Promoting Social Justice Through the Exploration of Literature

beauty
By Kim Bonica, high school English teacher

One of the many goals of any educational institution is to help shape students into educated, well-rounded, independent thinkers who will eventually become productive members of society. As such, it is the job of schools to educate students about various concerns related to social justice and diversity in the world surrounding them, since many adolescents often require some guidance in educating themselves in this area. This is especially true of boarding schools, which by nature incorporate students from a variety of geographic locations and backgrounds. However, educators often encounter difficulty with engaging students in discussions about social justice without falling victim to the adolescent perception that such issues are simply the focus of adults aiming to lecture about topics unrelated to the average teen. Literary critical theories can be an effective method of practicing critical thinking skills while also evaluating a variety of social justice issues within the secondary education classroom. Read More

Lectures Better than Group Work; What’s a Teacher to Think?

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Before you go flipping any classrooms you might want to take pause and consider the results of this study from Harvard. The study shows that teachers who increased the amount of class time spent lecturing as opposed to having students solve problems got better results.

Researchers using data from the 2003 TIMSS assessment were able to rigorously examine the effects of teaching methods among a large group of students. Their findings flew in the face of the conventional wisdom promoted over the last 30 years by such organizations as the National Research Council and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics calling on teachers to engage students in more “hands-on learning and group work.”

The researchers found that in both math and science a 10 percent shift in class-time from problem solving to lecture was associated with a 4% rise in test scores for students who had the very same peers in math and science classes. This beneficial outcome of increased lecture time seemed to hold true for above-average students as well as their below-average peers.

What does it mean? The thing that has been prescribed for decades is wrong? The old way was right? What’s a poor teacher to think? The study’s authors acknowledge that it may not be just lecturing in itself that explains the better outcomes. It may well be that better teachers tend to prefer lecturing or that group problem-solving activities are more difficult to organize and integrate effectively.

At LearningDiversity.org we consistently hold that there are no prescribed fixes. Effective teaching varies as greatly as the diverse learners who are taught and the diverse teachers who teach them. Teachers have to be good at what they do, and what they do must also be good for the students; simply applying a prescribed method, whether it’s flipping the classroom or holding forth at the podium, isn’t any kind of guarantee, and blind adherence to the latest pedagogical trend is likely to disappoint. The teaching profession should be just that – a profession. Professionals are entrusted to make decisions that will benefit those in their care. There are simply too many wide-ranging variables to ever hope that a narrow set of approaches will lead to optimal results. What prescribed fix for education do we endorse at LearningDiversity.org? Only one – a community of caring professionals who come up with effective solutions as challenges arise.

One More Thing to Worry About; We Don’t Read Like We Used To

PeruginiWe all know that smart phones make for dumb people, right? Here’s more proof; our ability to read deeply is in grave, grave danger. If you’re reading this on a screen (which unless you have the super-rare and highly prized hand-written, signed original, you probably are) then you’re probably scanning for exciting words (good luck!) and getting ready to bounce to some other page, or check your email, or send a text, or whatever. There might even be some intriguing beeps, buzzes, or vibrations notifying you that there’s probably more interesting stuff going on elsewhere. According to recent research, digital reading changes your reading habits, inhibiting “deep reading.” Some studies have also indicated that traditional reading on paper is more conducive to comprehension, this despite the test subjects’ impressions to the contrary!

We can all relate. When you’re perusing the internet there is such a mind-boggling glut of content,  most of it terrible, that we all learn to skim and jump around, seeking only the tastiest morsels that can hold our attention for a few seconds, long enough to glean some wise, amusing, or curious content. These researchers contend that these kinds of reading habits carry over and contaminate our enjoyment (and comprehension) of say, a novel. It’s also suggested that young folks, raised in cyberspace and whose reading development was suckled with digital content, might never develop the ability to read deeply.

It strikes me that this is more alarm-ism, the natural reaction to such quickly paced change. Do people read screen-content differently than books? Yes. Is there some difficulty switching from one type of reading to the other? Seemingly so. Are we doomed to an impoverishment of our literary appreciation? Yeah, maybe. Kidding! We are not the victims of technology. We are reading differently, for a different purpose, and with different benefits, but as long as people want to sit down with James Joyce and savor the richness of literary expression, deep reading will not be lost. As long as English majors and true romantics do not fall victim to the natural selection of social Darwinism we’ll have bespectacled deep readers reading deeply. As the researchers keep telling us the human brain is plastic, and that works both ways; we may get into the habit of superficial skimming and scanning for cheap mental stimulation, but as long as we keep in practice we can still read deeply. Not to worry: when technology threatens to destroy our minds there will be researchers to warn us by posting alarming online content that catches our eye. ;)

Khan Academy, Flipped Teaching, and the Inequalities of Standardized Testing

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On March 5th, Khan Academy—the free, online learning platform comprised of video lectures—declared that they would be partnering with the College Board to give free testing software to the public.  Fantastic, no?  The strange partnership is touted as ushering in “a future determined by merit not money.” Yet if it is true what some recent studies have been claiming about the intractable snail’s pace of social mobility and the hereditary link to wealth, it might not have as much of an impact as hoped. Access is only one part of the complex problem of closing the achievement gap among disparate income groups. Moreover, what are we to make of this strange pairing?

But let’s back up and talk for a moment about the idea of the Flipped Classroom, which is really, in essence, what Khan Academy is capitalizing on.  Flipped teaching is a pedagogical form currently gaining in popularity that encourages students to independently learn new content online through video lectures—usually during “homework” time– and use classroom time to go over the concepts with their teachers.  This, of course, is in opposition to traditional practices which favor the more formulaic strategies that the majority of us are accustomed to within a classroom setting.  Why is this new and exciting?  Because it emphasizes differentiation (the teacher works with the student individually) and enables project-based learning that focuses on aspects of critical thinking that are emphasized through a student’s ability to rationalize and ask questions about the material they learned of the night before.  It is also compelling because a student can pause the lectures, rewind, and reassess as needed, assuming, of course, that they have access to a computer with internet.

At any rate, the College Board,  the very embodiment of the standardization of education that for many so clearly represents the entrenchment of wealth-privilege in our educational landscape, is now skipping along, merrily, arm-in-arm with the revolutionary, egalitarian, free Khan Academy. Surely something is afoot!  Cleary the College Board is seeking to scrub clean its tarnished image and linking up with Khan Academy is undoubtedly a smart marketing strategy. So the real question is, will the Khan connection really result in a leveling of the playing field, or will the new marketing strategy just more firmly entrench an inherently flawed method of determining students’ future prospects?

Creativity: Is It Quantifiable?

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I am struck, lately, by the emphasis in academia on and about social and environmental determinants that have been implemented for the sole purpose of regarding the assessment of creativity in relation to novelty and originality.  Therefore, for application purposes, I am curious about the distinction between major creative products like notable works of art or technology, and “lesser” creative products that arise from daily practices that we see everyday; if a student presents a product that far exceeds expectations, would this not be considered exceptionally creative?  Apparently not.  It seems prudent to feel wary of major creative products that are made for purposes of profit—does this undermine the essence of creativity?  How do we go about emphasizing that in our classrooms?

As an educator, I am feeling slightly frustrated by the focus on assessment and wondering with it is so important for us to make the creative process classifiable.  Is this so that we can quantify it and make it easier to replicate it in our own lives and impart that knowledge to our students?   As humans we have an inherent need to make the unknown known, and I am consistently getting the impression within my work with my students that there are no specific or distinctive ways to measure creativity except those which appear to be wholly subjective, perhaps most especially in regard to assessment methods that capture the holistic view of the creative phenomena.  This is why self-reflection and awareness must be emphasized within a pedagogy; the implementation of departments such as Pragmatics and Diversity & Social Justice are necessary components to the promotion of an inclusive environment that nurtures and fosters creativity within a classroom setting.

Furthermore, since this website is devoted to the idea of learning diversity and examining alternative types of education, I feel that I would be remiss if I did not touch upon the idea of social context and task engagement when working to foster creativity (probably because I am a teacher, definitely because I am a human). In conceptualizing factors related to creative performance, it feels pertinent to explore the idea of task motivation in the context of fostering creativity. How do we do this successfully if we agree that the assessment of creativity is a subjective endeavor? To this end I present one key question, namely: how do we, as parents and educators, encourage intrinsic over extrinsic motivation? I propose two key fundamental elements necessary in which to build upon: first, finding a baseline attitude to work from and secondly, maintaining a clear focus on activities surrounding perceptual reasoning that combine elements of collaborative learning with giving students the ability to embrace their autonomy, a trait that students need in order to independently explore their ideas.

Articles

beauty

Promoting Social Justice Through the Exploration of Literature

Thursday, April 17, 2014

By Kim Bonica, high school English teacher

One of the many goals of any educational institution is to help shape students into educated, well-rounded, independent thinkers who will eventually become productive members of society. As such, it is the job …

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10-27-2011-UP-Experience-Photo74-Aaron-Long-32ceb_medium_640

Khan Academy, Flipped Teaching, and the Inequalities of Standardized Testing

Friday, March 21, 2014

On March 5th, Khan Academy—the free, online learning platform comprised of video lectures—declared that they would be partnering with the College Board to give free testing software to the public. Fantastic, no? The strange partnership is touted as ushering in “a future determined by merit not money.” Yet if it is true what some recent studies have been claiming about the intractable snail’s pace of social mobility and the hereditary link to wealth, it might not have as much of an impact as hoped. Access is only one part of the complex problem of closing the achievement gap among disparate income groups. Moreover, what are we to make of this strange pairing?

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Matthew Kim's Writers' Workshop is one of the first classes in the nation to use the textbook Writer/Designer (2014). W/D is a unique text in that it asks students to consider writing not only in the traditional linguistic mode, but also writing in visual, aural, spatial, and gestural modes.

Empowering Students’ Imaginations of what Writing Could Be: Communicating Persuasively and Unconventionally with the Public Service Announcement

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

By Matthew Aaron Kim

Patricia Dunn (1995; 2001), implores teachers to introduce unconventional modes of representation to experienced and novice student writers in hopes that these writers can work with or against their customary thinking patterns to produce valuable insights …

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Gray517

Dyslexia: Neither Blessing Nor Curse

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

I hope no student of mine who has been described as dyslexic ever reads that page. What we see “behind the curtain” is clear, rhetorically strong prose with a few minor typographical and spelling errors. Most students I know (and their teachers) would find it hard to recognize their own difficulties in the language in that passage. At the same time, I very much appreciate a great deal of Foss’s perspective on our biases about ways of reading and the experiences of students with language difficulties.

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