Thursday, May 11, 2017

Soul Force Reflection

What did I learn?

As my students learned about how to research their problem, I learned a great deal about teaching research skills.

Teaching research is hard. Students link it's a linear process where people start with a question and then they find sources that will give them the answer. Instead, it's an incessantly circular process where sources give different perspectives and sometimes even more questions. On top of that, good teaching means making sure students question sources, especially those on the Internet. In the past, I've used CARRDS to teach students about assessing the accuracy of internet sources. The steps of the acronym are great, but it does seem a little repetitive and long. This year, I used CRAP instead, and I liked being able to say "Don't use CRAPpy sources." More importantly, the acronym is shorter and simpler. Most importantly, I learned that I need to model HOW to assess sources with the CRAP rubric, as well as provide students time in class to evaluate sources so that they can ask questions. While I know that students need more practice with this skill, blog posts like Amanda's prove to me that they can think critically about internet sources.

I also learned a lot about having students do interviews as part of their research process. The key lesson was making sure students understand that scheduling can interview can take a long time, as shown by Sam's blog post. The after-interview Thank You cards also taught me a lot about what students do and don't know about formal writing and addressing envelopes.

What did I do?

As students worked on their Soul Force projects, I took action on the research I've done for the problem I identified: school culture, especially post-election. One of the most eye-opening sources I found was the Kansas data from the 2015 GLSEN School Climate survey. While this survey obviously wasn't taken post-election, it was some of the only local data I could find on school climate. This source, combined with many of the questions I've been answering from faculty here at ONW, gave me the idea to have a student panel for teachers to learn about LGBTQ+ issues.
Teacher check their own answers from pretest as students teach!
The most important thing the panel taught teachers is that we all need to work harder to ensure the certitude that our school is a welcoming and affirming place for all of our students.
Safe Space stickers and posters have increased at ONW.
I challenged faculty to consider what they learned in different ways: with their heads, heart, and hands/feet. Based on the profuse support events like Trans Day of Visibility and Day of Silence received from faculty, I think the training was an excellent first step of addressing one aspect of school climate.

What are my next steps?

My next steps in addressing this problem at ONW is taking the a data from the local climate survey and working with the administration to make sure it's used to plan for next year. While the results of the survey show that overall ONW is a serene place of learning for a lot of students, we can always improve. I am happy to report that my collaboration with Mr. Zuck has already begun!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Soul Force Survey

Why a survey?

In the research portion of my Soul Force project, I found many stories from schools across the nation that have been impacted since the election. I also found a great deal of data, mostly collected through surveys of the nation as a whole. What I didn't find is what's happening here at ONW. Sure, I hear comments and receive reports from students about conflicts--but there was nothing that gave me a big picture of ONW. Thus, instead of interviewing somebody who is an "expert" in my problem, I decided to survey the student body. I can't think of a more credible and authoritative source than the students who walk down the halls everyday.

What did the survey tell me?

I am still compiling the results of ONW's 2016-2017 Climate Survey, but so far, I'm not surprised by the data. Overall, ONW is a great school with great students and great staff, and the data supports this claim. The key takeaway from the partial results has been the data for the final question: In general, how accepting do you think students at ONW are of people perceived to be different from themselves?

While I don't think these results are odious, it is significant that only 52% of students answered "Somewhat Accepting" or "Very Accepting." I see this in adults, so it's no wonder many students don't know how to deal with diversity and differences.

What did I learn about surveying?

The first thing I learned is that surveys take a really, really, really long time to write. When I started the process of developing the survey last October, I thought it was going to be a breeze because GLSEN offers a free Local Climate Survey for any teacher, school, or district. However, I discovered a problem right away: the survey had 75 questions on it. It's a certitude that students would feel contemptuous about taking this long of a survey; therefore, I worked with my school social worker and principal to cut down this number. Once we narrowed the focus of the survey, we then had to reword questions. My principal wanted to make sure that questions weren't worded in such a way that assumed students didn't safe at school, so we went back and forth on several questions to revise questions for this reason. 

I also learned that giving a paper survey to hundreds of students is a nightmare. While a few classes had access to computers and took the survey online, most of the 9th, 10th, and 11th graders who took the survey did so on paper. My aide and other volunteers have been entering the data by hand for weeks; in fact, there is still a profuse number of surveys to be entered. I learned a valuable lesson: always give surveys online only!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Soul Force Research

Why My Problem Is Relevant

February 2017 Vandalism at Shawnee Mission East

If a picture speaks a thousand words, I think this picture totally nails why the problem of school climate after the election is important. While team rivalry and vandalism existed way before the election, graffiti such "Hilary Won LOL" and the swastikas refer to the backlash that's occurred since the election. There's no doubt that this election has fueled contempt.

What Questions Lingered

The questions that lingered after my pre-search were "How does school climate affect learning?" and "How can school climate be improved?". I felt my pre-search process revealed a clear picture of the rise in bullying, harassment, and assault in schools before, during, and after the election. I don't think just these problems are just going away on their own, so my research focused mostly on why school climate is important and how to improve it.

What Source Addressed My Lingering Questions

I found one source in particular helpful in addressing both of my lingering questions. "Seven Ways to Create a More Positive School Climate" by Peter DeWitt began by emphasizing how key school climate is by citing a study based on 15 years of research based in schools around the world linking positive school climate and academics. 

The article continues to provide suggestions on improving school climate, such as "focus[ing] on creativity more than compliance," be[ing] happy for others," "focus[ing] on accomplishments of students," and "listen[ing] to what others say, even the people you disagree with." I found all of these helpful--but vague. The most significant suggestion was to give a school climate survey and review results with teachers before taking actions based on what the data reveals. This is ultimately my goal for this project!

Why I Trust My Source

The author of my source, Peter DeWitt, is an Ed.D. and former K-5 teacher and principal who regularly contributes to Education Week, an online publication published by a non-profit organization. The particular article was published November 28, 2016, which was right after the election as teacher across the country were dealing with the fall out from the election. The article proved its reliability because it didn't show a bias towards or against Trump, but rather focused on the impact of the election on students. It also had several links to resources ranging from a National Public Radio article, to a study published by the Review of Educational Research, to the Department of Education. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Soul Force Launch!

This summer, I watched We Are Superman for the first time with a dozen other educators across the metro area who all shared my passion for teaching and writing. As we learned about the history of Kansas City together, my mind kept wandering: how could I use this documentary in my classroom to launch students into the kind of literacy-based problem solving shown in the film? Just a few months later, here I am in a cape--ready to introduce my students to the documentary and their new roles as superheroes. But wait . . . as inspiring as the activists in the documentary are, I knew that my students needed me to guide them along the way. And this isn't the time for me to pretend I know all of the answers.

Pick a Problem

Just like my students, I began my Soul Force project by picking a problem that bugs me: school climate. No, I don't mean how hot or cold the school is; I mean how "safe" the school is for students physically and emotionally. One of the reasons I picked this problem is that I have a very close connection with a student who didn't feel safe in school. The problem became so serious that this student ended up transferring schools. I also selected this as my problem because of the recent election, which sparked conflict across the nation.


In my pre-search, I focused on three questions--but the question that I found the most information on was "How has school climate changed since the election?". In order to find information about this question, I searched "school climate" or "school safety" and 2016 election. I found quite a few articles and blogs that seemed relevant, but the most valuable one was published by the Human Rights Campaign. This organization conducted online survey of 50,000 students aged 13-18 that focused specifically on how safe schools felt during and after the election. The most striking statistic was that 70% of respondents saw bullying, hate messages or harassment during or since the 2016 election in school. I was equally shocked and saddened at this statistic.

Problem-Solving Predictions

My next step is additional research. Since I decided to focus on school climate here at ONW, I need to gather data about this school in particular. I can't think of any better way to do that than survey the student body. My hope is to survey at least two grade levels so that I will have enough responses to draw conclusions from the data.

After I manage to give the survey, I anticipate the most difficult thing will be coming up with realistic solutions to help improve school climate. In order to implement whatever "solutions" I come up with, I am going to need to rely on my collaboration skills. I know that nothing worthwhile is accomplished in isolation, so my ability to bring other teachers, administrators, and student groups into my solution will be helpful.

Friday, October 14, 2016

My Philosophy of Teaching

Too often, our students, staff, and schools hear the word no. My philosophy is yes. It is my job to say yes to preparing, empowering, and protecting. It is my job to say yes despite, to spite, and in spite of those around us and across the state who too often say no to adequate funding, no to opportunity seizing, and no to risk taking. In my work, the yesses are free; it’s the noes that cost our students the most. 

I say yes to my students and their learning. Yes to the student in my class who asks to revise her “Myself as a Learner” reflection because she just figured out what imagery is—even though the due date was two weeks ago. Yes to the curly haired boy in the front who makes a laugh escape my lips even when my mind forms a salty retort. Yes to the challenges my students lay at my feet: how to teach complex sentences when they aren’t quite sure what a verb is, how to engage them in reading Shakespeare when they are hungry, how to make them feel they are unique – even when they are crowded by thirty other students. And, most importantly, I say yes to teaching them as they are as they cross the threshold of my room.

But the yes doesn’t stop at the doorway of my classroom. Instead, the yes pops the hinges off the doors. The yes dissolves the walls that separate me from the English teacher down the hall, the elementary teacher across the country, and even the pink-haired student who sits by herself at lunch.  The yes of talking to my colleague about her struggling student allows me to ask myself hard questions about how I am supporting my own students.  The yes of reading GLSEN’s latest report on bullying of LGBTQ+ students prompts me to re-launch ONW’s Gender Sexuality Alliance and facilitate Safe Space training for staff. The yes of leading professional development motivates me to reject instructional mediocrity. The yes of applying for the Greater Kansas City Summer Institute compels me to compare my own practices in providing students feedback with other metro teachers’ practices and our reflections on the research.

The power of the yes has liberated me from the shackles of the no. I walked 40 miles with Game On for Kansas Schools to demand adequate and equitable funding so that we can say yes to preparing students. I co-initiated the ONEA Ally program to provide opportunities to new-to-district teachers so that we can say yes to empowering them. I attended the first-ever GSA Advisor Summit despite the risk of resistance so that we can say yes to protecting students. Now, it’s time for the next yes.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Top Five Lessons I Learned from Students and Sway

The past couple of years, students enrolled in PreAP English II at Olathe Northwest High School have read Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori and Rom Brafman. This book is a short Malcolm Gladwell-esque look at why we humans do all of the stupid things that we do. The great thing is about this book is how it sparks so many valuable discussions about bias, labeling, politics, group dynamics, etc.  My work with students reading, writing, and talking about all of these topics have made me realize that my experience with students in teaching this text has taught me more than I would have ever learned just reading the book. Here are these top five lessons:

Lesson #1: Cheater, cheater: loss aversion eater!

Early in the book, the authors articulate a simple definition of loss aversion: "our tendency to go to great lengths to avoid potential losses" (Brafman and Brafman 17). They develop the readers' understanding of loss aversion through examples such as Captain Van Zanten's fear of "losing time" resulting in a the fatal crash of KLM Flight 4805 and customers' fear of "something bad happening" resulting in paying extra money for unnecessary rental car insurance. These examples, along with the many others the authors cite in the book, clarified what "loss aversion" means--but it really didn't hit home until I was face-to-face with high matches on similarity reports.

I'll be honest: my first reaction to these obvious instances of  plagiarism was "seriously, kids?". The snarky side of my teacher brain screamed, "Do you guys NOT know what does?". After talking with the other teachers, the students themselves, and administrators, I've come to a much deeper understanding of why some students plagiarize. It's not that they sit down, make a conscious decision to commit academic dishonesty, and then do so as a mental "screw you" to the educational establishment. Instead, my students are a lot like Captain Van Zanten. Sometimes, they find themselves in a situation in which their brains short circuit because of their preoccupation with losing something they value: points on assignments, meeting a deadline, or even their own personal time. This short-circuit in their brain clouds their thinking, which contributes to their faulty decision to copy/paste. Luckily, their faulty choice in this context doesn't result in the same kind of fatal consequences as Van Zanten's decisions. My job as a teacher has been to provide them to opportunity to reflect on what went wrong in their thinking and to ensure that they face appropriate consequences that communicate what academic honesty requires.

Lesson #2: Reflecting on implicit biases & vulnerability

To prepare for a Socratic Seminar about Sway, I asked students to read a short excerpt of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink. The excerpt asserts that people have unconscious biases, but they can work toward changing their biases by becoming more aware of them. One method of achieving this goal is to take the at least one of Project Implicit Bias Test and reflecting on its results. So, of course, that's exactly what I asked my students to do.

Honestly, I would have been a happy camper to just read my students' reflections on their results. But, my students surprised me--which, at this point in my career, shouldn't surprise me at all. I had several students in every hour who were open and vulnerable about what the test revealed and what they thought about the results. A common theme was that students were surprised that the tests revealed some biases, despite their upbringing to treat everybody equally. Another common theme was they acknowledged the role that living in the "JoCo bubble" may play in forming their unconscious biases. It was refreshing to hear students consider the varying roles their backgrounds play in the way the see the world--both consciously and unconsciously.

Lesson #3:  It's about purpose and audience, stupid!

Every year, I torture myself over teaching writing. I chide myself for not grading enough or grading too much. I agonize over how much they need to write and how much I can read. I stay up at night thinking about what kind of writing I am asking them to do. This year is no different . . . with one exception. I am doing a much, much better job of asking my students in write for different purposes and audiences. I know that developing writers need to try different types of writing for different audiences--not just "academic writing."

Students are writing about Sway in a few different ways: informal quickwrites, blogs, and academic writing. Some of my students feel much more comfortable in the academic writing lane. They like having templates and sentence starters to help them compose. They are comfortable with their audience being the teacher. Other students find this kind of writing stifling, so the addition of their blogs this year has helped me open up audience more. For Sway, I asked students to write about five lessons they learned. We looked at a sample "Top Five" blog and talked about its structure--but I didn't give them a template or sentence starters. I am curious to read the final results of these blogs, but my observation in watching them blog last week is that many of them find their own voice in that freedom. I am excited to have parents and other students visit their blogs and hear their reactions!

Lesson #4: The "ouch" and "wow" of connections

One element of the summer reading assignment this year was to find five sources that connect to five different chapters in Sway. As I read students' submissions, I was underwhelmed by some of their connections: yes, both Allen Field House and Chapter 2 of Sway relate to sports. But for every "lame" connection, I found a really interesting one.

A student in my 4th hour found an article about how two KU fans paid over 4 million dollars for the "original" rules of basketball. He tied this gross over payment to an experiment delineated in Sway called the twenty dollar auction.

What did I learn from this besides people do stupid things with their money? I learned that as a teacher, if I want students to make interesting connections, I have to leave them some room to make some not-so-interesting ones as well.

Lesson #5: Claims, quotations, definitions, statistics, anecdotes . . . oh my!

A core part of the summer reading assignment was to identify claims and connect these claims to the evidence the authors present in the book. As I flipped through students' books this year, I was a little taken aback by the trouble some students had with the assignment. But, instead of just blaming them for being "stupid" or "lazy," I took what I learned from looking at their work and created a plan for reteaching (or just teaching) them those skills. In devising these lessons, I learned something myself: identifying claims and evidence isn't as easy as it seems. There is a lot of nuance in real writing, and I was asking them to filter through a lot of information and hone in on the key claims.

I can't say that 100% of my students are 100% confident with these skills even now, but I can say that the vast majority of them have learned a great deal. Many of them came in before/after school to revise their annotations to show improved learning. I found these one-on-one sessions even more valuable in bettering my understanding of what each student needed from me to apply these skills. I wish I could do more one-on-one work with all of my students . . . now I just have to figure out how to manage that!

At the mid-point of each year, the sophomore teachers gather together to discuss next year's summer reading assignment. The lessons my students taught me this year by reading Sway has strengthened my resolve to have students read non-fiction. It's time for our team to move onto another title, but I definitely want to find some that allows them to learn some of the same lessons they learned with Sway.

Monday, September 26, 2016

"Top 5 Lessons I Learned" Blog Directions

Your blog post should delineate the top five things you learned from your experience with the book Sway and related readings, writings, and discussion. Emulate the Top Five Social Media Lessons blog post we read in class to help you with your writing.

Here are the requirements of your post:

  1. Compose a first paragraph in which you introduce the topic in an interesting way (consider relating it to yourself) and preview the rest of the blog post.
  2. Include a numbered list of the five lessons you learned from Sway and related learning experiences.
    • Consider revisiting your focus questions, evidence connections, and Socratic Seminar packet as you brainstorm what you are going to write about.
    • Your lessons can be SPECIFIC TERMS (like "loss aversion"), SKILLS (like how to compose central claim statements), or IDEAS (like re-evaluating your own biases).
  3. Develop your ideas in at least one paragraph under each numbered lesson using anecdotes, definitions, quotations, definitions, etc. to help the reader better understand what you learned. You should include at least one correctly embedded quotation with in-text citation somewhere in your blog post.
  4. Conclude your blog post with a brief statement that ties your ideas together.
    • Note that the example post provides closure with quick sum up of the lessons as whole: "Use it, don't abuse it" (Lohmann 3).
  5. Somewhere in your blog post, integrate at least two correctly used power verbs (highlight them as shown in this post).