Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Final Project Hugh B. Bain Student School Improvement Team

A Brief History:
    The Student School Improvement Team was formed five years ago. We would meet once a month
and discuss student concerns. Some of the students would then report back to the School Improvement Team. Two years ago we began meeting twice a month. At the end of last school year I asked my Principal if the student SIT team could play a more active role in the school and she agreed. I went to our school social worker and I asked her if the student SIT could be attached to the school climate committee and she was very enthusiastic. She and I laid out a tentative plan for the new school year. My principal spoke with me over the summer and it was decided that student SIT kids would be in my advisory/homeroom so I have both 7th and 8th graders. My principal and I decided that it would be best if I didn't have students until the second week of September. The first day of school I met with all the team leaders. I laid out the plan for the student SIT committee. The 7th grade team leaders were told that they would be going back to their teams and choosing the SIT students. This was because they knew the incoming 8th graders better having had them the year before, and they hopefully know which new 7th graders to pick after three weeks of school. The teams chose 19 students and my advisory was successfully up and running by the third week of September.

Criteria on How Students are chosen:
     We try to choose students who show leadership qualities but who  are not normally the ones that are picked by other students. They have to have an A/ B average and be a good student. They should have a very low absenteeism rate and be on time for school. The teachers should choose students who will be good role models for the other students. Another important factor is that the team  should be made up of students that represent the diverse population all the students in our school.

My Student School Improvement Team:
    This year's school improvement team is made up of 19 students, 10 eighth graders and 9 seventh.
There are 8 boys and 11 girls. Most of the students on the team are Hispanic along with 1 Haitian student, 1 Jamaican student and 5 white students. We also have students on the team who have IEP's and are in inclusion classes. The 7th graders will be on the team for two years.

How the School Improvement team is run:
      We have advisory Monday,Wednesday,and Friday first period of the day. We try to have a whole group meeting on Monday. Most of the time this is student run. Wednesdays are for the subcommittees to meet. At this time committee chairs and co-chairs meet with the principal if needed. Most Fridays the students are helping the school social worker with school improvement activities for the whole school. In addition to this three students come before school every other month to attend the SIT committee meeting. The students decide who will be going and  what they will be speaking about. I submit this to the SIT chair and they put it on the agenda.

Subcommittees: The students have formed three subcommittees that they feel is important to the school this year. They created a peer tutoring team to help tutor students in homework club after school. The team is made up of 25 students both 7th and 8th graders. There is also a peer mediation group. Another group is raising money for new auditorium chairs. They have found an organization that has schools recycle items for money. That is a win win for the fundraising as well as the environment.

Reflection: Although I was on board to have this advisory before this class began, I do believe that I am running it differently because of it. I have become more aware of how this advisory should be run. I have become more of a facilitator and an observer. I do much less talking and for the most part, I am not in charge. This was a bit unnerving at the beginning but now I am amazed at how well they do without me! I love to see how enthusiastic these kids have become. They are a great group of kids that kids that didn't have a place to show their skills as a leader. I think that now they have found that place and I hope that this experience gives them the confidence to do so in their future endeavors.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Chapter 4 from Kliewer's book, Schooling Children with Down Syndrome was very familiar to me. I have co-taught in an inclusion class for 15 years and all the rest of my classes have students with IEP's. I aspire to create a community within my classroom similar to Shayne Robbins where opportunities are provided for all children, that their individuality is celebrated Douglas Biken describes a classroom where all students are accepted.If anyone came into my inclusion class no one would know which children had IEP's and the students that don't. My inclusion class this year is a bit different. I co-teach with two special education teachers. Each special ed teacher has 5 students on their case load in my class. Five of the students are at a second grade reading level and until this year they were in a self contained classroom. That is what it looks like on paper....but not in the actual classroom. Many of those students are group leaders when we do labs or group projects. They participate regularly and are an asset in my classroom. These kids are not afraid to to take chances. They are not afraid to fail. They also are very resourceful. They have a great deal of common sense, qualities that are very important in a science class. I love this class, we get so much done but we have so much fun!
Gardner's 7 patterns for learning to me is the essence of how students should be taught. We need to look at each students' strenghts and weaknesses and teach them accordingly. Gardner also believes that schools take a narrow position when it comes to judging student intellect. This is so obvious with assessments. Look at standardized testing! A few years ago I had a student that had brain damage due to lead paint poisoning. When he was in class he knew the answers but then when I would give him a test he would fail. I decided to give him an oral exam. He got an A. At the end of the quarter his grade was an A. He came to me and thanked me for giving him an A. I told him that that was the grade that he earned. He was so proud. He had never gotten an A before. This was a boy who had the knowledge but didn't know how to express it.
It is so important to have teachers who can co-teach together. I am very lucky. We work well together. This video explains the importance of good co-teaching. I have had both good and bad experiences in co-teaching. When it is good it is awesome but when it is not it can be really bad.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Unlearning the Myths That Bind us by Linda Christensen

 Media plays a substantial role in the attitudes,behavior and physical aspects of youth today,particularly in young women. We are constantly being bombarded with advertising images and stories which appear to be forcing us to conform to a specific image of how we are supposed to be. Media is an important means to reach out to the masses and to influence thinking and decision making.
I chose to write about this article because I loved how Christensen opened her student's eyes to the hidden agenda in  the media. She got her students to ask the hard questions instead of being "blissfully unaware" of the subliminal messages that are delivered through all forms of media.
I think that or society is obsessed with be thin and beautiful is going to make you happy. If you wear the right clothes and drive the right car you will be happy. We have become very superficial and what's worse we are encouraging our youth to be superficial also. This TED talk by model Cameron Russell is about being more than just a pretty face.
Christensen and her students analyze both cartoons and stories and exposed the hidden messages. It reminded me of a conversation that I had a few years ago with one of my classes. The Twilight series were very popular and the first movie was just coming out. I read (more like suffered ) through all of the books. One of my students asked me who my favorite character was and I told her that I really didn't have one and that I was not a fan of the books...there was a gasp in the room. Then I told them that Bella was my least favorite..louder gasps and they questioned why? I told them that Bella was so boring. She went to school all day with her boyfriend,spent all afternoon with him and then all night. She had no hobbies or interests. Her life was all about her boyfriend. She has no identity of her own. To my surprise there were many students who actually agreed with me after I had pointed these things out.
I have had many conversations with my students about stereotypes in literature and inaccuracies in history books. However, I have never thought to make an assignment from it. I love the two assignments that Christensen gives her students. Having conversations to raise awareness is one thing but to get kids to collect and analyze data is even better. Christensen is providing her students the opportunity to make a difference

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Both "Aria and Teaching Multilingual Children are about ELL learners. Although there are some similarities in both articles, I found the the differences to be glaring. Virginia Collier's approach to teaching ELL learners was much more respectful than the approach that Richard Rodriguez teachers used. I felt so sorry for his parents,especially the father. The school took away his voice as a father. He seemed to loose respect for himself and was in many ways no longer the head of the family.
I see this quite often in my school. Parents who speak no or very little English are afraid to come in to school. They do not feel welcome. Undocumented parents are afraid to seek or accept help. I have one ELL class but at the beginning of every school year, I take a survey on to see how many of my students speak another language at home. This year over 50% of my students speak another language instead of English. The percentage is even higher of parents that can not read or write in English. This makes it difficult for students who need help with their school work. This year my principal wants to try and help solve this problem. We have implemented some after school programs to help kids with their homework and we are starting a before school program where students can come before school as well. We have found that many children would like the before school program because the have to go home right after school to take care of younger siblings.
When the Rodriguez family was encouraged to speak more English and less Spanish at home,they lost some of their identity. Rodriguez's parents were ashamed to be caught speaking Spanish to each other. This is a tragedy. My husband is second generation Italian. This same scenario occurred in his family. His great grandparents were teachers in Italy but spoke very little English when they arrived in America. The children were discouraged to speak Italian at home but they were embarrassed to speak in school. My husband's grandmother  was about 12 years old when they came the US and she shared with me on many occasions how lonely she was and how much she hated school. I think that because of this experience, she never taught her children Italian, something that my husband and my children regret. My oldest son lived in Spain. His wife is Spanish and I know that they fully intend to have bilingual children.
As a teacher I try very hard not to be like the teachers in "Aria" and to be the supportive and respectful teacher like Virginia Collier. It is one of the reasons that I am getting my masters degree. 

Teaching Multilinguual Children by Virginia Collier and Aria by Richard Rodriguez

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Flight From Conversation
By Sherry Turkle
Anti-Teaching: Confronting The Crisis of Significance
By Michael Wesch

How do we make learning meaningful? How do we motivate our students to believe that their education is significant? Wesch believes that both teachers and students are to blame for the lack of significance. Teachers are teaching to the test and students are just working to get by. I have heard educators make that comment too many times  that some students are not cut out for school.Wesch changing "school" to "learning" hits you right between the eyes! What am I doing to inspire my students to be life long learners? How am I reaching all of my students? Wesch believes that developing good questioning skills is the key to higher learning and I agree. I know that inquiry based learning is the better way to learn. It teaches students to be accountable for their own learning.
I also agree with Wesch when he states that "When students recognize their own importance in helping to shape the future of this increasingly global, interconnected society, the significance problem fades away". Real-world interactions can provide motivation for students. A few years ago I did this project with my kids. We were learning about environmental issues. I had the students bring in some of their trash from home. It was September , and I told them that we were going to bury the trash and did it up before the ground froze and then in the spring. They brought in paper goods, cans, news papers,Dunkin Donuts coffee name a few. The students made predictions to which items would break down by late fall and what would be left by spring. Then we buried the trash. In the end they were amazed by how much trash was left. This project spiraled into many other projects, The students were interviewed in the local newspaper and they won an award from the Governor for their project.
This is how I wish that I could teach all of the time. I love when the bell rings and students say "That"s our bell? This class goes by so fast."

Even though I do appreciate technology, there are times when I don't like it. Of course I know that it is necessary in education, I use it almost on a daily basis in my classroom. However I do agree with Sherry Turkle that we as a society have become accustomed to being alone together. Every where you turn people are on their phones. My husband I and I were out to dinner the other night. We were sitting at the bar and another couple was sitting across from us. Almost the entire time that they were there, eating  and drinking they were both on their phones. I find this sad. I know that this is the case in many homes. People don't talk face to face. Cyber bullying is out of control. When our students were asked last year in the survey works survey how many times they text durring the school day the average was 96 times! The American Pediatric Association just this week came out with a warning statement to parents that kid should be limited to two hours a night on the computer. Too much technology can lead to too little communication in my opinion

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Literacy With an Attitude

The first chaper of Finn's book introduces us to his early experiences as a young teacher, teaching in a black neighborhood, on Chicago's south side. He talks about how he was chosen because of his "excellent classroom management skills" to teach the students with the lowest reading scores along with students behavior problems. Years later, he reflected on his teaching and came to the conclusion that he had taught these children not to take charge of their own lives or their own education, but to take orders.
I was from the working class and I knew how working class and poor kids related to authority. The expected people in authority to be authoritarian and I gave them what they expected.
When I read this excerpt I thought of Lisa Delpit when she states in her book, Other People's Children, that "Black children expect an authority figure to act with authority" For Finn, control and order were of the utmost importance. He agrees that learning was also occurring, but which type?
In chapter two of his book, Finn speaks about a study conducted by Jean Anyon. Anyon studied fifth grade classes in five public elementary school in New Jersey. The neighborhoods ranged from the top 1% income families to students from unskilled or semiskilled blue-collar families. All schools consisted of mostly white students with the same IQ range. The results were astounding. The students from the lowest income were not really expected to achieve, resulting in apathy, disrespect of authority and of each other. Anyon observed a dominant theme in each school. This one was resistance. The middle class schools dominant theme was possibility, that hard work would pay off. unfortunately, independent thinking and creativity were not encouraged. The affluent schools dominant theme was individualism. Independence and creativity were encouraged and the curriculum was connected to the real world. The elite schools dominant theme was excellence, to be the best. Anyon's studies conclude that the educations that schools provide almost mirror the students socioeconomic class and position in society.
When I started reading the prologue to this article I immediately thought of Jonathan Kozol. I was thinking of his books Savage Inequalities and then in chapter one Finn quotes Kozol. Another of the many excerpts from Kozol's book that aligns with Finns theory is a quote from a high school senior in Camden, New Jersey. She is a Cambodian student who goes to her guidance counselor to ask advice about college courses.
I went to my counselor he said, 'What do you want?', I said, 'I want to be a lawyer. I don't know what courses I should take.' He told me, 'No you cannot be a lawyer.' I said, 'Why?' He said, 'Your English isn't good.' I said, 'I'm seventeen. I've been here in American four years. I want to be a lawyer.' He said, 'No you cannot be a lawyer Look for something else. Look for an easier job.'
After the last three week with NECAP testing and SLO testing, I have become very discouraged. I have never been discouraged by my students, nor am I now. I am discouraged because I feel that as an educator I am doing a disservice to my student. I do not feel that I am giving them the best education that I can.I m frustrated for the first time in my career and I do not have an answer. I found this video on TED of Kiran Bir Sethi. I know there is hope... through the children.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Just wanted everyone know that Diane Ravitch will be speaking at URI tomorrow from 6:30 to 8:00.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Empowering Education
Critical Teaching for Social Change
by Ira Shor

Shor's article is about empowering students in their own education; to create student based inquiry curriculum. Instead, we have an education system too focused on testing. Shor believes in a co-created curriculum; a collaboration between student and teacher. Instead, too many public schools are teacher centered. "Drill and Kill" this creates passive learning. Inquiry based curriculum inspires learning. It provides a place where students learn to better apply what they have learned to the real world. Students are able to question their experience in school. Shor stresses the importance of participatory classrooms. If children have interest, education happens. "Students are people, whose voices are worth listening too, whose minds can carry the weight of the serious intellectual, whose thought and feeling can entertain, transforming self and society." A few years ago, I had a student that was concerned about how fast cars drove by our school in the morning and after school. The concern came from an incident where a fellow student had been hit by a car while in the cross walk. He came to me and asked me if he could conduct an experiment. He and I went out to the front of the school and timed how fast the cars would go by the school. We did this in the morning and in the after noon for a week. The next week, he got four orange cones and put them on both sides of the cross walk. We timed the cars again. The cars slowed down. This was all his idea, he planned the entire experiment. I was merely there to "supervise". We brought his results to our principle who in turn called the local newspaper. A reporter came and interviewed us. We now have a crossing guard posted in front of our school. 

Henry Giroux writes in his book: When Schools Become Dead Zones of Imagination, "at the core of the new reforms is a commitment to a pedagogy of stupidity and repression that is geared towards memorization, conformity, passivity and high stakes testing. Rather than create autonomous critic and civically engaged students. the reformers kill the imagination while depoliticizing all vestiges of teaching and learning." This quote reminded me of the frustrating, pointless testing our students have to endure. One of the middle schools in my city counted up all of the days that we test the students  a year. It totaled over 40 days. Last year, when I told one of my students he was going to take another SLO test, he looked at me and said, "Mrs. Colannino, are we ever going to do science again?"

Sir Ken Robinson expresses in this video the importance of creativity in education. With all of the testing that is done in public schools today, creativity and especially the arts, is going by the wayside. He states, and I agree, that creativity is just as important as literacy. The we squash creativity in children. That we actually educate children out of their creative capacity. It is important to cultivate creativity in our schools and to include multiple types of intelligences as we educate our children.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The term Zero Tolerance was invented during the Reagan administration inferring that there was a Zero Tolerance policy for drugs and alcohol for schools. The Clinton administration then included a Zero Tolerance policy for guns and weapon as well. Although well meaning, there has been a clear lack of common sense with both interpreting and enforcing these policies. All too frequently, police have arrested students for things in school that they would not outside of school. In addition to this, the policies have become too subjective, now including other behaviors that years ago would have been settled in the principal's office.

Evidence that has been collected over the past twenty years confirms the following:
- Only 3% of suspensions or expulsions were for the possession of drugs, alcohol or firearms.
-The vast majority of students who are suspended or expelled are black and special education students.
-Police officers are involved in school disciplinary issues that should be the responsibilities of the administrators.
-Students that have been suspended or expelled are three times as likely to become involved in the juvenile court system.

Thankfully, communities are fighting back. School districts are implementing a strategy called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). PBIS encourages and rewards positive behavior. It has replaced many of the punitive Zero Tolerance policies.

My school has been training in PBIS. This is the third year that we have incorporated this strategy into many aspects of our school climate. It is working; attendance is up, suspensions are down as well as many other behaviors like fighting and vandalism.

When I read this article, I thought about a boy that I had in class about 15 years ago. His mother was in and out of jail and he went back and forth between living with his father and his grandmother. He was 15 years old in the 8th grade. He was always in trouble. Nearly every day, he was late for school and so he would get detention. He wouldn't stay for detention and then get suspended. As a result, he was failing 8th grade for the second time. I asked him one day why he was always late. He told me that if he wanted to stay with his father, he had to give his father money each week for room and board. He had gotten a job working after school until 11:00 each night. Then he would walk home, getting home even later. He had a hard time waking up every morning, so he was chronically late. My classroom has a back door. I told him to come to the back door in the morning and I would let him in and he could make up work in homeroom. If he stayed after school each day, he could do his homework with me. He agreed. He stopped coming in late which led to no detentions or suspensions. He caught up on his work and passed all of his classes.

If schools implicated every Zero Tolerance policy, it is likely this boy would have ended up in jail. This boy, came to school every day despite many things being stacked against him. I haven't seen him in a few years, but the last time I saw him, he was married with two kids working a job in construction.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Deconstructiong Privilege: Teaching and Learning as Allies in the Classroom

      In this chapter authors Margalynne Armstrong and Stephanie Wildman write about the differences between colorblindness and color insight. They suggest that color blindness does not encourage the discussion of equality. Armstrong and Wildman also provide exercises to promote both self awareness and dialogue.

Colorblindness vs. Color Insight 

 I agreed with the ideas of both Johnson and Delpit in the previous articles however,  I felt convicted both personally and professionally after reading this article. I think that I am guilty of colorblindness. When I read the quote, "Whites often aspire to colorblindness believing that color blindness promotes equality" I saw myself. I am not a racist, but of the mindset that by not noticing race I was treating everyone equally. I had the best of intentions. Color insight is really what I should inspire to obtain. Color insight promotes equality because there is more freedom to embrace who we are as individuals.It opens up dialogue and new ideas. Colorblindness implies that we are all the same, which is not true.I do agree with the authors when they state that now that we have a black president, society perceives this to be the end of our dialogue concerning racism. We have a long way to go. One of the most glaring examples is the extreme inequality in our schools today
  The exercises provided in the article were good. I have an advisory period three times a week and I am going to use the grandmother exercise in the classroom. I think that if my students were of high school age I might use the others.
I was inspired by this speech by Lisa Delpit. She urges teachers to know our students. She says "If  I don't know you I can't teach you." All the common core standards and best practices in the world will just be a black hole if we don't know who are students are.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom
By Lisa Delpit

Lisa Delpit writes about the communication block that exists within our educational system.  There is a disconnect between the white liberal educators and people of color.  Delpit writes about what she calls “The culture of Power”.   The five aspects of power are as follows:

1.  Issues of power are enacred in classrooms.
2.  There are codes or rules for participating in power; that is, there is a “culture of power.”
3.  The rules of the culture of power are a reflection of the rules of the culture of those who have the power.
4.  If you are not already a participant in the culture of power, being told explicitly the rules of that culture makes acquiring power easier.
5.Those with power are frequently least aware of-or least willing to acknowledge-its existence. Those with less power are often most aware of its existence.

Even when black people, or others who are outside the culture of power, try to explain their point of view the white educators are not hearing them.  The result is that those who are outside the culture of power stop communicating.  Delpit states that this is hard for most liberal educators to acknowledge.  However, success will only be achieved if this is accomplished. 

Author Vivian Gussin Paley writes in her book White Teacher “The further away the teacher is from the child’s cultural or temperamental background, the more likely it is that the wrong questions will be asked.  The child instinctively knows the questions are inappropriate but soon figures out that he must be the one who is inappropriate.  Thus he begins the energy consuming task of trying to cover up his differences.” (Paley, 9)

There are points of view in the article I found both interesting and consistent within my classroom. 

“To deny students their own expert knowledge is to disempower them.”

Erin Gruwell teaches at an urban high school in Long Beach, California.  In her book Freedom Writer Diaries, she gives her students journals to write about their own experiences. The students congruently read The Diaries of Anne Frank and Night by Elie Wiesel. 

Gruwell successfully provided them an outlet for the students to express their angst.  They were experts in their own writing.  As a result her students learned about the hardships that other young adults have had in world. 

“Actual writing for real audiences and real purposes is a vital element in helping students to understand that they have a voice in their own learning.”

The Philly Youth Poetry Movement (using the power of the spoken word) is accomplishing this by creating a safe place for kids to be themselves; a space to find the value of their own voice.  They are enforcing twenty-first century skills; why am I learning this? and Why is this important?

 “Many people of color expect authority to be earned by personal efforts and exhibited by personal characteristics.  In other words the authoritative teacher person gets to be a teacher because she is authoritative.”

I have found this to be true in my classroom.  In my student’s world, authority is earned like Erin Gruwell.  I too have students who come to school with ankle bracelets on; students who have been to the training school more than once.  Some have parents who are in prison.  Other are homeless or have been at some point.  In my experience these kids, for the most part, like boundaries and structure.  They feel secure and happy in my classroom.  I have high expectations for all of them.  The majority of them try to achieve my expectations.