Tag Archives: classroom

In the News

A link to this article in the Daily News came through on multiple list serves this morning: “New York City Teaching Fellows call for overhaul of 12-year program as deadline for new batch of teachers nears.” I think Lisa Cunningham, a former New York City Teaching Fellow who was interviewed for the article by Corinne Lestch, sums up the gist well: “I just think we need to have a serious conversation as a city about the way we train and support our teachers” (full article here).

First of all, isn’t there a hiring freeze? That’s what I’ve heard from friends looking to get a teaching position at a New York City public school, anyway…

snapshot of my own (old and weathered) copy of the NYT article referenced

But more importantly, this isn’t the first time, and I doubt will be the last, that the effectiveness of alternative certification programs like the New York City Teaching Fellows has been questioned.

I was reminded of the start of the program — I’d wanted to apply, but missed the first deadline, and joined a year later with Cohort 3. How differently the program was painted then. I’m reminded of an article in The New York Times, A Longer Shortcut to School,” in which I appeared with a colleague, that outlined a sort of day-in-the-life of two New York City Teaching Fellows. I’m described as “tall and animated,” and the author, Abby Goodnough, offers an account of my attempt to teach perimeter to third graders (which, years later, is a little horrifying to read). The tenor of the article is one of skepticism, though in contrast to today’s in The Daily News, far more hopeful about the program on the whole.

As I come up on the last year of graduate school, and begin to really consider what I want my job to look like as a full-time teacher educator, I am concerned about the disjointedness of teacher education, generally, and how programs like the New York City Teaching Fellows have confused the terms of what’s really going on in our city’s schools.

No Apples Here

This post draws from my first journal entry as a brand-new New York City Teaching Fellow about ten years ago. I’d spent plenty of time working with children as a teenager, and a year as a photography teacher at a school in Yonkers, but I was not prepared for what was to come. [Our summer school assignments were intended to be an observational period — an opportunity to watch and learn from a veteran teacher, and as time went on, to try our hand at teaching a lesson here and there before jumping headfirst into our own classrooms, come September.]

“It’s the first day of summer school, and we arrive promptly at 8am to find that there are no classes for us to observe. Correction: there are classes to observe, but not enough (certified) teachers have shown up, and we are asked to act as substitutes instead. We are paired up.

My partner and I are escorted to a 5th grade class, and the day is mostly chaotic. Before we get started, I notice a girl standing off to the edge of the room, and when asked to take a seat, she says she’s too big for the furniture. It’s true, so I give her the chair from the teacher’s desk to sit on, which initiates a waterfall of complaints from other students who want to sit in a big chair, too. It turns out the room is built for 3rd graders, and more than a few students are crammed into chairs and desks that are too small.”

Looking back on this entry, I can see the emergence of what I would soon learn to call ‘the policy-practice gap.’ Here are my observations as a graduate student:

  • Having an uncertified, rookie teacher cover a class on the very first day of summer school seems to go against policy, no? The Transitional B certificate, which I and all other alternative certification teachers were given in order to bypass New York State regulations requiring the acquisition of a Masters degree prior to certification, likely contributed to this grey area. While I wouldn’t have been able to teach full time without the certificate, I was not prepared to take on a class on my first day.
  • Mismatched bodies and furniture would happen on a recurring basis throughout my years of teaching that would follow. How can students be expected to learn and ‘behave’ if they can’t fit into the seat(s) assigned to them?
  • Any brand-new teacher can attest to hearing things like ‘don’t smile till Christmas,’ referring to how important some educators feel it is to appear strong to students. While I have a number of issues with this tacit new-teacher ‘policy’ (and a general inability to not smile at times), there is some truth in making an effort to keep your composure when standing in front of a group of students. And while pairing us up made sense from the perspective of the administration, since few of us had ever stood in front of a classroom before, it sent the message to the class (just like smiling broadly might) that we were nervous/unprepared/new.

More on the ‘policy-practice gap’ to come in future posts.

Digital Humanities in the Classroom

As I get my feet wet with this public-blogging thing (intentionally public, anyway–this isn’t the first time I’ve blogged publicly, but it’s the first time I’ve done so while trying to capture the attention of a specific audience and string a common thread through my posts), there is a growing pile (digital and otherwise) of things to think and write about. I find that I am accumulating post topics at a much higher frequency than I have time to write about them! This forces me to be judicious with words and space (believe it or not), to critically think through how I might thread several disparate concepts together, and to consider how I’ll use various media to convey the heart of my message.  As informal as blogging can be, the project of maintaining a blog for a specific professional purpose becomes a formalized act that follows a distinct process, much like that of writing a research paper or article manuscript. Which brings me to what inspired this post: last night’s CUNY Digital Humanities Initiative talk with Shannon Mattern and Mark Sample.

Shannon’s presentation in particular, “Beyond the Seminar Paper: Setting New Standards for New Forms of Student Work,” gave me things to think about when it comes to my research.  While I (and many other K-12 public school teachers in NYC) have a knee-jerk reaction against the word “standards,” it was refreshing to hear someone discuss evaluation and assessment in the context of why.  It’s not that I haven’t heard other academics speak about assessment in productive, logical ways; it’s just that so much of my time as a 5th grade teacher was spent producing pretty, neatly formatted assessments because I was forced to, not because it made sense.  One year, using an informal system of notes on a post-it was the accepted form of evaluation; another year, the focus was on rubrics; our heads spun with the rapid changes that seemed episodic and disconnected to the goals of our lessons, and in the interim, the whole purpose of evaluating was lost on many of us. While Shannon has developed a series of evaluative tools along with each project she has developed with her students, it was clear from her presentation that her evaluations were not seemingly random rubrics or checklists like the ones I once compulsorily produced–her evaluations have a specific purpose, and are connected to the larger learning goals of her students’ projects.  I appreciated being a part of this conversation at the higher-ed level–particularly the part that took up questions around support for practitioners.  (And I’d like to see more spaces for conversations like this at the K-12 level.)

So what do we do if we want to use a technological tool we don’t know how to use?  What are the resources available to professionally develop your own skills as instructors–at all educational levels?  And how can the growth of our society’s do-it-yourself (DIY) culture support those endeavors?

Shannon’s talk last night touched briefly on what I hear mentioned often in professional talks lately: getting an academic job is no longer a guarantee once you get your PhD.  I feel like I’ve witnessed the development of this phenomenon first-hand over the last decade, and have to wonder at how it has paralleled the development of technology.  At age 26 (eight years ago), with but two years of teaching 5th grade under my belt, I was hired as an adjunct to teach a course called “Assessment and Evaluation” at a local university.  Not only were the students in my course teaching in grades K-12 (I’d only taught elementary school at that point), the course text (which was dictated by the department) was unbelievably dry and disconnected from most of my students’ daily work, and my students were rightfully frustrated by the course content and my teaching of it.  I had not yet developed the wisdom (which would come several years later and is still evolving) to logically develop a purposeful assessment tool that was accessible to my students and made sense for the larger goals of the project or assignment.  At the time, there were few impressive lines on my CV that related to teaching at the Masters level, and other than being an ambitious, personable young woman with lots of energy and a brightly decorated classroom, I didn’t seem qualified.  So why was I hired?  Surely it couldn’t just be because I was cheap at $2,250 per class (or thereabouts), or that I was referred by an advisor through the New York City Teaching Fellows–I still went through an interview! Was something else happening at the time?  Was it the start of what we are witnessing now, with the disappearance of full-time, tenure-track positions? What does it all have to do with the advances of technology?  I realize I’m tangenting, and again, raising threads that I will want to return to, but all of these thoughts were descending upon my brain last night as I sat and listened to Shannon and Mark talk about their work at their respective institutions. (You can read more about my K-12 teaching experience in my previous post if you’re interested.)

Toward the end of the discussion, someone asked a question about the boundary between teaching tech and teaching content–for instance, at what point does teaching how to use a blog platform detract from the content-specific point of the activity?  I appreciated that both speakers had already intimated in their respective talks that the boundary is blurry and increasingly so–that as pedagogues, we will often be required to move our technological knowledge along independently, and make use of the advances available to us whether there is a PD session to support it or not.  I admit I’m out of the loop when it comes to debating the identifiers of “digital humanities.”  It seems that technology and teaching are so inextricably linked at this point that you cannot teach without bumping into technology somewhere along the way, and vice versa.

If I had more hours in the day, I would spend time looking at how developments in letter-writing and the postal service, television, telephones, automobiles, radio, and other technologies have impacted policies and practices around teaching and learning–this tension surely existed before computers, right?  I can’t imagine the development of automobiles having had the same impact on classroom learning as computers and the internet, but I’m curious about how the education system catches up to advances that move quickly around it.

I’m looking forward to continuing this discussion with you and other friends and colleagues involved in the project of education.

From Journal to Blog

So much has been going on, it’s hard to figure out what to write about!  I was back down at Occupy Wall Street this morning, and I am impressed that it’s still going strong.  It makes me hopeful about what is possible.  In the meantime, I got some helpful feedback about digital organization systems for data from my last post, and will report back about my experience soon. Speaking of experience, my dissertation research stems from my experience in the classroom.  While I have been preparing to start my research in earnest, I have been looking back at my journals, from which I initially constructed blog posts when I was a rookie teacher.  My blog authorship as a teacher was not long-lived, because back then, I still didn’t fully understand the internet and was worried about being found out.  But I still have those journals.  This post might feel incomplete, but I’m going to circle back to it eventually.  In the meantime, here’s a look back:

July 24, 2001.  I don’t know my classroom assignment yet, but it’ll either be 3rd or 4th grade.  I might be in an inconclusion class, which means I’d be one of two co-teachers.  The other teacher would be a special education teacher, and I would fulfill the general education portion of the partnership.  I’m equal parts nervous and excited.  My mentor teacher was late this morning, and the class I’ve been student teaching in all summer went wild.  A game of Simon Says erupted into a fight, and once again, I looked like I had no control over a group of students.  And there are only half as many students as I’ll have in September.  No, I’m probably more nervous than excited.

 July 30, 2001.  We had a guest speaker today in class, who said some of the following things:

  • Never show your emotions.
  • You are not a counselor.  We are here to triage.
  • Do not raise your voice—it’s entertainment to your students.
  • Feel your adultness.
  • If you structure your days with love, your students pick up on that.
  • The contract says you don’t have to break up a fight.
  • After you admonish a child for behavior, call on them next to build them back up.

September 16, 2001.  We still haven’t had a full week of school, and the country is still reeling from September 11th.  I’m not sure I’ve processed what happened.  I’m exhausted, and everything hurts.  I have to write more later.

October 5, 2001.  One 3rd-grade class was split, because the class sizes on the grade were too small.  My 3rd-grade class has only 16 students, and I wonder what will happen.  And why are the classes so small?  I thought overcrowding was a problem in New York City.   When I was in the main office today, I overheard that they are splitting another class.  I just keep thinking that it’s going to be mid-October, and a whole class of students has no idea who their teacher will be for the year.  How are they supposed to feel comfortable in their classrooms? It doesn’t seem fair.

This was all happening almost exactly ten years ago. I can’t believe that someone said, in a class, that “we are here to triage.” What does that even mean?  There was so much talk of not smiling or showing emotions, and it was literally impossible for me to abide by those guidelines.  And what about “feel your adultness”? Thinking back, we were a group of people who spanned twenty-something to fifty-something, but I guess there was a majority of young people—I had just turned 24 at the start of the school year. And why were we talking about breaking up fights when we hadn’t yet learned the fundamentals of teaching children to read?

I have lots more to say on this, and want to tie it back to something I read recently regarding technology in classrooms today, but I think I’ll wait to continue until my next post.

To be continued…

Using Blogs as Data Collectors

When I started graduate school, web-based reference tools were only just being developed. At the time, I was using Endnote to keep track of my citations.  That is, until I clumsily tripped over the cord attached to my iBook. This was before the cord was magnetic, and I watched in stop-action as all of my work came crashing down. Little screws and bits of plastic spewed out from the sides. I hadn’t backed up in a while, and have not made that mistake since.

Today, it seems like everyone I talk to is using Zotero.  I was, too, until I realized about halfway through last year that someone else was using my Zotero library (and adding to and reorganizing it), too, in the adjunct office where I spent the bulk of my time last year. I hadn’t completely understood how Zotero works, and although I managed to get through defending my dissertation proposal by using it, I gave up and have been wavering ever since on where to take my library of citations next. And it dawned on me: why not just use a blog?

Has anyone had experience doing this? If I set up categories for authors and subjects, would it be easy enough for me to aggregate the appropriate data when necessary? I wonder if it would be possible to develop a WordPress plug-in (or if there already is one) to export bibliographic information as Zotero does. In the meantime, I am considering using a blog to organize my data by using categories and tags as codes. Obviously, the blog would need to be private; however, I wonder what other institutional requirements might be necessary for such a project. If my data is housed in a private site on the internet, is that as good as a locked file cabinet in an office?

Meanwhile, I have a Google Scholar alert set up for “teachers and blogging,” and have for almost a year now, and I’m fascinated by what comes up every time I receive a new digest. This morning, there was a paper about students “phlogging,” the practice of blogging from your phone, to complete assignments. And something else dawned on me: I have witnessed a 180-degree turn when it comes to technology and gadgets in the classroom.

I have probably already mentioned how when I started teaching at an elementary school, if we had to look something up on Google, we felt guilty; like somehow we weren’t good teachers if we didn’t have all the knowledge we were trying to impart to our students stored away in neat little virtual folders in our brains.  The fact of the matter is, I don’t remember all the capitals to all fifty states anymore (and probably haven’t since I memorized them for an in-class quiz about twenty-five years ago now), not to mention all of the conversion rules for ounces/cups/quarts, etc.  It’s not that I had to sit there with my laptop open, Googling things every moment of every day in order to teach; however, I admit that there were times when students asked questions that stumped me, and my colleagues and I made good use of the technological tools within reach. (A note on laptop use as a teacher: when our school was initially wired, teachers were not permitted to use the wireless network.  This is another example of the policy-practice gap I’m examining in my research.)

I’m getting a little off-topic here, but it’s hard not to think about how things have changed, while trying to figure out how to make technology work for a project right here, right now.  I have a feeling that in ten years, blogs will be even more sophisticated, and there will in fact be a more universally available option for keeping reference information and research data in blogs.  In the meantime, I’ll be developing my own system and will keep you updated on that project in future blog posts.

In other news, I went down to the Occupy Wall Street protests again yesterday with a group of colleagues, and was overwhelmed (in an inspiring way!) by how huge the crowd had gotten by the time we got there.  Thousands of people came from all over, and union representation was enormous.  At one point, we stretched all the way from Foley Square to Wall Street.  You can see photos here if you’re interested:

Occupy Wall Street 10/5/11

Lastly, RIP Steve Jobs.  Apple technology = awesome.

“Hope and enthusiasm are soaring here. But not test scores.”

This past Sunday’s New York Times published the first of a series of articles about “the intersection of education, technology and business as schools embrace digital learning”(p. 16) with the title “In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores.”  I have to say, I appreciate the NYT’s effort at turning the spotlight to education every now and then, thus encouraging the masses to pay attention to K-12 classroom learning; however, they don’t always get all sides of the story.

I’m often looking for articles and media presentations about teaching that take into account teachers’ input, and it should be noted that this article gives a nod (in the section “Teachers vs. Tech” on the last page of the article) to the impact of recent technological developments in education on teachers — particularly the financial constraints of new materials, resources, and training.  So often, discussions of education leave out the part of the narrative that honors that teachers are living, breathing human beings, too, who, despite the efforts of teacher education programs, don’t arrive at the classroom door with a fixed set of skills — especially at a time when skill-level requirements (particularly around computers) are changing and ratcheting up on a daily basis.  Teachers, just like students, need ongoing learning opportunities, too, and their input in this conversation is necessary but often absent.

There are a million threads to take up in response to this article, but I want to focus on just a few:

  • definition of what we’re referring to as “technology”
  • teacher as guide instead of lecturer
  • proof of value of technology in the classroom

Definition of what we’re referring to as “technology.”  So what do we mean by “technology”?  It is implied throughout this article that the “technology” being discussed is computer and internet technology.  But where does technology end and begin?  Wasn’t the invention of the wheel “technology”?  Isn’t using a xerox machine technology?  Do students have to be operating in virtual spaces for it to be considered “technology”? Are there actual, specific requirements for a classroom to be considered “technology-centric?”  How does this distinction help or hurt when it comes to developing best practices in the classroom?

Teacher As Guide Instead of Lecturer.  The article references Kyrene School District in Arizona, which has “invested roughly $33 million” for computers, interactive screens, and other virtual technologies, and states “the digital push here aims to go far beyond gadgets to transform the very nature of the classroom, turning the teacher into a guide instead of a lecturer.”  This line honestly floored me — each of my teacher education courses, whether I was a student or an instructor, centered around the Piagetian idea of constructivism, in which the teacher is a guide, not a lecturer.  Put simply by Dewey, constructivism means that “experience is education,” and that the act of doing is, in itself, a powerful form of learning.

For me, and the majority of my teaching colleagues, the notion of acting as a “guide” instead of  “lecturer” is not new, and focusing on this as some sort of new method for approaching the classroom via the lens of technology does a disservice to the last century of progressive educators’ work.  While I can only speak for myself, I find it angering to have this concept renewed again and again, as if for the first time, without focusing on what is really happening: a lack of equally accessible resources, a dearth of ongoing, effective training for teachers, and a system of policymaking that could not be further from the actual classroom.

I remember when the new citywide curriculum for K-6 was implemented (roughly 7 school years ago) in New York City, and as a fifth grade teacher I was expected to start teaching with a new curriculum that was unfamiliar to me (Everyday Math).  At that time, the rhetoric was that we needed classrooms to be “child-centered.”  Now we need classrooms to be “technology-centered”?  Will this simple shift in focus actually make a difference?  I am guessing that it won’t.

Proof of Value of Technology in the Classroom.  The article states the claim that “educators would like to see major trials years in length that clearly demonstrate technology’s effect. But such trials are extraordinarily difficult to conduct when classes and schools can be so different, and technology is changing so quickly.”  Sure, yes.  We would all love to see trials of things that “work” in education, period, but one sure-fire thing that a century of education research has helped us conclude is that nothing works for everyone.  I am not advocating the willy-nilly implementation of programs in classrooms (if you’re a public school teacher, you know this happens already.)  As an educational researcher, I unconditionally agree that more research must be conducted; however, one need not conduct a years-long, longitudinal study to make the basic claim that technology (of the computer/internet variety at the very least) is increasingly becoming a necessary pedagogical component.  You can’t get a library at the local library, get an MTA card, or communicate with a cell phone today if you don’t have a basic understanding of technology.

As I said, there is a lot more to say, and I’m having a hard time cutting this post short as a result, but…  I hope this is the start of a really important conversation that every educator can be a part of right now: how can/will the technology revolution transform education?  Will it transform education?  Or, will the same trends continue, in which a new silver bullet is proposed (in this case, “technology”), tons of money is invested, and empirical data shows little or no change?  At what point are we going to stop beating around the bush and figure out that 1) any new device — whether curricular, pedagogical, technological, or any combination of the above in nature — will require additional, sufficient teacher training; 2) clear channels for teacher input/expertise need to be forged; and 3) the internet isn’t going anywhere and kids need to interact with it in their learning environments — and not just in the name of improving American test scores.

Where Physical Ends and Digital Begins

How often do you still download a document, or go to the site of a periodical you used to get in the mail every week, and approach it as a concrete piece of the physical world?  How has the switch from print to digital affected how you engage with what you’re reading/learning?

I grew up convinced I’d been born in the wrong decade.  I always thought I should have come of age in the 60s, been a part of a set of movements that were fought by and for everyday people, had the chance to witness “real” change happening.  And it only recently dawned on me that the span of my lifetime, and that of my peers, is mind-boggling in a totally different but also unique way.  Although the technology revolution is of a different nature than that of the antiwar and civil rights variety, it is also the mark of an amazingly wild and exciting time to be alive.

I often come back to this fact: I typed my college applications on a typewriter.  Sometimes I spend whole days coming back to this idea, wondering if there has in fact ever been a time in history in which so much change has happened so rapidly.  I also wonder how historians will recount this period in time: are we only at the beginning of what is to come? When/how did this wave of change really start? What social, economic, and political forces impacted the rate and speed of digital growth?  How do schools factor into all of this?

But I digress.  Really what inspired this post was downloading my first book on iBooks. I’m a recent iPhone convert, and while a big part of why I’ve avoided getting one is related to my klutz factor, a big part of me has resisted the functionality of apps like iBooks that aim to marry the physical and digital.  If you’ve ever been to my apartment, you’ve probably noticed my monstrous bookshelf.  Even though it holds my most precious possessions, I have a love-hate relationship with the shelf itself.  I kind of can’t stand it anymore — it’s been through seven apartments with me over the last decade — and the more information I take in digitally every day, the more I want to purge my life of physical things (like my books — I can’t even believe I’m saying that out loud!!) for if I keep them, the growing intake of digital information will at some point surely seem redundant.

I can’t see myself getting rid of the well-worn tomes that my favorite high school English teacher assigned senior year, the stacks of heavily annotated political economy and education policy literature, my collections of Chris Van Allsberg books and Jacqueline Susann novels, the beautiful knitwear and fiber art books my grandmother gave me from the 70s, or the touchstone texts that guided me through the first years of teaching reading and writing in an elementary school.  But then I try to imagine what my iBooks library will look like a year from now — surely there will be more than just one volume sitting on my virtual shelves. So what happens to my actual books?  Will I end up purchasing them digitally, too?  Will my book collection become a retro conversation piece in twenty years?  Will my urge to purge anything in the physical world that I maintain a digital copy of grow? And related to my work: how can public elementary schools possibly keep up?

I went to a presentation at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting this year in New Orleans about the national education technology plan.  It was a fascinating symposium that went through a brief history of how the internet has affected students and learning throughout the U.S., and spent a lot of time explaining the plan for the near future.  All sorts of innovative ideas were shared about the impact technology is having (and could potentially have) on education, and the capabilities teachers have at their fingertips.  The catch is: only if there’s funding.  And at this point, the federal education technology plan puts the pressure on the states to back the plan with dollars to make it happen.  Of course we all know what’s happening with state budgets: they’re being slashed, and things like education are taking a huge hit.

So in my eyes, we’re at a real crossroads.  It’s not a clear-cut crossroads or even a fork in the road exactly — while I’m framing my thoughts here in the context of two distinct bodies (physical and digital), I see them as necessarily tangled.  I think a period of time will continue for a while in which most of us will kind of fumble now and then when we try to use an app that replicates something we’re already knowledgeable of tangibly (i.e., a book), but that eventually, the digital world will no longer seem to replicate (or try to imitate) the physical in the same ways.

I have so much more to say about this, but it’s the first week of the semester and I’m completely spent.  More tomorrow.