Reaction: Leading Safe & Effective Schools

Three articles this week:

Schacter, R. (2010). Discipline Gets the Boot, District Administration.
Witkow & Fuligni (2010). In-School Versus Out-of-School Friendships and Academic Achievement Among an Ethnically Diverse Sample of Adolescents, Journal of Research on Adolescence. 20(3), 631-650.

Ratner, Chiodo, Covintgton, Sokol, Ager, Delaney-Black. (2006). Violence Exposure, IQ, Academic Performance, and Children’s Perception of Safety: Evidence of Protective Effects, Merrill-Palmer Quarterly. 52(2): 264-287.

The thread for me this week was a sense of being overwhelmed at all the other factors that shape who students are before they ever walk into a classroom. We spend so much time and money developing and prescribing curriculum that never considers the factors of school discipline policies, violence in the community, parenting, or friendships. As Warren wrote last week,  “it is patently unreasonable to expect that [urban schools] alone can compensate for the effects of poverty and racism.” The basic requirement for safety in schools was also looked at in Bryk et al. (2010) Organizing Schools for Improvement that we read at the beginning of the semester. It left me with a feeling of amazement that anyone who is not middle class and white makes it through the educational system at all. Witkow and Fulgini (2010) and Ratner, Chiodo, Covington, Sokol, Ager, and Delaney-Black (2006) do give ways that children cope, whether through friendships or protection, the latter of which might come from a caring teacher at school, but they are still outside of any curriculum.

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Wikipedia… or, Handing Over “My” Work to the Wisdom of the Crowd

Linked from http://www.mewisemagic.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Wisdom-of-Crowds-PowerPoint-presentation-editable-crowdsourcing-slides-editable-people-graphics-for-PPT.jpg

There are two weeks left of the semester. I took four classes this spring, so the end means lots of proposals and papers and group projects. One of my projects, as I wrote about previously, was to write an entry for Wikipedia. I chose to do “Distributed Leadership” because it didn’t exist yet and it’s a body of research that I wanted to get more familiar with for the work that I hope to do for my PhD. I moved it to main space last Friday. Here is a link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distributed_Leadership

The technical parts of Wikipedia were not daunting: click here, talk pages here, write drafts in the sandbox, click there, upload pictures to wikimedia commons first, make sure not to violate copyright, keep notes on changes. Easy enough.

The objective of the assignment was straightforward: Read all the research and summarize from a neutral point of view. This is quite different from past assignments, where you are meant to make a statement, be critical in reviewing prior research, and present a well supported argument why your statement makes more sense.

I learned a lot (and am still learning) through this process, so here are Wikipedia’s 10 Simple Rules and my reflections on writing my article: Continue reading

Reaction Paper: Arts Education

I like this visual, though it needs to be updated to a five petal flower with digital media arts! Linked from https://mheprimaryinnovationstudio.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/the-arts1.jpg?w=604

Articles:

Halverson, E., & Sheridan, K. (2014). Arts Education and the Learning Sciences. Chapter 31 in Learning Sciences. (p.626-646).

Halverson, E., Lowenhaupt, R., & Kalaitzidis, T. (under review). Towards a Theory of Distributed Instruction in Creative Arts Education. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education.

Arts educators and researchers seem to spend a lot of time justifying themselves and their work, trying to demystify what it is and its value. Halverson and Sheridan (2014) note that the “inability to objectively assess arts production is what has destined the arts to remain peripheral in schools” (p.638). Many teachers and administrators are unlikely to have experienced a strong arts program in their own education nor do they have training in this area. How many art teachers go on to become principals? Even those who believe in it may not know how to go about implementation. Personally, I know that I never identified as someone who “got” art class: I could never discern the rules of the game. For this reason, what I appreciated most about Halverson and Sheridan’s (2014) chapter regarding arts education and the learning sciences was that it made each component clear and understandable. I think there is still a leap to how instruction would be designed and assessed, but that is where Halverson, Lowenhaupt, and Kalaitzidis (under review) pick up.

The idea of distributed instruction definitely resonates with my experiences. As a science teacher, I mentored all my students through the science research process every year. I would act as both instructional designer, setting up deadlines and templates, and content mentor, answering questions, delivering mini-lectures, or recommending further resources on everything from wind turbine shape to bacteria incubation to oscillating chemical reactions. I felt like my varied science background was a resource, and I loved getting to learn with the students about all these different areas. The process was exhilarating and exhausting. Once I became technology coordinator, one of my favorite things to do was go into the science classes and serve only as mentor, engaging with students about their projects without worrying about how they were meeting requirements. I see a lot of potential for the idea of distributed instructional design, particularly in the personalized learning model as as way to understand what happens in practice and what that practice reveals about the designer’s conceptual model of teaching and learning.

Finally, I was thinking back to our early discussion about Discourses (Gee, 2001) with its relationship to identity, and thinking about conversations with leaders of schools that are adopting a personalizing learning model. Like the kids in art class who “get it”, it seems like some teachers seem to just “get it”: they co-teach and flex as needed in order to orchestrate student-centered inquiry all without formal training as to how to do this. These skills are increasingly seen as valuable and scarce, so if we want to shift both teachers and students into this way of thinking about learning, we need a way forward, a way that arts based education already knows. In particular, arts education addresses identity and culture, which is crucial through the lens of Discourses. Furthermore, Gee (2001) writes, “one crucial question we can always ask about identities of any type is this: What institution or institutions, or which group or groups of people, work to construct and sustain a given Discourse?” (p.111) We have different “institutions” within our buildings fighting to construct and sustain Discourses, with literacy and STEM currently in charge and arts at the periphery. I see the articulation of arts based education and distributed instruction as leading the way for how to prepare teachers needed for these alternative, in-school environments, rather than perpetuating the myth of the teacher or learners that just “get it.”

Reaction Paper: Teachers, Policy, CCSS, and NCLB Critique

The readings this week were fascinating. I feel like the article on Teachers and education policy: Roles and models, by Croll, Abbott, Broadfoot, Osborn, and Pollard (1994) was illuminating in terms of helping me identify my own subconscious beliefs about policy and practice. I think I’ve always felt like policy gets written and then watered down all the way through to where it changes very little of daily practice, but never considered that one was explicitly antagonistic to the other. I conceptualized policy makers and teachers as completely separate, both the people who do it and then ways of doing it, though ideally they would be informed by each other. Furthermore, it seems to me that the “discretionary action by professionals” is part of the system, so it is the job of policy makers to design policies that afford the right outcomes rather than expecting practitioners to figure out what was intended. Figuring out my own assumptions first allowed me to process the other possible models but left me wondering how others intuitively see it.

Speaking of policies and implementation, I found the Gates Foundation Report, Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on Teaching in an Era of Change (2014) to be vapid. There was no demographic data collected about the teachers, though I suppose it can be assumed that they were predominantly white. The upshot of the report is that they have found that teachers who are engaged like the CCSS and think it will help their students. I think teachers will report positively simply because they are working and putting effort into them. They would probably do this with any curriculum in front of them. Also, the one line of questions that are specifically about the common core all seemed to be phrased positively, like, “Please tell us your opinion on how each of the following has changed, if at all, as a result of implementing the CCSS” such as “Students’ ability to read and comprehend informational texts”. It seemed to me, though I am clearly not a survey expert, that there was a positive bias in the questions themselves. Overall it just felt like Common Core propaganda.

Finally, the NCLB critique by Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2006) was compelling and resonated, again, with subconscious and unexamined assumptions. In particular, I am surprised at myself that I never saw the flawed assumptions of teaching as a transmission activity in the NCLB model because it seems so obvious after reading it. This also made me question my research stance a bit, wondering if a more constructivist or constructionist approach might be more appropriate for studying dynamic learning environments. I will say that I am a proponent of alternative certification programs and myself did not have pedagogical training before I started teaching. I learned what I know now through mentorship and a Master’s program while teaching. Right or wrong, I felt prepared to teach in a classroom and was glad for the opportunity to do it right away rather than having to pay for further schooling. If I had had to get a degree after my Bachelors before getting into the classroom, I would never have become a teacher. There are also valid critiques of our own teacher education program and whether they are staying current on the current skills needed by teachers. Alternative certifications allow schools to get good people in the door and train them the way they want them to teach.