“Visible Thinking has a double goal: on the one hand, to cultivate students’ thinking skills and dispositions, and, on the other, to deepen content learning. By thinking dispositions, we mean curiosity, concern for truth and understanding, a creative mindset, not just being skilled but also alert to thinking and learning opportunities and eager to take them.” (visiblethinkingpz.org)
Too often, I have been guilty of repeating my old story as a teacher—the story where I play the lecturer or spoon-feeder of information, and students take down notes ferociously without processing or sharing their understanding, curiosity, or emotional responses. Weeks later, on a test, I find out what they understood or didn’t.
From the depth of need and despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs with dignity and strength.—Cesar Chavez
After a long day of teaching I walk around the classroom picking up pencils and scraps of paper. Some pieces of paper have scribble notes that make me smile. Students exchange jokes or attempt to create meaningful emojis. Other times the scribbles make me stop, wonder, and worry. One note shows two stick-figure drawings with one image’s face scratched out. Other scraps of paper have words like “I don’t like . . .” What did I miss today? How will I handle this?
“I like it the way it is.” As a writing teacher, I groan inside when I hear my students say this. It’s the verbal equivalent of that giant, capitalized declaration etched into many of my students’ writing pieces: THE END. Whether uttered or written, whether delivered with a scowl and arms crossed or offered hesitantly, the message is the same: This piece is not changing. This work site is closed, and no renovations will be made. No “revision”—no “reseeing” of this writing—is happening, period.
I teach at Cambridge Rindge and Latin high school. Rindge sits in the shadow of Harvard University—one of the best institutions for higher learning in the world. Yet, despite many who insist that my school’s diversity and opportunity are afforded to all students, I know otherwise. Here, students begin the ninth grade on one of two tracks: the (misnamed) College Prep track or the Honors track. The College Prep (CP) track (or “Colored People” track as some students unofficially call it) serves students of color, students with disabilities, students of lower socioeconomic class, and others. The Honors track tends to include students who are white, middle or upper class, and who have parents who are actively involved in their educations.
Students experience education differently depending on their track designation.
Not talking about racism is not a solution. How do we have this conversation and how do we unravel assumptions about racism? Even if you don’t have the expertise we can create safe space for the conversation. How do we get started and move forward? How can these talks bring us together?
The Heinemann Fellows recently hosted a panel about racism in education facilitated by Heinemann authors Sara Ahmed, Sonja Cherry-Paul and Cornelius Minor. After the panel we sat down, alongside Heinemann General Manager Vicki Boyd, to talk about what racism looks like and how do we breakup the assumptions we make about racism.
A year ago, I did not think I would be ready for year two of my research. Who am I kidding, at our Heinemann Fellows meeting in Denver last December, I felt my research faltering. But after an inspiring and rejuvenating three days with my co-fellows where Ellin Keene mentored us through a deep dive into our data, I had a realization: if I was going to move my students, I needed to focus more closely on my own biases and how I enacted those biases in our classroom.
My research question—In what ways does the exploration of personal identity through reading and discourse impact students’ perceptions of themselves as stigmatized readers?—made me look long and hard at my teaching practice.