I Learned a lot…And That is Telling

I learned a lot from the readings and talks for this week’s class.

And I think that fact is a sad and telling on my part.

I grew up in the Deep South, in the 60s. I lived in Alabama when George Wallace governed the state. Race played an important role in my upbringing. I knew words like the “white schools/churches/neighborhoods” and the “black schools/churches/neighborhoods,” “the black help” etc. (The movie The Help reminded me very much of the life I had in the Deep South growing up.) I knew the country club was where everyone went…because there were no African Americans. I heard classmates engage in very disturbing talk about African Americans – talk that we did not have in our home. There was no overt racism in our home. During this time, my father even stood up to the board of his church and announced African Americans would be welcome. None came, but the “higher-ups” did come and back up my father.

Overt racism, maybe not, but as I grew older, I would catch myself thinking in certain ways, just like Shankar Vedantim brought to our attention, almost hidden in my brain somewhere. I decided to address these problems and resolved that the best thing to do was to not see race at all, to see everyone the same, to fight back against my “hidden brain’s wiring,” so to speak. The readings for this week challenged that naïve assumption.

Interesting enough, the thing that really caught my attention was during the Heinemann podcast when one of the speakers talked about not ever hearing shampoo or haircare commercials that addressed her specific hair. The underlying culture that perpetuates racism is pervasive and insidious. It helps create and perpetuate stereotypes that create stereotype threats for our students, as Claude Steele talks about. (I actually watched a youtube video of Dr. Steele talking about his work instead of the readings. The youtube video is here: Claude Steele on youtube.)His research shows these threats impede student performance, but also that these threats can be addressed, at least to some degree.

Which comes back to: What do I do with all this? After reading the readings, I honestly feel ill prepared to address inclusivity issues in my classroom, which is a feeling I don’t especially like. I like, and can incorporate, and have incorporated, role-play into my class, especially on gender issues. And I noticed that this was one of the things Professor Labuski does. I can do this in terms of racism through world history as well, but it just seems like I should do more…. For example, Dr. Steele’s work shows that the way I frame assignments can be important for student success – this is a tremendous responsibility.

I guess, in the end, I feel a bit frustrated and challenged in ways that are good… so maybe that is a starting point.




I am me and I can be no one else.

I am me and I can be no one else.

I think I’ve known that from very early on in my teaching career. I’m not good at being something I’m not…at being something someone else is. My longest and most respected friend is also a teacher. I respect her teaching style very much, but it is not mine. I can only be me. And while I believe that the use of technology is very important, should be used, learned, etc., I think the teacher is still the most important educator in the room.

What I know about me:

I have a booming voice and I use it.

Students don’t have a hard time hearing me. I walk around the classroom. I gesture. I get excited sometimes. I also give students time to reflect and all is quiet…until I talk again. It is very similar to my “mom” voice.


I like concepts over details.

The devil is in the details and I like to stay away from the devil. Concepts in history or any subject, even math, are more interesting to me than details.

I like to teach skills and not dates.

Change over time is important in history and dates are important – but only when put in context and show the change over time. And while my students may or may not remember the dates of the Old Kingdom of Egypt (probably not) I do believe they will remember skills I teach them such as citing, writing in active voice, analyzing historical images and primary source material, learning to think critically and to write coherently.

I am organized but can change the plan if need be.

I believe planning for a class is very, very, very important; however, changing things to accommodate learning or the needs of students must be a tool I have in my “toolbox”, so to speak. Flexibility is important to me. Students learn in very different ways. I learn best in very traditional ways, but many people do not. My husband is convinced that the only way to teach is using the Socratic method. (Yes, of course I have wanted to sock him on numerous occasions.) I must be flexible to change plans on the fly or change an overall plan if need be to help learning.

I take teaching very seriously.

Teaching is a priority. The students or their parents (or the government, scholarship etc.) paid a lot of money to be sitting in the seat in my classroom. It is my duty, my responsibility to do the absolute best job I can in teaching them. Period.

I feel at ease in a classroom.

 I just am. I couldn’t bring myself to be nervous the first time I taught in a college classroom, although I probably could use a little nervous energy.


I am easy going and approachable, but set boundaries.

Thirty year olds I taught in middle and high school still call me “Ms. Skiles” and my college students call me Ms. Skiles as well, not Faith. My communications with them are on a very professional nature. Students though feel free to ask me the stupidest questions. It is amazing what connections you can make for students that they just “missed” somewhere along the line. In tutoring calculus, I find most students don’t have trouble with calculus, they just “missed” something in algebra, which you must know to do calculus. The only way to fill in these missing pieces is to be open to “stupid” questions and not to minimize their lack of knowledge. I answer emails from students that ask seemingly simple questions often with the phrase, “Good question” or “Thank you for the question.” This is my philosophy and it doesn’t have to be yours.

I like students to explore on their own.

I am happy when they tell me about something I don’t know. I am not an expert on world history from the beginning of time until 1500. (Is anyone?) I love it when students share what they know and I want them to explore the things that interest them.

I only react in strong ways when students disrespect each other.

Don’t do it. Just, don’t do it

And last but not least, although I’ve taught for going on 15 years, I am always willing to try new things.

My daughter teaches as well and we often talk about new ways to do things. She works in the communications department and her insights have greatly changed the way in which I approach power points, time in class and feedback.

These are things I know about myself as a teacher. But interestingly, these are also the ways I am as a person. My “authentic” voice as a teacher is the same as my “authentic” voice as a person. I am me and cannot be anyone else. I may be a favorite teacher for one student and not for another… or maybe for no one and that is fine.

I guess that I most closely identify with the reading by Sarah Deel when she comes to the realization of teaching as herself. I really don’t think I could have taught for as long as I have as “someone else.” I do think the outline by Professor Fowler, however, is a very good look into how you, as your authentic self, become a teacher. I also believe that despite a post that may seem status-quo, I am a Yearner. I taught my children to read because I didn’t trust School to do it. I also tried to incorporate learning beyond a classroom for my children, whether it was technology or milking goats.  And as I said earlier, I believe that technology is important and we need to move ahead in incorporating it in our classrooms, technology however, can’t replace the teacher who answers the seemingly stupid question.

Everyone is different. No two teachers are exactly same. Anyone embarking on the journey of finding an authentic voice as a teacher will, in my opinion, find it in who they are as people. And Students will benefit from the myriad of personalities, skills, voices that we all bring to the classroom.

The World is flat. I know it is.

The world is flat. I know it is.


But what if it isn’t….nah….I know it is……it must be, everyone says it is, so it must be.

But, what if it isn’t? What if….

Tests are necessary. I know they are.

But what if they aren’t…nah….I know they are….they must be, everyone says they are, so they must be.

But, what if they aren’t. What if….

Imagining an educational world without written tests or formal written assessments is hard to do. It seems like written tests have always been around. It seems they are an intrinsic, organic part of classroom instruction. It is hard to imagine education without them. Years, ago, however, it was hard to imagine a world that was not flat. But someone did.

Intriguing to me in this week’s readings are the connections between imagination, learning, types of assessments and student/teacher communication.

It seems to me that encouraging the imagination of students comes hand in hand with encouraging the imaginations of administrators, education experts and teachers. A short investigation of the development of written assessments on the internet is enlightening. (see: https://www.princeton.edu/~ota/disk1/1992/9236/923606.PDF and https://daily.jstor.org/short-history-standardized-tests/)

According to these articles, formal, written test assessments in America are a relatively new mid-1800s phenomenon begun by administrators in efforts to deal with assessing and placing rising numbers of students. They seemed to have replaced more subjective oral assessments done between students and instructors. These oral assessments, in essence, perhaps, became a conversation. Students would have the flexibility to explain their reasoning, to explain their connections – not just return to the teacher the reasoning of the teacher – if the teacher can look or be open to reasoning other than their own.

Being open to different ways of doing things, to have an imagination that allows for “what ifs…” is an important characteristic for teachers. I spent many years teaching math and also experienced my children learning math from others. Students actually “do” math in different ways. There often is more than one way to solve equations or to solve a math problem. Some teachers, however, don’t allow for this. I experienced this frustration first hand as my children would solve things in different ways, but the math teacher could not imagine, and did not consider correct, anyway of solving the problem beyond the way they did it – even though my children had the correct answer. As a fellow math teacher, I immediately thought the teacher had no imagination, even ability to see another way of doing something. This was frustrating for me and extremely frustrating to my children. Having an imagination to look beyond just the ways we see the world would be a first step in opening the world of imagination for our students.

For me, right now, it would be difficult to imagine an educational system that did not have formal grades and written assessments. I believe I could only “imagine” it one step at a time. So I think for me, opening my imagination as a teacher to other ways of doing things, of different connections made by students, for what ifs…, for assessments that allow for these things could be a start. And once you have a start, imagining a world of education in which imagination, making connections, allowing for what ifs… might not be too far away.


Before I get started, I just want to say – this post is personal. The central character is my beautiful, talented, creative granddaughter, who has actually played a prominent role in all my posts so far. But this post is different. It is one grandmother’s wish for her granddaughter.

Secondly, the post is about Korea, but it isn’t.

Okay, the groundwork is laid.

My granddaughter learns much everyday, but much of her daily learning has nothing to do with high school subjects. What she learns about most days has to do with what she is curious about. I asked her to make a collage of things she is curious about. This is her montage.

My Granddaughter’s Collage

As you can see (or perhaps not see), much of her interests lies in Korea, in K-pop bands,(the picture in the middle is of a k-pop band entitled BTS), in creative arts, (YG entertainment group in top left), in dance (IM is a dance studio in Korea), in food (especially Korean food), and in the Korean language (the text on the top right) and in the connections she has with people all around the world that share her same interests. Extending out from this, East Asian culture and history interests her as does Italian ballet, hip hop moves, living as second generation Asian American, photography and a myriad of other curiosities that come up through her connectedness. She loves learning about these things in a way that is very digital and connected. She pursues her curiosities and she is very good at it.

What gets in the way of her learning on a daily basis, however, is her schoolwork. She must take certain subjects – subjects that tick off boxes and, in the process, put her in a box and leave her bored and less than impressed with school – kind of like this cat….which I think is just a great depiction of “less-than-impressed” and “I’m bored.”

I believe my granddaughter’s boredom with much of her schoolwork stems from the many subjects she takes that do not line up with her curiosities. She’s interested in learning Korean, but can’t. It doesn’t tick off the right box – another language does that was chosen for her and she must complete the requisite number of years in. Literary analysis must be done on certain books chosen for her. “Physical Education” consists of having to read an inordinately thick and boring book on human nutrition. Something she must do although she is a tremendous dancer – but dancing, although very athletic, doesn’t tick off the PE requirement. (And just a head scratcher here, reading a big, thick boring book and taking multiple-choice quizzes on it does?)

Okay enough of that. On to what we have been studying for this week – there really is a connection. And the connection is curiosity. As we listened to Dr. Ken’s TED talk Wednesday night, it struck me that curiosity drove my granddaughter’s learning outside of school – a revelation I should have put together much sooner. She is very curious and satisfies that curiosity through her intimate connection with information on the web, you-tube, social media and her connections.

Now to my wish as her grandmother – I wish her schooling tapped into her curiosities. Why not learn Korean? Sure it’s a relatively obscure language but a language that is deemed “critical” by the US State Department. Why not world history instead of American History? Even East Asian history? How about cultural studies? How about literary analysis of contemporary lyrics? And how about incorporating dance into algebra?

Algebra and Dance

And, in desiring something different for my granddaughter, where does this leave me as an educator tasked with teaching students only one to two years older than my granddaughter? Just as I have little control of the boxes that must be ticked off for my granddaughter, I have no control over the boxes that must be ticked off for the students I teach early world history. Some may be curious – others may need to just tick of a particular box. So, in this environment how can I bring learning into my classroom? How can I incorporate the ideas that students are curious about? How can I know what they are curious about? Also, how can I balance graduate school, department expectations for my performance, the desire to step out and try things outside of my comfort zone? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

In bringing this post to a close, there is actually an idea in the Langer reading that I found intriguing and “doable” I guess you might say. Something I could incorporate in my classroom – if I indeed decided to be mindful. This idea is the idea of the “value of doubt.” Langer wrote in connection with the value of doubt, “The key to this new way of teaching is based on an appreciation of both the conditional, or context-dependent, nature of the world and the value of uncertainty.” This “value of doubt” does not particularly need any new technology. I think, and I may be wrong here, that it takes a mindset on my part as a teacher. It involves introducing doubt, asking questions, challenging narratives, asking for students to analyze and where possible, to invite my students to work on the ideas/events/time periods they find most intriguing – giving up certainty for uncertainty.

In my granddaughter’s world of school, certainty abounds. Boxes are ticked off and those in charge feel safe in giving her a diploma that says “You Now Are Educated With a High School Education.” Colleges feel “safe” in admitting her and the world of education remains aligned to some paradigm created by the administrators and my heart as her grandmother is haunted by what might have been.

PS. My granddaughter just read this post and said, “I approve of this post!” 🙂

Change Over Time or Timeless?

Change over time or timeless?

As I read, and watched, our readings/videos this week, I was struck by two seemingly dichotomous observations. First that pedagogy changes, and should change, over time (great observation for a historian, right? 🙂 ) and, perhaps in opposition, that some pedagogical practices seemingly don’t change. There is almost a timelessness to them. Let me explain.

I will start with ideas that seem to me to be ageless. As I read and listened to ideas about learning through playing games and tinkering, I really couldn’t help but think that this sort of pedagogy sounded familiar. Exploring, trying something, failing, trying again, becoming frustrated, overcoming frustration and in the process, learning, seemed to me to actually be a very old form of pedagogical practice. In essence, a practice in which a teacher/game designer asks more questions than gives answers and creates the space for self-directed discovery for overcoming problems and initiating critical thinking seems a lot like the socratic method. This method is not unlike Harry Potter as he learned to use his wand.


But to say that pedagogical practices are just a different iterations of something familiar sells short and minimizes the need for educators to adapt to changes over time. I recently asked my sixteen year old granddaughter who is staying with me right now (she attends an online high school which gives her much freedom of movement and a chemistry experiment proceeds on the table in front of me as I write this), “Who taught you about networking with friends through the internet? How did you learn about social media?” Her answer was that she doesn’t remember being “taught” to use the internet for networking. To her, she just always “knew” how to do it (self-directed exploration probably). This is a very different attitude than I have about using the internet – especially for networking. It seems foreign to me, scary and non-understandable, but to her it’s like breathing – easy and second nature.

She is like many of the students that show up in my classroom……..

Times have changed since I first began teaching and I must change along with them. It is scary. It is hard for me to understand. However, I desire to capture the imagination of the digital student (the Reacting to the Past games seem especially intriguing.) Any change, however, will take a step on my part – a willingness to look at my teaching philosophy and be open to change. And while intimidating, I believe change can also   be adventurous and rewarding.

(Retrieved from http://thinkspace.csu.edu.au/melissawaldronlamotte/category/etl411/ in a post entitled  “The Integration of Technology in the 21st Century Classroom: Teachers Attitudes and Pedagogical Beliefs Toward Emerging Technologies by Chien Yu.)


Can I Really be Messy? Please, Please?

Can I really be messy? Can I really?

Gardner Campbell asserts in his article, “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning,” that “Offering students the possibility of experiential learning in personal, interactive, networked computing—in all its gloriously messy varieties—provides the richest opportunity yet for integrative thinking within and beyond “schooling.”” And in my world, implementing networked learning in my classroom would indeed be “messy.” (Just to give a little perspective, when I went through high school algebra, we still learned log tables to actually use them in computing answers. ) I didn’t grow up in the computer age. Google is my best friend when it comes to navigating my steep learning curve of technology. And I struggle to understand and effectively use basic apps like Facebook.

Okay, the cards are on the table. I am a messy proposition for networked learning. But…I see my granddaughter daily interact in networks she created on many different fronts. She actively learns daily from these networks, with connections that span the country. Also, as I read Tim Hitchcock’s article, I was like “yeah, preach it!” when he advocated taking academic conversations further than the conventional direction of  “having small (vociferous) conversations amongst ourselves…” While these conversations can be engaging, I can’t help but think, “Is this the biggest audience you envision for your work? For your knowledge? Do you always want to put your work in terms only a few will ever understand? Do you not care that the wider world learns from your knowledge?” Hitchcock pointed to blogging as a way to reach a much wider audience and network with those interested in your research, academics or those outside of the academy.

So…in light of the wisdom I’ve gained from my granddaughter and Tim Hitchcock, I become particularly pricked/intrigued/troubled/challenged by Michael Wesch’s question “How do I take my students from getting by to learning?” I too see many students in “getting by” mode not “learning mode”. Right now, I just can’t help but think, wow, what a challenge…. especially in a freshman level survey class. So as a start for this course in our discussion of network learning I would begin by thinking “Can network learning be a possible avenue to help students go from “getting by” mode to “learning mode”? If so, what would work? Would something like the hypothe.is platform be helpful? How could I use such a platform to encourage critical thinking? To encourage asking broader questions? Would blogging create experiential learning? If so, what questions, types of posts, etc. would do that?”

All the above questions aside, in reality, any pedagogical statement of purpose or philosophy of teaching, I believe, starts with a desire – a mission to implement something such as “learning” rather than “getting by”. I also believe that beginning any such mission would be messy. Me, as an instructor of record, could look messy…Is that okay? Is it?

Perhaps, instructors need the freedom to be like baby George, strike out, fall down, get up again, learn and try again.

I’m sure though, that we wouldn’t be quite as cute as George.