My goal throughout my career has been to use my content to cultivate empathy for others. HCS's missions of social justice, service learning, learner centered education, and interrage learning fully allows us to do this with vigor. When we discuss social justice, we learn about the needs of the people around us. We learn about the structure of our society and ask: how are these institutions built? Who creates them? Who benefits from them? How do we expand our lives to include those whose voices need to be elevated? We ask these questions again and again as we encounter new stories, new characters, and new perspectives. We don't just teach novels in ELA to teach characterization. We use this characters as models for real life people. If the pages of the book were real, and these characters were real, how would they interact with the world today? If we were in those characters shoes, how would that shape us? By constantly asking these questions, we cultivate empathy around these characters and make the pages of a book appear life like with real world connections and applications. The aim of this is for students to be able to look at the world empathetically and seek to help those that need it and uplift important voices.
Some people believe in the idea that all fifth graders should know x and they should all be at the same level. Whether or not you believe that, the truth is that you are never going to have a class of students all at the same level. There are going to be students below grade level and above grade level. We have a duty to every student in the classroom to bring them forward, to educate them, and to help them grow. As a result, in this classroom, we don't come with any preconceived notions that just because you are of a certain age, you automatically know something. We start from the ground up, we meet each students where they are, and help them grow from there. If a student is lacking a pre-requisite skill, we will teach that. If a student needs a particular way of sitting, reading, or thinking to fulfill the needs of an assignment, we will accommodate for that. If a student needs enrichment, we will provide that enrichment. Our job is not to admonish students for what they don't know, but celebrate what they do know and just add to the skill sets. Students' needs are very important and it is our job as teachers to help students think critically and self reflect. When given space and freedom in the curriculum, they find the ability to exceed expectations time and time again. In this classroom, learning and assignments are personalized so that students feel that their voices are being heard.
Critical Media Literacy
One of my passions has always been media. Movies, tv shows, magazine, newspapers, video games. infographics, blogs, Youtube, and more have always been central to who I am and how I consume media. Students similarly, consume all different types of media. In the digital age and global age, we have a responsibility to teach students how to consume that media and how to navigate entertainment with a critical eye and intelligence. The theory is that we use a certain skill set when we read a book. We stop, we make connections, we visualize, we ask questions, and we practice all of that in the classroom. All those skills you use to read a book, can also be applied to viewing media. You can watch a movie or you can "read" a movie. You can use the same exact skill set when watching a movie as you would reading a book. You are developing themes and big picture ideas. You gain more out of the experience that way. We teach students to use the internet for research, they should be looking at all different types of sources for their writing. They should be looking at articles, but also videos, pictures, infographics, interviews, blogs, and more. Media was so limited at one time, and curriculum only dealt with those forms of media. Now media has blasted wide open to include so many different ways of consuming entertainment and information. My job is to make sure that students are knowledgeable and aware enough to explore those medias and come out having learned something.
Many teachers follow the philosophy of "teaching to the middle." Teaching to the middle assumes that the largest portion of your class is the "middle." These are the learners who are not above or below grade level. The benefits of this are that you reach a significant portion of students. The negatives are that you lose the student above or below grade level. This reflects back into my ideas on personalized learning. Students come in all sorts of abilities, need, and wants. We should accommodate for those needs and wants. But in my class, I do not teach to the middle. I hold high expectations for ALL of my students. If there is an essay to write, everyone is held to a high standard to write a great essay. In this process, I will support EVERY student that comes through my doors no matter their level. But we will set high expectations for every student and help each student reach that high expectations. Many times, I see that students will fulfill your expectations for them. If you keep those expectations low, you're not going to get enough out of that student. If you keep those expectations high, and help students reach those high expectations, they're accomplishing tasks that they never would have thought they would be able to do. Students will work hard to reach the top, I make sure that top level is set high but is attainable for everyone.