Tag Archives: how teachers teach

A Poem about Teaching (Ann Staley)

I knew Ann Staley as a student in one of my classes soon after I came to Stanford to teach three decades ago. Over the time she was in graduate school, we ended up having many conversations about teaching, learning, graduate school, and life in all of its twists and turns. After leaving Stanford, she settled in Oregon and became a teacher and writer. She has taught in high school–winning an award in 1996–supervised student teachers, and taught writing at community college. In every one of her classes students wrote daily. A few years ago, she retired from teaching but continued writing both prose and poetry. Every so often we would contact one another. She sent me her first volume of poems, Primary Sources. And from her second published collection of poems, Instructions for the Wishing Light, I chose “Mrs. Kitchen” for this post.

Why a poem? Because in writing posts for this blog and for the articles and books I have written over the past half-century, I have used expository writing. I describe, analyze, and capture the nature of school reform, policy-making, and the practice of teaching using facts, evidence, and explanation.

Yet art, dance, drama, short stories, novels, and poetry can capture features of teaching and what students learn in ways that exposition cannot. Thus, “Mrs. Kitchen.”

 

 

MRS. KITCHEN

Teaching is about making 400 close-judgment calls a day.

Wise teacher comment

 

…traveled the world with her M.D. husband,

both working for the American Red Cross.

They returned to suburban Harrisburg

and began the next chapter of their lives.

Mrs. Kitchen became a 2nd grade teacher at Progress Elementary School.

Our classrooms had floor-to-ceiling windows,

which opened so you could hear recess voices,

and dark wooden floors polished to a sheen.

We were seated, not in usual rows,

but in a square “u” of desks.

We were allowed to sit with whomever

we wanted, as long as our work was uninterrupted

by giggling (the girls) or hitting (the boys).

Mrs. Kitchen was small in stature, big in heart.

 

She wore glasses and had curly brown hair.

She loved all of her students, but had,

I realized even then, a soft spot for me.

I didn’t understand why and still don’t.

Every afternoon, in the hour before school ended,

she read aloud to us–from books

on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Kon Tiki is one I remember most vividly.

 

Winifred Kitchen taught “up” to us,

believing that eight-year-olds could understand more

than the 1950s psychology books expected.

This was her great gift to her fortunate students.

We studied Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal men,

then made shadow boxes depicting their lives.

 

One day when I’d finished my work early,

she sent me to the library, alone, saying,

Get whatever book you want, Ann.

That day I chose a book titled The Pigtailed Pioneer,

about a girl whose covered wagon arrives in Portland, Oregon,

where she meets her first Indian in an encampment south of town.

I had braids, then, which my mother plaited each morning,

tying on plaid or satin ribbons that she ironed.

Girls still wore dresses to school in those days,

no pants were allowed until we got to Junior High School.

Jeans–never!

 

One afternoon I asked Mrs. K if I could go to the office

without being sent there. I wanted to meet the principal,

a woman, but wanted to go there on good terms.

She arranged an interview with this imposing woman.

After we finished speaking, the Principal told me to

sit behind her desk, answer the phone if it rang.

She was going out for her usual late afternoon of listening

to the classrooms with open doors. I was thrilled.

 

My 2nd grade year convinced me that I wanted to be a teacher.

I set up summer school for my dolls in the basement

and began, in earnest, my professional life.

 

 

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Troubled Youth, Troubled Learning (Dave Reid)

Dave Reid is a high school mathematics teacher in his third year of teaching.   He received his MA in Education and credential in secondary mathematics and physics from Stanford University in 2011.  Dave spent a quarter of a century in high-tech primarily in the wireless and Global Positioning System (GPS) industries.  He earned a BS degree in electrical engineering from George Mason University, and an MBA in finance and marketing from Santa Clara University.  He also attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He blogs as Mr. Math Teacher and tweets as @mathequality.

While the title for this post does not always ring true, in my few years teaching at Title I schools, it often reflects reality.  In fact, rarely does a day go by where no student disrupts the classroom learning environment for one reason or another.  As a fifty-something, I knew this going into teaching; what I did not know was how deleterious these disruptions are to continuity, sanity, and in the limit: opportunity, for my students, not me.  As someone in the classroom every day, hoping above all hope that my students can break out of their behavioral binds, it challenges my every fiber of existence to keep the class focused on our learning objective(s) for the day.

Troubled youth make for troubled learning, not only for themselves, but also for everyone in the classroom.  It is a huge force multiplier of the negative type.  In spite of what is heralded as the balm for these troubles, compassion, empathy, and other soft moves are frequently insufficient to overcome years of ingrained indifference, frustration, anger, resentment, or a host of other emotions, feelings, or attitudes that have overtaken an adolescent overwhelmed by his or her circumstances.  The older the youth, the more deeply embedded the issue or issues.  Now, extend these to one or more adolescents in a classroom, and you get a snapshot of teaching in a Title I school.

A few days ago, for instance, I taught three block periods: two of which are split into two sections apiece of algebra 1 and remedial mathematics, and one AP Calculus section.  The split sections are my attempt to support students who do not possess the arithmetic skill or understanding needed to succeed in algebra.  Fortunately, my administration and the district office support me in this effort.

The AP Calculus students are rarely “egregiously” troublesome, aside from the fact that they have yet to realize that frequent side conversations among the eight groups of four students each frequently distracts others.  At times, when teaching these students, it feels as if I am an onstage performer at a dinner theater with the audience commenting back and forth to each other about their meal, the show, or what not.  Periodically, I tell them that the classroom is not their living room, or a movie theater, where they freely watch or chat as they see fit during “the show.”  They seem a bit startled when I make them aware of their behavior, which puzzles me even more; it is as if I am the first and only teacher to ask them to consider their impact on a classroom.  Notwithstanding their surprise, I persist, as I do not believe college professors will tolerate their behavior any more than I do, for the majority of my calculus students are college bound this fall.

Yet, this is not a post about my privileged students, who make up most of my calculus students.  For they, mostly, are buffered, or far removed, from the intense psychosocial trauma faced by many low-income families.  Simply put, they live free from most of the burdens of poverty.  Burdens, which manifest themselves in low-income families, that inhibit attaining outcomes at the same level as those more privileged for the same level of effort.

My most challenged students, behaviorally and academically, frequent my algebra sections.  Their presence cannot be missed: whether visually or aurally.  While it only takes one student to derail the trajectory of a class, it is a rare day, indeed, when only one student in a class acts to call attention to themselves.  The duration, intensity, and frequency of the derailments vary based on the class composition.

In the face of these ever-present disruptions, I have to: keep students’ attention focused on moving forward with their learning; address the momentary outburst and its subsequent ripples throughout the classroom; all the while doing my best to stay passionate, motivated, and encouraging without having a mental breakdown.  I say that somewhat tongue in cheek.  However, it is not too far from reality.  Whoever mentioned that a teacher has nearly as demanding a job as an air traffic controller was pretty close to the truth.

Which brings me to the student who inspired this post.  John rarely participates positively in class. He seems to possess a boundless ability to draw negative attention to himself throughout a class period. He failed first semester and is on track to do the same this semester. I hope with all of my heart that he wakes up soon and understands how important it is to his future that he pay attention in class, attempt some of his homework, and learn as much as is humanly possible, for he is quite intelligent in spite of what he may believe.

John reminds me of how my younger brother, now deceased, might have been in school.  My brother was often truant.  He ran with the wrong crowd, experimented with things I never knew existed at his age, and dropped out of high school shortly after starting.  My brother may have been one of the silent ones, the student who attempts to disappear among the thirty or so classmates.  He might have giggled frequently chatting away with his classmates.  Regardless, he did not learn.  He missed out on that opportunity, as he was deeply troubled.  I will not go into details except to say that his burdens were too much for him.  They may have been too much for his teacher, if they manifested themselves while in school: I simply do not know.  What I do know is that I became a teacher, in part, to help those like my younger brother, of whom this one student reminds me.  .

I will not hold my breath for John.  I will encourage him as often as possible, in between addressing his behavioral shortcomings, for they do impact the class.  His mother is at her wits end and unsure what to do about him.  I believe my parents felt similarly some thirty plus years ago.  Life is amazingly complex.  Teaching is crazy hard.  It drains me nearly every day.  Yet, there is rarely a day I leave home headed to my classroom not eager to teach. Yes, some troubled youth await me; they are whom I most hope to help.  Yet, I only can do my part to work toward keeping them on a path to graduate; they need to do their part as well.  Time will only tell.

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Cartoons about Families and Schools

For this monthly feature of cartoons, I pulled together a bunch that got me smiling, chuckling, and occasionally laughing out loud. About half of them are about parent-child relationships in the home; the other half are about teachers and students from ex-middle school teacher Diana Bledsoe whose work I have featured before.

I met Diana through my blog. I read hers and saw that she did cartoons about a fictitious middle school. She told me that she is a “cartoonist who has been in the education field for over 15 years: first as a volunteer, then a teacher and currently as an administrator. My cartoons are inspired by my daily interactions with students and educational professionals.

In these Bledsoe’s cartoons, she features Stewart, a student with a mop of yellow hair who has only passed Gym and has given Mrs. Banks, a teacher, a hard time. Enjoy.

 

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Arranging Classroom Furniture: An Unobtrusive Glimpse into How Teachers Teach

How teachers arrange the furniture in classrooms gives a peek into how teachers teach. Look at these photos taken last year of elementary and secondary classrooms that have different furniture arrangements.Science+room

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Note the different arrangements of  desks. In the first photo, rows of movable desks face the front of the classroom where the teacher’s desk is located. The second photo has a horseshoe pattern of tablet armchairs across from one another. The third photo is of an elementary classroom that is chock-full of materials and children working on different activities with adults sitting on the rug and chair working with  individual pupils. And the final photo is one of a secondary classroom arranged in rows where each student has a tablet and a smart phone.

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Now, take a look at photos of classrooms over the past century.

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Five decades later when movable desks and chairs replaced the traditional bolted down ones, a photo shows a typical classroom.

Note the regimented order of these classrooms a century ago and even five decades later. True, those desks were bolted down a century ago and were even a teacher then so inclined to arranging small groups of students–and such teachers were around–they could do it but had to overcome the furniture arrangement. But a half-century later, with movable desks, rows were still there in many classrooms but not others.

Are the changes in how classrooms are furnished and how students appear dramatically different? Yes and no.

The “yes” part is in how students are dressed and how there are more examples now of different ways to arrange desks and chairs over the decades. The “no” part is that while different ways of organizing furniture in elementary classrooms is evident and apparent for anyone who ventures into a kindergarten and first grade classroom, that is much less the case for secondary classrooms.

Do such photos of classroom furniture give observers a glimpse of how teachers teach? Yes, they do but only a hint. Here is my reasoning.

a.Furniture arrangement is seldom mandated by a school board, superintendent, or principal. The teacher decides how to use classroom space. Furniture placement, consciously or not, expresses the teacher’s views of how best to teach, maintain order, and how students learn. Thus, an observer gets a clue to whether teacher-centered and student-centered instruction* (including mixes of both) will prevail.

b. When all students face the teacher’s desk or teacher at the blackboard (now whiteboard or “smart board”) where directions, daily homework, textbook readings and quizzes are registered, whole group instruction is encouraged including class discussions (recitation was the word used in the early 20th century). Teacher-talk  gains higher priority and legitimacy than exchanges between and among students.

c. Surveillance is easier for a teacher when rows or tables are in rows. Threats to classroom order can be seen quickly and dealt with expeditiously.

d. Such a configuration of classroom space limits students’ movement within a classroom to that which the teacher permits.

e. If desks are arranged into a hollow square, horseshoe, or tables are scattered around the room permitting students to face one another and talk, student-centered instruction where student talk and decision-making are prized becomes a much stronger possibility.

Note, however, that furniture arrangements do not determine how teachers teach. Classroom rows, tables, or horseshoe configurations are no more than clues to what teachers believe and practice in their lessons. Keep in mind  that for the early decades of this century when desks were fixed to the floor, there were still teachers who ingeniously and with much energy overcame that obstacle and introduced student-centered practices into the classroom.Such furniture may have discouraged many teachers but it did not prevent some from altering their teaching practices.

So a glimpse of classroom furniture is useful as a starting point in assessing how teachers teach but it is only a small part of how teachers structure lessons and carry out activities. Far more information about what happens in the classroom would be needed since teacher-centered instruction can, and often does, occur even when seating arrangements look student-centered.

Furniture arrangements and the placement of students, then, are not random affairs.

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They are the result of teacher decisions stemming from beliefs in keeping order and how students learn best in the age-graded school within which teachers work. So when I enter a classroom, the first thing I note and record is how desks and chairs are arranged in any classroom.

_____________________

*In using the language of  “teacher-centered-” and “student-centered” instruction, I need to be clear that I do not favor one over the other. Both forms of instruction and hybrids can be effective with different students at different times in different contexts. Classroom arrangements offer only a hint of what teachers believe and how they teach. That visible sign is only that, not the full picture of daily lessons.

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A Tribute to Elliot Eisner, 1933-2014

Too few policymakers have ever taught in public schools. Even fewer can articulate what it is about teaching young children, youth, and adults that binds teachers and students together and makes the experience of learning memorable, satisfying, and long-lasting. A former high school teacher and life-long academic, Elliot Eisner was one of the few individuals I knew who could precisely put into words those ideas and feelings.

Elliot Eisner  was Professor Emeritus of Education and Art at Stanford University. This is an abridged version of his 2006 Commencement talk to School of Education graduates and their families. I posted this initially February 15, 2010 and ran it again in 2013.

It is fitting to publish it once more to get a sense of the humane educator all of us have lost. Nonetheless, his ideas, his zest for life, and his constant swimming against the policy current of standards, testing, and accountability remain with us.  At the end of Elliot’s talk, I have listed some of his ideas captured in aphorisms drawn from speeches and writings over the decades.

Among the many satisfactions in teaching there are six I would like to describe. The first pertains to the opportunity to introduce students to ideas that they can chew on for the rest of their lives. Great teaching traffics in enduring puzzlements and persistent dilemmas. Certainties are closed streets, not locations that interest the mind. Great ideas have legs. They take you somewhere.

Ideas can also provide a natural high. With them you can raise questions that can’t be answered. But why do puzzlements provide satisfactions? I believe because they invite that most precious of human abilities-imagination–an opportunity to take wing. Imagination is the neglected stepchild of American education. Questions invite you in. They stimulate the production of possibilities. They give you a ride. And the best ones are those that tickle the intellect and resist resolution.

Second, the satisfactions of teaching provide opportunities to reach out to students in ways that ensure your own immortality. The images of teachers past populate our minds and memories. They sit on our shoulders ready to identify infractions of one kind or another and to offer praise for work well done. Their lives live in yours and your life lives in theirs.

The immortality I speak of is the private, rather than the public immortality that is garnered by only a very few. Yet living through the memories of the great and not so great teachers we have known is no meager accomplishment; you don’t have to be a Mahata Ghandi to be remembered or to be loved.

Third, teaching makes it possible to play your own cello. Despite the beliefs of some well intended technocrats, there are no recipes for performance, no teacher proof scripts to follow. Teaching well requires improvisation within constraints. Constraints there will always be but in the end teaching is a custom job within which the teacher becomes an inseparable part of what is taught.

The inseparability of what is learned from the manner in which it was taught is a lesson best taught by the arts. The arts teach us that form and content cannot be divided; how something is described effects what is described. Curriculum once enacted cannot be separated from the way it was taught because how it was taught influences how it is learned.

Fourth, teaching provides ample opportunities for both artistry and for memorable forms of aesthetic experience. After forty years in the classroom I still have vivid recollections of my sophomore high school art class in which I taught thirty-five eager and some not so eager adolescents. Those memories, in many ways, are among the most aesthetically satisfying and vivid I own.

Teaching well also depends upon artistry. Artistry is the ability to craft a performance, to influence its pace, to shape its rhythms and to modulate its tone so that its parts merge into a coherent whole. You come to feel a process that often exceeds the capacity of language to describe.

Why are these memories so vivid? The nature of long term memory might have something to do with it, but I think there is more to it. I still remember my third grade teacher, Miss Eva Smith calling my name from one end of the classroom to the other to tell me, in a voice that the whole class could hear, “Elliot, Your work is getting better!” Oh how I needed to hear that; I did not do well in school. Or Miss Purtle who gave me a one person show of my paintings on the walls of her classroom when I was in the fourth grade. These were memorable events given to a nine year-old boy not knowing he would carry them with him for the rest of his life.

Fifth, teaching provides occasions to share with others your deep affection for what you teach. There is a sense of contagion when your eyes twinkle with delight at the prospect of introducing students to what you love. Your love of what you teach is conveyed to them; it is the sincerest and most powerful invitation you can extend.

Finally, teaching provides the opportunity to discover that something you once said in class that you cannot now remember made a difference to a former student who you happen to encounter twenty years later. Teaching is filled with such surprises. They reassure us that our contributions sometimes exceed what we can recall.

But the satisfactions of teaching extend beyond the academic. Indeed, the most lasting contributions come from rescuing a child from despair, restoring a sense of hope, soothing a discomfort. These are the occasions whose memories last longest because they are often the occasions that matter most. They are the occasions whose importance transcends academic interests. They address the human needs that all of us share.

It is especially important today at a time when schools are buffeted by performance standards and high stakes testing to remember that the student is a whole person who has an emotional and social life, not just an intellectual one. And this is as true for graduate students in the grandest citadels of higher education as it is for students in elementary school. The more we stress in school only what we can measure the more we need to remember that not everything that is measurable matters and not everything that matters is measurable. As the old progressives used to say, we need to pay attention to the whole child. This is accomplished by how we teach. How we teach is related to the deep satisfactions of teaching I described today.

I have had the moments that I have described-and you will too. I envy you the journey. Oh, to be able to begin that journey once again today!
No such luck!

__________________________

Some of Elliot Eisner’s quotable words:

*Education is the process of learning how to invent yourself.

*We know more than we can tell.

*Standards are aspirations that are best held flexibly.

*The aim of education is not to get everybody to the same place.

*Not everything that matters can be measured and not everything that is measured matters.

*Can anyone really teach what they do not love?

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More Cartoons on Parents, Teachers, and Kids

This month’s featured cartoons takes up again the interactions between parents, kids, and teachers. Much to chuckle about. Enjoy.

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When Classroom Culture Conflicts With EdTech (Christina Quattrocchi)

The following guest post appeared in EdSurge, February 9, 2014

 Teachers have a multitude of tools to choose from. Not every tool can exactly match every teachers’ pedagogical approach. However, for some when it doesn’t quite match up it can be the difference between trying it out or walking away.

Elementary teachers Erin Klein and Karen Lirenman share their thoughts about ClassDojo, a free tool for classroom management used by … million[s of] teachers. The tool allows teachers to give students points to reinforce positive behaviors, assign negative points for undesirable behaviors and allows teachers to track behavior data over time, sharing with parents and administrators through reports.

Here’s how these two teachers address the conflicts that arise between a tool and the culture of learning in their classrooms.

Karen Lirenman: Can’t See Eye To Eye

Before I begin I need to be perfectly honest that I have never tried ClassDojo with my grade one students. Normally I wouldn’t critique something without trying it first, however, philosophically ClassDojo just doesn’t sit right with me. I strongly believe children should be in charge of their behaviour through being taught and using self regulation skills and ClassDojo takes that away from them. Here’s why.

ClassDojo seems to enforce external rewards. And no matter how you jazz it up, external rewards don’t work in the long run. Yes, you may see results in the short term, but what happens when you remove the reward? From what I’ve seen, there is little authenticity and ownership of that said action. Using ClassDojo would make it hard for students to self regulate.

The one click assessment also bothers me too. It doesn’t allow me to differentiate and add any specific individual details as to why they are receiving, or not receiving a click. Whether it be a specific behaviour, or a learning objective, very little boils down to just one click.What that one click system is vastly missing is the information that the child brings with them surrounding their behaviour or performance of learning outcomes. I can have two children in my class who have not yet mastered a learning outcome but for two completely different reasons.That specific child-dependent information is extremely important to me, yet there is no way to differentiate that information with ClassDojo. It’s what my formative assessment is built around and it’s what guides me as their teacher. The simplicity of the one click negates all of that assessment data.

To take this even further, it is this simplified data that is shared with families. I think it’s great that parents are aware of where their children are succeeding and struggling, but the one click assessment tells them so little. It  would undermine my ability to be specific with their child’s needs, and to provide suggestions on ways to support them.

I am also bothered by the fact that the assessment is done in front of the class. For those who are successful on a consistent basis, I’m sure this isn’t really a problem, but for those who struggle I can only imagine that it would be.  Kids know when they are struggling with something and the last thing they need is to have it pointed out to them in front of their peers.  What about a child’s dignity? When has humiliation ever helped anyone?

As a teacher it’s my responsibility to build an authentic relationship with each of my students. This relationship is key to help my students overcome their area(s) of difficulty, and to push them along with their learning.  If I really want to make a difference in their lives I need to support, nurture, and guide. I need to help my students learn to self regulate, because ultimately the rewards should come from within. Because of a philosophical conflict, I won’t be using ClassDojo with my class.

Karen Lirenman is a grade one teacher in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada who loves to provide her students with choice in how they learn, show, and share their knowledge.

Erin Klein: There’s More Than Meets the Eye

I’ll admit, when I was first presented with ClassDojo, I was a bit apprehensive about using a tool that relied on extrinsic motivation. You see, building intrinsic motivation in my students is an important part of my educational philosophy and at first glance, ClassDojo didn’t quite fit. I thought there was no way I could get behind a technology tool that was based on points, or rewards and punishments.

And yet, I was excited to offer support to a new startup. So I agreed to help, reminding myself to be open-minded. I found, it’s not about the tool itself, but how the tool is used. Here’s how I used it with my second graders to go beyond extrinsic rewards:

 Attendance: My students love entering the classroom and touching their Dojo Character to mark themselves present for the day. This was a great way to track how many days of school each child had attended. They loved seeing the days of school tracked on the SMART Board using ClassDojo because it gave them ownership over their attendance. ClassDojo now has a separate attendance feature that is awesome!

 Anchor Chart Workshop Expectations: Each year, we come together and brainstorm a list of expectations for our reading and writing workshop time. We typically use chart paper and jot down our notes. Then, we hang these charts and reference them as needed.  We did the same this year, but we integrated ClassDojo to track whether students were successful in meeting their own expectations in the workshop. This also helped track what students needed to work on as well. You can click here to read more about how we used this in our workshop.

Special Needs and IEPs: Because ClassDojo is also offered as an app, teaching assistants use their smart phones to monitor student’s focus, interest level, attentiveness, and participation. The program tracks and stores all data that can be configured into brilliant graphs automatically. Each graph can be easily shared with parents, teachers, special education directors, etc. This helps the adults better understand student behavior so we can better support our students.

 Classroom Behavior: ClassDojo was designed to track student behavior and encourage positive interactions. My former school used a district-wide positive behavior system. So, ClassDojo supported exactly what my school was doing. Students could earn points for following the classroom expectations. This information was saved and could easily be shared if needed.

In closing, I’m sure you can find fault with several tools, strategies, philosophies, methods, textbooks, and apps. But I encourage you to think beyond what meets the surface. I’m glad I invested the time to think creatively about the uses for ClassDojo.  It has really made a positive difference in the way I organize important information for my students.  Start with your classroom and your students in mind. Then use the tool to fit you and your students.

Erin Klein is a teacher, author, and parent who has earned her Master’s of Education in Curriculum and Instruction and currently teaches second grade. She has previously taught first, sixth, and seventh grade.

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Using Technology To Nail down What We Know and Don’t Know about Effects of High-Tech on People Today

Do all the new devices around the world that we now use to get information and communicate separate or bring us together?

That either-or question has been debated since the telegraph, telephone, radio, and television became common technologies. The question pinches again with the swift spread of smart phones, social media, and dependence on the Internet.

Sherry Turkle’s recent book title, Alone Together, says it all. High-tech devices offer the fantasy of connection and companionship without personal intimacy, she says. Thus, people feel even more lonely after they “friended” someone on Facebook or texted 25 times in 10 minutes someone they just met.

What is missing from Turkle’s argument is a baseline for comparison of now and then. Has there been a “golden age” where most people felt connected to family, friends, and community? We do not know from Turkle’s book because she does not compare explicitly the present moment to an earlier time. She does implicitly compare, of course, since that it is the basis of her argument.

COMPARING THEN AND NOW PEOPLE USE OF PUBLIC SPACE

Rutgers sociologist Keith Hampton recently tried to answer the question of whether technology is driving people apart or bringing them together by comparing sociability of people in public places over thirty years ago and now. Here is what he did.

Hampton found time-lapse films taken in the late-1970s for an earlier study done by sociologist William Whyte in various urban public places such as New York City’s Bryant Park and the steps of the Metropolitan Art Museum.

Then Hampton and graduate students between 2008 and 2010 used cameras atop a 16-foot tripod to film both areas. They described and analyzed a total of 38 hours of film from that earlier period of Whyte’s research in public spaces and their current research. They compared the two time periods by sampling from 38 hours of film at 15-second intervals accumulating nearly 10,000 observations, coding individuals on film for sex, group size, “loitering”, and phone use (for the 2008-2010 data).

What Hampton found is that being sociable in public places has increased since the late-1970s. Of course, critics have said that Hampton filming public spots in the middle of the business day rather than other times of day, would affect results. Or as Sherry Turkle pointed out when a reporter asked her about Hampton’s findings, she said that Hampton might be right about public spaces but technology still may have, for example, “corrosive effects in the home: what it does to families at the dinner table.”

Does Hampton’s use of then-and-now film of people in public places settle the debate over technology’s effect on sociability? Hardly. But his research does compare two points in time which is sorely missing in assessing effects of technology on everything from mixing in public spaces to intimacy, to companionship, to, yes, even schooling.

I make this leap to teaching and learning and the the effects of technology on both because there have been “then and now” studies comparing teacher access to and use of technology with students.

COMPARING ACCESS AND TEACHER USE OF ELECTRONIC TECHNOLOGIES IN CLASSROOMS

When one considers that information electronic technologies, beginning with film, radio, television, and desktop computers, have been in schools since the 1920s, comparative data are available to determine to what degree teachers and students then had access and how those devices were used.

ACCESS

Until desktop computers came along, most of the earlier technologies for communicating information were infrequently available to students. Teachers were the gatekeepers and even they had limited access to film projectors, radios, and instructional television in the decades after the 1920s. For those small numbers of teachers who did use these devices, generally they were used for the entire group of students at one time. Most teachers and students might see a film or hear a radio program, or view a TV program monthly or a few times a year.

With the onset of desktops in the 1980s, laptops in the 1990s, and now hand-held devices such as smart phones and tablets, access to these tools have broadened considerably for both teachers and students. Since the early 1980s when computer labs and one computer for every classroom were the reform du jour, the swift spread of electronic devices has lowered the national ratio of computers to students from 1:125 in 1984 to 1:5 students in 2009. In many schools, across the country, that ratio is now 1:1.

It is clear, then, compared to earlier periods most teachers and students now have access to a variety of machines for gaining information and communicating with one another. There are baseline data for comparing access in different time periods.

But access is not classroom use of devices.

USE OF CLASSROOM DEVICES THEN AND NOW

When it comes to teacher use of desktops, laptops and now tablets, there also have been changes over time in frequency and duration of use. It is clear that since the early 1980s and with the rapid spread of electronic devices and software, more and more teachers are using computers for classroom lessons. In a study of teacher use of machines that I did in the mid-1980s, I predicted that a minority of teachers would be using computers in their lessons decades later. I was wrong.

Where I was correct, however, in comparing then and now was that high-tech champions (and vendors as well) expected that teachers using these devices with students would shift from teacher-centered practices to student-centered ones. Comparing then and now, that shift has not occurred (see here, here, and here)

So do all the new devices around the world that we now use to get information and communicate separate or bring us together? Even with the innovative research of  Keith Hampton comparing two points in time, the question remains unanswered.

Not so for gauging teacher access and use to computers for the past three decades. The answers, using “then and now” comparisons, are available.

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Cartoons of Teachers and Kids Again

Here is another collection of cartoons that show different sides of the teacher and student relationship. Enjoy!

teacher's first week of school

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female tchr in classroom

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teach and student semester

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Harold, William, Victor, and Me (Part 2)

I saved Victor for last.

Neatly dressed, carrying a large notebook and a couple of bulky textbooks, Victor would smile at my “good morning,” walk to the rear of the room and sit down. He would put aside a ruler, open a book, take out paper and begin writing. He often wrote steadily  and intensely for 10 or 15 minutes. If we were in the midst of a discussion or group work, I would quietly ease over to him and ask what he was writing. He would smile, close the book and put away the paper. Victor, you see, could not read above the fourth grade level.

He could copy page after page of a textbook–and repeatedly did so– but did not understand what he was writing. Victor was a junior and nearly 20 years of age. His tested IQ was 63 and he had been in a special class in elementary school but had been mainstreamed since then.

High school was very different for Victor. He had learned to survive by keeping his mouth shut, acting studious, and turning in work that was incomprehensible. He would get As in citizenship and Ds and Fs in academic achievement. What he could decipher in textbooks in his various classes, he seldom comprehended.

While he was in my class, Victor spoke out three times. In each instance what he said made sense except that it had little to do with what the rest of the class was discussing. Most of the time he would write or stare at the blackboard. His face was a mask.

Whenever the class worked independently, he would laboriously copy word-for-word paragraphs from the U.S. History text. I would talk to him. These exchanges would make him very antsy and I would break them off. Occasionally, he would want to talk and he would tell me of his church activities and how much he enjoyed sketching pictures. A few times he would let me look through his sketchbook.

Other students in the class ignored Victor. I do not recall anyone ever initiating a conversation with him. When he would speak, snickers would flit around the room. Not once did I see him talking with another student when we would pass in the halls.

Being in five classes where he was unable to read, speak, or connect to other students must have taken its toll. How much he endured, I had no way of knowing. He never permitted me to enter his private world.

Because I wrote letters and called parents of students–both those doing well and not so well–I called Victor’s mother. I pointed out to her what I had observed about his behavior and inability to understand the text, assignments, and classwork. I also told her that I was a history teacher, not a reading teacher. She became angry with me and went into a heated description of Victor’s early years as one of several foster children in the family. She urged me to get him tutoring, to give him extra assignments–anything to get him to pass. She was determined to have Victor complete high school.

In an attempt to help Victor, I and two other of his teachers requested a conference with his foster mother. It was a disaster.

Along with the assistant principal, a counselor, teachers and mother, Victor’s social worker was present. The social worker had recommended to the mother on an earlier occasion that Victor be transferred to a vocational school or to a rehabilitation center where he could learn useful skills, where he would not have to sit for six hours a day writing out paragraphs from different texts. Victor’s mother had dismissed the suggestion and did so again. Victor, she said, could do the work if he tried harder and if his teachers tried harder.

Victor stayed in school. He received an F in my class.

Here again, I failed. I was unequipped to teach Victor how to read sufficiently to understand the text. Nor could I crack the defenses Victor had built to protect himself from people like me.

Did he learn anything from me as a person as well as from the content and skills I taught? I doubt it but, in truth, I do not know.

Let me be clear about my teaching as perceived by others. In every school I have taught principals have judged me effective in “ability to communicate with students,” in “knowledge and skillful use of materials and techniques,” in blah, blah, blah.

Other districts and universities have invited me to teach demonstration lessons and speak to their faculties.

I have written  instructional materials, articles in professional journals and books. And they have been well received. Thus, I ask myself: if I am so effective, why are there Harolds, Williams, and Victors that I have failed to reach and teach?

I raise this question simply because I know both in my gut and in my head that there are many teachers like myself who try hard, are evaluated as highly effective, and believe deeply, very deeply, that they can make a difference in children’s and youth’s lives. But not every child, not every teenager. There are situations that simply are beyond their control and failing with certain students is one of those situations.

“Beyond their control?”

Yes. When teachers succeed with most of their students, it is clear that what the student brings to the classroom, what the teacher possesses in knowledge and skills, and the structures of schooling in which both live are aligned sufficiently for success to occur. Teaching and learning is a complex process and, at the minimum, these three factors (and there are many more) have to be in sync for any degree of success to happen. When success with children and youth does happen, and it does, the complexity is often hidden from sight.

However, when students fail, blame is distributed among students, teachers, and the school and, in prior years, the family. Blame, however, hides the many moving parts and interactions that happen in classrooms and schools, the sheer complexity of teaching and learning in age-graded schools.

So in the case of Harold, William, and Victor, I brought limited knowledge and expertise to the table in dealing with these three students. They, in turn, brought to the very same table, strengths and limitations that made it difficult to find success in a complex organization designed for mass production of teaching and learning.

What does that last sentence mean?

Teachers did not design the age-graded high school structure for 1500-plus students that puts teachers into self-contained classrooms, mandates 45-60 minute periods of instruction and report cards every nine weeks. These structures trap students into routines that seem to work for most but not all students. These structures also trap teachers into routines as well that work for most but not all teachers.

Time, for example, is crucial since all students do not learn at the same pace. Daily school schedules seldom reflect that fact. Time is also crucial for teachers to work together for lessons and students that they share.

These and many other interacting factors led, I believe, to the conflicted relationships I had with these three students, making their learning U.S. history both superficial and doubtful.

For many observers, schooling appears easy enough when stories of teachers and students turn out to be successes (however defined). It is those instances, however, when students like Harold, William, and Victor fail that these and many other interacting factors, come together to reveal, for those who can see, the sheer complexity of schooling. It is that complexity that foils, time and again, reformers’ claims that changing curriculum, improving tests to measure curricular changes, raising the stakes in teacher evaluation, converting systems into markets where parents can choose schools, and holding both teachers and students  accountable will solve thorny problems. These “solutions” somehow will magically improve how teachers teach and students learn.

Hasn’t happened yet.

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