Saturday, September 7, 2013

Between Silence and Silencing

Quick. Who is the foremost voice on the lives of the working poor?
Did you say Barbara Ehrenreich? I did. Truthfully, I couldn't come up with any other names.

This is a problem.

I appreciate the work of Barbara Ehrenreich.  I do. Nobody has done more to bring the experiences of the working poor into the public discourse.

This is also a problem.

It is a problem that the voice for the working poor is not a voice of the working poor.

To say nothing allows our status quo to continue. By staying silent, the powerful maintain and benefit from the legacies of inequality.  

But it is easy to pass from silence into silencing. Privilege amplifies voice. When those in power speak, it drowns out the voices of the marginalized.

We read Dr. Ehrenreich. We listen to Macklemore. We stop Kony. We celebrate V-Day. 

The space between silence and silencing is difficult to navigate.  It can't be done without intention. It is the smallest transition from speaking with to speaking for.

Dr. Ehrenreich should be writing books. Macklemore is entitled to make any music he wants.

However, along with acknowledging the role of our own privilege in making our voice heard, we need to use that privilege as a megaphone for the voices of the marginalized. Dr. Ehrenreich is in a position where she could publish an anthology written by the working poor. She could publicize or financially support Poor Magazine and the Poor News Network. It wouldn't take any effort for Macklemore to acknowledge other rappers that have confronted LGBT issues in hip-hop.

I recently watched the film Cracking the Codes: The System of Racial Inequity and it includes a scence where Dr. Joy DeGruy tells about a trip to the grocery store with her sister-in-law. The clip is on youtube.

I like this scene as an illustration of using privilege to amplify Dr. Joy DeGruy's voice. It is obvious that silence would have been the wrong tactic. Without the power of a privileged voice, it is quite likely the checker would have gotten more and more defensive. Her manager may have taken the checker's side. We see this all the time in school when a student may complain about a teacher and we close ranks around the teacher. Even if the situation was resolved, the checker may have gone home talking about the "angry Black woman" at the store.

On the other hand, the sister-in-law could have taken over. She could have re-centered the conversation around herself and away from Dr. DeGruy. She could have made the incident about her own favorite issue rather than the specific treatment of the checker towards Dr. DeGruy. The sister-in-law didn't attempt to put words in Dr. DeGruy's mouth or explicate the feelings of Dr. DeGruy. Her sister-in-law simply backed up Dr. DeGruy's statements and used her power to make sure Dr. DeGruy was heard.

It is a thin line. Sometimes I am too silent. Sometimes I'm too loud. When I'm silent it's because I don't notice or because I'm afraid to be noticed.

When I'm too loud it's because my own internalized hierarchies take over.

In many areas of my life I have power. I am a cis male. I am straight. I speak fluent English. I am educated and have never had to worry about when I will eat next.

The hardest thing to do isn't to turn up the volume so much that others are forced to listen. It is easy for me to be heard. The hardest thing to do is step aside and let others be heard in the space that I've been occupying.

1: I use "working poor" because that's the term used on Dr. Ehrenreich's website.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Supporting Teachers of Color

This is cross-posted at Educating Grace.

First, this post was co-written with Grace and heavily influenced by a post by Dr. Isis and one by Feminist Griote.

Second, we're writing about race in this post. To echo Feminist Griote, we're not trying to play Oppression Olympics. We're not here to argue who has it worse. We understand that different oppressions intersect and reinforce each other. However, we're using race as a center and, specifically, race in the United States.

Third, when we talk about racism, we don't usually mean, "Someone called me a name." What we're talking about is the broader internalized, structural, and institutional racism that permeates our schools like the smell of the cafeteria. And like that smell, it is its omnipresence that normalizes it. In most of the United States, we are less likely to be talking about overt racism as we are color-blind racism. Thus while it is important for all of us to address our own individual biases, it is our participation in a system of racist oppression that ultimately does the most damage.

The following are some Do's and Don’ts for supporting teachers of color.

1. Don't ask us to justify ourselves. To put a twist on the popular Hari Kondabolu quote, asking a teacher of color for evidence of racism is like asking a drowning person for evidence of water. Start with the assumption that racism exists.

Do acknowledge our experiences. We are not looking for approval and we are not looking for acceptance. What we do want is for you realize that we live in different realities. We have very different lived experiences and part of your acknowledgment is knowing that you can never really understand.

2. Don't expect us to educate you. We appreciate you asking. We really do. There are two things. First is from point 1. It often feels like we're not educating but rather defending. Two, it just gets tiring. It is like that kid in class who asks the most basic questions day in and day out and saying, "Look on the board" gets old.

Do educate yourself. We want you to be part of the conversation, but we need to get past the introductions. None of us will ever know everything. Education will be a constant. Do some basic googling. Read bell hooks. Some Omi and Winant. Learn about privilege and cultural wealth and stereotype threat. Start noticing the daily microaggressions and racial battle fatigue that we experience. Learn to check yourself anytime you want to mention the achievement gap or use exceptionals and majoritarian storytelling or the myth of hope. Once you get the basics down, we'll be happy to sit and have a conversation. This goes double for anything related to our specific race or ethnicity. Don't, for example, turn to us during Chinese New Year and ask what year it is. Seriously. Google. And please stop asking us where we're from. One of the main tenets of White privilege is that you don't have to think about racism or race. As an ally, it is your duty to start.

3. Don't make it about you. If there's one thing that's going to cause teachers of color to throw up their hands and walk away, it's re-centering the conversation. It is not time to talk about your own experiences with racism. Or how your grandmother said shocking things. Or how your own experience as an INSERT HERE makes you qualified to understand what we go through every day. We know that you're probably trying to connect our experiences with your own. But the consequence of this is often derailing the conversation and re-centering it on yourself. It can also feel defensive and lead us back to needing to justify ourselves.

Do seek out uncomfortable spaces. We need allies. Your voice is important but while racism is an issue for all of us, our experiences are uniquely our own. Challenge yourself by sharing in our discomfort. Until you've felt a sliver of our daily pain, we can't know that you aren't paying us lip service and then retreating to the blissful ignorance of color-blindness once our backs are turned. Only by sharing in our discomfort can we be sure that you are invested in creating a more just and equitable world.

4. Don't co-opt. Provide support, but we don't need you to solve our problems. We need you to solve your problems. You do you. We might have something we want to try. Let us try it. But don't jump in and offer "help" and suggestions. If you've reached point 2 and you've educated yourself, you know that your lived experiences in this world are completely different from ours. We will take the steps we think we need to take. At times, we may ask for some help, in which case, come in and then step back again.

Do the work on your end and we'll work ours. Racism needs to be fought from the side of the empowered and the side of the oppressed. Interrogate your privilege and then make every day a battle to fight it. Be prepared to be an ally, especially when you enter a space without any teachers of color. Call it out when you see it and help educate others in the White community. Closely examine the racial dynamics at play in your school. Whenever any systems in school re-create our social hierarchies, begin with the the assumption of racism and work from there

5. Don't enter our safe space. There are times when we just need a place to talk to each other. At the Institute, Jason reported actually feeling a physical change in his well-being. Sometimes we need that. We need to not worry about being judged because every one of us has held our tongues because we don't want to be the Angry Minority.

Do see yourself as having an important role. There are times when we need a safe place but if we're going to fight racism it will take all of us. There will be more times than not when we are working together. We may often be traveling different paths, but we are both heading towards the same destination.

6. Don't assume we have allies because there are other teachers of color on campus. So many teachers we talk to speak of feeling isolated even at schools with a high concentration of teachers of color. Conversations about race are difficult within communities of color as well and we aren't all in the same place when it comes to critical consciousness.

Do help create a safe environment. A campus racial climate survey might be a good way to get things rolling. Gather some data about participation (PTA, AP, remediation, extracurriculars) and talk about the results. Simply letting others know that you notice racism is a start. Being able to start a conversation about racism without worrying about being accused of being racist is part of your privilege. Use it for something positive.

Please continue this conversation in the comments. Which one of these most resonated with you? What will you do next? What have you seen other allies do that you’ve found supportive?

If you would like to comment anonymously, email Jason (jybuell - gmail) and he will add the comment himself.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Community versus Conformity

This week I spent three days at the Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice (FB page). I'm still trying to process everything and decide what I can share.

The first session I attended was taught by the amazing Artnelson Concordia at Balboa High School in San Francisco. One of the things I learned about was his use of the unity clap and isang bagsak.

The UFW originated when the mostly Latin@ NFWA merged with the mostly Filipin@ AWOC. Meetings would start with unity clap to help bridge the language differences. Artnelson begins each of his classes with the unity clap.

Slides used with Artnelson's permission:

Isang bagsak literally means "one down." Someone shouts isang bagsak and everyone claps once simultaneously. Dalawang bagsak gets two claps. This started with the non-violent revolution in the Philippines to overthrow the Marcos regime and the idea is that if one falls, all of us fall.

Now compare Art's class to this Teaching Channel video on attention getters. If you click through the video is embedded, otherwise here's a direct link.

Listen to the words Nick Romagnolo uses. He talks about catching kids to see who is listening and of "programming" them.

If I walked into Art's class and the Nick's class these two practices would look identical. In both cases students are clapping and the end result is student attention. Despite that, these two practices could not be more different.

Related: In Skills Practice, Christopher Danielson contrasted two videos of math teaching. A lot of the defense of the EDI video were comments about how the strategies themselves were good. My question is not about the strategies themselves but the intention of those strategies. Are they intended to honor the thinking of students? To create community? Or are they intended to ensure duplication?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

End of Year Letter - 2013

This is one of those posts bloggers do to remind themselves of changes to make for next year. Nothing to see here. Move along.

At the end of the year one of the things I do is go to Target and buy 100s of Thank You cards. I think the pack I bought this year was $2.99 for 50. I ask students to write a thank you to a person at the school. It is usually a teacher but can be anyone. Our "student advisor" (AKA the huge guy that yanks kids out of class) gets a lot of cards as do the people that run the afterschool program. My only rule is that it can't be to me. Some kids do only one. I think this year one student wrote five. Then I drop them in mailboxes. It's a nice thing, especially for the 6th grade teachers who assume they have been forgotten.

I showed my students the Neil Tyson "Most Astounding Fact" video as the introduction and mentioned that this is where my introduction came from. Since I asked them to write Thank Yous yesterday I also included a thank you. Then I just gave them the letter. Like Sam, ideally I'd like students to keep it in their yearbook and randomly stumble on it every few years.

I tried to keep it to one page because I'm not entirely sure 8th graders will read even that much.

I over-edited and the transitions are ugly. I also took out the more personal stuff in favor of broader stuff. I think that was a mistake. I should have definitely left in, "Future classes will look up at the ceiling, see the smoke stains, and know that we were here."

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Scientific Writing Scaffolds

As a department we've been working on different writing scaffolds. We use Constructing Meaning as a school which I think is mostly good. We've tried all kinds of different writing frames with varying degrees of success. Most of these come from Constructing Meaning. I'm going to take you in chronological order.

This was one of our first attempts.

It was our sixth graders' first or second try at extended science writing. The ease of entry here was very high. The downside is obviously that it is mostly fill in the blank. Except for the last frame there wasn't a lot of room to move. Also the writing itself is pretty clumsy.

We pulled two main lessons from this.

1. Start with a graphic organizer or build the template together. The tool made the writing process too invisible which is almost always a bad thing. The counterpoint to that argument is that we got the writing done first and then we could go back and deconstruct the setup. As a first attempt for the students, this might have been the way to go.

2. The academic support words were also too invisible. Constructing Meaning calls this the "mortar." We want students to gain flexibility with the mortar so they can use it on their own.

Next attempts:

This is just the first page but the back is similar. In this one we kept the headings on the side to highlight the purpose. We also pulled out the academic support words and gave them choices. This is probably our most used format. We've also been integrating in rebuttals so that's been very nice.

Below is an even more generalized example. The topic sentence is removed. The only things that change here are the word bank and perhaps some of the support words. I don't know what the topic was but the bio people can probably take a good guess.

We go back and forth about word banks. We've been happiest with "you can use all, some, or none of the words but if you're using all or none you're probably doing something wrong."

Most recently we gave all of our sixth graders a prompt from the textbook about whether or not the government should provide flood insurance. This came as part of a literacy unit we did where they read multiple articles with opposing viewpoints. The other sixth grade teacher and I approached it differently. Hers:

On my end, all they got was a graphic organizer. Below is the bottom portion. The rest was two more sets of the argument/counterargument/reasoning triangles. They provided an argument and counterargument and for the reasoning they wrote about which side was more convincing.

I put the claim at the bottom because I wanted them to go through each argument first before deciding on a claim. The numbers correspond to the sentence order in their final paper. I also provided about two dozen different sentence starters they could choose from (if needed). For example, "An argument in support of government provided flood insurance is_____. Others might respond that________. ___________ is more convincing because_______________."

Their claims I limited to "The government should/should not provide flood insurance." They could include a qualifying statement though such as, "The government should provide flood insurance but only if...."

I was very happy with the results here. It balanced structure and freedom pretty nicely. For this assignment we also engaged in a class debate first and students were able to gather arguments/counterarguments from the debate. In their papers, I asked them to cite other students as sources of arguments or counterarguments.

If there's anything I've gained from the last couple of years where I've focused on writing it's that speaking comes first. I can't stress that enough. Most of the tools above work just as well for speaking.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Shuffle Quiz

We're in the midst of CST prep. I am bored. CST review is this weird game of picking out specific skills/topics not because they're important so much as they can be quickly recalled and practiced back to fluency.

Right now I'm leaning heavily on shuffle quizzes for my skills practice.

The basic idea is the students get a set of problems and work on them together. At spaced intervals a group member raises his/her hand and I come over. I take their papers and shuffle them up. Whoever gets their paper pulled gets asked the questions for the group. I ask the questions at the bottom and sign off when they can move on.

The only thing I did differently in these examples is that instead of everyone working the same problem, each member in a group of four was assigned a specific problem. (seat 1 did problem 1, seat 2 problem 2, etc). They split the big whiteboard into quarters and worked the problems. They took turns explaining and checking and then call me over. If this answers aren't correct I let them know and come back later. When they are working different problems I usually just ask for one problem to be explained but it's never their own.

Some use notes:

  1. These questions are pretty plain vanilla to emulate the glory of the CST but I've used this strategy for more interesting questions. The more difficult the problem, the more students are assigned. When I went to see Complex Instruction at Mission HS, the teachers used this strategy for nearly all of the group work. 
  2. It's a bit of an art to balance how many consecutive problems students should try before I need to be called over. Too many problems and students go too long without checking in. Too few and I can't sit with any one group long enough and other groups are just waiting around. For reference, my typical class is 8 groups of 4. For the density/Archimedes one the pacing ended up a bit quick but just barely. Next year I'd probably eliminate the first checkpoint because the first two sets are straight plug and chug but keep the last check point. For the graphing practice it was about right. 
  3. Since this is review, I tried to cluster them into similar problem types.
  4. This year I used A/B/C/Redo but in previous years I've done a sign off with no score or plus/check/minus. I don't have a preference. Generally I just tell them I'll come back later if a student clearly isn't prepared. 
  5. I've signed each paper and also just signed the one and had students staple them all together. Again, no preference. 

Here are some sample pics:

Notes: Graph A is the top right from this angle, Graph B is the top left, and Graph C is the bottom right. For the FBD scenario, we watched the clip on youtube earlier.

I don't know why speed-time graphs are so much more difficult for my students. I assume it's because I present position-time graphs first and they get locked in. Or maybe it's just easier to visualize changing position than changing speed. If you have any insights I'd love to hear them.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The idea is the easy part

.......and access is not a goal.

The idea is the easy part......
Audrey Watters and John Spencer both have articles up talking about the problems with TED. There is a lot there and worth a read. They hit on similar criticisms. Audrey says, "You are not supposed to interrogate a TED Talk." and John wrote, "TED Talks become a sort of Secular Scripture offering a script to fix humanity." Some of the TED ideas are bad. Some are good. That's expected.

I have a different issue. My problem isn't with TED. I happen to like quite a few talks. TED is simply mirroring our values.1

My problem is that we place too much value on the idea and not enough on the work.

Sugata Mitra has an idea. He wants to open a School in the Cloud.  Fine. Everyone has ideas. My question isn't about his idea it's about his willingness to put the work in to make it happen and keep it happening.

You've got an idea? So do a million other people. Let's stop celebrating ideas. Celebrate those standing waste deep in the muck with dirt in their nails and sweat on their face.

....and access is not a goal.

Bill Gates and Will.I.Am want everyone to have the opportunity to code.2 Ok. California wanted every 8th grader to take Algebra. They said provide access and achievement will follow. Those of us in California can tell you how that went.

Providing access is the absolute minimum that we can possibly do and still feel like we've accomplished something.

(edit: I should link this for a scholarly view on access)

1: Or at least the type of values that someone who would watch a TED talk has.
1.5: I avoided ranting about Alfie Kohn. Be proud.
2: I'm not a fan of the idea itself, but I'm talking specifically about access and opportunity as goals. Also not a fan of the School in the Cloud. Mostly seems like 'access' but with the computer. It's like opening a school with an infinite number of textbooks available and some of them talk and have moving pictures and most are focused on cats.  

Monday, February 25, 2013

Three Quotes on Identity and the Achievement Gap

I'm pushing the limits of Fair Use but I wanted to post these for my own future reference.

Dr. Camika Royal on Asa Hilliard quoted in Please Stop Using the Phrase 'Achievement Gap'
One of Hilliard's most salient arguments is the notion that the so-called achievement gap between whites, blacks, and Latinos holds white wealthy students' performance as the standard of excellence without interrogating whether or not their performance is worthy of comparison. Instead of asking if how they performed is excellent, the inter-racially comparative nature of the "achievement gap" suggests that blacks, Latinos, Native Americans, special education students, and those receiving free and reduced-priced lunch should do whatever white students are doing.

Dr. Rochelle Gutierrez (originally from East San Jose!) in A "Gap-Gazing Fetish" in Mathematics Education. Problematizing Research on the Achievement Gap, p. 359.
...the (achievement gap) lens sends an unintended message that marginalized students are not worth studying in their own right—that a comparison group is necessary. Such a framing further engrains whiteness and middle-to-upper income as a norm, positioning certain students and their cultures as deviant.

Andrew Solomon in Far from the Tree

Background: Vertical identities are those identities inherited to some degree from parents. They may be genetic but also shared cultural norms. Horizontal identities are formed when someone has a trait foreign to his or her parents and must "acquire identity from a peer group." The book is about parents and children but I think you can also apply this to school relationships as well.

Most deaf children are born to hearing parents, and those parents frequently prioritize functioning in the hearing world, expending enormous energy on oral speech and lipreading. Doing so, they can neglect other areas of their children's education. While some deaf people are good at lipreading and produce comprehensible speech, many do not have that skill, and years go by as they sit endlessly with audiologists and speech pathologists instead of learning history and mathematics and philosophy. Many stumble upon Deaf identity in adolescence, and it comes as a great liberation. They move into a world that validates Sign as a language and discover themselves. Some hearing parents accept this powerful new development; others struggle against it." (pages 2-3)
Vertical identities are usually respected as identities; horizontal ones are often treated as flaws.(page 4)
Wondering how my teachers could have done this, I thought that someone whose core being is deemed a sickness and an illegality may struggle to parse the distinction between that and a much greater crime. Treating an identity as an illness invites real illness to make a braver stand. (page 13)
Three quick thoughts:

I used to think that our fixation on the "achievement gap" was a form of microaggression (see this post, this vid and this tumblr) but I've been underestimating the impact.

How much of our time is spent trying to 'fix' a student when what we're really trying to do is make a student more like us?

And with a nod to Dr. Gutierrez, I will give endless blog love to the first person who, in a staff meeting about the 'achievement gap', raises his/her hand and asks, "Yes. What are we planning to do to catch our White students up to our Asian ones?"

Thanks to Bryan and Raymond for the Gutierrez articles and for the Hangout and Grace for recommending the Solomon book.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Miss A

I'm always a bit surprised that more teachers haven't heard of Miss A. It's one of those things that keeps me going when times get rough. If you haven't, you should read this speech [pdf] by Dan Fallon for the overview. Read it again whenever you start feeling like what you do doesn't matter.

Ben was good enough to send me the original 1978 Harvard Education Review article. The lead author was a former student of hers and also wrote this response to a newspaper letter after she passed away.

(Miss A's real name was Iole Appugliese—Miss Apple Daisy to her students. There's a little more biographical information in A Tribute to the Great Montrealers.)

PS - If any of your libraries happen to have a copy of a Canadian Reader's Digest from September 1976 there's an article called Miss Apple Daisy about her that I haven't read. I'd ask you to send it to me but that would likely require you to pilfer some microfiche.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice

Update 5/7/13: I'm in. If you're going I'll see you there.

San Jose State is hosting the Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice. It's $150 and there's a brief application process that includes a few extended response questions. I've applied but I won't know for a few months if I'm in. Here's the body of the email I received (Thanks Kari):

Keynotes Confirmed:Dr. Tara Yosso, Chicana/o Studies, UCSBAllyson Tintiangco-Cubales, Asian American Studies and Educational Leadership, SFSU 
In California, students of color comprise over 70% of the public school population, but teachers of color make up less than 30% of the teaching force. With barriers such as limited resources, testing pressures and culturally-disconnected mandated curriculum, teachers of color with a commitment to racial justice face many challenges in realizing their vision, and can feel isolated in their work. 
June 19-21, 2013, San José State University is hosting the third annual Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice, a three-day conference to support the development, success and retention of teachers of color struggling to achieve racial justice in schools. It is intended as a community building, professional development space for teachers of color to explore the racial climate of their schools, receive training to navigate these realities, and strategize how to create racially transformative classrooms and schools. We are also accepting applications from school administrators of color and teacher educators of color who are interested in building alongside teachers.  
The cost for attending the Institute is $150, which includes breakfast, lunch and materials for all three days (a limited number of scholarships are available for those who are not receiving district funding). Applications should be submitted by April 1, 2013 and we will notify applicants by early May. If you are interested in attending this Institute, please complete the application through the following link:  
We are looking for teachers, school administrators and teacher educators of color who:
• Are committed to racial justice.
• Work at schools serving a significant population of students of color.
• Want to build a like-minded community.
• Have specific needs that can be met by the Institute.  
We are also hoping to achieve racial and gender balance among participants to represent the diversity of teachers, school administrators, and teacher educators of color. Please submit any inquiries to Dr. Rita Kohli at
I altered the email address at the end for the scrapers. Take out any dashes and the REMOVE ME.

If this is too far for you, I've also heard good things about:

Free Minds, Free People on July 11-14 in Chicago
New York Collective of Radical Educators on March 16 in NYC

Some brief googling also led me to:

Northwest Conference on Teaching of Social Justice October in Seattle
Conference on Equity and Social Justice on March 2 in New Paltz, New York
Conference for Social Justice in Education on April 20 in the Channel Islands, CA.

I haven't heard anything about those though.

If there are any other conferences you'd recommend on social justice leave it in the comments.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Reasoning in Context

First off, the best writer on inquiry might be an electronics teacher at a technical school in the far reaches of Canada. If you haven't checked her blog yet (despite my multiple recommendations), do so now and thank me later.

I wanted to get down some things I've been thinking about with argument and specifically with Reasoning in the Claim Evidence Reasoning format that I use. It's pretty fuzzy still.

In an earlier post I cited Berland and Reiser's three reasons for making a scientific explanation:

  1. Sensemaking
  2. Articulating
  3. Persuading
This year I've been reflecting on the changes I need to make to how my class approaches a written or verbal explanation depending on which of these three purposes is our focus.

Reasoning is hard. There's no getting around that. I think I've been making it harder on my students though because I've been using "reasoning" as an umbrella term for "the part that requires a lot of thinking." Brian, as always, was ahead of me here when he commented on the distinction between argument and explanation.

What I've been learning is that I need to be more explicit (ongoing theme alert!) and identify for my students what reasoning means in context. 


When we're engaged in a launch activity and students are using evidence to construct a claim, they're primarily focused on sensemaking. In this case, when I ask them for their reasoning, I'm really asking them to explicitly connect their evidence and claim in a consistent manner. I would expect my students to explain the patterns in their data and what those patterns might mean.

In a written prompt or lab practicum, I'm asking students to articulate their content knowledge. This is a test of what you've learned so far. In this case, when I say reasoning what I really expect is for my students to link scientific principals from class to whatever is on the page in front of them.

In whole class discussion and whiteboarding roundtables, we're engaged in persuading. Depending on the context, I would expect some combination of the above. But I would also expect you to directly address the opposing viewpoint and explain why your claim is better in some way.

It's also important for middle schoolers, and probably all ages, to understand that these different types of reasoning wouldn't just differ in content, but also in language. Google around and you can find lists of words that would appear in persuasive writing and expository writing. I use a lot of sentence frames and starters, but it's also a good self-check for students to go back and look for certain key words. I've got a couple of examples I'll put up in future posts.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Groups, Individuals, and Individuals with Groups

Here's something I copied off a classroom wall at Mission HS.

Imagine it a lot prettier with stick figure examples.

I don't differentiate between these three very well (at all) with my students. The always insightful Grace also pointed out to me that it helps the teacher differentiate the three types of activities. Often a teacher calls something "group work" but what it really is just students working in parallel. It's one of those "no duh" moments I always have when I walk into someone else's classroom.


Addendum: Something I forgot to mention in my last post. Mission HS is experimenting with Geometry for every 9th grader regardless of whether or not they even took Algebra in 8th grade. During the class they emphasize the algebra components within geometry, mainly working with the coordinate plane, graphs, and solving equations. As sophomores, students then go back to either taking Algebra or Advanced Algebra.

They had a whole bunch of interesting reasons. They felt students could use a fresh start and didn't need their math history to haunt them into high school. Geometry itself is so different that perhaps students who hadn't had success in math would find something in geometry. Their freshman courses were heavily skewed along racial lines. The standard math sequence is screwy anyway since you'd be better off doing Advanced Algebra (Alg II) immediately after Algebra instead of having a year off with Geometry.

I'm curious to follow up next year. Last year I wrote about how inspiring the group of math teachers are and nothing I saw changes my opinion. I really don't know if Geometry for all ninth graders is a good idea. Someone in California politics thought Algebra for every 8th grader was a good idea. But they're willing to stick their necks out and experiment and do what they believe is the right thing.

PS - Mission is the school featured in the article Everything You've Heard About Failing Schools is Wrong.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Creating Balance: Reflections

This is the second year I've gone to the Creating Balance conference. I've been kicking around a couple of longer reflections but wanted to do something quick while it was still fresh.

First off, this happened:

That's Brian Lawler, me, Avery Pickford, Bree Murray, and Grace Chen at Tacolicious. Earlier in the day, I had Korean tacos and Grace and Elizabeth had french fries smothered in Korean short ribs.  Great people. Great food. Anything else is just a bonus right? It's a strange time to live in where you can go to any conference in any place and know people.

Complex Instruction:

Last time I went through a Complex Instruction strand. One of the things I mentioned is I still saw certain students take over and lead the group. This time one of the teachers at Mission pointed out that what we're seeing is just a snapshot. Sure it might look like one person is dominating the group. But last week it was a different person. He said you need to be intentional about designing different tasks for different strengths. The lesson I saw was about calculating the surface area for three-dimensional shapes and very clearly certain kids took the lead. He said last week they used GeoGebra to explore (something) and I might have seen a different set of kids leading.

If there's something that I need to keep coming back to with CI, it's that we need to actively work to redefine what it means to be smart in mathematics (and science and everything else).

Parent Outreach:
I've previously written about previewing content ahead of time instead of waiting to remediate in order to address status issues in class. I sat in a workshop with two people from the UCLA Mathematics Project who did the same thing but with academic-focused parent nights. The teacher, Brett Davis, would lead a workshop (Wed/Thur night, same content each night) previewing the math his students would be learning for the next 6 weeks or so. He would start with an engaging launch activity and do some of the math with the parents and add a bit of vocabulary. From a practical standpoint, this was mostly stuff he'd be doing anyway so there wasn't much additional planning involved, unlike with the more common Family Math Nights where the focus isn't as academic.

Brett made it clear he wasn't expecting parents to become experts in the math but his goal was to change their relationship with math and to open up lines of communication from parent to student and parent to teacher.

Rochelle Gutierrez

Dr. Gutierrez was the keynote. I want to blow this out into a full post at some point but I'm hoping Bryan Meyer will take care of that first (edit: He did.). If you have access, the latest JRME is all on equity. Until then, three terms Dr. Gutierrez brought up. She called teachers "identity workers." She also introduced me to the term "nepantla" which is Nahuatl and represents something like "the space between" ("the and and or and both and neither"). Finally, she distinguished knowing of your students/communities from knowing with your students/communities. She used the term conocimiento which in Spanish translates to "knowledge" but, if I'm understanding this correctly, has a communal connotation. I'll need a waterfall, a tree, and lifetime supply of incense to work out the implications for all of this.

She also mentioned she teaches her future teachers about "creative insubordination" and how to Play the Game, Change the Game. If you know me, you know I'm more insubordinate than creative so she's one I'm going to need to keep following.

I found her article Embracing Nepantla through a google search.

The Br(y)(i)ans

Brian Lawler and Bryan Meyer led a session. Bryan has blogged the main focus so I won't recap but it was mainly on the tensions involved in launching a problem. This is something I definitely struggle with. How do I respect the ideas and motivations of my students without leaving any science on the table?

I enjoyed the dynamic between the two of them and want a professor to adopt me.

Lawler casually mentioned his pre-service teachers write a PBL lesson that they have veteran teachers implement in their own classrooms and then get feedback. I want more information about this.

Elizabeth wrote about a session I shared with her and Brian Lawler.

Random Presentation Feedback

If there's one piece of advice I kept leaving on feedback forms it was "Know your audience." I'm at a conference on social justice and mathematics. I think there's a certain amount of savvy you can expect from this group and we don't need to spend the first 45 minutes discussing why creating mathematical identities are important. And in such a focused conference, you'd want to up the level on a Day Two presentation.

Your final slide should show your contact information.

I was on Twitter the other day blasting the Jigsaw strategy. David Coffey rightly pointed out that it had good uses. I agree but I think if the ultimate goal of the jigsaw is "summary," you're probably doing it wrong. There's a big difference between splitting up 4 articles and having you summarize them and splitting up 4 articles and having you analyze a scenario based on how you think your author would respond.

I don't think I'm a fan of audience participation in the beginning of a workshop ("discuss at your table and share....."). It feels a bit false and flat. I know the presenter is not doing anything with our input because the slide deck is already created and I've got the handouts.

As a teacher, I can gather input from my students in the beginning and use it to help influence the next few weeks. In a one-shot 90 minute session, the presenter is coming in and driving the bus. The presenter should respond or clarify and listen to anything the audience has to add, but they are not changing course entirely.

Also, and I know I'm guilty of this with my students, I think I'm sometimes being tricked into offering a "wrong" answer so the presenter can use that as a launching point.  I'd much rather respond to something the presenter said towards the middle or end of a workshop.