Monday, April 21, 2014

Why should we care about Potholes

Hey fellow classmates.  I didn't think to leave my thoughts on how I feel my lesson went. . .I don't think the "skeleton" of the plan was very strong.  That said, I always would like a second chance to do a better job.  I need to figure out a format in which to present the information, it was disorganized.   I do like the topic, but this plan needs work. So please leave your comments regarding my manner, whether I gave you enough time to think, etc. here.  (Seriously, don't hold back I would really appreciate your help).  And sorry about the pink marker Caroline!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

An empowering Pedagogy, Ira Shor

FNED 346

Dr. Bogad

Education is a politically loaded issue.  Whenever something involves funding and budgets it is going to be political.  And one of the things that has been absent from our class discussions over the weeks as we have confronted the many injustices that are part of the status quo, is that we rarely talk about who is going to pay for "fixing the system".  In the end we all do.  This being the case it becomes a question of taxes, and then becomes a question of fair taxes.  You really do not want to get me started.  But I will quote Finn, as I did once before, “The status quo is the status quo because people who have the power (and money) to make changes are comfortable with the way things are.”  And this was so awfully played out in Jonathon Kozol’s Mott Haven years ago.

But “education is more than budgets, and policies. Schools make the people who make the people who make society.”  “Education can enable or inhibit the questioning habits of students, thus developing or disabling their critical relation to knowledge, schooling and society.”  (Apple, 1979, 1982, 1988)  These statements are highly alarming to me as was the magnitude of this article and the concerns it raises.  (I do love the Empowering Pedagogy though)
So let me focus here.

Shor states that “People are naturally curious.  They are born learners”   But somewhere along the way, whether in school or elsewhere, for many, something stifles this natural tendency to ask and learn.

While researching for my final project, I came across a vast amount of material from Alfie Kohn in which he discusses a huge web of policies and practices that essentially crush the innocent curiosity of children.  Kohn is big advocate of allowing students to instigate the creation of a democratic classroom community.  He believes it is a big mistake not to do so.  At this point so do I.

In Shor’s Empowering Pedagogy,  The first value is participation.  In both of my other education classes, a significant amount of time is spent on the tools we can use to create this empowering classroom.  In my observations, I have witnessed the result of this working, and also not working.  It is truly the key to effective classroom management, and the door to empowering educational values that can develop students into citizen’s who think critically and act democratically.

As we think about what kind of teachers we want to be, I am taking from Shor tools I hope to use at least once a year.  Can I effectively engage all students in a discussion of what the rules and norms of the class should be?  What the students need it to be?  This is the essence of the Learner centered democratic classroom.  Not necessarily an easy thing to do, especially with kids who are used to being told what is expected of them instead of asked what do they think should be expected of them.  But we have to start somewhere.  I was especially moved by Shor’s account on page 27, “To help myself. . . . students should start out by questioning the material and the process of schooling. “  Try to read this page because it is very powerful and I have heard of this approach first hand, and the teacher’s I have met who do this, insist it is magical. . . And I'd like to point out that in all of my classes I am asked to evaluate my own work.  And in this class we are also asked to evaluate our own work and in some cases each others' (Blog comments).  Personally, not feeling judged and not being in a competition has allowed me the freedom I need to learn.  Well played Dr. Bogad, well played!

Finally I want to take a moment and go back to the idea of an inquiry based learning experience. This is at the essence of Johnson, Delpit and Finn.  The classrooms that enable critical thinking will provide students with the powerful literacy skills with which to move about in the world,  they will have the power to create opportunities for themselves and to make a difference the way they want to make a difference.
If you are working with small kids, there is an age where everything out of their mouth is a question.  As parents, it can be awesome, exhausting, hilarious and a nightmare! ***  When my daughter was 5, she spent 3 days at a prestigious Providence school for evaluation in their application process.    A year earlier they would have taken her, but there was no space.  After the three days I was told she would not be considered because she asked too many questions.  At the time I was a pissed Mother Bear.  But, she ended up in a wonderful public elementary school, I didn’t have to drive 4 hours 5 days a week, and her creativity wasn’t crushed.

* * *during the “question” period, my little girl and I were driving past the big blue bug one day, and she asked, “Mom do you think that ants look at the big blue bug like god and ask it questions and if it doesn’t answer they make up answers?”   “Of course,"  I said.  "It’s the way people do it too.”  The two of us are very sarcastic.  (We are not religious, but we are very spiritual, and I apologize if I offended anyone.  That is never my intent.)

Here she is. . . yes I made the watermelon shoes. . . it's a summertime tradition at our house . . .  

 The other picture is her 8th birthday: pin the tail on the alien. . . . 

And finally, I'd like share 2 links.  The first is to the Kahn Academy.  A non-profit educational website created in 2006 whose mission is to provide a "free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere".
The quote below is from the second link.  The schools in Los Altos CA are undertaking a huge change in policy.  And it aligns pretty perfectly with Ira Shor's Empowering Pedagogy.  At the heart of their changes is the Kahn academy.

"(The) focus for two years has been on developing a culture of ongoing learning in the schools.  “Our teachers felt un-empowered; that they did not have permission to change.”  The district was introduced to Khan Academy two years ago.  Alyssa says, “Khan was a great tool to give our teachers something tangible to work with, to start moving away from the assembly line model and build a blended learning experience. It helped us all to build the rationale that we need to ‘do’ learning in a very different way.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Towards Democracy, and a Rich Classroom Community

FNED 346 

Dr. Bogad

After reading Christopher Kliewer’s article “Citizenship in School”  I could not help but think of every single other injustice we have been addressing in class.  From Johnson’s Privilege and the obvious SCWAAMP, (well only obvious to those who can’t claim these inherent privileges), to the culture and first languages of Kozol, Rodriguez, the marginalization of those who are different in their sexual orientation, to the stereotyping of princesses and princes, to segregation of class, race and community, and now this, tracking by disability.  Please tell me there isn’t anything else.
This article resonated with what started me down this teaching path to begin with.  There is mounting evidence that it is not who is in the classroom that matters, but how the classroom, the teacher, students, curriculum and real world relevance all function together as a community.  And happily this evidence also suggests that testing and grading is demeaning and detracts from true learning (Alfie Kohn).  So instead, good teachers should do less teaching, but instead become facilitators, with the goal of celebrating every child, and recognizing them as thinking creative individuals who add unique and valuable dimensions to the classroom.  Speaking to down syndrome, oft considered a disability, “To eliminate a single person through any form of banishment, no matter how benevolent the logic, reduces the web and makes the community a less democratic and less rich place.” (p.96)

(So we are ready next time. . . .for Dr. Bogad's bag of tricks! )

Shayne Robbins devotion to making the classroom a safe place for all students to learn, with the support from the families and the community, is a righteous model.  Had the disabled Down Syndrome children been labelled and then tracked by these labels, had they not been recognized as unique contributors to the classroom community, later in life they might have described their school experience as Mia Peterson did at the very beginning of this reading.

“I started to notice that I didn’t like the classes I was taking called special education.  I had to go through special ed. almost all my life.  I wanted to take other classes that interested me.  I had never felt so mad, I wanted to cry.” (Peterson, 1994, p.6)

Shayne Robbins' classroom was built on the recognition of the individuals’ value, the curriculum, and by creating a dialogue with the kids.  And it suggests that what is to be valued in a student needs to broaden. So that the meaning of “disability” applies less often if at all.  We saw in Jean Anyon’s research that the socio-economics of the families in a community and the resulting assumed intelligence of the students defined the atmosphere and teaching style in the classroom. And ultimately it affected the definition of success for these students.  In Robbin’s class room it did not.

In Brown Vs the board of education, the Supreme Court created federal legislation desegregated race in education.  It was the legal acknowledgement of the problem of race discrimination in schools.  The first step in addressing an issue is acknowledgement.  It is still a problem.  But it is time to desegregate schools and society for the able "disabled".

Several weeks ago, in my gym, I noticed we had a new trainer.  He has down syndrome.  The physical attributes give it away.  I have watched him, and he is no different than any other trainer in terms of his abilities.  This morning he give a client a big hug for something well done.  It warmed my heart.  Because THAT you don’t see from the other trainers, not with that kind of authentic affection.  I would love to meet this young man.

Years ago, in my daughter’s daycare, one of her class mates had a sister, a year older, with down syndrome.  Christina was treated no differently than anyone else by the children, the school, the community or her family.  About 10 years later, I ran into the family again as our girls began playing fast pitch in Apponaug.  This league allows anyone from anywhere in the state to play, and fathers did the coaching.  The camaraderie in the teams was one of the many joys of watching these kids play.  Going to the games and screaming at your kid was another!  (Not to mention you would be hard pressed to find a mother that didn’t secretly enjoy watching their daughter sitting in a cage).  But there was something very special about Christina’s team.  You couldn’t miss it.  They absolutely loved her, and she them.  All this a result of an entire community that made it a point to know Christina.

You cannot teach if you do not “know your students”.  This has been impressed upon me in every one of my classes.  (Remember our first day of FNED 346).  A visiting teacher shared with one of my other classes, that every year, during the first week, he negotiates the rules and norms of the classroom for as many days as it takes.  At the same time, he calls every parent or guardian to learn all he can about his new charges.  He creates an inclusive environment.  This aligns well with my approach to life. 

According to Kliewer  “. . . through community, self indulgence is cultivated and satisfied.”  In other words community is there for the individual to use for personal gain and future success.  But for the most part, privilege "for personal gain and future success" is still defined by SCWAAMP.  Too often, “those who appear to lack the potential to acquire privilege through community are devalued, seen as less capable and so “less than full citizens””.  So what of their future?   

The big idea here, is that we have to get along.  We have to want to get along.  “Douglas Biklen (1992) has outlined, society itself is hurt when schools act as cultural sorting machines - locations that “justify a competitive ethic that marginalizes certain students or groups of students…(that) legitimize discrimination and devaluation on the basis of the dominant society’s preferences in matters of ability, gender, ethnicity, and race…and (that) endorse an elaborate process of sorting by perceived ability and behavior”(p.183).  And isn’t this pretty much everything we have been talking about.  That too many schools and communities “hurt”.  Either by discrimination or tracking.  

This is a quote from the above link, an article in the New York Times about the resurgence of tracking.  This approach is happening here in RI, and is not necessarily a bad thing. . . Think about Robbins' class as you read this, and follow the link (if you have time, if you even made it this far)

"About a decade ago, instead of teaching all her students as one group, (Ms. Sears, a fourth-grade teacher) began ability grouping, teaching all groups the same material but tailoring activities and assignment to each group."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Observation #2, Backwards Lesson Plan

SED 406

Prof. Kraus

CFHS observation, backwards to a lesson plan.

Once again I had the honor of observing a master in action.  Mr. U has a terrific community in his classroom.  The rules and norms are stated clearly on the walls.  His objectives are on the white board.  J and I entered the room with class already in session.  Students were gathering information.  This approach appeared to one of indirect teaching.  Students gather information first, and this results in inquiry at the end.  I couldn’t take notes fast enough.  This teacher has very clear ideas on what he believes should be taught in High School.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Literacy with Viv's attitude

FNED 346

Dr. Bogad

In the preface of this week’s reading, the author Finn states that “in America from colonial times universal literacy (except for slaves) has been the aim”.  And on p. 2 he offers, “Over time, political, social, and economic forces have brought us to a place where the working class (and to a surprising degree, the middle class) gets domesticating education and functional literacy, and the rich get empowering education and powerful literacy.”  We do not have universal literacy.

And once again my humor gets the better of me. . . (no disrespect towards anyone intended)
In “Privilege Power and Difference”  Alan Johnson speaks of the power of the privileged.  Rich, white, healthy and handsome america.  SCWAAMP.  My question to Johnson was, if asked, do those with the power want it to change?  Finn states (I am still in the preface) “The status quo is the status quo because people who have the power to make changes are comfortable with the way things are.”  I’m glad this came up again. 

Finn defines “literacy as a powerful right of citizenship. . . ”  But the educational system in our country does not reflect a true social democracy.  Education is not created equal.  Being presented with such a large amount of material on what leads to this discrepancy, and possible solutions, I am choosing to focus on the work of Jean Anyon that Finn sites.

In 1978, Anyon looked at 5 classrooms in New Jersey.  Her research revealed shocking disparities in how students were being taught based on their family’s socio-economic status.

“…she discovered that the working class children are being prepared for mechanical and routine wage-labor. The middle-class children are being prepared for white-collar jobs where success comes from not rocking the boat, but in being able to problem solve and find the right answer. The professional children are being prepared to follow in the footsteps of their parents and become professionals - with highly developed linguistic, artistic and scientific expression skills. And finally, the executive children are developing the skills necessary for the “ownership and control of the physical capital and the means of production in society.” 

You can read more about Jean Anyon's work here:

I graduated High School in 1975.  What interested me the most was the Professional High School.  In this environment, students were taught “highly developed linguistic, artistic and scientific expression skills.”  The Theme was “Individualism and Humanitarianism”  This was my high school.   Most of my 600 classmates pursued careers in Government, Medicine, Education, Research, and the Arts (: .   The student body was very involved in school politics.  Anyon's description in the quote above sounded like my school.  In this format, Anyon was only allowed to take “copies” of the student work, not the originals.  When I ran my studio, licensing my artwork allowed me to keep my originals.  That was EXTREMELY important to me.

What is frightening about all of this, is that Finn included Anyon’s work from 1978 because current research reveals almost identical results.  One might conclude a solution could be desegregating economic classes.  We did not talk about it in class, but desegregation in Brown vs. the Board of Education led to bussing white and black kids to other communities and schools.  It was enormously controversial.  As a little kid, I was aware that there were a lot of people angry about bussing.  And these children do not look happy.

This site goes into some detail about the issues of bussing for desegregation.

But the other solution that is put forth in the rest of these chapters is to create a community in the classroom that mimics the community of those in schools where students are being taught powerful literacy, or what Finn coins,  “Literacy with Attitude.”

We need teachers to be committed to affording empowering education and powerful literacy to every child.   As teachers, we are being taught the techniques that support this.  (Just wait for SED 406, and 407).  And we are being taught to engage and challenge our students in a safe place.  How we teach needs to encourage critical thinking, problem solving, with literacy, no matter what the discipline.  Every thing needs to support everything.  So how great would it be if the education that we provide, created possibilities for everyone.  

I hope that as future teachers, we can discuss the idea of how you create a powerful community in the classroom.  It seems that so much of what we’ve been reading is leading up to this.

And then there's this. . .  . . . 

Monday, March 24, 2014

SED 406

Prof. Kraus

3 / 24 /14    To my Classmates,

I have created this post for you to reflect on my lesson today.  I hope you learned a little about how life works and why rabbits can be pretty scary when left unattended.

Please share with me your thoughts on my teaching skills.

Many Thanks

Sunday, March 23, 2014

FNED 346

Dr. Bogad

I don't even know what to call this.

This is the most difficult assignment so far.  I don’t know if it’s because we are looking at four sources of information, or if the subject is so broad, or that it cuts across not just other readings in this class but all of my classes.  In any case I am going to try to sort this out.  

A Turning Point in History

The supreme court, led by a 24 year old Chief Justice Jack Greenburg made “equal opportunity in education the law of the land,” a right belonging to everyone.  (  Imagine being the head of the supreme court at 24.  Surprisingly (I think) Dwight D Eisnerhower, a Republican, was President.  Richard Nixon was Vice President.  Under this administration, segregation, the separating of people by race in education was deemed unacceptable by law.

I was born soon after this event, but this is what I remember.

This is the famous painting by Norman Rockwell, the illustrator of typical American Life.  The little girl is Ruby Bridges.  She was escorted by 4 marshals into the William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans in 1960.  It wasn’t until she was 18 that she saw this painting and in her words “I thought , Oh, my god, this was important.  This changed our country.”    (   

What does it say that this sweet young thing had to have 4 grown men bodyguards.

So what really happened after this landmark turning point in History.  Tim Wise summed up both of his interviews with the remark “We are nowhere near a post racial america”  And continued with when “black people can be as mediocre as white people and still get hired” we will have an equal opportunity society.  What a sad word to use.  Mediocre.  This idea rings loudly with Alan Johnson’s Privilege, Power, and Difference.  According to Johnson, being white is the most powerful privilege. In his opening paragraph he states that there is “A huge store of Knowledge (of this inequality that) leaves no doubt that (privilege) causes enormous amounts of injustice and unnecessary suffering.” (P. 7. Privilege, Power, and Difference)  So how do we get to an equal opportunity non-racist society?

Regarding his book, “Between Barack and a Hard Place”, (City Lights, 2009),  Wise states that there are still double standards.  He speaks of the accomplishments of Barack Obama.  He had two years to prove he was articulate, intelligent, well educated and worthy of the office of President of the United States.  On the other hand Wise points out that as a white male, “you can be articulate or inarticulate and still become President.”  He adds that “There is no way in the world that a person of color would have been taken seriously as a Presidential candidate if they had graduated 5th from the bottom of the Naval Academy they had attended, or a Vice Presidential Candidate that had gone to 5 schools in six years. . .  or if a black man had crashed 5 airplanes.”   He is speaking here of couse of George Bush Jr.  And his election was McIntosh’s invisible “Whiteness” showing it’s power.  Wise's point is, as a person of color, you have to be “truly exceptional to break that ceiling.”   

Here is a picture I did yesterday just to break things up a bit.

Then I read “Separate but Equal” by Bob Herbert.  He argues that in spite of segregation being illegal, you still can’t have ethnic diversity in schools because the nature of communities can’t support it.  “Residential patterns, housing discrimination, economic disparities and long - held custom“are today a reality.  We need only to look at Jonathan Kozol’s description of the community of Mott Haven in 1995.  Not only did it wreak of under-privilege, it was surrounded by a city full of opportunity. . . . for the privileged.  There was no place for these citizen’s to go to be successful.  The disparity of wealth in this country is shameful, and a daily reality.  You see it in the communities, and you see it in the schools.

As student teachers, RIC has given us specific service placements in hopes that we start to see the challenges that kids face, forget about what our challenges will be.  And from the stories I’ve heard in class it’s clear that there are many little victories when kids are given the attention and direction to learn.  Herbert states that “If you really want to improve the education of poor children, you have to get them away from learning environments that are smothered by poverty.”  (  But how does one do that, on a national scale?  The Mott Haven that Kozol described in 1995 is a different place in 2012.  Positive advances are being made.  One such change was implemented by the compassion of a charter school in California.  (I mention this ironically as in Herbert’s article, he states that Charter Schools have done very little to improve the (lives) of poor black and latino students”).  But this is only one community.  In regards to school systems, Herbert points out, “Nothing has brought about the gains on the scale that is needed”.  This is also true for social equal opportunity.

Alan Johnson points out that everyone is part of our privileged system, it has a life of it’s own.  So the definition itself negates the idea of equality.  And if we go back to Rodriguez’s heart wrenching account of choosing a public identity to acquire more power and create more opportunities, I am ready to throw up my hands.

Perhaps we teach the rules of power to kids no matter where they are in school.  In thinking about the kind of teacher I want to be, I believe we absolutely should.  More specifically, we should teach proper grammar, letter writing skills, presentation skills and give them real world experiences, successful experiences.  Maybe then we begin to level the playing field.

And isn’t that what all 4 of these sources were talking about.  The Supreme Court, led by a 24 year old, stripped our country of constitutional sanctions that made segregation in schools OK.  Well, at least legally it’s not OK any more.  And we have a black president, but he had to endure 2 years of scrutiny to prove he was exceptional.  (Does anyone remember Sarah Palin?)  And we are being trained and guided by our RIC Professors in the ways that make todays kids want to learn.  It may not be enough, but I have to believe it's something

On the comments page of Bob Herbert’s article I found this from a teacher in the Bronx in NYC:.

Lastly, on July 28, 2011, Jack Greenburg, the former Supreme Court Justice who argued the Brown vs Board of Education case spoke at the Kansas School of Law:  I really can't get over that he was 24 years old.