Posts Tagged ‘
student engagement ’
Last week, Dan Jamison and I were invited to help facilitate the Mid-Valley Boys and Girls Club staff retreat in Lincoln City. This Boys and Girls Club serves kids in the Mid-Willamette Valley area within the Albany, Sweet Home and Lebanon school districts and provides a fun, safe and supervised environment for recreational and educational activities. Dan and I were particularly excited about this retreat because Albany and Lebanon happen to be two of our 18 CLASS districts.
Chalkboard was invited to this retreat to provide the Boys and Girls Club with an introduction to the CLASS Project, share current state and federal education policy issues, and also provide a snapshot of some of Oregon’s student data. And we were happy to join, always wanting to build our outreach and share important education-related information with communities throughout the state. This was also a great opportunity for the Boys and Girls Club staff to gain a better understanding of what’s going on with the students and teachers within their school districts—particularly those involved in CLASS.
It also wasn’t hard to say yes to a day at the coast, in Lincoln City where the retreat was held. The day promised to be full of hard work, creative thinking, and a bit of an ocean breeze. And after teaching for 32 years in Albany and serving as a principal at all three levels in the Greater Albany School District, Dan was excited to engage with the club. He even ran into some of his former students!
Here it comes…the first day of school! Walking through the doors, you can feel the exhilarating mixture of excitement and nervousness in the air. Kids will be meeting new teachers, seeing old friends, and showing off their stylin’ new clothes. It’s fantastic fun for some, but for students with high geographic mobility, the prospect of yet another new school, filled with unfamiliar faces isn’t exciting—it’s scary. How can teachers help these kids feel welcome, and make their transition into another new environment a little easier?
Students with high geographic mobility are those who have attended many schools during their K-12 years due to frequent moves. For some families, moving more than once in the course of a single school year is common. Usually these moves are associated with employment, housing, or relationship problems, and can be a contributing factor in low academic achievement (http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/student-mobility/).
Every child is different, and deals with change in his or her own way. I spoke with several friends who moved around a lot, attending as many as 11 schools during their K-12 years. They were all affected differently.
I may be revealing how much television I watch, but those K12.com Oregon Virtual Academy commercials are everywhere these days. Issues of school choice aside, their refrain of praises for online learning has me thinking more and more lately about the role of technology in education. How will new technologies help students’ learning? How will digital tools change the classroom? Will all these developments help create critical thinkers and global entrepreneurs (with “21st century skills”), or will they disconnect people from each other and create a generation of frenzied consumers of the overwhelming digital stream of information?
In our current ChalkBloggers poll, not one person has selected “Utilizing new technologies” as the most important element of classroom instruction. That’s a relief to me. I would never want a teacher to sacrifice real interactions (like providing constructive feedback and creating a positive and open learning environment, the two top answers) to let a computer do it for them. No one wants robotic teaching.
But certainly, lessons can be enhanced with new digital resources—and more and more, this and future generations of technology-steeped children will need to be reached with constructive interactive tools in the classroom. No one can completely shut off to new technologies and risk being left behind. The trick is finding a balance and carefully choosing the most effective tools that will enrich, not distract from, student learning.
But how to sort through the myriad options that seem to be growing and changing even faster everyday? It seems like a full-time job just to keep up. But I’ve found a few new online resources (of course) that look to do the work for you.
I love reform. I’m excited that as a state and nation we are looking at making changes to public education. But sometimes in moving forward, it’s good to look back.
I’ve been moved to look back at my earlier career by the publicity around Jose Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and product of the California middle school where I taught. I’ve been thinking about the Jose days (mid-90s) and the staff and organization of that school. Of course, he is only one student, but there were many new immigrant kids who did quite well there. So what were we doing there that worked?
One thing that we did have was lots of faculty communication across the grade levels. I taught an intense and rigorous program partly because it was jointly developed by all the teachers on the 5th grade team. We met every Wednesday during prep, opened our plan books and shared. As a 5th grade teacher in a 5-8th grade school, I was reminded in staff meetings and in passing about where kids needed to be in order to be successful in later grades. There was a mindset that we were preparing kids for college. It helped that we were a Silicon Valley school sitting in the shadow of Yahoo, Netscape and SGI, where innovation and hard work were cultural norms in the neighborhood.
Here’s my bottom line: The most important task of a school leader is to embrace the challenge of having a clear and shared vision of equitable outcomes for all students. It is the democratic principle of fairness upon which our country is founded and the basis for truly changing the achievement gaps that now prevail.
With the recent news that only 66% of Oregon students graduate high school, it’s clear that this vision does not “just happen.” It has to be owned and shared by the whole school community. It must be intentional, planned, implemented and supported to be sustainable. It must be evident every day, every week and every month in every classroom. All students, teachers and parents need to know and own a common vision of outcomes at their school. What must each student know and be able to do when he/she graduates? When this is clear and held dear, there is a true school spirit.
All students come from somewhere special, each with different backgrounds, different experiences and different circumstances. The whole of their differences is the beautiful mosaic of school. And when they come through the school doors, they are in a place where equity can happen. But there must be a roadmap for success for each student in each classroom across these differences.
Teachers must lead the way for the students. They must know their students well, understanding them across all their differences. They must ask the question: What does it take for a student to enter a school at one level of achievement, move forward, and then graduate with the highest potential achievement? That’s the daily challenge of teaching, at every level.
Jennifer Singleton is an elementary school music teacher with seven years of teaching experience in Portland metro area schools. She was born, raised, and educated in Oregon, and loves nothing more than connecting with kids through music. We’re excited to have her joining the conversation about teaching and education reform as the newest member of the ChalkBlogger team.
My seven-year teaching career has taken me to five different schools in the Portland metro area. Most of them, including my current school, have had low socio-economic status (SES), which refers to the income, education and occupation of the students’ parents. While there were definitely some advantages to teaching in a high SES school, I choose to teach in a difficult school because for me, the rewards outweigh the challenges.
Obviously, there were a lot of great things about working in a high SES school. For the most part our students were well cared for physically and emotionally. Classroom management mostly meant controlling chatty kids. My program was adequately funded, and our school had a supportive community with plenty of volunteers for classrooms and school events. In many ways, teaching in a high SES school was a breeze.
The learning environment I’ve just described sounds ideal, but there were also some frustrating problems. I have a few colleagues who, like me, have taught in both kinds of schools. And like me, they prefer to teach in a low SES school. When asked about it, one of my colleagues even exclaimed, “You couldn’t pay me to go back!” The question is: Why? With all of the advantages, why choose a school with so many struggles? The answer for us boils down to a lack of appreciation.
One of the questions I posed last week to my fourth graders was, “If I’m a carnivore, do I need plants?” Some said yes and some no.
I spend a good deal of time teaching kids how to convince with facts and polite discussion. They sit in teams, put heads together and work out their issues. The yes people proved their point to the no people. We don’t always have smooth discussions and feelings sometimes get hurt. We work on it—a lot. Kids learn that they can stand down from an initial idea when faced with proof and not lose face. Some of the phrases we use are “That’s a good idea, but have you thought about…”
Yes, civility and debate need to be explicitly taught as does critical thinking.
When one kid declared that, “We are all in this together,” after our food web discussion, it made me think of the remarks that I often hear about educational issues. One argument in particular strikes me time and again: the one about how public education generates no money so it should bear the brunt of the economic crisis while corporations should have a lesser tax burden because they drive the economy. Obviously, these people have not reflected on the interdependence of the public and private sector, just as some of my students at first didn’t see the connection between individual members of a food web.
I wonder if across our nation, we are reaping the harvest of a generation that wasn’t asked to dig deeply to find connections. The inability to debate civilly quite possibly stems from inadequate training in school, the result of sitting in rows and competitively trying to get the highest score on tests that have no gray areas. Our curricula have always tended to stress superficial knowledge of lots of subjects at the expense of in-depth collaborative analysis.
The good news is that there is a move to develop an American public that is more thoughtful. Educators at all levels currently use “larger questions” to teach higher level thinking through content. Just last week we debated whether Capt. Meriwether Lewis was a good leader, which prompted a search for direct evidence. And it’s not just me—it’s happening in many classrooms. A current national push for high school graduation requirements to include community service will develop a generation that also looks beyond themselves.
In Oregon, we have developed testing that now necessitates that kids think critically. In fourth grade, students are asked to write a multi-paragraph paper in order to pass the writing test. Writing takes considerable logical thinking to organize and stamina to produce. New this year in elementary school math, we now have three tested areas where kids need to show a truly deep understanding of the topic. Gone are the days when success on standardized tests solely involved memorizing the algorithm to answer a computation problem.
While today people may look exclusively at test scores and think that public schools are failing, many of us are thinking more deeply about what defines success in our schools. We are aiming for higher standards. We work to develop a generation of superior thinkers who will debate logically and civilly, and who will in turn respect the contributions of all individuals in our society.
Let me be the first to admit that this may be a weird post for a blog mostly about larger policy issues. But there’s something I’ve been noticing lately that strikes me as odd, something I’m not sure what to think about: students outside of school.
I live near two different high schools, and during the course of a school day, I often see people who seem to be students but curiously don’t seem to be engaged in school activities or on school property. Today it might be two teens flipping skateboard tricks down the street from school; yesterday it might have been a group of kids hanging out at the mini-market a few blocks away; tomorrow it might be two lovebirds holding hands in the park.
I can’t pretend to know school schedules—if students have mornings or afternoons off, or if they’re legitimately on a break for lunch. And I certainly don’t mean to imply that students should be locked away in school buildings for six or seven hours at a time. But I often find myself wondering who’s looking after these children. Is there someone making sure that they are where they’re supposed to be? And as a citizen, what is my responsibility in helping to care for the children and teens in my community?
Some initial research led me to the Portland Police Bureau’s Truancy Reduction Ordinance. Though dealing with truancy starts with the schools and the parents, not the police bureau, this ordinance essentially gives members of the police license to stop and question kids who, like the ones I sometimes see in my neighborhood, don’t seem to be in school when they should be. It’s basically an ordinance that allows police a legislated way to get involved in cases where it seems schools or parents might be failing. And with some exceptions—check the website for details—it says that kids who have not yet graduated 12th grade are not allowed on “any street, highway, park, alley, or other public property during regular school hours.”
So knowing that, I come back to one of my first questions: If I see a kid during school hours skateboarding down my street, do I have any responsibility? I don’t mean that I may be liable for that kid—clearly I’m not. But in the larger sense of responsibility, in the sense that we’re all part of the same community and that kid is becoming the person who will build the world I am part of, do I have an obligation to ask what’s going on?
On the one hand, it’s none of my business what someone I don’t know is up to. I don’t want to assume that some teenager is breaking the law or doing something stupid just because I have some predetermined idea (just for the sake of argument) that kids want to skip school. But on the other hand, schools, parents, and police don’t have eyes everywhere. If it takes a village to raise a child, and I’m part of that village, shouldn’t I step up when I see something that might be amiss? Especially when I know that students who do not attend school on a regular basis are unlikely to graduate from high school, that truancy is often correlated to low achievement and even in extreme cases crime or gang involvement?
I skipped out on school as much as the next person in high school, for things that seemed important at the time: boyfriends, sunny weather, test avoidance. I wonder how things would have been different if people I’d run into had asked me why I wasn’t in school? I don’t want the world to just be a surrogate police force, always looking for other people doing something wrong, but sometimes I worry about these kids. Should I? What do you think a citizen’s role in helping kids through school is?
Happy holidays to our readers and bloggers – we hope for a peaceful and joyful time for all of you.
Speaking of joyful, I had a wonderful day as a student in the Salem-Keizer School District earlier this month and want to share some highlights with you. First of all, let me thank the students, teachers, instructional coaches, principals, and other colleagues in the school district who let me listen in, watch, and learn about a day as a learner in this impressive district. I was impressed by the commitment to learning that I saw at all levels.
I began in a kindergarten classroom at Washington Elementary School where we worked on letters and holiday stories. The enthusiasm of these young learners was infectious – while they welcomed me into their circle, they were much more interested in what they were learning and I saw full engagement with a masterful teacher, Mrs. Ivins, who kept them learning while also making sure they were respecting each other and mastering their personal space! Instructional coach Jessica Brenden helped me understand the intense team-based professional development that goes on at Washington and her role in helping the teachers monitor their impact and adjust their teaching to the learning styles of the children. Principal Linda St. Pierre joined us right after PE class (which was a challenge for me) and I could actually feel her leadership presence in the few minutes I had with her – I also had a wonderful experience in second grade, Mrs. Ediger-Collins’ class, being read to by a young lady who had her big and small words down pat!
My favorite part of the day took place at Houck Middle School. Principal Sue Rieke-Smith took time out of her day to tour with me and share the different teaching approaches in the building – from a classroom of computer-based learning being led on that day by a student teacher to science and social studies classes, I pondered how engaged the students were and how difficult the content was (meaning I think I’ve forgotten a lot of what I once used to know from my K-12 studies…). (more…)
Let’s say you have a very smart child, and you live in Portland, Oregon. You want your child to be challenged and encouraged, and given every opportunity to reach his highest potential. What are your options?
First of all, let me say that I realize I’m hardly the one who should be writing this post. I am just a parent, and in many ways I feel like I’m just peering in through the windows of a house, wondering how many bedrooms there really are. But here is what I see, and if there is more out there I hope that someone from PPS will let us all know.
First of all, there is the ACCESS program:
If your child tests in the 99th percentile in verbal or math skills, you can enroll him in the ACCESS program that is housed at Sabin school in Northeast Portland. (If you have an older sibling in the program already, then only the 90th percentile is required for entry.) The program used to run grades 1-8, but this year seems to have been cut back to grades 2-8. And once your child reaches high school, it’s back to business as usual, which means that PPS can’t even guarantee access to AP classes for academically qualified students.
As far as I know, there are no other TAG programs anywhere in Portland Public Schools. Is that not unbelievable?
So, what if your bright little guy (or gal) is a first child, and is only 95th percentile?
The options, as far as I was able to discover for myself, are roughly as follows: (more…)