Discussion Topic #2

Discussion topic #2: Why do learners’ and teachers’ identities matter in teaching/learning spaces? What might this have to do with the ways that we understand and assess learners’ strengths? What might his have to do with disciplinary literacies? If you mention texts, lessons, films, media clips, etc. please share citations so that we may find and reflect on them too.


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  1. As a critical educator and conceptualizer of social justice curricula, I have engaged various instructional methods and diverse entry points into issues of social justice in my classroom. In this endeavor, I have found that one of the most limiting and liberating tools at mine and my students’ disposal is our own identities.

    While examining and problematizing the varying student responses (e.g. apathy, resistance, identification) that emerge in my predominantly white, rural, affluent classroom as a result of curriculum and instruction that attempts to reveal and interrogate inequitable and unjust social structures and norms, I have found that one the most valuable and progressive lessons myself and my students practice is in examining our own identities and how they intersect with social issues of race, class, gender, schooling practices, sexual orientation, etc. that we make available for examination in the classroom. This exercise allows me, as a teacher, to better understand how/when/to what extent my students (dis)engage with the curriculum and creates an opportunity for me to critique my understandings of student strengths and success in my classroom.

    I have recently been using 8th grader Royce Mann’s, “White Boy Privilege,” slam poem (link below) as an example of social activism, criticality, and a powerful showing of a spoken word poem. I invite the students to view this performance as a way to begin to determine the ways in which our classroom community will respond to the call to address our own identities and roles in society.

    I’ve been using the aforementioned poem/video in conjunction with Peggy McIntosh’s article, White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (link below), as a way to introduce and frame for my students the invisibility of our “privilege knapsacks.” My students and I then “unpack” and examine our own invisible privileges and positionalities (example list below). The unpacking has been invaluable in making visible, as well as available to acknowledge and discuss, the ways in which our own positionalities and identities are always and inevitably the lenses through which we view, think about, and discuss issues of social justice.

    After using the slam poem and article as a platform, and because of the revealing and newfound visibility of our privileges and positionalities, my students and I are better able to access and “do” our classroom disciplinary literacies such as: dialogic speaking and responding, and critically reading, writing, and thinking within the context of a social justice driven curriculum that explicitly draws attention to inequitable social constructs and conditions of race, gender, class, schooling practices, sexual orientation, etc. We acknowledge, continue to go back to and expound upon, and remain transparent about the “positionality lenses” we lead with and use in and out of the classroom.


    “White Boy Privilege” : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4Q1jZ-LOT0

    White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack: https://www.deanza.edu/…/White%20Priviledge%20Unpacking%20t…

    Examples of “Unpacking Invisible Knapsacks” from students and teacher (myself):

    •Because I am a guy, I can wear whatever I want because I won’t be seen in a sexual sense.

    •I can make rash or unthoughtful decisions and have them dismissed as learning because I am a teen.

    •I can walk around with my girlfriend and not be judged because I identify as heterosexual.

    •I can swear, or dress in grungey clothes, or be as rude as I’d like without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty or the illiteracy of my entire race. (I am privileged as a person who identifies as “White.”)


  2. Learners’ and teachers’ identities matter tremendously in the classroom. It should be the teacher’s responsibility to discover what the preferred learning modalities of their students are. Similarly, as I am sure we all know, Howard Gardner theorized that people are not simply either “smart” or “dumb,” but rather that individuals have a number of “intelligences” of varying levels. Teachers should be aware of this in the classroom, and adapt their teaching style, lessons, and possibly even assessments to accommodate their students’ different skill sets or intelligences. Some students, for instance, may not perform well on an assessment that requires them to give a speech if they have low levels of interpersonal intelligence; however this same student may perform extremely well on an assessment that requires them to create some sort of visual if they have high levels of artistic intelligence, even if the two assessments are asking about the same prior knowledge or learning. With all of this said, teachers should be aware of these varying preferred learning modalities and intelligences in their students and help them to capitalize on their strengths, or improve/build upon their weaknesses.


    • Sometimes I wonder if we are doing students a disfavor by allowing them to choose their preferred learning modalities or presentation modalities? When they get out into the work world they may not be prepared to deliver what is expected? I agree with what you say at the end; yes that teachers need to encourage them to improve and build upon areas that they are not as strong in.


  3. I feel like I am constantly saying this, but I believe where I grew up shaped me into who I am. I grew up in a very rural school with a graduating class of roughly 70 students, and lately class size is declining. This is part of my identity, despite the past five years in Buffalo trying to forget where I came from. I never thought that I would want to go back and teach in a rural school, but because of my education at The University at Buffalo, I feel that living in an urban neighborhood contrasted with my rural upbringing, I will have so much more to offer students at a rural school (or at least I hope). I think it is important to know who your students are; if I do teach in a rural high school, I will have an understanding of the problems underlying in rural communities. I will understand how most students never leave the town that they grew up in, and I will understand how not all of my students will be college bound, but I will try to encourage them to pursue trade schools and become career ready outside of school.


    • Wherever or whatever students backgrounds are, it is the teacher’s responsibility to have high expectations for all. If this can truly be incorporated in the learning environment students can feel supported to aim high even if they come from a rural or urban poor setting where they may be the first in their family to go to college.


  4. “One’s identity has a major influence on how they perceive others, their self-esteem, self-confidence, their aspirations, motivation and effort expended in various aspects of their life (Smith, Walker, Fields, Brookins & Seay, 1999).” Naturally, a learner’s identity plays a significant role in the classroom – in how students perceive the relevance and significance of education in their lives, in what students believe they are capable of and how they perceive the teachers and administrators in the classroom. I think the question of teacher’s identity is an even more intriguing one, and how teacher identities and learner identities intersect. It would seem that a teacher’s identity would impact the technique and style in which a teacher teaches and interacts with his or her students. How a teacher relates and what a teachers believes about a student’s identity would be as a result (at least in part) of the teacher’s own identity. At the middle and high school level, students should have an increasingly stronger sense of their identity, and with their personal guidance, as well as other identifying identity tools, teachers have the ability to use the information gained to assess and adapt to that identity.


  5. In the 1960s film, TO SIR WITH LOVE the high school students who all come from a high poverty mostly Caucasian section of London come to school with low opinions of their own abilities and low expectations of where they will land in the world as adults. Also most of the teachers in the school have bought into this same mindset which perpetuates low achievement. I wonder if the idea of creating high expectations in learning for all students is a relatively recent phenomena? The story begins when an African American engineer comes to teach at the school. He is shocked and dismayed by the poor behavior of the students and how badly most of the teachers treat them. He is frustrated at first but then he creates a classroom where he demands that the students respect each other and their teachers. He also throws out the scripted curriculum and decides to teach them subjects that will help them as adults. He gets permission to take them to a museum and to expose them to the world beyond their poor neighborhood and the students blossom under this new world that he creates for them.

    The film is an interesting juxtaposition with an African American teacher (I think he came from the Caribbean) teaching a class almost exclusively of white students; during the Civil Rights era; although things were not the same in England as in the U.S. (I.e. less prejudice against African Americans): i.e. the movie YANKS which takes place during WWII and shows British women at dances unhesitatingly dancing with African Americans; until some GI’s from the American South become enraged and cause a fight.

    I think certainly learners and teachers identities matter in teach and learning. The child is the father of the man (Freud); we are all a result of the environments that shape us.


  6. Learners’ and teachers’ identities matter in teaching and learning spaces because everyone is so different and if we cannot accept or work with this identity in the classroom than a person cannot succeed. For example, if a student has bad test anxiety and cannot take tests very well, and they are graded solely based on test-scores, this student will not do well in school. However, as a teacher if we use different methods to assess learners’ strengths and think of alternatives to help their weaknesses, our students are more likely to succeed. Also the identity of an individual determines whether or not they will take what they are learning and apply it to their life. Or, their identity and their upbringing will also help to determine whether or not they care about education at all.


  7. I believe that identity is not only extremely crucial in teaching and learning, but in other aspect of our life. Without being with peers that share similar identity, students could lack senses of security and feel isolated from the community. At the state of lacking sense of belonging, students are more likely to be distract and pay more attention on shaping their own identity to cope with this identity disparity. Intangible as it might be, identity plays such an significant role that like water and food, we could be devastated without them. Therefore, if teachers and students share similar identity, it definitely reduces the psychological workload of this identity struggle. And one way to match students with teachers who share similar identity is to find teachers with similar “origin” with students. Origin could means that they share similar cultural background or even they are from the same hometown.


  8. Identities matter in a classroom because everyone is different, learns different, and are capable of different things. It is important for the teacher to learn her identity first so her can figure out the best way to teach her students. For example, I am the kind of teacher that likes to start something as a whole group but then move into smaller groups, and maybe even one on one interactions. Coworkers that I have worked with like to start in smaller groups and then bring it together at the end of the lesson. Both scenarios are differences in teaching methods and it is important to know how you teach best, in different settings. It would then also be important to learn how your students learn best. I constantly remember the term individualized instruction. Each student learns different, and it is important to know the differences so you can engage each student in the classroom. I personally learn best by doing, and have a hard time learning something if I just hear it. Some students learn by doing, or by writing, etc. These are all different identities of how children learn best. One website that I feel touches on the different learning styles talks about the concept of VARK (Visual, auditory, reading, and kinesthetic learners).
    Other kinds of identities that are important to keep in mind in a learning space are the students’ backgrounds. Students may speak other languages, or come from different style families, and have completely different heritages and family traditions. It is important to stress to students that the differences are what make us unique and special from one another. In my own experiences I have found that children LOVE to learn about each other and how they are different from each other. For example, in one of my first grade classes and boy shared with the class that his grandmother lived with him and his parents. The other students thought it was so cool that he was able to have “slumber parties” with his Gramma all the time! Keep in mind some identities may be harder for others to understand, so creating a safe and trusting classroom environment will keep conversations respectful yet interesting!


  9. The identities of the students and the teachers directly impacts our ability to relate to one another. If the identity of a student is routinely ignored, then they will be less engaged, less invested, and less respectful of the teacher ignoring them. In order to build rapport with students, as described by Hammond (2015), we must reinforce our students humanity and culture. Students that feel less engaged or respected pay less attention and do less work. Additionally, by engaging with a student’s identity, we can find better ways of relating material to their individual interests, which in turn helps build retention and understanding.

    Hammond, Z. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin, A Sage Company.


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