Monday, November 30, 2015

Johnson & Richer - Rhode Island Teachers Respond to PARCC

In their 2015 piece, Johnson and Richer sought to discover how teachers and students from different Rhode Island communities responded to the last year's PARCC test. The researchers administered a survey in order to "discover how teachers perceived the test and its effects on student learning and well-being, their own teaching, and school climate."

Last year was my first year as a teacher in an under-resourced public high school in Rhode Island, and it was also the first year that my school administered the PARCC test. Although I was not a part of Johnson and Richer's survey, I shared many of the same experiences as those who were.

I find myself at a crossroads in regards to standardized testing.

On one hand, I think standardized testing is a necessary reality in our society. I remember being in a boarding school and working into the early hours of the morning to try and earn a B+ on a paper, when some of my friends at the local public school were doing less rigorous work and earning 4.0 GPAs with ease. This never sat well with me, because it seemed unfair that colleges could look at two different transcripts, and, at least on paper, some of my friends at the local public school looked like much better candidates than I did. For this reason, I was glad that we had standardized testing like the SAT - it "created an equal playing field" if you will.

On the other hand, I am also sympathetic to the MANY problems that standardized testing creates. Because I was the teacher in the classroom, I saw first-hand the achievements and struggles that my students experienced throughout the year. I saw many of my students come to the US for the first time with little to no English ability, and celebrate their progressions in learning a new language. One of my students had not been in formal education since she was 8 years old, yet she was able to grasp concepts from basic multiplication to solving simple equations. Unfortunately, the PARCC test did not capture these stories. My students were given scores on a number scale - and, in almost all cases, they were labeled as failures. Many of my students struggled with the long math passages, the computer usage, and the pressure of it. As a teacher, I felt horrible that my students were not up to the standards that the PARCC wanted them to be at. This is not to say that there was not real teaching and learning going on during the year, but again, the PARCC test did not reflect this.

Ideally, teachers - the people who are in the classroom - should be the ultimate evaluaters of their students. There are many educators, including Johnson and Richer, that support this idea. In an ideal world, I would as well. We as educators can evaluate our students' abilities better than any standardized test ever could. My only concern with this notion is that there is no way to account for differences in opinions, standards of success, and biases (not that our current system isn't bias already!). For instance, I currently have a senior in my freshman Algebra I, and he recently asked me to write his college recommendation letter. For lack of better words, this student has not been the "ideal" student - he often does not do her homework, he often comes to class with an attitude, and he has struggled on assessments. Still, I find myself almost obligated (perhaps because this is my first college rec!) to "fudge" a bit when I describe this student in my letter. If I am having these thoughts, who is to say that other teachers don't as well?


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Pecha Kucha Thoughts

This class has been a whirlwind of thoughts, ideas, and emotions for me. I know it's going to be extremely difficult for me to try and sum it all up into just one 20 slide x 20 sec presentation. I really liked the example that Professor Bogad shared with us. The speaker did a great job by seamlessly going from slide to slide. Each slide was important, connected, and relevant, but they did not take from the overall message - they enhanced the speakers words without being too distracting.

Some ideas that I want to focus on:

What is our role as educators? Is the idea of teaching a curriculum, the culture of power, and affirming our students' backgrounds too daunting or do they go hand in hand?

Is equality the goal?

How do my students perceive me? Am I the math teacher or am I the person who helped challenged them to be critical of the society around them?

Monday, November 2, 2015

"Tongue Tied" Chapters - Review

In the chapter, "Aria", Richard Rodriguez offers a personal narrative of his acquisition of the English language. Rodriguez explains how learning English effected his public confidence, his family, and his own private and public identity. Almost in contrast to Rodriguez's piece, Virginia Collier's "Teaching Multilingual Children", offers seven critical measures that ESL teachers must take in order to best teach students who are learning English.

Some of Rodriguez's account resonated with my own upbringing. The author eloquently describes how his family interactions changed when he and his siblings became more proficient in their English ability. I have seen this with my own family; my father, whose English is limited, is a much different person at events when speaking in Portuguese is the norm, than when we are in an English-speaking environment.

What I found most interesting about Rodriguez's account was his final remarks on bilingual educators. I am really looking forward to better understanding this passage in class, but it appears as though Rodriguez is critical of bilingual educators who propose that children lose a degree of individuality by becoming assimilated into public society. Rodriguez suggests that while these children may lose a bit of private individuality by becoming better assimilated into public society, learning English allows them to achieve public individuality. Perhaps the most depressing reality of Rodriguez's account is that his family interactions were changed as a result of his improvement in English; dinner conversations were muted and his parents became less involved in their children's day to day experiences.

As I read this, I could not help to think about my own students who are English language learners. I have some students who have really committed to learning the language; they fearlessly insist on speaking English in class and with their friends. More often than not, these students learn English quickly, and they are essentially fluent by the end of a year. Still, I have some students who have not been successful in learning English even though they have been in the country for two to three years; I attribute this to the fact that they primarily speak Spanish in with their friends in school and with their families at home. I do not teach in a bilingual school, and I always wonder why all of my students do not commit to learning English as strongly as some others. I always argue that it is too easy for many of my students to not have to speak English; learning a new language at age fourteen is hard, intimidating, and not necessarily that important in the near future when all of your friends and family choose to speak Spanish. After reading these two pieces, I wonder if this push back is too simplistic though. Do my students consider their private and public identities? How has learning English effected their relationships with their friends and families?

While I was reading these pieces, I thought about the Delpit reading we discussed earlier this year. Delpit argues that it is our duty to teach our students about the dominant culture that we live in, and more importantly, about how to navigate in that dominant culture. Although Delpit was primarily speaking in regards to race and social class, I find her remarks to be interesting when thinking about students that are learning a dominant language. Is it our duty to say "we must bring both languages/cultures to the classroom" or are we as educators expected to only teach the dominant culture? I have been reprimanded by my principal because I am not allowed to speak Spanish or Portuguese with my ESL students. She has informed me that because we are not  bilingual school, I cannot assist my students in their native language, even if it will help them to better understand the material. I always thought this was harsh, but after considering Delpit, maybe my principal has an ethical point?