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The Misconception About Culturally Responsive Teaching

hand diversity

When most people hear the phrase “culturally responsive teaching,” they might imagine a middle school teacher rapping a song about exponents, or an interaction between the students and teacher involving chants about the lesson.  Zaretta Hammond, the author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, explains that culturally responsive teaching is actually incorporating strategies that members of a student’s community or family would normally use to teach nonacademic lessons.  This technique is what can make lessons more relatable for minority students by triggering the brain’s memory system to turn what they hear into practical knowledge.  For example, many different racial groups rely heavily on oral tradition, so by allowing students to present a narrative about the topic, it is more likely that the information will stick with them.  The purpose of culturally responsive teaching is not to make teachers “entertain” their students with somewhat random motivation techniques in order to keep them focused.  I believe it is important for students to recognize how they learn best so that they can learn efficiently in the classroom and practice diligently outside of the classroom. Hammond’s research strongly support practices that resemble a student’s cultural learning styles.

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Self-Reflection

woman meditating in lotus pose on the beach at sunset

At the beginning of this project, the task of choosing one of thousands of social issues seemed like almost too much freedom for such an important assignment.  As I browsed through current event articles, newspaper articles, and other websites, I found that I was always drawn to the articles on education.  I knew then that I wanted to investigate the field of education, but the topic seemed too broad, so my first personal goal was to efficiently narrow down my focus. 

After the first two weeks of research, I came across an article about a summer STEM program offered to young students that had a Star Wars theme.  I thought this was such a creative way to draw students into STEM fields, and the instructors for the program even said that there was a greater turnout due to the projects such as making your own droid similar to those in the films.  I was curious to see how else this was being done, how else were students’ interests being captured?  Why do these strategies work?  I began to dive deeper into engaging students, and I found the issue of student disengagement.  It was so relevant to my observations and previous experiences, and I had never considered it to be a social issue.

Through more research, I was able to uncover the polarized discussion behind this problem and the two main arguments presented.  I was able to present these sides of an issue that I was passionate about, and take on a new persona within my blog.  I felt a little uncomfortable taking on a new persona to go along with my blog, but I used this challenge to reflect my goal of capturing a reader’s attention, something I’ve always found difficult in any writing assignment.  Whenever I made a post on my blog, I made a strong effort to really engage my readers and almost transfer my passion of engaging young students to them through my writing.  As a writer, I believe I was able to connect well with my audience, and improved my ability to grab the reader’s attention with titles, pictures, quotes, and other information in my posts.  

I saw significant improvement in my writing and critical thinking skills throughout this project, along with the ability to connect with my peers to learn about other important social issues.  I enjoyed reading through my fellow students’ posts, and keeping up with people’s blogs to observe the progression of their research and analysis.  I now appreciate the ability to approach a problem by first understanding all “sides,” and recognizing bias.

Another Blog Suggestion

parent-photo

If you’re interested in learning more about parental influence on a student’s education, look no further!  I have compiled many sources that claim that student disengagement stems from three main sources: lack of student motivation, a teacher’s leadership style, and community involvement.  Vitruvius focuses on the community aspect outside of the classroom, specifically the importance of parental involvement.  In this post, you’ll find strong support for the positive correlation between parental involvement and student success in the classroom.  For example, many minority groups that perform worse academically have higher poverty rates and low parental involvement rates.  In addition, you’ll find an thorough description of a positively involved parent, and how that can increase student aspiration and success.  I encourage you to take the time to read through other posts by Vitruvius as well, such as one on how different parenting styles affect student performance.

A World Where Students Cannot Think

neurobiology-writers-block-phd-students

The two main sides in this discussion on student disengagement are those who believe that the teachers are responsible for engaging their students, and those who believe that students must take initiative and become more self-motivated.  As I mentioned in my last post, these two sides have a common goal of wanting students to succeed, and even share the classroom setting, making it theoretically simple to solve the problem together.  But, if these two sides cannot come together to face the issue head on, the alarming trend of student disengagement will continue to grow.   Imagine that students statewide, even country-wide, become apathetic and unambitious rather than imaginative and aspirational.  They will lack important abilities such as critical thinking, strong communication skills, and complex reasoning.  Doug Mataconis explains in an article that a recent study done on undergraduates over the course of four years showed that the majority of today’s college students already lack these essential skills.  In response to the article, a blogger pointed out that the problem does not lie with colleges, but instead with K-12 education, which should be building the foundation for higher learning. The problem of student disengagement appears early, but is brushed under the rug so many times that it eventually damages the ability of students to succeed after school.  David Paris, the president of the New Leadership Alliance for Student Learning, also claims that the lack of progress in writing and reasoning will force people to discuss present learning issues, many related to student disengagement, hopefully sparking the changes that need to come.

A Blog Suggestion For Fellow Education Lovers

Read-This

If my blog has caught your eye, perhaps you would be interested in reading through this blog as well! Stargirl discusses another topic within the realm of education, focusing on the debate surrounding public education.  Some of the main concerns that are examined include overcrowding in classrooms, underpaid teachers, and the lack of motivation among teachers and students.  I’ve found similarities in a couple of her posts to mine as well, due to our comparable research findings.  She includes alarming statistics specific to North Carolina and comparisons across the country that were both shocking and intriguing.  In addition, the differences between public and private schools are discussed, which is a very hot topic for debate.  You’ll also find information on chronic absenteeism and the role that poverty plays in our education system.  Lastly, this blogger poses an interesting solution to improving the public education system in the United States that you don’t want to miss!

Why the Founder of Khan Academy Supports Mastery Learning

khan ted talk

According to Sal Khan, the necessities to learning are mastery and mindset.  This educator and founder of Khan Academy explains in a TED talk how he found that students almost always accumulate gaps in their learning, particularly in math classes.  Eventually, they feel that they aren’t meant to purse that subject or career due to their confusion.  But, when a student uses outside resources such as Khan Academy, their confidence is boosted, and they feel capable of taking on new material.

Practicing the basics and then advancing to the more challenging topics is the best way to learn.  Despite this method, a typical academic model is currently set up by various lectures and homework assignments, all followed by a test.   When the test reveals the gaps in student learning, the students aren’t given time to review and relearn missed concepts, but are instead forced to continue on to the more advanced topics that often build from the previous lessons.  At some point, students will “hit a wall” because what they never had time to review will catch up to them, and this causes students to disengage.

Khan compares this rigorous cycle to building a home.  Let’s say that some builders are given two weeks to construct the foundation of a house, and at the end of this deadline, an inspector comes and gives the foundation a grade, say an 80%.  This is a passing grade, so the builders immediately move on to building the first floor.  If homes were built in this ridiculous fashion, all of them would be guaranteed to collapse.  The process was too constrained, and the outcome came from building off of partially complete projects.

Instead of putting a time restraint on learning, what if mastering the material was prioritized over the time it took students to master concepts?  Mastery learning has been used in the past, and yielded strong results, but it was not widespread due to logistic difficulties.  Each student was working at their own pace, meaning they may have needed private tutors, different worksheet, and so on.  Khan believes that using online sources and readily available exercises, mastery learning is quite possible now.

Two Opposing Sides, One Common Goal

Jennifer Ries

The debate on student disengagement in the classroom setting is mostly based on interpretation and opinion,  but whether you believe that the fault lies with the students or teachers, both positions have room for improvement.  For example, students could strive to be more self-motivated, and teachers could incorporate different teaching styles.  I’ve found from my research that many are quick to put the blame on either the students or the teachers, and make accusations against all students or all teachers that simply cannot be supported.  The reason behind these claims, I believe, is due to the frustration of both sides and inability to cooperate with one another.  It is unfair to make generalizations to this extent, and the polarization of these two sides is unnecessary due to the common goal they share:  to see students succeed.  It is important that students leave school feeling prepared to enter a university, the workforce, or other position.  The priority of education should be to deepen the students’ understandings academically as well as encourage the exploration and eventual discovery of their role in society.  Therefore, the responsibility of solving student disengagement does not lie in the hands of one individual or even a small group.  It will need to be a collective effort between students, teachers, and other influences in the community to advocate for and spark change.

A Deeper Investigation of Student Disengagement

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There is an ongoing discussion on student disengagement in grades K-12, and whether the fault lies with the teachers or with the students themselves.  Teachers such as Pernille Ripp have recognized that their teaching styles play a significant role in student disengagement, along with the student’s sense of not belonging or being valued.  Teachers and other experts have been brainstorming reasons behind this issue in order to fix the problem, but should they have to do this?  It has been claimed that teachers are more concerned with the children’s success than the actual students are, meaning that kids are not putting forth the effort necessary to perform well in school.  Although there is no record of student disengagement overtime, there always seems to be students who lack motivation or get bored in every classroom.  The results of engaging young learners will extend beyond their preparation for the following academic year.  More students will pursue challenging careers, racial borders will be broken, and students will feel that they can make a difference in our society.  In striving for this goal, instructors across the country have been trying tactics from forming mathematics programs for low-income students to smaller scale actions such as relating topics to real life situations or creating time for hands-on activities during class.  Other teachers believe in putting more of their efforts towards encouraging self-motivation among their students.  Different strategies may be more effective than others, but the overall push for engaging students in the classroom is very evident.

Elliot Washer and Charles Mojkowski, authors for Big Picture Learning, have pointed out that the source of problems such as high dropout rates and poor performing students in low-income communities is student disengagement.  From their investigations, they have concluded that the reason behind student disengagement is that the students do not feel that the school cares about them or who they want to be in the future.  Schools do not alter their rules or curriculums to fit the interests of children.  These two authors have identified ten main expectations that students have in the classroom.  Among these are having a choice of when and how they learn, understanding the significance of what they learn to the community outside of school, and being provided adequate time to comprehend material and learn at their own pace.  When these essential expectations are not met, the students check out mentally.  Disengaged students that make passing grades and graduate with this mentality are not beneficial citizens to society, as they aren’t prepared to take on the demanding tasks of either the workforce or studying at a university.

The suggestion made by Washer and Mojkowski in their book Leaving to Learn is to redesign the school system so that students’ interests may be incorporated in learning outside of normal school hours.  As many teachers point out, every minute of class is crucial, and they struggle to fit in all of the parts of the daily lessons into a short time frame.  If students are provided with opportunities outside of class to form relationships with teachers and peers who can help them reach personal goals and focus on certain topics, the schools that offer these options will see improvements in the issue of student disengagement.

Teacher and author Pernille Ripp has expanded on the reasons behind student disengagement by asking some of her students to directly explain why they were uninterested.  She found that the beginning of the school year is when there is a disconnect between student and teacher, a weak relationship that often leads to students being unmotivated and disengaged.  In agreement with Washer and Mojkowski, Ripp mentions the necessity of teachers to give some type of power to the students, whether its in the form of choosing where they sit or providing other options during the day.  Two other K-12 teachers collaborated on five strategies to reach disengaged students that have shown results in their classrooms.  Hands-on activities such as the use of whiteboards, devices with learning apps, and incorporating tiles and blocks when learning mathematics topics seem to keep young students engaged in what they’re learning.  In addition, providing students with time to talk to a partner about specific ideas and subjects allows them to have productive conversation instead of distracting chats.  To ensure that all of the children are paying attention in class, teachers have also constructed a system either by hand or using technology to call on students randomly so that they will be more inclined to listen.

On the other hand, constantly attempting to adjust lessons to fit every student’s learning style and coming up with innovative ways to teach the material can be exhausting for teachers.  It seems that the responsibility of learning has shifted to the teachers instead of the students.  The belief that the role of teachers is to make learning a fun experience is common among children, parents, and even school administrators.  If a student deems a lesson uninteresting, they disregard the material and  their obligation to learn.

Laura Hudgens, a high school teacher and mom of four, argues that students today need not rely on teachers to engage them in their academic subjects, but should instead train themselves to be self-motivated.  Children need to know that they will be expected to complete that dull assignment to the best of their ability, even if it is of no interest to them.  In order to promote self-motivation, the focus of education should be on the role that students play in their own learning.  Instead of teachers simulating a video game for their lesson in order to keep their students engaged, they should emphasize the responsibility of the student to work hard and persevere.  Mrs. Hudgens believes that by giving a student smaller tasks that work towards a larger goal, students can see gradual improvements and identify learning strategies that will help them in the future.  She guides them in these challenges by offering tips such as how to effectively take notes or find a study partner.  When the student accomplishes these small tasks, they will be more inspired to apply themselves to other subjects, thus strengthening their desire to learn.

Various creative methods of engaging students in learning outside of school have shown outstanding success in recent years.  The movie Hidden Figures has been an excellent source of motivation and inspiration for students of all ages.  Schools have been taking their students to see this movie that is based on NASA’s African-American female mathematicians that played a significant role in the space race against the Soviet Union, all while facing discrimination in their workplace.  This trend was set by Bulkeley Principal Gayle Allen-Greene, who believed that the movie would spark an interest in STEM fields, an area where women and women of color are inadequately represented.  Hidden Figures has given courage to students to pursue challenging careers, such as with Aisha Minteh, who is now more determined than ever to follow her dream of becoming a neurosurgeon.

If you thought that toys were only for kids five and under, think again.  The Zubi Flyer was created by Kyle Muir and mother of three Kristi Sevy, who wanted her daughters to have a toy that supported science and technology learning.  This product introduces a different way to engage children in learning at a young age by fueling this generation’s passion for technology to draw them towards science.  The Flyer can be hacked using coding and a magic wand, attached to a computer to practice programming, and contains other advanced learning opportunities within.  As schools strive to engage students in learning, specifically within the STEM fields, toys such as the Zubi Flyer could prove highly beneficial.

It has been argued that these opportunities are only available to privileged students that come from wealthy, white families, but Daniel Zaharopol suspended his graduate studies of algebraic topology in order to address this concern.  He started BEAM, a program designed for students attending public schools in low-income areas of New York City, to provide elite mathematical instruction during the summer following the students’ sixth grade year.  The reason why so many professionals, such as Dr. Bernstein, support programs such as BEAM is due to the under-representation of African-American and Latinos in high paying, STEM based occupations.  The statistics of students that normally participate in these mathematics camps simply emphasizes privilege in our society, but with a wider availability of these advanced programs, the stereotypes and doubts may be overcome.

More states, such as California, are adopting an approach to STEM fields within their school systems.  The governor of California, Jerry Brown, recently signed a bill that implements a detailed plan to increase computer science education in public schools.  Gavin Newson explains that California has an overwhelming amount of open jobs in this field, but the requirements do not align with the current education system.  It is quite possible that students are inclined to study STEM fields, but aren’t introduced to the disciplines in a way that interests them to continue these studies.  It is important that these students are introduced to these fields at a young age so that they may engage in learning the material effectively to prepare them for success in the workforce.   Newsom also hopes that by by signing this bill, gender and racial divisions can be mended, due to the low percentage of females taking computer science courses.  I believe that while this is not a simple process by any means, more schools should strive to adopt such programs.

A controversial technique used by many teachers today is giving heavily weighted exams or raising the academic standards in classes.  While some teachers believe that this motivates studying, it also creates an idea that the grades and expectations are not attainable or realistic, and can actually discourage students from putting forth their best effort on their studies.   It is argued by James Crotty that altering the curriculum and improving class instruction is useless without the involvement of people close to the child in their academic life. Research has shown that academic motivation can be encouraged or discouraged based on four criteria that can be supplied by teachers, parents, or other figures present.   The student must either feel capable of completing the assignment, feel that they can control the outcome by choosing which action to take, be given a task that is of interest to them, or be rewarded in some way upon completion of the task.   For example, many schools believe that acceptance into college alone is a good motivator to do well in secondary school, but students instead need to be shown the path to attending a university and why it should be of value to them specifically.  The problem is not poor teachers or the format of tests.  It is the alarming lack of student engagement in their academic environment.

As you can see, the problem of how to address student disengagement has been approached from many different angles and styles.  It is difficult to determine what the single most effective method of engaging students in a learning environment is, and there probably is not only one answer to this problem.  Students become uninterested in school for other reasons not mentioned above, and other factors such as family issues and other challenging situations also demand attention away from their studies.  It is difficult to address all possible circumstances at once, but a strong goal to strive for at this moment is to engage as many students as possible in the subjects taught so that they may become successful citizens of society.  This may require adjustments to current education systems, the addition of other programs and strategies, or holding students more accountable for their own learning.  A mixture of efforts from the teacher, student, and other members associated with the child’s education is likely to reflect an increase in student engagement overall.

Introducing the Unmotivated Student

editorial-cartoon

Student disengagement in the classroom setting is not a new issue.  It has been occurring for years, but the problem has not been addressed directly.  Right now, large discussions surround issues such as how to improve students’ test scores, or how to make schools better in general, all in attempts to label more students as successful learners.  The real problem underlying this idea is that students today feel unmotivated to do their work, which is partially due to the lack of relevance they see in the curriculum to real life.  As in this cartoon, students feel that their interests, both in extracurricular activities and potential careers, are not tied to what goes on inside the walls of a K-12 school.  I believe that school faculty, families, and other members of the community can help students become engaged critical thinkers by encouraging them to strive for excellence and connecting what they learn to the students’ interests.

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