An (aspiring) Educator’s Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘children

I don’t empower students.

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Last Friday, I met Donaldo Macedo (friend and collaborator of Freire) and listened to him give a talk about racial, ethnic, and class identities; xenophobia, and suffering in the United States. There were many things that struck me in the talk, but these words helped me understand myself and my role as a teacher:

It is dangerous when teachers say they empower others. If I have the power to empower you, I have the power to take away your power….We should give students enough critical tools to empower themselves. Through their own power they can come to voice. Empowerment involves pain and struggle.

Macedo put into words a feeling I have had for awhile. In terms of social justice, I am not responsible for the empowerment of my students. The very notion implies a flow of power that is not consistent with socioeconomic/political realities or social justice. As my science ed teacher says, “I can tell a student information, but I cannot tell them learning”. The same distinction is true of empowerment: I can give the students information, build mentor relationship that extends beyond their year in my classroom, and help them gain critical thinking skills, but I cannot give them power in our society. Learning and empowerment are both student constructions. If I try to take on my student’s process of empowerment,  I will burn out. It is impossible for me to lift children out of poverty, racism, classism, xenophobia, and the many other forms of prejudice and oppression that exist in too many realities. What can I do? I can think about the path my empowerment took and what paths theirs could take as young adults. I can create a classroom community that functions like a caring, student-centered learning lab, where students can experiment with their own power and learn how to “come to voice”. Just like learning, empowerment is a process of self and community-driven deconstruction and reconstruction. I think we need to stop using the term empowerment so lightly. It’s a life-sustaining process.

What do you think? Do you use the word “empower” to describe what you do in the classroom and/or why you do it? Am I being too heavy-handed here?

My classroom management plan on Scribd

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A few months ago I had to submit a classroom management plan for one of my graduate classes. As I’ve switched grades, had new classroom experiences, and read more information, I’ve tweaked my outlook. The first draft of my classroom management plan is on Scribd. I have seen a few educators post their plans and hope to see others do so as well. As I update my plan, I’ll post those drafts.

Elementary Classroom Management Plan

Publish at Scribd or explore others: How-to-Guides & Manu children learning

When is inequality constructive?

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In the Boston Review article Inequality matters: Why globalization doesn’t lift all boats (via thickculture), Nancy Birdsall clarifies the distinction between constructive inequality and deconstructive inequality:

Distinguishing between constructive and destructive inequality is useful. To clarify the distinction: inequality is constructive when it creates positive incentives at the micro level. Such inequality reflects differences in individuals’ responses to equal opportunities and is consistent with efficient allocation of resources in an economy. In contrast, destructive inequality reflects privileges for the already rich and blocks potential for productive contributions of the less rich.

I’m used to thinking about issues of inequality and social justice on the macro-level. Inequality of social, economic, and political opportunity is one of the reasons why I teach and advocate for the rights of children.  What about at the level of my classroom? When does inequality constructive or deconstructive in the context of pedagogies and learning environments? The most pervasive example of inequality teachers and administrators construct is grades. Although many schools try to make grades a reflection of how students are progressing on standards, the reality for many schools, is that grades both reflect and institutionalize tracks and hierarchies. Students with relatively higher grades have access to different pathways and resources than students who have relatively higher grades. There are different reasons why decision-makers at the classroom, school, and district level choose to have grades. In the classroom, I have noticed many teachers believe grades are an incentive structure: students and parents, on the whole, want higher grades rather than lower grades. Many are willing and able to change their behaviors to reflect this incentive.

Are grading I’ve seen examples of constructive or deconstructive inequality? On one hand, they are deconstructive because students are receiving marks on a scale without having access to the same academic and socioeconomic opportunities as their peers. Over time, students who fit into the culture of power and continue to have experiences that are valued by the school get higher grades, while students who do not have these opportunities get lower. The grades of students are compared and opportunities are doled out accordingly. This is deconstructive – the “potential for productive contributions” of struggling students is blocked. On the other hand, I have seen grading practices where the function and reason is feedback. When students are presented with qualitative and quantitative feedback about their performance, and have access to resources to improve, this feedback might alter micro-level incentives for them to engage in the process. This is more constructive  than the case given above because the quality of resources and environments we offer children are not a function of their perceived level in academic hierarchies. Other examples of inequalities we construct are our classroom management schemes. They often feature preferred behaviors paired to positive and negative consequences that change a students’ academic and social reality.

Constructive and deconstructive inequalities exist in learning environments. Teachers have control over some of these inequalities, especially classroom management and community building structures. Administrators have more control over grading, curriculum, and tracking. Students also create their own inequalities via social hierarchies that are based on perceived intelligence, beauty, and other factors. Although teachers do not have complete control over the inequalities that manifest themselves in a classroom space, when it comes to the choices we make, we have to ask: “Am I generating inequality? If so, is this inequality constructive or deconstructive?”.

What are your thoughts? Does this distinction hold or does it rely too heavily on capitalist constructions?

Podcaster workshop: What makes a good podcast? (part 1)

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Last week, I decided to start podcasting. Being the tech geek I am, I Googled the web for howtos, and quickly found the best freeware and (reasonably-priced) digital recorder. Now, my Amazon.com box is cracked open, and I’m asking myself hard questions about podcasting. What makes a good podcast? It seems like howtos for podcasting focus on what should come second -the tools of the trade, rather than what should come first – content.  If I’m going to create a podcast for listeners, or use podcasts in my classroom next year (both to deliver content and for student projects), good content has to be at the heart of my planning and execution.

Dan Meyer says it best:

Consider these three mediums, in increasing order of technical difficulty: blogging, podcasting, and vodcasting.

  • Successful blogging requires original thought, sturdy writing, and bloodthirsty editing.
  • Successful podcasting requires original thought, sturdy writing, bloodthirsty editing, and a command of the aural experience.
  • Successful vodcasting requires original thought, sturdy writing, bloodthirsty editing, a command of the aural experience, and a command of the visual experience.

In order to achieve the same communicative result, not only does the number of necessary skills increase across all three mediums but the editing process for each grows harder and vastly more technical, the difference between hitting the delete key in one and wielding Final Cut Express’ digital blade in the other.

What does it mean to have “a command of the aural experience”? Should I ship my digital recorder back to Amazon because my content is best conveyed via blog? I’m a big fan of writing workshop in my classroom. Students work through the phases of the writing process: immersion, collecting ideas, drafting, revision, editing, publishing, and celebration. I’ve decided to put myself through a podcasting workshop.

Now, I’m in my immersion process. In the classroom, I read texts by genre, author, or craft strategy. Then, I chart students’ observations about the texts, and we make an attribute chart. Over the past few days, I’ve listened to a variety of podcasts. I’m in the process of creating an attribute chart.

picture-4

When I started making the chart, I realized it needs a different layout in its final version to separate different podcast formats (two hosts w/no interviews, roundtable/multiple people, narrator and story/interview, etc). This chart is still a good way to get started. When I have listed all attributes, I’ll sort podcasts into type. To start an attribute chart, pick your favorite podcasts (or ones you think are noteworthy), and figure out which features are shared between the podcasts. The final steps are to figure out which common attributes I should include in my podcast and the “holes in the market” – attributes my podcast will have that others do not have.

Stay tuned for my completed and sorted attribute chart in part two of my podcaster workshop series. What are attributes you’ve noticed in your favorite podcasts? Are there holes in the market – attributes you think should be in some podcasts but are missing? Can you reccomend podcasts I should listen to and add to my attribute list?

Podcasts listened to: Science Friday Podcast (NPR), This American Life (NPR), Stuff You Should Know (Howstuffworks.com), various news podcasts (The Economist, BBC, CNN, etc), Rachel Maddow Green 960, SMARTboard Lessons PodcastWicked Decent Learning Podcast, Project Xiphos, Bit by Bit, and EdTech Weekly.

Written by TeacherC

3 April 2009 at 6:33 pm

The Self-Publishing Classroom: Script Frenzy

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Today’s post on The Writing Teacher inspired me to think about a script-writing unit for writers’ workshop and social studies.

“Who wants to spend the next thirty days writing a script?” This is the question that led my sixth grade class on a writing adventure that took us from war-torn beaches to invading aliens, and from invading gnomes to talking kittens trying to break their fellow felines out of the pound. It was a journey of creativity and wonder, and a ton of teachable moments!

Script Frenzy is an international script-writing event that occurs April 1st – 30th every year. Participants have one month to write a script (Script Frenzy says “screenplays, stage plays, TV shows, short films, comics and graphic novels” are welcome). The website gives students tools and tips to write their scripts. Teachers can receive a free Script Frenzy Classroom Kit.

Next year, I hope to make this a social studies project where students turn historic events and narratives into scripts.

Check out The Writing Teacher’s article for ideas and links to help you plan and execute your unit.

Who knows, maybe I’ll be mentioned in an Oscar’s acceptance speech someday…..

Free Health Care Opportunity for Your Students

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Know students in your class who lack access to health care? Walgreen just announced that uninsured and unemployed families (with proof of unemployment) can receive treatment services at any of their clinics.

The Associated Press says:

Walgreen said patients who lose their job and health insurance after March 31 will be able to get free treatment at its in-store Take Care clinics for respiratory problems, allergies, infections and skin conditions, among other ailments. Typically those treatments cost $59 or more for patients with no insurance.

This article on Consumerist tells you where to find clinics, the hours of operation, and a cheap prescriptions.

Wal-Mart has a $4 prescription program (90 day prescriptions are $10). There are hundreds of prescriptions on the list – from antibiotic treatments to asthma medication.

Walgreen and Wal-Mart are offering amazing preventative care opportunities that could keep children and their families healthier. Spread the word.

Written by TeacherC

1 April 2009 at 6:04 pm

How Do We Reintroduce Uncertainty?

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The quest for certainty blocks the search for meaning. Uncertainty is the very condition to impel man to unfold his powers.

Erich Fromm

We need to reintroduce uncertainty to the education of our students. From scripted curricula to mindless worksheets, our education policies have created classrooms where knowledge is gushing water, and struggling children are leaky buckets. Instead of examining why this theory of education is inadequate to describe how children learn and grow, we open the floodgates wider. A recent study found students in schools with high concentrations of minorities have more homework than schools with lower minority concentrations. Our education leaders opt for charter school models that keep students in schools longer hours – KIPP has a nine and a half hour school day with required Saturdays and at least two hours of homework. Scripted curricula and test-prep driven practices (try to) distill skills and knowledge into recited textbooks and worksheets.

Educating a child is not like filling a leaky bucket. Children learn when challenging situations force them to be more flexible, generalize skills and knowledge to new domains, investigate, construct understandings with peers, update old understandings, and use new sources of information in innovative ways. Our policies have taken investigation, inquiry, and social construction of knowledge out of the classrooms of students who need these opportunities the most. We treat science, social studies, and math like they are static bodies of knowledge rather than dynamic systems of inquiry. Writing follows a five paragraph or fill-in-the-blank format rather than an ongoing process of immersion in texts, drafting, revision, editing, and publishing for authentic audiences. Students find the answers to teacher-generated questions in while they read instead of generating their own authentic inquiry. Students are taught to see adults as the sole source of information in a top-down hierarchy rather than a learning web where students and the teacher construct knowledge together.

Uncertainty is scary. Teachers have to trust in a learning process that cannot be documented in regular intervals on standardized tests and worksheets. We have to sacrifice coverage for critical thinking – this takes time and innovation on the part of students, administrators, and teachers. Students have to trust their teachers and classmates enough to take on intellectual and social risks.

Uncertainty is the foundation of wonder, courage, and learning. How do you introduce uncertainty into your classroom (especially if your school has mandated scripts)?

Written by TeacherC

31 March 2009 at 9:28 pm