Saturday, December 5, 2009

Last Post

So last post. What are the "take away's" that I have for this quarter? I think there are several. First, there is a great deal of learning that has to be accomplished in order to facilitate change. The effort is worth it and I think that I have been able to learn quite a lot about myself and others. Second,there are lessons that propel one forward and lessons that hold one back. The one's that push us forward are often enough to negate the one's that hold us back; one just has to be aware of how far they have come. Nothing is ever gained without resistance. Nothing worth anything. Third, don't believe everything someone tells you. There are as many points of view as there those to speak them. As Bracey(2006)warns that often we are swayed by lack of critical analysis of what we read or are told. There is always an agenda and it is best to remember that until we sort out what that is, we must suspend our judgement. Inquiry and critical perspective are two things that will stay with me. I intend to rely on them as much as possible in future. Lastly, thanks to all. I have had a great deal of pleasure learning in your company. I am more than sure that great things will be accomplished by every one of us. I hope to see the these achievements in the future. Works Cited- Bracey,G.W. (2006). Data,their uses and abuses. Reading educational research: How to avoid getting snookered, (pp 1-35). Portsmouth, NH.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I guess what is on my mind this week is what the future will bring. As I am no longer going through the process of becoming a teacher I am reflecting on what I will do next. I intend on finishing my degree for my M Ed. I don't know exactly what this will lead to, but it seems that since I have come this far I would like to finish this. I still have my commitment to education and the social justice principles that I believe in. Perhaps there is something I will be able to do in another arena to support this. Things don't always turn out as we plan. I have become more attuned to this as I have gotten older. The thing that I have also learned is that if the plan changes it does not mean that it still won't provide something of value. So I will look for the value in this and move forward. There is always something to be learned.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

When I think about education and learning I have always tried to frame it as something that every student is privileged for .It is our educational system that states that everyone has a right to an education and because of that learning is not a carrot held at the end of a stick. It is the goal of every person that strives or professes themselves to be an educator to provide for a student. This week I found that there is a "line" that exists in education. This line demarcates where a teacher will withdraw their support of a students learning.It is the usually indicated when a I hear teacher say," If he won't make the effort,then neither will I". Or,"That student has pushed me far enough, they can just sit there and take an "F". These are not just occasional remarks,even though I think that does not really matter. I have heard these from just about every teacher that I have come in contact with. Sometimes accompanied by words that would have a student thrown out of class. And there always seems to be a nod of understanding or words of support for this position from fellow teachers.
I am not going to judge these teachers and their reasons for these remarks. I do not have enough knowledge of the context or the history for the reasons why they say these things. What I want to know is what is the flaw in the educational system that makes this an option. I say that it is a flaw because it should be recognized as one. I don't believe that someone who decides to enter into teaching ever thinks that one day it will be their right to deny anyone an education. If they do then I would say that there is something deeply flawed about their reasons for teaching. So if a person enters into teaching with a belief that everyone in their classroom has the right to be educated,to learn, what changes that belief? I do not see it as a something that changes within the person. That is,unless there is some organic cause for this and cannot be helped. I believe that it must be something outside the person that causes the change. Of course someone might immediately state that the outside cause is the "other person", the student. But this just puts the argument back into the same place that it started from. I propose that it is the system, the situation,the way education is being evolved that makes the teacher fall into this type of reasoning. The next thing would then be a long list of detriments to the educational process. "High stakes testing", over crowded classrooms, cut backs in funding, political meddling. But these are just the manifestations of a deeper flaw. What I feel is at the bottom of this is a loss of direction about what education should be. At some point the original intent was highjacked by a value system that placed a higher premium on "quantity" than "quality". That is, we should view the end product of education as "units produced" instead of "individuals educated". Given this, it is easy to descard those "units" that don't function as needed. Students that fail to process at the required rate are not going to be seen as worthy to recieve knowledge. Many would say that this is nothing new. Many educational reform movements have said this same thing. What I am pointing towards is the "other" in this situation, the teacher. Teacher's who commit themselves to staying in their profession for the "long haul" are damaged by this also. They go from being supporters of every students need and abilities, to becoming arbitiers of students lives. By deciding that a student no longer deserves an education they effectively remove them from the society they exist in. What good is there in damaging a teacher's perspective about what they are trained to do?
I worry about myself. If I will become that teacher. I worry about others that I know who want to teach and have great hearts for doing it. Will they change into this type of person? I am concerned every time I hear a practicing teacher make those types of damaging comments. I think that if our society is to really survive,really be competative in the world, really live up to the promises that it makes to every child that enters school it will have to start seeing teachers in a different light. Education movements, researchers,teachers themselves will need to recognize that their wellbeing is as important asa the students in a healthy education system. This is something that I will keep in mind as I go forward. It is something that I will remind others of when they are about to give up on a student. I hope that there is a change that can be made.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

This will have to be a short post as I am experiencing some time/project related constraints. I had a fairly quite week at school. I was able to help a few students get through some problems with their work. I made every effort to keep my CT's happy. I taught a lesson that was given a smile and a "good work". So, sometimes there aren't any great epiphanies. Sometimes it is just a quite week and that's enough. Maybe that reflects on things going well enough because it is becoming easier. Maybe it is just coincidence. I don't know. I am just happy that every now and then things go well and I can be part of it. Sometimes life can be summed in a few words, a smile, or a deep breath. Being in the moment. I'll take any or all of those. We'll see what next week brings.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

This week might be referred to as a "study in contrasts". I had developed a lesson plan that was to be observed by one of my clinical faculty for Social Studies. It was something of a stretch as I had not tried anything like it before and I was dealing with a compressed instructional time frame. My purpose was to try and determine what weaknesses and strengths I might have in teaching this type of lesson. I was also interested in how students in two different sections of SS would perform. After a week of planning I was ready to give it my best shot. The first class was not observed by my clinical faculty but my CT was present and it went relatively well. I always feel that the first time I give a lesson I am a little nervous. But I made mental notes about what seemed to work and what didn't and then went into the second period feeling more confident. My clinical faculty sat in the back of the room with my CT as I proceeded through the lesson. The students in this period were a little more confused by the activity so I slowed my instruction pace and spent more time on clarifying the instructions. At the end of class I felt that things had gone pretty well and made more notes about what I would need to do in the future to make the lesson go smoother.
After school was over I met with my clinical faculty to discuss my performance. The comments were positive and I was given support for my analysis of what I saw to be strengths and weaknesses in my teaching of the lesson. The next day I was able to debrief the lesson with my CT. This is where the "contrast" became evident. My CT was very unhappy with the way the lesson had gone. The comments were negative and I was very confused as to how I could have generated such differing perspectives between my CT and my clinical faculty. This lead to some very deep reflection about how I am developing as a teacher.
I think the first lesson that I take away from this is; no matter what, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". That is I may think I have delivered a great lesson and I may even get positive feedback, but if someone doesn't "get it" then I really need to think about what I am trying to do. One thing I am not trying to do is please myself. Teaching is making sure that my students are learning. I understand that it is important to push them to learn,to think,to develop. But this should not be done in way that hinders their understanding and damages my relationship with them. I need to be very aware of what their strengths and weaknesses are before I set out to teach them.
The next point that I take away from this that some times I will succeed in my teaching and sometimes I will fail. Often this is a matter of point of view. This is common to all undertakings. What I need to remember is that this is a process, not a one time event. I need to be able to acknowledge my failures and remember my successes. I have read more than one teacher's blog that deals with a huge failure to connect in a lesson. Then I read that he or she has been teaching for many years as they proceed to explain what went wrong and what might be a solution. It will always be a daily attempt to find the best way to engage with my students and their learning. I read somewhere that a teacher asked his mentor how he could become better at his profession. The mentor answered,"To be a good teacher you need to be a good student."
This is last point that I take away from this week; I am learning. Sometimes I get it "right" and sometimes I get it "wrong". I need to remember that the "wrong" is often an entry point to knowledge of a deeper kind. It is where my weakness becomes the strength to understand how I can do better. It is the path of the student. The corrections make learning more directed. They point to what needs to be understood,not what is known. I need to keep this before me as I continue in this process of becoming a teacher.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

"The Odyssey" vs "Holes"

This week in seminar there seemed to be quite a bit of discussion around the subject of what texts are being read in our classrooms and how our students were interacting with those texts. I was surprised that three,including myself, of five student teachers were all experiencing something similar in their concerns about how texts are selected and presented to students. For myself, I was not wrestling with something as weighty as "The Odyssey" but I was still dealing with students who were not engaged in the reading. In fact, from what I could tell by show of hands, half the class had determined that they were "could not understand the story". The book, "The Once and Future King", is written with a more modern and younger audience in mind, yet there was not much connection to the story. This gave me a real "aha moment" when Lisa explained how she had achieved a breakthrough. This also connected me to what Wilhelm and Neito are talking about when they discuss how and why students read.

Wihelm asks the question, "So,what is Literature?". This was a point that was touched on in our seminar class and I think it speaks to half of what I see as the problem with my students disinterest in reading. It seems that in many schools there is still a perceived need to have students read "the classics", or in lieu of that, stick to the curriculum derived reading list. In both cases I see that students are left out of the process of determining what texts might interest them.Wilhelm states that he would have teachers as agents who "...put students in touch with a wide variety of books and ideas...". If this is true, and I believe strongly that it is, how would this be accomplished? I think that Lisa gave a very insightful way of approaching this when she found a text,"Holes", that supported the same type of story structure as the "Odyssey" and was accepted by her students as useful in understanding what she was trying to teach. What I heard Lisa say was that she asked them what they had read that had similar characteristics to the plot of "The Odyssey" and they were able to tell her. So, here is the first part of what I would want to try in my classroom. The idea of a student driven literature curriculum . I believe that students could provide me with an understanding of what they enjoy and want to read. Now, I am still in agreement with what Whilhelm describes as "valid reading", but given enough material I am confident that a reading list could be developed that would support my curriculum objectives. Perhaps I could do something like use short sections of texts that may not work in their entirety to engage students connected with texts that they choose and which still conform to curriculum objectives.

The other problem that might be solved is a need that Nieto argues for,that of providing textual material that is valid to more than one culture. Most of my classrooms are multicultural. As I stand before these classes and read poetry by Tennyson, I cringe at the looks of incomprehension. If I could have these students provide me with a direction to take for literature,instead of forcing one on them, how much more could we do together to open up new texts and viewpoints? Again, Lisa's class was able to direct her towards the type of story that fulfilled this concept by stating what they felt was valid in their social context. What kinds of text would my ESL and ELL students lead me to if they could provide the reading list?

I have no doubt that my students really do want to learn. They really do want to show me and their peers that they "get it".Giving my students a choice about texts is something that I will implement in my classroom. I see that over a period of time this could become a rich resource that would provide not only depth,but relevancy. I see this as concept that I can develop to give them a way to succeed. In turn they can help me succeed.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The journey of ten thousand steps....

"Tia,why aren't you writing?" " I can't write!" This very brief conversation gave me another pause for reflection as I walked around the classroom during 5th period. 5th period is the "tough one" for my CT in World History. It is a "regular" class, made up of those students who are often considered to be "difficult learners". Much of my CT's time is spent managing the class as opposed to teaching. Some days most of the class instruction addresses behavior problems. This class has diversity, disability, and attitude. It also has some of the brightest kids in the school.They just don't know it.
Tia,for example, wrote in her private biographical letter to my CT that she "has trouble with authority figures". One might imagine how that went over. But when I read it I thought,"This is great! She is honest about something that is going to be a problem if I make it one. So I have really tried not to be an "authority figure" to Tia. Not that I have let her do what she wants for fear of being viewed as one, but I have tried to make her aware that I will honor her point of view. She is usually not engaged in the classroom discussion but it has been made clear that she needs to listen and converse. She has been something of a cypher because of this. I was not really sure about what she does know? Her grades aren't great,but their not bad either. She just didn't seem to see the point of World History. But I taught the class last week and during the lesson something "clicked". I was asking the class what they knew about the Romans as I wanted to start a conversation from what they knew,not what the book told them. Tia could not keep her hand down. She was engaged and really had great answers. Not just to answer the homework questions,but to take the concepts and make connections. She even challenged me when I was wrong and it was one of the best moments of the class. I loved telling her that she was right and I was wrong. I made it a point at the end of class to let her know how much I appreciated her participation. She smiled. So,when the class was given the lesson objective of writing a "thank you" letter to a guest speaker I was surprised that Tia had cleared her desk and was just looking around.
Tia's comment about not being able to write really puzzled me. I went to her and quietly asked her what she meant. She said that she just didn't get writing. I asked he take out her worksheet for the letter and when she did I noticed that underneath was a quiz from another class. There were ten answers,all written out in reasonably good printing. Her score on the quiz was eight out of ten. I told her that I was impressed with her score and congratulated her. I said that I also noted that she had written out the answers. So I asked what she meant when she said she couldn't write. With some frustration she said that she didn't understand the directions for the letter. I asked her to take out the directions and started to go over them with her. She said that she knew how to write a letter,but the instructions for what the letter had to contain didn't make sense. I could see that this was increasing her frustration so I told I understood,but I was sure she was capable. I reminded her that she had written the answers to the test. She said that those were answers to questions and then noted that the letter requirements weren't questions. I saw that she wasn't kidding about her confusion. Her voice and body language were consistent with someone who was confused and upset and I was worried I was going to loose her. So I said that maybe we should look at the requirements as questions and not statements. She looked at me as if I was really coming out of left field. "How could you do that?" was her comment. I said that we should try and reframe the way the statement was written. I took the first requirement and restated it as a question. When I did that she was able to answer it. The second one was a bit harder to make sense of but instead of giving up, Tia pulled out her notes from the lecture and found what she needed to answer the question. At that point I told her that she had the idea. She could do it. Unfourtunately the class was over and Tia left for her next class. Since I was not in school the next day, I don't know if she finished. I hope she did. I certainly believe that she had made enough of a connection with what I was trying to show her that she could do "something" as opposed to "nothing".
This just shows me that it is always going to come down to believing in my kids and not going along with the category that they have been placed in. They aren't "difficult learners". We are "difficult teachers". We make it hard for them because we often don't really know what it takes for them to understand. Maybe it is the "time" factor, the class size,the need to get through the curriculum. I don't know, I have not had enough experience in the classroom and the school to be able to answer with any understanding. What I do see is a need to change any or all of those factors when I become a teacher. If those are what stand in the way of Tia writing, or any student showing their potential, then they have to go. I'll figure this out at some point. It may take a while,but it's a journey and I am enjoying the company. I think I'll keep walking.