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.