Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Response to Brittany

Brittany asked, " What sort of activities do you think elementary schools could adopt to increase learning without implementing a longer school day?" I was a tutor at an afterschool program for four years when I was in high school. It was at my former elementary school, and it ran M-F 2pm to about 6pm. I found that the students in this program, although they were there because they had parents unable to pick them up after school, were actually benefitting from this program. At 2 pm we had snacks and began homework. I would walk around and help anyone who needed it. I think this is one strong benefit that presented itself. They had the opportunity to ask questions in a one-on-one situation, in case they didn't want to ask the teacher, or speak up in their classroom. This promoted further understanding in a more relaxed setting. After homework, there were computers available for learning-based games. We also were always doing crafts or making gifts for the parents, like little seedlings in pots, and concrete things like that that also promoted learning. At the same time, if a child didn't want to do a craft activity, we had board games out, or they could play in the gym. On certain days, a lady came in and they would learn recorders, or bells, some sort of music where they could participate as a group. We also went to places like the zoo, the dairy farm, the supermarket (which was more interesting than I was anticipating!) Although this program is additional money beyond the tuition for the school, and was implemented in order to help parents who lived out of bus range, or couldn't come at 2 pm, I think it was doing much more good than just "babysitting". It allowed for one-on-one tutoring, hands on crafting, and also physical activity to wear them out some :) 1) Should after school programs be recommended and encouraged to ALL students to furthur learning and not be merely a place for kids who can't get picked up at dismissal time?

european schooling and lifestyle

Just a few points I wanted to share since I lived in London last semester and worked for a British website. I also took a class where we strictly discussed the British culture and workplace, versus that of the American. It was pretty revealing, and I'm surprised most Americans don't run to the UK to work. My boss' daughter went to a school that was 9-4. She then had an afterschool program until 6 that was so popular with the students, it was rare for a student NOT to attend the program. She had different activities in that program, where they began with a snack and did their homework. They then either had piano, a language, theatre, dance, a sport that changed with the seasons, etc. So, having such offerings meant that my boss dropped her off, and then picked her up at the end of the day, instead of American parents picking them up early, or from an afterschool daycare, and then carting them to soccer, dance, or some other activity that takes place at an entirely different part of town. Most UK companies work 10-530/6 ish, so this works out perfectly for them. Plus, she was the brightest 8 year old I ever had the pleasure to meet. In regards to the workday, it was pretty relaxed and I never felt pressured, like I do at my job here in the states. 10 am is a nice time to start, it's not too early, and leaves time for a good breakfast, and maybe even a morning run. 6 seemed a late time to get off, especially since it gets so dark there so early, but it worked out well since Brits usually don't eat dinner until 8 or 9. My boss also gives the entire company August off. Most of the UK has extended vacations in the summertime, and also a good amount of time (almost 10 days) near Christmas. I really couldn't believe that. My boss said to me once, "Americans live to work, whereas Brits work to live." That kind of perspective was very obvious over my time in the UK, and I wish it was as popular here in the States. My parents work way too much, and will have to work way too long, if they even retire at all. They hardly have any leisure time, besides the two weeks they take in the summer each year, where we have some sort of "vacation" that is pretty much visiting with family back in Illinois. It's no wonder that people in Britain are generally happier. And they make such work sacrifices for the benefit of their well-being and it has no evident impact on their business profits. They seem to be giving their children better education, and then allowing them more pleasant work environments after their education. And it seems to be working for them. 1) Should afterschool programs be implemented to help parents and ultimately help and benefit students? 2) Is the workplace in America too stressful, too competitive, and too negative? Will it ever be able to change?

pfc: too good to ignore

Coming into college, and before nature of human nature my Sophomore year, I had never taken a Philosophy class, talked about Philosophy, or even thought about Philosophy. Since then, I've realized that I think about things in a whole new way, and the honors philosophy courses I've taken have been a worthwhile addition to my entire four years here at the College. I believe I would have benefited from philosophy at a younger age. As we discussed on Monday, the go-to excuse for teachers seemed to be a crowded curriculum, and the need to make sure students pass standardized tests, rather than become independent learners and critical thinkers. I think it was Becky-Jo who commented that a brief 10 minutes from each subject block devoted to philosophy of the certain subject could help students. There is definitely always downtime in every class. If each minute was used, and a solid 10 minute discussion was conducted, students would benefit without a question. Besides, discussions can be seen as a fun time to speak out and up to the student, rather than what they truly are. Matthews is correct in stating that students have these questions and are making the proper connections to be able to participate in an age-appropriate discussion. It reminds me of those shows, like "Kids Say the Darndest Things," and that new Heidi Klum one on Bravo. Kids absorb and connect more things than anyone ever thinks. They're fully capable, and would benefit from, philosophical discussions. In our class discussions about helping students critically think, we talked about encouraging students to make connections throughout all of their subjects in order to see and realize a bigger picture. I believe that this bigger picture could more readily be realized with the implementation of these philosophical discussions. I guess my question is then: If philosophical discussions are evidentally worthwhile to the student, should a teacher utilize them in their curriculum themselves? It seems hard to believe that a school district would implement such ideas, so is it up to the teacher? Should teachers in college now be encouraged to put such "new concepts" in lesson plans?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Response to Jessica:

Question: Would you be open to being taught through comics in a classroom? Do you think it would make students more motivated to do their work?

First of all, I'm glad you got to go to Chicago! That's where I'm from, it's an amazing city that I miss terribly!

And to get to your question, there is an amazing "Understanding the Graphic Novel" class here at MCLA taught by Annie Raskin. It debunked EVERYTHING that I thought I knew about comic books, or "graphic novels."

In truth, comics in the literal, popular sense (superhero) may be geared towards men, but graphic novels can be scholarly, and are geared towards everyone. We read several that made me realize I had completely underestimated graphic novels and comics as a medium. There are subtle hints in the images that are important to realize. As an English major, I tended to only read the bubbles, but I was missing out on so much. The class helped me realize that everything in a comic and graphic novel is there for a reason. It taught me to read much more closely, and pay much more attention.

Prose does get boring, and I think graphic novels should surely be employed in the classroom. We read Maus, which was about the Holocaust. Such a novel not only taught me more about the holocaust, but the medium made it that much more interesting.

i strongly believe in the power of graphic novels in a classroom. There are so many quality, scholarly ones that go above and beyond what people traditionally think of "comic" and they could be a welcome break from prose in any classroom. I think students would undoubtedly read them, very closely, and get a lot out of it.

Response to Mike:

Should we be harder on kids that use profanity? Or is it not as big a deal as some of us are making it out to be? Should it be met with disciplinary action on behalf of the students? The teachers?

I think that Mike made a really good point about the difference that exists with swearing and profanity. There's a HUGE difference between being vulgur, swearing at someone (in anger), or just swearing in normal conversation to make a point.

I think that although students should not swear in the classroom at all, I'm sure it happens in private settings where it is acceptable. Otherwise, some students could probably not differentiate between the different motives behind swearing, which makes it have to be punishable for all, in all situations. Otherwise, I'm sure students would begin to lose all respect and be unable to conduct themselves properly.

The students should be punished, but it should not be something as harsh as detention unless it is a chronic issue. On the other hand, my dad used to employ a swear jar with us kids. He would have to put a certain amount in per swear, and then we used it to a family trip for ice cream, or something like that. It stopped my dad, who has quite the sailor's mouth, from swearing-- at least in front of us. Something similar could be employed by a teacher so that the students realize it's a bad habit they want to kick, and the students could also get something out of it.

Is swearing in any classroom setting (besides college) ever okay?

Profanity in the Classroom

In grade school and high school, I feel as if profanity has no place. If the student is not allowed to conduct themselves that way, the teacher should not either. My parents always said that profanity is for the uneducated, which I don't necessarily agree with at all. However, I do think that it shows an inability to express oneself with other, less offensive terms. Berk said, "Consider the plethora of unusual words you can use to express your elation or discontent."

I do agree with that, and I often try to tell myself to not swear, and to use my words better.

Currently, I have two teachers that are swearing up a storm in two different classes. In college, I believe that it is acceptable. When it first happened, I was actually surprised, but now, it catches my attention and brings me back into the discussion. Both teachers are just laid back kind of guys, and I appreciate the laid-back attitude of their classrooms. Swears do not offend me in the slightest, but I know they do offend some, and you can tell who's uncomfortable when it happens in class. I think these teachers do not preconceive how or when they swear. It just happens. In that way, I'm alright with it. Makes the teachers seem on our level during discussion, and just human.

Does swearing look bad upon a teacher and make them lose respect?

Response to Brittany: Can you think of ways the conventional school-schedule model can be adjusted to help these students receive a quality education?

Although I’ve ALWAYS thought high-school started way too early, I think that there should be ways to allow students the opportunity to work, or fufill other special needs they may have. One friend of mine took the opportunity to leave school early in order to go straight to her job. It was the school-to-work program. Although I couldn’t believe that she had to do that, it’s a harsh reality for some families. Allowing her to finish PE independently and take her free periods at the end of the day facilitated this afterschool job. This girl used all that money from her afterschool job to get her associates, and now she has a good preschool teaching job.

There was also a student I knew of that took night classes so that he could watch his siblings during the day, since his parents were working and couldn’t afford daycare. I think the unconventional night classes, and school-to-work program, is giving students who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity, the chance to succeed and make sure they have a brighter future.

Peer Evaluations

“Smith turned to student-peer ratings of forty-two common personality traits, based on each student's observation of the actual classroom behavior of his or her classmates. A statistical technique called factor analysis then allowed for the identification of five general traits-agreeableness, extroversion, work orientation, emotionality and helpfulness-that proved stable across different samples. Of these five traits, only the work-orientation factor, which Smith calls "strength of character"-including such traits as ". . . not a quitter, conscientious, responsible, insistently orderly, not prone to daydreaming, determined, persevering . . ."-was related to school success. Smith then proceeded to show that, in several samples, this work-orientation trait was three times more successful in predicting post-high-school academic performance than any combination of thirteen cognitive variables, including SAT verbal, SAT mathematical, and school class rank.”

I’m glad that Smith found a way beyond standardized testing. Everyone knows that standardized tests are too objective and cannot tell a school or employer a student’s true aptitude, but no one really had a good alternative. Although we discussed the personal essay as a good way to tell a student’s personality, I believe that Smith is on to something. A student might not test well, but be the most conscientious student in the class. Relying on peers, who are quite honest in most cases, seems to be a good way to put a face and personality to a transcript. I believe that this aspect should be added to a person’s portfolio. Although it is quite possible that you could run into human nature, and some students would be unfairly scrutinized or lauded, I believe that in general it could really work. It might be able to help a student go places they deserve to, but otherwise wouldn’t be given the opportunity to.

Can peer evaluations help or hinder?

Parental Involvement in Education

That working-class parents seem to favor stricter educational methods is a reflection of their own work experiences, which have demonstrated that submission to authority is an essential ingredient in one's ability to get and hold a steady, well-paying job. That professional and self-employed parents prefer a more open atmosphere and a greater emphasis on motivational control is similarly a reflection of their position in the social division of labor. When given the opportunity, higher-status parents are far more likely than their lower-status neighbors to choose "open classrooms" for their children.

Bowles and Gintis’ argument expanded to include parental involvement in a student’s education. I have always thought that a teacher can only do so much, especially in elementary education. Flash cards, reading at home, doing homework: all falls on the parent to help a child continue learning outside of the classroom. With what the article argues, this makes even more sense now. Typical working class parents do not have the time to take to stress learning, so they do what they can, which is to teach their child how to be successful. Higher up parents, who might have the time or the resources to make sure their child learns out of the classroom, then have the ability to stress learning, and encourage children to be lifelong learners, rather than citizens ready to work. This circle of inequality seems a tough one to break and go beyond. Sure, more and more students are given the opportunity, but without the backing from parents or family, it can fail. Once again it is the age-old tale of upringing and birth playing a huge part in a child’s future. What can a teacher do to help break this cycle? Especially an overworked inner-city teacher?

Response to Brittany: Do you remember any teachers who made their classes/lessons memorable by using humor in their teaching?

I believe that funny teachers are often the teachers who truly love their subject. These teachers make their lessons fun, and their classes fun to be in. That can be a lifesaver when a student just doesn’t want to be there, or is having a bad day. The light humor makes a classroom comfortable, and learning easier.

My AP History teacher senior year of high school made learning American History so much fun, I regularly watch the history channel and “American Experience” tv show now. When we were learning about the sixties, and hippies, he made us all come in to school dressed as hippies. We then went and protested against another teacher’s class. This teacher had directed everyone to dress up and dress in military garb. The teacher was a former military general, and usually very serious, but everyone had fun that day as we recreated one of the protests that usually went on. Sure, we burned a day of class and had fun, but I always remember it. He always did little activities or had running jokes that made the time pass, and made me remember and retain the material.

The Power of the Lecture

Like Russell, I believe in the power of a good lecture. Sure, Russell seems to go above a beyond in terms of preparation than any teacher I think ever does, but a stimulating lecture can allow for a teacher to pass forth ideas in a fast manner. Excited teachers can make great lectures incredibly stimulating and helpful. However, I do believe that a lecture should be only part of the teaching method. Students can listen to a lecture, and then do group work and discuss the lecture with a small assignment. That can ensure that a student grasps the material. Pre-reading could also help with students learning the material. Although a facilitated discussion is also a good idea, I don’t want to discredit a good lecture. Good theories and points can be relayed, and writing them down has always helped me learn.

Does the power of a lecture depend strictly on the teacher, or is lecture a dead art?

Response to Shelby: Does our liberal arts curriculum at MCLA encourage the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge's sake?

I love the question, and I agree with it wholeheartedly. I often never paid attention to things outside of my interests, and the core curriculum has forced me to pay attention to everything. I never thought that environmental studies would ever interest me, but they did, and they now do. I believe that I have received a much better education than my peers at other institutions due to the fact that I stepped out of my major and learned a lot more than I ever would anywhere else. MCLA curriculum teaches students to be lifelong learners. Maybe in the future, I’ll pick up a book that usually had no interest to me, just to see if I like it. I believe that MCLA encouraged me to learn, and continue learning, just because its there, and you might even like it.

The MCLA Core Liberal Arts Education: Paternalistic in nature?

I do not believe that a liberal arts education is paternalistic. A student freely chooses to enroll in this type of school, first of all. Secondly, a liberal education is all about the freedom to choose. Yes, there are categories and requirements, but I believe that the CORE structure at MCLA opened my eyes to a whole new world. Each class that I thought I would absolutely hate (Environmental Research, anyone?) turned out to be something amazing that enriched my learning here. The initial core requirements seem daunting due to the fact that they’re in whole new fields, but they truly instill values and allow a student to be a lifelong learner in all fields. The business class that I took to fulfill the core actually excited me, and I picked up a business minor. This minor has led me to a pretty prestigious marketing job that I’m going to take after graduation, despite the fact that I am a Broadcast Journalism major. Without the CORE, I’d probably be struggling to find a journalism job in this tough market. Although I know I will follow my journalism aspirations one day, it is now my 10 year plan instead of forced right-now plan. Yes, classes fill quick, but I think that MCLA did a great job in opening my eyes to a whole world of possibilities and making me interested in multiple new things.

Did the core requirements cause anyone to change a major, or grab a different minor?

Response to Shelby: How can teachers and students help encourage, and make less intimidating, participation in class?

I think one way is to not instantly shoot down a student if they say the wrong thing. That is one way to ensure a student never participates again. Beyond that, I always feel most comfortable to respond when one person isn’t dominating a conversation. Sometimes, one student has so many ideas and comments that either no one else can get a word in, or you don’t want to sound dumb to this apparently very knowledgeable student, so you allow them to continue dominating the discussion. I’ve always felt most comfortable with laid-back situations, and discussions that include personal responses with personal experience. Also, teachers that don’t randomly call on students also allow for a comfortable atmosphere in which students want to participate in. Cold calling on students can make them embarrassed, and make the rest of the class very nervous.

When is cold calling on students appropriate?


Class structure in college is laid out in the very first day of class. A student sees the criteria of how to secure a good grade, and it is then their responsibility to live up to those standards if they want a good grade. I tend to enjoy classrooms that give me the expectations, and then allow me to try and live up to them.

Russell said that he often calls on a student randomly to speak up. I believe that that seems incredibly paternalistic, and unnecessary in college level courses where the students are all functioning adults capable of guiding their own education. Classes where the teacher randomly calls on students make me incredibly nervous. I am always sweating bullets, so to speak, and making sure that I have something to say if I have to, regardless if I want to or not, or if it is good or not. I believe that Jules has the right idea to let a student do as they choose. Also, like Alison says that she details why she calls on random students, I have never had a teacher do that. IF they explained themselves, and relayed that they’re not doing it just to keep me on my toes, maybe I would have been less nervous.

I have one class currently that is incredibly paternalistic and it is really getting on my last nerve. It is something that I love, but the handholding that is going on is causing me to truly hate it. Also, there is a strict 2-absence policy, so I now sit there and do nothing, but at least I’m there, right? Attendance policies in college really annoy me. I am paying for the class, and it’s my grade in the end. Therefore, if I want to succeed I’ll go, but if I don’t feel like going, it should NOT reduce my grade by a full letter. That’s just too harsh and paternalistic.

Are attendance requirements ridiculous in college?


I believe that testing has its place in the classroom. It is a necessary evil to determine how a student is grasping information. However, it should not be the only tool used to evaluate a student. If testing is the only grading method, students will be apt to “learn for the test”, or cram all of the material, spout it out at the test, and then instantly forget it all. This results in the students not really learning much at all. If testing is just a small part of a student’s grade, they are more likely to grasp the information. If paired with discussion, group work, papers, and other activities, the student is then apt to have to learn the material in order to complete the other work.

Some students just may not be good test takers. They may get nervous or just struggle and not be able to secure good grades. This instills fear and anxiety in them and makes it even more difficult to learn.

I used to have a teacher that said your test grade was the amount of material you learned. I highly disagree with that, and it would always make me angry. I could’ve learned the material, but the test was unclear. I even could have grasped much more, but just am terrible at taking tests.

Allowing a student other ways to improve their grade beyond testing is the best way to insure the material is learned. It also makes life a bit easier for the student so that they may grasp all of the material in a positive atmosphere.

Teaching Improv & Creativity

This article I found [] is about an inner-city (Brooklyn) teacher who played improv games with her students, like the “Yes, and” game where students have to go around in a circle and build upon each other’s stories. These games engaged the student’s creative side, and as a result, the teacher has the best-performing class in New York City. Her students, after playing the game for some time, became more attentive and more excited about learning. Not only teaching improvisational skills, these games also taught the students to work together for one common goal, making the class have a better group dynamic.

Improvisational skills keep a person on their feet, and able to adapt to any situation. Teaching improv can be difficult, but like the example, it can be done, and it is undoubtedly beneficial for students to learn such skills, which will help them for the rest of their lives.

1) What are other games you’ve played that in retrospect, helped your improvisation skills?

Role of Creativity in Education

Beyond music, there are other times in the classroom where a child can be creative. I believe that in elementary school, and even in times during middle school, a child’s creative nature needs to be nurtured, in every subject being taught. Students shouldn’t always have to be grounded in reality. Allowing their minds to wander about the subject, or allowing free time to draw, can really help them make connections on their own time. Plus, a young kid’s mind works in funny ways, usually resulting in the funniest of stories or pictures. Creativity causes students to make connections, solve problems, and think of other questions on top of that. Such skills will undoubtedly help them in the future with anything they encounter.

How can a teacher incorporate creativity beyond music or art?

Music in Education

When there is always constant talk of music and arts programs potentially being pulled from schools, I believe that it is mostly a huge disservice to the student. There is always room for other cuts, seeing as music/arts teachers aren’t paid that much anyways. I believe that music gives the students a much-needed break in the work day. It gives students something to look forward to and breaks up the monotony of sitting in a desk. Beyond that, it stimulates creativity and brain activity. Music students usually excel in all areas further than students without musical training, which is probably true but I couldn’t find any hardwired facts. Despite that, just allowing a student to try something new in a new field could inspire something inside that changes them. Music is very mathematically based, and a student with that kind of thinking could really take to it. Personally, I only remember ever learning how to play the recorder, but music was still a much welcomed break for the teacher and for the students who just couldn’t sit in the chairs very much longer.

Does elementary music education have enough value to justify its keeping?

Response to Mary: do you think one can be taught how to adapt, or must it be something they learn through experience? Why?

I believe that no one can be taught how to fully adapt and improvise to certain situations. However, someone can be taught the skills needed to adapt to any situation. For example: you learn cpr, you learn 911, you learn crisis management skills. Each experience that requires someone to adapt helps them build for next time. The next time something happens, they can then use the skills they’ve learned, plus use the experience gained from previous times, to hopefully, improvise and adapt well. Adaption is super important, seeing as nothing ever goes as planned. I think it is something that takes things that are learned, and combines them with experience, to work.

What skills should one have to ensure they are somewhat prepared for situations that would cause them to have to adapt?


Someone said that improvisation allows a student to be “empowered in the face of uncertainity,” which I really liked.

Teaching a student to have improvisational skills is integral to their education. Not everything goes to plan. Improvisational skills are important in school, work, and even in day to day life situations. For example, a person needs to be able to think on their feet. Tragedy can occur, and improv could potentially help in a life or death situation. Beyond the extreme, improv requires a student to be fully immersed in what is being learned at the time, or what is going on. Improv is very difficult for a day-dreamer, so I believe that requiring improv, or randomly calling on a student for an answer, ensures that a student is giving their full attention.

Does improvisation have a place beyond dangerous situations?