Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Day 104 Neuroplasticity

Wilson, D. & Conyers, M. (2016, November 8). "The teenage brain is wired to learn - so make sure your students know it." Edutopia special series. Retrieved at https://www.edutopia.org/article/teenage-brain-is-wired-to-learn-donna-wilson-marcus-conyers

What is Sacred:
I love the word neuroplasticity. It is future-focused, flexible, plastic, stretchy. I see synapses firing off rather than dead connections. It gives me hope in dark days because the concept of neuroplasticity means that our adolescent students have the capacity to change the structure and function of the brain through learning! That is POWERFUL and it is the impetus for us as teachers of middle-level and high school students to not sink into apathy, anger and quiet surrender. We must continue to teach with love and rage without which there is no hope (Friere). 

Here's the important messages that the authors want us to relay to our adolescent students: 
  1. They have the capacity to become functionally smarter. By their early teens, many youths have already formed an image of themselves as intellectually capable—or not. It’s important to emphasize for students in the latter group that past school performance need not be a predictor of future outcomes, if they are willing to persist in the hard work that may be required when learning gets challenging. (Dweck, Growth Mindset)
  2. Success in school is largely determined by the learning strategies students employ, and not by some innate talent for academics. Students across the continuum of current performance can learn and improve effective problem-solving and study skills to nudge their grades in a positive direction.
Connections to Current/Future Work:
I have the link here rather than taking up more space just regurgitating their piece, but I really love the tools for self-directed learning that the authors share. I am definitely linking this to my online discussion forum for my EDUC 410: reading and writing across content to get students talking about the importance not just of reading, but re reading and what effective re reading and meaning making can look like in their classrooms. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Day 103: Protecting the Bottom Dogs


What is Sacred:
This is a review and commentary on a much larger study published in the American Educational Research journal by Schwartz, A., Steifel, L., and Rothbart, M. The study uses a very large data set (n=9,000 students in 500 schools) to study the effects of top dog/bottom dog status on bullying, safety in school, belonging and academic achievement. What they are looking at is the effect on 6th graders of being a top dog in a K-8 school versus a bottom dog in a 6-12 school.

The results are that 6th graders report less bullying, feel safer in school and achieve better in K-8 schools.

I had an issue with the Kamenetz article, feeling that there was not enough said about what the teachers were doing and the decisions that 6th grade teachers make when in a 6-8 school. From my experience at middle schools both as a parent and as a teacher, 6th grade teachers usually come in as elementary trained teachers or middle school focused teachers and they definitely create their teaching teams differently from the 8th grade teachers. 

However, when I went to the longer study, in the discussion portion this is what it said:
Moreover, in places that do not reorganize elementary and middle school grade spans, this article provides strong evidence that resources should be committed to fostering safe learning environments for students who are not top dogs.
I am all for fostering safe learning environments and focusing more on professional development for teachers and pre-service teachers while allowing others to work on policy and organizational change.

Connection to Current/Future Work:
I think as teachers and teachers of teachers, we have influence over our own practices. When nurturing teacher leaders, I like to say influence where you can. I think this is always a good discussion point, but only to leads us to conscientization (raising consciousness and then taking action).

My first high school that I worked at was a perfect example of the pendulum shifts of education that proved to me that no matter what the structure of the school, make it work and continue to do right by students. For example, the history of the high school I was in was that it once was a 10-12 high school and the intermediate across the street was a 7-9th. We don't hear that combination anymore. The feeder schools for the high school were either a K-6 then onto the intermediate, or if they were in the more rural areas, a K-8 school.

My first classroom was in one of the newer buildings (built in the 70s). I was on the bottom floor and we had moveable walls so that it could be 4 classrooms, 2 classrooms or one large classroom. Of course my new colleagues used every old textbook and heavy bookshelf to basically keep the walls closed, but I know some schools are still practicing the open wall concept in the same way that some teachers are still "creating walls" in an open wall concept using white boards or book shelves.

I think the key is in professional development. Any idea, be it innovative, or traditional works best with professional development around collaboration, good teaching and a culture of feedback. Pau.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Day 102: The Art of the Personal Essay

Ahmed, R. (2016, September 15). Typecast as a terrorist. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/15/riz-ahmed-typecast-as-a-terrorist

What is Sacred:
Riz Ahmed is a British actor who gained some accolades in his documentary film Road to Guantanemo. He writes about his "otherness" and the common lessons he has learned from trying to get through the international airports as well as from trying to break into the American film industry not as another "Paki," but as a regular bloke. 

It turned out that there was no clear pathway for an actor of colour in the UK to go to stage three – to play “just a bloke”. Producers all said they wanted to work with me, but they had nothing I could feasibly act in. The stories that needed to be told in the multicultural mid-2000s were about the all-white mid-1700s, it seemed. I heard rumours that the Promised Land was not in Britain at all, but in Hollywood.

The reason for this is simple. America uses its stories to export a myth of itself, just like the UK. The reality of Britain is vibrant multiculturalism, but the myth we export is an all-white world of lords and ladies. Conversely, American society is pretty segregated, but the myth it exports is of a racial melting-pot, everyone solving crimes and fighting aliens side by side.
Connections to my Current/Future Work:
I think in the classrooms, we don't do as much with the personal essay. We are so hell bent to do some kind of formulaic writing BS that we have lost the art of writing - writing as personal expression versus writing as generic, mind-numbing product.

I don't know what to do about that. I just know that students in K-12 don't write nearly as much, and the writing in English 100 is often so atrocious as to be lethal and not useful for later writing. If you doubt me, audit an English 100 course at your neighborhood community college.

I want to read student pieces that sound like this, that have something both personal and profound to say.