Group Reflection

December 12th, 2011

During this project, it was interesting to see the balance between ideal goals in education, and the funding and time allotted for them, works. All five groups chose different emphasis for their schools – green education, exploratory classes, vocational training, etc. Yet, most chose a student, activity based curriculum with an emphasis on technology and creative uses of space. It was interesting to see the diverse ways that similar material could translate in the upcoming years of education.

Learning Environments

All five groups kept the teacher and students in classrooms. I think this is important. With a growing emphasis on distance learning and online classes, it is easy to be interested in this easier, and potentially more cost-effective model. If all students were learning from a computer at home, we would have to build schools, provide transportation, or pay for electricity and heat. However, besides the nightmare that would create for some parents, there is no substitute for face-to-face instruction from an individual who knows the students needs, can differentiate explanations and instruction, and the benefits of learning and interacting with peers.
Most groups, however, expanded on this classroom with additional spaces. My group, and another, added common rooms for subjects, two groups put in atriums/farms for student use, and one even provided an on-site job training facility. As schools grow in their mission from the traditional academic subjects to a more multi-faceted, real-world based training, these spaces are going to be needed to challenge students.
I also learned a few things about space and its potential. The safe-learning environment was an interesting concept- particularly adding space for students who need activities post assignment. However, based on my experiences in classrooms—they will need to be larger to be able to accommodate these spaces; since the ever-increasing class sizes take up most available room.

Professional Development

PLCs and collaboration groups seemed to be the key words still in most projects. I understand the need for these groups and for increased teacher training. However, as most working teachers will attest, there is little time for all of these demands without sacrificing the time a teacher has to plan lessons. Few groups mentioned providing more time for a teacher outside the classroom. The more we burden teachers in the short time they are contracted to be in the building the less room we give for creativity and detail in lessons.
One particular teacher-related issue, however, that I am not sure any group addressed specifically, is that of technology training. To properly utilize the technology we all mentioned in our projects there would have to be a very in-depth training for teachers. This takes time and money; two things schools often lack.


Most groups went with the student-based curriculum while keeping an emphasis on traditional classes. I think this balance is possible. A universal concept of the topics that should be covered coupled with an emphasis on providing varied assessments and activities within those guidelines. Most groups included cross-curricular topics and opportunities. This is important because, as Dewey stated, experiences need to be related to each other to provide a basis to learn new information. Subjects, as seen in more progressive theories, cannot be isolated into themselves. Few situations in adult life require one set of skills. A doctor must still be able to write, speak, and balance his checkbook.
I, however, was not a fan of the STEM approach. I understand the potential benefits for more mathematical and scientific emphasis in education. However, just as the Greeks, I also firmly believe in public speaking, writing, understanding written word, and the learning from the past. The more ‘romantic’ subjects are just as important, in my opinion, to education.


Just as we discussed in class, the overwhelming consensus was to eliminate the SOLs, and other written tests, as the sole standards of student success. Based in the theories of differentiated instruction and student-centered curriculum, all the groups seemed to buy into the idea that students can express their knowledge through a variety of venues—written work, presentations, models, technology, etc.
However, our group was a supporter of keeping the SOLs to monitor student growth and school accomplishments. Just because they shouldn’t be the sole measure of success, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a place in the schools. There should be accountability for both teacher and student to make sure the student’s right to an equal education is maintained.


None of the groups seemed to really solve the budget issue. Grants, tax money, and tuition are all ideas in place today. Unfortunately, without an increase in government support, there isn’t a great deal of options that schools have. As we saw earlier in the class, product placements are a two-sided deal, balancing the need for money versus what is good for the students. Public schools cannot charge tuition and many families are unable to afford private institutions.

My high school experience was surprisingly similar to some of these projects. CGS seems to be on the right track to this 21rst century education (especially considering I graduated almost 10 years ago).

1. CGS used technology well above the normal classroom. They utilized Smartboards, ELMOs, MyTurns, and distance-learning years before they were in other classrooms. They also encouraged us to use the internet and technology in projects. (Twice, my final project was a website).

2. CGS was a collaborative environment. Students were together for all four core-subjects with the same teachers for four years. This fostered a true ‘community’ in the classroom. We also tele-learned with sites around the tri-county area. We met for projects, field trips, and social events.

3. Varied assessment. In the CGS year, we did take SOLs and AP tests. However, we also had a yearly ‘cumulating activity’. We selected the topic, the parameters of the project, and also what product we were producing with the help of a faculty advisor. This project was a whole year with checkpoints due. In our final year, one component was an ‘expert involvement’. We had to work with a respected professional in our subject area. These student-based projects encouraged skills we learned in the classroom, our own interests, long-term planning and dedication, and professional development.

4. Modified Learning. My group’s project was partially based off of the scheduling we had in CGS. Our Wednesdays were reserved for enrichment. These days allowed for field trips, labs, or extra class time. Our teachers also benefited from slightly more planning time and worked closely with each other to provide cross-curricular activities.

Student Vs Subject

December 12th, 2011

When dividing up theories on what material should be presented to students it seems to fall into two categories; subject and student based.
Subject based follows the belief that core subjects, ones that have been used through time (reading, writing, math, logic…etc), are the primary goals of education. These are the skills that supporters believe seen are most beneficial for the student in the real world. However, according to our text, these subjects are often taught as autonomous subjects without much connection to each other or the lives or needs of the student. There are benefits and disadvantages to this model.
Subject based curriculums offer basic skills, standardized requirements for learning, and a greater ability to be ‘universally applied’ because it does not deal as much with an individual learner. It is orderly and understandable.

The National Education Summit (1996) came to the following benefits for a standardized, subject based curriculum,

1. Help all students learn more by demanding higher student proficiency and providing effective methods to help students achieve high standards;

2. Provide parents, schools, and communities with an unprecedented opportunity to debate and reach agreement on what students should know and be able to do;

3. Focus the education system on understandable, objective, measurable, and well-defined goals to enable schools to work smarter and more productively;

4. Reinforce the best teaching and educational practices already found in classrooms and make them the norm;

5. Provide real accountability by focusing squarely on results and helping the public and local and state educators evaluate which programs work best.

However, there are also drawbacks to the subject-based model. Without a tie between the subjects, students may have a harder time finding relevancy and making personal connections; making it harder for them to retain the information. Also, it may be simply repetition of teacher decided material without the student gaining true knowledge of the subject matter.

Student-based curriculum is centered on the student’s experiences, interests, and needs when planning the material to teach. These models include activity-based experiences, humanist approaches, value-based, and alternative schools. All of these models focus more on what the individual can, and wants to, learn rather than pushing forward a set of skills and information. They allow students to use skills and ideas to research what interests, and is relevant to, them. Benefits listed include an increased interest in what is being learned, a sense of ownership of their own education by students, and a fuller sense of ‘comprehension’ of a subject—rather than a memorization of information. However, it is also problematic at times when considering how to assess if the students are receiving an education that will prepare them for the adult world.

There is no denying that there are standardized requirements in the public school system. The subjects are also divided into their own departments and a vast majority of secondary, and most primary, schools teach in subject matter blocks. However, despite the tipping of the scale towards subject-based learning, teachers must decide how far on either side of this split they lie when planning their lessons. While working towards those requirements there is ample ability to offer different modes of instruction. A teacher might decide to go the route of direct instruction, and teach in clear, concise lessons with ample guided practice. They may choose to offer more activity, project based learning and let students create assignments based on their interests and skills. They may allow collaborative learning, where students are grouped and help to teach each other the material.

My ideal teaching position would be in the dramatic arts. One ‘goal’ of my class would be for students to be able to understand the components of a “well-directed scene”. The objectives would be to understand the part of a character; voice, physicality, and personality. Another would be to have the ability to understand the technical aspects of blocking and projection. Finally, students would understand the role of the director and the role of the actors in a scene. Each of these objectives would be practiced in class. Students would receive vocabulary, lectures, real-life and film examples, and chances to practice in class. Finally, after each objective is taught, student would be paired in small groups, one student being the director and the other two the ‘actors’. Their grade would be judged on their use of the pieces of character and the appropriateness of their selections for the part, their use of blocking and projection, and a student-decided grade of how well the director and actors performed their duties (including providing blocking, etc for the director and memorizing lines/taking blocking for the actor). This project allows for guided teaching but allows students to create on their own in an active, self-determined way.

Ornstein, A., Levine, D., Gutek, G. (2011). Foundation of Education (11th Ed.). Belmont, Ca: Wadsworth.

21rst Century Schools

November 17th, 2011

Over the last century, we’ve moved farther and farther away from the school houses of straight rows and repetition, towards  ‘education for the whole child’; nurturing, providing safe, healthy environments, fostering curiosity, challenging the student, and developing critical problem solving. In recent years, educators have been split on the concept of whole education versus a more tradition, assessment based schooling. One theory is the idea of the 21rst century school.

What is 21rst century education? Described by some experts in the field, it plays out something like this…

“It is bold.  It breaks the mold.  It is flexible, creative, challenging, and complex.  It addresses a rapidly changing world filled with fantastic new problems as well as exciting new possibilities.”  – 21rst Century Schools Organization, 2008

“Many [teachers] will emerge as teacherpreneurs who work closely with students in their local communities while also serving as learning concierges, virtual network guides, gaming experts, community organizers, and policy researchers.” – Barnett Barry, 2010

“Loosely governed and highly self-directed, these teaching and learning activities exist beyond the sanction or control of formal educational institutions…with students, who themselves are largely prepared to drive their own educations.” – Steve Hargadon, 2010

It does sound exciting. However, as a student of the 20th century, it also sounds overwhelming and sometimes a bit dramatic.  As with any proposed theory, some pieces are more agreeable than others.

            One major concept behind the 21rst century school is a research, project based learning. Instead of worksheets, papers, or tests; students would be assessed on projects, websites, videos, presentations. Haury and Rillero (1992) state, ” Students in a hands-on science program will remember the material better, feel a sense of accomplishment when the task is completed, and be able to transfer that experience easier to other learning situations.” (p. 1). It seems to go back to the Chinese proverb, “Tell me and I forget; show me and I remember; involve me and I understand”. In this way, the 21rst century curriculum is an improvement on the traditional methodology. Engaging more than a student’s audio sense, which they are quite able to turn off, increases the information they are receiving.  Ownership of a project instills a sense of pride.

            Another important philosophy for this theory is the increased importance of technology. The internet opened a whole new world to students in the past 20 years. The ability to receive, discuss, and transmit information is available with instant gratification. Teaching the proper use of these tools, their versatility, and their dangers is a tool that our students must have to compete in a connected world. It aides teachers as well by providing a more ‘hands on, researched based project’ without having to buy supplies or deal with glue. However, and call me old fashioned, that does not mean the printed word should be excluded from education, particularly in writing. The speed of the WWW has created a generation of quick, impatient learners. Proper grammar, syntax, spelling, and form are arts that shouldn’t be lost in a world of ‘hy u up 2nite?”

            However, as good as project based, technology driven education sounds; one thing that frightens me is the changed role of teacher from director to ‘coach’.  As Lynne Munson (2010) said, “…being able to Google is no substitute for true understanding.” (p. 1). Teachers are needed to provide information. Being in the classroom, I have a hard time believing students are ready to lead their own education. Some involvement is well-placed; they have interests that are relevant to their lives that are worth exploration. However, a child of 10, 11, or even 17 has little understanding of the adult world, no matter what they think. Sometimes they need to learn material that they don’t want to learn.  I hated math, but I would be hard pressed if I couldn’t figure a tip or balance my check book. Children are children, and the experiences that they naturally come to are not the “end all and be all” of the information and skills they will need in the real world. Research has been done to illustrate that an engaged student learns better, however, It sometimes feels education is being made into a Broadway production and ‘entertainment’ should not be the main goal of a lesson. That being said, teacher preparation may need to change. I am not so naïve to believe that there aren’t teachers who stand and lecture, assign worksheets from the workbook, and call it a day.  Teaching in a dynamic, creative way, while still holding control of the classroom, is a difficult but necessary balance.

James Belasco (1991)said, “When I think of the enormous task before us – revamping and reinventing the educational system in the United States – the image of a ‘slow, ponderous pachyderm’ comes to mind.“  It will be difficult to adapt to the changing face of technology and the interconnectedness that we are now experiencing. However, discipline, responsibility, social cues, accountability, curiosity, research, cooperation, and organization are skills that are needed in the workforce, no matter the century. These can be learned in the 21rst century model, while reinvigorating the education system, if it doesn’t go too far. 

 Education Week. (2010). How do you define 21rst century learning? Retrieved from:

 Haury, D., Rillero, P. (1991). Perspectives of hands-on science teaching.  Retrieved from:

 21 Century Schools Org. (2008). What is a 21rst century school? Retrieved from:

 Belasco, James A., (1991). Teaching the Elephant to Dance. New York, NY: Penguin.

Gifted Education

November 14th, 2011

The National Association of Gifted Children provides a variety of definitions of ‘gifted’. In the end, it seems that identifying gifted students may be as difficult and varied as identifying those with special needs. In their information, the NAGC cites the beginning of the gifted movement to the late 1800s, when students were moving faster than their counterparts and providing work ‘measurably different’ from the norm (2008, p. 1). That combination of self-motivation, academic achievement, and accelerated comprehension is a major tenant of the gifted ID today. However, over time, just like most other aspects of education, the term has expanded to include,

“The term gifted and talented student means children and youths who give evidence of higher performance capability in such areas as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership capacity, or in specific academic fields, and who require services or activities not ordinarily provided by the schools in order to develop such capabilities fully.” (Javits Act, 1988)

These students are academics, performers, artists, or leaders and their needs are diverse and oftentimes difficult to provide in a classroom setting. In an increasing unmotivated student population, how does a teacher provide a challenging, enriching experience for these children?

Special Education is a hot topic in today’s education with the passing of NCLB, the IDEA act, IEPs, and inclusion settings. A great deal of attention is, rightfully, being paid to how to educate these students. However, the percentage of gifted students is much lower, particularly amongst ethnic minorities (National Education Association, 2007, p. 6-7). In real life setting this can be seen; my school employs eleven teachers for inclusion and self-contained classes; without including the speech therapist, OT and PT specialists, and the school psychologist. On the other hand, gifted is left to one teacher. However, these gifted students need planning and attention paid to their education as well. Gifted students remain students, and no matter their motivation, without proper guidance these students fail to reach their potential and can become behavior issues.

We discussed the benefits and failures of magnet schools for gifted students in class. However, what can be done with the gifted student in the regular classroom? The first step is identifying the gift. Just as with the multitude of labels for the special needs child, gifted has a large amount of labeling. Howard Gardner, Ph.D, broke down the gifted learner into these categories,

• Linguistic intelligence: sensitivity to the meaning and order of words.

• Logical-mathematical intelligence: ability in mathematics and other complex logical systems.

• Musical intelligence: the ability to understand and create music. Musicians, composers and dancers show a heightened musical intelligence.

• Spatial intelligence: the ability to “think in pictures,” to perceive the visual world accurately, and recreate (or alter) it in the mind or on paper. Spatial intelligence is highly developed in artists, architects, designers and sculptors.

• Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence: the ability to use one’s body in a skilled way, for self-expression or toward a goal. Mimes, dancers, basketball players, and actors are among those who display bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.

• Interpersonal intelligence: an ability to perceive and understand other individuals — their moods, desires, and motivations. Political and religious leaders, skilled parents and teachers, and therapists use this intelligence.

• Intrapersonal intelligence: an understanding of one’s own emotions.   Some novelists and or counselors use their own experience to guide others.

In addition this chart was created by Janice Szabos (1989) to identify gifted children from intelligent children

Comparing bright and gifted learners (chart)

Bright child Gifted child
Knows the answers Asks the questions
Interested Extremely curious
Pays attention Gets involved physically and mentally
Works hard Plays around; still gets good test scores
Answers questions Questions the answers
Enjoys same-age children Prefers adults or older peers
Good at memorization Good at guessing
Learns easily Bored — already knew the answers
Listens well Shows strong feelings and opinions
Self-satisfied Highly critical of self (perfectionistic)
Learns with ease Is mentally/physically involved
6-8 repetitions for mastery Has wild, silly ideas
Understands ideas Discusses in detail; elaborates
Enjoys peers Beyond the group
Grasps the meaning 1-2 repetitions for mastery
Completes assignments Constructs abstractions
Is receptive Initiates projects
Copies accurately Is intense
Enjoys school Creates a new design
Absorbs information Enjoys learning
Technician Manipulates information
Good memorizer Inventor
Enjoys straight-forward, Good guesser
Sequential presentation Thrives on complexity
Is alert Is keenly observant

Needless to say, gifted is a lot more than ‘smart kids’. In fact, giftedness goes far beyond high grades. In a letter to new gifted teachers, James R. Delisle, Ph.D, (2005), says, “If your gifted students are caring, giving, introspective, and committed to relevant learning, they are more successful than are the straight-A students who possess none of these attributes” (p. 23-25).

However, a talent in one area does not mean the child has a universal success at education. In fact, Alan Haskvitz, (2002), warns that gifted children often shy away from challenges because of “fear of failure” (p. 1). They are often described as stubborn or confrontational. The curriculum is boring to them because they know the material, either from prior knowledge or quicker comprehension, and feel burdened with extra work or frustrated at assignments they feel to be mundane.

The NAGC (1997) gives guidelines for working with gifted students. They include providing a more in-depth look at the course material with connections to real-life problems and examples, encouraging critical thinking and debate, a greater level of expectations for refined, skilled work, a larger amount of autonomy in their assignments, and, possibly most importantly, a supportive teacher who encourages risks.

They also list activities that detract from a gifted education. These include more problems at a quicker pace (which destroys motivation and bores the student), too much autonomy (being cut off from other students), being a ‘junior teacher’, or being asked to complete ‘filler material’ or perform classroom chores (which is a waste of instructional time).

It is complicated to find a balance with these students in a class of 20-30 students. However, providing different work, work that involves a greater amount of their senses and skills, seems to be the best answer to a gifted child. It takes time and a supportive teacher but may provide some significant opportunities to see success in the classroom.


Szabos, J. (1989) Challenge. Good Apple, Inc., 34

Tonlinson, C. (1997). The do’s and don’ts of instruction: what it means to teach gifted learners well. Instructional Leader.

Haskvitz, A. (2002). Teaching gifted students. Horace Mann Educators Corporation

National Association for Gifted Children. (2008). What is giftedness? Retrieved from:

National Education Association. (2007). Truth in labeling: disproportionality in special education. Retrieved from:

Delisle, J. (2005). Letter to new gifted teacher. Gifted Child Today, 28(1), 22–23.

Student Culture

November 14th, 2011


Students today are surrounded by a variety of stimulants in their lives both at school and at home. Pressures to be ‘popular’ and acceptable to their peer groups, the distractions of TV and the Internet, and the prevalence of drugs and sex all detract from student success at the traditional goals of education. How do these stimulates affect student behavior and motivation, and how can schools adapt these influences to promote healthy school environments?

In no way do I believe these influences from media are ‘new’ problems, but they are growing ones. The Parents Television Council (2011) claims that students watch over 4 hours of television a day with 66% of students admitting they felt TV affected their peers behavior. Now, this organization has a goal, which makes it a biased opinion, but nevertheless, television is a major part of children’s lives on the whole. What they see on the TV, moreover, is often concerning. The Kaiser Family Foundation (1999) found

“…more than half (56 percent) of all television shows contain sexual content—averaging more than three scenes with sex per hour. For shows with sexual content, just 9 percent include any mention of the possible risks of sexual activity, or any reference to contraception, protection, or safer sex.” (p. 1)

TV is not alone. Today’s popular music is often full of sexual references, violence, or obscene language. The recent student suicides following online bullying speak to the dangers of social networking sites. Our book speaks to the sexualization of students through the images seen or heard in the media (Ornstein, Levine, Gutek, 2011, p. 323).

While it is well documented that students are exposed to these stimulates, it is more controversial the effects they have on them. Whether or not a violent TV show makes a violent youth is not a question there is a definite answer to yet. However, as a teacher there is a responsibility to understand the influences students face today and monitor how they are being expressed in the school setting, particularly amongst peer groups.

Our textbook reflects how important peer relationships are,

“…a teacher sometimes can force young children to obey rules they neither understand nor like, but peers do not have the formal authority to do this; thus children can learn the true meaning of exchange, cooperation, and equity…” (Ornstein, Levine, Gutek, 2011, p. 313)

This is a positive side of peer relationships. Students relate and grow with each other from a more similar knowledge and power base. However, there is a side of peer relationships that can negatively influence student growth.  Formal authority aside, peers do possess power that teachers often do not, the power of acceptance. The Aspen Education Foundation (2009) states,

“…interaction is direct, and much more powerful than the influence of teachers and other authority figures. Peer pressure tends to have more of an effect on children with low self-esteem. If a child feels compelled to fit in, the teen may do things that go against his or her beliefs simply to be part of the group” (p. 1).

The terminology used today to discuss and describe this effect of peer relationships, in addition to the mentality of school faculty and administration, is ‘school culture’. Robbins and Alvy (1995) define school culture as “this inner reality reflects what organizational members care about, what they are willing to spend time doing, what and how they celebrate, and what they talk about” (p. 23).  It is then the school’s responsibility to make the school culture reflect learning and cooperation, not the influence of the social world.

Much easier said than done. However, there are a few beneficial ways to begin. Both our textbook and the National Association for Social Workers state that educators need to be educated on the current trends, lingo, and programs. Without being keyed in to the warning signs, there is no way to intervene. It is also important to be conversant in technology and provide safe ways to use social media. Oftentimes it is easy to forget that students are children and adolescents; and that having the ability to operate social media does not mean they have the emotional or intellectual maturity to truly understand what they are doing or the effects it may have. We have often discussed using ‘student language’ in the classroom. In this case it may be beneficial. Ignoring or condemning the influences students see only reinforces the age-old adage that adults “just don’t get it”. Instead use examples, offer alternatives, and discuss consequences of what they see. Teachable moments are something we are taught to utilize and there is a wealth of them being provided by today’s world.


Ornstein, A., Levine, D., Gutek, G. (2011). Foundation of Education (11th Ed.). Belmont, Ca: Wadsworth.

Robbins, P. & Alvy, Harvey (1995).  The principal’s companion.  Thousand Oaks, CA:  Corwin Press

Kaiser Family Foundation. (1999). Sex on TV: A biennial eeport to the kaiser family foundation.

National Association of Social Workers. (2001). Practice Update from the National Association of Social Workers. Retrieved from:

Aspen Education Foundation. (2009) Peer pressure. Retreived from:

Parents Television Council. (2011). Facts and TV Statistics. Retrieved from:

Non-verbal miscommunication

November 3rd, 2011


There is no debate that our schools are growing more and more culturally diverse every year. According to the U.S. Department of Education, it is projected that forty percent of the overall U.S. population will be “non-white” by 2025 as opposed to the twenty percent figure it was in 1980. This trend in the overall population is seen clearly in our schools.  We, as teachers, will be faced with language barriers, difficulties with stereotypes (both ones that we have and ones amongst the students), and the more elusive non-verbal miscommunications. It is virtually unrealistic to expect these can be completely, neatly solved. However, there are some ways to ‘grease the wheels’, both through developing understanding and setting expectations.

Outward appearance and spoken language are two of the most easily spotted differences amongst races and ethnicities. When Brown vs. the Board of Education passed, openly segregating students based on their appearance became illegal. The usage of ESL teachers in public schools at least attempts to overcome the rising language barrier.  However, in our schools today, culture, race, and ethnicity are still hot topics. Much of this continued tension could be coming from cultural behavior and expectations that are non-verbal.  Karen McGee (2008) states that “as little as 7 percent of a message may be expressed in words. The rest is through facial expression, voice tone, body gestures, and overall posture.” (p. 1).  Non-verbal miscommunication might be one of the least ‘discussed’ problems in a multicultural class.

Are behaviors that are culturally acceptable to one group and not to another bad behavior? Or instead, should they just be considered differences that need to be tolerated? Karen McGee (2008) explains in her article,

“Let’s consider eye contact. Kids from many Latin American and Asian cultures show respect by avoiding the glance of authority figures. A teacher who’s unfamiliar with this cultural norm, however, might interpret the lack of eye contact as just the opposite – a sign of disrespect. For many American Indian children, looking a teacher in the eye and answering her question in front of the class is “showing off.” Yet a teacher who doesn’t know this could think the child was unmotivated or inattentive.” (p. 2)

 It would be easy, as a teacher, to expect that the signs of respect and attention were universal, but, obviously, this is not so.  Differences in cultural behaviors exist, probably in many different ways in one classroom. Therefore, not necessarily helpful to punish based off of the teacher’s cultural background immediately.  Punishing what is considered, by the student, to be correct behavior would only serve to alienate a student and make him or her feel frustrated with their teacher.

To combat this non-verbal miscommunication, an open dialogue is needed. Creating a class set of agreed upon social rules might be a useful place to start. Even further, a teacher explanation as to why his/her rules represent respect in his/her understanding, may make it easier for the students to adhere to what may be ‘foreign’ rules. An open class dialogue about what respect and behavior means to each student may enlighten both the teacher and the students. Ed Keller (2005) states that, “Due to cultural differences, cultural conflict and behavioral problems are more likely to emerge when minorities are unaware of expected cultural or communicative norms.” (2). No matter what option is taken, a teacher cannot expect behavior without explaining it first.

Gardner, W. (2010). Poverty vs. culture in student performance. Retrieved from:

McGee, K. (2008). How cultural differences may affect student performance. Retrieved from:

Keller, E. (2005). Strategies for teaching Hispanic students. Retrieved from:

Zero tolerance and teachable moments

October 17th, 2011


      Kevin Seiff’s Washington Post article, “Arlington to offer second chance for teens caught using alcohol or drugs”, addresses the ‘zero tolerance’ policies in effect in public schools. A ‘zero tolerance’ policy is “generally the term means that a harsh predefined mandatory consequence is applied to a violation of school rules without regard to the seriousness of the behavior, mitigating circumstances, or the situational context” (APA, 2006, pg. 1).  In this particular district, when a student is caught with, or under the influence of, drugs or alcohol on school property they are suspended and criminally charged. Opponents of this policy state that this drastic and “life-altering” punishment prevents people with substance abuse problems from coming forward for help. Also, these punishments “… like suspension and court involvement, are overly punitive and do little to change behavior” (Seiff, 2011, pg. 1). Instead, for first time offenses, the school district is offering a three day, guardian attended session on drug and alcohol abuse. They want to promote early intervention, prevention, and education instead of punishment.

See article here:

‘Zero tolerance’ policies have been around for a while. According to Skiba and Peterson (1999) these policies began in our military with drugs and then expanded to our public school in the late 1980s and by “… 1993 zero tolerance policies were being adopted by school boards across the country, often broadened to include not only drugs and weapons but also tobacco-related offenses and school disruption.” (pg. 2) Many of these rules came into effect as a response to the rise in school violence, particularly in the case of guns in schools following the wake of school shootings that happened in the 1990s.  According to our text, schools should be a safe, substance free environment for students. One of the primary jobs of teachers and administration is to ensure that environment. However, these ‘zero tolerance’ policies in schools sometimes unnecessarily hurt where they mean to help.  

 No one debates that a gun does not belong in the class room. It is even reasonable that having a toy gun could create a panic that would endanger the lives of students. Therefore schools are enforcing these tougher rules. Hymowitz (2001) states that the results of ‘zero tolerance’ policies, “ …do suggest that the decline in school violence may have more to do with students being quicker to report suspicious classmates and authorities taking those reports seriously” (pg. 1). So while expulsion may not be a deterrent to a would-be shooter, at least students and authorities are taking steps to realize potential problems before they arrive at that point.  This is a clear benefit of the ‘zero tolerance’ policy.

However, these policies are controversial. Peterson (2008) states, “Zero tolerance is incompatible with the principle that the punishment must fit the crime, and that the severity of the crime and the context in which it occurred should be considered in determining the punishment.” (pg. 1).  Over the years, “… increasingly broad interpretations of zero tolerance have resulted in a near epidemic of suspensions and expulsions for seemingly trivial events” (Skiba, 1999, pg. 3-4).  Children are expelled or suspended for sharing mints, cough drops, bringing a beeper in for show and tell.

For a list of examples of controversial ‘zero tolerance’ punishments see this article:

Is there a balance between effectively using punishment and it going too far? Arlington clearly has that debate on its hands. Their battle is not with guns or violence, arguably easier offences to find immediately punishable, but with the effects of drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol are addictive substances; dangerous to students at a much slower, and more reversible, rate than guns.  I believe, like Arlington schools, a ‘first offense’ policy might go much farther than immediate punishment.  Students who are involved with such things are not gaining anything by being forced out of the school system. In these first offense cases there is a wonderful opportunity for a ‘teachable moment’, which Arlington seems to be taking advantage of.



American Psychological Association Zero Tolerance Task Force (February, 2006). Are Zero Tolerance Policies Effective in the Schools? An Evidentiary Review and Recommendations. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved from:

 Hymowitz, K. (2001). Zero tolerance is school’s first line of defense. Newsday Inc. pg. 1-2.

 Peterson, R. (2008). Fact Sheet 3: Zero tolerance policy in schools. Muncie, IN.: Consortium to Prevent School Violence

Skiba, R., Peterson, R. (1999). The dark side of zero tolerance: can punishment lead to safe schools?. Retrieved from:

 Ornstein, A., Levine, D., Gutek, G. (2011). Foundation of education (11th Ed.). Belmont, Ca: Wadsworth.

Seiff, K. (2011). Arlington to offer second chance to teens caught using drugs or alcohol. Retrieved from:



Separate but Equal?

October 10th, 2011


Supreme Court Justice Earl Warren famously stated, “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” In 1954, the Supreme Court reached a decision in the landmark case Brown vs. The Board of Education in Topeka, Kansas and proceeded to integrate black and white students into the same schools. Today, of course, we don’t have the blatant separation of schools by color or gender. However, are our schools segregated in another sense, by funding? According to our text, the Supreme Court case of Serrano vs. Priest argues that the reliance on local funding to determine school budgets created “unconstitutional disparities” in school’s spending (Ornstein, Levine, Gutek. 2011. pg. 245).  The success of that case, in addition to others, brought change to the system of funding schools. However, how successful have we been and how much further do we have to go?

There can be little argument that there is a difference in attending one school district to another. Being a child of the military I often heard my parents debating new neighborhoods based on what schools we would be attending. The Teach for America website (2011), further proves the existence of disparity between schools with their mission statement; “all kids – no matter where they live, how much money their parents make, or what their skin color is – deserve access to a great education. But in our country today, a significant achievement gap exists between low-income children and their wealthier peers” (pg. 1). The American Physiological Foundation (2011) agrees, “Inadequate education and increased dropout rates affect children’s academic achievement, perpetuating the low-SES status of the community” (pg. 1).

Why is there such a difference in public schools in this country? Even ones that are separated by little more than a short car ride? One way is to take a look at where the money is coming from. According to the National Center for Education Statistics “… states use a combination of income taxes, corporate taxes, sales taxes, and fees to provide about 48 percent of the budget for elementary and secondary schools. Local districts contribute around 44 percent, drawn mostly from local property taxes. And the federal government antes up approximately 8 percent of state education budgets” (pg. 4).

Our text lists the major income sources in the following order…

On the local level:

1. Property Tax: This is where the majority of the school’s money comes from. Homes in the school districts boundaries are charged tax on their market value. This creates a problem all in itself. Areas where higher income families live will have more expensive homes to begin with. Also, the market value of a higher income area will be much greater as market value is affected by safety, location, and access to schools. Children who come from lower-income areas are suffering as the money generated from their property taxes is much less, leading to an under-funded school system.

2. Special Revenue: These monies come from a variety of areas; user fees for special services/facilities, traffic fines, or sometimes product contracts. This is a different beast than the property tax. On one hand it is not based on the persons income. The property tax is almost cyclical; poorer families go to poorer, sometimes substandard schools, and then, in some cases, lack the skills to leave that socio-economic group. Special revenue can come from outside influences.

The ‘Take Issue’ in this chapter concerned product placement in schools. In some ways, I feel like this has potential for beneficial results. However, it would take a lot of careful planning. Product placement in schools is nothing new. In the 90s one example of product placement included students using software to type sentences like “I like to eat McDonalds” and “I like Pepsi” (GMV Counseil, 1998).  In the era of the fight against childhood obesity, these slogans would most likely not be acceptable. However, even the office of the First Lady, as part of their ‘Let’s Move!’ program, supports “work with local retailers to improve product placement of healthier food and beverage choices” (Schepper, 2011. pg. 12). Product placement of items promoting healthy lifestyle, integrated into lower income schools, could provide the double benefit of improving funding and the quality of life of the students.


On the state level:

 1. Sales Tax: Seemingly one of the most useful sources of income. It adjusts itself to the economic times and affects the purchaser equitably according to their ability to buy. 

2. Personal Income Tax: This is another way of collecting based on ability to pay. Those who make more will give more. However, in difficult times, much like the last 10 years, this revenue is unstable as unemployment grows.

3. Other:  States can also choose to tax on liquor, tobacco, lottery, estates, gifts, or corporations and use the money for schools.

The means the states use in acquiring funds is not so much of a problem as on the local level. Money comes in from the higher income families as well as the lower income families. It is more of an issue when it comes time to distribute the funds. Our text modeled four plans to distribute the funds. The worst of these seemed to be the ‘flat grant model’, the number of students multiplied by a fixed amount. According to Augenblick, Myers, and Anderson (2007) the ‘flat grant model’ could mean “… a wealthier district that was able to provide smaller classes would actually receive more state aid per student than would a poorer district with large class sizes” (pg. 64).  Students cost different amounts to educate. Special needs students require specialists in class, OT or PT specialists, counselors, speech therapists, and social workers. School districts with high immigrant populations require ESL teachers. Low-income areas require more funding for meals and transportation. The ‘weighted student plan’ takes into account these conditions and includes them in the math.


On the Federal level:

1. Categorical grants: provides money from Federal sources to specific groups and purposes.

2. Block grants: money given to a general purpose without a specific designee

The biggest debate in the federal realm of funding seems to lie in the increased demands on schools by the NCLB act without an appropriate increase in funding. The introduction of standardized assessments, teacher qualification requirements, and AYP has been a burden on school budgets. In addition, schools that lack adequate funding are not meeting the requirements of AYP and suffering because of it.

The funding of schools in America is most likely a debate that will be occurring for the majority, if not all, of our lifetimes. The advent of IDEA and NCLB signal an increase in importance for education; which is our country needs to consider important. However, without changing the way we handle money and resources, it may be an unattainable goal. It is easy to pontificate on the need for equitable distribution of funds however; few are able to say that they wouldn’t mind increasing their taxes for students they are not related to or even near.


U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics. (2010).  Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary Education: School Year 2007-08. Pg. 4.

(2011). Earl Warren Quotes. Retrieved from:

Teach for America. (2011). Our Organization. Retrieved from :

American Physiological Association. (2011).  Education and Socio-Economic Status.  Retrieved from

Augenblick, J. Myers, J. Anderson, A. (2007).  Equity and adequacy in school funding. Future of Children, 7 (3), 64.

GMV Conseil. (1998). Marketing in Schools. Brussels, Belgium: European Commission.

Schepper, R. (2011). Let’s Move Cities and Towns. Washington DC: Office of the First Lady.

Ornstein, A., Levine, D., Gutek, G. (2011). Foundation of education (11th Ed.). Belmont, Ca: Wadsworth.



Inclusion classes

October 2nd, 2011

Classrooms with special needs students take the phrase “no two children can learn alike” to a whole new level. These classes include not only the different levels of “general-education” learners but also an abundant variety of children that are classified LD, OHI, ED, or any of the other monikers. LD alone can include children who have any “cognitive, neurological, or psychological disorder that impedes the ability to learn, especially one that interferes with a person’s communicative capacities and potential to be taught effectively” (Willis, 12).  It is a broad term. It can include children with difficulty with reading comprehension, math fluency, or cognitive reasoning, among others. Then you add in your OHIs; this can include children with anything from cerebral palsy, seizures, to ADHD. You have dyslexia, ADD, autism, or those with emotional disturbances (ED). All of these children receive an individualized education program (an IEP) or, at least in our state, a 504 plan, if an IEP is not warranted. On top of those you have your SST (student support team) students who receive select accommodations. Accommodations include everything from copies of class notes, adjusted tests and assignments, special manipulatives, access to a word processor, read aloud and small group testing, to extended time on assignments. Keeping track of these children in a class of thirty is almost mind-boggling. What is the best way to integrate these students into a general education class without them feeling either left behind or singled out?

Since I work daily in inclusion classrooms, I’ve noticed a great deal between teachers who work well in the inclusion setting and those who find it harder to reach the inclusion students. The first, and often hardest step, is finding the balance between being attentive to needs and embarrassing the student. In my experience, most students, at least on the middle school level, do not want unnecessary attention being drawn to their difference from the crowd. Wagaman (2009) states, “It is important for teachers to understand this and work carefully to build self-esteem and provide simple ways for students to get help without making a big deal about it to the class” (2). However, with accommodations like small group and read-aloud it is almost impossible to not distinguish the inclusion population from the mainstream. The best teachers I’ve worked with vary lessons to draw on strengths from every group in the classroom. If student X is a great artist or enjoys reading, an assignment is drawn up to showcase that skill. The more confident a student is in their ability to succeed; the more inclined they may be to work at more difficult assignments. Willis (2007) states, “Stereotypical academic success no longer becomes the only standard for who is “smart.” Students who learn about their own and their classmates’ multiple intelligences and unique abilities begin to shed previous negative attitudes or preconceived notions about LD students” (1). It also provides them a more equal footing amongst their peers. Positive attention to student achievement also goes a long way. The best inclusion teachers believe in the abilities of their students, no matter how frustrating it may be at times.  Our classroom features a board for successful papers, a prize box for consistent hard work, and a wall for student artwork. One student turned to me the other day and told me she had never gotten an A in History before. Reinforcing that ‘good’ feeling inspires continued success.

However, along with that belief in the student, there is a need for high expectations. It often seems easier to do the work for, or excuse the work of, a slower student.  No growth happens for the child when that is the answer.  Teachers must be on top of prompting work, refocusing, and sticking to accountability.  Keep a chart of what should be in the binder, do agenda checks, make homework folders, and set up a routine they are expected to follow. This is true for the general education students in the classroom as well. Research has gone far in debunking the myth that gen-ed students suffer from the slower pace of the inclusion classroom. A study done by Hollowood, Salisbury, Rainforth, and Palomboro (1994) indicated, “the presence of students with severe disabilities had no effect on levels of allocated or engaged time.” (250).  In addition Staub and Peck (1995) identified five benefits that the gen-ed students receive,  “1) reduced fear of human differences accompanied by increased awareness, 2) growth in social cognition, 3) improvements in self-concept, 4) development of personal principles, and 5) warm and caring friendships” (36).

It is important to teach learning skills along with the lesson.  Binder organization is a huge component of many of the classrooms I work in. Teaching organization and responsibility saves students from a lot of missing homework and prepares them to be more self-sufficient.  In addition, warm-ups are designed to make students look back in the notes and information they have already acquired to review answers. Knowing where to look for information is a skill that prepares them for higher education and teaches problem solving for their daily lives. Interactive notes makes the student responsible for more than copying but lets them use simplified language that they relate to as well as giving space for visual cues; drawings, etc. This teaches them to take the high-level information and process it to an understandable level by picking out difficult words, redefining them, and then summarizing the context. Inclusion classes often have to move at a slower pace, but as these skills grow in the students they begin to adapt their pace to their academically higher classmates. According to Lewis (1994), students with disabilities in inclusive environments “improve in social interaction, language development, appropriate behavior, and self-esteem” (p. 72).

However, it isn’t always, or even often, that an inclusion student adapts fully to the general class’ ability. There are a multitude of tools that can achieve success for that student without compromising their learning. The best place to go for assistance in adjusting for a special education student is the special education department. It is the job of the SPED teachers to make sure that the student is receiving the accommodations required by the IEP. They are able to adjust tests, keep on top of organization, administer the read-aloud testing, small group instruct or remediate at a slower pace, and provide additional tools for the inclusion student.


Staub, D. & Peck, C. (1995). What are the outcomes for non-disabled students? Educational Leadership, 52(4), 36-41.

Hollowood, T.M., Salisbury, C.L., Rainforth, B., & Palomboro, M.M. (1994). Use of instructional time in classrooms serving students with and without severe disabilities, Exceptional Children, 61(3), 242-253.

Lewis. (1994). Kids count data book: State profiles of child well-being. Greenwich, CT: The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Willis, J. (2007). Brain friendly strategies for the inclusion classroom. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wagaman, M. (2009). Inclusion classroom tips for new teachers. Retrieved from

A cave and a tree

September 25th, 2011



Journalist Sydney J. Harris (1979) wrote, “An idealist believes the short run doesn’t count. A cynic believes the long run doesn’t matter. A realist believes that what is done or left undone in the short run determines the long run. According to the two pieces read for this blog post, Plato’s Return to the Cave and Emerson’s OverSoul, this description seems to be apt for idealists. Idealism, as described in our text and modeled by our readings, holds to these ideals;

A real spiritual world

In Plato’s Cave the mortal world seemed to be represented by the cave; a dark, jail-like world. The spiritual world was represented by the outside light, a world where enlightened humans were able to see the relationships between things, their ‘true-essences’.

In Emerson, his connection between the mortal and spiritual world lay inside the individual’s soul. Each soul, he theorizes, has a connection to the greater soul.

A macrocosm (the creator) and a microcosm (in essence, us)

Plato’s macrocosm came from that world outside the cave with enlightened those who were able to adapt and accept it. Possibly represented by the sun.

Emerson spoke of a more familiar “God” when discussing that a soul is connected with “God”. (This God, to the best of my knowledge, seems to mostly reflect the Christian God).

The existence of prior knowledge in people

When ‘we’ were chained in the cave, people saw the shadows of knowledge and thought but were unable to realize them. When unchained, those who could accept it were able to ‘unlock’ their ‘prior-knowledge’ and enter the outside world.

Emerson talks of the soul being connected to all the other souls of the world. Each soul contains God and so with correct action and thought one is able to access knowledge through what is already in God.

However, there was a difference I noticed between our text description and the pieces read. Language, in the description of idealism, seems to be an important component of the idealist philosophy. Leading questions, probing thought, and discussion are major roles of the instructor. However, both Plato’s and Emerson’s writing seem to take a negative view of language and its power and instead call on the reader to seek action, a thought that seems more applicable to the description of the pragmatists. In the Republic by Plato he talks of returning to the cave after being in the light, “and he had to compete with in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still week….would he not be ridiculous?” (3).  The man who brings back knowledge, yet is unable to explain it to people who have not been able to experience it, is seen as stupid and may even be “put to death”.  Emerson’s Oversoul similarly   is unable to use language to describe what he is trying to convey, “Language cannot paint it with his colors”. He also discusses how we can ask questions about eternal affairs but that they will not be answered with language but instead those who act morally will succeed in their goals of immortality. (Emerson, 1841).


If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it; would it make a noise?

In Realist theory, yes, it would very much make a noise. According to our text, realists believe that nature exists completely outside of human beings (Ornstein, 174). Whether or not a human hears that tree, it exists, and when it falls and hits the ground its existence makes a noise; even if it is just heard by nature. In fact, if a human was there, the sound the tree made wouldn’t depend on his presence, instead the human’s perception of what the ‘sound of a tree falling’ is would be constructed by what he ‘records’ using his senses.

This categorizing based on sensory input seems to be a major tenant of realist theory in education. If a student is given an object that he does not know he is able to observe it using his or her senses. Education gives ‘categories’ and comparisons for them to compare it with. Then the student is able to acquire base knowledge about something simply by drawing on knowledge of similar objects.  By accumulating information based on sensory observation, students are able to classify events around them, even those that are outside their current knowledge. They don’t have the knowledge already stored but are given tools to form their own understanding. However, just as that tree, it is important to note that the natural world exists without our understanding it.


Here is a ‘graphic organizer’ comparing and contrasting idealism and realism in education, prepared from readings from our text and class notes.

Blue: Idealism  Green: Realism


Ornstein, A., Levine, D., Gutek, G. (2011). Foundation of education (11th Ed.). Belmont, Ca: Wadsworth.

Dick, P. (1978). How to build a universe that doesn’t fall apart two days later. Retrieved from:

Burnham, D. (2005). Leibniz’s Metaphysics. Retrieved from :

Reflection Of Plato “The Allegory Of Cave”. Anti Essays. Retrieved from:

Emerson, R. (1841). The Over-Soul. Essays; First Series.  Retrieved from: 

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