Saturday, November 26, 2011

Kounting on Kohn

I. Trouble with Rubrics (Alfie Kohn)
o   Rubrics Are All I Know: As someone who remembers rubrics being used when she was in high school, I can’t say that I wholeheartedly agree with Kohn’s argument. As a student and as a teacher, I actually really enjoy using rubrics for grading. I mean, I guess I fall victim to that whole idea of rubrics being a handy strategy of self-justification during parent conferences.” To me, rubrics are the clearest way possible to justify a grade. What you have to remember is I barely remember school WITHOUT a rubric system, both within my own personal experiences and as an educator. Now, I do not use rubrics for everything; I use rubrics for probably about 2-3 assignments a quarter. I mean, some people use rubrics for everything, which can definitely be an overload for our students.  I actually do not like our school-wide rubrics; I prefer to make my own with specific directions so the students know what I am looking for.
o   Classroom v. Policy: I understand that Kohn makes the point of how rubrics provide the opportunity to get a bunch of people to agree on what rating to give an assignment as long as they’re willing to accept and apply someone else’s narrow criteria for what merits that rating.” But, what do we do as teachers when we are being TOLD to use school-wide rubrics that have graduation expectations and grade span expectations embedded throughout the columns? My high school is up for NEASC accreditation in March of 2012, and they are grading us using a rubric system. My principal has told us that part of the accreditation is asking us how often we use rubrics. So, now what?
o   All About the Grades: Kohn seems to be adamant that “all bets are off if students are given the rubrics and asked to navigate by them.” Part of our evaluation system (not so sure how this plays into the new evaluations) is “teacher provide the student with a rubric.” Ok, now rubrics are not only the way I am expected to grade my students, but I am being graded on whether or not I provide the proper grading tool?? AHH!! So, when we are evaluated at NPHS, the evaluator will take off points if no rubric is provided AND we are expected to read over the expectations during our lesson. Now, do rubrics limit creativity on the student end? Maybe. However, I teach heterogeneously grouped classes or inclusion classes at NPHS. I feel like my population of students need that scaffolding. Actually, my teacher’s assistant for our American History/ Civics I class just told me how one of our students claimed I was tricking to “trick the class” because I asked them to write an opinion essay! I mean, I guess this particular student falls into Kohn’s fear of students “who have been led to focus on getting A’s rather than on making sense of ideas.” How can classes, in some instance, not be “all about the grades” where federal funding is based “all about the grades”? I can’t stand the hypocrisy…..

II. The Case Against “Tougher Standards”(Alfie Kohn)
o   Ummm… What About The Kids? So, when talking about the societal changes in the 1800s with my history class, I bring in a graphic organizer that asks them to look at the ways in which modern society views the mentally ill, those with special needs, educational policies, and literature with the view from the 1800s. Education is the topic I focus on most. I do an assignment called “take a line and walk with it” (yeah Maureen and Morgan!) where I give them two quotes from Deborah Gist and her view of education from the Providence Journal.


“Parent involvement is important, and supportive, engaged parents are important partners in a child's education. Fortunately, we know that great teaching can overcome those instances when children have parents who are unable to provide that level of support. I don't blame teachers, but I do hold them accountable for results.”

“Schools and teachers should do everything they can to engage parents and to help them support their child's learning. However, every educator is responsible for student success regardless of that child's background or family support. In fact, children whose families struggle to support them need our help and a quality education more than anyone.”

      I ask the kids to reflect on the quotes. I didn’t know where this assignment was going to go, especially because the quotes were a little controversial. We literally had a 45 minute discussion on the idea of how the education system makes no sense and adults are blaming all the wrong people. One of my students asked, “how come no one asks kids what they think would be helpful for us?” which, of course, Kohn directly points out in his article – “Left out almost entirely is the point of view of the students themselves, and the impact on their learning.”
o   Who Makes the Rules: Kohn writes- “Today, it is almost impossible to distinguish Democrats from Republicans on this set of issues -- only those with some understanding of how children learn from those who haven't a clue.” I cannot tell you how many times I have talked about this issue with my students. Last week, I engaged my students in an activity to get them thinking about the setup of the Declaration of Independence. I asked them to get into groups of four, gave them chart paper, and asked them to list at least four rules that they did not agree with and come up with a compromise to solve the issue. They then had to sign their names (their “John Hancock”, if you will) at the bottom. One rule my high schoolers came up with was no recess and their compromise was a 15 minute break period right after lunch before class started. We got into a whole discussion of the reason why kids don’t have recess or study – obviously, the reason why kids aren’t learning is because there aren’t ENOUGH subjects in a school day and that studies are a waste of educational opportunities. It’s like how Kohn pointed out that “the idea that if something isn't working very well -- say, requiring students to do homework of dubious value -- then insisting on more of the same will surely solve the problem..” Like the kids need more school to motivate them. Riiiight…. I told my kids the other day, I had half hour recess from kindergarten to eighth grade THEN I had an hour and a half of study every other day from ninth through twelfth grade. Well, I think I turned out ok. I mean, some institute of higher education told me I earned a piece of paper that says I can teach kids. Like, why don’t people who are actually in the classroom get to help make the rules about education?? Oh, cause that would make sense…..

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Kliewer: A Personal Experience.. A Lifechanging Exchange...

My Life in Special Education: Personal Recollections

Reading Citizenship in Schools: Reconceptualizing Down Syndrome by Christopher Kliewer really made me reflect on my own personal experiences. After graduating from URI in 2007, I found that the education job market was completely saturated with history teachers. Thirty history teachers graduated from my program at URI that year alone, and I can only imagine how many others from different colleges and universities as well as those who have been subbing in the system for years were vying for those coveted public school teaching jobs in Rhode Island. My mother suggested applying through the diocese, but because I have unfortunately become a “cafeteria Catholic” (you know, picking and choosing what I want and don’t want from religion), I felt uncomfortable asking my parish priest (who was there when I was baptized) for a recommendation. I lasted three months subbing in the West Warwick public school system. It wasn’t the kids that turned me off from the job; it was the inconsistency in hours and lack of health insurance. I decided to look for anything that involved in the education system. I came across an advertisement for a teacher’s assistant where the description was handling children with “developmental and behavioral disorders.” Well, I’ve never worked in special education before, but I applied anyway. Within a day of faxing over my resume, I received a phone call to go on an interview at the Sargent Rehabilitation Center Day School- a school designed specifically for students with severe and profound special needs. Now after going on a successful interview with the hiring director, I started in a “high school classroom” with children ranging from 14-21.
I absolutely loved my two years I spent at Sargent. Honestly, I would have stayed there but I knew ultimately I wanted to at least give public school a try (to this day, I credit my experiences at Sargent with the reason why NPHS hired me in the first place, and I always request the inclusion classes at the high school). I worked with a population of students who I would have never gotten a chance to work with had I been able to find a teaching job right out of college. I was a teacher’s assistant for about a year until I was promoted to reading/ literacy teacher of the entire school of about 40 kids. As Kliewer states from Judith Snow, “how absurd to be judged by others at all, especially by those who have never experienced a disability or who are unwillingly providing us with support or who don’t listen to the voices we have.”(72) I worked with children who were verbal and non-verbal, so I got to figure out ways to communicate that involved other methods, such as tech-talk devices, sign language, writing on paper, spelling, or simply reading body language. I worked with children who were severely on the autism spectrum, traumatic brain injury, and literally other disorders I had never even heard of because of their rarity.
I was complaining one day at Sargent how I still made minimum wage at my 20 hour a week job at the YMCA despite my four year college degree and the fact that I was working with the Y for over two years at that point. I was then introduced by a co-worker at Sargent into an agency that specializes in HBTS (home-based therapeutic services). I applied for the job where I literally made double the amount of money and had more flexible hours. I quit the YMCA, and for the first time ever in my life, I had two jobs that BOTH focused on a severe/profound special education population. I started working with a young, 14 year old girl named Wendy* (*names have been changed) who has a disorder so rare that it is a 1 in 200,000 chance both parents carry this recessive gene and it is only a 25% chance a parent who has one child with this disorder (her older brother) would have a second child with the same genetic issues. Wendy will be turning 18 this month, and I still work with her (over three years now) despite being enrolled in this master’s program and working as a full-time teacher.
I could not help but think of Wendy throughout this entire Kliewer reading. I am sure taking one look at Wendy and her brother Peter*, ordinary people would just see their disability. Physically, Wendy is only about 4 feet tall, and her older brother uses a stroller to be pushed around in. So, when Kliewer talks about how John Dewey believes that “democracy is a way of life in which community both establishes and is derived from each individual’s recognition of the value of every other individual.” (72), he is essentially saying that humans need to find the value in ALL humans, not just the ones that looks or act the same way we do. I find that Wendy has impacted my world just as much, or even moreso, than I impact hers…
Sometimes it is the little things that we need to appreciate. When I am out in public with Wendy, Peter, and their mother, I get angry when I see people stare. It’s inevitable, but I wish I could go up to parents who are screaming at their kids for touching groceries and say “you should be grateful your child has the ability to help you.” When describing a student named Lee, Kliewer writes “People see him. They see mental retardation, whatever you want to call it. That’s what they see, but they wouldn’t be seeing him. Do you know what I mean? Because Lee is Lee, and anyone who knows Lee knows.” (84) This is what I want to verbalize when people see Wendy. I wish people knew her for her, and not just her disability. The way Wendy and I interact may seems as odd to those who don’t know our relationship, but I find communicating with her, despite the fact she is non-verbal, to be relatively easy. She loves power tools, and sometimes we spend 15 minutes mimicking the sound of a circular saw or a lawn mower. She loves singing and playing “follow the leader” around the house. We read books together, despite the fact she cannot read at all but merely holds on to my finger as I read each word to her and she smiles. Her receptive language far supersedes her expressive language; she can point to various objects in the house and knows exactly where they are. She loves ice skating, despite the fact she’s never been on ice. She loves snow, and we listen to Christmas music no matter what time of the year it is. Yes, she may be different, but she is who she is. When I first met Wendy, I saw her as a child with a severe disability. Now I see Wendy as a typical teenager more and more every day. She wears skinny jeans, sweater dresses, and knee high boots with fur. Her love for dancing is evident at every school dance. She always hogs the radio when we are in the car and sings incoherent sounds to the melody at the top of her lungs. When Kliewer quotes Shayne by saying, “So what if you don’t fit exactly what you’re supposed to?” (77), I ask the same thing to those people who have never experienced working with a child who needs more assistance than normal. Don’t judge before you know them.
Wendy attends Meeting Street school, which at her level is not inclusion and she has never experienced being socially around typical kids her age ever in her life. When she was in elementary and middle school, educational policy was the segregation that Kliewer fights so avidly against in his article. I think it is great that Vygotsky, a well-respected theorist in child development believed that “the culture of segregation surrounding people with disabilities actually teaches underdevelopment of thinking through the isolation of children from socially valued opportunities.” (83) It is utterly disappointing that Wendy, because she is non-verbal, was placed in a classroom for other non-verbal children. How could Wendy’s life have been different if she only heard other voices of her peers while growing up? How come Wendy talks to me? Oh, it’s because I force her to, engage her in conversation, and talk TO her (not AT her). How come I was able to get Wendy to stop signing the word yes (shaking your fist up and down) to say the word “yes” out loud. She says “Hi Tina” (I mean, she SPOKE my name! It took 2 ½ years, but she finally said my name!) It is important to remember that “school citizenship requires that students should not be categorized and separated based on presume defect.” (85)
While closing this personal account, as is evident, this is a topic that is close to my heart. I want to conclude with a quote from Kliewer. Please, remember as an educator that, “a sense of reciprocity or shared value exists in relationships in which individuals, including those with the most severe disabilities, are recognized as thinking, feeling, caring human beings with personalities of their own.” (88) Wendy has more personality than some mainstream students that I know. I wish everyone had the ability to work one on one with a child who has a disability just to appreciate patience. Just to appreciate the little things. Just to appreciate success in situations that seemed like there wouldn't be success. And really, just to appreciate.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sneak Peek: Language and Power Presentation

Hello SED552,

Seth and I will be your facilitators on Tuesday, November 15th, 2011 for our graduate course at Rhode Island College. The theme of the class is “Language and Power”, according to our syllabus, and we look forward to analyzing the two required texts for class through using some strategies/ games that you can hopefully bring back to your classrooms to use with your students. So, please make sure you all read the two required pieces (both from the book Tongue Tied (2004):

1.       “Aria” by Richard (Ricardo) Rodriguez
2.        “Teaching Multilingual Children” by Virginia Collier

As far as the content of Tuesday’s seminar, we just wanted to point out some aspects of both pieces that will be discussed.

1. Aria (Rodriguez)
·         The idea of “private” versus “public” language: Rodriguez really makes this point a theme of this passage. He opens up the narrative by calling Spanish (his native language) a “private language” (34) When beginning to learn English in school, Rodriguez’s teachers come to his home and ask his parents to speak English in the home to better acclimate Rodriguez and his sister to America. At first, the speaking of English in the home is almost a game. In fact, Rodriguez recalls “After diner each night, the family gathered to practice ‘our’ English. Laughing, we would try to define words we could not pronounce.” (35) However, once Rodriguez and his siblings became more confident in English, it seems like their worlds were changed. Rodriguez admits that there was “a new quiet at home” and that he “no longer knew what words to use when addressing [his] parents.” (37). So, once his public world and private world collided, this course of action forever alters his life and view on bilingual education.
·         The “sounds” of a language: Rodriguez discusses how it isn’t necessarily what the person says, it is how it sounds to us; the same way in which French, Spanish, Portuguese, or Italian are known as “romance languages” because of the pitch, tone, and accent. Rodriguez specifically states the various sounds he heard in English versus Spanish and how those sounds resonated with him. Upon news of the nuns demanding English at home, Rodriguez laments that his parents “in an instant, they agreed to give up the language (the sounds) that had revealed and accentuated our family’s closeness.” (35) He describes the English language, initially, as “gringo sounds” and how those sounds “startled” him. (35) Eventually, as his English becomes more and more prominent, he “stopped hearing the high and low sounds of los gringos.” (36) Rodriguez continues to acknowledge, “a more and more confident speaker of English, I didn’t trouble to listen to how strangers sounded speaking to me. And there simply were too many English speaking people in my day for me to hear American accents anymore.” (36) Unfortunately, as his English became better and better, his desire to speak Spanish (that private language) dwindled. As Rodriguez looks back on his youth, he describes how hearing Spanish, he “continued to be a careful, if sad, listener of sounds.” (38)
·         Language and Family: Rodriguez seems to have an extremely strong relationship with his family when Spanish is the predominately (and sometimes only) language spoken. However, as his English increases, there seems to be a disconnect between parent and child. He describes his family as “a loving family, but one greatly changed. No longer so close; no longer bound tight by the pleasing and troubling knowledge of our public separateness.” (36)
·         Silence: There seems to be many a night in the Rodriguez household that was spent in silence after the children were required to speak in English.

2. Teaching Multilingual Children (Collier)
·         Techniques and Strategies: It seems as those this piece is more of the academic piece, whereas the Aria piece is a memoir. Collier attempts to provide ways in which teachers can help those students who are multilingual. She asks teachers to be aware of how children learn and that literacy in a native language helps promote second language literacy, not hinders it. She also discusses how the idea of “code switching” (the ability to speak two languages in the same sentence), actually is beneficial to an English language learner. I guess people used to see code switching as the inability to process language (almost like confusing the two) but actually, code switching shows a higher intelligence because the person understands language placement in both languages.
·         Opposite Views: Collier and Rodriguez have opposite views of how second language acquisition should function in public schools. Rodriguez seems to be in favor of English immersion only whereas Collier believes bilingualism should be promoted in the classroom. Dun dun DUNN!!!
·         Come with Questions: This article will be where the bulk of our discussion will lie, so please come prepared with questions and your game faces on!


After a delicious dinner at Twin’s Pizza, Seth and I are pretty pumped about Tuesday. I hope you guys are too! Yeay!! GOOOOOOOOOO TEAM!!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November... (Promising Practices)


I really enjoy going to professional developments. I actually try to attend at least one a month (and I’ve been successful since my second year of teaching). I’ve been to some really good PDs and some pretty boring PDs. I must say, today’s seminar at Rhode Island College was overall organized and informative.


Clarke Science 106 – Using Visual Images to Promote Inclusivity and Reduce Bias
I am a visual learner. The vast majority of my students are visual learners. Therefore, it made sense to me to attend a breakout session focused on my other love besides teaching – photography. I absolutely adore taking photographs. In fact, the majority of my PowerPoints that I make for my classroom contain photographs that I have taken. I show my kids places I’ve been to if it relates to a historical topic; this comes fairly easy for my colonial American history units seeing I focus almost completely on Rhode Island history from Native Americans to the Industrial Revolution. Kathy, Shannon, and I were in attendance at Workshop C early this morning:

Workshop One: Analyzing the Inclusivity of School Environment Through Photographs
Marissa Weiss and Rita Nerny were the presenters for this workshop. They discussed with a group of roughly 25 participants the study of visual anthropology which, according to Collier, is the ability of a person to “remove fa├žade from organizations and look directly at the contents of the culture.” I interpreted this study as a detailed analysis of photographs where the viewer looks for messages.

Weiss and Nerny gave the participants a “Photograph Classifications in Taxonomy for Equity Climate” rubric. This rubric dissects the picture into four categories:
1. Type of Artifact (sign, graffiti, architecture, art)
2. Equity Parameters (gender, socio-economic status, religion, race, physical, sexual orientation, ethnicity)
3. Message Content (roles, safety, belonging, equality)
4. Equity Approach (transformational/social action, contributions/additive, negative, null)

We had the opportunity to analyze photographs as well as view the pictures taken in a campus ecology (analysis through physical attributes of a campus) study. Nerny took us through her photographic study of Rhode Island College. Most interesting, she took a picture of a cubicle in the library where the phrase “welcome to one of the many places on campus I masturbate” was written (URI’s library had an issue with “glory holes” when I was there, so I guess the library is the cool place to get it on...)

Like I said, I love taking pictures and I think I have a pretty good eye for photography. I have always wanted to assign a photo narration project where my students had to buy a scrapbook and take pictures of street signs, items, buildings, or whatever it may be that reminds them of what we have studied in class and write paragraph captions describing the significance. For example, I live on Smith Street; a student could take a picture of that street sign and write a caption about John Smith (founder of Jamestown colony) or Venture Smith (an African prince brought to America as a slave). I just always thought it would be so cool for the students to see how much history is in this little state (actually, 25% of EVERYTHING on the national historical registry is located in Rhode Island!)

The background of my blog is a picture I took of the ceiling at the Bellagio in Vegas. Here is some more pictures from my photo narrative (just for fun):
























Workshop Two: Building Confidence in Islamic Students
Mary Bell Hawkins was the presenter for my second breakout session. I’ll be honest, I had NO idea how the topic of this workshop was going to fit into my classroom. However, the majority of what I learned can be easily implemented into my Western Civilization course. Hawkins started out the presentation by debunking popular myths about people from the Middle East such as being “oppressive to women”, “oil rich”, “terrorists”, “living in the Middle Ages”, and “taking multiple wives.” So, when studying Mesopotamia, if my students were to bring up current day issues in the Middle East, I now have some solid background on how to combat issues of stereotypes, whereas before I may have been inclined to simply ignore the question or move on.

Halos are Turkish origin
School of Athens -Raphael Sanzio
I also learned about the extreme cultural and scientific revolutions that were made in the Arab world, even BEFORE the Italian Renaissance that Europeans hold so dear. I learned that Arab people were the first to invent checks, separate courses in meals, the process of courtship, algebra, chemistry, batteries, astronomy, pharmacy, and cures for STDs. Even Renaissance art has influences from the Islamic world. For example, the halos found around Mary and Jesus in paintings are Turkish influence. There is something called “Kuffic script” that is found inside the halos that are found on Turkish trays. In Renaissance art, there are people wearing Turkish costumes, there are Persian/Turkish ornamental rugs, and there are Turkish tents found throughout a majority of paintings. In Raphael’s famous piece of art, The School of Athens, there are numerous Greek and Roman philosophers and great thinkers. Included in this painting is a man named Averroes, an Arabic “great thinker.” I honestly did not know how influential Arab people were to the Europeans, except that we use Arabic numbers, not Roman numerals.



Teen Empowerment
Lastly, I was able to meet up with my entire SED552 class as we all went to Gaige Hall to listen to a group of young people talk about their experiences with Teen Empowerment: an after school group set in Boston that focuses on three key points:
1. Youth have the ability to make real and meaningful change in their schools and in their communities.
2. To make real change, youth need access to adequate resources to implement their ideas – need to ACT, not just SPEAK!
3. Most effective forms of youth and adult leadership are facilitative rather than command in nature – youth are naturally rebellious; don’t just tell youths, you need to show them, build experiences, and make them feel responsible.

I really enjoyed the icebreaker games (and I cringe at icebreaker games yet make my kids do them) like “Stand Up and Move”, “Bean Bag Toss” (great for vocabulary review!), and “Where the Wind Blows” (great for topic discussion and analysis.) What else really impressed me was the maturity and eloquence in which these kids spoke. I mean, they were all from rough neighborhoods and got into trouble, yet they understood how a teacher who makes connections with his/her students can be all the difference in a child’s life.