Most of us have experienced the cutting of school funds along with the demand for greater student success. How can we best meet these challenges? Firstly, it is crucial to know how much money is actually being spent. For the purposes of this blog, we will focus just on the classroom.
Do you know how much that AP math course costs? What about music lessons or remedial English? Must some classes remain small while others can be increased in size? How can one evaluate the value of their school dollars?
With the drop in academic achievements and the increase in standardized testing, students sliding through their education hopefully have become a thing of the past. Part of the teacher’s (as well as parents) job is now to prepare their children not only in subject matter but also to emotionally withstand the pressures that can come with mandatory state testing.
There have recently been some interesting findings regarding test taking. The journal Science just published a study showing that tests are not just for assessment but also actually help people learn and retain information. In fact, 50% more information was recalled a week after a test was given on a read passage than with students who engaged in “concept mapping”(arranging information in a diagram).
When I went to school, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas/Hanukah and Valentine’s Day were the predominant school holidays. Most teachers had their standard box-of-goodies to celebrate each of these special calendar days. Not much thought was put into “inclusion”, “diversity” or “offending someone”. Today, we need to be more conscience of how we approach holidays. Our student population, varying cultures, and sensitivities have changed dramatically. One size no longer fits all.
Last week’s blog discussed several aspects which make up diversity in the classroom. In addition, we noted various learning styles and how best to address the needs of all students. This week, we will explore how to create a more respectful and accepting environment which celebrates each person’s uniqueness in this world. The goal is to inspire children to be comfortable around diverse types of people which may otherwise seem foreign and even inferior and to also appreciate that they are part of a greater whole.
Teachers are often the first to feel the impact of rising immigration rates within their classrooms. Hispanic and Asian students in American schools have increased by more than 5 million since the 1990’s! As practically every state is now touched by changing populations, it is particularly important for educators to be sensitive to various cultures as well as help students develop an appreciation for all human kind.
It should be noted that there has always been diversity in the classroom. Diversity does not only refer to culture. It can also include different learning styles, various types of disabilities and even sexual orientation. For example, students may have different reading levels, athletic abilities, cultural backgrounds, religious beliefs, etc. However, in this technological age where we are experiencing an increase in public bullying, it has become an even greater objective to have students embrace differences.
Most teachers and parents instinctively know that children need various modes of expression to fully develop into thriving, well-rounded adults with good self-esteem and a positive outlook on life. So, why have the arts taken a back burner to reading and math in our schools? Where is the creativity in the classroom?
Off hand, testing pressures from core curriculum standards has wrongfully caused educators to think that the arts will diminish the success of our students. Budgetary constraints have also put many of our art, music, drama and dance programs into the “secondary needs” category or even further down the line.
Most of us do not have control over which classroom we are assigned. However, we can all find ways to make the best use of the space we have. As discussed in my last few blogs, teacher centered learning is becoming less fashionable while student cooperative learning is thriving. Additionally, teachers need to take into account various student learning styles and comfort levels to maximize classroom success. Here are some helpful hints towards these goals.
Flexible seating arrangements using flexible furniture come in handy. Sitting students in a U for class discussions has been found to be more effective than in rows. This also leads to better all around eye contact and a feeling of equality between students.
With this technologically savvy generation wanting to capture everything on their iPhone (“Honey, I have a great clip of the baby coming out to post on youtube for all to see.”) to the desire for 15 minutes of fame (or more), one the latest teaching innovations to hit a local school near you is the flipped classroom.
A short description of a flipped classroom is as follows: Students watch an educational video for homework and then use their newly acquired knowledge to complete related activities and projects in the classroom. Teachers can either create and post their own videos or use a wealth of other teacher’s videos for their lessons.
Last week we explored some of the positive aspects of technology in the classroom. When used correctly, technology encourages students to be active learners, inspire greater creativity and thinking-out-of-the-box, and can even motivate underachieving or less social students to shine. Let’s take a further look at some pros and cons of this latest addition to our schools.
With the new tools at hand, many programs can be personalized to enhance specific needs of students. Interactive games may be more engaging than book learning and therefore, students may feel more enthused to practice and review areas until they master the subject matter, such as in math, spelling and geography. In addition, adaptive software can be geared towards special needs children with specific goals in mind. Student assessment can be done online freeing the teacher to spend more time with each student.
Most people believe that technology use in the classroom is a must to assure that our students have the skills and creative fortitude to function in this fast paced, Facebooked, iPhoned world. Assuming that schools have the budget for proper infrastructure, Internet providers, routers and modems that can handle the traffic generated by classroom use, hardware and software which are up-to date, and maintenance and repair staff on-call, what is the teacher’s role and, for that matter, what is the student’s role with this new reality?
Following two blogs I posted which generally showed that studies have found that gearing education towards gender differences leads to more successful learning, (Facing Gender Differences in Education and Are Single Gender Classrooms Better?), CNN recently had an article discussing the growing trend towards neutralizing gender terminology and gender behaviors as a way to control bullying and encourage greater freedom of self expression.
6 Ways to Embrace Gender Differences at School notes that a Montessori school in Houston has trained its staff to support students who deviate from gender norms, such as boys wearing girls clothing or girls who prefer being called “boy”. They claim that embracing diversity will lead to a more inclusive society and greater understanding and respect between all people.
After my child had struggled through several mainstream schools, I decided to look into an alternative place known for its open-ended policies as well as its educational successes. As I interviewed with the principal, who was an older, somewhat hunch-backed gentleman, the door kept opening with young adults saying, “Excuse me. I just wanted to wish you well.” The principal apologized to me for the interruption but insisted that this was a very special past student that he just had to greet. The two would warmly hug each other, exchange blessings for a happy future and then the principal would say that he was in a meeting a needed to go. This same scenario occurred no less than three times during our meeting.
Growing up, I was one of those kids who belonged to a variety of groups. I was a cheerleader, vice-president of my class, thespian, honors student, Sunday school scientist and party-girl. Through these varied experiences, I was able to develop a wide range of skills and also get a clearer picture of my likes, dislikes, and talents. The trick was that I generally did one extra-curricular activity at a time so I never felt over-extended.
Today, opinions about extracurricular activities run the gambit from “children are burned out from having an over scheduled calendar” to “if my kid doesn’t get away from candy crush I might just crush him!” Which leads to the question: Are extracurricular activities really extra?
I recently had a telling experience while sitting at a friend’s dinner table. The mother asked her son how his class was today. He answered, “It got deleted”. Let’s be honest. Unless you are living under a rock, most of us are not only reliant on our computers for daily functioning but are also involved with social media in one form or another. In this digital era, our youngsters may no longer know the difference between something getting cancelled and something getting deleted.
Though I have no doubt that by the time our elementary school students graduate high school there will be many more “new and improved” digital social outlets, social media today is more than just a way to connect to friends. It has evolved into a serious tool used for education and business as well. As many of our young people are practically born with a Smartphone in hand, is bringing social media into the classroom a necessity or a distraction?
Guest Post by Ember Reichgott Junge
What a fun interview with Bob Bowdon of Choice Media TV, in New York City! We talked chartering and education issues from the 1990s to now, and he even included a 1997 C-Span clip of my presentation to President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. I was in New York to participate in the Writer’s Digest conference, where my book, Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story was recognized as the 2013 Grand Prize Winner of the Self-Published Book Awards. Whether you are a long-time veteran in chartering and education or just curious to learn more, I think you’ll find this a fun conversation!