Archive for the ‘Classrooms’ Category
Jessica Lahey, a high school teacher and writer, argues in the Atlantic magazine (February, 2013) (that introverts should be required to speak in class. She claims that classroom participation grades are not only fair; they are necessary. Drawing on recent work on introverts (e.g., Susan Cain’s popular new book, Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking), she suggests that in order to be successful in today’s world, it is imperative that introverted students be taught and coerced through grades and expectations to participate in class.
I disagree. Lahey paints students who are quiet in her class with a broad brush, calling them all “introverts.” The truth is that there are many reasons students may choose not to verbally participate in school. Some students are painfully shy and perhaps even introverts. Other students choose their moments to speak carefully, participating in silence for long periods before they decide to speak aloud. Some are quiet in school and loud in other contexts. Sometimes a student’s silence protects her from ridicule or bullying. In many cultures, silence is a sign of deep respect and more highly valued than talk. I would argue that Lahey’s advocacy for grading or counting classroom participation ignores the value and uses of silence in the classrooms, overlooking the myriad of other ways students participate.
Lahey also locates students’ silences in individuals rather than understanding them as a product of group interaction and situations. The students she worries about are ones she labels as “introverts”, assuming it is a characteristic of the student rather than the circumstance that creates the silence or reticence. I would suggest, instead, that it is useful to look at how classrooms and other contexts create silences in youth. Rather than punishing the so-called introverts for their silence or forcing them to speak by grading their classroom participation, teachers like Lahey might inquire into the silence of certain students in their classrooms, looking into the reasons for their silence, the places where are they more vocal, and imagining other ways they might be encouraged to participate.
In my own work, I suggest that we redefine what we mean by classroom participation. Teachers often define classroom participation as a verbal response that fits into a routine that the teacher has established. (Typically, the teacher asks a question, the student responds and the teacher affirms the correctness of the answer. Students are then said to participate.) But can students participate without speaking out loud? Should teachers consider the times that a student gives silent assent to a question or thoughtfully jots notes for a future essay as participation? Are these useful forms of participation? It is important to note that one student’s silence can enable another student to speak. Do students have a responsibility to contribute to the silence of a classroom so that others can talk, along with a responsibility to contribute verbally to the discussion? How might silence be re-framed as a “productive” or useful contribution to classroom classrooms? Finally, how to we create other contexts for participation such as multimedia projects where students “speak” through recorded text.
Lahey claims that she wants to prepare her students for the future where verbal participation is critical for their success. I suggest instead that we rethink how we understand students’ silences. I want us to remain cautious about labeling children as introverts, rather than understanding the larger contexts of how and why they choose to participate in certain ways. Otherwise, the particular contributions these students make to the classroom community may be unheard, unrecognized, and discounted. The absence of talk might lead a teacher to assume the absence of learning. It may be difficult for a student to escape the label of the “silent” student or the “introvert.”
There are potentially grave consequences for students when teachers do not understand their silence as a form of participation. Narrow interpretations of the meanings of silence can lead to false assumptions about student participation in classroom activities. For instance, students who are silent might receive low grades for classroom participation, when in fact they are actively engaged in learning. Rather than working to fix or change “introverts” I suggest we understand the various reasons students choose to participate verbally in classrooms or to refrain from such participation. Shouldn’t our goal as educators be to rethink our classroom as places that support all students to learn?
Note: I elaborate these ideas in my book, Rethinking Classroom Participation: Listening to Silent Voices, Teachers College Press, 2009.
This originally appeared on the Washington Post’s education blog: The Answer Sheet on 2/12/13.
“What does a successful science journal look like in second grade?” … “What do I hope this partner reading conversation sounds like?” …
“What data would indicate that my students have really internalized the science concept we are studying?”
These are the kinds of questions that our teacher scholars grapple with in their collaborative Mills Teacher Scholars work sessions. On the surface, these questions may seem straightforward. But in practice, seeking thoughtful answers to questions about student understanding of content involves delving in to messy issues. Perhaps the most common struggle our teachers scholars face is teasing apart evidence of student understanding from evidence of a student’s ability to follow directions. Upon looking closely and reflecting with colleagues teachers discover that an assignment with very clear and complete directions may yield more data about students’ ability to follow directions than about their understanding of the key concepts. So how can we figure out what students really understand?
In a Mills Teacher Scholars session facilitated last month by teacher scholar leaders from Oakland Unified, I listened as teachers went around the circle sharing the focus of their inquiries and what data might provide useful information as to how their students were, or were not, progressing towards the learning goal each teacher had established.
Several teachers shared that they changed their routine data source from their initial idea. In each case, the teacher wanted to know what the students were thinking, and which concepts the students understood. And they realized that when their assignment provided teacher-created sentence frames, and teacher-designed structures for thinking, the results didn’t show student thinking. Rather, they showed successful completion of a carefully designed task. But whether the student really understood the ideas they were expressing was not at all clear.
One second grade teacher initially used, as her routine data source, student science journal entries written using teacher-designed sentence frames. This teacher changed her routine data source to be interviews with focal students in which they talked about the conclusions they had drawn and the evidence they had used that supported those conclusions.
Another teacher began her inquiry by using, as her routine data source, information about how many students had completed their learning center written work. Now she has moved to using recordings of partner conversations at the reading center to find out what kind of learning conversations partners are (or are not) having.
Yet another teacher began by looking at Accelerated Reader test scores. (Accelerated Reader is a computer based reading assessment widely used for monitoring reading progress.) She realized that the scores were not telling her much about how the students were interacting with the text, and she changed her routine data source to book talks with her focal students.
Each of these teacher scholars went beyond checking for completion and recording numerical scores to implementing practices that allowed them to find out how their students are thinking.
Through their Mills Teacher Scholars work, teachers consistently create new opportunities for students to express their understanding of the key concepts. Teacher scholars then use these powerful data to guide their classroom instruction. Creating time and support for teachers to collect, analyze, and share these real-time data is an essential component to transforming classrooms into places where a diverse group of students find opportunities for deepened learning.
Thinking Outside the Box: How One School Is Going To Do Things Differently | Laurie Grassi-Redmond ’02
When I was taking graduate classes at the Mills School of Education over ten years ago, Anna Richert challenged me and my colleagues to “imagine schools otherwise”. Our student teaching placements left us with many questions, and when we met with Anna on Wednesday afternoons, our frustrations and concerns often bubbled up and out. We questioned standardized tests, teacher to student ratios, school schedules, moral dilemmas, content standards, prescribed curriculum, assessments, and more. Anna would listen to us, facilitate our discussions, and then push us to imagine what schools could look like, if we took the time to imagine them otherwise.
Years later, having taught at the Mills College Children’s School and in public elementary and middle schools, and having stepped outside of the classroom for five years to raise two daughters, I am now in the process of founding a school. Holding in my heart and mind what I know to be best for children, I developed The Mill School.
The Mill School will help children tap into their capacity for learning so that they are confident and successful while maintaining a true sense of self. Located in Freedom, Maine, The Mill School will serve children ages six to ten in a three-day program. Academics will be taught through integrated projects. Assessment will be on-going and authentic. Through place-based learning, The Mill School will advance environmental stewardship and foster the growth of children who view themselves as participants in the life of their community. The Mill School will prepare children to be valued members of society by emphasizing critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, adaptability, initiative, curiosity, and imagination.
At The Mill School, children will spend half of each school day outside. The outdoor environments will provide the roots for the curriculum at The Mill School and they include the falls, stream, pond, forest, wetlands, and adjoining family farm. Snacks and lunches will be made from whole, local, organic foods and served family style.
The Mill School will partner with families to educate children. Constructivism and place-based learning will guide the curriculum. One day we may offer a five-day program so that we can try to become a “school of choice” – that means that families in the surrounding area could attend the school for free. For now, we will actively work to keep tuition as low as possible while still valuing our teachers and providing a safe and enriching learning environment where children can thrive.
I would like to thank all of my Mills professors for preparing me for this venture. Collectively, they planted a seed ten years ago that has now blossomed into one school where things will be done differently: a school rooted in what is best for children.
To learn more about the school, please visit www.themillschool.org
In The Principalship, Thomas Sergovanni defines culture as the beliefs and values that underlie and direct the actions of faculty. Ideas such as “all children can learn” and “the whole child should be educated” fall into this category of thought. The importance of cultivating a healthy school culture cannot be understated in school leadership. The ability to effect positive change in the program, operations, and political dimensions of school structures rests on having a strong, coherent culture that supports faculty in modeling the foundational values, and holds them accountable when they move away from those. This is why I identified improving the culture of the elementary division at The Berkeley School, where I am Associate Head of School and Elementary Division Head, as one of my foci for the current school year, and made it the topic of my project for my NAIS Fellowship for Aspiring Heads of School.
Because school culture rests on abstract ideas such as beliefs and values, changing it requires surfacing those values in ways that can then be directly applied to the curriculum, traditions, and other facets of school life. While I would have loved to set aside time for faculty to discuss their core values and beliefs about education in the abstract, to do so would take their most precious resource – time – without providing a pragmatic connection to their work, and my experience is that teachers prefer their time be spent talking about substantive matters, rather than process-related ones. My approach, therefore, has been to identify ways in which the values and beliefs in our culture can be named within the context of specific program-related work.
One way in which I have worked to shift school culture is through a year-long examination of our curriculum. One strand of this has been to begin a curriculum mapping process that gives teachers time to plan, reflect, and revise their own curriculum, as well as significant opportunities to work with faculty at other grade levels to understand the knowledge, skills and understandings that are being taught to students throughout the school. Another strand has been working closely with our Curriculum Coordinator to implement a design thinking process for examining our balanced literacy program. This initiative has involved defining the components of the program, training faculty on implementing a consistent word study program across the grades (since one was missing), providing regular opportunities to implement the Looking At Student Work Together protocol developed by David Allan and Tina Blythe at Harvard’s Project Zero Institute, and more.
My second approach has been to increase the role of teacher leadership in defining specific aspects of our program. I formed small working groups to examine our shared traditions, such as holiday celebrations and our curriculum sharing events, and I pushed those small groups to be explicit about the values behind our work. For example, one such group at the beginning of the year met to rethink our assemblies, which were previously bi-monthly sing-alongs of old folk songs. By starting with sharing the reasons we value assemblies, we were able to then move on to identifying the goals we wished the assemblies to meet, and thus come up with a structure that could achieve them. When this group of teachers suggested a structure to the event that involved students sharing their learning, and the reporting out of the work of our newly-formed student council, the faculty as a whole was excited to take on the added burden of preparing their kids to present, precisely because their peers had taken the time to ground the approach in their values.
I have used one other strategy to increase the coherence of our division’s culture, and that is to attempt to become a better cheerleader and recognize what is going right in our classrooms. I have found several avenues for this, including offering a sincere and authentic appreciation to a different faculty or staff member each day for some aspect of their work; being sure to notice, comment on, and inquire about the new displays and documentation that appears on the walls of the classrooms each time I enter a room; and to publish an internal division newsletter in which I pick one thing from each class, and write about how I see it connecting to our mission, learning outcomes, or pedagogic approach.
Peter Drucker, an influential scholar of management theory and practice, once wrote that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Understanding the history of a school site, the personal narratives of the faculty and staff, and the context, constraints, and conditions that a school faces are essential in effecting culture change. It is time-consuming work, and one that I find presents me with new and exciting challenges every day. I share my approach in the hope that it provides others with a foil to consider their own critical work in this area, and I welcome anyone who would like to have a dialogue on this topic at to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently, the Oakland Unified School District was pleased to announce that it had established a relationship with Oakland Rotary to adopt Transitional Kindergarten (TK) classes at ten schools (eleven classrooms) throughout the city. OUSD wrote, “The group will compensate for gaps in state funding of Transitional Kindergarten by providing the funds needed to create nurturing and stimulating learning environments for young children.” OUSD further wrote, “While the state provides funding for TK teacher salaries, virtually no money is offered for classroom modifications, furniture, equipment, books and toys designed to optimize the learning experience for these younger students.” Oakland Rotary and its partners have pledged to help fill that gap. So far they have award $22,000 for the eleven teachers to spend as they deem necessary; $15,000 worth of books; and hundreds of dollars in toys. This is just the beginning.
We wrote to EdD student Krishen Arvind Laetsch, Board Member at Oakland Rotary and its Youth and Education co-chair, and asked him to tell us a bit more. He wrote,
“Several years ago with support from Oakland Rotary, I helped to create ‘Oakland Reads’, a program that gives three books to every third grader in Oakland traditional and charter schools, to promote literacy. In addition to providing $45,000 each year in books, and reaching more than 4,000 students, the program broke socio-economic barriers by putting 100 Rotarians into schools that otherwise they would most probably not visit; many returned to provide additional support. One member decided to give each student a book bag and we donated classroom sets of books too.
“The program operated for four years then transitioned to Family Reading Nights. In this program, Oakland Rotarians brought books to schools in the evenings, and then read with kids, provided dinners and literacy activities for families. Unfortunately, this program generated less excitement. When Transitional Kindergarten was created (the first new grade created in more than eight decades), we saw an opportunity. I proposed that the Oakland Rotary build on its record of success and adopt all ten schools that had TK, eleven classrooms in all throughout the city. With Oakland’s Rotary motto of Service above Self, it was an easy sell. We call it KinderPrep because few understand “Transitional Kindergarten.
“I have the privilege of co-chairing the Oakland Rotary Youth & Education Committee. Oakland Rotary is the third oldest Rotary Club in the world. It has been in Oakland for more than 100 years and is the largest service organization in the city. It has contributed a great deal to education, including books, equipment, mentors, scholarships, tutors, etc. For more on Oakland Rotary and its KinderPrep program, visit http://www.clubrunner.ca/Portal/Home.aspx?cid=3190.
“On a personal note, this type of program would not have been possible were it not for the support and training I have received from the Mills College School of Education. I’m a fortunate man…but am still waiting for my ‘Pearl M.’”
OUSD notes that other Oakland Rotary KinderPrep activities planned for 2012-13 include:
* purchasing and assembling furniture
* planting gardens
* building play structures
* supporting “Emergency Prep” classes for educators and guardians
* providing classroom assistance to teachers, particularly in the areas of math and science
* launching book and toy drives
* supporting literacy in ten schools with books, curricula and reading projects
*orchestrating two field trips for all of the Transitional Kindergarten students to Children’s Fairyland for art and literacy and to the Oakland Zoo for art and biology
As a student in the Leadership Program in Early Childhood, storytelling kept popping up. From the first days together with Cohort 4, we shared our own personal and professional stories as a way of building relationships and reflecting on our own life experiences. For me, as an infant care teacher, I was often asked by children to tell stories, to read story books for enjoyment and learning, over and over again and to share stories of events and experiences which were a part of our lives. Storytelling was a way to communicate and to build relationships. It was fun and engaging. Telling stories and reading storybooks is what I did in early childhood. It came to me as quit a surprise to learn that storytelling was also recognized as a formal tool for leadership and research in higher education as well. I’ll share here three examples.
First, in my field placement experience a thread of storytelling was there. The ‘parent-led, parent-run’ grassroots organization Parent Voices www.parentvoices.org used storytelling as an important aspect of their work in advocating for access and availability of quality, affordable child care. As testimony for public hearings at the state capitol, parents worked together to shape their stories into powerful statements expressing exactly what they had experienced and how specific choices made by legislature impacted their lives. I participated in the annual “Stand For Children” day in Sacramento where legislative visits provided opportunity for parents to tell their stories directly to elected officials. Telling personal stories in such a purposeful way is an act of leadership.
A second thread of storytelling as a tool for social change emerged from my volunteer internship with the For Our Babies Campaign. This project from WestEd is a national movement where individual stories are supported with research based empirical data to shape public will and improve lives of infants, toddlers and their families across the country. Through a visit to www.forourbabies.org one can access videos and hear real life stories, as well as sign a petition to support the cause. Using storytelling in this way is an act of leadership.
Storytelling appeared in my work as a research assistant with the global play memories project. In this project, www.globalplaymemories.org we are collecting adults’ memories of their childhood play and children’s stories of play in their lives today. The presence of personal narrative gives this work deeper meaning as it brings visibility to individual experiences. We presented our research at the Association of Childhood Education International (ACEI) Global Summit in Washington, DC. It was a graduate research award from the Mills School of Education which helped to finance my attendance at this event. Hearing stories about play opened up dialogue from which advocacy for the importance of play in the lives of children and adults emerged. Publicly sharing research based on storytelling is an act of leadership.
Now, beginning the educational leadership program toward a doctorate degree, I’ve learned that “all research is storytelling.” Within the realm of qualitative research, storytelling is the primary avenue for data collection and personal narrative is an actual research method. Interviewing someone and asking them to share their story can be very powerful. Interpreting their story to help shape and inform your story is at the heart of dissertation writing and research. Even quantitative research has an aspect of storytelling where the story of data and how it was collected and interpreted is told through the perspective of the researchers involved. Engaging in research based on storytelling, which results in significant contributions to the field of education, is an act of leadership.
It surprises me, the strong threads of connection from storytelling to research and leadership. I think I am not so much surprised that there is a connection – but that the connection can be recognized in such formal ways. This change in thinking about the place of storytelling came with new understandings of leadership and research. I used to see storytelling as a habit, something we did just because we did it. I used to see leadership as a job or a title where more was told then asked. Storytelling, if it was happening, wasn’t recognized as such. I thought of research as something separate from my experience. My new understanding of research as storytelling opens a place for bringing personal experience and perspective into the research process. For me, it is exciting that my experience at Mills has opened my mind and heart to seeing how storytelling can be a part of leadership and research. It is in recognizing these threads of connection that make all the difference.
During the course of the year, my English and World History class explores some heavy subjects— the Holocaust, the Rape of Nanking, the rise of dictators like Stalin, the apathetic reactions of various countries to our climate change problem. I am conscious of focusing on how we can learn from history in order to make the future better. As we go through the Holocaust unit, we explore indifference and how inaction can be more deadly than we think, even today.
Most of my students have not heard of the Holocaust, so one of my central goals is simply to make sure each student has a firm grasp on this important part of our history. But I also want them to interact with this history in a way that humanizes people rather than desensitizes the atrocities. So, I want students to know that 6 million Jews were killed. But then we read Elie Wiesel’s Night in order to learn about the actual people who were affected. I asked Dora Sorell to be a guest lecturer as part of that same idea. When the students see her, a holocaust survivor, mother, doctor, and author, they listen to her story, ask her questions, hug her, and realize what she survived and how resilient she is. The students get to be truly empathetic, rather than voyeurs of a gruesome and horrific tragedy.
My students have seen horrific things too—all before the age of 15—and many of them look to Wiesel and Sorell as role models, people who made something truly amazing out of their lives despite all the obstacles and trauma. I also want my students to start thinking as historians—to collect evidence, be critical of what they read and form their own opinions. As we study, they realize how many alternate stories there are about Hitler, and how “doing history” is putting these pieces together to make sense of it. History is an active, malleable, subjective process. It is full of life and stories and connection to today, not some dull, unconnected lesson in a textbook.
As sophomores, my students are already becoming cynical about this country and world and I have to fight against that because I think cynicism breeds apathy and indifference. As adults we often get cynical but being a teacher and encouraging young people to make a difference, I have to try hard not to be that way. I got a lot of positive feedback for the letter Elie Wiesel wrote to my students two years ago, and for organizing Dora Sorell to speak last year, but really all I did was try. There are millions of causes we can fight for today, but the important thing is that we choose to fight for something. I hope my students learn that.
Over the past two years Child Life faculty in the School of Education, Linda Perez, Ph.D. and Susan Marchant, MA, CCLS have worked with Japan Seitoku University Cooperative, a Japanese government grant to investigate models for educating non-medical professionals in hospital settings.
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On June 21, 2012 we traveled to Tokyo, Japan to present a series of Child Life lectures to medical doctors, professors at Seitoku University, and Japanese Child Life Specialists that focused on “The Professional Work of Child Life Specialists in the United States” and the “History and Education of Child Life Specialists.” We also provided continuing education training to a group of Child Life Specialists that chronicled Susan’s process of building a Child Life department at Children’s Hospital in Oakland and Linda’s work in Infant Mental Health and Early Brain Development of High Risk Medically Fragile Preterm Infants born in the Intensive Care Nursery.
During our stay in Japan, we toured the National Center for Child Health and Development, a children’s hospital where Mills graduate, Megumi Aiyoshi ’06 MA, CCLS works. We were most impressed with how the hospital staff welcomed us and how they provide child and family focused care. For example, throughout the patient rooms, medical treatment spaces, play areas, and waiting locations, the child and family focused themes and interactive experiences are abundant. In the (radiology or nuclear) medicine environments, appropriate child-oriented themes create a comfortable atmosphere, which children and families can relate to. Here patients develop their own masks and watch videos which support their coping strategies during a medical procedure.
We also visited Seitoku University and sat in on class lectures. Similar to the structure of Mills Child Life courses, professors engage students to take an active role in their own learning process. Finally, we went to observe a government-run and a private preschool, and an infant home of the Japanese Red Cross Medical Center that is aimed at raising babies and infants with special needs who have difficulties being cared for by their families. The infant center offers childcare and nursing which enables the integration of child development and physical and mental wellbeing. It nurtures a strong relationship with the parents in an effort towards family reunification.
The Mills Child Life faculty learned that the Child Life Specialists’ work in Japan is supported by the pediatricians’ interest and beliefs in their work. The pediatricians understand the important role child life plays in advocating for the child and family, and in providing psychosocial interventions to reduce children’s pain and suffering during their hospital stay. As such, they are communicating and working with the professors at Seitoku University to establish an academic Child Life Program to increase the number of Japanese Child Life Specialists. Like them, we believe that as the number of Child Life Specialists grows and gains support from the medical community, Child Life will play an important role in Japanese medical society.
We left Japan with much gratitude for the care that everyone we met provided us during our visit. We take great pride in the accomplishments of the Japanese Child Life graduates who graduated from Mills School of Education. In the last 17 years, we have educated 20 of the 26 Japanese Child Life Specialists who are working diligently and long hours in hospitals in Japan. We in the United States have much to learn from their dedication and commitment to hospitalized children and their families. We are certain that they will continue to contribute to the professional field of Child Life, both in Japan and in the United States. The Child Life faculty at Mills College looks forward to continuing to coordinate our efforts with Seitoku University and Child Life Specialists in Japan to ensure moving the field forward.
Lastly, we would like to acknowledge and thank Professor Mikiko Tabu, Megumi Aiyoshi, MA, CCLS, Dr. Miyamoto, M.D., Ph.D., Dr. Matsurra, M.D., Ph.D., Professor Hirozumi, and all of the Child Life Specialists who traveled long distances to attend our lectures. Their hospitality, expertise, and generosity were very much appreciated.
Linda Perez, Ph.D. Susan Marchant, MA, CCLS
Holland Professor Adjunct Professor
Professor of Education
I had the good fortune to accompany a group of Mills colleagues, along with several teachers and administrators from the Oakland Unified School District, on a trip to Japan to learn about Japanese Lesson Study in elementary and middle school mathematics classrooms. Generously funded by the Toyota Foundation, and overseen by senior researcher and Principal Investigator Catherine Lewis, this trip was designed to teach us about this powerful form of professional development through an immersion experience in Japanese schools with educators from Japan and around the world. We visited seven schools in seven days.
There is much to say about this trip and what I learned, but the aspect that I want to write about here is the way that we were taught, or attempted to learn, how to read Japanese classrooms. My mentor Frederick Erickson often said that children are always learning or on task; it’s simply a question of whose task they are on: their own, the teacher’s, one set by their peers, or the like. I tend to approach classrooms with that in mind. I look for how and what students are learning, not whether they are learning. I try to understand teaching in relationship to students’ learning, whether the teaching is generated from the front of the classroom or through more informal interactions. I have written about how silence is a critical form of participation in classrooms, and often focus on how students are representing learning (and teachers are instructing) through silence in addition to verbal responses.
In order to understand our observations in Japanese classrooms, we wore transmitters with headphones while one of our Japanese colleagues interpreted the teacher and students’ talk and writing. We also were also given the lesson plans ahead of time. Many of the lesson plans were comprehensive and included possible dialogues for the problem-solving period as well as the instructional context. At times we had discussions before the lesson with our Japanese guides, experts both in the Japanese mathematics curriculum and Lesson Study as practiced in Japan.
One of the most complex lessons we observed was about angles. The lesson followed what we came to understand as a typical pattern of Japanese mathematics lessons. The teacher introduced the topic by drawing on the students’ prior knowledge. He posed a problem for the students and then asked them to generate solutions. While they worked independently, he walked around and observed the students, taking notes on a seating chart. Occasionally he commented on students’ solutions or posed questions to prompt their thinking. As the students generated solutions, he documented their thinking on the chalkboard which created a visual map of the lesson. The students documented their work and the class’s collective thinking in journals. At the conclusion of the class, the teacher summed up the work and asked them to write briefly in these journals.
During the discussion period, the teacher made the decision to follow the lead of two students, which distracted him from getting to the stated purpose of the lesson. The conversation was lively, several students seemed engaged, and at the end of the class the students hadn’t reached the predicted conclusion or endpoint on the lesson plan. Still I believe that the students had gained new understanding of angles, and that their curiosity and desire to learn more was piqued. In Erickson’s terms, they were “on task.” My notes contain transcripts of what the teacher and students said, and little analysis of the quality of the interactions.
After the lesson, we assembled to observe the next phase of the lesson study process: a discussion and analysis of the lesson led by teacher leaders, followed by a talk from a university professor reflecting on both the lesson and the ensuing discussion. The post-lesson conversation among the teachers centered on student solutions and the teachers’ pedagogical choices. A new chalkboard was pulled down as various teachers illustrated what they saw on students’ papers, and how and whether it indicated understanding. We followed the discussion with interest. At the conclusion, the professor unequivocally declared, “This lesson was a disaster in terms of what was indicated in the textbook.” He went on to explain the mathematics of the lesson and the missed opportunities that were a consequence of poor decisions the teacher had made. Simply put, the teacher had chosen the wrong examples or solutions from the students to focus on and, as a consequence, been unable to reach the critical teaching point suggested by the text.
Although I tried hard to follow his exposition through the somewhat difficult translation, I was not convinced that the lesson was really a disaster until we later posed the same question to our Japanese leader. “Yes,” he informed us without hesitation, “The lesson was a disaster.” Along with several of my colleagues, I had completely misread the lesson and classroom activity. From that moment on, I wanted to understand how Japanese educators “read” classrooms, to understand how my vision of exploration and possibility in the classroom was in conflict with their interpretation of the lesson as characterized by errors in decision-making and mathematics.
The debate about education in this country often boils down to how can we compete in a global market and improve the education of our American youth so that they achieve at the same high level as youth in other countries. In order to achieve these goals, the US has established national standards, adopted new curricula, instituted high stakes testing. But how often do we really try to read the classrooms in these countries, attempting to deeply understand—and even critical analyze—the pedagogical decisions of teachers and learners? How do we facilitate true dialogue and learning across international contexts when there are such high stakes and national loyalties? I wonder about the value or role of outside perspectives. How does my own focus on the importance of listening to or paying close attention to student silence add to Japanese educators’ understandings of their own classrooms? And finally, I wonder, how can those of us on the trip use our experiences to inform our own work in local schools and our preparation of future educators?
Let’s stop the hype and the hypocrisy: a nice note, a flower, a Starbucks card, and a week when we all go smooshy over Miss Brody or Mr. Escalante can’t possibly counter 51 weeks of official disdain and a continuing frontal assault from the powerful. Lots of cynical similes are filling teachers’ in-boxes this week: Teacher Appreciation Week feels a lot like Turkey Appreciation Week at Thanksgiving, or Deer Appreciation Week during hunting season—and we’re the turkeys!
Teaching involves engaging real students every day, nurturing and challenging the vast range of people who actually appear before us, solving problems, making connections, putting in 70 hour weeks and spending our own money on supplies; and it means listening to every two-bit politician, the bought media, and big money misrepresent what we do, and attack us shamelessly every day.
Want to appreciate teachers?
Don’t allow education to be defined as an endless Social Darwinist competition: nation against nations, state against state, school against school, classroom against classroom, and child against child. Education, like love, is one of the fundamentals of life—give it away generously and lose nothing—and school is where we can work out the meaning and the texture of democracy—coming together to explore the creation of community, pursuing the hard and challenging questions, and imagining new ways to be in balance with the earth and in harmony with each other. Good teaching deals with the real—honor teachers for that.
Reframe the debate: We are insistently encouraged to think of education as a product like a car or a refrigerator, a box of bolts or a screw driver—something bought and sold in the marketplace like any other commodity. The controlling metaphor for the schoolhouse is a business run by a CEO, with teachers as workers and students as the raw material bumping along the assembly line while information is incrementally stuffed into their little up-turned heads; it’s rather easy to think within this model that “downsizing” the least productive units, “outsourcing” and privatizing a space that was once public is a natural event; that teaching toward a simple standardized metric, and relentlessly applying state-administered (but privately-developed and quite profitable) tests to determine the “outcomes,” is a rational proxy for learning; that centrally controlled “standards” for curriculum and teaching are commonsensical; that “zero tolerance” for student misbehavior as a stand-in for child development or justice is sane; and that “accountability,” that is, a range of sanctions on students, teachers, and schools—but never on law-makers, foundations, corporations, or high officials—is logical and level-headed. This is in fact what a range of wealthy “reformers,” noisy politicians, and their chattering pundits in the bought media call “school reform.”
Oppose the “reform” policies that will add up to the end of education in and for democracy: replacing the public schools with some sort of privately-controlled administration, sorting the winners relentlessly from the losers—test, test, TEST! (and then punish), and destroying teachers’ ability to speak with any sustained and unified voice. The operative image for these moves has by now become quite familiar: education is an individual consumer good, not a public trust or a social good, and certainly not a fundamental human right. Management, inputs and outcomes, efficiency, cost controls, profit and loss—the dominant language of this kind of reform doesn’t leave much room for doubt, or much space to breathe.
Note that good working conditions are good teaching conditions, and that good teaching conditions are good learning conditions, and that teachers independent and collective voice is essential in determining these conditions.
Fight for smaller class size, limited standardized tests, enhanced arts programs at all levels and in every area, equitable financing, and a strong teachers contract that protects intellectual freedom, due process of law, benefits (from pensions to health care) negotiated in good faith, and encourages collegiality and collaboration.
Throw in a note or a flower if you like.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s open letter to teachers, his idea of a public appreciation, missed the mark badly even as it regurgitated every silly cliché rehearsed by opportunist politicians everywhere: my mom wuzza teacher, my sister wuzza teacher, my wife wuzza teacher—all the wuzzas feel our pain. He went on:
- “I have worked in education for much of my life.” (And some of his best friends are…you know).
- “I have a deep and genuine appreciation for the work you do.” (Thanks, boss).
- “Many of the teachers I have met object to the imposition of curriculum that reduces teaching to little more than a paint-by-numbers exercise. I agree.” (And your “Race to the Top” program is paint-by-the-numbers on steroids).
- “You have told me you believe that ‘No Child Left Behind’ has prompted some schools—especially low-performing ones—to teach to the test, rather than focus on the educational needs of students…[it] has narrowed the curriculum.” (So now you’re telling us what we’ve been telling you?).
- “You deserve to be respected, valued, and supported.” (Just do it!).
Arne Duncan acts like a junior foundation officer dispensing grants, rather than someone whose responsibility is the education of every child in a democracy.
On the bright side, Duncan recently announced that he supports same-sex marriage—perhaps we should all gay-marry immediately, and hope that at last he’ll show us some love.