Mrs. Ryan's Class

A Digital Learning Hub for students and parents

Being Present and Ignoring your Device

images-1There is no arguing that the explosion of technology has changed the way people interact and connect with each other. Gone are the days of friendly chit-chat in line at a store, parking lot, bus stop, or park bench. People use their devices to socialize, communicate, learn, and share.

The constant tethering to devices is pervasive in social settings, and is creeping its way into education. As more and more schools adopt BYOD, or 1-1 models, this issue of constant device usage has become a topic of conversation in education. Since I teach at the elementary level, my reality is a little different. I still control how technology enters and is used in my classroom. My school still has rules about when and how kids can use personal devices in school. These plans all have to be discussed and agreed upon by the student, teacher, and parents.

When my students use technology to interact and communicate with each other in an academic setting I still feel like I have control over when and how they do it. We have had several lessons, and I am developing rubric about how to communicate in with others online in an academic way. What I am more concerned about is how people use technology for their personal and social communication. As a proponent of technology, it is my hope that students use digital tools outside of the classroom walls, so then I am also accountable for teaching them how to use these tools appropriately. I can teach students to be aware of how they use devices and help them to be reflective in their use.

In Americans’ Views on Mobile Etiquette By Lee Rainie and Kathryn Zickuhr of the Pew Research Center we learn that “Fully 98% of young adults used their cellphone for one reason or another during their most recent get-together with others.” This survey shows that only 30% of those surveyed use their phones to “retreat from the group” and  78% claimed to use their phones for “group-contributing reasons.”

Although I am also guilty of engaging with my cellphone in social situations, I find this statistic grossly problematic. When you look closely at the “group contributing reasons” in this survey, a large portion of people (86%) are using their mobile devices to post about the gathering on social networking sites, instead of continuing to engage with the people around them with whom they are experiencing this “share-worthy” moment. Here is a funny video of a group of young adults at a baseball game. These young adults were so engaged with their devices (and disengaged from the experience of watching a baseball game) that they didn’t notice they were broadcasted on the jumbo-tron, and as a result, the punch line of a joke. 

In Chapter 8 of her book, Alone Together, Sherry Turkle writes, “It is the more mundane examples of attention sharing that change the fabric of daily life. Parents check e-mail as they push strollers. Children and parents text during family dinners.” This prompts me to think about the importance of being present.

I believe that the greatest gift you can give is the gift of your time, and not just physical time, but quality, present, mindful time. Eden Kozlowski writes about this practice of Mindfulness in her blog post,  An Awesome Place to Practice Mindfulness. Here, she discusses the simple ways to practice mindfulness in daily activities like grocery shopping. Simply disconnecting from your device and being aware of how your cell phone use affects other people is enough to change your thinking and practice.

Instead of practicing mindful thinking and reflection, we are using technology as a way to retreat from our surroundings. Not only are 30% of young adults using devices to retreat from social interactions (as we learned from the Pew Research Study), we are even teaching children to use technology in this way.  In the post, Screen Addiction Is Taking a Toll on Children, Jane Brody quotes Catherine Steiner-Adair citing, “We’re throwing screens at children all day long, giving them distractions rather than teaching them how to self-soothe, to calm themselves down.” 

Herein lies another problem with the heavy use of technology – we are replacing human needs like communication, reflection, and stillness with the easy connectivity of technology. Children, teens, and adults alike have become dependent on technology to relax, de-stress, and find happiness. This idea has made me question my desire to plug into social networking sites when I am alone at home, or watch a favorite show on my iPad in bed when I have trouble sleeping. Although technology can offer alternatives to feel connected and important, we cannot replace the importance of a quiet mind and the need for human relationships.

I recently attended the Connect Educators Computer Association Conference “Break Down Walls: Empowering Learners.” The keynote speaker was Angela MaiersMaiers is an educator, technology consultant, and proponent of the use of technology to allow everyone to share their genius and know that they matter. See her acclaimed TedTalk “You Matter.”

As I listened to her speech at the CECA Conference I was struck by the simple analogy she made to address the issue of teaching people how to use digital tools in a healthy and productive way. Angela Maiers aligned using the internet and digital tools to driving.

She argued that when we learn how to drive, the first thing we think about is not “fatality.” We take the risk of dying every day when we drive but most of us are able to get into our cars and take those chances. Why, then, do we focus so heavily on the risks of using digital tools to learn, communicate, and socialize? Why would we allow ourselves to not get in the car?

During her Key-Note Address, Maiers’ overall argument was to acknowledge the possibility of danger when using digital tools, but understand that as parents and teachers we can drastically decrease the nature of those things if we educate. Maiers said, “We are giving kids keys to the car, and we can’t just block the bad roads. The challenge isn’t learning the roads, it’s learning how to drive. It is taking your knowledge of how to drive to feel comfortable driving in Florida, or Iowa, or Connecticut.”

Maiers argues that people need models, time, experience, and education in order to navigate the roads of technology. I think that we all can be those models and provide the experiences and education in how to balance the use of digital tools with human-to-human connections. Our over-reliance on technology in social interactions is not an addiction, it’s a dependency, and a bad habit. We can teach people to create a more balanced life through exposure, education, and self-awareness.


*Note on the media chosen: I chose to create this response in a written format help myself reflect and practice the mindful thinking that I discuss here. I read the assigned texts last weekend, and attended the in person CECA this past Monday. Instead of writing this response early in the week (as I have done in pervious assignments), I decided to give myself more time to notice, think, and reflect before fleshing out my ideas in a written format. As a result, I think that I achieved a more concise summary of my thoughts and ideas this week. Although I realize the irony, I chose to share this post publicly on my blog as a model to think differently about how we use digital tools as a crutch instead of engaging in real human interactions and mindful reflections on ourselves.

Leave a comment »

Technology Throughout Development

I decided to try a vlog this week. I felt that since the topic of discussion this week had a large reflective component, talking through my ideas would be a natural and meaningful representation of my thoughts. I also reference only print media that was easy to refer to in a spoken narrative, unlike past weeks where I have wanted my audience to engage with video content during their reading of my narrative.

I have never gone through with sharing video of myself talking about my beliefs and experiences even though I have tried to do a discussion response this way a few times. Creating and posting a video certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone and I struggled with finding a “take” that I felt fully represents my ideas and is clear and articulate. The video that I finally settled on is not perfect (and I definitely need to reduce the amount of times I say “ummm”!!) but I hope that I will get better at relaying ideas over this medium with more practice and experience.

Please click below to access my video reflection about Technology Throughout Development:


Leave a comment »

Modes of Communicating

I began this week’s discussion questions with the intention of completing my first Vlog in order to address the importance of face to face communication that Turkle refers to in her book, Alone Together. As I read Chapters 6-8 (and part of 9) and began research about AI scientists, I found myself making connections to other videos/texts and I had many ideas of what to include in my response this week. I experimented with a few “takes” of my video, but I didn’t feel that I was getting my point across clearly and effectively. After much time, thought, and reflection I have decided to complete this week’s discussion response in a blog format in order to include all of the visuals, video, and links to articles that I would want my audience to interact with. I will leave vlogging to another time, perhaps next week with our discussion of identity, control, and hiding.

There are many modes of communication that we navigate daily. In this portion of my response I will delve into four: presentations, discussions, conversations, and internet-only communication.

The Presentation: The presentation as I know it is a direct stream of information from an author/superior to an audience with the intention that the recipients will learn about a topic or concept. In my experience, I fairly consistently find presentations at building based Professional Development sessions that are intended to educate faculty on a new initiative, policy, or way of teaching/assessing. Recently I have viewed a presentation for OSHA Training and the updated teacher evaluation rubric in my district. Perhaps my most recent example of a productive and meaningful presentation was at convocation this year when the superintendent shared funny and interesting videos in his Prezi presentation to engage, entertain, and inspire teachers at the beginning of the school year. Using additional media in presentations certainly increases the enjoy-ability and retention of a presentation from the audience’s perspective.

Below, please see my illustration of the power dynamic that exists in a presentation form of communication.


In this mode of communication, the power is entirely in the hands of the presenter. Presentations remind me of an old-school way of teaching where the teacher is the “sage on the stage” and the students absorb information.

The Discussion: The discussion is a more collaborative (yet formal) structure to present information and elicit feedback and ideas from the audience. Like a presentation, the author of the communication content is in control to lead the discussion and provide a context, however in this form of communication the audience has a larger role. The audience members/participants are provided with the opportunity to interact with each other and the author to gain a deeper understanding of the content.

protocolsIn my experience, I have participated in discussions in larger group settings, and we are often given prompt/question to discuss and then share out to larger group so that we can come to a deepened group consensus and understanding. In my role as team leader at my school, I am responsible for leading discussions with my colleagues on certain topics using protocols that I have learned from my study of the book The Power of Protocols by Joseph P. McDonald.

The discussion is a communication tool that has adapted well to an online format. Resources like Google+, Google Chat, Google Hangout, and blogging have made our participation in discussions more deliberate, planned, and thorough. I think the nature of online discussions encourage participants/audience members to be more thoughtful and take more time to respond than a face to face discussion would allow. One drawback, however, is that we lose nuances like tone and expression that in person discussion provides.

Below, please see my illustration of the power dynamic in a discussion. The author is in control of the content, and can shift the course of the communication, but the audience has a larger role.


The Conversation: The conversation is something that Sherry Turkle might refer to as the lost art in modern communication. Face-to-face communication is the most informal, personable, and perhaps meaningful and connected way of communicating that I will discuss here. In a conversation there is a shared control of the topic, nature, and tone of the communication. There is more opportunity to listen, react, and respond to another person. I have conversations in my professional and personal life constantly (as do all teachers). Every day I have conversations with my team members, colleagues, students, administrators, husband, parents, siblings, and friends. Some of these conversations are in person, and some are had over the phone, through texting, emailing, or online. I personally prefer in person conversations, but sometimes that is not possible due to time and logistical constraints.

Below, please see my illustration of the power dynamic in a conversation. There really is no author, really an initiator who begins the conversation. Both members are equal contributors and have the ability to guide the communication.


Internet-Only Communication: Online communication is perhaps the mode of communication in which the author has the most control. In this way of communicating, the author has control not only of the content, but of the viewer’s impression of the author. The author controls the images/avatars the the audience will see and interact with, and if the author does not like the commentary that comes from the audience, he/she has the option to delete or ignore it.

In Chapter 9 of Alone Together, Turkle presents the struggle that students face to create online identities for each phase of their lives: the transition to middle school, high school, and college. Turkle writes, Each [identity] serves a different purpose, but they must overlap, or questions of authenticity will arise. Creating the illusion of authenticity demands virtuosity. Presenting a self in these circumstances, with multiple media and multiple goals, is not easy work.”

Turkle also discusses the online world of Second Life in Alone Together. I don’t think anyone can explain Second Life better than Dwight K. Shrute  from the NBC Original Series (and my favorite show), The Office.

Second Life, Facebook and other social media communication outlets allow authors of the communication the ultimate control to manipulate communication and reality in order to create new identities, protect vulnerabilities, or have total control over the perception of others.

Below, please see my illustration of a power dynamic in an online communication. Here, the author has the ultimate control, and can choose whether or not to accept communication from the audience.


1 Comment »

Image and Stereotypes

In some ways, I believe that profiling is a natural part of being human. In order to make sense of unknown situations, we lump people into categories that we know. On the flip side, we make assumptions about what people should look like based on the category they are in (I alluded to this in my last discussion about the image of a typical teacher.)

At what point does this profiling become damaging? What are the indicators that we analyze to make these judgements? Do we have the right to make these judgements at all?

In an educational setting, profiling can become harmful to both adults and students. Professionals can be quick to mentally put people into categories based on their level of education and appearance. Students can put themselves in boxes based on their perceptions of themselves, and what societal categories they fit into. This leads to close-mindedness and for students, limits the possibilities that they see for themselves.

To illustrate my point, I did a little experiment with my 3rd graders. Here is a glimpse into the minds of my eight year old students, particularly their view of a scientist.

As you can see from this video, aside from a few of my female students, most of my class views a scientist as a an older male, usually with glasses and crazy hair. Although their depictions of a scientist are adorable, find the limited view of a scientist to be problematic, not only for my girls but also all students who might not fit with the appearance/image of a scientist.

The majority of my students have the image of what me might call a “mad scientist”, instead of the reality of diversity in both race and gender in the sciences. If students don’t see themselves fitting into the “normal” image of a scientist, they will be less likely to consider this as an option for their futures. I consider myself privileged to have the opportunity to challenge this type of thinking in my students when they are still young, to hopefully reduce the likelihood that they take on more damaging and limiting perceptions in their futures.


Dana Robertson

Students also have perceptions of teachers, and make judgements based on their perception of credibility. The video “Teaching Reading 3-5: Close Reading for Understanding” is a good example of a teacher trying to connect to a student population that has a different racial background. The teacher Dana Robertson is a white male, and is depicted talking to his racially diverse students about poverty, and his experiences living in a city while connecting to a text about a homeless family. This teacher is a picture of “professionalism” in his clothing and mannerisms.


Rick Kleine

In another video about teaching reading, “Rick’s Reading Workshop” from The Teaching Channel, a different teacher is depicted working with a racially diverse student population, but his efforts to connect to the students seem to be based more on the student experience rather than his own. His appearance is much more relaxed and casual, and his class seems a bit more informal.

It would be easy to judge Rick Kleine based on his appearance alone. In contrast to the buttoned-up Dana Robertson, Kleine is seen wearing facial hair, a long earring, and a cut-off tank top. Some might assume he is unprofessional, not serious, or lacking rigor and order in his classroom. However, when you watch the video, it is clear that students are being challenged, and there is structure and differentiation in his classroom. All students are engaged in personally meaningful and relevant work, and I was engaged as an audience member. I teach reading workshop in the same way, and can attest that student achievement skyrockets when they are given this type of personal and relevant academic instruction.

Perhaps we are also influenced by Rick Kleine’s mannerisms, and his body language. This teacher exudes a strong and engaging presence, in part due to his welcoming and open body language. Amy Cuddy would certainly notice his outgoing and confident body language, and might argue that this makes him appear confident and in control. It is clear that his students connect to him, and have probably dispelled any initial negative assumptions about his ability as a teacher based on his appearance.

A snap judgement based on the visual appearance of these two men would be a harmful, unfair, and inaccurate representation of their teaching. Moreover, this type of judgement in general presents a limited understanding of the complex nature of identity and ability. Instead of judging based on visual cues, we need to see “what people are made of” before making decisions or assumptions.

This type of acceptance can be applied to our American identity as well. Some people argue that a purpose of public education is to learn how to become an American. I agree that it is critical to teach students about community, and important landmark events in US history. I also believe that students need to be taught about what is means to be American focusing on the reality that everyone aside from Native Americans are descendants of immigrants.

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

There is no mold, there is no identity that could possibly apply to all Americans. Cultural identity changes based not only country of origin, but also the region, state, city, and even neighborhood a person lives in. We cannot define an identity for others, but should rather step back to give individuals the control to define their own identity.

In fact, the American identity shouldn’t really be a physical identity at all. I think it can be better understood as a state of mind about freedom and equality (though I would argue that we have work to do in both of those areas). Some people believe that the notion of an American identity is outdated and no longer relevant; they advocate for a more global view of identity. This viewpoint is expressed in Dennis Prager’s article “Is National Identity Necessary in Modern America?” 

If we adopt a more global and accepting perception of identity and experience, we would avoid situations in schools in which students from the non-dominant culture share experiences and language that are not valued in the same was as students who fit neatly into the social norms and cultural model of a school community. Gee discusses an example of this scenario in Social Linguistic and Literacies through his analysis of a teacher’s interactions with two students, Leona and Mindy. He writes that Leona’s stories about her experiences “failed at school” because of the teacher’s inability to affirm and acknowledge the significance and meaning of her experiences. Mindy’s story, in contrast, was “in sync” with the resources of the sorts of school-based social practices” and thus her story was more well received by her teacher.  If we take on a more global view of American identity and expected social behavior based on our collective and diverse culture, then all students’ experiences could be affirmed and accepted.


*Note on the media used to create this response:

I chose to design this response in a blog format because of the flexibility to embed different types of media into my response. I wanted to incorporate the video of my teaching and the slideshow of my students’ work to both share the image of my professional visual identity in school, and also the assumptions of identity held by my students. Had I chosen a traditional written, video, or podcast format I would not have the same flexibility to embed media directly into the narrative that I was granted here.

1 Comment »

The Power of Language in Cultural Models

When thinking about cultural models in my school environment, I had a difficult time separating the impact of appearance from that of vocabulary, language, and grammar. I will force myself to focus on the linguistic aspect of this issues this week, and focus on written communication within a school, most often email.

imagesIn my professional community, any grammatical error, misspelling, or omission of a word in an email will likely result in an instant loss of respect from the staff. We have the cultural model that all written communication is proofread, edited, and perfect. When a professional, or even worse, a superior, makes an error in an email or written communication, members of our community can’t help but feel frustrated. This easy slip can result in a slightly less flattering reputation that may not be wholly deserved, but our cultural model dictates that professional language must grammatically correct, and formal.

This contrasts with the cultural model of the professionalism of verbal communication at our faculty meetings, and goal setting meetings. These interactions with fellow teachers and administrators have a much more colloquial and informal tone. This type of “round table” format helps teachers to feel at ease, and comfortable – a helpful state of mind when trying to problem solve and collaborate with colleagues. Everyone present is certainly respectful and maintains a level of professionalism, but the standards of this in person communication are undoubtedly different than written communication.

canyouWhen thinking about my student’s world, a cultural model that comes to mind is classroom management and the “appropriate” way of speaking that teachers expect. We have all likely participated in this conversation at some point (either as a student or maybe a teacher):

Student: “Can I go to the bathroom?”

Teacher: “I don’t know, can you?”

After reading Gee’s thoughts about how cultural models can impact a student’s ability to master a language, (Social Linguistics and Literacies, 2012), I wondered how an english language learner would interpret this teacher-student interaction. This interchange between a student and a teacher is usually presented as a bit of a joke to teach students to use the word “may”, but I do think that we as teachers need to be mindful of english language learners, or really any student who is new to our cultural model and educational system. We need to be careful about the sarcastic tone that can creep into exchanges like this one and confuse children.

Another cultural model that is currently changing is the role of a teacher from the bearer of all knowledge and the ultimate judge of your learning, to a facilitator of student learning and experience. The shift in education to include collaborative learning environments, student generated rubrics and assessments, and student content construction definitely has made an impact on our perspective of “normal” teacher and student roles in school, but I have found many students still perceive teachers as the ultimate keepers of knowledge.  Kids still want to know if they got an A (when we don’t even give letter grades until 5th grade) or simply to know if they did “a good job.” This cultural model is changing, so I can imagine that students who are new to our model would have an even more difficult time navigating this system.

Ultimately, I believe that in order to affirm all students’ prior experience with education it is necessary to develop a set of classroom and school norms that every member of the community can learn. At the beginning of the school year, all students should practice expected behavior for the cultural model for school, because it is likely much different than the individual cultural models for at home behavior. Below, is a photo of my classroom constitution this year.


I follow a process each year, based in Responsive Classroom, to generate expectations for our classroom community that will hopefully make our cultural model of education more accessible for young students.

Class Expectations:

  1. Brainstorm outcomes/rules/expectations that the students want for themselves, each other, and the teacher
  2. Look for patterns in all of the suggestions
  3. Consolidate these suggestions into 3-5 all-encompassing statements
  4. Agree on the new expectations, discuss what they look like in different school settings
  5. Sign the document

In Social Linguistics and LiteraciesGee writes, “Any student faced with the myriad aspects of reality in a culture which might be relevant to the cultural models used by members of that culture could well take forever to master the meaning of language. The typical second- language learner does not have the great amount of time available to the infant and young child learning a first language.”  Here, Gee references the vast capability of infants and young children to not only absorb the cultural norms and models in their environment, but also grasp language skills.

In the video “Two Modes of Talking” from, Dr. Todd Risley presents his researching findings that show the that large disparity in the language abilities of children who come from families who did not talk a lot to their young children (mostly in “business” language giving directions, etc.) and families who talked directly to their young children both in business language and through “chit-chat, gossip, and commentary.” By the time the child is 4, their language and experience differences are vast.

Children who hear diverse language have a larger capacity for language and a much larger vocabulary. These children will have a higher aptitude for literacy skills and will likely have stronger decoding skills. Dr. Keith Stanovich argues in the video “The Matthew Effect”, from, that reading does make people smarter because the strength in decoding affects a child’s ability in reading, declarative knowledges, lexical distinctions, vocabulary,  and ultimately how he/she functions in the world.  

Reading and vocabulary are closely connected to speech, so we can make the leap that children who have less of an advantage due to their early childhood exposure to language and talking will likely have a more difficult time speaking up and questioning the cultural models they are in. Are their voices sometimes lost? Gee comments that it is the teacher’s job to ensure that no voices are lost, and encourage students to question and challenge our current models.

We also must consider the members of our population who don’t have a voice – literally. In “New Voices For The Voiceless: Synthetic Speech Gets An Upgrade” we learn that the speech scientist, Rupal Patel, has discovered a way to make a personalized robotic voice for a child, Samantha, who can not speak. 

Although the outcome of such scientific advancement is remarkable and a huge success for children with speech disabilities and their families, I do find it to be slightly unsettling to hear a manufactured child’s voice.

Click Here to listen to “Samantha’s New Voice”

Logically, I know that there is nothing creepy about this – it is nothing more than research based science doing good for humanity…but the emotional side of me feels unsettled that we can be so easily deceived. Do I have a right to know if the sweet voice is a real child’s voice? What difference does it make to me, really? I think the answer comes down to my the desire for experiences to be authentic.

For instance, if I am trying to reach a customer service representative to work out an issue, being forced through prerecorded robot voices and selections does nothing more than infuriate me. In this situation, I need to engage in an authentic, person-to-person conversation to problem solve and respond to my needs. I feel validated when I hear the person on the other end of the phone show empathy, concern, and determination to help with my problem – these are human connections that can not be mimicked by an automated voice.

On the other hand, this authentic human contact is not always needed, depending on the task at hand. I’m thinking particularly of checking a gift card balance, or activating a credit card. In situations like these, direct human interaction over the phone can be more time-consuming and feel like more of an ordeal. I actually don’t need to hear empathy or concern if there is no real issue to solve. In situations where I have a simple task to complete, I have no real issues with the fact, I might prefer it.

This discussion of the impact of voice in our cultural models and everyday communication reminded me of a professor I had in college, Gina Barreca. She taught me an english class, “The Femme Fatale,” and I learned more from her than any other professor I had.

Gina Barecca

Gina Barreca

She was tough, engaging, demanding, passionate, and hilarious. Because of these qualities, Gina Barreca shatters another stereotype of the cultural models of teachers in education.

If you google image search “teacher” you get this:

Screen Shot 2015-09-17 at 4.56.36 PM

Out of the first 15 images, 14 are women – happy, smiling, women. These women are wearing muted tones, look kind, approachable, and soft. My colleague Keely Garden will also appreciate that all of the women depicted here have pin-straight hair. They are perfect models of put-together, professional women.

Gina Barreca does not fit this mold, and her article “Loud Woman Teaching: Using your Voice to Make a Difference” discusses the impact that teachers can have when they don’t fit into this cultural model. In this article, Barreca recounts a conversation with a student who noted that her “loudness” helped the student to be less afraid, less shy, less lazy, and less irresponsible because you expected a lot from me.”

In this short article we learn that loud doesn’t only refer to voice, but also mannerisms, clothing, the richness of ideas, and the boldness in the expectation that every student has a voice, is engaged, and participates. This is the power that voice, sound, and identity can have.

*Note on the media used to create this response:

I chose to write this response in a traditional blog post format. I did this for two reasons:

  1. This written format allowed me to move the text around on the page a few times after I responded to each part of the question. I tried to achieve a sort of flow by transitioning between topics, and dragging and dropping paragraphs around the page.
  1. I wanted the freedom to embed images, and include links for my readers to access additional information and resources. The blog seemed like the best way to easily incorporate these additions.

Plato Inspired Podcast

This week I decided to share my thinking about Code Switching in the form of a podcast to honor Plato’s belief that true learning is gained through questioning and dialogue. My husband Kyle graciously participated to help me in this quest!

The musical introduction to my podcast is a piece called “Thinker” that my husband Kyle Ryan wrote, performed, and recorded. I felt that the tone of the piece, and the title itself were fitting for the context.

I hope you enjoy!

1 Comment »

Biker Bar Moment

I chose to use my blog to tell the story about a moment when I felt like the “other”, or what James Paul Gee refers to as a “biker bar” moment in his introduction to “Social Linguistics and Literacies”. Blogging feels like the most appropriate and comfortable tool to tell this story and reflect on my students and teaching in this context. As Sherry Turkle states in her Ted Talk: Connected but Alone?, technology affords me the ability to “edit, delete, and retouch” my writing before I send it out into the world to make sure I represent myself in the way I intend. This is comforting, especially when telling a personal story that makes me vulnerable.


Me: age 6, walking into my first day of first grade

Despite my edits, deleted sections, and retouching, the following story is 100% true: My biker bar moment happened when I was 14 years old on my first day of public high school. I attended a small, close knit Catholic School for all 9 years of my primary, elementary, and middle school education- I didn’t know anything else. My family was very involved in the school and church community and all of my friends were from my school. To provide you with a frame of reference of the culture at my school, I was not allowed to wear any makeup, nail polish, color my hair, or wear any non-religious jewelry. My skirt could be no more than half an inch above my knee, and the heels on my shoes could not exceed ¾ of an inch. (I wouldn’t dare push these boundaries because the nuns used rulers to measure.)

I did not know what to expect out of my first day at a large public high school, but I was definitely not prepared for what I experienced. I walked into the building and immediately heard kids talking loudly to their friends and using curse words. They were wearing tank tops and jeans, and I could see some of their “exposed midriffs.” (Gasp!)  Then I passed by a 6 foot tall teenager with a lime green mohawk listening to music in headphones. Everything I saw and everyone I met that day scared me – it was so different than everything I was used to. I didn’t look like anyone, didn’t talk like anyone, and didn’t fit in.

Eventually I made friends and found a group of people that I could relate to, but I was not prepared for what to expect when I went to high school. With a little pre-teaching to provide me with perspective on the reality of public high school, I might have been able to enter that new environment without fear and worry that I was an outsider and everyone was looking at me.

Boy in the middle looking nervous and confused. Photo labeled for reuse from USAG- Humphreys

Boy in the middle looking nervous and confused.
Photo labeled for reuse from USAG- Humphreys

I teach 3rd grade at a 3-5 school, so my students are brand new to the building, teachers, and many classmates. As I get to know my kids this week, I have begun notice the evidence of their fears and insecurities. This class of eight year olds look to each other and mimic behavior that they think is expected. They start out very quiet, and gradually build up courage to talk to the people sitting near them or at their lockers. Students at my school are allowed to use e-readers or personal devices during school, but are blocked from social media resources.

In a way I am grateful that my students do not have the opportunity to hide behind a device and are encouraged to communicate directly with peers, though at home I know that social media prevails, even at the age of eight. In years past my students have talked about Facetiming, texting, and video-chatting their friends at home instead of participating in clubs, sports, or play dates. I agree with Turkle when she says, “technology not only changes what we do, but who we are.” My students are learning how to be social and interact with peers in school, but at home they interact with each other at an arm’s length. They are able to “edit, delete, and retouch” the conversations and experiences they have with friends.

As my students navigate their new school, it is easy to see what background knowledge and understanding of school expectations that they bring. Each child has different experiences that inform their decisions and understanding both behaviorally and academically. Gee highlights this idea of perspective through the discussion of Patricia William’s 1991 Court Case involving sausage. Different people can draw much different conclusions from the same scenario based on their prior knowledge and experience. (p. 11)

I believe that ensuring a common understanding is essential before I can expect students to perform in a certain way. For example, I do not assume that students automatically or intrinsically know what I mean when I say, “Take out your whiteboard, dry-erase marker, and eraser and set up your whiteboards for the Trash Can Game. Then come to your rug spot for Math.” During these first few weeks of school I model and explicitly teach every transition, routine, and expected behavior one at a time. I also provide ample time for students to observe their peers, practice in groups, and practice individually. It is not expected that all students master every transition, routine, and expected behavior right away, but each child has an opportunity to learn what to expect, even if it is a brand new situation or task.

This type of common understanding of classroom expectations ensures that each student knows what to do and how to do it. My hope is that this will diminish the “biker bar” feelings that my students may have in my classroom so they can focus on learning, connecting, and having fun.