Bear at Work

Quick Comment on De Blasio’s Plan for NYC’s Troubled Schools

Last week the Times summarized De Blasio’s plan for NYC’s troubled schools:

“The new program will designate 94 of the city’s most troubled schools, including the Coalition School, as Renewal Schools based on a list of criteria including low four-year graduation rates for high schools and poor test scores for middle and elementary schools. Students at those schools will receive an extra hour of instructional time each day, teachers will have extra professional training, and the schools will be encouraged to offer summer school. The schools will also be given additional resources, with $150 million spread over two years, about $39 million for this school year and $111 million in the next.

But the centerpiece of the proposal involves turning these institutions into so-called Community Schools, which try to address the challenges students face outside the classroom, with offerings like mental health services for those who need them or food for students who do not get enough to eat at home”.

I engaged in the following exchange in the comment sections of the piece:

Richard (a commenter) wrote:

“Without active parent participation at home and in schools, DeBlasio plan is doomed”.

I responded:

“I agree that parent participation is important. Creating community schools is a step in that direction especially “with offerings like mental health services for those who need them or food for students who do not get enough to eat at home”. Offering these services to parents and guardians too might be one way to increase involvement.

In my experiences teaching public school I noticed that our weekly food pantry encouraged parents to come to the school and made them feel welcome.

It’s a two way street, if schools – especially in low income neighborhoods – do more to support and welcome parents we’ll likely see a reciprocal increase in parent support and involvement in school affairs”.

And another commenter, Sophiequus, added:

“I recall by brother-in-law, a district superintendent in update NY, saying “We just have them 7 hours a day. There’s a limit to what we can do.” If schools are going to become social service delivery vehicles, the school day will need to be extended far beyond an hour.

As a parent of school children, I feel certain nothing can replace a parent in the home who actively supports education, requires/ensures their children attend school on time, complete assignments, and seek out extra help when needed. If you don’t have the parent on the school’s side, I’m not sure how to help children succeed without more extreme solutions”.

I wanted to write a more detailed post on this, but as a new parent myself, I found it challenging to make time to even do this much!

Bear at Work

Making Sense of the Transition to College

repost from cac.ophony.org:
Big Fish Little Pond

“Big Fish Little Pond”

Making Sense of the Transition to College

Perhaps not surprisingly, it really matters what we ask students to write. As instructors, and support staff, one way we can help students with the transition to college is to encourage or even demand that students respond to specific prompts that focus their writing and subsequent thoughts on their transition experiences. A rough comparison of FRO 1000 and the SEEK Freshman Seminar blogs shows how different prompts supported students in different sense making processes. As Toby Fulwiler points out in a foundational WAC text, “writing makes thoughts visible and concrete and allows us to interact with and modify them”  (1983). It is this process of making thoughts visible and interacting with them that sense making happens.

As instructors we can use writing prompts to direct students to work through specific thoughts and challenges like the transition to college. For example, the Freshman Seminar directed students to interact with the following prompt:

Create a two-minute video, an eight-image slideshow, or a ten song musical playlist that represents who you think you are to your classmates. Embed your creation in a blog post and then write a post of no more than 500 words that explains how what you’ve created speaks to who you are.

The prompt encouraged students to reflect on the self, and the student responses – again not surprisingly – did just that. They worked through questions like “who am I” and “how do these songs or slides represent me”.

The first few sentences from one post convey a sentiment that a number of students’ communicated:

When initially given this assignment, I thought creating a blog post about myself would be easy. Though I was not necessarily happy about it, I thought it would not be a problem because, generally speaking, I like to believe that I have a decent grasp of who I am as an individual. However, as I sat down to select pictures and craft my slide show, I realized just how difficult it is to effectively convey who I am as an individual in only eight images.

In this excerpt the student articulated the struggles and the process of making sense that many of her peers engaged in as they composed written and pictorial representations of themselves. After the above introduction the student wrote about moving from Florida to New Jersey and “the impact this change had” on her life. Her final paragraph included a quote from Vonnegut and her explanation of the purpose of the quote:

I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” I included this because it accurately describes how I aspire to live my life — taking risks and engaging in new experiences, in order to continue to flourish as an individual.

The first FRO 1000 prompted students to look inward and make sense of their self and then present a narrative about themselves outward in concrete and visible text on their FRO 1000 blogs. It created an exercise of literally constructing a representation of self in Baruch’s digital space.

In contrast the prompt that the SEEK Freshman responded to directed them to reflect on the relationships they were developing in their first weeks at Baruch:

I invite you to tell a story about your first week of the fall semester at Baruch College.             Research has shown that during the first semester students often worry about whether or not professors and other students at their college will accept them, and how eventually students become comfortable there and find a family of people with whom they are close and feel they belong. Please describe how you have experienced your first week of the fall semester at Baruch College…

The prompt was adapted from a Walton and Cohen (2011) article published in Science that showed how writing about the transition to college helped freshman make the transition to college and subsequently improve their graduation rates and overall GPAs. In this excerpt from his first post Almightybrou (a pseudonym) reflected on his experience meeting new people at Baruch:

After we went to the library, we were just standing in the lobby with other people in our             class and we were all just having light conversations about our common interest, such as sports and intended majors. This was the case in most of our classes since the main concentration of all the professors was to have us do ice breakers. This helped us get familiar with each other and made conversations that much more easier. For me it was both an interesting and exciting week for me. Even though it has been such a short amount of time, i feel that it will only get better as we get used to the people we are around.

Almightybrou used this post to make sense of his relationships with the other students in his cohort. Writing about this experience was an opportunity for Almightybrou to interact with and make the experience visible and concrete.

A quick comparison of the FRO 1000 and the SEEK freshman posts provides a window into how different prompts direct students to write and subsequently make sense of themselves and their college context in distinct ways. The FRO 1000 prompt asked what – “represents who you think you are to your classmates” – directing students to make sense of their self. While the SEEK prompt directed students to think about their relationships with others and in light these relationships asked the students to reflect on how have they experienced their first week at Baruch? The differences in the prompts and subsequent student responses call attention to the ways that writing functions as a critical tool for making sense of the transition to college.

yellow jelly white jelly pink jelly yellow jelly 2

Day 1

Announcing Solomon Bear Mervyn Kreniske

Announcing Solomon Bear Mervyn Kreniske

I am so happy to share the news about the littlest Kreniske.

After a long and arduous journey, Solomon Bear Mervyn entered this world on 9.12.14, weighing in at 7.0 lbs and measuring 21.25 cm. He is the sweetest little bean and we are in awe of him – it’s an event even to see him open his eyes!

The three of us came home happy and healthy saturday night.

cheers!

phil, sandy and sol

Day 1
Day 1
Leaving the hospital
Leaving the hospital
asleep at home...
asleep at home…
P.S.
If you you want to get the little guy something he’s registered at babylist…
Grandpa in the Drakensberg

My Grandfather, Mervyn Susser, Passed Away Earlier This Month

Grandpa in the Drakensberg
Mervyn in the Drakensberg Mountains

My grandfather Mervyn Susser passed away earlier this month. He was 92, and as one would hope for most people who live to 92, he had an amazing life.

I’m proud of him in so many ways. His work was extremely important to him and I think this recent article from the Times Health section does a good job of summarizing his contributions.

“He learned on the job in the 1950s while working in a clinic that served black South Africans and went on, over the next several decades, to examine peptic ulcers in Europe, hunger in the Netherlands, and AIDS in the United States and in South Africa. He and his wife, Dr. Zena Stein, promoted some of the earliest educational and treatment programs for AIDS in South Africa. Dr. Susser sought to improve public health from the ground up by gathering data on who was affected by diseases and why, and by trying to understand what their distinctive social and economic circumstances were”.

Though to me he was always Grandpa. Grandpa who spent long hours in his study and wasn’t to be disturbed. Grandpa who’d sit me on his knee and tell about camping in the desert and driving armored cars in the war. Grandpa with his big brimmed hats who knew every plant in the garden and couldn’t walk anywhere without stooping down to weed something. Grandpa who always joined the family for dinner, his booming, deliberate voice, pausing, to make everyone wait as he expounded on Israel, Iraq, global poverty – name it. Grandpa who’d recount playing rugby and cricket, while we watched hours of summer baseball – mostly the Yankees who’d introduced a precocious rookie shortstop.

Leah and me with Grandpa
Me, my cousin Leah and Grandpa on the veranda in the late ’80s

Years later as my family gathered to sit shiva I listened to stories from my mother, uncle and aunt about moving from South Africa, to England and finally settling in New York – and yet never really being English, or American – never belonging anywhere. I reflected on my own experiences of belonging and how in my grandparents house and their garden I’ve felt a deep sense of belonging.

It took them the better part of 50 years but they finally did find a place to make a permanent home for their family. Though for my grandparents, and certainly my grandfather – home would always be South Africa. Some days after he passed away I  searched the Times archive for his name. One article published in 1985 and titled Emigres Welcome Apartheid Battle caught my eye. Grandpa – or Mervyn Susser – is quoted, ”We still regard ourselves as displaced South Africans”. With Grandma Zena adding that their home in Hastings was “”a transit camp for South Africans.”

In his final years Grandpa became increasingly confused. As the family gathered for weekend lunches, the Hudson sparkling in the distance, grandpa would say things like “Whoever owns this place has done quite well”.  Of course this was the garden he’d created and it was his home.

Then he’d tap grandma on the knee and say “C’mon Zeen it’s time to go”. And the rest of us would smile and gently remind him that of course – he was already home.the garden in hastings

This happened quite often and at one point my brother playfully asked “Grandpa where are you going?”

“To the hotel, in Grootfontein,” his childhood home.

In his final weeks he stopped commenting on the lovely view from the veranda, and he stopped urging Zena to take him home. To check on him we’d sometimes ask, “Grandpa where are you?” And he’d reply confidently “In Grootfontein”.

As he said to the Times reporter all those years before, South Africa would always be his home. Though for us grandchildren he’s created a new home in Hastings. And of course it’s not the just the place but the wonderful and caring family who come together there that make it home.

grandpa and sandy
Grandpa and the next generation in Hastings

…for the record a couple other obits were published since I wrote this:

Mervyn Susser obit ZA Sunday Times pdf

and

Mervyn Susser obit ZA Daily News pdf and link

JPS My Symposium at 10:29

My First Solo Symposium: The 2014 Jean Piaget Society Annual Meeting in San Francisco

My First Solo Symposium: The 2014 Jean Piaget Society Annual Meeting in San Francisco

I had three other conferences scheduled for the Spring of 2014, so I was ambivalent about submitting a proposal to the Jean Piaget Society (JPS) Annual Meeting.  When my advisor Colette Daiute described her idea for the symposium it sounded exciting. The other panelists were my colleagues and friends and the discussant, Carol Lee, was a well known professor whose work I’d read extensively. This would also be my first opportunity to present the preliminary results from my doctoral research. Further, I had lived and loved San Francisco for three years before moving back to NYC to attend the psych program at The CUNY Graduate Center.  I still had many dear friends in SF – at least one of whom I hoped would let me crash on their couch!

Jean Piaget Society Logo

Two weeks before the conference our discussant had a family emergency and wrote that should would not be able to attend. However, she would still gladly read our papers and write a response that could be shared at the conference. Normally the discussant is present and shares their feedback, but this seemed a reasonable alternative.

Then one week before the conference all three of the other panelists cancelled due to their own family emergencies. I’m not exactly sure the odds of such a cacophony of calamities – it has to be small though.

This left me, who was already feeling a little drained from the previous three conferences in the spring as the lone presenter. After I recovered from from my initial reaction, which was dumbfounded, I went through my options.

Option A: Same same but different.

I could cancel like everyone else, but in my case it was different because I was only canceling because I didn’t want to be the only person presenting at the symposium – it’s not a symposium if only one person is presenting work!

Option B: Find new Friends?

Colette kindly emailed the conference coordinator who informed her that there was no room in any other symposiums as most other cancellations were  accounted for and necessary shuffling had already taken place. So Option B 

Option C. Go it Alone. 

At first this going it alone seemed overwhelming. I was at the very early stages of data analysis. I wasn’t even sure what I was going to say, or how, or that I had anything even. Either way I would be working with my data, either for the conference or for my dissertation. So I put my head down and finished a first round of coding. A few days before the conference it looked like I did have some results. I had also written an extensive dissertation proposal so the main work was cutting down what I was going to say so that it could fit into a 15 minute presentation. And of course now that I was the only person presenting I could present for longer, I had the room for an hour and a half! Not that I was planning to talk for that long.  I decided on Option C, to go it alone.

The  Presentation Day

What I feared was that it would really be me…alone! The presentation was scheduled for 10:30am on Saturday, the third and final day of the conference. Generally, conference attendance fluctuates throughout the day or days and this is particularly noticeable at smaller conferences like JPS, where there are many fewer audience members in the morning of the first day and in the afternoon of the last day.

So it was 10:29 and this is what the room looked like…no-one:

 

JPS My Symposium at 10:29
JPS My Symposium at 10:29

The Symposium

Thankfully, in the next ten minutes, as I paced around the room, people began to trickle in, and by 10:40 there were about 10 people in attendance! I know, I know, that’s not so many people. Why do all this work, fly across the country, stress out, just for 10 people to attend your talk. Well that’s the life, and 10 is actually not a bad number! It’s also about who the 10 are – and these 10 people were interested and offered insightful comments.

Colette gave a brief introduction and apologized for the people who could not make it and then I gave my talk about how transfer students blogged about their transition to college experience and how their blog posts reflected their cognitive and emotional development. I used PowerPoint not Prezi as I wasn’t sure about the Internet situation at the conference. This turned out to be a good decision as there was no free Internet in the conference room. In case any reader’s are interested, here’s a copy of  My JPS PPT, Digital Sense-Making.

I talked for around 25 minutes.  It was different than a normal conference presentation because there was no strict time constraint and members of the audience asked questions and we engaged in dialogue during the presentation that continued once the presentation concluded.

The conversation ranged from theoretical  perspectives on the diversity of stories and how one person may tell the same story many different ways in part depending on their audience, with one scholar  referencing a TED talk by Ngozi Adiche that I’m looking forward to watching, and also to reading Adiche’s work!

Another scholar wondered about the strengths and shortcomings of using human coded narrative analysis – as I had done – as compared to using a computer program like the LIWCOthers questioned the definition of genre and we explored some of the implications of the definition and why it is important to consider genre when doing narrative or mixed methods research.

Usually conference symposiums allow for about 5 minutes of questions and conversation, but we talked for an hour!

This turned out to be one of the best symposiums I’ve ever been a part of!

Seeing the City

It was also great to see my San Francisco taking lunch hours to explore Chinatown and some of North Beach.

IMG_20140530_133301 IMG_20140530_134410Svetlana - a GC Student and one of the great thinkers who were at my talk - in North Beach

Catching up with my olde Willie Brown middle school teacher friends in the evening was super fun. And of course  kicking it with my great buddy Nick and his wonderful wife Sarah is the best! So in the end,I’m glad I went with Option C!

Nick with Two Giant Beers
Nick with two giant beers

 

Nick's Popeye Muscle
Nick’s popeye muscle as he tries on Patagonia’s latest surfer invention

 

GSTA LOGO

A Spring 2014 GSTA Blog Retrospective and Useful Index

A Spring 2014 GSTA Blog Retrospective and Useful Index

Winslow Homer  Woman and BlackboardAssessment ASocrates and Platoscissorskeyboardpsych textbooksfoxy writingspring 2014bike rewardsthinking orangutanGSTA LOGO

Dear GSTA Community,

As the semester comes to a close we’d like to thank everyone who read, commented and posted on the GSTA blog. Here’s the list of the posts, which we hope will serve as a useful resource when planning your courses in the fall!

If you have any Teaching Tips you’d like to share please submit them to gsta.cuny.@gmail.com.

Best,

The GSTA Blog Editorial Team:

Philip Kreniske, Kasey Powers, Francis Yannaco and Theresa Fiani

And follow us on twitter@gradsteachpsych or join our Facebook Group!

Encouraging Inter-Student Participation in Large Lecture Sections using Discussion Board Forums

25 Feb 2014

By Danielle DeNigris

 

Teaching Tip: Choose Your Assessments Based On Student Learning Goals

04 Mar 2014

By Emily A. A. Dow

 

A Tool for Understanding Students: the Discussion Forum

11 Mar 2014

By Anna Schwartz

 

Socrates in the Classroom: Helping Students to Discover What’s Already There

18 Mar 2014

By Jeff Kukucka

 

A Mixed-Methods Approach to Child Development Instruction: Reflecting on Research Presented at the SRCD

24 Mar 2014

By Naomi J. AldrichPeri Ozlem Yuksel-Sokmen, & Sarah E. Berger

 

Using Low Stakes Writing as a Learning Tool

01 Apr 2014

By Kasey L. Powers

 

Short on Resources? A Variety of Useful Options for Graduate Students Teaching Psychology

08 Apr 2014

By Theresa Fiani and Rita Obeid

 

Teaching with Technology: Just the Basics Part 1

29 Apr 2014

By Francis Yannaco

 

Flip the Textbook

06 May 2014

By Kasey Powers

 

3 Tips for Supporting Greenhorn Research Writers

12 May 2014

By Philip Kreniske

 

Lecturers Can Run a Successful Course Without a Textbook

20 May 2014

By Hunter Kincaid

 

GSTA Logo

Final Class Poem

Final Class Poem   The Five Spot by Billy Collins 

In my final class, at least for the next year as I move on to a be a writing fellow at Baruch, I talked with my students about how I hoped that rather than remember any particular facts about research methods – that they had developed a new perspective on how to approach research articles and research presented in the popular press.

On the bus ride to class I’d been reading a recent issue of The Atlantic on The Confidence GapI thought the article quite relevant as 19//20 of the students in my course were women – many of whom were quite nervous about presenting their final projects .  I questioned if they thought a confidence gap existed between genders and if this gap might contribute to differences in pay? Or perhaps the confidence gap was a symptom of other systemic factors at play?

My hope is that after working through the research methods course my students will be equipped to  grapple with, deconstruct and then take a position in relation to the research presented in The Confidence Gap and in other relevant issues and articles.

I concluded the class by reading an excerpt from a poem featured in the same Atlantic issue, The Five Spot by Billy Collins. Ever since Questions about Angels was high school’s required summer reading I’ve had negative associations with Collins, but The Five Spot seemed to speak to an element of the course and hopefully to how students might think about issues in the world as they move on with their lives. The poem summarized my hopes for myself and my students better than I could in clumsy social science terms.  And as in class instead of trying to summarize these thoughts and emotions I’ll let the poet do this work…so direct from my fridge here it is:

 

The Five Spot by Billy Collins