Wednesday, August 26, 2015

tensions and fears

I'm starting a new adventure-- today was my first real day, and there are two contradictions/tensions on my mind. I suspect they'll each evolve over time, but I also suspect they won't ever go away, which I suppose makes them worth chronicling.

First, there's the joy of being a student again, and the sense of freedom from only being responsible for my own learning, rather than being responsible for the learning of so many others (whether it's students or teachers). I have to admit, it's selfishly very exciting, and I'm looking forward to being able to do things like navel-gaze unapologetically and schedule time for exercise (anyone who knows me might see that statement as cause for alarm, since my philosophy used to be that I don't run unless I'm being chased, but there are so many other new beginnings in my life right now I figured I'd throw that one in there too). But I also know that I can't/won't/shouldn't focus solely on myself; as a citizen, community member, and grown person who's acquired some skills/ideas that are useful to others, I still have a broader responsibility to productively contribute to others' lives. I don't yet know how-- Christina (@biblio_phile) and I have started some lovely and difficult conversations about being an outsider/volunteering/"helping" in ways that are intrusive/exploitative/selfish vs. truly in service, and I'm also still scoping out which additional work/teaching commitments I'll choose-- but I also don't expect this to be an easy question to answer (not just as a student, but ever, in my career/life).

Speaking of having acquired some skills/ideas over the years, I'm wrestling with the contradiction of knowing and not knowing; I'm here because I know that there's a lot I don't know and want to know, and yet I also have learned a thing or two that I feel strongly about. I'm less scared about how much I don't know, but I am scared that I am not as open to learning as I should be or could be. There are some ideas I hold deeply because my experiences have pointed to and then repeatedly confirmed them-- like the idea that direct instruction is not always/usually the best way to teach, or the idea that students' subjective experience matters as much as their academic learning-- and I don't know how willing I need to be to have them challenged. A professor I'm working closely with said that part of my work will be to find language to articulate what I already know and developing a more solid evidence base-- beyond anecdotal experience-- to support those ideas, and I'm going to try to hold that framing in mind because I feel like it both honors the fact that I'm not a blank slate coming in-- that my professional experiences have been worth something-- and that I have much room to grow.

Also, I'm learning that I don't know how to cook on an electric stove.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

hi! i moved.

IRL and virtually-- if you're kind enough to have this site bookmarked, please change your bookmarks to blog.graceachen.com.

i suppose that hints at some ambition for what's to come in the virtual world, but my IRL move may get in the way. we'll see.

Friday, May 29, 2015

choral counting language question

I was recently watching a choral counting video of a colleague teaching a small group of Spanish-English bilingual second graders (I'll share the video if I get permission, but in the meantime, just imagine some cute kids counting up by 10s starting at 64). Students count pretty fluently from 224 to 294, and there's just the tiniest pause before they all say 304. It's common for students to hesitate at points like this where numbers "cross over" the hundreds (is there better language to describe this? I don't have an elementary background, so I might be missing a term here), because as @davidwees wrote about in his comment here, students who've been chiming in based on a pattern ("two-seventy-four, two-eighty-four, two-ninety-four...") might be tempted to say something like "two-tenty-four" instead of "three hundred and four." This momentary pause is such a lovely opportunity to dig into conversations about place value or to probe what students do or don't understand; I might say something like "I heard you pause just a tiny second before you said 304, and going from 294 to 304 is often tricky. Why do you think that might be tricky for some students?" or simply "How did you know it was 304?" or even "Why isn't it two-tenty-four?"

This made me wonder, and I'm super curious to hear how others who are more familiar with choral counts and/or more familiar with linguistics might think about this: how would such pause points play out in different languages? Here are two ideas I have:
  • In Mandarin, it's common to drop the -ty from tens (saying 24 as "two four" instead of "two ten four" or 86 as "eight six" instead of "eight ten six"), especially when counting, and also common to insert "zero" when there's a zero in the tens place (saying 104 as "one zero four" instead of "one hundred and zero four" or "one hundred and four"). There are some interesting quirks with teens, too, such that 114 would be "one one four" rather than "one hundred four"). Counting up by 10s starting at 64 might sound like "six four, seven four, eight four, nine four, one zero four, one one four..."). Now, I learned to count in Mandarin in an informal home setting rather than in school, so it's also possible that elementary school teachers require students to say the whole number ("one hundred one ten four" instead of "one one four") the same way that in English, we might ask students to say "one hundred [and] fourteen" instead of "one fourteen"). That, on the other hand, would require students to go from "eight ten four" to "nine ten four" to "one hundred one ten four" rather than to the more intuitive "ten ten four," which might bring its own set of challenges.
  • In French, the number seventy is said as "sixty ten," eighty is said "four twenty," and ninety is "four twenty ten" (but this pattern doesn't hold true in smaller numbers). So the same series would sound like "sixty four, sixty fourteen, four twenty four, four twenty fourteen, hundred four, hundred fourteen, hundred twenty four, hundred thirty four..." The really nice thing about French is that the 17, 18, and 19 at least are said as "ten seven," "ten eight," and "ten nine," which helps with thinking and talking about place value, even though 11-16 all have their own unique words (although it also means that 98 sounds like "four twenty ten eight").
So now I'm thinking about what choral counts sound like in other languages and where the tricky spots are, and how that influences what is tricky about choral counts for ELLs and teachers planning to teach ELLs. I imagine that it'd be helpful for them to know the number structure of their students' home languages to anticipate challenges and places worth probing in their choral counts, which would provide some really delightful opportunities to support both students' mathematical thinking and their language development.

Have you noticed this? What does it make you think? Can you give us an example in another language?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

books by and about women of color

I'm probably the only one who's noticed this or cares, but the "Recently Read" section of this blog is woefully outdated, mostly because I've given up on Goodreads. I hope to fix it this summer-- and by fix, I mean shift my entire blog to a new domain name/platform (any advice? this is all new to me!)-- but in the meantime, because a) I know a number of friends are currently building their summer reading lists and b) there can never be too much attention to books by and about women of color (see #weneeddiversebooks), here are a few I've read in the past few years that I think are worth your time-- some have become new favorites, others raised more questions than answers, and there are even a few that felt just "meh" to me, but I am including anyway because my personal taste should not limit your literary exploration :)
  • Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
  • When the Emperor Was Divine, Julie Otsuka (I liked The Buddha in the Attic better)
  • An Untamed State, Roxane Gay
  • Gathering of Waters, Bernice McFadden
  • A Cup of Water Under My Bed, Daisy Hernandez
  • Land of Love and Drowning, Tiphanie Yanique
  • How to Leave Hialeah, Jennine Capo Crucet
  • The Round House, Louise Erdrich
  • Half a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (because I don't even need to mention Americanah, right?)
  • The Grass Dancer, Susan Power
  • NW, Zadie Smith (I liked White Teeth better, but there aren't as well-developed female characters in it, hence its exclusion from this list)
  • Free Food for Millionaires, Min Jin Lee
  • Twelve Tribes of Hattie, Ayana Mathis
  • In the Time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez
  • Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward
  • Three Strong Women, Marie Ndiaye
  • Typical American, Gish Jen
  • Forgotten Country, Catherine Chung
  • Tiger in the Kitchen, Cheryl Tan
  • Krik Krak, Edwidge Danticat
  • You Are Free, Danzy Senna
  • Messages from an Unknown Chinese Mother, Xinran
  • Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self, Danielle Evans
  • Thread of Sky, Deanna Fei
And, just because these were too good not to recommend, here are some by men of color, about men and women of color:
  • In the Light of What We Know, Zia Raider Harman
  • John Henry Days, Colson Whitehead (also, everything he's ever written)
  • All Our Names, Dinaw Mengestu (also, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears)
  • I Love Yous Are For White People, Lac Su
  • On Such a Full Sea, Chang-Rae Lee
  • Open City, Teju Cole
  • This is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz (of course)
  • We the Animals, Justin Torres
  • Say Her Name, Francisco Goldman
  • Cutting for Stone, Abraham Varghese
  • Learning to Die in Miami, Carlos Eires
If you have read or do read any or all of these, I'd love to discuss! 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

engaging vs. motivating

Did you immediately read Vicki Hand's latest article when @tchmathculture tweeted it a few weeks ago, because everything she writes and the way she thinks about students and equity and space in the classroom is brilliant? If not, here's a short excerpt about the difference between engagement and motivation that will hopefully compel you to read the whole thing (bold formatting mine); it's not that long, and it's for Mathematics Teacher so it's an easy read too:
Teachers who organize contributions with students and utilize CI pedagogy are focused on engaging their students, rather than trying to motivate them. This orientation goes against the tide of improving student motivation, a concept we find to be problematic for two reasons. First, an orientation that focuses on motivation lays the blame with students for low participation and achievement. As a result, teachers try to change students, instead of the conditions in their classrooms that lead to participation gaps (e.g., prioritization of solutions over reasoning, lack of awareness of the multiple resources students bring to school learning, and stereotypical perspectives of smartness). The fact that participation gaps fall along racial, ethnic and linguistic lines tells us that we must pay attention to structures, both local and distal to the classroom, and not just individuals. The second reason we find an orientation around improving student motivation problematic is that (groups of) students are repeatedly labeled “lazy” or “unmotivated”. The positive and negative labels we assign to students’ motivation form the basis of stereotypes we have about different ethnic and racial groups.
We know, however, that children’s actions are always motivated by something. Their behavior often makes sense when it is placed in the broader contexts of their life experience. For example, consistently negative experiences in mathematics classrooms often lead students to seek ways to be valued or save face. They might try to gain their status with peers through impertinent or comical behavior, or escape notice by remaining silent. Often when students engage in this behavior, teachers feel the need to control them in some way. However, exercising control over students’ behavior tends to constrain students’ mathematical sense making and to deepen classroom inequities. 
No comment necessary, except that I want to email this latter paragraph to a million people, and especially to anyone who thinks that students need sticks and carrots to be "motivated" in math classrooms. This may also be a nice time to remind y'all of @delta_dc's thoughts on student engagement, and to encourage you to read the Morgan & Saxton taxonomy linked within if you haven't already :)