Category Archives: Uncategorized

Conference Session: Building Teacher Tools that Work

If you’re here because you attended my session at the SREB HSTW conference or the Leyden Summer Symposium, welcome! Here are the resources that I showcased in the session. They’re all different online tools that SLA teachers have built to improve communication between students, teachers, and administrators.

“Behind the Scenes” Communication Between Teachers and Admin

IEP Progress Monitoring Form

IEP Progress Monitoring Results (Sample)

School “Walk Through” Visitation Form <– Most popular!

Survey for the book “Authentic Learning in the Digital Age”

Tools for Use During Learning Time

Independent Reading Survey

Book Club Meeting Calendar

Group Contract Template <– Most popular!

Water Quality Schuylkill River Testing Form

Student Reflection

SLA School-Wide Rubric

Ms. Pahomov’s first day survey <– Most popular!

Ms. Pahomov’s Mid-Year Survey, version 1

Ms. Pahomov’s Mid-Year Survey, version 2

Ms. Giknis’ “Being Human” course reflection

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Eight Years In

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I had the incredible good fortune to do entirely too many things this past school year.

First and foremost, I had a teaching year where I didn’t have to spend my prep time laying on a couch.* I already knew that the upside to being sick was the moment when you  begin to feel better. Turns out that is extra true for bone surgery.

Physical improvement also meant I had something to give to helping run a slate for union leadership. Two years prior, the Caucus of Working Educators was a nebulous idea, but one that was sorely needed in a town that hadn’t seen any kind of internal union election in eight years, and had essentially been a one-party union for decades. If you ever have the chance to make the world more democratic: do it. If it’s a struggle, even better. If you win the vote, great. If you don’t, you will have still won so much.

Other things happened, too.

In February, SLA hosted a citywide PD day for district teachers from dozens of schools. We blew past our projected attendance and a few schools are directly adopting some of our best practices, advisory and Student Assistant Teaching, as a result of their experiences that day. Having this event felt like the best kind of reunion–so many good people from so many buildings coming together and sharing their best work.

In March, I helped organize the biggest single meeting SLA has ever hosted, about the state of our current home (which we do not own) and where the future might take us. Over 700 people lined up around the block to show their support, in many cases taking to the mic and sharing their many truths about how SLA and its location mean the world to them. We all wore name tags, and students from the first class got to meet the current freshmen got to meet parents of all years got to meet community partners got to meet former teachers who came out to support.

In April, I got to go to the White House, again (thank you, Jose) — this time as a guest to honor the Teachers of the Year from every state. There were about 300 people packed into the East Room, elbowing each other to get a look at the three speakers on stage, all African-American: The President, The Secretary of Education, and Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes.

“This is the last time we’re doing this,” Obama said. “We figured we should make it a blowout.”

In May, SLA held the first-ever Alumni Organizing Meeting for the six graduated classes of SLA. Thirty-five kids showed up, way more than I expected. With the oldest of them being all of 25, they wanted to know what the school needed–no really, what do we need? A prime piece of Center City real estate and many millions of dollars for a building, I told them. They’re on it.

In June, I hugged my second set of advisees as they crossed the stage at graduation. I started to see my life in cycles of four years. How many left before I retire? How many left before I die? It didn’t seem absurd, all of a sudden. When I started this job, I didn’t have a single thought about how it might affect the rest of my life. Now I see that it already has. For me, SLA has become a place both flat and endless. Flat in that I sometimes feel like I am experiencing every version of it at once, stacked up and playing simultaneously in my mind (see: March) and that I also, for the first time, imagine generations forward into its impact on this city (see: May).

If this is what it means to be a veteran teacher, I’ll take it.

*Not that I didn’t choose to lay on a couch at work at all this year. I definitely did that.

EduCon Session: How to Build Teacher Tools that Work

Here are the links from my EduCon session. They’re all different online tools that SLA teachers have built to improve communication between students, teachers, and administrators.

“Behind the Scenes” Communication Between Teachers and Admin

IEP Progress Monitoring Form

IEP Progress Monitoring Results (Sample)

School “Walk Through” Visitation Form <– Most popular!

Survey for the book “Authentic Learning in the Digital Age”

Tools for Use During Learning Time

Independent Reading Survey

Book Club Meeting Calendar

Group Contract Template <– Most popular!

Water Quality Schuylkill River Testing Form

Student Reflection

SLA School-Wide Rubric

Ms. Pahomov’s first day survey <– Most popular!

Ms. Pahomov’s Mid-Year Survey, version 1

Ms. Pahomov’s Mid-Year Survey, version 2

Ms. Giknis’ “Being Human” course reflection

 

Teaching Bias: Where Do You Stand?

Last week, I posted about students taking the Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAT) in my classroom. A common question I got in response to this post was, “what did you do to set up your students so they could participate in this activity successfully?”

The big answer is that SLA does a lot to make students comfortable with tough moments and difficult conversations. The small answer is that we did several activities in the days leading up to the IAT that primed students to be open and vulnerable.

On day one, I asked them to simply define bias, prejudice, and stereotype, and then  create a poster that visually clarified the differences between these terms — without perpetuating any of the stereotypes or myths that get tossed around these days.

This set a valuable precedent: we can mention common prejudices and stereotypes, but proceed with caution, because the way we talk can impact how people are affected by these ideas, even if they are not being presented as true.

On day two, we played one of my favorite games, which I call “Where Do You Stand?” The room gets cleared, and I project a series of prompts on the board. If you agree with the statement, you move to the window side of the room. If you disagree, you move to the wall.

The prompts, as you can see below, move from more personal and straight-up qualitative statements to more nuanced and complicated aspects of our society.

Once students have picked a side (and no, I don’t let them stand in the middle), it’s time to go back and forth and have folks try and convince their peers to come to their side. Students can switch at any time. One of my favorite scenarios is where just one or two students pick the less popular side of an argument–but by the end they’ve got more people thinking their way.

I think it’s also important to mention that, as the teacher, I hardly say anything during this discussion. Apart from reading the prompts, and an occasional “tell us more” nudge, I am just listening. Because everybody is an active participant, everybody has a stake in the outcome — and the fact that people can move at any time keeps interest up as the debate unfolds.

This game is consistently cited by my students as one of their favorite activities in my class. It consistently gets students who rarely speak to open up, sometimes because it gives them a concrete action they can describe (“Hey [student], why did you switch sides?”). In a class with lopsided participation, requiring everybody to comment once before somebody can speak again can work.

Do you play similar games in your classroom? What’s your experience with them?

Teaching Bias: The IAT Test

It’s a regular occurrence in my 10th grade English class that we spend some time talking about bias, prejudice and stereotypes. Phase one is graduating kids out of the blanket “these things are bad” attitude that can shut down potentially useful discussion about what’s actually going on.

After we have spent some time exploring our beliefs on what role these forces play in our society, it’s time to take the Harvard Implicit Attitude Tests.

If you wish, you can impress your students by showing this Buzzfeed video, and pausing it for some notes, and making a disclaimer for the out-of-context comments spliced together at the end of the clip (which unfortunately conflate bias, implicit attitudes, and racism).

After that viewing, kids are excited to take the test. In fact, about half of my students already have.  Then I tell them that I will take the test in front of them, projected on the screen  — and I want them to predict what they think my results will be.

This typically leads to nervous laughter, or dead silence, or a gasp, or sometimes even applause. Kids who want to make an educated guess try and ask some clarifying questions (“Who are your friends?” “What are you, again?”) and then they write down what they think.

I won’t reveal their predictions or my typical results, but I will say that this is the most nerve-racking thing I do in class all year, to the point where I make jokes during the first half of the test, and then say I’m going to shut up because I think it might skew the results.

Here’s what else I tell them: nobody has zero bias in this world.

After they see me do it, we’re off to the races: kids take one or two tests, journal about how their results turned out, and then brainstorm one or two “tough questions” that they want to bring to the whole class for a closing discussion.

Here are a few questions that got posed today:

  • How did you react if you got a result that was the opposite of what you expected?
  • How did it feel when the test was asking you to associate negative terms or ideas to a particular group of people?
  • Did you use any mental “tricks” to try and be less biased while taking the tests?

And then, the one we talked about the most:

  • For the test that asks you to specifically test your bias for or against Arab Muslims, do you think that your sympathy or pity for Muslims might have made you more biased towards them?

I am paraphrasing that last question, but that was the gist of how it was worded. That particular exam (“This IAT requires the ability to distinguish names that are likely to belong to Arab-Muslims versus people of other nationalities or religions”) was taken by several students… and several additional students confessed that they purposefully avoided that test, because they were too nervous about what their results might be.

“I have Muslim friends,” one girl pleaded. “I don’t want to find out that I’m biased against them.”

We scratched the surface of this issue with some reports about attitudes towards Muslims in the United States (making sure to pull from both Fox News and The Nation, naturally). Looking at multiple research studies, we tentatively concluded that knowing a group of people doesn’t necessarily increase your comfort level with them, but not having any direct contact with them seems to definitely decrease your tolerance and acceptance.

A small part of me wishes I could say we came to a big conclusion here, because it would make a nice kicker to this blog post. We didn’t. A bigger part of me wishes I could say, “my Muslim students felt better about their place in America after this conversation.” I have no idea whether that’s true (although I’ll follow up on that).

But if there’s one thing I’ve learned since I started working at SLA: A successful class is not about finding the answer, it’s about asking the questions together.

 

Note: At a school that’s ranked as one of the most diverse in the nation, that’s harder in some ways, but easier in others, because students cannot automatically assume that they are in the majority, or the group that they’re talking about is not in the room. If you work in a more homogeneous environment, I will be interested to hear how these activities play in your classroom.

Day 1 Activity: Who gets to inherit our intellectual traditions?

In the many dinner table conversations we have around education, my husband and I like to parse out what lasting impressions our different high schools left on us.

My husband attended one of the region’s prominent Quaker schools, so he knows how to sit and reflect and reach consensus. In terms of the humanities, teachers also clearly communicated to him — explicitly and implicitly — that there was a direct line between the great thinkers and doers of eras past and their own classroom.

Now, there are plenty elitist reasons why private schools naturally impart this message, and some aspects of their structure (small seminar-style classes, courses in Greek and Latin) that reinforce it.

And yet — in talking to him, I realized that while I believe my own students are equal inheritors of the global intellectual tradition, that fact is not something I do a great job of communicating in my classroom. And as a result, perhaps my kids were missing out on the empowered mindset that helps us grow into (and trouble, and challenge, and blow up) the adult world of thought.

So, today I made sure my first-day slide show included some explicit discussion about the tradition of writing, reading, and thinking that exists in our world — examples of the people that got together and hashed out some insightful, important, and entertaining documents that have shaped the course of literature and history.

Here’s a few examples.

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And here’s the prompt that lead to our first-day sticky-note activity:

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Phase two was “How did this work impact your life?” Phase three will come later, and will lead to the generation of new topics and ideas for writing.

Day 1 and we already have a rich collection of suggested reading for the class, and themes that can serve as a springboard for writing. And it all came from sharing our own positions in the larger tradition of reading and writing.

Summer Thoughts and Check-In

Here’s just a few professional things I am up to this summer:

On a more personal note, I am also interested in sitting on beaches, swimming in the ocean (and, in a new one for me, pools), eating watermelon, and playing skee ball on the boardwalk. Gotten to all but that last one so far.

Lastly, if you are in the Philadelphia area, you should already be signed up for the Caucus of Working Educators’ Summer Reading Series. In its second year there are ten books with twenty-plus facilitators, who are all among the best and the brightest in our fair city. Each book connects to the topic of structural racism. You do NOT have to have read the book in advance (that’s the point), nor do you have to attend every meeting of your book club. I will be out of town for several meetings of The New Jim Crow, but that didn’t stop me from signing up and thinking yes, yes, yes when I read the first page today:

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