Ashley Franklin

Have a Heart: Using Children’s Literature to Create More Dynamic and Inclusive Classroom Discussions (Part 1)

On April 28, 2019, I had the honor of doing my very first conference presentation. The occasion: AAIM (Arkansas Association of Instructional Media) 2019. My presentation was well-received (THANK YOU!), so I wanted to share it as a series of blog posts for anyone interested, who wanted a recap, or who might have missed it. I hope these posts encourage you to think about your role in helping to shape our youths’ minds as they learn the truly transformative power of books.

My First Conference: AAIM

What’s on your bookshelf?

A Deceptively Simple Question

“What’s in your wallet?” -Capital One

Commercials have to work extra hard today in order to be memorable. Let’s be honest. Most of us skip them whenever we’re able. However, let’s not overlook the beauty of this question. The basic answer is not truly the goal–money, cash, credit/ debit cards, and many a tiny picture of a loved one if you haven’t gone fully digital.

But that’s truly not the goal. The goal is to get you to question if what’s in your wallet is doing its job. Is it meeting your needs? Is it fulfilling its purpose? And if it’s not, what do you plan to do about it?

Today, my librarian friends, I want to ask a question of you that’s essential to your profession: “What’s on your bookshelf?”

By taking a closer look at the children’s literature on your shelves, you’ll be able to assess if your collections are:

  • Meeting your students’ needs
  • More reflective of your personal tastes than the tastes of your students
  • Providing students with the emotional tools to navigate their environments
  • Instrumental in starting and/or continuing difficult conversations

and of course, helping students to have a heart.

The Beginning

Thanks to constant rezoning and the uptick of fairly homogeneous neighborhoods, children’s literature could be a child’s first encounter with someone from another culture. For many children, those first literary experiences are rooted in fairytales.

**Coming in Part 2: Fairytales, the work of Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop’s, and restructuring your bookshelves**

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Critique Cheat Sheet

frustrated woman

In the most recent installment of things that I’m doing instead of rebuilding my website (Don’t judge me.), I made a Critique Cheat Sheet! Here it is as a Google Doc.

So, why did I make it? I’ve been teaching at the college level for nearly ten years, and it never fails that peer reviews/ critiques get the most gripe from students. I thought it was just a student thing. Then, I started doing a bit of my own writing. Honestly, I was shocked when I noticed that many of my writing peers aren’t all that fond of it either.

While it’s totally possible to critique your own work, there is something undeniably magical about getting another perspective on your work. There’s the benefit of another point of view–someone bringing a different and fresh perspective thanks to their unique experiences. You get to see how someone relates and reacts to what you have written. This is true for academic and non-academic writing.

I believe that part of the anxiety surrounding critiques is not knowing where to start and not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings. (Hmmm…”How Not to Be in Your Feelings During a Critique” will likely be my second Critique Cheat Sheet.)

I hope that this first Critique Cheat Sheet helps to ease some of those anxious feelings. Let me know if you do decide to give it a try!

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Writing Distractions Part 2 (focusing on my own work)

Since getting the double carpal tunnel diagnosis, I’ve pulled back a great deal on how much I’m actually on the computer. Aside from writing, I solely work online. This means that I am always typing.
It has helped, but I have had to make the hard decision to “rough it” for a while and not teach as many classes as I have been. I’m taking a term off from one school. It’s the first time I’ve done this. I worked up the time they wheeled me down the hall to have a c-section both times.
I am still going to teach one class, but it doesn’t start until mid January. Work is a necessity, but it also keeps me from writing as much as I would like. I think it’s important to realize that we have to give our writing the importance that it deserves. If we treat it like a hobby,  or something that’s not a priority, I think that shows in our work.
Anyway, this newfound (forced) break will give me a little bit of extra time. I plan to take advantage of it and solely focus on my own writing.
Yup, I won’t be doing any new critiques whatsoever starting this week and lasting until mid-January. I have a NF WIP that I plan on sinking my teeth into, and I can’t wait.

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Evaluating My Own Privilege as an Online Educator

As dialogues across college campuses seek to heal the divide that exists as we anticipate what may come as president-elect Trump prepares to take office, I have done nothing additional for my students. I haven’t held any additional office hours. I haven’t altered my lessons plans to include additional talks on diversity. I haven’t engaged with students on a one-on-one basis to help them navigate their emotional responses.
While I applaud my professor friends and college professors across the country who are doing these things, I simply haven’t had to. It’s not that I don’t care. In fact, quite the opposite is true. You see, I’m an online instructor and there is simply no room for me to do these things.
Not all online institutions are the same. I’ve worked for a few. On many occasions, the curriculum is pre-determined. Yes, I can add my two-cents from time to time, but the ability to do so is largely dependent on the course that I am teaching. If I were teaching political science, history, or may even communication, I may be able to speak on the current political climate. However, if I am teaching a course with a stringent curriculum that focuses only on texts and topics that were previously approved, my hands are pretty much tied.
Naturally, I want to let my students know that they are in a safe space. I tell them this every term when I offer my discussion board expectations. In fact, the discussion board may be my only loophole. If a student poses a question in regards to post-election uncertainties, I can respond guilt free. Otherwise, all I can do is hope that my silence does not speak volumes. My only hope is that my students don’t take my silence for indifference.
My students can look at my profile and see that I am an African-American Muslim. Clearly, this election has affected me. It has affected many who are marginalized and underrepresented.  Working in the online environment as afforded me convenience, but I have also sacrificed visibility.  Unless I am feeling extra profound and make a video to expound upon something within the curriculum or schedule a Skype session for a student who is particularly struggling, my students will see my profile picture, and that’s it. That’s the extent of my visibility.
My on-campus colleagues, however, are in the trenches. They are face to face with students who want answers, acceptance, and understanding. Traditional students are typically younger. My students are mostly older adults with work experience. More often than not, they are parents or grandparents. They are accustomed to life bringing the unexpected and sometimes inexplicable. A 17 or 18-year-old does not usually come with the same degree of seasoning.
Simply because of demographics and course structure, I have been issued a platter of privilege. I don’t have to address or heal the hurts of my students. I don’t have to stay at the office longer in order to accommodate their needs. They don’t present these types of needs to me.
Plenty of my colleagues in traditional classroom settings do have to do these things. Otherwise, they’ll be teaching to a disjointed and disheartened bunch.  I envy just how life-changing they can be at a time like this.
And while my voice may not ring across a classroom of hope-thirsty young adults, I have not accepted this as a time to remain silent outside of the classroom. You see, these issues were not born in the classroom, and that’s not the sole place where they will be fixed.
Just because you have a privilege pass doesn’t mean you have to accept. This is the point that I want to stress to my fellow online colleagues. What we can do in the classroom may be limited when compared to what our colleagues working in traditional environments can do, but that does not mean that we can’t do anything. Our lives, just like our students’ lives extend beyond the classroom. We have a voice, and we can find spaces to use it.

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Not Blowing the Online Discussion Board as an Instructor

I have been teaching online for some years now, and I have found that no matter the greatness of an online course’s content, the discussion board has the ability to make or break a course.
How is that? As an instructor, the discussion board serves as the gateway to your students. The topics, tone, and frequency of the discussion board all play a part in determining whether your students log in for class or log in to learn. Make sure that you are creating a space that invites an open discussion where varied opinions are not just tolerated, but welcomed and encouraged.
Facilitating the online discussion board comes naturally for some. For others, it’s more of a challenge. For those who may need a starting point, here are a few helpful hints to make your discussion board experience a pleasurable one for all. Let me know what you think.
How to be a Discussion Board Rock Star (1)

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