Personal Learning Network

Real People

I’m lucky to know a few practicing teachers well and take every opportunity to ask them questions, discuss teaching and learning issues, and share my concerns. Of course, I have also gotten to know a few of my classmates from various disciplines and I routinely discuss with them the themes, ideas, and philosophies we are learning. In addition, I rely on my husband, who is not an educator, as a sounding board – I like to hear opinions that are different than my own and to be challenged to explain myself more clearly. I feel that, in many ways, it’s my partner and other friends outside of teaching who help me to question and, therefore, to identify the common sense of education.

Also my cooperating teacher from my ECS300 pre-pre-internship has been an excellent connection. I’ve enjoyed discussing with her the practical application of the theories discussed in classes.

Online

I think the first thing to say is that I am a media consumer, not a producer. I’m right on that Gen X/Y cusp that makes me hesitant to launch full tilt into the online world.
Add to that my years as a government employee when I had to be very careful about what I said, to whom, and in what context and what you get is – well, a less than full participation online.

Nevertheless, I’m an avid consumer of media and I share my perspectives freely in person – so my personal learning network has been built the semi-old-fashioned way.

According to GettingSmart.com, there are different learning roles associated with a personal learning network: activist, reflector, theorist, and pragmatist. I identify most with the “theorist” role, which is described as a person who prefers “to learn by researching information and data.” (Getting Smart, 2013) I use various online sources to research and develop my own opinions. I read news articles on education through a Google alert I’ve created. I also like to browse TED talks on education subjects and I peruse The Teaching Channel for interviews and videos of teachers in their classrooms.

Another excellent source for ideas and discussion is Goodreads – I enjoy exploring materials and discussing resources here. In fact, this is where I researched resources for a unit plan I created for another class. I also use Pinterest to research teaching strategies.

I like to keep up with issues and perspectives through OZY.com; I especially love their Presidential Daily Briefing and the Acumen section. I find that reading outside the field is an excellent way to keep me from relying on “common sense.” Along the same lines, The Electric Typewriter curates the best articles and essays by amazing authors on a variety of subjects.

My Contributions

I openly contribute to class discussion in the lecture and seminar. I believe that we all learn a great deal from the contributions that students make in class. I’m not shy about sharing my views or answering questions so I make an effort to, especially if others seem reluctant. However, I’m aware of how often I speak and make a conscious effort to allow others the opportunity.

References

Getting Smart. “20 Tips for Creating a Professional Learning Network.” January 17, 2013.
http://gettingsmart.com/2013/01/20-tips-for-creating-a-professional-learning-network/

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Why I didn’t write about being a Latina woman

I think that the main reason I didn’t write about being a woman or Latina as part of my autobiography is because I’ve learned that it’s unprofessional to do so. Bringing up anything controversial is considered bad form and I didn’t want to publish my views on my race, gender, or sexuality online for the world to see.

I’m well aware of how my gender and culture influence me as a teacher, but I struggle with how, or to what extent, I should make it an overt part of my teaching. In many ways, I feel that what I share about myself will vary between grades, schools, classes, and students. But I also agree that “we need to put front and center the very things we do not want in our teaching, the very things we do not even know are in our teaching.” (Kumashiro 41) For me this all depends on understanding what we mean by “front and center”.

My Cultural Frame of Reference

As a Third Culture Kid (TCK), I really connected with the story about Larry and cultural identity. TCKs are children who were raised in a culture that is different from their parents’ culture. The usual scenario for a TCK is like this: your Canadian parents take you to live abroad for work (usually militarty, government, business, teaching, or missionary work). Let’s say you move to Japan and you spend three or four years there going to an international school. After Japan, your family moves to Germany for three years, then Brazil, and finally Guatemala. You finish high school and are shipped back to Canada to go to university. But when you go “home” you find out that you don’t feel Canadian, you don’t share the culture. You are also not from any of the countries where you lived. You have, in fact, created a personal third culture that blends your passport country’s ways with those of the places where you grew up.

That’s pretty much how I grew up, except that I consider myself a Fourth Culture Kid for the simple reason that my passport country was not the country where my parents grew up either. My parents grew up in Ecuador where I was also born. We immigrated to the United States (my passport country) and traveled because of my father’s work for the US government. I grew up in Ecuador, California, Peru, and Brazil before moving back to the United States, which was supposed to be home for me. Except that it wasn’t. I have never felt Ecuadorean, American, Peruvian, or Brazilian.

I cannot tell you the number of times that people have said to me, “but you’re Ecuadorean/American, how do you not do/think/say/act/eat/dress etc like your people?” I did not conform to peoples’ expectations of what my culture should be based on my place of birth and family heritage, or based on my citizenship, or based on where I lived.

As a young person (teens and twenties) this was extremely painful for me — at an age when we all grapple with identity I felt like I didn’t even have the starting point. When simple questions like, “where are you from?” create existential angst, it’s kind of difficult to worry about other parts of identity.

Having no fixed cultural reference means that I have a mutli-verse of cultural references. Now that I’m 35 and have accepted this, I can finally see the benefits: I’m lucky to have ways of relating to and connecting with all kinds of people, I’m lucky to see the similarities rather than just the differences between cultures, and I can empathize with people, like Larry, who don’t feel that they are part of the narrative that others ascribe to them.

And most of all, it just doesn’t bother me anymore to not be Ecuadorian, or American, or Peruvian, or Brazilian, or Canadian. I’m Daniela, that’s all.

Good Student

What the “Man” thinks a good student should be.

In Western schools, a good student shows up to class on time, is neatly dressed, and has all their materials. They listen to the instructor, take notes, and make eye contact. They don’t distract their peers. They participate in the class when prompted. Once at home a good student completes the required assignments and at the end of the lesson/unit/term the good student is able to reproduce the important skills or concepts that the teacher covered.

According to this system, creativity and critical thinking are impossible. A good student is required to agree with and repeat the lesson, never questioning, never going further than the instructor requires. But this system makes it possible for good students to feel assured of themselves, to give others what they want, and to maintain the status quo.

 

What I think a good student should be.

A good student is aware of their world and thinks critically about people, systems, and environments. They ask questions. They challenge both instructors and their peers in constructive ways. They formulate their own opinions/perspectives and can support their views. Good students are always striving.

This perspective, however,  heavily favors North American qualities of assertiveness and confidence, which excludes values that other cultures hold. It requires that students already have well-developed communication and critical thinking skills that, frankly, most adults don’t have. But it does allow students to express themselves and their ideas, to generate knowledge, and to make their own decisions (although these are, again, values that are predominantly favored in North America).

Autobiography

 

  1. Helping my brother, Alex, enjoy reading. In grade 5, my brother’s teacher told my parents that Alex wasn’t showing interest in reading and recommended reading to him more at home. Because I loved reading, my parents asked me to take a stab at it. So we started by reading Peter Pan out loud and had fun acting out scenes and doing voices. He became interested in reading after that and I started to think of myself as someone who could help others.
  2. During my Master’s program, I had the opportunity to be a TA. It was my first time in front of a class and I loved it. Sharing my passion and seeing a few students take a real interest was exhilarating – and seeing the students who had struggled at the start of the term make progress was very rewarding. I loved getting to know my students and helping them meet their own goals.
  3. My son, Liam, has given me a new perspective on teaching children and adolescents. I want to make sure that I’m the kind of teacher that I would want for Liam – someone who sees the potential in their students and encourages their development.
  4. My grandmother debated issues with me and encouraged me to read books – she taught me that it’s the pursuit of knowledge that’s important.
  5. The film Miss Representation inspired me to help young people improve their media literacy. We are all bombarded with messages and images everyday – it’s important to me that I do what I can to give children the critical thinking skills to question the messages they receive.

 

I consider myself an expert in my field – I have an advanced degree in English Literature and I’ve worked in a related field for several years. But if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that I will never know it all. My certainty on this one point goes all the way back to childhood debates with my abuela, grandmother.

You have to understand one thing about her – her father was an intellectual, a poet laureate of Ecuador in fact, but because she was a woman her considerable intellect was no more than an adornment to the people around her. Not to me, though – I thought she was brilliant. No matter the esoteric topic we talked about, whether it was poverty, the pros and cons of religion, power in politics, or racism, she would always tell me that I hadn’t read enough. She would send me off to read Dante, or Joyce, or Dostoyevsky before she’d consider continuing the debate. And when I’d return having read my latest assignment and ready for a debate, she would tell me I still didn’t know enough and send me away with some other book. It wasn’t so much that she got me to read wonderful books that made her brilliant, it was that she showed me that no matter how much you think you know – there’s always more to learn.

As a teacher, this works for me in several ways: First, it humbles me. I know many things and have had many experiences, but so have each of my students – no matter how young. Secondly, I see education as a personal, life-long progression. My goal for students is for them to also learn this lesson, to spark a desire to learn as much as they can anyway, and to give them the skills to do so.

This experience with my grandmother was about process, more so than content. Her view was that opinions and outlooks could change based on your exposure to other ideas and she continually sought to expose me to those varied perspectives. She did not present herself as a fountain of knowledge, she simply reminded me that there was no one point a person can reach and say that they know all there is to know. My grandmother’s curriculum was about a continual striving because learning is not a place of repose.

In retrospect, and in light of what we’ve covered in class, I can clearly see how my abuela’s context influenced the curriculum she created; but I see even more clearly how my context shaped the way I experienced the curriculum. I learned so much about how to learn on my own, how to form my own opinions, and how to share those opinions with others through this curriculum. I recall that by the time I was in university, the debates changed because I had started to bring in my own evidence and began giving my grandmother books to read.

Part of the reason this curriculum worked for me was that I trusted her and knew that she respected me – so when she would tell me that I still didn’t know enough, I took it as a challenge. The other reason it worked was that she went with it when I began bringing books to her – there was no resistance. I think in some way my grandmother understood that curriculum is like a prism refracting light, that the teacher’s intention goes through the curriculum and is refracted into a variety of different experiences based on their individual contexts.

Common sense, uncommonly flawed

According to Kumashiro, the operative word in the phrase “common sense” is the word common. It’s a widely held belief or practice that has gone unquestioned long enough to be considered tradition.

I’ve always been suspicious of “tradition.” (I think that’s why I’ve never liked Fiddler on the Roof.)

Here’s an example of my problem with tradition: once upon a time, I worked as a Protocol Officer for the province. This is the job where you plan big events for VIPs  – it’s a combination of being a historian and a PR person. Each time I was tasked with overseeing an event I would also be handed a file folder as thick as an Easter ham with the plans for previous iterations of the event. The expectation was that I recreate the event with as little deviation as possible. But why?

Because that’s the way we’ve always done it. This is a favorite phrase of government employees (FYI: as a long time bureaucrat from a family of bureaucrats, I don’t say “government” or “bureaucrat” with a sneer).

I found myself constantly trying to deviate from “the plan” because most of the time, the plan didn’t make sense to me. And if pressed, I found that the long time protocol officers couldn’t give me a good explanation of why things were done in such a way…they simply were. There was tacit acceptance of tradition.

And what was the response to my continual prodding to try something new? Discomfort. People were afraid – they didn’t know what the change would mean to their entire world view. (Yes, they were a dramatic bunch, I’m not entirely exaggerating.)

And if this is the reaction in a setting with relatively low real world stakes (after all, what harm could come of seating people differently or not having a string quartet at the XYZ event?) – how uncomfortable and frightening is it for people in a setting like education that has profound real world repercussions?

Very.

That being said, we should all be able to think of a million examples in which a prevailing thought or idea in any subject has been shown to be wrong or incomplete. Take Galileo Galilei – his contemporaries were absolutely certain that the sun revolved around the Earth. It was common sense – we can see with our own eyes that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Clearly it is revolving around US. But they were wrong, quite wrong.

That’s the danger of tacit acceptance of common sense. Many things may seem logical and plain if taken at face value, but further examination almost always reveals complexity.

And there’s no need to be afraid. It’s wonderful to be wrong – I think that there’s nothing better as a learner than that moment when you realize that you’ve been going about something the wrong way or that you hadn’t considered a major factor. Being wrong gives you the aha! moment.

My wish, and what I will endeavor to pass on to my students, is that we accept that we might be wrong most of the time simply because it’s better than feeling that we’re always right.