Education 225 - Final Handbook Entries Forum
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|Encouraging Productive Discussion|
Date: 2005-04-07 11:57:48
Link to this Comment: 14369
Encouraging Productive Discussion: Suggestions for Extra-Classroom Facilitators
April 7, 2005
Learning from my experiences as an extra-classroom facilitator this semester, I am exploring a process by which we, as facilitators, can determine how best to be of service to our groups, given our specific extra-learning contexts. The following are a series of questions for the facilitator to ask herself, as well as some of insights, experiences, and struggles from my facilitation experiences this spring.
1) Assess your own role as a facilitator. Who are you in this group of people? Are you an expert? What do you bring to the group?
As a teaching assistant, there is little separation between me and my students, because we are all college students. The difference is that I have some degree of expertise because I am a senior in the department and I have taken the course that they are currently taking, and I received a positive assessment in the course.
This raises several issues. First, I have to examine my role in the classroom. My role is really that of an assistant facilitator, or a sub-facilitator. I step in if there is an essential point that people are missing or if the discussion leader is inactive, or if the class is being completely unresponsive, my goal is to purposefully promote discussion. One thing I have to do is try to build a comfortable environment in the group through affirming participation.
What I am most concerned with here is how to ask open questions that promote discussion, even guide discussion, but that are not “leading” in the sense of pushing my own agenda. The discussions for this course center on race, class, and gender. Ideally someone in my position should be level-headed and very well informed, as well as somewhat detached from the situation, because these are not easy issues to discuss.
2) Consider your group of students: from what place do they come to this discussion? What are possible variables which might affect their ability (or willingness) to participate?
In her essay, “Arts of the Contact Zone,” Mary Louise Pratt shares words of wisdom on this subject:
Despite whatever conflicts or systematic social differences might be in play, it is assumed that all participants are engaged in the same game and that the game is the same for all players. Often it is. But of course it often is not, as, for example, when speakers are from different classes or cultures, or one party is exercising authority and another is submitting to it or questioning it.
Some variables to consider are age, gender, sexual orientation, class, race, experience with the material, shyness, physical ability, religion, and cultural tradition. Ideally you would have some time to get to know students on this more personal level at the beginning. Often in group discussions, however, little time is allotted for students to get to know each other, despite the fact that a heightened awareness of each other as individuals would almost certainly add depth to discussion. While I would not suggest creating imaginary identities for your students, it may help to reflect on possible reasons why a student might act outside the prescribed norm, and that some topics may be particularly sensitive for certain students.
One example from my experiences is that of a student who never once spoke in discussion. For the most part, she seemed to be following the conversation, but she never took an active part in it. After one session, she approached me. She told me that she has major anxieties about speaking in groups, and had not felt comfortable enough to speak. I was surprised, both by her courage and by the statement itself. After all, I had presumed weeks prior that she either this class was not a priority for her and she hadn’t done the readings, or that she was bored with the material. Had I more thoroughly considered the possibilities of student non-participation, perhaps I could have approached her myself or attempted to make the discussion easier to enter. For example, I might suggest that students intentionally leave a pause after making a point, during which time less outspoken members of the group might feel comfortable speaking.
3) Assess the course realistically. What are the objectives of the course? How important is it to follow the course agenda closely? What structural constraints do you face as an extra-classroom facilitator? What can you expect from the students? Determine the relationship between the explicit agenda for the course and the overall goal(s) of the course. If you are unsure of the supervising teacher's agenda, don't hesitate to ask.
In my case, using the discussion outline and questions to have a discussion of the text is the explicit agenda, while developing a greater understanding of the complexities of race, class and gender in the United States is the general course goal.
I am interested in asking questions which serve the needs of the learners, and which are also relevant to the subject matter at hand. As an extra-classroom teacher, I lack the authority to reject the day’s agenda in favor of completely embracing an “emergent pedagogies” approach to the classroom (Blank et al.). However, I would like to foster a similarly thought-provoking, student-centered atmosphere among the members of my discussion group.
4) Make your priorities and expectations for the class explicit. This can be done either in an "emergent" kind of way, by asking the students for suggestions, or with more authority. With both groups I have facilitated, I have tried to do this, but my preliminary discussion starters have improved over time. Here are some that I have come up with and introduced as the course has progressed:
-Please feel comfortable contributing here. We will have better, more enjoyable discussion if we hear your voice.
-We are all struggling to understand these difficult concepts in good faith. This is a safe space for discussion, and everything said in discussion stays here.
-I see these discussions as an opportunity for us to engage more closely with the text at hand. I would prioritize an in-depth, substantive discussion over a more cursory coverage of the readings' details. Our discussions are chiefly productive in that we can seek links between these readings and our lives, and the contemporary United States.
I realize that announcing where I'm coming from to the group is not a very emergent kind of approach to the classroom. It may, however, be as divergent from the guidelines provided by my professor as it can be. Ideally, I would prefer to take an emergent pedagogies approach and have the students come up with guidelines and priorities, but it could take up a significant amount of our already brief discussion period. While it might be worth it to me, I am almost positive that it would not be well-received by my professor. I may suggest to her that these kinds of goals and suggestions be put forth or come up with by the class at the start of each semester. As stated previously, as extra classroom teachers we need to work with our supervising teachers to create a course in keeping with the professor’s goals.
5) While facilitating comes more or less easily to each of us, it is important to remember that facilitating is a skill that can be developed over time. When the discussion goes poorly or you feel that your actions negatively affected the group’s experience, take time to reflect on your process. Re-examine your motives. Begin with what evidence you have—analyze students’ reactions, and then work backwards from them. What factors could have contributed to these reactions? Keep in mind that while you do have an influence on the way that discussion happens, there may be times when, despite your best efforts, it will be difficult to elicit meaningful participation.
One experience that made me feel particularly strongly about becoming a more effective facilitator involved a discussion of three texts I have read closely and had facilitated discussion on a year prior to this occasion. When I facilitated the discussion last year, I was also one of the students who constructed a sheet-long summary of the articles and the session’s discussion questions. This year, as the TA, I had no control over the summary information or the discussion that the students received. Were it typical for all students to have done close readings of each text before coming to class, this might not have made a difference. Realistically, though, most students have only read the articles superficially before coming to class, and rely on the summaries created by discussion leaders to fill in the gaps; the student-created summaries and questions play a vital role in shaping each week’s discussion.
As a TA/facilitator, I try to give up the power in the classroom to the discussion leader. Occasionally the discussion becomes one-sided. In this case, students had a pessimistic and oversimplified interpretation of texts I had seen as quite complex and progressive. As student after student reiterated this view, I felt the urge to present my position. The foremost draw that sociology holds for me is that it promotes discussion of critically relevant issues in contemporary society. I was torn then, between not wanting to push my own agenda, and risking the possibility that these students would take away a hopeless interpretation of several formative sociological texts in the study of race and class. Interestingly, the discussion leader for the day seemed relatively satisfied to allow the group to draw its own conclusions. Perhaps I should have been taking my cues from her.
I eventually decided to present my position, but I did make an effort to present it as my reading of the text, emphasizing that it was not the interpretation, but was an alternate view, ending with a question which was supposed to encourage debate. After my comment, the discussion leader noted that it was time to move on to discussion of the next reading. If the object of the session was to cover each of the texts in depth, she had correctly determined to have the group move on. The decision, though, may represent our fundamental disagreement regarding the course goals, or perhaps her own discomfort with my comment. Hopefully I did not make the mistake that the mentor in From Teaching to Mentoring: Principles and Practice, Dialogue and Life in Adult Education, made with Kathy--alienating the group by overtly challenging beliefs dear to them (Herman & Mandell 56-57).
I felt defeated. I felt that as a TA, or a sub-facilitator, I had failed to ask the right question. I had failed to say something that would encourage discussion. One possibility is that because of my status as the TA, students who would normally have engaged in a more heated discussion of the text backed down. Another is that they took the point well, but did not feel that a response was necessary. A third possibility is that my question was so leading that students felt embarrassed by it. And of course, it may just have been out of respect for the discussion leader that students moved as a group to the next topic.
6) Learn to ask linking questions. In order to ask guiding questions effectively, it is necessary to have the discussion goals (and the course goals) in mind. When the discussion strays too far from these goals, an effective facilitator can guide discussion without abruptly halting conversation. One way to do this is to think of the goals of the discussion, and compare them to the current discussion. How are the two connected? Without cutting anyone off, ask a question which links the current (tangential) discussion back to the topic at hand.
For example, if the broad topic for discussion is discrimination based on socio-economic class, and the preceding discussion was discrimination based on gender, it would be natural for students to try to make connections between the two. If, however, the discussion becomes a continuation of the previous discussion on gender, and class has been left out of the discussion entirely, it would be a good time for a facilitator to use a linking question. “How are the issues that women face when seeking employment similar to those that people of low socio-economic status face?” one might ask. This type of question both affirms the students’ existing interests and participation, and simultaneously steers the discussion back into the realm of relevance.
7) Only intervene in discussion when necessary. While there are times at which a facilitator’s intervention might be called for, these times may be few and far between. The most obvious intervention point is when a student gets an important point blatantly wrong, and then proceeds to make this point the framework for discussion. At this point it would be appropriate for a facilitator to acknowledge the useful parts of the student’s statement, but set the record straight regarding the erroneous statement. For example, the statement that, “Marxist theory demonstrates that there was little stratification between classes,” might be countered with “While Marx sees class as divided between only a few class-groups, he saw class relationships as clearly hierarchical.”
Each facilitator has her own style. In the preceding hypothetical case, I would most likely wait for the next student to speak to correct the previous student’s error. If this second student instead accepted the first student’s premise, I would then intervene. When we take time to reflect on our roles as facilitators, the amount of intervention that we find appropriate should become increasingly clear.
A second time when intervention is appropriate is in the case that students are attacking each other. Participating in heated discussion can be very healthy and productive, as long as participants remember that ideas (and not individuals) are being deconstructed. Occasionally it can be helpful to remind participants of this key factor in maintaining a respectful dialogue.
As I reflect on the discussion in which I chose to put forth my own reading of the text, I realize two things. First of all, it could have been good for me to step back and remember that my role was that of a facilitator and not a student. Secondly, I did make it clear that this was my own interpretation, and actively tried not to invalidate the students’ readings. As long as a facilitator makes an effort to stay abreast of the situation, an occasional well-timed addition to the discussion can be helpful.
As Gene Thompson-Grove read through participants’ comments on a discussion she had facilitated and noticed that her own role in the discussion was not mentioned by the participants, she had an important revelation. “This is not about me,” she realizes (xiii). An effective facilitator is rarely the center of attention; she affirms and questions, pushing only when necessary.
8) Remember: Group members and facilitator share the responsibility for a productive discussion.
If discussion is going well, the facilitator tends to slide into the background. At other points, it is the facilitator’s job to maintain safe space and to keep the discussion relevant. As members of a discussion group, students have an obligation to engage with their classmates and attempt to explore the material.
As extra-classroom teachers we have a limited right to alter the path of the course. While we might be able to suggest additional, relevant readings, we must encourage students to engage with given course materials. If a person is determined not to participate no matter how much you reach out to them and attempt to engage them, they may remain unresponsive. As teachers, we must be confident that these attempts to reach out can be important in the long run, if not in the short run of the semester.
Our roles as facilitators can be integral to the smooth functioning of a group. It is important that we meet our students where they are, and encourage them to challenge themselves to engage more fully in readings and discussions. We must try to maintain awareness of the backgrounds and needs of our students. We must also take the time to reflect on our own roles in the discussion process. The resulting, heightened awareness of both group dynamics and the implicit purposes of the discussion will enable us to find ways to guide discussion and engage our students more fully.
Blank, D., Cassidy, K., Dalke, A., & Grobstein, P. “Emergent Pedagogy: Learning to Enjoy the Uncontrollable—and Make it Productive.” Available online at http://serendipstudio.org/sci_edu/emergentpedagogy.html.
Herman, L. & Mandell, A. (2004). From Teaching to Mentoring: Principles and Practice, Dialogue and Life in Adult Education (pp.27-92). London: RoutledgeFalmer.
Pratt, M. L. (1998). “Arts of the Contact Zone.” In V. Zamel & R. Spack (Eds.), Negotiating Academic Literacies: Teaching and Learning Across Languages and Cultures (pp. 171-185). London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Thompson-Grove, G. (2004). “Foreword.” In D. Allen & T. Blythe, The Facilitator’s Book of Questions: Tools for Looking Together at Student and Teacher Work (pp. xi-xiii). New York: Teacher’s College Press.
|Classroom Aides |
Date: 2005-04-07 12:54:43
Link to this Comment: 14370
Classroom Aides – how can they be most useful?
In this entry I will discuss strategies for classroom aides. I first discuss my own experiences as and aide in an elementary special education classroom and what I learned during the process. I will then discuss ways in which I think teachers and aides can make the class room experience beneficial for all.
Initially, when I began my praxis placement at a local elementary school assisting two young men with their reading I felt ill prepared. I did not know many of the phonics rules one would apply while reading. Although I had taken a course on teaching reading and had reviewed the information before beginning my work with the students; I did not have much knowledge of specific phonics techniques. Thus when the students stumbled over words I did my best to break the word into fragments they could decode, but I was not sure that I always broke up the word correctly. After working with them once I noticed my deficiency, to address it I got a book which discussed phonics and did my best to work on learning the phonics rules. When I discussed this concern with the teacher whose class I was assisting she recommended that I continue to work on my phonics skills more and she also promised to help me find information. She then explained to me that the young men with whom I was working knew all of the rules; however, they did not always apply them. Thus, although it helped for me to know the rules as well, the most helpful thing I could do was to remind the students to use the rules they knew.
During my early experience I also found that I did not remember much of what I learned in Geography and Science. I realized this when I was unable to answer questions that arose while reading the book. While reading a word builder (a book comprised of specific phonics skills) with a story that took place in Iceland, I first got confused about the difference between an iceberg and a glacier. I was also unable to show the students where Green Land and Ice Land appeared on the world map. In both of these instances the teacher was able to catch my mistake and clarify the information; however, I alone would not have been able to do this. Given that the teacher is working with other students on a separate lesson I did not want to disrupt her too much. As a result, after this incident I made sure to review the material before I read it with the students so that I could prepare myself for any questions that they might ask. For example, before reading a book about four young people in a Karate club, I looked up the history of Karate as well ensured that I knew the location of various eastern countries mentioned throughout the text.
Another issue I initially faced was that the word builders I read with the students were usually about subjects that were boring and did not relate to the students’ lives. This was problematic because the students were only reading because they had to. They were not interested in the content and thus did not read enthusiastically. I asked the classroom teacher if I could look for texts that were more interesting for the students and she agreed that this would be fine as long as they were challenging. I reviewed some chapter books that were fairly challenging, but that were also interesting and contained characters with whom I hoped the students could relate. I feel that it is important for a reader to not only understand the text, but to also be drawn into reading it. I also feel that interest is a primary factor in learning not just to read but to enjoy reading. As I had hoped, when I introduced the students to one of the texts I had selected the students were more interested and they began to read with more enthusiasm. They often tried to figure out words themselves because they wanted to know what was going to happen. The students even requested homework so that they could continue to read the book outside of class.
After my experiences I began to question how one can be a successful classroom/instructional assistant. Initially I felt that although I may have been assisting the teacher while working with the students, I was not being as helpful as I wanted to be to the students. However, I worked on the areas where I felt I had weaknesses and regularly talked to the teacher I was working with. This allowed me to become a better classroom aide.
I would recommend that any teachers working with instructional aides make sure to ask what the aide is proficient in. For example, I am somewhat helpful with reading, but when it comes to geography I am at a complete loss, thus when I was asked to show the students where Greenland and Iceland was located I was unprepared. I would also recommend that teachers do not pair inexperienced aides with students with serious needs. I do not have to deal with this in my situation, but I can imagine that it would be frustrating for both the aide and the students. I also advise teachers to watch how the aide is doing, although I know this is difficult given that there are other students the teacher needs to be paying attention to. An example of a teacher supporting an aide is when my classroom teacher assisted me in both finding Iceland and Greenland and gave me a resource book that described the difference between a glacier and an iceberg so I was able to properly explain it to students.
I would advise instructional aides to first become as comfortable as they can with the subject they will be working on prior to entering the classroom. An example of this would be reviewing phonics. I would recommend that aides look at the materials they will be using with students and ensure that they know as much as they can about the given material. An example of this would be if I had read the story that dealt with Iceland in advance I could have looked it up on map prior to working with students. I also must stress that aides should ask their teachers for assistance if they feel they cannot handle something. An example of this is my discussion with my classroom teacher about my concerns regarding my abilities, she gave me encouragement and also promised to assist me in finding information that will help me hone my skills. Also, classroom aides should try to make the material as engaging and interesting for the students as possible.
In conclusion, I would say that the best way to be a helpful classroom/instructional aide would be to get training before entering the classroom. If one has training, I am sure that one will not face as many obstacles as I have. However, I am aware that this is not always possible. In these instances I suggest that one tries to find as much information as one can in advance. In either situation, with or without training, I advise one to continue working on one’s skills and striving to learn as much as one can from one’s successes and failures as an aide. Do not be afraid to try something new based on what you have observed of students needs. Also, I cannot stress enough that the teacher you are working with is a resource. Although it may be difficult at times, continue to look for new strategies to assist yourself and your students.
Name: MaryBeth C
Date: 2005-04-21 11:36:52
Link to this Comment: 14765
ETHNOGRAPHIC BIFOCALS: USING ETHNOGRAPHIC METHODOLOGY IN A TEACHING AND LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
Several educational theorists have written on the importance of classroom observation in the instructon and engagement of students. All of these theories operate under the supposition that effective teaching involves a synthesis of social, emotional and academic growth, as well as the recognition of these factors in the creation of a classroom culture and learning space. In Carolyn Frank's "Ethnographic Eyes", several student teachers engage in a system of ethnographic observation in their classrooms, a method that is apparent both inside and outside their respective buildings. This method, though insightful in many respects, can be somewhat short-sighted in scope and lacking in consideration of the realities of teaching, both in the classroom and extra-classroom setting.
THE TENETS OF ETHNOGRAPHIC VISION
Ethnography, put briefly, consists of a series of specialized observations of the learner and their actions in the classroom or extra-classroom environment. Frank's work, however, encourages a broader interpretation of this system of observation, in that her student teacher researchers also encounter, and often become involved in, the personal lives of students, in their homes and neighborhood cultures. One of the key goals of this approach is to make these observations free from judgment, assumption or preemptive conclusion, as well as to incorporate these understandings of learner/group/classroom dynamics into an active and personal engagement with the students. That is to say, it serves to allow teachers to become familiar with previously unfamiliar environments and to foster a personal rapport with the individual students. Such ethnographic practice can also familiarize the teacher with individual characteristics of the region, school and learner, thus better enabling them to individualize the curriculum.
In Carolyn Frank's perception, ethnographic observation can include such activities as "notetaking/notemaking" and others that place ethnographic observation against the natural and often unconscious assumptions that are drawn from them. In a notetaking/notemaking exercise, an observer takes notes as objectively as possible of the students, their interaction, their environment and the like. Only after making such ethnographic observations can they extrapolate from these particular assumptions and suppostitions based on that information. Like this exercise, the use of ethnography forces the observer to become aware of their assumptions and regard them as separate from their initial observations.
NOTETAKING/NOTEMAKING IN PRACTICE
Notetaking: the teacher is instructing on the multiplication of fractions; several students are doing other things while the teacher is instructing; almost half of the students in the class have failed the math test; many of the failed tests show a sufficient understanding of the material
Notemaking: the teacher is instructing the multiplication of fractions in a lecture-like fashion; several students are distracted or have lost interest in the material - is this due to the teacher's instruction style?; many of the students who failed the test were among those who were not attentive during the lesson, but not all - was the instruction sufficient in preparing the students for the test?; many of the answers on the failed tests are correct with little or no error - what accounts for the failing score? were the directions unclear? were the students given enough time? I do not believe that the instruction was sufficient preparation for the test and much of this is not due to laziness on the students' part.
This is a very simple example of how to separate actual examples from the assumptions that unconsciously follow. These assumptions, however, can be tremendously damaging in the teacher/observer's understanding of the classroom and neglect the true needs of the students. In this example, the teacher (not the observer) may observe the non-attentive students and the failing test scores and immediately extrapolate that the test failures were due to their laziness and distraction during the lesson. While this may be true, the teacher must divorce his or her "kneejerk" response and instead consider other observations that may have been disregarded in the construction of this conclusion. Who were the students who were and were not attentive? Were these the same students who failed the test? In what ways did they fail the test? Were there patterns of error among all the students' tests? How effective, then, was the lesson? What were the students' reasons for not being attentive? These are all questions that the observer in the notetaking/notemaking example began to tackle.
Similarly, and in a much larger scope, teachers often "observe" the neighborhood of their school, the socio-economic background of its students and perhaps other factors, such as the school's reputation, racial makeup, and the like in their notetaking. Often, teachers make particular assumptions based in this information that are also pose a tremednous disservice to their students. In practice, for example, many teachers hace observed that their school is in an urban setting, and conclude from this the unrelated leap that there will be a significant problem with discipline. This is clearly a dangerous over-simplification that will potentially affect the teacher's effectiveness later.
CASE STUDY: WARREN AND TEVIN'S GRADES
In Mr. Smith's fifth grade class, there are two students that stand out as consistently under-achieving. There seem to e obvious reasons for Mr. Smith's lack of success with these two students, but Mr. Smith has yet to notice or address these problems. In Warren's case, he is tremendously easily distracted and has trouble focusing on a task for more than a few minutes, something that is more than typical of a pre-adolescent mind. Mr. Smith, however, makes no attempt to maintain Warren's focus. On a recent test, Warren would get entire sections of the test completely correct, without a single error, showing a great understanding of the material and an attention to detail that was largely unequaled even among Mr. Smith's favorite students. Some other sections, however, would be marked completely incorrect, due to a misunderstanding of the directions, or they were left blank. Rather than noting that Warren had clearly mastered the material, Mr. Smith failed this test, because it was incomplete and had mistaken some of the directions. Tevin, on the other hand, has several disciplinary problems, in Mr. Smith's view. Tevin is regularly sent to the Accomodation Room, a resource room used primarily for students who have been removed from the classroom for disciplinary reasons. Tevin, then, misses as much as half of the instruction that occurs in the class. Clearly, this is the reason for many of his low grades. On one particular quiz, Tevin was the only student in the entire class to receive a grade of 100%. I informed Mr. Smith and he immediately quipped, "Well, I often have the answer key on my desk. I should look into that." The quiz, however, was for sentence answers, thus the key did not give answers, as each student's response would vary. Not only are there significant problems in the attention that Warren and Tevin are receiving, but the teacher even lacks faith in their abilities. This is an example of unwarranted conclusion that hampers the students' success, and that could be easily understood and addressed with individualized inquiry.
HOW ETHNOGRPAHY IS USEFUL IN THE EXTRA-CLASSROOM CONTEXT
In many ways, ethnography is inherently separate from the classroom culture, in that it requires that the observer "step back" from the shared culture and consider it in its holistic form. It is also essential that the teacher occasionally disengage from the typical teacher->learner one-way transmission of information that is traditionally essential to schooling. Instead, the teacher must also become a learner, gaterhing information from his or her student both spoken and unspoken, and synthesize this interaction into a better individual understanding and a personal rapport.
This paradigm raises the initial importance of of the seemingly paradoxical notion of "ethnographic bifocals." In Carolyn Frank's ideal sense, the teacher can at moments become an almost pure ethnographer, a quite problematic assumption. With ethnographic bifocals, the teacher is, instead, engaged in an ethnographic discourse of observation and culture-analysis while still recognizing his or her placement within the culture. In this way, the teacher sets his or herself apart, if only for a moment, while still being aware of his or her influence in the form of presence and role in the culture of the classroom.
In a second understanding of the "bifocal" metaphor, it is both naive and problematic to assume that the results of ethnographic inquiry will be entirely helpful, productive and positive. Frank's book includes a description of a series of home visits conducted by the researcers. The researchers were teaching in a population largely composed of first-generation and immigrant students of Mexican and Latin American descent. The researchers were, in large part, well received in the homes of their students and found a great deal of cultural awareness and enrichment in their visits. This is not and cannot always be the case. The observations of teachers will not be entirely positive, and thus, the teacher must retain and employ their sensitivities as a teacher and not an ethnographer in these instances, Ethnography can only take an educator so far.
Carolyn Frank and her researchers are also interested in the role of ethnographic interviews in the classroom. Using a modified ethnographic interview, however, it seems that teachers and students can engage in a multi-faceted dicourse that has several benefits, both for personal growth as well as a compliment to instruction and learning. The modified ethnographic interview can familiarize a teacher with a student on a personal and academic level, allowing him or her to identify social and learning difficulties and strengths, the diagnosis of which can contribute to the students' success in the future. It is also important, then, that each student have a shared relationship with the teacher, as well as a unique one. The creation of these relationships is the most important function of ethnography.
In this way, ethnographic interviews are not only a means to an end (i.e. a means to a better understanding of the students social and academic status), but also an end, in and of themselves (creation of a rapport and a space for individual attention and two-way teacher <-> learner inquiry and exchange). The very process of the interview is a learning tool, as well. The experience of completely individualized attention and a safe space for students to discuss their thoughts increases the effectiveness of the teacher's methods. When the teacher is familiar with the student's background and areas of strength and challenge, he or she can better adapt the planned curriculum to the individual needs of the students, as well as creating a comfortable space for learning. It is also key that these interviews gather information from the perspective of the student. Too often, teachers rely on reports, grades, and comments from oether teachers and experts in place of actual engagement with the learner.
Ethnography, then, is a distinct and vitally important method of gathering information about students. Many techers rely on the reports and comments of past teacher; evaluations by guidance counselors, school psychologists, and social workers; or assessments on academic ability. While these are obviously essential elements of the school system, they should not be the only indicators to a teacher. Ethnography in this sense simply serves as a method for educators to frame their own observations. Put simply, the teacher must devise a way to see as a non-judgmental,ethnographic observer while simultaneously retaining the knowledge, experience and sensitivities of an educator. Ethnographic interviews are a lens for engaging and empowering learners, but should not be the only lens.
|On Becoming an Effective Praiser|
Date: 2005-04-21 16:55:17
Link to this Comment: 14768
As a tutor assisting first graders with their writing, one of the difficulties I experienced is not knowing how and what to praise. Previously, I offered general praises for a variety of purposes: to encourage or motivate a child, to express admiration for a piece of work, to recognize a child's efforts, or to draw a child's attention to the useful strategies that he or she used. Consequently, I felt it was necessary to expand my vocabulary of praises to go beyond the usual "good job" and "well done." In fact, I have observed that general praises are well-received by children in many instances. In this tutoring position, however, I sometimes felt that I was giving empty praises. By reflecting on two incidents where the children I have worked with led me to reexamine my ideas about praise, I hope to underline some important considerations that would help tutors refine their skills in delivering effective praise. Also, in the last section, I highlight some additional guidelines which I have found useful in my own fieldwork experience.
Incident 1: An unexpected rejection
On one occasion, my tutee rejected my praise about her writing. When I said, "You are getting good at this," Lena replied, "That's not true." I was taken aback by her blatant objection, which also made me feel like a liar. I expected the child to savor, rather than reject, my praise. Prior to this incident, I assumed that my praises would achieve their desired positive effect and that the recipient would not question my intentions. I also expected the recipient to beam with joy upon receiving praise and experience an elevation of self-confidence. Naively, I thought praise could only induce good feelings in children.
Tip 1: Before you praise a learner, be aware of your specific reasons for offering praise
If I had meant to acknowledge Lena's effort and provide encouragement, then my praise must be more specific, referring to particular aspects of the child's performance (Brophy, 275). If I had wanted Lena to be aware that she is showing improvement and making progress towards mastery, then my praise should contain these elements: the standards which I use to evaluate the child, the things she did that define or promote performing well and thus her attainment of those standards, and my expectations for the child in that particular context (Henderlong & Lepper, 786). For example, I could say to Lena, "I am glad that you remember to capitalize the first word of your sentence and leave a space after each word."
Tip 2: Avoid praise that refers to progress unless you are familiar with the leaner
As I did not know Lena well enough, I should not have alluded to her progress. Consequently, my praise was interpreted as an evaluation. Brophy proposes that one should praise children only when it is likely that they view their accomplishments as deserving of praise, or when they could recognize their performance when it is pointed out (276). Assuming that children are capable of appraising their own accomplishments, Lena might view me as a tutor who has made a disingenuous attempt to make her feel good about herself, especially if she is aware that she does not write as easily and as well as others. This could hurt my credibility with the child.
Tip 3: Offer praise that is sincere and specific
If my remark was intended as a sincere observation of Lena's progress, then the child's rejection might reflect her existing view of herself as a writer. According to Henderlong & Lepper, children's response to praise may depend on whether the praise is consistent with their views and beliefs of themselves (779). If Lena held the belief that she is an incompetent writer, then she is likely to reject a praise intended to help enhance her confidence in writing. However, praise can still be effective if it is specific, genuine, and given sparingly (Henderlong & Lepper, 779). Damon believes that children are also sensitive to empty flattery and like adults, they are capable of asking themselves these questions: "Why do people feel they need to make up things about me? What is wrong with me that people need to cover up? (74)"
Tip 4: Monitor how the learner is responding to praise
While effective praise is beneficial, tutors must not be overly anxious to deliver praise, especially when they are still getting acquainted with the learner. I noticed that when Lena is working with her teacher, she seems to respond well to both general and specific praises. Lena's close relationship with her teacher might have also led the child to perceive the praises as genuine and helpful. When I first began working with Lena, I used praise to open conversations because I thought that would be a good way to build rapport with her. Lena, however, remained aloof and withdrawn. Henderlong & Lepper explicate the importance of a learner's relationship with the educator, "[T]he same praise statement given in the context of a more conflict-ridden or less-secure relationship may be perceived as manipulative, controlling, or as a sign that the teacher feels sorry for the student" (779).
Incident 2: An excellent occasion for praise?
A student, Bel, once came up to me with her journal to share a new story. While reading, I was actively searching for praiseworthy details. I responded, "Good job!" and praised the child about the content and her ability to write long sentences. There was an awkward moment when Bel looked up at me, as if expecting me to ramble on, and I thought to myself that I had run out of things to praise. With a shy smile, Bel said, "And I remember to leave a space between the sentences and put in the periods." Her simple remark made me realized that Bel wanted me to be the audience of her story, not a reader who assesses its merits. As a writer, she recognized some of the things that she did well and was probably more aware of her accomplishments. In a sense, my praise was unnecessary unless it conveyed that I enjoyed the story or admired her work.
Tip 5: Balance praise with efforts to help the learner appreciate his or her own work
After this incident, it occurred to me that tutors should also help children appreciate their work. It is possible for regular praise to diminish a child's ownership of his or her work. Consequently, children may measure the value of their work by the praises they receive, and become motivated solely for the sake of receiving praise, rather than for the purpose of the task or the enjoyment that may be derived from it (Persaud, 2004; Cleary, 1990). After reading Bel's story, I could invite her to share the writing process: Did she enjoy writing the story? Which is her favorite part of the story? Also, it would be beneficial to obtain Bel's opinion regarding to her writing: What did she think she has done well? Are there any areas to which she wants me to pay special attention? In some cases, praise could be more informative and effective when it is given after one has solicited the child's opinion, especially when one does not already have a good gauge of the child’s abilities.
Other advice which I have found useful in practice
Tip 6: Avoid social comparison when offering praise
In my interactions with children in other social contexts, I have found myself unconsciously offering praise that encouraged social comparison, especially when I intended to motivate the child or shape his or her behavior. Henderlong & Lepper caution that praise which is meant to convey competence, if not carefully offered, may encourage children to compare their own performance with that of their peers (785). Children as young as 7 or 8 are capable of using normative information to draw inferences about their individual competence (785). Although social-comparison praise is more likely to negatively impact older children's intrinsic motivation and response to challenge (Henderlong & Lepper, 785), social-comparison praise may possibly affect a child's developing perception of success.
Tip 7: Praise sparingly to avoid creating undue stress for the learner
Praise is often assumed to have positive effects on the recipient. Therefore, it is not uncommon for people to think that more praise is always better. However, one should be aware that children who receive continual praise may feel undue pressure to repeat their praiseworthy accomplishments (Cleary, 25). This could take the enjoyment and challenge out of learning and hurt a child’s subsequent performance.
Tip 8: Acknowledge both the learner's effort and ability
Generally, one should praise children for both their effort and ability to perform well (Brophy, 276). Compared with children who are praised for effort, children praised for ability are more concerned with performance goals, tend to attribute their successes and failures to ability, and are less likely to persist at a task after experiencing failure (Henderlong & Lepper, 781). However, one should not overemphasize the amount of effort expended by the child to achieve success, as the child may interpret this as an indication of his or her lack of ability (Brophy, 276).
Tip 9: Add variety to your praise
Previously, I might have overpraised a child for his or her effort because I had not known how to add variety to my praises. According to Henderlong & Lepper, one should also praise children for other process-oriented factors as well, such as "the sorts of strategies, self-corrections, or thoughtful concentration underlying children’s achievements" (781). In my fieldwork, I found this advice to be useful and observed that children seem to respond well to such praises.
Be mindful, but do not forget to be natural
Brophy states, "[n]o teacher will be able to praise effectively on a continuing basis and yet simultaneously accomplish all the other tasks of teaching" because of the factors—time, focused attention, and effort to individualize comments—involved (277). I believe that this is where tutors could come in useful, especially if they work one-on-one with a child or with a small group of children. To become effective praisers, tutors must be conscious of their intentions before praising a learner, and thoughtful about the words they use. Effective praise, when offered at the right time and in the right words, could serve to empower the learner.
Brophy, Jere. On Praising Effectively. The Elementary School Journal 81 (1981): 268-278.
Cleary, Linda M. The Fragile Inclination to Write: Praise and Criticism in the Classroom. The English Journal 79 (1990): 22-28.
Damon, William. Greater Expectations: Overcoming the Culture of Indulgence in America's Homes and Schools. New York: The Free Press, 1995. 74.
Henderlong, Jennifer, and Lepper, Mark R. The Effects of Praise on Children's Intrinsic Motivation: A Review and Synthesis. Psychological Bulletin 128 (2002): 774-795.
Persaud, Raj. Overdose of Praise Can be Toxic. The Times Educational Supplement 24 Sep. 2004: 20.
|The Extra-Classroom Teacher and Self-Assessment|
Date: 2005-04-22 17:33:33
Link to this Comment: 14788
The Extra-Classroom Teacher and Self-Assessment
This section of the Handbook discusses how extra-classroom teachers can assess the effectiveness of their own teaching. It begins by examining the role of the extra-classroom teacher and then suggests a model that will help you to better understand that role in the context of self-assessment. It then explores three different types of assessment: the portfolio, self-reflective journals and audio or videotaping. I analyze their general suitability to the situations of most extra-classroom teachers, as well as how the strengths and weaknesses of the various assessments change depending on certain factors.
My exploration of extra-classroom teaching and self-assessment did not stem from one particular instance that occurred while I was acting as an extra-classroom teacher. Instead, it is a product of a gradual realization on the importance and necessity of the extra-classroom teacher to assess herself. To be perfectly honest, it was not until I took this course on “Empowering Learners” that I began to see self-assessment as a vehicle for improving student learning. I placed so much emphasis on evaluating the learning progress of the student(s), that I temporarily forgot the connection between student learning and the effectiveness of my teaching. Now I view self-assessment as the duty of all extra-classroom teachers who take their work seriously.
Self-Assessment is a Duty
Most extra-classroom teachers, if not all, are in a very unique position when it comes to the assessment of their teaching quality. Unlike many professional educators, they are rarely in a situation where it is established- at least in theory- that periodically someone else (whether it be the supervisor, the learners or another extra-classroom teacher) will assess their efforts. Often extra-classroom teachers do not know how their learner(s) is fairing grade-wise in school, so extra-classroom teachers can not even indirectly gauge the effectiveness of their efforts the traditional way. So all this indicates to me that it is ultimately the duty of the extra-classroom teacher to assess herself. This duty is amplified by the fact that extra-classroom teachers are being increasingly relied upon to supplement the learning which occurs in the regular classroom.
Extra-Classroom Teacher as Self-Directed Learner
The model of the extra-classroom teacher as a “self-directed learner” is a helpful tool that allows the extra-classroom teacher to better conceptualize her role in the context of self-assessment (Costa and Kallick 9). According to “Assessment Strategies for Self-Directed Learning”, a self-directed learner is one who sees teaching “as an opportunity for continually improving student learning and the craft of teaching” (Costa and Kallick 10). And although the authors of that text apply the self-directed learner model only to professional teachers, it suits the extra-classroom teacher equally well and perhaps better since the responsibility of assessment mostly tends to fall on her shoulders alone.
A self-directed learner never stops learning (Costa and Kallick 9). The self-directed learner as an extra-classroom teacher views each visit with her learner or learners as a “thought experiment” where everybody is learning (Costa and Kallick 11). She is always trying to improve her work by thinking about the best way to approach a problem or situation, by implementing that approach, by reflecting on the implemented approach to identify its strengths and weaknesses, and by making the adjustments she deems necessary, only to repeat the process again. She is constantly asking herself questions and re-thinking what she knows to be true. Thus the extra-classroom teacher’s duty to assess herself is a duty to be a self-directed learner.
Method One: The Portfolio
The portfolio is essentially a collection of various artifacts that is gradually compiled over the course of numerous teaching sessions. Through examination of its contents, portfolios provide extra-classroom teachers with a unique way to assess their teaching. Professional educators who create portfolios typically fill them with student work samples, lesson plans, course outlines, etc. But for many extra-classroom teachers, the portfolio may very well be impractical. Many extra-classroom teachers are in situations where their ability to acquire materials to make a substantive portfolio is restricted. In addition, many extra-classroom teachers, like most tutors, are in situations where it is not necessary or useful to the learners to form lesson plans or course outlines. As a result, the number, variety and quality of artifacts are restricted which in turn, has the potential to weaken the substance of the portfolio.
However, my critique of the portfolio should not be construed to mean that I think the portfolio is worthless. Indeed, it is a very powerful assessment tool. And if some extra-classroom teachers are in a situation where it is not too difficult to acquire artifacts, then they should certainly create a portfolio. I just argue that since the quality of the portfolio depends to a good extent on the quality of its artifacts, then a portfolio will not be the most fruitful and effective form of self-assessment for most extra-classroom teachers.
Method Two: The Reflective Journal
Keeping a reflective journal is a type of self-assessment which works for virtually all extra-classroom teachers. They can be done regardless of the extra-classroom teacher’s experience, the age-group of the learners, the frequency of teaching sessions, the length of the teaching session, or how many students are being taught. They have no set form. Their only requirement is that the teacher reflects on her practice. Ideally, there should be a journal entry for every or every other visit, depending on the frequency of one’s visits to the learners. Moreover, reflective journals are very versatile since the subject(s) of each entry can vary widely. For example, one entry can focus on one’s interactions with a student in particular, while another examines one’s time management skills or a singly entry can look at both subjects together. The extra-classroom teacher truly has lots of freedom to decide how he wants to use this self-assessment tool. And the journals are always great to look back on to see how one’s teaching has evolved.
What makes journals very effective is that they help teachers solve problems in their practice by placing them in a position where they must articulate and consequently, concretely define their teaching difficulties. By articulating and identifying these difficulties, teachers can then start to figure out how to overcome them by deciding what things need to be altered, rearranged, abandoned, or repeated. For example, one particularly disappointing visit at my field placement in an urban high school involved the examination of a poem. Prior to my journal entry, I probably would have simply described the problem as a matter of the poem confusing the students which then caused them to miss important subtle aspects of the poem. But while writing my journal entry, I realized the real problem was my difficulty over quickly generating thought-provoking questions for the students. I wrote “for some reason, in those moments I could not figure out more probing questions to ask the students, so they could figure out the answers more on their own.” Once, via the reflective journal, I identified the heart of the problem, I was then able to formulate concrete steps I could take to improve- like getting advice from other teachers that I knew regarding how to ask more probing questions.
Method Three: Audio or Videotaping
Audio recordings and video cameras allow the extra-classroom teacher to give all of her undivided attention to the student(s), and then observe and reflect on the teaching session at a later point in time of her convenience. This type of self-assessment works for extra-classroom teachers of virtually any age group or number of students. These recordings enable her to examine the details of her teaching and thus change those details which she finds problematic for student learning. They also open up the opportunity for the teacher to invite others (another extra-classroom teacher, a supervisor, a friend who is a professional teacher) to give their input on the effectiveness of her teaching. Again, as with the reflective journal, the only real requirement here is that on reflects on his practice. While reviewing the tapes, ask questions like “Did I give the students enough time to critically think about the question I just posed to them?” or “Did I accidentally cut off a student while he was speaking?”. Remember to identify both the positive and negative aspect of one’s teaching.
The video camera may very well generate distraction and feelings of awkwardness during the extra-classroom teaching session, especially if there is only one or a handful of learners. Therefore, the less distracting audio recorder will be better at capturing what the typical teaching session is like. In addition, video cameras are expensive and (for those, like myself, who are not technologically savvy) often times difficult to set up. But if some greatly value the ability to analyze both the audio and visual aspects of the teaching session and do not believe that the camera will be too distracting, then for them the video camera is ideal.
After experimenting with the tape recorder during one of my teaching sessions, I found the real value of recording one’s teaching comes from the recorder’s ability to “catch” important aspects of one’s practice that have been repeatedly overlooked. How can an extra-classroom teacher reflect in her journal about an important element of her teaching if she has never noticed it before? For example, while listening to the tape recording of my teaching session, I was struck to discover that I used a good amount of slang in front of my students. Before this recording experiment I knew that I did not always use Standard English in front of my students but I had thought it was a rare occurrence and so not very problematic. It was not until I listened to the tape that I realized how frequently I departed from Standard English. But now, thanks to the recording, I am at least aware and can make a conscious effort to change this aspect of my teaching.
All extra-classroom teachers have a duty to assess their own teaching and they can more effectively carry out this duty if they understand themselves as self-directed learners. But because of their unique role, some types of self-assessment are more practical for extra-classroom teachers than others. Self-reflective journals are practical for virtually all extra-classroom teachers while audio or videotaping and especially portfolios have their limitations. Besides their practicality, self-reflective journals and tape/video recordings are valuable self-assessment tools because they help extra-classroom teachers identify problematic aspects of their practice, so they can then figure out how to improve. However, even though these two self-assessment tools are effective, they are still insufficient. More work must be done in developing self-assessments that are appropriate for extra-classroom teachers, especially when one considers the increasingly important role they play in education.
Costa, Arthur L., and Bena Kallick. Assessment Strategies for Self-Directed Learning.
Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.
Name: Rachel Fra
Date: 2005-04-23 19:54:39
Link to this Comment: 14794
“I want the stuff (curriculum) to be interesting but I still got to learn,” states Jerome*. According to Jerome, academic learning does not engage or incorporate his cultural experiences. Academic life and everything outside of that are often differentiated by my students as separate entities that cannot and will never integrate. After encountering this moment of dissonance I ask, how do I, as a tutor, incorporate students’ cultural experiences into the classroom discourse and encourage academic engagement beyond the specific task?
In this entry, I evaluate the ways I define teaching and engagement through my cultural lens as a tutor, exploring the various understandings of culture to foster engagement in traditional academic settings. Academic engagement, as I define it, is the consideration and collaboration of the student’s academic interests and their cultural experiences to promote an enriching learning environment. Definition of learning should broaden to incorporate pertinent life-long lessons as well as the traditional skills. I hope to combine the theories and ideas of a few authors to create a cohesive methodology that I have found effective in its practical implications.
My personal learning and understanding has been informed by my cultural experiences which consequently reflect the material I choose to teach and my instructional teaching methods. In my routine tutoring sessions, I incorporate informal discussions with my tutees to gain insight of who they are as students and as individuals. I inquire about their academic interests, the classes they are currently taking, their favorite and least favorite subjects, and their involvement in extracurricular activities. We then move into our “work out plan”, which are our goals and expectations of each other during the tutoring sessions.
Jerome believes he is simply going through the motions of school, a traditional, and uniform procedure, a concept that educators refer to as ‘doing school’. I work with Jerome every Wednesday for two hours a week. He knows that he has to go to school and complete the assignments, but he has no personal yearning or enthusiasm to learn. Jerome recognizes his need for additional assistance in writing and reading comprehension. However, he does not enjoy reading and despises to have to put a pen to a sheet of paper. At our tutoring sessions, we are free to create our own lesson plans. I recently introduced freewriting to begin our sessions; a method that would get him to write without conjuring the negative connotations associated when he prepares to write a formal essay.
FREEWRITING & CONNECTIONS TO STUDENT INDIVIDUALITY
Freewriting allows a student to write, free of structure, moving thoughts from mind to paper. The freewrites and it usually serves for the purpose of the writer and not other readers. The freewrite is for a short length of time and the student is asked to continue writing until the time is up. When the student encounters that s/he has nothing more to write, s/he is suggested to write “I have writer’s block” until a new thought surfaces. Jerome and I usually begin with a freewrite exercise for approximately fifteen minutes and he then reads it aloud.
One day, I decided to begin with a focused freewite exercise. Paul Connolly’s (1989) “Writing and the Ecology of Learning” explains that the purpose of focused freewriting is “to cast a net of inquiry, initiating exploration of a term, issue, question or problem (10).” As I began to explain the focused freewrite topic, Jerome interjected and state, “I don’t like doing this (free-writing), it is weird and it makes me feel like I’m stupid.” Jerome believes the freewriting exercises belittle his knowledge. Freewriting is an unconventional approach in contrast to his traditional learning structure. Jerome’s classroom instruction does not involve innovative methods of learning. He is detached from his academics because there is a lack of connection between his interests and academic learning. Jerome enjoys Hip-Hop music and he has expressed to me that he would rather free talk than freewrite. For a tutoring session, I instructed Jerome to read an assigned article and to then critique the author’s argument using rap lyrics. He was very receptive to the assignment.
USING ETHNOGRAPHY TO APPEAL TO STUDENTS’ INDIVIDUALITY
In Ethnographic Eyes (1999), Carolyn Frank suggests that student-teachers observe the individual cultures and experiences of their students to understand “classroom life, gain new understanding of diversity, and recognize that difference can be a resource for community building” (back cover). The role of a tutor cannot be that of an observer, but rather an active participant who is in facilitating the exchange of knowledge. Often, when teaching traditional curriculum, I am met with resistance. I make generalizations about my student’s interests to hopefully engage them in their academic learning. In turn, I begin to define student engagement on my terms and understandings observing from the outside. Frank proceeds to say, “In order to engage in ethnographic events and observe from multiple perspectives, the student-teachers had to challenge their own cultural assumptions…” (21). I was able to use Hip-Hop as a tool to further engage Jerome’s learning. The ethnographic approach was helpful in this situation. I was able to work one on one with Jerome and provide him with the necessary personal attention. Time to formally and informally speak with your students becomes essential in the quest of creating an engaging classroom.
It is necessary that the tutor take the initiative to ask questions that encourage their students’ interests in the classroom as a form of learning. In my past experiences to create and gauge engaging classrooms, my students do not know how to define academic engagement and if the material is interesting they do not regard it as learning. To ask your student abstractly, “what do you want to do?” is not the most helpful way to begin a student-centered classroom. Students are seldom asked to take direct agency in their learning process. It is important that the tutor meets the student half way in that thought process. Students are socialized and have internalized a hierarchical structure of teacher and student. Jerome has even expressed his unfamiliarity with the approach, “This is not how my real classes are taught.” I use the student-centered approach as a method to begin the process of student-defined engagement in contrast to the traditional teacher instructed classes. The student takes the role of teacher, teaching through their cultural lens. This structure allows for student empowerment, autonomy and self-directed learning.
From the insight that I gained from Jerome’s cultural perspective, I was able to provoke thoughts of interests that led to the co-creation of an engaged academic learning experience. To create a learning environment that truly encourages student learning, general assumptions about the students’ interests and culture can not be prescribed to them. However, it is the responsibility of the educator to create a venue in which ideas and cultural perspectives can be exchanged. My tutoring sessions are structured to focus on my students’ learning and less about my teaching. Learning, as I believe it, is not selective and limited to the classroom but can be applied and practiced in life. I attempted to give Jerome’s learning a social dimension and it continues to be a (successful) work in progress.
In conclusion, in order for an academic classroom to engage and include student’s cultural experiences these suggestions below invites an atmosphere for student and teacher learning.
1.Understand how the student(s) defines engagement.
2.Know what your role is as a tutor, defined by you and your student.
3.Know the demographics of your student, the schools they attend, and the neighborhoods they live in. This knowledge should be used to set context and understanding and not used to place judgments on the student(s).
4.The classroom is a cultural context where the cultures of students and teachers mesh. The collaboration of teacher and student is needed to generate an academically engaged learning experience.
5.The tutor should work within a framework. Create and allow the space for student directed learning, but do not expect the student to scaffold the structure.
6.Ask questions that promote the inclusiveness of the student’s personal interests in the classroom.
7.Recognize that you are learning too. The tutor is not an outsider but an active contributor to the student’s learning. Learn from your students as they learn from you.
8.Know that engaging students is a challenging task. Conversations with your students will serve to be more effective in incorporating student’s cultural experiences and understanding the classroom.
*Names have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the individual(s) involved.
Connolly, Paul. “Writing and the Ecology of Learning.” In Paul Connolly and Teresa Vilardi’s Writing to Learn Math and Science. New York: Teachers College Hand. 1989
Frank, Carolyn. Ethnographic Eyes: A Teacher’s Guide to Classroom Observation. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann. 1999
|Adult Learners: The Promises of Voluntary Educatio|
Name: Amie Clair
Date: 2005-04-25 14:42:43
Link to this Comment: 14849
The Promises of Voluntary Education
Adults, in the legal sense, are people who have lived eighteen years. They are not required by law to attend school. However, adults do not stop learning once they leave school anymore than they started when they entered it. This handbook chapter is written for adults learners who are serving in the capacity of an extra-classroom teacher for other adult learners. Since learning, even in formal settings, is not automatic, it is useful to think of the reasons that adults intentionally learn. The reasons that adults engage in learning impact what and how they learn. In order to effectively teach in a student-centered and empowering way an extra-classroom teacher must understand the motivations and goals of the learner. I will first look at a list of reasons that adults learn and then examine the implications of this for extra-classroom practice.
1. To learn a specific skill.
examples: software use, home repair, resume writing, language proficiency
2. For entertainment or personal edification.
examples: guided tours of historic sites, museums, zoos, book signings
3. To maintain certification in a field
examples: Certified Public Accountant, Teaching License, Medical Practitioner License
4. To obtain a degree or admittance into a degree program, pass a test.
examples: Associates, Bachelors, Masters degree, GED, MCAT, GRE tests
5. To be regarded as a moral and/or powerful person.
6. To discern a vocation, gifts, or, skills.
These reasons are not separate, but overlap and intertwine in any given situation. In my experience all of these reasons can co-exist in one group of people ostensibly learning the same exact subject. I listed these reasons separately because they each carry expectations with them in an education setting. It is important for teachers to be aware of the expectations their students have of them. This is necessary if learning is to be inquiry based. A teacher must actively solicit the questions and needs of the students in order for those questions to be the basis of learning. It is not necessary, however, for a teacher to try to fulfill these expectations to the letter. The contract with the student is that they will learn, not that their experience will be conducted in the way they expect it to happen. The relationship between teacher and student needs to be reflexive, where both learners understand the other’s expectations.
Learning is not only gaining new information, but is primarily organizing that information into a hierarchy of importance. This is what the National Resource Council describes as expertise in How People Learn. Learners with a certain objective in mind will rank information that seems to support their objective as more important. A visitor with an interest in architecture touring Independence Hall will ask different questions than another visitor interested in paintings. Similarly, an undergraduate student planning to apply to graduate school may study towards getting high grades on a test, while neglecting to internalize the course material. (Elby, Another Reasons Physics Students Learn by Rote, Am. J. Phys. Suppl. 67).
The good news in this is that no lesson plan has to teach directly and specifically to each individual’s interests. Each student is going to draw out what they’re interested in from the breadth of knowledge available to them in a learning situation. The tour guide in the example above could give the same tour to two people with very different interests. Additionally, the tourists benefit from each others’ questions which they may find interesting though they hadn’t thought of them themselves. As an extra-classroom teacher I have found myself being both tour guide and fellow tourist. I have had to prepare myself well enough on a given topic to be ready for a variety of questions that I can either give answers to or suggest ways of finding answers. I prepare myself by thinking of my own questions and trying to anticipate questions that my students might ask. At the same time, it is the privilege of an extra-classroom teacher to be a tourist along with the students. This is because they have more opportunities to build relationships with individual students and are closer to the students level in the authority structure of a classroom. When I evaluate students work I try as much as possible to remember that I am a fellow tourist and make suggestions of further questions or perspectives the student might use. This turns evaluation from being just about right and wrong answers and towards a constructive framework of how to improve.
All learners build on what they already know. Some adult learners even have expertise in the field they are studying, and often the reasons for learning more about something come from some prior knowledge. For example, I met a student who had worked in Finance and was now preparing for Medical School to be a Physician. He brought with him not only Statistical Math skills but also a perspective that what he learned was not only for himself, but was so he could help others more effectively. The knowledge an adult learner brings into learning needs to be acknowledged not only as a starting point for further learning, but in a way that shows respect for what the learner has accomplished already. It is this previous knowledge a learner brings with her that blurs the roles of teacher and student, especially among adults. Adults all have varying areas of expertise and experience that place them alternatively in the role of a teacher and student. The extra-classroom teacher should be especially aware of her double-role of both teacher and student because mentoring and tutoring brings both adult learners together in a close relationship that allows them to each share their expertise more readily than in a classroom setting.
Most of the students I have taught as an extra-classroom teacher have been older than I. Questions are often raised in my mind and theirs to my authority as a teacher. An understanding that we are both there to learn from each other has helped me build the necessary confidence and humility to teach students older than myself. One of the students in my class was even my teacher officially in another class that I took. I found it easier to work with her than with some other students because both of us had an understanding that our roles were impermanent and interchangeable.
For others who may encounter similar questions of authority and expectations, I would like to suggest some methods I have used in my own extra-classroom teaching.
Ask more questions than you make declarative statements. Consciously monitor your own language as you converse with students and note how many times you make questions, give direction, or share information. Try to make the number of questions you ask greater than any other kind of communication. After awhile you will become more comfortable with asking questions and will not need to count.
Ask questions about the learner, what they are learning, and their reactions to what they are learning. As you are asking questions, monitor what kinds of questions you are asking. Make sure that you get to know the people who are learning as well as what they are learning. This will help you “tease out” the expectations the learners have of you. This is best accomplished when you have an honest desire to get to know the other learners.
Ask yourself the same questions that you ask your students. Ask Why am I here?” What do I know about the subject or discipline being learned? What do I dislike about it? What excites me about it? What do I want to learn more about? It would be useful to write these questions and their answers down. This will help you be more effective as a fellow tourist because you will have in mind the questions that you want answered and will communicate an enthusiasm for your own learning. Practice communicating your own thoughts when you interact with students. Ask them to help you answer questions you have or share how your discoveries have changed how you think about the world.
Encourage collaboration. If you are working with more than one person, encourage them to collaborate. This can be done simply by redirecting questions aimed at you towards another person. This can be as simple as saying “That’s a good question, talk about that with your partner.” When someone seems to understand something well, encourage them to share their knowledge. This will give more authority to the students themselves with regards to their own learning and they will be less dependent on you being the authority figure. (See the section on facilitation)
Be firm about any rules you are expected to enforce. You lose any authority that you need in order to maintain safety and a respectful environment if you try to bend rules to gain favor with students. Know what the rules are and the reasoning behind them.
Model collaboration with other instructors/teachers and other extra-classroom teachers. As an extra-classroom teacher you are a bridge between two communities of collaboration; the students, and the teachers. Communicate regularly with any other instructors about questions, problems, and successes that you have. The way you interact with other teachers sets the tone for how you will interact with the students. (See the section on c
|____=spaces (didn't work again)|
Date: 2005-04-25 17:04:21
Link to this Comment: 14853
Teaching is SO Much More Than: _______________________________________
Lesson Plans and Getting it Right__________________________________________
The Complicated Reality of Emotions, Identity, and Emergent Learning
In the classrooms that I am in as an extra-classroom teacher, the only thing I can say for sure is that I come away with more questions than answers. Things come up in the classroom that can not be expected, and as a teacher I respond the best way I know how. Students will often bring up issues which, if I took it and ran, I could not adequately address if I had an entire year with them. More importantly, I do not have the answer; there is no “right” way to respond. Often these things that come up leave me doubting my ability to connect with the students, and therefore my ability to offer them material that relates to their realities. But, while it is important for me to acknowledge the limitations of my knowledge and influence, it is imperative that I take the opportunity the students offer and engage in a dialogue which we can all genuinely learn from. This takes openness, honesty, and patience. For future extra-classroom teachers, I can offer a taste of these experiences and the questions that arose from them.
I teach in two different English classes, one ninth grade and one combined 10th to 12th grade special education class. In the ninth grade I co-teach with three other college students, and we divide the class of over 30 students into 4 groups to work with them on lesson plans we devise on literacy and language choice. The special education classroom was a placement I had not planned on being as intensive as it is, but the first day I went to observe the classroom teacher told me that I could teach her class on Wednesday mornings. Although I have observed and interacted at various levels in numerous classrooms, this is the first time I have regularly taught a class from my own lesson plan.
“He’s a fag!”
The first time that I taught the special education class, I brought in a mini-chapter from “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” for them to read. The book is a memoir by a man who became quadriplegic after having a stroke, leaving him with the little more than ability to blink his left eye, which he did to communicate and to write his book. At one point in the chapter, he looks at his son who is visiting him in the hospital, and describes his sorrow and mourning over his lost ability to touch his son. After reading this, one of the students laughed and said, “He’s a fag!”
What is the right thing to say/do in this situation? Of course I am offended, and have a negative gut reaction to his suggestion. My impulse is to reprimand him, to tell him not to use that offensive word. However, the truth is that he has provided an opportunity for learning for the entire class. While my bringing up “gay issues” or “sexuality” may have come across as inappropriate or irrelevant in the eyes of the students or other teachers, he provided me with a golden opportunity to address an issue in a way that is relevant to their lives.
What I did do was basically to bring the topic back to the story. He obviously missed the point. The dad is not gay: he just misses touching his son. How could I have brought this topic into relevancy without taking it out of context, in a way that the students could feel unthreatened so that they could challenge their perceptions? Moreover, how can I distance myself enough from this issue so that the students don’t feel attacked, while staying true to my commitment to equality for GLBT people in the school and the world? How real/personal can I be with the students? Is addressing the issue straight-on too controversial to be useful? And, if I do “open the bag” to talking about the issue straight-on, how do I deal with the situation if it becomes overwhelmingly negative and I am the only one offering a gay-friendly opinion?
Beyond, or perhaps underlying, the issue of homophobia is the issue of male affection. Obviously the fatherly affection expressed in the narrative was so unsettling or unacceptable or abnormal for the student that he had to distance himself from it. When one student did offer a more sympathetic opinion, he had to qualify that his gay friend was a girl “because,” as he said, “if a gay guy tried to talk to me, that would be unacceptable.”
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. There is obviously no one right answer, and I can’t erase homophobia or machismo within my classroom single-handedly, even if I worked at it all semester. But I can take the opportunity to challenge assumptions the best I know how.
Question: How will you use potentially problematic or offensive subjects in the classroom and turn them into an opportunity for learning?
“Oh-sorry! Caucasian people.”
In one of the first classes I taught in the 9th grade classroom, the students read an excerpt from the article, “Nobody Mean More to Me Than You and the Future Life of Willie Jordan,” which addressed through a true story “Black English” versus “Standard English,” and the power dynamics implicit in society’s use of language. After trying to engage the students, all of whom are African American (and I am a white woman), in a discussion about the article, one student said “It’s about black and white people.” Then she looked at me sheepishly and said, “Oh-Sorry. Caucasian people.”
I made some kind of gesture to communicate that the term “white people” is fine by me, but it caught me off guard and I don’t know if I did a good job of making it a safe space, a space where they felt they could bring up race issues in front of me. How can I constructively address such an important issue which affects our lives and our world, while acknowledging my identity as a member of a historically oppressive group? How can I acknowledge my identity without making our differences seem insurmountable?
Question: How will you bring up issues of race (and acknowledge them where they exist) in a way that addresses the students’ realities and identities, while maintaining a safe space where the students can feel safe to question social inequality and their own perceptions? How will you be an anti-racist role model for students?
“What God do you serve?”
Last week in the 9th grade English class, I brought in a piece of artwork by Barbara Kruger. She wrote many questions on top of an American flag, some of which were: Who is housed? Who is beyond the law? Who speaks? Who is silenced? Who prays loudest? Who dies first? Who laughs last? I asked them why they thought she wrote those questions on top of an American flag, and then what they thought about the questions. Only three students were there, so it was a small group discussion. When we discussed the question, “Who prays loudest?” one girl said that in times of slavery, the slaves prayed the loudest. After the discussion fizzled a little, she asked me if she could ask me a question. Then she asked me, “What God do you serve?” I was suddenly put on the spot, about something which I had no preparation. I was so shocked that I looked around, almost looking for someone to intervene or thinking of something to say without quite answering her question. But no one was there to mediate except me, and I could not think of anything diplomatic to say. I said a bunch of “um-s” and then said, honestly, “I don’t know.” They proceeded to talk about different religions, about “agnostics” and “atheists.” And the student who asked me what God I serve was crossing the line of being preachy, saying, “I pray to the God in heaven, whereas other people pray to other Gods.” And when another student asked how she knew her God was right, she said that her God made things happen faster than if you were to pray to another God. Then another student asked her how she knew: had she tried? She suggested doing an experiment where for a year she would pray to a different God, and see how fast things happened.
I was enjoying this conversation, and was very glad that they were discussing things that were obviously relevant to their everyday lives, and also rich with context and consequence. But, I did not know how to mediate the conversation productively. I let the conversation run pretty freely, except for jumping in to tell them that some people believe in more than one God. When the student became more “preachy,” I told them, as respectfully as I could, that there is no “right” belief, that we have to respect everyone’s beliefs, and then I told them the reason that “I don’t know” is because religion has caused a lot of violence and wars when people think that only they are right. The students seemed to understand this, and began to talk about war. I did not want to make this student question her faith. But, in an effort to maintain a space where all beliefs were welcome, I discouraged her from “teaching” the other students what she “knows,” and perhaps left her more unsure of her opinions.
This conversation was not what I had planned. Although completely unexpected and unplanned for, it was both relevant and worthwhile. This is a teaching moment which I am sure happens often. How can I take the important experiences and perspectives of the students seriously, and encourage them to relate personally with texts, while maintaining a balance of subjects and opinions in the classroom so as to not silence anyone’s opinions? And, how much should I bring in my own beliefs and opinions?
Question: How will you allow space for students to express themselves, including their beliefs, while maintaining safe space for different ways of living?
As a student-teacher, who feels unsure about myself in front of a classroom, it is hard to be confident when things come up which threaten a sense of control. Not having a plan, and not even knowing where a conversation should be going, is scary. It is often my gut reaction to stop these interruptions right after they happen. But my advice would be to pay attention to them. A student’s comments and questions, even those offensive to us, can be revealing both of the student’s understanding and experiences. By listening to what the student is telling us about herself, and reflecting on our response, student teachers can share a learning with the students that is relevant to their worlds.
|working with classroom teachers|
Date: 2005-04-26 01:04:59
Link to this Comment: 14869
April 6, 2005
Building relationships with, and learning from, classroom teachers.
These suggestions are drawn from my various experiences student-teaching in urban classrooms. Happily, over the course of four years, I have had the opportunity to become a (temporary) member of four different high school classrooms, both on my own and as a coordinator for a team of other student-teachers. Looking back, I find that each year I have become progressively more able to appreciate and learn from the teachers in whose classrooms I was placed. Some of this progress has to do with the accumulation of experience – the more we do things (such as entering and blending into a classroom), the easier they become. Another part of it has to do, I think, with my growing confidence in my teaching skills. I am more likely now to expect that the classroom teacher I work with will respect me, something I was very unsure of my first time in a class. Because of this confidence I am more able to speak honestly with my classroom teacher about challenges that I face in their classroom, including difficulties in our relationship. Finally, I think the biggest shift in my ability to learn from my placements came out of something that a classroom teacher said to me in a moment in which I was questioning the value of my accumulated experiences and my teaching skills. Noticing my dejected expression after class one day, the teacher asked me what was wrong. When I told him that I was depressed because many days I didn’t feel like I was getting any better at teaching, he said simply, “No one’s a professional at this. You just do what you can and try to keep learning.” In this handbook entry I suggest five tactics that I have found best help me to do my best and to keep learning. I hope you will find them helpful…
the right attitude
It often seems like everyone is looking for someone to blame for the failures of urban schools. We hear in our education classes, read in the newspapers, and see on TV the awful conditions and the looming presence of a substantial achievement gap between white students and students of color and also urban/rural students and suburban students. This atmosphere makes it seem normal to go into a placement at a school looking for what’s going wrong. Personal experience often makes us turn a critical eye to specific aspects of our students’ lives. We compare their failures to our successes and seek the culprits who are perpetuating that difference. Some people blame parents, some blame entire communities, many blame the school system, the principals, or teachers, still others blame President Bush, or even modern society. However, although all these factors may significantly affect a student’s education, because the majority of our interaction is with the classroom teacher, it is often easy to point to that teacher’s practices as the source of student failure.
You may not agree with every philosophy or classroom policy your teacher espouses. Nor is it likely that you will agree with every word he/she says. In some classrooms you might even want to plug your ears. However, pushing beyond those differences to see your teacher’s best practices and successes will ultimately be incredibly useful to you both as an extra-classroom teacher and a future educator.
It is vitally important when beginning a placement at any school/classroom to go in with the “right” attitude. Often I find that student-teachers enter a classroom with the idea that they are going to “save” the students. Both student-teachers with traditionalist attitudes and student-teachers with progressive attitudes often enter a classroom through what Linda Powell calls “a discourse of deficit”. Essentially, many student-teachers see only what they can impart to a classroom rather than looking for what that classroom – its students and its teacher – can teach them.
In many ways, there is no better resource for learning about teaching and yourself as a teacher than a position as an extra-classroom teacher/student-teacher. There is a vast amount to be learned from simply being in a classroom and absorbing how that environment functions. Remembering this fact when you enter a placement will help you to observe the many positive aspects of any classroom. Even attitudes and practices you initially see as negative will eventually help you to hone your own beliefs and ideals.
Communicating with your classroom teacher regularly and efficiently is a necessary part of any classroom placement. Logistical questions such as when you should be there, which students you will be working with, what activities the teacher expects you to complete, what to wear, and many other small, but extremely important details should all be dealt with before entering a classroom. It is also important that you and your classroom teacher create a space for discussion within the semester in which you can check-in with each other about how the experience is working/could work better and (re)visit any unresolved issues of classroom management, practice, or vision. It is important that the guidelines for your communication with your classroom teacher be established at the beginning of your relationship. What works best - e-mail, cell phone, message at the main office? Where and how can the teacher contact you? When – at what time and it what situations - is it appropriate for you to contact the teacher?
It can also be extremely valuable to get to know your classroom teacher outside of the restricted context of the class you are working in. This can take place in the form of casual conversation or a more formal interview. Often these conversations will give you powerful insights into the motives behind the teacher’s teaching style/practices and also help you to think about your personal trajectory in the field of education. One of my team’s most rewarding experiences in their placement was learning about their classroom teacher’s professional history in the course of several interviews. Although working with Mr. Wilson had occasionally been a somewhat difficult experience for the student-teachers who were uncomfortable with his sometimes cynical attitude towards his students, learning about the personal depths of his commitment to his students and to education vastly shifted their opinion of him and their experience in his classroom.
Take the initiative to establish communication with your classroom teacher along both of these lines. Teachers have a billion things to remember and do each day; by being proactive in your communication with your classroom teacher you keep your presence in the classroom from becoming an extra burden. Keep in mind as well, that many teachers have not worked with an extra-classroom teacher before, or they may have worked with an education student from a different class or program than your own. Being honest and forthcoming about yourself and your needs – both personal and academic – will help your teacher get to know you and to assist you in becoming part of the class more smoothly.
asking for advice
Since many of us enter classroom placements as part of an education class, we often have a wealth of opportunities to reflect on questions about practice and theory within our college class’s curriculum. Many times it is more natural to work through problems and challenges with the professor of the class or in group problem-solving sessions with our peers. Because of this we often forget to recognize the classroom teacher as an incredibly well-informed resource. So often student-teachers (myself included) return from their placement and work in their college classes to resolve issues of practice. What do I do with the student in my group who isn’t participating? who doesn’t speak English? who won’t share? Even if the classroom teacher you are working with holds policies and practices very different from your own vision of education there are very few other people, besides the student him/herself, that can give you as much information on a student’s history, learning styles, abilities, and struggles than the classroom teacher who sees that student week after week and watches them read, write, and perform in school.
Even the most unpalatable of situations, where a classroom teacher responds to your inquiries with a comment such as, “He’s just a stupid kid…stupid and lazy,” can give you insight into the student’s social and academic barriers – even if that insight is that the student probably struggles to perform in that teacher’s classroom because of the teacher’s negativity. However, in my experience, these sort of awful situations are extremely rare – first, because most teachers are incredibly compassionate towards their students (why else would they stay in their profession?) and second, because teachers who welcome student-teachers into their classrooms generally have a more tempered understanding of their students’ struggles.
Mr. Wilson opened the folder I gave him containing the syllabi of each of his student-teachers’ classes and a letter of introduction from each of their professors. He read out loud the salutation written at the top of the enclosed letter. “Dear fellow educator”. “That’s nice, I like that,” he said, smiling. It seems like many teachers are often hungry for the type of intellectual inquiry into the theory and practice of education that they experienced either when in school themselves or see underlying their own classrooms. Having education students in their classroom often reawakens or stokes these interests. Considering your classroom teacher a “fellow educator” along with you and your professor and even, perhaps, all people working towards a better future for education is a powerful show of respect to your classroom teacher and a useful resource for you.
In her book, Reading Families: The Literate Lives of Urban Children, Catherine Compton-Lilly writes of her own research into the home literacy experiences of her students and the shattering of her assumptions about urban families. Compton-Lilly found that, contrary to common belief, in every home she visited parents had collected books for their children, constantly took part in learning activities such as reading to their child before bed or simply watching only educational television, and were highly committed to and interested in their children’s educations. In her essay, Compton-Lilly identifies a distinct need to change public perception of urban parents and also the need to honor and accept them as informed co-educators of their children. Reading Families reminds us to examine the assumptions we hold about education and failure in this country and also to see education as a social process, which takes effort and commitment from all elements of a child’s life. There is much to be gained from moving past blame to accept and respect a child’s parents, fellow community members, and teachers as “fellow educators”.
As student-teachers/extra-classroom teachers, we often have the opportunity to bring diverse materials into the classroom and try out a variety of (progressive) teaching techniques. It is important to share these ideas and materials with your classroom teacher. Fettered by standardized testing and scripted curricula, many teachers welcome student-teachers into their classroom to provide their students with material and learning experiences that are severely limited in today’s public school classrooms. Many teachers who would include “extraneous” poetry, music, and artistic projects in their classrooms often worry that they don’t have time to find appropriate and interesting materials for their students or are “out of touch” with kids today. Sharing your excitement for a writing/reading lesson taught entirely with hip-hop lyrics or a poetry writing project elicited by a Van Gogh painting with your classroom teacher will often become a meaningful trading of ideas between the two of you. Taking the initiative to share with your teacher your own ideas and educational practices will also give you a greater sense of agency in affecting the broader “system” of education.
Working with a classroom teacher in any school can and should be a powerful and useful experience for anyone interested in education. Some ways that I have found to insure that a placement experience is as meaningful and positive for me as possible are to enter the classroom with an open attitude, communicate with my classroom teacher, and build a relationship with him or her by asking for advice and considering him/her both a fellow educator and a co-learner. However, on any given day and in any given placement it is incredibly hard to remember to follow each of these guidelines that I have set for myself. Working in a classroom, whether you are there one day a week or everyday, is an often overwhelming and confusing experience. Yet, each time I visit, I find I can take one more small step towards functioning as the type of student-teacher I know I could be and towards taking every opportunity for furthering my education that I have available to me. As a student of education I know that the learning and acquisition of knowledge is a slow and complex process that demands that I keep my ears and eyes open, be patient, and have hope. As a student-teacher who is learning and acquiring the knowledge and skills to be a teacher, I know I must demand the same of myself.
Name: sky stegal
Date: 2005-04-28 12:48:56
Link to this Comment: 14933
(Formerly) Traditional Students in the Revolutionary System
- An Introduction to the Questions
Every revolutionary encounters resistance - it is part of what makes us revolutionaries. When one engages in a nontraditional pedagogy, especially in an extra-classroom setting, one becomes a revoluntionary kind of teacher and learner. The use of a new and different system in a learning environment can provoke deeper understanding, more interest in material, and a more substantial involvement on the students' part. Unfortunately, it may also provoke fear, distrust, and resistance. In the case of the extra-classroom teacher the resistance can come from every direction, including the students. This may prove to be the biggest obstacle in creating and sustaining emergent, progressive, creative and yes, revolutionary learning environments. How does one convince a group of students who have been raised with and indoctrinated in a traditionally structured education system that an emergent or just an unusual system is legitimate? How do we, as extra-classroom teachers especially, redefine education to include and embrace situations which are far from the comfortable, traditional, teacher-oriented structures students may be used to?
As with any educational idea, the students must buy into the concept for it to work; however in the case of an emergent system this issue is magnified. Since the system requires more engagement and work form the students than the traditional pour-knowledge-into-the-vessel approach, the students must be engaged in making the new system work. They have to become part of the revolution, as it were. But how do we actually do that? How do we help empower and literally encourage our students to take the bold steps away from the comfortable pedagogy of “‘Horace’s Compromise’ - don’t ask too much of me and I won’t hassle you!” (Connolly, 4) and towards our goals?
- A Few Examples
When Paul Grobstein set up his introductory biology class to follow an emergent and unusual pedagogical pattern, he expected a rebellion, or some kind of big reaction to the revolutionary steps he’d taken in changing his course. He didn’t get that kind of reaction - in fact the class got along rather well, considering how different it was from the traditional intro science courses his students had no doubt taken in high school. He explains it thus: “Students, as always, are quite wiling to follow the lead of teachers, so long as the teachers send clear and nonconflicting messages about what the educational experience is about” (Grobstein, 3).
I didn’t really understand what he meant until I spoke with Victor Donnay of our math department. He talked about making math classrooms into nontraditional learning environments and how hard that had been. He said specifically that in his case, an ounce of prevention had been worth more than a pound of cure, and that students did fine in an unusual classroom so long as they knew from the outset what they were doing and, perhaps more importantly, why they were doing it that way. Students need to know and understand the revolution they are being invited to take part in, and it surely helps to explain where these strange ideas have come from, and what they mean. Professor Donnay mentioned telling his students that “studies have shown” or that “research indicates” that the type of system he was using was more effective for learning, comprehension, and long-term retention of material. As long as the students understand the motivation behind what may seem like strange decisions, they are much more likely to engage themselves.
- A Case Study
In my placement, in which the students are all college or post-college level students, we are faced with the very real challenge of legitimizing a system which frequently seems strange and perhaps pointless to the learners. Our lab is not graded, although lab notebooks are read and commented upon, and there is no take-home work in the form of a prelab or postlab assignment. The students themselves are constantly encouraged to design or redesign the experiments they are doing - one reason we have no formal grading or take-home work is that we are trying to get students to create their own lab, to make it a living, emergent experience. This can be frightening - a student at this level is generally unused to seeing unfamiliar apparatus and equiptment and figuring out how to explore his or her creativity with it. It is a revoluntionary idea, it seems, to ask a student to think for his or herself in an intro lab. Many of the traditional aspects of lab have been thrown out the window, so to speak, and the students were informed of this on the first day. While few of them expressed particular concern at that time, many students have come to me and to the instructor since then with criticisms of the structure and lack of grading policy in the lab. Many of our students are post-baccalaureates attempting to enter medical school, and several of them have expressed the opinion that three hours a week spent in a lab that does not technically affect their grade is a misuse of their time. Some students have also stated they feel they are not learning in lab, because of the lack of structure and follow-up assignments.
Once I noticed that this was a recurring problem, I began questioning students about their thoughts and feelings towards the lab, and what they thought could be done better. I observed that generally the students who complained that the lab was not graded were the same students who got extremely anxious around exams in all their classes, and who often placed greater emphasis on securing good grades and a “good” medical school placement than on understanding and being able to use and remember the conceptual material. On the other hand, I also questioned students who had never seemed worried that the lab was not graded, and their responses were overwhelmingly positive about it; they said it took off the pressure of performance and allowed them to explore wherever their curiosity led. These students also rarely seemed to worry about their classes - and indeed, one of them has already been accepted to the medical program of his choice.
What I found to be important was to understand the attitude of the students, individually and as a group. My students respond to our system better when they have a more relaxed view of their work in the college, and when they are more confident about their classroom grades. When I realized that, I offered to tutor some of the more stressed-out students. On the occasions when they have taken me up on this offer, I have had the opportunity to get to know them, to help them with their work, to ask them about their classes and labs, and to literally encourage them in the discipline - a student who feels more prepared for the test is going to look more kindly and with more enthusiasm at the laboratory system because he or she is less focused on the grade. I also try to take every opportunity in lab to discuss what aspects of the experiment relate to the class work, and especially how understanding the concepts will be helpful to them in their future classes and careers. Engaging a student in a discussion about digital logic has, on several occasions, led to conversation about how technological systems parallel the design of the human body, and the color perception lab often ends up with a debate about the human eye and brain, and why they work the way they do. Finding what makes my students sit up and get interested is a huge part of my job as a facilitator, and a joy in itself as well.
- A Few Good Ideas
While there is no way to accurately predict how a group of students will react to a new, unusual, emergent, revolutionary pedagogy, there are some reliable ways to legitimize the system in the minds of your students. Especially important in required extra-classroom settings like a lab or T.A. session, legitimacy can mean the difference between struggling through a painful year of complaints and students who refuse to try to learn, and a year of hard work through the brilliant journey of understanding. This is not easy, by any means - no revolution ever is. But it is also not as hard as it may sound, because there are well-tried methods to smoothing the pathway:
• Explain, without condescension, what you are doing differently, and why. Your students probably more invested in their education than you are, and will often respond well to being involved in the pedagogical process. The trick is to do it as early as possible; not to let your students’ expectations outgrow your ability to change them.
* Make sure your students understand particularly that you are trying to create a good environment for them, and that you are willing to be flexible and make compromises to ease the transition from traditional to revolutionary. You needn't hold their hands, so to speak, but do make the change as smooth as possible. Also check on yourself, and be careful not to judge your students, especially in the early stages. A student who seems confused and unhappy may end up being your system's biggest fan in the end; you must remember to start gently.
• Get to know your students’ needs and motivations. Try not to assume you know what a student will be interested in based on his or her major or apparent future plans - some of the best lab experiences I have had with premed students did not involved medicine at all. Talk to your students informally, and get to know them as people and as learners.
* Remember relevance - once you know your students, look for connections between material (especially difficult material) that you study and the daily or professional lives of your students. Not only is relevant information more interesting, it is often easier to remember.
• Offer to accommodate some of their expectations and/or needs. I help my students with their homework and answer questions that relate to quizzes and class work as much as to lab. They respect me more for it, because I clearly care about their priorities in learning, not just mine in teaching.
Is it a lot of work to engage students in a revolutionary system? Definitely. Is it worthwhile? I say, even more definitely. Research has shown that some pedagogies encourage more and deeper learning, and while taking bold steps away from less helpful, traditional systems is difficult and scary, the end result is exceptionally worthwhile.
Name: MaryBeth C
Date: 2005-05-04 08:05:42
Link to this Comment: 15032
Several educational theorists have written on the importance of classroom observation in the instruction and engagement of students. All of these theories operate under the supposition that effective teaching involves a synthesis of social, emotional and academic growth, as well as the recognition of these factors in the creation of a classroom culture and learning space. In Carolyn Frank’s Ethnographic Eyes, several student teachers engage in a system of ethnographic observation in their classrooms, a method that is apparent both inside and outside of their respective classrooms. This method, though insightful in many respects, can be somewhat short-sighted in scope and lacking in consideration of the realities of teaching, both in the classroom and extra-classroom setting.
THE TENETS OF ETHNOGRAPHIC VISION
Ethnography, put briefly, consists of a series of specialized observations of learner and their actions in the classroom environment. Frank’s work, however, encourages a broader interpretation of this system of observation, in that her student teacher researchers also engage in the personal lives of students in their homes and neighborhood cultures. One of the key goals of this approach is to make these observations free from judgment, assumption or preemptive conclusion, as well as incorporating these understandings of learner/group/classroom dynamics into an active and personal engagement with the students. That is to say, it serves to allow teachers to become familiar with previously unfamiliar environments and to foster a personal rapport with the individual students. Such ethnographic practice can also familiarize the teacher with individual characteristics of the region, school and learner, thus better enabling them to individualize the curriculum.
In Carolyn Frank’s perception, ethnographic observation can include such activities as “notetaking/notemaking” and others that place ethnographic observation against the natural and often unconscious assumptions that are drawn from them. In a notetaking/notemaking exercise, an observer takes notes as objectively as possible of the students, their interaction, their environment and the like. Only after making such ethnographic observations can they extrapolate from these particular assumptions and suppositions based on that information. Like this exercise, the use of ethnography forces the observer to become aware of their assumptions and regard them as separate from their initial observations.
NOTETAKING/NOTEMAKING IN PRACTICE
the teacher is instructing on the multiplication of fractions the teacher is instructing the multiplication of fractions in a lecture-like fashion
several students are doing other things while the teacher is instructing several students are distracted or have lost interest in the material – is this due to the teacher’s instruction style?
almost half of the students in the class have failed the math test many of the students who failed the test were among those who were not attentive during the lesson, but not all – was the instruction sufficient in preparing the students for the test?
many of the failed tests show a sufficient understanding of the material many of the answers on the failed tests are correct with little or no error – what accounts for the failing score? were the directions unclear? were the students given enough time? I do not believe that the instruction was sufficient preparation for the test and much of this is not due to laziness on the students part.
This is a very simple example of how to separate actual observations from the assumptions that unconsciously follow. These assumptions, however, can be tremendously damaging in the teacher/observer’s understanding of the classroom and neglect the true needs of the students. In this example, the teacher (not the observer) may observe the non-attentive students and the failing test scores and immediately extrapolate that the test failures were due to their laziness and distraction during the lesson. While this may be true, the teacher must divorce their “kneejerk” response and instead consider other observations that may have been disregarded in the construction of this conclusion. Who were the students who were and were not attentive? Were these the same students who failed the test? In what ways did they fail the test? Were there patterns of error among the students’ tests? How effective, then, was the lesson? What were the students’ reasons for not being attentive? These are all questions that the observer in the notetaking/notemaking example begin to tackle.
Similarly, and in a much larger scope, teachers often “observe” the neighborhood of their school, the socio-economic background of its students and perhaps other factors, such as the school’s reputation, racial makeup, and the like in their notetaking. Often, teachers make particular assumptions based on this information that are also a tremendous disservice to their students. In practice, for example, many teachers have observed that their school is in an urban-setting, and conclude from this the unrelated leap that there will be a significant problem with discipline. This is clearly a dangerous over-simplification that will potentially affect the teacher’s effectiveness later.
Case Study: Warren and Tevin’s Grades
In Mr. Smith’s fifth grade class, there are two students that stand out as consistently under-achieving. There seem to be obvious reasons for Mr. Smith’s lack of success with these two students, but Mr. Smith has yet to notice or address these problems. In Warren’s case, he is tremendously easily distracted and has trouble focusing on a task for more than a few minutes, something that is more than typical of a pre-adolescent mind. Mr. Smith, however, makes no attempt to maintain Warren’s focus. On a recent test, however, Warren would get entire sections of the test completely correct, without a single error, showing a great understanding of the material and an attention to detail that was largely unequaled even among Mr. Smith’s favorite students. Some other sections, however, would be marked completely incorrect, due to a misunderstanding of the directions, or they were left completely blank. Rather than noting that Warren had clearly mastered the material, Mr. Smith failed this test, because it was incomplete and had mistaken some of the directions. Tevin, on the other hand, has several disciplinary problems, in Mr. Smith’s view. Tevin is regularly sent to the Accomodation Room, a resource room used primarily for students who have been removed from the classroom for disciplinary reasons. Tevin, then, misses as much as half of the instruction that occurs in Mr. Smith’s class. Clearly this is the reason for many of his low grades. On one particular quiz, however, Tevin was the only student in the entire class to receive a 100%. I informed this to Mr. Smith and he immediately quipped, “Well, I often have the answer key on my desk, I should look into that.” The quiz, however, was for sentence answers, thus the key did not give answers, as each student’s would vary. Not only are there significant problems in the attention that Warren and Tevin are receiving, but the teacher even lacks faith in their abilities. This is an example of an unwarranted conclusion that hampers the students success, and that could be easily understood and addressed with individualized inquiry.
HOW ETHNOGRAPHY IS USEFUL IN THE EXTRA-CLASSROOM CONTEXT
In many ways, ethnography is inherently separate from the classroom culture, in that it requires that the observer “step back” from the shared culture and consider it in its holistic form. It is also essential that the teacher occasionally disengage from the typical teacherlearner one-way transmission of information that is traditionally essential to schooling. Instead, the teacher must also become a learner, gathering information from his or her student, both spoken and unspoken, and synthesize this interaction into a better individual understanding and a personal rapport.
This paradigm raises the initial importance of the seemingly paradoxical notion of “ethnographic bifocals”. In Carolyn Frank’s ideal sense, the teacher can at moments become an almost pure ethnographer, a quite problematic assumption. With ethnographic bifocals, the teacher is, instead, engaged in an ethnographic discourse of observation and culture-analysis while still recognizing his or her placement within the culture. In this way, the teacher sets his or herself apart, if only for a moment, while still being aware of his or her influence in the form of presence and role in the culture of the classroom.
In a second understanding of the “bifocal” metaphor, it is both naïve and problematic to assume that the results of ethnographic inquiry will be entirely helpful, productive and positive. Frank’s book includes a description of a series of home visits conducted by the researchers. The researchers were teaching in a population largely composed of first-generation and immigrant students of Mexican and Latin American descent. The researchers were, in large part, well received in the homes of their students and found a great deal of cultural awareness and enrichment in their home visits. This is not and cannot always be the case. The observations of teachers will not be entirely positive, and thus, the teacher must retain and employ their sensitivities as a teacher and not an ethnographer in these instances. Ethnography can only take an educator so far.
Case Study: Mr. Smith’s Call Home
One particular student in Mr. Smith’s fifth grade class has made tremendous progress in the past few years. Mr. Smith’s class is in a Philadelphia public school, and Andrew has just transferred to this class from an alternative school for students with severe disciplinary problems. Andrew’s transition has been nothing short of miraculous. He is currently among the top grades in his class and has few disciplinary problems in school. On one particular day on the way out to recess, he was so anxious and excited that he would not stay still in the single file line. Later, after recess, he continuously hummed and sang during quiet reading time and rolled his eyes when he was asked to stop by Mr. Smith. That evening, Mr. Smith called Andrew’s mother and left a message and she promptly came to school the next day to pick him up from school and talk to Mr. Smith. As the teacher described what Andrew had done, Andrew’s mother became more and more upset and began yelling at Andrew. Mr. Smith did not relent as he saw Andrew’s mother’s temper and continued to tell her about seemingly minor infractions until she grabbed Andrew’s shirt, pulled him into her face and screamed at him until he started to cry. Despite the relatively minor nature of Andrew’s misbehavior, his mother exploded with anger, an experience that I, as an observer found disheartening and upsetting. Why would Mr. Smith continue to tell Andrew’s mother about such tiny problems when he saw the extent and potential of her anger, including threats about what she would do when they got home? In this ethnographic inquiry into the home life of a student, the observations were not positive, nor was the experience particularly helpful. This is the kind of naïveté in Frank’s notion of ethnography. In this case, Mr. Smith should have retained his sensitivities as a teacher and placed Andrew’s behavior in a rational context.
Carolyn Frank and her researchers are also interested in the role of ethnographic interviews in the classroom. Using a modified ethnographic interview, however, it seems that teachers and students can engage in a multi-faceted discourse that has several benefits, both for personal growth as well as a compliment to instruction and learning. The modified ethnographic interview can familiarize a teacher with a student on a personal and academic level, allowing him or her to identify social and learning difficulties and strengths, the diagnosis of which can contribute to the students’ success in the future. It is also important, then, that each student have a shared relationship with the teacher, as well as a unique one. The creation of these relationships is the most important function of ethnography.
In this way, ethnographic interviews are not only a means to an end (i.e. a means to a better understanding of the students social and academic status), but also an end, in and of themselves (creation of a rapport and a space for individual attention and two-way teacher↔learner inquiry and exchange). The very process of the interview is a learning tool, as well. The experience of completely individualized attention and a safe space for students to discuss their thoughts increases the effectiveness of the teacher’s methods. When the teacher is familiar with the student’s background and areas of strength and challenge, he or she can better adapt the planned curriculum to the individual needs of the students, as well as creating a comfortable space for learning. It is also key that these interviews gather information from the perspective of the student. Too often, teachers rely on the reports, grades and comments of other teachers and experts in place of actual engagement with the learner.
Case Study: Marcus’s Relationship with Mrs. Callahan
Marcus has a unique relationship with Mrs. Callahan. He often finishes his work early and likes to do helpful tasks in the classroom in his spare time. Often, when he finishes an assignment, he will go up to Mrs. Callahan’s desk and she will give him a stack of stapling, collating, or some other organizational task. He usually sits at the table next to her desk and informally chats with her while she finishes paperwork. Even though the short intervals of time are unrelated to the school work, Mrs. Callahan is building an important and lasting rapport with Marcus in short engagements of a few minutes each. In return, Marcus also feel special and essential to the classroom. Ideally, Mrs. Callahan can also have a unique relationship with each of the students, even if it is just this simple.
Ethnography, then, is a separate, but vitally related method of gathering information about students. Many teachers rely on the reports and comments of past teachers; evaluations by guidance counselors, school psychologists, and social workers; or assessments on academic ability. While these are obviously essential elements of the school system, they should not be the only indicators to a teacher. Ethnography in this sense simply serves as a method for educators to frame their own observations. Put simply, the teacher must devise a way to see as a non-judgmental, ethnographic observer while simultaneously retaining the knowledge, experience and sensitivities of an educator. Ethnographic interviews are a lens for engaging and empowering learners, but should not be the only lens.
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Wednesday, 02-May-2018 11:57:37 CDT