Love Letter

November 17, 2008

I love Fridays here at Antioch when classes are in session.  It’s not just the obvious TGIF thing, either. Friday means Integrated Learning students in the building. Now, I may be biased (being as how I’m an educator myself), but I think Fridays are the Best Days we have here at ANE.  (Again, I’m fully aware of the depth of my bias.)  Want to know why?  Here’s a quick list:

Zoom Zoom
There are students racing electric cars down the hall past my office.  These students are in David Sobel’s science education course and, while I have no idea exactly what they’re doing- I know they’re doing it with a great deal of enthusiasm.  And I know they’re using wires and batteries of some sort.  And I’m pretty sure that their students will love this lesson as much as they do.

We are not afraid of Change.
In Pro-Sem today, students will have a chance to impact education policy during the Obama/Biden administration as part of the Dear President Elect campaign being conducted by the Coalition of Essential Schools.  Now, besides the fact that that’s just nifty as all heck, it also speaks to the way that we view our pre-service students as professionals with points of view that matter and should be included in the larger debate.  We don’t believe that you have to stay quiet for 5 years until you earn tenure and that only then are you allowed to have a voice, though that’s another post for another day.  It also speaks to the amazing way that our faculty connect to one another.  See, I’m the direct link between CES and ANE, but I’m not a faculty member in this program.  In fact, my faculty responsibilities are pretty limited  in that I only teach a couple of courses each year.  I’m lucky enough to spend my days working out “there,” in the field, with schools and teachers who are in the middle of the fray day in and day out.  That could mean (and does mean, at many other institutions) that my colleagues in the department could view me and my work as outside the realm of their work.  Instead, Jane (who doesn’t even have a Pro-Sem) and Judy and Peter and Ron were excited about the initiative, took the paperwork out of my hands happily, and promised to return letters later today.  They look to me as one of many links to the best work happening in the field, part of symbiotic relationship that exists here.

Well, Mr. Freire- may I call you Paulo?
Later today, a group of students (some of whom are still merrily learning about physics in the hall) will take on the role of philosophers during a lovely Café held in their philosophy course.  I know this because their instructor is my office mate and she’s been frantically arranging flowers, scones, tablecloths and tea all morning.  By going above and beyond, by paying attention to the details of the educational experience, teachers like Susan create a meaningful community in which learning is not only fun and powerful and rigorous, but also joyful and worthy of celebration.

Can I frame your Out to Lunch?
Speaking of beauty, the final reason (for now) that I love Fridays at ANE- why I love every day at ANE- has to do with the aesthetic of the place.  Now, I could be talking about the ethos, the way of being that we share and that would certainly be true.  I’m not though.  I’m talking about the lovely way in which we do things here.  When people leave notes or make announcements, they do it on scraps of watercolor art.  Not many places have lovely “Leave Papers Here” notices, but we do.

So enough gushing.  Time to get back to work.  That’s the other thing I love- the work we do. That’s another gift I’m lucky to receive every single day.

Laura Thomas, Director Antioch Center for School Renewal


Heterogeneous vs. Homogeneous Grouping, Brian Audet, ExEd Program

June 5, 2008

Recently I had the opportunity to research the effects of homogeneous and heterogeneous groupings in the classroom. Although I agree with most of the research in the articles that I read, I feel that the best way to experience the effects of such groupings is to experience it in the classroom on your own.

I have now been teaching mathematics for six years and have never had the opportunity to teach in a situation where the entire class of students were homogeneously grouped. I have, however, had the experience of using both heterogeneous and homogeneous groupings within the same classroom. One year, I had a small group of students who were at a very high level of math and a large group of mixed ability students, all in the same classroom. This class began the year in heterogeneous groups. I soon realized that I was going to have to do something different to challenge the upper level students. That is when I chose a small group to work with to be able to challenge them. It was much more work for me , but the payoff for the students was immense in terms of how much more of my curriculum I could cover with them compared to the other group in the classroom.

This group of students worked quite well together. Not only was I able to challenge them with more difficult assignments and activities they also challenged one another. I would get them started on a lesson or activity by quickly teaching them the concepts that related to the lesson while the other group was going over the previous nights assignment and then let them work as a group to complete the activity or lesson as I instructed the other group. It was amazing to me how motivated this group of students were when left on their own to do the assignment. I would take the opportunity to check in on them as I got the other group working on their activity. Their needs were much less than my heterogeneously grouped students and they were completing much more challenging work. As they worked in groups, it was a total group effort to complete an activity or to solve a problem. I did not have to worry about one of the students not participating in the group activity. My biggest problem was containing their volume when one of them could not convince one of the others that they were doing something incorrect. At times it was comical to sit back and listen to them argue to try and convince one another. There were a few times when the work was not challenging enough that I would have a few behavioral problems, but very rare.

As every educator is aware when dealing with mixed ability groups, you always have the students who prefer to sit back and let some other student do the work. It is quite challenging as a teacher and requires a creative teacher to be able to get every student to participate when you are working with students with mixed abilities. I know that it requires a lot more effort on my part. On many occasions I have grouped students so that I have many levels in one group and there are times when the stronger and more dominant students are doing the work and others will just be along for the ride. As you question the students on their work some of the students cannot tell you what they have done. Some of this relates to their confidence in their abilities and some of it is because they were not participating in the activity and do not understand the material covered. I have also experienced the strong math student who feels used by me to help other students in the classroom. Some of the students are good about helping other students and some are not.

Many low level students that I have worked with feel much more comfortable working in a group when grouped with other students who are at their level. I have seen this year after year in my math labs that I teach. You would not know that they are the same student as when they are in the regular math class. They are so much more responsive to me and to others that they are working with. They have commented that they are afraid to make a mistake in the regular classroom because they feel stupid. When they are working with other students who they know struggle as much as they do they are more comfortable giving answers. As much as I tell them that we all learn from mistakes they just will not participate in class unless I call on them. I as a teacher, I will hesitate to call on them in class because I know how they feel or I will call on them if I know they have the correct answer.

As far as mathematics goes, I would much prefer to work with students who are homogeneous grouped. I can easily challenge my strong math students and cover much more of the necessary curriculum. With the other students it is much easier to give them the one on one instruction and attention that they need to make them more successful in the classroom. Both of these groupings have their advantages and disadvantages, a lot of it depends on the students that you are working with. I feel that I am much better at meeting the needs of my students if they are grouped by their ability.

As we all know when we have groups that are mixed ability

Where Do We Come From, And Where Are We Going? Larissa Cahill, ExEd Program

June 2, 2008

How can teachers teach without being offensive? It happens all the time, even in the seemingly most benign lessons. Educators are often stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to teaching their curriculum. In order to best serve their students and cover the depth in a certain subject matter, they end up crossing into the controversial, especially in science lessons. I had an opportunity to delve into this dilemma during a recent project in my graduate program. I decided to narrow the focus of my inquiry to issues of teaching science curriculum into the debate over teaching Evolution or Creationism. Through my research, I discovered that there is a large component of the population who believe in the literal interpretation of Genesis including that the earth is less than ten thousand years old. This belief becomes problematic when their children learn science lessons in school including Evolution, carbon dating, geology, dinosaurs, the Big Bang theory and other ideas that are associated with origin of the Earth. So what is a teacher to do when they realize that there may be a student in their class who vehemently disagrees with an assertion that dinosaurs roamed the earth millions of years ago when they learn at home that dinosaurs lived side by side with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and even rode on the Arc with Noah, only becoming extinct because of the unfavorable climate conditions after the Great Flood?

Many reasonable people will wonder what we can do better to be more inclusive with our curriculum. For equity’s sake, why can’t we look at all sides of the issue? No one really knows how it all began so why can’t we teach Creationism in conjunction with Evolution?

We took up this conversation as a component of this project. My partner and I presented a series of vignettes to address this very issue. We set the scene in a typical third grade class room with the teacher giving a lesson on dinosaurs. The controversial lesson led to a parent and teacher confrontation before a “school board” (a group of our colleagues) to resolve the issue. The first proposal of the “board” was to teach both ideas to children with the intention that students should be given as much information as possible so that they can come to an educated decision. As the idea to teach both Creationism and Evolutionism came to the floor, the conversation took another turn. Someone brought up the fact that the Judeo-Christian teaching on the origin of life is not the only explanation, and if we decided to teach that understanding we should also include other religious beliefs as well. Many “board members” gave examples of many different creation myths that they knew from their education and indicated that it would be unfair to only teach one.

Where does that leave us? Can it really be all or nothing? One colleague thought it was interesting that she never questioned her education that was vastly different at church and school. She shared that she learned Evolution at school and about the Bible and Creation at church and no one seemed to be bothered by the perceived incompatibility of the two. However, that acceptance of two opposing ideas is often unacceptable to parents who do not want their children taught about ideas with which they do not agree. The argument over what to teach and what not to teach can end up hurting our children, as often the solution is stripping our curriculum down to the lowest common denominator and our children receive a watered down lesson with no real depth.

Our “School Board” decided against teaching both Evolution and Creation in our vignette. The decision was based on the idea that science is an ever growing and changing discipline, and students should be taught the latest scientific theories with knowledge and understanding that they will shift as new evidence supplants old evidence.

Ultimately, science should be taught in schools as an explanation of the world around us and hope that it instills in our children a quest for further knowledge.

We realized that this choice would be unpopular with some families. We also realized that if educators don’t take the time to actively listen to the concerns of the families the result will be a growing faction of people who become disillusioned with the whole educational system. We will become combatants rather than partners in the raising and educating of our children. The idea is not to dismiss all religious influence in schools because by doing so we would also do harm to our children. Some of the greatest works of art, music and literature are born from religious faith. To deny that to our children is just as detrimental as keeping them from the latest understanding of scientific theory. In addition, whether we are parents or teachers we all have the same goal of raising moral and ethical human beings. There exists in all of the world’s religions a standard ethics and morals from which we can all learn and seek to foster in all of our children.

We are all in this together. We want to prepare our young people who are our greatest natural resource for the future. One of the best ways to teach our young people about the future is by showing them their past, and these lessons can come from a variety of sources, and ought not to be offensive.

Heterogeneous Classrooms Can Work, Karen Ames, ExEd Program

June 2, 2008

Recently my colleague and I had to present our feelings and findings about this topic as part of a mock parent-teacher conference assignment. We wanted to convey the impact of student, teacher, and parent concerns regarding the relatively recent reform effort to group heterogeneously. (Also known as “detracking”) The concerns ranged from teaching a variety of academic abilities, curricular pacing, assessment options, and student perceptions / motivation.

I discovered that this type of grouping involves much more than just rearranging students. To be effective, teachers must adopt a pedagogy based on evenly distributed learning. I feel that what “makes or breaks” heterogeneous grouping is whether or not the classroom teacher is grounded in this equity belief system. For it is the teachers’ philosophy that drives instruction and their “personal drive” or motivation is what is needed for planning. Planning for a heterogeneous classroom must be deliberate, purposeful, and inclusive of two best practices: awareness of Multiple Intelligences and implementation of Cooperative Learning.

If teachers of heterogeneous classrooms are to be successful in teaching a population rich in diversity (ethnic, linguistic, gender, academic) they must be able to acknowledge that there are different kinds of intelligence. By adopting the belief that children can be gifted in interpersonal, intrapersonal, kinesthetic, visual, natural, linguistic, and/or spatial intelligences, all students are put on a “level playing field”.

When curriculum is tailored to individual learning styles and built thematically, all students can participate and interact as contributors to their learning community. In addition, by differentiating instruction through modification of homework assignments and questioning techniques and scaffolding lessons, all students can learn. For me, personally, this seems much fairer than potentially crushing students’ self-esteem through the practice of tracking/ assigning labels throughout a student’s entire day.

My research also emphasized the importance of recognizing all student populations when promoting individual achievement. By being considerate of individual learning styles, classmates are set up to acknowledge the contributions of each member of their learning community. In this way, the “gifted” students aren’t just those who are “book smart”.

Teachers who just teach to their own preferred learning style are only able to reach a portion of their students, and thus do an injustice to heterogeneous classrooms. I feel that students benefit when teachers consider multiple intelligence components when they deliberately plan thematic units.

Heterogeneous teachers can also do something else to attain equity in their classrooms: implement Cooperative Learning practices. To be successfully run, one must implement five basic elements: positive interdependence (where the no one student can carry the weight of the group’s successes/failures); individual accountability (each student has a role/job to do); face-to-face interactions; social skills, and group processing. (Bennett, 1991). Inexperienced or teachers under time constraints often try to eliminate or pare down aspects of this theory, which often results in unproductive, possibly damaging results in the heterogeneous classroom because it strays away from equity.

It is imperative that teachers implement cooperative learning as it was designed so that group members can perceive the importance of working together and interacting productively in helpful ways. By utilizing procedural, communicative, and intellectual audience roles, no one child needs to feel the “pressure” to carry their group. Boredom is eliminated, classroom conversations become engaging, and children are developing important life-long skills.

It is my feeling that under the leadership of experienced, equity-driven teachers, heterogeneous classrooms are the ideal setting for fostering student achievement in a world that is complex and diverse.

What is the role of our schools in the nutrition of our students? Julia K. Pipeling, ExEd Program

June 2, 2008

In today’s school our role of what we need to provide for our students is always changing and growing. When it comes to nutrition our country as a whole is heading in a dangerous direction. As the obesity and health disease rates increase we need to really take a look at what we can do to help address this issue. The message about making good choices just doesn’t seem to be getting covered at home. But it is hard to think about adding one more thing that we need to cover during our already very busy school year.

As we took a look at the issue of student nutrition we found that the schools in our area seem to have a health class that includes nutrition in the elementary grades. They told us that they cover nutrition, the food pyramid and making healthy choices about snacks, drinks, exercise and food in general. However, when it comes to the middle school and high school age groups there seems to be some options for classes but they are options, electives, and so there is a population that is missing the message because they may not be taking these courses.

I talked with my high school and middle school students and they said that it is harder for them to make the best choices about eating healthy. When asked why they said that they have so many choices now where as before it was more monitored by home. They can choose to buy things at school and at the store where as a younger child has to rely on what their parents have at home. It left me feeling as though the healthy choices message just hadn’t gotten through in time and now that these students are some what on their own they aren’t choosing wisely.

There are many federal guidelines that mandate the way that we approach the food service in our schools. They recommend the types of food and beverages we can sell and outline which foods and services we can be reimbursed for from the federal government for our lower income students. And while it does appear that schools are following these guidelines somewhat, the fact remains that our students have choices and don’t know what to do with them.

I feel that it is our place to educate our young people as they prepare to move on into the real world and healthy choices around eating and exercising is part of that. We have a program here at my school that all seniors have to take. They cover things like renting an apartment, balancing your checkbook and filing taxes. We should look at fitting in a piece about nutrition and healthy choices.

Nutrition in our schools, Sarah Winston, Experienced Educators

May 31, 2008

This past semester I took a course in Social and Political Issues at Antioch University. One assignment for the course was to research a topic with a partner and present it to our class. The topic that we chose was the role of nutrition in our schools. I presented the view of an administrator, the federal guidelines that are set for schools, and the curriculum that needs to be followed. My partner presented herself as a concerned parent of a fourth grader, who was played by her five year old confident daughter.

Through this research I learned a lot about the role of nutrition in schools and the history and purpose behind it. The National School Lunch Program that began in 1946 was designed to provide low cost or free lunch for school children. This program was designed to follow the dietary guidelines in order to insure that children are eating appropriate and nutritious food. These guidelines follow the food pyramid and make sure that meals have no more then 30 percent of an individuals calories coming from fat. By the end of the first year about 7.1 million children were participating in the program. By 1970, 22 million children were participating; in 1980, 27 million children; in 1990, over 24 million children, and in the year 2006, more than 30.1 million children received their lunch through the National School Lunch Program. The cost of this program has risen dramatically. In 1947 the total cost of the program was 70 million, compared to 8.2. Billion in 2006. In order for families to qualify for this program their income needs to be below 130 percent of the poverty level for free meals. Families with income between 130-185 percent are eligible for reduced lunches and families can not be charged more then 40 cents per lunch. Soon the breakfast program was offered due to the increasing number of students who came to school without breakfast

In 1966, the Child Nutrition Act, became the “Highest Priority” . This was due to evidence that poor eating habits that develop during childhood will follow into adulthood and have a potential to last a life time. It is important for children to learn the benefits of good nutrition and to make good choices as to what they eat. In 1993, the FDA required that the food industry needed to include saturated fat and dietary cholesterol on their labels so that the consumer would be able to know the health benefits or risks before they eat or drink the product.

The year 2000 was a big year for health objectives for the nation, and that was to “reduce fat intake” in Americans and the Educate America Act was designed to increase student knowledge of nutrition. This act provides students with health education and physical education to insure that they are healthy and fit. Children will be educated about proper nutrition, based on dietary guidelines form the food pyramid in kindergarten through twelfth grade.

The USDA established Team Nutrition to help schools implement the new requirements in school meals. This program offers training for school personal, helps develop and implement school polices that will make healthy food available, and develops and sends home monthly menus for parents. The [program also helps schools gain access to the community for nutrition services.

State curriculums vary in each state but they do need to follow the guidelines that are set by the government and there needs to be a planned and documented program of health instruction for students kindergarten through twelfth grade, a curriculum that educates a range of categories of health problems and their issues. These courses need to be taught be professionals who are educated in the field and there is encouragement for involvement of family members, health professionals, and community members. Most programs that have resulted in behavioral change have used teaching strategies based on the Social Learning Theory. This theory teaches students to put values on food and exercise, identifying the benefits of healthy food and exercise, and encourages them to taste different foods. The teaching staff should be role models for healthy choices while they are in school, empathizing the importance of exercising and eating healthy food.

The curricula educates students about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, community environmental and consumer health, violence and injury protection, nutrition and physical activity, and personal health concepts such as family, social, mental and sexual. Students are assessed in their ability to set goals for a healthy life style, including assessing information and knowing how to find valid health information and services, making healthy choices, and decision making skills that will enhance their health, problem solving, and the knowledge of the core subjects.

Through this research I learned a lot about the history of the Federal Meal Plan, the Educate America Act, and the role of the government in setting guidelines for all our children to ensure that they are educated and have the knowledge of the importance of making healthy and nutritious choices.

School as a Safe Zone by Sophie Barbier

January 24, 2008

A simple comment can quickly escalate to more violent and hateful words, then to physical abuse, followed by horribly worse events. This can all be stopped by one student telling one teacher. Simple. Or so it would seem. This would imply that the one student feels safe enough to tell a teacher, that the one student trusts that a teacher will take him seriously, and that the teacher knows how to intervene appropriately. Not so simple.

Even in a small, tight community, hateful words get thrown around just as (proportionally) frequently as a large high school. Oftentimes, kids think that it is ok to use certain words because words have been redefined. Many of these redefined words come from the media – “bitch” is accepted on primetime TV, “gay” is often substituted for stupid, and “nigger” is used even if they are not black. But these words have a history of hate and are rooted in a history of violence. These words make people fearful and school staff – all staff – need to let kids know that it is not OK. When kids get called stupid, faggot, slut, fat, they may feel ashamed, guilty, anxious, dumb, etc. but it all leads to fear. These kids can’t focus on school, they start believing the slurs and they isolate themselves from social growth.

The entire school staff, from the bus driver and cafeteria worker, to the teachers and principal needs to be on board to prevent and stop hate in its tracks. Kids really pay attention to what teachers say, and how they behave. Teachers need to be a positive force in their lives, for they may be the only positive adult in their lives. Teachers need to monitor their behavior and let kids know that whatever they look like, smell like, act like, they deserve to be respected. Make it known that prejudice, intolerance and bullying is simply not acceptable. Not reacting on the spot and being silent gives a message that ripples through the school that kids aren’t safe there.

Kids also need to be taught perspective, empathy, impulse control and creativity (to imagine a different way of reacting). Cultivating habits in the classroom, halls and playground is an important step in building a foundation for a hate-free school. Kids can experiment with alternatives ways of reacting through storytelling and reflection, drama and peer social coaching.

Kim John Payne has developed an everyday tool that can be used for minor arguments as well as more complex issues. DADD stands for Disapprove-Affirm-Discover-Do Over. By disapproving in a timely manner, it lets the child know that it is not acceptable, but disapproval needs to be followed up immediately by an affirmation such as, “I usually hear you say kind things to your friends.” But this is not enough. Gently, so they don’t get defensive, try and find out what is at the root of the problem. Give them the benefit of the doubt, and nudge them in the right direction by helping the child do it over. In very young children who have difficulty articulating their feelings, drawing or modeling with clay can help them express themselves.

Preventing hate and violence is not simple, but with 1 out of 13 kids under the age of nineteen attempting suicide each year, with a staggering number blamed at least partially on bullying, the effort is well worth it. Next time we tell a “joke” or tease someone, we should ask ourselves how it will make the receiver feel, if we are stereotyping or passing judgment.

As Gandhi said, “We must become the change we want to see.”