Tuesday, January 27, 2015

SWCBLogger Challenge #4: First Day of Class

It makes sense that the first blog post for this semester's SWCBlogger's asks us to reflect on opening moves or ice-breakers we used in class. I was inspired by the keynote speaker of the Opening Day Professional Development Program, Jeff Duncan-Andrade (I wrote about the opening day in another post here.) He is a professor at SFSU and teaches high school in East Oakland.  The above clip features an abbreviated version of the talk he gave to staff and faculty. 

Duncan-Andrade reminded us of the significance of Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory. Students - everyone! - needs a modicum of love/belonging and self-esteem before they can operate at a level of self-actualization where optimal learning takes place. Duncan-Andrade lit a fire under me to find ways to teach skills and concepts that help students build their sense of efficacy. I've got to layer lessons that help students gain the confidence to see themselves as thinkers and writers. 

Duncan-Andrade's message also challenged me to consider how and where "love and belonging" fit into my teaching, even with the disappointments and heart-ache love brings. There's so much more to say about love and teaching, but I wanted to share about how I wove something of Duncan-Andrade's talk into my first weeks of class. I'm sure I'll be writing about "teaching-love" and it's attendant heartaches in other posts. 

The learning objectives of one of my classes makes it completely easy for me to incorporate Duncan-Andrade's ideas. After all the "throat-clearing noises" of the first day (books, syllabus, calendar, etc.) we dove right into an activity that engages the learning objectives for class: 1) figuring out the point/message of a text; 2) identifying the rhetorical moves and strategies the author employed; and 3) determining the efficacy of the moves on a particular audience. 

I made a couple introductory remarks about the clip, mentioning that the clip they would watch was an short version of their faculty, staff, and administrators watched last week. After handing out a transcript of Duncan-Andrade's talk, I urged students to simply take in the composition, to get a feel for the text. After screening the clip, students worked in trios or groups four to simply react to what they heard and read, what they found remarkable, meaningful, or confusing. 

In the large group discussion, I wasn't looking for deep rhetorical analysis. It was our first class, after all. Even so, students made several important observations about Duncan-Andrade's content and rhetorical moves: 
(1) Most students responded positively to his use of Tupac Shakur's poem , "The Rose that Grew from Concrete." They either liked how the poem's metaphor spoke to their subjective experiences, which allowed for me to bring up notions of pathos. Others found it remarkable how Duncan-Andrade was able to use a poem by a rap singer to structure a professional, academic talk. They saw how it was possible, brilliant even, to alternate between "high" and "low" registers. I imagine some students might even imagine themselves becoming someone like Duncan-Andrade.
(2) Many were struck by his argument that students from urban environments may be subject to trauma at even higher rates than folks who've seen action in war. They appreciated Duncan-Andradre's use of statistics, story, and images to make that point. Students wondered out loud what kind of services their K-12 schools offered to students dealing with the kinds of trauma Duncan-Andrade. I wonder how I might, given the context of this particular class, appropriately attend to students' personal hardships that hinder their learning. 
(3) Other students spoke about how they hadn't known the significance of Maya Angelou on Tupac, how her expression of love and support towards him had such an effect. The also noted that finding out that Duncan-Andrade takes seriously hip hop music and popular culture made them trust him, which helped me make some introductory words about credibility and ethos. I wonder how many opportunities passed where I failed to show the kind of care Maya Angelou did. And I feel emboldened to build a greater sense of belonging, at least in the context of my classroom community. 
Though we didn't have time to dig deeply into Duncan-Andrade's content and moves (that's next!), students got a great foretaste of the kind of work we will accomplish this semester. It was clear that students were able to take initial stands on the piece, and they manifested their ability to engage with a meaningful text. 

I happily reported to students that their initial reactions could easily be developed into solid compositions worth reading. My comments meant to encourage students by affirming they are capable of observing and naming important concepts from the clip. I wanted them to know I noticed their  ability to take a stand, that I appreciated their aptitude for the kind of thinking they'll need to succeed in this class and beyond. Working that "esteem" level of Maslow's hierarchy. 

Students will write reaction papers about what we did, reflecting on how we conversation is an important part of the thinking process and how the content we investigated may be related to themselves and our classroom environment. I'm looking forward to reading their responses.  

Duncan-Andrade's clip was so relevant and accessible that I really didn't work that hard. I got to sit back and have students talk among themselves. They raised many of the issues related to the content and skills I'm charged with imparting. 

Next meeting, we'll use Tupac's poem, capitalizing on the metaphor of a rose growing from concrete. I'd like them to name, at least for themselves, what sort of barriers and obstacles exist in the "concrete" of their own lives that hinder the growth of their own roses. Probably some version of Think-Pair-Share for sure., but not anything that forces them to share more than they might be willing to disclose. I'm still marinating on what the written project could be, something students might actually publish. At the very least, a reflection paper . . . hmmmmm. . .