Refecting on the Semester so far…

I’m personally dedicating this blog to my LL ED block class. I think we’ve reached a point in the semester where we are so caught up in doing homework, projects, readings, and researching that we haven’t had a chance to step back, take a breath, and reflect on what we’ve learned so far. Additionally, we’re dealing with the stress of graduation, the soon-to-begin student teaching, and the massive amount of planning and preparation that must go into the next year of our lives. It’s ironic because, as our professor Elsie has said, we are in a very transient stage between being students and teachers. The frustration we’re experiencing is exactly what our students will probably be facing and it’s a good idea to remember why we’re encountering it, and how, as teachers, we can pedagogically prevent it from happening to our students. So I thought I would help myself and hopefully help my classmates by going through each class and itemizing some important things that we’ve learned, talked about, or experienced. And yes, as you read this try to relax.

LL ED – 480

This class possibly has the most difficult lessons to learn, because we are learning about what we consider the “every day” parts of our life.¬† Sometimes it seems like we’re learning obvious lessons in the class, such as “the media influences young minds.” But part of the class is learning to facilitate a critical consciousness for our future students (as well as creating a consistent critical consciousness within ourselves). It’s easy to let this consciousness slip and let the media populate our minds with opinions and beliefs that can cause emotional and physical harm (just think of the construct of beauty that the media has created). Let me get one thing straight, it is not easy to be aware 24/7 of the influences that are bombarding us. Outside of the media we are influenced by our friends, family, environment, living situation, gpa, and a whole mess of other things. Of course we have a choice in how much the various influences in our life effect us. For instance, I hope that you are letting the music in my first link influence immensely. In this class, we’ve been itemizing and dissecting the influences of the media on us, and how these influences enter our classrooms. We’ve been doing this to raise our awareness so that we can hopefully raise the awareness of others.

LL ED – 420

This class may be getting into the most specific and nitty gritty aspects of teaching a class. I recall our professor telling us to not hand out papers before we discuss the content that is written on the paper. Otherwise, the students would skim over the paper, and the teacher will lose the attention of the class. Every day, we’ve been moving through a science-fiction based lesson plan, which is centered around the novel Feed. In reality we’ve been teaching ourselves this lesson. It’s been amazingly fun to take part in facilitating part of the unit and then seeing my classmates teach other parts of the lesson. I also enjoyed getting specific feedback from my professor on ways that my conduct while teaching could have improved. I know it’s easy to gloss over but getting specific feedback on how to improve ourselves in class won’t happen that often. I was very grateful to Jason, our professor, for telling me to be keep open and interested body language. Without this feedback, I might send the wrong messages to my class while in the midst of a discussion. (If you remember, both LaVenique and I were crossing our arms during the conversation we facilitated). This class has also been challenging for other groups due to spur of the moment changes in lessons. Though this is basically unfair (most groups had concrete plans that did not change), I would urge us all to ask the question: is life fair? The answer is no. As Jason said, changing our plans minutes before a class or even during a class is a possibility and a reality. I applaud the flexibility that my classmates had in dealing with these changes. It’s not easy to accomplish a specific goal when you’re flying by the seat of your pants. Believe me, I know, I’ve done quite a bit of improv acting. But that experience is rich with the harsh reality of real teaching. That reality is that it’s not as easy as Chuck Norris makes it seem! (but then is anything?) We’ve had time to plan wonderful lessons with our peers for these classes, but when we’re actually teaching, we’ll be doing this multiple times a day, five days a week, practically by ourselves! I’m choosing to look at the frustration and confusion that these spur of the moment changes caused and to learn from it. I hope everyone does the same.

We’ve also tackled some important pedagogy topics in this class. More evidence mounts for a student-centered classroom, as we’ve read books by Smagorinsky and Wilhelm. Constructivist teaching methods as well as theatre based activities are some of the topics that are championed by these education theorists. Crafting a fun and flexible classroom can be aided with the information found in these books.

As a final note about this class, it’s given us motivation to read the fantastic novel, Feed. Any class that gets me to read something as profound as that book was worth taking.

LL ED – 411

Last but not least, Elsie’s class. The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of this class is, “including the individual experiences of students.” In high school I often found myself writing about topics that I simply did not care about. However, you can bet that everyone on the planet (including myself) has some degree of self-interest. Therefore, why not use this self-interest to motivate students to write? Have students include their personal experiences in their writing so they can make what they have read connect with themselves. Excuse my language, but who really gives a shit about a whiny prince in Denmark? No one! No one cares about Hamlet (or indeed any character in a play or story) until we connect with that character. For instance, in Death of a Salesman, I connect with Willie Loman and both of his sons. This is because I see so much of Willie in my own father (not the suicidal and depressed parts; just the parts that make his a dad) and I see myself in his sons. Until students see themselves, someone they know, or an experience they’ve had in the text that they’re reading, they will not care about what you have to cover in your lesson plan. If you want your students to learn from a text, connect them to it by relating it to themselves in their writing.

Easier said than done of course. How do you get students to relate their own experience to a text? Lucky for us, our wonderful professor has given us a weekly opportunity to answer that question in our Taking a Stand assignments. We’ve been responding to a rather dry and analytical text called Why Writing Matters, but we’ve been doing it with the purpose of using our personal experiences to relate to it and make it important. I think most of us have drawn on our experiences in high school. Ironically, we’ve used a text on education to critique the education we were given.

My last statement is to reassure my classmates (and myself) that we have not been wasting our time here in Penn State this semester. I would urge all of us to think back to our freshman year here. Could we have critiqued our high school education as well as we can now? If you answered no because of anything that we’ve done this semester, it has been worth your time and effort.

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E-Readers in the Classroom

Today in my LL ED – 480 class, we talked about the rise of e-readers in the classroom. It was the first time that I really consider the use of such technology. It seems like all the random pieces of technological advancement are bound to converge in my classroom. Therefore it would be wise for me and all teachers to consider the use of and the pros and cons of e-readers in the classroom.

This is an example of an e-reader... slick.

First, the cons. Perhaps the largest drawback to e-readers would be the damage that digital screens can do to eyes. In the past year or so, my vision has been slowly fading, and I blame the amount of time I spend in front of the computer. For students who are using more technology and watching the television and computer screen more, adding another digital screen for them to blast their vision with does not seem helpful. Furthermore, e-readers do not come cheap. The least expensive e-reader is $150, which may not sound like much for a school district, but to provide these pieces of technology for an entire school or school district would be costly. Finding and setting aside money for e-readers within a school districts budget would be very difficult. Indeed, many parents and administrators will not place e-readers high on a list of priorities for school fund usage. A final drawback to e-readers in the classroom is their delicacy. Books can be dropped many times from great heights and only get a little dirty. E-readers can be broken from a single unlucky accident. The lacking durability of e-readers makes the $150 spent on them more perishable than using the same money on a textbook.

Come on... it even has the word "impervious" on it!

Okay enough e-reader bashing. Here are a few reasons why e-readers would be beneficial for schools. The biggest reason that e-readers would be loved in schools is the backpack issue. Students, particularly elementary school students, are dealing with increasing backpack weights, and this is causing health problems. When I first heard about this issue, I honestly thought it was a joke. I walked to and from school with my backpack all the time and I turned out just fine(ish). But this problem is real. For the little ladies in my block class or anyone who is interested, you can calculate your ideal backpack weight here. The point is that this problem is real. If e-readers can calm the worried minds of parents across the nation and save the wearied backs of students, why not invest in them? Also, using technology in combination with reading has the possibility of creating new interest in reading for students fascinated by technology. Finally, the students will have responsibility of the safety of e-readers just as they are responsible for their textbooks. The increase in cost and penalty for the loss or damage of an e-reader should serve as ample motivation for them to take care of the fragile piece of technology.

So what’s the right answer? Stick with ye olde textbook or embrace another part of the wave of technology in schools? As with most things the right path is probably one of moderation. The use of the e-reader in the classroom needs to be applied with a careful balance between financial concerns, actual reading test score impact, and classroom utility. If and when the e-reader can be shown to have concrete benefits in classes, it will begin to have a greater presence in the classroom, and I may even come around to using them a bit in class.

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The Challenge of My Life: Time Management

As a teacher, time management is a key piece to any class. Without it, lessons can stretch too far for a single class to contain or not enough is put into a class and time is wasted. When I consider what my greatest challenge will be when I’m running a class, I usually run into the fear of ineffective time management. Today in Jason’s class this was brought up as one of the things that supervisors will be looking for when the evaluate teachers. I feel even more worried about this since it is part of my evaluation. Here are a few specific things that I’m worried about

– Getting to caught up in a class conversation (about assigned reading) and failing to take time to assign homework

-Letting myself talk with students for too long before class starts and losing time at the beginning of class

-Not having enough activities planned for an entire class

-Budgeting just the right amount of time for each activity

The reason that I’m terrified of time management (specifically the planning part of it) is that I’m truly horrible at it right now. I only recently started using a monthly calendar and a daily planner and I can hardly bring myself to look at my planner everyday. At the beginning most semesters, I usually forget weekly homework because I just don’t have it in my brain to do. I think the only thing that has saved me every year at college is my work ethic but certainly not the way I approach my work.

So the moral of this blog is as follows: I’m very grateful that we’re learning to make lesson plans. My roommate has taken these block classes already and said that they were pointless. And to him, in response, I say, “bologna.” Being able to look at a few pieces of paper and know that I have not one but several days worth of lessons planned out already will be immensely relieving. Not only that but there are lesson plans already made up that we have been encouraged to use in designing our own. It’s like there are people out there already doing the planning for me! Huzzah! I think that with a lesson plan on paper to refer to (and maybe a stopwatch), I will be able to stay on task in class. Does anyone else think that time management will prove difficult when they become a teacher?

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Empowering Students

Recently I read Beth’s first blog post for our class. It really got me thinking about how much influence a teacher can really have over their students. As I did some reading online, I came to the conclusion that while we never have control over the choices that students make, we can always foster an environment and attitude the helps them make better choices.

Here is an example of a school that lets its students have a voice in their education through choice:

Here is an example of choice within a classroom:

Giving students the power over their education seems like  an ideal situation, when balanced with some teacher-centered approaches. For instance, last semester I had a communications course, which was founded in a discussion based teaching style. Every class we would sit in a circle and discuss our assigned reading. Our professor would use discussion questions to keep us on task and to help us understand certain theories from our text.

A big part of student-centered learning still comes from the teacher though. As the leader of the class, a teacher must still be giving 100% to their students while activities are going on. Helping students with tasks, asking provocative questions, being aware of distracted students, and being responsive in general are all part of giving your students your all. I’ve seen teachers give out grammar, punctuation, or grammar assignments and sit down at their desk while their students work. I think this is a prime example of a teacher not being committed. Without an active and lively teacher, students may wonder why they have to work hard while the teacher is on the computer. In essence a teacher giving 100% can and will encourage their students to give 100% and thus empower them to achieve more.

A question to think about or respond to: is a teacher giving more to their students when using teacher-centered or student-centered learning?

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Meritocracy in Education

For my first blog post I wanted to talk about the concept of meritocracy in schooling. Basically, meritocracy in schools means that the students who put in hard work will receive the highest grades, and, with those grades, go on to achieve more after their education. Sounds simple and fair right? Well not everyone agrees…

Colbert Report with Walter Kirn

Kirn and Colbert really don’t have time to nuance the debate on meritocracy and schooling but I’ll put a few quotes here from some articles that I’ve looked at that will help us get a better understanding of meritocracy and schooling.

Meritocracy entails that those with power and authority hold their positions by virtue of their ostensible ability to do the job at least as well as any contenders (from Meritocracy by Thomas B. Hoffer 435).”

In general, social class and racial or ethnic differences in achievement test scores are present at the beginning of formal schooling, and the gap grows larger each year (Hoffer 441).”

Schools work to reproduce inequalities from generation to generation rather than creating opportunities for talented but low-status children (from Conflict Theory by Christopher J. Hurn 113).”

Schools socialize students into the apprpriate values and sort and select students according to their abilities (from Functionalist Theories of Education by Peter Cookson Jr. and Alan Sadovnik 268).”

Represented in these quotes are two different views of meritocracy in education. Conflict theory is closely related to Marxist philosophies and sees schools as agents of social reproduction. This means that the educational outcome for students is based on their families socioeconomic status (SES) and not the effort that they put into their schooling.

Could you imagine looking at one of your students who’s parents didn’t graduate high school and seeing a probable dropout? It’s hard to imagine, as a teacher, that the greatest determinant for achievement is out of our control. After all, teachers have been held responsible for improving test scores under No Child Left Behind. An important question for us to consider is: why are we held responsible when there is an entire school of thought that believes that student achievement is predetermined?

Opposed to conflict theory is functionalist theory. This theory sees meritocracy in education as a working and effective practice within schools. Schools function to assess and sort students into jobs and careers that are best for them based on their achievement. This theory views the institution of education in a positive light and gives more credibility to the teacher being held accountable for student achievement.

Perhaps neither of these views are perfectly correct, but one thing is certain. There are a disproportionate amount of low SES and minority students achieving less than white middle class students.

Achievement Gap

The cause for this is also another hot point of debate and discussion. More importantly for teachers to think about though is whether the system of meritocracy in schools works or if it doesn’t.

Personally, I think I fall between functionalist and conflict theories. On the one hand, I’ll never be able to look at my students as statistics doomed to remain at the level of SES of their parents. Yet the system of meritocracy in schools is not perfect. These imperfections can be seen in the disproportionate amount of minority and low SES students placed in lower tracks within schools and the higher dropout rates of those students. When I’m at the front of the class, I hope to be a leg up to better achievement for my students and not just a part of the process of social reproduction.


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