November 5 2019

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November 2019 Issue I
Friends refer friends.

WHAT’S THE WORD FOR…

Connecting diverse understandings of academic language to practice.


Beep Beep.

Intersections aren’t just for traffic. Our identities also exist at intersections (wicka-wicka-wicka-what?!). Our race intersects with our gender, our socioeconomic status, and our sexuality. And all of these intersections position us in different ways in society — giving us power and status in some instances, and stripping us of that power and status in others.

There’s a word for this relational approach to understanding identity: intersectionality. And to really understand what we mean by “intersectionality”, we need a brief history lesson.

Settle on in.

Let’s rewind back to the Women’s Convention of 1851. In case you need to dust off your knowledge of late-19th century history, Sojourner Truth was the headliner of the Convention, where she delivered her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech. In the speech, Truth acknowledged and challenged the “triple oppression” that (1) women who are (2) poor and (3) Black in America experience. Truth’s speech and the Convention itself are viewed as precursors to the Black Feminist Movement that really got started in the…

…1970s. After 10 years in circulation, Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” (which has been credited as sparking the 2nd wave of feminism) has drawn criticism. Positing that the book represents only the experiences of middle- and upper-class heterosexual White women, Black feminist scholar-activists begin working to broaden feminism’s definition and scope to include the unique experiences of women of color, women at lower socioeconomic statuses, and women who identify as LGTBQ. In short, some badass Black women argue that there is no single experience of being a woman in America.

We promise, we’re getting to the intersectionality part. Enter Kimberle Crenshaw (lawyer, professor, civil rights activist… you get the idea). Crenshaw took all the work of the Women’s Convention and the challenges to Friedan’s book and put a name on it. Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality essentially claims that different aspects of our identities (race, gender, sexuality, SES…) intersect in different ways and that attempts to tease them apart are futile (e.g., I’m never just a woman, I’m always a White middle-class cisgender woman). For Crenshaw, intersectionality is about recognizing our identities as relational: in relationships with other people, with history, with other aspects of our identity, etc. And these intersections have important implications for the ways that we move around in society, what we’re able to do, and how we’re viewed by others. In other words, our identities intersect with practices and policies that can oppress and empower us. Want a full academic journal article about intersectionality? Here ya go.

More than just theory.

We’ve compiled resources to help you start thinking about your own intersecting identities and how you can approach your students…
  • WHAT’S HAPPENING

    Reviewing a current topic + offering practical strategies for teaching.


    Beyond the name game.

    As teachers, we often think of August as the time to get to know our students. We play name-games, start class with ice-breakers, and send home tons of paperwork aimed at learning as much as possible about our students. (See the August issue of DNP if you need pointers.)

    And that’s great.

    But now it’s November and we know our students’ names. We know which students to separate when making seating charts, which parents to email and which ones to call, and which students have WiFi access at home and which ones do not.

    Again, that’s great. But knowing stuff about our students isn’t the same as building relationships with them. Why is it important to take the time to build relationships? How can you do it (and still manage Every. Other. Blessed. Thing. You’re. Required. To. Do)? We’re so glad you asked 😏

    The “why” part

    By now we’re all pretty familiar with Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk, the Danger of a Single Story (if you’re not, stop literally everything, and watch now). In her talk, Adichie drops a bunch of bumper-sticker-worthy knowledge, but here we really wanna hone in on her warning to not make single stories only stories.

    If you did some of the personal-reflections on intersectionality in the previous section, you’re well-aware that our identities are multiple–that we all have multiple stories. And the ways that our identities intersect are unique and have implications for how we’re positioned in society (positions that are never permanent, but change depending on the context we’re in). The same goes for our students. Our students represent diverse identities and these identities intersect in unique ways. And one of the best ways teachers can support the academic success of students is by learning about their diverse identities, in order to build positive relationships.

    A number of studies indicate that students want their teachers to know more about their lives. But building relationships with students doesn’t necessarily mean you need to know everything about your students. It’s important to recognize that students don’t owe us full transparency–they’re allowed to have control over the stories they share and the identities they make known to those around them. The good news? There are plenty of different ways teachers can build relationships with students without requiring them to be open-books about all aspects of their lives.

    Rubber, meet Road.

    Apart from the get-to-know-you basics at the start of the school year, there are a number of strategies teachers can use to build relationships with students throughout the year. Regardless of the subject matter you teach, there are some dispositions and practices you can enact in the classroom to build relationships:

      • Check out these general tips and strategies for building stronger relationships with students. Spoiler-alert: listening is a major player in both lists.
      • Learn from parents or other important adults in students’ lives.
      • Pay attention to students’ work behaviors and create classroom structures that support these different ways of working, making sense, and completing tasks.
      • Clearly communicate expectations for classroom behavior. Don’t simply penalize divergent behaviors, don’t assume that all students know what you expect in the classroom and recognize that different cultural and familial backgrounds contribute to different ways of being, interacting, and speaking (not to mention experiences of trauma).
      • Use surveys to learn about students’ interests, technology access and skills , and perceptions of your teaching and their learning. And don’t forget to actually use and discuss survey results with your students!

      Let’s be real, though. The ELA class is a pretty ideal place to get to know students. Here are some ways you can build relationships through the content you teach:
        • Discuss various topics, experiences, and thoughts with individual students through dialogue journals.
        • Allow students to tell their life stories multimodally through digital autobiographies.
        • Provide regular, personalized feedback on student work. We know this is time-consuming. So here are some strategies for managing the workload of giving feedback and ensuring that your feedback is meaningful for students.
        • Give students the opportunities to choose the books they read, how they respond to those readings, the audiences of their work, and the topics they research and write about.
        • Get student insight! Provide regular opportunities for students to self-assess and reflect on their learning.
        • Get ‘em writing. Adichie’s talk is a great way to jump-start some killer personal narrative writing (guides and resources here and here.)

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