Crash Course: Differentiation

When a teacher is bored and craving innovation, she creates a FREE, helpful PDF that is chockful of resources, pre–researched for you!

While the PDF primarily explains differentiating through content, process, and product, though resources provided show a deeper level of differentiated instructional strategies for your pedagogical pleasure. What’s more? Oodles of clickable links to help you exercise that pointer finger while watching the Olympics!

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Enjoy!

Ochwoman

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Encouraging Pedagogical Partnerships

Rumors have been whispered; some which are much too loud betray that with advancements in technology, we won’t need teachers anymore! I say, however, that NO technology can replace the creative minds of teachers and students working together, the pedagogy behind the lessons and on-the-spot interactions that only teachers, students, and human beings can have with one another.

As Melinda Gates said at Duke University’s Commencement Address in 2013, “Technology is just a tool. It’s a powerful tool, but it’s just a tool. Deep human connection is very different. It’s not a tool…It is the end – the purpose and the result of a meaningful life.” (Fullan, 2014) Gates did not say this with teachers exclusively in mind, but it does feel specifically significant to me as an educator.

Kalantzis and Cope (2010) discuss the future of new learning: “Teachers and learners will be able to make meaningful choices about what and how they learn in order to meet new higher standards of performance.” But I ask this: can’t we engage in these practices now? Technology aside, teachers and students can join together in pedagogical partnerships, which are “equal two-way learning partnership[s] between and among students and teachers.” (Fullan, 2013)

Fullan (2014) narrates interviews with teachers, citing findings that students today are no longer complacent, accepting of didactic pedagogy, but rather skeptical of it. “Young people are now digitally connected to overwhelming amounts of information and ideas,” which makes them desire more of there education.

Now, this makes for a beautiful story, but I will be the first classroom teacher to say that this is not the whole story. Not all students are on their devices during class because they are in silent protest of the teacher’s traditional pedagogy. Some are trying to be social, some are just plain bored, and some just want to beat their high score in [Insert trendy game app that’s all the rage today].

With all this partnership talk, I’ve thought about 5 real, practical ways that I have successfully engaged my students in a pedagogical partnership with me in the past school year:

  1. Reflect on learning outcomes for the day by asking questions like: “Are these short-term goals or long-term goals? Why do you think that?” This can happen at the beginning of a lesson, the end, or both!
  2. Ask students to “Put it in your own words.” Even if it’s just directions you’ve read aloud, there is power in asking a seventh grader to put them in his or her own words for the class. Often times, lagging learners or spacey students will better key in to what and how a peer says something.
  3. Let the students teach. Every once in a while, I like to let a small group of students teach the class for an activity. The slides are ready, I let them know what the goal is, and I sit back and participate as a student. This lets me observe the class, while letting eager students take a leadership role. I get to see studets develop communication skills and utilize various classroom management strategies. Students get to see each other in a different light. For teachers and students, I deem this a win-win situation.

    See the full graphic organizer at: http://goo.gl/0MOyGs

    See the full graphic organizer at: http://goo.gl/0MOyGs

  4. Allow students time to reflect on lessons at the end of each day, individually and collectively. Individually, students complete a graphic organizer, which asks them about their confidence in their ability to [insert learning outcome] and perhaps write about the strengths they exhibited that day & something they can improve the next day. Collectively, students may have to come up with a sentence or hashtag, which sums up what we learned that day (to appear as a Class Chat update).
  5. Ask questions of your students. Listen to their answers. Keep the personal relationship aspect of teaching alive. This is perhaps the most significant strategy teachers can utilize. Whether having a one-on-one conversation with a student for 30 seconds, or asking students to reflect on a question in their journals, which you will respond to later, valuing your students’ thoughts holds so much power.

The moment that teachers bow down to technology as the omnipotent educator is the moment students may decide She won’t know the answer, or He won’t care what I think, or She’ll think I’m stupid if I ask that. Change students’ thoughts, opinion, interactions, and reactions. If you engage students in a pedagogical partnership, their inner-talk may transform: I don’t know the answer, but she can help me figure it out, or He always cares what I think, or I bet someone else is wondering this, so I’ll ask. Talk, listen, and above all: keep trying new things.

References:

Fullan, Michael, & Langworthy, Maria. (2014). “A Rich Seam: How New Pedagogies Find Deep Learning.” Pearson. Retrieved from http://www.michaelfullan.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/3897.Rich_Seam_web.pdf.

Fullan, Michael, & Langworthy, Maria. (2013). “Towards a New End: New Pedagogies for Deep Learning.” Collaborative Impact. Retrieved from http://redglobal.edu.uy/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/New_Pedagogies_for_Deep-Learning_Whitepaper1.pdf.

Kalantzis, Mary, & Cope, Bill. (2010). “The Teacher as Designer: pedagogy in the new media age.” E–Learning and Digital Media, Volume 7, Number 3. Retrieved from http://newlearningonline.com/_uploads/3_Kalantzis_ELEA_7_3_web.pdf.

Lessons on Lagging Laptops & Laryngitis

“Come on, slow computer! Hurry up!” a student announces, as she watches the gray spinning wheel on her screen, indicating that the page is still, roughly 30 seconds later, loading. This anxious announcement is not uncommon among the computer labs at our middle school. In fact, this sore sentiment is so shared among students that we decided to conduct a scientific experiment:

What is the average time it takes for computers to turn on, log on, and load one internet page?

Before we disclose our shocking answer, let’s delve into some details about our class and computers. As of today, November 13, 2014, my students have spent a lot of time using laptops at our school in English class, both in stationary computer labs and in class with mobile computer carts. They are well-acquainted with login procedures, how to use Google Apps for Education, and now–with Google Classroom. This is a far cry from last year, where I found that a large majority of my students were unaware of the BYOD policy in place at our school. This year, we are now in a place where my students can successfully log on and work in Google Classroom without verbal instructions, which comes in handy now that I have had laryngitis for 12 days. (Teaching with laryngitis is a curse I would not wish upon even my worst enemy, but with Google Classroom, it is possible.) While I have had to explicitly teach how to use the technology (shortcuts for copy & paste, how to print a document, what a hyperlink is…) before my students do any Language Arts content area work with technology, I believe this teaching has laid the groundwork for successful lessons on laryngitis and for future lessons in class and in life.

This sounds perfect on the page, but there are many obstacles sprouting up like stubborn weeds in our path beyond just this lingering laryngitis. Our middle school serves (at last count) 1,067 seventh and eighth grade students. The technology program provided for our students is as follows:

  • Bring Your Own Device Program (Students, if they have and can afford a device, may bring a device to school to use at teacher discretion.)
  • Stationary Computer Labs (We have 6 computer labs, 2 with 15 computers and 4 with 28 computers. Teachers sign up for locations by date via Google docs.)
  • Mobile Computer Labs (We have 11 mobile computer labs: 9 labs with 16 computers, 1 lab with 10 computers, and 1 lab with 8 computers. Teachers also sign up for carts by date via Google docs.) (Source: ochwoman.weebly.com)

That means, if all computers are functioning properly and not under maintenance with tech support staff, we have 304 computers to support 1,067 students. At any one time, technology is only available for 28% of our student population.

Now, add to the equation some unavoidable realities:

  • Some computers shut down without warning.
  • Some computers are being serviced by tech staff.
  • Some computers do not have “logon servers,” which means a RequestIT ticket must be submitted since the computer is not usable.
  • Mobile labs cannot be used for two full periods in a row, as computer batteries die quickly.
  • Lastly, some computers are so slow to load browsers and documents, it eats away at learning time.

Our bell schedule runs on block days Monday through Thursday, when we see classes on alternating days for approximately 90 minutes. We have a neutral day on Fridays, where we see all classes for shorter periods of time, approximately 44 minutes. To make the most of this time, I usually sign up my classes for labs on block days, so that most of our time is used for learning, aided by technology.

bell_schedule

 

What does a daily lesson plan look like with computers?

  1. LINK: Students complete a warm up related to the learning target for the day, as they wait for their computers to log on. We go over the warm up as a class.
  2. ENGAGE: Students log on to Google Classroom to view the announcement (a task list) and the assignment for the day.
  3. ACTIVE LEARNING: Students will begin working on a group activity together to encourage participation. Students will  then work on an individual assignment to show mastery of the learning target.
  4. REFLECT: Finally, students reflect on the day, completing an exit ticket usually by commenting on high-level critical thinking questions on Google Classroom.
  5. NOW & THEN: Reflection questions tie in to previous and future concepts, helping students to connect to content, making it relevant to their lives.
This is a snapshot of a Google doc assignment for one of my classes. Lesson #1 on Laryngitis

This is a snapshot of a Google doc assignment for one of my classes. Lesson #1 on Laryngitis

This sounds like a great lesson in theory, and in a utopic world, all students would be engaged in learning for the entire duration of class. However, this is where today’s realities kick in, and yes, we are now going to answer:

What is the average time it takes for computers to turn on, log on, and load one internet page?

Students were instructed to turn on their computers at the same time, log on, click Google Chrome, and log in to Google Classroom. When this internet page loaded, they were to say, “Now!” I noted the time and computer number for each student in a spreadsheet.

spreadsheet

Nineteen students were in attendance for this class experiment. The fastest startup time for a student’s computer was 3 minutes and 25 seconds. This sounds quite reasonable.  The next student’s computer took 6 minutes, and the third student’s chimed in shortly after at 6 minutes and 10 seconds.

The average, however, is much more grim.

 

The average startup time for computers was 10 minutes and 56 seconds.

 

Now, add in the fact that the slowest computer took 21 minutes and 39 seconds, and that four students had to switch computers due to unexpected shutdowns; the utopic lesson crumbles to rubble.

Yes, my students and I are thankful to have access to technology.

Yes, we find ways to work around issues by switching computers, sharing computers, and using our personal devices.

Yes, we are flexible, adaptable, and resilient in the face of adversity.

But, is this the best way to teach my students these admirable qualities and life skills? Sure, the student whose computer took 21:39 to start up was able to read her class novel and work on a review packet while waiting, but this was not the intention of the day’s lesson. Further, even when her computer loaded, her internet browser’s sloth-like speed made it completely impractical to actually complete work. She ended up working with the student next to her, sharing a computer instead.

My students are missing out on so many collaboration possibilities and problem-solving discoveries because of lag time. My students and I are waiting for the day that our large school district’s budget allows for new technology to be purchased, but in our school district, which serves more than 180,000 students, “equal opportunity for all” politics rule. If all schools can’t get it, no one gets it. Everyone will be provided the same opportunities. With all the budget cuts of late, it seems new technology will continue drifting further down on the To Do list. In the mean time, my students, my school, other schools in our school district, and schools across the nation will continue waiting for a solution, just as we wait for our laptops to log on and load our learning.

Dear Google, Apple, DELL, IBM, or any computer company with a conscience,

You have the power to change the meaning of equal opportunity in education.

Will you work with schools to provide the resources that your future employees and consumers will use daily? Will you support 21st century learners, who will become the critical thinkers, problem solvers, and flexible, fearless leaders of tomorrow? Will you be the answer to our endlessly loading, spinning wheels and frequently failing computers?

I challenge you to answer truthfully with politics, public relations, and pride aside: Will you fight for our future?

 

State of Education Report: 2024

*The following is a fictional, projected report on the state of education in the United States in 2024 for a graduate course at the University of Illinois.*

The trilling notes wake Asami from his deep sleep. With his pointer finger, he swipes his smartphone screen to turn off his alarm. He pushes himself up onto his elbows and looks out the window. The sun is already up, streaming through the half-open blinds.

It is 8:30 a.m. on Friday, Asami’s last day of school this week. He has planned to let the dog outside and eat a bowl of cereal before class. Taking Gus outside chews up ten minutes of time before Asami pours himself a bowl of cinnamon cereal. His parents are heading out the door to work, and he yawns as he tells them, “Have a good day!”

It is 8:45 a.m. Asami watches a comedy news show he’d been hoping to watch earlier in the week, and giggles between spoonfuls. An ad flashes onto the screen, and he checks the time.

It is 8:55 a.m. Asami picks up his laptop and signs in to his class portal. The screen shows him today’s assignments and discussions to complete. Asami is enrolled in six 11th grade level courses. Overall for today, he sees he has three assignments: English, Japanese, and Technology Education. He has two synchronous discussions, and two discussion boards to post and comment on. It may seem like a lot, but his class portal has discussion times all laid out for him with event reminders. Further, he is familiarized with this class portal system as he was first acclimated in 9th grade. He sees that his World History course has a synchronous discussion beginning at 9:00 a.m. so he clicks the link with a minute to spare.

It is 9:00 a.m. The class facilitator welcomes students to class, directs students to the question of the day, and shares a video on the screen. Asami looks up a quote he can’t quite remember, but which will aid him immensely in the discussion after the video. He copies the link, and prepares to share it in the class chat box, with a helpful flowchart he stumbled upon as well.

This is Asami’s Friday morning. It is also the average Friday morning, a telecommuting day, for many United States public school students today.

The Three Phase Plan to Technology Integration Across America

Federal, state, and local governments have worked with companies to ensure that all public and private schools have a one-to-one ratio of student to information and communication technologies (ICT). The nation is in the first of three phases of integrating technology within schools and communities, ensuring that all homes (with children attending school) are installed with wireless routers and an ICT device by 2030. The phases, as outlined in the original report, are quoted below:

Phase One: Deadline 2020

  • Pilot schools will work to integrate technology within schools and communities, specifically providing a wireless router to every home with a child attending school. Wireless routers will maintain the same security and privacy measures as in school.
  • A laptop, or other comparable ICT device, will be provided to a families who demonstrate financial need.
  • Homework and assignments will be accessible online throughout the week, though students and teachers will meet in schools four days a week. Students and teachers will telecommute once a week to pilot online class sessions and to evaluate cost savings potential for the school.

Phase Two: Deadline 2025

  • The program will broaden to include more pilot schools across the nation and will enact the same plan, installing wireless routers and ICT devices in homes.
  • Through an application and observation process, students who show strong independent study skills can replace one or more of their in-school courses with online courses, which allow students to complete all work for that course online. Students will still be required to physically come to school for a set amount of hours a week for other non-online courses.

Phase Three: Deadline 2030

  • The program will be offered to every public school in the United States, and while schools may opt out, wireless routers and ICT devices (one per home, by financial need basis) will be provided for every home with a child in school to facilitate parent-teacher communication and student-teacher expectation transparency.
  • Every school will operate on a five day school schedule, with at least one of those days as a telecommuting day for teachers and students.
  • Online courses will be offered to build time management and independent study skills in students who show strong motivation and responsibility

The Theory Behind The Three Phase Plan

Expectations in the workplace have revolutionized with the ever-changing tide of technology. As such, the landscape of education has also evolutionized, growing up from traditional classrooms necessitated from the Industrial Revolution and into the more progressive classrooms of the Age of the Digital Citizen.

The top ten skills requested by today’s and tomorrow’s employers are no longer as transfixed as multiplication tables and five-paragraph essays; the skills have transformed to become the very character of the individual.

  1. Collaboration
  2. Problem-solving
  3. Decision-makinglightbulb1
  4. Planning, prioritization, and time management
  5. Communication
  6. Adaptability and flexibility
  7. Creativity and innovation
  8. Research & information literacy
  9. Responsible citizenship
  10. Interactive mindset

These ten skills encapsulate the expectations of students in the Age of the Digital Citizen. Students are no longer solely beholden to the work and expectations of their immediate community, but must also strive to connect and communicate with the entire online community. Globalization signifies a mandatory shift in education, encouraging a true student-centered learning environment, in which technology is the catalyst, the enabler, and the facilitator. The plan outlined above will launch education into the twenty-first century, and bring with it the promise of selfless, global-minded citizens. Tomorrow will be met with well-informed, truly innovative, curious, and collaborative individuals who grew up in the United States of America, in the time of the most revolutionary educational overhaul to date.

Underdog Schools, Big Dog Companies & Big Data

In October 2012, the Harvard Business Review dubbed Big Data in business “The Management Revolution,” as businesses looked to transform data collected into dollars accumulated in company bank accounts. (McAffee 2012) And in 2014, big data has also struck a chord in schools, aiming to help teachers drowning in data to swim above the sea, and funnel data collected into future student achievement. We are treading water amidst the technological tide that is “The Big Data Education Revolution.” (Guthrie 2013) (This term, begging for streamlining, is thanks to US News.)

Lisa Fleisher (2014) of the Wall Street Journal notes: “With the shift to computerized testing, tablets in the classroom and digitized personal records, schools are collecting more data than ever on how children are doing. Now, some educators believe, it’s time to put that data to use.”

Pause. Now. Now, some educators believe, it’s time to put that data to use. What is the point of collecting data that is solely to be dumped into forgotten folders in a cloud?

The Economist (2014) isolates the source of the issue: “School systems were being swamped by data—like every other sector of the economy. And like other industries, they had no idea how to respond.” Just because there is a demand for data does not mean educators must cram as much data collection into the day as possible. Rather, educators must work together and problem-solve to identify a plausible response for the vast range of possibilities that exist in technology-mediated data collection.

Johns Hopkins University professor Steven Ross forecasts the significance of big data in education’s future, that “using data to help tailor education to individuals will drive learning in the future.” (Anderle 2014) Lately, differentiated and personalized learning have surged forth as necessities in education; these ethereal dreams are having their edges singed off by the reality that is technology.

“Personalized learning is not a replacement for teachers,” Peggy Grant (2014) cautions in Personalized Learning, “Rather, it provides the data and strategies educators need to make better pedagogical and interventional decisions to allow students to learn in their own ways, at their own paces.” Differentiation for all students is possible.

However: “Collecting data just for the sake of having it is not nearly as important as how actionable the data is,” warns Andy Myers of Renaissance Learning. (Anderle 2014) Data is actionable. It informs decisions and propels educators into action.

And if it didn’t before, it should now.

For some educators, big data has been an issue best tackled by outside learning analytics companies, like Renaissance Learning. Teach to One, a program enacted by New Classrooms Innovations Partners, works with schools to track data, informing educators about whether students have mastered math concepts or not. The software assigns students personalized quizzes and lessons, which target their weaknesses’ further students take lessons in various settings: “in a classroom with a live teacher, with a one-on-one tutor online or even through computer lessons.” The software is able to identify which settings allow each student to learn best. (Fleisher 2014)

For some educators, this is quite encouraging. I would be interested in learning which settings suit my students best. However, for me as an English teacher, I find myself thinking, “Math is highly quantitative. What will be done about tracking data for more qualitative content areas, like Language Arts?” Khan Academy is renowned for its game-like, interactive website, tutoring students online in math subjects. I have yet to find a similar English/Language Arts-based website that can deliver a similar experience.

Big data holds big promises for those in education, but I remain leery as of yet, skeptical that big dog companies like Renaissance Learning (last sold at $1.1 billion) may take advantage of the underdog school just trying to help its students learn. Technology-mediated data collection is a godsend to teachers looking to track student progress. But it is also the never-ending bucket bailing torrential downpours of data into classrooms. If I have one caution then, let it be this: Let data inform, but do not let it become the uniform that schools must wear to prove their students’ worth.

Social Media in Learning Environments

Social media types graphic, courtesy of http://c4lpt.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/handbook3.png

 

An Edutopia article coyly reminds us “Social-networking tools aren’t just for flirting.” Truly, social media has evolved to become much more than a way for teens to interact; it is a news source, a collection of personalized interests, a one-stop (or borrow for free) shop, a medium through which users can continuously learn. Social media has become all these things and much more.

In a report on social media use in higher education faculty, a summation of the findings is listed below:

“Virtually all higher education teaching faculty are aware of the major social media sites; more than three-quarters visited a social media site within the past month for their personal use; and nearly one-half posted content. Even more impressive is their rate of adoption of social media in their professional lives: over 90% of all faculty are using social media in courses they’re teaching or for their professional careers outside the classroom.”

Many educational professionals are embracing the popularity of social media to extend the walls of the classroom. Teens and young adults have learned to “reflex-check” personal cell phones and social media. Using technology and social media has become such a frequent occurrence throughout the day that it seems educators have caught on… One of the best ways to encourage thinking about the content outside of the classroom is to enter the social media environment, many students’ playground.

Students and educators are encouraged to grow “Personal Learning Networks” not only to make professional connections, but also to broaden one’s learning base and to continue learning around-the-clock, as illustrated in the following graphic.

How to Grow Your Personal Learning Network with Social Media

 

While social media used to creep into classrooms in more traditional ways (and still do today) in the form of Facebook profile get-to-know-you templates or Twitter template exit tickets, the actual technology is more frequently employed today than ever. Social media use has grown exponentially, and growth has flourished differently among various generations. The Search Engine Journal has depicted this comparative social media growth in a clear and comprehensive infographic. The infographic shows daily Twitter use is declining among users, wheras daily and diverse Facebook use is still exponentially on the rise. It may be well-advised, then, for educators to consider a Facebook page designed to connect learners, but an Edudemic “Ultimate Twitter Guidebook for Teachers” posted in 2010 may be verging on obsolete.

Interestingly, Instagram was not explored as a social medium within this infographic; however, due to personal observations in classrooms I propose that it is a popular form of social media today, which calls for investigation. Within my current summer school classroom, I have explored integrating this social media within my SAT Prep class. Though cell phones are confiscated for the entirety of the class sessions by school supervisors, I noticed students using their cell phones before and after school to respond to and send messages and to monitor likes and comments on Instagram pictures. As such, our class has instituted infrequent homework assignments, which ask students to come up with advice, an example, or a picture to post to Instagram and/or Facebook with the class-invented hashtag of #OnMyWay2400. This hashtag was voted upon in a democracy-like election. It can be conjectured that this hashtag was elected due to its ability to capture in a small tidbit the idea of seeking the perfect SAT score of 2400.

One of the many #OnMyWay2400 Instagram pictures shared to extend the learning environment with social media use

 

It has been enlightening to see what pictures students snap, design, and upload. A word to the wise: if students have private profiles within the social media type used, not all pictures will be visible to all users. While privacy is a wonderful thing, it can also mean closed doors for an assignment designed to be open. Limitations must be understood before integrating a specific technology within a lesson; beyond that, the possibilities are endless for incorporating social media in learning environments. Educators must strive to embrace and integrate technology and social media in the learning process in meaningful and connected ways; indeed, many have already begun.

Empowering The Powerless in Education: We Want More

Teachers: We want more instructional time.

Students: We want more summer time.

This is the inner dialogue you would expect to hear in teachers’ and students’ heads, but for students in California this is not the case. According to a San Francisco Chronicle article, students from seven low-performing schools in California are fighting for more instructional time; nearly a month ago they filed a lawsuit against the state and education officials in an attempt to right the wrongs of lost learning time during their time in the school system. The Los Angeles Times also covered the story, contending that the lawsuit was filed due to “the lack of quality learning time for these students” and that this is in direct “violation of the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee.”

What exactly does the Constitution give these students a right to? An “adequate education.”

Not equal education. Not best attainable education, or good, or thorough education. Adequate.

It is a sad state in society when students must stand up for themselves because they know they have received a poor, inadequate education. These students have experienced teachers leaving due to various reasons, only to be replaced by substitute teachers who do no more than pass out worksheets and packets. Unless these were some magically interactive, engaging, thought-provoking packets, my guess is not much learning occurred during these “instructional” periods. Students must be actively learning material; as a short article from Columbia University points out: “When students brains are passive, their brain doesn’t do an especially effective job of processing or retaining…information.” Even if a teacher is there all year round, if he or she is doling out poor instruction, or teacher-centered instruction, that teacher is not providing students with a good education.

We Want More: Instructional Time

It’s not just students that are trying to get more instructional time. When heavy winter storms struck the northeast this year, some schools took action, requiring students to attend school on Saturdays to make up for lost time. Other schools resorted to adding on multiple days to the end of year schedule; Fairfax County Public Schools in Northern Virginia, first due to let out June 20 will now see the end of the year on June 25. Whether Saturdays or summer days, schools are pressured to add instructional time by the federally mandated 180 days policy.

Whereas years ago, administrators and parents alike might be happy to know that their Johnny and June are learning addition and the middle of the alphabet on Monday, many schools today have adopted daily objectives, or learning targets. These targets help to give a feasible focus for students during a lesson. Indeed, focus on daily objectives has proven successful for many school’s standardized achievement. As standardized tests continue to grind on schools though, school districts like Fairfax County Public Schools in northern Virginia, are pumping out unit pacing guides with standard after standard to teach to students. Even with 180 days, it feels overwhelming to try to get all students to master each and every standard at grade level, all the while differentiating assessments for every student.

We Want More: Professional, Purposeful Instructional Time

“The truth is that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything that is required of me,”says Rachel Fairbank, of her first year teaching experience in the Houston Independent School District.She is not alone in this feeling, and it’s not just first year teachers. Teachers are caught in a balancing act between giving students the best education possible and proving their worth with data that can neatly be entered into evaluation matrices. Teacher’s daily checklists are piled high, and toppling over. “Teacher burnout” is indeed lurking in the dark corners of most teachers’ minds, but luckily for many, it will never become a reality. What is teacher burnout, and how do we avoid it while still maintaining a highly engaged, highly performing student body?

teacher, bending over backward

Teachers often bend over backward, leading to teacher “burnout.”

Dale Knepper thinks of teacher burnout as “a diminished sense of accomplishment, exhaustion, and a sense of depersonalization,” all of which can be the result of pushing too hard, the prevalent isolation of those in the field, insufficient professional development opportunities, and/or inadequate administrative support. Teacher burnout isn’t teachers quitting and switching careers. Not always. No, it can also mean teachers who have burned out, but remain in the field, completely ineffective, and providing severely inadequate instruction.

Studies have indicated many different areas, which can stave off feelings of burnout. Knepper suggests it all comes back to classroom management strategies and building positive relationships with students. Barbara Laravee, in her book “Cultivating Teacher Renewal: Guarding Against Stress and Burnout,” suggests that teachers learn intervention strategies and communication strategies that result in student responses they desire, or what some schools are calling Positive Behavior Intervention Strategies. In Recognizing Rigorous and Engaging Teaching and Learning, educators and administrators are advised to use RRETL’s framework to:

·       Establish a clear shared vision of rigorous, engaging instructional practices

·       Provide focus for walkthroughs and learning walks

·       Assess the quality and extent of current practices

·       Provide focus for team collaboration

·       Prioritize areas of need for professional development

·      Confirm strengths and areas of improvement

Students, educators, administrators, and legislators all need to be on the same page, working toward a collective, community goal. Students need activities and assessments, which will engage them in powerful, purposeful learning. Educators need sufficient strategies for success and administrative support. Administrators need to support both students and educators as they work toward maximized student learning time. Legislators need to implement policies and laws which directly support students, educators, and administrators in the classroom for their needs and their purposes.

We Want More…Than Just An Adequate Education

As part of almost any teacher’s education preparation courses at university, Maslow’s hierarchy of needsis bound to be found in at least one course. We must first fulfill students’ most basic needs in order to reach higher needs, like respect of and by others, and problem solving and creativity. How then, is it that students in poorer areas with poor instruction are going to attain these high levels of thinking?

Somehow, against all odds, students like those in California are realizing the gaping divide they now face, looking back at the whole of their educational careers. They realize they have not received the adequate education promised to them to prepare them for the world ahead. They may have had teachers leave to due teacher burnout, or maternity leave, or sickness.

toothbrush

Teachers spend money out of pocket to make sure students have what they need to succeed…and to survive.

Then again, they could have had one of the many teachers who routinely pick their own pockets to buy necessity items, like food and toothbrushes, for their students. Or they could have had teachers who,when they see bright decorations, or an intriguing book, or organizing containers, buy them for their classroom without hope of reimbursement. Or they could have had teachers who embrace Bring Your Own Device policies, embrace and integrate technology into the classroom, and differentiate assignments and assessments to students to make lessons more relevant and memorable to each student. Or they could have had teachers who were excited and supported in their professional development endeavors, as they try to better themselves, their classrooms, and their students in the process.

The sad truth is the students who need these could-haves most are the ones who aren’t receiving them. The achievement gap is still glaring. The digital divide is multiplying. The students cry for an “adequate” education is unsettling.

Our students are not “adequate.” Our students are amazing, inspiring, creative, diverse. Our students have the potential to build new things, utilize technology in ways we never thought possible, find cures for diseases, diplomatically discuss issues, and change the world. Our students are not adequate. Our students do not deserve adequate. Our students deserve top-notch, the most engaging, the most memorable, the most creative, the most differentiated. Our students deserve the best education, educators, and educative tools and resources possible.

Nearly a month ago, students stood up for their rights as learners in this world, filing a lawsuit against California state and education officials. I, for one, am eagerly awaiting the results of the case, and looking forward to the shape that the field of education will take because of it.

Let Me Take A #Selfie Generation

Exploring: Cyber Civil Rights, Social Media Presence, and Online Safety & Privacy

I ask him to stop playing games on his phone. Yes, it is the end of the school day, but students are still expected to work. Besides, the “No electronic devices or headphones” sign is up.

“I’m sorry Ms. Ochman. Give me another chance?” I do. I make it clear that he cannot play games on his phone, and I point again to the sign. Then I walk away.

Two minutes later, he is playing a soccer game on his phone again. I quickly confiscate the phone and lock it up in a drawer in my desk. The wide-eyed begging and pleading that ensues at the end of the school day scares me. But it does not sway me from the consequence I have doled out.

“Please, Ms. Ochman, I won’t do it again. I’ll write you an essay. I’ll clean your room.” He announces a dozen other reasons, and also reminds me that he’ll miss his bus if I don’t give him his phone back.

“I’m sorry. There are consequences for your actions. You have a night without your phone. You can explain to your parents why you don’t have it tonight,” I explain my thinking, as he looks on, desperation mounting, “I let you persuade me against consequences last time. This time, there are consequences. I’m asking you to deal with them.”

Let me take a #selfie.This scenario truly played out last week in my classroom at the end of the day with a 13-year-old male student of mine. His actions and pleading words help to illustrate the increasing dependence I am seeing with my students for their cell phones and other electronic devices. This is not an isolated incident. I frequently hear hyperbolic statements like “I’d DIE without my phone.” This reliance and connectedness to technology in daily life demands that we educate the “digital native” generation, as Citron calls it in her article, “Combating Cyber Gender Harassment,” and the nation’s public about cyber civil rights, the impact of one’s personal presence in social media, and safety and privacy of online information.

Cyber Civil Rights

It is truly bothersome that “trivialization of cyber gender harassment” is indeed a problem widely seen today on the web (Citron 2009). We would expect that no one in public would go up to a woman and begin dirty talking to her and raping her in broad daylight with hundreds of people around, and yet this behavior is expected and (in so many ways) accepted online, in virtual games like Second Life. When victims do not feel comfortable standing up for themselves and bystanders do not become upstanders (people who stand up for victims), it says a lot about the societal norms we have come to accept, even if it is online, even if there is such a thing as “Wild West norms” (Citron 2009). If it is not condoned in life away from the screen, it should not be supported or ignored on the screen. Victim shaming, or blaming, is a very real and pervasive issue online, as it holds its own definition on Urban Dictionary, has a plethora of posts featured on Tumblr, and is the subject of various public events and online focus groups.

To move beyond this denial (or downright reversal of wrongdoing) of cyber gender harassment, we need more of a positive online presence to help broaden awareness in schools. Citron’s article spawned a website, http://www.cybercivilrights.org/, which was founded by Dr. Holly Jacobs, and provides information and support for the “End Revenge Porn” campaign. With an online presence, legislation may indeed soon be put into place to support cyber civil rights, so that victims are no longer written a prescription of “opting out.” While Citron suggests legislation can “condemn cyber gender harassment” and “change the norms of acceptable online behavior,” I think schools must step up to advance these purposes regardless of any impending legislation. We must teach our students responsible online behavior and what inappropriate, condemnable behavior looks like. Citron may have a gender-based agenda, but as a teacher, I will be looking to defend potential victims of all discrimination: race, gender, age, sexual orientation, groups participated in at school, socioeconomic status, language, etc. It is important for students to recognize differences and not to “diss” others because of these differences. With a structured environment to develop appropriate online behaviors, classrooms can begin to change the norms. Perhaps encouraging schools to have a media literacy, online responsibility, and cyber civil rights day at schools would be a way to spread awareness without much in the way of formal reform.

Personal Presence in Social Media

Next, to speak to the impact of one’s personal presence on social media, “Race and Social Media: How to Push the Conversation Forward” supplied plenty of ideas, potential solutions, and anticipated issues with the wide array of social media choices available. Yes, it is wonderful that such a large scale of different people from around the world can converse with one another on any number of topics. It is also wonderful that certain topics that may have been more taboo in the past (racism, gender inequality, homosexuality, etc.) are now more prevalent in online conversations. However, that doesn’t equate to all-inclusive, all-powerful perfection. As Latoya Peterson points out, “when you start deploying these types of terms,” referring to words such as nigger, “we’re also exposing it to people who would never come across these terms, but suddenly feel like they have permission to use [them.](Petronzio 2014)” Any playful or neutral term has the ability to become sour, derogatory, and flammable online. Cracker, for instance, can refer to a crunchy carbohydrate treat. When commented on a Youtube video, “cracker” can become fuel for an on-going thread of war.

No legislation and no educational reform can stop citizens or students from using certain words. Schools do have special restrictions on freedom of speech, thankfully. (Consequently, we can create legislation, which prevents against undue harm from online behaviors. How that legislation would read, I’m not sure, but I know it can and should be done.) Again, I believe the solution starts in classrooms: we must teach our students the power of words. Especially in English language arts classes, why not spend some time teaching the standard of recognizing an author’s word choice by also discussing the impact of words students use in daily life, in person and online? After all, adding personal relevance and context to learning is what helps to make it stick, according to an Edutopia article, entitled “Science Shows Making Lessons Relevant Really Matters.”

Safety and Privacy of Online Information

In Petronzio’s (2014) “Race and Social Media,” Latoya Peterson also discusses her wariness of posting certain articles because of how they may be received by the online community. If we post something, that opens it for discussion to the public. Anyone can see it, read it, share it, comment on it, like it, flag it, or interact with it. While this is a blessing for education and development of communities, it can also be a curse. What might be intended when originally posting an item is not necessarily how an item may be (ab)used online. Privacy is not something the majority of my students probably consider when texting, Kik-ing, Instagram-ing, or tweeting their friends, much like most of the general public before #CallsTheNSAKnowsAbout (Holmes 2013). Holmes suggests that not much (if any) of our online data is private, and that we don’t really think twice about companies and businesses having access to our data “because there are benefits to it.” The moment we started questioning the government keeping an eye on our data was the moment we realized the government has a “variety of motives” and powers, such as the abilities to “arrest you, deport you, fine you, jail you, try you, charge you, tax you, or confiscate your stuff.” (Holmes 2013) Data, our daily currency, the stuff we trade to interact with others, to communicate, and to live our lives has become so seemingly seamless that we forget to question its origins, its whereabouts, its potential future destinations.

Is our data completely safe online? No. Is anything completely safe in life though? No. Even the most sterile environment in a hospital has sharp instruments on which one can be harmed. Even away from a computer derogatory terms can still be uttered. No environment, no matter how many precautions and regulations, will ever be completely, undeniably safe. That’s not to say we can’t do everything in our power to make online environments safer.

Is our data private anywhere? Possibly. Then again, even if you have your information as a single hardcopy document, locked up in a safe, that safe can be broken into. Even if you encrypt the heck out of a document on your computer, someone is bound to be able to hack it. Especially online, our information can be viewed and used as people like, if they have the means and motive to access them. Holmes (2013) asks though, in relation to people peeking into our daily data: “But would we really care?“ It depends on the situation. I do not think we care, really, until the moment something goes wrong.

Anticipation & Action

Whether we are users of the Internet, educators of young minds, creators of social media content, or human beings who would like to maintain our individuality and civil rights, we must take action to ensure a safe online experience for current and future generations. We must not wait until the moment something goes wrong. Things have already gone wrong. Women are seeing injustices online (Citron 2009). Social media users are abusing one another with words online (Petronzio 2014), leading to the necessity of helpful, hopeful videos like Zachary Quinto’s “it gets better.” Our data is not safe. Our data is not private. Though the government’s watchful eye has now become more apparent, we still have everyday tasks, like swiping our credit card for a meal at P.F. Chang’s jeopardizing our financial well-being when hackers arrive.

One of my favorite quotes that I repeatedly recite to my students is by the late Maya Angelou: “When you know better, you do better.” I constantly embed this sentiment into instruction (as I did in giving my cell phone-dependent student consequences for knowing better, and not doing better the second time around.) Now that we know the injustices occurring online, we must push for legislation and education reforms, which will better protect the civil rights, safety, privacy, and emotional well-being of the Internet’s users.

Part of the way in which I recommend pushing for such legislation is by spreading awareness through the creation of websites and movements, like Dr. Holly Jacobs’ http://www.cybercivilrights.org/ and the “End Revenge Porn” campaign. In classrooms, educators must take responsibility for teaching twenty first century skills needed for today’s “digital native” citizens. Administrators can push for inclusion of a cyber civil rights day, or of media literacy and responsibility and awareness of online issues (such as cyberbullying) within and across curricula. Companies and well-known educational websites, such as Google and TED, can help to spread the word by uploading content related to cyber civil rights and appropriate online behavior. These mediums may prove extremely accessible, interesting, and relevant to students. We cannot anticipate every problem, but now that we have seen the consequences of doing nothing (teen suicide, identity theft, sexual harassment, real offline violence…) we must do something.

Internet Citizens: we know better. Now, let’s do better.