Tag Archives: teacher education

A Listening Party for We Are the Halluci Nation

A Tribe Called Red just released their much anticipated album entitled, We Are The Halluci Nation. The Tribe Called Red is the Canadian-based music group comprised of First Nations members who merge electronic music styles along with contemporary powwow music. Their latest album features many artists (both Canadian and international) and focuses around the themes of decolonization and unification.

After listening to this powerful album several times this past weekend, I decided to incorporate it into my course Building on Reflective Practice. Since we have read some of Freire’s work about “reading the world” I thought analyzing this powerful and politically driven music would be an excellent way of tying together theory and practice. Students will be asked in pairs to “read” a song of their choice by analyzing, interpreting, and synthesizing.

Probe questions will be asked such as:

  • What story is being told?
  • How does the work compare with other similar works?
  • What cultural, economic, or political forces influence the work?
  • What historical forces influence the work?What can you do in your daily life/classroom to contribute to shifting the narrative of colonization?

This will be followed by a listening of the album interspersed with insights and discussion from the groups and whole class. Below I am including the official video for the first song off the album.

Defining Literacy

One of my (Cathy’s)  favourite first tasks for my new teacher candidates is to have them define the term  literacy on paper- written or drawn- no right or wrong.  I tuck this away for them and then give it back on the last day of our literacy course so they can it to compare their (hopefully somewhat)  altered definition.  For some the definition changes a lot and for some not so much.  The differences represent the teacher candidates  prior knowledge of literacy and literacy practices; their ability  to make adjustments; their open mindedness; and their ability to accept change.  Reshaping ones definition of literacy is a process and its actually quite demanding.

Every year I look for new academic, scholarly, or institutional definitions of literacy, or as I prefer to  refer to it- literacies- to share with my TC’s as their definitions shift and grow.  This year I will include the definition below.  It is from the Ontario government’s document Focus on Literacy (2013):

LITERACY – Kindergarten to Grade 12 Literacy is … the ability to use language and images in rich and varied forms to read, write, listen, speak, view, represent, discuss and think critically about ideas. Literacy enables us to share information and to interact with others. Literacy is an essential tool for personal growth and active participation in a democratic society.

Literacy involves the capacity to:

• access, manage, create and evaluate information

• think imaginatively and analytically

• communicate thoughts and ideas effectively

• apply metacognitive knowledge and skills

• develop a sense of self-efficacy and an interest in life-long learning

The development of literacy is a complex process that involves building on prior knowledge, culture and experiences in order to instill new knowledge and deepen understanding.

I especially like the last line.  I hope my TC’s do to.

http://www.edugains.ca/resourcesLIT/PayingAttentiontoLiteracy.pdf

 

 

Discovering New Pre-service Texts

I (Cathy) find myself skeptical of books or articles that use the term ‘activities’ in reference to assigning work to students in the classroom. I was once told the term activities infers no purpose or goal and can be viewed as ‘busy work’. Instead, I was instructed to use the term ‘task’ which infers a specific result must be achieved to accomplish the work.  I was therefore skeptical of a book I recently encountered titled, Pump It Up: Literacy Activities for the Classroom.  However, the caption on the book jacket read “specifically aims to help pre-service teachers learn to implement hands-on lessons for their content area.” So  I decided to take a closer look.  I quickly recognized the editors Joanne Kilgour Dowdy (Kent State University, Ohio USA) and Yang Gao (Kent State University, Ohio) required the contributing authors to include learning objectives for each learning ‘activity’ included in the volume.  I also realized the editors use the term activity to refer to a series of tasks that comprise a lesson.  For example, the activity depicted by contributing author Jessica Wilson explains, “This activity is devised to demonstrate how literacy and creativity can be achieved through all disciplines including science” and describes a free write lesson designed to encourage students to interpret key vocabulary words and develop appropriate syntax and discourse of key terms.

I was delighted to discover the activities or lessons in the book explore an array of disciplines and topics (e.g., health and physical education; drama and other arts; social justice; multiculturalism through children’s literature; literacy/language arts; and mathematics) and the disciplines appear to cross (e.g., using dram to explore science and journaling to explore mathematics). Further, I was intrigued by the sections earmarked Becoming an Artist and Embodying Social Justice.

Well, having now moved past my fear of the term ‘activities’, I have ordered a copy. I proved to myself I not only should not  judge a book by its cover, I also should not judge a book  by its title! As I will be teaching pre-service drama next semester and plan to include as many cross disciplinary ‘activities’ as I can , I am hoping this will be a nice addition to the book collection I will provide for my teacher candidates.  Can’t wait for it to arrive!

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Click here for a sneak preview of the book:

https://www.sensepublishers.com/catalogs/bookseries/other-books/pump-it-up/

 

 

A Constructivist Approach Requires Being Courageous

When we hear the term “courage” we often think of someone dashing into a burning building to save a child or an unarmed individual wrestling to the ground someone with a gun. Yes these are courageous acts but I (Clare) want to talk about an unsung group who I feel have the fortitude and tenacity to be courageous.

In our study of literacy teacher educators which we have written about on this blog we Image Courageous LTEshared some of our findings showing many examples of truly exemplary teaching. We are currently working on a paper about 6 literacy teacher educators who use a constructivist approach to their literacy courses. In this era where education is highly politicized with mandated national curriculum and oversight by external bodies it takes “guts” to adopt an approach that includes: knowledge is constructed by learners; knowledge is experience based; learning is social; all aspects of a person are connected; and learning communities should be inclusive and equitable.

Ahsan and Smith (2016) who advocate a social constructivist approach have identified practices that support learning based on the social constructivist theory

  • Social interaction and dialogue
  • Environment deeply rooted in culture
  • More Knowledgeable Others (MKOs) helping students
  • Scaffolding
  • Progressing through the zone of proximal development (ZPD)
  • Constructive and timely feedback
  • Collaboration among students (p. 134)

Constructivism does not mean that you discard traditional forms of teaching (lectures, assignments, and readings) but it requires the teacher educator to have an inquiry-orientation; not just model good teaching but unpack it with their student teachers often revealing their own vulnerabilities; willingly to admit that they learn from their student teachers; have courses that are organic because they respond to student teachers’ needs; and build a social and intellectual community — often blurring the traditional lines between professor and student teacher. Yes their courses can be somewhat messy because they create space for discussion which often veers off from the plan but they are addressing student teachers’ needs.

To teach in this way takes courage because they are teaching in a way that they most likely did not experience as a student. A constructivist framework which is both a philosophy and a pedagogy may be a more useful approach to reform than the endless lists of expectations. These literacy teacher educators trusted themselves and their student teachers. The next step is for governments to trust teacher educators. And we need to applaud their courage to think outside the box and truly focus on their student teachers.

The First Year of Teaching Can Feel Like a Fraternity Hazing

One of my (Clare) students sent me this article from the Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/04/first-year-teaching/477990/?utm_source=SFTwitter

As I read it my heart sank for these new teachers. I recall my first year of teaching (I lost 15 lbs. between September and December) from sheer work. Does it have to be that way? And given all that we have learned about beginning teachers I am not sure how much the situation has changed. Yes the first year of any new job is going to be a challenge but does it need to feel like “fraternity hazing)? I think no.

Brendan Hoffman / AP

This is the first story in a three-part series about teacher preparation and whether programs are doing enough to prepare new teachers to take over their own classrooms.

MIDDLE RIVER, MD—On a chilly November morning, Michael Duklewski stood outside his seventh-grade classroom as students filed in, some shoving each other playfully, others still half asleep. One by one they took a piece of paper from a bin by the front door and made their way to their seats.Image Michael Duklewski

“Good morning!” Duklewski, 33, said in a loud and confident voice over the classroom chatter. He closed the door and paused. A wad of paper flew through the air.

“I’m warning you man, the next time I see someone throw something, it’s lunch detention,” Duklewski said sternly, looking at the student who had thrown the paper.

As students in this second-period English class began to work on their warmup drill—to define the terms “setting” and “mood” in literature—the chatter continued. Duklewski walked over to the chalkboard in the front of the room where he was tracking the points for good behavior that each class had earned. Next to “second period,” he erased the number 14 and changed it to 13.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I already took off a point,” he warned. He waited as the conversations slowly died down, before launching into his lesson for the day on the play A Raisin in the Sun.

Duklewski, one of a growing number of career-changers that enter the teaching profession each year, switched from political lobbying to education after volunteering at an after-school program in Baltimore. This school year is his first, and it has been even tougher than he imagined. In the second week of September, reality hit. “I was like, ‘Oh God, I don’t know what I’m doing here,’” Duklewski recalled.

Duklewski is one of three teachers The Hechinger Report, which partnered with The Atlantic to produce this story, has followed over the course of their first year to look at how training programs prepare new teachers for the classroom—or don’t. As the American education system faces a drumbeat of criticism for its stubborn achievement gaps and lackluster performance compared to other countries, education schools are under attack.

Traditional education schools are trying to reinvent themselves, and alternative fast-track routes are popping up to offer shortcuts to the classroom. Both models seek to help prospective teachers deal with rising standards, increasing student diversity, new technology and, inevitably, the gauntlet of spitballs, note passing, and, these days, illicit texting.

Michael Duklewski leads a lesson in his second-period English language-arts class. (Jackie Mader)

While aspiring educators now have more choices than ever before when it comes to launching their careers, new teachers continue to leave the profession at an alarming rate, suggesting a breakdown in training and support. At the same time, there is little evidence to show which education programs are graduating the most successful teachers or what kind of support is most helpful for rookies.

Duklewski chose the traditional route to becoming a teacher. In 2015, he graduated from Towson University, a state institution outside of Baltimore that has been training teachers for more than 150 years and graduates nearly 700 new teachers each year. He selected the school because of its strong reputation, and it helped that his mother earned her own teaching degree there in 1972. His course of study took two years, including more than 20 classes and 16 weeks of full-time student teaching—typical for traditional programs, which provide more in-depth pre-teaching training than most alternative programs.

Duklewski was hired to teach seventh-grade English language arts at the same school where he completed his student teaching experience. He was familiar with Middle River Middle School’s administration and policies and already knew many of the nearly 900 students in the sprawling, single-story brick building, located in a suburb of Baltimore.

“We’ve gotten into a habit of accepting that we treat the first year of teaching like a fraternity hazing”

Though Duklewski said surviving the initial year hasn’t been easy, many first-year teachers are so traumatized they don’t come back at all. Data on new-teacher attrition varies, but studies have found that anywhere from 17 percent to 46 percent of new teachers quit within their first five years. If teachers were trained better, more might stick around, experts say.

“We’ve gotten into a habit of accepting that we treat the first year of teaching like a fraternity hazing,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). “People say, ‘I just don’t think you can learn this ahead of time.’ Well, you need to set up those conditions ahead of time,” she argued.

Is it possible for teacher programs to prepare educators with everything they need to know on Day 1? Maybe not everything, according to the three teachers we followed.

For Duklewski, although he’s struggled at times with unruly students, he’s not sure what else his teacher education program could have done. There’s no better way to learn how to teach, he argued, than just jumping in and doing it.

* * *

A student works on a reading assignment in Duklewski’s English language-arts class. (Jackie Mader)

Back in second period, Duklewski, wearing black dress pants and a blue polo shirt, continued to give directions for the next part of the lesson: using evidence from the A Raisin in the Sun script to draw a diagram of the set.

As he ran the discussion he moved constantly around the room, stopping the lesson abruptly—and frequently—as students talked to their neighbors. He kept an even tone as he threatened to call parents and reminded students that one of the class rules is “don’t talk while others are talking.”

Four minutes in, second period was down to 10 good behavior points. “Don’t draw on your arm,” Duklewski told one student. He ignored a student hitting himself in the face with a red folder. Duklewski stared down a chattering group of students until they started working again.

It was now 10 minutes into the period. Duklewski stepped up to the overhead projector in the front of the room and counted down from three. The class fell silent. “Our purpose is to find details about the staging of the Youngers’s home,” Duklewski said, referring to the family in the play. “What rooms are there? What things are there?” Some students raised their hands, but a few boys continued to talk to each other, or, in a couple of cases, to themselves.

“Ladies and gentleman, I’m literally asking you to do nothing when other people are talking,” Duklewski said in a calm and assertive voice. “We’re going to practice being silent for fifteen seconds. If we can do that, I’ll put a point on the board. If not, I’ll take two off.”

Duklewski set a timer for 15 seconds. Four seconds later, a student started talking.

Less than three months into his first year of teaching, Duklewski exuded the confidence of a more experienced teacher. But his second-period class was difficult compared to the other four classes he’d been teaching, a difference he attributed to several strong personalities and too many students—33, far bigger than his other classes.

For the worst behavior problems, his chosen strategy is keeping students after class for a one-on-one talk instead of addressing them in front of other students. “Some teachers come straight at a student when they have an issue with them in class,” Duklewski said. “I found that doesn’t work with them, especially not in a classroom full of their peers. They get yelled at enough.”

The ability to manage classroom behavior is one of the top concerns for every new teacher and can often lead to the undoing of a rookie. A 2014 report by the nonprofit Alliance for Excellent Education found that trouble managing student discipline is one of the many reasons teachers leave the classroom. Poor classroom management can also get in the way of learning, said Arthur Levine, the president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and former president of Teachers College, Columbia University. “If a teacher can’t manage a classroom, nothing they’re going to do will be successful.” (The Hechinger Report is an independent unit of Teachers College.)

Although classroom management is one of the most important topics for new teachers, it is one of the least taught in preparation programs, said NCTQ’s Walsh. “Programs swear up and down that they teach this stuff … [but] there’s little evidence that they’re being taught it,” she said.

In fact, a 2013 report by NCTQ found that many teacher-preparation programs fail to teach certain aspects of classroom management. Of 122 programs examined by NCTQ, the majority focused on the setting up of routines and rules in classrooms, an important skill. But 74 percent did not teach teachers how to use praise in their classrooms to reinforce positive behavior or other day-to-day tricks to keep classes focused and get unruly kids under control.

“If a teacher can’t manage a classroom, nothing they’re going to do will be successful.”For Duklewski, talkative students can be irritating, but they’re not enough to make him quit teaching.

By December, his second-period class was getting better; during the fall, he had started giving students the chance to earn the right to come to his classroom during lunch and watch cartoons on Fridays. (He nixed the cartoons before winter break.) He moved one particularly energetic student to the back of the classroom where he could sit on a window ledge, stand up or move around without distracting other students.

His class-points system, however, had fallen apart. Right before winter break, Duklewski switched to an individual-point system to reward students for independent behavior. Students could earn points by being on-task, finishing the class warmup first, or answering questions correctly. They could then earn small prizes, like pencil sharpeners, or larger prizes, like “renting out” his classroom for lunch with friends.

He also switched from pointing out negative behavior to pointing out positive behavior. Sometimes he found that just announcing what students were doing—“Jimmy is working on his warmup”—made a huge difference. And only a few weeks into the new system, Duklewski said that the changes were both improving student behavior and his own sanity. “I’m just happier, because I’m saying good things all the time instead of harping on bad things,” Duklewski said.

Happiness is relative for a new teacher. Since Duklewski took over his own classroom last September, it’s been nearly impossible to balance his workload with his personal life, a problem many new teachers experience.

Every morning Duklewski wakes up by 5:30 and he tries to be in bed by 9 p.m., although he often stays up late preparing lessons. He saves time by not eating breakfast in the morning and has 35 minutes to eat lunch—15 minutes of which is taken up by hall duty or checking on students in the cafeteria. After 13 to 15 hours at school each day, he drives home, eats dinner, watches a little television, and packs his lunch for the next day. His weekends are mostly filled with grading.

Moving from a role as a student teacher to a full-time classroom teacher was a bigger jump than he had expected. He realized after his first week that there were many things he didn’t know, like the exact procedure for a fire drill. Or how to balance teaching with noninstructional duties like communicating with parents, filling out attendance, and responding to each day’s barrage of emails.

“When it’s all resting on you, it’s just that much more exhausting,” Duklewski said. “Some of it you just figure out as you hit the ground running.”

On a rainy January day, Duklewski stood in front of his fourth-period class having already downed several cups of coffee to keep up his energy. At 10 p.m. the night before, he had thrown out his lesson plan on monologues, and then stayed up until 1 a.m. reworking it to include video examples.

Students were transfixed. After watching monologues from The Lion King, Harry Potter, and The Incredibles, the class discussed the purpose of a monologue. Duklewski then instructed them to write their own, using point of view and voice. On a worksheet, students answered questions about who they would be, why they were talking, and who they were talking to. Kids erupted into excited chatter as they began to plan and write their monologues.

“I’m myself, talking about sacking Tom Brady, to myself,” one student explained. He read his first line aloud. “Ohh I’m gonna sack Tom Brady!”

When the class ended, students filed out still chatting about their monologues. Oner bonus of an engaging lesson, Duklewski added, is that students stay on task and he doesn’t deal with as much misbehavior.

* * *

Duklewski was assigned a consulting teacher who observes him every two weeks. After those observations, he has a chance to discuss the lesson and receive feedback, such as on his classroom management approach or his use of tests.

The mentoring and a high level of support from his school have helped him keep a positive attitude, he said. “I feel the freedom to take risks, mess up and experiment because I don’t feel pressure. If I screw up, I screw up. They’ll help me fix it.” On his mid-year evaluation, Duklewski was rated “effective” on a scale that included the ratings “developing,” “effective” and “highly effective.”

Next year, he wants to do a better job using student data to plan lessons that touch on the skills students are lacking—something he rarely had the chance to do this year because of all the other demands of his classroom and the hours spent preparing lessons. He also wants to get better at long-term planning. And he’s learned from his challenging second-period class that it pays to set up better rules and classroom procedures from the beginning of the year.

As spring break approached, a series of snow days and holidays threw Duklewski’s students off track. He increased the number of phone calls home to parents and doubled down on his positive praise. “I think we’ve come to some sort of understanding about how we’re all going to get along in class,” Duklewski said. He was also getting the hang of balancing his schedule, and had cut his work hours down—to less than 12 hours a day. It helped that he was seeing academic growth. On standardized writing assessments, the class average had gone up by about 50 percent in most of his classes. On reading tests, scores were also rising steadily.

“Next year, I expect it to be much, much easier,” Duklewski said. “I’ve already done everything once. I’ll have stuff to fall back on.”

Although he’s starting to plan his summer vacation, including work as a counselor at a summer camp, he still has one final goal for his students as the year winds down. “By the end of the year, they will not talk over other people while they are talking,” Duklewski said with a laugh. “If I teach them nothing else, they will learn that skill.”

 

 

 

Getting to Know Our Students

I (Clive) have long believed in having a warm, friendly class community and a good IMG_3114teacher-student relationship. However, my understanding of what this means continues to grow. This term in my graduate course with 22 students I seemed to develop a closer bond with my students than ever before.

As time went by, each would greet me in a friendly, open way with a smile on their face. They told me more personal information about themselves (often in emails about why they couldn’t be at class that evening!) Before and after class, at the break or in emails, they shared with me (and I discussed with them) individual matters, e.g., interest in going on to doctoral work; wanting to teach high school rather than elementary; wanting to take an individual reading course; moving from the public to the private school sector; the struggles of teaching while raising 3 children; not really wanting to be a teacher.

I found this closer relationship had several advantages:

  • There was a higher energy level in our engagement
  • Our interactions – and the class experience generally – were more enjoyable
  • Attendance was higher
  • I could better understand “where they were coming from”

This was quite apart from the help they received by discussing their individual concerns.

 

Sometimes people worry about an overly close relationship between teachers and students. However, a sensible teacher can figure out what is appropriate and what is not; and in general I feel we are still far too removed from our students. We need to be constantly developing appropriate links with our students, rather than being afraid of links in general.

In terms of appropriateness, one important point is to avoid having favorites. We should go out of our way to have meaningful conversations with – and hence get to know – every single student in our class. They will really appreciate it and our own teaching experience will be enhanced.

 

Topics and Methods for Class Debates

In previous postings, I (Clive) have recommended debates as a way to give students a voice in university and school classrooms and also introduce some variety into class activities. Of course, the topics have to be interesting to the students if they are to get really involved; and the overly combative tone of traditional debating needs to be avoided so there are no hard feelings.

This term, in my graduate class of 22, I used two debating topics that worked very well. They were: (1) Teaching Values in School and (2) Formal Professional Development for Teachers. In each case we formed 4 groups (by numbering off from 1 to 4 around the class, including myself) and then assigned “positions” to the groups as follows:

Teaching Values in School

Group 1: On the whole, teachers should keep their values to themselves

Group 2: It is often appropriate for teachers to promote the values they believe in

Group 3: On the whole, schools should advocate general “human” values (e.g., treating women and men equally) even if they conflict with the values of the family

Group 4: On the whole, schools should honor and respect the values of the family, even if they conflict with general “human” values

Formal Professional Development for Teachers

Groups 1 & 3: Formal professional development has a very important role to play in teacher learning and school improvement. Examples of effective formal PD include….

Groups 2 & 4: Formal professional development does not play a major role in teacher learning and school improvement. Examples of more important methods and factors are….

Each group spent 20 minutes preparing their case, with each person in the group proposing and outlining an argument and/or example. Then each group in turn presented their case to the whole class, with every member of the group speaking. Finally, we returned to the whole class circle and went around with each individual saying what they thought about the topic (we didn’t have time to go all the way round the class, but this final activity also proved very valuable).

Notice that the “opposing” positions were softened by using phrases such as “on the whole,” “it is often appropriate,” “not a major role” (rather than “not any role”). Also, the emphasis on giving examples to support one’s case was a big success – I hadn’t used this before.

So, this was my experience. If you have a chance to experiment with debates, let us know what topics you used and how it went – we can do a guest blog!

 

 

Photo Journal of my Experience @ AERA

Here are some snapshots and highlights of my experience at AERA this year. If I (yiola) could name the experience I would call it:  Goosebumps and Inspirations… it was just that good.

  1.  I attended a Round Table session (this is where presenters gather at a “round table” and share their research). The Round table is a great opportunity to not only share your work but hear from others in a less formal manner.  This round table was hosted by the  Writing and Literacies special interest group (SIG) and the focus of the round table was critical literacy.  Dr. Barbara Comber from the University of South Australia presented on critical literacy pedagogy in the early years. Her work and my work are closely aligned.

2.I attended a presidential talk that was a tribute to the life and work of Dr. Phil Jackson. The focus of the talk was on the question of education.  I really like what this panel did: each panel member selected a passage from a text written by Dr. Jackson and talked about its significance to them. A paragraph was read from The Practice of Teaching and the idea of transformative teaching… such an important and central idea in progressive education. A piece was read from Handbook of Research on Curriculum: Conceptions of Curriculum and the the idea that school is systematically harming children… and how can we work against that?  Linda Darling-Hammond read a passage from his famous book Life in Classrooms and spoke of the “multi-dimensionality and simultaneously nature of teaching” and the essential relationships associated with teaching. And, one panel member shared from Dr. Jackson’s last book published in 2012, What is Education and spoke of education as pure and simple; something we must rededicate ourselves too over time.

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3. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to listen to the presidential lecture  for Division K hosted by Dr. Lin Goodwin, Teachers College Columbia University.  A remarkable speaker who not only inspires with her words but truly challenged me to think about what quality teacher education requires. What I like most about Dr. Goodwin is her genuine nature. A distinguished academic and also a beautiful human being. Here are some pictures from her talk including slides from her presentation.

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4. Yet another interesting Presidential session with Wayne Au, Marilyn Cochran-Smith, Kevin Kumashiro (and others) that explored policy and standards in Teacher Education. Laden with some controversial findings for the testing systems for new teachers and teacher education programs, the presentations were provocative and interesting:

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5. The last session I would like to share is one where we presented at the Constructivist SIG. A lovely group of people from across North America, we exchanged ideas of what it means to teach in constructivist ways. Our team leader Dr. Clare Kosnik presented work from the Literacy Teacher Education research and presented on a group of literacy teacher educators who had strong constructivist pedagogies.

Finally, AERA is held at such interesting places. One has to take some time to enjoy the beauty of the district and take in some of the sights.

Social Justice Study at AREA

I was once again thrilled to attend the AERA conference this past week.  It is such a remarkable opportunity- so many knowledgeable and committed educators from around the world.  Quite inspiring.  At the conference this year, one consistent theme emerged in the sessions I attended: Know your students. One particular study in a session entitled Preparing Preservice Teachers to Teach for Social Justice, resonated with me quite profoundly.  The study was called Candidate Change in a Community -Engaged Teacher Education Program and was led by Patricia Clarke from Ball State University.  Patricia maintained, ” a good teacher must understand the context in which a child lives grows and learns.”

Her team conducted a study which examined: preservice teacher candidates’ attitudes towards diversity and community, and how they changed over the course of a semester-long community-engaged experience. As teacher candidates came to know the community in which they were working, their expressed attitudes and beliefs changed from explicit statements of bias and stereotype to ones that sought community involvement and social action. 

This teacher education program at Ball University emphasized community involvement by holding classes in local community centers (as opposed to the university).  Student teachers also attended the local church on Sundays to be part of the community gatherings.  The teacher educators arranged for “community ambassadors” to welcome the student teachers to their neighborhood and guide the student teachers throughout their weeks in the school.  The results were remarkable.  The student teachers moved from “being nervous” and “afraid” in the neighborhood to feeling like a community member.

Patricia closed her session with a sweet anecdote shared by one of her student teachers, which I will share with you here. The student teacher was working in a class of grade two students and asked the children to share the markers.  She handed the basket of markers to the child beside her who seemed a bit confused.  Remembering what she had experienced the previous Sunday when she  attended the community church with the children, she said, “pass the basket like you do at church.” The child nodded, and said “Hallelujah!”  all the of the children immediately responded with “Praise be the Lord!” and they promptly passed the basket of markers around the circle. The student teacher was somewhat surprised by the response, but because of her inclusion in the community completely understood why the children responded they way they did.  She smiled, nodded, and continued on with the lesson.

basket

The commitment of the teacher educators in this program was outstanding and quite inspirational.  I sincerely hope teacher education programs worldwide can learn from not only this study, but the model of teacher education Ball University has implemented.

Understanding the communities our students are from

I (Pooja) have just returned from AERA 2016. I always leave AERA feeling inspired to continue my research and motivated to get back into the classroom. This year was no different. This year I learned about the work of Dr. Christopher Emdin, a recipient of the Early Career Award at AERA 2016. Dr. Emdin’s work considers  the relationships between Hip-Hop, urban education, and science education. Curious to learn more I about his work, I ordered his latest book entitled For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… And the Rest of Y’All Too (2016).

An article in NPR reviewing Emdin’s book highlights some of Emdin’s main arguments he makes. His arguments are completely in line with what my own research (literacy teacher educators with a critical stance) has found: in order to effectively teach, we must understand the communities from which our students come. Below is an excerpt from the article outlining Emdin’s arguments along with some examples of practice:

  1. Teachers can’t be colorblind. It does their students a disservice.

“People who perceive themselves to be colorblind often times have biases that are hidden by their colorblindness,” Emdin says. Young people in urban spaces have different linguistic and cultural realities, like the gun shots that Emdin experienced.

If teachers recognize that difference, they can help their students deal with issues such as PTSD. If the trauma of their day-to-day life goes untreated, students won’t be able to learn effectively.

But, if they heal, “then they can learn. And if they can learn, then they can be successful.”

2. Urban schools tend to be authoritarian places, which doesn’t help kids heal or learn.

If it wouldn’t be acceptable in a white, suburban school, Emdin says, it shouldn’t be acceptable in an urban classroom.

That goes for metal detectors, searches, zero tolerance policies and bars on their classroom windows. “Those things don’t happen in places where students are from a higher socioeconomic status and are not overwhelmingly black and brown.”

Emdin acknowledges that it can be hard to avoid falling into this kind of teaching. He even found himself slipping into authoritarian teaching methods, a fact which, he says, only proves that these techniques have become deeply ingrained in certain school systems.

But he says we only need to look at the statistics — college completion rates or the increased need for remedial learning — to understand that this military approach to teaching isn’t working.

3. Schools need to celebrate students and their talents, even if those talents aren’t familiar.

In his book, Emdin lays out some of the ways that teachers can rethink their classrooms without spending money.

They can create a sense of community by eating with their students, making up a school handshake and bringing in community members — including people who have not graduated from high school — as liaisons.

Emdin also suggests that teachers go to churches and barbershops, both to better understand the community and to learn teaching strategies from the people their students admire.

And teaching should not be seen as a tug-of-war between enjoyment and hard work.

Emdin, for example, folds hip-hop into the curriculum. He has worked with GZA, a rapper from the Wu-Tang Clan, to host a science hip-hop battle for New York City high school students.

“If you give young people the opportunity to be able to express their academic brilliance on their own terms, they take the initiative to study,” he says. “They take the initiative to research, and they perform and they showcase that they’re brilliant.”

Read NPR article here: http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/04/10/473500018/want-to-teach-in-urban-schools-get-to-know-the-neighborhood