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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

PD-- Structure

I was asked by our support staff last year to lead a professional development workshop on how to make my room a place that allows all learners to succeed.  I asked my students these two questions and prepared my professional development seminar based on their responses.

1.     How do teachers structure their classroom to make it safer for students to share?
a.     Expectations—what is acceptable and not.  What are the non-negotiables?
b.     Make the connections to the our lives about the topics
c.     Teachers need to share
d.     Discussions—“what did you take away from this?”
e.     When reading a novel, not so much about the story, but instead the connection with the story
f.      Desk setup—conducive to the class activity, be sure to see everyone in the room
g.     No laughing, no ridiculing, no personal attacks, no option to not do or act a certain way
h.     Don’t be strict
i.      Question of the day?
j.      Teacher’s job is to defend when it becomes a personal attack
k.     Objectiveness of the teachers, but tell us what you think
l.      Wait time—silence!
m.   Act like a student, but be a teacher
n.     Share opinions
o.     Show that you are not perfect
p.     Relationships—be on our level
q.     Just talking with discussions—we do not need formal structure all the time
r.      … but structure it to start the year, then have less structure
s.      Teachers explain who/what they are make boundaries clear
t.      Students direct the instruction
u.     Have open-ended projects, assignments, but not too open-ended
v.     Know when someone is “not themselves” and care about it
w.    What’s on the walls 
2.     How do teachers reduce stress levels for students and help to alleviate anxiety?
a.     Work with teachers on homework, help us see what you see and why you see it
b.     Work into schedules, set up time to sit down with each student
c.     Go over the “hard parts”
d.     Structure—give us deadlines that some of us need, but do not give some of us deadlines-- individualize
e.     Personal assignments
f.      Big assignments—give us time
g.     Tell us the homework for the week!
h.     Assignments on blog
i.      Make sure we know when you are kidding

Just reminds me of how important it is to keep our students in mind.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Student Choice

For my graduate school program, our first course was on student choice and voice in schools.  Below is a response to a reading we completed at the beginning of the course.  I will be including a piece I am working on in the coming weeks to this blog--

Choices for Children: Why and How to Let Students Decide by Alfie Kohn

In my sociology course right now we are discussing how schools are agents of socialization and the impact that education can have on an individual and our larger social group.  I gave them a piece from Alfie Kohn and we have spent some time discussing what it means to be well-educated, what all students should know, what are the best practices teachers have, what are the not-so best practices that teachers have, etc.  When I ask my students what makes a great teacher, they often do not mention knowing your content, but instead say these common things:
1. Treat us with respect
2. Be laid back and fun, but strict when needed (my favorite one)
3. Be fair
4. Prepare us for the SAT, senior year, college, etc.

The reason I bring these ideas up after reading this article is because much of what Kohn is saying is what my students say to me at the beginning of every year.  I believe that if I live up to the four expectations my students set up for me, I can easily bring in more student choice to my classroom.

What I greatly appreciated about Kohn's article was that he mentioned you do not always have to involve student choice.  Choice can rotate from the teacher, to an individual student, to a small learning group and it can still work and help be a productive part of your course.  One of the points that I found really solidified his argument to me was not only how this help to engage students in their learning, but he hit home at my pedagogy.  On page nine he says "School is about more than intellectual development; it is about learning to become a responsible, caring person who can make good choices and solve problems effectively.  Thus educators must think about ways of helping students to take an active part in decisions that are only indirectly related to academics." When asked to write our philosophy of education in college, I turned most to the book that I thought I would least reference.  I remember seeing Nel Nodding's book about ethics and teaching caring in school.  I remember being a young undergraduate thinking that this book was a "fluff" education book that would not lead me to any "real" learning.  After finishing the book and reflecting on my best teachers and the adults in my life that have had the greatest impact, I realized that Nodding's ideas about education would become the cornerstone of my pedagogy.  Teaching students to respect and have responsibility for each other (Thomas Lickona) will ultimately lead you to helping your students learn to care for one another.  If our students can respect and care for one another, they can ultimately develop the sense of responsibility not only to themselves, but to others around them and to our greater society.

Another part of this text that I greatly appreciated was the solutions and questions that Kohn presents teachers to use in their classroom.  On page ten he says, "What do you think we can do about this?"  Whenever a student asks a question in class that I think can lead us to a greater depth of learning, regardless of it is directly connected with what we are discussing in class, I ask "What do you think about that?"  This allows students to think out loud and share their thoughts with the class.  Often times I will have students question each other's ideas and point out the areas where their argument does not work.  Kohn's question "What do you think we can do about this?" has led me to some great projects that engaged every one of my students.  At the end of last year, I ran out of time and did not create the project expectations and guidelines sheet, so I walked into class, worked with my students, and we created it together.  I had my expectations, they had theirs, and we met somewhere in the middle (quiet honestly, more towards their side) and I saw some of the best products from them.  This can work!  It is hard to do, and challenging to give up the control, but our students can create their own guidelines, deadlines, and expectations.  Not only will they meet those expectations, but they will far exceed them. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Let's make our schools safer

I received this email from a listserv that I am a part of regarding GLBT issues in schools and America.  I am copy and pasting this below as I think everyone should think about this as we go into this next month:

Dear Safe Schools Coalition Members and Friends:
If Ever There Was a Time to Talk … Five Teens Have Killed Themselves in September
Five teens in the last three weeks had been so severely brutalized by peers for being gay that they felt the only answer was suicide.
First, Billy Lucas, age 15, hung himself in his grandmother’s barn in Greensburg, Indiana. Billy wasn’t out if he was even gay – you don’t have to be gay to be harassed about it. Then came middle school student 13 year-old Seth Walsh of Tehachapi, California. Then 18-year old college student and violinist Tyler Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge (between New Jersey and New York). The next day, in Houston, Texas, straight-A student Asher Brown, age 13, shot himself. Less than a week later, 19-year old Raymond Chase hung himself in Providence, Rhode Island.
We have to talk about it!!! Talking about suicide doesn’t make people commit suicide. Talking about bullying doesn’t make people bully. And talking about gay people doesn’t make people gay. Please, please take some time this week to talk with your classes about both.
What your students need to know about suicide and self-harm:
  • People who are considering suicide usually give signals.
  • There are concrete things you can do if you see what might be signals:
  • ~ Show you care. Something like, “I’m here if you feel like talking.”  ~ Bring it up. Something like, “Are you thinking about hurting yourself?” ~ Get help. Something like, “Let’s talk to someone. I’ll be there, too, if you want.” ~ If they won’t talk with a parent or someone at school, do it yourself.
What your students need to know about bullying:
  • Bullying, harassment, cyber-bullying and assault can lead to suicide.
  • You don’t want to live with knowing that what you did or allowed a friend to do led someone to take their life.
  • Bullies need an audience. Refuse to participate.
  • Bullies often fly under adults’ radar. Make sure adults know what’s happening.
  • Harassment is illegal. The students who broadcast footage of Tyler Clementi before he killed himself may get as much as 5-10 years in jail.
What your students need to know about gay, lesbian, bisexual & transgender (GLBT) people:
  • Who you like – whether you are GLB or Straight – has nothing to do with whether you’re a good person.
  • How masculine or feminine you are – whether or not you’re the way people expect you to be – has nothing to do with whether you’re a good person.
  • GLBT people can be as mentally healthyhappy, and loved as anyone else.
  • GLBT people have made awesome contributions to the world we all share.
    The Youth Suicide Prevention Project suggests that you don’t want to glamorize or dramatize events like these recent suicides. But you DO need to talk with your students. Discussion questions might include these:
    • What kinds of things stress you and your friends?
    • What can you – or your friends -- do about the stress? What are some options?
    • If your friend was considering suicide, what could you do? What would you do?
    • What kinds of things do people in our school get harassed about?
    • What can you do if you see it happening? What are some options?
    • What if it happens to you? What are some options?
    • What do you already know about lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people? What stereotypes have you heard that you know aren’t true?
    • What good things have lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people done for the world?
    • If you – or your friend – were lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender where could you go to find friends and support?
Resources for adults:
Youth Suicide Prevention Project
Bullying & Harassment Background, from Seattle Public Schools
Maine’s Best Practices in Bullying and Harassment Prevention: A Guide for Schools and Communities
Safe Schools Coalition, addressing LGBT Issues in schools, headquartered in Washington, serving schools everywhere
Safe at School, a new report from the Williams Institute at UCLA addressing the school environment and LGBT safety through policy and legislation
Resources for the classroom:
Look, Listen, Link and Help Every Living Person, suicide prevention curricula for middle and high school, respectively, from the Youth Suicide Prevention Project
Let’s Get Real and Straightlaced ... films and discussion guides from Groundspark about bullying for middle school and gender for high school, respectively
Lipstick and Who I Am … films and discussion guides from Scenarios USA written by youth, performed by pros & discussion guides, about friendship, coming out, and more for middle and high school
Lesson planning guides for integrating LGBT issues into the fabric of the classroom, from the Safe Schools Coalition
Resources for youth: … Get Through Tough Times
Raven Days
Teens Against Bullying
Safe Schools Coalition’s YOUTH page