Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Bound by Iron rivers

Into my first week working with the Passaic River Institute's summer camp for 7th and 8th graders from Inner city, NJ and loving it. Did I get what I "expected" thus far? Alright so I admit that I did come in with expectations, whether intentional or not. Is it negative or positive that they were or were not fulfilled?

Neither, really. It is an experience. Both the students and myself are learning. I love it when I can learn from the students as well.

The racial population is quite different from what I had expected to see, but often the geography and social extensions of a city can affect where people of different backgrounds and cultures choose to settle and live.

So our group is fabulous on week 1 and a potentially quite controversial question: does this have anything to do wih their race?


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Final Reflections...

... Self Reflection ...

I saw this course as a chance to get more of an inner look at inner city education. I had not known it was required in the MAT program if I were not thinking about teaching in the city, so I actually would not have taken it. I came in thinking that it was highly unlikely that I would look to teach in an urban district. I had toyed with the idea for a spell some weeks earlier in conversation with Dr. S and thought about the strong need for math and science teachers – not only in general, not only in urban areas, but for the children. But I think I came to the conclusion in my mind, for the time being anyway, that I would seek a job in a middle-of-the-line suburban location. It was fear and maybe a bit of the desire to stay in one’s comfort zone that took me that way.

Once I knew I was taking the class, I hoped to learn about what the inner workings of inner city education were like; I wanted to see if preconceptions and assumptions were true, to what degree, and I wanted to see why the state of education is what it is in the inner city. I feel like I had a reasonable dabble into these areas, but I do feel like seeing some of the less successful schools during the visitations would have made it more complete.

I also learned about policy and regulation (which I never had a strong interest in, but I do feel is information that we as future educators should be attuned to), and I now know more about what gives an Abbott District its designation and the court case behind it all. Hearing a little bit about the University’s history as a normal school and the NJDOE standards for teaching was interesting and eye opening.

I learned about the problems of the high teacher turnover rate in urban districts and how this makes providing a consistent and quality education there even more challenging. I learned that just because a child is in an urban area and struggles with a slew of problems and issues that may be hard to stomach does not mean we can let them get away without learning. We need to challenge inner city students with the same rigor as anyone else, because they ARE capable and they can learn.

I learned that our classroom will be the place where we have the most control as teachers, and that even when dealing with a difficult administration in an urban district or otherwise, we need to capitalize on what we do have and make use of it. We can make what we teach authentically ours and connect it to life to engage our students. I learned that perspectives and cultural traditions amongst different individuals in urban areas can be quite different than what we might be used to, but to just be aware, show that we care and want to know, and be respectful. I learned to choose battles appropriately because some you will never win and are just pointless and counterproductive to argue. This also ties into keeping the bigger picture in mind and NOT focusing on the little nitty gritty but to see the children’s optimal learning experience as the prize.

I think one of the most important things I am taking away with me is a fresher, more informed view of urban education. Goodbye assumptions.

Challenges & Triumphs
It was very challenging for me to hear the realities about the state of the educational system and the socio-economic crises in some of these urban locations. It sent pangs through my body to hear that in some urban areas 90% of the kids are on a free lunch program because the state of poverty is so rampant, that some children are homeless and need to make their way to shelters for the night after school, and the degree of the dilapidated conditions in some of these schools and how they are almost helpless to change it in the immediate future.

Learning of the bureaucracy and special interest controls and implications was upsetting. To live in America and not know it’s about the money would put one in a place of primal ignorance, but even with the knowledge of the money mongering, it was still so striking to see to what degree money controls the system. And the problems that plague schools as a result of lack of funds was a very frustrating point for me, especially when seeing how much money other wealthy districts do have. A lot of this I was somewhat aware of prior to taking the course, but I did not really know and I did not think about it on a deeper level.

I felt a surge of accomplishment and inspiration, as well as several varied emotions after the school visitations. How I opened myself up and soaked it all in, even with the interplay of some previous assumptions and fears, was a triumph for me. I went to every single school on that itinerary and I am SO thankful that I did! It was an enriching experience and I would not have wanted to miss any of it.

Despite working in a center for technology, I still struggle personally with dealings with it. I become easily frustrated and my sometimes maniacal perfectionism comes into play when it comes to artwork or writing: creating something, particularly if it has personal value to me. So it may seem paltry, but I felt accomplished in getting through the use of new technology based programs (seen in the blogs and websites) without having any serious meltdowns. I also spent far less time on the cultural collage than I would have in the past. This was an accomplishment. And I saw that the course necessitated it.

A valuable take home point for me involves time management and being able to see the priorital hierarchy of your tasks. Even though you know you might love to dive into something full force, it is that step back and “timeless reflection while in limbo” that you need to practice. What is the main objective for me here as a teacher? What kind of time do I have to get this accomplished and what is truly important? How will I feel tomorrow and what will NOT drive me into an early grave?

Teachers and direction
I will take the whole “I Learned…” excerpt from the Expectations section above, with me into the schools, and with it so much more.

A teacher prepared for an urban classroom needs to see the children as people, see them for the individuals that they are. Every student needs to start with a clean slate, no matter what background, race, colour, gender, sexual orientation, faith or traditions that they practice. There needs to be some type of bonding with the students to set the tone for the classroom. I will definitely make eye contact with my students, I will want to get to know them as human beings and notice how they feel. This is a compassion that helps the children grow and with it, understanding. We cannot truly understand right away where a child is coming from based on the disparity in our life experiences, but it is that time taken to listen and to accept them that matters. Being a culturally responsive individual is vital in an urban environment where the potential to encounter a multicultural population is so much greater.

Some of the skills vital to urban educators include the ability to pull out different teaching styles to teach to the various learning styles. Whether a child is an auditory, visual, or kinesthetic learner, if all are included in some way, the learning potential in the class has increased. The pedagogical techniques that are utilized should be mixed up and varied to increase student engagement and understanding of concepts introduced. It is not just what you teach (the subject area) but how you teach it. I think you also need to have patience in the role of a teacher, no matter where you go. The fact also is that the students will look up to you as a role model whether you desire it or not, so an urban teacher needs to be prepared to be seen and to behave as a positive role model for the students.

Whether I will end up in an urban, suburban or rural environment, I honestly do not know. Regardless of where I am teaching, one practice I would really like to implement is reflective teaching. To be able to self-correct and introspectively explore new ideas and improvements is something that both teachers and students can benefit from.

This course has provided me with a window in to see successful urban teaching and progressing urban schools. My previous thoughts on where I want to teach did not change only because of that, but also because I see the need and the possibilities. Now I do feel a drawing, a pull toward the urban districts, where there are amazing kids, maybe misunderstood and often with untapped potential. Without trying to sound too idealistic, I do think with attention, support, rigorous challenges, and belief in them as human beings, that amazing things can happen.

Feedback to the mouth that helped feed you

Newark visits and Time

The trips to Newark are irreplaceable. I feel that is an essential component to the course. You can’t really teach about inner city education without giving an inside look at it in real time. I feel like I grew a great deal from even these brief visits. But while on brevity, I do have a beef with the course length. I realize this is the way it was set up as a shorter 4 week pre-session and we knew that coming into it, however I really feel like we were really short changed. It was just not enough time. There was so much “good stuff” and “heavy stuff” to digest that I think the time crunch of the class detracted from the students’ ability to reap the most benefits from it. The transforming power of a class like this begs a little more time. I think it could work as a 6-weeker.

Allowing us class time to work on the group website was a good move, especially when considering the short time for the course. Utilizing the ADP Center (and mentioning it in the syllabus as was done) is an important action, especially considering the use of technology in the course. I feel like the classrooms could have been booked and used more, or that laptops could have been reserved, particularly if not many students in the class had their own laptops. Fortunately, most of the class seemed to own them. I felt conflicted with the blogging activity, as a few students in class had also mentioned they felt. I knew it should be professional, but the urge to joke around and make it personal was hard to overcome, particularly when you feel like you’re creating something that is an “internet voice” that you want your personality to be tied into. Finding the balance was hard. I’m not even sure if I found it! At times I felt my writing was too long-winded, formal and flowery; and at other time I felt maybe I shouldn’t make a joke or personal comment, no matter if it seemed harmless.

Designating the blogging as a continuous activity throughout the course provided a nice progression and timeline – as long as we didn’t leave too many entries towards the end! I also feel the website activity was a good culmination for the course, especially after the school visitations. The school visitations were appropriate after initial introduction to the course, some readings, and discussion of assumptions, but if it were possible to schedule them a little earlier in the progression of the course (even just a few days earlier – late May) that would fit in better. Earlier would also be better for school visits around this time of the year as many field trips are scheduled and students/ faculty may not be around or they are gearing up to prepare for final exams.

The Annenburg Institute's "Promise of Urban Schools" made some important points and provide valuable key areas to keep in mind when looking at Inner City Education and reform. It was a dryer read but I think should be held onto to introduce the AEIOU concepts.
Although Bulman’s article on “Teachers in the ‘Hood” was long, I feel like it was an engaging read that connects something many students understand well – the movies and the media – to all the prevalent misconceptions about urban education. This one I would include. And in that vein, I think it would also be great to include something that explores how a teacher should teach differently (in terms of technique) – or should not teach differently in an urban district as compared to suburban and rural districts.

I also felt like due to the condensed time factor of the course that it was very difficult to keep up with all the readings, while blogging and working on other assignments as well. I do appreciate that the volume of readings was lowered or halted when we had another big thing going on, such as the cultural collage. At times I did not know there was a reading to be done for the next class; it did not seem clear when it was to be read by. I checked blackboard and would see nothing for a few days then would miss when a reading was posted (this was later on).

Dynamic teaching really helped with this course; I thought it was great (and I am not sucking up). A variety of teaching styles and methods were used. The round robin website evaluation activity was so engaging and interesting, so I definitely really appreciated that technique. It got us moving around the room, actively reading and evaluating other students’ work, thinking critically about how theirs/ours might be improved and what worked, and it was not stressful! (The only thing for me would be the time pressure to switch stations, haha). I liked the employment of Base groups in our website groups. These were students in the class that we knew we were in a group with from early on in the course and this way helped us to be able to connect to others and go to them for help/questions as well.

We had variety in class discussions and thought sharing on articles read, small group discussion, group work and individuals writing assumptions up on the board, some professor direct instruction (and I do think some is necessary), and group presentations of the cultural collage. Something I found really refreshing about this course is that I did not feel quite the same pressure to “perform!” as I have in past courses. This does not at all mean that we did not have a lot of work and learning to do, but that it was approached in a different way. Presentations were not “ohhh no, a PRESENTATION!” but more relaxed run throughs of what we were doing and what it meant to us. The alternate assessments used also provided for a more comfortable and better learning environment than “exams”.

The only thing I can think of to suggest at the moment is maybe more of a discussion on how to implement the techniques in different subject areas across the curriculum in the inner city. I realize that through our own critical thinking we can determine this ourselves, and that maybe it is something more for a methods course, but that would be the next step for me. Thank you for a productive, inspirational and eye opening course!

Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire

Ok, so I haven't had the chance to read it yet. But I am dying to! This book was a Christmas present from my cousin Paul and every time I think of the title I want to say "teach like your pants are on fire" but then think... no, wait, that's not right...

So I wanted to put it out there and post this as a resource even though I cannot yet personally give an "educated" perspective or review. However, I did find that the author Rafe Esquith was also recently on npr (well, last year recent). Check out the article and the INTERVIEW - this is good stuff!

Turns out he teaches 5th grade in one of the roughest neighborhoods in urban L.A. and he's teaching the kids algebra and Shakespeare. This really puts life to the point that we need to believe as teachers that our students are ALL capable and CAN learn at higher levels! We need to expose them to that same rigor and challenge.

To whet your appetite, here is a small excerpt from the prologue:
Prologue: Fire in the Classroom
"It is a strange feeling to write this book. I am painfully aware that I am not superhuman. I do the same job as thousands of other dedicated teachers who try to make a difference. Like all real teachers, I fail constantly. I don't get enough sleep. I lie awake in the early-morning hours, agonizing over a kid I was unable to reach. Being a teacher can be painful.

For almost a quarter of a century, I have spent the majority of my time in a tiny, leaky classroom in central Los Angeles.... I doubt that any book can truly capture the Hobart Shake-speareans. However, it is certainly possible to share some of the things I've learned over the years that have helped me grow as a teacher, parent, and person. For almost twelve hours a day, six days a week, forty-eight weeks a year, my fifth-graders and I are crowded into our woefully insufficient space, immersed in a world of Shakespeare, algebra, and rock 'n' roll. For the rest of the year, the kids and I are on the road. While my wife believes me to be eccentric, good friends of mine have not been so gentle, going as far as to label me quixotic at best and certifiable at worst."

The book was written for new teachers that may not be prepared, veteran teachers that are set in their ways, and parents that are concerned about the education of their kids. I personally can't wait to read it, and if you have, let me know what you thought!

Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56 by Rafe Esquith. Penguin Books, London England. 2007.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Curriculum Director: Expendable or Invaluable?

A curriculum supervisor (or director) develops, implements, and coordinates new programs within the schools of a district for grades K-12. In some cases they also supervise teacher development and oversee grants for the district. The qualifications for a curriculum supervisor are not light: a Master's Degree and either a Supervisor, Principal, or Superintendent certificate, with previous experience as an administrator preferred. So it is not surprising that the position doesn't come cheap.

This piece published in The Record on June 6th speaks to the dilemma of whether or not it is worth it to employ such a position within a district. Some pros and cons are examined, with examples of what is currently being done in some towns in Bergen County.

To see the full article, click here: Curriculum director: a vital position or unnecessary expense? (or just click on the picture)

If the right person is brought in with the expertise, this can make a huge difference for a district. This way they can anticipate programs that are needed and the supervisor can help to pick out the most beneficial programs for them. They can also oversee a group of teachers that determine the best programs.

This is a Suburban area. What are the implications for a curriculum director in an Urban district?

While googling around for a bit, I located an article in the Chiefline newsletter for the CCSSO (Council of Chief State School Officers) touting the accomplishments of Dr. Laverne Terry in the public schools of the Christiana School District in Newark, DE. Although not NJ, this is an urban district where this woman is credited in having managed, through administrative and curriculum work, "to triple overall student enrollment in Advanced Placement courses and increase enrollment of minority students by over 300%," (Chiefline, weekly update 1/31/08).

This is clearly an example where having someone working at and overseeing curriculum made a large positive impact on enrollment in academically rigorous programs. I think the potential is great, but the effect depends on the individual in the position as well as the follow through of other administrators and teachers.

The alternative to paying a separate position of curriculum director may be to allow teachers and lower-level specialists to take on the task, working as a team. This definitely saves money in the district's pocketbook, and subjects can be overseen individually, but it seems there is something to be said for the attention and focus that a curriculum director can potentially give to a district's programs being best fit.

Works cited:
"Curriculum director: a vital position or unnecessary expense?" by Maya Kremen, Staff writer. The Record, page L-2, June 6th 2008.

"U.S. Virgin Islands Nominates Dr. Laverne Terry as Chief" by Paul Ferrari. Chiefline e-mail newsletter weekly update, 1/31/08.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Sights & Sounds of the Art of choice

My eyes danced across fabulous paint strokes & creations, my ears enveloped themselves in the wonderful tones of vocal & instrumental performance at this visual & performing arts high school

What talent. Our fluctuating cohort of educator hopefuls spent its third and final day of public schools visitations at a magnet school geared towards the visual and performance arts. Four music students played pieces on the acoustic guitar for us as a welcome, to warm us up for student-led tours and classroom visits.

I was not only impressed by the talent of these students, but by the personalities and general ambition that it was so easy to see. Even more interesting, as the students involved in leading tours introduced themselves, their majors, and what they aspire to study, I noticed the disparity between their current major at the high school and their desired major at the college they were seeking to attend. I hadn't expected it. Given a special talent and focus in a secondary school, wouldn't you want to further and develop that into a future career?

Now wait a second, is this the crux of hypocrisy or what? I did not attend a magnet high school, but during my time at a suburban public high school, my passion for art was quite obvious and according to the visual art classes I packed into my schedule, it was almost as if I were "majoring" in Art to the extent that I could. Did I further that in my college studies? A wildlife conservation major would indicate no, however I did declare the art minor a year into my studies.

I asked the student panel later in the program if they felt there was a balance between the arts focus of their major and the other academic areas and if those areas suffered as a result of the arts emphasis? They said they felt the school was strong in all subject areas and that they always made time for other homework and papers. One of the administrators/coordinators of the public school programs had also mentioned earlier that research shows that this study and envelopment in the arts really helps kids to learn their academics and actually turns them on to education.

This all brings me to a question, though. Should we have magnet high schools that select children based on talent, performance, and demeanor? Does this "choice" create a biased and elitist system that leaves other children in the dark?

I was very much impressed by this magnet school. I felt almost like I was in a college classroom as I witnessed a final presentation and critique of a student's artwork in a "mini gallery" in the school. But I also felt like it did not show an accurate representation of Newark's general student population, due to the selectivity factor.

I truly do feel that the ability to dive into art and expression in high school helped me fulfill that within myself and supported my performance in other academic areas. And while studies show the effects of the arts exposure may benefit students in learning other subject areas (Sousa, pg 217), wouldn't this put other students not in magnet schools at a disadvantage? If I received this benefit at a non-magnet school (granted it was a suburban school in a better financial position than many urban schools), I think students should be able get this out of other non-selective public schools as well, even on a lower budget. Giving the students an opportunity to focus and choose a specialty school can be a great thing, but the fact is also that we are choosing them and leaving others out.

Works cited:
Sousa, David A. How the Brain Learns. Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2006.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Teacher judgments and Jackets

I saw some great teaching this week. I saw a great deal of good in urban education despite the media's pervasive negative connotations. I also do have to say that on Day Two in a couple classrooms I witnessed teachers that seemed slightly impatient or easily exasperated with students and had to wonder why. I found myself disenchanted with them at first and thinking that they should be more positive, treating the students differently and approaching the task at hand with more vim. I certainly had to stop myself and realize that there could be a number of factors that influenced their behavior, which might not be the regular occurrence at all. A long tiring day, a tragedy in the family, disrupted sleep, conflict in relationships, problem upon problem with students, physical pain or discomfort - the possibilities are endless...and we all have experienced these in life at some point and time, haven't we? But to try not to reserve quick judgment can be quite difficult as I think we tend to make split second judgments on a daily basis, but I think it is a NECESSITY for a future teacher not to judge others.

If we judge other teachers like that, we will just as easily judge our students. And we cannot take that dive, especially not knowing or understanding their story.

Appearance is a huge factor in our judgment - and come on, the adage "appearances can be deceiving" does have some truth to it. But appearance can also be a transforming factor. Like in jackets.

We were fortunate enough to have student-led tours at many of our school visits. Some of these students were dressed in a chosen colour of more formal attire. A burgundy jacket and skirt or classy slacks and a navy blue blazer. Should we judge the students differently seeing them dressed like this? It's not the judgment but the outcome of an experience that was so neat in this given opportunity.

The students were given the chance to feel valuable, to prepare, take on responsibility, to be leaders, and were performing a service. We, the visitors, had the opportunity to be taught by students in this way and to get more of an inside look as a result.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Vehicle to Changing Lives

It was nearly the end of the day at our Third School on Day Two. I did not realize the clock's hand snickering at me past the 1/2 hr mark, tinkering on as i peered into a music classroom at the end of a long hidden hallway. It was nearly empty aside from a couple students, a University faculty member, and what appeared to be the regular teacher of the classroom, a seemingly pleasant middle-aged African American man.

I hesitantly leaned in the doorway to take a peek, since there was no class going on and I wasn't sure whether or not to enter. "Well, come INTO the classroom not out of it!" he boomed and teased with a smile. I felt a sudden ripple of welcome and quiet urgency.

This was Mr. K, a music teacher at "R" Elementary School, and a man with a vision with a dash of wisdom that he said it took him 7 years to begin to understand. He is writing a book to impart some valuable points from experience because he doesn't want new teachers to blunder through the forest for that long before seeing some key concepts... We spoke about teaching and what it really means...

"Figure out your subject matter and what it really means to you," he said. "What kind of fingerprint will it leave on them?"

Am I passionate about my subject matter? Definitely. It is ingrained into my life each and every day and I now more than ever truly feel that the children are our hope and they are the vehicle for change just as the subject matter is our vehicle to changing lives. I felt empowered after these minutes. I felt that I would 'speak for Earth Science' in the classroom, be that voice/that passageway, because Earth Science could not speak for itself. I would be my wacky self and wear my passion on my sleeve, because this is who I am and the students need that.

But the breaking point was when I asked Mr. K to talk about the value of content matter versus other aspects important to truly teaching to the students.

He said, "Your content matter is just the vehicle to changing lives"
It's about changing lives.

This visit left this lasting impression on me and inspired me in several ways. So now that I've spoken about the thought provoking conversation at the end of my time at the school, I'll mention how my psyche took a flight through a Cloud 9 of excitement upon first ENTERING the school.

"R" Elementary School, part of the Public School school system in "Port City". This was an AWESOME project that the entire school (k-8) was involved in a fabulous interdisciplinary effort funded by a Rainforest action group. Each grade had projects displayed all over the halls and walls of the school about the life and value of the rainforest. ROCK ON I LOVE IT!!

This is the Amazon Rainforest, created by the students throughout the entire school. In interdisciplinary masterpiece, I feel it gave students a chance to transform their school visually for a time period, which probably really empowered them. And this is only the beginning. This display brings forth a gilded door to dozens of pockets of potential. Future lessons and activities can be built off of, connected to, and developed from this educationally decorative endeavour.

Focus on the Human(ities)

City = Resource

Many may think of the city as an unstable and crazy place to be, and the schools not as safe, financially supported or well reputed as suburban counterparts. One thing is for sure, there is a CORNUCOPIA (yes, i used my favourite SAT word) of resources at your disposal in an urban setting. From libraries to museums to neighboring schools and businesses, this is an advantage that can be noted, there are partnerships that can be forged, supplies to be shared. The staff at "N" High stressed this availability of resources in the city, which ties into the image of this magnet school as a culturally driven facility as well.

"N" High = Cultural chameleon

The school has its own culture that is constantly changing and reworking itself over years of time. And so they say this is what the school is known for. But I noticed that not only does it seem to provide a challenging environment with interesting course options available, such as an entire Law circuit pathway and of course Humanities pathway; including courses such as Sociology, Women's studies, Anthropology, Shakespeare, Drama and more, but the students are driven and want to succeed.

was painted on the slab just below the hallway ceiling

It was explained to us that someone always returns. A former student that had been led to growth and success comes back to give back to the community that formed him/her. One of the teachers/administrators that spoke to us had attended the high school and was now working there and giving so much back to the community that had given to him... and emphasizing the need to...

FORGE A BOND with the students

Regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, they are HUMAN BEINGS. "Forget the subject matter", he said, "notice how kids feel, make eye contact". Heavens do I find this in my heart. And show the kid you care about them as a person, care that they succeed; don't replace them with the subject matter.

I met a future lawyer, doctor, and teacher at a student round table at the tail end of the visit. These future and even current contributors to society absolutely 'wow-ed' me. I feel like this interaction was the most beneficial part of the visit because really getting to hear the students' perspectives was so valuable, since these are the personalities we are going to be teaching one day.

What's your character?

Yesterday I felt spoiled rotten. We played monopoly upon a decorative table set for a feast and colourful enough for a parade, we were serenaded by the talented student musicians playing Pachabel's "Cannon in D", and some of our little cohort were even awarded baskets o' goodies!

Then our eyes were opened anew. I truly felt that mine were, at least - the start of an adventure!

June 2nd, 2008 approximately 30 University students showed up at "P" Elementary School, the first stop on our schedule of packed days to visit and explore the educational system in some of "Port City's" public schools, gratis a la Urban Educator's Institute. Not only were we joined by administrators and faculty of "P" School, but in addition professionals from the other 6 schools on our neatly typed list. This was the beginning of what would be our morphing cohort of teachers, administrators, and future educators out to get the real deal and find out What is RIGHT With Urban Education?

I was not quite sure what to expect that day. I suppose some of my assumptions were still idling, (ie: the threat of violence, encountering disruptive rebel students lacking ambition and the like) but I desperately wanted these assumptions to be shot down. Even as I drove down the City streets after hopping off the highway a little too early, my shoulders tensed and my tongue was dry because I was in unfamiliar territory and didn't quite know what would happen next. What did I find?

This school was driven by an inspired principal with a vision and a culture of learning. Professional development is valued here and teachers don't just sit where they are, satisfied and comfortable. They are urged to push the envelope to grow and enrich the programs available and up the ethic and character of students at the school. As we sat and listened, teachers from the school told us about the very recent trip they had taken to Tokyo, Japan, to observe the educational system, pedagogy and behavior. Their drive to develop themselves for the better of the school and ultimately the students, took them to the other side of the globe to compare/contrast and bring home best practices and ideas for implementation.

Multiple Intelligences
What surprised me? The students take a Multiple Intelligence Test at the school! (if not familiar, check out Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences by Howard Gardner or an overview of the theory) I thought this was... SO COOL! This way the teachers can be informed of what type of dominant learner the child may be, be it Musical, Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Linguistic or any of the other styles. This could be vital knowledge for structuring styles of teaching to utilize in the classroom and knowing how to approach a child, particularly if they may be struggling with learning.

Monopoly and Houses?
The video that "P" School had created to give us an overview of the school's best practices in parent involvement programs, after school study groups and development opportunities was so creatively made, incorporating the monopoly theme elements of our morning's activities into the visuals. I was introduced to the novel idea of having "houses" within the school (think Harry Potter but maybe not quite as competetive - though they certainly ARE proud of their houses!). Each house has a name, mascot, theme and quote: for example one team was the Phoenix, of which the colours scarlet and gold have special significance, they are focused in the area of Literacy and thrive on their "we rise". The goal is for each of the 3 houses to strive to achieve the highest number of points through variety of avenues that incorporate merit and initiative. When I first learned of the implementation of this "game", I thought it might be extraneous and silly but I actually found it intriguing. The whole house system concept seems - in addition to a cleaver bit of fun - like some friendly competition in the guise of a "game" to build responsibility, confidence, and overall character in the students - the 'whole' child.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Cultural Design-nation

The activity of creating the cultural collage in its physical semblance created a flurry of mind activity in itself.

Eve's Cultural Collage, May 29th, 2008

In the process of it, I dug through my old artwork from high school, college, and even childhood days.
"Self-Reflection" ~ Eve [sometime during 1998-99]

I leafed through boxes of playbills, movie stubs, work and organization flyers, stacks of magazines, and looked at pictures of my family that brought me back to the roots of my Polish heritage. It helped me to remember - or at least brought to the forefront of my mind what had been stored away on the backburner - part of what makes me who I am.

I believe that I am designed, we are designed, and we also design ourselves and our surroundings through cultural exposure. Our surroundings also have a strong power over how we view but aspects and traditions of cultures have been designed and passed down through generations. They hold great gravity in shaping who we become, how we view society, and what we believe, though culture is not the sole factor nor is it the absolute and end all. Bitterness and rejection of one’s cultural roots can also happen, but we are a part of the nation that we live in and we cannot block out ALL the influences – unless we leave. And even if we leave, some traces of the previous cultural exposure will always move with us.

In addition to the control that we and our surroundings have in shaping us, there is a helplessness in how we can be “designated” and categorized by others and by those in higher power. Our cultural choices create for us a cultural designation as well.

As mentioned in my assumptions, I was born and raised in a white Polish-American Catholic household in the midst of the grand suburbia of North Jersey’s metropolitan area. The setting and the heritage had a large hand in shaping me and my personal culture.

Culture & views shape one another
And as culture is often manifested in several artforms and performance media, the background of an individual or group will affect and influence how they express themselves, which eventually translates into these mentioned outlets. If I am a married black heterosexual Baptist male I will certainly express myself differently than a single white gay agnostic female. Race, class, gender, sexuality, language and religion all help to define an individual and will affect how they behave and see the world.

The resultant paintings, writings, music, dance, and other artforms will flow out based from the experiences of the individual and communities. This all becomes a part of culture. And in this culture’s presence, how we view each of these same factors is influenced. Once we’ve been exposed to the artforms and surroundings of a particular culture, having grown up in our niche in the world, we have a subjective view of race, class, gender, sexuality, language and religion. However all of these particulars are portrayed in the media and art of the culture may be how we will tend to view them. Even if we are not caught under any assumptions, stereotypes, or images presented, it will at least be a factor in working to shape how we view all these facets.

The culture that I have been exposed to is primarily of the North Jersey suburban living and surroundings, with more limited exposures to big cities that I have visited, rural areas like the Amish countryside, time at university, and other countries that I have seen. I visited Poland several times and so had these briefer exposures, in addition to the heritage that my parents and other family bring to the table.

So I am a Polish-American and do enjoy our ethnic food, but I am also a lover of so many different cultures and cuisines. The city visits opened me up to so many opportunities to taste different foods from other parts of the world and to view art from many different cultures and places. I think because our family took trips to urban centers on the eastern seaboard of the US and enjoyed them in general, I formed more liberal views in being exposed to this more liberal culture. That my parents were open to all of this and supported me in study abroad opportunities to Morocco and Australia, as well as friend and familial visits to 11 other European countries, has helped to build a passion for world travel and culture.

Also as mentioned in my assumptions, my parents were open when it came to race, but alternate sexual lifestyle or visual appearance and personal expression differences were judged and critiqued. Particularly my mother, born and raised in Poland in the Catholic religion, held a more traditional view of these things. My views are far less traditional, probably attributed to my cultural exposure here.

How I learn & see myself
I think this made me an open learner, ready to see and know more, wanting to travel and experience the new, and for the most part respectful of all cultures and peoples. I developed a hunger for more cultures of the world, but was this a result of MY cultural exposure or an intrinsic development inside myself? I don’t know. I honestly think that the suburban life made me more fearful of the city, and it did seem like “we had life better here in the suburbs” or something like that. I feel like I definitely had personal conflicts (to deal with internally) in my cultural exposure over the years, and that it certainly has influenced how I view myself and how I learn.

The American media has made me scrutinize myself and see myself as too fat and not pretty enough. I hate those superficial things, yet I still became a victim. That is how culture in the media can influence how we see ourselves. I think my suburban culture made me feel like “have” and made me feel compunction for the “have-nots”.

I also come from a hard-working family and I felt like I could never be good enough. The work ethic of a culture or a child’s exposure to it can affect how they view work and accomplishment. This also created within me a drive to “be perfect” - whatever that means – with an ambition to see and do more, more, more… I see myself as ever-doing, ever-seeking, ever-learning.

What do I stand to bring to the classroom?
This drive will hopefully plunge onward with me as I enter the classroom and show an endless love of life and learning. I will bring with me my passion for cultures of the world, the love of learning about different peoples and backgrounds, languages, foods, artwork, and so forth. I realize I will need to be careful with this as I do not want to appear to show favoritism to any one group, but a respect and recognition of all. How will this show itself? I would like to incorporate some activities involving the culture and heritage of the children in my classes (of course with Earth Science themes as the primary educative subject matter).

Art and personal expression are invaluable for development and as they have shown up in various forms in cultures across the globe, I feel like this is an integral part of how I view cultures. Others may not see artistic forms as important as they may have been exposed to different life conditions. When one has to work hard outside 12 hours a day to support their family, they may not have that exposure or see value to art in the same way. I would not want to “push” students to anything, but to expose them to what is out there by forging connections between the disciplines. I would love to be able to tie art and expression in with science. As David A. Sousa stresses in How the Brain Learns, “The sciences need the arts,” (Sousa, pg 216).

Culture’s Role in the Classroom
Cultural differences can create division among teachers and students, just as differences in faith or ‘vision’ have created rifts and wars throughout history, however I believe even these differences can serve to unite and bring people together. Students may think there is no way that a teacher with a completely different cultural background and set of understandings could relate to them. A teacher with a radically different set of beliefs than a student may begin to wonder, how on earth can I begin to try to understand this student? This might cause distress and frustration or even animosity in worse cases. But in this disparity there can be an awesome opportunity for both sides to benefit.

Recognizing those differences may help to dissipate anxieties or preconceptions about others that are different. I aspire to let my students know that I may not relate to their culture because there is no way that I could without having experienced what they have experienced, but that I care to know and respect. And in allowing them to express their culture in some way in the schoolwork that they do can give us a chance to learn from each other. Just as I learned about myself and explored my culture through this cultural collage assignment, other students learned from me, and the teacher learned as well.

This is also a reason why I see diversity in public education to be excellent grounds for learning and growth. As we discussed in Dr. Wandalyn’s Enix’s Social Dynamics course, the exposure to diversity brings children together, helping to prevent future conflicts and dissipate negative views of other cultures. We fear what we don’t know, no? Of all the cultural design-nations, the more we see and listen and learn, the more of a foundation we will have to approach cultural differences.

Works Cited:
Sousa, David A. How the Brain Learns. Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2006.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Urban Eve's Assumptions

We make assumptions every day. Maybe we assume that the ATM will have cash to dispense when we slide our card in or maybe we assume that the man behind the counter at the McDonald’s is there because he couldn’t obtain a higher education. Are our assumptions correct? In the course of this paper I intend to explore my own assumptions about urban centers, education and what it entails, entertaining several relevant questions, and relate this to class readings and discussions from the first week of Education in the Inner City.

Born and raised in a white Catholic Polish-American household in the midst of the grand suburbia of North Jersey’s metropolitan area, I am sure my perspective is just a little bit skewed. Not that this is bad in any way, but our roots, family, home environment and surroundings certainly do shape how we view the world. My parents always seemed pretty open when it came to race; everyone was a human to be treated with kindness and interracial relationships did not seem to be a problem. But you start to talk an individual’s sexual orientation or visual appearance and personal expression, boy were there some strong judgments to awaken. So aside from exposure to openness in certain realms of diversity and a critical eye in others, I do feel like I was sheltered. I don’t feel, however that I lived in a bubble.

Trips to urban centers were not a commonplace occurrence for us but they did happen - well let’s just say we weren’t hanging out in NYC a few times a week. A trip would be more like a special happening - planned and the exception rather than the norm. There would of course be the traditional annual trip to see the Christmas tree all lit up coupled with a show or musical and dinner at a restaurant. We certainly enjoyed that portion of the trip, however, to see our sour frowns and wrinkled noses as we walked the streets of Manhattan, you could clearly see that my sister and myself were NOT enjoying our surroundings.

We HATED the City. Why?
Not only did the sight of trash in the streets and the smell of urine around me disturb me from an aesthetic standpoint, but for me an urban center represented mankind’s selfishness, carelessness, the anguish of poverty and the fear of crime. Why oh why the city? Weren’t these universal qualities and didn’t all of this exist in other areas? Sure. But my perceptions connected it more to the inner city. The close quarters in which residents lived and associated, and the dense population made it so obvious, so visible.

Too many people, too few trees!
The crowds of people were overwhelming for me, the rudeness and seeming inaccessibility of friendliness a factor of disappointment and even a point of contention, the noise a pounding headache. Oh was the city noisy. There was a constant flow of cars, trucks, horn honking, people shouting, endless movement and inextinguishable lights. I didn’t know how people could sleep there.

Where there seemed to be an overabundance of people, buildings and cars, there was a huge lack of trees and other vegetation. This made me cringe and it made me sad. My parents were not “nature nuts” (oh no, I’ve secured that title on my own) but they did instill in us a respect for the natural environment and enjoyment of the outdoors. My father used to take us hiking and camping when we were younger. So here my associations with the city were feelings of isolation and separation from nature, pollution, unhealthy air and vile stagnancy.

Violence & schools
I thought someone would have to be crazy to live in the city and probably even crazier to teach in the city. I thought of the schools as a challenge – a challenge for the teachers to deal with the students, who likely did not have a strong desire to learn and could become physically violent at the snap of a finger. Some of these associated perceptions stemmed from the media’s coverage of the city I am sure. I felt like every time the news was turned on (television or radio) or any time I opened the paper (as I got a little older), there was nothing but negativity. Abuse. Rape. Robberies. Drugs. Gangs. Shootings. Murder. Death. Most often the setting was urban. I hated hearing about it so much that for years I avoided the media almost completely. But it had built up enough of an image for me.

TV shows and movies also portrayed student violence and misconduct within the urban school, so this is what I came to think of as the norm. The students in the films mentioned in the article “Teachers in the ‘Hood” are depicted as
“loud, out of control, disobedient, violent,
addicted to drugs; having no family values;
and rejecting dominant social institutions,”
(Bulman, page 257).
This image, with the rejection of the school and the teacher, is, what came to terrify me about the prospect of dealing with an urban school. I didn’t feel I could be the right person to cope with that.

If I walked into the walls of an urban school with these preconceived notions before the true experience of living or working in an urban location, I think that my interactions with the teachers and students would be nerve-laden and fearful. I would worry about disrespect or misbehavior by students in the classroom, that someone would curse me out or even bring a weapon to school. Me to the fellow teachers would likely include a barrage of questions about what goes on in the school, what is ok and not ok, how to react and protect myself from students, parents and avoid impending doom.

Ok so I had observed a day of high school Earth Science class in Jersey City during March of 2007 and it so happened that a “Code C” was called that day. This was normally a brief 5 minute drill, but instead this took myself, the teacher, and her 25 students into a tiny back room, where we sat silently for over an hour, lights out and shades drawn, not knowing what was going on or when we would be let out. As it turned out, a conflict between two gangs the day before had led police to search the school for weapons. Unfortunately this experience did not really help to alleviate some of my assumptions about urban schools – however, it did work on some others. While the students of her class were back there, they complied and behaved remarkably well for high school students in a situation like that.

Some of my assumptions about urban education and urban school environments include examples from class discussions and literature. I envisioned urban schools as run-down buildings due to lack of funding and lack of concern for the general welfare and education of the community. Though the “Teachers in the ‘Hood” article’s description of the cinematic stereotype is a little more extreme than my take on it, my assumptions were along a similar vein:
“These are schools with no soul - just troubled
students, failed educational methods, burned-out
personnel... the vast majority of teachers have
cynical attitudes and their jobs, and they seem
to believe that most of the students are beyond
hope,” (Bulman, page 261).

But heavens do my perceptions of urban life seem so very negative! My urban assumptions also include what benefits the city can provide – a great deal! Through the family visits to the city where we experienced shows, musicals, the movies, restaurants, and people watching as we walked from destination to destination; through school trips to museums and galleries; and news about parades, protests, and other events, my eyes were opened to the awesome opportunities. There was so much to see; and the colourful surroundings in all the storefront windows, styles of passers by and glimmer of the evening lights created a visual bonanza. I came to see an urban center as a cultural oyster, always producing many pearls in the forms of entertainment, multi-cultural and ethnic representation, and tons of ‘possibility’.

I thought culture was beautiful. Diversity made life interesting and I loved the diversity of the inner city and the people. I wanted to learn more about a variety of ethnic backgrounds, cuisines, languages and traditions. My assumption was that the city would be the best place to do this and to truly be exposed to more diversity than anywhere else.

Where am I now?
Many of the more negative assumptions of younger years have since diminished. How do I see urban centers and urban education now, after having completed high school, going through college and biting into the start of a graduate degree? Some of the same sentiments have stayed the course, but now I certainly come to view the dynamic nature of an inner city as an adventure. I adore the cultural hub of urban life; I thrive on museums, galleries, shows and musicals, ethnic foods from across the globe, and seeing the awesome mix of people and diversity. I’ve come to see a lot of the same negative qualities that I had connected with the city exist in the suburbs as well, just maybe in less noticeable at first glance.

The eight senior fellows of the Annenberg Institute for School Change call cities ‘civilizing forces’. While this would not have been my ‘assumptive’ choice of words from my personal store of first associations, I now see this as a truth as well as an inaccuracy. I can see how in order for a city to exist, it must be a civilizing force, but I still feel it can also be a center of ‘uncivilized’ activities. Thinking upon the more positive urban assumptions I have held in the past and still hold at the present time, the fellows phrase it well in the following excerpt:
“The rich mix of races and ethnicities, languages
and cultures, also centers of intellectual and
artistic energy and creativity as well as catalysts
of social change,” (Estrada et al, page 1).

I think that these assumptions leading from childhood into the more recent years of my life will actually function in giving me a more powerful grounding when it comes to entering the urban classroom, because if the assumption and the truth differ greatly, I will learn all the more from it. I will see, through time spent in urban centers and interaction in urban schools, (and through this course), what is a reality and what is not. Once misconceptions are defined and realized, vision becomes so much clearer.

However, if I did hold strong to some of my negative assumptions, I might have a more withdrawn interaction base, feeling more awkward and separated, in fear of rejection and violence, and wary of my surroundings. This would probably hamper my teaching as well as mar my little niche within the school. On the flipside my assumptions about culture and creativity would open my classroom up to all kinds of possibilities – from creative and collaborative projects to local field trip ideas and a thirst for cultural immersion. I would want to know more about my students of different cultures – of all cultures. I would include this aspect in assignments.

I hope to become a professional yet personable and caring teacher that values every student for their being, their potential, strengths and weaknesses, and value as a human being. Various activities/methods and teaching styles would go hand in hand with the recognition that different individuals as well different cultures may have different learning styles. My love of culture and diversity would tie into this as well as how I treat everyone with the same respect. My previous assumptions might make me have higher or lower expectations of certain students, and this is not where I want to be. I intend to challenge everyone in the classroom.

I also want to remain open and understanding. I may worry about rejection but I will hold onto my ideals and beliefs, and present the subject matter in my own goofy way (while of course still maintaining my professional base!). I would feel the strong urge to get these students OUT of the classroom and into the field, to where there are more trees and more of earth processes are readily visible, as often as I could. I also want to be a teacher the students feel that they can come to with questions, problems, and concerns, but also to know that they will have to work, learn, and be challenged intellectually and creatively in my classroom.

My views on urban centers and schools were certainly shaped first and foremost by my parents and family, but also heavily influenced by the media. Further down the line of influential factors is the personal experience that helped to form some of my views: in brief exposures and visits to inner cities and some interactions with children and adults from these areas. I know that my assumptions have morphed over time, but I wonder how much of what I once believed and what I currently believe to be ‘urban’ is a reality? Do these kids really need our ‘help’? Do they really need good teachers? Every district needs strong and qualified teachers. My mind turns over the possibility of teaching in the urban educational system and I think, could I do it? Am I capable? I guess I would not fully know the answer to this until I am able put all of my assumptions in place and see the reality, as close to or far away from mine as it is.

Works Cited
Bulman, Robert C. “Teachers in the ‘Hood: Hollywood’s Middle-Class Fantasy.” The Urban Review, Vol. 34, No. 3, September 2002.

Estrada, Cristelle Martinez et al, Senior Fellows. “The Promise of Urban Schools.” Prepared by the Senior Fellows in Urban Education, Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, Pages 1-11.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day & the urban ed. connection

The days preceeding Memorial Day are often filled with the anticipation of a nice, long, relaxing weekend coupled with BBQ's and parties. Publicized also are the various memorial events including services and parades in different municipalities. But does the typical American think much about what Memorial Day actually means, set aside the fervent bustle of life to dwell in thought for some moments on the sacrifice of others?

In an article posted yesterday on, "Carolyn Jessup, who is 53 and homeless, typically doesn't think much about Memorial Day. But she read a story about an American soldier killed in Iraq that brought her to tears" ( Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day and first observed on May 30th 1868, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. And although it may seem sad in spirit, it is also about reconciliation, about coming together to honor the lives and valiant efforts of the fallen.

So who are these people that we honor? The fallen soldiers were historically often those that could not afford to complete higher education, of impoverished families, and without a substantial paying job. So they entered the military to make their way in life. Many of these individuals may have been educated in urban schools which may not have provided a high quality education or prepared students for competetive jobs. So this may be a bridge to the association between these soldiers who sacrificed their lives for us and the urban education system.

To me personally, this holiday is not only about honoring the stereotypically male soldiers that have fought in wars, but also the women, men, and children that have died and lost their lives to a war or war-related violence. Remember them all for their sacrifice, consciously made or not.

Monday, May 26, 2008

"Teachers in the 'Hood'"

I can't say that I've ever been a 'teacher in the 'hood''. I'd like to think I can interact with people from all walks of life and all places and treat them the same as others. But do those beautiful juicy altruistic thoughts and aspirations we may have always fan out into the real thing?

I've worked with kids from the inner city in my days in outdoor education. Did all the stereotypes fit? Hell no. Did some fit? Sure. Of course my time with them was often too brief to really be able to tell too much.

I can't claim to know or understand anything about their lives or even dare to think they are so drastically different from me when it comes down to the core. What I think I do know (I dare to think I know) is that it is a far cry from a likely reality to think that a little bit of time from an outsider - hero or cowboy of sorts - here to 'fix it all' would effectively turn around the lives of students dealing with socio-economic ordeals, poverty, gangs, drugs, violence, broken families: a slew of hurdles and hardships - and in additon the emotional, psychological, and social effects of these experiences. Of course each case is different and some may be dealing with more or less than others, but the fact that we are trying to give it a quick fix [in the ideology of these Hollywood flicks] it is a little unnerving. We think we CAN and SHOULD fix it. Is that our role?

I am a firm believer that all children deserve a caring teacher, who believes in them and their potential because we all - urban, suburbanite, rural dwellers, whatnot - CAN LEARN. We're all people after all, no? Bulman's description of Blackboard Jungle pinpoints a view of the students as "working-class animals" and "beasts" (page 259): as if they are a human sub-species, an inferior culture, and that their behavior is the root of problems in the schools. One of the problems may be a lack of understanding for their background and life struggles. Instead they are looked at as 'the problem' and there is a detracted focus from the surrounding circumstances of the school and community condition.

It feels to me like in these Hollywood urban high school movies (although i cannot truly speak from personal viewing experience as the sheltered soul that is me has not really seen any of them - aside from maybe "Lean on Me" many years ago) that we are trying to say we need to "change" these students. The "teacher-hero/ine" is trying to 'save' the inner city kids from themselves and their troubles, but also to change them in this whole process. The cinematic solution to the state of turbulence in some urban schools is "to reform the individual student, not the educational system or wider society," (Bulman, page 267).

Challenging and engaging learning experiences are vital for all students; we as teachers can support and guide and of course encourage, but can we change who these kids are? Can we radically change how they view life and perceive? I certainly think we can make a difference in the lives of our students by our words and actions and maybe the misguided will one day 'see the light', but that we cannot forcibly change them. And we should never try to change who they are.

Of Bibliographies and Annotations

1) Murray, Christopher and Naranjo, Jason. “Black, Learning Disabled, and Graduating: An Investigation of Factors and Processes Associated with School Completion Among High-Risk Urban Youth”. Hammill Institute on Disabilities Remedial and Special Education. (May/June 2008) 29: pages 145-160.

Eleven graduating African American high school seniors of low income backgrounds are interviewed in this study that examines what factors come into play as having an influence on whether or not a student graduates from high school. The setting is a high-risk urban location and individual, family, peer and teacher factors are explored for their influence on student graduation. Several themes are explored, from parental involvement and structure to the degree of teacher demanding; and students provide personal insights of what is helpful/not helpful. The article stresses that it is important to bolster families, communities, and schools with strong support systems for our youth; as well as to work on the elimination of the social and structural chasms of inequality. I strongly agree with this, however the “how” this will happen is a question that remains.

2) Muller, Patricia A.; Stage, Francis K.; and Kinzie, Jillian.
“Science Achievement Growth Trajectories: Understanding Factors Related to Gender and Racial-Ethnic Differences in Precollege Science Achievement”. American Educational Research Association, American Educational Research Journal, Vol. 38, No. 4 (Winter, 2001), pages 981-1012.

Different racial-ethnic and gender groups were compared in studies of pre-college science achievement and growth rates. It was found that socio-economic status and previous grades were strongly correlated to 8th grade achievement in science; and that the amount of science taken in high school was the best indicator of science growth, across all racial-ethnic by gender sub-groups. Women and students of color are less academically prepared in science, and research points out that the time to catch them is before college. The study utilized hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) and longitudinal data from the National Education Longitudinal Study (NELS: 88). Since individual-level factors and associated science growth rates and other individual-level variables were quite disparate, we need additional research.

3) Towns, Donna Penn; Cole-Henderson, Beverly; and Serpell, Zewelanji. “The Journey to Urban School Success: Going the Extra Mile”. The Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 70, No. 1/2, Samplings from Howard University CRESPAR (Winter - Spring, 2001), pages 4-18.

Four urban schools (all of different size, structure and finances) are studied in depth to determine why they succeed in rendering quality education effectively while others do not. The common thread found amongst all is a shared vision by all stakeholders involved, and effort beyond standard expectations to ensure success; including the efforts of administrators, teachers, parents, and students. What I appreciate very much about this study is that it does not use solely test scores to gage student performance to indicate quality education but examines cognitive, affective, and behavioral effects. It also recognizes that past “effective” school studies have not focused on those serving minority students.

4) Lee, Okhee and Anderson, Charles W. “Task Engagement and Conceptual Change in Middle School Science Classrooms”. American Educational Research Association, American Educational Research Journal, Vol. 30, No. 3 (Autumn, 1993), pp. 585-610.

Twelve 6th grade students in two classrooms were provided with adequate instruction and extensive support to understand science better, in order to study task engagement of students in two areas of research: research related to their science knowledge and learning; and motivation research. I believe the observation and study of these two areas in concert to be vital in order to steer clear of a one-sided argument that bypasses other variables. It seems that the declining levels of student achievement in science can be linked to both a lack of understanding of the content as well as lack of desire or motivation to learn it, so I like that this article takes a look at both. The studies found that an interplay of several factors

5) Article in Review: “Educative experiences and early childhood science education: A Deweyan perspective on learning to observe” by Elaine V. Howes. Teaching and Teacher Education: Volume 24, Issue 3, (April 2008), pages 536-549.

This article details a study on the teaching of science at the elementary school level utilizing some of John Dewey’s ideals of education. The data was gathered at Monarca Elementary School, an urban public school in a poor to working class immigrant neighborhood with predominantly Latino students. More than 60% of students are ESL learners and more then 90% qualify for free lunch.

The author, formerly a secondary school and college-level science teacher, functioned as a participant observer and offered routine consultation to the teacher study group developed from a set of instructors at the school. She also made observations in the classrooms and participated in co-teaching experiences in after-school science programs. She related Dewey’s take on education and how these views manifested within this urban school study; what was effective and what was not.

One of Dewey’s arguments involves “educative” processes functioning to promote and develop a learner’s desire to pursue further learning experiences related to the current experiences at hand, and that these experiences engage children on intellectual, emotional and social levels. This study showed that having small animals (such as slugs, ants, butterflies, a mini-ecosystem) in the classroom helped to provide an “impulse” in children to examine and question, leading to a potential educative experience. It was found that it was not only the animals themselves but that the teacher guidance that mattered as well. Mis-educative experiences, such as bringing a hamster into a classroom and not caring for it well or bringing animals in just for ‘fun’ and not connecting the children’s experience more than sheer entertainment, can happen and I see how these do not provide quality learning experiences.

He also emphasized the value of children’s connectedness of presented material with previous and future life and learning experiences. I agree that we cannot just bring in super engaging science experiences and expect that students will maintain an interest beyond those first brief moments of excitement at seeing a wall of ants crawling about in a terrarium but need to connect it to their current knowledge base, their past experiences, and what we hope they will be learning in the future. We also need to instill in them more questions to will push them to want to explore and learn more.

Dewey, as well as the study, also maintain that it is not really the activity itself that is so important as the student – teacher interactions. Observations in the classroom, followed by a free-choice activity of taking notes and creating diagrams to record, incorporating whole class discussion and creation of original texts as well as discussing ideas with a classmate (such as ‘think-pair-share’), and using student questions to guides the direction of the learning, were all methods that were found to be effective in these classrooms in accordance with Dewey’s ideology.

There is so much more to this, but I will finish with a conclusive thought: that it is not one of these methods alone that will do the trick to create a powerful ‘hands-on’ or ‘real-world’ learning experience that Dewey visualizes but the combination of factors and practices.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Pedagogy of Poverty

What is life even, without some spontaneity? Experiencing the same routine day in day out, endlessly, like a machine's moving parts turning the same way each time, I think would be more than many of us could bear. Not that there is nothing to be said for a scoopp of familiarity and dollop of comfort in a particular routine. However, it seems that when we come to expect a pattern and see nothing else, we are on the road to apathy. Or maybe we're already there!

Chaos to calm
As we've touched on in discussion, some children in the inner city may be dealing with more than we could know in terms of their lives outside of the school walls. Home may be a topsy-turvy place without many constants or certainties, an unstable situation painful to sort through or deal with. The pattented routine of a designated start and stop time for the beginning and end of the day, a set place and time to go for each of the pre-decided subject areas, and of course a consistent WAY that it is all done - well, this all provides a ritualistic routine that can be a huge comfort when you want SOMETHING in your life to be set and expected.

What does the pedagogy of poverty have to do with this?

"The pedagogy of poverty is not a professional methodology at all. It is actually certain ritualistic acts that, much like the ceremonies performed by religious functionaries, have come to be conducted for their ritualistic value rather than to foster learning," (Haberman, pg 3).

It is this act, the routine of school, may be a very calming thing for some students in the thick of violent, dysfunctional or unstable lives. And when that known routine is taken away, what are they to do? It's like having the carpet pulled out from under your feet.

Thwap! BAM, smack down you fall to the ground. OWCH!

Ok so the start and end time, the timing of the school periods, and other logistical aspects of school will likely stay the same. But what can change to disturb this pattern? The way that content is taught in the classroom.

The pedagogy of poverty asks that we maintain set roles, where the teacher is in charge and responsible, gives directions and teaches, and the student follows these directions, engages in appropriate behavior, and learns. What if we want to try some Socratic questioning? Student-directed groupwork? Put them in charge of their learning?

Can we do a whole lot about what goes on in the personal lives of these students? Probably not. Does this mean that we give up the new and innovative or interesting methods that we may want to try in class? No. But if we can at least realize where these students may be coming from, and allow it to help open our eyes and shape our perspectives, we've already made leaps and bounds.

Then we can understand that they are not necessarily rejecting US or the information or method itself, but it may be the impact this NEW method has on their stability.

And to foster learning... is this not our ULTIMATE GOAL as educators? The rituals may prevent this learning from achieving the level that it could, given all the different methods and resources available to us.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Promise of Urban Schools

Through the appointment of its 8 selected Senior Fellows, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform has set out to create an ideal - or if you will, what they say are conceivable aspirations for urban schools. These "Great 8" have ironed out - and nicely I might add (tho not quite as good as my mom's ironing) - 5 different areas of focus.

Relevant questions are addressed throughout. Where/or in what does fault lie in urban education? What might we strive for? And HOW can it be achieved? To prevent an entry that will make your eyes roll out of your head it's so long, I will focus on one of the areas, agency.

Agency brings us to a place of empowerment. WE CAN create change in not only our own lives but in society as well! I see the value in letting our students know that they ARE VALUABLE and they CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE; infact this is INvaluable. Our Big 8 state that, "Successful urban educators connect the construction of knowledge in the classroom with the language, music, poetry, and other cultural forms that students use to express their lives and ground the curriculum in intellectual, political, and artistic contributions of their students' racial, ethnic, and religious communities," (The Promise of Urban Schools, pg. 2).

Connections connections

Can't you relate best to something that hits upon your own world? I'm Polish and if I were asked to do a study on the history of piergois and polka music - needless to say how incredibly stereotypical as this is - I would feel a connection to it and dive in all the deeper! It's all about connections. If you connect a child's world to what you want them to learn, what you want them to store away in those 3 lb. wonderful organic machines, it will have so much more gravity and meaning to them. It's also a better way to get them INvolved and INtune.

So this agency helps the student to see the need in society and provokes them to become actively involved in pubic life and society, rather than subsisting as a bystander and allowing action to happen to them. For a more powerful learning experience, students need to become agents of their own learning. They are not objects that should sit and simply be talked at, but unique "producers" of knowledge.

But let's not leave the paperweight on the students side. There is a great deal to be said for the questions that teachers ask, the timing of these questions, and the effort they make to be INvolved as well. Local and school avenues are out there for the teacher to get involved in: VOTE in your local elections, write a letter to the editor on an issue that you strongly believe in, pull up your sleeves and put your two cents in at school debates and meetings about school issues, be a chaperone and DANCE at the school dance.

Not only is that a great example for the students - because they WILL notice what you do and what you say, just like young toddlers notice and immitate the actions and words of their parents - but this helps create that dynamic setting to inspire others to learn and take action.

Do you walk the walk that you so love to talk up?