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Reading McEntee et. al (chaps. 1-7) and Barahal

jccohen's picture


dsharris's picture

Honesty and Accountability in Dowd's "Changing the Blame Game"

I was struck by the powerful theme of honesty that I perceived in JoAnne Dowd’s, “Changing the Blame Game” story. For example, when she acknowledges her own part in the problem that she and the substitute teacher had. She is self-accountable. And she holds the substitute teacher accountable and doesn’t let him off the hook; to the contrary, Dowd spotlights the substitute teacher explicitly by asking the student Megan to read what actually happened, exposing the substitute’s unacceptable and unprofessional behavior. Because of deep-seated fear (I assume), none of the students felt comfortable even mentioning this, though they were all witnesses of his behavior. Here I see Dowd planting a seed, not of anti-authority but simply presenting the possibility that “even an adult” could have made a mistake and could have been part of the problem. This seems like how one would speak to a fellow respected adult, and I imagine the students themselves feeling morally driven to rise to the occasion.

Dowd repeatedly stresses the importance of only allowing students to speak about their own role in the problem. Therefore, the children are forced to voice their own fault in the problem. They are then (at least implicitly) forgiven, and are (I imagine) also humbled in front of their peers. As I read the story, I wondered about a context with values such as honesty and humility, and how powerful that contrast is.

jccohen's picture

honesty and humility


I agree that Dowd's acknowledging both her own and others' roles and accountability here sets up a pretty compelling and unusual classroom setting.  It is interesting how the kids don't mention what the sub did.  This makes me think about how kids can feel as if they somehow have to shield adults from...the consequences of their own actions?  I'm not sure what exactly, but yes, Dowd's approach seems to release all of them to look at and talk about what really went on in that complex system of the classroom...

Riley's picture

Reflections: At the Heart of Teaching

I really appreciate reading McEntee et al.'s At the Heart of Teaching--I really appreciate getting a more pragmatic point of view on teaching to coincide with the more theoretical pedagogical discussions we've had on Dewey and Freire (which I also deeply appreciate). I really like how much the writers mention the importance of dialogue among teachers (as well as with individual practice) to take the time to reflect on what happened in the classroom--to really question every action taken, even (especially?) if it was a spur-of-the-moment decision made. From personal experience as a growing educator, this reflection practice has always been invaluable to me to help me focus on specific elements of my practice that need improvement. When I have reflected on these specific things I want to work on, it's almost like I have a new toolbox in my head full of specific tactics I can draw on when I find myself falling back on habits I want to break.

I see reflected in chapters 1 and 2 many tactics I've been lucky enough to see in action during time I've spent at Friends schools in the area. One school practices in elementary classrooms a process called "feedback" in which all the students sit in a circle and listen while each individual student directs comments--either positive or constructive--to another student or group of students or the class as a whole. Students have the option to pass but I remember being struck by how most of the students took the opportunity to tell other students how happy they were to be becoming friends with each other, or how they liked how well they worked together on a project, etc. In a safe space where students know what is expected of them and that everyone will get the chance to make themselves heard, magical things can happen.

I was a little taken aback by the teacher's actions in Chapter 3 during his Socratic discussions activity with the student named Kara. I was actually a little disturbed that he let Kara struggle to lead the discussion when she was obviously not in the right mental place to be in front of the classroom. He let students taunt her and mock her discussion topic--why? So the students could "learn from their mistakes"? I completely disagree with the way he went about doing this--first of all, I think he should let himself intervene when the discussion goes completely off topic. Gently guiding students back on track is not going to interrupt a conversation that is completely going nowhere. Second of all, this teacher should be sensitive to students who are struggling during a leadership activity like this. This event could have ended up being traumatic for Kara and could have damaged her perception of herself in the classroom and her relationship with the teacher and her classmates. (Maybe I am extra sensitive to this because as a very painfully shy high school student, I have been in situations like Kara and it took me a long time to recover, and definitely made me distrust teachers who abandoned me in similar ways.)

Overall, I am happy to have the affirmation of how important reflective practice is, because I love getting the chance to pick apart and question what is normally taken for granted in the classroom.

Sarah's picture

Student-Centered Family Meeting Protocol

When I read over figure 4.1 describing "Student-Centered Family Meeting Protocol," my immediate thought was that it wouldn't actually work.  In what amazing school do they have a time where all these people can come together (teachers, students, counselors, facilitator, note-taker, AND parents).  My biggest concern is how to get parents to the meeting; many times parents work.  Even if they can come, many parents have different ideas of the role they play in their child's education; although I think nearly all parents care about their child's success in school, this is not always expressed in the same way (i.e: helping with homework).  If all parties can get together, I thought the questions asked of the students were pretty broad and possibly difficult for the student to answer; asking a student what is going well might not bring about any response because sometimes students feel like they really don't get anything.  As far as goals, I think it's a good idea in theory for students to set goals for their classes, but I don't remember setting concrete goals for myself in high school (except maybe to get a good grade).  Because I thought the first main parts of the protocol wouldn't work, I sort of gave up on the rest.  Then when I read the experience Amy had with the Protocol, I felt conflicted.  I realized how great some parts of the protocol were, like how student centered it was, and how the student's input was valued.  I think Freire would mostly approve of this method, though he might think the teachers still had too much

Sharaai's picture

In the Art of Teaching, they

In the Art of Teaching, they give a lot of anecdotal references to the strategies they are writing about. I enjoyed this aspect of the book because it showed me that their (the teachers) strategies had worked for the, how they went and what they got from them. In all of the stories, I noticed that the students had a huge role. Though this seems like a silly concept for a book about teaching but I feel like the student can lost when talking about the process of teaching. It can become teacher, strategy and theory centered.

In the chapter about student center conferences, it was nice to see they authors make an emphasis on the relationships between student and teacher, teacher and parents, and then parent and student. The latter relationship is one I have never felt like teachers could have a role in until I read this chapter. We talk a lot about how teachers can take an interest in a student’s home life so that they may better perform in the classroom, but I feel like a direct action between teacher and parent, in order to better the student to parent relationship has not been addressed in any readings that I’ve done. It is great to see the power that communication between all three parties can turn into and how it can improve for the student’s own good, whom all three parties are rooting for.

A random thought I had was about the Socratic Method. I honestly cannot really see how successful this can really. I understand that it can make a classroom grow together but I feel like it can harm a student’s self-confidence more than anything, especially if it is not initiated correctly. I haven’t fully processed it, it is just a thought I don’t want to forget.

hl13's picture

To continue Sharaai's point

To continue Sharaai's point about the Socratic Method, in my middle school we had monthly Socratic Seminars about various topics. However, I don't know how successful they really were, to perhaps confirm her doubts. Most of my peers did not enjoy them, as they were very much an enforced "rule" of our school life. Furthermore, as a student who was really shy and had a hard time talking in front of large groups like the whole class, the fact that everyone was forced to participate was extremely stressful for me and caused me to hate it more (I felt strongly about this as a twelve-year-old). I believe that maybe this could have been implemented in a more successful way to avoid the often harmful social behaviors of middle school students, and to encourage the confidences of shyer students. In the end, I don't think the Seminars made us grow together but instead emphasized divisions already between people (those who were/were not comfortable talking, students who took academics seriously or not, etc.)

However, perhaps this method would have worked better with older students, such as high schoolers. In fact, I had an English teacher who used the Fishbowl method mentioned in discussions and it worked very well! Perhaps many of the activities listed require a basis of a comfortable class environment before implementing methods of reflective practice that require trust between students, and between students and teachers. For example, in middle school I felt more fear of judgement from my peers, and more pressure from teachers than I did in high school. One method to achieve this trust in the classroom could be the reflective practice descrbied by the teacher in Maine, where she had ber class respond using "I" language after behaving badly with a substitute. 

ccalderon's picture

Student Teacher Parent relationship

I too found it great that they made sure to not forget about the important people in  classroom, the students. I too found myself attatched to the chapter on student center conferences. However the Teacher having a role in the student parent relationship still feels like I am walking on this ice. How can we find that boundry not cross or is their a boundary and whosets it? Although I really enjoy teacher student and teacher parent I did not really think about combining them. But the communication between the three does need to be there and has to have some type of method or way of working.

et502's picture

Thinking about thinking about thinking

Reading Barahal’s article was particularly useful because, for me, it called attention to those skills (including “thinking”) that I tend to take for granted. Further, it had me reflect more on visible vs. invisible skills and made me think more about those token phrases and expectations that I see repeated in syllabi – “critical thinking,” “engagement,” “authentic participation.” I think the repetition of these terms might dilute them. In other words, we end up nodding along and using the token phrases – but I think we don’t give enough credit to what they might actually mean. Which is why reading about thinking about thinking was useful.

One reason I think our “token phrases” are problematic is because they can be interpreted very differently. For example, for me, the black-and-white definitions can come out to this –

Engagement = facial expressions show interest, student makes eye contact with teacher and other students

Participation = student is speaking during discussions, taking notes, interacting with teacher and other students

But I know that that’s not always the case. Engagement and participation aren’t black and white – and not every student or individual will engage or participate or think the same way (ex – introverts vs. extroverts).

Being explicit, defining your own meanings for words, talking through expectations, and inviting students to be part of this process – these are ways to avoid miscommunication. For example, rather than just saying: Participation is a % of your grade, our syllabus reads, “You should… come to class prepared to discuss the issues and questions that the week’s fieldwork has raised for you.”

The first chapter in The Heart of Teaching describes another useful example. Dowd explains her decision to reframe and understand why her students had behaved differently with a substitute teacher than they usually did. Rather than assume that students knew how to self-monitor and regulate their own behavior, she considered their experiences: “I knew that the move from eighth grade to ninth grade was a difficult transition for most students... My students hadn’t spent much time learning about democratic practices or decision-making. Now, abruptly, they felt the pressure for learning and responsible behavior squarely on their shoulders… I couldn’t just give them the tools. We had to create them together” (3 McEntree). So besides being clear about definitions, another important aspect of teaching is not making the assumption that everyone had developed a certain skill set, and being flexible about co-creating -

But, to push this discussion in another direction, I wonder, is there a way to know that students are thinking deeply about something if they aren’t also producing work based on that thinking? In other words, if students aren’t speaking in class or writing about a topic, how do you know that they are thinking?

ccalderon's picture

I agree that these "token

I agree that these "token phrases" get thrown around but maybe we need to have a conversation in which the top phrases get thrown out and we define them acroding to us. But besides I can see where having common phrases could be benificial between teachers but that can easily veer in a different dirrection that other adminstrator may interpret differently.

JBacchus's picture

Your definition of

Your definition of participation is one that I would have transversed for myself. For example, my professors know that rather than being a talk-er, I am an intense note-taker, listener, and often in my notes during class, I include critical thinking issues relating to class. Class discussions for me often lead to internal debate. Thus, can you say that I engage, but not participate? Or am I participating in my own way?

I find your last paragraph particularly engaging. This is something I've discussed pretty frequently with professors. I find that in a classroom during discussions, being the "silent" type works best for my learning. My thinking is done better internally. Sometimes the class discussion goes too fast for me and I find myself having deeper thoughts that I have to move away from if class participation is a requirement.

I'm not sure if there is a strategy for what you bring up, in terms of knowing what students are thinking if they aren't producing. I think something that I have developed previously with professors are private meetings and discussion, where after having some time to think about what's been occuring in class, I can present this to them and discuss it with them on my own time.

And really what your question brings up (for me) are issues of what is expected to be produced in a classroom and what is expected from the student. Can we trust that a student is engaging in deeper thinking or do we need to actually see it? 

et502's picture


Your last question! Ach! How do you establish that kind of trust with students? For me, I think trust goes hand-in-hand with responsibility - At what point is learning the primarily the responsibility of the student? Or is it always a shared responsibility? 

JBacchus's picture

trust continuation

It is a hard question! One that I think those that are becoming teachers, and even those that aren't, need to think about because this question of trust can be spread into any type of community.  I know, for me in previous classes, my professors/teachers could always trust that I was engaging myself in my own way - but maybe that was because I was a responsible, good student. But whose job is it to establish that trust? The student by proving to be a good (good does not necessarily mean great grades in this instance) student? Or the teacher by proving to be a stable guider? Or both? (Which comes first? The chicken or the egg?) I also agree with your idea that trust goes hand in hand with responsibility. But it's totally a two way street. It's mutual trust and responsibility. 

Your last question is very thought-provoking. I think that there is not some set point in time in which the responsibility transfers. I think it's gradual, and I think this graduality coincides with a student learning about themselves, their goals, their own learning styles, and as the student develops critical thinking skills. 

lyoo's picture

At the Heart of Teaching

A quote that stood out to me in this book was a quote by Jan Grant in chapter two. She says, "Without wavering, I respond that the essential theme of my teaching is the creation of a safe, nonjudgmental learning environment. It is imperative that my students feel comfortable taking risks in their learning." 

From my personal experience in school, I know that often there are awkward silences that follow a teacher's attempt to start discussion.  Especially at the upper middle school and high school level I've noticed that students are afraid to express what they think is the answer to a question becuase then they run the risk of being wrong. I think this fear, whether self-imposed or externally motivated, really stunts the class as a whole from the collective learning experience. I think there would be great value in having open and honest discussion of what the students are actually thinking/grasping at a moment so that the teacher can guide them through a process that will lead to what the students need to know. 

Grant goes on to say: "It is important however to create a connection between the product called student work and the process of students at work... to be present for that 'Aha!' moment that is so exciting" 

I completely agree and I think watching a peer go through his or her thought process out loud and having that aha moment can really benefit the classroom as a whole. The teacher can have a student teach many other students by guiding one student through his or her learning process. 

JBacchus's picture

Safe Environments

This quote from Chapter 2 also resonated with me. For me, it related to a quote in Chapter 1, where the author was writing about asking the students to claim their own voice and own blame in what had occurred while he was gone. The author wrotes that "the small group of girls feared that the entire class would be punished severely for the actions of a few, as had happened in the past. This new process allowed female students to speak up safely. it elicited new voices that otherwise may never have emerged". This fear, as you explain in your post, kept the community from moving forward together and working on issues that could have been solved.

I started my placement this week and one of the very first things I wanted to look for was the tone of the environment. Was it safe? Playful? Stressful? Rigid? And how did each student feel in whatever environment it was? I found that this was particularly important (the idea of a safe environment) because my field placement is in a small, kindergarten classroom, where interaction amongst peers and social involvement are crucial.

Whatever classroom environment is formed by the teacher will ultimately determine the actual nature of learning in the classroom. For example, in high school, and even now I have had one professor say, "if you have a question, please ask because more than likely another person has the same question". If students are not open with the teacher (and this openness is encouraged by the environment) then learning is hindered.

ellenv's picture

The point about classroom is

The point about classroom is an important one to make, and im glad that the text stressed it so often. However, when I was reading through all of the chapters I couldn't help but think that a lot of times these different methods can be implemented without really addressing the key classroom environment factor. During high school we were introduced to a lot of the methods that were talked about in the books (Imessages, socratic seminars etc.) although I did not know the name or purpose of them at the time. Every single time that these were used those, it seemed to be that they were used in a sense that led to somewhat fake "diologue" that didn't advance learning, but encourged students to focus on their speaking points - and resulting grades - to the exclusion of listening to what other students have to say. Sure, these methods can work really well in theory, but can the ability to effectively foster communication be taught through a book? What harm does the implementation of these methods do when teachers forget/ignore the key classroom environment factor?

dshu's picture

Relationship between teacher and students in classroom

While reading the stories from The Heart of Teaching, I immediately felt like I had been part of the classroom. Everything in the classroom was very realistic to me. Each chapter exhibited its own uniqueness that has allowed me see teaching in a broader perspective, which includes techniques to problem solving, and methods for finding solution. I have discovered that a common theme of these stories exhibits the deep concern and care the teachers have for their students.

JoAnne Dowd's Changing the Blame Game (Chapter 1) left me a strong impression that relates back to our Thursday, February 7th class discussions. In her chapter, we learned that she has worked very hard trying to understand why her students were not in their best behavior with her and the substitute teachers. During her weekend walks, she discovered that her students did not have the "tools" to know how to make decisions on their own and thus she developed a problem-solving process where she and her students will work together to find a solution in the classroom. With this new approach, she worked with her students and made all of her students to contribute, including those who often did not speak up, which were the girls in her classroom. This process gave her students the responsibility of "owning his or her behavior" (3) and an opportunity to create a safe environment for all students to speak out their own thoughts. The classroom becomes an environment where working together is a key to have a successful connection between teacher and his/her students. This story has allowed me to reflect back to my group's topic/concern on structure versus un-structure.  Jan Grant of The Presentation: Examining Students at Work (Chapter 2) realizes that, "When we raise the bar, when students and teachers together create an empathetic learning environment, and when students present their learning to a community of respectful listeners, levels of achievements soar" (22). Having a structure classroom where all members agree upon makes the learning classroom a more powerful and productive environment.

Also in the first chapter, we saw how the problem-solving model worked in one classroom, but not in another. This has led the Ms. Dowd to go back her own processes and question why. Because of this, she was able to revise her teaching model and use another approach, which was a better fit than the first time. In Ms. Dowd case, she then added four essential elements to her problem-solving process. Doing so, her process worked.

Therefore, it is very important for a teacher to be flexible within the classroom, yet, still set up goals and standards. Having communication between teacher and students is essential in order to run more smoothly and productively.   Not only is communicating significant, but also listening. We all have a voice. We all should be heard, even the non-outspoken ones. As Jon Appleby of When Students Reflect Together: Socratic Discussions writes, "Listening means that a person is willing to hear an idea and change her or his mind. Listening means that an individual is ready to learn" (26).

Ms. Dowd’s problem-solving process has made her students into “critical thinkers”, which is the goal Ms. Barahal trains her pre-service teachers working through “Artful Thinking” concept to reach. Ms. Barahal’s Artful Thinking Palette and Think/Puzzle/Explore routine are very worthy to be employed by pre-service teachers.   

Uninhibited's picture

Reflecting on what goes wrong.

I also enjoyed this part of the book the best, because it seemed like the authors were very honest about which strategies work, how and why. I think that this is very important in teaching how to teach because just learning different teaching strategies or activities doesn't contextualize where they are most useful and conducive to learning. I definitely appreciated the honesty that the authors had in highlighting the need for flexibility, as you mention here Dshu. Without acknowledging this, I can see how a new teacher might feel disappointed when a strategy they use doesn't work. Particularly, what I found most helpful Dowd's example of not only explaining in which instances a particularly strategy didn't work, but also reflecting on why. I think most people would just rush to say it didn't work and be afraid of using it again, but she used it as an opportunity to deepen her own learning by noting what caused the activity to fail. What she gained from this was a clearer understanding of the steps that need to be put in place for activities to be conducive to learning. Overall, I found the text to be very honest in explaining the challenges and opportunities that teachers face and in emphasizing the importance of reflection especially when activities don't go well. I hope that this is a strategy that I will use in the future; in whichever way I'm involved in education. I also think it's something that can expanded to other educators, policymakers, after-school program coordinators since the ability to reflect on the way students learn/interact is important for all of us who wish to make a difference in education. 

jcb2013's picture

Barahal Reading Response/Thoughts

The Barahal text reminded me of a recent conversation that I had with my future boss, the Principal of the school that I will be working in next year.  It was during a conversation when I was asking about the curriculum for the pre-K class that I will be co-teaching next year.  I was curious because I had never worked with students that young before.  Though I planned to move up to kindergarten or 1st grade the next year, I was still curious about the kind of things that 3-4 year olds would be learning in their early childhood education.  While my Principal acknowledged that the students were quite young, and that the curriculum wasn’t as academically focused as in older elementary years, that the goal was to prepare the students so that they wouldn’t be behind (as is often seen in urban students at the beginning of kindergarten compared to their suburban counterparts). 

            This goal included, not only preparing them for learning how to read and write, but to prepare them for critical thinking.  My Principal explained that with all the standardized testing existing in today’s education system, that critical thinking is often overlooked.  He then proceeded to explain ways in which we would implement fun, critical thinking methods within the fun, play based pre-k curriculum.  The example was given that while finger painting, we would pose questions such as, “what colors are you using?,” “where else do you see that color?,” “what do you think happens when you combine those two colors?”, “why do you think that?”

            This was similar to the practice explained by Barahal, where she uses art to teach critical thinking, and how to get teachers to think more about their student’s thinking.  I find the practice of increasing teacher’s awareness of not only what their students’ responses/answers are, but getting them to examine further the thinking that lead them to that answer.  Establishing how students get to a certain answer can help teachers better understand how to teach their students, and how to re-teach topics that may not be fully understood. It can also be a beneficial learning tool for students to use to reflect on their conclusions.  If they think about their own thinking process then they can better assess whether they are right or wrong (if there is a right or wrong) or if they truly believe what they are saying. 

            While this argument (that critical thinking, and thinking about thinking) seems like it’s stating the obvious, I think that we often overlook it in our pedagogy, and practice.  I appreciated Barahal’s critical thinking initiatives for preservice teachers, and hope to utilize her methods in my own teacher with the hope that my students’ will become thorough thinkers. 

Julie Mazz's picture

I completely agree with you

I completely agree with you that the process of teaching students how to be critical thinkers is overlooked. This part of the book reminded me of when I took AP Language in 11th grade. Much of the class is focused on preparing for the AP Lang test at the end of the school year, so we would practice writing essays and learning what the graders are looking for. I wouldn't do that well on the essays, but I loved talking in class and engaging in the discussions. My mom was concerned, so she reached out to my teacher who nicely encouraged me to stay in the class because she valued my input during discussions. I think she realized that while I wouldn't excel on the tests as much as the other students, I was learning critical thinking that would help me in college. 

The end goal in high school was to get good grades and go to a great college, which focuses on the numbers rather than preparing students for classes once they get there. There was an interesting article in the Washington Post the other day from a recently retired teacher (who I think is actually from my school district) apologizing or warning college professors for the next few years of students. The teacher, who taught AP social studies classes in particular, is telling professors that the current crop of college students are now all completely immursed in the standardized testing system, and likely lack the critical thinking that the teachers wish they could work on with them. Here's the link:

mencabo's picture

Re: Barahal

I also wonder about the role of modeling the thinking process to the students. Asking students is certainly an important step in helping them become more aware of their thinking, behavior and attitude, but I wonder if from time to time, teachers should also demonstrate their “messy” thinking process to show students that arriving at a response or whatever the final product is involves multiple steps and even “wrong turns.” It’s even better if there is a visual representation of it, as the article also points out.

I don’t have a particular example for pre-K, but I was thinking about the writing process and how a teacher could show students that to produce an essay, you have to brainstorm first and get a lot of ideas out. No one produces a “perfect” essay right away. This also ties in with Linda’s post about the “connection between the product called student work and the process of students at work,” and the fear of making mistakes. If teachers can show their thinking process, then maybe that can help the students feel less intimidated to make mistakes and encourage them to try out their ideas.

rbp13's picture

I really enjoyed reading the

I really enjoyed reading the first part of At The Heart of Teaching, especially following Freire, because the stories that these teachers shared demonstrate much of Freire's theory in practice. While discussing Freire, the class pointed out how abstract his ideas are. Last week, for example, we spent time discussing whether students and teachers should be partners in establishing the classroom culture. We struggled to identify the balance between the teacher assuming a position of authory without forcing her students into a passive role. At The Heart of Teaching helped me to answer several questions that I had about the role of the teacher, through highlighting teachers who effectively implemented such theory.

Throughout Pedagogy of the Oppressed, one of Freire's key points was that students should be active participants in their education. While this sounds good, I have been thinking about how to implement such an ideal in the classroom. Not only is the role of the students important to the teachers that are described in At the Heart of Teaching, but the way that they engage the students is why they are so successful. Several of the teaching strategies, especially the Socratic discussion method discussed in Chapter 3, force students to assume responsibility for their own learning. After reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed, one quote that resonated with me was "The solution is not to 'integrate' them into the structure of oppression, but to transform that structure so that they can become 'beings for themselves'" (74). I saw this transformation in the students who took part in the discussion that was supposed to be led by Kara. When Kara, the intended leader, began to struggle, the discussion failed. Rather than intervening, the teacher, Mr. Appleby, allowed this to happen and used this as a learning experience when the class reflected on the dialogue. When asked why none of them spoke up when they saw that Kara was having trouble, one student answered, "That's a good point. We should have. Why didn't we?" (31). While that day was not as productive as it could have been, collectively reflecting on the experience helped the students realize what they could do if a similar situation came up in the future. Like Freire, Mr. Appleby stated, "I find myself at times desperately wanting to tell my students how they should be, rather than letting them struggle during group discussion and learn, quite often, from their mistakes" (32).  

Furthermore, going back to what we discussed in class last week, I found it interesting that a classroom culture in which the students are given this responsibility is more positive and productive. In part, this is because the teacher, takes a controlled step-back from the authoritative position and recognizes the student-teacher relationship as one which should be mutually beneficial; the teacher should be willing to learn from the students just as she expects them to learn from her. This was also especially apparent in the chapter on Socratic discussion. Although the teacher describes a situation in which this activity did not go as planned, the discussion and reflection that followed the activity forced the students to consider the role that they each could have played in contributing to the discussion. While they were trying to be kind to Kara by not asking her if something was wrong, they realized that it might have been more helpful for someone to confront the uncomfortable situation, or take the leadership position from her. Essentially, this activity showed the students that being part of a community means that the positions within that community can be malleable. 

Laura H's picture

Reflective Practice and Professional Development

            Reading the stories of the teachers who wrote At the Heart of Teaching was an interesting contrast to reading Dewey and Freire. While many of the theories of Dewey and Freire were apparent in this book, it was much more practical and grounded in real experiences. However, I noticed that all of these teachers had to make a conscious effort to engage in “reflective practice,” because it was not something their schools made time for or encouraged. These teachers took the initiative to think about what they were doing well and what they could do better. They also took extra time to pursue activities that could enhance their classes, such as Jan Grant’s “Students At Work” evening presentations (11). It was clear that when these teachers took the time to reflect on their teaching, they became better teachers. 

            A main purpose of this book was to share these great ideas with other educators, and it is clear that many people would benefit from this type of collaboration and reflective practice. While there are whole host of issues people talk about when they discuss “education reform,” there is very little focus put on teacher professional development. I find this extremely unfortunate, because this could be a great way to help teachers find creative ways to address some of the challenges they face on a daily basis. Many businesses and companies are starting to realize that when they allow for this type of support and collaboration among their employees, their performance improves. Why should this be any different with teachers? We constantly hear about teacher burnout, especially in low-income schools. I think that enhancing professional development, encouraging collaboration and reflective practice, and providing teachers with the time and support they need to improve their skills could be a great benefit to schools. 

transitfan's picture

who is being reflected on?

I agree that more time for individual and group reflection and collaboration in general would be of great benefit to all educators. In chapter 5, Simon notes that even an hour per month of a story-sharing teacher group could lead to important results. This is important since it's true that most teachers don't get much time for professional development. The emphasis on reflection is certainly Friere-ian too.

I thought that some of the authors were better than others at sharing their own reflection. Jan Grant's chapter bothered me a little because in contrast to other authors starting by reflecting on their own experimentation and reflection "I tried this method (chapter 1)"/"I began to wonder (chapter 3)" Grant tells us in this opening paragraph that she always acts "without wavering" and tells us "what is imperative." When asked what is a critical element in teaching, shouldn't we be doing some wavering rather than always giving the same answer, even if it is a good one (which I think in Grant's case it is)? While she focuses on trying to get students to think differently, I miss the window into the author's own thinking. Why didn't she talk to Helen when Helen was struggling to participate? Isn't a group norm that "negativity will not be tolerated" kind of an oxymoron? Maybe Grant has good answers to those questions. In any case, all of the authors did a really great job of stepping back and examining their students. I thought some were better than others at sharing their self-examination.

AmbrosiaJ's picture

I enjoyed reading through the

I enjoyed reading through the first seven chapters and witnessing different strategies and ideas that really drove these classrooms to success. What I liked the most was that each gave the studensts agency. In one way or another, students were able to exercise their power to improve themselves or their surroundings. With that being said, I’d like to focus specifically on the chapter titled, Student Centered Meetings. I think the best way for a student to be successful in a classroom is if he/she has support coming from all angles. I truly believe that, “it takes a village to raise a child.” With these student centered meetings, the parents, students, and teachers are all on the same page. Many schools have this as a primary step, and I think these meetings are a great way to follow through. With these meetings, the truth can never escape because everything is out in the open. With the student Amy, her parents and teachers were all present so her previous “stories” that she told at home couldn’t pass when her teachers were sitting right there.

The author says, “When teachers meet with students and parents separately, the communication gap widens. Like the childhood game of telephone, stories change when repeated from person to person. The most effective communication strategy, therefore, is to have all essential parties present at the same time and for all to have an equal opportunity to speak and to listen.” As a child I was always a great student, however I did have some behavior issues and would get in trouble often for talking too much or eating snacks when I wasn’t supposed to. On some occasions, I’d tell white lies to get myself out of things when my teachers would contact my mother. However, when it was time for Parent Teacher Conferences and we were all sitting there together, my white lies wouldn’t work so I knew that couldn’t be an outlet for escape! Many students tell their parents one thing, when they know they behave a completely different way in the classroom. With student centered meetings, it’s great because the truth is on the table! In addition, everyone is present and is able to work together to solve the issues at hand.

sully04's picture

response to student centered meetings

I totally agree with Ambrosia here. Student centered meetings seem critical for allowing every aspect of learning to be laid out on the table, and for parents, students, and teachers to be on the same page. These types of meetings also help to foster a school community that is engaged and close-knit. It is important for parents and teachers to feel that they are both contributing equally to a child's success- rather than just teacher or just parent. In Unequal Childhoods, there is a focus on these types of relationships as a major difference between lower and working class schools, and upper class schools. Lower class parents are more likely to miss meetings due to work conflicts and scheduling, which can be taken as these parents “not caring” about their child’s education. Further, there is a sense of distrust between parents and teachers. In upper-class schools, parents can dictate too much, thinking that they know better than their child’s teachers. Fostering better relationships in both settings seems to be a way to progress.

Within the special education world at my placement, parents, teachers, and students are required to sit down once a year for a big IEP meeting- to go over student goals, learning plans, and progress. While the IEP meetings I’ve sat in on are tailored to the specific needs of students with autism, I don’t see why these specific and instructive meetings couldn’t extend to the regular ed. world. 

mschoyer's picture

To start my post, I'd like to

To start my post, I'd like to use a quote directly from yours: "With that being said, I’d like to focus specifically on the chapter titled, Student Centered Meetings. I think the best way for a student to be successful in a classroom is if he/she has support coming from all angles. I truly believe that, “it takes a village to raise a child.” With these student centered meetings, the parents, students, and teachers are all on the same page."

I also love this idea, specifically the idea that it takes a village to raise or in this case, teach, a child. This reminds me of something I was talking to my placement teacher about. As I have been with this teacher for over a semester now, we have become close and often talk about our lives when we are between classes. My placement teacher "Nina," has three sons, one of whom is four years old and has Down's Syndrome and also a seizure condition. He has had his fair share of struggles, but has recently begun improving thanks to many different factors, but especially his preschool. His preschool (which is in this area and is based out of a church) is extraordinary- he not only has his typical preschool class (inclusion based), but there is also Occupational and Speech Therapy and other services for him (in addition to iPads, yoga, etc.). Nina is constantly praising the school, and especially the fact that the teachers and specialists all work so well together, with her child, and also with her, the parent, to provide the best learning environment for her son. The school is a direct representation of your post and also the specific chapter you referenced. I think the best education comes from constant communication between all people in a child's life. This means the traditional educators at the child's school, and obviously the family at home. And while the preschool I referenced is very privileged and is absolutely not the norm, it is still a great model for how communication can enrich a child's education, especially those who face challenges. It is also a nice confirmation that, yes, these types of learning environments can exist when everyone involved is really committed to the children.