The Handmaid’s Tale, Censorship, & Banned Books

Adobe Spark (19)

Last week, I began watching The Handmaid’s Tale, a Hulu original series based off of the novel by Margaret Atwood. Set in a dystopian society and ruled by an extreme, fundamentalist regime; the series draws viewers in with multiple storylines, dynamic characters, and pendulum swings oscillating between hope and despair. Along with the brutal objectification of females in this radical, religious Totalitarian society, The Handmaid’s Tale, sheds light on the power of the literate individual.

Books, reading, and writing are outlawed in Gilead, and one scene in an early episode where “The Eyes” are burning books and art, immediately reminded me of other stories about censorship and book banning, such as Fahrenheit 451. The ability to read, write, and think for oneself is seen as a threat to the new government of Gilead and there is not a more powerful illustration of this than in the “Closet Scene”  from episode 4. Offred, the main character, was locked in her room for 2 weeks straight and finds a Latin phrase, Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum, carved into the corner of her closet. This single phrase, written by her predecessor who failed to bear a child for the commander and his wife, risked her life to offer hope in the form of words that Offred couldn’t even translate. This small carving of words, hidden in the closet, reignited the fire of freedom that had been dimmed inside of Offered.

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Words have the power to transport readers to new places, they can inspire a movement, and bring hope to those who identify with characters they read about or quotes that sing to their heart. This week marks the beginning of Banned Books Week, an annual celebration that recognizes  Students’ Right to Read and emphasizes the First Amendment. The theme for this upcoming Banned Books Week (Sept. 24 – Sept. 30) is “Words Have Power. Read a Banned Book.” The words in these banned and challenged books have the power to connect readers to literary communities and offer diverse perspectives. And when these books are threatened with removal from communal shelves, your words have the power to challenge censorship. (ALA)

The Right to Read implies that individuals have the choice in what they read and the ability to be selective in this endeavor. The same freedoms are extended to the group as well and oppose the individual’s efforts to limit what others read. “The right of any individual not just to read but to read whatever he or she wants to read is basic to a democratic society,” (NCTE). Censorship and the banning of books limit the access of information for students. It distorts their understanding of information, creates bias, and neglects to provide a whole picture of the successes and challenges of a community or culture.

In this age of information and with the access to content at the touch of a button, it is essential to develop critical thinking skills and savvy discerners of information instead of limiting what students read. Just as important is the classroom discussion around censorship, along with individual dives into inquiry around bias, banned books, and healthy skepticism.

During Banned Books Week,  I urge you to take part in the activities or create one of your own. In my classroom, I had students select a commonly banned or challenged book, preferably one they were familiar with, and answer the following questions:

  • Why is this book banned or frequently challenged?
  • What passages, lines, words, or characters are often attributed to the challenging or banning of the book?
  • What are the different opinions about this book?
  • What is your opinion?
  • Should this book be banned? Should any book be censored or banned?
  • How does censorship play a role in your life?

This short exercise made students aware of the issue, the sides, take a stand, and defend their thoughts. It provided us a perfect launch into Huck Finn (another frequently challenged book), as well as a larger, conceptual lens on censorship and the Right to Read.

Literacy = Power, Opportunities, Democracy, and Improved Professional & Personal Lives. And although contemporary books and movies, such as The Handmaid’s Tale, paint an extreme cautionary example of censorship and banning books, it does illustrate the importance of freedom and the role literacy plays in our lives.

***And if you are wondering the translation of the Latin words Offred found hidden in her closet, here it is: “Don’t let the Bastards grind you down”… fitting, don’t you think?

Contemporary Literacy Curriculum, #MakeLitREAL

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This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is “Do you believe curriculum needs to be more relevant for a 21st-century world? If you had the power to change the school curriculum, what would you change?

As society and technology change, so does the definition of a literate person. Teaching students to read and write through traditional means, paper and text, is no longer the only skill set needed to be considered literate. Literacy is a foundational curriculum component to every discipline. More than that, literacy is “inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities, and social trajectories of individuals and groups.” (NCTE)

The literacy demands of contemporary society require students to be dynamic, multimodal, skeptical, and global.  Few, if any, curriculums address these needs in full. It is up to the knowledgeable educator to provide a curriculum that ‘Makes Lit. REAL”. (Relevant, Engaging, Authentic, Lifetime) #MakeLitREAL

When planning units, creating tasks, evaluating curriculum, working with other educators, or coaching PLCs, I continually return to the acronym REAL. This helps to center the conversation, keep students at the forefront of decisions, focuses on the verbs (communicate), not the nouns (tech tool), and provide literacy opportunities that will not only strengthen their skills now but forever more. When you Make Lit REAL, educators see the absurdity of assigning a 7 page, single-spaced, book report and reimagine curriculum and tasks that prepare our students to hone skills needed today, not 20 years ago.

Traditional Contemporary
Consume 2 Dimensional Readers

Unimodal, one way, text on paper. Limited access based on demographics and teacher knowledge/experience

3 Dimensional Readers

Multimodal, multiple ways, interactive text, media literacy, dynamic infographics, and visuals, etc. Ubiquitous access to information, people, and experts. Healthy skeptics and discerners of information

Create Multiple types and purposes but typically done with paper/pencil or word processor Dynamic, interactive, unique, multiple types and purposes but additional modes (posts, video, audio, visual) that provide student choice and voice
Communicate Contained to classroom or school Global, allowing students to cross the geographical divide digitally
Connect Contained, local, never talk to strangers Connecting and building relationships cross-culturally and globally
Curiosity ? Inquiry, design thinking, PBL; developing problem seekers not just problem solvers
Contribute Community-based, volunteering Developing empathy and ethical responsibilities. Pose and solve problems at a global level. Strengthening collaboration and independent thought.

Literacy is not only a foundational part of every curriculum it is a cornerstone to us as humans. The traditional curriculum is falling short in providing contemporary students the skills they need in life. When you Make Literacy REAL (Relevant, Engaging, Authentic, Lifetime) and apply this lens to the current curriculum,  a clear picture of our past and where we need to head as educators emerge.

3 Essentials for Success in a Blended [Literacy] Classroom

Adobe Spark (13) (1)This post is sponsored by ThinkCERCA, an online platform designed to empower teachers to personalize literacy instruction across disciplines.

The use of digital learning spaces has exploded in use in classrooms nearly everywhere. Through Learning Management Systems (LMS) many educators are moving to put content online and extend learning beyond the four walls and beyond the school day. This Blended Learning approach is both beneficial but its definition can be tough to nail down. Blended Learning is different than merely integrating technology into the classroom. It provides all learners the ability and opportunity to contribute both openly and differently than they would in a traditional classroom. Simply putting a lecture online and calling it blended learning doesn’t cut it. Students need opportunities for collaborating with peers, creating new ideas, and formatively assessing their knowledge, all taking place in the digital environment.

When done correctly, any classroom can benefit from the blended approach, literacy classrooms especially. Literacy learning is unique in that there are both concrete and abstract concepts that work well in face-to-face teaching and in the digital space. We believe there are 3 essentials for success in any blended literacy classroom.

 

  1. Maximizing Physical and Digital Space – In a blended literacy classroom, success is partly attributed to identifying the “best” practices in both the traditional classroom and a digital space and blending them together. Whole class literacy instruction is best-done face to face. From the modeling of the teaching point to the scaffolding of the active engagement, a physical space in which students can gather and learn is preferred. Co-constructing anchor charts and a quick formative assessment during the active engagement provides educators timely information in which to inform instruction. On the other hand, enrichments for learning, differentiated content, and substantive conversations to construct knowledge may be best in a digital space in which the teacher can support student needs on a larger scale and students can personalize learning anytime and anyplace.  When one considers student needs in both a physical and digital space the list looks similar:

 

Instructional Practices Physical Space Digital Space
Whole Class Purpose: Gathering area to learn and share as a whole class, direct instruction

What it Looks Like: A carpet or rug, open area to accommodate students, transition or movement of bodies/tables for older students

Purpose: Shared digital space by all classmates and teacher(s)

What it Looks Like: A forum or class-stream where everyone can view, post, and comment. A repository of accessible resources, information, and tools that students can utilize during learning.

Independent Purpose: Student area to work, learn, and create on their own
What it Looks Like: A desk, table or flexible furniture from Ivy and Wilde, storage space(see selfstorageprices.org.uk), materials
Purpose: Student area to work, learn, and create independently
What it Looks Like: Individual student logins, profile page or virtual “locker” to store materials, information, creations
Small Group Purpose: Area designated to work as a small group of peers or a teacher working with a small group
What it Looks Like: A table; grouping of desks, chairs, or pillows; flexible for student needs and task intent
Purpose: Area designated to work as a small group of peers or a teacher working with a small group
What it Looks Like: A breakout room, group room, or other “digital space” language that designated a spot for students to work together. It may also include a way to assign and share resources peer to group or teacher to group
One on One Purpose: Area designated for partner work, peer conferencing, or teacher to student conferring
What it Looks Like: Conferring table, flexible seating, teacher moves to student
Purpose: Similar to small group with the addition of private peer to peer feedback, teacher to student feedback, messaging
What it Looks Like: Space used can be similar to a small group. Ability to target and differentiate messages and feedback to an individual or privately. Private assessment and gradebook
  1.  Fostering Collaboration and Communication – Although most of our students do not know the world without the internet, collaboration and communication in a digital space does not come naturally to them. In a blended literacy classroom, students are sharing their writing, participating in literature circles, creating multimedia projects in small groups, and providing feedback to each other. A blended environment asks educators to not only support student learning in content areas, it also requires special consideration on how best to grow and support students in a healthy and safe reading and writing community. These skills are often overlooked but essential for success in a blended literacy classroom. To do so, we must foster digital communication and collaboration skills that will impact not only their current learning but their digital footprint as well. One of the best ways is to co-create and establish norms for the blended literacy classroom. Digital space expectations would include communication, collaboration, sharing, messaging, appropriate use, etc. Here are a few to get you started:
  • Communicate effectively when in a digital space.
    • ALL CAPS = Shouting
    • Know your peers/partner/audience, is text lingo appropriate?
    • 3 before Me – have 3 other people read before you publish
  • Recognize all voices in group and peer to peer spaces.
  • Be careful when using jokes or humor online, it is hard to convey meaning through text alone.
  • When providing feedback to peers address them by name, use the PQP Strategy (Praise, Question, Polish), be specific, and sign your name at the end.  
  • During a class discussion on the forum: Be Engaged, Be Active, Be Reflective

 

  1. Accessible Texts and Materials – Finally, recognizing the capability of differentiating content based on student needs in a blended literacy classroom is an essential component for success. With the access to information and support from platforms like ThinkCERCA, blended learning should not limit student choice to one particular text or resource. In fact, through collaboration with the librarian or media specialists, student choice in what they read should increase exponentially. A digital text that is linked to an LMS (Learning Management System) is not blended learning. Blended learning in a literacy classroom includes multiple texts and information that are high interest and available at all independent reading levels. The Common Core State Standards are end goals that are scaffolded and applicable to any content which is seen in the expert reader. Expert readers apply similar skills no matter what they are reading. These transferable strategies are what we intend to fill our students’ toolboxes with and are done so through text in which they can independently access. And just like the fluidity of student interests, so too is their independent reading level. It can change based on prior knowledge, motivation, or interest. When students have endless access to information and texts everyone wins. Fill your blended literacy space as you would a classroom library; full of books, informational texts, articles, media, and audio at all levels and interests!  

 

These 3 Essentials for Blended [Literacy] Learning help to maximize the digital space to support all young readers and writers. Intentional virtual spaces, scaffolding collaboration and communication, and surrounding students with high-interest, accessible texts promote literacy learning and help to raise student achievement that will last a lifetime.

 

Want to learn more? Check out the Administrator Guide to Personalizing Literacy Through Blended Learning from ThinkCERCA! There is also a great webinar on crafting Scalable Blended Literacy Programs worth a watch as well.

Shaelynn Farnsworth is a Digital Literacy Expert in the Iowa. You can follow her on Twitter @shfarnsworth
Steven W. Anderson is a Digital Teaching and Relationship Evangelist. You can follow him on Twitter @web20classroom.

Contemporary Literacy Practices, Go Where Your Students Are…

-Want to increase student achievement in reading and writing- Capitalize on the skills they use in their digital world.Education is slow to change. Before something is implemented it must be checked, researched, and statistically proven to impact student achievement before implementation occurs. While I  recognize the value of this system, it is the one that leaves professionals stagnant and places kids at a disadvantage. It also discounts the “gut-instinct” that teachers have when they recognize something is not working for their student and they need to change instruction.

The other day I was problem-solving with a building literacy coach at the middle school level. She spoke about a student, Allena (we will call her), an 8th grader who was classified as a struggling reader and writer by her teachers. The teachers wanted support in the form of strategies or programs that would help fix this child. A silver-bullet to implement that would magically make this student love writing.

In fact, the building literacy coach told me, all she cares about is watching YouTube and making videos for her own channel.

I paused, remembering a James Britton quote, “Go to where your students are – don’t make them come to you.” If you want to increase student reading and writing, go to where your students are in their “literary” worlds. Capitalize on the digital reading and writing that they do every day.

My question to the coach was How can we utilize YouTube to support this struggling writer? How can moviemaking and YouTube Stars be the vehicle in which she learns, practices, and demonstrates literacy skills? Could this entry-point then transfer to other areas of reading and writing?
Literacy is social, constantly changing, and impacted by the practices of a particular group. Contemporary literacy is multimodal, dynamic, and global. For students to be active participants in a global society it is essential to support student creation and consumption of 21st Century Literacies, even if it is driven by gut-instinct and has not had enough time to be deemed “research-approved.” Meeting students where they are does not only mean recognizing what skills they get and what they don’t, it also includes their interests, passions, and quite possibly YouTube.

Top 4 Take-Aways from EdcampUSA

edcampusaIt’s been less than 24 hours since I left Washington DC and returned home to Iowa after having the privilege to attend Edcamp Us DOED a collaborative effort between the Edcamp Foundation  and the United States Department of Education. This ” intimate gathering of teacher leaders and policy leaders in order to discuss the most important issues in education” ignited excitement in the heart of this small-town Iowa girl.

On July 8th, 150 educators from across the nation, members of the US Department of Education, and other educational thought leaders gathered at the US Department of Education for EdcampUSA. The majestic ambiance of the location, along with the professional discourse throughout the day makes me proud to be an educator.

Edcamp is a Global Movement, and together, we CAN create change! Three incredible women helped make EdcampUSA possible: Hadley Ferguson, Shannon Montague (Hamilton Fanatic, email junkie, and general organizer of chaos), and JoLisa Hoover  (whose warm smile lit up the room and who also has a new role this fall with our youngest learners).

I was fortunate to reconnect with Hadley Ferguson and talk a bit of Edcamp shop. As Executive Director of the Edcamp Foundation, Hadley’s role is multifaceted. During our conversation, two points resonated with me, first, no one knows for sure how many edcamps there have been or how many educators have participated. Collecting that data is difficult and relies heavily on self-reporting; still, it is essential to have this information for future funding and discussions. Second, Edcamps have been attended by thousands of educators and continue to grow by the month. Together, that collective voice could be strong – so how do we harness this power to work together, and how do we encourage other educators who are unaware of Edcamps to attend and join the conversation? (Please send all easy answers to Hadley and Shaelynn)

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John King, Secretary of the US Department of Education gave the opening address. Mr. King took some time to reflect upon the current violence happening in our nation and the effects it has on our kids. He urged us all to “create the time and space” to work together to improve outcomes for all students, reminding us on the Civil Rights Legacy and the need for equity and excellence in education found in the Every Student Succeeds Act. Education is central to a democratic society, and our students must see a diversity in teachers and administrators around the nation!

group photo

There were many notable conversations and shared stories; here are my Top 4 Take-Aways:

  1. Open Education Resources (OER) – In a time when technology can afford equitable access to the most relevant content, best instructional strategies, and engaging lesson designs, OER should top the list of every educator. Applying the 5 R Permissions of OER: Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix, and Redistribute helped many of us create a working definition of OER. Kristina Peters, K-12 Open Education Fellow at the US Dept. of Ed shared insights of this emerging focus at the DOE  sharing, “OER is changing conversations at a district level for intellectual property. As a member of an OER platform  via Amazon Education, Amazon Inspire, I see this culture of sharing happening daily! Kaye Henrickson shared the movement of OER in Wisconsin, WISELEARN. OER is a way to support each other collegially by sharing rich content and pedagogical strategies that work best for our students. But as with all groups, Steve Dembo (incredible thinker, educator, and favorite thought-provoker) offered these considerations: Free does not necessarily equal open, reallocation of funds must be considered, how can the best resources bubble to the top in these curation receptacles?  This, of course, launched into further discussions which sparked a “hallway” conversation and future actions. ThinkOER!  ThinkOER
  2. Literacy – Literacy is the responsibility of ALL educators. In multiple sessions I attended during the day, the importance of literacy resonated throughout. Technology has not only opened the floodgates to global information, but brought with it the opportunity for students to read, write, communicate, and learn in multimodal means. The evolving definition of literacy and what makes someone literate penetrates all grades and disciplines. To simply ignore this reality is detrimental to the success of students. Digital literacies is a passion of mine. It is my focus and drives much of what I read, write, and learn. It was only fitting to include literacy throughout the day. Whether in Genius Hour or Passion Based Learning, equipping students with the skills and strategies to discern digital resources and to create their own seeped into many conversations. Along with that, I was fortunate to meet both Barry Saide and Juli B two passionate literacy educators I have connected with virtually for years, but only face to face at EdcampUSA. These two consistently fuel my passion and shared snippets of literacy love throughout the day!                            IMG_0428 (1)IMG_0395
  3. #BlackLivesMatter: Social Justice and Culturally Relevant Practices in the Classroom – One of my favorite discussions during the day focused on social justice and cultural relevance in the classroom. Many ideas were shared, rhetorical questions asked, and passionate stories told from the group. Shout out to Valerie Lewis (an incredible educator from Atlanta) for Periscoping the session to share with the world! Watch it here. Literacy was again referenced as a way to not only build connections and relationships but as a model to reinforce diversity in learning. Juli and her colleague Justin shared insights from the book by Chris Emdin For White Folks who Teach in the Hood, “ in schools, urban youths are expected to leave their lives at the door and assimilate to “school”  causing trauma to the child and the “village”. How then can we expect young people to invest in their community? Adam Bellow (an incredible educator who  is now CEO of BreakoutEdu and gets to drive a cool bus around)  raised a great point, “often times we begin with Slavery and America, ignoring the important contributions and victories won dating back to Ancient Civilization.” This lack of balance across all content areas reduces diversity to an event or celebration. It needs to be assimilated into the curriculum and an intentional part of the agenda!IMG_0437 (1)
  4. Connected Education – My final takeaway reaffirmed the importance of being a connected educator. There are so many passionate educators who are helping to make education great, get out there and meet someone new. Attending an edcamp at a new location helps to foster new connections! First, it was incredible to be reunited with Krissy Venosdale, Wanda Terral, and Chris Aviles; we were all in the final Google Teacher Academy together, and as Chris said, “broke the mold.” I was also grateful to have the opportunity to connect with Josue Falaise, an incredible eduleader with vast knowledge in professional learning and leveraging community support! Kharima Richards,  Joyce Valenza, and Matt Frat were among the many educators that I met throughout the day whose thoughts and kindness made me pause and think! Finally, I am fortunate to be surrounded and supported by a group of educators who push my thinking and offer an endless supply of laughter and good times – thank you, Kristina, Bob Dillon, Kaye and Adam . My first time in DC was Epic! YOLO!                        All session resources can be found here!IMG_0445