Sunday, November 30, 2014

Promising Practices Reflection


            This semester, we had the opportunity to go to Rhode Island College’s 17th Annual Promising Practices Conference: Culturally Responsive Curricula in STEM. The conference was held on November 1, 2014. After finding out I had to spend my Saturday at RIC, I was definitely annoyed, but after attending the conference, my view had changed. I decided I would sign up for Making It Personal and Comedy in the Classroom. The description of each of these workshops seemed as if they would really help in making me a better educator. So, even though I hated that we had to wake up early on a Saturday, I was excited about learning something new about education and bettering myself.
              The first workshop I attended was Making It Personal. This workshop was presented by Buddy Comet whom is the Dean of Pedagogy in Central Falls, and Karen Oliveira who is from the School of Social Work at Rhode Island College. The main idea of this workshop was personalized learning. Buddy used an example of his experiences working with self-contained high school students. He wanted to achieve a balance between individual autonomy and collaborative work, so his solution to that is station learning. In station learning, there are 5 or so stations set up that each focus on the same topic, the one we used during the workshop was slope. So, the students would go to each station in groups and would work there for some time and achieve an answer both individually and collaboratively. However, in order to achieve this, there are some things that need to be in place. The first thing is well written directions. The students who will be using this method of learning have a range of disabilities, so it is important to use clear and concise directions. As Delpit says, “If you are not already a participant in the culture of power, being told explicitly the rules of that culture makes acquiring power easier” (Delpit, p.25). Students, especially those with disabilities, need these codes in order to participate actively and successfully. The second thing that is needed for this foundation of teaching is that the students must have prior knowledge on the subject. The station learning method is used to strengthen their knowledge, not to teach a whole new subject. So, it is crucial that students are familiar with the subject, or they will be completely lost as they try and complete the activities at each station. The third aspect that must be implemented in order for this to work is to mix children. This means that in each group there must be some low performing students and some high performing students. This type of inclusion will help both the low performing students and the high performing students in various ways. In “Schooling Children With Down Syndrome” by Christopher Kliewer, he says that “school citizenship rejects the idea of a gap between normality and down syndrome, in the movement toward classroom membership, di­versity is viewed as normal, people are considered of equal worth, rela­tionships are of mutual benefit, and belonging is a central societal theme” (Kliewer, p. XX). The last major aspect of this is to create a safe space in the classroom. When it comes to children with disabilities, the classroom needs to be a safe place they can go to and feel 100% comfortable to learn and socialize. I couldn’t help but to think about Gerri August’s piece “Safe Spaces.” Though she mainly focuses on creating a safe environment for LGBT students, her main point can be applied to any classroom. Classrooms need to be a place where students can go and learn, and be successful while feeling like they belong and are welcomed. All of these things will make for a very successful method of inclusive learning. After Buddy closed his remarks on station learning, we were then introduced to Karen Oliveira and the work she does with the school of social work. College students who are involved in the school of social work have the opportunity to work with students who are suffering social/emotional problems usually due to trauma. While working with the kids they get to develop IEP goals and really just get to know the child and develop a personal relationship with them, all while teaching them. I really enjoyed hearing about this program because it seems like something that is really working for these troubled children. It was interesting to hear the various benefits of it such as an increase in school attendance, study habits and behavior habits.
            The next workshop I made my way to was Comedy in the Classroom. I was so excited to take part in this workshop. It's focus was using comedy as a behavioral management technique. The description said that it would touch upon bullying, truancy, and multiplication. While waiting outside of the location for the workshop, I noticed that there were kids in the room – I was a little confused, but excited to see what was going to happen. Finally, the doors opened and we were able to go in and find out what we were going to be doing. The first thing I noticed was that the room was packed. There were a lot of adults and a lot of kids, I didn’t know where to look or what to think. We were then introduced to Corinne McKamey and Elizabeth Anne Keiser as well as Tall  University kids who pretty much ran the workshop. Tall UniversityThe innovative Transition through Arts Literacy Learning (TALL) project is designed to accelerate acquisition of English language skills for Central Falls English Language Learners and addresses students' English language proficiency through a variety of special events and activities. The district-wide TALL University project bridges the gap between limited language skills and learning by using teaching tools that integrate course content with the performing arts.The kids were hilarious, confident, and great at public speaking. As the workshop progressed, I grew more and more confused. We started by doing an icebreaker that took up the majority of the time and wasn’t too useful for me personally as an educator. The next half of the workshop was just as confusing and kind of wasteful. We were grouped with some of the students from Tall University and had to come up with a skit about math. Some were about dancing, some singing, and mine were sort of set up like a game show. For my skit, there were students who had to ask another set of students a question about math, and the students who were responding, had to answer in their own creative language. We then had to translate what they were saying. This again, confused me. The kids just kind of made loud noises and then we were left with trying to come up with cohesive answers to the questions. It just didn’t really make sense to me, and I was confused on how it would make me a better teacher. As the workshop closed, one of the speakers started to actually talk about education and teaching. With two minutes left of the workshop, she did say something that stuck with me, and that was, “It only takes one bad teacher to make school horrible.” I definitely thought that this was true, and I wish she started off with this discussion and then used the activities as a way to ensure that we, as future educators, wouldn’t be that one bad teacher. Overall, I just thought it was really unorganized and didn’t make a whole lot of sense, there was also no talking about how to manage bullying in the classroom. I was very disappointed in that because that is a huge thing in schools today, so it would have been interesting to see how to handle this in a light and comfortable way. This video shows what TALL University is all about according to Elizabeth Keiser and what the activities and exercises actually do to prevent bullying in the classroom. 

         After we have completed our workshops, we all had to head back to Donovan and listen to the keynote speaker – Chris Emdin. Dr.Emdin is an associate professor in the department of STEM at Columbia University. He was a great speaker and I felt like he was really relatable because of the way he spoke to us. It wasn’t too formal or stuffy which I really enjoyed. One of his major points that stuck out to me most was when he spoke about keeping students intrigued. Teachers need to find something that interests the students and incorporate it in the classroom so they stay engaged. I absolutely agree with this. It doesn’t take much for students to disengage and feel unconnected, so this is definitely something I will use as a future educator. Overall, I did learn a lot from my day at the Promising Practices conference. Even though I believe the workshops were poorly described, there are things I can take away from each that will help me in the future as a teacher. 

Empowering Education - Shor - Connections


The last reading of the semester “Empowering Education” by Ira Shor, was the perfect reading to end the semester. As I read, I was able to make connections with Kohn, Dr.Bogad, August, Collier, and Rodriguez, and I’m sure there were connections Johnson, Kozol, Delpit and all the others we have read this semester.

As I completed this reading, after a long and painful day of reading it, the first connection I found was with Alfie Kohn. I had just completed my service learning journals right before reading this and did the journal on Kohn’s What To Look For In a Classroom. The table that he created consists of good things in a classroom and possible things to worry about in a classroom. This quote by Shor is exactly what Kohn defines as a bad classroom:

“The typical classroom is framed by the competition, marked by struggle between students (and often between teacher and students), and riddled by indicators of comparative achievement and worth. Star charts on the wall announce who has been successful at learning multiplication tables, only children with ‘neat’ handwriting have their papers posted for display” (Shor, p23-24).

Kohn says that if there are star charts or reward systems on the walls, that is something to worry. As Shor says, these are very typical in classrooms. I found that to be very unfortunate seeing as how it is something that can be so detrimental to the self worth and self esteem of children.

The next connection I came across was on page 12 when Shor says, “If the students’ task is to memorize rules and existing knowledge, without questioning the subject matter, or the learning process, their potential for critical thought and action will be restricted” (Shor, p12). Reading this quote, the first thing that came to my mind was the activity we just did in class when Dr.Bogad handed us the paper about the Jeannie Oakes article and wanted us to fill it out. The questions were so simple and did not take any skill or intellect at all; all you needed to be able to do for this activity was to read and to write. For me personally, throughout all my schooling, I have been taught to NEVER question authority and do as I am told. So, when Dr.Bogad said that she was hoping somebody would question her, or refuse to do, or even to go as far as to crumble up their paper, I was shocked. I remember Megan saying that if somebody did that, she would look at him or her as ignorant and rude, and I definitely agree with her. But, after Dr.Bogad explained how truly insulting this was to our intelligence, and us, I wish I did something like that. As Shor says, when we are given tasks like this, we are not learning anything and furthermore, we are not being challenged. There is no critical thinking involved at all in this, and in the future when we leave school and join the real, working world, we aren’t going to be the millionaire CEO’s that people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are. They are the people that challenged the status quo and questioned the authority that so many people are afraid to. Just as Dr.Bogad, Shor wants students to challenge the status quo. If a student feels like they are not benefitting from an assignment, they should say something.

My next connection is one quote by Shor that can relate to Collier, Rodriguez, and August. On page 43, Shor says, “Our role as teachers is to create a safe environment in which students can express opinions and, most importantly, generate their own language materials for learning and peer-teaching” (Shor, p.43). This single quote is full of connections. The first one being August’ “Safe Space” article. Shor says that as teachers we need to create a safe environment for students to come and learn and express themselves, as August explains through her example of LGBT in the classroom. This then brings me to my next connection – Rodriguez. Rodriguez lacked this safe environment at the school he went to, which in turn, restricted him from expressing himself. This resulted in him losing his sense of identity and become what society wanted him to be in order to be ‘successful.’ The next person I can relate this quote to is Collier. Collier says that when teaching multilingual children, you cannot forbid the students from using their native language in the classroom. Using their language allows them to relate to students, develop a deeper meaning and understanding and overall be a better student. This is a perfect quote to tie together these readings and explain what a good teacher is and what a good classroom consists of just as my connections to Kohn and Dr.Bogad did.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Schooling Children With Down Syndrome - Kliewer

I really enjoyed this weeks reading, even though it was lengthy! Minoring in special education, I found this article to be super relatable and very informative. The first thing I want to talk about is the point that I agreed with most. What I found to be most true in this excerpt was when Kliewer said, “Vygotsky found that the culture of segregation surrounding people with disabilities actually teaches underdevelopment of thinking through the isolation of children from socially valued opportunities” (Kliewer, p.83). In other schools ive worked in, I have seen the children with disabilities in their own separate classrooms where they only have interactions with other disabled children. Just as Vygotsky, I believe this is no way for them to learn and improve upon their skills. I firmly believe that inclusive classrooms are the way to go. This will create a sense of equality and will hopefully elimintate words like, ‘retarded’. I also looked up some other benefits of inclusion:

1. Families’ visions of a typical life for their children can come true.
All parents want their children to be accepted by their peers, have friends and lead “regular” lives. Inclusive settings can make this vision a reality for many children with disabilities.
2. Children develop a positive understanding of themselves and others.
When children attend classes that reflect the similarities and differences of people in the real world, they learn to appreciate diversity. Respect and understanding grow when children of differing abilities and cultures play and learn together.
3. Friendships develop.
Schools are important places for children to develop friendships and learn social skills. Children with and without disabilities learn with and from each other in inclusive classes.
4. Children learn important academic skills.
In inclusive classrooms, children with and without disabilities are expected to learn to read, write and do math. With higher expectations and good instruction children with disabilities learn academic skills.
5. All children learn by being together.
Because the philosophy of inclusive education is aimed at helping all children learn, everyone in the class benefits. Children learn at their own pace and style within a nurturing learning environment.

I know for a fact that all of these things are true about inclusion through my own experiences in an inclusive center. This brings me to my next point, the part that I could relate to most was Shayne and her classroom. While I was a junior in high school, I had the privilege of working at The Trudeau Center in Warwick. In the Trudeau Center there is an education center called Crayons. Crayons is one of the few fully inclusive and accredited programs that serves as a leader in providing developmentally appropriate, family centered programming for young children and their families. While here I got to work with two year olds with varying developmental disabilities. It was an experience that I will always cherish, and never forget. Prior to volunteering here, I always told myself I would never be able to work with special education children. I just had always assumed that I didn't have it in me to do that, however, volunteering here made me realize this was something I was born to do. I loved every minute I spent at Crayons. It was such a fulfilling and wonderful experience and I would give anything to do it again. In the room I worked in, it was a class of about 8 or so, some with down syndrome and some with less severe needs. With such a small class, it allowed me to get to know all the children on a personal and intellectual level. I was able to see about where everyone was developmentally and then make lesson plans based on everyone’s strengths. I loved watching how each child can do something so differently from one another. 

Also, while reading this I couldn't help but notice the connections with Johnson and August... 
Johnson says that we need to see differences and draw on them, not ignore them. Even though he is referring to race, I absolutely believe this can be applied to children with disabilities. We need to be able to see the difference of disabilities between children and accept it. We need to draw upon the strengths of each child and incorporate it in the classroom, leading me to my next connection - August. When it comes to students, especially those with disabilities, the classroom needs to be a safe space for them to learn and feel comfortable with themselves and not feel judged by other students. Having an inclusive classroom where you have students of varying abilities will make the more low-performing students feel much more comfortable than the other option of having them in their own separate classroom with other kids just like them. It will make them feel more included and therefore more safe and happy in school. 

The video below is about Megan Bomgaars who is a girl from Denver who has down syndrome. This girl is a force to be reckoned with, not only is she an advocate for people with down syndrome, but she is also a cheerleader and a model. These are her views on how children with down syndrome should be taught.