A Great Start to Improving Adolescent Reading Outcomes in the 2018/2019 School Year

This year, our school-wide instructional focus at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School is about increasing students’ reading levels. Our Instructional Leadership Team collaborated on the writing of this statement, an important promise to our students – reading at and above grade level.

Educators in all content areas will use benchmark and formative data to plan and implement instruction that deeply engages students in reading, writing, speaking, listening, and creating, moving toward all students reading at and above grade level.

Yesterday, our Summer Literacy Team met after a summer spent reading – we landed on Moat’s Speech to Print and Roe, Burns, and Wade’s Teaching Reading in Today’s Elementary Schools (9th edition).

These photos capture the sharp thinking of our team of Boston Public Schools’ Educators. I am excited to use writingisthinking.org as a platform to document our work throughout the year.

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Paredes Que Hablan: Reading Stations

Why use stations for reading? When we started planning this unit, we had so many texts that we wanted to use and so many activities that we wanted to do with each reading; it was overwhelming. Also, as seventh grade teachers, we confront a few problems pretty consistently when we teach whole-class mini-lessons: 1) the same few students are engaged, and even when using calling sticks, turn-and-talk, or other engagement strategies, all students are not participating to the fullest extent; 2) texts need to be substantially differentiated for different levels of readers, which is difficult to do when the class is reading together, and 3) many of our students rely on us, their teachers, to tell them that their work is acceptable or correct before moving on to the next step. A stations format for classwork, especially when stations can be tailored for the different groups, addresses each of these dilemmas and pushes our seventh graders toward independence and confidence in their academic work.

When structuring station work, especially at the beginning of the year, we scaffold the “how” of stations by going over expectations and directions each day, projecting a timer, delegating student jobs, and, at the end, doing both a small group and a whole class reflection about how well station work went on a particular day. For each set of stations, students receive a packet (which may be differentiated depending on whether students are grouped homogeneously or heterogeneously) with the same four expectations. Right underneath the stations expectations, there is a stations report card. At the end of stations work, students grade themselves on that report card. If the stations go for two days, the second day they grade with a different color. We have found that reviewing the expectations each day supports student success, and, at the end of station work, a teacher circulates as students are reflecting to give warm feedback as well as one thing that a group can work on to improve their “group work grade” for the following day.

 

On the second page of the stations packet are the stations expectations (only four to keep it simple) and station jobs. Students assign jobs within their groups, and the expectation is that the following day, each student has a different job. This allows students to share responsibility, compelling kids to push themselves out of their comfort zones and/or allowing students who would usually be leaders in a group to step back and support the leadership of other students.

**Note: When reviewing station expectations, number 2–plan your time–is the one that we teach into the most. This step forces students to read all the directions, break down the task, and estimate how much time each step will take. Before we added that step, we noticed that students were using their time to do the task, but that they were not moving as quickly through the work as they could have been. This step puts momentum into their group work and, since adding and teaching it, we have observed many more completed station packets.

This set of six stations (with 3-5 kids at each station totalling 5 groups–no one starts at station 2) included the following texts and activities:

    1. “Exile” Reading Station: At this station, students read Julia Alvarez’s “Exile” for comprehension. They did a gist-related stop n jot at designated stopping points (that we had penned in ahead of time) and answered some After Reading Questions.
    2. “Exile” Theme Station: This station had a teacher present to read the text aloud and review the comprehension questions from Station 1 to ensure that understood what they had read as a group at the first station. Then, students were guided through the scaffolded theme-finding process that we had taught whole-class the previous week. This gave us as teachers a better gauge of where students were in their ability to independently find theme and comprehend the text independently.
    3. “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” Symbolism Station: Here, students watched the music video from The Hamilton Mixtape’s “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done)” by artists Keinan Abdi Warsame, Claudia Alexandra Feliciano, Rizwan Ahmed, Rene Perez Joglar, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Jeffrey Penalva, using printed lyrics to follow along. They then answered four questions related to symbols that they saw in the music video and a fifth question about the video’s overall message.
    4. March Evidence Sort Station: At this station, students read an excerpt of John Lewis’s graphic novel March I. After reading the excerpt, they examined 8 pieces of preselected evidence to determine whether it was relevant to the claim “It is important to break the rules to fight for equality.” Students sorted the evidence into relevant and irrelevant categories, and then noted their choices in the station packet. Then, they put a star by the strongest piece of evidence in the relevant pile before putting their materials away and moving on to station 5.
    5. Gate A-4” Theme Station: Here, students read aloud the short story by Naomi Shihab Nye, answered a few comprehension questions,  and then as a group generated three themes of the text. Independently, each student chose what he/she thought was the best theme and wrote a short paragraph explaining why.
    6. Theme Computer Station: Each of our schools uses computer programs for ELA mini-lessons with the intention that these lessons and the practice that follows can be individually differentiated based on a pre-assessment given by the program, which is then followed up by benchmarks each quarter. These computer programs (MobyMax, Study Island, etc) each have a section on theme, which students completed at this station.

 

**Note: With the exception of station 6, each station ended with the question “What border(s) did ____________ cross in this text? What challenges did _________ face when crossing? Use evidence from the text to justify your answer.” This uniting question allowed us to review the station work together as a whole class, anchoring our discussion in the core questions of the overall unit.

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These stations took two days to complete (21 min/station with 2 min of transition time and a do now at the beginning of the class time). At the end of the first day, each group completed the report card and then we gave written feedback with a plus and a delta (one improvement that they could make) that students reviewed before starting stations the second day. Students also got a grade for their group work each day and an overall grade for their written work (in the packet) after the whole activity was completed.

Because station work is so independent, it is important that teachers “see” students as they are working and deeply look at particular parts of the station packet to monitor the content and skills that students are working on. We chose to focus on the question about border crossing at each station to make sure that students were connecting their work to the greater work of the unit. We also discussed the themes of “Exile” and “Gate A-4,” as well as some of the symbol questions in the music video. These discussions not only validated the students who had completed all the work at stations and had done deep thinking about the text (those scholars got many participation points during the discussion!), but also allowed the kids who had been in different groups to bring their small group discussions to the whole class so that their ideas could be heard, expanded upon, and refined in a bigger group. We created an anchor chart of themes from these different stories that we referenced when beginning our memoir writing unit the following week.

**This post was co-written by Kat Atkins-Pattenson and Alice Laramore

Choosing Texts that Build Understanding and Classroom Community

Reflecting on the curricula we taught last year, we determined that the texts our students read did not provide enough opportunities for students to seem themselves in the literature. As documented in previous posts, we spent a month traveling last summer specifically to learn about resistance murals and the role that these murals played and continue to play in their communities. When we returned from our travels at the end of July, we spent August designing the unit that would launch our 2017-2018 school year. Both of our schools use a backwards planning template, and we combine the two, pulling the best from each, to scaffold our thinking.

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One of the most daunting parts of planning any new unit is finding good mentor texts that are at appropriate reading levels for students, are about the content you want students to learn about, and use the writing skills you want to teach. This deep work was so much easier to do as thought partners. We balanced four different things when we began selecting mentor texts: 1) types of border crossing we wanted our students to be inspired by (physical, cultural, emotional, etc) 2) authors diverse in race, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, and sexual orientation 3) engaging text types (e.g. graphic novels, photographs, short stories, poetry, music and children’s books) and 4) texts that we could deconstruct into the components of memoir writing that we would be teaching in the second part of the unit.

We started with texts that were familiar, and then did research to find texts that filled in the gaps. Besides determining our whole-class texts, we also created a supplementary reading list that we could purchase for our classroom libraries. We both have robust independent reading in our classrooms, and we had intentionally set aside a portion of our Fund for Teachers grant budget to purchase mentor texts for our unit, so we loaded our cart with the books listed below:

Unit Texts:

  • “Names/Nombres,” Julia Alvarez
  • “Exile,” Julia Alvarez
  • “Gate A-4,” Naomi Shihab Nye
  • American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang
  • Enrique’s Journey, Sonia Nazario (Chapter: The Dreaded Stop)
  • “Fish Cheeks,” Amy Tan
  • Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie (Chapter:In Like a Lion)
  • March Volumes 1 and 2, John Lewis

Texts for Children’s book activity:

  • The Name Jar, Yangsook Choi
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Judith Viorst
  • Come On, Rain, Karen Hesse
  • A Chair for My Mother,  Vera B. Williams
  • Too Many Tamales, Gary Soto
  • Last Stop on Market Street, Matt de la Pena
  • Amazing Grace, Mary Hoffman

Independent Reading Books

  • Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You, Hanna Jansen
  • Dear Martin, Nic Stone
  • Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea, Sungju Lee
  • I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Erika L. Sanchez
  • Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey, Ozge Samanci
  • Saving Montgomery Sole, Mariko Tamaki
  • Bystander, James Preller
  • The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir, Thi Bui
  • Outcasts United: The Story of a Refugee Soccer Team that Changed a Town, Warren St. John
  • Zahrah the Windseeker, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu
  • The Silence of Our Friends: The Civil Rights Struggle Was Never Black and White, Mark Long
  • Hidden Figures Young Readers’ Edition, Margot Lee Shetterly
  • One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia
  • Good Enough, Paula Yoo
  • A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Ishmael Beah
  • A Cup of Water Under My Bed: A Memoir, Daisy Hernandez
  • Piecing Me Together, Renee Watson
  • Girl in Translation, Jean Kwok
  • Enrique’s Journey (The Young Adult Adaptation): The True Story of a Boy Determined to Reunite with His Mother, Sonia Nazario
  • Mexican WhiteBoy, Matt de la Pena
  • American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang
  • Hidden Girl: The True Story of a Modern-Day Child Slave, Shyima Hall
  • Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, Susan Kuklin
  • The Distance Between Us: Young Readers’ Edition, Reyna Grande
  • The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, Wendy Wan-Long Shang
  • Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir, Liz Prince
  • I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World (Young Readers’ Edition), Malala Yousafzai
  • We Were Here, Matt de la Pena
  • Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass, Meg Medina

It felt like Christmas morning when our big box of books arrived! We each previewed a selection of the texts, pulling chapters or segments that we thought would be most engaging and help us fulfill our learning targets for this unit. We selected 14 mentor texts, including two graphic novels and 5 children’s books. We then turned to asking ourselves: Which text would be the best entryway into our unit for our students? We selected a chapter from Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario because we wanted to ground our students in the concept of border crossing with a literal interpretation. As this was our first unit of the year, we wanted to provide an access point that would help all students feel successful. In hindsight, the excerpt we chose from Enrique’s Journey was long and the vocabulary was challenging. As our unit progressed, we realized that our students had the engagement to tackle the more figurative examples of border crossing. We will likely start with another text–perhaps “Fish Cheeks” by Amy Tan–next year and build towards the stamina necessary to tackle Enrique’s Journey.

Besides our focus on student engagement and diversity of text, we also focused on selecting texts in which the author’s used moves that we planned for our students to master. This way, students would be able to revisit texts in the second portion of the unit that they had already encountered, allowing them to focus more on the writing moves and less on comprehension. We developed a great formatting strategy to facilitate close reading skills that we have carried through the units we’ve taught this year. In this example of Names/Nombres, it is clear how the texts are structured for students to read multiple times for different purposes. It is also clear how we differentiated texts for our different levels of readers. Students saved all of the texts that they read and annotated in the first portion of the unit (the reading portion) and returned to them in the second portion of the unit (the writing portion) to identify writers’ moves that helped the author effectively convey a story.

After completing the reading portion of the unit, students took a mid-unit assessment that focused on their ability to read a text, find the gist, and answer text-dependent questions. But more than that, it asked students to communicate their new understanding of borders, why people cross them, and how reading other people’s stories and interpreting their themes and messages builds a richer community.

I AM…YOU: An Interactive Mural on Identity and Ego

**This is the first in a four-part series chronicling how our learning on our Fund for Teachers trip manifested in our classroom instruction.

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In our travels this summer, one of the questions that kept popping into our minds and our conversations was “How can we get 80 kids–40 in my room and 40 in yours–to create one, cohesive mural?” With our first mural, “I AM…YOU,” we played around with several of the answers to that question. Supported by local art non-profit Art Resource Collaborative for Kids, students created a composite mural, each designing a symbol based on an aspect of their individual identities. They then painted their symbols in black over a white background to create the first mural, I AM…YOU.

The creation process took four weeks. In the first week, students learned about symbols and practiced creating their own. We had a discussion about what symbols represent Boston, students’ home countries, students’ interests, etc, and how to combine those symbols that people already recognize to create powerful new symbols that represent complex identities. In the second week, students chose the symbol that they were going to contribute to the mural and re-drew it to make it clearer and more detailed. Our teaching artist, Will, and other team members from the ARCK collaborative took all the symbols with them and collaged them together to create one piece of artwork.

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A small group of students got together between the second and third week to trace the symbols onto giant panels–that is, to scale them. Students projected the image onto the panels and traced them with permanent marker. Some students also primed the panels with whiteboard paint so that, when the symbols and phrases were added in black, the public would be able to interact with the mural by drawing on it in colorful whiteboard markers. Finally, the last two weeks students spent painting symbols onto the panels.

A few weeks later, the mural went up in the City Hall Plaza for Boston’s HUBWeek, a collaboration between The Boston Globe, Harvard University, MIT, and Massachusetts General Hospital that showcases, celebrates and convenes the most inventive minds making an impact in Boston and around the world. Our students took public transportation to downtown Boston to see their creation on display for the city. They were intrigued by all that the public had added with whiteboard marker, and added their own touches before leaving to explore HUBWeek’s other exhibits, which included life-sized board games such as Connect Four, light displays, and one booth where kids got to look at their own cheek cells in a test tube. ARCK’s display included not only our murals, but also interactive fiber artwork. Students had a great time exploring HUBWeek and meeting each other at our picnic lunch in the Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park.

**We the teachers–Kat Atkins-Pattenson and Alice Laramore–could not have possibly done this project with such integrity and skill without the support of ARCK, the Art Resource Collaborative for Kids. The members of the organization were integral to our teaching, and we thank them profusely.

**This blog post was co-written by Kat Atkins-Pattenson and Alice Laramore

Whole Class Poem: A Publication Celebration

This year, instead of a publishing celebration with food and a stage for students to stand on while reading their writing, I tried out a new approach: the Whole-Class Poem. The gist of the celebration is that each student chooses the best line (best can be defined by the teacher, by a rubric, or by the students) to add to the whole class poem. We begin by sharing the lines. Then we read the poem aloud. Students offer changes to the order of the lines, and we read through it again. We repeat the order-adjusting step until we all feel satisfied with the sound of the work. Then, we do read in unison.

For the first full week of school, my students read “My Name” by Sandra Cisneros.  Together, we analyzed the text for meaning, structure, and style. After, I modeled how to brainstorm ideas for each of the three sections in the piece, and then brainstormed about their own names and drafted a My Name piece with three sections.

Students then draft their pieces based on their brainstorms, and I have writing conferences with each. This gives me a better pre-assessment of where their thinking is and where their writing is, so I can problem-solve around closing the gap between thinking and writing, and push both forward. We revise and edit, using the same structure as Speed Publishing Week. Then, we celebrate!

My goals for the celebration were:

  1. Every student reads aloud at least one sentence.
  2. Every student reads the finished pieces of four other students.
  3. Our class experiences the draft-revise-final writing process in real time, together.

To begin, the desks and chairs, usually situated in groups of four, were rearranged into a large circle. Each student found the desk with their name on it and sat down with their final draft, reading it silently in their heads.

After three minutes of silently reviewing their own drafts, I taught them about the post-it compliments that we use to praise one another’s writing. All students wrote their initials in the corner of five post-its. I introduced students to three sentence stems they could use to comment on one another’s writing.

Community Reading + Compliment Post-its

We practiced writing two compliments together for a selected piece of student writing–I chose one that had a few mistakes, and we practiced pulling out the positive. Then, each student moved three desks to the left. They had four minutes to read work and write their compliments. We rotated through four different drafts. Students could use their fifth post-it to write an extra compliment for a draft when they had extra time. Finally, students returned to their own drafts and read through their compliments.

Whole Class Poem: Drafting

In the second phase of the celebration, we created a whole class poem. The title of the poem was “Our Names” and the byline was the class’s cohort title. First, each student used a colored highlighter to highlight the most descriptive line from their writing. Many students were guided by their peers’ compliments. For example, “The most descriptive part of your writing is…” stem supported students who were not as easily able to choose the best line for themselves.

After highlighting, the whole class stood. I asked students to raise their hands if they thought that their line would be a good start for our whole class poem. That student read her line out loud and I typed it into a google document that was being projected in real time. After reading, that student sat and the student on the left of her read her best line. We repeated this pattern until every student had contributed a line to our whole-class poem.

Whole Class Poem: Revision

Once the poem was drafted, we moved into the revision stage. One student volunteered to read the poem aloud, and other students were prompted to listen for lines that could be moved to make the poem flow more naturally. As the student read, other students were tracking with their eyes and making mental changes based on the projected poem. After the read-aloud, four students suggested changes, and I copied and pasted in the google draft to accommodate their recommendations. We repeated the read aloud and revise process one more time to get a final draft.

Once we had a final draft, we did a choral read of our whole class poem, and the next day it was posted on the bulletin board for the whole student body to read. Each student contributed a piece of their writing to the whole-class work, and each student could proudly explain the content of the board and how the work was created. Not only had students completed one piece of writing in the first two weeks of school, they had contributed to two, framing writing as a large part of the work that we will do together throughout the seventh grade.

At the beginning of each school year, all teachers have the responsibility to build a classroom community that is a safe place to learn and grow, to make mistakes and take risks, to make new friends and try out new sides of oneself. I find that I come to know students better as whole people by engaging them in writing tasks that encourage them to share dimensions of their stories and identities. What’s more, when the time for celebrating finished pieces of writing arrives, students have the opportunity to learn new things about one another, to ask questions, and to find similarities and differences that encourage an empathetic classroom. This sets us up for a year of productive learning and growing as a community.

Last Day Reflections

Today, the last day of our trip, we are energized by the Borders and Identity Unit that we have built and will use to launch the year with our students. We are flooded with all that we’ve seen in our seven cities. We are entrenched in the creative part of teaching, the part that involves being an interesting, engaged individual to better support the interesting, engaged individuals in our classrooms. The part that means we learn something new in order to teach something new. The experience of being a learner better prepares a teacher to teach, and this summer was an opportunity for us to authentically learn about murals on different borders, to confront not knowing and to investigate, to use art as a lens into community.

This trip made space for us to be learners. After the 12th grade, those opportunities almost always come with one (or many) literal costs. And Fund for Teachers (along with the school year calendar) gave us the time, space, and finances to learn more in a way that will support our students, but also in a way that sustains us as teachers, professionals, and individuals. It made it possible for us to end the trip feeling rejuvenated rather than depleted. There is a constant push for teachers to continue professional development; it is indeed essential. But driving this profession development experience (and literally driving more than 900 miles) meant that we could pace our learning and reflection, and that we could intentionally choose meaningful experiences that hit our “zone of proximal development.”

 

This month, we immersed ourselves in adult project-based learning. We’ve tried lots of new things, from food to cloud-mountain hiking to driving to places we’d never been (while blogging) to talking about art from sunrise to sunset. And we’ve done the whole thing together. Often, in our classrooms, we create groups that we believe will benefit from the individuality of each member. We build in scaffolds meant to allow the group to discover each individual’s strengths and to make empathy a non-negotiable. Though we embarked with empathy and respect already in place, our twenty-six days together have illuminated the strengths and areas of growth (thanks, BPS, for the language) of our partnership. We both value efficiency, and, in the face of less-than-such (e.g., when the internet goes as turtle-pace, when people get motion sick, when you walk up the wrong side of the mountain, etc), we have learned much about each other. That knowledge has made us better collaborators and better friends.

In San Francisco, where we started our trip, we were oriented to the idea of looking. This was not just because there was so much to look at in The Mission, but also because we did our first day with a guide, who was able to re-frame what we had seen and interpreted in the context of history and community. Carla made us cognizant of how much we needed other people’s knowledge and understanding to build our own. The Pacoima (L.A.) murals added a layer of “looking around corners” to that concept. On the hottest day of our trip, we spent the majority of it seeking out art on the walls of automotive dealerships and in the parking lots of community centers. It wasn’t always going to be all in one alley. In San Diego, a park once occupied by people and now occupied by art, had us looking for four hours and not seeing enough. We returned home those nights googling Aztec symbols and stories, trying to learn enough to know something.

Tucson and Dr. Acosta gave us yet another frame through which to experience our learning. Freedom of education does not mean freedom to learn about the American Revolution and the Civil War through a lens of whiteness. Precious Knowledge, to our generation of “urban baby teachers,” is a reflection of our intentions. Though we (the generation of “urban baby teachers”) are in no way united in our vision or our understanding of social justice, the power of conviction in ideas, history, and lifting stories and voices drove us into the work of education. We wonder if he knows how many teachers who are only five or six years in are tracking his legal battle and celebrating his victories.

 

In Santa Fe, we absorbed the International Folk Art Market, how artists envision and reimagine, how tradition can morph modern and can accommodate the present day without reneging its roots. This mirrors the murals we’ve seen and the art of Frida Kahlo, taking symbols from the past and bringing them to life in the now. In Mexico City, we saw so much. Teotihuacan, Frida, Diego, the Anthropology Museum, street art, the culinary art of Pujol, the stained glass and craters of Toluca. With American eyes and feet, we navigated the city, and learned all that we still had to learn.

It is hard to classify this trip, and even harder to know all that it will bring to our classrooms. It falls somewhere in the vicinity of sabbatical–an intentional, purposeful break that brings new insight–but also touches the realm of professional development, continuing education, and creative project. We vision a unit with three parts. First, with our students, we will read several memoirs that broadly address the topic of borders and walls, thinking with our students about potential barriers and how to scale them. Second, we will all generate and share memoirs from our own lives on the same topic. The author of each memoir will formulate his or her own theme about the topic, communicating a piece of knowledge gained from navigating–either adeptly or crudely–a border. Finally, after examining many primary sources collected on our trip and within Boston, students will co-construct a mural combining the themes of their memoirs to create a community creation.

The idea of “insider and outsider” has been, in many ways, the crux of our travels. We asked questions and navigated our identity as visitor, as white visitor, as American visitor. In our classrooms we are often the the outsiders to the communities in which we teach. However our ethnicities and upbringing reflect the dominant histories and tools that are demanded from dominant culture. In this unit, we hope to illuminate these walls, supporting students to name them, scale them, and ultimately paint them. As humanities teachers, we believe that providing students vocabulary and time to think and discuss the world and its issues leads to a brighter, more creative, and smarter future than the two of us can imagine. Solutions lie in the writing, in the art, in the conversations, and in the relationships that students create. Just as we wrote in our FFT proposal, students must see themselves reflected in curriculum, in physical space, and in pedagogy in order to be successful. Because we do not physically reflect our students’ identities, we think constantly about how to make all other facets of our teaching affirming. This unit and this project will be a launching point for discussions about personal identity, community, and what comes next.

In Solidarity,
Kat + Alice

Thank Yous:

To Jenn, for extending opportunities and providing support to those who choose them; to Erica Herman and Pauline Lugira, for being principals who support and encourage teacher learning and leadership; to our families and hosts along the way, thank you for your support, trust, and generosity while we adventured; and to the Writing Is Thinking team, whose Mission, Vision, and Foundational Beliefs propel collaboration and innovative teaching.

Teotihuacan, or What We Don’t Know [Yet]

Our first day in Mexico City was a Monday, which is the day that most museums are closed. We decided to spend that day touring Teotihuacan, ruins located in the Basin of Central Mexico. After visiting Chicano Park and seeing so many symbols for Aztlan and Aztec history that we didn’t have schema for, we knew we had to learn much more. Teotihuacan is one of many places housing the historical knowledge essential to the unit we are planning.

We entered the archeological site of Teotihuacan near the San Juan River and the first thing we saw was a large statue of Chaciuhtlicue, the Aztec water goddess. Our guide explained that the original statue is in the Anthropological Museum, but that this goddess was a foundational part of daily goings-on in Teotihuacan. We started our tour in the Citadel, then walked down to climb the Sun Pyramid, and then climbed half-way up the Moon Pyramid. 

As we went through Teotihuacan (and actually since we left Mexico City at 5:45 that morning), we were led by Gersom, our fearless guide. He led in us English and Spanish, and UDLed his tour, using a whiteboard and marker to draw the concepts he most hoped we would understand. For example, each pyramid is actually five layers of pyramid, one on top of another. He also illustrated for us several of the sacrificial rituals believed to have been a part of the city’s daily routine. One of the principles we were left thinking about, however, was Gersom’s insistence that everything we would read on a sign at Teotihuacan was outdated and false. He told us that, since they had been posted, several large anthropological studies proved the signs inaccurate. He spoke of teams coming in from other countries and excavating, all at once discovering new truths and destroying the site. While it is often true that to gain knowledge, one must destroy a little, it caused us to question how the Mexican government is vetting international exploration, especially that which causes the Moon Pyramid to be so unstable.

To complement our trip to Teotihuacan, we went to the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City. To say that it was informative would be an understatement–there was enough in that museum to occupy two or three days of learning without stop. We spent the majority of time in a few rooms including “Introduccion de la Anthropologia,” “Poblamiento de America,” “Teotihuacan,” “Mexica,” and a few others, doing our best to learn the what and the how of ancient life in the places that eventually gave life to murals we had seen.

While visiting Teotihuacan and in the museum alike, it was clear to us how much we didn’t know. Teachers spend quite a bit of time knowing, being the authority on a subject or a book. Spending this time as learners, we acknowledged just how much we did not know, and how much we wanted to understand but didn’t yet have the tools to get.

In Solidarity,

Kat + Alice