Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tracking: Jeanie Oakes

In her piece, "Tracking: Why Schools Need to Take Another Route" Jeanie Oakes discusses the effects, of tracking on students, both in regards to their emotions and their education. Through this discussion she then explains why this form of education needs to be abandoned, and also new ways to go about doing so. 

With tracking, those students who are placed in the higher tracks flourish, while those placed in the lower tracks often do not get the attention and support in their education that they need. Oakes also brings up another factor of the lower tracks, "Many express particular concern about tracking's effects on poor and minority students, who are laced in low-ability groups more often than other students and are less likely to be found in programs for gifted students or in college preparatory tracks". This relates back to Kristof and his explanation of how institutions make it so much harder for children of minorities and low income families to raise up in class standing and be successful. From the start of their education, students are being placed in a group which does not provide them with the tools needed to e successful. It also can be related back to Kozol and his discussion of clumping people who are struggling all together and leaving them with nothing positive to latch onto and grow off of. This video quickly expands how tracking in students goes beyond just testing and perceived education, and is based on looks, behavior, and other factors. 

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In regards to the classroom experiences of students who are in the higher tracks, Oakes explains, "Many teachers realize that for students, feeling comfortable in class is more than just a nice addition to learning". The classrooms which are in the higher tracks tend to focus on giving students more options in regards to what they are doing in the classroom, as well as topics, and discussions. They have more time to work independently ask questions, and participate in discussion. Classrooms in the lower track on the other hand, are more often focused on discipline, behavior, and routine, rather than academics. This creates a more stern atmosphere, which pulls away from students feeling comfortable in the classroom. As explained by August, students feeling comfortable in a classroom, helps students' education to flourish as they are focused and feel stable in their environment in the classroom. They are solely focused on the work they are doing and are not mainly focused on worrying about breaking the rules or going outside of the typical routine for the day. 

But fixing this is not something which can not easily be done effectively. Oakes explains that the best way to do this is to have a curriculum which "is organized around the central themes of a subject area rather than around disconnected topics and skills, all students stand the greatest chance of enhancing their intellectual behavior". Through creating a theme based curriculum, it allows for there to be more open-ended right answers, and for students of all abilities to take part, as there are various paths to these answers. This helps eliminate there being different "Tracks" and different levels of work for students, as they are all being allowed to participate. It also helps to create a comfortable and inclusive feeling in the classroom, which also helps further the learning happening as said above. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Kahne and Westheimer: In the Service of What?

Throughout the piece In the Service of What? The Politics of Service Learning, Joseph Kahne and Joel Westheimer discuss the affects of service learning on students and the community as a whole. They define service learning as learning which, "makes students active participants in service projects that aim to respond to the needs of the community while furthering the academic goals of students". This includes a variety of opportunities and projects, from working with the homeless to working with the environment. Either way they are working to look beyond themselves and help those around them in the form of service. The question that Kahne and Westheimer are aiming to answer though, is whether or not this service is actually helping, having an effect, and causing change, or if it is just an act of charity. 

They begin to focus on the fact that while these acts of service are good in nature, the goal of the project needs to be established and lined up with the project. While being progressive is good, they say "more attention has been focused on moving forward than on asking where we are headed".  Kahne and Westheimer then discuss how it is necessary to ask question the values of the projects, what relationships are being formed, what society is being lead towards, and other underlying issues in the service learning project. 

helping-others.jpg (600×400)This then comes down to the aspects of Charity vs. Change. Kahne and Westheimer compare various different service learning projects which were done in classrooms. The service project "Serving Those in Need", done in Mr. Johnson's classroom exemplified acts of charity. Through this project they provided time and fulfill their "civic duty" and built a sense of altruism. It was a temporary project, which paid no attention to the the greater system at hand and helping to fix it. Very much like Kozol's idea of putting a band-aid on a broken leg. 

The other project done in Ms. Adam's classroom involved analyzing the system and causes of the homelessness issue as a whole, including the impacts it has, the difficulties faced by those involved. The project involved discussion and self analysis as well as the analysis of the overall systematic issue. This situation falls more into the idea of a change focused service learning project. Focus is placed on the idea of creating a lasting change, both in the system itself, as well as in the ideas and minds of the students in the classroom. 

There is not specifically a right or wrong answer in regards to having a service learning experience which is charity focused or change focused, as long as it aligns specifically with what kind of service learning experience you are aiming to achieve. In the original formation of the Service learning aspect, the goal was for students to be able to "recognize that their academic abilities and collective commitments could help them respond in meaningful ways to a variety of social concerns". These situations are the ones which are charity based, the focus is placed solely on the student and their response to things in the future.

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John Dewey was one of the main advocates for
the change style of Service Learning.
On the other hand, those Service Learning projects focused which fall under the 
change category were focused not only on where the child is now, but also where they are going and what they can do. This was explained by Lawernce Cremin saying, "by manipulating the school curriculum, they could ultimately change the world".  Through this project, they are bringing up discussions of systematic change to be able to make a greater difference throughout our society. They are making the most out of this possibility, rather than just settling at a positive feeling left behind from an act of charity. 

These charity acts are not completely dissociated with future change, and often times charity works as a stepping stone towards future change. Whether it is just an aspect of a change project or it is a project done alongside that of change, the positivity expressed and created through charity acts can act as a benefactor to that of change. Charity on it's own is also not negative and the positivity in it is still valued, but when that charity is viewed as change and nothing more is done with it, then that is where a problem my arise. 

Promising Practices

The first part of the Promising Practices conference on November 5th, was lead by keynote speaker Robert Brooks. Throughout his speech, he discussed the "The Power of Mindsets: Strategies to Nurture Resilience". He told stories throughout his life as a psychologist and educator, and how they apply to helping build resiliency in students. One aspect which he put a lot of focus on was he importance of being a "charismatic adult". He describes this person as one who can connect and relate to a student on both a professional and emotional level. This allows the students' to create an emotional connection not only to the adult but also to the information and education which is being taught, as well as creating a positive feeling. 

This idea of a charismatic adult ties greatly into the topic of my first workshop which was titled "Social and Emotional Learning (SEL): Developing A Common Cross Cultural Language". The workshop was lead by Soraya Gomes, a Hispanic woman, and Kathleen Nerstheimer, a white woman. In regards to the way the program was run, I felt that it was very disorganized, they had a lot of information they tried to push into an hour so nothing was too in-depthly discussed. We were handed a thick packet of information to follow 

social-and-emotional-learning-core-competencies.png (1000×1000)along with the power point, as well as a link to a website with a compilation of other sources related to the discussion. This allowed me to dive more into the content which was discussed afterwards and get more out of it than just what was presented.  They focused on discussing the idea of SEL which is a way to create a learning atmosphere both in adults as well as students which is socially and emotionally aware. This involved being self-aware, knowing how to self-manage, being socially aware, having proper relationship skills, and being able to make responsible decisions. In regards to being socially aware, they discussed the importance of being aware of the social situations around you and being able to empathize with those of different cultures and social standings. While this relates back to the majority of our class, it specifically relates the most to Johnson and his discussion of the necessity of being socially aware in regards to privilege in order to make any progress or change. This also relates back to Delpit and the necessity of teaching the rules and codes of power. Through SEL, students are learning the aspects needed for success in the future. On the same page of Delpit, the different types of teaching, the indirect white teaching style and direct teaching style were very visible in the way the two women went about presenting the information in the presentation. They pulled a lot of attention to it, explaining how through SEL, teachers are able to utilize both and know how to approach the students at hand rather than having a specific style used at all times. 

Through following this, Teachers are relating in that professional yet emotionally understanding way, characterizing them as the "Charismatic adults" Brooks exemplified earlier in his speech. Also, through being these "charismatic adults" and creating a space where the students feel emotionally engaged as well as safe, this is helping to create a safe space in the classroom or community they are working in, which as August explains helps further learning, in many of the same ways exemplified by Brooks. 

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My second session was titled "Building Resiliency Through Play". I was not provided as much information in this session, but it was very interactive and fun, and the information provided was valuable. We opened up with different cray hand shakes which forced many of us out of our comfort zones, as well as forced us to interact with those around the room. We then did an activity which required us to find a partner and hold three blocks together with just our index fingers, and then go around and try to keep our blocks up, while trying to knock down those of the people around you. We then split up to play various other games, such as operation, Jenga, and a game called Builders and Bulldozers. In Builders and Bulldozers, there where a few builders building block towers three blocks high and everyone else going around and knocking down the towers, as the game went on more and more people were added and the rolls of builder or bulldozer were constantly changing. Afterwards, we discussed the various games we played and how these activities all had a sense of risk to them, but that when portrayed properly, it can encourage students to know how to handle situations of failure properly rather than negatively, as well as helping to promote social relationships and positives through resiliency.  Kristen Pepin, a professor here at RIC who led the program also provided resources of books containing various ideas filled with different games and activities which can be enacted to help build resiliency through acts of play in children.  

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Pecha Kucha