Let’s Increase the Volume in Student Voice

Pump up the VolumeAs educators, when asked if we should increase “student voice” in the classroom or schools, our quick response is often “Yes, of course!”  However, in reality, are we really, truly engaging our students in leading our schools, having a say in our curriculum, contributing to our decision-making?  I know we do try.  For example, we have student councils, we ask for student input in surveys, we give choice to students in projects, we ask them to self-reflect and students participate on some committees.  We ask for their feedback, we listen, right?  However, student voice needs to go beyond just listening.

Harvard Researcher Brion-Meisels points out:

 “Listening to young people doesn’t mean unilaterally considering their perspective…It means recognizing that young people have a perspective on the world that adults can’t share, and that their perspective should be welcomed alongside the wisdom that adult perspectives bring” (Giving Students a Voice by Leah Shafer).

 In the past month, I participated in four activities that really solidified my own thinking about student voice.

1. Search Committee

The first was a middle school principal search committee where we had students involved in the interview and recommendation process.  What was amazing about the interview process was that our students truly had a seat at the table.  They brought their own questions as representatives of the student body.  (The best questions on our list came from our students!)  Then, when we had discussions as a committee, we went to our students first and listened.  Their responses were exactly on point and we were thrilled to have them contribute to the conversation, use evidence to support their arguments, and provide a student perspective, such as,  “If she were the principal of my school, I would love coming to school!”

2.  Student Discussion

The second instance was a meeting with student representatives at our high schoolIMG_3602 where they were asked a series of questions about the school such as:

  1. Beyond friends, what do you look forward to at school each day?
  2. If you could change one thing at our school, what would it be?
  3. If you could give one piece of advice to teachers or administrators, what would it be?”

The following discussion could have continued for a lot longer than the time allotted because the students in the room were excited that they had an opportunity to share their thoughts on what they loved about their school and ideas for improvement.  It was an incredibly powerful discourse filled with respect, reasons supported by evidence, and excitement.  It certainly was the highlight of my week!  The students, who were representative of various grades and interests, described the school as welcoming, inviting, and inclusive.  They enthusiastically provided why they loved coming to school and usually it was because of a single enthusiastic teacher who had made learning exciting.  They wanted to have more opportunities for relevant learning opportunities and meaningful homework.  They liked using technology, but only when it fit the purpose of the assignment, rather than fitting the assignment around the technology.

3.  Student Events–  3rd-Grade Tea

IMG_3897Yesterday, I was lucky to participate in a 3rd grade tea that was being held for seniors in the community.  Sitting in the middle of a table of about 11, third graders, it was an opportunity for me to ask them about their school experience. Coming off of the high school discussion recently, I figured I’d stick to some of the same questions.  I asked them: 1.  “What do you like most about coming to school?” 2. “If you could change one thing about school, what would it be?”  3.  “What is your favorite subject?”  The students eagerly shared their love for math (that was the #1 choice around the table) and we had a few who liked reading.   Some wished they had more time for recess, and thought the end of the day would be the best time to do that before leaving for the day.  They said they wished they had more opportunities to learn science, and they shared their favorite books of choice.  They liked their music class and were looking forward to learning to play musical instruments in the future.  They wanted less homework, but admitted they didn’t have too much each night and Lexia was a big hit because they found it to be a fun way to learn.  WOW! That’s A LOT of feedback.

4.  Student Panels

Last month our counselors provided a workshop to other educators on the implementation of Wellness Weeks.  As part of the workshop, the counselors had student representatives speak to the educators about their thoughts about the effectiveness and impact on wellness weeks from a student perspective.  To be expected, the educators in the room were enthralled listening directly from students about their view on the positive impact of these successful practices.  Adding student voice to these panels was highly effective!

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3 Steps To Increase Student Voice

If you are looking to take action and  increase student voice, consider some of the following questions:

  1.  Do students have a seat at the table?  

    Think about all the meetings and committees that take place in a school or district and corresponding decision-making.  Every time you have a meeting, ask yourself…what if students were here with us at the table?  In our district, we have student representatives to the School Committee, students on our Spanish Immersion board, students on panel presentations, and students on interview committees.  Despite all of those opportunities, there is definitely room for growth as well.

  2. Are we asking for student input in a consistent way and then following up with implementation?  

    If you are a district that does not use surveys of students regularly, then that is a great way to begin this process.  Surveys are an effective way to gather data, solicit input, and to help inform decisions in a classroom, school, or district.  The key to successful student surveys is that the data is then applied to implement change.  It is even more effective when students are part of this process of analysis and discussion.  Ask yourself, are you sharing the data with the students and are you implementing change based on input?

  3. Do students have input into and the ability to drive their own learning at school?  

    Although we work within a  standards-based system, that does not mean that students can’t have input into their own learning.  There are many ways to increase student voice in learning from input into units, activities, the questions they will answer, or the ways they are assessed.  Check out this resource from Chicago on how to have students co-shape curriculum:  Seven Steps to Students Co-Shaping Curriculum or this article from the organization we use for surveys called K-12 insight:  How to amplify student voice in curriculum discussions.

Resources

If you are looking for more resources about how to increase student voice, here are some examples of how it is being done in schools across the world.

In my own research about student voice, I came across a local school to ours that has a Student Voice Community Service Program at their middle school.  What an interesting approach and a way to say at that school–student voice matters.   http://cvirzi.wixsite.com/student-voice/contact

5 Videos to Watch on Giving Voice to Students

Including Student Voice by Bill Palmer

Student Power by Milton Chen

Next Steps

After reflecting on the above questions, I challenge you to take one step forward in increasing student voice before the end of this school year.  Using the comment feature of this blog, please share out one way that you will try to increase student voice as an educator.

 

 

The Force is Strong #Shadowastudent

PS_0334_THE_FORCE

I’m a huge Star Wars fan and in thinking about my experience shadowing an 11th grade student, Diana Richard, I couldn’t help but think about the quote “The Force is strong with this one.”  What a dynamic, caring, and  outstanding young woman!  The Force was not just strong with that one student….but with her peers, with the teachers, and within the school.  “The culture is strong” would be an apt reference to my biggest takeaway from shadowing.

Walking in the shoes of a student gives one an opportunity to view the day-to-day interactions in a new way.  As Diana said “Hi” to every student she passed and called them by name, the other students responded in turn.  The best moment was when a student was walking by the classroom at the start of class and saw Diana, so she stopped and made a heart with her fingers in front of her chest before going on to the next class.  I can’t remember the last time someone walked by me at work and was so excited that they made a heart-shaped symbol?

IMG_3167During the Help Desk in the morning, we had an opportunity to talk about what she liked best about school, what her favorite classes were, and what her goals were in the future.  In P.E. class, we laughed as I tried to show my ‘mad’ skills in badminton during a tournament.  At break, we hung out with all of the other juniors in the media center and I was schooled in professional wrestling and the students’ interest in watching that.

 

 

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In math class, our teachers provided great scaffolding on our graphs, as we worked collaboratively in groups to work through the problems.

 

Before lunch, in English class we participated in a mock School Board presentation where two groups presented on whether or not to ban Huckleberry Finn.  
IMG_3170As someone who has attended many School Board meetings over the last decade, this was probably one of the most educationally focused and friendly one I’ve ever witnessed!  

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After lunch, we analyzed some of the text of The Great Gatsby to determine evidence of Nick Carroway’s point of view and being an insider vs. an outsider.

 

In history class, we analyzed political cartoons from World War II to identify stereotypes, analogies, juxtaposition, captioning, and labels to get at the essential question of “What’s the human impact of war?”   

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While my biggest takeaway wasn’t necessarily the content presented as I have already analyzed The Great Gatsby, taught lessons on WWII political cartoons, mastered badminton and graphed math problems in my former life, the takeaway was the interactions that took place between the spaces of content.  In each class there were opportunities for students to work collaboratively with one another, in pairs, in groups, and online.  Teachers provided the perfect amount of support and scaffolds, like in the story of Goldilock (not too hot, not too cold, just right…).  In each class, the teacher-student relationships created environments where students were willing to share their ideas, speak in front of the room, or even help the 40-something year old new student.

“In my experience, there is no such thing as luck” was what Obi-Wan told Han Solo after Han Solo claimed that there was no force controlling everything.  I would agree with Obi-Wan that that it is not luck that creates such a warm, inviting environment that I experienced in my shadowing day, but a commitment of all members of the Nipmuc community in creating a safe, engaging, caring environment where “The Force is strong.”

Information-Rich or Poor? Do you know what is real in a world of alternate realities?

Do you know what to believe? On the radio the other day a caller called in to declare that millions of illegal immigrants voted illegally in the election.  The radio host responded quickly to clarify that there was, in fact, no evidence to support that statement, but the caller insisted that it was definitely true.  Then the caller went on to state that they don’t know who to trust anymore because they hear from one place that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, but they are not sure that is true because they read an article that said it was not true.  The radio host tried to make a distinction for the caller between what is verifiably true based on evidence, but the caller was still uncertain:  “I just don’t know what to believe anymore.”

Has this happened to you yet?  Where you are exposed to a news story and you are not quite sure what to believe?  When information gives you pause, do you look more deeply to find out the source of the article?  

Let’s try this out together.  In my Facebook Timeline, I saw an article someone posted that said that D.C. high school marching bands were boycotting playing at the inauguration. The same day, someone said to me, “Did you hear how the D.C. band are refusing to play at the inauguration?”  I now had two pieces of information that have been presented to me within 24 hours time.  It kind of sounds possible, but the news article came from a partisan website and many of my friends probably live in the same media bubble of information.  So, is this true?  How do we find out?

In going to Snopes.com, where they fact check potential rumors and fake news, I found a Fact Check: Fake News article on this.  According to Snopes.com, the schools did not apply to play, but they are not officially boycotting.  For more information check out the whole article: Did every single school marching band in D.C. just boycott Trump’s inauguration?

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Information-rich AND Information-poor. We certainly live in an information-rich world where we can access information from many sources ranging from: “Alexa, tell me today’s news,” and “Hey, Siri…what’s the weather,” or satellite radio news from around the world or 24-7 CNN news coverage, to moment-by-moment coverage on Twitter or personalized news streams in our Facebook feeds and YouTube channels.  Despite being information-rich, we can end up being information-poor if we are unable to decipher point-of-view, bias, or propaganda vs. verifiable, research-supported information.

So what does this mean for educating our students?  

How do we help them to be critical analysists of information?  

The first resource I’d direct you to would be the Stanford History Group, who conducted a study of civic online reasoning from January 2015-June 2016, where they administered 56 tasks to students across 12 states, collecting more than 7,800 student responses from middle school, high school, and college students.  Despite our students growing up digitally, the researchers found that the students had difficulty determining the differences between sponsored content and a news article and the students often would accept the information presented without verifying its source.  To get a better sense of the tasks and results, please review this link to their executive summary of their results.

Below is a summary of tasks they had the students complete, which is outlined in the executive summary.  Taking a look at the list below:

How would your students do?

Middle School

  1. News on Twitter:  Students consider tweets and determine which is the most trustworthy
  2. Article Analysis:  Students read a sponsored post and explain why it might not be reliable
  3. Comment Section:  Students examine a post from a newspaper comment section and explain whether they would use it in a research report
  4. News Search:  Students distinguish between a news article and an opinion column
  5. Home Page Analysis:  Students identify advertisements on a news website.

High School

  1. Argument Analysis:  Students compare and evaluate two posts from a newspaper’s comment section
  2. News on Facebook:  Students identify the blue checkmark that distinguishes a verified Facebook account from a fake one.
  3. Facebook Argument:  Students consider the relative strength of evidence that two users present in a Facebook exchange.
  4. Evaluating Evidence:  Students decide whether to trust a photograph posted on a photo-sharing website.
  5. Comparing Articles:  Students determine whether a news story or a sponsored post is more reliable.

College

  1. Article Evaluation:  In an open web search, students decide if a website can be trusted.
  2. Research a Claim:  Students search online to verify a claim about a controversial topic.
  3. Website Reliability:  Students determine whether a partisan site is trustworthy.
  4. Social Media Video:  Students watch an online video and identify its strengths and weaknesses.
  5. Claims on Social Media:  Students read a tweet and explain why it might or might not be a useful source of information.

Next Steps:  How do we teach civic online reasoning?

  • This CNN article:  Raising Media-Savvy Kids in an Era of Fake News offers some other strategies:
    • Look for unusual URLs, including those that end with “lo” or “.com.co”
    • Look for signs of low-quality writing, such as all caps, or bold claims with no sources
    • Look for sensationalist images
    • Check out a site’s “About Us” section
    • See if mainstream news outlets are reporting the same news
    • Check your emotions.  Fake news strive for extreme reactions.

 

References:

 

Reflections on Moving Forward in 2016

I’m going to begin by saying that this past week was a whirlwind of emotions for me.  You see, I was an avid Hillary supporter, and I was so very hopeful as we entered election day. However, this post isn’t a political post.  I won’t share my views on the Democratic Party’s platform or my opinions on President-Elect Trump.  Instead, I’d like to share my own reflections on moving forward.

November 8th-Election Day Excitement

In the evening of November 8, I brought my boys to the polling booth so I could talk to them about the importance of voting, explain why I was choosing the way to vote on certain issues, and engage them in the process.  We were excited.  Finally, it was Election Day!  They gave me their input on how to vote on the ballot initiatives and asked questions about what a state representative and senator does.  We got our “I voted” stickers and proudly headed to Dunkin Donuts for an Election Day treat, in anticipation of the first woman being elected President of the United States.

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As the election results came in, my close friends and I quickly spiraled into despair as our hopeful enthusiasm turned into devastated disbelief.

Hope

But theimg_2542n…..I went to the Memorial Elementary School Veteran’s Day concert on Thursday, November 10th.  The most adorable children, ages 3-10, decked out in red, white, and blue, sang their hearts out to recognize our local servicemen and women.  That moment centered me.  It drowned out the noise and negativity of social media discourse and gave me hope for a bright future.

Here is a video clip of our students singing a song by Teresa Jennings called “One Nation.”

ONE NATION (Teresa Jennings)
Maybe we’re not the same color. Maybe we’re not the same race.
Maybe we don’t have the same beliefs or live in the same kind of place.
Maybe we think we’re too different. Maybe that’s simply not true.
Maybe I also have hopes and dreams, and maybe I share them with you, share with you, oh!

(CHORUS)
We are one nation, yes, we are one land!
Together in freedom, united we stand! Oh!
We are one nation, yes, we are one land!
Together in freedom, united we stand! Oh.

We are a rainbow of people. We have our own history.
We share a nation with common bonds, a nation where people are free.
We know that freedom is precious. We know the cost is extreme.
We share commitment and gratitude; we share our American Dream,
share our Dream, oh!

We are, we are, we are one nation!  3X’s
Ah! One nation!

BE THE CHANGE

So in keeping with my blog’s mantra, here are some reflections on how I am moving forward as an educator in a time of political change.

1. Seek First To Understand

First, I tried to read multiple articles about the election, including opposing political viewpoints, to seek to better understand the multitude of perspectives that will contribute to the leadership of the next four years.  In working with our students, we can try to foster a similar approach to help them navigate political discourse in a safe and productive manner.  This is more easily accomplished when one can learn to empathize and put themselves in another’s shoes.  It is difficult enough sometimes for adults to converse around divisive topics, so this is an important skill to help to develop in our students. Understanding people’s life stories and perspectives and “walking in their shoes” is essential to fostering civil discourse.  Here is a resource on teaching civil discourse.

2.  Have Faith in our Political Institutions

It was my 10-year-old son, who is currently studying the three branches of government, who helped remind me of the enduring strength of our democratic institutions.  This election is a great opportunity to remind our students about the strength of our political institution and history as a nation.  Here are a few strategies to help build the students’ knowledge and understanding of the process.

  • Use the historical events taking place to instruct them about topics like the peaceful transition of power.
  • Illustrate examples of how our government is designed based the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances, so no matter who the president is, there are checks on that power.
  • Ensure students understand how the Bill of Rights was created to protect our fundamental rights such as speech, press, assembly, and religion (among many others).
  • Provide students with historical examples of how our country’s leadership and political leanings are like a pendulum that swing left and right, but eventually, move towards the middle.
  • Analyze the President-Elect’s appointments to key leadership roles and the significance of those roles

3.  Recognize that our Differences are our Strength

As we all move forward, we are witnessing numerous reactions to the election results.  I’ve seen some people check out from the world and social media.  Others are embracing movements such as the safety pin protest.  Some are fearful, while some are calling for Unity.  Others are hopeful and enthusiastic about the changes to come, while some are using their right to assemble in protests.  So what is an educator to do in these times? First, we need to make sure we remain neutral in our political leanings while at school. Second, we need to foster an environment where students can safely express their opinions and stand up for what they believe in.  Finally, we need to let our students know that our schools will be a safe haven where differences will be celebrated, respected, and protected.

Here is a great resource from Teaching Tolerance that offers various activities on countering bias, getting along, and engaging in civic  activities with students.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mastering the 3 Rs: Relationships, Relationships, and Relationships

sparkHave you ever met someone who you just love to be in their presence?  They have that extra spark, they exude warmth, and they engage you immediately, usually with a radiant smile and a sincere inquiry into how you are doing.

I’m thinking of a few people that I love to be around and these are the actions they usually exhibit every time we meet:

 

–Greet me with a smileawesome

 

–Greet me by name

–Ask me something about my life (something they remembered from previous
conversations)

–Listen intently and actively as I respond

Why do I like these people so much?  First, they are great relationship builders.  They show how much they care about me to call me by my name, pay attention to what is important to me, and inquire further.  I feel safe and welcomed in their presence.  Their actions convey to me “YOU MATTER.”

These types of people are also great at opening up and sharing about themselves.  They share stories about their lives to connect others to them on a personal level.  They often are able to laugh at themselves and find humor everywhere.  They also aren’t afraid to be vulnerable, admit mistakes, ask for forgiveness, and keep moving forward.

As educators, we are presented with opportunities for building relationships every moment of every day for 180 school days with our colleagues, with parents, but most importantly, with our students.  Do our actions consistently convey to our students “YOU MATTER”?   Do we notice them daily?

Check out this Ted Talk by Angela Maiers on the impact of noticing our students.

“The need to know you are valued is as deep as they come.” –Angela Maiers                         “I get to help people matter each day”–Angela Maiers

 

Here are some suggestions on how to expand your relationship building influence with students:

  1.  Let students know:

genius

2.  Noticing—Share with them what you notice about their progress, efforts, insights, and accomplishments with a simple:  “I noticed when…..”

3.  Intentionality–Track your own interactions with students.  Be intentional in monitoring what type of feedback you are giving them and how often.  Keep track of students you haven’t interacted with as frequently and take time to get to know them more.

4.  Passion–Discover your students’ passions and help them pursue them.

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5.  Celebrate successes–Seek out successes in the classroom and share them out beyond the classroom walls.

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Remember that as educators YOU MATTER a great deal as well.  As a parent (much like many parents each morning), I squeeze my boys really tight every morning, tell them I love them, and send them off to school hoping and praying they will feel safe, loved, in an environment filled with enthusiasm, positive relationships, learning, and passion-driven moments.

One year after the first day of school I asked my son …. “Did you like school?  Is your teacher nice?”  He looked perplexed, paused and replied,  “That’s a silly question, Mommy.  Of course I do.  All teachers are nice. If they weren’t, then why would they be a teacher?”  Thank you to all my educator friends for all that you do every day!  YOU MATTER!

In Defense of Civic Engagement

The last two weeks of political convention fervor have had their fair share of excitement, drama, anger, and celebratory moments, which are all bathed in political rhetoric.  Anyone who knows me well knows that I get a little excited when in the midst of an election season.

Picture1So much so, that when out with some friends, we were able to convince the nice waitress to let us take control of one of the TVs and switch it from a European soccer game to the convention.  A room full of 15 women  weren’t about to miss the live acceptance of the first woman to receive the nomination of a major political party.  Despite one’s political party inclination and thoughts about Hillary Clinton, it was a momentous historical event for American women and girls.

Civic Exposure At Home

Additionally, this week I was away one of the nights of the convention and as my husband and my boys were watching the speeches my husband posted the following Facebook post.

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You see,  Liam and I have been watching both conventions (Republican and Democratic) the last two weeks and I’ve been answering questions ranging from the second amendment, why some people are upset about increased immigration and why others embrace it,  and how people fall along different parts of the political spectrum. I do this for many reasons, but primarily because I want to carry on the civic education that I received as a child to my own children.

When thinking about my own political education, I remembered that it began at home.  Ithis week remembered that every Sunday morning I’d watch Meet the Press and This Week with my mom.  Even now, my boys know that we are going to stop their cartoons on Sunday morning so we can watch “George.”

I also remembered how in our house other TV programming stopped as we watched the conventions, both Democratic and Republican, to hear about what our political leaders were thinking.  I remembered how on every election day my mom would take me with her to the voting booth to emphasize the importance of civic participation. I remembered how excited I was when I went to vote for the first time at the age of 18.

Civic Exposure in School

constitutionWhile my civic engagement began in the home, it really took root in school.  I will never forget my 8th grade history teacher, Mr. Johnson, in Gardner, MA who would hold up a copy of the Constitution in his hand and say the following in the thickest of Massachusetts accents:  “You guys go around saying ‘this is awesome’ and ‘that is awesome,’” and then with a long drawn out pause, he would say “NOTHING IS TRULY AWESOME, EXCEPT FOR THE CONSTITUTION.” He told stories of political leaders who kept a copy of the constitution in their pocket to remind them of what was important about our nation and laws.

At the same time, I was able to be part of the Gardner Middle School History Club, where Mr. Goguen would take us on adventures throughout Massachusetts to study our local history and bring it to life.   It was with this group that I saw for the first time Plymouth Plantation, the Freedom Trail, and the battlefields of Lexington and Concord.  As a junior and a senior, I had Ms. Pisaruk, who I consider to be the most influential teacher in my life because she had the perfect balance of incredible content knowledge and enthusiasm about history and government, alongside high expectations for her students to be critical consumers and analysts.  It was because of her passion and inspiration that she instilled in me that I could make a difference in this world that I majored in government and legal studies and entered education.

The Need for Civic Education Today

In the midst of this current election, the need for comprehensive civic education is needed now more than ever.  In a world of a 24-7 news cycle, alongside Facebook feeds and Twitter discourse, to be an actively engaged civic participant, one needs to learn how to become a critical consumer of information.

The Massachusetts Board of Education has also recently recognized that as a result of our age of accountability with ELA and Math testing, we have gone too far away from civic education.   Therefore, it approved this year the following definition of College and Career Readiness and  Civic Preparation:

Key knowledge, skills, and dispositions that students should possess to be prepared to engage as active citizens include:

  • Core civic content knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge to different circumstances and settings.
  • Civic intellectual skills, including the ability to identify, assess, interpret, describe, analyze and explain matters of concern in civic life.
  • Civic participatory skills, including knowing how to work collaboratively in groups and organizational settings, interface with elected officials and community representatives, communicate perspectives and arguments, and plan strategically for civic change.
  • Civic dispositions including interpersonal and intrapersonal values, virtues and behaviors respect for freedom of speech and thought, respect for others, commitment to equality, capacity for listening, capacity to communicate in ways accessible to others, etc.).

It is great to see Massachusetts moving in the right direction to engage in a review of outdated social studies standards, to set up a committee to study civic engagement, but these bureaucratic processes will take time.  However, until the standards change,  educators face an immediate challenge to guide our students each day to make sense of our political environment, with limited classroom time for instruction and resources.

Our Challenge

Therefore, as we enter our classrooms this September with one of the most contentious presidential election seasons we have seen in our lifetime, we should consider the following questions:

  • What can we do to provide the enthusiasm, experience, and critical analysis like the ones I received from my own teachers?
  • What can we do to develop our students’ skills to discuss and debate political topics safely?
  • How can we share our personal stories of civic engagement to model for our students the importance of voting and engaging in our communities, as my mother did when she brought me to the polls each year?
  • Are we providing our students with a wide range of resources and commentary on political topics and then teaching them skills to critically analyze sources and point of views?
  • Are we promoting opportunities for our students to become active participants in the civic and political process?
  • Do we engage our students in experiential learning opportunities to better understand our local and national history as I once did in the History Club?
  • Do our students recognize the core beliefs and values as illustrated in our Constitution?  Would they think it is truly awesome? 🙂

Resources for Classroom Teachers

The following list can provide you with more information to support you in your work to increase civic discourse and education in our schools:

Shadow a Student: Collaboration, Creativity, Connections, and Culture

My shadow-a-student day began with a smiling selfie at our locker (boy do we look excited!)


My student happily escorted me into the fourth-grade class and showed me where to put my snack bag, pick up my morning work, turn in my homework, and the outline for the day on the board.  

Concern
My neighbor informed me that I had finish all of the morning work of the week Monday-Wednesday that I hadn’t completed yet.  Immediately my palms start sweating as I grasp the pencil and get to work on 4th-grade math.  Question 1 and 2….got it.  I was amazed at how quickly I turned into the 4th-grade student of yesteryear…. “What if I get it wrong?  What if I run out of time?  Everyone is working on their spelling sort.  I’ll have to catch-up quickly.”  I’m already anxious and it is only about 9:05am.  Question 3?  I already have a question….on subtracting fractions.  I finally finish the problems and move onto spelling sorts.

Collaboration 
Time to get ready for social studies.  Okay…that was my major in college and what I used to teach.  I’m excited for this subject!  I was lucky to be matched up with two great partners who had already done a ton of research on our national landmarks report.  Our topic was Yellowstone National Park and it was time for us to  write about why so many people come to visit this area of the country. We got right to work on our topic sentence, key details, and a clincher.  Not much help was needed from me as my partners had mastered the topic sentence, transition words, and clincher.  I was amazed at how collaboratively they worked together, sharing ideas, and asking for input from one another in respectful way.

Creativity
“This is so fun!” exclaimed one of the students during a review game in social studies.  We moved together as a group for a fun review game using the Plickers tool to check our understanding of the key details in the unit with our teacher getting instant feedback through a mobile app.  Because the teacher decided to take a risk with technology, all of us (including me) were on the edge of our seats to try and get the next answer correct during the creative use of technology.

Creative opportunities didn’t end in social studies and they flourished in our library special where we got to work in groups on creating a fairy tale based on the story of the Three Little Pigs.  This activity probably was the most fun of the day (next to recess).  One of the girls in my group explained it the best.  “This is awesome because we get to use our imagination!”  Our story title?  The Three Ice Cream Cones and the Big Bad Unicorn.  What was the setting?  Do you even have to ask?  Of course, it is set in the Ice Cream Forest where we had a house made of sprinkles, a house made of cookies, and a S’more castle (their idea) surrounded by a caramel moat (my idea) and protected by gummy bears.  I also learned that apparently it is a well-known fact that 4th graders think unicorns rock and should be in stories as often as possible, along with rainbows and sprinkles.

Our final opportunity for creativity took place in during ELA where we learned how to draw a rocket and then compare the point of views of two characters in a story we read.  The best part… (after we added in all of our evidence from the text)….we got to decorate our rocket!  This is where I reverted back to my simple skill of making a heart pattern that I learned in 3rd grade (old habits die hard)….which was apparently a big hit with my 4th-grade friends.  “How did you DO that?” they asked.  “I’m making stars!” they shared.  “I’m making flowers, colorful ones!” they added.

Connections


What was the best part of my day?  You guessed it…it was an opportunity to connect with our students.  In this position, while I have access to be around students across the district, but I do miss the close connections I used to have both as a teacher, coach, and a building leader.  What did I learn about my new friends in the short time of a day?

I learned that Ashleigh brings the best snacks ever, knows how to do a math tape diagram much better than I do, and wishes she could have more creative projects because she loves to draw.

I learned that Andrew is an excellent gymnast, is extremely curious, and is willing to tie the shoes of a friend in class who needed extra help.

I learned that Rachael is a great writer and was able to give me some great tips on a quality clincher. She is a leader in class who many students seek out to ask questions and she loves school and loves life.  She also is extremely inclusive of all students (including me!)

 

 




Culture
Thank you to the teachers who put up with me as their student for the day and treated me like every other student.  I was buddied up with many students who explained the ropes to me.  They couldn’t have been any more welcoming.  There was more than one occasion where I was clearly advised of the rules such as following the directions on the math assignment (which I kept trying to ignore drawing out my math models), the sign-out procedure for going to the bathroom (apparently I don’t have to ask permission), and staying in my section of the playground (I tried to go to a different section by the parking lot).  Most importantly they taught me….”4th Grade is AWESOME!!”