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: http://www.edweek.org/tsb/articles/2010/10/12/01panel.h04.html

 Haury, D., Rillero, P. (1991). Perspectives of hands-on science teaching.  Retrieved from: http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/content/cntareas/science/eric/eric-2.htm

 21 Century Schools Org. (2008). What is a 21rst century school? Retrieved from: http://www.21stcenturyschools.com/What_is_21st_Century_Education.htm

 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: http://www.nagc.org/index.aspx?id=574

National Education Association. (2007). Truth in labeling: disproportionality in special education. Retrieved from: http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/HE/EW-TruthInLabeling.pdf

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: http://www.socialworkers.org/practice/adolescent_health/ah0202.asp

Aspen Education Foundation. (2009) Peer pressure. Retreived from: http://www.aspeneducation.com/factsheetpeerpressure.html

Parents Television Council. (2011). Facts and TV Statistics. Retrieved from: http://www.parentstv.org/ptc/facts/mediafacts.asp

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: http://www.greatschools.org/special-education/support/704-cultural-differences-student-performance.gs

Keller, E. (2005). Strategies for teaching Hispanic students. Retrieved from: http://www.as.wvu.edu/~equity/hispanic.html

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