Theses – Educating with Themes, Tropes, and the Human Condition (2013)

 

 

– Theses –

Educating with Themes, Tropes, and the Human Condition (2013)

How to educate diversity of culture and learner?

 

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to encapsulate academic and field experience in a Masters of Education program. The major content focus of the paper includes unit planning, implementation, and reflection. Content also includes rationale for the unit model, classroom strategies, and a reflection of pedagogies acquired through the learning experience.

The unit was developed for 10th grade English Pre-Advanced Placement (Pre-AP) students at Mojave High School, in the Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nevada. The unit aligns with the Common Core State Standards Initiative for 10th grade English Language Arts education. The unit is designed for interchangeability of anchor texts and supplemental texts. Authentic activities and formative assessments intend to be interesting and engaging, and the summative assessment intends to be comprehensive. Students are encouraged to make personal connections with the material as diversity of culture and learning preferences are considered and inspired much of the unit development.

 

Brief Outline

1. Lesson One – Study Guide Questions for Assigned Reading

A. Curricular and instructional goals and objectives

  1. Students will be able to understand the content of the assigned anchor text reading.
  2. Students will be able to understand literary terms related to the assigned anchor text reading.

B. Activities/experiences for students

  1. Students have the option of working in small groups or alone to complete the assigned Study Guide questions in class.
  2. The Study Guide questions are turned in at the end of the class for assessment.
  3. While students work, the instructor circulates the room providing assistance as necessary.

C. Materials

  1. Anchor Text
  2. Study Guide questions
  3. Writing instrument

D. Assessment Tools

  1. Study Guide questions
  2. Rubric for Study Guide question

 

2. Lesson Two – “Poverty and Affluence” Activities, Exit Ticket

A. Curricular and instructional goals and objectives

  1. Students will understand relationships between Poverty and Affluence in a variety of cultures.
  2. Students will be able to understand the relation of the theme of “Poverty and Affluence” to the anchor text and their lives.
  3. Students will be able to understand basic political, corporate, and personal motivations in the context of “Poverty and Affluence”.

B. Activities/experiences for students

  1. Students will engage in a brief informal review discussion of the Study Guide question material to direct students toward the theme of the week: “Poverty and Affluence”.
  2. Students will develop opinions about statements of Poverty and Affluence through the Three Corners activity.
  3. Students will engage in informal discussion to connect the content of the Shantytowns and Mansions slideshow to the anchor text and their personal lives.
  4. Students will participate in the Race to the Bottom activity to understand how the loss of rights may influence the relative poverty and affluence of a developing country.
  5. Students will respond to an Exit Ticket that focuses on connecting the global themes of poverty and affluence to themselves.

C. Materials

  1. Three Corners activity prompts
  2. Shantytowns and Mansions slideshow
  3. Race to the Bottom activity “Rights Cards”
  4. Exit Ticket prompt
  5. Writing instrument, paper

D. Assessment tools

  1. Informal discussion
  2. Exit Ticket

 

3. Lesson Three – Anticipatory Write, Supplementary Text, Exit Ticket

A. Curricular and instructional goals and objectives

  1. Students will be able to understand thematic connections between the anchor text and the supplementary text.
  2. Students will be able to understand a deeper, more universal connection of literary themes to their personal experiences.

B. Activities/experiences for students

  1. Students will respond to an Anticipatory Write prompt that will cause students to consider different interpretations of wealth and poverty in connection to their personal lives.
  2. Students will listen and follow along with an audio recording of the supplementary text and participate in intermittent discussions to connect the text with the anchor text.
  3. Students will respond to an Exit Ticket that focuses on connecting the global themes of poverty and affluence to themselves and the supplementary text.

C. Materials

  1. Audio recording of supplementary text
  2. Textbooks containing supplementary text
  3. Exit Ticket prompt

D. Assessment Tools

  1. Informal discussion
  2. Exit Ticket

 

4. Lesson Four – Socratic Seminar

A. Curricular and instructional goals and objectives

  1. Students will be able understand how to verbally communicate about thematic connections between required readings and their personal lives.
  2. Students will be able to understand how to extract pertinent information from a discussion through the action of note taking.

B. Activities/experiences for students

  1. Students will participate in a Socratic Seminar to discuss the connections between the anchor text, supplementary text, the week’s theme of Poverty and Affluence, and the students’ own personal lives.
  2. Students will independently take notes on the discussion to support their ideas for a paragraph to be written during the following day’s class.

C. Materials

  1. Writing instruments, paper

D. Assessment Tools

  1. Formative assessment during Socratic Seminar
  2. Independent notes

 

5. Lesson Five – Paragraph Writing

A. Curricular and instructional goals and objectives

  1. Students will use notes, study guide responses, and writing assignments written throughout the week to develop a focused and informed paragraph.
  2. Students will refer to formal usage of the standard English language to compose a paragraph.

B. Activities/ experiences for students

  1. Students will use the materials generated throughout the unit activities to write a Poverty and Affluence Reflection Paragraph that will connect the theme to the anchor text, supplementary text, and to the students’ personal lives.

C. Materials

  1. Exit Tickets, notes, and other generated materials from the week’s activities
  2. Paragraph Writing Rubric
  3. Writing instruments, paper

D. Assessment Tools

  1. Paragraph Writing Rubric

 

Analysis of Unit

Description of Students

Mojave High School is located in North Las Vegas, Nevada, and is in the Clark County School District. The school’s mission statement is: “In collaboration with community and parents, Mojave High School will educate and prepare students for future success.” The school contains four grade levels, 9th – 12th. Mojave High School is one of three Turnaround High Schools in the Clark County School District. Mojave High School enrolled 2,055 students for the 2011-2012 school year (Nevada Report Card, 2013). The demographic profile of Mojave’s student population includes 53% male and 47% female comprised of 0.6% American Indian/Alaskan Native, 3.5% Asian, 45.1% Hispanic, 31.2% Black, 15.4% White, 0.7% Pacific Islander, and 3.6% Multi-Race. Of these students, 15% have an Individualized Education Plan, 8.3% are Limited English Proficiency, and 66.8% receive Free or Reduced Lunches (Nevada Report Card, 2013).

 

Information about Context

As an educator of English Language Arts in 10th grade English and Pre-AP, there is much lesson planning around anchor and supplementary texts in prose and poetry literature. Texts and materials are chosen based on school budget, availability, and the suggested Common Core Standards. English Language Learners and non-proficient readers are considered regarding difficult texts through the use of visually complimentary elements such as slideshows, videos, social involvement activities, and internet-based research activities.

Units are planned around universal themes such as poverty and affluence one week, power and corruption the next week, hope and forgiveness the week after that, etc. The importance of understanding universal themes stems from such themes’ translation cross-culturally into life experience. To quote William Shakespeare, “All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players.” However, the stage may not be classical theater, but rather a soap opera, or a family life drama, and universal themes and tropes may be found at either end of the spectrum, from literature to doggerel writing, from cinema to cartoons, from high art to low art, students’ socialization with the world involves identifying and interpreting the symbolism and themes around them, and this may be facilitated through well-planned units. Paulo Freire (1998) emphasized, among other things, peoples’ devotion to, “. . . ethical rectitude, respect for others, coherence, a capacity to live with and learn from what is different, and an ability to relate to others . . .” The unit considers the context of students’ interactions with others in relation to home, school, and other social realms, and the reciprocity of learning and socializing to positively influence standards of living.

Each class becomes comparable to an episode of a television program informing students on various aspects of each weekly theme tied into anchor texts, supplementary texts, and their personal experiences. Each episode is meaningfully engaging and informative on its own, however, missing a class may mean missing some turn of events or plot twist in the overarching story. With a 40% rate of transiency (Nevada Report Card, 2013), absenteeism may be expected at Mojave. Class sizes may seem large but there may be ten or more students absent on any given day. The result is that students’ need to have access to the materials and flexible deadlines for submissions. Therefore, any materials are distributed and information disseminated at the beginning of the week for students to complete and submit throughout the week, effectively flipping the classroom, and using an online social learning platform to maintain dialogue with and receive assignment submissions from absent students.

 

General School Information and Cultural Perspectives

While Mojave High School has a competitive athletics program, the Theater and Auto Mechanics Departments have been discontinued, and a Robotics program was developed for implementation. As Mojave has not made Adequate Yearly Progress in last four years, since the 2007-2008 school year (Nevada Report Card, 2013), recent administration turn-over has called for such changes in the school’s available programs.

Mojave implemented a zero tolerance discipline policy resulting in in-house suspension for student insubordination with the regularly intercom broadcasted phrase, “When an adult makes a reasonable request, you do it.” While the policy and the ability to cite “reasonable requests” was extraordinarily helpful from the position of an intern managing student misbehavior, the policy is counter to the American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force’s (2008) conclusion that, “Zero tolerance has not been shown to improve school climate or school safety. Its application in suspension and expulsion has not proven an effective means of improving student behavior. It has not resolved, and indeed may have exacerbated, minority overrepresentation in school punishments.”

As well, a heavy emphasis was placed on the training of students for proficiency testing including regular before and after school tutoring, proficiency subject-based “boot camps”, and course content focused on asking open-ended questions and using inquiry-based methods to inspire critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Considering the synergy of the students, the school, and the educator’s relationship to curriculum, including cultural diversity, the unit in relation to contemporary issues intends to inform curricula beyond traditional school campus locales and progressively further into the global electronic commerce community. The unit attempts to make connections with diverse demographics of students to their known surroundings and those surroundings beyond their immediate understanding.

 

Explanation of the meaning of curriculum and instruction

Ornstein and Hunkins (2013) describe curriculum in five different ways: (1) as a linear plan for achieving goals through purpose, design, implementation, and assessment, (2) as consideration of learner and learning experiences, (3) as a system for dealing with people, (4) as a field of study, and (5) as the subject matter of lessons, units, curricula, etc. In other words, philosophy/pedagogy/curricula are like a restaurant salad bar in that people take what they want, and leave the rest.

 

Model of curriculum development used and rationale for identifying the model

The unit is heavily influenced by the Constructivist model of curriculum development. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in English focusing on Creative Writing and Literary Theory and Criticism. I also hold a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology focusing on Emotional Intelligence and Awareness including 550 hours of research assistance in an Emotional Intelligence lab. My Masters program has placed emphasis on Curriculum and Instruction in Secondary Education Assessment and Behavioral Management. Because of my training, I view students’ individual perceptions of the world as diverse and unique and therefore influential in informing my lessons, myself, and my approach to educating.

Students should want to be independent free thinkers and problem solvers. As Carl Rogers (1961) states, “If we value independence, if we are disturbed by the growing conformity of knowledge, of values, of attitudes, which our present system induces, then we may wish to set up conditions of learning which make for uniqueness, for self-direction, and for self-initiated learning.” If independence is a valuable trait to be instilled in students, trust in students’ skills and abilities must be nurtured.

One’s ability to understand their own language and mental capacity is invaluable in social contexts. For example, in the classroom, students may not carry the adequate vocabulary or cognitive maturity to interact effectively within the expectations of the school or other social contexts. Understanding emotional and behavioral impulsivity is imperative in the classroom if students are expected to align with social norms to be successful in college and careers. The unit carefully considers the potential of individual experience, or schema. While a slideshow on “Poverty and Affluence” may seem Objectivist in its being a glorified lecture, students come to compare and contrast the information with their own lives through viewing extremes on the spectrum of poverty and affluence. Such is the Constructivist aspect of a well-informed lecture, slideshow, or Powerpoint presentation. The information evokes the personal schemata of the students to help them connect beyond their understanding of their environment and situation in life. The unit intends to uniquely present cross-cultural ideas that students may experience on a daily basis, such as poverty and affluence. By building upon that understanding, students may attain a greater depth and breadth of understanding their own existence.

 

Curriculum and Philosophy

According to Ornstein and Hunkins (2013), this unit was designed in part with the philosophy of Idealism in that relative truths, enduring values, ideas, and universal concepts/themes/tropes intend to transmit meaningful information to be transformed into understanding. The educational philosophies that most apply and align with the unit may be humanistic progressivism and reconstructionism. As Ornstein and Hunkins state, “Good teaching, like good parenting, requires continuous effort, trusting relationships, and continuity of purpose – the purpose of caring, appreciating human connections, and ideas from a historical, multicultural, and diverse perspective,” and the unit intends to satisfy such objectives.

Progressivism influenced the unit in that the unit addresses a relevant curriculum focused on the human condition of globalized poverty and affluence. The demographics of Mojave High School reflect a lower than average socioeconomic status and students may regularly face the social issues of poverty and affluence and other themes relative to social awareness included in the unit. The unit provides opportunities for students to gain a global perspective on poverty and affluence in relation to their own placement on the spectrum of advantage. The unit considers potential reasons people may find themselves in states of poverty or affluence, as well as ways to avoid undesirable economic and social class status. The unit also instructs students to be sensitive to and tolerant of persons of diverse economic and social states, and to understand people’s dignity, worth, development, and potential. Students may thus engage in activities that create a learner-centered environment allowing students to “. . . say what they think and to think for themselves, not just please the teacher.” (Ornstein & Hunkins, 2013).

Reconstructionism also influenced the unit development in that the unit emphasizes conditions of global social classes. The unit is designed with open-ended questioning applicable to a wider scope of socioeconomic statuses to avoid assumptions that participating students may be of specific economic and social classes. The unit intends to focus simultaneously on learner-centered and society-centered learning by raising the social awareness of economic and classist castes to empower students to be agents of self and social reform. Aligning with Ornstein and Hunkins’ explanation of Reconstructionism, themed discussions are meant to include controversial topics/themes/tropes such as poverty and affluence, power and corruption, discrimination, unemployment, cultural heritage, and personal and social change.

The psychological theorist and theory that perhaps most contributed to the planning of this unit are Abraham Maslow (1971) and his phenomenological/humanistic hierarchy of needs in that those who may be impoverished may not be meeting their needs or achieving self-actualization, while conversely those of affluence may or may not feel self-actualized. The students decide for themselves where they stand in climbing the pyramid to self-actualization. If one is impoverished, some but not all needs may be met. To represent the various states of the hierarchy of needs entails that students be confronted and informed of such needs and discern which are most relevant and satisfied based on each individual student’s personal standards and perceptions of “self-actualization.” Aligned with Maslow’s phenomenological viewpoint, the unit centers attention on the experience of the individual student as the primary phenomenon in the learning process through student self-reflection. As Ornstein and Hunkins state, “Learners should strive for, and teachers should stress, student self-actualization and its attendant sense of fulfillment.” The confrontation of extreme poverty and affluence expects students to clarify their understanding of what it means to be “poor” or “rich.” Through the information, students may be expected to reevaluate their economic and social class status for clues as to whether their previous assumptions of poverty and/or affluence remain consistent.

Albert Bandura’s theory of the range of aggressive to subdued temperaments also informs this unit’s development. As Ornstein and Hunkins state, “. . . through modeling, students can learn to perform at sophisticated levels.” Such modeling is crucially dependent on the educator who sets examples for students to learn how to consider and be tolerant of social differences. Bandura’s (1977) social cognitive theory and students’ development of self-efficacy influenced the unit design in that students’ self-efficacies develop at different paces. When working in groups, some students may be comfortable, outgoing, and attention-seeking, while others may be timid, guarded, or simply disinterested in group work. Social cognition and self-efficacy affect students’ ability to collaboratively work together and independently.

The unit considers Julain Rotter’s (1966) attention to students’ external and internal loci of control regarding perceived ability, effort, difficulty, and luck on assignments. Students may be made aware of their perceptions of control, or lack of control to enhance understanding and facilitate learning. If students feel more attracted to some components of their loci of control than other components, the educator can plan, adjust, implement, reflect, and readjust aspects of assignments to avoid marginalizing students of varying learning and productivity maturity.

The unit is also designed with consideration of Lev Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development” (in van der Veer & Valsiner, 1994) regarding mid-range student performance and varying maturity levels of learning abilities. Being aware of the zone and the relationship in the classroom environment on learning assists the educator to better gauge students’ levels of understanding and ability with or without assistance. As students grow with their education, so their relationship with environmental factors change. Even if the actual environment shows little tangible variation, shifts in perception may be incited through education and cognitive growth and development.

As well, Zhang, Shi, and Hao (2009) advise of the appropriateness and inappropriateness of topics for teacher self-disclosure. The educator’s sharing of information may be an opportunity to satisfy student curiosity as well as sharing a teachable moment with students. Common questions asked of me after my in-class self-introductions on the first day of my internship were “Do you have a girlfriend?”, “Do you have kids?”, and “What’s your religion?” Later in the semester as students grew more comfortable with me, they asked questions such as, “Have you ever been in a fight?”, “Do you have a gay friend?”, and “Have you ever dated interracially?” The students were essentially “feeling me out” to make distinctions about me and my understanding of the world. I also found that sharing information about my college and career experiences helped develop students’ understandings and expectations of life beyond high school. If educators are to train students in acceptance and tolerance of others, there are aspects of teacher self-disclosure that may assist the educator in making such authentic associations with students.

 

Meeting the specific needs of students

By carefully choosing universal themes and tropes of the human condition, ideals that exist cross-culturally, student awareness is informed of their own state of being. James Park (2012) outlined questions related to universal themes and tropes such as the origin of humans, the meaning of guilt, the meaning of life, the meaning of anxiety, and the uncertainty of death. Presenting students with open-ended arguments of ultimate/unanswerable questions, paradoxes, thought experiments, and logical fallacies takes students to unfamiliar territory, and as the saying goes, “Learning starts when one leaves their comfort zone.” Students’ social situations are made apparent through comparisons and contrasts of themselves and the themes and tropes.

Understanding emotions, behavior, and impulsivity toward thought and action awakens students to their position in existence and the interrelatedness of each human to the others. Edward Norton Lorenz’s (1993) Butterfly Effect is considered in that learning starts with awareness and continues through implementation and the chain reaction of instructing others in their awareness and the effect on an uncertain future. For example, poverty and affluence, power and corruption, and hope and forgiveness are cross-cultural facets that effect people/students on many levels. As Lorenz hypothesized, “If the flap of a butterfly’s wings can be instrumental in generating a tornado, it can equally well be instrumental in preventing a tornado.” Metaphorically, if an educator’s lessons are the butterfly’s wings that generate the tornado of thought in the mind of the student, the educator may also be the inhibitor of productive student thoughts.

As Maslow (1943) stated, people must “. . . answer the following kind of questions: ‘What are the moments which give you the greatest kick, the greatest satisfaction? What are the great moments? What are the moments of reward which make your work and your life worthwhile?’” If the response is uncertain, the educator must explore methods as to how to bring the respondent to that place of self-actualization through satisfaction. If students otherwise do not understand what it means and takes to attain that joy of satisfaction, their needs may not be met. By finding students’ joy, their needs may be met, and they may be guided closer to self-actualization.

 

Approaches to classroom management and environment

Permissive, autocratic, and democratic management styles (Linda Albert, 1995, as cited in Manning & Bucher, 2007, pp. 198) may be accessed as components to each other, however, the democratic style is perhaps the more enticing style to implement for its attempted equality. The educator must be forewarned, “Never think that being consistent means treating all students alike.” (Gathercoal, 1997, as cited in Manning & Bucher, 2007, pp. 189). As well, “Researchers have known for a very long time that students respond more favorably to teachers who are democratic rather than to teachers who are authoritarian.” (Arends, 2012).

Alfie Kohn suggests the three universal human needs of autonomy, relatedness, and competence (as cited in Manning & Bucher, 2007, pp. 214), and these needs may be best satisfied through a democratic management style. As well, Martin Haberman (2005) outlines four developmental abilities as empathy, autonomy, symbolization, and commitment to democratic values.

An educator’s management philosophy should be fluid and ever changing. Philosophy and pedagogy are influenced by many, many sources. For example, people in education and community sometimes apply the phrase “common sense” when referring to a person’s logical and rational thinking, or lack thereof. Albert Einstein referred to “common sense” as a set of prejudices toward methodologies established by the individual based on their experiences of the world. An educator must be open to cultural diversity, must be able to see beyond what they understand, must see beyond what others may not understand, and must be willing to consider, accept, reject, and implement “uncommon sense” notions, facts, fallacies, superstitions, skepticisms, etc, if a “professional” identity is to be established and maintained.

In a democratic classroom, perhaps a secret weapon may be to raise student awareness of what Rudolf Dreikurs’ referred to as the four goals of misbehavior being needs for attention, power, revenge, and feelings of inadequacy/fear of failure (as cited in Manning and Bucher, 2007, pp. 198). By making the goals of misbehavior known, students may benefit by being able to identify which category their misbehavior may fall into, and then make a self-disciplined attempt to modify their behavior.

Modeling expected behaviors is an instructor’s responsibility. Students are expected to be prepared, and must be treated with respect and dignity. If students are to have expectations placed upon them, instructors and administrators should expect similar expectations from students and parents. Students are expected to attempt every exercise and activity and to participate on a regular basis. An instructor must supply engaging lessons that are relevant and interesting to students.

Classroom rules should not be verbose, but brief, for example, “Be seated,” “Be silent,” “Be prepared,” and “Be helpful,” or consequently “Be removed,” are all short commands. “Be silent when others are speaking” is perhaps too lengthy where simply “Be Silent” may suffice. Classroom rules to consider: 1) Love. 2) Listen. 3) Language (Use Your Words). 4) Learn, Know, Teach. 5) Be Prepared. These rules are meant to inspire tolerance, communication, and sharing within the classroom and community.

“Educators must help students feel they belong . . .” (Manning & Bucher, 2007), and one way to present a sense of belonging is through organization. The classroom setting must be organized, orderly, clean, inviting, and comfortable enough for students to feel welcomed for the duration of the class period as well as the school year. An instructor should “. . . build a caring, supportive, and challenging classroom climate that will ensure effective social and emotional teaching and learning.” (Trends and issues: School safety and violence prevention, n.d., as cited in Manning & Bucher, 2007, pp. 236).

The classroom is not just a place, but also has an atmospheric mood. To provide an adequate classroom, students may be given the opportunity to design and display work. Displayed materials may be rotated based on the classroom topics and discussions. The classroom should also communicate to students what is expected of them in the classroom work areas. The classroom climate should encourage cooperative, respectful, and dignified treatment of all students, instructors, administrators, visitors, etc.

In a democratic classroom, early warning signs should be monitored, and conflict resolution should be handled immediately, open-mindedly, considerately, and in a respectful manner, “Logical consequences are only a kinder way of doing things to children rather than working with them.” and, “. . . manipulating student behavior with either punishments or rewards is not only unnecessary but counterproductive” (Kohn, 1993, as cited in Manning & Bucher, 2007, pp. 215).

The distribution of consequence for misbehavior is critical, “. . . reliance upon old-fashioned discipline, with threats of punishments for offenders, not only distracts from dealing with the real causes of aggression, but in effect models bullying and power for students.” (Kohn, 2004, as cited in Manning & Bucher, 2007, pp. 228).

If a student comes into conflict with the instructor or another student, all parties involved must cooperatively facilitate conflict resolution. Accusations, excuses, and negativity should be avoided. Students should be allowed to openly discuss their motivations and frustrations. Sufficiently defusing a conflict may be as simple as helping a student identify and verbalize frustration. An instructor should demonstrate active listening. If a student criticizes an instructor’s person or actions, such comments may be taken constructively to make adjustments to prevent future conflicts. If a student comes into conflict with another student, the instructor should be as fair and balanced as possible while listening to each side of the conflict. Students may appreciate this approach, and may be more open to behavioral adjustments that may help prevent future conflicts. Imperatively, an instructor “. . . must work to leave students’ self-esteem intact, regardless of their misbehaviors.” (Manning & Bucher, 2007).

Motivational strategies may include instructor enthusiasm for the information, and dynamic exercises and activities to captivate the audience, and make learning and participating worth coming to class for. Linda Albert suggests using the “Three C’s”: Connecting, Contributing, and Capability (Albert, 1995, as cited in Manning & Bucher, 2007, pp. 198). By making a connection with students, they may be more inclined to make regular contributions, and thus increasing their capabilities. To assist in making connections and helping students feel included, an instructor may ask students to complete personal inventory cards to identify their interests and disinterests to be incorporated into instruction (Manning & Bucher, 2007). Surveys and polls may be used to assess student interests to create relative and important classroom content, and opportunities may be provided to offer students choices of activities.

In an English Language Arts classroom, perhaps students may be motivated by listening to audio recordings of featured authors or works. The sound of spoken literature may set a balanced intellectual mood and tone for the classroom. The audio clips may work as prompts or precursors to previously or concurrently covered material.

Procedures and routines are essential components of classroom management. When students understand everyday classroom procedures and routines, they may feel comfortable in their meeting of expectations. With clear expectations and respectful direction, there may be less room for misbehavior. Procedures, routines, rules, objectives, and expectations should be posted somewhere in the classroom for easy access and review, “Students know that the best way to circumvent the rules is not to know them.” (Haberman, 2005). The democratic classroom may consider allowing students to provide comments and criticisms of procedures and routines to best refine what works for the class. By allowing students to contribute rules and expectations, students may feel more included (Manning & Bucher, 2007).

As with the instructor’s abilities, the lessons must be dynamic, creative, and well-organized. If instructions and activities are too simple or too complex, students may be disengaged and disinterested. Gauging the appropriate dynamics for the students, groups, and classes depends on the willingness of each participant, and the instructor’s abilities. As Haberman (2005) states, “. . . simply being rewarded for following teachers’ directions will not lead to learning an increasingly abstract curriculum requiring the use of more precise language.” The educational experience should be the reward, and that experience starts with organized and prepared educators and lessons.

 

Teaching strategies and rationale for the strategies

No single strategy may be expected to accommodate a diverse classroom of students, however, many strategies used in combination may prove to be invaluable if implemented correctly. Listed here are some of Doug Lemov’s (2010) strategies that were found to be particularly useful in the field.

“The Hook” technique is used everywhere, not just in classroom and presentations. The hook may the blurb on the back of a book jacket, or the caption on a film poster, or a catch phrase from a television show. By identifying the various ways and places in which hooks may be used, the instructor may bite and borrow such hooks for classroom implementation. An example may be, “Books are like bricks in the building of education. The more books you add to your building, the taller the building gets.” A hook may also be as simple as a greeting at the beginning, or farewell at the end of class, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back!” or “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your participation. Be excellent to each other.” Such hooks may give students a sense of inclusion so that many of them will want to participate and contribute.

While the “Zone of Proximity” is essential for instances of talkative students, “Circulating” emphasizes “Proximity” and “Threshold” through student-instructor engagement , checks for understanding, and reviews of student work. By seeing students personally, closer connections may be made, and instruction quality and classroom climate may increase positively from the student-instructor relationships forged. Taking time to interact with each student at their desk/workspace is reflective of instructor-student conferences at the instructor’s desk when grades or other mentions of progress are discussed. “Circulating” around the room brings the instructor into the student’s space rather than the instructor remaining behind their own desk.

Like the “Warm-Up” or “Do Now” techniques used at the beginning of class, “Exit Tickets” work well as closure activities and checks for understanding. By requiring students to complete exit tickets before they leave class for the day, the instructor can infer student comprehension and lesson effectiveness based on student responses provided. For example, if students are asked to write down the takeaway points of the day’s lesson, and students’ responses are unclear, or they do not refer to the learning goal(s) or objective(s), the instructor may choose to do further review during future classes. Review and reflection will assist in honing lessons to make them more effective, valid, and reliable.

Delivering the “4 Corners” activity in class is a great time to use the “Take a Stand” technique. A series of questions are asked and students respond to each by moving to one of the corners of the room designated as either “Agree,” “Disagree,” “Unsure,” or “Both Agree and Disagree.” Those who agree or disagree defend their answers against the others while simultaneously informing those who may have been unsure. By the end of the activity, students have had time to move around the room, make decisions, listen to their peers’ input, and are then brought back around for seat work.

“Sweat the Details”: As with the tables at a restaurant, the classroom must be “turned” after every class. Any debris on the floor is cleaned up including notebook paper chads, notes, pen caps, broken pencils and erasers, and anything left behind by students such as student paperwork, notebooks, or other personal items. The intention is to reduce debris left by previous classes by picking up the room after the end of class. If students enter and see debris on the floor, they may be inclined to contribute to the mess rather than responsibly reducing their own waste in this and other classes.

Every class starts with the “Threshold” technique (Lemov, 2010), shaking hands with students as they come into the classroom. Greeting students at the door allows the instructor to pre-assess the mood of each of the students. This pre-assessment helps to infer as to whether there may be difficulties with some students, what sort of moods students may be in, and to give direct praise and other communication before class is underway. In rare circumstances when greeting students is infeasible, things may feel different as though something is amiss.

All students are greeted at the door as the classroom policy states that no students may enter the classroom without first being greeted with either a handshake, or a “fist bump” or “elbow rub” when students or instructors are ill. A typical verbal student/instructor exchange entails the instructor making eye contact and saying, “Welcome,” or “Nice to see you,” or “How are you?” If a student responds simply, “Good. How are you?” the instructor replies, “Very well, thank you.” The intention is to plant the seed of grammar usage and increase overall student school interest by raising student dispositions from “Good” to “Well,” “Very well,” “Great,” “Excellent,” etc, followed by “Thank you” to express to students that the instructor appreciates when students inquire.

As a modification to the “Threshold” Technique, students may be expected to shake hands upon exiting class. The intention is to come full circle from the beginning to the end of class. The inspiration for the modification is derived from the “Good Game” congratulatory philosophy of little league baseball. Students should leave class feeling as though their time was well spent and their relationship with the instructor is in good standing.

 

Approaches to formative and summative assessment of student learning

The unit includes both formative and summative assessments. Formative assessments are used as pieces to periodically check for student understanding. The pieces help illustrate as to how students are receiving the information. As Arends (2012) states, there are three purposes of assessment for/as/of learning. Assessment for student learning (information collection, monitoring, feedback), assessment as student learning (access own/peer learning), and assessment of student learning (information collection, assigning grades, determining placements, facilitating admission to post-secondary education).

Formative assessments used in this unit include, exit tickets, study guide questions, discussions, and Socratic seminars. Summative assessments are used as a final measurement of student understanding over the extent of a longer period of time. The summative assessment used in this unit is the collected paragraph writing assignment. As Krathwohl (2002) structures the dimensions of the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy, knowledge ranges in depth from factual, to conceptual, to procedural, and then to metacognitive. The headings for each level of the taxonomy are categorized from basic skills to more complex skills which are listed as remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. The educator must design assessments, lessons, units, and curricula aligned with the levels of the taxonomy to provide students with authentic and well-rounded learning experiences.

Lesson 1 – The completion of the assigned Study Guide questions formatively assesses how deeply the students comprehended the content of the assigned reading. Responses to the Study Guide questions are assessed on a scale of one through four. For a student to earn a “4”, they must provide more than one specific text cited example and a detailed description of how these examples answer the prompt. For a student to earn a “3”, they must provide one specific text cited example as well as a detailed description of how this example answers the prompt. For a student to earn a “2”, they must provide one text cited example and a general description of how this example answers the prompt. For a student to earn a “1”, they may only provide a text cited example with no description of how the example answers the prompt, or they may only attempt to respond to the prompt without a text citation. The assessed Study Guide questions with feedback are returned to students on Friday to assist in the development of the paragraph writing assignment.

Lessons 2 and 3 – The student participation in each of the activities offers an opportunity for formative assessment by the instructor. Focusing on the content of discussion as well as contributions to the discourse should be considered to help identify students who may appear to not fully grasp the objectives. Additionally, the students’ completed Exit Tickets at the end of the class session allows the instructor an immediate reflection on the materials covered. The Exit Ticket with feedback will be returned to the students on Friday to assist in the development of the paragraph writing assignment.

Lesson 4 – The Socratic Seminar functions as a formative assessment activity where the instructor can identify students’ levels of understanding regarding the discussion topics. This setting also allows the instructor to recognize information that students did not fully comprehend, and easily revisit and further coach students on understanding of difficult concepts and skills.

Lesson 5 – Summative assessment will be made by writing an organized paragraph responding to a prompt to summarize and connect the content of the week’s theme and lessons. At the end of the class, students will turn in their completed paragraphs as well as of the week’s writing assignments. Students will also complete the rubric for the paragraph writing to evaluate their own work, and the completed rubric will be turned in at the end of the class as well. Using the rubric, the instructor will assess students’ level of performance on the paragraph assignment as well as student’s impression of their performance on the assignment. The assessed paragraph will be returned to the students with feedback the following Friday when the students are writing another paragraph assignment on the following week’s theme. Each paragraph writing exercise is to be collected and compiled into a larger essay to serve as a later summative writing assessment.

 

Discussion of learning regarding students, curriculum, instruction, management, and educator identity

The realization of students’ learning over the development of this unit is that the educator should expect that, no matter how well developed and implemented a curriculum, students will generate their own reactions to the content and material. Students will choose to accept or reject aspects of any curriculum out of personal preference. The educator must therefore consider each of the students’ needs and preferences when designing a lesson/unit/curriculum, and especially consider improvement through redesign or customization with further understanding derived from attempts at unit implementation, and through post-implementation reflection. If student learning is expected to improve, the improvement will be the result of all aspects of education meeting students’ needs. The curriculum, the educator of the curriculum, the schooling environment, and the community that supports the schooling environment all work together as separate parts of an interconnected whole. Through such cooperation, student learning may improve and thrive. Perhaps students learn best when the material they are presented with is interesting and engaging allowing them to make connections between the content and their lives. Content themes, anchor and supplemental texts, and other course materials intend to inform student understanding on a personal level so that students may realize the importance and relative connections to the information presented. Informal unit activities seemed more appealing to students as they may be more inclined to participate. Such activities include students working on study guides in groups and engaging in informal discussions of content. For student learning to improve, the educator must consider potential angles of personal connections, and facilitate guidance toward deeper understanding of the content and materials. Students must move beyond understanding by making deeply personal connections with the content and materials to society. Additionally, future unit planning will continue to incorporate activities that allow students to move around the room while interacting informally and socially in that participation, rapport, and relations may be fostered along with a classroom culture of respect and dedication to each other and the educator as a mentor in addition to an authority.

Content knowledge can be connected to essential and enduring global themes and ideas instead of just focusing on the traditional “English class” material such as grammar and spelling. Thematic content may be connected horizontally cross-curricularly, and vertically across grade levels. Students may find meaning and importance in themes that they can personally connect with their own experiences through life. Students learn why an author chooses to write in specific styles, tones, dictions, etc, to emphasize such themes, and to facilitate understanding as to why the content and skills learned in the unit are valuable in life and in the communication of an intended message to others. The use of essential ideas and global themes will be continued in future units. To provide for engagement and interest, students may make thematic requests to be taken into consideration to influence future lesson/unit/curriculum planning, and perhaps such freedom will help students to see the practical reasons for developing proficiency in the English Language Arts as well as other subjects.

Regarding curriculum knowledge, the organization, planning, implementation, and evaluation of a unit is imperative to the growth and development of the students who are expected to be enriched through said curriculum. Philosophy may attempt to unify or segment approaches to curriculum development through understanding the history and theory in relation to lesson/unit/curriculum planning. Perhaps the allure of creating a commonality in education through standardization of instruction becomes a matter of convenience and accountability for and of the educator and institution rather than an approach to addressing students’ relative needs. Curriculum allows opportunities to standardize approaches to teaching and intends to provide a complete and balanced exposure to content and material. Further classroom experiences and practice will help determine potential merits and faults in reliability, validity, measurability, and feasibility through the use of objectives and standards in preparation for assessments expected to deliver satisfactory results.

As a reminder, one’s identity and philosophy as an educator should remain fluid, yet critical, research-minded, yet open to variations to be incorporated into lesson/unit/curriculum planning with the best interests of the students in mind, and to expand upon the current body of educational literature to further promote the field and discipline of education. While students may be enjoyable to work with and an overall positive view of students may be derived, an underdeveloped lesson/unit/curriculum may alienate students from the content/material, and therefore students may become disengaged from the content/material/educator. Depending on the relationship, students may learn to trust and become fascinated with their educator. By drawing from personal experiences, the educator may model the proper ways in which one may conduct themselves through dialog and body language in the social and professional environments outside of students’ homes.

To reference a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin, “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.” The educator must train students in questioning their surroundings to critically think about the material presented through the lesson/unit/curriculum, but also to think beyond the schooling environment and into the abstract and uncertain reality that others may never fathom. True improvement may only come through further planning and classroom implementation experiences. When students are thankful for being helped through difficult times, or refer to their educator as a “father figure”, one comes to the realization that as an educator they may actually be making a difference in the lives of others above and beyond institutional and common core standards/objectives/goals/aims, etc.

Because I try to subscribe to a “fluid” perception of identity, I am perhaps more likely shaped by the sort of educator I do not wish to become, rather than aligning with personal assumptions of what I think I might be like as an educator. I prefer students eating education out of the palm of my hand rather than fearing me as an authority figure who may or may not berate them for failure and disengagement.

Field experience certainly influenced my understanding of aspects of education such as being integrated into a preexisting classroom environment, acclimating to having authority over impressionable minds, accepting disappointment when a lesson doesn’t unfold as desired, etc. I often find that my strengths may be my weaknesses, my weaknesses may be my strengths, and it all depends on the fluidity of the class/classroom/climate/environment/myself, and there may be no accounting for the myriad of potential lesson/unit/curriculum derailments. No matter how much positive criticism I may receive, I will wish to satisfy the negative criticisms, and especially my positive and negative personal criticisms.

 

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