I spent a short amount of time today substituting for an absent primary grade teacher. The lesson plan called for a sight word practice game. The teacher left instructions, but years of experience as a substitute teacher taught me that the students would give me the clearest idea of how the game is played.
What’s worse, the ‘slow’ students who need the most practice play the game for the shortest amount of time. In fact, the slowest student is ‘out’ after the first round!
The primary goal being to move students’ awareness from thinking about action to planning and doing, our classroom dry erase whiteboard would be ideal. It’s an easily accessible space, simple to edit, conspicuously located near the front door, and doesn’t get much use other than reminders and doodles otherwise. However, we also needed the capability of categorizing our actions and seeing them develop through different stages, sharing and discussing.
In retrospect, I wish I had included ‘researching’ and ‘playing’ as categories.
It is also critical to revisit the chart regularly, as it is too easy to fill it with a few questions and forget about it.
Perhaps a more dynamic design is in order. Considering the meager utility the remainder of the white board gets, I’m considering making a new organizer that fills the entire board, includes additional categories, and has more visual appeal. Any suggestions are welcome!
How do you document and engage with the process of taking action?
March 31st is International Transgender Day of Visibility, and it’s a perfect opportunity for everyone, particularly teachers, to learn about the impressive progress being made toward gender equity and equality, and individual empowerment.
Visibility is the most important step toward acceptance and empathy, so I encourage you to visit the Trans Student Equality Resources site (transstudent.org) and explore their outstanding resources, particularly the engaging infographics.
|Through Her Eyes Film|
The debates within and surrounding LGBTQ communities about gender identity and sexual orientation, and how individuals (and groups) express themselves, are reaching a sort of critical mass. Educators would be remiss to ignore it. Nobody explains the situation more fluently than Peter DeWitt, author of Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students.
In the classroom, the first step can only be to tear down obvious and ubiquitous bias. As Dawn Casey-Rowe documents in the article, Does Gender Bias Affect The Way You Teach?, the negative effects of bias persist even when it arises from positive intentions. Pernille Ripp addresses the issue from a different perspective by asking, Are the Boys Welcome in Your Room?. I would argue that even the notion that boys and girls have stereotypical preferences should be categorically rejected in the classroom. Societies do not need any help promoting traditional gender roles. In fact, I believe that the messages from media and commercial ventures about gender and sexuality should be subdued, filtered, and contextualized in order to empower every individual to thrive.
As an elementary educator, I feel the responsibility to promote a culture of Empathy and Acceptance. I am also in an ideal position to do so.
While I may not directly address gender and sexuality issues in my classroom as one would in secondary education, there are several practices that I have adopted in order to make my classroom a welcoming place for every learner. If we seek to design and manage a learning environment which is safe for inquiry, exploration, creativity, and collaboration, it must be based on trust. If children trust that the adults in their lives will never embarrass or pass judgment on them, particularly regarding such personal topics, a potential obstacle to learning has already been overcome. Modeling those behaviors for other students also nurtures a positive and supportive community.
Here are a few of my policies:
– Never group students according to gender. In fact, I would prefer not to indicate gender on role sheets because if the environment is truly inclusive, the only reason to know a person’s gender in advance would be based on an extraordinary special need. If a child tells me ‘I’m a boy’, then he’s a boy; if a child tells me ‘I’m a girl’, then she’s a girl. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter to me and shouldn’t matter to anyone.
– Never generalize based on gender. For example, make statements like ‘some people prefer’ rather than ‘girls prefer’, or ‘people enjoy different activities’ rather than ‘boys like sports’. Freeing myself from gender stereotypes has been very liberating and helps my students to feel more at ease and accepted as they inquire into their identities. Play Fair is a wonderful blog whose mission is ‘fighting to end stereotyping in children’s toys and media’.
– Students in my school change clothes for physical education classes, and I wish there were a more private option to having ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ changing rooms. Ideally, we would have private changing booths like clothing store dressing rooms, although I recognize the logistical challenges this would pose.
– Design situations so that gender-based preferences or exceptions should never be necessary.
– Rather than trying to appeal to perceived preferences related to gender, appeal to learning modalities, various forms of intelligence, and directly to students’ interests, as in Independent Inquiry.
– Directly address conflict and debate related to gender and sexuality issues from the perspective of empathy and acceptance, and actively model the behaviors and thought processes associated with an open-minded point-of-view.
Considered choices in classroom language can contribute a great deal to a culture of acceptance. In the Guidelines for Gender-Fair Use of Language by the National Council of Teachers of English, many simple and powerful suggestions are made.
Substituting for inherently biased terms is also a good habit to establish. One of my favorite bloggers on Tumblr, Ben Crowther, shared a photo of a table of ‘Suggestions for Reducing Gendered Terms in Language’. Some that are immediately applicable in an elementary setting are to use ‘humanity’ instead of ‘mankind’, ‘firefighter’ and ‘police officer’ instead of ‘fireman’ and ‘policeman’, and ‘kinship’ instead of ‘brotherhood’. Many of these have become conventional already, and I expect that this progress toward more inclusive language will continue.
Singular ‘they’ is a fascinating idea, though I must admit it feels rather awkward to use ‘they’ or ‘them’ when referring to one person, but has the potential to begin to dissolve the gender-specific nature of language. Another option is to simply use a person’s name whenever referring to them instead of using a pronoun and/or avoid assigning pronouns to people at all. It may sound strange at first, but with a bit of creativity, becomes as fluent and natural as the gender-based system we currently use.
‘When Sam is done with her assignment, she should give it to her friend to read.’
What if Sam identifies as a boy? What if Sam doesn’t identify with a gender at all? Avoid assigning
her a pronoun a pronoun to a person like this:
‘When Sam is done with the assignment, it should be given to a friend to read.’
Save the pronouns for the things, and the dignity and privacy for the people!
I certainly wouldn’t consider myself an expert, but I think this is a conversation educators should be having candidly. After all, how can we expect to model empathy and acceptance if we don’t practice it ourselves?
(2014.01.08 edit: Just discovered this poignant e-book, Let’s Talk About Gender & Sexuality: A guide for friends and family of LGBT*QIA individuals.)
|The shoe is actually a pencil case.|
Not all inquiries are particularly academic. In fact, I’m always pleased when students’ goals focus on social, personal, emotional, physical, gastronomical, or any number of different categories of activities. In anticipation of the end of the school year, one student suggested cleaning personal spaces at school and at home. Many agreed to set it as a goal, although they agreed it was really a secondary goal and that no one had messy enough personal spaces to require a week of cleaning.
|Lockers as neat as the first day of school.|
I understand that this Independent Inquiry was particularly popular among parents. My favorite comment in their Ind Inq Meeting was that “now that I cleaned my locker, it’s clean every time I look at it!”
One unique feature the international school in which I teach is our relationship with the Japanese public school whose campus we share. The students regularly engage in exchange activities and we are currently preparing for the annual sports festival, Undokai (運動会).
All things considered, it is a very positive experience for our international students. In addition to challenging themselves physically, they benefit from the emotional and social shock of being dropped into the middle of this Japanese cultural tradition. They test their Japanese language skills and cultural adaptability. Team building, respect, trust, self-control, discipline, perseverance, and honesty are the keys to the Undokai, and, as with anything else, the learning is in the process. There is quite a lot of music and dance involved as well, particularly at younger grade levels.
|The 100-meter race is popular among students and is one of the only competitive events.|