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Dear National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE):

The 2016 NCTE Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, just concluded. This year the theme was “Faces of Advocacy”.

I would like to take this opportunity to do a little advocacy of my own.

The #NCTE Atlanta 2016 conference gave the nation’s English teachers an opportunity to exchange “words”….
have a word with…
get a word in edgewise…
hang on some one’s words…
or have the last word.

Every year, the NCTE conference brings together the nations’s (pre-school, primary, secondary, college) English teachers who traffic in words (vocabulary, root words, parts of speech, synonyms, figurative language, suffixes, etc.),

This conference began eleven days after the 2016 presidential election.

In several state, local and national campaigns, there were many words used by candidates on both sides of the aisle that were hurtful, that were fallacious, that were offensive. These words were highly visible on social media platforms and in the media; these words were highly visible to our students.

The multiple challenges to the use of hurtful, fallacious, or offensive words during the election was often met with derision by candidates, by candidate surrogates, or by media pundits on both sides of the aisle. Challengers were often told that candidates were “only joking” or just being “sarcastic.” There were publicized non-apologies :”I’m sorry if…” or “I’m sorry, but…”.

On occasion, words were retracted. “That meaning is not what I meant.”
Such retractions are linguistically precarious;  a challenge to word’s “meaning” does not negate what was expressed.

The “not what I meant” response conflicts with the definition of what a word means as “a unit of language, consisting of one or more spoken sounds or their written representation, that functions as a principal carrier of meaning.

words

In the 2016 election, many words were separated from their meanings.

Unfortunately, at this conference, NCTE, you did not offer any specific post-election guidance on this separation of word from meaning. At this conference you did not advocate for words and word meaning.

In all fairness, your conference theme (The Many Faces of Advocacy) was set years ago; its was months ago when the presenters were selected for sessions and the rooms assigned. In making these decisions, your organizing committee could not possibly have anticipated the current climate where the real political loser in this election would be words.

How then could NCTE support teachers as they proceed to teach words and their meanings to their students after this election?
How might NCTE prepare teachers in secondary schools to discuss understanding words that are spoken without meaning?
For example, how should NCTE guide teachers to help primary students understand the word meaning of a mean word?

Like the standard in Domain 3 of the Danielson Teacher Evaluation Rubric, NCTE, you could have exercised “Flexibility and Responsiveness” and “made an adjustment to respond to changing conditions.”

There could have been formal or informal opportunities for teachers to discuss their concerns about  hurtful words that were tossed about so publicly.
There could have been formal or informal opportunities for teachers to share strategies to deal with offensive words at multiple grade levels.
Finally, there could have been formal or informal opportunities for teachers to help their students in the future determine when, why, or how words are used to support fallacies.

NCTE, your oversight in not providing these opportunities is particularly ironic given the nation’s push for standards based curricula, where teachers of English are required to place emphasis at every grade level for evidence-based reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Students are expected to produce evidence-based responses that demonstrate precision in word choice (“Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of the topic.”)  Word choice is explicit; students must comprehend and apply word meaning.

Instead, the campaigns of the 2016 election would have failed on any rubric that used evidence requirements for most state standards-based performance assessments.

In November 2017, when the conference moves to the City of St. Louis, NCTE, you could reaffirm your commitment to the mission statement which states:

“The Council promotes the development of literacy, the use of language to construct personal and public worlds and to achieve full participation in society, through the learning and teaching of English and the related arts and sciences of language.“

The phrase “use of language” in this mission statement refers to the use of words in a structured and conventional way. You should be prepared to defend the use of words in structured and conventional ways.

In summary,dear NCTE, when words are divorced from their meaning, they lose their power to communicate.
In 2017, we need to advocate for words.
Without word meaning, there is no reason to teach English.

Why should students be the only ones who have the opportunity to play games in class?

Game application programs are just as powerful an instructional  tool for teachers as they are for their students because game apps can deliver content to educators in an engaging and challenging way. Instead of sitting in professional development sessions, teachers can be like their students ….out of their seats trying to “beat the buzzer” with their response! 

Teams of teachers can challenge other teams of teachers on everything from best practices to trivia hidden in the student handbook, (just how well does everyone know the school dress code?) to organizing performance based assessments ( Choose: debate or poetry smack-down for Shakespeare?)

There are now multiple game applications that can easily deliver different kinds of content to teachers in grades K-12 and make professional development sessions memorable.

kahoot Kahoot! is just one of the game applications that can motivate teachers to participate. Teachers, like their students, can be highly motivated by the immediate competition these game apps create. Like their students, educators at all grade levels  do respond well to the points/rewards that game apps provide. And like their students, they can enjoy the immediate feedback the apps provided. This free, interactive platform records the results to the presenters, which can be used  to design the next level of professional development.

The Kahoot! website explains that their software allows educators the opportunity to:

“Create a fun learning game in minutes (called ‘kahoots’), made from a series of multiple choice questions.”

Once a game is made, it can be individualized with videos and images. Then, “Players answer on their own devices, while games are displayed on a shared screen.”

Another game application that can be used is Quizizz, another quiz, poll, or survey program that uses game graphics with feedback to promote learning. Like Kahoot!, this game app can be individualized for content with videos and images. The promotional material for Quizizz explains that, “Players answer on their own devices, while games are displayed on a shared screen to unite the lesson encouraging players to look up.”quizziz

I have used both the Kahoot! and Quizizz apps with teachers for professional development sessions.

Before using the game apps there were more than a few teachers who, exhausted from a day of teaching, would unenthusiastically go through the scheduled activity. 

But when they learned they could pull out their phones as a part of the presentation, they immediately became more engaged.  The teachers enrolled by using their phone for the quiz and began entering responses on their cell phones or tablets. In less than 20 minutes, I had covered the material that I wanted teachers to know and they remained highly engaged the entire time. They also learned how effective this tool could be if it was used in class on laptops or mobile devices.

When a quiz or survey or poll is created on the game platform, a PIN code is assigned so that everyone can join the activity. Then, the quiz is projected (LCD, Smartboard, Eno board, etc) at the front of the classroom where it can be seen by the whole class so the audience can play together in real-time. The game applications can be used on laptops or personal devices. Depending on which game application is used, devices can display color and symbol choices; the actual answer is viewed on the classroom screen.

A presenter can control the pace of the activity by setting a time limit for each question, which also allows time for information to process or for discussions to take place. As teachers answer questions, they are awarded points for correct answers and the timeliness of their responses. A scoreboard is displayed on the teacher’s screen. Watching that scoreboard with highly engaged teachers proves that nothing is better to incentivize others than a competition with inconsequential rewards!

Game applications can be used for all levels of ability, and the multiple choice option can be set for more than one correct answer. There are options to create discussion questions (“Which of these texts are best used for close reading ?”) or to create surveys (“What percentage of the midterm should contain objective-type questions?”)

I have used the game apps in particular to begin presentations on literacy by taking information from a research study such as Data from Kids Wireless Use Facts:

  • % of teenagers,13 -17, who “occasionally” access the Internet with tablets & mobile devices? (91%)
  • Over ___ % of parents said schools should make more use of mobile devices for education? (50%)

The data available in research studies can better inform teachers about the growing impact of technology on their students and the academic environment.

Digital apps like Kahoot! and Quizizz game platforms are the kind of technology that David Lassner, President of the University of Hawaii and informational technology expert, meant when he said,

“The real power of interactive technologies is that they let us learn in ways that aren’t otherwise possible or practical.”

The “us” in Lassner’s statement should not limited to the students. Teacher professional development with interactive technologies can be a critical part of a successful education program. It can be engaging. It can be challenging. It is practical, and it is certainly possible.

I will be presenting both of these game apps at the National Council of Teachers of English this coming Saturday, November 19th in Atlanta, Georgia. I will be basing the Kahoot! and Quizziz using information on teenagers and literacy. If you are down at NCTE, stop in at Table 7!screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-10-14-22-pm

 

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-7-02-54-pm

F Sessions / 8:00–9:15 a.m. TABLE 7: “Get Your Phone App On!”

On occasion, I hear a statement that captures how much the classroom differs from the real world.

Such was the case at the International Reading Association Conference in Boston (July 9-11, 2016) when literacy consultant Mark Overmeyer noted that in the real world:

“Our most skilled writers have editors…the more skilled the writer, the more editors”

Then he pointed out the obvious,

“So why do we expect our 10-year-olds to write perfectly?”

Editors in the Real World

Overmeyer was speaking at the session to a roomful of educators, attending the session on “Grammar Matters: Promoting Engagement, Strategic Instruction, and Reflection Using Mentor Texts.” His statements highlighted the contrast between the support the best professional writers receive and the support an average student-at any grade level-receives is worth looking into for a moment.

First, in the real world there are different roles editors who specialize in stage of writing. Here is a description of editors, and how these roles are represented (or not) in the writing process in schools today.

  1. Acquisition Editor: This editor selects books for a publisher, and stays with an author in prepping a book for publication.
    Counterpart in education: The teacher may submit a piece for “publication” in a literary magazine, a writing writing contest, or hang student work on a bulletin board.
  2. Developmental Editor: This is the writing coach, or in some cases, the ghost writer, who supports the writer in moving the writing forward.
    Counterpart in education: Could be a teacher 
  3. Content Editor: In large publishing houses, there are Content Editors who review all writing.
    Counterpart in education: A teacher
  4. Copy Editor: This editor reviews grammar, punctuation, fact-checking, spelling, and formatting. There are Copy Editors for the different forms of publications: newspaper, brochures, books, etc. Some publishers use a line editor as well.
    Counterpart in education: teacher, student or student peer
  5. Proofreader: A proofreader reviews writing after an editor.image
    Counterpart in education: teacher grading the final product.


In the real world, there is an editor for every stage of the writing process. A book will go through an editorial review by a different specialist at LEAST four times before publication. In contrast, a student will receive editorial feedback from one single source….the teacher.

In making his observation, Overmeyer pointed out the fallacy of autonomy that is often seen in schools:

“We [teachers] purposely do not help,” he noted, “They [students] are on their own!”

He argued that there is an assumption by educators that the students should be able to produce “perfection”.

Writing Towards Improvement

Overmeyer’s point was that student writing should not be used to measure perfection, but used instead to measure a student’s improvement.

Contributing to the drive for perfection Is graded writing. Grading is a diagnosis, an informal or formal assessment of a particular skill set. Because graded writing is diagnostic, students are expected to perform without assistance in order to produce quality writing. More often than not, teachers do not step in to help with writing because they want to know how well a student can perform on his or her own.

Overmeyer’s comment, however, points out this fallacy of autonomy, the false assumption that because a student has been taught particular skills in writing, they should be able to produce correct writing independent of support.

Overmeyer’s reference to the enormous amount of support an adult writer receives in the real world stands in sharp contrast to what students are expected to do. For those adults wishing to enter the field of writing, there are a number of professionals willing -often for a price- to help anyone to become a published writer.

For example, consider the positive support offered by the site, NY Book Editors:

“[Our] editor’s goal is to make your story more engaging. Editors may correct spelling and grammar here and there, but that’s not their role. It’s the job of a copyeditor to fix your grammar, and he steps in at the final stages of the editing process.”

For multiple reasons (time, budget, teacher buy-in, etc.) however, this specialized editorial support is missing in the classroom. Instead of the supportive instruction available to adults, the teacher’s role may shift from developmental editor to copy editor or “corrector-in-chief.”

“Be Human”

The best way to improve student writing is through conferencing, and Overmeyer has detailed how to integrate the different kinds of conferring that can happen in the classroom in his recent book, Let’s Talk.

During the presentation, Overmeyer promoted the role of the teacher as a writing coach, reminding teachers to “be human” when they do provide their feedback to students. He provided an example of a student who chose to wrote about the recent death of a relative.

“That’s not when you correct his paper,” Overmeyer noted. “You need to be human…read the content.”

#ILA16

The International Literacy Association (ILA) Conference in 2016  brought together numbers of like-minded literacy educators and gave them the opportunity to share in order to move the education profession forward. This conference gave also teachers a opportunity to hear one voice -in this case the voice of Mark Overmeyer-pose the challenging question:

“Why do we expect our 10-year-olds to write perfectly?”

We can’t….and we shouldn’t.

It is summer, and most elementary classroom walls have been laid bare for repainting or for cleaning. Their empty exposure reminds me of a classroom from an earlier age, from my own elementary school. From grade 3 on up, I could count on one singular decorative element….the cursive alphabet that hung over the chalkboard:

Cursive

Of all the letter companions, neatly penned in upper and lower case, the most fun to practice, the most enigmatic, the most beautiful-and the most confusing if not done correctly -was the letter Q q or Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 6.01.18 PMScreen Shot 2016-06-27 at 6.01.05 PM.

Nothing else hung in the room.

Today’s elementary classrooms are markedly different. There are classrooms that receive Pinterest-inspired wall, door, or window treatments. There are multiple software programs that let teachers create posters or infographics chockfull of facts for every content area. Inspirational posters are ready to be to copied, to be downloaded, to be printed for every grade level. Once school is back in session, rainbow-brite colors combine messages with eye-popping fonts in a competition for attention.

And that’s the problem...competition for attention.

Apparently a supersaturated color and text-rich environment is not good for learning.

Beginning as early as preschool, classrooms may be decorated to an extreme. In many cases, “clutter passes for quality,” a  sentiment expressed by Erika Christakis in her book The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups (2016). In Chapter 2 (“Goldilocks Goes to Daycare”) Christakis describes the average preschool the following way:

“First we’ll bombard you with what educators call a print-rich environment, every wall and surface festooned with a vertiginous array of labels, vocabulary list, calendars, graphs, classroom rules, alphabet lists, number charts, and inspirational platitudes – few of those symbols you will be able to decode, a favorite buzzword for what used to be known as reading”(33).

In addition, hanging in plain sight, Christakis notes, are a myriad of mandated regulations: hand washing instructions, allergy procedures, and emergency exit diagrams:

‘In one study, researchers manipulated the amount of clutter on the walls of a laboratory classroom where kindergarteners were taught a series of science lessons. As the visual distraction increased, the children’s ability to focus, stay on task, and learn new information decrease” (33).

Christakis’s position is supported with research by researchers from The Holistic Evidence and Design (HEAD) which assessed hundred fifty-three U.K. classrooms to study the link of classroom environment to the learning of 3,766 pupils (ages 5-11).  Researchers Peter Barrett, Fay Davies, Yufan Zhang, and Lucinda Barrett published the The Holistic Impact of Classroom Spaces on Learning in Specific Subjects (2016) and reviewed the impact of different factors on student learning measured by progress in reading, writing, and math.

The principle of stimulation included the measure the impact brought about by color and complexity:

“The scientific research into color is extensive and color can affect children’s moods, mental clarity, and energy levels (Englebrecht, 2003). The measure of complexity here relates to visual impact from both architectural and display elements in the classroom. For example, Fisher, Godwin, and Seltman (2014) found more distraction and off-task behavior in children in more visually complex environments” (Barret, et al).

Their results showed that both reading and writing performances were particularly affected by stimulation.

Stimulation in the form of posters has
 the potential 
of
 overwhelming
 a student’s working
 memory. According to Michael
 Hubenthal and Thomas
 O’Brien
 in their research Revisiting 
Your Classroom’s
 Walls:
 The 
Pedagogical
 Power
 of
 Posters (2009) a student’s working memory uses 
different components 
that
 process 
visual
 and verbal 
information
. The “
visual 
complexity 
caused
 by 
an abundance
 of
 text
 and
 small
 images” can set up an overwhelming visual/verbal competition between text and graphics for which students must gain control in order to give
 meaning 
to 
information.

In contrast to overwhelming posters, there are good choices for classroom decorations. Education reformer Alfie Kohn published suggestions for decorating the classroom in his article Bad Signs  (2010) fall issue of Kappa Delta Pi. He listed several “Good Signs” that a classroom could be decorated as a model learning environment:

  • Walls covered with student work;
  • Evidence of student collaboration;
  • Signs, exhibits, lists created by students (not the teacher); 
  • Information and personal mementos from the people who learn in the classroom.

Kohn also stated that the best classrooms, regardless of age level or academic discipline, have a different approach to decoration, one that is distinctly non-commercial. The best classrooms:

“….often feature signs, exhibits, or other materials obviously created by the students themselves.  And that includes students’ ideas for how to create a sense of community and learn together most effectively — as opposed to a list of rules imposed by the teacher (or summarized on a commercial poster)” (Kohn).

Just as too much color or text complexity will have a negative impact on student learning, a sterile classroom with too little decoration may not help to activate the students’ brains. Therefore, teachers should be prepared to decorate a classroom to make it an active place to learn. They could ask the following questions:

  • What purpose does this poster, sign or display serve?
  • Do  these posters, signs, or items celebrate or support student learning?
  • Are the posters, signs, or displays current with what is being learned in the classroom?
  • Can the display be made interactive?
  • Is there white space in between wall displays to help the eye distinguish what is in the display?
  • Can students contribute to decorating the classroom (ask “What do you think could go inside that space?”)

These six questions can help teachers to create classrooms that can engage students without overstimulation.

Speaking of questions, the word questions starts with the letter Q…and thanks to that singular decoration in my elementary classroom, I know how to script a  capital and lower case letter “Q”:q

It is still a beautiful letter in cursive.

 

This past week, I listened to a friend describe a SKYPE session with a children’s author that was particularly challenging; audio and video feeds were not running simultaneously. She described how she worked with others to solve the audio issue by stringing up a microphone to a different soundboard to boost sound. I was impressed, and I noted that how their experience with technology glitch in a carefully planned lesson is now a familiar experience for teachers at every grade level. Follow these steps:

STEP ONE: You, the teacher, plan that tomorrow’s lesson will use (NOTEmore than one answer may apply):
a. the SMARTBoard,
b. the Promethean Board,
c. the ENO board,
d. white board with projector,
e. TV Screen display.
STEP TWO: You, the teacher, plan and prepare the lesson using the software or digital platform on your (NOTEmore than one answer may apply):
a.  iPad or Kindle;
b. school or personal laptop;
c. school networked desktop;
d. your mobile phone.
STEP THREE: You, the teacher, get to class early to set up the (NOTE: more than one answer may apply):
a. projector;
b. speaker(s), microphone, and/or sound system;
c. classroom response system “clickers”;
d. computer cart with student laptops;

BUT!

Once the students are in the room, one or more of the following scenarios occurs: (Circle ALL that apply):
a. Internet access slows down as all students are logging on at the same time;
b. computers on the cart are not charged because the cart was left unplugged overnight;
c. Internet access slows because this is the date for the new IOS system download and everyone is upgrading!;
d. the “dongle” for the projector is missing (again!);
e. the program requires Adobe Flash or Java -neither of which is installed on one or more devices;
f. Internet access is not available to a handful of students who have forgotten their access passwords (again!!);
g. Audio cable or coaxial cable or HDMI cable is missing (again!);
h. Internet access is newly blocked to one or more of the websites you provided to students;
i. the speakers crackle and the soundtrack is inaudible;
j. video projection is too dark because of the fading (flickering) projection lamp (too expensive to replace at this time of year).

So….What does a teacher do when a technology glitch prevents delivery of the designed lesson?

loading-1

NOTE: Waiting for the software to load can be an annoying technology glitch in class!

Rather than despair when the lesson you have so carefully planned to deliver does not work because of a technology glitch, you may want to consider what new opportunity has been created. Instead of throwing up your hands, getting frustrated, or giving up, you should think of how to use this opportunity to teach students the lesson of how you deal with a technology glitch.

Model Behavior: Persevere and Problem Solve

Not only is this technology glitch an opportunity to model how to cope with failure an authentic life lesson, this is also an opportunity that is aligned to the Common Core State Standards for any grade level by way of the Mathematical Practice Standard #1 (MPS#1). The MPS#1 requires students to persevere and problem solve. By rewording some of the criteria of this mathematical practice to fit the problem of a technology glitch, a teacher can follow the standard’s objective:

When challenged by technology, teachers can look “for entry points to [a] solution” and also “analyze givens, constraints, relationships, and goals.”   Teachers can use “a different method(s)” and “ask themselves, ‘Does this make sense?'” (MPS#1)

Moreover, teachers who follow MPS#1 are employing a “teachable moment” that is so highly prized in evaluation systems. Students at every grade level are keenly aware of the behaviors that teachers are modeling in class, and researchers, such as Albert Bandura (1977), have documented the importance of modeling as an instructional tool. They refer to social learning theory which notes that behavior is strengthened, weakened, or maintained in social learning by modeling of behavior of others:

“When a person imitates the behavior of another, modeling has taken place. It is a kind of vicarious learning by which direct instruction does not necessarily occur (although it may be a part of the process).”

Watching a teacher model perseverance in order to problem solve a technology glitch can be a positive lesson. Watching a teacher model how to collaborate with others to solve a technology glitch is equally positive, and including students in a collaboration to solve technology problems, particularly at the upper grade levels, is a desired 21st Century skill.

Learning from Failure

Finally, the educational organization The Partnership of 21st Century Learning anticipated problems with technology in the classroom in the following standard:

View failure as an opportunity to learn; understand that creativity and innovation is a long-term, cyclical process of small successes and frequent mistakes.

Technology that malfunctions or fails in the classroom is one such a learning opportunity. So, the next time, teachers, that the projection bulb blows out, the Internet becomes unavailable, or the software is taking too long to load, take a deep breath and use this opportunity to model problem solving. Model the lesson of perseverance as a life lesson….and, just to be safe, remember to have a back-up plan.

What was the back-up plan for the SKYPE session? A read-aloud….decidedly low-tech and still popular.

 

This Sunday’s end paper for the New York Times Magazine on 2/28/16 presented the latest in the millennial generation’s dream jobs list. The results were aggregated from a 2015 survey organized by the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS).

The article, The New Dream Jobs was organized by  by Jenna Wortham and subtitled “What a survey of millennials might tell us about the workplaces of the future.” The survey results were described as a “scattershot” that “offer a glimpse into the ambitions of the millennial generation.”

The 18,000 participants (high school students, college students, and young professionals) ages 15-29, parsed through a list of more than 200 companies before selecting Google as their top choice. The Walt Disney Company (with an appropriate song lyric, “a dream is a wish your heart makes”) came in second, and St Jude’s Hospital that pioneers research and treatments for kids with cancer and other life-threatening diseases came in third.

NYTimes graphic on Dream Jobs

NYTimes graphic on Dream Jobs; Illustration by JAMES GRAHAM

The factors that were important to students included employee welfare, flexible scheduling, and a sense of purpose. 89% of the respondents indicated that their dream jobs could be an opportunity to gain job skills. They also expressed their highest interest in medicine and health related and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) focused fields (40%), technology/engineering (21%), science (28%), and arts/entertainment/media (20%).

The exceptionally high level of interest in the sciences may be in part due to efforts over the past several years to engage female students in STEM related activities, noting that there was a disproportionate number (75%) of the respondents were female students. The was, however, a greater diversity in respondent ethnicity: Caucasian 38%, Latino 18%, African-American 21%, Asian 12%.

While there were 200 companies offered in the survey for selection, there were also some (traditional) hometown favorites. Respondents selected Local Hospital at #6, Local Police Department at #53, and Local Fire Department at #90.

What about Education as a Choice?

What is surprising is that the field of education did not have a Local Public School as an option for respondents. Respondents could choose to be a doctor, fireman, police officer….but not a teacher? Instead, what was offered for the education option was the organization Teach for America.  While many public school systems require educational degrees, the Teach for America promotion on its website states:

“A degree in education isn’t a prerequisite for you to apply to the corps. However, nearly all corps members must receive a state-issued teaching credential, certificate, license, or permit to be hired by a school and must be considered “highly qualified” under federal law.”

What do students who have attended or plan to attend a four year college for education, understand about Teach for America as a career choice? “Highly qualified” for Teach for America can be the “rigorous summer training program and extensive coaching”, a very different training than college coursework (undergraduate or graduate) in instruction.  When the NSHSS  offers Teach for America on a list of 200 companies, they communicate that an education is associated with a “company” rather than a profession. Based on the data, it should be noted that Teach for America  fallen in popularity from #26 on the Dream Job list in 2014 to #34 this year.

Irony in Dream Job List

The irony is, that without the choice of education as a Dream Job, many of the dream jobs on the list would be unattainable. If education as a profession is not a choice represented on this list (as police, firemen careers are represented) a problem is created for all future lists.

For example, without recruiting best and brightest of scientists to the Dream Job of science teachers, students will not be ready for the medicine and health related careers that they want as Dream Jobs. Similarly, learning to communicate effectively in media jobs comes from attracting excellent English Language Arts teachers, while artistic talents are honed by bringing the finest in fine arts teachers (music, art, drama, etc) to classrooms K-12. In short, this year’s interest in STEM comes from teachers who have communicated a passion for these subject so much, that their students want to continue in that particular field as a Dream Job.

Finally, if one of the qualities that millennials are looking for in a career is the ability to work on a team (40%), then a choice for education is a choice for a Dream Job. Educators know how to work collaboratively as a team: in a district, in a school, in a class. And, of course, educators are the ones who train students to work as a team as well.

On the NSHSS 2015 survey on Dream Jobs, a choice of the F.B.I. (#5)  beat out the choice of the National Security Administration (#19). According to the survey, students would rather build up the military by selecting the Army (#42) as a career over Building a Bear (#50)…but note, without educators, building the skills for a Dream Job would be only a dream.

BigShortThe film The Big Short based on a book by Michael Lewis– a funny but frustrating recap of the economic crisis of 2008. The last scenes of the film detailed the fallout using a voice over by Ryan Gosling playing the role of Jarred Varnett:

“The banks took the money the American people gave them and used it to lobby the Congress to kill big reform. And then America blamed immigrants and poor people. And this time… even teachers. And when all was said and done, only one single banker went to jail.” (PDF script)

I bolded “And this time… even teachers” because I was surprised to hear such a clear connection between a “they” and “blame teachers” when the film was entirely about the financial industry.

To be truthful, there was some highly entertaining educating going on in the film. The “teachers” were celebrities Margot Robbie (actress), Anthony Bourdain (cook, author) and Selena Gomez (singer, actress) who broke the 4th wall to “teach” audiences about credit-default swaps and collateralized debt obligations. But, as an educator, I have long suspected that teachers have been a convenient scapegoat, even before the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) initiatives.

Upon further investigation, “blaming the teachers” is not the only connection that is made between education and mortgage crisis. The film also highlights how several individual financial advisors saw the financial crisis coming, and then bet against the mortgage market (hence the name “The Big Short”).

In following the path of inquiry from mortgage fraud jumped to education, I found that the financial expert Steven Eisman (played by Christian Bale)  gave a speech in May of 2010 titled “Subprime Goes to College,” at the Ira Sohn Investment Research Conference.

Mother Jones reporter  wrote about the speech (May 2010) titled Steve Next Big Short: For-Profit Colleges He reported that  Eisman compared the for-profit education companies (ITT and Apollo Group) to, “seamy mortgage brokers who peddled explosive subprime loans over the past two decades.”

In his presentation (PDF) Eisman explained how federally guaranteed debt through Title IV student loans,one-quarter of the $89 billion in available, went to these companies that enrolled only 10 percent of the nation’s postsecondary students.

Kroll notes that in this speech -two years after the mortgage crisis, Eisman ended with a warning:

“Are we going to do this all over again? We just loaded up one generation of Americans with mortgage debt they can’t afford to pay back. Are we going to load up a new generation with student loan debt they can never afford to pay back? The industry is now 25 percent of Title IV money on its way to 40 percent…But if nothing is done, then we are on the cusp of a new social disaster.”

Eisman’s warning generated negative attention for him by April of 2011, reported in the CNN Money website, The article noted:

 The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) called upon the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether Eisman had used his relationship with the Department of Education as a way to  “manipulate the market price” of for-profit education stocks.

By October of 2015, however,Eisman’s warning was being taken more seriously by other federal agencies. According to the Wall Street Journal Marketwatch Report:

The University of Phoenix (Apollo Group) was placed on probation by the US Department of Defense. They have barred recruiting on military bases and are active in “preventing troops from using federal money for classes.”

This must have an adverse impact on Apollo Group; net income growth for as of August 2015 was -131.88%.

Similarly, ITT Educational Services (ESI) reported their net income growth September 2015 as -83.65%. Truth in advertising might be part of the reason for the drop, one of the top bullets on the Consumer Information Page on the ITT website lists one powerful reason that potential students might not enroll:

Credits earned are unlikely to transfer.

The Inside Higher Ed website reporter Paul Fain also wrote about the souring relationship between ITT  and the Department of Education (10/20/15):

Troubles are deepening for ITT Educational Services, with the U.S. Department of Education on Monday announcing stricter financial oversight and reporting requirements on the embattled for-profit chain.

In a letter to the company, the department cited federal fraud allegations against two ITT executives and the company’s “failure of the general standards of financial responsibility” in justifying its decision to tighten the screws.

The attention Steven Eisman brought to the mortgage crisis eventually gave him credibility….and lots of money. He positioned this credibility towards another crisis…this one involving for-profit colleges.

Which starts a new line of inquiry as to who could get the blame this time? OR should audiences expect a repeat:  “And this time… even teachers.”

“We are not used to live with such bewildering uncertainty,” wrote Jessica Stern in a New York Times editorial How Terror Hardens Us on Sunday (12/6/15) after the San Bernardino, California, shootings.

Stern, an adult, was writing about adults collectively when she used the pronoun”we.”

That same bewildering uncertainty also confronts our children, our students in schools. That bewildering uncertainty is happening at a vulnerable time, just when they are just learning to be citizens in our democracy. That same state of terror, a state of intense fear, has an impact on their state of mind as each terrorist attack, Stern notes, “evokes a powerful sense of dread.”

 Stern, a professor at Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies, co-authored ISIS: The State of Terror. She noted in her editorial:

“It [terrorism] is exactly that kind of psychological warfare that It is a form of psychological warfare whose goal is to bolster the morale of its supporters and demoralize and frighten its target audience — the victims and their communities. Terrorists aim to make us feel afraid, and to overreact in fear.”

Students in our classrooms today attend schools where terrorism or home-grown violence is a possibility; the term “lockdown” is part of their vocabulary. At every grade level, they have every reason to believe that they could be a target audience. while motives for violence have differed, many students are aware that high-profile incidents have happened in schools: Columbine (1999) and Sandy Hook (2012).

As educators in all disciplines at every grade level struggle to help students deal with recent events that are identified as terrorism, perhaps the discipline of social studies is the subject where educators can best counter a terrorist’s goal to have our students “afraid and overreact in fear.”

That academic responsibility to help students cope was claimed 14 years ago by the president of the National Council of Social Studies (NCSS) in 2001, months after the attacks on the Pentagon and the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center.

Most frequent words in the speech given by Aiden Davis in 2011 to the National Council of Social Studies after 9/11 (www.wordsift.com)

The most frequent words enlarged from the speech given by Aiden Davis, President of National Council of Social Studies after 9/11/2001 (www.wordsift.com)

 

 

When Adrian Davis delivered his 2001 NCSS Presidential Address to the nation’s social studies teachers, he explained their role as educators included efforts to “to work to reconstruct schools to become laboratories for democratic life” by saying:

“Schools do not exist in a vacuum. They are not isolated from their neighborhoods and communities. Schools and teaching reflect society, and they participate in constructing the future society.”

When Davis gave this address, he was making the case that terrorism had made the discipline of social studies more relevant to future societies than ever before. He anticipated that there would be people who could “overreact in fear”; his address hoped to point out that students would need guidance so that democracy would survive the bewildering uncertainty after 9/11:

 As social studies educators, we need to reinforce the ideals of equality, equity, freedom, and justice against a backlash of antidemocratic sentiments and hostile divisions. As social studies educators, we need to teach our students not only how to understand and tolerate but also how to respect others who are different, how to cooperate with one another, and to work together for the common good.

Davis’s concerns about teaching respect and how to cooperate are even more important today when there is heated rhetoric conflating terrorism with religion. His reason to encourage social studies teachers to reinforce the ideals of equality, equity, freedom, and justice provides a solution to the concerns in Stern raised in her How Terror Hardens Us.

Stern’s editorial concludes, “If we are to prevail in the war on terrorism, we need to remember that the freedoms we aspire to come with great responsibilities.”

On behalf of all social studies educators, Davis accepted those responsibilities. As he concluded, he made clear the commitment he was making for teachers, “We have an opportunity to teach the coming generations to preserve and extend the United States as an experiment in building a democratic community….teaching is where we touch the future.”

The future is always uncertain, but educators, especially social studies educators, can provide students the skills of citizenship to deal with uncertainty so that they will not overreact in fear.

Last month, I travelled to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to attend the 2015 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Convention with two fellow teachers to participate in poster sessions under the topic Digital Pedagogies and Approaches to Media. 

One of the poster session was titled  “Every Picture Tells a Story”  and offered by Catherine Flynn, the Literacy Specialist at the K-8 elementary school in Sherman, Connecticut. Her presentation promoted the use of art as a literacy strategy in English/Language Arts classrooms as well as other content area classrooms. She offered examples of lessons on using art to enhance academic background knowledge at multiple grade levels. Background knowledge is critical to improving literacy since students who literally have  “pictures in their heads” of an idea, time period, or event are better able to comprehend the pictures created by words in a text. Flynn illustrated how abstract concepts of point of view, context, and perspective can be made understandable by using art to engage students in conversations across time and place. She also provided viewers with research that supports the use of art  to improve student inferential skills and in analyzing interpretations. Her materials can be accessed on this Google Doc and she can be contacted through her Twitter:@flynn_catherine and her excellent blog https://readingtothecore.wordpress.com/

The other presentation was offered by Caitlin Pinto, a 7th grade English Language Arts teacher at Harry Bailey Middle School in West Haven, Connecticut. I had already posted about Caitlin’s presentation at Here We Go, Pinto. Her lesson had students respond to reading on social media platforms or using social media templates to develop many of the skills that we want our students: analyzing, summarizing, researching, and making text to text connections. The social media platforms she uses are familiar to students who can transfer the strategies of each and apply them to the more traditional roles in literature circles. Her Twitter handle is @cpinto_iteach.

Over 30 educators stopped to speak one-to-one with Catherine or Caitlin, and the conversations about the different lessons they taught were each several minutes long. Both were engaged sharing with peers for the entire 90 minutes.  Moreover, as an example of the effectiveness in using social media, a tweet I posted about Caitlin’s use of showing how she uses the Twitter format for some roles in literature circles has been viewed 1,677 times (see below).

Screenshot 2015-12-02 20.37.13

 

A poster session is not given in a dedicated room. The number of people who stopped to talk, however, exceeded expectations. At each display, we received more response from attendees than several of the 20-minute presentations held elsewhere during the convention. In this context, poster sessions were great way for these new presenters to become comfortable and network personally with other teachers.

I have written about the word context and this convention in a previous post where I mentioned that the etymology of the word context comes from the 15th C. Latin contextus meaning “a joining together”. The word context was originally the past participle of contexere, which means to “to weave together,” from com- “together” + texere “to weave, to make”.

The poster sessions are an example of how teachers “join together” in opportunities to show how they “make” lessons that help students improve their literacy skills. Catherine’s lessons using art to improve student inferential skills and in analyzing interpretations and Caitlin’s lessons using social media to help students with analyzing, summarizing, researching, and making text to text connections are both evidence of how best practices can be shared peer-to-peer at the NCTE convention.

NCTE poster sessions = contextus=an example of joining [educators] together.