as a read aloud, but then I missed 3 days of school for a family funeral and I assigned the rest of the book as independent reading. Little did they know I hadn’t read the book 😬😬😬 Kids read at different speeds, so as they got to the climax and began to then finish the book, I could tell it was GOOD! I kept telling them to remember not to spoil it for “the rest of the class” aka: me 😬😂 I finally had time to finish it this summer.

This one was really good. There were several things I didn’t see coming at all, and to be honest, after reading as many books as I have, patterns emerge. This one does some things I didn’t expect.

Another thought: I’ve seen that several #ELAR teachers read this book during their Hero’s Journey unit. In a way, I could see it being a best companion book to a literary analysis unit also… not just as a piece to analyze, but as a piece to learn from. The author weaves a King Arthur allusion throughout the book, but more importantly, the allusions are broken down and explained along the way. The piece analyzes itself in many ways. What could our students learn from that? 

-CL

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Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Long Way Down

So. In February, I walked in to a training on literature circles (5 min late) and the group was just finishing a read-aloud from this book. I didn’t actually hear any of the book; I just saw their faces. I knew then that I had to read the book. What followed was a discussion on the value of engaging options for students to read, student choice.
I’m also part of an ELAR teacher group on Facebook and this title regularly comes up!

 

I finished the book; then I offered it to my exchange daughter from Spain.  Before I started it that morning, I flipped to a random page with her, and we admired the fact that the book is written in verse. Then, I turned it into a read aloud, and ten pages later, I realized she was hooked. So, I closed the book. I read it, and that evening at dinner I offered it to her.

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Sitting there, she started to read. And flip page after page after page. #win
See, she was my kid for the year, but her mission here was education. I’m a language person, so I’ve been paying close attention. One thing her mom mentioned to me in the beginning was wanting her to read while she is here. Being a language learner and a teenager, I picked a couple of less complex but super engaging texts. She started both and set them aside. The picture below is from the book #180days, and the middle box could have been a direct quote from our girl: this bright, bilingual future lawyer hasn’t read a book cover-to-cover not assigned by a teacher in… a very long time, in either language.

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We talked about it this evening before she stole away with my book. She said that when she was little, she remembers going to a place to “rent” (borrow?) books and videos. The place still exists but nobody goes there.

Not every kid in the room is a non-reader because they lack skills. Sometimes it’s something else all together. It is more than the “readicide” referred to in the book 180 Days. It is a cultural shift away from following through.

Here’s what I mean. The micro-texts we spend hours a day consuming (memes, texts, comment sections, headlines), they don’t tell a full story. They aren’t developed. And in fact, the only reason we can enjoy those texts is because our brains can fill in the rest of the allusions and implied texts. But what about the people after us who have never followed a story’s pattern to its end? The micro-texts lose meaning.
I commented on this to my kiddo, and she said, “yeah. I’m reading all the time, but I’m not learning anything.” From the mouths of babes…

 

-CL

Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Ghost Boys

I went to a training, and the presenter provided books for the “students” (us) to use while we participated in independent reading to use for reading/ writing journaling. 87 pages later, she asked for her book back 😂😂😂 So… I drove my happy butt to Barnes and Nobel and picked up their last copy.

 
It isn’t what I expected. I’d heard politically charged reviews, but reading it for myself was enlightening.

 
I wrote before about helping helping kids see themselves in books. That’s important. It is also important that we learn to see others, really see them. Books can help with that too. I’ve never lived most of the experiences or circumstances in the book. But at least, now I’ve read them through the eyes of a first person narrator. That’s a start.

-CL

Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Forged By Fire

This is the book that comes after Tears of a Tiger. I’ve started it, but a student asked to borrow my copy 2 years ago, and I let them have it without finishing it. Now, I’ve bought a new one, and I’m going to try again! Tears of a Tiger was good, but there was a lot I didn’t personally identify with. This book is a different story entirely. From the part I read before, I could sometimes see replacing the main character’s name with my own and calling it an autobiography… (not completely, but you get the point.) I look forward to helping some of my students find themselves in books, too.

The biggest mistake we can ever make is thinking we are alone in anything. If we can’t find a person to help dispel that myth, maybe we can give a kid a book instead. Shared experiences are powerful in delivering hope.

This book was… hard to read, but I couldn’t put it down. It tells of the wave upon wave of trauma that two young people suffer. This is a picture of my favorite page in the book—the last page. It is a sly reminder that giving a kid a book they see themselves in can maybe save their life. Give it a read: Forged By Fire.

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-CL

Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian

So… I read this book, and I loved it. The teenage narrator is authentic, and the book basically addresses nearly every contemporary issue a student might be seeing in the news these days. Poverty, “whiteness”, diversity, privilege, drug and alcohol abuse, death, Native American culture, racism, identity, and more. The book does a great job of presenting these issues authentically and in a way that a student book club would be able to tease them out and allow students to explore the topics further. It is full of gems of truth.

Something else I love is the inclusion of the narrator’s drawings. Yes, the book is partially illustrated! For reluctant readers, this is sure to draw them in even more.

When a book calls it out 😬😂

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When the teenage narrator accurately characterizes the teacher shortage in rural schools: 

If you are a human, you need to read this book. So much truth, so much wisdom, so much humor. There are a few awkward spots for adults, but for teens, it is spot-on. Read it!

***

After reading the book, I stumbled upon a debate on whether or not to recommend the book or use it in the classroom. There were two arguments worth noting (and plenty not worth the time).

1.) The author has had accusations placed against him for sexual harassment, and he has admitted to it.  Having been sexually harassed and abused myself, I honestly don’t know how I feel about the fact that I purchased the book and know that in some small way, I lined his pocketbook. I’m conflicted. (a.) The book is freaking beautiful. It needs to be read. (b.) Maybe people can change and his admission is a step toward that. (c.) Maybe I’m a dunce, and those who have boycotted his works are right.

2.) Secondly, the narrator and other characters repeatedly use terms like gay and faggot as derogatory terms. Some argue that given the book’s modern take on so many pertinent issues, it completely misses the mark on #LGBT issues. My only reservation with this argument is that I don’t know enough about Native American culture to know if these terms are still in regular use on reservations (where the main character lives). Maybe they are, and the usage represents the culture of the narrator. Maybe they aren’t, and Mr. Modern is stuck in 90s vernacular. I honestly don’t know. If it isn’t contextual, that is very disappointing.

The other arguments about the language (curse words) and the mention of masturbation make me roll my eyes. Clutch your pearls elsewhere; its a Young Adult read for a reason. If a teacher doesn’t feel comfortable using it as a whole-class selection in their context, I think it would still make a great literature circle, book club, or classroom library selection. Heck, I’d even read excerpts from it as read-alouds or passages to spur journal writing.

-CL

Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Sea Prayer

Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini

One of my favorite authors, Khaled Hosseini ❤️

This is a short illustrated story (basically a picture book) that humanizes the struggles of refugees. In fact, I think it would be a GREAT book to pair with Refugee by Alan Gratz. A teacher might even use this as a read aloud and point students to Gratz if they want more.

I love how books can show us another world. The narrator begins by describing memories of how his country had been before the war. The narration shows both the common thread of carefree childhood and the distinct cultural beauty of a place and its people. The narrator mourns the loss of a country and culture his son will never know in he same way he did.

I’ve read that books can cure fascism. That is because reading helps us develop empathy and compassion. Reading helps us live their experiences and see it from their perspectives.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies; the man who never reads lives only one.” -George R. R. Martin

-CL

Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: The House on Mango Street

This summer, I’ve been reading lots of books both for leisure and professionally. After each one, I’ve been posting reviews/ thoughts on my instagram (follow me! Cwilsonspanish). I wanted to share those here, since they are basically blog posts!

Here’s today’s:

So, I finished The House on Mango Street last night. I started reading it because it was recommended multiple times by other English teachers. Looking back, I realize that I have read many excerpts from this novel in textbooks, and standardized tests, and just in the sharing of good literature. However, I realize that reading those excerpts gave me a false view of the book. What initially seemed to be a poignant and sometimes impressionistic view of childhood via excerpts is still that, but so much more. It is a look at being Latinx, at being poor, at being female, at having dreams in a dreamless place. The excerpts are beautiful, but cut from the context of the novel, they lose some of their complexity and power. The book is haunting. Genuine. Tragic. Real. It echoes in my life. It resounds in who I was and who I became and who I’m hoping to be.
Given the excerpts I’d previously read, I settled in for a beautiful but carefree read. I was way off base. The book is troubling. It should be. There are moments of such intensity in this book that left me gasping for air because I was breathless reliving the common experience of being a woman. I see now that this book has layers. A young reader will read it at face value and miss much. The mature reader, having background knowledge and experiences, will read between the lines. The mature reader will read a tragic but honest piece.

-CL

Posted in professional development, Spanish relapses, teaching

So, what did you DO?

This is the question everyone asks me. They all want to know what I did. Did I help someone? Did I build a house? Install a well? Teach English? Teach in a school? Well, the short answer is that I didn’t do much–but in truth, I did quite a lot. I listened. I learned. I built relationships. I visited. I learned a whole lot more. And, the only actual product I made were some lessons, along with the other teachers there on the trip. Here is what I wrote upon coming home:

It was definitely NOT a mission trip! haha! I tried my best to share that as much as possible. It was an educational trip for teachers who have worked with The Pulsera Project in the past. We learned more about the organization, the other partnerships they have, the people they work with and employ, and the culture, economic systems, history, business climate, and language nuances. Then, we took that information and collaborated on lessons that will be used in nearly 2000 schools here in the United States that participate in the project. It was a whirlwind, entirely exhausting, and completely exhilarating.

In a conversation I had after returning home, another person observed that it was nice that we made lessons that would be used in Nicaragua. I corrected him by saying that The Pulsera Project believes we are the ones who have much to learn–and that the lessons would be used here in U.S. schools. He replied by asking, “And after your trip there, do you still believe that?” I gave him a resounding YES.

What more do we need to learn?

  • All of us need to continue to be educated on other cultures, languages, and economic systems/ realities.
  • All of us need to develop continued competency in Global Citizenship.
  • We need to develop an understanding of poverty and a better definition. Poverty is NOT the inability to get what we want. It is the inability to get what we need on a daily basis. Not one time. On. a. daily. basis. I guess we could start by defining “needs”.
  • We need to realize that we are not God’s gift to the developing world. We are not the solution to their problems. In fact, they have solutions. And in fact, often times, we are the problem.
  • Along those lines, we need to understand that just like someone cannot walk in and solve all the issues in our classrooms or in our marriages, we cannot walk in for a week or a month and solve all the issues in a person’s life, community, or country. These people are capable and willing, and they are often hindered by their economic or legal realities.
  • We need to be educated on responsible consumer practices. We should all know where our products are made, to the extent possible. We should be concerned that the people making our products are fairly compensated and work fair hours. We should be aware of the environmental impacts of our products and companies that produce them.
  • We need to contrast simplicity with poverty and critically examine consumerism and materialism.
  • Most of all, we need to be taught to think critically. Looking at another culture and the realities they face forces us to examine our own culture. In a global reality, we have to realize that while you and I do not directly create issues in other places, our actions are intimately tied to the system we participate in that does directly impact their realities.

One thing we shouldn’t be doing is focusing on how poor other people are so that we can revel in our own comparative richness. Humble gratitude is something we could all stand to continue developing, however focusing in on the lack of resources that other people have as a method of producing gratitude is sort of a sick twist on that (in my opinion).

I’d like to show you what I mean by this.

These two houses are right next to each other. The woman in the photo owns them both. In fact, the mud and bamboo construction was her original home, until she received a grant through the housing project at the Pulsera Project (available to the people employed by them as an employee benefit), which she used to build the brick home she is pictured with on the right. The grant has to be used for housing, but it is up to them what they do. They can improve their homes, buy land, add walls, add windows, or build a new structure. She chose to use the money to build this brick addition. I want you to notice something here. She did not tear down her mud and bamboo home. SHE ADDED TO IT. She did not tear it down. I’ll repeat myself again here: she did not tear it down.

Why not?

I’m guessing here, because although I asked her a ton of questions, it did not occur to me to ask this one at the time. But, one thought I have is that she isn’t ashamed of the house. I took the picture because I was amazed and impressed with it. I was in awe of it. She talked to our group about “re-taking” her heritage when she started weaving as a young woman, and re-taking is right! During a previous repressive government, indigenous traditions, including the style of weaving her group is renowned for, were not permitted. This home should not be the backdrop of some fifty-cents-a-day orphan commercial. This is a source of pride for her family. And I look at it now and I am amazed by the intricacies and skill it took to build.

I don’t feel sorry for her, nor do I feel sorry for a single person I met while I was there. I did not come back and hug my leather couches, though I thanked the Good Lord for air conditioning, because I’m a wimp. Rather than looking down on someone for what they don’t have, or giving others our pity, maybe what we should feel is righteous, justified anger that perfectly capable, well-educated humans don’t have access to the resources they need to implement the solutions they already have.

One of the Pulsera Project staff members related his experience owning a restaurant in Nicaragua and struggling between the “western standard of hospitality” and the Nicaraguan standard. He realized that the goal shouldn’t be to provide a western standard of hospitality, but to provide the appropriate cultural standard to their guests unapologetically. He said that when he stopped trying to fight the culture, his job got so much easier.

I believe we can all learn something from his story. We can’t fight their culture, and it isn’t our fight anyway. Our standards don’t apply, and they really shouldn’t. While we can all learn from each other, it should be just that: learning. What they do with it is up to them. And, in the end, we should be focused on helping capable people have access to the resources they need to create their own paths, not the paths we think they should follow.

So, 1200 words later: what did I do? I listened. I learned. I built relationships. I worked on some lessons designed to help students think critically about language, culture, and global citizenship.

-CL

Posted in professional development, Spanish relapses, teaching

Home, in more ways than one

I’m back from Nicaragua, and I promised to write about my trip, so here it goes. On Thursday when I got home, I posted this:

Home.
Goodness, this word has so many different meanings. I’m at home now. I’m with my family. But, I wasn’t not home before. In some ways the trip to Nicaragua was like returning home to where I really belong. Home isn’t always a space we occupy or the people we occupy it with. Sometimes it is what you do or the language you speak.
Tonight, I’m home. I’m back from a long trip away from where I desperately wanted to be, in profoundly more ways than one.

Of course, I’m home now. Being away from my boys for 8 days was difficult, especially with a busy schedule and limited access to internet. I missed them so much. I missed how my sons crawl into bed with us every night. I missed how my husband and I banter and discuss the details of our day. I missed how my pups only listen to me and no one else.

But, being away also brought me home in ways I can’t ignore. This last year has taken me on a long journey away from things that are essential to who I am. I never imagined an entire year where Spanish was not a part of my daily life. I never imagined feeling like an island. I never imagined I’d long so much for professional relationships and space to collaborate. I never imagined that after a year away from home, I’d get to go back by going away.

I went on this trip with amazing professional educators and Pulsera Project staff members who were dedicated to their values and ethics. An idea that came up over and over was the idea of “doing it right”. I felt like a starving bear at a buffet. I loved that my ideas were challenged and changed and valued. I loved learning and growing. I loved the validation that comes from dialogue. I loved being home for a little while.

-CL

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Here’s us at our best. Photo Credit: Chris Howell

I can’t wait to continue sharing more about this trip in the coming days! Stay tuned.

Posted in professional development, teaching

Gravity

I don’t think I ever understood the term “righteous anger” until I became a teacher. I didn’t understand how anger could be good, or productive, until I sat in my classroom and got angry.

I wasn’t angry at my kids. I’ve learned to stop blaming them. They are KIDS. I got angry at systems. Systems that failed them. Systems that didn’t work. Broken systems.

What I’ve come to realize is that many schools/ communities/ organizations/ lawmakers/ etc. do not understand the gravity of education. We (I use “we” here because I catch myself forgetting, often) cannot comprehend the weight of what we do.

I’ve just returned from a couple days at the TCEA Conference/ Convention in Austin, TX, and I left with a feeling that reminded me of how I felt during graduate school.

I was simultaneously elated at my new learning and furious with the injustices my new learning exposed.

The weight I feel is so intense. The only word left to describe it is: Gravity.

-CL

Image By WikiDiego91 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons