Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My Soapbox

This week I was going to attempt some meaningful piece that insightfully wove my assigned reading for the week together in some way that would really cause someone to take pause and notice. However, before I could even finish reading the first article I had already composed an angry rant in my head that simply had to be written down on paper, or well screen, for all the world to read. Pardon me while I stand on my soapbox.
In the piece, ""I'll speak in proper slang": Language ideologies in a daily editing activity," the authors conducted research in a classroom where the educator worked with her learners daily to edit a sentence that she had written on the board. Learners are supposed to read the sentence and then work to make the necessary changes to the sentence in order to make it grammatically correct. As a learner, I feared the activity, as a teacher I hated the activity, and as a administrator I despise the activity. 

As a learner, nothing would rush fear through my veins faster than watching my teacher writing one of those incorrect sentences on the board when I came into class. I immediately started getting anxious and plotting out how I would respond should she "randomly" call on me. If I had been able to I would have bought a lottery ticket because I was the most lucky "random" student in her class. From my stand point, I was never good at being able to guess what she wanted me to say. 

As an educator,  I did use this model of instruction when I first started, everyone was doing it after all, but I quickly discovered my students pretty sophisticated scheme. I would write  the sentence on the board and then would ask what needed to be fixed and seemingly on cue every time the first respondent would yell out, "It needs a capital letter!" The second respondent would then shout out, "It needs a punctuation mark!" And then nothing... no more answers shouted out, no one raising their hand nothing. The silence was deafening really. After way too many days of sentence editing I finally realized that they didn't know what to say, they were just guessing. In fact, weren't my students acting exactly as I had done all those years ago. While I did not know the research behind what I was experiencing, that is when I abandoned the daily sentences in hopes of finding something better. 

As an administrator, I am more aware of the research and other practices that would better support the same goals as I had for my learners with the sentences, so I find myself becoming frustrated when educators are doing the same old same old with no evidence to show me that it is being successful. When questioned, the educator in the article explained that the reason she was using a particular resource was because she was more comfortable with it. Not that it was better. Not that it aligned to her goals. But rather, she chose to use the resource that she was comfortable with. Too often I am finding educators making decisions without being able to articulate their goals and that is frustrating to me. 

Ok, enough of my soapbox... 

I did find the article to be quite interesting and one thing I want to further think about is how we are communicating our expectations to learners for a given task. While we currently live in a day and age where we are bound, to some degree, to the standards, what are things we can do within the classroom to not only value the identity of each learner, and also be more intentional about articulating the kind of language necessary in context.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Literacy in the Home

As we know, the education of a child does not stop as they leave the classroom. In fact, the education of a child begins well before they even start school. From the first words they hear uttered or even read a child is absorbing and taking in the language. The language and literacy experiences they have before the start school provides a critical foundation for learners as they begin their schooling.

In school, we quite often talk about how educator must partner with parents in order to ensure that learners experience literacy rich environments outside of the school setting, but my concern is that this sentiment is more of an expectation for parent participate in school sanctioned literacy practices as opposed to valuing and appreciating the literacy experiences a learner has in the home.

In one research study, researchers found that while some learners appeared to not come to school with basic literacy understandings, they did in fact come from homes that possessed aspects of literacy (Brice-Heath 1982). The key difference between though is that the literacy these learners experienced in the hope is quite different from literacy experienced at school. Instead of approaching learners from a deficit model, focusing on what they don't have, educators should strive to take interest and become more aware of the literacy a learner does come to school with.

If educators become more aware of the literacy experiences their learners experience in the home they can in turn build upon those experiences to help bridge the gap between school and home. In a session I attended at a Gifted and Talented conference the presenters talked about practical ways to bridge the literacy differences between home and school One practical example they gave was encouraging parents to move beyond simple sentences that are often present in the home to understanding the need to develop fluency by speaking in complete complex sentences. This is not to say that what they are doing in the home is bad, but rather taking what they are already doing and extending it just a bit.

If parents and educators alike could work with one another in a true partnership, where it was more of a reciprocal relationship, I suspect that we would see learners thriving even more.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Scaffolding in the Classroom

In the days before I knew about more effective practices, I used to assign my learners to practice their spelling words by writing sentences that contained their words - just like my teacher did to me. Unlike my teacher, I allowed learners to write as many or as few sentences that they cared to as long as they incorporated all of their spelling words. 

I will never forget one of my students, Henry, who always turned in this assignment with some of the most amazing sentences that always revealed a very creative story as the sentences flowed from one line to the next. Henry was always so proud of his work. There was just one small problem I had with his sentences every single week. His sentences NEVER included ANY of the spelling words. In vain I attempted to explain to him of my problem. He just simply was too wrapped up in his writing to take time to consider these words that had no use to him. 

I wonder what Vygotsky would have thought about Henry. In Mind and Society (1978), Vygotsky provides some insight into an experiment conducted by A.N. Leontiev wherein he examined the potential signs played during memory activities. Children were asked basic questions would illicit a color (red, blue yellow, green, etc.) for an response. In one of the activities, cards with colors were laid before the children as they answered these questions. The transcribed data revealed that the were not a feature that was heavily relied on by the children, and in some cases they got in the way for the children as they tried to answer the questions (Vygotsky 1978). 

 I am aware that Henry's story isn't exactly like the research Vygotsky explained, but the research still made me think about the symbols we impose upon students and expect that they use them I wonder what other resources educators use, with good intention, that actually are limiting students as they make an effort to construct their own meaning or draw from their own understanding.