Monday, April 26, 2010

good job or no?

As soon as I finish reading Diane Ravitch's new book (just a few pages away), I've got Alfie Kohn's Punished By Rewards waiting for me on my nightstand.

I was perusing today through "Five Reasons to Stop Saying "Good Job!" At first, I was skeptical. First, Kohn brings up his thoughts on unconditionality, which I first read in his article "Unconditional Teaching." It's a gem:
Imagine that your students are invited to respond to a questionnaire several years after leaving the school. They’re asked to indicate whether they agree or disagree – and how strongly – with statements such as: “Even when I wasn’t proud of how I acted, even when I didn’t do the homework, even when I got low test scores or didn’t seem interested in what was being taught, I knew that [insert your name here] still cared about me.”

This is something that hit home with me when I first read this article a while ago, and I try to keep this in mind as I teach. I think it's especially important with students with special learning and behavioral needs.

Instead of saying "Good Job," Kohn recommends:
* Say what you saw. A simple, evaluation-free statement ("You put your shoes on by yourself" or even just "You did it") tells your child that you noticed. It also lets her take pride in what she did. In other cases, a more elaborate description may make sense. If your child draws a picture, you might provide feedback – not judgment – about what you noticed: "This mountain is huge!" "Boy, you sure used a lot of purple today!"

If a child does something caring or generous, you might gently draw his attention to the effect of his action on the other person: "Look at Abigail’s face! She seems pretty happy now that you gave her some of your snack." This is completely different from praise, where the emphasis is on how you feel about her sharing.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

beautiful to love the world with eyes that have not yet been born

Before the Scales, Tomorrow

And when the enthusiastic
story of our time
is told,
who are yet to be born
but announce themselves
with more generous face,
we will come out ahead
--those who have suffered most from it.

And that
being ahead of your time
means much suffering from it.
But it's beautiful to love the world
with eyes
that have not yet
been born.

And splendid
to know yourself victorious
when all around you
it's all still so cold,
so dark.

Otto Rene Castillo

Friday, April 9, 2010

I heart Deborah Meier

Ugh. I so do!

There are two pieces of her's I just read that really are meaningful.

Free Market Schooling

"This is a perilous moment. The individualist, greed-driven free-market ideology that both our major parties have pursued is at odds with what most Americans really care about....Working families and poor communities need and deserve help because the free market has failed to generate shared prosperity — its famous unseen hand has become a closed fist." Bill Moyers and Michael Winship, and I, agree. But the public seems just as suspicious—if not more so—about public institutions as the private ones. Thus the relative lack of alarm over the extraordinary shift in "ownership" of our public schools. We are witnessing more federal intervention at virtually all levels of schooling, more power in the hands of private wealth, and more "market-driven" decisions — at the same time! And there is almost no well-funded opposition, except for teacher unions who are then villainized as being anti-reform, self-interested, too protective of their bad apples.
The second, Until We Take Democracy Seriously, is similar.
Here's an essential question: When trying to get at the truth of things, what role do data play? Most of the time our "habits" take over before we can exercise any form of reflective judgment (which is why John Dewey focused on "habits of mind" as the goal of good schools). Habits are slow growing so slowing things down could help. It takes a "leisure class" to rule well. Leisure has a democratic purpose because "data" rarely speak for themselves. That's true whether the data are numbers or observations. Sometimes, highly structured and standardized "observations"—standardized tests—work. Sometimes, highly structured debates or formal proofs work—with the rules of the game and the judges chosen by those viewed as most expert or representative. Often, we decide on the sheer logic of the argument, calling upon the data life itself has brought us.
I'm also reading a couple books. Diane Ravitch's new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. I've never totally agreed with Ravitch's views, but find her to be a fascinating individual and as I read this book about her changing views on how education to look, I continue to respect her. And it looks like we agree on more "stuff."

I'm also reading Alfie Kohn's Punished By Rewards.

Our basic strategy for raising children, teaching students, and managing workers can be summarized in six words: Do this and you'll get that. We dangle goodies (from candy bars to sales commissions) in front of people in much the same way that we train the family pet.

In this groundbreaking book, Alfie Kohn shows that while manipulating people with incentives seems to work in the short run, it is a strategy that ultimately fails and even does lasting harm. Our workplaces and classrooms will continue to decline, he argues, until we begin to question our reliance on a theory of motivation derived from laboratory animals.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

"Doing" Critical Pedagogy in the K-12 Space

Came across an interesting post on The Freire Project, "Everyday Critical Pedagogies Do Exist" that was a response to a comment about whether or not critical pedagogy should be promoted within the K-12 space, or best used/pushed at higher education institutions and community groups, etc. Which makes more sense?

This is something that I've pondered as an elementary school teacher and critical pedagogue. It is easier to envision or make concrete my own critical pedagogy outside of the K-12 space-- in applied theatre, in my writing, in my political thinking and action. Certainly, these beliefs and philosophies inform my practice as a second grade special education teacher, and prior as a K-8 theatre and movement teaching artist. However, I grapple with the question: Do I have an everyday critical pedagogy?

I'm not sure. I try to. I'm figuring out exactly what that means. I first thought that my beliefs about critical pedagogy would influence mostly the content I teach and how I teach it (and it certainly does); I am learning more and more that perhaps it influences my views of my special needs students and the way I interact with them more than the aforementioned.

Building a community in which my special needs learners have agency and are viewed as whole human beings rather than disabled or deficient children veers me away from using certain behavior modification and token economy techniques that are so often pushed in classrooms. As a critical pedagogue I am always trying to reevaluate my own assumptions and make and remake myself as an educator and a student. I try to observe, listen, and understand my students more and more. I attempt to create a circle of learning, instead of what a traditional classroom usually becomes. At times, I fail. I know that I talk more than my students. I know that I do not yet give them enough opportunities to be heard and to use their language, to inquire and reflect on the world. I don't think I'm patient enough for that to happen as much as it should. I'm working on it.

The thought just popped into my mind about one of my favorite quotes: If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together." I think I do feel that way within my classroom. We are bound, and teaching and learning has become much more than helping. I can't explain much more than that right now, but I am continuing to learn what it means to be a critical pedagogue with my second grade wonders.

Hello Poetry!

April is Poetry Month. I love poems.
  • Teachers and Writers Collaborative always has awesome articles on teaching poetry. I'm hoping to put something together with poetry and comics for my second graders.
  • Wishes, Lies, and Dreams is an awesome, fabulous, and beautiful book about writing poetry with children. It has simple but awesome ideas!
  • has curricula and lesson plans that are cool.

deb meier on testing

Like this analogy she makes on Bridging Differences:

If only everyone stopped using the word "achievement" as a synonym for scores on tests. It's a sleight of hand that justifies so much that's gone wrong. We've meanwhile discounted the work of real live children as "soft" data.

Having "normal" temperature may be an indicator of health, but when we think it's the definition of health, beware. We wouldn't be so stupid, would we? A high score on a multiple-choice driving test means something different than a road test driving a car. So we prefer the latter if we value safety. Do we value intellectual achievement less?