My Personal Learning Network: My Journey Online

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In all honesty, when I was asked to start up an online personal learning space by creating a Twitter account, and especially a blog account, I groaned in despair. I do not consider myself, in any sense, to be a ‘techy’ kind of person. I use social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram and, as you can guess, it’s usually for non-conductive reasons (a.k.a. procrastination!). However, throughout the semester I found myself getting more and more comfortable using my blog and twitter accounts. I know that the progress I have made in using these tools is only dipping my toe in the water, and that I can expand my learning circle to cover so much more than I have so far.
Before this class I never had a Twitter account. However, now I am glad we were encouraged to make one. I never realized how much of a communication tool that Twitter could be. Having the ability to sit in lecture, tweet out my thoughts or quote a sentence that I connected to, and also read the thoughts and opinions of my peers was great. I discovered that an abundance of information is at my fingertips using Twitter, especially through the use of hashtags; I can connect to my peers, my professors, others in my field, and people around the world interested in education. While I see the great wealth that Twitter can hold for me, I am disappointed in myself for not taking advantage of it as much as I could have. I tweeted only during lecture classes, usually did not comment on others’ tweets nor did I share interesting videos, websites, or articles that I found while exploring online spaces. For the future I hope to expand my learning space on Twitter and make even more connections.
While I found blogging to be a very rewarding process, I also found it very difficult to maintain. This is due to my own stubborn personality and how I went about writing my posts. Every time I would blog, I would have to type up what I wanted to say in a Word document and check and re-check what I had wrote. I was afraid of saying something insulting, that would be taken the wrong way or simply writing too much. I have learned that anything we say can be taken multiple different ways, intended or not. I should not be afraid to face the comments I may receive from others, even if they make me upset or uncomfortable. It is from these instances that I learn the most about myself, my views and opinions, while also seeing another perspective.
My very first post is when I discovered an important aspect to blogging; I will receive feedback! While most of the time it was from my peers due to the fact we were asked to comment on blog posts, it did not diminish the quality of the comments. I came to realize that I would be asked questions, some very difficult to answer, such as the one posed to me by Kari on my post about Kumashiro’s “Common Sense”. I was asked what stood out to me as most oppressive in the classroom. I mulled and mulled over this question and came to the decision that there were too many examples of oppression that I could think of! This question caused me to look back on my own schooling experience. It also caused me to think of not only what was oppressive in classroom, but also what teachers can do to fight oppression in their classrooms and create caring and accepting environments.
Another benefit I found of blogging is that the discussion did not stop online. Several discussions with my friends were about what they had posted, what I had posted, or moments of struggle and success we experienced with the blogging process. One such instance is a discussion I had with my friend Cassandra about a response I had given to a question posed on one of my blogs. We had been discussing blogs and she suddenly exclaimed that while she hadn’t had the chance to comment anything online, that she really enjoyed my comment and felt I raised an important point. Hearing this made me feel extremely proud; someone read my post, and liked what I had to say! My voice was out there and someone had heard it. I greatly enjoyed the sense of accomplishment and encouragement you could receive from your Personal Learning Network through blogging.
As much as I see the purpose and benefit of blogging, I feel I did not reciprocate the effort that many of my peers had made in commenting. It is not that I felt unmotivated to do so though, because I was able to have a great conversation with Jesse commenting on her blog post. We asked each other difficult questions and also why we found those questions difficult or uncomfortable to address. I feel that this experience showed me just how much we can all build off each other, asking questions, voicing opinions, offering answers, or expanding the conversation. Unfortunately my commenting streak seemed to end as soon as it began. Thinking on it now I wonder why – was it too time consuming, did I feel my voice was unimportant, or was I discouraged by my fears I described previously. Perhaps it was a combination of all of these things along with that fact that I was so apprehensive to start my PLN in the first place. Nonetheless I hope that my peers continue with their blogs so that I can make a conscious effort to give them feedback as I see the importance of this communication and sharing of ideas.
My favorite moment during my blogging adventure was my post about reflecting on my autobiography and why I excluded certain details about myself such as sexual orientation, and gender. I received a lot of feedback from my classmates in the form of building off my post and asking me some tough questions. In this post I mentioned something I was somewhat afraid to put on the web; my interracial relationship with my boyfriend. I was uncomfortable doing so firstly because I was not sure if it was appropriate for me to mention my relationship in a class directed prompt, but also I was afraid of the feedback I would get. Reading what my classmates said greatly encouraged me and also caused me to reflect on why I was so hesitant to include this information. The society I have grown up in has set up this expectation that only people of similar race should be in relationships, and those who are not, are “othered”. This was an uncomfortable moment for me, as I came to realize just how much privilege I have due to the fact that I am white. However, reading my classmates congratulate me on putting white privilege into perspective and being asked contemplative questions gave me the confidence boost to be more honest with my posts.
Creating my personal learning network has not been a smooth journey; I faced it with aversion. However, I have come to see the importance of this online learning space as it connects people together, allows them to share ideas and opinions, raises awareness on current events, creates uncomfortable learning moments, and creates an entire community. I speak of my learning space with my family and friends at home, spreading my new knowledge. Not only that, but I feel incredibly more confident in voicing my opinions; I am no longer silent while my head buzzes with comments waiting to be set free. I appreciate that I can read the thoughts of my peers, especially since life does not always permit the opportunity to talk in person. My new hope and goal for myself is to continue my growth in my personal learning network by connecting with more people, voicing my thoughts, reading other perspectives, and creating significant conversations. This semester I feel as though my eyes have been opened to a whole new online world and I strive to continue with my PLN as I know it will allow me to grow as an educator.

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Standardized Testing Ruins the Wonder of Learning

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In regards to standardized testing and standardized curriculum I can say that I do not agree. Alfie Kohn did a great job of clearly explaining what standardized testing makes possible and impossible. What it makes possible is a stressful and overwhelming sense of accountability for teachers; they must ensure that their students can prove they have ‘learned’ the facts by becoming good memorizers and test takers. By using these tests it undermines the true instruction of a teacher which is to foster students’ deeper thinking, create teachable moments, implement experiential learning, use a multicultural and differentiated curriculum, and introduce uncomfortable content that is all vital to student understanding of the real world. And what about the students? Are they truly learning or experiencing education? They are simply being drilled with facts, dates, and numbers that they are pressured to memorize and rattle off in a random array of multiple choice questions. Just because someone can state that this event happened on this date does not mean they understand the societal implications that event had on the people involved or the surrounding community or that it changed the lives of many individuals for generations to come.
I imagine it as asking a young student, what color is the grass? Green, of course; circle the correct bubble. But do they understand what grass is, a living thing full of potential, growth, nutrients, and nurtured by the sun, soil and water it receives. Do they understand what grass does for animals and people alike. Do they understand how the grass feels on their skin when it is green and smooth from living in a healthy environment compared to when it is brown and dying from pollutants in the soil. Do they understand that not all children experience the touch of grass on their toes; different places have different experiences. Can they recall the joy of running and playing outside, the grass supporting their springy steps, or only the hard plastic seats of their desks. They may know that grass is green, but they do not understand nor have experienced what grass is. This is a simplified example of course, but look at what can be experienced through something as simple as the green grass we see so often. As Alfie Kohn says, in standardized testing something is lost. I believe the true wonder and joy of learning and exploring is stolen from children due to standardized testing and this is why I do not agree with it.

‘Cowboys and Indians’: Culturally Insensitive

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Reflecting on the recent situation at the university with the cheer team dressing up as “Cowboys and Indians” I feel, while the girls didn’t intentionally set out to offend or harm anyone, they did so as a result of their actions. What is even more upsetting to me is reading and seeing other people’s reactions to this situation on social media sites. Numerous people have reacted to the event saying it is being blown out of proportion and it really isn’t a big deal. My problem with these reactions is that the event obviously did offend someone; why else would there be repercussions. And to go on and say that this is not a big deal I find is insulting to those who are offended; it is inconsiderate and dishonorable towards their experiences. Who are we as people to judge and determine whether another person’s experiences are more or less difficult than our own? Who are we to say to someone; oh it’s not a big deal, why are you offended? I think we have all said, or at least thought these things; we have judged the experiences of another individual. It is important to remember each of us have our own life experiences and live through times of hardship. As such, when people comment that the recent events are not a big deal, they are not only insulting an individual but a whole group of people, their culture, and the immense amount of hardship they have experienced.
I also had the opportunity on Wednesday to attend a lecture by Zeus Leonardo, who has studied and written numerous works on the relation between education and important social factors such as race, gender, and class. One of the more prominent points Zeus discussed was the idea of the Racial Contract which he states is not a physical contract but a methodology of the real world we live in of White supremacy. Automatically White people are included in the Racial Contract as persons and all ‘others’ or non-white people are thereby considered as and included as subpersons. An example of such is the ‘Cowboys and Indians’ themed practice; this situation shows that non-white people are dishonoured. Something I gathered from Zeus’ lecture is that we do this because we can. We say the things we do about non-white people, and treat them the way we do (even me right now, categorizing ‘us’ and ‘them’) simply because we can. Just like the young ladies, we use a culture as a costume, because we can.
Just because we as privileged White people CAN do something, doesn’t mean we necessarily should.

Community From Chaos

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For this week I have chosen to respond to the story from The New Teacher Book called “Building Community from Chaos” by Linda Christensen. Reading this story I felt a huge connection as the story emphasized empathy, or putting oneself into another shoes, seeing their perspective and therefor altering your own. This teacher discovered that to engage her students was no easy task; most were experiencing hardships that she could not begin to deal with in her classroom. Many students were dealing with such things as substance abuse, homelessness, pregnancy, death of family or friends, involvement in gangs, violence and anger. Surprisingly, such hardships are what turned out to connect her students, engage them in classroom discussions, self-exploration, and empathy.
As a way to foster empathy, this teacher made her classroom a safe and comfortable environment for her students to share personal stories. My visual representation is of the last few lines in this section of the story that read “And through sharing, they make openings to each other. Sometimes a small break. A crack. A passage from one world to the other. And these openings allow the class to become a community” (p. 79). As I read these lines, a vivid image appeared in my head; my representation is a recreation of that image to the best of my ability. Inside each person, each student, is an entire world of happiness, joys, sorrows, hardships, and experiences. To be able to get a student to open up, to show even a tiny piece of their world so that they can share their experiences, relate to others emotionally, reflect on themselves, and empathize with others is a wonderful thing. When students can connect on such a personal level, it creates a community. My representation is depicting an opening; uncovering an individual world full of joy, turmoil, fear, and hope. If we as future teachers can create safe environments where all students have a voice and feel that their peers will understand and not judge, we can create a caring, listening, empathizing, and engaging classroom community from the chaotic lives that our students may be living.
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Reflecting on my Autobiography: What I Included and What I Excluded

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While re-reading my autobiography I noticed I included that I am white, from a middle class family and also that I am a twenty year old young woman. I state that I understand that being white and being middle class has affected me, but I fail to address HOW they have affected me. Why is this? I also did not include my sexual orientation within my autobiography. Why wouldn’t I include this?
Reflecting back, I believe the reason I did not include my sexual orientation is that I made the assumption that people reading my autobiography would know I was a heterosexual female. Since I fit into the heterosexual mold that society has created, I did not even think to include it in my paper. Since I am straight, I do not reflect on the privileges I have because of being straight. In our society you are not questioned “Why are you straight?” or “When did you know you were straight?” (credit goes to Kari Davis for this as well, she got me thinking about heterosexual privileges).
Since I am white and from middle class, I am automatically afforded the privileges of the dominant culture. I am not discriminated against due to the colour of my skin, and I am more easily accepted in mainstream society due to my skin colour and socio-economic status. However, I have recently been more aware that due to being in a mixed race relationship, I am treated differently. When walking with my boyfriend we sometimes receive stares, see people whispering to each other, and (the most uncomfortable for me) I get asked why is it I am attracted to this young man of different color than myself or why I don’t like white boys. Having these experiences in my life have really caused me to stop and think about how our society views racial diversity and truly how much freedom I have as a white person.
Kumashiro states that our classrooms have hidden messages, and our goal should not be to rid our classrooms of these messages because such a task is impossible. Rather we need to make students aware of the oppression within hidden, unnoticed messages (pg.41). I believe, as future teachers, this needs to start within ourselves; we each need to uncover the unnoticed or unopposed views, thoughts, and biases that we have. We need to do this especially if it is uncomfortable or problematic to do so because these views and biases will be reflected in our teaching and become hidden messages in the classroom.

Part One: Summaries of How Stories Shape Our Lives

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The following are ten summaries of short stories from the book “The New Teacher Book”. The messages from these real accounts are powerful and relatable to future teachers. We are shown the importance of story and self-reflection through story.
1. Teaching in the Undertow: Resisting the Pull of Schooling-As-Usual by Gregory Michie
This story is about new teachers resisting the pull of standard procedure teaching, negativity, and outside demands by holding onto their aspirations in teaching and never losing sight of their goals. New teachers can do this by building alliances with colleagues and the community, starting with small manageable steps to make content meaningful to students, creating a structured and respectful environment that is not controlling but also not overly open, and creating awareness of social issues. It is important for new teachers to not lose hope, but to recommit themselves to their goals in teaching.
2. ‘Brown Kids Can’t Be In Our Club’: Raising Issues of Race With Young Children by Rita Tenorio
This story is about teachers realizing that they live in a racist society and the students in their classrooms will reflect what they see, hear, and experience in society. Teachers have the responsibility to recognize the influence of racism in themselves and in their students. Even with young children, real conversations on race can occur to challenge both student and teacher opinions, thoughts, and questions.
3. What Can I Do When A Student Makes A Racist Or Sexist Remark?
This question and answer section explains the importance for teachers to resist simply sweeping sexist or racist comments under the rug. Students learn as much from what is not said or done as they do from what is said or done. Racist or sexist comments can be used to start meaningful classroom conversations to make students aware of how to take action against unfair behaviour.
4. Framing the Family Tree: How Teachers Can Be Sensitive to Students’ Family Structures by Sudie Hofmann
This short story addresses the topic of family diversity and that all families are different. Teachers need to validate all forms of family and some lessons, activities, or curriculum content may only validate one form of family. Only validating one form of family can exclude or harm children whose families do not match that form. It is important for teachers to know their students and their families to create an inclusive classroom for family diversity.
5. Heather’s Moms Got Married by Mary Cowhey
This story is also about family diversity and emphasizes that teachers need to be aware of all family forms and make the feel welcome in their classroom community. Teachers need to be careful they do not assume all their students come from a ‘traditional’ family as they do not know by looking if a student has gay or lesbian parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. Teachers should incorporate and encourage inclusion of gay and lesbian discussion and content in their classroom.

6. Out Front: by Annie Johnston
In this story inclusion for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and questioning students is stressed. Teachers should include gay and lesbian content in the curriculum, assert an anti-slur rule in their classroom, get involved in gay and lesbian events or functions, and know how to deal with situations of homophobia in their school. Teachers also need to be a role model for all their students by modelling acceptance.
7. ‘Curriculum is Everything That Happens: An Interview with Veteran Teacher Rita Tenorio
In this interview Rita Tenorio stresses that teachers need to be ready to learn new things, and to be exposed to new experiences. Teachers need to understand their students and their families and need to create an inclusive environment based on culture, ability, family, and language. Teachers also need to understand that students learn from the hidden curriculum and thus must to advocate for children by building up a network of people in their school and community.
8. Working Effectively With English Language Learners by Bob Peterson and Kelley Dawson Salas
This story explains that teachers have a responsibility to deliver their classroom in a way that is understandable to all students. Teachers can incorporate many strategies to help ELLs in their classrooms: see what services are available in the school, do not single out students, ask for volunteers, use small group activities, use visual teaching with active models, encourage reading, encourage students to practice their first language as well, and teach vocabulary ahead. Teachers also can help by learning about different cultures and language by communicating with parents/guardians and community members.
9. Teaching Controversial Content by Kelley Dawson Salas
This story explains that teachers will experience fears and insecurities while teaching social justice and teaching in general. However, the person who ultimately has the authority to decide what is taught in the classroom is you – the teacher. Teachers should practice: informing the principal and parents/guardians of their curriculum and methods, knowing how it fits into the Provincial Outcomes, previewing all material before showing it to their students, and knowing their community. Developing curriculum is long-term process.
10. Unwrapping The Holidays: Reflections on a Difficult First Year by Dale Weiss
This story is about a first year teacher who explains a lesson that many first year teachers will experience. Moving toward social change may be a teacher’s goal when entering a school, but it is important to keep in mind that the journey is a bumpy one; people may misunderstand, be offended, disagree, or fear coming out of their comfort zones. Teachers need to watch their assumptions of their colleagues and get to know their community before trying to implement gradual, not immediate, change.

Part Two: Visual Reflection of How Stories Shape Our Lives

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For my reflection I have decided to do a visual representation of a strong message that I took from the short stories. In particular, the stories Framing the Family Tree: How Teachers Can Be Sensitive to Students’ Family Structures by Sudie Hofmann and Heather’s Moms Got Married by Mary Cowhey are two that I connected to powerfully. These stories both address the topic of family diversity, and how important it is for teachers to validate all forms of family within their classrooms. This message resonates particularly with me because within my own extended family we have a variety of family structures.
The reason I believe this message is incredibly important is represented on my poster. Looking at each child individually, you would not be able to tell what kind of family that child came from. It is important for teachers to uncover what is underneath each child – their family, their home, and their roots. On my poster I present many different family forms such as the ‘traditional’ family with a mother, father, sister, and brother. I also show a family with gay parents, a family with lesbian parents, a family consisting of a single mother, a family consisting of a single father, a family that has experienced divorce, a family that has experienced adoption, a family where the caretakers are the grandparents, and a family of mixed racial background. My poster in no way represents all family forms, but it does represent a variety of forms that do exist. When a teacher accepts the responsibility of getting to know their students and their families, they can better meet the needs of their students. They can organize content that validates all forms of family, develop activities that do not exclude or alienate any students, and conduct meaningful, powerful classroom discussions about family and identity.
As I mentioned, this message resonates with me due to personal connection. Within my own extended family we have experienced such things as separation of biological parents, adoption, and loss. I remember doing my own family tree project in Grade 6, just as discussed in Framing the Family Tree: How Teachers Can Be Sensitive to Students’ Family Structures. On my mother’s side of the family I am only blood related to my mother, and then her mother, my grandma. My grandma and grandpa married after my mother was born; the biological father is unknown to my mother and me. However, when I filled out my family tree, I did not once hesitate or pause to include my grandpa; why would I, he is my family. I had no reason to ask my mum or Mama about who my biological grandfather was; no purpose in stirring up old memories or possibly pain. My grandfather was the man I had been calling Papa my entire life, and there was no logical reason in my mind to not put his name down. In being able to include this important person in my family tree, my family form was validated and I felt accepted and secure in my classroom.
I feel that acknowledging family diversity is extremely important for teachers to practice. I understand, however, that it is a challenge for teachers to organize and develop classroom activities and content that include all family forms, and especially to do this in a way that does not include some family forms while excluding others. The starting point is talking with your students and their caregivers; listen to their experiences so that you can design a classroom experience that validates all families and creates a welcoming learning atmosphere.
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