Sunday, January 15, 2017

Part 1: Teaching empathy, diverse perspectives, and critical the target language

Part 1: Philosophy and Derivation of my Plans

Teaching empathy, diverse perspectives, and critical the target language.
Is it possible?  Is it important?  And if the answer to the previous questions is an emphatic YES, then how do you even start?  With novices?  

Terrible iPhone picture of inspiring poster from NTPRS16 Diversity and Inclusion Workshop
I am going to try.  This fits into my personal "Tikun Olam" goal: repairing the world.  (I am not Jewish but this is one of our school's values and the one that I am most drawn to.)  

Last year, at NTPRS16, I attended a really amazing workshop on diversity and inclusion.  For me, the workshop brought a lot of threads that I had been playing with all together into one big gorgeous blanket.  And knitted into that blanket: We must teach empathy, critical thinking, and diverse perspectives.  It is a moral obligation.  

One thread came from Bryce Hedstrom's Special Person interviews. (Scroll down to Special Person interviews from the link.)   His presentation started with the quote "Only Connect" E.M. Forster.  Bryce made a very compelling case for social learning and why we remember things about other people, based on brain research.  (Aside: I love that one of his passions is reading the science behind why we learn what we learn, and how.  Very inspiring.)  In Special Person interviews, teachers use comprehensible language and input to help students listen to each other, learn about each other, and connect.  Bryce also insisted that it is our obligation as teachers to help kids who are so disconnected by social media and all the other disconnectors in their lives to...only connect.  That, in my own words, this is one way that we can help them begin repair the world.

Another thread was woven from Alina Filipescu's workshop about classroom management.  She is a brilliant teacher and so many of my daily routines are borrowed from her workshops.  Two actions that she takes that I put away to think about were: 1) Show inspiring stories.  English, Target Language, doesn't matter.  Take a few minutes to show kids inspiration and hope.  2) Write cards to each and every one. Hand written.  Mailed to their home.  [Aside: I started...with hand written and mailed thank-you notes for holiday gifts received this year.  Start with what you can do...right?]

Yet another thread that has been coalescing for me is based on Bob Patrick (a brilliant Latin teacher) and his colleague's work around creating language classrooms that are accessible to all learners, including those with special needs.  The work that they are doing is brilliant and one reason why I am so drawn to TPRS/CI.  (Almost) anyone can learn a language.  It isn't just reserved for smart/monied/privileged/organized/school successful students any more.  I have seen this play out in my classroom (and I feel like I am just scraping the surface of creating equity...I have so much more to learn).  

Finally, my own threads and passions: diversity of thought, cultural perspectives, implicit biases: I came from a graduate program that taught a social justice-through-education curriculum.  I am bi-racial.  I live in a community where I am anything but the dominant (even if I am light skinned and married, which makes me at least similar to much of this city) and work in a community that is apart from the dominant culture.  Issues of diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice are incredibly important to me.  

At the diversity and inclusion workshop at NTPRS, we were presented with examples of implicit bias, asked to question what values we were teaching with our stories, and given actionable examples to help break out of teaching values that weren't necessarily aligned with equity and inclusion. 

I ate it up! It was amazing!  And I had to chew on it little by little before deciding how to make changes in my own classroom.  I forgive myself.  Change is hard.  And balancing the wackiness/unexpected details of TPRS with a vision of diversity and inclusion can be...well...challenging.  Part of the reason TPRS is so fun is because it is so silly.  How do I keep the silly and inject something more?  

The first change I started making was teaching my level one novice speakers adjectives for personality traits that went beyond physical description.  I just started with "works hard" and "friendly".  I have got a lot of mileage out of those two.  Instead of someone being pretty and attractive, now they are friendly and work hard.  Think about that.  What message am I sending?  Yeah, I feel pretty good about that.  

In my next blog post, I will discuss what I am trying to do to further implement empathy, diverse perspectives, and critical thinking in my classroom...and all my stellar failures and occasional successes.    

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