Youth Theater Needs Lessons – not simply games

I’ve been working in the field of youth theater for the past decade. I find that when it comes to training acting skills and getting specific with young actors about the skills they are learning such as voice, speech, physicality, using objectives, and general analysis of a character plot and given circumstances, Drama games do not cut it. Drama or improvisation games are good for general, unspecific, and inferred skills that actors use every day in theater. However, to break through that and actually transfer knowledge in an explicit way, Young actors need formative lessons that are equivalent to a musician playing a piece of music. Similarly, you cannot train a classical musician through jazz improvisation. Drama or improvisation games are good. But, I do not rely on them anyway to actually teach my students. Drama and improvisation games are good for days when I want to depart from a lesson sequence. Yes, fun is essential in learning and especially in a creative discipline such as theater. However, it is difficult to engage student voice and ask students to articulate what they have learned in a drama game. Learning should be based on formative lessons with specific skills that are being practiced in improvisation or a script.


Graduation 2015

The following speech was delivered to the class of 2015 on June 9, 2015 in Seattle WA.

1 All students all alike in dignity

2 In dear Seattle where we lay our scene

3 from ancient text to music harmony

4 We study things we know and things unseen

5 From the communal mind of what we know

6 Each student now walks across this great stage

7 To celebrate all that they’ve done to grow

8 and now to walk onto histories page

9 their wondrous passage into their high school

10 is now for everyone to take in stride

11 just please remember Our one golden rule

12 respect is how you live your life with pride

13 and with today as in all of your dates

14 go forth and make us proud dear graduates

My speech tonight is filled with quotes. Words of people I admire. Listen closely for the quotes. There may be hidden wisdom in them. Friends, Romans, Graduates, lend me your ears. It is an honor to have been selected to speak. Thank you. I would like to reflect on the purpose and path of education and why all of you are in an excellent position to succeed beyond your imagination. First, the teachers, faculty and especially your families have helped you to get to this point – please be sure to personally thank them. Then, be sure to thank yourself. Your work, all your efforts, has gotten you here- sitting in the garb of a graduate. Graduates oh graduates, wherefore are thou graduates? That is to say, why are you graduates? Culminating in walking across the stage today your education has been formidable. I know there has been struggle and angst; yes there has been the predictable blood, sweat, and tears of learning in Middle School. But, there has also been great joy that details your memories of EW. I will guess that you will look back on your time here and recognize the achievement of completing middle school at EW. It is an excellent preparation for any of the schools that you are each attending next year. I think that once you get out of the metaphoric woods that EW lives in, and start comparing your experience to other ninth grade students, you will see how vast and deep your education has already been. As you move from middle to high school, remember this, to learn or not to learn that is the question; to tank and fail – perchance to be in the zone and succeed. Ay there is the rub. Yes, the difference between learning and tanking is the task of the student. Ultimately – and I am sure this may spark great debate – it is not about the grade. Your memory of each score will fade, but the lessons learned will last longer and always be there to support your future ambitions. One of my favorite Zen quotes is, “The expert in anything was once a beginner.” I am reminded of the learning process daily. Not only as I watch the students of EW grow, but as I watch my own children grow too. My daughter, almost six months old now, has recently learned how to belly crawl across the floor. She illuminates the idea that learning is failing and then trying again. That is how you stay away from tanking. She, regardless of her failure to get her knees involved in the process of crawling properly, is in the zone and continues to work on the task of moving across the floor. I believe that the EW graduates align with this idea and Bruce Lee when he said, “I either win or I learn.” I hope that each of you can take that mentality with you in your future years as life continues to present the challenges and rewards of being an engaged life long learner. “You don’t always need a plan” I saw this quote recently posted online and read on. “Sometimes you just need to breathe, trust, let go, and see what happens.” The powerful moment here is the potential of each one of you. Through the following years each of you will earn, win, face challenge, experience success. These events will continue to shape who you are: A Nobel Lauriat; A social worker eliminating homelessness; A politician fighting for equal rights; An artist that addresses the concerns of society? Doctors that work across boarders; lawyers that advocate for the rights of everyone; the next inventor of the next tech revolution; Loving Parents; Loyal friends; engaged people that care about the world around them and a sustainable future? I hope so. I have said for a long time, “The essence of life is not about being perfect. In fact, perfection exists so that we have something to strive for.” This is at the heart of education, for me. There will always be someone that knows more than you; someone that can run faster than you; someone that will outperform you in one-way or another. Yet, for every person better than you, there is someone looking at you with the same thoughts. And, today, we are looking at you with pride in our hearts. Your achievement today, makes us proud. Regardless of who is better than whom, what matters is that you each run your own race and “don’t let your perceived limitations ruin your creativity.” Creativity is one of the greatest assets that you all have acquired at EW. From Drama to every other subject, creative thought is required. Every vocation benefits from creativity. It is our imagination that spurs ingenuity. It is one of my favorite parts of this school: creativity is held in the same regard as responsibility, confidence, and integrity. When students arrive here, in my class and every other, one of the other great lessons they learn is self-confidence. And, this is important because self-doubt is one of the most crippling forces. Self-confidence is one of the most empowering. EW Graduates know that have a voice that both matters and will be heard, because they have self-confidence. Education Researchers, Fay and Funk put it this way, “A positive self concept comes from feeling capable.” EW graduates are highly capable: from challenge assignments to an immersive curriculum that spans many of the most essential subjects, EW Students are empowered to take on the world. EW Graduates, you amaze me with your self-confidence. You are empowered to speak you mind, engage in civil debate, solve problems with elegance, change the world and address the problems that have been handed to you. Gandhi was smart and can give us this guide, “You can be the change that you wish to see in the world.” Rumi would add, “You should first change yourself.” I hope that I have not been too dogmatic here. The best teachers show you where to look but not what to see. To turn this idea around here Graduates, I predict that you will be showing the world where to look. In just one short decade, you will be entering the workforce as informed impassioned leaders. I would like to credit you time at EW as partially responsible for that. Regardless of where you end up, no matter where you are, how educated you are, how rich, poor, or cool you are, what matters in the end is how you treat people. Ultimately, this tells everything about you. Act with integrity and respect in all things. I know you graduates will stand up for what matters and for what is right in the world. I know it is in good hands. Vince Lombardi gives me my final words for you, “Every job is a self portrait of the person who did it. Autograph you work with excellence.” Congratulations graduates. I am truly proud of each and every one of you.

Three Tiers of Words: Three Reading Strategies: Increased Personalization and Understanding

At the heart of great teaching is differentiation; this teaching tactic of differentiation inside of the teaching content area applies to language acquisition, stages of language, and academic language development; this work will help students across multiple content areas (P2).

In researching this teaching topic area, I reflected on two effective techniques for teaching academic language through a differentiated approach.

FIRST: Three Tiers of Words for Differentiated Instruction

  • Tier One includes vocabulary that the student already knows; teaching these words will help the student activate their prior knowledge.
  • Tier Two words are important over many years in many disciplines both your own and others; examples include parallel, theme, and base; teaching these words will help students make connections to ideas outside of the content and reinforce the meaning in the content.
  • Tier Three words are technical with narrow definition; these words should be taught for the lesson and looked up for further clarity; a student will engage the text at an analytical level.

SECOND: Three Levels of Reading for increased meaning and differentiated instruction

  • Level One, read for general understanding (identify words in all three tiers)
  • Level Two, making personal connections to other content areas
  • Level Three, extending the text to connect and converse with other texts

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Breaking the academic words into these three tiers allows both the teacher and the students to strategically approach the task of learning. By emphasizing the vocabulary early in the process of learning it can be reinforced at every step of the lesson.

In pre-reading students can identify words across tiers and note their meanings.

In connecting to personal experiences, a second stage of effective reading, students can connect their experiences of each word (especially Tier Two Words) in other classes to the text that they are examining and use the Tier One Words, words they already know, to build their knowledge and connection to the new text.

Finally as a student reads for deeper meaning, they are ready to ask bigger questions about the words and their interconnected meanings. By engaging in a process of inter-textuality, they will solidify the understanding and be able to comment on the text in relationship to other texts they have read.

Academic words in all three areas continually emerge in both Theatre Arts and English Language arts because both content areas examine texts from multiple sources with multiple narratives. I often tell my students that my class is not simply a drama class. Rather, my class is every class in the disguise of a drama class. Students must be prepared to speak about any topic that they know about. Because of this, they build their understanding of both of the first two tiers. Some common examples of these words are: inner-monologue, character development, and memorization.

The third tier words are then used most commonly through the language demand and are particular to the performance assignment. One simple example would be, blocking (the specific movement of actors on the stage).

Because of my research into the three tiers of academic language and three common phases of reading, my instruction has changed. I am more apt to point out academic words that make a connection between subjects and encourage students to read a text three times for increased clarity and deeper meaning. With each reading of the text I can guide the student by suggesting that they look for general understanding on their first time through a text, connections between the text and other subjects on their second read, and the conversation between one text and another in their third reading.

By using this three tier and three read through strategy, students are more likely to fully understand and personalize the text. Because a central practice of Theatre Arts is personalization and finding increased meaning, these strategies are invaluable to the students (and to myself). Further, different students will be reading at different levels. Knowing which level a reader is working on will allow myself to differentiate my instruction for that student.

One consequence of using this technique is lost time. It will take students three-times longer to complete any reading assignment. Because of this, reading assignments must be both shortened and be given in class time for guided completion. However, the benefits will outweigh the cost. Students will generate more connections inside of my content area and in content areas outside of my classroom.

Multicultural Teaching: from Bias to Responsiveness

Teachers must prepare students to be responsible citizens in an environmentally sustainable, globally interconnected, and diverse society; without such preparation the teacher is negating one of the prime directives of education, preparing students to be the future citizens.

When it comes to the social environment there is a vast amount of diversity to consider. To prepare students for a sustainable future, with a diversity of people that must interact through an increasingly interconnected world, the teacher must acknowledge and prepare students for the broader world outside of the classroom. To do this the teacher must be both self-aware and culturally responsive to the students in their classroom.

Through my coursework in diversity I have examined both my own history with diversity, my relationship with culturally responsive teaching, and the issue of diversity as it pertains to my content area.

In a set of blog posts I reflected on both personal narrative and academic research to examine both my personal biases and my desire to be culturally responsive to my students. It was not until I went through this process that I understood how little I like the idea of a melting pot. It is in the melting pot that we all start to look and sound like each other. I much prefer a world where everyone is proud of their cultural identity. Learning to differentiate between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, I wrote:

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Reflecting on my relationship with students, I also examined how I have historically interacted with cultural metanarratives and how I can better integrate student interests into my curriculum. One example of this is the student one-act play project that I have developed over the past several years that asks each student to respond to the project by writing about what they know.

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Further responding to industry trends and the teaching task of casting a play, I examined the relationship I have with casting students through non-traditional means, colorblind casting, and culturally specific casting.

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It is only through this through process that I can better understand who I am as a teacher, respond to my students needs, prepare curriculum that is culturally responsive, and prepare my students for a diverse and multi-cultural world.

When I teach in a diverse classroom (and every classroom is diverse). I must understand both what diversity I bring to the table, how students may initially view me, and what bias I also bring into teaching. By doing this I can respond to the needs of each student and check my bias before it enters my curriculum.

Some of the important lessons that I have learned, going through this coursework, are:

  1. Understanding my cultural identity allows me to talk authentically about culture
  2. Every student, regardless of ethnicity, has belonging to both minority and majority groups (race, gender, ability, economics, education, and more)
  3. Talking about diversity is difficult; acknowledging that I am not perfect at it both gives me permission to make mistakes with my students and gives my students permission to make mistakes as well
  4. There is no clear answer about what “the right” thing to do is when addressing diversity; for me the only thing I must maintain is respect for everyone in the room

It is my hope that students will be able to mirror and advance my understanding of diversity and culturally responsive teaching. While I may never actually teach a unit on diversity and our multicultural world, we must learn to sustainably work with people that are different from our own self.

Students learn from the environment around them. I can be only a part of that environment. I may or may not actually embrace the messages that they receive in their homes. I may create a conative dissonance for them; I may reaffirm what they already know and practice. Regardless, I believe I can and will model a path to a multicultural world where differences are embraced and built upon.

I would like to continually work to reflect upon and refine my personal understanding of both my cultural identity and my culturally responsive teaching. Specifically in my classroom, I will continue to demonstrate respect for and honor the multi cultural environment that we live in, continue to be culturally aware when I cast productions, begin to involve students in the decision of casting when it is culturally specific character, continue to encourage students to write from a place of cultural awareness and personal meaning, and challenge myself to work against my biases in the classroom.

Expect Diversity: Prologue and Epilogue

Expect Diversity in Teaching:

A Collection of Personal Stories and Reflections from Teaching that Mirror Multicultural Research

Know THYSELF, stories and reflections found here.

Know THY STUDENTS, stories and reflections found here.

Know THY SUBJECT, stories and reflections found here.


The parent of a former student of mine told me the following story. This story has had me thinking about my bias, as both a teacher and as a parent, for the past decade.

I think about this story often. How would I have reacted to the same situation? I want to raise my children without racial bias. I want to teach my children that the world is filled with good people that have a multitude of identities. I want my children to know that it is the diversity in the world that makes our world great. But, I understand that my bias (both inherited and developed) can come out in the most unexpected moments.


Returning to the story about the dinner guest, Ernie, I should tell the rest of the story because I wonder how I would have reacted. What if I was that father, standing there with my daughter? What if my friend ended the conversation there, turned and walked away in disgust? I would have ran after him and not been there for the rest of the story.

This former student of mine expected diversity. She expected Ernie to be orange. It was the bias of her father – and my bias hearing the story for the first time – that anticipated a social problem because of Ernie’s racial identity. I should expect diversity in my classroom too.

Know THYSELF, stories and reflections found here.

Know THY STUDENTS, stories and reflections found here.

Know THY SUBJECT, stories and reflections found here.


Banks, C.A.M. (1996). Intellectual Leadership and the Influence of Early African American Scholars on Multicultural Education. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 46-63). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Hillis, M. R. (1996). Allison Davis and the Study of Race, Social Class, and Schooling. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 115 – 128). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Howard, G. (1996) Whites in Mulitcultural Education: Rethinking Our Role. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 323 – 334). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

McIntosh, P. (2008) White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. In A.V. Kesselman, L. D. McNair, and N. Schniedewind (Ed.), Women; Images and Realities: A Multicultural Anthology (pp 388 – 392). New York: McGraw-Hill Companies.

Mvududu, N. (Director) (2015, May 1). Class Lectures. Diversity in America, Spring Quarter. Lecture conducted from Seattle Pacific University, Seattle.

Know Thy Subject: Expect Diversity

There is great controversy in the world of theatre when it comes to casting. Analogous to this is the classroom task of putting on a play. The philosophical question is the same. Does the actor need to match the part? In other words, do you need an actor that is black to play Martin Luther King Jr.; do you need an actor that is Italian to play Romeo; are there times when you must pay attention to the diversity that the actor brings to the part and other times that it does not and should not matter? At least in the professional theatre there is a larger pool of actors, however, the pool of actors, like the classroom, is limited to the people that show up.

With children, it is even more of a challenge. Nearly every part in mainstream plays are not for children. Many parts that they are asked to play are adults. There are not many plays written for kids; the plays that are written for kids are often lacking in content with a simplified script. The content that I want to teach, and the content that my students are ready for, does not exist in a simplified script that is written for kids.

I have developed several instructional strategies to manage this problem. I let students shape their own narrative by literally writing the script that they want to work on. This eliminates any issues of adapting outside content to my students. I encourage them to work with the stories that they know based on their own personal experience. By doing this, I get a wide range of stories. From these stories, I select an evening of varied performances. One of my favorite plays ever written by one of my students was half in English and half in Spanish. Few of my students speak Spanish. However, the play was excellent and deserved to be produced. The entire class had to learn, memorize, and personalize the text written in Spanish. When students asked the inevitable question of, “Why do we have to do this?” I responded, “because it teaches you about the world around you; this came from your colleague and from your community; not everything needs to be easy and comfortable for you.” I can have this response because I know that every student, regardless of their comfort level with the material, will still be treated with respect; also, I had my eyes opened because of a play that I had to work on with a context that was not comfortable for me.

When it comes to casting, I generally practice what is known as color-blind-casting.[1] Rarely do I have a play presented that mandates an actor with a particular trait. I always have actors that are between the ages of 10 and 14; I do not always have characters in my plays with the same age rage. Further it would be educationally irresponsible of me to cast a student, based on skills and abilities in a part that they were not ready to play or achieve in the context of the project. I have seen far too many productions that featured an actor, with an obvious diverse trait, that was not able to perform in that part.

One prominent example of this was several years ago. I was invited to watch a production of Grease. As it happens, this was for a summer camp and most of the people that had signed up for the camp were girls. The director cast one of the few boys in the production as Danny, the male lead and romantic attraction for Sandy. The girl that was cast was about 14 years old; the boy was about 8. There was agony for the entire play. Much of the plot revolves around the relationship between these two characters. The director was unwilling to reimagine the casting and make Danny female or cast a female actor in a male part. The show was a tragedy and there were plenty of female actors that could have performed in the part of Danny excellently.

Casting should be based on ability and in an educational setting that can get tricky because of our diverse society and the history that we all carry with us. However, there are plays that mandate an actor with a particular trait that cannot be faked. If I had a play that was specifically about black character, I would have to cast a black actor. Without this I would be risking community outrage or worse yet my decision would go unnoticed and another minority person would be overlooked because the homogenized white culture had absorbed them.

Lacking that black actor, I would not be able to perform the script; or, I could discuss the script with my students and identify the challenge and create dialogue about the production. But, that is about as far as it could go. Even though there are many movies where ethnicities are faked and an ethnically ambiguous actor plays a range of characters from different cultures, I do not think that I should participate in the problem. I have learned that when it comes to casting (and to teaching for that matter), I must be flexible and adapt to both the script and the classroom pool of actors that I have.

When it comes to student assessment, I can adapt to each student in the classroom. I use a rubric that is based on skills rather than student interpretation.[2] This allows the personalization of a text to come to the performance. The powerful thing about theatre is that it can, and should, change with each performance and each performer.[3] One interpretation should be different from the next.

Lastly, so that all students have a sense of belonging, I have only three rules for my content area. Respect yourself; respect others; respect the space around you. I ask students on the first day of class what these things mean. I ask them to give examples of respect. This is one value that is universal. However, the way respect is shown changes from one year to the next. Students must participate in the shaping of the classroom culture. Doing this sets the tone for everything else; teaching is a partnership between the students and the teacher, it cannot be done in a homogenous melting pot. Rather, the partnership is formed anew with each new class in a new and beautiful way.

Know THY STUDENTS, linked here.

Know THYSELF, linked here.

Back to Prologue and Epilogue, here.

[1] Color-blind-casting is term that started with the idea that any actor of any skin color should be allowed to play any part. However, the term now applies to other identifiers such as, gender, physical ability, and age.

[2] Interpretation is one of the largest areas of bias an artist can have. As one who identifies as an artist, I recognize this and allow my students to express themselves through their bias and not my own.

[3] It is interesting to note though, this idea that performances change by the day is held primarily in Western Culture. In Kabuki, a Japanese form of theater the performance is passed on exactly from one master to one apprentice. This has preserved the art form for the past 400 years so that a performance today is nearly the same as it was when the art form first started.

Know Thy Students: Expect Diversity

“Our understanding of a group remains incomplete when the perspective of either the insider or the outsider is overlooked (Banks, C.A.M., 1996, p 52).” Knowing the group is essential for anyone in teaching because teaching is a two-way relationship. Students must understand their teacher and the teacher must teach to the student understanding. How does one get to know their students? Multicultural education requires a dynamic curriculum that is derived from the interests of the teacher and the interests of their students (Mvududu, 2015). It is true that teachers must continually adapt and change their instruction. Early in my teaching career I had a challenging experience.

I was hired as an after school tutor. Previously, I had worked for a very middle-class and white population of middle and elementary school aged students in a one-on-one environment. Now, I was hired to work in a low-income and racially diverse school. I was to implement after school programming such as yard games and arts activities in addition to homework help. On paper, I was a great fit. In reality, I was not ready to do the work to form a relationship with students that saw this after school program as a holding tank that they had to stay at because their parents could not pick them up. One student in particular expressed this opinion nearly every day. Both a Pacific Islander and a musician, he loved to play a ukulele. I would frequently stop him from playing. I would tell him to put the ukulele away so that he could participate in my activities. “You can’t keep me here,” he would say as he stormed off and ran down the hall away from the gym, where he was supposed to stay. Because it was an after school program and because the school was already understaffed, I could not leave the gym. I had to call for support when this happened. The student was frequently angry. While I tried to treat the student with respect, it became difficult for me to do when he attacked my own identity. “You’re not like me, you wouldn’t understand.” I wanted to understand. But, the barrier that was between us was too difficult to overcome. I gave up and left the position as soon as a replacement could be hired.

Both of us, the student and myself, constructed a meta-narrative about each other. We both had an alien voice for each other. We both made assumptions about whom the other of us was. If we could have challenged our instinctual notions and in turn challenged the metanarrative, just as early African American Scholars did with the story of the Westward Movement (Banks, C.A.M., 1996, p 52), there could have been change; we could have told the whole story, or at least have gotten closer to a full picture of each other. But, the damage of our mutually exclusive meta-narrative was done. We needed our stories to be unpacked. I wanted to help and he wanted to be heard. Sometimes we a set back because of the metanarrative that is given to us; this is the same story that we take as the truth about the world. We must question the metanarrative and ask to hear the voices that are put down just as the voices of the Native Americans were put down and adjusted in the footnotes of history. We, teachers, cannot sideline a student because we do not understand them. This of course crosses racial lines and includes any diversity that a student may bring to the classroom. We cannot make assumptions about the metanarrative they bring to the classroom. We must work to unpack and uncover the multiple narratives that talks about both the minority and majority experience of the student.

I understand from that experience that the job of a teacher is far more than instruction and organizing activities. The job of a teacher is to connect with their students. If I could do it again, I would. I would make more of an attempt to get to know this troubled student. I would ask him open-ended questions. I would share about my own ideas and try to find points of common connection. I would have let him play his ukulele and even lead the group in song. It would have been completely appropriate for the after school program. I bet he would have changed his mind about me. I bet I would have changed my mind about him.

If a teacher constructs a meta-narrative about a student they can become pinned down to that narrative. For me, that student will always be a troubled student that I was unable to reach. If I had implemented a dynamic curriculum that was responsive to the needs and identity of my students, I would have made a positive impact. “Multicultural education, as we’ve seen, supports just that dynamic, curriculum rising in part from the interests and backgrounds of diverse kids (Mvududu, 2015).” We must teach the students that show up in our class and use their cultural assets and interests to instruct them in the content.

Discussing my successes with culturally responsive teaching would be easy. I have now developed a program in my drama classes that demands that students talk about what they know and love. By making my curriculum implicitly responsive to the student interests (by having them create the content) I am forced into a culturally responsive stance. However, I must continually improve. Another recent challenge for me rests in a student that left the school before the year was completed. This student felt alienated; I can only assume the reasons. He is Middle Eastern with a very dark complexion. He looked black to many students and was often confused for African American. He is Muslim; this is a fact I did not learn until after his departure. He was incredibly short and believed that the NBA had a spot waiting for him. He was the last of seven children. Many teachers, including myself, believed that his parents had given up on him. We would have benefited from these wise words, “all families, no matter what their income, race, education, language, or culture, want their children to do well in school – and can make an important contribution to their children’s learning (Mvududu, 2015).” We tried to work with the family; but our work was far too late in the game. I tried, for about a year, to connect with this struggling student. He declined, often, to share details about his life

We cannot reach every student. As teachers, it is impossible to know every student as well as we should. It is an unfortunate numbers game. But, I still put the blame on my plate. I could have spent more time getting to know him and less time “supporting his academics.” I saw him as a struggling student and he stayed a struggling student.

Know THYSELF, linked here.

Know THY SUBJECT, linked here.

Back to Prologue and Epilogue, here.


Banks, C.A.M. (1996). Intellectual Leadership and the Influence of Early African American Scholars on Multicultural Education. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 46-63). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Mvududu, N. (Director) (2015, May 1). Class Lectures. Diversity in America, Spring Quarter. Lecture conducted from Seattle Pacific University, Seattle.

Textbook Fail and Finesse

The lessons learned from years of teaching are rarely all put together into one lesson. Here is one example of many best practices for teaching literacy inside of just one lesson – watch to see why any teacher needs to know about them.

Here is a link to the full lesson: To Read or Not to Read

Family Engagement Plan

Teaching is not simply a one-on-one relationship. A teacher works with the student that is influenced and informed by the families they live with, the community they work with, and the neighborhood they are active with; A teacher should involve, inform, and collaborate with the families and neighborhoods that the students live in. This involvement should inform the educational process, include student cultural identity, and be linked to student achievement and performance.

As a part of my coursework and professional development in teaching I have created a Family Engagement Plan that includes an integration of family stories and community life so that I can know my students and their families better.

Being a community-based teacher is a philosophy and a continual practice that embraced the entire student and their major influences. By following this praxis, teachers can form productive and positive relationships that validate the life of the student both outside and inside the classroom.

To develop my competency and understanding of my student community I met with the Head of School. In doing so, I learned that the majority of students (90%) live in the West Seattle neighborhood, west of Delridge. By interviewing students and the Head of School, I found that the most popular places for students to visit were: Husky Deli, Full Tilt Ice Cream, West Seattle Farmer’s Market, and the Admiral Theatre; other popular locations for students to visit included waterfront parks such as Lincoln Park and Alki Beach.

I took notes of my conversations and consolidated them into part one of my Family Engagement Plan.

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I realized and learned that I did not have a strong understanding of the student’s cultural and family identities. For part two of my plan I wanted to create a component that would embrace and include this missing aspect from my understanding. My plan, starting this summer as a part of summer camp, is to pilot a family and community story project that would have student’s bring family and community stories to the stage and integrate them into a performance that would be performed in the community. It would be my hope that the organizations that students identified with would be integrated in one aspect or another of the performance.

I presented my family engagement plan to the Head of School for a pilot program this summer. I have been approved for this work.

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It is my hope that future versions of my family engagement plan will be a part of my established curriculum. By implementing a family and community story project early in the year with sixth grade students I will be able to understand the prior history of students along with their present learning environment that they interrelate with outside of school. One last implication of this project would be my ability to integrate meaningful content, that would relate to student culture and family identity, into the remainder of the year’s academic plan.

ISTE 4: Digital Citizenship

ISTE 4 asks teachers to comprehend the social issues and responsibilities, on a local and global scale, that are involved with the ethical and legal behavior of digital culture.

Therefore, because instruction and differentiation are central to good teaching practices, and therefor part of the ethical praxis of a teacher, how can teachers address the societal issue of integrating technology within the classroom in a way that is both grounded in the broader framework of digital literacy for students and instills responsible learning habits for the students (including the understanding of basic copyright and creative commons practices, legal limitations for youth and the internet, individualized instruction and self-assessment, navigating the internet with global etiquette, and developing a cultural understanding of the world at large through the digital interface)?

In exploring this question I came across several resources, articles mostly, that can help a teacher align their priorities and educational objectives when integrating technology in the classroom.

This article ( written by Christopher McGilvery (2012) reviews many tech teaching concepts such as: caring for technology equipment; safe sites for learning; copyright law and creative commons; cyberbullying; digital self-image; netiquette; and other essential topics for the technology enabled classroom. McGilvery (2012) includes lesson plan boosters on Digital Literacy, thinking before hitting “send,” and the ‘Facebook’ score and Hiring Decisions.

Here, as part of a LinkedIn group, I found an article ( that emphasizes the importance of learning. Lorna Keane (2015) describes the problem with the SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) model that is often used with technology integration in schools. “Once technology integration alone becomes a goal, we’re doing something wrong (Keane, 2015).” The essence of this article emphasizes independent learning, personalization, student voice, and critical thinking as essential aspect of learning (and that these things can be assisted by technology).

So, how is a teacher to do this? One hurdle may be the digital literacy of the teacher. In this case, there are several resources online that can help a teacher to develop competency with teaching digital literacy and citizenship. ( has tutorials designed for adults in multiple technology streams. These lessons include: using a computer or mobile device, software and applications, using the internet, communicating on the web, and child online protection.

My colleague Shawn Cudney, is working with an online tool that would be an excellent place for any educator to start. This teen pledge ( empowers students to make the right choices online while engaging with educational technology and while they are engaging with technology for personal and social pursuits.

For teachers that have experience with technology Carey (2014) provides an excellent description on how to infuse digital literacy throughout the curriculum ( Carey (2014) posits that evaluating online content is a research skill, engaging online is a modern communication skill, and that student projects can become digital. Teaching digital literacy does not mean that technology will take over the classroom. However, integrating technology into the curriculum, is an essential 21st Century skill for every classroom.



Carey, J. (2014, March 26). How to Infuse Digital Literacy Throughout the Curriculum. Retrieved March 1, 2015, from

Keane, L. (2015, February 19). Technology for the Sake of Technology: The Problem with SAMR. Retrieved February 19, 2015, from

McGilvery, C. (2012, January 1). Help Kids Become Responsible Digital Citizens. Retrieved February 19, 2015, from