On Becoming an Effective Praiser
Name: Xuan-Shi, Lim ()
Date: 04/21/2005 16:55
Link to this Comment: 14768

The Extra-Classroom Teacher and Self-Assessment
Name: Christina Gubitosa ()
Date: 04/22/2005 17:33
Link to this Comment: 14788

The Extra-Classroom Teacher and Self-Assessment

Name: ()
Date: 04/23/2005 19:54
Link to this Comment: 14794

Name: ()
Date: 04/25/2005 14:42
Link to this Comment: 14849

Adult Learners
The Promises of Voluntary Education

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Name: Heather ()
Date: 04/25/2005 17:04
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
Name: ()
Date: 04/26/2005 01:04
Link to this Comment: 14869

April 6, 2005


handbook entry
Name: sky stegall ()
Date: 04/28/2005 12:48
Link to this Comment: 14933

Name: MaryBeth Curtiss (mcurtiss)
Date: 05/04/2005 08:05
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.


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.


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.


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, 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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