Support for the Invisibles

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19 thoughts on “Support for the Invisibles”

  1. Gretchen Hughey

    I’ve also found my teaching to be totally transformed from this PLC and learning from Ben & Tina. I do have a question, although I’m not sure about the best place to ask it.
    I have a some what unusual situation in that I taught the first 6 weeks of the school year in a relatively affluent school in our district and then switched to a high-poverty school. I have found the Invisibles and other NT CI to be really effective in both places and am very pleased with my students’ level of comprehension and the classroom community.
    However, I find myself at a loss when it comes to writing. My students at the high-poverty school are writing, after 12 weeks of instruction, at a much lower level than my students at the affluent school did after just 6 weeks. We did some story-retell modeling today and I gave them a couple of key words and sentence starters before the free write and saw a little bit of improvement but, beyond that, I’m not sure how I can help their high level of aural comprehension result in the better writing. I know, also, that my colleagues are going to be looking for the students to be able to speak (at least somewhat) at the end of the year and, although, I have not started asking students for oral output yet, I’m already stressed and unsure about how that will go and if it will be similarly challenging as when I ask for written output.
    Does anyone have any ideas, thoughts or advice? I’m very grateful for whatever insight people might have.

    1. Unfortunately, and I think we see it everywhere, but when students are less literate in their mother tongue(s), and don’t read much on their own, they can’t help but need more and more input to be able to create output through writing (and possibly speaking, I’m not sure on that). More affluent students usually have had a lot more exposure to reading materials throughout their lives. And, the more they have under their belt the more they will be able to pick up in the future. I would say to just make sure that you’re going over the readings of their own stories as much as possible, and when they’re ready get them reading as many simple stories as possible.
      This graphic is pretty interesting. It compares students who read 20 minutes, 5 minutes, and 1 minute a day over a long period of time. Of course, this pales in comparison to the students who read much more than that.

      1. Bryan, I feel the deep truth of what you say about the huge gap between kids who have had access to reading and a foundation of literacy and kids who have not. The effects of this on student confidence and attitudes toward learning (not to mention the obvious effect on literacy skills) make it so difficult in our classes. There are multiple deep layers of judgement piled on these kids.
        I feel like most of my “reading hater” kids have been shamed in school for their lack of skills. Maybe for years. Maybe ever since they started school. So of course they hate it. I’m trying to help them dig out of that rut. It is not easy.

  2. The art is iconic and bold. I notice that there is Kim Jong Un as well as Ugandan Knuckles. With new classes this year, I have noticed even more students using internet inside jokes. How so all of you address this?
    My short answer is that when we are in the realm of imagination, collaboration and in the moment creation, we can read our students when something is not appropriate. I ask my student directly in the eyes whenever there is any doubt.

    1. If I find out that one has a double-meaning, I pull out the blow torch (to use Ben’s term), I made a student call his parent on his cell phone after class in the beginning of the year right in front of me and I told all his coaches what happened.
      I kind of sort of got in trouble with my admin for the coaches thing (our policies with what we can communicate with coaches is changing at school), but it worked great.
      It spread like wildfire among the kids that I made him call home and reached out to his coaches (who I imagine chewed him out in front of the team and made him run). I haven’t had the problem again.
      I do have a banana character which some of the kids laugh about but I haven’t been able to find a definitive double-meaning on urban dictionary, so I refuse to remove it because…it’s a banana….. I do believe I have a number of students who are on my side who would tell me.
      Actually in every case (one last year and one this year) it was a student who came to me privately about the double meaning.
      I also used Terry Waltz’s “Grandma” rule and I tell the kids that my grandma doesn’t like politics- left or right and she only watches movies rated G—not even PG.

  3. Normally I do not allow real people or characters that have been created by someone else (ie. Mickey Mouse, Bart Simpson, Knuckles, Freddy Kruger, Kim Jong Un etc…) I find that it interferes with the creativity and the story. But I have a few kids in some of my classes that have been insistent (relentless) since the beginning of the year to use certain characters in the stories we create. I finally gave in on some of these on our latest stories (which happened right after we got back from Christmas break- thus we have Knuckles) but they understand that this is not going to happen every time. I just said okay…let’s get this out of our system. I asked a lot of questions in English about Knuckles since I had never heard of him. I agree with you that to ask the student “directly in the eyes” is the best way to tell if it is appropriate or not…I’m still not sure exactly who or what Knuckles is but at least it’s out of their systems now and we can move on.

    1. I once had a good week from a character named Naruto whom they all know from the internet. I thought the whole time he was our creation. It happens.
      The general thing we want to avoid with characters is “darkness” and also characters known to some but not all of the kids bc that shifts the power dynamic from all to just some of the students.
      The specific thing we must avoid at all costs, as you of course know Gretchen, is when we are dragged into some content that is not uplifting, can pull down the energy.
      But it sounds as if you did the right thing. I wonder what percentage of the class was into the Knuckles thing. I bet it was the “cool” kids grabbing ahold of some power. I think you handled it well.

  4. And just to add…the guy that has been trying all year to do a story with Kim Jong Un in it was happier and more involved in the story creating than I have ever seen him. I realized then that sometimes it is good to just let it go and let it happen if only just to make one students day. We had a great connection that day because he knew I was allowing this just for him. He was so happy!

    1. I allowed Trump into one of our stories and it worked well. It was about a meme who lived in a Walmart parking lot. The city was going to build a Starbucks on the parking lot so the meme was going to lose his home. So the meme gathered support and started disliking Starbucks online and posting negative memes on all social media outlets. Trump was upset that Starbucks was losing popularity because he had fond memories of going there as a child so he installed a firewall to prevent more posting and made the meme pay for it. The kids LOVED the story and it resonates with my other classes too. I think that we need to use our judgement to decide whether or not to include these famous people. However, I never allow any of these “underground” things or even viral memes get incorporated. I feel it would wreck the story and the classroom vibe.

  5. I had a somewhat similar “issue” come up in a story-it was our first invisible of the year and my profesor #2 chose the name “Shaniqua” out of the several suggestions given. I knew that they knew that the name is stereotypical African American. I do not have any blacks students in that class. I used the name but gave them all the meanings of the name the next day to dispel any making fun of it. The character was a turtle so in the reading the next day I just used the word turtle when referring to the character. In the end I wished I had chosen a different name or not let the Profesor #2 choose it.

    1. Annemarie I learned over time to have an instant reaction to my Profe 2. An instant override. But it’s gotta be fast. Or choose a Profe 2 who is conscious enough to reject it. I would also mistrust the kid that suggested it in future and do a lot of ignoring of that kid’s ideas. On certain days, I would ask the class why they want a certain name, and that discussion would be in English. Outing racism in the classroom is something whose time has come. We can’t act stupid anymore. Kids need to know that we are not tools for their secret agenda to get laughs and approval by their peers. They need to know that any small degree of lack of respect for others WILL be brought up in English. If no one stops them, that is how cultures of intolerance are bred. Who is going to stop them if they are being brought up in an atmosphere of racism, if not us? I would mostly let things like that go before. It took me 40 years to learn this. I wish I had 40 years more to be much more active in confronting some of those little snots, on behalf of the United States Constitution and American values. It is because I am a patriot.

      1. THANK YOU for this reminder. Because I’m only into my 17th year of teaching I still hesitate in moments like these and I need to STOP doing that. It’s sad that I need permission to override my Prof #2…but there’s the learning curve.

        1. I am in the same boat Anne-Marie. Year 29 and I am still thrown horribly off guard by things I could never ever anticipate. Or else I am just plain clueless. But its pretty easy to tell when that certain snicker and eyes glance around the room waiting to see if they will get caught.
          Typically my shock is obvious and I react with my shock on my sleeve. Slowly slowly I am learning to stop in those moments, take a breath and ask a lot of questions. I want to hear from the students themselves the exact intent of their actions.

    2. I had a Black kid – only Black kid IN THE CLASS – say “Shaniqua” and, for some reason, I felt weird not taking it. I also felt weird taking it, though, cause of its stereotypical feeling. And also there was a sort of a little frisson of something in the air when the name was said. But now I think that I was played. I just actually ended up not letting that character go anywhere. We looked at the artwork for like three point three seconds and moved on to a snowman made of Jello.

      1. FASCINATING. We have to make such quick decisions when we teach yet these topics can be so loaded that quick decision don’t always turn out so well…we have to be masters of thinking on our feet. My new administrator observed me for 45 minutes this fall-watched me do an invisible with the class-and pointed out that I was basically doing improv. And I know he appreciates its difficulty because he himself used to do improv and his daughter is studying at Second City in Chicago. It’s good to have an admin that gets it…

  6. LISA! These are spectacular and inspiring. I’m sitting here at the end of the semester (and the courses I’m teaching) wondering what the heck happened in my classroom? I was all set up to do this, fresh from the August workshop in Maine. And I only did maybe 6 OWI (total in 3 classes).And no stories using teh characters?!?!? How is this possible when this was going to be my whole curriculum???. I don’t know what happened. Probably fear and management woes. And a super toxic building and dysfunction everywhere in the school starting from the top.
    I get a fresh start in 2 weeks. Seeing these images right now is really helpful to me. THANK YOU! I feel like my students need a ton of explicit examples in addition to learning the process by doing the process. Maybe it will help to show them these (and other) photos of characters & stories.

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