Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Advocacy for Social Justice
Educators who embrace a social justice perspective are attentive to inequalities associated with race, social class, gender, language, and other social categories. They consciously look for alternatives to established educational practices that support the learning, development, and academic achievement of children whose backgrounds place them outside of the dominant culture. They employ multicultural, anti-racist, anti-bias educational practices that foster deep engagement in learning and high academic achievement among all of the nation’s children.
The advocacy for social justice standard tells me that good educators need to consciously and consistently create their curriculum with the culture of their students, as well as students of the world, in mind. They also keep in mind that different cultures have stereotypes associated with them and that students are affected and shaped by those gross generalizations. Good educators hold high academic standards for all their students regardless of race, socio-economic class, and other social categories.
This standard is important to all educators because it challenges us to think outside of the box and really look for ways to ensure that all of our students succeed. Many scripted curricula and older teaching practices do not emphasize ways to reach or educate minorities. As a result, students outside of the dominant culture could become disconnected to the curriculum and lose interest in learning, because they think it doesn’t apply to them. When teachers are aware of the inequalities that minority cultures face, they are able to make the learning more positive for their students, and they become better teachers.
Educators also need to think of ways to include students’ cultures in our teaching. According to Sonia Nieto (2008), even teachers who are trying to be nice sometimes “convey, even unwittingly, a deep disdain and disrespect for families by suggesting that home cultural values have no place in school” (p. 29). As educators, we need to be aware that our students are never all going to come from the same cultural background. Students feel much more connected and invested in the curriculum when it reflects their cultural backgrounds. It is also key that as educators we never hold students to lower standards than others based on their cultural, ethnic, class, or gender groups. We may think that we are making accommodations in their best interests, but in truth we would be doing them a disservice.
When I was developing my unit for my full time practicum I was a bit stuck at first as to how I was going to make a unit on fairy tales multicultural and integrate the many backgrounds of my students. Growing up, when I thought of fairy tales I always pictured the Disney princesses or Rapunzel. None of these fairy tale characters had a background close to my Hispanic or African American students at the Joseph Lee in Dorchester. Luckily, when I broached the topic with my supervising practitioner she mentioned that she had a collection of Cinderella stories from many different cultures. After looking through many of them I selected a few for various read alouds and placed the rest in the classroom library for the students to read during Independent Reading or Fun Friday. This way, the various cultures of my students would be represented and they would get a chance to learn about other cultures.
The students were very interested in the Cinderella story that I read which talked about a young girl from an African village and the boys in my classroom got a kick out of “Prince Cinders” which put a further spin on the classic fairy tale by starring a boy. They laughed out loud later in the week when I read the story “Ashpet” because it was about a girl from a community in the Appalachian Mountains (and the story was written in that dialect so I had a great accent going on during the readings). Artifact 1.3 is a copy of all the different book covers for the stories we read during the unit.
During my sophomore year, my Racial and Cultural Identities class was asked to think about the many aspects of our own identity, what helped to shape our identity, and the inequalities of the different cultural backgrounds that make up our nation. I grew up in a white, upper to middle class, and non-diverse neighborhood, so these were not topics that I often thought about. However, I now realize that these are issues that my students face on a daily basis and are biases that they deal with their entire lives. Artifact 1.1 is a copy of my identity paper. This assignment helped me to realize what shaped my identity, as well as the advantages that I have over those from a minority background.
Even long after the class ended I still find myself thinking about these issues and relating them to what my students in both my practica face. Those in the majority do not feel these inequalities. However, as an urban educator it is essential that I am aware of the discrepancies in race, ethnic group, class, and gender among my students. I am a privileged, White, female. Not all of my future students will have that luxury.
However, I have also learned over my four years at Wheelock that racial categories are not something that can be ignored. Patricia Gandara (2008) discusses how teachers who say things like “I don’t see color, I see children” are actually ignore key aspects of a student’s development. She writes that “membership in a racial group shapes experience, access to social and cultural capital, and perspectives” (p. 44). Racial categories are not something that teachers can ignore, we just can’t use those categories as a basis for what we feel our students should be able to accomplish.
Advocacy for social justice also reminds me that when I am thinking about possible field trips, not all my students may be able to afford the bus fare or the cost of admission. I also need to think about whether I am promoting any gender stereotypes when I purchase gifts for my students (e.g. buying the boys books about sports while getting the girls books about shopping). When teaching I need to be constantly aware of how I am presenting information, what material I am using, and if I am making my teaching culturally relevant to my students.
While I feel that I am aware of the challenges that minority students face, my teaching needs to better reflect this knowledge. When I enroll in a graduate program, I plan on taking a more advanced version of the Racial and Cultural Identities class. I want to learn specific strategies that will help me to promote cultural equality in the classroom, and how to make sure that my lessons reflect the varied cultures of my students.
Gandara, P. (2008). Everyday Anti-Racism: Getting Real about Race in School. In M. Pollock (Ed.), “Strengthening Student Identity in School Programs” (p. 44-49). New York, NY: The New Press.
Nieto, S. (2008). Everyday Anti-Racism: Getting Real about Race in School. In M. Pollock (Ed.), “Nice Is Not Enough: Defining Caring for Students of Color” (p. 28-31). New York, NY: The New Press.
September 25, 2007
Racial and Cultural Identities
Interview Reflective Essay #1
My most significant values and beliefs all come from my parents, relatives, and my church; while some of these values were further emphasized by my teachers and other adults that I came in contact with over the course of my life my parents, the church, and close relatives were the ones who really imparted their wisdom and beliefs unto me. From an early age I was taught the value of a good education, hard work, and honesty. I was taught that helping others was a noble thing to do, and that I should treat others the way I wished to be treated.
I learned these values through close observation of my parents. They were always calm and courteous to others, even if the people they were dealing with weren’t always polite to them. Both of them emphasized my education by working with me on homework, helping me study for tests, and even grounding me when I was older for getting a grade lower than a B- on a report card. Things that I wanted weren’t just given to me most of the time. I would have to do chores around the house or baby sit to buy the things that I wanted.
My mother is a teacher so I grew up watching her try to come up with new ways to help her students understand concepts and processes. Some days she would come home late because she would have to stay after school to help some students who didn’t fully understand what she was going over in class. For these reasons, and my love of learning I have chosen to become a teacher so that I can hopefully try and instill some of the values that she and my dad have taught me.
I am personally affiliated with a white, upper middle class, Catholic cultural group. I associate myself with these groups because of my skin color, socioeconomic background, and religious beliefs. While there are other groups that I could include myself with, these are the ones that I feel are most prevalent in my life. My heritage and where my family comes from has never played a major role in my life other than certain personality traits that I have considered Irish.
For me, being associated with these cultural groups means that I am part of the dominant society. Because of the color of my skin I am not looked at a followed when I go into a store to shop. People do not single me out as prone to violence or a bad attitude. There are definitely not as many stereotypes about white people as there are about African Americans, Asian Americans, or Hispanics. When a member of a minority group is being taught to act “proper” they are told to act “white.” My skin color alone ensures that people do not judge me harshly upon sight and the large majority of society does not discriminate against me.
My middle class background has ensured that I have always lived in a safe neighborhood with a good school system. I have been given more opportunities to see and experience life in places other than my own state because my parents’ jobs allow us the money and leisure time to take family vacations. As a result of their hard work I do not have to worry about paying for college like many of my classmates do because my parents are paying my undergraduate tuition. Being middle class has given me many opportunities.
Being Catholic has instilled values in me that I believe some of my friends do not have. My religion means that almost anywhere I choose to go will have a church and people with similar beliefs and values to my own. To me, being a Catholic means that I will always have a connection to God and my fellow man.
In the first section of the interview I discussed where I was from and what my values were. I realized that I have lived a very sheltered life so far. While I have lived in some diverse areas, for the most part the people and backgrounds I have been exposed to are very similar to my own. White, upper middle class, educated people have for the most part dominated my schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces; living in Boston has really given me my first taste of diversity.
Understanding All Children in their Many Dimensions
Educators should know their students as individuals and as learners, and be able to relate to them in a variety of ways. They should be familiar with the cultures, histories, and values of the communities and families they serve, and know the attributes of the individual children and families with whom they work. Educators should be aware of the range of special needs their children may have, and seek out information concerning the strengths of specific children as well as resources to address their developmental and learning needs. They should use their knowledge of variations in development, second language acquisition, and disabilities to support children’s physical, emotional, social, cognitive, linguistic, intellectual, and creative development. Educators should observe and listen to children as they work, learn, and play in a variety of settings to gain insights into what their students know, how they think, what they value, who they are, where they come from, and what motivates them. Their knowledge of children and families, language and culture, and community development should motivate educators to view children’s actions and responses through multiple lenses. The more they learn about their students, the better they can tailor their teaching to engage children in active learning and meet their specific needs.
Understanding all children in their many dimensions means that good educators look at their students as individuals and not just as part of a whole. Teachers must be aware of each child’s individual strengths and weaknesses as well as his interests to build a curriculum that helps all students to succeed and flourish in school. A good educator will also take her students’ needs and levels of development into account when planning lessons and use her resources to get her students the help they need.
This standard is important because it tells us as educators that we need to be involved in our students’ lives. A teacher who is a passive observer of their classroom never really gets to know her students as individuals and as learners. As a result, the curriculum will not reflect the interests of her students, which may result in the students not engaging in their learning. This standard also reminds us that we have a duty to our students to understand their learning needs and to do as much as we can to make sure that our teaching practices foster the intellectual growth of each of our students.
According to John Dewey (1897) “only through the continual and sympathetic observation of childhood’s interest can the adult enter into the child’s life and see what it is ready for, and upon what material it could work most readily and fruitfully” (p. 108). Dewey is reiterating the importance of observing the students’ interests and developmental levels in order to prepare lessons for that child. This belief fits into component one of standard two, and it reminds teachers that they need to be constantly monitoring students to see their progress, what they are struggling with, and what captures their interest.
I am a strong believer in getting to know students as individuals and then integrating their interests into the curriculum. I achieved this component of the standard through the attached student interest inventory (Artifact 2.1). This inventory was taken during the field experience part of my Teaching Reading class. Each college student was partnered with either a third or fourth grader at the King Open School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. During the time I spent there, I was responsible for developing reading lessons for my fourth grade partner. We were in charge of picking books not only at their reading level, but ones that also fit their interests and would capture their attention. Using information from my student’s interest inventory, I selected books that had animals as main characters in the story. We read two books that semester because she didn’t want to put them down!
Going along with knowing students individually, Artifact 2.5 is an excerpt of a guided reading lesson plan that I wrote during my full time practicum. The curriculum required that the students read a text that discusses the Iditarod Dogsled Race. One of my students was from another country and did not have a lot of knowledge about the subject, which is something I had learned from observing her previously in the school year. Knowing this, I made sure to preview the text with her individually as well as with the whole class to make sure that everyone had the necessary knowledge to read and comprehend the story.
Mary Cowhey is another expert whose views match those of the second Wheelock standard. In her book Black Ants and Buddhists (2006) she discusses teaching a lesson about the Tainos to her second graders. After displaying a graph made by Bartolome de Las Casas, which read that there were no Tainos left alive after 1555, one of her students stood up and disagreed with the data because her ancestors were Taino. Cowhey was quick to find the reason behind this information discrepancy because she realized that “Las Casas’ data was for Haiti, not Borinquen/Puerto Rico…there were still more living in Borinquen, where some of your ancestors lived” (p. 141). Cowhey knew the family and cultural backgrounds of the students in her class and because of this she was able to explain why Las Casas data did not include her student’s relations that had lived.
When thinking about Cowhey’s story, I am reminded of components two and three of standard two. These components stress the importance of knowing the cultural aspects of your students as well as their families. This knowledge can be used to strengthen the curriculum and relate the material to the children’s lives. It can also be used to make sure that you are culturally sensitive to each of your students and that you are respecting their family values.
During my pre-practicum experience, I was in a culturally diverse school in Brookline, Massachusetts. We were asked to do a Powerpoint presentation for our Curriculum Development course that displayed the aspects of our classroom as well as gave the viewer an introduction to the group of students that we were working with as a whole. Artifact 2.2 is a slide from the Powerpoint, which displays the cultural backgrounds of the second graders that I worked with. As you can see, we had an ethnically diverse classroom that year. It was important for me to know this information because it gave me a sense of the traditions the students had as well as some of the family histories. For example, on Chinese New Year a number of my students came dressed in traditional costume and passed out candy. Had I not known their backgrounds this would have been confusing for me, but because we were prepared for the day my supervising practitioner and I had set aside time in the morning for the Chinese students to share their tradition with the entire class.
I was also able to focus on attributes of an individual student during my time at the Joseph Lee. For my Meeting Diverse Learning Needs class we had to choose a focus child to observe for the entire semester. At the end, we were asked to make an Eco-Map of the child based on our observations and interviews with the child and the family. The Eco-Map showed their interests, their thoughts on school, the values of their family, and some aspects of their everyday lives outside of school. Attached you will find my Eco-Map as Artifact 2.3. The assignment required me to know my student on a deeper level and helped me to make sure that my lessons included activities to match my child’s interests and learning styles.
When teaching is it important to use the resources that you have, including more knowledgeable teachers or specialists. One specialist that is key to any school is the special educator with experience and qualification in evaluation. Levine (2001) states that these specialists can “provide valuable insights to guide management when their work is process-oriented, that is, when they focus on how the child accomplishes a task or where the breakdown in performing it occurs” (p. 274). This means that when a teacher is having trouble figuring out why a student is having a hard time understanding a concept the specialist can come in and see where the breakdown is happening.
During my practicum I was fortunate enough to have the resource teacher in the room with me for half of the day. After observing her for the first two weeks of school, I came to see how big of a help she was in our inclusion classroom and what a great resource she was for me. Throughout the course of the semester, I was able to consult with her about lesson plans, specific students, and methods of teaching. Her knowledge of the students in the classroom was extensive and it was a blessing to have her as someone that I could go to.
When reflecting on Standard Two I realize that while I have grasped many aspects of this standard, I really need to focus on the fourth component. When I came into my practicum classroom in September, my supervising practitioner already knew the students who had been at the school and what their major learning needs were (including the elements of their Individualized Education Plans [IEPs]). As a result, when I came into the classroom I didn’t sit down and read my students’ IEPs; instead, I just listened to her ideas about what the students needed and followed her routines. In the future, I need to make sure that I take the time to sit down and read all of their plans so I know what each individual child needs and how to make sure those needs are met in each lesson. When I have my own classroom, I cannot rely on the knowledge of others and need to make sure that I know this information for myself. I will also be enrolling in the Master’s of Science Degree in Integrated Elementary and Special Education here at Wheelock College. This degree will give me background in Special Education that I need in order to better serve my students and their learning.
Cowhey, M. (2006). black ants and buddhists: Thinking Critically and Teaching Differently in the Primary Grades. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.
Dewey, John. (1938). Experience and education. New York, NY: Free Press.
Levine, M. (1987). Educational Care: A System for Understanding and Helping Children with Learning Problems at Home and in School. Cambridge, MA: Educators Publishing Services.