The Inquiry Method: A Virtual Mentorship Exercise in Teacher Research

After watching these three videos and taking field notes using the data collection plan, I’ve discovered a lot about the way teachers research and how they collect data from their students.

The teacher I’ve “virtually shadowed,” Sheila Kosoff, uses the Inquiry Method to teach her class; essentially, students and teacher sit in a roundtable set up and discuss the text in question. Using this method, Kosoff has found students to be more engaged, more active and involved, and more likely to critically think through the text in order to meaningfully participate in class discussion.

My biggest takeaway from this virtual mentorship was the idea that “not every kid participates by talking,” and that it’s possible to get a student’s thinking through one-on-one discussions, writing assignments, even exit slips. Additionally, if a teacher wants to take on the inquiry method, they have to let go of their ego and truly become a facilitator; it can’t be about where the instructor wants the lesson to go, but rather where the students take it.

The best evidence that this method is working comes from the students themselves — which is, I believe the biggest benefit of teacher research: direct access to student feedback. The students, in interviews, said the class led them to be more open about their ideas, more engaged in the text, and more willing to share their thinking. This can be seen in the way they participate in Kosoff’s classroom; they are bouncing ideas back and forth, critically thinking about the text (which is evident in the analysis they share with the group), and building off one another’s ideas while Kosoff herself is saying very little; it is primarily student-centered, and the students respond well to this.

I observed similar results in my ED350 course at Conrad Ball Middle School, during a teacher-facilitated socratic seminar in a 6th grade ELA class. The day before the seminar, students were placed in groups of four where each group member got 1 of 4 different questions. They discussed and wrote down answers and evidence from the story they were discussing; during the seminar, the inner circle was composed of all the 1s or 2s or 3s, etc., and the outer circle consisted of everyone else, who were taking and passing notes about the inner circle’s discussion.

Overall, I observed similar results as Kosoff’s class; students were more engaged in the story because they were able to share their ideas with their peers in a group discussion.

So what does all of this mean?

Student-centered learning promotes critical thinking; when students are engaged they learn more, and thinking leads to talking leads to writing. The Inquiry Method makes students better communicators, better readers, writers, and learners by creating an environment where students feel comfortable sharing their ideas, taking risks, and truly engaging with a text.

As a preservice English teacher, and current practice teacher researcher, I’m very excited about the Inquiry Method; according to my research during this virtual shadowing — and the research of other teachers — this method is one of the best to promote student engagement and thinking, and I hope to use it in my own classroom someday.

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Open Door, Open Mind: Teaching and Learning in Public

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Open door policies make a lot of sense to me; this may be because I’m a preservice teacher and am learning to teach in a rather progressive era. That being said, the idea of shutting myself in and not sharing my knowledge with the community around me (at the very least) sounds hypocritical; I would never want my students to do that, so why should I?

As a newer teacher — especially in my first year — I imagine I will be making a lot of mistakes. I recognize that if I have an “open door policy,” I am sharing these mistakes along with my successes. But some of the best advice I’ve received as a preservice teacher has come from new teachers sharing their mistakes; I want to share my mistakes in the hopes that others will learn from them, and share my successes in the same spirit.

I hope that I stay this open-minded as I begin my career. I want to be an example to my students that having knowledge is really about sharing it; everything you learn is only useful if you use it, and teaching someone else just means you know it better.

So I hope that my classroom door is always open — to students and teachers alike — to share in my learning and mistakes.

Homework: The Great Debate

As I continue my Teacher as Researcher journey, I find myself more and more interested in focusing on homework for my research question. Many if not most teachers assign weekly — even nightly — homework; but is it extending student thinking? Is it beneficial to students at all? And does it decrease equity in your classroom? These are all sub-questions I’m hoping to explore throughout my project.

First, however, I had to do some research on the current research: what is already out there on the subject of homework? This article, an interview with Dr. Harris Cooper, suggests 60 to 90 minutes of homework per night for middle school students; this number seems astronomically high to me. Middle schoolers have sports, music, friends, family time — all of which I deem at least as important as academics — and an hour and a half of homework a night seems excessive.

This article is about standards based grading and homework, another important sub-question of my research: how does homework and grading of homework fit into SBG? The article says you can give homework all you want, but it can’t be included in the students final grade for the class; this is because standards based grading measures mastery of content, and homework is just practice. In the same way you shouldn’t average student attempts on an assignment, you can’t include homework because it ultimately falsifies the students’ score.

What I’ve taken away from my small amount of research is there is a lot out there about homework and whether or not we should assign it — but not a lot of the research focuses on student response to homework. Do they feel it helps them? Do they think it interrupts time with family/sports/friends/hobbies? These are important things to consider as we decide whether or not we as teachers will assign homework to our students.

What do you think: are you pro homework or totally against it? Comment with your reasoning!

Teacher Researcher Sketch to Sketch: Reflection

This post is a reflection of a Sketch to Sketch activity about teacher research I completed with the help of a friend of mine, and these are the sketches I collected and will be discussing.

The first thing I noticed about the sketches is that my and my friend’s ideas of what a “teacher” is and what a “researcher” is are very similar. They are both pretty generalized, maybe even a little old school; the teacher is standing in front of the class by a chalkboard and the researcher is pictured solo in a lab.

They match up with the cultural expectation of a “teacher” is: they are the authority in the room, appear to be lecturing while students listen, etc. Even as a preservice teacher learning about dialogical pedagogy and modern, progressive teaching, this is still the first thing that comes to mind when someone says “teacher.”

Something else that was interesting was my friend wrote in her notes that “teachers teach what researchers observe” and “teachers give lessons based on what observers discover.” It’s interesting that they thought of “teacher” and “researcher” as two distinct and totally separate things, and also of teachers teaching based off others’ — not their own — observations.

When I combined teacher and researcher in my final sketch, it looked much more like what I would want my classroom to look like: students in group discussion while the teacher observes. In a previous blog post I talk about the article Teacher as Researcher, in which Marian Mohr talks about viewing her students as “data points” in her research, and this is what my last sketch conveys: a teacher observing her students learning in order to better understand how all students learn, and how we can make lessons that are conducive to that learning — based on research.

Intentionally Inquisitive: New Teachers and Teacher Research

After reading Teachers as Researchers by Marian Mohr, I feel like I better understand the purpose and impact of teacher research, and am more convinced than ever of incorporating teacher research into my classroom.

My biggest take away from the article was understanding that teachers are the best education researchers because they are the ones consistently testing out the theories. They know better than anyone what works and what doesn’t work in the classroom because they are there everyday. That being said, teacher research requires sustained and focused attention on a specific theory or question, and definitely requires a significant amount of work on the teacher’s part.

Why should a new teacher become a teacher researcher? It is definitely possible, and even for the best, because new teachers often aren’t yet subscribed to any particular way of thinking about policies in the classroom because they haven’t seen them in action yet. There is value in the new ideas and willingness to learn that new teachers bring with them to the classroom, and these can be assets in teacher research.

How can new teachers become teacher researchers? That’s obviously a question I’m still figuring out the answer to myself, but I think the first thing to do is just start. What do you notice about the classrooms you’ve been in or your own classroom? What do your students struggle with? What do your colleagues struggle with? Question tradition and “standard practice;” think: what is the purpose of x? Is x achieving its intended purpose? Is it useful, constructive? Does it extend student thinking?

In short, teacher research is incredibly important, and new teachers can and should tackle the task by being inquisitive and focused. Ask questions with a purpose, and the rest will follow suit.

Advocacy Action Plan: Creating Safe Spaces for LGBTQ Students and Teachers

For as long as members of the queer community have been in the workplace (i.e. forever), they’ve had to worry about their sexual identity affecting their chosen careers or and their job stability. In every profession, queer workers feel they must conceal their sexual and/or gender identities to avoid discrimination in the workplace and — in many cases — to keep their jobs.

LGBTQ teachers feel this pressure especially; they are meant to become established members of the community, role models to the kids they teach and lifelines to the parents who trust them. With so much discrimination against the queer community, especially transgender individuals, queer teachers feel as though the only way to remain respected in their careers and their communities is to keep their identity a secret — not to mention that it is still legal to fire teachers (and queer people of any profession) based on sexual/gender identity in 29 states. The changing laws concerning LGBTQ discrimination means this number changes often, but as it stands, in 2016, there are places in the United States where teachers can be fired for being queer.

This is unacceptable. Until teachers everywhere can proudly claim their sexual/gender identities without fear of discrimination, retribution, or termination from their positions, we as a community must proudly claim our support for LGBTQ teachers. You can start now by using the hashtag #TeachwithPride.

#TeachwithPride is a way to track support for queer teachers across the U.S. It is a public gathering of people who believe that queer teachers deserve protection from discrimination based on sexual/gender identity, an outcry to our country’s leaders to legally protect queer teachers from workplace discrimination, and a place for discouraged teachers in the queer community to go to find support and love from those who believe LGBTQ teachers everywhere deserve to #TeachwithPride.

 

How You Can Advocate for LGBTQ Teachers in as Little as One Minute:

1 Minute Advocate: 32 of the 55 Republican senators in Congress voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, a bill that would protect LGBT workers from workplace discrimination (no democrats voted against the bill). While you are welcome to tweet them all (full list provided here), I’ve provided the most high profile of the group below. Tweet one of the following senators that have a history of discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community and tell them you stand with queer educators using the hashtag #TeachwithPride. You can craft your own tweet or use the template below:

@_______ LGBTQ teachers should be protected by #ENDA. #TeachOurKidsTolerance by proving you believe the same. #TeachwithPride

@tedcruzHere are the highest-profile members of congress who don’t believe LGBTQ teachers should be protected from discrimination in the workplace: @tedcruz @RandPaul, @BobbyJindal, @LindseyGrahamSC, @ChuckGrassley, @ScottWalker

5 Minute Advocate: Take a photo of yourself with the hashtag #TeachwithPride and post to social media with a message of support. You are welcome to write a personalized message or use the template below.

Every person has the right to be protected against discrimination; every teacher has the right to feel respected in their own classrooms. This is why I support #ENDA and LGBTQ teachers in classrooms across the U.S. Workers have the right to safety in the workplace, and teachers have the right to #TeachwithPride.

10+ Minute Advocate (non-lqbtq): Read over the Queer Teacher Ally worksheet (How to be a Str8 Ally: 8 Resources for Teachers and Students) to better understand how you can support your queer colleagues and students! Feel free (read: encouraged) to share this ally sheet with fellow educators and students

10+ Minute Advocate (lgbtq): If you’re comfortable share your story to encourage other teachers in the U.S., offer advice to LGBTQ educators, or talk to other educators about worries/fears/coming out in the workplace/etc. Share your story at: http://www.outteacher.org/contact/

 

In the current political climate, it is more important than ever for LGBTQ students to feel represented, respected, and cared for. As role models and allies, teachers can make this happen, and potentially save student lives.
Continue being an advocate, and ensure that educators everywhere can #TeachwithPride.

Practicing Literacy

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Literacy is the foundation of everything we learn; if we are not able to read, write, think, and speak, we are not able to learn.

So, specifically, how do you teach literacy? What does that look like?

To me, teaching literacy is about practice, kind of like teaching; you can read all the theory you want, but until you’re up there doing it, you have no idea what it’s like. Same goes for literacy — talking about it will only take you so far.

So my students are going to write everyday (hopefully). They’re going to write uninterrupted for 10 minutes, not worrying about spelling or grammar or syntax — those will be taught with the more formal assignments. But for 10 minutes a day, I want them to just be worry-free writers.

I also want my students to read all the time. This, of course, is just a dream, but I can make sure my students read once a week, even if it’s just for 20 minutes in my room.

They’re also going to speak — a lot. To me, to each other, their families, other classes and teachers, whoever — they’re going to articulate their ideas out loud in person to someone all the time. I want them to have that skill when they leave my class.

And because of all this talking, they’re going to learn to be active listeners — responding thoughtfully and suggesting ideas of their own. Listening is a valuable skill that often goes untaught and I plan to teach it explicitly.

To sum up : literacy requires practice. And my students will have tons of it.

Failure as Growth: Memoirs From a No Child Left Behind Survivor

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Failing. I think everyone’s at least a little afraid of it; I know I am, anyway. You’re looking at a NCLB survivor — failure isn’t an option for us. Testing — and passing tests — is all we know about succeeding. In a NCLB school, failure isn’t an opportunity to grow, it is a death sentence written neatly on your report card.

So how do I get out of that mindset? I obviously don’t want my students thinking this way, that failure is the end instead of the beginning of a process.

I think the answer to all of this comes down to vulnerability. Teachers must be vulnerable if they want any chance of inspiring or connecting with their students.

What does teacher vulnerability look like in the classroom? Being honest about your mistakes; tell students when something has gone wrong, or change your lesson halfway through because if you’re honest with yourself (and your students) it’s just not working. Let your students know that failure — taking a risk and having it not work out — is a part of the learning process. If you never fail big you’re not taking enough risks. Pushing ourselves, being honest with ourselves, challenging ourselves, and learning more — all of these things require unbelievable strength and vulnerability, and failure. You’re going to make mistakes and fail.

Be honest with your students. Let them know that all of this is okay. Let them know there is strength in failure, and it makes your successes so much sweeter.

This is also much easier said than done. Failing is hard, and I can’t even imagine failing in front of my students; it sounds terrifying. My hope is that I hold on to this optimism I feel now, and push myself to try, everyday

Teacher Vulnerability: 3 Big Changes for Teachers in the ESSA Era

“So what does this mean? Two of the biggest potential change levers of NCLB were never fully utilized. Whatever lens we use to look back on the No Child Left Behind and judge its relative success or failure, it’s important to consider not just what the law attempted to prescribe but how that was actually carried out in local schools, districts and states.”  — From an Education Writers Association blog post

This blog post is an extension of the one linked above, and an exploration of what the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will look like in the classroom in the context of a post-No Child Left Behind education system.

ESSA has been given both praise and criticism by educators, policymakers, and parents alike, but across the board, the tone of discussion is fairly optimistic; this is primarily because ESSA has given much of the control that NCLB had back to the states and districts. Specifically speaking, states and districts control whether or not they use standards, what those standards will be, measures of student and school achievement, and have much more flexibility as far as how much funding states and districts receive and where it is spent on.

This kind of state and district control is widely regarded as a rare opportunity to totally change what has been considered a problematic system. It allows districts to improve low income schools and close the achievement gap in a way that rejects the one-size-fits-all policies in NCLB while still holding states, districts, and schools accountable.

This optimism, however, must be met in equal measure with action. While NCLB was not perfect by any means, it did offer support for low income families and students of color in low income schools — like the tutoring and transfer policies listed in the quote above — but schools failed to take advantage of the programs or they were presented to the families in a bias way.

The same will happen with the freedom offered in ESSA if we are not careful; if we don’t take this opportunity that has been offered and work hard to use it to transform the way we run our schools and the way we work to close the achievement gap, we will spend the next 10 years failing our students and blaming poor education reform.

It is the teacher’s responsibility, in the classroom, to know the programs that are in place to help their disadvantaged or underserved students. If a student needs specific help or resources, the teacher will be the first connection to getting the funding or the program the students needs.

So what does ESSA mean for teachers in the classroom?

  1. Teacher Responsibility: Knowing what programs are available, knowing the systems in place under current education policies to help underserved students, knowing the best way to help your students by using the resources available to you. You can’t offer your students the best if you don’t know what’s out there.
  2. Teacher Flexibility: Because so much more freedom has been given to states and districts, teachers have an unprecedented opportunity to transform K-12 education in the United States, whether that be through NextGen or digital learning, project based assessments or Standards Based Grading, this is the time for teachers to take risks with the latest and greatest teaching techniques. This means being brave and vulnerable, something teachers under NCLB rarely had the opportunity to do. Take advantage of these opportunities, learn from your mistakes, and press on.
  3. Teacher Advocacy: Though ESSA makes considerable improvements for underserved students, teachers must continue to be their #1 advocates. You are the connection between the student and their family and all the resources that are put in place to help them; it is your responsibility to see the need and make those connections, otherwise low income students will continue to fall through the cracks and the achievement gap will continue to widen.

While the freedom granted to states and districts under ESSA is encouraging, policies are only as strong as the educators who implement them.

In the ESSA-era, educators must be brave, bold, and vulnerable, and work to truly transform our current system into one that works for all students, regardless of zip code or school district.

The Privilege Walk in the Classroom

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For those who do not know, the Privilege Walk is an exercise designed to help people better understand what their privilege looks like, and how much their privilege separates them from others.

If I were to participate in the privilege walk, I would definitely land near the front. I recognize that I have so many privileges that make living my life easier and safer. If I were participating as a student in a classroom, I would feel uncomfortable; looking behind me and seeing my peers wouldn’t sit right with me. But that’s the point of the activity — to provide a visual of the privileges that others have to overcome that you do not. I would also be angry, perhaps, at the people that would be in front of me — it would feel like a hierarchal chain, which, in some ways, is what this activity represents — the hierarchy of power based on privilege in the U.S.

As a teacher, would I use this activity in my classroom? As valuable and important as I think this activity is, I don’t think I could ask my students to participate in it. Not because it is uncomfortable — the best kind of learning happens outside our comfort zones. And not because I don’t think they could handle the information or that they would react badly to it — I confidently feel that having that honest conversation would be not only possible, but productive, invaluable. But I couldn’t ask my students to do it. It requires them to reveal very personal information about themselves; how much money their family makes, if they feel embarrassed at school, their sexuality, their gender identity, and so much more. I would never want to unintentionally out a student, or make a student the target of scrutiny based on family income. It’s a tough thing, because I want my students to understand the different privileges they have or the obstacles they must overcome, and I want to ask them to be vulnerable, but I feel as though this activity is asking too much of high school students.

The adults in this video are just that — adults. They have maybe left dangerous situations of their youth or have come into contact with their privilege (or lack thereof) in the real world. Asking high school students to do this is a very different situation.

I want students to be vulnerable, but on their own terms.