Teacher Research Webinar Exploration

After watching this webinar discussing the idea of teacher research as professional development and connected learning, I decided to explore the following questions.

“What do we expect from teachers when we’re thinking about professional development? More importantly, what do our actions say? What do our learning experiences for grown ups and teachers look like? What do they promote? What do they not promote?” — Bud Hunt

Bud Hunt explores these questions a bit in the webinar after he poses them, suggesting that teacher research makes teachers a little uncomfortable becauses it asks us to pose questions there are no clear answers to — because it is our job to answer them with our research. There will, of course, never be a definitive answer, because everything works differently in different classrooms and between in individual students.

This requires teachers to become learners in a more explicit way; we learn everyday in the classroom, but as we research we again take on the role of the student, recording data and doing our”homework,” etc. Taking on this role of learner can be difficult for teachers, especially if they’ve been teaching for a while; it is uncomfortable to maintain both roles at the same time.

This does, however, promote a true dialogical pedagogy; if you are being honest with your students about the research you’re doing and that you are learning alongside them as well as teaching them, you are all truly on the same level, and that is explicitly communicated to students. If you’re taking on the role of student you are learning from your students, which kind of makes them your “teachers.” It might be a powerful thing for you to frame your research this way to your students.

Teacher researchers are teacher learners, which makes them, essentially, students. And we must get used to unanswerable questions and fulfilling multiple roles simultaneously.

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Is Homework Working in Public Schools? : Preliminary Conclusions from Teacher Research

Homework: Many teachers assign it on an almost nightly basis, but are we considering why we do so? What is the purpose of assigning homework, and is it effectively fulfilling that purpose?

The purpose of homework varies based on assignment and content area, but most of the time homework is synonymously referred to as practice; it is meant to be a tool for students to independently utilize what they learned in class and better understand processes, vocabulary, content, etc.

This, of course, is the intended purpose of most homework, but is it fulfilling this purpose? I decided the best answers to this question would come from the students actually completing the homework, so I asked Sofia and Ben, two middle school students, to talk to me about the value of their homework assignments.

Ben, a quiet and creative 6th grade student, finds himself uninterested by most of his classes, and therefore unmotivated to do his homework. Though he is not assigned much, he admits he doesn’t often complete it when it is assigned; this doesn’t affect his understanding of the subject in most cases, he says, but it does affect his grade — in most of his classes, homework counts for 10% of his final grade. The exception to this rule being math; he says because he doesn’t complete the assigned practice, he doesn’t often understand the content and therefore underperforms on summative tests.

Sofia, on the other hand, is motivated by the kind of classroom environment her middle school provides, and though isn’t often assigned homework, she almost always completes the practice when it is assigned. She says it does have an impact on her grade — homework is also worth 10% in her classes — but that she doesn’t feel it has an effect one way or the other on her understanding of content. The exception is her music class; she plays the violin and must practice one hour per night, which she completes enthusiastically and says she can hear the practice improving her skill.

What I’ve gathered from theses two student testimonials is that students don’t often feel motivated to do homework — unless they have been explicitly told its purpose or it is somehow relevant to their interests.  Sofia, for instance , know the purpose of practicing her violin and therefore approaches that practice enthusiastically. Ben, on the other hand, does not often complete his homework because he has not been explicitly taught its purpose, nor does he feel it pertains to his interests, which are primarily creative.

So the problem isn’t the concept of homework, it is what we assign and the way we assign it. Often times teachers can get caught up in their own lesson plans and the way they want students to learn, rather than figuring out the way each individual student learns best. To get out of that mindset, we must make differentiation our goal — not every homework assignment will work for every student, and we have to be willing to create and recreate new ways for students to practice.

This could look like different levels of practice — or even a flipped classroom structure — for math students, more hands-on learning or take home labs for science students, and self-timed writings, webquests, or character maps for ELA classrooms. Just as we plan lessons meant to keep students motivated and differentiate in-class assignments, we must use these strategies when we assign homework, and always keep in mind the goal you are trying to achieve: What are students supposed to know by the time they’ve completed the assignment? How can I help them reach that goal while also keeping them interested and motivated?

To sum up, here are some preliminary conclusions I’ve made based on my research this far:

  • The purpose of homework is almost always practice and rarely to extend student thinking
  • We must assign homework with a clear purpose/goal in mind
  • We must differentiate our homework just as we differentiate our lessons
  • We must consider student interest to sustain motivation when we assign homework just as we do when we plan lessons

Overall my research is going well, and my next step is to interview former K-12 public schoolers on their opinion on homework, motivation, and understanding.

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.

Open Door, Open Mind: Teaching and Learning in Public

[MORNING PAGES 4/28/16]

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

[MORNING PAGES 4/21/16]

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

[MORNING PAGES 4/19]

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