Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” performed by Bob Dylan


I couldn’t find a recording of Woody Guthrie singing the song that was as high-quality as this Bob Dylan cover, so I decided to use this instead. When you press play, listen to the song. I mean, really listen. To what the words are, to what they are saying. You can go here and read about the lyrics Guthrie penned. They certainly aren’t the lyrics I learned when I was a child.

I’ve been reading Maxine Greene’s Releasing the Imagination for our professional seminar book circle, and it reminded me that I’ve been meaning to blog about the following book I found in my dyad classroom:


and how it, in context of our Social Studies and Multicultural Education course, has inspired me to think about ways literature and art can be integrated with Social Studies, particularly to facilitate students’ inquiry into American history, culture, attitude, democracy, etc.

Greene writes, “…the arts in particular can bring to curriculum inquiry visions of perspectives and untapped possibilities,” and asks the question,

“What of curriculum as itself a search for meaning?”

So what’s the meaning students could glean from reading This Land is Your Land and learning ALL of the original Guthrie lyrics? To me, the possibilities are endless. Who did the land belong to before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue? What happened to the land once it was colonized and whose was it then? Especially land in the south, worked and labored by black slaves and white indentured servants, what is the dilemma of saying “This land was made for you and me?” Does the land belong solely to humans? What about the natural resources we use? Do they have any claim to the land? What is the meaning of each line, the whole song? What about in context of our society’s history? Our history of hunting, expanding, developing?

This isn’t the first time Greene has inspired me and I have a feeling it won’t be the last as I continue to read her work. I’m seeing the possibilities her vision might have for my practices as a teacher, and I’m just starting to think about ways I’ll likely be forced to grapple with the higher calling of curriculum–“inquiry visions” and “a search for meaning”–and the pressure for teachers and students to meet test-based standards in an economics-obsessed world.

What I Saw, What I Learned

photo 4

Free Choice: Students utilizing yardsticks to build an intense trail of dominoes.


Language Arts: The glass tiles students used as inspiration for a story–any kind of story!

photo 1

Mathematics: Exploring perimeter and area using square-foot-paper,
formed into shapes.

A couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t really feelin’ my dyad placement. I mean, I found my CT to be genuine and a strong teacher, but the school culture was so new to me, I kind of felt like a fish out of water. And of course, as some of us do when confronted with the new, I resisted evolving to fit the situation. But I’ve had a change of heart, and now I know it was bound to happen–I just needed to acclimate! Get used to the new and learn to feel comfortable and willing to extend my mind and abilities to succeed in an environment I thought I didn’t fit in.

With this new perspective, I was able to fully see and appreciate the learning I saw take place, and the learning I experienced myself. One one morning, during their “Free Choice” time, when the students come in and are allowed to partake in an activity within the classroom as long as they are respectful of other peoples’ activities, a couple of students went straight to a popular activity: dominoes. They grabbed a yardstick to connect two tables, and began constructing a trail of carefully aligned dominoes. Pretty soon, the group was half the class! They worked together cooperatively and kindly; even when one accidentally set of the dominoes, the group would say, “That’s okay, let’s just fix it.”

For Language Arts that day, my CT pulled out glass tiles and set forth the task: write a story inspired by the tile. It didn’t have to be a story in the strictest sense–one student chose to write a song and another a poem! One child in particular, J, surprised me by actually wanting to write her story. It is usually her that needs the most help getting started, and usually her writing process starts with drawing (partly to postpone the inevitable writing part). But this day, I was excited to see that something about the glass tile did inspire her.

Then in math, the students were introduced to perimeter and area in a way that was both concrete and conceptual: their teacher used square sheets of paper, 1ftx1ft, to form shapes. Most of the students had an understanding that perimeter is the distance around, and the area is the “amount of space” within the lines of the shape. Using the shapes formed by the sheets of paper, the students as a group “counted” feet to figure out the perimeter and then counted sheets to figure out the area. This instructional moment was especially cool for me because perimeter and area were taught to me strictly in the terms of the formulas needed to find them. It was taught in a way that was meaningful because it was on a level the students could see and develop a deep understanding of the concepts.

The learning I got to be a part of this week was pretty inspiring–I took these pictures and wrote about them here so I would remember to do them with my own future students! And also, to remind myself to give those students some “Free Choice” time to pursue their interests, while learning through play and cooperation.

Differentiating Instruction for a Particular Group

In the first week of my dyad placement, my CT encouraged my partner and I to think about lessons we would like to teach individually and in my experience working with children, I’ve seen how much they can come to enjoy and appreciate poetry, especially if it seems relevant to them, or it’s done in a “fun” (read: “engaging”) way. So, I decided I would stick to something I know for this first lesson.

My CT was actually the one to suggest the following book:

as a way to begin a poetry lesson; specifically, a lesson on haiku. Now, I tend to favor poetry that is deeply rooted in American history (like Langston Hughes), but I considered the particular group of students I am working with now and figured if the teacher suggested this book, then maybe it’s suitable for the group and something I could still use with a multicultural mindset.

During a conversation between myself, my dyad partner, and our CT, our CT pushed us to think about how we plan with our particular group of students in mind. What are our goals–be explicit–and why are they important for this group? And how can we make sure that our lesson fits the school’s context and mission? She really pushed me to focus my attention on making sure there is very little direct instruction (especially because there will be “tours” for prospective parents thinking about applying to this school) so that students have as much, if not more, input and voice in this lesson than I do. I know this is something we should all strive for in the classroom, but I find it’s easier said than done simply because it’s easier to do all the talking and expect students to sit and listen. So I really have to keep myself in check here, and practice being the kind of teacher I want to be without falling back on the teaching I experienced as a student myself.

(School) Culture Shock

Let me begin this post by clearly stating: I am thoroughly enjoying my current, temporary (until December) placement at a suburban private school for “highly capable” students. My CT is experienced, supportive, and demonstrates dedication to her job and students and is eager for my placement partner and I to get involved and build relationships with the second grade students. That being said–

I have been plunged into a school culture that is entirely alien to me. My singular experience with public schools definitely has a lot to do with it, but the ways in which students and teachers get along, how teachers have more freedom to diverge from curriculum plans, the school’s explicit focus on students’ socio-emotional growth caught me off guard in my first two days in the classroom. The last few days I have been mulling over my observations, comparing this private school to my childhood public schools and my main placement and I’m starting to take note of the benefits as well as drawbacks of each setting. But what I really want to dwell on and get out of this second placement (other than gaining more teaching experience with a primary grade and being a positive presence in the classroom) is what I can bring back from an alternative educational program and make work in a public school setting.

The things that have stuck with me this first week is the school’s commitment to building and maintaining a community through respectful, kind, and open-minded relationships and our teacher’s involvement of student voice and choice in her plans and remaining flexible with that plan. Our CT and the school take into large account their students’ feelings, emotions, and ideas throughout the day. While this, I think, has to be carried out carefully so that children are forced to develop grit and tenacity, I have been thinking about how imperative it is that we give our students in public schools similar kinds of voice and choice, if not to learn that they matter, but then to learn how to be responsible for the ways in which they participate in their classrooms, their school, then their community and larger democratic society. I also can’t help but wish that public school teachers got to feel the same kind of freedom in curriculum planning and designing that the teachers at my placement feel. That’s not to say my CT isn’t working towards standards; it just seems to me that she has more room to be creative and incorporate her students’ in her design of the journey towards those standards.

Despite my culture shock, I am excited to get back to the eager and intelligent second graders who have welcomed me and my partner into their small (did I mention there are only 16 students MAX in each classroom?!) group. I anticipate they are going to challenge my thinking on what it means to differentiate instruction for all students and the different kinds of strengths students bring to the classroom.