Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Promising Practices Reflection

The 2014 annual Promising Practices event took place on November 1st at Rhode Island College. It was a rainy day, but it all became worth it as I attended two very different workshops, and then listened to an amazing keynote address given by Dr. Christopher Emdin.
My first workshop was titled "Idea to Implementation". It was hosted by RIC sustainability coordinator, Dr. James Murphy, as well as STEM Director for RIC, Dr. Carol Giuriceo. The workshop primarily spoke on the idea of having more outdoor classrooms, and how this can relate to STEM. One concept was to have an outdoor classroom at the RIC bee education center, which I had no idea existed until this conference. Dr. Murphy also wears the hat of the college's beekeeper as well. Now this idea of putting a classroom near this area is interesting, due to the fact that it would be outdoors and therefore be a fresh environment for students to learn in. It could also attract the students from Henry Barnard to come and learn a lesson outside. They spoke on how this idea can be implemented into lesson plans and curriculum. In terms of the STEM aspect of this project, it can produce culturally responsive and relevant pedagogy, allowing the students to become fully immersed in the lesson, and teach them about things outside of the classroom. Culturally responsive curriculum was a big point mentioned numerous times at this workshop. Dr. Giruiceo also mentioned that there is a low number of females currently involved in STEM. An interesting point, and it makes you wonder why. It is an interesting field with broad topics to explore and delve into. These outdoor classrooms would be designed to attract more students to STEM. It would rely on students personal interest, and could include various instructional strategies allowing the same lesson to be taught numerous ways. It is also a very informal environment, which can in retrospect, give the students a sense of freedom, as opposed to being in a classroom.
My second workshop took place in a classroom in Henry Barnard, and was titled: "Using Technology in Early Childhood Classrooms." Two current teachers at HBS, Mrs. Jessica Noris and Ms. Michelle Nonis were in charge of the section. The idea was to show the various new forms of technology being implemented into classroom learning, giving a greater sense of ease to transition between lessons and hold students attention for a longer period of time, especially at that grade level. This is not to say that you can fully rely on this technology either, as every now and then it will crash or not work. You should always have a backup plan. Generally, they offered some various websites conducive to more effective learning for the students.
Now to the keynote address given by Dr. Emdin. Dr. Emdin spoke on this idea of Hip Hop education, which allows students a great sense of freedom on how they can and should be able to learn. It opens up a whole new set of possibilities for students progress through schooling. He also spoke upon race, and said something that I found to be so interesting and profound. "We are more segregated today than we were pre-brown vs. board of ed. If you go to the Bronx and go to the schools in the area, you won't see a single white kid anywhere. Now if you go up to Chelsea, you won't see a single black kid." This truly struck me because he is absolutely right, and it is something that you generally don't think about or seem to notice, but just because you don't notice something doesn't mean that it isn't there. Dr. Emdin's invigorating personality and charisma made for such an electrifying speech that culminated to a well deserved standing ovation. His opinions were certainly controversial, but generally were received extremely well by the crowd. What an amazing event.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Empowering Education--Shor

Ira Shor penned an interesting read this week which talks about the reasoning behind going to school, and why children should question this reasoning. Shor, who himself grew up in the Bronx, has made his upbringing from a working class family a huge component in everything that he writes. In terms of "Empowering Education", Shor attempts to establish a point of being able to question the education you receive, and why you are forced to receive it. The National Writing Post summarized the book as such: "Empowering Education by Ira Shor, which conveys the notion of knowledge not as a commodity to impose on students but rather as a problem posed to them for mutual inquiry toward social change. To empower students, Shor offers a methodology using problem posing, "desocialization," and dialogue in classes that are student centered but not permissive or self-centered. He refers to Paulo Freire's pedagogy with students in Brazil, and his own work with students at the City University of New York."
This comes to bring up some good points, namely, education being viewed as a commodity.
We have to understand that education is a service that is offered to help enhance the knowledge children receive, and to bring about new concepts or ideas they may not have known. This idea of stepping into the unknown is what should be questioned. Shor states on page 12: "In a curriculum that encourages student questioning, the teacher avoids a unilateral transfer of knowledge." I think this is huge, because I feel as though a lot of the curriculum established today does not include these types of methods. Many teachers can teach the same course to four different classes and repeat the same thing over and over again, but that is boring! There needs to be some sense of diversity to allow the students to think critically and question why they have to. I think in today's school environment, too many teachers, parents and administrators teach students to believe that teacher's word is law. They have taught them 1-5 of Delpit's rules and codes of power, which in itself it certainly admirable, but does not allow for these kids to challenge these rules! Recently in FNED, we were given a quiz on a reading from a previous week, and the quiz was so simple, our professor was surprised when we did not question her giving us this. We all fell into this trap that we are expected to do what we are told to do. Now, this is not to say that we must dispute every exam given by every teacher, but we should not be afraid to question their thoughts or concede that we have a different idea. It is such a fine line that one must walk upon, because the student has the chance of facing a hefty consequence for taking this risk. But taking this risk is empowering and enriching the educational process! It should be more of an open discussion with a facilitator rather than students listening to what a teacher says and going by that at all times. Every student is intelligent with some sense of rebellion inside of them. Again, I am not saying to be Braveheart and fight to have an education that stands alone from the other versions, but do challenge the thoughts of your peers and teachers! Even if what you say is wrong, you can find out why it is wrong and why they are right. Students shouldn't dread coming to school. Winston Churchill  once said: "I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught." It is time for a change; for the betterment of schooling, education and the students themselves. There will be a difference if someone tries.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Kliewer--Reconceptualizing Down Syndrome

Christopher Kliewer penned quite an interesting read this week regarding the concept of the image of down syndrome, and ways we can work to essentially redo the images projected with it.
Down Syndrome, and for that matter any disability, are not viewed as an individual who can achieve full possible potential, and are viewed as an abnormality in society. However, the people judging these individuals with disabilities as abnormal have no basis to pass judgement along, as many of these individuals are not disabled, and know nothing of what it is like to live with any form of a disability. Early on in his book, Kliewer mentions a young girl named Mia Peterson, a young girl who has felt that her disability has segregated her from opportunities her non-disabled peers were able to ascertain. Mia stated: "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 of my life. I wanted to take other classes that interested me. I had never felt so mad. I wanted to cry." (Peterson , 1994 pg 6.) To think that individuals such as Mia were not afforded the same opportunities most people are is sickening. We have no idea the learning potential these children can have. Today, Mia co-leads a study on communication skills and people with down syndrome with Professor Laura Meyers, a member of the faculty at UCLA. Immediately, this makes me think of our SCWAAMP activity, where we identified that survival of the fittest is still looked upon as a prestigious sentiment in the United States. It is shameful, as some of these students could be brighter than some who have no disability whatsoever. Students that take special education courses these days, as far as what I saw in my own high school, are students with severe disabilities, such as to the point where they cannot care for themselves for day-to-day activities. Searching the internet, I found this really interesting chart which shows the percentage of students with a documented special need or disability, and are placed in general classrooms. At the top, one category pushes all disabilities together and says "All students with disabilities". In schools that allow 80% or more of these students into classrooms, 60% of the students with disabilities actually go in, meaning 40% were unable. This is remarkable. How many times when you are in class can you identify another student with a disability? Almost never. That is because a lot of the time, these disabilities are something internal, such as a developmental delay, or behavioral issue, or being deaf. However, if there were to be a student in the room with a disability that was visible, such as down syndrome, then they would immediately be looked upon as different in some way. There is something even today that disallows students with these disabilities to be looked at as any regular in society, and this needs to be reconceptualized. They are among us like any other individual is, and should be treated as any normal member of society. Can you tell which child in the picture below has a disability? I can't either.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Literacy with an Attitude--Finn

Patrick Finn has written one of the more interesting reads as of late. He describes how the socio-economic status of children in schools often lead to segregation, and the multiple reasons of why they are supposedly segregated.
Finn describes his own personal teaching experiences, and how he had to start from "the bottom" to prove himself to his fellow teachers. He described how the school he was at was segregated based on "reading level", with students being spread among 15 classes, 8-1 through 8-15; 8-1 being the highest and 8-15 being the lowest. He talked about how the lower classes tended to have fewer students, allowing for more concentrated and individualized attention. However, he also mentioned how some of these classes often were used as punishment, where higher reading level students would be sent in for behavioral issues. This is wrong for a number of reasons. One being that the students currently in the class would be made to feel that they are also in the class based on behavior, when it is actually based on their reading level. It also showed the level of respect in a way that other teachers had for these classes, and for the teachers themselves. However, a crucial element Finn discussed was his teaching method. Often time, Finn would use clear and direct orders to the students, as this was the message he was trying to convey. If someone did something negative, instead of saying "what are you doing?" you would say "stop and get back to work". The more direct viewpoint allows the students to have direct authority and learn to take orders and make them better listeners. While I agree with being more direct, I disagree with the way he goes about it. After hearing Dr. Chris Emdin speak at promising practices, these children should not be shut down while trying to produce their ideas. If they are misbehaving, that is another story, but if they are trying to express themselves and give ideas in a different way, there should be no reason for them to be told to stop or be quiet.
Finn is certainly a direct speaker throughout the text, telling explicit ways to address students and how to engage in classrooms.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Racial Preference--Wise

Tim Wise, an anti-racism activist and writer, pens quite an interesting read regarding racial preference, and how this idea of inequity among race is still present today.
Racism has deep roots that run through the American bloodline, and even with the gains and goals achieved in the 20th Century with improving the way racism is shown, it is still prevalent today, even more so. When Brown vs. Board of Education took place in 1954, the pivotal and monumental case made it unconstitutional for schools to engage in segregation based on racial and ethnic backgrounds. However, it occurs to most people that segregation is more engaged with today than with some cases pre-brown vs. board of ed. Dr. Christopher Emdin, the keynote speaker at RIC's annual 2014 Promising Practices conference, made a fantastic point when he said: "If you go to a high school in the Bronx, all you see is black kids, where if you go to a high school in Chelsea, you won't see a single black kid." I found this interesting, because it seems that we are being segregated based on socio-economic values rather than race. While I believe segregation was made more clearly noticeable in the 20th Century, with various sighs specifying "whites only" or "coloreds only", segregation is still very much alive today. In the case of racial preference, we can't deny it exists either. Wise mentions in his article how certain students can earn points for coming from different backgrounds, such as being below the poverty line, or being a high-attaining student with rigourous AP or honors curriculum. He believes whites are more inclined to get points like this because they have had a greater number of opportunities for them to achieve things like this rather than black kids. Again, I think this is really interesting, and we can even tie this into Johnson's notion of white privilege, and how we need to push away from this to achieve a more equated and balanced world. Even Kozol who believes that racism is not the fault of any individual person but of a larger system, and how there is this cycle of inequality that give insight into the problems. There are certain poignant questions we should be asking, such as what can we do to help this problem lessen? What can schools do? What can the government do? What can white people and black people do? All of these questions will eventually determine the fate of segregation, and how powerful of a force it will remain for the years to come.    

Sunday, October 26, 2014

"The Silenced Dialogue", Delpit Revisited

In the hunt for five quotes to pull from Lisa Delpit's extraordinary piece, I could find none more suiting than her five rules and codes of power that she lists clearly on page 24 of her article. The first quote being: "Issues of power are enacted in classrooms." This is something I certainly agree with, as in my service learning I have witnessed such powers be exposed whilst in the classroom setting. Most prominently, you are able to see the power the teacher demonstrates over the students. This power is something that appears to be contested more and more as students rise from elementary school, to middle to high, however the fact remains that while in the classroom, the teacher is indeed the one with the power. Think about it, they preside and instruct a class of sometimes 15-20+ students at any given time, and expect that when students come into school in September, they come with this knowledge that they are expected to obey, and file into this basic rule and code of power prevalent in the school system.
     The second quote from Delpit is: "There are codes or rules for participating in power; that is, there is a 'culture of power'". Delpit's reference to to this culture of power is referring again to the people who are in these positions of power, be that politicians, police officers, or even teachers. In order for these individuals to contain and remain in this culture of power, they need to abide by certain codes or rules that allow them to be in it in the first place, more specifically, ways of communication. The way we communicate is our portal into the mind of another human. We probe for answers, opinions, guidance and more from other beings, and these codes of power include being articulate and precise with what we say and how we say it, and the same principle again can be applied on a personal note to my service learning experience thus far. Being in an elementary school, the presence of a teacher is always massive in the classroom, halls, cafeteria and office, and the way they communicate their rules and rituals to the students are always clear and precise, so that potentially one day, a select few of those students may be admitted to this culture of power that Delpit so often seems to refer to.
    Delpit's third 'rule' states: "The rules of the culture of power are a reflection of the rules of the culture of those who have power." This is the rule where Delpit and I tend to disagree. This rule suggests that the children with a middle-to-upper class upbringing will naturally do better in school, as opposed to students who are in a lower class upbringing, because the culture of power is designed for people only in that middle-to-upper class category. I disagree, and in fact believe that the culture of power is slowly shifting more and more into the lower classes favor. We look at ethnically diverse schools across the country, and see the percentage of each race in the school, how many students qualify for free or reduced lunch, and how they may perform learning-wise. Remarkably, in my own personal service learning experiences, the students I have worked with and met have confided that they aren't wealthy by any means, yet their grades show that they are doing remarkably well, some even doing better than kids with that middle class upbringing. While students in that middle class upbringing may be given more of the tools to use to be successful in school, it does not necessarily mean they use them. How does that old phrase go again? "You can lead a horse to water."
     The fourth rule states: "If you are not already a participant in the culture of power, being told explicitly the rules of that culture makes acquiring power easier." This easily ties into schooling, in the sense that when children are told something directly and with confidence, they will abide by it. For example, if  eight-year old Sally is misbehaving in class, and Mrs. Johnson says: "Sally, can you please try to focus on what we are doing instead of making a mess on your desk?" It does not seem effective, especially to a student at such a young age. Sally will continue making a mess on her desk, and Mrs. Johnson will begin developing a migraine. However, if Mrs. Johnson had said: "Sally, clean that mess up and pay attention to what we are doing, otherwise you are going for a time out." Sally immediately cleans her mess and pays attention. Why was the second method more effective? The ability to communicate directly and clearly with the student shows authority, and allows for structure to build.
     Finally, the last rule states: "Those with power are frequently less aware of--or least willing to acknowledge--it's existence. Those with less power are often more aware of it's existence." Once again to apply this to a classroom setting, the teacher rarely will say: "listen to me because I am the powerful one in this room." MOST OF THE TIME, you will hear the STUDENT say: "you have to listen to her, she's the teacher!" They have recognized that there is a certain standard of power that has been established, and that they are the ones without power. This rule has always been remarkable to me since I first read Delpit, because it was never something I truly thought about. When I led my high school band as a Drum Major for two years, I never thought of myself in a position of power, but simply acted in my position of power. I am sure President Obama doesn't go to bed each night (well at least most nights) saying how he is the most powerful man in the world, he simply just goes and attempts to do the job he's elected to do.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

"In the Service of What?" Reflection

     I simply had to choose the option of writing my response as a reflection due to the fact that I am currently involved in numerous service learning projects, and have the opportunity to discuss them in conjunction with Kahne and Westheimer's text. I thought it very interesting how they explained service learning to be a way to "improve the community, invigorate the classroom, [and provide] rich, educational experiences for students at all levels of schooling." (pg 2) I fully agree with statement, and can say that it is truly a rewarding experience being able to watch children grow and develop as if they were your own students for that small portion of the week you are there. Being in this setting, and walking into the school each week, being able to perform in a different role or capacity rather than just as a student, is something fresh and exciting.
     Looking at this from a different viewpoint, for the past 13-14 years, we have been molding ourselves into products of the schooling system. We were the proverbial sponges soaking up the knowledge that our teachers would lay in front of us each day, so to have the experience of being able to essentially flip that around is rewarding. It is almost our way of being able to give back to the profession that made us who we are today. It also allows us to open our eyes to another side of schooling, such as was the case with one of the service learning cases discussed in the article, in particular Mr. Johnson's case, where one of his students for their project worked in a center for babies whose mothers had high levels of crack-cocaine in their bloodstreams during pregnancy. That would be an extremely different experience from my own of course, as I am dealing with young children, but at the same time there could be similarites. I am unsure of how many of the children I deal with could come from a family who have had issues or problems such as these. It is interesting to think about the comparisons and how this project could in some ways relate to my own.
     This article also focuses a lot on the differences between the moral and political aspects of service learning, and how the two can coincide with one another. I do believe that both categories certainly have a place in education, the moral side being the teachers personal connection with the students they have, and the political side there to make sure that personal connection doesn't get too personal. What I mean by this is that by having these two codes of power (which ironically fit into Delpit's concept of the Culture of Power), we have a balanced learning environment. This politcal domain, as our authors call it, allow students the opportunity to learn in a democratic environment, and not be tethered by personal connection.
     These service learning experiences are very rewarding to everyone that has the opportunity to participate in it. They can teach life-learning lessons, and give inspiring teachers the opportunity to have a small taste of what being a teacher truly entails.