User Generated Education

Education as it should be – passion-based.

Caring and Compassionate Confrontation

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When I was in my Doctoral program, I met in one of my classes Debbie who was the Corporate Education coordinator for the university. She ran workshops for teams from profit and non-profit organizations and corporations. I had mentioned that I had a background in adventure education with a focus using outdoor team building activities. She got excited and said that the university does team building on their off campus site and asked me to join her as a facilitator. At the time I was a chain smoker, about 2 packs a day, and had been smoking like that for about 10 years. These activities were outdoors so I would smoke during these day long team building days. We would have the clients fill out evaluation forms at the end of the day and use these evaluations to do our end-of-day debriefings. During one such debriefing, Debbie had found several comments about how my smoking disturbed several of the individual clients. She looked at me with such a caring look and said, “You are so good at what you do. It’s such a shame that your smoking detracts from that.” On the way home that evening I threw away my cigarettes and never smoked again. This ended up being a peak experience in my life in that Debbie’s unconditional caring facilitated major behavioral change in me.

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Fast forward to present day . . . this is about a 5th grade student in one of my gifted education classes. Last semester, J. was incredibly annoying. He got on both my and his classmates nerves way too often. He was a “know-it-all” with both the other students and me. He was loud, often claimed he knew the answer (he often did), and when he was correct, he would exclaim loudly, “I told you so.” When we had competitions such as with board games and Kahoot, he often won and would gloat. I had lots of one-on-one talks with him telling him that I believe that he is smart and insightful, but that he often alienates others (including me) with his comments. I emphasized that I wanted others to see his talents but with his comments and attitudes, others would not see them. I also told him that winning competitions does feel good but that he should congratulate himself silently as not to get his peers angry. We’ve been back from break for several weeks (I meet with them twice a week for a few hours each time). I noticed that he is not so loud, doesn’t make such antagonist comments, and lets me help him with technology-based assignments. On several occasions, I told him that I noticed his changes and that I am proud of him. When asked, he said he made a New Year’s resolution to make changes. Last semester I didn’t think he was listening to my suggestions, but he was! 

The following excerpts from the Harvard School of Education’s The Troublemakers (http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/ed/18/01/troublemakers) support the idea of caring and compassionate confrontation.

We teachers all have our Joes, our students who consistently call out, talk back, refuse to participate or sit down or stay on task. They throw our lessons into disarray, make our heads pound. They keep us up at night strategizing, worrying. How can I connect? What strategies might work tomorrow?

How do we reach and teach our troublemakers? Most teachers have binders brimming with ideas: shuffled seat assignments, tracking systems, rewards for on-point behavior. But when these fail, what can you do when it’s you alone in your class balancing 29 personalities, the clock ticking and your 40-minute-long class is almost up?

Some strategies for working with these kinds of difficult students include:

Seek out our students’ strengths. All students have strengths. Perhaps they are avid photographers, basketball players, coders, or poets when not in school. But when it comes to our troublemakers, it can be easy for their assets to be overshadowed by behaviors that disrupt the carefully cultivated cultures of our classrooms. We cannot lose sight of these strengths. Yet it is not enough to know that our troublemakers are budding artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs. We must also seek to reframe and better understand the qualities we find most frustrating.

Strategize with students. We can only guess as to why a student might call out or fail to do homework. Rather than assume we know the answer, ask. From our students we can better learn what hurdles they face and in what ways we can support their success. And in doing this we demonstrate our commitment to our students.

Create opportunities for students to realize their potential and be publically recognized for their academic achievements. All students are capable of achieving remarkable things, they just might need our help to do so. In raising the stakes, but also the support, we can create opportunities for students to explore at the edge of their capabilities. And when they do succeed, celebrate these achievements. Our troublemakers are too often only publicly acknowledged for their disruptions. We can change this pattern by intentionally creating opportunities to publicly recognize their strengths.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 21, 2018 at 11:00 pm

Educators as Purveyors of Hope

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My advanced degree is in counseling. I sought this degree due to my affinity towards at-risk and adjudicated youth. One of the most powerful learnings from my training as a counselor was a comment I heard at a conference, Counselors need to be purveyors of hope since many clients get in trouble and/or seek counseling due to a lack of hope.

I have since become a teacher educator (with some teaching of elementary gifted students at a few Title 1 schools thrown in). I believe that educators do more counseling of children and young people than any other profession. Teachers, then, should be purveyors of hope especially for those students who lack the belief in their own capabilities and potential  This includes students who lack hope that they can do well in certain subjects; students who lack hope that they can do well in school-as-a-whole; and saddest of all, students who lack hope for their futures. The educator, as a purveyor of hope, gives these types of learners the overt message, “I will hold hope for you because I believe in you. The goal, though, is for you to develop your own sense of hope.”

Hope often gets a bad rap. For some, it conjures up images of a blissfully naïve chump pushing up against a wall with a big smile. That’s a shame. Cutting-edge science shows that hope, at least as defined by psychologists, matters a lot.

Hope is not just a feel-good emotion, but a dynamic cognitive motivational system. Under this conceptualization of hope, emotions follow cognitions, not the other way round. Hope-related cognitions are important. Hope leads to learning goals, which are conducive to growth and improvement. People with learning goals are actively engaged in their learning, constantly planning strategies to meet their goals, and monitoring their progress to stay on track. A bulk of research shows that learning goals are positively related to success across a wide swatch of human life—from academic achievement to sports to arts to science to business. In contrast to both self-efficacy and optimism, people with hope have the will and the pathways and strategies necessary to achieve their goals (The Will and Ways of Hope).

Over the last 20 years, researchers have gained a clearer understanding of the relationships between hope and important aspects of students’ lives. Put simply, research demonstrates that more hopeful students do better in school and life than less hopeful students.

  • Hope is positively associated with perceived competence and self-worth (Marques, Pais-Ribeiro, & Lopez, 2009) and negatively associated with symptoms of depression (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997).
  • High-hope students typically are more optimistic (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997), develop many life goals, and perceive themselves as being capable of solving problems that may arise (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997).
  • Accumulating evidence suggests that hope is related to life satisfaction and wellbeing (e.g., Gilman, Dooley, & Florell, 2006).
  • Hope is linked consistently to attendance and credits earned (Gallup, 2009a).
  • Hopeful middle school students have better grades in core subjects (Marques, Pais-Ribeiro, & Lopez, 2011) and on achievement tests (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997).
  • Hopeful high school students (Gallup, 2009b; Snyder et al., 1991) and beginning college students (Gallagher & Lopez, 2008; Snyder et al., 2002) have higher overall grade point averages.
  • Hope predicts academic achievement, and the predictive power of hope remains significant even when controlling for intelligence (e.g., Snyder, Cheavens, & Sympson, 1997), prior grades (e.g., Gallagher & Lopez, 2008; Snyder et al., 1991; Snyder et al., 2002), self-esteem (Snyder et al., 2002), personality (Day, Hanson, Maltby, Proctor, & Wood, 2010), and college entrance examination scores such as high school GPA and ACT/SAT (Gallagher & Lopez, 2008; Snyder et al., 2002).
  • Higher hope has been correlated positively with social competence (Barnum, Snyder, Rapoff, Mani, & Thompson, 1998), pleasure in getting to know others, enjoyment in frequent interpersonal interactions (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997), and interest in the goal pursuits of others (Snyder, Cheavens, & Sympson, 1997). (Measuring and Promoting Help in Schoolchildren)

Some of the characteristics or skills sets of hope include:

  • Positive View About the Future
  • Can Do Attitude
  • Personal Agency
  • Engage in Positive Self Talk
  • Belief in Ability to Solve Problems
  • Belief in One’s Ability to Impact Positively on One’s Situation.
  • Maintaining Perspective
  • Sense of Efficacy

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For educators who want to help their students build these skills of hope, here are five research-based guidelines. From How to Help Students Develop Hope:

  1. Identify and prioritize their top goals, from macro to micro. Start by having students create a “big picture” list of what’s important to them—such as their academics, friends, family, sports, or career—and then have them reflect on which areas are most important to them and how satisfied they are with each.
  2. Breakdown the goals—especially long-term ones—into steps. Research has suggested that students with low hope frequently think goals have to be accomplished all-at-once, possibly because they haven’t had the parental guidance on how to achieve goals in steps. Teaching them how to see their goals as a series of steps will also give students reasons to celebrate their successes along the way—a great way to keep motivation high!
  3. Teach students that there’s more than one way to reach a goal. Studies show that one of the greatest challenges for students with low hope is their inability to move past obstacles. They often lack key problem-solving skills, causing them to abandon the quest for their goals.
  4. Tell stories of success.  Scientists have found that hopeful students draw on memories of other successes when they face an obstacle; however, students with low hope often don’t have these kinds of memories. That’s why it’s vital for teachers to read books or share stories of other people—especially kids—who have overcome adversity to reach their goals.
  5. Keep it light and positive. It’s important to teach students to enjoy the process of attaining their goals, even to laugh at themselves when they face obstacles and make mistakes. Above all, no self-pity! Research has found that students who use positive self-talk, rather than beating themselves up for mistakes, are more likely to reach their goals.

Parting Shot: I recently watched the documentary STEP, which provides a great example of administrators and teachers instilling hope into a high risk population.

STEP documents the senior year of a girls’ high-school step dance team against the background of inner-city Baltimore. These young women learn to laugh, love and thrive – on and off the stage – even when the world seems to work against them. Empowered by their teachers, teammates, counselors, coaches and families, they chase their ultimate dreams: to win a step championship and to be accepted into college.  This all female school is reshaping the futures of its students’ lives by making it their goal to have every member of their senior class accepted to and graduate from college, many of whom will be the first in their family to do so (http://www.foxsearchlight.com/stepmovie/).

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 5, 2018 at 10:40 pm

The World’s Largest Lesson: Global Goals Activities

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I have a strong belief that education should assist learners in developing the desire and skills for global stewardship. I discussed this in my post, Empathy and Global Stewardship: The Other 21st Century Skills https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/empathy-and-global-stewardship-the-other-21st-century-skills/.

Learners, grades 5 and 6, in my gifted class do the global goals projects one hour per week. What follows are some of the activities they have done.

Introducing and Choosing the Goals

The Global Goals lesson was introduced to learners through the following videos:

They were then asked to explore each of the goals via the World’s Greatest Lesson website: http://worldslargestlesson.globalgoals.org/ using their newly constructed Global Goals glasses (template found at http://cdn.worldslargestlesson.globalgoals.org/2017/08/WLL-Glasses-V3.pdf).

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The final part of their introduction and exploration of the global goals was for each learner to choose one or two goals to further explore and research; and to list these on their personal blogs. They presented their selections to the rest of the class.

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Activity: Board Game Go Goals!

“GO GOALS!” board game. The purpose of this game is to help children understand the Sustainable Development Goals, how they impact their lives and what they can do every day to help and achieve the 17 goals by 2030. The game can be downloaded at http://go-goals.org/

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Activity: Exploring Wealth Inequalities

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This was such a powerful activity. I blogged about it in Exploring Wealth Inequities: An Experiential Learning Activity https://usergeneratededucation.wordpress.com/2017/12/02/exploring-wealth-inequities-an-experiential-learning-activity/

Here is a video from their activity:

Activity: Superhero to Help Rescue Climate Change

Learners completed the worksheets (1-3) found at http://cdn.worldslargestlesson.globalgoals.org/2017/09/WLL_ClimateComicContest_Final-1.pdf.

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The learner responses were posted on the bulletin outside of the classroom hopefully to bring some awareness to other teachers and students in the school.

Creating a Website

Learners, either alone or with a partner, are creating websites about their chosen goals using Google Sites (we are a Google apps district). They are required to include the following items:

  • An overview of the problem using reputable resources and with live links included,
  • Multimedia presentations (2) using Web 2.0 tools from this list provided to them via our Google Classroom –  https://www.symbaloo.com/embed/multimediatools8?,
  • A self-grading quiz using Google Forms,
  • A Green Screen or Flipgrid commentary.

They work on their sites when time is left after the experiential activities. (I will add an aggregate of their sites once they are done.)

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

January 4, 2018 at 11:06 pm

Focusing on the Process: Letting Go of Product Expectations

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I am a process-oriented educator. I focus on how to learn rather than what to learn. I’ve addressed this in Freedom to Learn:

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In order to facilitate these desired elements of learning, I believe it is important to focus on the process of learning rather than the products of learning.

When learning is viewed as a product, and the same performance measure applies to all students, learning facilitation can be reduced to cookie-cutter teaching: same pieces of information and instruction are seen sufficient for all students. In a product-centered learning environment emphasis is often in doing activities – worksheets, charts, pre-designed projects – that are either teacher-made or provided by the publisher of the curriculum. The important part of completing these products is getting them right because these products are usually graded! Skilled and obedient students comply with these requests and try hard to get their tasks done right, yet there are many students who just leave them undone.

What about viewing learning as a process? Because students begin their daily/weekly/yearly learning from different levels of knowledge and understanding, they also will end up in different competency levels. And that is okay, honestly. We are not clones. Students shouldn’t be treated like ones. When learning is understood primarily as a process of acquisition and elaboration of information, the natural consequences in the classroom are ongoing differentiation and individualization. Approaching learning as an individual process helps us refocus learning and teaching: the student is in the nexus of her/his own learning, (Is Learning a Product or a Process?)

The following principles from Rogers’ Freedom to Learn are directly addressed when the process of learning becomes the intent of instructional practices:

Much significant learning is acquired through doing. “Placing the student in direct experiential confrontation with practical problems, social problems, ethical and philosophical problems, personal issues, and research problems, is one of the most effective modes of promoting learning” (p. 162).

Learning is facilitated when the student participates responsibly in the learning process. “When he chooses his own directions, helps to discover his own learning resources, formulates his own problems, decides his own course of action, lives with the consequences of these choices, then significant learning is maximized” (p. 162).

The most socially useful learning in the modern world is the learning of the process of learning, a continuing openness to experience and incorporation into oneself of the process of change. If our present culture survives, it will be because we have been able to develop individuals for whom change is the central fact of life and who have been able to live comfortably with this central fact. They will instead have the comfortable expectation that it will be continuously necessary to incorporate new and challenging learnings about ever-changing situations. (pp. 163-164)

Weibell, C. J. (2011). Principles of learning: 7 principles to guide personalized, student-centered learning in the technology-enhanced, blended learning environment. Retrieved from https://principlesoflearning.wordpress.com.

To truly focus on the process rather than products of learning, the educator needs to let go of expectations about the specific products that should be produced by the students. There are expectations regarding some of the processes in which learners should engage (e.g., divergent thinking, questioning, researching, creating, innovating) but the educator lets go of the pictures in her or his mind about what the products should look like.

The benefits for my learners include:

  • They are not limited by my expectations nor the expectations of a lesson or assessment developed by an outside entity (e.g., textbook or testing company).
  • Their engagement, motivation, curiosity, and excitement increase.
  • They learn to tolerate and then embrace ambiguity.
  • Natural differentiation and individualization result.
  • They learn skills such as self-directed learning, taking initiative, locating resources, asking for help that can be transferred to all learning endeavors.
  • It reflects and models how learning occurs outside of school.
  • There is an increased investment and pride in their work.
  • They develop both a sense of confidence and a sense of competence.

The benefits for me, as the educator, include:

  • I work hard to pre-plan process-oriented classroom activities but the learners work harder than me during class time. Students should work harder than the educator during class time.
  • I am continually surprised at and elated about what learners produce. Because of this, I get to learn from them, too. We become a learning community.
  • I get to directly observe how each individual student approaches learning tasks. This furthers my ability to plan learning tasks tailored to the learners’ unique abilities and interests.
  • I get to experience the joy with them as they accomplish a learning task on their own using their own personal abilities, intelligence, learning strategies, and struggles. This joy rarely occurs with standardized curriculum and assessments.

Here are some examples of process-oriented learning activities I have done with my students:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 17, 2017 at 9:43 pm

Exploring Wealth Inequities: An Experiential Learning Activity

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One of the legacies I want to leave with my students (of all ages) is a desire to engage in global stewardship. For more about this see my post, Empathy and Global Stewardship: The Other 21st Century Skills.

As part of my gifted education classes, I am asking my 5th and 6th graders to choose, explore, research, and report via their own Google Sites on one or two of the 17 Global Goals found at The World’s Largest Lesson. Here is the list of global goals selected by my students:

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To supplement their online work, I am doing a series of experiential activities with them (FYI – this also supports my desire to balance technology and no technology activities, where student need to communicate and collaborate with one another without the use of devices). We began these activities with Exploring Wealth Inequalities, which I explain below.

Goals

  • Explore inequalities of wealth and better understand experiences of economic inequality.
  • To graphically demonstrate the vast differences in wealth between different areas of the world.
  • Generate ideas for action towards economic equality.

The Task

To use the supplies given to your group to create a model city.

Materials

  • Masking Tape – both for creating the boundaries and for building
  • Paper or Plastic Cups
  • Straws
  • Index Cards
  • Candy such as M&Ms, Skittles, Hersey’s Kisses.
  • Paper Bags

The Set-Up

The setting below is set up prior to the learners’ arrival.

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Randomly separate learners into three different groups. Bring them to their area one group at a time and explain the task.

The Wealthy Group:

The wealthy group has more area in which to work, more supplies, and bags of candy with much more than enough for each learner. The facilitator explains the task offering lots of help if they ask for it. They can leave the boundaries of their area. If they ask for more supplies or goods, the facilitator will get it for them – taking it from another group if needed. An unspoken, hidden rule is that they can offer and give any of their supplies to the lower income groups

 

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The Middle Income Group:

The middle group has everything in moderation – a moderate amount of area to work in – a moderate amount of supplies to build their city.  They each get a bag of candy with a few pieces of candy per bag. The facilitator explains the task but doesn’t offer support.

 

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The Poorest Income Group:

This group is given a taped off area in which there is very little room to move; very limited supplies; and a few pieces of candy to share among the group members. The facilitator briefly and impatiently explains the directions to build a model city with the supplies provided.

 

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Debriefing

Students are shown the following video:

. . . and then discuss the following questions:

  • Were you treated fairly?
  • What aspects of this game represented how the world’s wealth and power are distributed?
  • How did the members of the different groups feel about their situation?
  • After playing this game do you have a better understanding of the situation or attitude of poor people/nations? Of the situation or attitude of wealthy people/nations?
  • Who are the “haves” and the “have nots” in the world today? Who are the “haves” and “have nots” in our country today? In our state or community? Why?
  • Should the “haves” be concerned about the situation of the “have nots?” For what reasons? economic? moral/religious? political? Why might the “haves” give money or resources to the “have nots”? Is this a way to solve the problems of poverty?
  • What might the “have-nots” do to improve their situation? What are some actions that “have-nots” have taken around the globe and at home to address the inequalities of wealth and power?
  • Do you think there should be a redistribution of wealth and power in this country? Why or why not? If yes, how would you propose to accomplish this? What principles would guide your proposals for change?
  • Do you think there should be a redistribution of wealth and power throughout the world? Why or why not? If yes, how would you propose to accomplish this? What principles would guide your proposals for change?

(http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/edumat/hreduseries/tb1b/Section2/activity2.html)

Here are some of the comments from my students during the debrief.

 

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

December 2, 2017 at 5:44 pm

Scaffolding Maker Education Learning Experiences

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I often read via social media about the importance of student centered, student-driven instruction. I wholeheartedly agree. My blog post is called User-Generated Education for a reason. I also believe one of the roles of an educator, in the context of maker education, is to scaffold learning experiences so the end result is students becoming self-determined learning.

Thinking about the importance of learner autonomy and independence reminded me of my early career when I did counseling work with at-risk youth in wilderness settings, taking them on 2 to 3 week wilderness trips. We did what was called Huddle-Up Circles. Huddle-ups were called by the instructors and/or the youth participants any time a concern or problem arose. Everyone stopped what they were doing to gather in a circle to discuss the problem and generate solutions. Needless to say, the instructors were the ones who most often called and facilitated the huddle-ups at beginning of our trips.  Our goal, as instructors and counselors, was to have the young people run the huddle-ups themselves. We knew we were successful when we asked to step out of the huddle-ups by the young people because they wanted to run their own huddle-ups. During these times, we would stand outside of the huddle-up circles and silently observe their processes, only stepping in upon their request. The results not only included the development of skills and strategies for their own social-emotional development, but their success with their earned independence boosted their self-esteems.

This is how I approach facilitating maker education activities. Direct instruction is provided through structured and prescribed activities with the goal of learners then being able to eventually go into self-determined directions. There has been some criticism leveraged against out-of-the-box maker education kits, programmable robots, and step-by-step maker activities. My contention is that learners often don’t know what they don’t know; and that giving them the basic skills frees them to then use their creativity and innovation to take these tools into self-determined directions.

In response, I created and proposed Stages of Maker Education:

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In my robotics and coding classes, I use Ozobot, Spheros, Dash and Dot, microbits, Scratch, to name of few. I use a full spectrum of activities starting with direct instruction associated with the Copying stage, then assisting learners to move through the Advance, Modify, and Embellish stages by providing them with examples and resources, and finally, encouraging them to move into the Create stage. Sometimes I show them examples of possibilities for the Create stage. I show such examples to spark and ignite their creative juices. Because almost all of my learners have not had the freedom to create, these examples help to get them motivated and going. Here some are examples of two ends of the spectrum – Prescribed/Copy and Create – of some of these robotic and coding activities to show how learning basic skills can lead to creative activities:

My ultimate goal is to have students drive their own learning and I want to help them learn skills to be successful in their self-determined learning.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 19, 2017 at 8:26 pm

What Learners Want

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I teach gifted students, grades 2 through 6, part time at two Title 1 schools. I pull them out of their regular classes for 3 hours of gifted programming each week. Sadly, but predictably, even though they are classified as gifted, they lack some basic skills in language arts and math (ones like basic grammar and math that they should have by this time in their educational timeline). This makes me question lots of things:

  • Is this because of a form of experiences-deficit during their early years? Their parents often lack the funds and time (working several jobs) to take their children to after school classes, visits to local museums and cultural events, and/or go on out-of-city and out-of-state trips.
  • Is it due to a lack of academic rigor and vigor in their classrooms? Schools with a higher number of students living in poverty tend to do more grill and drill in an effort to raise their test scores.  My personal belief is that grill and drill does not translate into academic vigor and rigor.
  • Do the teachers have lower expectations for the students given their backgrounds?
  • Do their parents have different expectations for their children in terms of academic achievement and college attendance?

I witnessed a conversation between my students yesterday that I found surprising and further had me wondering about the questions I posed above. In one of my schools, where I serve a class of 4th though 6th graders, I have three students from one of the 5th grades and another three students from the other 5th grade. One of the 5th grades has a teacher who is friendly with the students and does fun things in class with the students like showing them clips from major sports events. The other 5th grade class has a very strict teacher. She has a strict and rigorous class schedule and demands that the students work hard in her class. Personally, I like him better. He is friendly to me and often checks in with me about how the students are doing. She is not friendly with me, never checks in with me. I assumed that the students would also like him better and rave about him as a teacher. Yesterday, the kids started talking about the two teachers. One of the 6th grade boys, who had the nice guy teacher last year, had this to say, “I had Mr. Nice Guy as a teacher last year. If you want a friend, then Mr. Nice Guy is the best class but if you want a teacher, then Ms. Strict and Rigorous is the best class. I didn’t learn a single thing in my entire 5th grade year with him.” It was a short conversation as I don’t talk about teachers with the students and directed them to their computer assignments.  But it was a huge shock to me. I really expected the kids to rave about Mr. Nice Guy during this conversation.

I shouldn’t be that surprised. Students often know what it is best for them but sometimes have trouble expressing it. This 6th grader (who, by the way, is far from compliant – way too often talking to his male friends about sports during our class activities) is very articulate so he was able to clearly express his needs. What did surprise me, though, is that his need to learn is stronger than his need for fun and relationship with the teacher. So even with what some might classify as having some disadvantages, he still recognizes the importance of learning.

I went to Google to explore the topic of what students want in their classes and from their teachers. Most of the posts and articles were from educators – not from the students, themselves. So even though I think I know what students want, I may not. What I did re-realize, though, is that what I can do as an educator is keep the lines of communication open with my students, continually inviting them to give me feedback about our learning activities, facilitating conversations about what they are actually learning.

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

November 2, 2017 at 9:23 pm

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