Building Bridges

Building Bridges

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Students Center Stage
Another English 103 class - more voices
IMovie - listen to peers - family/elders
Interview with Dr. Bacchus - pg 84
The future is RIGHT NOW in the past.

I do believe that we are living in the time machine of the science fiction imagination. We are at a porthole in the fabric of time. As we live the present, we fly into the future and before we are fully conscious, it has become the past. We can almost feel the whoosh of it as the breeze zips pass our ears.

At one time the "older" generation had time to adjust or adapt in some way. Now, I reach down and touch my watch and realize that I am in the minority in my classroom. No one wears a watch! They do not even think of a pay phone, a record album, or a photograph negative. And, I am only 53. I am already a relic.

As an academic I view this project through the lens of post modernism, race and gender theories, critical theory, and intersectionality. This postmodern tool, the computer/internet, allows me to use my material in more than one way at the same time. I can tell more than one story at the same time using the same material or/and use the same material to tell the story from different points-of-view; and the story can be watched on two screens on the same computer.

My position as facilitator/instructor brings to the project the knowledge gathered from Gardner's multiple intellligences, understanding of Vygotsky's zone of proximal development and the importance of recognizing prior knowledge.

For me it is crucial to include the personal woman. I believe that my identities and my experiences are the foundation of my choice of career and my pedagogy. It is why I am committed to particular theories. My identity as a woman and those experiences related to gender inform my choices. Experiences related to race have shaped me along with others. Therefore, my understanding of intersectionality, and its discriminations is permeated with the trauma of my own collisions at these crossroads. I am, after all, a black woman born in Guyana, living the experience of an immigrant, working in a predominantly white community, an introvert, and now a stroke survivor.  I deal with issues of class, race, gender, age and now, as  a survivor of a stroke, I have a keener understanding of the disabled. I speak with these many experiences and from many borders.

The literacy GOAL: literacy enhancement, connecting communities, centering voices -  telling stories;
students collect oral histories and write essays
The academic WHY: Marginalization, oppression, equality, and the future

National Council of Teachers of English - 21st century literacies
California's simple guide to the Common Core Curriculum

Here are your TABLE OF CHOICES:

web - blog - directors' backgrounds, teacher guide, student guide, and Site Map
or go to multimedia chapters - Introduction, Mexico, Guyana, San Andres, Curacao, Jamaica 
 A Chapter on Guyanese Pioneers
Barbados, Trinidad (coming), Nova Scotia (coming), Canada
or to student visual hands on projects
or student multilingual oral history
or to example of student  essay
or multimedia student blogs to center marginalized voices
or student PowerPoint presentations  on a critical thinking activity to center the Haitian crisis
or student extensions to the novel Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
or student book reviews of Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat
or instructions in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, for writing the essay in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese 

OR STAY and read

A bit of history:

The above FB photo and message just arrived a few weeks ago from a former student.  For me, it is a reminder that some things stay with students.  I started the FB page as a space for students to contribute information they felt extended our critical thinking.  Over the last few years, I've continued with the notion that change is happening rapidly and I can't afford to pause to fully digest all.   It was, and continues to be, a loose experiment, but I believe that participant observation has to be open and flexible.
"Design a program that answers one of your academic needs." said the professor.  Denmark Vesey popped up immediately.  In the 1830s in South Carolina Denmark lost his life in the fight for freedom.  He came to mind immediately when the professor sat us down and directed us to each create a computer program that would enhance our particular academic focus.  Computers filled the room.   I was no expert, but I learned that the computer had this multilevel potential.  Almost, immediately I realized that I could create a program that catered to various ages, various abilities, various talents as well as various subject matter.  For example, links could be added allowing a student to explore to geography of a country.

During my 6th grade sojourn as a facilitator/teacher, I had also been asked by a 6th grader why he'd never heard of Denmark Vesey.  The class had a discussion and the students understood the fluidity of the "truth."  They were, after all, living in a depressed neighborhood and had found it necessary to protest the unhealthy state of their cafeteria.

I was able to put the two experiences together.  The internet allowed me to create a multidimensional piece.  I created a story of Denmark to be read heard and represented in art; included were a few links to various subjects; for example there were links to maps so that the students could explore geography.

Here at SBCC, my attempt to center student voices started with Moodle.  In the computer lab we used the Moodle space to discuss the novel.  In the classroom students used the talk show framework to present information; they wrote and performed plays based on their novels; we even had Sula parties; the designed questions based on the book, came in character, cooked food according to time and place; and participated in conversations based on the novel. 

I also guided hands on projects in the classroom and before I knew it those projects could be published on the internet.  As the technology exploded, I asked the students to send me to a place that they visited on the internet so that I might get ideas for teaching and they sent me to MySpace and FaceBook.  It seemed to me at the time that the technology had just startedbecome a large part of society.  I used the information gathered from these sites to start a web-blog  with the support of David Wong at Santa Barbara City College.  David wedded my idea to the computer software.

Slowly but surely I started to find my way.  I read and turned the stories to audio; I read and created the fictionalized oral history.  As I worked on it I strove to keep in mind that my ideas must always be student centered. I kept looking for ways to make the students prior knowledge reflect itself in the classroom.  Out of that exploration came timelines for the novel,  PowerPoint presentations, hands on projects and blogs to bring marginalized communities to the center, extensions to the novel.  I used their interests to stimulate some engagement; we discussed the novel and connected it with social issues, and then I gave them the space to define who they saw as marginalized.

The multimedia - video and visual arts -  project being introduced on this site is all a part of the main purpose - the telling of life's stories.  They can all be found in their various forms through the webblog.

Imagine then that this center stage is populated with students and the voices they choose to honor.  Picture it as a rich and lively intersection of many crossroads where people meet and grow as they go.

Therefore, the webblog's main purpose is for students and teachers across borders to collect these stories and upload them to this center stage.  AND, this staging should also engage the participants in an interactive manner; it should encourage them to read these many stories and respond to them with guidance and with honor.

Now we go to the project.  The projects represents the weaving of my interest in telling stories with my role as mentor and guide for my students.  It is a model for what they will do as they create their own multimedia essays:

THE 21st CENTURY BOOK - Faces and Voices of the African Diaspora:
Chapter - 1)  Curacao - Elia
Chapter - 2) Guyanese Pioneers

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Connecting Sites

Personal narratives and the 21st century student
Story telling project - city college students center women
Spanish, French, and Portuguese - narrative writing steps
Indigenous Women's Voices
Walkin' and Talkin' wid Women - a video
Our Mexican Family - a woman painter
An Early American Opera - Scott Joplin
Book Reviews for students
Book lists and quotes for educators
Weaving theory while teaching

student blogs
student writing extensions
first student initiated youtube
and more
students talk IMovie - creating knowledge

video/youtube playlist - literacy interviews

Published paper - The Novel as a Bridge to Understanding Violence and Oppression

Example of 21st century platform for writing - Minority Rights Group -
Interview article - We Stay with Nothing - from San Andres, Columbia
by Denise Bacchus and Mbee

The Garifuna, a Nation Across Borders: Essays in Social Anthropology by Joseph A. Palacio
Book Review by Denise Bacchus, Ph.D.

Published essay - A personal journey 
1st blog during trip to Lethem, Guyana


Community College Experience

This 21st Century Literacy Project is a work in progress.
Questions contact:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Facilitator

The literacy goal(s) of the project is to center students and their prior knowledge; it is to acknowledge our multiple selves that meet at the intersections when we gather to share, build, recreate and create meaning.  Ultimately, the goal is for us to develop a community and find successful methods and use them to follow paths that lead us to multiple literacy outcomes.

A student centered classroom built on a foundation of dialogue and collaboration takes focus and time. It is time well worth the effort because outcomes are rewarding in many ways.

To establish a truly student centered classroom the facilitator must build community.

The quick points:
  • create a welcome letter that shares something personal and ask them to share
  • first week concentrate on community building activities and comfort - have some fun
  • focus on language safety and make clear engagement rules that are equal and fair
  • always have something that's fun, creative and connected to the class material (eg. Scrabble for words, use words from novels/books for extra points - competition with self not partner)
  • do meaningful out of class work at times - go outside (eg. sit in cafeteria and describe - deal with the senses)
  • include students in decision making (eg. who do they think society ignores; what issues need more voice, etc.)
  • always have meaningful research to connect with the world (eg. teach the class about geographic location; what religions; what do can we learn about culture? etc.)
  • always give chances for students to share (their observations and experiences)
  • have students choose to go with a group of two or three - no more
  • let students decide on presentation structure - don't choose the front of the classroom
  • presentations can be done like talk shows
  • discuss technology and what it can produce - have students discuss the best technology for their presentations

STUDENTS TALK (link to come)
A message to facilitators (teachers/instructors)

My overall reading goal is - The Novel as a Bridge to the Real World

The environment will always be diverse in many ways.  In order to be truly  fair to the "student centered" approach one has to be always flexible and willing to struggle with discomfort.  Staying cognizant of your own identity and position is necessary to this approach; it makes you question every decision you make; you will take nothing for granted.

Share information always.  Explain your approach to teaching and allow students to collaborate and participate in the governance of your environment.  Be explicit about expectations and outcomes; discuss the short term goals (grades if necessary and appropriate) and the long term goals (the realities of social issues and the role that education plays in change).

Allow time for collaboration and individual preparation.  Give students time to come up with ideas before hand.  In this way you accommodate different personalities; the introverted student has some more time to think and all students feel their ideas contribute.  Keep groups to three; give students enough tasks to engage different talents and strengths.

See list of books and quotes.

Goals: community, sharing, examining reality, producing literacy projects, reading, writing, computer
Multimedia essays – Students create published products on blogs, Youtube presentations

form community using personal letters, introductions, group work

Read oral histories and novels as bridge to real world
Use bloom’s taxonomy to create questionnaires for interviews
use questionnaires to give order to essays - visual and written
interview family and community members
transcribe interviews
use interviews to create essays, visual projects and youtube presentations

critical thinking - crossing borders and stepping into other shoes
sentence structure
essay structure
essay maps
outline maps


The above photo decorates my office door.

As most teachers know, receiving any unsolicited thank you from a student that reflects his or her experiences in the classroom is, not only touching but, affirming; it is appreciated as a precious piece of acknowledgement that goes a long way in supporting what we do in the classroom.   When we confront the many ups and downs of the profession and the many struggles with our flux in confidence we need to know that students benefit.  My question is always... Have I engaged them; will the engagement be sustained?

How did I come to this profession? Facilitator of reading!  It is a profession and a purpose that so many take for granted.  Consequently, it is important to note that reading, as I see it, is far more than deciphering abstract marks on a page.  Reading is a complex set of behaviors that contribute to the constant construction of self, identity... it is the forming of knowledge couched in the tug of war between nature and nurture.  Therefore, it is the shaping of society.  This view makes my position, as an instructor, one of power.  This power is political; it can be used in multiple ways.  In a society plagued with issues of class, race, gender, age, ethnicity, and various others that divide people and perpetuate inequality the book becomes a powerful tool.

As far back as I can remember I found my way in books.  Books were my bridges.  As a child, books were the dreams that took me through the tragedies in my childhood.  They took me on journeys of pleasure that numbed pain too complex for the immature mind.  At that time I was unaware that I was constructing self as well as knowledge.  As  an adult, books made sense of those same childhood tragedies and they unraveled the adult traumas.

As an avid reader, I recognized the power of books in my life. My experiences and my observations led me to choose the role of reading instructor. Simply put, I wanted to guide learners into the world of books; I wanted to walk with them into a world of critical thinking. I was motivated to use books/novels to examine the real world.

Fiction and non-fiction! Books - Novels.  On their own they are paper and ink, but they are also the explosives planted at the closed doors of hidden histories;they are the explosives planted at the corners of closed minds.  They are the ladders over walls that seem impenetrable; they are the ropes into open windows and they are the ropes thrown to drowning minds.

As I grew and my world expanded, I encountered those who didn't read and who seemed alienated from the world of books.  It stirred my concern; I wanted to share my experiences with books often because I traveled alone; and this frustration stayed with me.  How could I bring them into the world of books long enough for them to experience the intense emotional high and intellectual stimulation.  I was convinced that once they had these experiences, a desire would be ignited and they would never turn back.

Today, it is that same belief that is at the root of all of my work.  It is the very same craving for new knowledge that continues to grow in me; it continues to inspire my work as an educator.  I see reading as one activity that allows me to practice meta-cognition.  I can use my will, my agency, to recognize and analyze the effects that society has on my position and I can examine how they shape me; and I can be vigilant about how I contribute to the "truth."  Like Paulo Freire, I want to work along with the students in the real world as I guide them and they work their ways through books and other media and, in so doing, recognize the power of their voices.

The project I share on this site is one conceived in a milieu of  pain, pleasure and purpose.  Student questions motivated me ten or more years ago, and they still do today.  Who was Denmark Vesey and why don't we know him?  This question was from a 6th grader.  And, the other question.  Why don't we know Paul Robeson, he has done so much?  That one was from a city college student.

Along with student questions was the slow growing need to counteract the impact that colonization had had on the image of other peoples; colonization had and continues to demonize color.  I felt the deep need to be vigilant; I felt a need to take charge of the shaping of my mind.  It was a conscious act of resistance.  I intended to capture the beauty of the majority and I started with people of African descent.  I took action; I searched for stories of resistance; I found Bobby Vaughn; I bought cameras; I bought a Spanish/English dictionary and I arrived in Cuajiniquilapa, Costa Chica, Guerrero, Mexico.  That was 1999 and I continue to follow that path.

A 21st Century Literacy Project is a program to honor students and to center voices. After 10 years of teaching reading and writing courses at a city college, I believe this program is a critical contribution to the enhancement of student potential today.

"It is rather astounding that so many noninformed, or at best partially informed, yet otherwise learned personages have felt and still feel that although they themselves could not replicate the grunts, moans and groans of their Black contemporaries, they could certainly explain the utterances and even give descriptions, designs ad desires of the utterers. Black Americans often have found themselves in disagreement with many who have cavalierly drawn their portraits."
Maya Angelou's foreword for Dust Tracks on a Road
The quote above resonates with me as a black woman educator. In the 21st century, this is still the reality. Most importantly, I recognize the multiple communities that fall into this category... communities of difference and communities that are made to exist on the margins of social consciousness.

As a university student, I started an after school program in Oakland and received funding.

My dissertation, "Private Views to Public Voices: Engaging Our Students," focused on student engagement and sustained learning. In 2012, I am of the belief that the educational system needs reshaping and rethinking more than the student body.

After four years teaching fifth and sixth graders, I decided to follow high school students and gather information. At that time, 2001, my findings supported Gardner's seven intelligences and Paulo Freire's attention to relevant information and the student teacher relationship. It also supported Vygotsky's concept of the zone of proximal development as it relates to prior knowledge. This information supported my goal of centering students as a part of my purpose as an educator; and that purpose is to guide students as they create knowledge and find power in their own voices.

The woman

My writing blog
my writings at
My poetry
poetry at


Once upon a time there was a beautiful Guyanese woman; she was golden in color and slight in built and of christian mind; inside her bubbled the african and amerindian spirits.  This beautiful woman met a handsome man; he was smooth chocolate in color and muslim in mind with senses harking back to India.  In the midst of this mixture of love and lust were the gods of racism, slavery and indentured labor, at war with each other as they conducted their historical colonial orchestra.  These gods banned the legal union of muslim and christian and manipulated these people - one beautiful woman and one handsome man - to participate in multiple forms of abuse.  The relationship of the gods eventually produced an offspring, gender suspicion and this godchild grew into sexism.  The love hated itself and the hate fed on the love.  He did not marry her and she allowed him.

Over time this woman gave birth to twelve children six of whom died - one of them in a tragic death of red hot flames.  The man, throughout these births and deaths, stayed steadfast to the gods and their godchild.  And, he collected their weapons for use.  The years made him expert with words as weapons; he used silence with the skill of isolation; his understanding of gender gave birth to demands beyond equality.  Eventually, shaped by the forming of child selves, the deaths of six, the burning of one all mixed with the expertise of the progenitors her mind caved in.  She went crazy.

There was this large house somewhere in the country made for those who went crazy.  He had money; he sent her there to her own cottage.  For twelve years he kept her there; on a train from town to town he sent her favorite fare; he made special arrangements for her culinary pleasure.  The twisted gods of love continued to work their magic.  Eventually, he brought her home to manage another generation of offspring.

Into this holy mess a tall, beautiful and handsome he child was born.  He held all the traits of both his father and his mother and he was baptized in the springs of the muslim and christian baths; he became a child of the Caribbean.  He tried to satisfy all of these gods of mother and father.  He met and fell in love with another beautiful woman of golden color and christian mind and married her.  Over time they gave birth to seven brown girl children of the Caribbean.  But, throughout it all he was strapped onto this wrack of torture; his life was woven into the world of the colonizer.  They turned the wheels slowly and over time he broke and followed the path of his mother.

You wonder why I tell you this story of colonial order and you ask how in heavens name it could be of import to my selves as an educator and intellectual conductor.  And, I tell you it is ... just listen and it will cross those borders and they will meet at the intersections.

The beautiful golden woman he met was also a child of the Caribbean.  Her mother was of Portuguese descent sprinkled with some african spice and she was a country girl in an urban city.  Poverty was her bedding and blanket.  Love and lust were her transgressors.  They led her down the aisle and she believed their lies.  They put a ring on her finger and she followed them to bed.  Instead of ring she bore a child on those bed of lies and became a woman scorned and a woman despised - a single mother.  The child of this unblessed union was the beautiful golden she child with dreams of her own.

When they met he was shy and she was bright.  He stopped his bike and followed her.  She noticed and from then on they shared moments in time.  They learned to love and trust.  They married and then came those seven girls.  The wrack on the wheel stole into their lives and wrecked that time.  He lost faith and they lost the connection of friendship.  They both felt betrayed; he by what had entered his head and she by the broken promise of dreams.  Time collided and folded into itself and sooner than they could comprehend in their senses lives were shattered.  Mental illness reached into the folds of flesh and imploded.  Society's condemnation of such illnesses stained their everyday lives and sentenced them all to years of silent torment.  This social condemnation along with gender discrimination exposed all of these women to other human vultures.

The smell of blood drew them like jackals.

And, the tall beautiful golden woman was sentenced to a life of a struggle to save her girls.  She was left to do this alone.  Shaped by the gods of christianity and the colonizer's social rules she held her tongue when the vultures walked in and fed on the lives of her young.  She watched as they took vows of subservience and she watched and listened as they laid down on beds of nails and gave up blood to the vultures.  At these crossroads stood irony.  The vultures fed on her young in the same way that the handsome grandfather fed on the blood of the beautiful grandmother.  They drew blood with words and smashed lives with fear of exposure.  "You will go just like your father."

This is the history into which I was born.  These experiences shaped me and these experiences are with me at the crossroads.  In the book Black Feminist Thought Patricia Hill Collins centers the importance of working from the intersections of our lives.  In this way, all "truth" is recognized and analyzed. These are the experiences that tilt my world; they populate my "crooked room.

In Melissa Harris Perry's book, Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, she describes the  experiences of black women in the United States.   Her explanations, definitions, and examinations gave meaning to my perpetual frustrationsPerry's use of the metaphor "crooked room" to describe a black woman's journey through life in a racist and sexist environment gave sanity to what would otherwise be insane as women try to exist with a lack of logic in their day to day lives.

"When they confront race and gender stereotypes, black women are standing in a crooked room, and they have to figure out which way is up.  Bombarded with warped images of their humanity, some black women tilt and bend themselves to fit the distortion.  ......... To understand why black women's public actions and political strategies sometimes seem tilted in ways that accommodate the degrading stereotypes about them, it is important to appreciate the structural constraints that influence their behavior.  It can be hard to stand up straight in a crooked room."

       Milissa V. Harris Perry in Sister citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America 

It took my many years to recognize and accept that I was the child of trauma.  And, it took me many more years to accept that trauma affected different personalities in different ways.  I was a child of emotions that ran as deep as wells.  For me then, the trauma was a black and blue cloud filled with such pain that to inhale would mean the bursting of my heart.

Looking back I realized that I had been stunned by my first collisions at the intersections of life.

It was the 1960's and we lived in a Caribbean forged by British power.  And that power devoured my father.  For, he too, was a man of emotions that ran as deep as wells.

My father, who I loved dearly, was caught in the steel jaws of colonial power and I did not know.  What I did know was that suddenly at the fragile age of seven I watched my father descend into a hell designed by terrorists who masterminded the collisions at his intersections and it was there he lost his mind.

I held his hand through this time and saw his face and spirit crumble.

Catholic religion

Mental illness

Death of parent and others

Impact of racism

Effects of sexism

Education, travel/culture

Poetry by Yaari - Ramblings by Yaari

The academic

In defiance of gatekeepers and as a form of resistance, I created this site.

I had no idea I was following tradition.  I was simply trying to find my way in a "tilted" world.  I was simply trying to breathe, to find air in the sufficating cloud of "hegemony."  It was a matter of survival as a self I could continue to recognize.

I will  be forever grateful to the many resisters - the many "maroon" actions - that paved the way for me to be possible.  And, I owe my life to the women who used their subjectivities, in spite of threats and for some even death, to name their realities and in doing so give meaning to mine.

The future is RIGHT NOW in the past.

Change is happening that quickly.  Today, in terms of technology and its effects on language and society, change is happening in weeks in relation to the past where change of the same kind seemed to span fifty to one hundred years.  It seemed to allow for a life cycle.  No more!  You are out of date in thirty to forty years and RIGHT NOW that might be at the age of 30. 

There are global implications that directly inform education; there are global realities that call for change in education; there are theorethical understandings that call for the recognition of education that happens outside of the "box."  And, one of those boxes is the classroom.

The task then, for me as an educator, is to find ways to answer the do we, myself and the students, stay in that box physically and at the same time step outside of it into the real world and become a part of that global conversation and global action?  All we have as our vehicle are our brains and that means we have the seven senses.  And, now along with the pen and paper as our tools, we have the computer, the internet, and software.

The computer is the most post modern of instruments.  Its use and outcomes are unpredictable in all ways.  It collapses time; it strikes blows at identity and status; it empowers the individual and the collective body.  It is an ongoing shape shifter; it allows for the creation of new identities and obliterates the importance of old ones.  It is a stage of many performances; its doors are always open and a variety of personas can cross many borders simultaneously.

The world's peoples are using technology for a variety of purposes.  The cell phone has connected individuals in remote places to opportunities that broaden their horizons.  The computer has given nations to ability to mobilize and demand governments to change and in so doing they have galvanized social action.  This is agency manifested; this  is power.  This is change grabbing opportunity.

The Case for Change:

Through the lens of post--modernism

The issue of race then and now

The critical theory story

The lens of intersectionality and border collisions

How gender creates enemies

My sharings:

Below is a link to a publication in Minority Voices Newsroom.
We Stay with Nothing - an interview with Ros Rolando in San Andres
Publication in Caribbean Review of Gender Studies.
CSA blog Creative and Stimulating Associations

Friday, November 18, 2011

Memories of Student Work - PowerPoint Presentations

City college students multiple products as they read for global knowledge, empowerment, and community.

1. Pedagogy is student center, 2. Critical thinking is one of the goals; 3. the novel as a bridge to get there is the door.

Below are PowerPoint presentations shared at conferences.  These presentations' purpose is to communicate to a larger academic audience the need for progressive education and the various paths needed to achieve critical thinking and reading goals.

The PowerPoint presentations listed below are products of English 103 critical reading students as they interrogated the circumstances around earthquake in Haiti.

Below is the student oral histories web/blog.  On this blog you will find facilitator modeled pieces and students' oral histories.
The webblog

Tuesday, October 18, 2011