Sunday, November 30, 2014

Empowering Education

One of the main topics of this reading that I instantly saw was based on the title, how to empower education through classrooms and certain values that must be upheld. These values included things such as participation, problem-posing, and dialogue and are all important aspects that should be included in an empowered classroom. Another large topic covered, mostly in the beginning of the reading was based on whether we hold classrooms where students can ask questions and, most of all, feel comfortable enough to ask questions about the curriculum and other issues. They use the example of questioning why we must go to school, which would allow for a classroom filled with discussion and research for the answer. It would allow for a dialogue between peers, where the teacher would act as a facilitator rather than an overpowering presence in the classroom. I focused on this idea and thought about past classrooms I have been in and whether or not they were like the one mentioned above. When I was in elementary and middle school, I do not believe I was in classrooms where I could ask questions and debate the topic we were discussing. However, once I got into my senior year of high school I saw that these classrooms were more and more evident. In my current year of school, I am more willing to ask questions in the classroom and ask why these things are correct instead of just accepting it and move on. True, I do know that the teacher knows what they are talking about and I trust their word, but it is always important to know why you may come to a certain conclusion on a topic. It's great to know the answer to some questions, but it is even better to know why that is the answer. I believe that it is important to have classrooms where the students are not just copying down notes and listening to lecture, but can talk to their peers about problems and solutions being done in class so that they can fully understand why they come to that answer and how to figure it out next time. Students should feel comfortable enough to ask their teachers questions about topics inside and outside the classroom. It is during the years of middle school to high school where a student may question the norms of society and wonder why things are. It is important to facilitate a classroom that allows for these questions so that a student can question society and why they go to school and other things applicable to their daily lives. It is then that changes can occur and new opportunities can arise.

When looking around for a video to post, I looked up "empowering education" on youtube just to see what would come up in the results. Funny enough, a Ted Talk from Chris Emdin (the keynote speaker  of Promising Practices) was the first result, where he discusses that it is important to empower children to ask questions to make a reform in eduction. I thought that this was applicable to the reading, or at least the part I focused on, because he discusses that some education makes students numb to what they are experiencing everyday and how important it is for them to seek out the answers to their questions and make a change when possible. He says that it is important to empower children through education so that they do not blindly accept what they are learning and question the society they live in because if they do not, change will not occur. I love listening to Emdin talk and hear how passionate he is about this topic, and I feel that he always has something empowering to say. Here is the link to the video: Empowering Education

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Promising Practices

On November 1st, I attended the Promising Practices conference with many other educators of Rhode Island. I thought that the conference was very insightful and pretty applicable to our class and the topics we discuss each week.

The first session I went to was called "Making it Personal" and discussed the importance of social-emotional relationships and schooling. It really made me think about what a kid may be going through which directly affects his or her performance in the classroom. I was able to connect it to an article that I found alone called "Teaching through trauma: how poverty affect kids' lives" giving an example of a student who was assumed to be a bad student when, in reality, he was very stressed out due to his home life. There have been studies that link the development of a child's brain to poverty, stress, and trauma. The session brought upon the topic of building a relationship with students and understanding why they may not be performing to their full potential. It made me think about my own students in service learning, and what factors contribute to their own educational experiences. I thought that the second part of this session was very helpful, but the first half was disorganized and not applicable. Needless to say this was not my favorite session but I was able to connect some parts of it to class.

The second session I went to was much more enjoyable for me. It was called "Technology in Early Elementary Classrooms" and lead by 2 teachers of Henry Barnard. Although I am not an Early Education major, I still found the session very informative and could use many of the apps and websites for older kids as well. I was instantly able to connect this session to the Christiansen reading we had a few weeks ago. Christiansen discusses the impact of t the media on youth and how it affects their daily lives and personal relationships. With this reading I was able to extended it to technology and its relevance to a child's life, mostly because technology has grown so much since that reading was published and has become more directly influential since written. Within this session, we discussed how useful technology can be for our lessons and even classroom management, showing that it has become practically a necessity in the classroom. Their students were already using technology in their houses, so using it in the classroom was exciting but nothing they were not used to. Even if the child was not exposed to much technology at home, incorporating laptops and iPads in the classroom introduces them to the basic use of each device and becomes a part of their everyday life. Not only does the technology interest the kids and allows them to connect their lessons to what they are interested in, but also helps with short attention spans of young children. The apps and websites that the teachers used  were very interactive and never held the students on the same page for long, allowing them to explore the site and learn in the process. The session was very interesting and I learned of so many resources that I could use within the classroom.

The keynote speaker was my favorite part of the conference, and was the part where I was able to connect most of what we learned in class. He was very informative and made his speech easy to understand and relatable, even for someone who was not an educator yet. His main point was that we must understand our students rather than pushing them along the system and the way we educate has not changed in over 30 years, which is why we see a problem in schools today. He discussed in depth how we must avoid just filling our kids with knowledge and then pushing them off through the system, referencing the Banking Concept of Education by Friere along with the film "Changing Education Paradigms" that we watched in the beginning of the semester. Both discuss how we should not hold classrooms where we just put information into the students' brains so that they can memorize, repeat, and pass a class without truly learning anything. This is a big problem we have in the education system today and I'm glad that he addressed the issue directly. The discussion of students being pushed through the system reminded me of Esmé in "Becoming Something Different" that we read 3 weeks ago. Esmé requested to move into some remedial classes rather than taking all honors courses. However, her entire schedule changed and she was forced into all remedial courses and then pushed along the system, although the could handle some honors courses in her workload. Her teachers thought she could not handle it at all and thought that moving her down would be the easiest thing to do so that she could be pushed through the system without any trouble. The keynote speaker addressed that too many people are being pushed through the systems without actually learning anything. He also showed a video which related to the "Silenced Dialogue" where a young student was trying to answer a question, and knew the correct answer, but was not called on resulting in him lowering his hand and staying quiet. In the video I remember seeing how defeated he looked because the teacher kept focusing on certain students and did not even recognize the fact that he was holding his hand up to answer the question. It was clear that the student was not paid attention to in that class, and it makes a person not want to participate when they know their opinion is not valued. The "Silenced Dialogue" discusses discipline for specific races within the classroom and racism in general. African American students become so angry with the way they are treated that they become silent due to their continuous rejected efforts for reform. This is an excellent example of how the silenced dialogue in action. The student continued to say the right answer and was trying to get the teacher's attention but when he was not called on, he felt defeated and became silent for the rest of the class period. This made me so angry and I honestly could not believe that this actually happened in an actual classroom. This is why it is so important to hear the opinions of each student rather than focusing on a select few, because there are obviously more than 5 children in the classroom. This also made me think about why certain students are called on over others, a thought I had always wondered even since I was younger. Yes, it is important to call on some students to see if they are understanding the topic, but if multiple students are raising their hand what makes you call on one over the other? From the video, why was this student completely disregarded and others called on? It is so important to call on different students each time, because then you're able to see if the entire class is understanding a topic rather than focusing on a select few, which is also bad teaching but that is a completely different story I am not going to focus on at this time.

Another issue he addressed was that many teachers do not take the time to understand their students and learn about their culture. Instead, they are immediately written off as inferior (white power and privilege!) and not given the attention they may need. This also applies to Esmé, who was not given the help she needed from some teachers because she was an ELL student. Her teachers did not understand her background and thought that she could not handle all of the honors classes she was given and moved her down when she requested for only a few classes to become remedial. I could also connect this to "An Indian Father's Plea" with the letter being written to Windwolf's teacher because she thought that he was simply slow. She had no idea what culture Windwolf came from and thought that he was not learning anything rather than he looked at things a different way. The teacher seemed as though she was not willing to learn about Windwolf's culture and looked at him as a slower student instead of getting to know his background. The keynote suggested that we "train students to understand a student's culture" and I could not agree more. I believe that it is important to learn where a student comes from in order to know what kind of teaching methods would work best, and what they are interested in overall. It is easiest to teach something to a child when discussing something they are interested in, and their culture may play a large role in their interests and hobbies. I could also relate this to Freedom Writers, where Mrs. G was the only teacher willing to learn where her students came from. It was very obvious that white power and privilege took over the school, but Mrs. G changed that by actually talking to her students and learning where they came from. The other teachers did not care about their students, nor did they care about whether they learned anything, but cared that they passed the tests and kept their job. The Freedom Writers taught that once you learn where a person is from and what they may be going through, then you can fully understand them and, when it comes to education, teach them. Not only was this issue covered in the keynote, but was also addressed in "Making it Personal" and I'm glad that such an important topic was covered by multiple sessions throughout the conference.

When the keynote speaker was done with his speech, I noticed stickers were placed upon each table with the quote "BUILD SCHOOLS NOT PRISONS" which is a very powerful message I took in two different ways. What I initially thought of was that we should make schools more welcoming to each student and not to have the environment as a prison cell. Too many times I have heard a classroom or a school hallway compared to a prison, an extreme opposite of what a school should feel like. Upon thinking about the quote, I then began to think about how important it is that we actually educate our students and not push them along the system so that they are prepared for careers and "the real world"  instead of setting them up for failure. If a student is told they are not good enough and will not amount to anything in their life, they will believe this and may never have the drive to move onto higher education and start a career of their own. They may not even have the drive to try to get a part time job, because they believe they are not good enough, or may not be able to get it in the first place because they are not "qualified" leaving them to other means such as crime to support themselves and their families. This means that we should literally build more schools to educate our students and prepare them rather than building more prisons due to drop outs and increased crime rates.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Citizenship in School: Reconceptualizing Down Syndrome

I do not believe that students with disabilities should be secluded from their peers in the classroom. Not only does it promote prejudice and discrimination towards those with the disability, but it does not allow for social growth. This makes the isolation detrimental to everyone, where the children in isolation do not get the ability to be social with their peers and work with them on a one-to-one level, and those not in isolation may become intolerant and mean to their classmates because they are not aware of who they are past their disability. I remember when I was in high school and worked in a school where one classroom was specifically for kids with Autism. The severity of these kids ranged from mild to very severe, but they were with the same group every day all day for three years. This was because the school did not have more than one special education classroom, but also did not support inclusion. Yes, some of the kids in this class would not have done well in an inclusion classroom, but the kids that were very mild in severity would have done just as well as their peers. In that classroom there was no ability to socialize or make friends with kids outside the classroom. The students were not allowed to leave at all and if they could it was in a group when classes were not changing and other kids were not in the hallway. It did not help that these kids were already in the basement of the school, but the fact that they were held in the room all day and could not see anyone that was not staff outside the staff angered me. They even had their lunch brought to them because to avoid having the kids go to the cafeteria. While I was in the situation I did not think anything of it, but 3 years later it infuriates me. I wish those kids could have some time socializing with other kids their age and make friends outside the classroom. I also wish their teachers had faith in them to do so.

This topic was another one that struck me: viewing the person past their disability. I feel that tolerance has grown dramatically with time, but there are some that still see the disability and not the person. This is the whole reason we now say "a person with disabilities" rather than "a disabled person." A person with disabilities is so much more than their disability and can sometimes accomplish things able-bodied people cannot do. This is mostly why I believe it is important to have inclusion classrooms, because as the teachers in the article explained, these students added so much more to the class. They allowed for more creativity and excitement during lessons and one even stated that their class would not be where they were at that time without the child with disabilities. The students saw them as a their friend rather than anything else and knew that they were fully capable to anything they wanted.

Yes, it can be difficult for some, but this is why some teachers are specialized in special education and are informed on the multiple ways in which students with disabilities can be included within each lesson without feeling like they are not good enough or an outcast. For example in the article, the teacher who focused on Where the Wild Things Are allowed the students to act out things and become creative during the lesson. This included her student who could not contain their excitement and began acting out the story in the middle of reading it. This way, they did not feel like they were different than their peers. Another example could be giving the class pencil grips at the beginning of the year because there is one student who is unable to have a firm grip because of their disability. This way, the entire class has the pencil grip and sees it as a gift from the teacher rather than a necessity to use. Looking back on my own class in elementary school, I had no idea that any of them had a disability at the time, but now I can tell the signs of which ones did. This is very similar to my service learning classroom, where I can tell which kids have a disability of some sort, but their peers have no idea. I like the idea of including children with disabilities into the classroom, because it leads to positive growth all around.

While I was reading this text, I could not help but think about this documentary I watched on Netflix called Monica and David. It tells the story of two adults with Down Syndrome and their pursuit to live a normal life together. The documentary highlights the struggles that they have, but it also shows their determination and passion for living a life that is not concerned with their disability but revolves around their love for each other. I absolutely loved it and thought that it was worth watching for anyone that is interested in documentaries, but also anyone who is looking into the field of Special Education. Here is the trailer.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Teacher to Parents: About THAT Kid

This does not have much to do with this week's reading, but I came across this on Facebook and I thought that it was something worth sharing with the rest of the class.

Literacy with and Attitude

The one thing that I kept thinking about when reading this piece was how contrasting the affluent professional school was to the working-class school. While reading about the working class school I was immediately annoyed and couldn't believe what some of the teachers were saying about their students. I was also very bored with the way each classroom was run, which was mostly based on keeping the students busy rather than promoting learning. The students did not have any creativity and work was "often evaluated in terms of whether the steps were followed rather than whether it was right or wrong," explained by Finn, and gives the example of the teacher telling their students to make a grid without giving them any information on what they were doing. When he student suggested a more efficient way of doing the assignment, the teacher replied with "No you don't. You don't even know what I'm making yet. Do it this way or it's wrong." This response from the teacher shows how little the teachers cared about the lesson and whether or not the students learned, but that they kept them busy with work that was easy to grade. Just from reading the first paragraph about the affluent professional school, it was clear to see how completely different the environments were. The students were able to be creative and the environment promoted learning and independence. They could do their work in a comfortable environment and the work promoted academic growth rather than busy work. Finn discusses this contrast with his grad students: "But when I suggest to my hard-bitten students that poor children are not being as well educated as they could be, they are not amused. They take it as a personal attack from someone who has been living in an ivory
tower for the last thirty years, and they resent it-a lot." This reading partially reminded me of some of the stories we have shared about our service learning experiences. Some of the things I have heard from the people within our class has either resembled those of the working-class classrooms or the affluent professional schools. It really saddens me to hear that the classrooms like the working-class schools resembled are still around and honestly angers me that nothing has been done about it. If a teacher does not have faith in their students then he or she has picked the wrong profession. Teachers are supposed to be role models, and even beacons of hope to those students that do not believe that they can perform well or even graduate from school if they are old enough to worry about that. The fact that some teachers write off their students at the beginning of their academic career disheartens me greatly. It is completely wrong to say that a child is never going to learn something, when in reality that teacher is probably not connecting the lesson to them on ways that they will understand better. I think it is important to change the way these types of classrooms are run and to have more faith in the students overall. When a teacher does not have faith, then the students will not believe they can perform their best and will always think they are doomed to fail. 

I believe that it is very important to foster creativity and literacy within a classroom. Above all, that is what made me angry. The students in the working class schools were not able to foster their imagination or creativity in any way and were only expected to do each task in the way that they were told. If they strayed from the accepted method, they would be marked incorrect regardless if they got the right answer in the end. Yes, it is important to understand the method being taught, but not all students learn in the same way. If one student was able to achieve the same answer in another method, they should not be marked wrong for it. This video discusses the importance of creativity within public schools, using the example of film making as a method for expression and a source of interest for students to be dedicated in. This could go for any topic and reiterates the point that when students are interested and engaged in what they are learning then education becomes a higher priority and students do better overall. Attendance, test scores, interest goes up once students become actively involved in their education. This is another video that discusses how to foster education within the classroom, something I believe that is simple to do but forgotten sometimes and is useful for all current and soon-to-be educators. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Becoming Something Different

Quotes from the article:

  • Language domination leads to "'exclusion and condemnation of one’s language'"
I believe that this is a large problem or ELLs in American classrooms. Kids are expected to learn the language quickly and then to live their entire lives speaking English. Now, I agree with teaching English in schools and I fully support that, but we cannot make it seem as though their original language is bad. I do not believe that it is appropriate for children to be put in the situation where our language is the best and they should just forget about the one they currently speak. Yes, it is extremely important for them to learn English since they are attending schools in the United States, but it is the attitude that is given about it that I have a problem with. If we have a horrible attitude about other languages, not only do we appear ignorant and close-minded but we also give a child the impression that their background is not good enough and they should change for us. They feel ashamed of their own language and have no other choice but to assimilate to the American lifestyle. This could also be seen with the situation with Windwolf that we discussed a few classes prior: he felt ashamed of his culture and wanted to change himself so that he would fit in. Although these were physical and aesthetic changes, this can also be applied to linguistic changes. As a society we are constantly torn between accepting our differences and changing who we are to be the best, and this is exemplified with ELLs in American schools when it comes to their original language.

  • The desire for help suggested Esmé’s desire to succeed in school, a challenge she attributed to her still-developing English language proficiency. Because she was self-conscious about these challenges, she was also reluctant to pose questions or ask for assistance in more public ways.
I picked this quote because this happens all too often within schools, no matter what the age. As students, it is always assumed that we know a topic after it has been covered in class (seen with the cycle of a lesson, giving homework, and then being tested on the material at the end of the week). However, if a student does not understand the material, they are deemed a "slow learner" and needs extra attention in class. As a society we also value proficiency and success, so when these kids find themselves not understanding the lesson when everyone around them does, they are hesitant to ask for help. This stems from the fact that they begin to believe they are not smart at all and are afraid of what others will think. It's very sad to think of all of the kids who are afraid to ask questions in class and go through the school system with teachers thinking they are slow when, in reality, there is a large language barrier. 
  • Esmé positioned Spanish-language dominance and her family’s traditional ways as obstacles to be overcome in school in order to fit into the social life at school.
I thought that this quote was very applicable to modern day schooling. Many kids find their culture and their languages obstacles for their social life. In this other blog called when education makes you ashamed of your background it shows how school can make a student torn between their social life and their family. Within the article, Esme wished desperately to go out with her friends but had to stay at home because of her traditional parents. This happens often as children grow up and try to branch out, but often it backfires and makes them go against their traditional roots. In school Esme was taught one thing while at home she was taught something completely different, leaving her torn between her family and social life at school.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Teaching after Brown v Board of Education: Between Barack and a Hard Place: Challenging Racism, Privilege and Denial in the Age of Obama

The speech by Tim Wise was very powerful and made me think about things in a whole new way. In my life, I had never truly thought about indirect racism, but only focused on the overt racism from others and how awful that is. I never thought that the indirect racism I was exposed to was racism at all or horrible but looking back on it, I am shocked to see how much I have been exposed to it in my own lifetime. When discussing his schooling and the tracks that he went through versus his colored peers, I instantly thought of my own high school. Looking back on it, the kids that were in honors and AP classes were mostly white, with only a slight percentage being black or hispanic. In the "average" classes you would see the complete opposite with the slight percentage being white students. I never thought about how this could be institutionalized racism until Wise spoke about his own experience. I certainly thought something was strange when there was a clear division of race within my high school, but never questioned it until now. One reference he made within the speech was the quote of "I don't see color" which is another version of institutionalized racism. I firmly agree with Wise's argument that by saying phrases such as this, it does not help anyone out and only promotes the idea of inadvertent racism. In order for a person to say they don't see color would mean they have to see differences that deal with race in the first place. If a person was truly not racist, they would never see a problem and would view a person as a human being rather than a color.
The article above is a cartoon depicting the same idea mentioned previously. By comparing a person who "doesn't see color" to a KKK member, it shows that both are parts of racism and it is a huge problem within our society, not only because it promotes racist behavior, but mostly because many people that this is the right thing to say and is an indirect form of discrimination due to skin color. 

Wise also went on to discuss job applications, loans and other important steps of life that people of color are discriminated against. He used the example that those people with white sounding names were more likely to be called in for an interview than those with black sounding names. In this video by BuzzFeed it shows this in a real life example. A man named Jose had to change his name to Joe on job applications in order to get an email back for an interview. He would apply for the same exact jobs and used the same resume, but would only get a reply back for Joe. After watching this video it is very evident that what Wise said within his speech is true and continues to this day. BuzzFeed also made another video named "Little Things you can do to Combat Racism" and interviews more people and their personal experiences with racism and how important it is to start a dialogue about the issue.

I was also able to relate to the Christiansen piece about being exposed to racism and not realizing it from the time we are children. He discusses that after being exposed to an advertisement 12 times he is more likely to buy the product within the advertisement and exemplifies how the same goes for racist remarks. How we think and act as adults is directly correlated with what we are exposed to as children, and if the remarks we make now could be considered racist, it is evident that we had to be exposed to that thinking in some way as a child for us to believe that it is okay to make such remarks. It really makes you think about your past and how, you want to raise your own kids so they are not exposed to the things we were exposed to. It may take time for each generation to eliminate racism, but with understanding it and combating it, it can be possible for the future.