Tuesday, August 2, 2016

#D100BloggerPD, What Teachers Make

Welcome back to another week of #D100BloggerPD.
If you're just joining us, we are focusing in on Taylor Mali's book What Teachers Make. Catch up from the beginning on Colleen's blog Literacy Loving Gals!

I have to say, I was so excited when I heard we were focusing on this book. I am a huge fan of spoken word poetry and Taylor Mali's poem What Teachers Make was always one of my favorites, years before college.

So now that I'm done mentally fangirl-ing - on to my vignettes: The Student Becomes the Teacher, My Best Day as a Teacher, and E-Mail, Islam, and Enlightenment (Insha'Allah)

The Student Becomes the Teacher

This vignette takes us back to a time where Taylor Mali was doing a residency in London. He was working with 8th grade students and poetry. He went through various types of poetry, then the students wrote their own poems.

In one activity, he asked the third grade teachers to meet the eight graders in the library. They paired up an eight grader with one or two third graders. Their task was for the eight grader to teach the third graders one type of poem, then have the third grader write one.

This activity was completely student-centered, Taylor writes:
This reminds me so much of the work we do in D100. We do such a great job in keeping teacher-talk at a minimum and allowing the students to do the work. There are so many benefits to having the students become teachers. The sense of ownership, obviously, ensures engagement, the students' ability to choose their favorite poem to teach, all mixed together to form a perfect storm of an activity. 

At the end of the lesson, they had their own poetry reading. I can imagine how proud those students were sharing their work- eight graders and third graders alike. 

Mali remembers this day fondly, he wrote...

My Best Day as a Teacher

Mali now takes us down to Kansas, in the early 90s. He describes himself as a "ponytailed liberal from New York City" to contrast the experiences of the eight grade students he was working with at the time whose assignment was to write a persuasive essay. He writes about Lilly Wilson, whose topic was to persuade her readers that it should be illegal for gay couples to adopt children. Something Mali didn't agree with, but as a teacher, he only reminded her that she needed to come up with reliable sources to defend her opinion. 

After a few days, Lilly Wilson walked into his office saying she wanted to switch her topic - that it should not be illegal for gay couples to adopt children. She said none of the evidence she was finding supported her original decision. 

Mali was so impressed. Listen to the poem he wrote about this moment. No words I write can do it justice. 

E-mail, Islam, and Enlightenment
This vignette takes us back to New York City, where Mali was teaching seventh-grade medieval history. One of the chapters focused on the founding and growth of Islam. Even though this was before 9/11, Mali still noticed negative attitudes towards Muslim. 
He developed a project where he collected emails from as many Muslims he knew. After they learned about the religion, he gave each student an email for them to ask questions about the faith. A few days later, when they checked their email, they were pleasantly surprised that almost all pen-pals wrote back. They were also surprised to find that while all were Muslim, their religion was not the most important part of them. They asked about Michael Jordan and the Bulls, they talked about pop culture, wrote back and forth about American TV. 

His students never again made jokes or held negative attitudes about Muslims. 
What Mali did was humanise the unknown, and that's something those students will never forget.
And this is something that is even more relevant to our world today. 
In all three vignettes, students were learning whatever standards they needed for the class. At the same time, Mali created these opportunities for students to do more than just what was expected of them. His students opened their minds up to new worlds and experiences. 
I want to highlight an excerpt from What Teachers Make - the poem, that I think really encompasses what good teachers do for their students.
"I make kids wonder,
I make them question. 
I make them criticise.
I make them apologise and mean it."


Thank you so much for joining me today! Tune in tomorrow August 3rd for the next three vignettes with Miss Bazz at The Bazz Blog!


  1. Taylor was an empowering classroom teacher. I especially enjoy the vignette where he encourages students to think and if he "makes them change heir mind" in the process, then at least they know they still have a brain. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thanks for sharing your insight on Mali's vignettes! He certainly has a way with words. By the way, I, too, am fond of how #BSD100 teachers focus on minimizing the teacher-talk and empowering students to take ownership of their learning! Go #BSD100 staff!
    Literacy Loving Gals