Learning ‘With’ Students

In 1973 and throughout his career, Joseph Schwab wrote about the complexity that successful teachers face when deciding what to teach. He claimed that teachers have much more to consider beyond the established curriculum (i.e. the books, the established goals, and method of teaching as outlined by the department in the syllabus) when they are making decisions about what to teach. Teachers should also consider the needs of the students and what skills, strategies, and dispositions they will need to be successful. Third, teachers also need to consider how they can use their own special talents such as their visual and performing arts skills, social capital, cultural capital, linguistic capital, (Yosso, 2005) persistence to relay the curriculum. Finally, a successful teacher needs to think about the community context. This includes community resources such as libraries, familial assets (Yosso, 2005) and the needs that exist in the community. Schwab called these considerations teachers need to make to decide what to teach, the four commonplaces.

After reading Teaching to Transgress (hooks, 1994) this past week, my goal this week was to learn ‘with’ students and not ‘teaching to’ or ‘teaching for’ students. That meant not only thinking of the curriculum which was the Blackboard I had set up and the lectures as outlined by the syllabus. I had to consider other areas, the four commonplaces as outlined above. In other words in order to learn with the students, I had to first understand what my student needs were regarding the topic that was on the syllabus. My students, are all student teachers working in kindergarten through eighth grade schools (k-8) teaching virtually to their students and so I had to know what situation they were in. I also know that they need to pass two state exams, the teacher performance exam called the CalTPA and an exam called the Reading Instructional Competency Assessment (RICA). I also had to understand what the community context where they were working in the classroom. Certainly, when they are teaching virtually, students at home may have all the technological equipment needed and they may be in their own room. Other students of my student teachers are learning with poor internet, poor computer, or in an apartment in which other family members’ activities maybe distracting.

This week in order to learn “with” my students, I decided to focus on the student teachers’ needs were in order to be able to teach to their own k-8 students. In two of my classes, the topic of the week, was teaching: 1) phonics, 2) beginning reading using the Language Experience Approach, and 3) oral language development. So I started class with an overview and then asking students to think of what they needed to teach this. I split the students into breakout rooms for about 20 minutes and then visited them in their breakout rooms. I wrote notes down on a piece of paper about the name and need of the student teacher. Then throughout the activities that followed, I was able to name the student and address the need that they had for that week. So basically, I felt that I had made progress learning ‘with’ my students.

Of course, it wasn’t that simple. Several student teachers were in classrooms in the upper grades and as a result, did not have to teach phonics or beginning reading. Other students were in virtual classrooms in which the students were in chaotic learning situations at home. So the curriculum we discussed actually changed significantly to address those needs.

Now writing this, while I feel good about the progress we made, I realize we have not addressed several parts of Schwab’s four commonplaces. I did not sufficiently name the teaching relationship they had with their mentor teacher as a part of the community context. I did not sufficiently address questions about the official curriculum i.e. the state standards and the materials they were using to teach. I did not sufficiently understand their own personal needs and address their yet to be discovered need to know the information to pass the CalTPA and the RICA. I also didn’t sufficiently understand what they need to do to work with the parents of the children they were teaching to improve the learning context for their students. While I did ask them at the beginning of class, I did not sufficiently revisit their needs and incorporate them into my curriculum.

So, I feel good about what I have done so far, and I also feel that I have a long way to go.

hooks, bell. (1994). Teaching to transgress: education as the practice of freedom. Routledge.

Schwab, J. (1973). The Practical 3: Translation into Curriculum. The School Review,81(4), 501-522. Retrieved February 9, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1084423

Yosso, T. J. (2005) Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth, Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69-91, DOI: 10.1080/1361332052000341006

Solving Real Problems in Teacher Education

Students often complain that college professors talk so much about theory and not enough about how to learn specific skills. OK, I am definitely guilty of that. I discuss some theory of teaching literacy without asking the students what particular problems or challenges they are having in the classroom. And so students dutifully listen and respond in chat or breakouts (with Zoom) not wanting to challenge my authority. We all know that challenging a professor’s authority can turn the professor against the student resulting in low grades and classroom humiliation of the student. At worst, in our program, failure in a class might cause a student to have to repeat the semester costing time and thousands of dollars, not to mention the long term effects of humiliation. So students are kind of programmed to be quiet, listen, and replicate the information the professor has on exams, in projects, or in lesson plans (they will theoretically use to teach children in student teaching).

Students (which we refer to as ‘teacher candidates’) do have experience and prior knowledge about being in the classroom. By the time they work on their teaching credential, they usually have 17 years of observation of different teachers teaching (i.e. K-12 plus 4 years of college). Dan Lortie (in School Teacher, 2002) calls this the “apprenticeship of observation” and it’s hard for teacher candidates to ignore. Basically, teacher candidates learn about new methods based on new and updated education scholarship in class, but then when they get in with the classroom and with the socialization of their mentor teachers, they often unthinkingly revert to how they were taught. They don’t take up with new strategies taught to them in the university classroom. They simply replicate the old methods of teaching. So teacher candidates have a kind of schizophrenic existence having to please their professors at the university with these new methods the university professors espouse, and then pleasing their teacher mentors in actual field placements and doing what they have seen done for 17 years in the kindergarten through twelfth grade classroom (K-12). In that case, teacher education has little effect on transforming K-12 education.

The conceptual change model taken from science education is helpful here. To change a teacher candidate’s misconceptions of what good teaching is, first the teacher candidate needs to tell the teacher education professor their prior experience with the teaching topic to be addressed. The teacher educator has to know what the teacher candidate’s ideas are about teaching, for example teaching reading to young children. This is hard because their ideas might be in their own subconscious understanding. It’s like fish seeing water. It’s there but you don’t really think about it. So first, the university teacher educator needs to know the teacher candidates understanding of how to teach young children to read. In many cases, their understanding of teaching reading to young children is not consistent with the best models of teaching reading. To actually make a change in the teacher candidates behavior, two things are necessary. First, the university professor has to find out what the student’s understanding of teaching reading is, then help the student see why that method is less effective. That disequilibrium allows the student to be open to a new method. Second, the new method of more effective teaching is introduced. Theoretically then, the student has to try that new method several times before they can shake their misconceptions about effective teaching for good. Unfortunately, in teacher education there are other variables to contend with such as the social context and the curriculum (materials in the classroom and goals of instruction). More on this later.

In Teaching to Transgress bell hook advocates the idea of praxis which is learning WITH others (i.e. not TO others or FOR others) includes the need for others (teacher candidates in this instance) to be conscious of their own misconceptions, problems in teaching, and the social context. When learners know their own problem, they have conscientization or consciousness about their need and the social context. When the professor asks them about their understanding and clarifies their understanding and the social context, then the teacher candidate can work WITH the professor to develop next steps to address the problems they face or conscientization.

OK, so while I write this I recognize that there are still some differences in the way Paulo Freire thought about praxis, but I will have to get to that in another post. The upshot for my own teaching is that I need to do a better job at finding out: 1) what teacher candidates’ understanding of teaching is based mostly on their 17 years of observation, 2) address their understanding by showing ineffectiveness, 3) understanding what their social context and the curriculum is (more later on that also), and 4) work WITH the teacher candidate to come up with the most effective method of teaching reading.

OK, there are still tons of issues to work out. Be patient. This is a blog, not a book.

Beginning Literacy Learning

In Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks writes about the joy of learning she experienced in some of the classes she took in education. It seems that the most important aspect of learning was one the freedom to engage in ideas. Literacy classrooms are not usually like that. In literacy classrooms, teachers decide what the children read and often give prompts to tell what students should write about. You have assignments about what to read and in K-6 literacy classrooms to fill out workbook pages. If teachers promote writing at all in their classrooms, they tell you what to write about and of course the teacher will tell you how to format the paper. If you don’t follow the teacher’s direction, even your classmates will tell you, ‘that’s not right.’

In Between the World and Me, Ta-nehisi Coates writes about his love for the pursuit of knowledge on his own terms. He could not honestly match his means of knowing with the expectations of the professors. Freedom to Ta-nehisi was “the right to declare his own curiosities and follow them through all manner of books. I was made for the library, not the classroom. The classroom was a jail of other people’s interests.”

So I have two questions for my teaching. First, how do I teach teachers to learn about teaching literacy for the PK-3 classroom in ways that honor the freedom and engagement that hooks and Coates talks about? The second question is, how can I engage the students in my class to learn to do this freely? More to come next week.

Spanish Reading

The Barahona Center is a resource to find books written in Spanish that are centered around Latino people and their culture. Find a first grade reading list, middle school recommended reading lists, high school recommended reading lists and more recommended reading lists for all ages and grades. The site is both in English and Spanish.

http://public.csusm.edu/csb/ (view in English or Spanish)

El Banco del Libro Recommends http://public.csusm.edu/csb/english/lists/Banco_del_Libro.htm
and also a magazine listing – http://public.csusm.edu/csb/english/lists/magazine.htm

Evidence from Stephen Krashen

The difference between having no books in the home and having 500 books in the home has an enormous impact on schooling: Evans, Kelley, Sikora and Treiman (2010) did a study of about 70,000 15 year olds in 27 countries, interviewed. Their major result: Controlling for parental education, fathers’ occupation, and social class, young people in homes with 500 books stay in school three years longer than children in bookless homes.

The effect of books in the home was about the same as the effect of parental education: Controlling for all other factors, those from homes in which parents had a college education stayed in school three years longer than those from homes in which parents had three years of education.

The effect of books was twice as strong as the effect of fathers’ occupation. Children from homes in which fathers were professionals stayed in school about a year and a half longer than children from homes in which the father was a laborer, all other factors equal.

The effect of books was stronger than the effect of GDP (gross domestic product); children in the country with the highest GDP (United States) stay in school two years longer than children in the country with a much lower GDP (China).

In other words: Access to books is as strong as or stronger than economic factors, once again suggesting that access to books can mitigate the effects of poverty (see below).

Another important result was the finding that the effects of books in the home are more powerful for children whose parents have little or no schooling. The results of the study predict that children of parents with little or no schooling who have 25 books in the home will have two more years of education than a similar family with no books in the home. Also, 500 books in the home predicts an additional two years of education.

Here is another way of looking at this result: 40% of children of parents with little or no education in bookless homes finish grade 9. In book-filled homes (500 or more books), 88% do.

The results of this study are very similar to those of Schubert and Bccker (2010).

Tragically missing from this informative study, however is this: What about access to books from sources outside the home? What about libraries? Two current studies suggest that access to books in school libraries can also mitigate the effects of low SES (Achterman, 2008; Krashen, Lee and McQuillen, 2010). Evans et. al. is of course very consistent with the results of these studies.

Achterman, D. 2008. Haves, Halves, and Have-Nots: School Libraries and Student Achievement in California. PhD dissertation, University of North Texas. http://digital.library.unt.edu/permalink/meta-dc-9800:1

Evans, Kelley, Sikora, and Treiman (2010) Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, in press.

Krashen, S., Lee, SY, and McQuillan, J. 2010. An analysis of the PIRLS (2006) data: Can the school library reduce the effect of poverty on reading achievement? CSLA Journal, in press. California School Library Association.

Schubert, F. and Becker, R. 2010. Social inequality of reading literacy: A longitudinal analysis with cross-sectional data of PIRLS 2001and PISA 2000 utilizing the pair wise matching procedure. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility 29:109-133.

Gregory Maguire – Playing with Matches

I gave up the first time I tried to read Wicked. It was too thick and too slow. But the play came out and everybody saw it except me I think. However, Gregory Maguire is a very fluent and funny commentator who spoke this weekend at the International Wizard of Oz Club (IWOC).
If you are not familiar with the IWOC, it is a group of fascinating people who take the some 45 L. Frank Baum books about the Wizard of Oz very seriously. As I spend more time here I’m becoming increasingly inspired by Oz books and the desire to study them.

In general, I think the alternative stories he’s written including Wicked, serve to free us from the traditional fairy tales. He inspires us to go beyond and go on to some other place that express our voice and our bias in comparison to those traditional tales.

One of my favorite phrases from Maguire: “I didn’t have a teacher except for the librarian. Everything in books was my teacher.” Last week Stephen Krashen spoke about the importance of having lots of books available for children.  I think Stephen Krashen would have been proud.

Maguire suggests we all go, get creative, and play with matches.  We should write about what burns in our heads.  Something with voice.  Something we know is true.  He was not trying to rewrite The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, he was just trying write a version of something that connects to him; something that connects to all of us; something that burns within him.  May we all play with matches.

Dorina Lazo Gilmore, Another Fresnan Receives Award

Fresno is full of writers for children including Gary Soto, Juan Felipe Herrera, Margarita Engle, Francisco Jimenez and now Dorina Lazo Gilmore…

American Library Association  2010 Asian/Pacific American Award For Literature Winners selected

CHICAGO – The Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association (APALA), an affiliate of the American Library Association, has selected the winners of the 2010 Asian/Pacific American Awards for Literature. The awards promote Asian/Pacific American culture and heritage and are awarded based on literary and artistic merit.

The Awards are given in four categories, with Winner and Honor books selected in each category. Here are the winners of the 2010 awards:

The Picture Book Winner is “Cora Cooks Pancit,” written by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore and illustrated by Kristi Valiant, published by Shens Books. Picture Book Honor was given to “Tan to Tamarind” written by Malathi Michelle Iyengar and illustrated by Jamel Akib, published by Children’s Book Press.

For Youth Literature, the Winner is Sung Woo’s “Everything Asian” published by Thomas Dunne Books. “Tofu Quilt” by Ching Yeung Russell and published by Lee & Low was selected as an Honor recipient.

“Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” by Jamie Ford and published by Ballantine Books was selected as the Adult Fiction Winner. “Shanghai Girls” by Lisa See and published by Random House was selected as an Adult Fiction Honor title.

The Adult Non-Fiction Winner is “American Chinatown: A People’s History of Five Neighborhoods,” by Bonnie Tsui and published by Free Press (Simon & Schuster). The Adult Non-Fiction Honor Book is “Japanese American Resettlement Through the Lens,” by Lane Ryo Hirabayashi and published by the University Press of Colorado.

Winner and Honor books were chosen from titles by or about Asian Pacific Americans published in 2009.