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.