Welcome to a new year of school! It is only the second day of school, but there is an air of excitement, possibility , and hope I have never felt before at my school. Past readers may know that my elementary school was classically bad. And I mean hopelessly bad.
But the last year has brought about many changes, and now, we have a staff of motivated and enthusiastic teachers, a staff made up of primarily the exact same teachers as before. What do I attribute this major change in culture and attitude to? The abrupt replacement of our now ex-principal with a knowledgeable and able leader who shares power and demands that her teachers wields that power in service of students’ education.
So, let us raise a glass to a wonderful year where both students and teachers learn!
Teachers may find that their students’ interest in education is waning, which can be detrimental in an inner-city setting. At-risk students have the highest dropout rate, as we all know, so it is crucial that we keep students engaged and active. Technology can be a very effective way to keep at-risk students interested in their studies.
When it comes to the type of technology used within the classroom, computers are often preferable to televisions. This is because televisions offer only a passive experience, whereas students can interact with computer technology. The problem with this, of course, it the cost of outfitting each classroom with even one computer, let alone enough for each student.
Inner city schools often lack the funding necessary to really integrate technology with traditional education. However, teachers who can bring a computer into the classroom experience should definitely be taking advantage of free, open source software. Such software is readily available to the public and serves as a great alternative to expensive, commercial software.
If you would like to pursue a blended curriculum that integrates cutting-edge technology with traditional instruction, I recommend the Open Source Education Foundation Website. There, you will find many resources for free software that is designed for a classroom setting. SourceForge.net is also a great place to find open source software of all kinds.
Integrating technology with classroom instruction helps inner city children in two ways. One, it keeps children active in their learning, giving them the ability to hone their problem-solving skills firsthand. The other way technology improves the classroom experience is by giving children technological skills that will help them in the future. It is the digital age, after all, and most adults depend on computers every day.
© 2008 Heather Johnson.
This post was contributed by Heather Johnson, who is an industry critic on the subject of university reviews. She invites your feedback at heatherjohnson2323 at gmail dot com.
Tags: awards, contest, lands' end, teacher appreciation
Just got this information. I say everyone nominate their most excellent teachers!
Lands’ End is announcing the Teachers Light the Way Contest. The company will recognize outstanding teachers that have made a difference in the life of a student, a school or a community. 45 teachers will receive the coveted Lands’ End Lighthouse Award – representing the company’s 45-year history – as well as the chance to win the grand prize of $5,000 for the winning teacher and $5,000 for the nominated teachers’ school.
Lands’ End will accept nominations at www.www.landsend.com/teachers beginning March 13 through midnight April 17, 2008. If your readers would like to recognize an extraordinary teacher, they can fill out the online entry form and submit a 50 to 500 word essay.
During Teacher Appreciation Week, May 5-9, Lands’ End will recognize and award the winning 45 teachers with a Lighthouse award. Three outstanding teachers will receive grand prize status: First Grand Prize Winner receives $5,000 for the winning teacher and a $5,000 school award; Second Grand Prize Winner receives $3,000 for the winning teacher and a $3,000 school award; and Third Grand Prize Winner receives $2,000 for the winning teacher and a $2,000 school award. The nominators of the Grand Prize Winners will receive a $500/$300/$200 Lands’ End gift card, respectively. The remaining 42 teachers will each receive a $100 Lands’ End gift card and those that nominated them will each receive a $25 gift card.
Hey! Good news for me!
I will be teaching English 10 (tenth grade English) at a night school for adults and high school students starting next Monday. It’s only a temporary, 3 weeks position, but I get to see what the other side of the tracks look like. I’m excited and scared!
I wonder how much of my experience in the elementary level is relevant to this new setting?
My previous post explores some of the philosophy behind Culturally Relevant Teaching (CRT), or the whys. This post, I want to explore some of the hows. That really is what we need.
If you are reading Part 2 of my posts, then I assume that I am preaching to the choir. You already intuitively know why CRT is a good thing and you want to do it. So how do we go about integrating CRT into our daily instruction to maximize student learning?
High Expectation – from Can’t to the Absolutely Can
Do you have high expectation of your diverse students? Do you really believe that everyone can learn and succeed? OR Do you answer, “Yes, but ______.” If you qualify your answer with “but” then you do NOT have high expectations for your diverse students. You can stop reading this post right now and go pick up some books with researches that prove again and again that ALL students can learn, regardless of color, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic background, parental involvement, whatever. Until you believe absolutely that all of your students can learn, can be the A student, then nothing that you read or try will help your students any. I don’t know how else to put it. The anonymity of the internet blog allows me to write this, “If you don’t have high expectations for all your students, then you SUCK as a teacher compared to what you can truly do.” (I just know I’m about to get another slew of e-mails attacking me. *ducks*)
What does high expectation look like in the classroom setting? Here is another real life example from my school.
All teachers are trained to use Thinking Maps, targeted graphic organizers. In particular, all teachers are trained to use these graphic organizers along with sentence frames to help students communicate orally and in writing. All teachers. I took a walk with many other teachers, just to see examples of writing in the classrooms, as part of our professional development. With one exception, all first grade teachers had their students copy teacher created writing samples from the board. By this I mean in all subject areas, in all topics, just all writing samples were teacher created, student copied. These teachers expected that their students can not write and so do not even give them the opportunity to try. The one exception is a first year teacher who doesn’t have that low expectation. In fact, she has high expectation. She expects her students to write coherently and she gave them the support they need to do so. She gave them the sentence frames, without filling it in for them. She gave them Thinking Maps from which they can pull words and ideas. She lets them go at it. Some students made mistakes and she helped correct the mistakes without taking over the students’ writings. High expectation.
Having high expectation is probably the most difficult part of being culturally responsive, because it’s just so easy to blame the students for failure, and so hard to say, maybe I’m not teaching very well.
If you answer with an unqualified yes, then let’s move on to other, easier strategies for integrating culturally relevant teaching.
Part 3 – We Communicate Differently – Coming soon to a blog near you!
Our dominant, white culture communicates very differently from the cultures of our diverse students. Visit my post on how we organize our communication differently. Next post will go more in depth into this and how to utilize this difference in the classroom.
As a teacher, we’ve all heard the terms. We’ve all been told to use it. We’ve all been trained. I know I have. We’ve even piecemeal integrated one or two strategies into our teaching. Many of us are still VERY confused as to what it is and how it’s any different from what we’ve been doing. I know I was!
Here is an exploration of Culturally Relevant Teaching from the perspective of one teacher who is beginning to take ownership and really see direct impact in his classroom.
Primary Resources: Culturally Responsive Teaching by Geneva Gay and How to Teach Students Who Don’t Look Like You by Bonnie M. Davis. Geneva Gay’s book really explores the theory and the whys of CRT(Culturally Relevant Teaching). Bonnie Davis’s book explores YOUR experiences and gives practical strategies.
What is Culturally Relevant Teaching?
It goes by a few name. Culturally Responsive Teaching. Culturally Relevant Pedagogy. Variations thereof. In a nutshell, CRT is respecting the student’s complex culture and individual strengths to teach in a rigorous manner that will lead to academic success. That’s a mouthful.
We want all of our students to be academically successful. Every year, the faces that look back at us in the classroom is more and more diverse. The numbers from standardized tests tell us that there is a persistent “achievement gap”, meaning students of color are not doing as well as white American students. The students are becoming more and more disconnected from education, with worsening behavior problems, and less and less motivation to succeed in school, or so it seems. Many teachers feel frustrated, some even hopeless.
CRT proposes a very convincing argument as to why that achievement gap persists and how we can change our teaching so that our students of color has the best chance of academic success.
Culture counts. That is a premise of CRT and two powerful words that truly affected me. Culture counts. The culture of the diverse students, absolutely, but also the culture of our educational institution and the teachers teaching.
The American educational institution was built by and for the dominant culture, white, middle class, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants. That culture has been entrenched into education to such a degree that we, as fish, don’t see the water through which we swim, nor do we see the cultural norms that exist and force upon our students who DON’T in fact, come from a white, middle class background.
We expect students to sit and listen attentively. That sounds perfectly logical to those of us raised in a middle class educational environment. It is, in fact, logical in all culture. It just looks different. When we say “sit and listen attentively”, we mean sit straight up in the chair, eyes on the speaker, hands still, mouths quiet. In many other culture, African American culture for one, “sit and listen attentively” means moving, nodding and clapping in agreement, yelling out encouragement, nudging the person sitting next to you, and quite often, being really attentive means standing up, not sitting at all. So, when our little black students start moving in class when we speak, we yell at them to sit still. We’ve also just told them to stop listening.
We expect, and teach our students from a young age, to raise their hands and take turn to speak so that it is fair to everyone. Conversation in the classroom is between the teacher and one other student only. Everyone else is expected to listen until it’s their turn. In our individualistic society, that makes sense. In other, more communal society, it doesn’t make sense at all. Everyone is expected to contribute to the conversation. In the classroom, what this looks like is that our students of color call out to the teacher and to each other during discussions. Once again, we tell our students to raise their hands before speaking…and we’ve also told them to stop contributing to the conversation.
Two of our most basic assumptions about teaching clearly clashes with the cultures of our diverse students and tell our students to stop learning! And our students obey. They stop learning. A little at a time until, by fourth and fifth grade, teachers throw their hands up in despair, wondering what they could do.
How to Teach Students Who Don’t Look Like You by Bonnie M. Davis does a great job of helping us to examine our cultural lenses and then readjust our teaching so that we can actually teach our students. Do take a look at it and see what other assumptions about teaching that we hold as logical norms, when in fact it is detrimental to our students of color.
Why should we be mindful of CRT and actively seek to integrate it into our daily classroom instruction? I won’t go deep into this discussion. I figure, if you’ve read this far, then you already want to do it, you just want to know how. Culturally Responsive Teaching by Geneva Gay does a fantastic, and thorough job of discussing why we should use CRT. I highly recommend that every teacher should read Geneva Gay’s book.
I won’t go in-depth into culturally responsive/relevant teaching right now, but I just want to go on record as saying I just finished it and wow! What an amazing, deep, though-provoking book examining different aspects of culturally relevant teaching. I have a deeper understanding of what it is on a theoretical basis and am quite happy that I have included many features of culturally relevant teaching in my classroom instruction already. I am prepared to do more.
If you haven’t already, pick up a copy and read it for yourself.
Again, that’s Culturally Responsive Teaching by Geneva Gay.
About two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit a high school American History class and what I saw shocked me.
On the board was listed 10 weeks worth of homework assignments by due dates:
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Q&A, pg blah blah
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5
- The Constitution
Well, at least there was clear expectations…for the materials that the students need to cover. What exactly are the students supposed to learn of American History? I don’t know, but I do know they need to read a chapter a week, who cares what the chapter’s about.
Perhaps I’m alone in looking at the list and feeling outraged.
Somehow, I thought History class should be more interesting, more involved, more though provocative given the state of our country today.
Now, keeping in mind that I’m a second grade teacher and that MY American History teacher taught in the EXACT same manner as above and I don’t remember a THING about American History, here’s a proposed list of assignments that I would have liked to have seen on the board.
- Who lived in pre-colonial America? Choose one people to read up on, create an artifact relevant to these people and be prepared for show-and-tell.
- What happened to indigenous population once European settlement of the Americas began? Choose a side, pro or con, and be prepared for a debate on the benefits of European settlement.
- Could colonial America be built without the use of slavery? Be prepared for a debate on the pros and cons of slavery. You will be assigned a side at the time of the debate.
- Was it ethical for colonial America to declare independence from Great Britain? Write a Declaration of Independence to secede California from the U.S. You may work with partners or alone.
And so on.
It’s not as if as a teacher you would need to create new materials. The mandated textbook could be used to find all this information. Of course, some students might decide it’s worth their time to look up the information on the Internet, maybe even a library search, or a discussion with their parents…
I don’t know. I’m not a History teacher. Maybe you History teachers can weigh in on this. What do you think?
Lately, this topic has been on my mind. I would like to examine a “case study” to illustrate how physical space and what I jokingly call psychical space must align in order to produce real learning.
In this real classroom at my school, a teacher arranges the tables and chairs into groups of six students. The students face each other. The table groups are arranged throughout the overall classroom. The teacher explains that this fosters collaborative group learning.
On the surface, this sounds like a good idea.
The table groups are arranged in such a way that there is no “carpet space”, a place for the students to come together on the carpet throughout the day to interact as a whole class. The students are expected to remain at their tables and not interact with students at the neighboring tables. The teacher has a desk at the front of the class and stays there. He does not rotate or walk among the students. Students in the “collaborative” groups are expected to work quietly at their individual work, with very little small group work assigned. In reality, the students are isolated from each other and from the teacher. There is no real collaborative learning going on. (Also, because I’m nitpicky, a third of the students face the back of the class, a third face the sides, and only a third face the front where the teacher is and where instruction takes place.)
Almost any physical arrangements in the classroom can work to enhance learning, so long as teacher thinks through what the goals are in the classroom.
This teacher wanted a physical space that fosters collaborative group learning. To make it work, he needs to arrange his teaching to foster collaborative group learning as well. He needs to teach students how to work in groups in a focused manner and then have students actually work in groups in a focused manner, not just do quiet individual work sitting in a group. He needs to collaborate with the students as well by interacting with them, moving among them, having conversations with each group and each student. To further enhance collaborative group learning, he can change the groups for different activities, have students present to each other, have different groups converse with each other. While not necessary, I prefer a carpet space where all students can come together and discuss as a whole group in close proximity to each other and with the class. If the arrangement of the tables don’t have all students facing the “front” of the class, then have instruction take place all over the classroom.
So, what’s your physical space and psychical space like?
Please leave comments with your reflection or link back from your blog.
If you don’t know about the Free Software Directory, do get acquainted! These softwares are created by professional developers who believe that software should be free, not making money for already wealthy companies.
There is a list of great educational software there. I’m testing out gcompris right now and so far, so good! I’ll let you know more.