Critical Issues in Education 2013
In the words of The Grateful Dead, "There is a road, no simple highway . . . "
Welcome to the online community conversation and resource space for Critical Issues in Education, an undergraduate Educational Studies course taught by Alice Lesnick at Bryn Mawr College as part of the Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education Program. This course is taught to honor the process of education as a road, no simple highway -- and as one we take and make together.
Our class will use this space for continuing dialogue, sharing relevant connections/links, and responding to reflective writings.
Please treat this space as a context for exploration, inquiry, and revision and participate in it with the care and respect such processes require.
During my first visit to the all-girls, private school, Cherrywood ,there was a tremendous pressure that was felt as I entered the school building. The inside of the main foyer was wide and spacious with an aged, yet elegant sofa in the center. Beside the sofa was a fireplace with an aged chimney, displaying a bright fire. A grand set of stairs was near the administrator’s office. Without even meeting my hosting teacher and her students yet, I was incredibly nervous. This environment was abnormal and discomforting for a person of my background. I was raised in a suburban, middle-income township with a wide variety of people; from those who made less than 40,000 dollars to those who made over half a million annually. Although our incomes were varied, our school was modestly built and funded. This prominent school was foreign and almost threatening for me with the way it held itself. There was an obvious sense of pride and elegance that the building and administration promoted. Aside from the environment, the children continued to emphasize the school’s ethos. In the dress code, students are required from a young age (as young as pre-kindergarten) to maintain their clothing in “neat, clean, and in good repair” (Cherrywood, Lower School Dress Code). This kind of responsibility evolves from the parent’s into the student’s responsibility when the students reach sixth grade, where they will be reprimanded for their own dress code issues.
The classroom is a mess. Students are pacing about, sitting on desks, and speaking in a noisy buzz that fills even the air with a nebulous clutter. There are a few chairs curiously sitting atop the 3 lab tables at the back of the room. I sit towards the back of the room at one of these lab tables watching chaos.
In center city Philadelphia, a progressive public high school boasts of its high success in math and science. Welcome to Ms. T's last period physics class.
In particular, I'm watching Jerome. He's sitting on a desk currently, silently but very noticeably dancing with his head phones in, but every now and then he gets up, walks around, fidgets with lab equipment in the back, flicks his pencil of the side of a desk. He's very versatile when it comes to his physical autonomy, and simply watching him feels distracting.
It is Dr. Seuss’ birthday and I walked into the first grade classroom right when they were about to finish reading Dr. Seuss’ classic: The Cat in the Hat. I walk in and sit where I usually do, at this small table on the side and wait for the teacher to finish reading. Ones the book is done, Mrs. B hands out a worksheet for classwork. The sheet had a picture of a red box and the students were to write sentences of what would be in their own red box (in light of the book they just read). That week, Mrs. B was teaching the students on description, and how to use descriptive words when describing objects. For this activity not only did the students have to say what would be in their box, they had to describe the items as well. Seeing that Mrs. B did not have any specific plans for me, I thought it would be productive for me to sit at a table and assist the students writing and making sure they remembered to describe things.
I am a tutor at an after school program; there I assist Latino children, mostly Mexican, with their homework. I have noticed that the majority of the students speak in Spanish, which has caused problems for them when it comes to reading and spelling in English. When I sit at the table full of first grade students, they have trouble recognizing certain words like "they" and "can." They do, however, know how to sound the words out. For example, when I tell them to sound out "can," they say "kuh kuh kuh- uh uh uh- nuh nuh nuh." The children just have a problem putting the sounds together in order to figure out the word. I end up telling them the word, then I try to make a learning experience out of it by putting different letters in fromt of "-an" so that the students can recognize the words. I put a "b" to make "ban," then a "m" to make "man," but the students still seem like they do not understand, as they shrug their shoulders and say "I don't know," when I ask them. Even when the word "can," pops up again later in the text, the students still fail to recognize it, even after the long lesson.
March 25, 2013
I am at an after school program in a city on the outskirts of Philadelphia which is not a conventional praxis because I do not observe a classroom/teacher. Instead I work as a tutor with first and second graders. Our schedule and routine is very consistent every week. First there is circle time, then the students do their homework, they work on a vocabulary/reading on-line program (Lexia), read for about 20 minutes, and then they can do whatever activity they would like.
Recently I have been working with a new student. Her name is Silvia and she is a 6-year-old Mexican-American first grader. Immediately I felt gravitated towards her because I saw a little bit of myself in her. I saw a very young Latina student that has mastered (as much as a 6-year-old can) the Spanish language and is now mastering the English language. When I introduced myself to her the coordinator (Mirtle) of the after school program (GEER) told Silvia, “Silvia, did you know that Allison speaks Spanish.” Silvia turned to me with a big smile and said, “Say something in Spanish.” When I did she looked over to Mirtle with a surprised/excited look. I have been trying to build a relationship with Silvia in which she feels comfortable telling me and showing me what she knows, does not know, and what she may need help with.
Critical Issues in Education
March 25, 13
Post 3: Reflection and Character Building
My praxis placement is in a character building/friendship class at private school. I have to admit that at first I was extremely skeptical of the fact that this school has such an abundance of resources that they are able to provide students with a class dedicated to teaching them how to navigate their feelings and the feelings of others. However, the more I observe and learn more about the curriculum, I begin to wonder how much of an impact this class would have in urban schools.
During my field placement in a 5th grade classroom, the students are given a daily puzzle to work on. These word puzzles are very challenging; I myself often have difficulty coming up with the answers when I have a moment to look over a copy. The students have about half an hour during which they can work on the puzzle and start another independent activity that they have selected from a list of assignments that are prioritized. As my visits have approached the end of the school year, I find that the puzzles are getting more difficult. I have also noticed that the students do not spend as much time or effort on the puzzles as they did during my first visit. This can be summarized by the following interaction that I witnessed:
Teacher: “How far did you get on your plexer [puzzle]?”
Student: “Not far.”
Teacher: “How many? 3? 4? [Out of 16 or so]”
Teacher: “Try to get at least one more.”
It seemed that this student’s approach was the norm when it came to actually spending time on the puzzle. As far as I know, the students had been doing these puzzles all year, so they may have lost the novelty and challenge that they once have, simply becoming one more thing to do. Over the past few weeks, I have witnessed students who spend less than 5 minutes skimming the page, dismissing it as too hard and moving on.
Park Elementary School is a small public elementary school in the suburbs of Pennsylvania. The school is one story above ground, and one story below. In front of the school is a large, well paved parking lot. The cars are not luxury cars, but they are clean and shiny. The building is also clean, and kind of pretty. Walking in, you can see that the interior is bright and spacious. There is a sign directing you to enter the main office first. The secretary who I shall call Carla is well put together, dressed in a floral blouse, some dark jeans, and a pair of boots. Today is Wednesday, February 13, the first day of my field placement, and I am normally supposed to show up on Fridays.
I tell the secretary that I am from Bryn Mawr, and that I normally would show up on Fridays, but I could not make it the Friday before so I am here today. Carla smiles and accepts my explanation, scans my ID, gives me a visitor tag, and tells me that the teachers are in a meeting. There is no animosity, no rush in her movements. While I wait in the office for the meeting to end, a child walks in. Carla greets him by name, and asks him why he is there so early. Without hesitation, he looks Carla in the eye and answers her.
For my field placement at Ableton Elementary, I am constantly scrambling to ensure that our one-hour Friday art lessons are running smoothly. With four other Bryn Mawr volunteers to help “take over” Mr. Cohn’s first grade class, we are never without something to do or someone to help. Yet, several weeks ago, during an art project on collage, I decided to step back from my deeply hands-on role within the classroom and focus more on observing the classroom dynamics and environment unaffected by my contributions.
Reflection Number Three - Projects, Science, and Collaboration in the Mathematics Classroom
I am placed in a 4K classroom at a charter school in inner city Philadelphia. 4K means the children are around four years old, which implies that they are pre- kindergarteners. At this point I have visited my site four times and each time we have a very similar afternoon schedule.
I immediately appreciated the acknowledgement of my presence every visit, by Mr. White and his students. My first visit he introduced me to the class and told the children, “Ms. Deborah is studying to be a teacher like Mr. White, and when Ms. Deborah comes to visit on Wednesdays you must listen to Ms. Deborah, exactly how you would to Mr. White and Ms. S”. He then had me introduced myself to the class, which was kind of awkward because I had never introduced myself to twenty-six four-year olds before. I have the ability to interact with the children, allow them permission to do things, and discipline them as well. Although, I prefer minor discipline, such as, asking them to stop undesirable behaviors, in which I just like to remind them of what they should be doing instead of punishing the undesirable ones. When I get there they are just waking from their naps and go straight into independent reading sitting in their table groups. After independent reading the kids go downstairs to gym, then back upstairs to a large group story, which leads to an arts and crafts activity, ending with packing up and going home. Mr. White usually asks me to read the class, the last story of the day before we pack up to go home which I really enjoy as well.
I have found that I learn a lot about what is going on in the classroom from the times I spend talking with students outside of the “traditional setting”. In the after school program we have the opportunity to get to know each of the students and in a different way then their teachers. I don’t know the grades of the students I work with, I don’t have to worry about disciplining 30 students while I work with one, and I don’t have to make sure what I am teaching will be memorized for a test. I feel very lucky in this way, but worry about what it will mean for me to be a teacher in the future.
I remember one of the first weeks of tutoring we were sitting in a circle asking each student what they wanted to be when they grew up. They responded, policemen, singer and doctor. When it was my turn I proudly told the students that I wanted to be a teacher. The comments that followed from the students were not what I anticipated. “why would you want to be that?” “ugh” and “that is a boring job”. I went on to explain to the students how wonderful a job being a teacher would be and that we are all teachers throughout our life. They were not convinced. I have thought a lot about this event because it had great impact on me.
Letting the Little Ballerina Do Her Ballerina Twirls
At the Blackburn Nursery School I am working with the second youngest class which is the two to three-year-olds. It is their second semester now and all of the kids show dramatic growth since I saw them at the beginning of last year. They have learned to play with each other without snatching (for the most part) and are good participants in the class’ activities. All except Howard. Howard is not the naughty kid, nor the kid that can’t talk, nor does he require more special attention than the others but for some reason he struggles to play with the teachers or the children.
During his first few weeks back in September his mother stayed by his side at all times and whenever she left she would come running back if she heard a cry. Other mothers also stayed by their children so that they could adjust but to me it seemed that it was this mother having a harder time letting go than Howard.
Last Friday Howard came to the playground where we all play for the first half hour of class time. It was cold but the children were keeping warm by running around the playground. Howard stood there shivering in his favorite purple shirt. I have never seen him in a different shirt. His mother tells him to put on his coat because it is cold outside. He refuses. Without much of an argument she quickly says that if he puts his coat on, after class she will get him a surprise. A new (toy) car. One he doesn’t have and she knows he wants.
In my placement at a Middle School in an 8th-grade science classroom, I am struck by the amount of disengagement the teacher, Mrs. Lampe has with the subject material. It seems as though she is merely running through lesson plans to get her class from one assessment to the next. As my role in the classroom is strictly an observer by district policy, I have been able to critique Mrs. Lampe’s approaches to teaching in the two classes I observe. While I see the how the lesson evolves as she teaches it a second time, I also am able to notice her apathy towards the material, and how her students might perceive this lack of interest a pass for themselves to not care about their learning. I am aware that there might be an underlying system to the class that I am not seeing, but as an observer who cannot participate in the class, I can only see the actions of Mrs. Lampe and the reactions of the students, and vice versa.
For my field placement, I mentor a third grade student, Anna, at an elementary school in West Philadelphia. One week, as part of the mentoring program, the mentors and their mentees, along with a chaperone from the school, took a field trip to Chinatown. As the students had lived in Philadelphia their whole lives, I was surprised to learn they had never been to Chinatown.
The first place we visited was a Chinese bakery. Using the five dollars given to her by the school, Anna bought a fried shrimp dumpling. Upon seeing what she had chosen, the chaperone congratulated Anna for “trying something strange.” This comment made me uncomfortable, but as I had met the chaperone an hour before I did not feel as though I could say anything.
Although Anna did not respond to the comment and seemed to quickly forget it, this moment has stuck with me. It reminded me of times in my own education when we learned about different cultures and the tone of these lessons.
I spend every Thursday afternoon at an after-school tutoring program at North Elementary School. I, along with other a few other college students, spend about an hour and a half with a group of 2nd and 3rd graders that have been identified by the school as students that need additional help with homework and reading. I was assigned one boy, Jason, and I work with him every week.
Jason is incredibly energetic, talkative, and bright. He has often finished his homework in class and asks me to create math problems on a small dry erase board for him to complete. He picks out books to read without complaint, and is able to read them aloud with an expected level of difficulty.
However, he does not like working at the computer. There is a reading program on the computer that each student is supposed to spend approximately 10 - 15 minutes on each afternoon, but Jason tries his best to get out of it. He haggles with me over the amount of time he is supposed to work, asking me if he can stop when the "big hand" on the clock is at a certain number. When we have agreed on a place where the "big hand" will indiciate he can quit the computer program, Jason often dawdles, speaks to other students, or asks to go to the restroom, hoping he can waste time.
In my time in class and at my field placement I have discovered what has been most interesting to me is the interaction between student and teacher and the unspoken structure and relationship in the classroom. What I didn’t notice until the editing of this paper was the subliminal use of language, body language, and expectation that creates an interpretation and characterization of a classroom.
In my first day at the field placement my notes had a lot of interpretation that followed what we discussed as “note-making”. In class when we discovered the difference of note-taking and note-making I looked back at my notes and realized I passed a lot of judgments that I assumed were objective observations. I observe two different class periods in my time at my placement. Each class has different characteristics but the way I described them was very subjective to “normal” class assumptions. The following is a summarization of what my notes described: