Sunday, April 17, 2016

Rhode Island Teachers Respond to PARCC

This weeks article, Rhode Island Teachers Respond to PARCC: A White Paper, by Dr. Janet Johnson and Brittany Richer discusses the findings of a survey administered to teachers regarding the PARCC testing. The goal of the survey was to discover how teachers perceived the PARCC test and how it affected their teaching,  how the test affected students learning and well-being, and how it affected the school atmosphere. From the results of the test they organized the data into major themes-students perceptions and response to the test. how testing effected teaching, the impact of testing on educational policies and finally they proposed a solution.
  • In the article, they talk about how students have a lack of technology readiness and this made me think of a meeting my sister attended at her sons' school. Earlier this year, their school had an informational meeting for parents and it was recommended that parents  should invest in buying their child a laptop or PC so that they become more comfortable with using technology which will benefit them for PARCC testing. My nephews attend a middle class public elementary school where 7% of children qualify for school lunch (I tried to find other demographic information but this is the only info I could find) . I wonder if they have this same discussion with other schools in the district such as a working class public elementary school that is only 3.7 miles away and 66% of the student population qualify for school lunch. There is a huge disparity here because of course these test scores are going to be higher because these students have access to the resources while students in other areas of the district do not have the same access to resources.  The result of the two schools PARCC assessments are pictured below. I wonder what the results would be if both students had access to technology in their home.

Middle Class School

Working Class School

  • "When asked more specifically about their students' understanding of the test, the results are even more disheartening. Of the 263 respondents who work with students with IEPS, 90% disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that those students understood most of the questions on the test. The students' lack of understanding was made real by the tears teachers had to see fall from students' faces" (7). I can really relate to this feeling as I recently administered a standardized test called the Brigance to evaluate my students academics. The test is interactive in the fact that I have a specified script I have to follow when I administer the questions. My student easily became confused by the questions and began to engage in tantrum behaviors. It was disheartening because I knew my students knew the answers but was unable to successfully answer the question because of how the question was asked; because he was unable to answer the question in a specific manner, I had to mark his answer as incorrect thus not really showing his abilities. I completely agree with the statement "the time wasted on this test could be better spend working to boost their skills" (7). I missed out on an hour of academic program time to administer a test that did not show his skills. I could've used that time to work on his IEP goals such as letter and number identification and other skills that are more pertinent to his day.  Standardized testing truly does take time away from "real" teaching.
 I do not have any direct experience with PARCC testing but sitting in professional development trainings and special education classes I hear a lot of negative talk about PARCC from teachers. I enjoyed reading the article to really see what the true frustration is and that it resonates with all teachers, not just special education teachers. I agree with the potential solutions and think they are a great starting point. Teachers know their student population very well and can offer insight that will help to make the test a more successful measurement tool.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Tongue Tied


This weeks readings are from Tongue-Tied: The Lives of Multilingual Children in Public Education.
The first article titled, Aria, by Richard Rodriguez tells his story of how he learned English. He went from being alienated due to his primary language of Spanish to a member of public society who speaks English. The story gives a personal experience of what it feels like for Richard as he learns the English language. Richard's primary language was Spanish until one day the nuns from his school visited his home and advised his parents to practice speaking English at home. "In an instant, they agreed to give up the language (the sounds) that had revealed and accentuated our family's closeness" (35). The family began to practice their English every night, and slowly their Spanish language disappeared. However, the  language held the family together, it was their connection, but as they learned the public language they lost that connection and began to feel more of a connection with being an American Citizen. "But the special feeling of closeness at home was diminished by then. Gone was the desperate, urgent, intense feeling of being at home; rare was the experience of feeling individualized by family members. We remained a loving family, but one greatly changed. No longer so close; no longer bound tight by the pleasing and troubling knowledge of our public separateness. Neither my older brother nor sister rushed home after school anymore. Nor did I" (36). They became assimilated with the American language and culture but it seems as though they lost a piece of who they were. Richard even talks about how now that English was his primary language, he did not know how to refer to his parents(Mom, Dad, Mama, papa) so he rarely addressed them by their titles, "they would have been too painful reminders of how much had changed in my life" (37).  Conversations between the children and their parents dwindled, and rarely did he hear his father talk, except when his dad was with relatives his voice would spark, be full of ideas and his dad was confident. After reading this article, I felt a sense of sadness for the Rodriguez family. Richard's parents did what they thought best for their children, but by doing so they lost apart of themselves and the family connection.

The second article, Teaching Multilingual Children, talks about the importance of educators to appreciate and understand students languages and life situations. It is important for teachers to be supportive. The article offers 7 guidelines  for teachers to be able to understand how they can fulfill that role.

1. Be aware that children use first language acquisition strategies for learning or acquiring a second language (223).  This section talks about how children use similar strategies they used to develop the first language as they do the second language. However there are some variable to consider such as: age, time and place of second age acquisition.

2. Do not think of yourself as a remedial teacher expected to correct so-called "deficiencies" of your students (226). This section advises teachers to not think of themselves as fixing the problems of students rather think of their  teaching as "working to develop the child's language as an effective instrument of intellectual growth" (227).

3.Don't teach a second language in any way that challenges or seeks to eliminate the first language (227). This section talks about validating the importance of  home language and not excluding its role in teaching the second language.

4. Teach the standard from of English and students' home language together with an appreciation of dialect differences to create an environment of language recognition in the classroom (227).
This section talks about the importance of dialect and its use within the classroom while teaching students the standard form of English.

5.Do not forbid young students from code-switching in the classroom. Understand the functions that code-switching serves (229). This section talks about allowing students to use both languages in speech which can aid in language acquisition. The use of code-switching classroom varies from program to program . There are many benefits to the use of code-switching in classrooms.

6.Provide a literacy development curriculum that is specifically designed for English-language learners (233). This section talks about different curriculum approaches: using primary language to build literacy skills, teaching literacy simultaneously in both languages, and teaching literacy in English only.

7. Provide a balanced and integrated approach to the four language skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing (234). This section talks about using a wide arrange of activities to teach the language (i.e. environmental print, reading recipes, dialogue journals, sing, alongs). This method "eliminates boredom, raises awareness, and makes language teaching as well as learning as culturally relevant as possible" (235).

This weeks articles were very informative as I do not have much experience working directly with Multilingual Children.  I've had families in the past were Spanish was the primary language spoken in the home; I currently have a family where Telugu is the primary language spoken at home and I have a new student starting in the next few weeks were Spanish is the primary language.  After reading these article, part of me feels bad for encouraging parents to speak to their non-verbal children only in English as it is difficult for a child with a severe disability to learn and understand two languages. After reading Richard's article, I think maybe we need to reframe how we discuss this conversation; we think in terms of the disability but we do not think about the family culture. I am looking forward to class this week to  learn more about the topic of multilingual education.

As I was doing some further research, I came across this training offered by TESOL International association called Separating Difference From Disability With Students Learning English as an Additional Language. In this training, ELL teachers will learn: "how to distinguish learning and behavior problems due to difference from those due to disability about research into distinctions between language difference and language disability in linguistically diverse students how to use screening and intervention planning forms and procedures for diverse learners during the problem-solving, instructional intervention process how to use assessment and intervention processes appropriate for culturally and linguistically diverse students about key legal constraints on identifying and assessing culturally and linguistically diverse students for special education placement a process for developing cross-cultural intervention plans and/or IEPs for an at-risk diverse learner." I was very please to see considerations have been made for students who have a disability and are trying to learn the English language,

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Inside the Classroom Walls

Chapter 5, Inside the Classroom Wall, of Safe Spaces by Annemarie Vaccaro, Gerri August and Megan Kennedy describes two ways that educators can create safe and inclusive classroom environments that recognize and empower LGBT youth. I really enjoyed reading this weeks article. It is a great resource to have in our toolbox. Another great tool is the Safe Space Kit and the National School Climate Survey which can be found on the GLSEN website.

The first way is through curriculum. Educators should ensure that "curriculum includes the perspective, experiences and history of LGBT people" (98). The authors discuss how the topic of sexual orientation is absent from nearly half our elementary school curriculum. The topic of family which is a large part of every childhood curriculum rarely if ever discusses same sex parents, "such families rarely make the curricular cut-they are invisible" (85).  Another example is the PBS television series called Postcards from Buster ( a series about a bunny who travels around the world meeting children and exploring different cultures)  which was taken off the air do to an episode that featured two moms. "What we are trying to do in the series is connect kids with other kids by reflecting their lives...we are validating children who are seldom validated" (86). The crazy thing is that the episode did not once mention any language related to sexual orientation, just the main character saying how much she loves her two moms. Another example is related to high school level where Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass is rarely talked about because it has a romantic relationship between two men. The decision to omit this from lessons "keeps LGBT people outside the walls of our classroom and, by extension, outside the canons of polite society" (87). Another example is how History classrooms talk about themes of oppression and the struggle of civil rights for straight people. We all know about the bus boycott of Montgomery but do not no about Stonewall. I didn't know about Stonewall. I have never heard of this in my history classes. Here is some more information to learn about the Stonewall Riots. "Our classrooms needs to be mirrors and windows' for all students-mirrors in which youth see themselves in the curriculum and recognize their  place in the group; windows through which youth see beyond themselves to experiences connected with, but not identical to their own. Creating safe spaces for all students means not ignoring or erasing the experience of LGBT people in K-12 and higher education curricula" (88). By including LGBT in the curriculum we create a safe space.

The second is through communication. Educators should "ensure that communication inside the classroom walls validate the LGBT experience" (98). To do so, educators needs to be comfortable using the words related to sex orientation and gender identity as  they are using words related to heterosexuals. They also need to be comfortable answering questions from students.  It is so true how  "words invite or exclude, recognize or erase, empower or intimidate, examine or assume" (95). One word can carry such meaning that accepts or oppresses individuals. Nonverbal communication also falls into the category of communication, negative facial expressions can carry the same weight as a word. By making grimacing faces at a male who dresses female sends them a message that you are uncomfortable without even saying anything. I liked the example of the teacher, Patrick, who questioned his students use of the words 'bisexual' and 'gay'. "He prods and questions, requiring students to define the terms. His actions prompted discussion and understanding" (98). 

As educators it is our responsibility to create inclusive and safe classrooms. At the end of the chapter, the authors propose a question "What will be your next step?" My next step is to incorporate literature about same sex families into our curriculum at school. We have a library center that is readily available and I think it would be a great opportunity to start to introduce children to different kinds of families. The NAEYC has an article about how to incorporate the literature into the classroom and how to answer students questions. I plan to print this article up to present to my supervisor and staff at our next staff meeting.

Here is a local story from 2010 about  Raymond Chase, a student, at Johnson and Wales University who killed himself. I do not know about my fellow Rhode Island classmates but I do not remember hearing about this on the local news.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Rethinking Popular Culture and Media

Our lives and our students lives are consumed by Media and Popular Culture whether we like it or not. Media is becoming more engrained in our daily lives and our students daily lives and as teachers we need to acknowledge this and examine its roles in our teaching. This article gives us an introduction to a collection of articles posted in Rethinking Popular Culture and Media  that examines the relationship between popular culture and media in education.   The authors in the articles "consider how and what popular culture artifacts (such as toys) as well as popular media (films and books) "teach" and the role that these materials have in the everyday lives of students"  Due to the overwhelming surge of media in children's lives teachers need to "become more aware of and fluent with the diverse popular cultural materials young people read, view and consume." In the introduction they discuss how it is difficult to define popular culture because culture is constantly changing which is so true. What is popular one day is no longer popular the next day...fads come and go. Its unfortunate, but many children's lives are consumed by popular culture and media. In an article posted by CNN in November 2015, they talked about a study by Common Sense Media which said that teens spend 9 hours a day using media for enjoyment....that is about 1/3rd of their day. In the collection of articles they also examine what to do with popular culture and media, as well as, what to do about popular culture and media.

"In each of the articles the authors critique and rethink the connections among race, class, gender, sexuality power and schooling. From this framework, the articles in this book are grouped around six ways to do critical media literacy with popular culture and media" 

  • Part 1: Study the Relationship Among Corporations, Youth and Schooling In this section, authors look at how corporations use advertisements to sell and define what popular is. They discuss how schools have been targeted to teach brand loyalty (i.e. the free stickers of popular shows offered in scholastic, or Procter and Gamble send curriculum about health that includes free samples of Tampax).
Related Article: Why I said No to Coca Cola
  • Part 2: Critique How Popular Culture and Media Frame Historical Events and Actors In this section, the authors talk about how history has become popularized by media. They discuss the representation of history within popular books and novels. (i.e. Pocahontas, American Girl Series)
Portrait of Pocahontas from 1616 versus Disney's version of Pocahontas

  • Part 3:Examine Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality and Social Histories in Popular Culture and Media In this  section, "the authors challenge gender stereotypes and racist representations is various media locales such as music, videos, movies, toys and cartoons and connect these discussions to existing curricular goals." 
  • Part 4: View and Analyze Representations of Teachers, Youth and School In this section, authors look at and analyze how teachers, youth and schools are represented in media. In many films about students and teachers the teacher is portrayed by a white individual who is trying to save a group of under-resourced students. (i.e. Freedom Writers, Blackboard Jungle) 

Trailer for the movie Blackboard jungle which according to IMDb is a about "a new English teacher at a violent, unruly inner-city school is determined to do his job despite resistance from both students and faculty." 
Related article: Kid Nation
  • Part 5: Take Action for a Just Society In this section, the authors discuss how they can use popular culture and media in their classrooms to examine issues of exploitation, violence, power and privilege.
Related article: Beyond Pink and Blue
  • Part 6: Use Popular Culture and Media to Transgress In this section the "authors look at how popular culture and media provide the space and materials the break the rules and challenge the status quo." In these articles, they teach and encourage resistance.
Related article:The Murder of Sean Bell

I find this topic to be extremely interesting and am looking forward to learning more about it through our online class discussions. In my classroom, I use popular culture and media as a motivator more so then an opportunity to teach. For example, I had a student who had a difficult time answering "wh" questions so I used a popular book about Marvel Superheroes to teach him the concept. I'm looking forward to spending some time tomorrow further divulging into the topic and hopefully having time to read one or more of the articles from the collection.

Some articles about incorporating Pop Culture into the classroom:

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Holding Nyla

The article Holding Nyla by Katie Kissinger tells the story of an inclusion classroom where both the students and the teacher overcame fears and learned acceptance. I chose this article because it had a great deal to do with my field...I am an early childhood special educator and it related to discussions we have had in class. The article tells the story of a teacher at a Head Start program who for the first time in her teaching career had to work with a student who has severe special needs. The student, Nyla, has cerebral palsy, a vision impairment, and was medically fragile. She also required tube feedings and had special procedures on how to physically handle her. Her teacher loved the idea of inclusion as it taught students about social justice and diversity but admits that she had no clue what she was getting into. She believed that including Nyla in her class would help the students make meaningful connections with people who are different from them. (I wish all teachers felt this was about inclusion).

As part of the teachers getting to know student tradition, she does self reflections about her students-what she had learned about them, what she wanted to learn about them, and how she felt connected to them. During her self reflection, she realized she didn't know anything about Nyla because she avoided her due to fear. This was only the second time in her life that she had encountered a person using a wheelchair. It was the fear of the unknown. That night she made a promise to herself that she would face her fears and as soon as she did she began a relationship with Nyla. This experience made me reflect on something Johnson said, and a quote I seem to keep referencing in my mind as I have been reading articles for class. "If we feel afraid, it isn't what we don't know that frightens us, its what we think we do know. The problem is our ideas about what we don't know-what might happen next" (16). I remember my first time working with students with special needs (all were non-verbal and behavioral) and I was extremely nervous and it was the fear of the unknown. I did not have any background or experience in special education so it was the fear of what I didn't know about these students.

By integrating children with special needs into the classroom, the teacher and the program learned that it provided an opportunity for students to question and address things that are unfair in the world. The teacher was connected to the trouble and by facing it and talking about it she made a change. This relates to the framework of Johnson's book "it allows us to see not only where the trouble comes from, but how we as individuals are connected to it, which is the only thing that gives us the potential to make a difference" (Introduction page 7) I think the Francis Howell school district could learn something from this teacher about inclusion.

In the article they gave two examples of how they students questioned the injustices. The teacher had ordered dolls from Lakeshore that represented children with disabilities. The students were all excited about the dolls, but they soon learned that there was a problem with the one of the dolls that was in a wheelchair, his feet did not reach the foot rest. The students were very upset about this so they decided to write Lakeshore a letter. They had an open discussion about what they wanted to write and in the note they said they would not buy any more items from the company until they fixed the problem. On another occasion, the class went on a field trip, and they soon realized that the location was not handicap accessible so the students decided that they would not partake in activity if Nyla could not either. Again the students wrote the owner a letter discussing their feelings.  After I read this it made me think back to the  SCHWAAMP activity in class and our discussion about A(ablebodiness)

I went onto the Lakeshore website and it seems as though they have not changed the doll. They wrote the letter in is 18 years later.

At the end of the article, they talk about a student who overcame his fear of Nyla's differences and now considers Nyla his best friend. This made me think of Mah'ria and Brittney. During the interview Mah'ria said "And she just really got to know me. And it was great. Every day, I would see her in the hall, and we smile very big. It was great, because I never expected to have a long-term friend like that." (Part 1 This American Life-The problem we all live with) The mom of  Nyla said something similar about her friendship with the boy, "her wildest dreams, she had never believed that Nyla would have a best friend. And she was moved to see a whole classroom of children welcoming her daughter into their community." In both situations, the friends looked past the differences and looked at the person as a person and not based on a category such as race or disability.

In the end the teacher realized that by facing her fears and connecting with Nyla she became a better role model for her students, who grew to learn about acceptance. This also made my think of Francis Howell  and how if the parents and teachers faced their fears how different things would've gone for all students.

Early Childhood is a great time to begin to talk about differences.  Working in an inclusive preschool, we get many questions about differences and us as teachers take the opportunity to talk about it in detail with the children. Once they are giving an explanation of the differences they have a better understanding of their peers. Many of our students are non-verbal so we get many questions about why their friends don't talk. Many parents have also reported that the typical peers go home and then inform their parents about whey their friends use pictures instead of words to talk.
How to talk to young children about diversity.

The author of the article, Katie Kissinger, also wrote a children's book called  All the Colors We Are: the story of how we get our skin color. It is published in both English and Spanish and offers a simple and accurate explanation of how our skin color is determined. "Reading this book frees children from the myths and stereotypes associated with skin color and helps them build positive identities as they accept, understand, and value our rich and diverse world" (Amazon). The book also includes activities to extend the conversation.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Literacy with an ATTITTUDE


“When rich children get empowering education nothing changes. But when working-class children get empowering education you get literacy with an attitude” (Preface 11). Such a powerful and truthful statement about how knowledge=power. By being educated you have more power.  

In class, we have been focusing on exploring injustices through the realm of color. Literacy with an Attitude by Patrick Finn focuses on looking at injustices based on social class primarily towards working class children and using the teaching method of Paulo Freire. The reading contains a study by Jean Anyon who looked at five public elementary schools in rich and not so rich neighborhoods in northern New Jersey. The schools consisted of mostly all white students and were subjected to the same state requirements. They all used the same arithmetic book and same language art course of study. However these schools had some appalling differences. She looked at an executive elite school, an affluent professional school, a middle class school and 2 working class schools. In each of the schools, Anyon asked the students about knowledge, observed a dominant theme and discussed the relationship of what she observed to the role in economy. It is interesting to look at this and then look at the children who attend the schools. Its sad to think that a theme of  a place of educating young minds is resistance. The word resistance to me has such a negative feeling to it and education should be positive.   

Working Class School
No real answer
prepared for wage labor
Middle Class School
learn, remember, facts, intelligent, school, study brains
white collar working class and middle class jobs
Affluent Professional School
figuring stuff out, you think up ideas
artists, intellectuals, social power, high salaries
Executive Elite School
tradition-expected to learn it
achieve, excel and prepare for life at the top.

In the reading, Anyon talked about a teacher's guide of a textbook at the working class school where it stated that it intended for “educationally deficient students”. She wrote that this was not intended for special education but rather the entire school. This made me think back to Delpit when she talked about the issues of power in classrooms and “the power of the publishers of textbooks….the power of a group to determine another’s intelligence” (24). At this same school, teachers talked negatively about the students  and one teacher said, “they’re lazy. I hate to categorize them, but they’re lazy.” (11). Unfortunately I have heard this comment before from  my colleagues and other teachers I have come into contact with. I believe a student is not lazy...they need to be motivated and find relevance to what they are learning.
The reading also explored the idea of using literacy as a method/strategy to conquer injustices and look at oppression. This idea is based on Paulo Freire who connected literature to everyday life...the idea of teaching powerful literacy. Peterson, Bigelow and Christensen all used this method to teach their classes. Peterson’s teachers cultural journalism. His approach “lies in the connections it builds between the topic at hand, the students’ lives and the broader world around them.” He connected what they were learning to current events. He showed them real life examples of oppression. He taught the students to understand oppression and how to act upon it. What I appreciated about Peterson in the article is that “he created a classroom through activities that stressed self-affirmation, mutual respect, communication, group decision making, and cooperation because he knew these values and skills are associated with gentry... he believed that if his students didn’t have these values and skills; it was his job to teach them” (175). He taught more than textbook knowledge-he taught real life knowledge...he connected the two. He was a true examples of “teachers are supposed to teach, not blame children for what they don't know how to do” (175). Bigelow and Christensen connected the curriculum to students lives. They had open dialogue where they learned about oppression and then connected the main idea to their lives. By connecting the ideas “it helped them to see that they can create knowledge from their own lives. It helped them to reflect not only on their individual lives, but on their society and how society ‘makes and limits who they are.” (180).  I wish I had more teachers like this in high school that connected what we learned to our lives. We learned about oppression in the past but we never talked about how it still existed. I wonder if we never talked about real life oppression because I went to a predominately white affluent professional/middle class school.  

In conclusion,  “we are here to consider how we can best serve the whole child in each of our students.” (24). It would be interesting to see how schools would be if all teachers took this approach instead of lumping students together based on certain factors such as race,class gender etc.