Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Our Kids...

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

― Socrates

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Join me on the quest of learning...

Michael Wesch, and his article, "Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance" is an article that speaks volumes to me. Just about everything that he writes about rings true for me in my classroom and in my teaching. Wesch writes about how so much of what is taught to kids has no meaning to them, and how students struggle to find meaning and significance in their education. I spend a lot of time thinking about that issue specifically, especially in teaching Theology. My job is not to convert people to Catholicism, and I think that if my job was just to pump kids full of facts about the religion that it would be silly, so I try and find the balance between an experience and facts, because I need to have grades, after all.
Wesch's discussion about "some students are just not cut out for school" is one that I have heard before. I LOVE how he switches it around with the word learning. Of course all students are capable of learning. The level of learning may be different, but the reality is that they are all capable. I have heard teachers say negative things about students and their success in school, and about how not everyone is "good at school". I agree. Not everyone is good at rote memorization, and spitting back information on tests that have no relevance to their everyday life. It saddens me that teachers are the ones that say things like students not being cut out for school. Dalton Sherman is a truly inspiring young man who I think all teachers should watch. I do truly believe that if a teacher does not believe in their students then they should not be a teacher. Their calling is somewhere else. 
Questions, questions, questions. Wesch's discussion about the correct type of questioning connects very closely to our discussion in class last week. Dr. Bogad talked about students asking questions during class and then responding to them with a question. I think it takes a real vulnerability on the part of the teacher to be able to do this. In my first few years of teaching it was not easy for me to admit that I did not know all the answers to every question a student may ask, but now, a few years in I love to look up the answers that I may not know the answer to alongside my students. Wesch says "the only answer to the best questions is another good question", exactly what Dr. Bogad said in class last week, and I think that is so true. Wesch also says " the best questions send students on rich and meaningful lifelong quests, question after question, after question". If we are truly trying to create lifelong learners, this quote will be especially true in our teaching. How we get that to actually happen, I think has to do with what we are teaching students. It points to the heart of what I am trying to get my students  to do as a result of my class. I tell my kids all the time that I am not just teaching information, that I am teaching life.  They laugh, but in reality, I am trying to make the things that we do and talk about relevant to their lives. The video that I linked to the word 'relevant' is all about just hat, how do we make learning relevant to our students, not now but also in the future. It talks about creativity and the need for it. It reminded me of Finn, and his mention of the lack of creativity in most schools and curriculum. How did our education system become one where being able to just spit back information meant that you are smart? The information that you are spitting back is someone else's' ideas and discoveries. Wouldn't it make more sense for the definition of 'smart' to be having an original or creative thought of your own??
Wesch talks about test taking and how students just want to "know what is on the test". I find this to be especially true of my honors level students. They are just looking for the information to get the good grades and move on. It really plagues the question of if they are actually learning anything or is the information gone once they put the answer down on the test. I guess that idea leads to the discussion of what is true knowledge. Is true knowledge rote memorization, or is true knowledge being able to make conclusions based on information. 
Wesch goes on to talk about the learning environment of students. He quotes authors Postman and Weingartner who say "the environment of learning is more important than the content (the message) and therefore  teachers should begin paying more attention to the learning environment they help to create". YESSSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!! That is the exact reason why I spend the beginning of the school year creating a classroom environment where students feel welcomed, and comfortable to speak. A place where each of their voices is heard, and a place that they feel they belong. I wish that more of my colleagues felt the same way. So many of them do not create a classroom environment that is student-centered. They create a classroom where they are the star of the show and any interruption of the "show" is not tolerated. My classroom is not about me, it is about my kids. I can relate to Wesch when he said that the janitorial staff would ask what is happening in his classroom. I, too, have had the janitorial staff ask me what the heck is happening in my classroom that things are always moved around. Other teachers have asked about the movement in my classroom. Why are the kids always up and moving around, and oh goodness why do they hear us laughing??? I often find that the most challenging part of my job is not my students, but the other adults that work in the building. 
The globalization of everything is an idea that I talk about a lot with my kids. Teenagers are naturally self-centered, and its part of my job, I think, to show them how they are part of a big picture. not to discredit their little pictures, but to show how all those little pictures fit together to make a really great big picture. Wesch says "when students recognize their own importance in helping to shape the future of this increasingly global, interconnected society, the significance problem fades away". This is so true. Make knowledge something that can actually be used. The dates that the original colonies were formed is not going to help students in the real world, but being able to think critically about the world around them and challenge that world will.
Sherry Turkle and her article, "The Flight from Conversation" is an article in large part about me.  Or at least I felt like it was. I have mastered the looking at someone in a conversation while texting someone else. I first got a cell phone when I was a sophomore in high school. I had just gotten my license, and it was a "safety" thing to have with me in case of emergency. I can honestly say that from that time on, I have become a less effective communicator with my peers. Texting, face-booking, and everything else has made it possible for me to not have to have conversations with people...even with my own family members. I have found that it is easier to just text someone rather than have a full on conversation with them. Maybe this is because I am introverted and the barrier of the phone helps me to have time to respond instead of the instant response needed from a face to face conversation. I have heard students say that they can shape who they want to be with their online profiles, and tweets, that the way the world sees them and the way that they actually are can be two different things.
Turkle writes "we use conversation with others to learn to converse with ourselves. So our flight from conversation can mean diminished chances to learn skills of self-reflection". Self-reflection takes time, and time is something that people seem to never have enough of. When I ask students to "disconnect" and take a few minutes for reflection they become uncomfortable in the silence...they do not know how to handle the free time to be with themselves and their thoughts. 
I can also relate and connect with Turkle when she writes "When people are alone, even for a few moments, they fidget and reach for a device". I am guilty of this, especially in the car. I do not know how to just do nothing. Either do my students. This translates into a very active classroom. I always say to my kids, if I am bored, then I know for sure that you are bored too. While I am guilty of most of what the article says, I also know and can relate to the value of a good conversation. "Most of all, we need to remember — in between texts and e-mails and Facebook posts — to listen to one another, even to the boring bits, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate and stutter and go silent, that we reveal ourselves to one another". Beautifully put Turkle We need to allow ourselves to be vlunerable, to make mistakes, and to be more than someone behind a computer pr phone screen. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Literacy with attitude...

"Literacy with an Attitude" by Patrick Finn is an account of the education system here in America, and how it differs based on socio-economic status. It is also an account of challenging the status quo, making education real for students, and having fun in the process. In the first part of the reading, Finn writes about the inequalities in what and how students are being taught. "People can become conscious of injustice and inequity, and through disciplined, focused, and strategic action, they can bring about change". This disciplined, focused, strategic action has to, I think, start in our classrooms.  Where we highlight the injustices and inequities and do not let students think that this is "just the way that it is". I am currently at a conference in Baltimore, and a few experiences that I had today really rang true to Finn's writing. For example, a teacher at a pretty wealthy school was speaking of the number of AP classes that are available to her students. She was saying how they can start to take them as sophomores, and can take up to 5 of them as seniors, and how because of this they are stressed out with their workload. I immediately thought of my school and the number of AP classes that we offer, which does not even compare to the other school. It lead me to think, is it because my students are not from the upper-middle class? Is it because my school does not think that they would need access to that many upper level classes? What are the determining factors in that decision? I also immediately thought about the things that are stressing out my students. For most, it is not school related. They are stressed about their home life. Where are they sleeping that night? Is there going to be dinner? Will mom have another new boyfriend over the house? Why does my mom keep telling me to act like a man, when I have not had a good man in my life? It really is interesting to me the different struggles that our students are facing and where those struggles stem from. Does my school not offer more AP classes because my students don't want to take them, or because somewhere is this idea that they can't handle them among the other things they are dealing with?
What are we working to prepare our students for? Are we forcing them into a mold based on their economic status?  Finn made me take a look at my own teaching. Am I, as he says, "schooling these children, not to take charge of their lives, but to take orders"? Some of the structure of school does indeed lead kids to take orders, but I think that is part of life in the real world. There is always someone in charge, an authority. That does not mean, however, that students in our classrooms should be taught to just spit back facts and "tell me what I want to hear". I find that more and more students are asking me "to just tell them whats on the test" so that they know exactly what to study, instead of being able to draw conclusions on their own. In so many ways, creativity is being taken out of schools. I know that last week Mary linked a Ken Robinson video in her blog about creativity in education, and I have used that video with graduating seniors to see if they agree with Robinson or not. It is sad that they agree that most of their creativity is gone as a result of their education. At this conference, the keynote asked us to think about the "seeds" that we are sowing in our students and to list the top ten. What are the top ten things that are most important to me that I want my students to walk out and have experienced/learned? Is the content really the important part, or is it more important that my students felt respected, that they know that someone cares about them? Finn would say that many schools would completely reject anything not content driven, and how can they not, because they are driven by state tests. Unfortunately there is no section of the test that asks about life experience, and how students learn to respect each other, or about the time they finally felt that their voice was heard. I feel lucky that I have so much wiggle room in my curriculum that it was fine for me for example, to take a whole class period and discuss the N word, other negative slang words and their implications and how its disrespectful to speak to each other in that way. Will I ever test on that? No, but was it a valuable lesson, nonetheless? I think, yes. I try and make real world connections with my students everyday. I think this is important teaching Theology because they do not all believe in the faith that I am teaching them about.
I love so much of what Finn writes about empowering our students to rise above the lot they have been given. Society, and people who are not in the classroom teaching are afraid of what would happen if there were people rising up from the bottom. Finn writes "What would happen if working-class students had political motives for acquiring literacy"?It is my job, I believe, to teach students to have motives, and not settle.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Empowering the future...

"Empowering Education" written by Ira Shore discusses the idea that the classroom is a place where students learn many of the social cues or responsibilities that will be expected of them as a successful member of society in the future. Shore points out how many of the people that are in positions to make decisions for the masses are people that are not directly related to that field. For example, how "hospitals are governed by appointed bureaucrats, not by delegates accountable for the clientele." The people making decisions are not the people that are in the "trenches" and who see the actual people that their decisions affect. This idea directly relates to a conversation that we had in class last week about the commissioner of education. The people that are devising all of these evaluations and tests for our students are not the same people that are in the classroom with them everyday, dealing with all of their issues, either emotional, academic, or anything else and still trying to teach them and get them to perform up to a certain standard.
I love so much of what Shore writes regarding empowering a classroom. "Empowerment as I describe it here is not individualistic. The empowering class does not teach students to seek self-centered gain while ignoring public welfare." The 'me, me, me' attitude is everywhere in our classrooms. This is because a lot of students feel the need to compete with their classmates and be the 'best at school', at least that is my experience at my school. I think encouraging students to examine how their experiences relates to academic knowledge is so key to true education. When information is relatable to everyday life and experiences that students have already had, then they do not have to form new connections in their minds, they can use things that are already there. This is very important in my classroom because not everyone believes the same thing. When I am teaching something based in the Catholic faith specifically I ask students to give me similar examples in their own faiths, or something that they can relate to.
I thought it was fascinating when Shore spoke about how students can become 'enslaved' in education. How when they stop asking questions, and participating and just taking everything as it is presented that they become slaves to their own education. Ken Robinson talks about how education can be like a Death Valley, killing our kids creativity and the things that it takes for them to flourish.
Shore's explanation of student participation and positive affects rang so true to me this past week. It has become more and more apparent lately that the commitment level of teachers affects the commitment level of students. If a teacher is only there for a paycheck it rings through loud and clear in their teaching and interaction with students. We had an assembly Friday and many teachers thought that it would be ok not to show up at the assembly. While this may not seem like a big deal, it shows the kids that these all school activities are not important to them, and can just be blown off. This bad example to the kids can translate into them not taking things seriously either. I feel like it is a slippery slope.

Friday, October 4, 2013


Saw this video today and it really warmed my heart and made me smile. This is what being a great teacher is all about.