I get all kinds of questions about the Pulsera Project, and I thought this video might help!
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?
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.
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.
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:
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.
I can’t wait to continue sharing more about this trip in the coming days! Stay tuned.
NO. This isn’t a sappy list about hoping all kids will learn and have a warm jacket for the winter. I DO hope those things, and I pray for them daily. But no. This isn’t that list. This is a real list of stuff you should buy the teachers in your life. Really. For real. Do it.
OH how tempted I was to write this as my title:
I’m not sure other professionals are as qualified to discuss and analyze e-portfolios in the same way that educators who have graduated college (of any level) in the last ten years are uniquely qualified. During my undergraduate degree I went through a number of e-portfolio initiatives put on by the State of Florida in an attempt to ensure we were actually educating our preservice teachers. Now, in my Master’s degree here in Texas, I am going through it again. I have an e-portfolio for the university, and separate e-portfolios for different classes, and one that has run the course of a few classes with the same professor.
And of course… there is the e-portfolio that never died. This one. That is right! This blog began 6 years ago as part of an e-portfolio initiative in a class I was taking at the University of South Florida. What it turned into is even more than what was intended, I’m sure. This blog has turned into my teaching happy place. This has become a place that I voluntarily go (at the bequest of no one) to reflect and vent and innovate.
At the creation of this blog, I hoped no one on the internet would stumble upon it. Now, I check my app every day to see if anyone did. I’m not famous. I haven’t gone viral. However, I’ve had views from all over the world and I’ve had amazing conversations with students and teachers who found my blog while scrolling on social media. Not only does this blog serve as a learning tool for me, it serves as a piece of authentication to the students who may come across it: Mrs. W is a real teacher, really trying, really learning, really failing, and really continuing on the path. I’m not there for the paycheck. And, I’ve got a weekly post to prove it.
All these thoughts bubbled to the surface this week while reading over a section on authentic assessment and the use of e-portfolios in Web 2.0: New Tools, New Schools. E-portfolios can (and should) become more than just a collection of worksheets and assignments. As in the case of educators, they can become a useful and fluid curation of resumés, philosophies, unit plans, resources, ideas, and more. The idea behind authentic assessment is that our assignments lend themselves to real life, or in my case, my actual classroom setting.
More importantly, e-portfolios in a Web 2.0 world have another capability: they can aid the learner in reflection. While my blog does curate some of my trials and failures, it mostly houses my reflective practice. This space holds me accountable to my integrity both as a teacher, and as a life-long learner. Creating spaces where learners can authentically showcase their work, fluidly revise and edit that work, collaborate with others on it, then return for reflective practice… this is the gold standard in learning. How can a learner who does all of those things not learn at a high level?
Thanks for coming along for the ride.
My favorite quote from my readings this week:
Fullan and Stiegelbaurer (1991) summarized this by saying, “Nothing has promised so much and has been so frustratingly wasteful as the thousands of workshops and conferences that led to no significant change in practice when the teachers returned to their classrooms” (p. 316).
-Web 2.0 New Tools, New Schools by Gwen Solomon & Lynne Schrum, page 101
There are a few things that both blow my mind and frustrate me:
That’s right. For all the hype and the memes on social media informing us of the changes in the role of the educator, the change of the student and the family profiles, and the changes in educational theory… We still have nearly identical problems set in new contexts.
The problem is simple: we have new information, we have new resources, we have new systems, and we have an ineffective delivery method.
Actually, I’ll correct that: We have effective delivery methods, that many districts refuse to implement. Or, they try, but they aren’t really trying–because they are not on board with the philosophies themselves. Instead we spend millions of dollars (maybe billions?) doing things described as:
So, what are some of these more effective delivery methods?
It is pretty simple really: teachers need support. Actually, something I’ve been saying for a while now is that teachers are students. In fact, let’s take a detour to think about how we teach and reach students, and what we expect of them.
The answer is: I certainly hope not!
In order to truly “develop” teachers, we need to focus on really teaching the new ideas, the new tools, the new resources, in the ways that we know stick in the brain.
We need learning communities. (Web 2.0 Tools, page 103). Actually, what we need is TIME to actually engage in these communities. I am (personally) sick of seeing schools add classes to the schedule to accommodate Athletics programs (YES! I said it!), rather than giving teachers a “learning” period to really engage in professional practice.
Someone will argue that 2 “off” (hahahahahaha) periods a day costs schools money, because they have to hire more teachers. However, better test scores, higher graduation rates, and actual utilization of the devices and software schools pay so much subscription money for doesn’t “waste” money. It saves money, or at the very least, prevents the waste of money.
We need peer coaching and mentor programs. (McREL Technology Initiative, Pitler, H., 2005) I was astounded to find (read sarcasm here) that when teachers are supported with coaching and mentorship, they use technology resources at higher rates and have more success in their classrooms doing so.
The best teachers are constantly giving their students time to learn, time to apply their learning, time to compare learning, time to reflect on learning, time to collaboration on new learning and support to re-learn old concepts that need to be retaught. But, for some reason, the classroom teacher is not afforded those same opportunities herself, and yet, is still equally (if not more) accountable for the learning.
That is my two cents. (Mic drop.)
P.S. I will end with this thought: many schools will say they provide all of this, but they do it outside of the work day. You know, when teachers are responsible for grading, planning and creating all of the content for their classes. It is ENTIRELY unreasonable to assume that time provided primarily “outside of the school day” is effective. While a few online PLCs can find an effective niche there, that won’t be what turns a school around.
As I was cleaning the kitchen, a thought occurred to me: “Write me a problem whose answer is 4.”. What an amazing application this type of backwards learning has in math.
Scaffolded: “Write me a polynomial which can be simplified to 4x + 1.”
Scaffolded again: “Write me a polynomial which can be simplified to 4x + 1 in more than 3 steps.”.
Again: “Draw me a line with a slope of ___ and write the equation (f(x))”.
You may have noticed that I’m not a math teacher. But I am. And, if you are a language teacher reading this… chances are, you are too.
I hear from parents (and students) all the time: But, my child is SO good at English! Well, that’s great, I reply, but the problem is, learning a second language has more in common with Calculus and Algebra, than it does with English Class.
Sure! I teach transition phrases and how to write a paragraph or how to write a sentence instead of a fragment (where is your verb?!?!?!?). Sure! We read literature and analyze it and look for cultural connections. Sure! We do all of that. In Spanish.
BUT, you see, we also look at grammar. Sometimes, explicitly, sometimes implicitly. Those explicit moments are sometimes needed, but often, they are the reason kids end up hating their language class as much as they hate their math class. And, they can’t figure out why.
This is why. A new theory is on the rise in the world of linguistics, that, as far as I have researched, I happen to agree with. It is the mathematical analysis and comparison of linguistic structures to the math of the world. You see, math makes the world work. Science is math applied. Math makes it all make sense. Languages have to end up making sense in order to communicate a message, and it turns out, that is a job math can do. Grammatical sentences are complex formulas, and just past that equal sign (=) is the message you communicate. When your formula is bad, your message is too.
All of these revelations and random thoughts of math while I clean my kitchen, bring me to a few points.
In each of the above examples, we give the kids a product, and they must fumble with the pieces to come up with an answer. Like in math, we give formulas, functional chunks, that kids use in the gap to achieve the task.
What do you think?
No matter the subject area, no matter the school, no matter the class or the individuals in it, as teachers we realize that students have different goals for their learning, and we have different goals for their learning too.
Don’t get me wrong: The standards are the same. I just mean, that maybe we know a kid needs to work on a certain skill, or maybe we know where he wants to go in life, or how he is motivated, so we cater to that in our instruction.
One way to do this is though differentiated assignments. For instance, assignment “menus” where students pick various tasks within the menu to complete to demonstrate their competence.
One neat idea I’ve toyed with in the past, but actually go to use for the first time this school year is the idea of tiered assignments. The fact is: students learn language at different paces. Sure, we can aid that pace, but we can’t completely control it. This year, I had to come to grips that I had to provide (with 22 kids in the room) the same, somewhat modified, instruction to all of my kids (sure, i could supplement in small groups, etc.) knowing that half where native speakers of Spanish, and half were not. …and knowing that the content of the instruction was vital knowledge for their learning.
I had to come to grips with the fact that after a reading selection, the summaries of the native speaking 2nd graders would be full, developed, grammatically “ok”….while my non-native speakers at different proficiencies could do, well, various things. Some of them could tell me, some could draw it, some could write it…but not well, some could give me a better paragraph than a native Spanish speaker could.
In order to facilitate learning and gradable assignments, I started using this idea of different levels of assignments that targeted the same skill but required different levels of language proficiency to complete.
Taking this from a content based 2nd grade Dual Language classroom… back to secondary next year… here’s what I’d like to do:
Teach AP Spanish in the same classroom with my Spanish 3’s. I’d like to give them the same/ similar content…but, give them tiered assignments. You see, what happens a lot in smaller AP Spanish programs is this: the AP kids get stuck in the back of a room and do “independent study” aka: automatic “A” & probably not gonna pass…….
Instead, I’d rather teach them all–but then modify the assignments to meet them where they are in their proficiency and assess their progress that way.
It worked with 2nd graders… ask me next summer if it works with AP 🙂
there is always more to tell. as i wrote in my last post, i didn’t apply for this job–They called me.
not only did i not apply… but i actually said that i would NEVER, EVER ever apply for a job in the area where my school is. why? because it is about 5 miles from my childhood home and it is in the worst area of the dallas metroplex. put it this way: i work where 2/3 of the evening news takes place.
the reality is that when a person says “never”, it becomes destiny.
I say that to say this: the student population is extremely diverse both in race and in socio-economic status.
with all of this, what could my biggest success be?
My kids don’t know what color I am. I don’t have any white students in my room. My students are either Black, or some variety of Hispanic, or some mix between various other cultures.
I am…. white. Talking with some of the other teachers on my hall, their “whiteness” has become the elephant in the room. The kids notice. When they do compare and contrast T-Charts, the kids can only come up with one thing: they are black or caramel and the teacher is white.
But my kids, they don’t know what exactly I am. There isn’t any difference between what I am and what they can be. They know I’m not black. Most of them have figured out I’m not Hispanic… but for some reason, I just don’t fit into their cookie cutter idea of white. I’m like that square block that won’t go in the triangle hole in the toddler toy.
I’m not one of those guilty white people, I don’t have anything to apologize for. I don’t think I owe anyone a special “leg up” because of who they are or who I happen to be. I think that we need to recognize and embrace differences, but that we also need to teach our kids that “self-separation” is not a positive component of that.
I love that my kids can’t figure me out. I don’t want them to feel different than me–I want them know they can get whatever they want in life.
i started this blog on my journey towards my degree in Secondary Spanish Education. i had a goal of becoming a Spanish teacher… and I did. I interned in a high school, then worked in a high school and later a middle school. i loved it.
if you are a language person, you have probably already noticed that i have been writing in the past tense….
after moving to Texas from Florida and working on transferring my certifications, i began the process of applying and interviewing for jobs. after 12 interviews at 3 different schools (i know… lengthy processes, right?) i was waiting to hear back from someone, when I got a phone call from a school I hadn’t even applied to.
the job? Second Grade Dual Language Teacher, Spanish. I literally laughed. I thought, but didn’t say, “I don’t even like kids!” and “I’m not certified for that!”
I needed a job, and I thought that it couldn’t hurt to have another interview under my belt. surly after they meet me, they will understand… My answers in the interview were basically, “I don’t know, but I’m willing to learn!”
Walking out of the interview, the principal shook my hand and said, “That was a very good interview. We’ll let you know soon.” I wondered if he had heard my answers at all?
By now, you might have guessed that I’m not teaching Spanish at a middle or high school. I accepted the position in Early December, and now, I’m on a new adventure: a Dual Language adventure!