Category Archives: how teachers teach

ClassDojo App Takes Mindfulness To Scale in Public Education (Ben Williamson)

Ben Williamson: “I am a Chancellor’s Fellow at the Centre for Research in Digital Education and the Edinburgh Futures Institute [at the University of Edinburgh], examining the intersections of digital technologies, science, and data with education policy and governance. My current research focuses on two key themes. One is the expansion of educational data infrastructures to enable information to be collected from schools and universities, then analysed and circulated to various audiences. The second is the emergence of ‘intimate data’ relating to students’ psychological states, neural activity, and genetic profiles, and the implications for increasingly scientific ways of approaching educational policy and practice.” 

This appeared on the blog: Code Acts in Education May 10, 2017

A globally popular educational app used by millions of teachers and schoolchildren worldwide has begun to deliver mindfulness meditation training into classrooms. Based on a mobile app that teachers can carry in their pockets, ClassDojo is embedding positive psychology concepts in schools worldwide. In the process, it may be prototypical of new ways of enacting education policy through pocketable devices and social media platforms, while activating in children the psychological qualities that policymakers are seeking to measure.

The Beast

ClassDojo, launched just 6 years ago, is already used by over 3 million teachers and 35 million children in 180 countries—with penetration into the US K-8 sector at a staggering 90%. Originally designed as a behaviour monitoring app to allow teachers to reward ‘positive behaviour’ using a points system, more recently ClassDojo has extended into an educational content delivery platform to promote the latest ‘big ideas’ from positive psychology in the classroom.

Starting in early 2016 with a series of video animations on ‘growth mindsets,’ the ClassDojo company has since developed classroom content about ‘perseverance,’ ‘empathy’ and, in May 2017, ‘mindfulness.’ All its big ideas videos feature the cute Mojo character, a little green alien schoolchild, learning about these psychological ideas from his friend Katie while experiencing challenges, personal worries, setbacks and doubts about his learning abilities. In the mindfulness series, Mojo has to confront what Katie calls ‘The Beast’—‘your most powerful emotions, anger, fear and anxiety’—which, she tells Mojo, ‘can get out of control.’

The big ideas videos have been wildly popular with schools. ClassDojo has claimed that the growth mindset series alone has been viewed over 15 million times. The announcement of new big ideas series is accompanied by online content which is shared to its vast worldwide community of teachers via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To promote its new mindfulness series, ClassDojo has announced a ‘month of mindfulness’ across its social media accounts and communities.

ClassDojo’s expansion hasn’t just included video content delivery. It is also now used as a communication platform between schools and parents, to compile student portfolios, and to allow students to share their ‘stories.’ Its stated aim is to ‘connect teachers with students and parents to build amazing classroom communities’ and ‘happier classrooms.’ As a result ClassDojo is now one of the hottest educational technology companies in the world. It has raked in huge venture capital investment from Silicon Valley VC firms (about $31million in total, including $21m in 2016 alone), and is the regular subject of coverage in the educational, technology and business media.

It would not be overstating things much to suggest that ClassDojo has in fact become the default educational social media platform for a very large number of schools, functioning ‘like a social-media community where … the app creates a shared classroom experience between parents, teachers, and students. Teachers upload photos, videos, and classwork to their private classroom groups, which parents can view and “like.” They can also privately message teachers and monitor how their children are doing in their classrooms through the behavior-tracking aspect of the app.’

Many of ClassDojo’s features would be familiar to users of commercial social media such as Facebook, Snapchat and Slack. ‘If you’re an adult in the United States, you’ve got LinkedIn for work, Facebook for friends and family. This ends up being the third set of relationships, around your kids,’ one of ClassDojo’s major investors has claimed. As well as being geographically based in Silicon Valley, ClassDojo is strongly influenced by a Silicon Valley mindset of technical optimism in social media for relationships, sharing, and community-building. Like many recent education startups in Silicon Valley, ClassDojo’s founders are seeking to do good while turning a profit—specifically in their case by building a globally successful and scalable business brand on the back of building happier classroom communities through social media apps and platforms.

While social media organizations like Facebook and Twitter are now dealing with adverse issues such as fake news, political disinformation and computational propaganda on their platforms, however, ClassDojo has defined itself as a platform for diffusing positive psychology into schools. It’s aiming to achieve its ambitions directly through the mobile apps carried by millions of teachers in their pockets.

Emotions that count

The success of ClassDojo is due at least in part to the recent growth of interest in ‘social-emotional learning.’ A term that encompasses a range of concepts and ideas about the ‘non-cognitive’ aspects of learning—such as personal qualities of character, resilience, ‘grit,’ perseverance, mindfulness, and growth mindset—social-emotional learning has lately become the focus of attention among educational policymakers, international influencers and technology companies.

The OECD and the World Economic Forum have both begun promoting social-emotional learning and are seeking ways to foster it through technology and quantify it through measurement instruments. A US Department of Education report published in 2013 promoted a strong shift in policy priorities towards such qualities, and listed a then-young ClassDojo as a key resource. New accountability mechanisms have even been devised to judge schools’ performance in developing students’ non-academic personal qualities. The US Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has now made it mandatory for states to assess at least one non-cognitive aspect of learning as part of updated performance measurement and accountability programs.

Notably, too, ClassDojo’s big ideas resources have been produced through partnerships with powerful US university departments. The original growth mindset series was devised with the Project for Education Research That Scales (PERTS) at Stanford University, as was its follow-up perseverance series. The empathy series late in 2016 was co-produced with the Making Caring Common Project at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, while the mindfulness series released in May 2017 is the result of collaboration with the Center for Emotional Intelligence at Yale University.

A concern for social-emotional learning is not just confined to dedicated educational organizations. The ed-tech researcher Audrey Watters has described social-emotional learning as a ‘trend to watch’ in 2017, and detailed some of the technology companies and investors involved in promoting it. ‘Ed-tech entrepreneurs and investors are getting in on the action, as have researchers like Angela Duckworth who’s created software to measure and track how well students perform on these “social emotional” measurements,’ she has argued. Meanwhile, ‘startups like ClassDojo,’ Watters adds, ‘promise to help teachers monitor these sorts of behaviors.’ She concludes by asking, ‘Can social emotional learning be taught? Can it be tested? Can it be profited from?’

Pocket policy platforms

ClassDojo needs to be understood as the product of a complex network of actors and activities including business interests, policy priorities, and expert psychological knowledges concerned with social-emotional learning (as I argued in earlier research published recently). With education policy increasingly influenced by the social-emotional learning agenda, ClassDojo and its academic partners and venture capital investors are increasingly part of distributed ‘policy networks.’ Although much education policy is still performed by government authorities, it is increasingly influenced by diverse sources, channels and sites of policy advice and ‘best practice’ models–of which ClassDojo is a good example

In this sense, ClassDojo is acting as an indirect best practice policy model and a diffuser of the social-emotional learning agenda into the practices of schools. In reality, it may even be prefiguring official policy. With venture capital funding from its investors driving its development and growth, ClassDojo has already distributed the vocabulary of social-emotional learning worldwide, and influenced the uptake of practices related to growth mindsets, perseverance and mindfulness among millions of teachers. It has done so through producing highly attractive content and then distributing it through its vast social media networks and communities on the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram platforms too.

‘If we can shift what happens inside and around classrooms then you can change education at a huge scale,’ ClassDojo’s CEO Sam Chaudhury has publicly stated. ‘We are looking for broad concepts really applicable to every classroom,’ its product designer has added. ‘We look for an idea that can be powerful and high-impact and is working in pockets, and work to bring it to scale more quickly … incorporated into the habits of classrooms.’

Although ‘working in pockets’ here clearly refers to potentially high-impact but small-scale startup activities, it is notable too that as a mobile app ClassDojo is already working in the pockets and palms of teachers. ClassDojo, in other words, represents a new way of doing large-scale policy through classroom apps that are already working in teachers’ pockets and hands rather than through political deliberation and direct interference. This would be an impossible task to coordinate at global scale through traditional government organs of education—although the interests of the global policy influencers OECD and WEF suggest ClassDojo could be prototypical of attempts to roll-out social-emotional learning into the habits of teachers through pocket-based policy platforms. Its method of enacting policy-by-app is being achieved by mobilizing practical classroom applications that can be carried in teachers’ pockets and enacted through their fingertips, generously funded by Silicon Valley venture capital, without the encumbrances of bureaucratic policymaking processes.

Psycho-policy

Beyond being a pocket-policy technology that prefigures official policy priorities, ClassDojo also represents another policy innovation—that of using an app to translate psychological expertise into practical techniques for teachers, and of acting as a technical relay between disciplinary knowledge and practitioner uptake.

The kind of policy that ClassDojo anticipates is already developing in other sectors. Lynne Friedli and Robert Stearn have identified the emergence of ‘psycho-policy’ as a new approach to policymaking in the area of ‘well-being.’ Techniques of psycho-policy, they argue, are characterized by being heavily influenced by psychological concepts and methods, and by the ‘coercive use of psychology’ to achieve desired governmental objectives. As such, psycho-policy initiatives emphasize the ‘surveillance of psychological characteristics’ and techniques of ‘psycho-compulsion,’ which Friedli and Stearn define as ‘interventions intended to modify attitudes, beliefs and personality, notably through the imposition of positive affect.’

Psycho-policy, then, is the use of psychology to impose well-being and activate positive feeling in individuals, and thereby to enrich social well-being at large. In this context, as the sociologist William Davies has argued, the use of mobile ‘real-time mood-monitoring’ apps is increasingly of interest to companies and governments as technologies for measuring human emotions, and then of intervening to make ‘that emotion preferable in some way.’ As a pocket policy diffuser of such positive psychological concepts as mindfulness and growth mindset into schools, the ClassDojo app and platform can therefore be seen as part of a loosely-coordinated, multi-sector psycho-policy network that is driven by aspirations to modify children’s emotions to become more preferable through imposing positive feelings in the classroom.

Viewing ClassDojo as a pocket precursor of potential educational psycho-policies and practices of social-emotional learning in schools raises some significant issues. Mindfulness itself, the subject of ClassDojo’s latest campaign, certainly has growing popular support in education. Its emphasis on focusing meditatively on the immediate present rather than the powerful emotional ‘Beast’ of ‘anger, fear and anxiety,’ however, does need to be approached with critical social scientific caution.

‘Much of the interest in “character,” “resilience” and mindfulness at school stems from the troubling evidence that depression and anxiety have risen rapidly amongst young people over the past decade,’ William Davies argues. ‘It seems obvious that teachers and health policy-makers would look around for therapies and training that might offset some of this damage,’ he continues. ‘In the age of social media, ubiquitous advertising and a turbulent global economy, children cannot be protected from the sources of depression and anxiety. The only solution is to help them build more durable psychological defences.’

According to this analysis, school-based mindfulness initiatives are based on the assumption that young people are stressed, fragile and vulnerable, and can benefit from meditative practices that focus their energies on present tasks rather than longer-term anxieties caused by uncontrollable external social processes. James Reveley has further argued that school-based mindfulness represents a ‘human enhancement strategy’ to insulate children from pathologies that stem from ‘digital capitalism.’ Mindfulness in schools, he adds, is ‘an exercise in pathology-proofing them in their capacity as the next generation of unpaid digital labourers.’ It trains young people to become responsible for augmenting their own emotional wellbeing and in doing so to secure the well-being of digital capitalism itself.

According to Davies, however, much of the stress experienced by children is actually caused more mundanely by the kinds of testing and performance measurement pressures forced on schools by current policy priorities. ‘The irony of turning schools into therapeutic institutions when they generate so much stress and anxiety seems lost on policy-makers who express concern about children’s mental health,’ he argues.

It is probably a step too far to suggest that ClassDojo may be the ideal educational technology for digital capitalism. However, it is clear that ClassDojo is acting as a psycho-policy platform and a channel for mindfulness and growth mindsets practices that is aimed at pathology-proofing children against anxious times through the imposition of positive feelings in the classroom. While taming ‘the Beast’ of his uncontrollable emotions of ‘anger, fear and anxiety’ through mindfulness meditation, ClassDojo’s Mojo mascot is both learning the lessons of positive psychology and acting as a relay of those lessons into the lives of millions of schoolchildren. Its model of pocket-based psycho-policy bypasses the kind of slow-paced bureaucracy so loathed in the fast-paced accelerationist culture of Silicon Valley, and imposes its preferred psychological techniques directly on the classroom at global scale.

Detoxing education policy

To its credit, the ClassDojo organization is seeking to expand the focus of schools to the non-cognitive aspects of learning rather than concentrate narrowly on teaching to the tests demanded by existing policy. Paradoxically, however, it is advancing the kinds of social and emotional qualities in children for which schools may in the near future be held accountable, and that may be measured, tested and quantified. Its accelerated Silicon Valley business model depends on increasing the scale and penetration of the app into schools, and by doing so is actively enabling schools to future-proof themselves in the event they are held responsible for children’s measurable social-emotional learning and development.

ClassDojo has also hit on the contemporary perception of child fragility and vulnerability among educational practitioners and policymakers as a market opportunity, one its investors have generously funded with millions of dollars in the hope of profitable future returns. It is designed to activate, reward and condition particular preferred emotions that have been defined by the experts of mindfulness, character and growth mindset, and that are increasingly coming to define educational policy discourse. The psycho-policy ideas ClassDojo has embedded in teachers’ pockets and habits across public education, through Silicon Valley venture capital support, are already prefiguring the imperatives of policymakers who are anxious about resolving the toxic effect of children’s negative emotions on school performance.

ClassDojo is simultaneously intoxicating teachers worldwide while seeking to detoxify the worst effects of education policy on children. In the process it—and the accelerated Silicon Valley mindset it represents—may be redefining what counts as a valuable measure of a good student or teacher in a ‘happier classroom community,’ and building a business plan to profit from their feelings.

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Great Moments in Teaching: When It Had to Be You (Education Realist)

This post comes from the blog Education Realist. While I usually avoid postings from anonymous authors, this full time math teacher who writes under the pseudonym of Education Realist is someone I have come to know and respect as a teacher and person. This post appeared April 30, 2019

Teachers who work with a large population of Asian students occasionally describe a student as “not getting the memo”.  High achieving or just hard working, the bulk of eastern and southern Asians all got the word: school is important.

Taio, who has been in my ELD [English Language Development]class for a year or so, is a tall, plump fifteen year old who spent all of last year on his phone. I’d take it away, and he’d just sit impassively. Miko [a colleague and coordinator of English Language Learners program or ELL] mentioned last year that the kid had said I talked too fast, which amused us both, but when I mentioned to Taio that I’d try to talk more slowly, he was shocked and got out his phone for Google Translate. “I like your class very much,” the text said. Huh.

Taio would do work sheets, and occasionally write a sentence or two. But he hated to talk and would sit, sullenly staring at me, as I gave out sentence starters again and again.

Another conversation with Miko, asking if we needed a parent conference. “His dad is the only one here….”

I sighed. “How are these basically indigent people getting here from China? And why come here, with rents what they are?”

Miko shrugged.

Taio improved  with the new school year. The class was motivated, I had some curriculum, and last year’s experiences gave the returning students a bond that build more camaraderie.  He was still on his phone every chance I gave him, but he participated more, would occasionally speak unprompted, and even wrote brief paragraphs. But he still hadn’t had any kind of breakthrough, and while he wasn’t at all unintelligent, I couldn’t get a sense of his abilities.

I assess all my ELL students in their math abilities. You would weep at how commonly they are placed above their skill level. Just today, a new student from Pakistan arrived. Because he’s a freshman and it’s second semester, he was placed in Algebra I. But he has no idea how to use negative numbers, and no understanding of fractions.

Now, I’m not faulting the registrar–I have no idea how these decisions are made. It’s just that ELL students spend close to half their school day having no idea what’s going on in their classes. Teachers often have no idea how to adjust their curriculum to meet ELL needs, and still grade the students using the same standards. We put them in “sheltered” history and English classes but we only have one each of those a year. We finally started a sheltered science class, which is very popular. Other than that, ELL students take electives: art, PE [physical education], photography, cooking. We don’t yet have a sheltered math class. Most ELL kids with any math ability are put in mainstream classes. The problem arises with those who don’t.

I’d assessed Taio last year and earlier in the fall. He knew algebra basics, and was taking our non-freshman algebra course. His teacher, new to the school, told me in October that Taio was doing very badly in his class, but Taio told me he was doing great. He had a B, which isn’t that spectacular for a deliberately easy course (taught by a teacher who was having a horrible time managing his class). But it was a passing grade, which was better than two of his other classes, so I quit wondering.

Then Taio made a big mistake. We were playing Wheel of Fortune: I form them up into teams, come up with a puzzle, they spin an online wheel for points, and guess. The teams are grouped so that weaker students can watch stronger students mull over their choices. I wish I could remember what the phrase was, but they were down to just the tricky consonants. Taio was on a team with two strong English speakers who were moved to ELL 2 just a week later.He rarely participated in these games, but I noticed he was watching closely, and suddenly I saw him say, softly, “K”.

As it happened, “K” was a missing letter from the puzzle–which I can’t remember, but I do recall there were only two letters left, both of them difficult.  The other two didn’t hear him and were discussing other options.

I looked at Taio and said, softly, “Louder.” He smiled, and shook his head.

“Hey, guys! Check with Taio.”

Taio’s teammates looked at him. “K”. They shrugged. “K”.

“Yep.” I put in “K”, and Taio, unprompted, guessed the puzzle.

Why, the little weasel. He’d been holding out on me.

I started watching him closely and realized that Taio simply didn’t like to speak English. He understood far more than he let on. I discussed with this with Miko, who agreed but said he could not figure out how to motivate him to work harder. He’d passed Algebra with a C, but was failing Miko’s class for not working, and his art class as well.

A few days later, after the semester had ended, I saw Taio’s algebra teacher, an Indian gentleman new to American schools, in the copy room, and asked again how he’d done.

“Oh, terrible. He’s in my Discovering Geometry class now, too. Never does anything, zeros every day.”

“That’s so weird. Taio’s not a liar, normally, and he tells me his tests are all A.”

“Oh, they are. He does well on the tests, but no classwork. On his phone all day, doing nothing.”

I stopped dead in my tracks and said–literally–“Wait. What?”

“Yes, he’s fine on the tests, but no homework, no classwork, phone all day. Same thing now. He got an A on the test, but no homework all week. He has a D.”

“So….he has an A average on the tests, but because he does no homework or classwork he gets a C.”

“Yes. Is that a problem?”

In less than a day, I’d contacted Taio’s counselor, had him moved from Discovery Geometry to freshman Geometry. This is  much harder than our 10-12 Geometry class and it was taught by Chuck, which gave me pause. So I emailed Chuck, hoping he’d reassure me. Instead, Chuck wrote:

As you know, Geometry is requires vocabulary and syntax (if/then). My experience is that Geometry does not appeal to most EL students because it requires language skills. Geometry provides students the opportunity to practice, but most students who are not motivated and/or not confident typically won’t put themselves out there when verbalizing logic is required.

I crossed my fingers and hoped this wouldn’t make things worse. Miko thought it was a great idea, even better since the change meant Taio was in the sheltered science class instead of PE, which he hated.

Unfortunately, he still failed Science. However, he’s passing Chuck’s extremely rigorous  Geometry class with a B. He’s talking more in my class. Taking lead in class discussions.  Passing Miko’s class, which he wasn’t before. He’s even talking to Giancarlo, a Guatemalan, teaching him Chinese and learning a little Spanish. He asks me for help with math homework. So now I have to go talk to his science teacher and see how to get him moving.

Usually my “Great Moments” series are about exciting classroom action. This is just a story about a Chinese kid who doesn’t want to be in America and hates school. He ‘s a loner who doesn’t even use school hours for socializing.

But Taio understands what I was doing when I put him in that geometry class. He knows I put myself on the line to make school something both interesting and challenging–but doable. I’m not sure he’s working and trying for his own sake. He just doesn’t want to let me down. Good enough. It’s a start.

The thing is, it had to be me–more precisely, it had to be an ELL teacher with the math knowledge to instantly realize that a new math teacher didn’t understand he had a student who was bored silly.  It had to be an ELL teacher with the knowledge of the math sequence who could make a recommendation to a counselor and have the standing to back it up.

I love having all my credentials, but it’s usually for the flexibility and variety they give me. Every so often, however, they provide insights that move me millions of miles further down a problem path….

Food for thought.

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We Need Many “Grammars of Schooling” (Part 4)

In a recent conversation with an educational entrepreneur* about the power inherent in the organization of the age-graded school and its “grammar of schooling,” I was asked if I wanted to disrupt the “grammar of schooling.” I said I did not. I wanted–and he put it in words I wished I had used–many “grammars of schooling.”

What did I mean? There is not just one way to organize a school. Age-graded is simply a choice that policymakers made many decades ago. It is the “one best system” that has characterized U.S. schools since the late-19th century. There are other ways to organize schools.

One room schoolhouses  where children of mixed ages learn content and skills under the tutelage of a teacher. Ungraded schools where groups of mixed-age students learn at different paces the prescribed content or a curriculum jointly constructed by teachers and students. Cyber schools where students learn at home or at different sites are another way of organizing a school. And there are combinations of all of these. Each of these ways of operating schools contains a “grammar of schooling,” that is, a theory of learning and teaching, implicit and explicit rules to follow, and a organizational framework that shapes the social and individual behavior of both children and teachers.

Historically, then, many ways of organizing schools have existed. Thus, multiple “grammars of schooling” were in play. Not now.

But my critique of age-graded schools is not a preface for a call to eliminate all such organizations. I do not wish to see age-graded schools replaced wholesale either by fiat or choice. For many students and their parents, that “grammar of schooling” is just fine. High-achieving age-graded schools in cities, suburbs, exurbs, and rural communities where both children and parents are satisfied should continue. Or KIPP schools and similar ventures that attract children and youth to their classrooms have parents who want the familiar “grammar of schooling” to continue since it has worked with their daughters and sons. Until parents become dissatisfied with the schooling their children  receive, these age-graded organizations will remain the places that the majority of U.S. parents want.

What I seek is more experimentation in organizing schools, more choice for alternative arrangements, more “grammars of schooling.” Donors willing to invest in different ways of putting a school together and local districts that seek different ways for children to learn and teachers to teach. Parents and teachers joining hands to create schools that depart from the familiar model. Private schools that have public versions like Waldorf and Montessori add to the mix of different ways to run schools. That is what I support: far more alternatives to traditional age-graded organizations than exist now.

There were instances of such experimentation in organizing U.S. schools in earlier periods. In a post I wrote years ago, I described a part of that history. To make my point of having many “grammars of schooling,” I reprint it here.

I was stunned when I walked into the classroom of Carmen Wilkinson at Jamestown Elementary School in 1975 (all names are actual people and places). In my first year as Arlington (VA) school superintendent, I had already seen over 300 elementary classrooms. This was the only one I had seen that had mixed ages (grades 1 through 4) and learning stations in which 50 students spent most of the day working independently and moving freely about the room; they worked in small groups and individually while Wilkinson–a 27-year veteran of teaching–moved about the room asking and answering question, giving advice, and listening to students. Called “The Palace” by parents, children, and staff, the class used two adjacent rooms. Wilkinson teamed with another teacher and, at the time, two student teachers. She orchestrated scores of tasks in a quiet, low-key fashion.

In the rest of the school, there were 17 self-contained classrooms of which only one was similar to The Palace. Wilkinson’s informal classroom was unusual at Jamestown and rare in the 500 other elementary classrooms in the Arlington public schools.

Of course, the original ungraded school and classroom pre-dated Wilkinson by well over a century.  The one-room schoolhouse in mid-19th century rural America had a lone teacher instructing  children and youth ages 6 to 14 in all subjects in the district curriculum while at the same time insuring that there were enough books, writing supplies, heat, water, and outdoor toilets for everyone.

As efficiency-driven superintendents in the 20th century consolidated scattered one-room schoolhouses into centrally-located age-graded schools, they have nearly disappeared. But the ideas of multi-age groupings and children learning at different paces persisted in different attempts to break the lock-step age-graded schools where teachers in self-contained classrooms delivered chunks of content to be learned within a school year and students were either promoted or retained in grade.

Too often we forget, that there were late-19th critics of age-graded schools. They saw these structures as crippling the intellectual and psychological growth of individual children who learn at different rates and causing  dropouts from elementary schools as students of different ages piled up in lower grades because they flunked.

The development of twice yearly promotions and ability groups smoothed out some of the inherent problems of age-graded schools. But not the overall structure of the age-graded school that required teachers to cover the content and skills specific to a 3rd or 6th grade class and that every student had to learn that content and skills by the end of the school year or be retained for another year. These regularities became the “grammar of schooling” and persisted decade after decade.

Beginning in the 1930s and stretching through the 1960s, progressive reformers launched non-graded schools and multi-age, team-taught classrooms time and again. Whole elementary and secondary schools used flexible scheduling where teams of teachers grouped and re-grouped students by performance in math, reading, and other subjects rather than what grade they in. Open classrooms flourished in the late-1960s and early 1970s–and this is when The Palace came into existence.

Over time, however, these experiments in non-graded schooling and classrooms withered and disappeared. Even though researchers found sufficient evidence that these innovations were just as successful as traditional age-graded schools, multi-grade classrooms and non-graded schools found little traction among superintendents, principals, and parents (see REVIEW OF EDUCATIONAL RESEARCH-1992).

There were (and are) exceptions, however. As part of a state reform, Kentucky ungraded all of its primary grades in the 1990s. But this reform and other ungrading plans in elementary schools across the nation soon gave way to test-driven accountability. Still amid standards based testing for the past three decades, ungraded public schools and classrooms soldier on. There is the Sycamore Elementary School in Claremont, Calif., a school that has done multiage grouping ever since it opened in 1890. There is the open classroom in San Geronimo (CA) in operation since 1971 and many others scattered across the nation.

Why so few? Why is so hard to disrupt the age-graded structures that shape how children learn and teachers teach? In a previous post I mentioned the potent social beliefs among parents and educators about what a “real” school is. I also pointed out that state mandated standards, college entrance requirements, and federal and state laws that mandate testing in 3rd to 8th grade are all married to the age-graded structure.

Most of all, like the air we breathe, the age-graded school with its  “grammar of schooling” is taken for granted. It is everywhere and has been around for forever. But it is made by human hands. As Carmen Wilkinson knew and her like-minded innovators decades before her and since, the age-graded school structure was invented to solve a problem a century and a half ago. It can be re-invented to solve new problems.

No, I do not seek to disrupt the one “grammar of schooling” that dominates U.S. schools. I seek many “grammars of schooling.”

_________________________

*I was speaking with Joel Rose, co-founder and CEO of New Classrooms, a nonprofit that offers a personalized learning platform for middle and high school math students called Teach to One. Over the past three years after writing about one of the math programs his team had brought to ASCEND Charter School in Oakland (see here), he and I would have free-ranging conversations about school reform and its contradictions, particularly with the spread of Teach-to-One programs.

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Challenging the Grammar of Schooling (Part 3)

The “grammar of schooling” is stubborn. It is the DNA of U.S. public schools.

Because it is taken-for-granted, as common as the air we breathe and seemingly as essential to schooling Americans as sleeping is to decent health, few reform-minded policymakers, practitioners, donors, researchers, and parents challenge it. In Part 2, four researchers described and analyzed efforts to alter substantially this quiet institutional machinery that influences both students and teachers 36 weeks a year. For the most part, these researchers described in their case studies how the “grammar of schooling’ persisted after mighty efforts to reduce or remove it in public schools and districts.

In Part 1, I described private schools that had, indeed, dispensed with the “grammar of instruction.” I ended that post with this paragraph:

The tradition of challenging the dominant structure of the age-graded school and its “grammar of schooling” continues to this day with micro-schools in Silicon Valley and elsewhere illustrating anew that such reforms to the traditional “machinery of instruction” have resided, for the most part, in private schools where tuition runs high and students bring many economic and social advantages school. In a profound way, the high cost of these private schools and the resources available to their founders in experienced teachers, aides, technologies, space, and materials show clearly the prior conditions necessary not only to operate such schools in public venues but also what is needed to contest the prevailing “grammar of schooling.”

Does that mean more money is the answer for public schools to challenge the “grammar of schooling?” No, it does not. More than additional financing of schools would be needed.

Consider the mid-19th century age-graded school imported from Prussia as an innovative reform to the then dominant public school organization: the one-room schoolhouse. Horace Mann, Henry Barnard, and others were evangelists for age-graded Common Schools in New England and elsewhere. These reformers built political coalitions in various states that persuaded legislatures and town officials to fund these Common Schools. They succeeded in establishing such age-graded schools across New England, mid-Atlantic states and the Midwest prior to the Civil War.

Since the late 19th century, the age-graded school (e.g., K-5, K-8, 6-8, 9-12) has become the mainstay of school organization in the 21st century. Today, most taxpayers, voters, and readers of this book have gone to kindergarten at age 5, studied Egyptian mummies in the 6th grade, took algebra in the 8th or 9th grade and then left 12th grade with a diploma.

If any school reform–in the sense of making fundamental changes in organization, curriculum, and instruction–can be considered a “success” it is the age-graded school. In providing access to all children and youth, longevity as a reform, and global pervasiveness, the age-graded school is stellar.

Think about its longevity–the first age-graded structure of eight classrooms appeared in Quincy (MA) in the late 1840s. Within a half-century, it had begun to replace one-room schoolhouses in urban and rural schools.

Or consider access. Between 1850-1913, over 30 million Europeans crossed the Atlantic and settled in the U.S. The age-graded school has enrolled millions of students over the past century and a half, assimilating immigrants into Americans, sorting out achievers from non-achievers, and now graduating over eighty percent of those entering high school.

Or ubiquity. The age-graded school exists in Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, and North America covering rural, urban, and suburban districts. What other school reform has been this “successful”?

Why have most U.S. school reformers, donors, and educational entrepreneurs been reluctant to examine an organization that influences daily behavior of nearly 4 million adults and well over 50 million children or one-sixth of all Americans in the early 21st century? Surely, habit and tradition play a part in the longevity of the age-graded school. The lack of recognizable alternatives that have been around sufficiently long to compete with the prevailing model is another. Sure, occasional reformers created non-graded public  schools and similar singletons but they were outliers that disappeared after a few years. Or private schools funded by parents and donors that have remained progressive outposts such as the Francis W. Parker School in Chicago, the City and Country School in New York City, and The School in Rose Valley (PA).

What is too often ignored in explaining the durability of the age-graded organization, however, are the widely shared social beliefs among parents, educators, and taxpayers about what a “real” school is. After all, nearly all U.S. adults—save for the tiny number who are home schooled—have attended both public and private age-graded schools. Adding, subtracting, and multiplication are learned in primary grades, the nation’s history in 4th and 5th grades, U.S. history in the 8th and 11th grade is what a school is and does. American as apple pie and the Thanksgiving holiday.

For example, when a charter school applicant proposes a brand-new innovative school the chances of receiving official approval and parental acceptance increase if it is a familiar age-graded one, not one where most teachers team teach and groups of multi-age children (ages 5-8, 9-11) learn together. Not only is the age-graded school a “real school” but also it juggles the multiple public and private goods that animate tax-supported public schools since the mid-19th century. That is, the public goods of preparing students to become literate, patriotic, and engaged citizens while getting jobs or continuing their education to enter careers while providing an individual escalator for families that want their sons and daughters to “succeed” financially and socially in a market-driven democracy–a private good.

External pressures also constrict reformers’ maneuverability in trying other organizational forms. State mandated grade-by-grade curriculum standards, college entrance requirements calling for which academic subjects have to be taken and passed are located in the 9th to 12th grades, and the federal Every Student Succeeds Act as to what grades elementary and secondary school will be tested–are all married to this taken-for-granted school organization.

The unintended (and ironic) consequence of frequent and earnest calls for radical change in instruction through non-traditional teachers and administrators, charter schools, nifty reading and math programs, and “personalization” of learning through digital software assume that such innovations will occur within the traditional school organization thus preserving the age-graded school and freezing classroom patterns, i.e., the “grammar of instruction,” that so many reformers and entrepreneurs want to alter. Calls for ending “schools-as-factories” are common in the 21st century but have led to, at best, incremental changes in the traditional age-graded school.

Beyond the age-graded elementary school, there have been other incremental changes that have, intentionally or not, sustained the structure and culture of this organization. Progressive educators and civic and business leaders led political coalitions that extended the age-graded grammar school of eight grades into junior high schools of grades 7-9 and comprehensive four year high schools offering a range of curricula and extra-curricular activities that appealed to families wanting their sons and daughters to have a high school diploma, a pathway to a well-paying job.

Cementing that high school structure in grades 9-12 has been the Carnegie unit—student contact of 120 hours in a class over a school year of at least 24 weeks—installed as another innovation in the early 20th century has been used as a basis for students graduating high school continues into the 21st century.

This scaffolding of tradition–nearly two centuries of age-graded schools–powerful social beliefs among policymakers and parents about what “real schools” should be, and multiple public and private goals for tax-supported schools combine to make the “grammar of schools” seemingly invulnerable to alternative ways of organizing schools.

The spread of charter schools in cities (e.g., New Orleans, 93 percent of schools; Detroit, 55 percent; Washington, D.C., 46 percent),  where charter advocates are free to organize the school, governance, curriculum, and instruction nearly all are age-graded (see here for one exception)

Yes, there are exceptions. There are non-graded, non-charter elementary schools–very few secondary schools–focusing on intellectual, social- emotional learning, and real world interactions in scattered private and public schools in the U.S.. They are, however, few and far between. They challenge the existing “grammar of schooling” with alternative “grammars.”

“Schools-as-factories” rhetoric aside, amid much experimentation* with charter schools, mastery learning, multi-age groupings, and “personalized learning,” age-graded schools with its historic “grammar of schooling” rule.

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*What both surprises and annoys me is that major donors who have the freedom to fund different ways of organizing schools seemingly ignore such competing “grammars of schooling” thus unintentionally reinforcing what has existed for the past century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Making Schools Business-Like: Google in Classrooms (Part 2)

Listen to Joanna Petrone, Longfellow Middle School English teacher in Berkeley (CA), describe her use of Google.

On a typical day, students start class with a warm-up activity posted on Google Classroom. After we go over their answers and I teach a lesson, I might direct my students to open Google Docs and start writing. “Remember to check Google Calendar and start studying for your next quiz! Oh, and don’t forget to turn in your writing on Google Classroom before Thursday!” I holler into the void as they pack up their bags. I’ve learned from experience that I need to specify “Google Classroom” every time I give this direction; if I don’t, if I just say “Classroom,” some students will submit their work on Classroom, some will stick it in their lowercase-c classroom notebooks, and at least one person will wander around the actual classroom while I am in the middle of an explanation, assignment in hand, wondering aloud where he was supposed to turn it in…

Petrone then goes on to say:

From one vantage point, classrooms like mine look like education technology success stories, with students’ academic learning seamlessly interwoven with the workflow habits and productivity apps of all tomorrow’s office workers. Using Google products, students can work collaboratively on files, use the internet for research, and acquire competency with the basics of personal computing. Districts often save substantial amounts of money by using Google’s services in place of their own email servers and can provide more classroom access to computers using Chromebooks than they could using pricier alternatives. In a country where public education is cruelly underfunded, there’s no mystery as to why teachers and districts are drawn to Google’s cheap, often free, education technology and curriculum, but there needs to be an honest reckoning of its real price tag and robust public discussion about whether that is a cost worth paying.

Yes, Microsoft and Apple have classroom apps that teachers use but since Google Classroom became available free of charge in 2014, it has eaten competitors in huge gulps. One journalist wrote: “The top five digital tools accessed most often in school districts in 2017-18 were all Google products—including YouTube, according to research by Lea(r)n Inc. on more than 2,000 ed-tech tools used in K-12 schools.”

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So Google’s Suite of free tools (Classroom, Gmail, Drive, Google Calendar, Vault, Google Docs, Sheets, Forms, Slides, Sites, Hangouts) are in selective use across U.S. classrooms. Teachers pick and choose among the tools but their use is pervasive.*

Journalists, practitioners, researchers, and entrepreneurs claim that Google is transforming teaching and learning (see here, here, and here). But is accurate?

No, it is not.

Observers confuse increases in teacher efficiency–saving precious classroom time is what Google tools do–for substantially altering teacher planning, organizing, implementing, and assessing daily lessons, that is, the daily professional work they do. Yes, Google tools have increased teacher efficiency in managing classrooms, but much less so in the actual format and content of lessons or connections between teachers and students. Let me explain.

In studying 41 Silicon Valley teachers in 2016 who had thoroughly integrated devices and software into their lessons, these teachers did see changes in their teaching. For the most part they identified important incremental (not fundamental) changes due to technology use in lessons. These changes occurred over time, adding to their productivity as teachers in completing classroom administrative tasks, providing a broad array of sources previously unavailable to their students, and being able to respond and help students in real time.

Technology-induced changes were incremental and useful to teachers but seldom altered the goals, fundamental classroom structures embedded in the age-graded school, teacher-student relationships, basic format of lessons, or the craft of teaching that has evolved in public schools for well over a century. All of these underlying features of teaching persisted amid the classroom changes these Silicon Valley teachers recognized in their lessons.

Hillsdale High School English teacher Sarah Press expressed it clearly:

In some ways, my teaching hasn’t changed much at all. My goals are the same—to give my students opportunities to do something with the ideas I suggest to them in class, to engage with each other around those ideas and to offer lots of ways to be smart. I still have a heavy focus on literacy—sustained engagement with text and inquiry around meaning making. I continue to try to find authentic ways for students to show what they’ve learned and what they think, not just regurgitate what they’ve heard.

I also struggle with many of the same issues I always have: what to do with the huge range of skill sets in my room, how to differentiate activities and assessments to meet the needs of all learners, how to give feedback in meaningful and timely ways, how to engage all learners despite varying interests and abilities, how to create a positive socioemotional atmosphere in my classroom so students feel comfortable taking and learning from risks.

So I think it’s important to remember that technology is just one of many tools I have available to me to try to meet those goals. That said, it’s an incredibly powerful tool, and I do see some potent ways in which technology helps me get closer to being the teacher I hope to, someday, become.

A huge one is the amount of choice I am able to offer students, about what they learn and how they learn it . . . Another is the increased sense of collaboration in my room. While I have always striven to have students use each other as resources, to value each other’s expertise . . . I have not always been successful. Because technology allows students to simultaneously have access to a group project in a shared digital space that is co-editable . . . everyone can see a developing project and no can “mess it up.” It’s also easier to track exactly what each student has contributed . . .

It’s a not insignificant note here that risk-taking becomes easier to encourage when erasing or changing work is as easy as “Control + Z” or “Delete . . . ”

Finally, technology is powerful because it makes it so much easier and faster to collect, distribute, and respond to data. I find myself experimenting more and more with forms of assessment when I can instantaneously collect responses from every student in my class . . . All this helps me adjust, clarify, and re-teach in much tighter, shorter cycles than before

Press did not mention Google products by name, so I wrote her a few days ago and here is her response (she gave me permission to use her words):

I did – and do – use Google tools regularly in my class. Our district is a GAFE (Google Apps for Education) district, so most of our systems integrate with Google. All students are given Google accounts as they enter HHS, and we regularly use all of the tools that go with those accounts. I use Google Classroom as an excellent way to distribute documents, although the bulk of our digital work submission and grading is now handled through Canvas, a new system for our district this year.

So, do Google tools “transform” teaching? Time saved by using Google tools is one thing and it is important to teachers. But lesson goals, activities, content, and format continue and that is wholly another thing. Such distinctions I make are important nuances that often go unnoticed by non-teachers who from their prior experience in schools do not see the complexity of the teaching act.

How technological changes can increase teacher efficiency yet not alter substantially the familiar and continuous flow in daily lessons of goal-setting, organizing activities, elaborating concepts and content, and assessing students’ understanding is another way of simply saying that both change and stability are hallmarks of classroom lessons.

True then and true now even with the ubiquity of Google tools in the nation’s classrooms.

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*Why does Google give away these apps free? Ads are forbidden on these tools so no revenue accrues from this source.  Yes, information on students is collected and the company states that this information is owned by the school and is not sold to third parties. It took awhile for Google to comply with the federal Family Educational Value and Privacy Act, but they have (See here and here).

So what’s the advantage for Google. Short answer is that students and teachers are future customers for Google products that do charge fees and can be purchased (e.g., Chromebooks, android phones, etc.), and life-long viewers of company products where ads do show up. It is a marketing strategy that Apple used in 1984 when they gave away one Apple IIe computer (then costing nearly $2500) to every school in California (yes, also the California legislature gave a tax deduction for such a gift). Build trust in a product and you have a customer for life. As one analyst said about Google:

It’s pretty clear what motive Google has,” Williams at Gartner Research said. “This is not a product they’re selling; this is not a commercial product. It’s getting lots of people very used to working in a Google environment.

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MetWest Internships (Part 7)

The last post described student and teacher participation in twice-weekly internships in Oakland businesses, government agencies including schools, health facilities, and social services.

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Advisor/Teachers work closely with students in their sites and are responsible for connecting what they learn with the academics they teach–English, history, math, science, foreign language.

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Mike Cellemme is Learning Through Internship (LTI) coordinator. He finds a site and locates a mentor willing to take and supervise a MetWest student. He talks to students about what they are interested in and want to learn more about and then finds a match between site, mentor, and student. He supervises the overall program. The process looks like this:

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*ImBlaze is a website that Big Picture schools use to identify possible internships for students

 

A former teacher at The Met in Providence (RI), he is experienced, savvy,and committed to making the program work for students, teachers, and work site mentors. What follows describes an afternoon I spent with Mike working with students and then going to an internship work site.

Like any high school program with many moving parts involving 160 students, a dozen or so teachers, and over a hundred mentors in their workplace, some things go smoothly, some less so.

On March 21, 2019, I went to room 136 in MetWest to see Mike and Mayra Acosta (a graduate of program and now Resource Program Specialist) work with various students searching for and working in varied internships. Students came in, asked questions about their mentors and sites and left; others stayed and sat with Mike and Mayra to talk about issues that came up in their classes, Senior Thesis Project, and internships.

Here is what I observed over the next hour. Alonzo who had worked as an intern on an Oakland political campaign during the fall semester is now searching for a new internship. On her laptop screen, Mayra pulls up some possibilities for him to consider. She asks questions about what he learned during the last internship, his current interests, and what he has heard from other students about their internships.

Another student Anthony is talking to Mike about his Senior Thesis Project. On his laptop, Anthony goes through the slides he prepared for his upcoming presentation, based upon his interning at a Oakland Unified school. They go over the STP rubric criteria of rigor, relevance, timeline, and evaluation. The senior gives examples and asks Mike what he thinks. Jose, sitting on a couch, waits his turn to speak with Mayra.

Another student, 9th grader Maria who had attended the STP described in an earlier post, sat on a couch in the back of the room reading a novel. She came up to me to say hello–I had seen her at a presentation by two students of their Senior Thesis Project. I asked her where she is interning. She tells me she is working two days a week at the Talent Division (an employee department) of the Oakland Unified District. I asked her what she does and she explains that she goes over teacher applications to see that each one is completely filled out (e.g., social security number, phone number, years of experience in teaching). She also tells me that she wants to intern next in a school to work with children.

In the midst of the one-on-one with Anthony, Mike takes a call from a graduate who is calling for help on looking for a job. Mike quickly gives the alum the Juma website to look at and track down a job and a phone number to call someone Mike knows.  He then returns to Anthony and his STP.

Fifteen minutes later, Mike signals me that we are ready to go to an intern site called Hidden Genius where he will meet with Tre and his mentor. We go to Mike’s car and drive to another part of Oakland. He and I talk about the internship program. He tells me that about one-third of the 160 students in the school thrive in the internships, finding the experience worthwhile enough to use it as a springboard for their Senior Thesis Project and final Exhibition before graduating. Another third, Mike estimates, struggle but with help from their Teacher/Advisor, Mike, and the site mentor they grow intellectually and expand their skills in dealing with non-school adults and the demands of a workplace. Then there is the final third of students who need intensive, sustained help in getting a placement and then on-going coaching to stay in the internship. Frequent follow-up by the Teacher/Advisor and Mike for this bottom third of students is essential for these students to profit from the experience.

On our way to see Tre, we stopped at a traffic signal and Mike calls out to a teenager waiting to cross the street, “Hey, Danielle, how ya doin?” She acknowledges Mike and he says to her through the open window, “how come you are not at your internship?” No answer from Danielle. Just a smile. In the car, Mike says that she is interning at a funeral home on the other side of town. He says he will contact her later in the afternoon. He explains that some students have to be fired because of poor attendance and Danielle, a bright student, has already had to exit a previous placement.

We arrive at Hidden Genius Project. Tre is a senior and came to MetWesst just last year from a Oakland high school that he was stumbling through. At MetWest, he has caught fire in two different internship a previous one at Kaiser Permanente (a health organization) and here at Hidden Genius. His mentors at Hidden Genius assigned him projects that required him to learn the game Minecraft and adapt Python programming language for children (Tre has used the latter for other intern projects). Tre does programming to create software for use by students and adults some of which will be displayed at a May conference in Cleveland.

With Tre, his mentor, and me standing outside the workspace that Tre uses, Mike asks a series of questions of both Tre and the mentor. Mike takes notes rapidly on his cell phone. A few hours later, the mentor, Tre, and Teacher/Advisor receive these notes. Mike sent me a copy of what he sent out to the above people (and gave me permission to use it in this post).

3/21 CHECK IN / INTERNSHIP VISIT

LTI Performance
  • Harold is Mentor (pseudonym)
  • Tre has been here, on time, doing excellent work consistently
  • Missed one day with a doctor’s note
  • Tre has brought in some of his innovations from his Kaiser internship; we may use his code for an attendance / tracking system for our program
  • Tre is exceeding expectations in his project work and with additional actions / visits / youth engagement events
  • Tre is developing the skills needed to prepare a high quality presentation for the PYCON

 

LTI PROJECT

Developing Curriculum for PYTHON CONFERENCE

Tre will create and facilitate a curriculum for a Python Conference (PYCON) in Cleveland in early May.

 

KEY ACTIONS AND PROPOSED DUE DATES

 

  • Due April 5: Tre will research best practices for teaching and facilitating.

 

  • Due April 5: Tre will analyze core texts (existing curriculum) to find best practices or innovate practices for the best educational impact

 

  • Due April 17: Tre will conduct interviews with teachers to learn best practices in facilitating and teaching (Jake Seltzer, Derek Boyd)

 

  • Due April 19: Tre will facilitate a demo lesson at MetWest with interested students
    • Tre will develop a PRE and POST Diagnostic to measure what students actually learned in the workshop.
    • Tre will arrange technology and lesson plan
    • Mike can help arrange students and classroom space
    • Tre will reflect on experience and revise lesson as needed.

 

  • Due April 23: Tre will present final curriculum to Hidden Genius Mentors for final approval

 

  • Due May 2(?): Presentation in Cleveland

 

  • Due May 16: Final Reflection and Q4 Exhibition
  • What was the key learning?
GOALS FOR GROWTH I can develop new content knowledge in teaching computer languages:

Core texts

  • Learn to Program with Minecraft
  • Python for kids
    • I can make innovations from these core texts

 

I can develop stronger teaching / facilitation skills:

  • Consult with Jake and Derek about teaching skills

 

I can develop mastery in public speaking skills

NEXT MEETING Jake or Mike will schedule a meeting to review goals for Mid-April

After the conference with Tre and his mentor, we returned to MetWest where Mike had more students to meet and to call Danielle. I thanked Mike and left.

 

 

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MetWest Internships (Part 6)

As in all Big Picture schools, MetWest has structured the academic year to have students search for and enter into two-day a week unpaid internships during school hours. Called Learning Through Internship (LTI), there is a coordinator that oversees the entire program. Michael Cellemme heads this part of MetWest’s program. He is the only staff member that also worked as a Teacher/Advisor at the first Big Picture school (The Met) in Providence (RI). He is responsible for finding sites for internships, interviewing potential mentors, making matches between individual students and mentors, and monitoring what goes on in the internship.

Local mentors take on the responsibility of helping a student acquire the work and social skills necessary to succeed in a business, government agency, educational and health organization, and similar Oakland groups. Since 2002 when MetWest opened, the school has placed students with more than 500 organizations, including local hospitals, radio stations and restaurants to provide learning opportunities. Here are media descriptions of students and their internships.

MetWest’s individualized approach has made a huge difference for Kris McCoy. McCoy had struggled in school and was involved in an armed robbery part-way through his eighth grade year. He served time in juvenile hall for that offense. He also got into several fights his first year at MetWest.

“He came with an ankle bracelet, and with visits from his parole officer,” said McCoy’s teacher, Shannon Carey. “And needing to be the alpha male and needing to show MetWest who he was and that he shouldn’t be messed with. He was way more concerned with that than he was with his academics or his future career.”

If the internships are a big draw to this high school, the close-knit relationships are what make the program work. Advisors like Carey each have a cohort of 20 students that they follow throughout four years of high school. Carey gets to know each student and their families well along the way. She also teaches English and social studies to that group, often weaving students’ personal interests into the assignments and offering a lot of choice within the whole group instruction.

She kept a plant in the middle of the room because she and her students were circling up so often…. In those circles they would talk about how to repair the many instances of harm that were happening. “He would have been kicked out of another high school if he had been fighting the way he had been when he first arrived here,” Carey said.

 Instead, McCoy began to trust Carey, something she says is very important for him to learn. He found himself an internship at an auto repair shop. His boss, Edward Lam, gave him a chance when no one else would, and treated him like an employee, while teaching him ever more complicated mechanical skills. In consultation with McCoy’s family, Carey decided to allow him to stay at that internship for several years, a fairly uncommon practice at MetWest.

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“For students, like Kris, who really struggle with positive adult relationships, I see no reason to interrupt that relationship,” Carey said. “He can go deep in the content and he can go really deep in the really caring, trusting, loving relationship with adult men in his life.”

Or consider the story of Jose Gomez who interned at Urban Promise Academy in Oakland (CA) schools.

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Or see the YouTube video on Karen Perez interning at Hopalong Animal Rescue.

The theory of action behind Big Picture schools such as MetWest using two-day a week internships is straightforward. By interning with mentors at a work site, teenagers enter the world of adults beyond family and school. Working with adults and picking up  different technical and social skills broadens and deepens learning by engaging their hands, hearts, and minds. That engagement is deepened when MetWest teacher/advisers and LTI coordinator meet with mentors and students on-site. Such personal connections bridge the workplace and academic classes as teachers make curricular choices during  the rest of the week.  Connected learning occur also with Senior Thesis Projects (see post) that invariably grow out of internships. Or as MetWest staff puts it: “College Prep through Real-World Learning.”

Internships, then, lead to learning about how adults work in organizations and the repertoire of skills needed to succeed at a job while applying that learning to academics (and the reverse as well). Thus, through personal engagement between teachers, mentors and students the two worlds of work and classroom come together to create deeper, more meaningful, and connected learning. That’s the theory.

Internships, however, do not always work out for students.  A few are fired for not showing up or being late. Some have to be re-trained. Most students and mentors do fit together.

MetWest internships occur on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Each Teacher/Advisor works with the students in their internships as well as classrooms (see teacher Shannon Carey in above article). The next post describes what I observed recently during an afternoon with LTI Mike Cellemme working with students at MetWest on finding internships and then visiting an intern at a site in Oakland.

 

 

 

 

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