Text based learning disabilities are something that I think about a lot when working with my students, whether or not I have a student who has a diagnosis. This comes from my personal experience; my brother is highly dyslexic and dysgraphic but was not officially diagnosed until high school. It makes me incredibly sad to think he was not receiving the support he needed throughout school, and the way that has shaped his perception of education as a whole.
Luckily, IslandWood is a perfect setting to support students with text-based learning disabilities. Being able to engage students in hands on learning is extremely beneficial, especially for those students who might hold extremely negative views of school. I always try to balance the amount of “school like” work my groups do (writing or reading) with more hands-on activities, such as planting or exploring.
I also provide many scaffolds for all of my groups, whether they seem to need support in writing or not. For activities that involve large amounts of writing, I provide sentence stems for students to copy down. I also provide options for using illustrations rather than words to answer questions. For students who struggle specifically with text-based activities, I aim to provide one-on-one support in the form of scribing or reading allowed when possible.
Finally, I only have students read out loud to the group if the specifically volunteer to do so. I model culture of error in terms of my own challenges with spelling, by pointing out my own mistakes.
For me, the first step towards decolonizing my teaching practice was acknowledging my own role as a colonizer on indigenous land. At the beginning of the year, this was something that we hard for me to wrap my brain around. Through learning more about people who are indigenous to this land and still live in this area, I have been able to acknowledge the areas in which my own education failed me and my own biases still lay dormant.
Following this acknowledgement to myself, the next step was clearing acknowledging my own position as an educator. My learning about the practice of a land acknowledgement couldn’t have come in a timelier fashion. I feel that acknowledging the land on which we teach is a genuine way to begin discussing decolonizing my own teaching practice with my students and peers.
I have also greatly appreciated gaining indigenous knowledge and skills that I can then share with my students, while attributing the knowledge and skills to the people from whom I learned them. To me, it feels much more comfortable to share an indigenous skill, such as the practice of cooking with stinging nettle, when I can tell my students exactly where I learned it and who uses this practice today.
What are ways that you support students to challenge their sense of their own limitations, physical or mental?
Often, the barrier to our students' success is their own preconceptions of what they can or can't do. And this is totally fair- a student's academic self-concept (the way the feel and think about themselves in terms of school) is formed by the third year of education.
However, students sometimes need to be pushed to see past their sense of their own limatations in order for them to grow. One of the ways I support students to challenege their own limitations is simply by demonstrating pushiing my own sense of limitations. I often use personal stories of times I came up on my own limations as a way of giving and example, as well as practicing being vulnerable with my students.
I find the most important time to address sense of limitations is as soon as you hear a student say they "can't" do something. I often start with questioning strategies in order to get a better sense of where the student is coming from with those emotions. Once you have gathered that information, you can begin to address areas of their thinking that can be challenged (in a way that still respects the students emotional safety).
One simple thing I across all my students, is simply showing them my belief in their abilities. I respond to students who say they "can't" do something with "I think you can." Knowing that an adult believes in a student can sometimes be enough to help them push past a challenge they are facing.
As opposed to a more traditional mentor/mentee relationship, peer mentoring offers a different dynamic in terms equity and power. I feel the value in peer mentoring comes from the ability for peers to experience strong empathy for situations they to are facing in the present moment. Peer observing is a key aspect of Advanced Instructional Strategies because it provides us with the opportunity to practice observing and mentoring someone else, following two quarters of practicing being observed and mentored.
By observing another educator teaching I have found myself gaining knowledge simply from the content they are teaching their students. I have found that everyone knows at least something (if not many things) about the ecosystem here at IslandWood that I don't know or understand. There are species of plants and animals I don't know how to identify and scientific processes I don't fully have a grasp on, that I have been able to learn about along with the SOP students through peer observation.
When I go out to observe a peer, I make lots of notes on the skills I see being used in their teaching. This quarter, I have been especially focused on watching the way my peers use behavior management skills- what strategies and techniques they are implementing and the way their students respond. There is such a vast variety of affective ways to provide behavior management; similarly, different students respond better to different things, making a large repertoire of skills very beneficial.
Mentoring requires a certain disposition to create an atmosphere in which your mentee feels safe and comfortable to engage and productive discussion. Some of the dispositions I have noticed that are very important in mentoring are curiosity, empathy, clarity, and mutual respect.
Acknowledging your own bias is significantly more challenging that noticing someone else’s. One of the most challenging areas of learning for me this year has been that I, as a well intentioned white educator, am able to do harm despite my own desire and intention to support my students from all backgrounds. For me, the first step to being able to check my own bias was learning about where biases originate and realizing that virtually everyone has biases in some capacity.
The far more challenging next step was noticing when I had biased thoughts and actions, later engaging in reflection and implementing future changes. It was heartbreaking for me to realize that I was having negative thoughts about certain students or favoring others simply based on their appearances, behaviors, or my prior knowledge of them.
Being mindful of my thoughts, acknowledging them and actively working to shift them has allowed me to slowly notice a change in the frequency of these thoughts. That’s the thing about unconscious (or implicit) bias, once you become aware of your bias it becomes something else entirely- it is no longer unconscious.
I have found that supporting students in anti-bias work can actually be more straightforward than with other educators. Adults have had exponentially more exposure to biased messaging compared with, say, a ten year old. I also often find children to be almost universally accepting and welcoming of engaging across differences- when providing with the appropriate scaffolding and support.
Simply put, with young students, I feel that anti-bias work lies predominantly with exposure to diversity. Helping to facilitate students in finding commonalities between themselves and others is my jumping off point, using games as a way to fostering positive interactions between students from vastly different backgrounds. This lays a foundation for students can engage respectfully with each other in discussion- even about sensitive or challenging topics.
As far as helping other educators to check there own bias, that is slightly more challenging. The way I see it, the more time you have been alive the more you have been indoctrinated with biased messaging in the media, in social interactions, in schools- just to name a few. It takes significantly more work on the part of the adult learner to first acknowledge, and then break down their own deeply ingrained prejudices. The way I see it, this requires both willingness and effort from the educator, leaving me at a loss on how to handle situations in which one (or both) or these things are missing. There have to be strategies I just haven’t learned yet- and I’m excited to find out what those might be.
Firstly, re-watching my first teaching video of the year was slightly uncomfortable. I also feel a little anxious when watching a video of myself teaching (or even just talking, really) so I was concerned to see the first video again.
I noticed right away that I appear to be significantly less comfortable, both with teaching and with being filmed. I can see in the footage that I am aware of the camera, occasionally glancing over or completely avoiding turning towards that area. I remember that during fall quarter it took me several weeks of observations to become more comfortable with the video aspect of observations.
In terms of teaching, I also appear significantly less comfortable when considering more recent teaching footage. I stumble over my words more and seem to forget where I am going with the lesson. In general, I seem to be exerting significantly more effort to teach the lesson in this video than I might in a current video of the same lesson.