Archive for the ‘Research’ Category
I arrived home one day after class in 2009 and sat in front of my computer to begin my schoolwork as I had done for months on end. In fact, being in the Education Leadership doctoral program at Mills, that was all I did for months—no, I take that back—years!! Like all the other days before this one, I first opened my email longingly, yet not expectantly, to see if there were any messages from anyone anymore. (The first thing I learned in my doctoral program was that I no longer had any more friends outside of school who emailed me—in fact I didn’t really have a life outside of school.) Open-peruse-delete. Open-peruse-delete. Open-peruse-delete. That was my interaction with most of the email that I got those days. And that was my interaction with the email that I received from Teachers College Press. Open-peruse-delete.
What a joke. Yeah right—like Teachers College Press wants me to submit a manuscript. I knew better. I had just presented a workshop on resilience (the subject of my dissertation) at the ASCD annual conference and was so certain that what I received in my email was just a form letter sent to all presenters to see if they wanted to submit a proposal for a manuscript that would possibly be published by Teachers College Press. This is of course what all publishers do after a big conference—right? They mine the total landscape and send queries to all presenters in hopes that a good proposal may present itself. I was not going to get sucked in and spend my time responding. Besides, it also crossed my mind that someone might have even been playing a really bad joke on me—a joke that I was not going to fall for. Yeah right—send the student who is up to her eyeballs in writing a dissertation a query to see if she would be interested in writing a book. That email was now history and I never mentioned it to anyone. I just took care of it by bringing one little finger to one little key. Delete.
Fast forward two months…
Like all the other days before, I got done with school, sat in front of my computer and opened my email before knowing that I was in for a long night working on some chapter of my dissertation. Geesh…not another form email from Teachers College Press. There must have been another conference somewhere and they are mining the crowd—or once again, someone was playing a bad joke on me. Oh well, just open it, read it, and then delete it—I knew the drill. So I opened it, read it, and—oh my God!—went into convulsions! This isn’t verbatim, but the email started something like this:
Dear Dr. Truebridge,
I contacted you earlier to inquire whether you would be interested in submitting a book proposal to Teachers College Press. I understand your work focuses on resilience and we are interested in publishing a book on this subject. I never heard back from you so I am inquiring once again.
…and it was signed by the Executive Acquisitions Editor of Teachers College Press.
Yes, I was now in convulsions that lasted all night into the next day. You can ask Diane Ketelle and she will verify that I am telling you the truth, for I was hyperventilating the next day as I ran hysterically into her office. “Oh my God! Oh my God! I received this email—the first one I deleted—this email—this email—oh my God—it is from Teachers College Press—actually it is the second email I received from them—did I mention I deleted the first one?! Oh my God! Oh my God, and look…the salutation on the email says ‘Dr. Truebridge!’ He thinks I have my doctorate and I am still in the process of getting it—oh my God—how do I respond???”
Now I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that this was not the first time I had run into Diane’s office in a manic hysterical state. Diane was often the one who, when she was not challenging me as a doctoral student, was able to smile her smile, hold my hand, and help me through some tough times. This time was no different. On this day, she held my hand, calmed my nerves, and helped me craft my response to the email that I received from Teachers College Press. That was in 2009. That was also the year when I signed my contract with Teachers College Press. I graduated the doctoral program in 2010. My book, published by Teachers College Press, Resilience Begins with Beliefs: Building on Student Strengths for Success in School, will be out in December 2013. Needless to say, looking back to 2009—finishing a dissertation and beginning a book at the same time—was quite a humbling spin on the “doctoral dance floor.”
*Just a little side note…it has been three years since I have graduated the doctoral program, and I still am getting used to being called “Dr. Truebridge.” However, I am no longer thrown into convulsions and hysterics when I receive an email that begins with that salutation. Oh…and one more thing: I am a lot more careful these day about what emails I delete. That’s no joke.
For information about the book: http://store.tcpress.com/0807754838.shtml
Find it on Facebook: (Please visit and “like”):https://www.facebook.com/pages/Resilience-Begins-with-Beliefs-by-Sara-Truebridge/669217006423284?ref=stream
It feels like forever ago that I found out that my proposal to present at AERA 2013 was accepted. The excitement had worn off by mid-winter. It rumbled back when I registered for the conference in March and began combing through the 2,400 sessions offered from 6,000 presenters. The theme for the conference this year was Education and Poverty: Theory, Research, Policy, and Praxis. It’s now been just two days since the conference ended and I’m still running on the shot of oxygen the whole experience provided. I took the time to sit down and type up some of my notes to reflect on the many-layered voices that arose throughout the 4 full days I spent in over 15 sessions. I’ve utilized the poetic method, I Remember, made popular by the artist/poet Joe Brainard.
I REMEMBER AERA
I remember the excitement of finding out that my proposal, Art Unbound: A System’s Change Effort to Keep Art in the Conversation, was accepted.
I remember telling myself to write shorter titles.
I remember how proud their teacher Hodari B. Davis was and how it lit up his face.
I remember noting the names of some of the students. I want to be able to say that I saw them when they were young researchers.
I remember thinking YPAR is important because it reverts the gaze outward from the community and because it is the renewal we need.
I remember running to the Exhibition Hall first thing Saturday morning with my adrenaline pumping.
I remember spotting the Routledge booth and all those books and then finding Culturally Relevant Arts Education and thumbing to Chapter 6 to find my name.
I remember holding my breath, telling myself to remember this moment.
I remember passing Peter Mclaren in the hall and wanting to give him a fist bump when I realized he reminded me of a blonde Ozzy Osbourne.
I remember that panel celebrating the Encyclopedia of Diversity in Education and thinking, “Who can afford $600 for those 2600 pages,” and then making a note to ask the Mills College Library to order it.
I remember that moment when Curtis Acosta told us, commenting on what it’s like inside Tucson Unified after the ban on ethnic studies, “I’m in jail every day at school. I can’t touch my curriculum, a curriculum that works. I have been turned into an instrument of hate.”
I remember to note that Curtis Acosta’s statements are his alone and that he does not speak on behalf of Tucson Unified. His Superintendent asked him to make that very clear. He told us he was using personal time to be in San Francisco.
I remember that seeing Curtis again makes me want to show the film, Precious Knowledge, to every class I teach.
I remember Julio Cammarota asking us to challenge colorblind politics by using the more nuanced terms of “alienation and isolation” as a way of “lifting the veil of colonizing knowledges” through the “decolonial imaginary” (Emma Perez).
I remember that Pedagogies of Love session and Antwi Akom, quoting Van Jones, “What if we built a movement at the intersection of the social justice and the ecology movements, of entrepreneurship and activism? What if we didn’t just have hybrid cars — what if we had a hybrid movement.”
I remember “diff in diff” and Greg Tanaka’s warning of the coming economic collapse.
I remember writing down, RENEWAL NOW.
I remember Pedro Noguera. And who doesn’t.
I remember that I can’t remember it all.
I remember to keep commitment at the center of all pedagogy and to always look my students in the eyes when they ask, “How down are you for my liberation?”
“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.
As states and school districts across the country embrace common-core standards, U.S. educators are in need of a public proving ground where standards-based instruction can be enacted and studied. What might such a proving ground look like?
In Japan, changes in national education standards cause ripples of activity across the country, as practitioners and researchers collaborate to bring their ideas to life in “public research lessons.” Here’s a simple example of how this process works:
When the topic of solar cells was added to the Japanese elementary curriculum, national guidelines specified only the basic objectives for student learning, not the specific teaching methods. Teachers and researchers, working collaboratively in dozens of small groups across the country, studied the available research and curricula (much of it from the United States). These teams then tried out their ideas in a local elementary school, progressively refining teaching materials and approaches based on student responses. After a year or so of experimentation, they opened up their instruction to others in large public research lessons.
The tens of thousands of educators, researchers, and policymakers who attended these public research lessons could see and discuss live instruction designed to enact the standards. They were able to question the teachers and researchers about the rationale for their choices, scrutinize the entire unit plan and records of student learning across the unit, and offer their own ideas and critiques. Each team focused on the needs of their own local students, but also drew on work by other teams when useful.
Over the first year or two of public lessons, information on how to teach about solar cells spread rapidly. A store of shared knowledge developed about practical aspects of teaching the subject—for example, which solar toys were inexpensive and made important ideas visible—as well as about the kinds of student thinking to expect, how to handle it, and the subject matter itself. One teacher observing a public research lesson, for example, asked about the scientific significance of some student strategies, including moving a solar cell closer to a light source, adding a second light source, and using a magnifying class to “concentrate” light.
“I want to know whether the three conditions the children described—’to put the solar cell closer to the light source,”to make the light stronger,’ and to ‘gather the light’—would all be considered the same thing by scientists. They don’t seem the same to me. But I want to ask the teachers who know science whether scientists would regard them as the same thing.”
The Japanese system of distributed, local, collaborative lesson-study work, culminating in public research lessons, enables educators to develop and share the many intertwined types of knowledge needed to implement standards well in the classroom—knowledge of instructional materials, teaching strategies, student thinking, and content. Such a public proving ground has several advantages over the processes of standards enactment currently familiar in the United States.
First, it recognizes that translating standards into practice is demanding, important, intellectual work. The final product of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, now being adopted here, represents an enormous accomplishment. But the standards are only splotches of ink on paper until a teacher brings them to life in a classroom. Their enactment in the classroom requires continuing experimentation, intense scrutiny, and the development of shared knowledge about what works and does not—in many different settings.
Second, it allows teachers to take the initiative in the implementation of standards and to bring their own important knowledge to bear. Public research lessons provide a natural incentive for collaborative between teachers and researchers, who share the desire to create effective lessons and document them in ways that enable others to learn from their work.
Third, it places students and student thinking at the center of reform. Although U.S. policymakers talk about “a marketplace of good materials,” how well can materials be judged without actually seeing students and teachers use them in diverse settings?
Fourth, it recognizes that the knowledge needed for standards-based instruction cannot be captured entirely in written documents such as frameworks and teacher manuals. Much of the knowledge for teaching is embodied in the instruction itself, and is spread and refined as teachers watch each other teach.
Fifth, it recognizes that improvement needs to be continuous. A static set of “best practices” on paper or video is insufficient because students are not static.
Sixth, it exerts much-needed pressure on textbook content and design. In the work leading up to public research lessons in Japan, teachers and researchers together review existing textbooks and research and choose what they believe to be the best approach. Plans written by lesson-study groups explain why they chose—and rejected—various textbook approaches.
Japanese publishers notice the conclusions emerging from public research lessons and revise textbook content to reflect what is being learned. That may explain why our recent study of two U.S. and two Japanese elementary textbook series found that the Japanese texts use the same four models to represent fractions, while the U.S. texts use 15 different models.
Finally, public research lessons provide an opportunity for policymakers to see how teachers and students actually respond to the standards in a best-case scenario in which teachers have adequate time and support to enact them. Because the policymakers who write the national standards attend public research lessons and see what aspects of the standards need further support or revision, the lessons also allow formative research on policy.
Moreover, policymakers, teachers, and researchers develop a shared understanding of the standards, based on instruction they have all seen and discussed. For example, after a recent public research lesson in California, something startling happened. While many of the nearly 100 observers thought that the mathematics lesson they had seen brilliantly realized the mathematician George Polya’s ideas about problem-solving, a few, including some influential state policymakers, could not see any relationship between the lesson and the state’s problem-solving standards. This gap in perception sparked useful conversations about the meaning of “problem-solving” in the state standards, and helped lead to eventual consensus: that solving novel problems—not just solving word problems with known procedures—was an important facet of the standard.
How feasible is such a public proving ground in this country? Experienced lesson-study groups already exist over most of the United States, and some of them hold regular public research lessons one or more times a year, using video and audio projection to accommodate large audiences. Many of these groups center on close collaboration between classroom teachers and university-based subject-matter specialists. And evidence is accumulating to show that the groups help their members build content and instructional knowledge, enhance student learning, improve collegial work, and spread teaching knowledge across the boundaries of schools and districts.
In the quest to bring common-core standards to life, we should consider the power of public research lessons. In a recent Education Week article on the implementation of common standards, a researcher described the process of developing curriculum frameworks this way: “When people go into a room and come out with solutions, it’s typically about money or politics. … So the question is, why are people going into that room? What are they after?”
What would happen if “that room” were a classroom? By using classrooms all over the United States as the public proving ground to enact, analyze, and refine standards-based practice, we could come out of the room with solutions that are not about money or politics, but about what and how students are learning.
This post was originally published in 2010 in Education Week (Vol. 30, Issue 03, Pages 28-30).
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.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
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
CUSP: The Center for Urban Schools and Partnerships
We invite you to attend the first event in our year-long speaker series:
Preparing Educators and Youth in a World of Economic Injustice
Quality Public School Education as a Constitutional Right
In conversation with Ruth Cossey, Mills College
September 20th, 2012
Lokey Graduate School of Business, Room 101
5000 MacArthur Blvd
Oakland, CA 94613
Join us for an afternoon of dialogue with civil rights organizer Dr. Bob Moses. Dr. Moses was a leader with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Mississippi Voter Registration Project and Mississippi Freedom Summer in the 1960s. As a MacArthur Foundation Fellow he went on to found the nationally-renowned Algebra Project. Most recently, Dr. Moses has been leading the call for an amendment to the US Constitution for Quality Public School Education as a Constitutional Right. We hope you will join us in conversation with Dr. Moses about his life-long leadership and activism for racial, social and educational justice for all.
This event is co-sponsored by Mills’ Office of the Provost, Department of Ethnic Studies, Diversity and Social Justice Resource Center, and Black Women’s Collective, as well as the National Equity Project and the Office of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan.
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?
Given Bill Gates’s fiscal role in supporting matters educational, I was happy to read his NYTimes OP-ED piece opposing the publication of individual performance assessments of teachers. Gates claims he is not against teacher evaluation per se, but, he writes, “publicly ranking teachers by name will not help them get better at their jobs or improve student learning.” I agree. At the same time I wonder if Gates is overly optimistic with his assumption that the purpose of teacher evaluation—conceived as it is with this “value added” scoring and then publishing methodology—is actually designed to improve teaching and student learning. As implemented, the connection is not clear.
Designed as a means to promote teacher learning and build practice rather than judge teachers and rank them, the Mills Teacher Scholars (MTS) provides support for teachers to explore areas of their teaching that they want to improve, and then support for making the changes that will help them better meet their students’ learning needs. Teachers identify an area of the school curriculum where students struggle. They frame a question about their students’ learning about which they want to gain understanding. They pursue this question by systematically collecting examples of student work over time, and collaboratively analyzing that work with colleagues who help them make sense of what the students do and do not know as well as what they can and can not yet do. Teacher learning about student learning is at the heart of the Mills Teacher Scholars work. Only with a deep understanding of student learning—one that goes beyond reading a standardized test score—can teachers alter their practice in ways that open up new and targeted opportunities for their students to achieve academic success.
Aija, one of seven Mills Teacher Scholars at New Highland Academy in Oakland, provides an example. Aija is a fifth grade teacher and a four-year teacher scholar. Last year she focused her MTS work on her students’ reading comprehension after identifying their low scores on the state standardized test. She learned that she needed to make her students’ thinking both more visible to them and to her. In response she developed a new methodology for teaching students what it meant to “think while you read.” The method allowed her to witness her students’ reading successes and challenges and alter her instruction accordingly. After experiencing excellent student learning outcomes and presenting her research findings at a school-wide forum, several of Aija’s colleagues decided to try that methodology in their reading instruction as well.
Developing a robust multi-faceted approach to evaluating teachers is clearly needed as we work to eliminate the achievement gap and reach better academic outcomes in our nation’s public schools. Publicizing teachers’ evaluation scores strikes me completely counter productive to that goal. Not only is it disrespectful of the teachers, it misrepresents the incredibly complex work they do. I fear the outcome will be to shut teachers down rather than open them to change.
If we are aiming for better student outcomes, a more urgent need in our nation’s public schools than evaluating and ranking teachers is a system-wide teacher-directed opportunity for professional development. Let’s move away from ranking teachers and instead support them to develop their practice. My suggestion is we begin by drawing on the expertise and professionalism of teachers by soliciting their ideas about areas of needed growth. They are “on the ground” doing the work and therefore best situated to understand their professional learning needs. We have learned in our work with the Mills Teacher Scholars that turning to teachers as a place to start brings about authentic engagement in reforming practice. I have seen evidence that this approach can lead to the student outcomes we desire.
This post also appeared on the Mills Teacher Scholars blog
By Anna Richert, Claire Bove and Carrie Wilson
In April, the Oakland Unified School District administration convened teachers to discuss plans for the future, including professional development. Among the messages the teachers conveyed was the need for teacher-directed professional development. They argued that for too long teachers have been “talked at” by outside “experts” brought in to tell teachers what and how to teach. The time has come for teachers to claim their own expertise and chart their own learning path.
What examples do we have of this kind of professional development for teachers to use as models as they design their own? What does teacher professional development look like when it comes bubbling from the ground up? One example is the Oakland-based Mills Teacher Scholars Project — a group of teachers who have been leading their own professional learning by framing questions about their students’ learning and their teaching and spending a year pursuing answers.
Recently, two groups of teacher researchers participating in the Mills Teacher Scholars project showcased their new understandings to their staff at New Highland Academy in Oakland Unified School District and at Roosevelt Elementary in San Leandro Unified. Teachers in both settings identified questions about their students’ learning and their own teaching practice to help them better address their diverse students’ learning needs. The process supported the teacher scholars to develop ways to “make their students’ learning visible,” which gave them a window into their students’ thinking.
Aija Simmons, a fourth grade New Highland Academy teacher explained at the outset of her project, “What I’m trying to figure out is: ‘what’s happening in a child’s head?’” Working with the Mills Teacher Scholars, Aija and her school colleagues met monthly in cross-grade level teams at New Highland Academy, a QEIA school (Quality Education and Investment Act) in the East Oakland flatlands. Each teacher selected a small group of focal students to focus his or her investigation. They systematically collected “real time,” everyday classroom data that they then analyzed with colleagues. The methodology allowed them to witness change over time.
The teachers reported that slowly and carefully over the academic year they developed a deep understanding about what their student know and are able to do. Working across grade levels brought insight to the progression of the students’ thinking not only over the year, but also across the grade span. Aija’s study provides a good example of how the inquiry process works. Her research focused on helping students make their reading process visible through the use of clarifying strategies, which she documented as part of her study. Designed to help students build their comprehension she introduced a set of strategies for students to engage with the texts they were studying. Her goal was to understand if, and how, these clarifying strategies affected her focal students’ ability to make sense of what they read. Throughout the process she monitored her students’ learning by routinely collecting various forms of data in the form of student work. She also interviewed students to hear their stories about what they were learning. These data, which Aija was able to collect as a routine part of her teaching day, allowed her to see what her students were doing and learning–and what challenges they encountered along the way.
Before using this data-driven approach to her practice, Aija felt her understanding was random at best. She explained:
My analogy is that I’m throwing darts at a target trying to hit it but I have no idea where the target is. Because unless you help the student to figure out how to make their thinking visible to you, you just keep giving reading lessons aimlessly throwing these darts out hoping you meet the target. So this research is an attempt to figure out where the target is.
In presenting her work on May 18th to her colleagues at the New Highland Scholars presentations, Aija explained how routinely collecting and analyzing student learning data allowed her to teach with intention. “[This year] I was never trying to figure out ‘what should I do for a reading workshop,” she explained. “Every time I looked at a data set and looked at what was emerging I knew exactly what to do for what kids…”
After the presentation to the staff, Aija wrote up her study to share to share it with others who were not at the presentations. She concludes her write-up by describing her classroom as a place where reading comprehension is a shared norm and her teaching moves are based on a clear understanding of what students need to encounter next. In comparing her teaching now with her approach before her research she writes:
My reading classroom is alive with clarifying conversations between my whole class, small groups, and even individual readers. Students are developing identities as comprehenders and clarifiers of text. I am teaching more targeted and strategic reading lessons. We are developing into more powerful readers. I say we because as this process happened I was becoming more aware of my own reading identity. Do I think I have the solution to my troubles of teaching reading comprehension? Not exactly. What I do have is a way to communicate effectively with my students about what they were thinking about a text and how they came to their conclusions. What I do have is a community of readers who no longer leery of saying, ‘wait lets use a strategy because, I’m not understanding.’
What I have is a reading space alive with possibility and students who are now saying to me, ‘we need more lessons on this because when I read that story, I couldn’t figure out this strategy.’ We have a process where I can guide the skills needed to help student comprehend and no longer just say sorry but ‘that’s not the main idea.
Teachers like Aija and her teacher scholar colleagues who are provided the time, space and support for pursuing questions they have about what and how their students know, are better prepared to help those students become the powerful learners they are capable of being. The responsibility for teaching all children well is then located in the hands of those who have the best chance of making school “work” for the children they serve. Let us draw on them to frame their path to building their professional expertise. Our best hope for improving student learning outcomes for all students is to create opportunities for their teachers to pursue what they decide they need to know to do their important work. The Oakland teachers have spoken up. Let us make this moment of change a reality.
This post was also published on May 25, 2011 in Anthony Cody’s “Living in Dialogue” blog.
In a cartoon depicting the evolution of Good Samaritanism (see cartoon below) in the digital age, a man walks by a homeless person lying on the street and does nothing. In the next frame, he is at his computer — “What’s this?!! Sally needs a bag of fertilizer for her Farmville farm? I better get right on it!”
Many are struck by the amount of time some people spend in online communities — and concerns have been raised that our attention to virtual communities may be distracting us from the tangible needs of those around us.
Frankly, when it comes to youth civic and political engagement, there is reason for concern. Just 23 percent of 18-29-year-olds voted in the 2010 election. And even in 2008, the recent high point of youth engagement, 55 percent of those 18-29 were judged both civically and politically disengaged on the nationally representative Civic Health of America study.
Is time spent online part of the problem? During the 2008 campaign, many talked about how the
Internet was creating digital citizens and expanding youth engagement. Now, we’re back to talking about youth “slacktivists” whose “activism” consists of “friending” a cause on Facebook. Many also worry that the ability to choose our online communities leads youth and adults into echo chambers where they hear only those views they agree with or interact in disrespectful ways with those who hold different perspectives.
For the past several years, my colleagues and I have been examining these issues. In the first large longitudinal study of youth with this focus, we surveyed more than 2,500 high school students from 19 different districts in California and we were able to follow more than 400 for up to three and half years. We looked at how their online activities related to their civic engagement. We were able to control for their initial levels of engagement — giving us a better sense of digital media’s actual influence.
What we found calls conventional wisdom into question.
Online communities are not the problem — in fact, they may be part of the solution. Many worry that youth who spend significant time on fan sites or in online communities tied to hobbies, sports or other interests will become socially isolated — or, as in the digital age Good Samaritanism cartoon, they may focus more on needs of those in virtual communities than on the needs of those right next to them. We found the opposite to be true. Controlling for their prior level of engagement with civic life, when youth were highly involved in interest-driven online communities they increased their volunteer and charity work in the offline world and increased their work with others on community issues. In addition, online communities are generally more politically diverse than offline neighborhoods. We found that participation in these communities increased youth’s overall exposure to divergent views on societal issues.
More youth are in empty chambers than echo chambers: Contrary to popular belief, when online, it turns out that few individuals are only exposed to perspectives with which they agree. We found that youth tend either to see many different perspectives or none. Few youth, 5 percent, reported exposure only to political views with which they agree. But, 34 percent said that they didn’t encounter any perspectives at all. Online or not, many youth are disengaged.
Digital Media Literacy education can help. Many think of youth as knowing all they need to know about the Internet and that adults have little or no role to play. But youth are not all digital natives. Our surveys indicated, that digital media literacy education dramatically increased students’ exposure to diverse perspectives and boosted the likelihood of youth online engagement with civic and political issues. Students who were required by their teachers to go online and get information about political issues or to find different points of view became more likely to use the Internet in these ways during their discretionary time. By supporting digital media literacy education at home, in school, and in after school programs, we can foster more online engagement with civic and political life and greater exposure to a wide range of perspectives.
These findings are consistent with what Henry Jenkins, Sangita Shresthova and colleagues have found in their research. While online, many youth learn skills, find out about issues, become part of vibrant and diverse social networks, and come to recognize the power of collective action. Some have even tapped the power of social networks and youth’s nonpolitical online interests in ways that lead directly to action. The Harry Potter Alliance (HPA), for example, has connected to more than 100,000 fans and has mobilized many of these fans to form a kind of “Dumbledore’s Army” for the real world that addresses issues ranging from poverty, to human rights, to responses to natural disasters. As one youth explained, “[Before joining HPA], I had absolutely no volunteer time for anything… I didn’t care about social activism… But when it came to Harry Potter… I was like, well, I like all these people I met online through Harry Potter, it would be cool help the world this way…”
Of course, not all online activities produce benefits. We found that while being part of online communities tied to specific interests was strongly related to civic engagement, socializing with friends on Facebook was not.
And this finding highlights a big problem with the way we often talk about the impact of media practices. Lumping all activities together, we ask: How much time do kids spend with media? The answer is shocking — something close to 7.5 hours a day if you include T.V. — but that’s the wrong question. We need to focus on what are youth doing when they engage with media. We should be asking: How can we help youth make the most of digital opportunities?
Fortunately, some reformers are beginning to test out varied answers to this question. For example, a team headed by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has created iCivics, an online game designed to foster civic understanding and engagement. Taking a different tact, groups like Common Sense Media have developed digital literacy and citizenship curriculum to support the consumption and production of online content. Others have created digital resources like factcheck.org or platforms like the Black Youth Project, for youth to create, share perspectives, and access information about the topics that matter to them. In addition, out-of-school programs like YOUmedia enable youth to pursue their passions in a media rich environment where they create, share, learn, and teach. The societal issues youth care about are often front and center in this effort.
In short, the virtual world can be good for the “real” one. There are forms of online activity that can give youth civic and political engagement a much needed boost. We need to fully tap this potential.
This post was also published on February 23, 2011 on the Impact section of the Huffington Post.