Here's a quick tutorial on Remind, a helpful app that can allow teachers to send reminders or announcements to students or parents. Check it out!
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED talk "The Danger of a Single Story," posted below, is heartfelt and inspiring. An accomplished writer, she speaks to the power of what a single story can do. By the phrase "single story," she means knowing only one perspective about people, a culture, or a country. The media so often purport one single perspective, and our culture in the United States has unfortunately embraced that. Adichie notes that, for example, the U.S. has come to use "immigration" and "Mexicans" as synonymous. She shares an anecdote about her roommate in college, who similarly had a single story kind of understanding for Adichie, as her roomate had a very narrow understanding of what living in Nigeria was like. Adichie warns that "the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete." Having a single story understanding not only demeans people, but it also places them in a strictly confining box that debases their life experiences. None of us are created by a single story; we all have multiple tales, a multitude of experiences, and a plethora of perspectives. Assigning one story to someone negates what makes each of us unique.
Too often, I think, educators perceive students by a single story. I can understand why; we often have over one hundred students in a year. But when you learn that one of your students has a parent in jail, or they don't have a roof over their head on Saturdays, or their family cannot afford to buy new shoes, be careful not to define that student by their challenges. Each person is so much more than that. When we define our students by a single story, not only are we robing that student of dignity, but we are also teaching the other students in the classroom to do the same. In an age plagued by social inequality, our classrooms could be ground zero for social change. Don't continue the cycle of single story understanding. Empower your students by supplying them with multiple perspectives to consider. Then let them decide.
In the Youtube video posted below, an engineer from Alabama, Destin Sandlin, does an interesting experiment. He literally challenges the cliche "it's like riding a bike." When a friend of his created a bicycle that went left when you pointed the handlebars right, he was shocked and dismayed that he could not ride the bicycle. After eight months of riding the backwards bike everyday for five minutes, he finally was able to wobble down his driveway. He continued to ride the bike until he was able to ride it smoothly and without any issue. He then challenged his son, a toddler who has successfully been riding a regular bike for three years, to ride the backwards bike. After two weeks, his son was able to ride the bike. Two weeks, when compared with Destin's eight months, is quite a difference, proving that children have far greater neuroplasticity than adults. Destin applies this experiment to education, noting that it is far easier to learn a language when you're a child rather than an adult. Destin also notes that this also speaks to the fact that adults get set in thinking about things (knowledge, skills, habits) in a particular way. We experience the world in a biased way, and the backwards bicycle proves that changing our ways is not as easy as we might imagine. His major take away from the experiment is that knowledge is not understanding. Most of us know how to ride a bike, but when a small thing is changed, no one (Destin asks several people to ride the bike -- no one is successful) is able to quickly adapt. To conclude the experiment, Destin tried riding a regular bicycle after a year or so of riding the backwards bike. After twenty minutes of false starts and minor crashes, his brain was able to shift and remember how to ride the regular bike.
It is important that teachers consider what biases we are teaching our students. I don't mean biases in the sense of purporting a particular political ideology or belief system. What I mean is consider how we are teaching our students to think. If we repeatedly give multiple choice tests and quizzes, what are teaching them? Sure, those tests can measure if the student knows specific content, but it is also teaching them to regurgitate information they have been given. Do they understand the content? Or do they know it? Are they able to think critically about a problem/situation and consider different ways of approaching it? In history, for example, do your students know that they Civil War started in 1861 and why it started in 1861? Having your students passively listen to information does not allow them to grapple with it. For your next unit, consider how your students will understand the content, not just know it.
Friedman's article "How to Get a Job at Google" from the New York Times raises a number of issues about education. He interviewed Laszlo Bock, the man who does the hiring for Google, to find out what exactly the company looks for in the hiring process. One of the first things Bock noted was that G.P.A.s really have very little to do with your work ethic and abilities. While good grades don't hurt, they're certainly not the be all and end all. Bock related that Google looks for five different things in potential employees: 1) Cognitive ability (not your IQ, but how well you are able to process information on the fly and in various situations), 2) Leadership (can you step up and lead as well as step back in the appropriate moments?) 3) Humility (knowing that it's not just about your ideas but how everyone can work collaboratively), 4) Ownership and 5) Expertise (which Bock is quick to note it is the least important attribute). Friedman notes that these five characteristics are not necessarily what students are learning in schools or even in their college experiences. He notes that many employers are interested in "soft skills -- leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability, and loving to learn and re-learn."
This article was particularly striking for me this week. On Thursday, one of my students said to me "Can I work alone on this assignment? I don't like working with people." I was a little shocked, in part because of the student's brusque and deadpan delivery. There has been a shift in the last few decades to include more group work in the classroom, pushing for students to develop their collaborative abilities. While I believe there have been strides to help students develop their collaboration skills, I worry about the role of leadership and humility. Google is not looking for poeple who have proved themselves in traditional leadership roles (like president of the chess club), but people who know when it is appropriate to lead and when it is not. In a society that overvalues extroverts and agressive leadership, the more nuanced leadership skills are not being developed, which also impacts the level of humility students are showing. Being able to admit when you're wrong and advocating for your ideas can be a tricky thing. I wonder if we are teaching our students to be well rounded leaders.
Big is a school. It's not your standard school with curriculum, a daily schedule, and homework assignments. Instead, Big is a school that students can attend in addition to their regular high schooling (in part because Big is still being developed). At Big, students present what they would like to learn about. They choose a topic and conduct a research project that must meet three expectations: it must be on a topic that is interesting to them, it must be interdisciplinary, and it must speak to an external audience (meaning there must be an interest in the topic in society). Shawn Cornally, one of the founders of Big, discussed projects of various students at his school, all of whom are choosing their own curriculum and learning about real world issues through their projects. Cornally notes that students spend anywhere from 12 - 50% of their time with Big, and the founding members of the faculty aren't sure if that is an appropriate amount of time. Would more time be beneficial?
The idea of a school where students drive their own curriculum and learning has become a popular, if ambiguous idea. Reshaping how we define education has become a powerful force in the last decade, and one that has been supported by statistics and experiments. I am all for pushing boundaries and redefining the education system. Evolution is a necessary part of humanity, and progress shouldn't be hindered by a attachment to old ways of learning. People like Shawn Cornally are probing into the future of education, giving society different options for future systems. My only hesitation is implementation. Providing students with the resources and support to create their own long term projects is a fantastic way to approach education, but can it be implemented for the masses? Can we guarantee those opportunities for all students? Of course we can't now, but if we follow a path into the future of education like the one Big is exploring, will we be able to find the resources to allow all students (and I mean all students) the opportunity to develop their own projects? My sense is yes, but only with tremendous communication, cooperation, and accountability to our youth. Do we have what it takes? Or will we offer this path to specific students only, creating further rifts in education through inequitable dissemination of opportunity?
Rita's dynamic and moving Ted Talk (posted below) is based on the idea that "every child deserves a champion." She speaks from 40 years of experience teaching students, and one of the most important aspects of education for her is the relationships we build with our students. For many students, their teacher is one of the few people who takes and interest, who care about them, and who advocates and believes in them. Pierson gives a number of examples from her own teaching experience, but there is one that is particularlly striking. She gave a 20 question quiz to her students, and one student got 2 out of 20. Pierson says she wrote a "+2" and a smiley face at the top of the student's paper. When the student came up to her and asked if he had received an F, Pierson responded yes. The student, exasperated, asked "then why did you put a smiley face?" Pierson's response is a powerful one: "-18 sucks all the life out of you. +2 says I ain't all bad."
Pierson's anecdote, if nothing else, speaks to the importance of how we make students feel. Giving them hope, giving them something to work toward and the resources to reach their goals can literally be life changing for students. How do your students feel in your class? Do they feel empowered? Do they feel that you believe in them? These questions are so important to consider. There is so much that goes into teaching, and it can become overwhelming at times to balance all of it. But your students well being should come second to nothing in your classroom everyday. Teachers have a tremendous amount of accountability; make sure you develop the relationships with your students so that they feel they have a champion. You don't need to be a champion to every student, but you certainly need to advocate for and care about your students. If you don't, there is a possibility that no one else will.
The article linked above describes what a veteran teacher learned when she shadowed two different students for a day. Her experience of following the students came about as an effective way to introduce her to her new role as an academic coach for students. She followed a sophmore one day, and a senior the next day. Her insights are varied and valuable for all teachers to consider. One of the first things she noted was how exhausted she was at the end of the school day. Yes, she had only been sitting and listening for most of the day, but sitting still and absorbing academic information for hours at a time is exhausting. She also noted that students are mostly listening passively to information that is being given to them, with very few opportunities to move around and do any kind of hands on learning.
She came away with three major take aways: 1) students need to get up and move around in class, 2) they need to be more involved in their own learning processes beyond listening passively to lessons, and 3) students receive a fair amount of snarky remarks from teachers throughout the day, which is not only exhausting and embarassing, but it also inhibits students' ability to learn in that classroom. Considering the arguments this article makes and my own experiences in high school education, it seems that teachers sometimes need a reminder to consider the students' perspective. Consider what your students are going through on a daily basis: pressures to perform well academically, which includes completing homework on time and studying for quizzes and tests, being involved in extracurriculars (which are required for college bound students), and navigating the social scene. All of these tasks invovle using skills that students are currently learning during the high school years. The amount that students are absorbing is astounding, and as fully developed adults it can be easy to forget how completely grueling this can be.
It is easy for teachers to forget to think of their students as emotional beingings. It is also important to remember the developmental stage that high school students are going through. This is a time for students when poetry, art, and science can literally change how you view and experience the world. I was discussing with a friend the changes of education as you progress through the various stages from high school, to college, to graduate school. Of course not all students follow this path tragectory (that is a different topic for a different post), but it is interesting to consider the tragectory of education in a general sense. My friend (who is working on her PhD) made the comment that at every stage in your education, it feels as though you are taking on the most you can handle at that time. It was an interesting idea, and one that I believe to be true. Teachers, who are generally speaking college graduates, can easily belittle what students are going through and experiencing in high school because we have already had the college experience. The point I'm trying to make is that to be effective educators, teachers must be empathetic. How else can you trully reach your students and impact their lives for the better?
Wiggins, Grant. (2014, October 14). A veteran teacher turned coach shadows 2 students for 2 days- a sobering lesson learned.
Retrieved from https://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2014/10/10/a-veteran-teacher-turned-coach-shadows-2-students-for-2-days-a-sobering-lesson-learned/