Practices at my Placement

Oh hey guys! Check it out! Ceb is not writing his blog 2 hours before the deadline this week (but he is posting it then :P)! What will he talk about? Read on to find out!

So last week, I wrote about the Expeditionary Learning model. In response to that post, I was asked the question, “ How do you see the structure of the school and the Expeditions impacting your teaching in the future? What are some best practices that you can incorporate into your classroom?” I intend for this blog post to be a response to this prompt.

The structure of the school, WOIS, is built on many of the same ideals that are expressed in GRS. There is a shared vision among the administrators, teachers, parents, and other staff. This vision looks to see students to become self-reflecting life-long learners who are able to apply inquiry practices in their everyday lives. For this vision to be realized there is a larger requirement for staff to collaborate with one another. At least once a week, the core 7thgrade teachers have a group meeting to discuss student success and upcoming events including Expedition-related excursions. These meetings also help reinforce what the goals of the team are, realigning the vision of the team. Developing a shared vocabulary that is modeled throughout each class (words like “reflection”, “noticing”, “wondering”) get students prepared and better used to certain practices with less scaffolding, allowing more time for the inquiry.

While I can’t fully control where I find a job, it would be nice to work at a school where inquiry practices are utilized across disciplines and where opportunities for collaboration between teachers are supported by the administration. It really helps cultivate a school culture of learning and growth between staff which can be modeled to students. Even in the case where I would be in a school without a shared vision, and everyone was doing their own thing, I would try to develop relationships with between co-workers in the same grade level so we could show the connections of content between subjects.

The Expeditions performed at EL schools are interdisciplinary in nature. Students attack an essential question from multiple angles, with planned experiences that are meant to help students develop a response to it. These planned experiences make use of community resources like local colleges as well as guest speakers to have students see content they have been learning in school in different contexts. Since Expeditions are planned grade level wise, it isn’t up to just a single teacher to plan and implement these experiences. But it is up to each content teacher to figure out how to best to make connections between those experiences and their curriculum and how to get that across to the students.

I could probably come up with some more practices and ideas that I have seen at 58 School, which I will add on to this post if I think it up. I hope it was a useful read!

A Summary of Expeditionary Learning

My current placement is 58 School aka World of Inquiry School. It is a kindergarten through 12th grade school (the only one in the RCSD) and it is also an expeditionary learning school. Expeditionary Learning is a program model that schools can opt in by paying, which in turn gives the teachers of that school professional development and further support to the EL model. The EL model stresses student achievement, character, and goals. “We are crew, not passengers,” is a common phrase heard and read throughout the halls of WOIS. It is meant to instill ideas of responsibility, collaboration, and dedication to a shared goal/journey among everyone in the school. These ideas are encapsulated in the 10 Design Principles promoted by EL schools:

1. The Primacy of Self-Discovery:
Learning happens best with emotion, challenge, and the requisite support. People discover their abilities, values, “grand passions”, and responsibilities in situations that offer adventure and the unexpected. they must have tasks that require perseverance, fitness, craftsmanship, imagination, self-discipline and significant achievement. A primary job of the educator is to help students overcome their fears and discover they have more in them than they think.

2. The Having of Wonderful Ideas
Teach so as to build on children’s curiosity about the world by creating learning situations that provide matter to think about, time to experiment, and time to make sense of what is observed. Foster a community where students’ and adults’ ideas are respected.

3. The Responsibility For Learning
Learning is both personal, individually specific process of discovery and a social activity. Each of us learns within and for ourselves and as part of a group. Every aspect of a school must encourage children, young people, and adults to become increasingly responsible for directing their own personal and collective learning.

4. Intimacy and Caring
Learning is fostered best in small groups where there is trust, sustained caring, and mutual respect among all members of the learning community. Keep schools and learning groups small. Be sure there is a caring adult looking after the progress of each child. Arrange for older students to mentor the younger ones.

5. Success and Failure
All students must be assured a fair measure of success in learning in order to nurture the confidence and capacity to take risks and rise to increasingly difficult challenges. But it is also important to experience failure, to overcome negative inclinations, to prevail against adversity, and to learn to turn disabilities into opportunities.

6. Collaboration and Competition
Teach so as to join individual and group development so that the value of friendship, trust, and group endeavor is made manifest. Encourage students to compete, not against one another, but with their own personal best and rigorous standards of excellence.

7. Diversity and Inclusion
Diversity and inclusion in all groups dramatically increase richness of ideas, creative power, problem solving ability, and acceptance of others. Encourage students to investigate, value and draw upon their own different histories, talents, and resources together with those of other communities and cultures. Keep the schools and learning groups heterogeneous.

8.The Natural World
A direct and respectful relationship with the natural world refreshes the human spirit and reveals the important lessons of recurring cycles and cause and effect. Students learn to become stewards of the earth and of the generations to come.

9. Solitude and Reflection
Solitude, reflection, and silence replenish our energies and open our minds. Be sure students have time alone to explore their own thoughts, make their own connections, and create their own ideas. then give them opportunity to exchange their own reflections with each other and with adults.

10. Service and Compassion
We are crew, not passengers, and are strengthened by acts of consequential service to others. One of a school’s primary functions is to prepare students with the attitudes and skills to learn from and be of service to others.

Every morning during homeroom, which is referred to as crew, my 7th graders chant the “Model Citizens Pledge” which assists in acculturating students in the World of Inquiry. It goes like this:

“We the crew of World of Inquiry
make this pledge for all Model Citizens.
We should all give service
and have compassion for others.
We will celebrate our discoveries
and wonderful ideas.
Through reflection we will learn
from our successes and failures.
While collaborating we will show caring
for diverse people and our natural world.
We are all responsible for our own learning.
Our education is our future.”
What this pledge reminded me of was the science chant that this cohort developed during summer camp and then revised for STARS.  Of course this pledge includes more general practices that make for stronger learners and citizens. Similar to a practice utilized during STARS, students are responsible for connecting a part of the pledge to their lives. Since a design principle is chosen to be focused on each month, there is plenty of permutations of such reflection throughout the year for each principle.
When it comes to reflecting on achievement, students are tasked with guiding SLCs (student-led conferences). In these conferences between their crew adviser (homeroom teacher) and family, students must give information about their successes and failures in school. This was a really cool practice that gets students to engage in meta-cognition, as they need to pull out their strengths and weaknesses for each of their core classes and possible ways to improve. It also stimulates powerful conversations between students and their families concerning their performance.
Probably the biggest aspect to expeditionary learning is part of its namesake, expeditions. Expeditions occur twice a year, where the students are expected to investigate a question of interest that incorporates multiple disciplines. This year, my 7th graders are doing an investigation about the American Revolution. Since my CT is the only 7th grade science teacher and this is his first year at an EL school, the connections to science aren’t very strong and I haven’t had much opportunity to see what expeditions up close. From what I can gather, teachers are responsible for getting students access to resources but try to keep the investigation as open as possible. An authentic production is expected to be created at the end of the investigation. Last year, the 8th graders created a film about “What makes me, me?”, a discussion on race.
Hopefully this was a coherent and interesting summary of the Expeditionary Learning. I’ve been enjoying my time learning more about it and seeing the impact it has had on the school culture. The reason that WOIS developed into K-12 was that WOIS were disheartened by the harsh transitions that their students found in moving into other high school environments. I’ll end on a short video that I found on elschools.org (where you can find even more info about EL), which gives a quick run-down of what they are about.

An Interesting Day

So today marked the end of my first unit taught during my second placement. I ended the unit (gravity and planetary motion) with a dual-summative assessment which is something that I picked from my first placement. The first assessment is usually more project-based and provides a better view of how deep student understanding of the concepts went.  It has another purpose as a bit of review and can act as a formative assessment based on the feedback provided either between peers, or myself to a student. The final assessment is a collection of standardized test questions.

I finished covering the curricular goals of the unit last week and decided to have this week act as a review week, to prepare students for their largest test yet. My CT suggested that I have them make a word map graphic organizer (word map gravity), where students take the vocabulary from the unit and have to generate connections between the words. They were given two days to work on making a poster where 20 well-written connections were made between the terms. Students determined what made a connection better than another through the first day’s Do Now!

Anyway, that was a little off track. Today was their test (Gravity Unit Test) and it was their largest one all year, with 20 multiple choice and 5 short answer (in actuality I selected 5 short answer sections which consisted of a image/diagram and multiple questions). My CT was very impressed with the question selection and felt that they reflected what was taught in the unit well. He also mentioned how happy he how this test was helping to improve the students’ testing stamina. I think more important than that though, today marked the first day that I successfully created a true test-taking scenario. This was done by telling students that to minimize distractions that they needed to stay quiet and not get up from their seats, all concerns and questions needed a hand raised. Behavior that prompted a response from me would initially be a warning between me to the student, upon the second time I the student would fail the test. Luckily, no students called my bluff… I was also to put on a facade that was no nonsense, but still approachable, which has been a difficult distinction for me to make.

During my first placement, I was never able to implement a unit test because midterms were so close to the time the unit ended. While I was observing, I was often left in charge of watching over the students that needed to finish the test from last class, while my CT would lead test corrections with the other students. I found that I had major issues with maintaining a quiet and productive environment in a test-taking situation. This was because I was too lenient when the test was given out and it would have been easier to redirect improper behavior from the get-go.

I have only started grading the tests, but despite its size, I have counted that 86/99 students completed the test. About 22/23 tests I have graded have passed as well, which is pretty cool.

Also today, I was interviewed for a potential long-term substitute position for 8th grade and 8th grade honors (LE). Fingers crossed!

Some of my thoughts on youth culture…

The following is taken from my critical synthesis paper that I wrote for Adolescent Development and Youth Culture. It has been a while since I looked it over, but most of the points are still consistent with what I currently believe. I thought it could be a potentially intriguing thread trigger. And here we go…

From my time in ED 415, I came to see youth and adolescence with renewed eyes, but more than that, it  widened my mind to the considerations that I must take as an educator. A poignant thought that struck me was the marginalization of youth culture by the dominant “adult” culture. Too often adults are in charge and make decisions that adolescents are forced to follow, without really taking into account what their thoughts on the matter are. Instead youth are told that they are “in crisis” and need saving because their futures are at risk. This is done without even addressing the culture that adolescents participate in and the direction that their community is moving. The power present in new literacies allow youth to become content creators that can share their ideas with the world, but lack of access and training are limiting that potential. Utilizing opportunities that contextualize the value in skills and content knowledge are engaging because the problems and outcomes have an impact that is valuable to youth. But instead of pushing towards pulling youths’ ideas out into the world, the system instead confines adolescents and youth into boxes that pay no heed to their culture, their experience, and their desires. “Schools in the United States and abroad serve specific segments of the population, and they operate to reproduce status quo values and expectations” (Barton and Yang, 2000, p.884).

Coming from an understanding of human knowledge being constructed based upon prior experiences, I feel quite conflicted about the current treatment of youth by our society. As an educator, I think it is important that I do not assume that my students come in with a homogenized set of knowledge that I’m required to add on to. Every student comes in with a different set of experiences that helped developed them into the person they are and it is my responsible to supply more experiences that help them grow further. According to Rogoff identity development is, “…people’s changing participation in sociocultural activities of their communities” (Rogoff, 2003, p.53). That said, there are definitely biological changes that are occurring within that age range. While hormonal and sexual development impacts all adolescents, the extent and changes that occur are variable. It is important to be keep in mind that teenage students are going through hormonal changes, the effect they have will not express the same way. That said, it is important to recognize that those changes are happening, on top of all the other new experiences that occur during adolescence in our society. My own adolescence was dominated by worrying about my schoolwork, my future, companionship, building friendships, negotiating conflict with aggressive peers. Some of these experiences will be shared with students, while others will not, and even more will have been had by my some students that I could not even imagine. It behooves me to be cognizant of this information throughout my practice.

The identity work that youth do when participating in communities have been expanded through the power of the internet, which have provided access to communities that extend across the world. Within these communities youth engage with each other and adults. Participation takes the form of content consumption as well as production. Such communities provide ways for youth to develop expertise around an interest and share that expertise with others.  In these virtual spaces, youth feel safe to participate, which can be difficult to replicate in real world spaces. I feel that it is important to incorporate elements of new media into schools to address the new necessities of modern day youth, such as critical literacy of media.

Youth-based organizations are an example of real world spaces looking to adopt practices that can be found in online communities. Often they include older leaders that facilitate the identity work of the youths within the program. “Facilitation created opportunities for accelerated participation by novices; youth, even those with little prior experience, assumed responsibility for key decisions and tasks” (Kirshner,  2009, p.92). Facilitators give youth someone that they can depend on to give them direction, while also giving them the space to make their own decisions in the organization. The alignment of youths and facilitators working together to solve problems in authentic contexts not only give youth reason to participate, but give them actionable knowledge that they can use later in their life. I held a similar role to a facilitator in an after-school program called Science STARS.

The goal of the program was to help youths develop identities as scientists as well as their scientific literacy. A point of contention during STARS was figuring out how much scaffolding to give our students and which skills were more important when trying to plan to finish an investigation within 6 weeks. While one of the goals for the pre-service teachers who lead each team was to engage in pure facilitation, often times this would transition into joint work. Figuring out how to implement authentic inquiry in a way that made it challenging and useful, while being completed by our students was difficult. Especially because attendance could shift and students that were there one week wouldn’t show up the next. This made holding on to a cohesive narrative throughout the weeks difficult and made the goal of the investigation seem vaguer over time. It also led to my students looking to me to lead them through the investigation more often than not, because they would find themselves over their head during the times they needed to present findings. I am unsure how I would implement such an investigation in the future, in a way that I could wean the students off my support over time.

Besides specific goals such as, develop scientific literacy, there are concerns about what kind of citizens that adolescents are going to be. At that point it is questionable which values it is important for youth to take with them as they continue growing. Should they be kind, generous, strong, brave, independent, loyal, ect.? Who benefits if these are the values that all youth develop and are those values meaningful to all youth, or are they culturally insensitive? I tend to find models of instilling certain virtue into youth to be disheartening. While there should be expectations expressed and shared of youth, some virtues are built around unshakeable loyalty which can be dangerous as it opposes critical thought. I personally prefer youth development toward learning about systemic injustice that surrounds and impacts their everyday life. Not only is it immediately meaningful to youth, it also opens their eyes to how the world around them operates and helps give them an opportunity to point out the issues that they see. The perspective that youth bring are a unique and powerful one, so integrating them in the discourse of social justice is an interesting idea.

Racial identity work includes the negotiation that adolescents from minority groups are required to perform in order to deal with the barriers present in their environment.  “Children and adolescents whose family and collective histories include enslaved ancestors suffer because everyone avoids what is most critical to their sense of belonging: affirmation of the uniqueness of their lives in America’s social history” (Fordham, 2010, p.25-26). When youth have no sense of a cultural background, or do not feel that background is respected, that leads to development of a marginalized identity. As a high school graduate from an urban high school, Wilson Magnet HS and a minority myself, I can relate with that last statement. I had a set of very close friends (interestingly they were all Hispanic like myself), whom I trusted and would share anything with. Outside that circle, I would say that I still had friends, but I would not be willing to go to the same lengths for them. I also had a lack of trust of those outside of my friends and at some point it was difficult to make new friends because of that shared mentality among myself and others. My parents were an important influence in my decisions on who to make friends with and tried to make me critical of other peers’ behavior, especially those that acted “ghetto”. To add to that, there were conflicts between myself and male black students who would often bully me. I was a “teacher’s pet” and I was also an “other” in a school culture dominated by blacks.

“Even in the most progressive circles where those in the culture of power are ‘sensitive’ to the needs of those outside of the culture of power, those who do not possess the values, beliefs, and ways of acting of the culture of power have been labeled ‘disadvantaged’” (Barton and Yang, 2000, p.874). This quote exemplifies my feelings about the plight of youth and adolescents, who are consistently overlooked due to their position in society and preconceived notions of their capabilities. Despite the richness and uniqueness in what their future can entail, they are consistently pushed and pulled into small boxes that limit that potential. Their identity development becomes limited because of lack of access to different resources such as technology, which can be viewed as a negative influence by adults or because socially constructed notion of adulthood or many other reasons. As an adult and educator, I need to remain critical of my perspective and how it may favor the dominant culture over that of youth’s culture, in order to provide for my students with the best possible practices.

 

References

Barton, A., & Yang, K. (2000). The culture of power and science education: Learning from Miguel. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 871-889

Fordham, S. (2010). Passin’ For Black.Harvard Educational Review, 80, 4-30.

Kirshner, B. (2009). Guided Participation In Three Youth Activism Organizations: Facilitation, Apprenticeship, And Joint Work. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 60-101.

 

Rogoff, B. (2003). The cultural nature of human development. Oxford [UK: Oxford University Press.