As students attend school during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to support learners in thinking “outside-the-box” and practice problem solving skills. Young children often engage in pretend play, acting out observations and experiences they have. Educators know children learn through play and the importance of providing children with interdisciplinary learning opportunities in languages they are familiar with. Through, her project, Growing to Scale: A 3-Phase Teacher Development Initiative of The Theatrical Journey Project, veteran CentroNía staff member and theater artist Elizabeth Bruce, developed and published a bilingual STEAM curriculum enhancement for Pre-K children to “become science problem solvers who remedy science problems through hands–on simulations of real phenomenon. They are experts who solve the problems and emergencies presented in each journey.”
The concepts presented in The Journey Playbook are valuable to educators as The Journey Playbook provides fun opportunities to guide young children through play as they learn STEAM concepts and develop problem solving skills to become experts in solving problems most children experience regardless of socioeconomic factors and educational setting. Located in Washington D.C., CentroNía overwhelmingly serves low and moderate income and immigrant families, a majority of whom are Latino, African, African-American, or bicultural. CentroNía’s holistic approach provides a bilingual, multicultural environment where children and families they serve receive the support and encouragement they need to succeed.
What were the goals of the project and how were they achieved?
Elizabeth Bruce wanted to support the expansion of the strategies presented bilingually in the Theatrical Journey Playbook: Introducing Science to Young Children through Pretend Play to scale by expanding a previously funded Teacher Development Initiative locally, regionally, and internationally through CentroNía’s Institute. To reach her goal, she created the project, Growing to Scale: A 3-Phase Teacher Development Initiative of The Theatrical Journey Project.
As one can imagine, with the undertaking of her project, there were many steps Elizabeth Bruce needed to accomplish. She planned to produce and translate The Journey Playbook, train educators, collaborate with educational and community partners and disseminate The Journey Playbook.
She planned to :
Embed the Journey Project Teacher Development with CentroNía Institute’s Development of Laboratory Pre-K classrooms led by Master Teachers, who will become Trainers of Trainers with Four CentroNía Sites.
Have participation from Pre-K Colleague Centers through linkages with DC Public Schools, Public Charter Schools, and Early Childhood Centers.
Collaborate with the CentroNía Institute to present about The Journey Project’s methodology within the Early Childhood Education, STEM + Art =STEAM, or arts education sectors, locally, regionally, and/or internationally
Create and distribute low-tech teaching tools for Journey Kits for participating Lab Classroom Master Teachers.
Partner with CentroNía’s pro-bono partners, including engineering professionals to conceptualize/design low-cost, multi-use, inter-changeable, space-saving devices as Journey teaching tools.
Print and broaden promotion of The Theatrical Journey Playbook and Teacher Development Program through press, social media, and professional networks.
What progress was made toward her goals?
Elizabeth completed final production and translation of The Journey Playbook! She co-facilitated in Spanish with CentroNía’s Food & Wellness staff, providing Professional Development/Teacher Training Workshops with CentroNía Teachers through a bi-weekly series of workshops on The Theatrical Journey Project to Early Childhood Educators. Educators participated in either the English or Spanish cohorts. The workshops/training included The Theatrical Journey Project content and process and integrated nutrition and wellness content explored through the journey process. She also provided bi-weekly Journey Project demo/training workshops with all Pre-K Lead Teachers and Assistant Teachers at CentroNía Maryland and co-facilitated (with Robert Michael Oliver, PhD, of The Performing Knowledge Project) workshops on Creativity and Dramatic Engagement for CentroNía Early Childhood, StudioROCKS, and Family Center teachers and staff. Here are a few other highlights from the project efforts:
Presented bilingually with Spanish translation workshops engaged in 1 ½ hour hands-on demonstration of The Journey of the Sick Teddy Bear, complete with teddy bears, stethoscopes, thermometer, vocal/physical warm-ups, etc. Explanatory debriefs followed each section of the workshop, with a Journey Project one-pager, sample journey, and curriculum methodology handouts were provided. Through this experience, Elizabeth received “Excellent engagement and feedback!”
Presented a Training of Trainers on the methodology and pedagogy of the Theatrical Journey Project for Early Childhood Home Visitors.
Facilitated a collaboration between CentroNía Family Center and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE).
Nurtured additional elements of the Journey Playbook/Project Teacher Training Project including:
Disseminating mini Journey Kits to Early Childhood Classrooms.
Planning CentroNía Family Center parent-child journey workshops.
Developing new journeys with CentroNía Food & Wellness , specifically on topics of hydration, circulation, vitamins and nutrients, and oxygenation.
Highlighting Journey Project techniques and methodologies
during teacher assessments using the “CLASS” assessment tool.
One bilingual Journey Project collaborating teacher, Phoenix Harris, previously adapted her own variation of a Teddy Bear Journey as a final project for her Masters’ Degree at Trinity Washington University.
Exciting plans for the future
Project leaders participated and networked extensively at conferences and submitted proposals to continue to present, disseminate, and train teachers on The Journey Playbook.
The Journey Project is collaborating with the “Changing the Face of STEM: A Transformational Journey” event targeted to under-represented communities (Latinos, African-Americans, Native Americans) at the National Academy of Science in June 2018.
Elizabeth Bruce and others within CentroNía leadership have engaged in/are pursuing extensive and accelerated outreach to educational colleagues and organizations (nationally and internationally) receptive to Journey Project/Playbook teacher training, project collaboration and replication including English-language cohorts and one Amharic-language cohort (with translation). Additional plans include continuubg to facilitate workshops at CentroNía with Kinder/1st Graders; having weekly Journey workshops with CentroNía Universal Pre-K Classrooms, and continuing with fundraising for Journey Project Replication/Video Tutorials.
How has The Journey Playbook affected the learning of students and/or teachers?
The learning of students and teachers has been deeply affected both directly, through the extensive hands-on Journey workshops, hands-on teacher trainings/professional development, conference presentations, and indirectly through the production, promotion, and dissemination of the Theatrical Journey Playbook: Introducing Science to Early Learners through Guided Pretend Play, as well as promotion of the Journey Project introductory video, webpage, and promotional materials.
Extensive outreach to major educational partners, schools, and institutions has been and continues to be underway, with projects for teacher training/project replication or adaptation with educational colleagues and Journey Playbook distribution to at least 135 educational colleagues and targeted teacher training/project replication, funding, or other support activities.
PreK/Early Childhood Educators/Teachers engaged directly in collaboratively journey workshops, collaborations, mentoring/modeling, and other teacher training. The Journey Project began working for the first time with younger children, ages 2 ½ to 3 years old, with remarkably successful results when the project was adjusted to a slower pace with fewer activities per journey, plus repeating the same journey from week 1 to week 2. This addition allows the Journey Project at CentroNía to engage the same cohort of children for a full three years.
What challenges were experienced along the way and ideas for improving the project?
Elizabeth states, “I have learned that the process of engaging educational colleagues and their organizations as
targeted teacher training/project replication collaborators is a longer, more gradual process of deepening relationships and inviting educational leadership to observe/engage with the Journey Project, and especially to commit to teacher training/project replication. Colleague educational organizations, like most nonprofits and schools, are deeply engaged with their ongoing operations and missions and extensively committed to operationalizing, maintaining and funding their organization’s endeavors. Hence, learning about and embracing a new, even highly simpatico, methodology or pedagogy calls for a strong relationship and decisions by leadership to advance mutual commitment to in depth teacher training and project replication. Laying the groundwork for such partnerships, however, promises to come to fruition within a time frame of 1-2 years. Reaching critical mass for project replication/teacher training, thus, is anticipated once extensive ground-laying has been done.”
Educators are on the front lines in addressing the low levels of student academic language literacy resulting from the phenomena of modern family life: both parents working full time, limited oral language acquisition in the home resulting from the economic pressure on families, and increased student screen time.
Ellen Guettler at Irving school in Bozeman, MT is implementing The Academic Literacy Institute (ALI) to improve the instructional competencies of district teachers via intensive professional development to better serve two identified district populations at risk: low income/low literacy English-only students and English Language Learners(ELLs), for whom English is not their primary language. As such a project has many components, The Academic Literacy Institute (ALI) is a three year project.
What were the goals of the project?
The Academic Literacy Institute (ALI) is a three-year project aimed at improving the instructional competencies of District teachers via professional development to shift the ‘culture of instruction’ to better serve two identified district populations at risk:
low income/low literacy English-only students
English Language Learners (ELLs).
Their goal is to increase student knowledge of academic vocabulary via explicit vocabulary instruction in Tier 2 critical thinking vocabulary like ‘evaluate /classify / infer’ and Tier 3 content specific vocabulary like ‘perimeter / figurative language / hypothesis.’ This explicit instruction, coupled with the use of language frames, visual aids, and graphic supports, helps low literacy / EL students acquire and comprehend the academic vocabulary they need to be college and career ready.
How were these goals achieved?
ELL staff members,Ellen Guettler and Kathleen Johns trained K-8 ELL teachers on explicit vocabulary development and provided comprehensive data folders on each individual ELL student’s needs, using STAR reading and math data, WIDA ACCESS scores, a writing sample and a summary report from the previous year’s teacher. Teachers were allotted time during the trainings to analyze their ELL student data files in order to plan individualized sheltered supports for academic vocabulary development for their ELL students.
At the trainings, teachers learned about the stages of primary and second language acquisition, explicit vocabulary instructional strategies, and the importance of using graphic organizers to teach Tier 2/3 vocabulary to low literacy students in order to contextualize academic learning.
Teachers were allotted time during the trainings to analyze their ELL student data files in order to plan individualized sheltered supports for academic vocabulary development for their ELL students.
17 (K-12) district teachers attended a two-day WIDA training titled, “Scaffolding Learning Through Language”. Twelve of those teacher participated in a two-hour online follow up with the WIDA workshop facilitator and Ellen Guettler to share their scaffolding implementation strategies.
ELL staff developed 1-1 sheltered instructional supports for teachers districtwide with the development of an online resource page to support teachers in implementing explicit vocabulary development through the use of graphic organizers, Tier 2-word lists, YouTube instructional videos, literature support materials, and strategies to help teachers make the content more comprehensible for the district’s low literacy and EL populations.
In this first year, what progress did they make towards their goals?
The entire first year was about creating an infrastructure to address the numerous existing programmatic holes in serving the district’s ELL students. The following processes and procedures were developed:
An ELL Pathway teacher list is being compiled and computerized so that ELL student placement is formalized at each site to build teacher/site competency in addressing literacy needs of ELL and low language students.
Online professional development supports were developed so that academic English literacy supports (Tier 2/3 vocabulary sheets, graphic organizers, language function charts, etc.) are all available via one website. Professional development instructional videos on effective vocabulary development are also listed.
A VISTA application was submitted and approved to support 3 sustainable ELL program goals:
With the ELL program growing by 50% in the first year of the project and no bilingual materials available, time was consumed by translating forms and supporting ELL families in accessing community resources. To further the VISTA goals, teachers, administrators and area agency leaders met twice at ELL working group meetings to identify the needs in the education and community agency arenas. Issues, goals and next steps were identified. As a result of the UBD work, a lack of explicit phonics instruction districtwide for late arrival or low level EL students were identified as a roadblock to acquisition of academic vocabulary. As a result , a pilot program was planned. The pilot will include all K-3 students in a predominantly ELL Title 1 elementary school, all late arrival ELLs, as well as ELLs scoring 3 or lower on the reading portion of the ACCESS 2.0 exam district wide. The curriculum of the pilot phonics program will be the Imagine Language and Literacyprogram. to address the identified need for explicit phonics instruction and remediation of their K-2 and late arrival ELL students who slip through the cracks and never master the requisite phonics skills to read fluently. With this additional instruction, they hope that students can engage in Tier 2/3 vocabulary development they need to access college and career readiness. With 152 students in the Title III program and only two staff members, the online curriculum will ensure every student receives the phonics instruction they need to proficiently read in English so they can access the core content standards equitably.
How did their project affect the learning of students and/or teachers?
Their project objectives were the catalyst for systematic ELL program improvement via professional development of teachers and infrastructure development. Their mentor continually focused on the conversation of creating program sustainability and on the importance of establishing procedures that ensured that end, regardless of who was at the helm.
The steps they took in the first year moved the ELL program in the right direction. Over 65 district teachers understand the vital importance of vocabulary development and sheltered instructional strategies to ensure ELL and low language students have access to the academic vocabulary they need to be successful in school and beyond. As a result of the PD trainings, district teachers are more receptive to ELL supports and accommodations than ever before. They are much more cognizant of the role that academic English language development plays in the success or failure of a student, because they have a clearer understanding of second language acquisition theory and the role that Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary acquisition plays in student achievement. For the first time in the district’s history many teachers actively referred to the WIDA English Language Proficiency Standards and the “Can Do” Descriptors in their lesson planning. Although there is still much work to do in this area of instruction to maximize Tier 2/3 vocabulary acquisition, the groundwork was laid, and their teachers are receptive to this instructional paradigm shift.
What challenges did they experience and how they are addressing the challenges to improve the project?
Ellen reported, “this project was full of unanticipated challenges and roadblocks. As the adage goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know until you do,” definitely applied in this project.” Due to addressing the need for shifting negative teacher attitudes toward time set aside for professional development in a year when they were piloting a difficult new math curriculum, addressing a 50% increase in EL enrollment overnight, and realizing the myriad of social and procedural issues that were impacting the project implementation and EL achievement in school, they redefined the year 1 goals of the project.
Although there was a significant focus on teacher professional development and training, Ellen’s mentor quickly shifted the focus of her energies as EL Coordinator to address the infrastructure issues that were preventing her from dedicating the time she needed to the project goals of providing ongoing teacher support of effective vocabulary development strategies in teacher classrooms. By addressing the EL program infrastructure in the first year and part of the next year, Ellen will be better able to meet the time commitment and PD goals of the project, which focus on facilitating teacher engagement and reflection on their instructional processes throughout the year. In this way, teacher competencies in academic language and literacy instruction across content areas will be developed.
To improve the project, in addition to providing face-to-face trainings, Ellen is eager to create screencast trainings that will be accessible 24-7 online. The resources will be available to all district teachers to better meet the professional development needs both in intensive trainings and bite-size chunks for teachers to watch and utilize when they have specific EL questions and instructional needs throughout the year.
Ellen plans to utilize and share with parents the easy-to-access curriculum provided in the Imagine Learning and Literacy program her school is piloting. Ellen plans to continue ELL Family Literacy Nights but with a new focus on family engagement using the Imagine program. The Imagine program, offers a preview of all instructions for the English phonics and academic vocabulary curriculums in 26 different languages. This easy-to-use literacy tool will be supportive in engaging entire families.
As Ellen states, “diving in this project has been a bit like opening Pandora’s Box” due to discovering the layers upon layers of “missing” procedures. With the steps they have taken to address the “missing” procedures and by building a sustainable infrastructure, we at the McCarthy Dressman Education Foundation are excited to see how this project progresses
At many schools with a large bilingual population, student’s cultural and linguistic resources must guide instruction in order for children of color to find success in the current educational system. Caroline Sweet and her colleagues at Perez Elementary School in Austin, TX hoped to develop on site a model of writers’ workshop that embraces bilingualism and incorporates students’ cultural backgrounds. They believed that what is developed at Perez can guide other campuses desiring a high-quality bilingual writers’ workshop as a model for developing students’ written expression while simultaneously giving students agency in their learning.
Implement a writers’ workshop model in language arts instruction across the campus in Kindergarten through 5th grade.
As Caroline’s school has a strong dual language program, they needed to merge their dual language program model with the tenets of writers’ workshop to reflect the biliteracy development of their students as readers and writers.
Caroline also wanted to ensure their students develop a positive self-identity throughout their school experience. To accomplish this goal, they used culturally-relevant literature as mentor texts throughout writers’ workshop.
What was their process to accomplish their goals?
They consulted with the Heart of Texas Writing Project (HTWP) at the University of Texas to train K-2 teachers on the foundational concepts of writers workshop.
They partnered with the Austin Independent School District to provide, two full-day professional development sessions to where their consultant from the HTWP and a language arts curriculum specialist from the district trained K-2nd grade teachers on writers’ workshop as this method of teaching was new to most of the teachers in the sessions.
The trainers of the professional development sessions modeled lesson ands and teachers watched writers’ workshop mini-lessons conducted by their colleagues.
Caroline co-taught with a first grade teacher for a week long unit.
Their consultant from the HTWP co-taught with a first grade teacher once a week for 6 weeks.
Their first grade team members provided peer observations frequently.
What did they accomplish?
They have helped teachers change their mindset about what is writingthrough lengthy conversations among colleagues about how letter formation and handwriting is an element of instruction outside of the writers’ workshop. They are working on valuing the production of our emergent writers.
They celebrated the writing products of their youngest writers with writing displays and held celebratory publishing parties in K-2 in which parents and community members were invited to read students published work
The built a community that continually supports teachers
Caroline has planned a full day planning session with their constant from the HTWP.
Caroline and their consultant from the HTWP have invited all K-5th grade teachers to attend two trainings in which the goal of the trainings is for teachers to create at least a two week unit based on a genre study framework.
Some of the teachers at Perez Elementary school submitted proposals to present at professional conferences regarding the writers’ workshop methods they are using their classroom. They hoped they will grow many teacher leaders.
Several of the teachers have been accepted to the Heart of Texas Writers Project Summer Training Program, which is part of the National Writing Project to further their knowledge and training in the teaching of writers.
What are their ideas for improvement?
Peer Observation: continue more focused peer observations in K-2nd grades that include debriefs to allow for support especially in content focused coaching and utilize explicit protocols that involve pre-conferences, observation, and post conferences
Evaluation of Student Products: Allow for planning time to continue to create and improve the rubric for K-2nd grades and then create the differentiated rubric for 3rd-5th graders. Further discussion and planning should occur regarding language of choice and building opportunities to create variety in audience choice.
Buy-in: some teachers were ready and willing to try new ways of teaching based on the training they received. Some teachers had more difficulty understanding the need for writers workshop in their classroom. They would like to create a shared mission to allow students to guide learning and implement responsive teaching practices.
Planning: More planning time was needed to create units with culturally relevant texts to give students experience in a variety of genres. They are thinking the planning component with culturally-relevant texts might need to occur as part of their professional development days.
Collaboration with Biliteracy Committee: They will work with the biliteracy committee to add writers’ workshop into the biliteracy framework as an essential pedagogical element in each classroom whether the classroom is a dual language classroom or not. They would like to define how they use language in the writers’ workshop that promotes biliteracy.
Adam Kinory at the School of the Future in New York, NY and his colleagues are educators who sought to reconstitute the long dormant New York City Chapter of the New York State English Council and National Council of Teachers of English. The chapter will be open to any teacher, across content areas, that seeks to improve their instruction of reading/writing, with the nucleus of teachers being from their school. The process of forming a chapter, will provide a vision around which teachers at the school can unite, learn to improve their ability to collaborate, while also address inequities in student achievement. By coming together in service of starting a NCTE chapter they hoped to prioritize creating a shared, preferred, vision of the future over of the self-flagellation and critique that too often results in pessimism and disenfranchisement.
They wanted to read a shared text, using protocols, and rotate the role of the facilitator. They sought to create a sense of “equity” amongst teachers and empower them with the tools they needed to take charge of their own professional development.,
Using this core group of educators, They wanted to form an affiliate chapter of the national council of teachers of English (N.C.T.E..)to plan a conference, where participants would have a shared experience of creating something new. Through their new chapter creation, they could adjust social norms and reflect on how equity informs decisions that are made.
What did they accomplish?
The project goals were met and new a project was created.
Using the teachings of Peter Block’s text Community, they rotated the role of the facilitator, and used the protocols of the National School Reform Faculty, and ensured that everyone was “equal” in the control they had over the destiny of the group.
In re-starting the New York City chapter, Adam joined the board by request and attended board meetings regularly. They learned that the United Federation of Teachers (U.F.T) already had an existing New York City affiliate of the N.C.T.E., however the affiliate was dormant. The N.C.T.E wanted to restart the chapter but did not have a point person to do this for them. Adam worked with the representatives of the U.F.T to restart the committee and held two committee meetings.
Shared read became a separate project. Teachers across grades 6-10 met and engaged in a shared read of professional text, and used it to explore how to improve equity in teacher-teacher and teacher-student relationships. In creating equity by conducting a shared read at school, they established a common vocabulary as to the characteristics of an equitable community and have taken steps to integrate those characteristics within their pedagogy. Teachers have reported that their participation has led them to re-conceptualize how to interact with their students, reconsider curriculum, and clarify their own sense of mission and purpose.
What challenges did they come up against?
Trust was the most basic challenge. Building trust was a challenge in reinstating the affiliate committee with the U.F.T. Trust was a challenge that made it uncomfortable to collaborate with people that Adam had not worked with before and to make sure people felt free to talk. Participants did not immediately take to the text of Community.
The committee has less than dozen people from across New York City. They hope to grow the committee over the new few years.
They are considering two specific protocols to utilize within their practice.
They are considering a shared read of Freedom and Accountability at Work by Peter Koestenbaum and Peter Block. By having a shared read of this text, participants will have the opportunity to explore how to deal with the anxiety that comes from having choices and control over our own lives and dealing with the denial that those choices exist as such denial often leads to hierarchy as people trade their freedom for certainty. If we accept our anxiety and explore the root of it, we can create equity in our relationships with ourselves and others.
The Second consideration for a shared read is Collaborating with the Enemy, by Adam Kahane. If this shared read is chosen, participants would explore how to build equitiy and agreement even when they fundamentally disagree with the most basic assumptions of those they engage with. They want to move from the broad sense of “equity” by design to choosing and using specific protocols to evolve the way they structure interactions that address the following questions: How do we maintain a stance of equity when interacting with those who seem to diametrically stand in opposition to us? How do we clarify the choices before us so that we do not blame some outside force (other teachers, the principal, parents) for our own disappointments? What does equity look like when we are attuned to our own neurosis?
Rig up the mast, batten down the hatch and come sail away with the educators at the Blue Heron School in Port Townsend, Washington as they embark on their exciting project: Math and Maritime Place-Based Learning – M²PBL. The district’s Maritime Discovery Schools Initiative (MDSI), implemented in 2014, is guiding their transformation by encouraging teachers to change instructional pedagogy, increase student engagement, and experience connections between classrooms and business partners. This proposal develops 30 teachers over three years.
What exactly is the Math and Maritime Place-Based Learning – M2PBL?
Research has shown these educators that students benefit highly from using a Math Workshop (MW) model.
When executed successfully, MW models support a culture of underlying beliefs:
all students are capable of quality thinking;
participation through hands-on activities and discourse builds student thinking;
through true engagement, all young minds can make real sense of mathematics.
An engaging environment is also the premise for Project Based Learning (PBL), where students use 21st century skills to learn collaboratively while working on projects to benefit themselves and others. The M²PBL proposed a structure for K-8 teachers to collaborate and design sense-making math environments tailor made for their students.
Through deepening knowledge of the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSSM) – particularly in Number and Operations, Measurement, and Geometry – teacher teams (K-2, 3-5, 6-8) focused on:
1) Number Talks (NT), a workshop element where students apply and verbally share strategies to solve and improve mental computations (number fluency),
2) PBL projects to apply students’ growing math strategies and conceptual knowledge. The MDSI promotes community partnerships between the school district and maritime-related industries.
As exciting as this is for the teachers, when the students get involved it brings it to another level. The educators are partnering with Port Townsend Sails, a local business specializing in “quality sails for traditional and modern rigs.” Teachers, students, and employees will collaborate to explore authentic mathematics on-site in the sail loft. There, and in classrooms, student mathematicians will count and measure to possibly build boats, design sails, and and/or navigate!
What were the goals for M²PBL?
They had two primary goals to accomplish in year one. They wanted answers to the following questions:
How do Number Talks increase the quality of students’ number fluency?
Does authentic application of number fluency deepen student learning in project-based mathematics?
Eleven teachers initially met for professional learning in an elementary group and an intermediate group; each grade level met for two full days (early fall and mid-winter).
Those teachers recorded 10 half-day visits into classrooms (using a substitute) which totaled to around 15-20 visits arranged during planning times and/or with colleagues to “step out” for a short period to observe. One teacher also requested a grade level team observation one morning, so three teachers not technically a part of the grant this year joined in on observations of Number Talks. This was a productive way to share knowledge around fluency outside of the core group. Teacher texts, classroom fluency instructional materials, and PBL supplies were purchased. Items included: student journals, chart paper/markers, wood (for boats), bird feeders, bird ID texts, meter tapes, weights, calculators (specifically for order of operations), and math manipulatives for Family Math Night (dice, spinners, etc.). There, two classes taught fluency activities to parent/students, and the activities went home for continued learning. In-kind donations included dowels (masts), sail cloth (from PT Sails), sand paper/wood pieces for sanding blocks from the high school shop. Volunteer support was received from parents (chaperones), the Schooner Martha captain and family, the Northwest Maritime Center/Wooden Boat Foundation shop personnel, Carol Hasse and crew of Port Townsend Sails, the PT High School STEM/maritime students, and parents to help first graders drill boats for the mast and to tack sails to masts.
What were some of the challenges?
As we can see, they’ve been busy this year. But like all new project ideas, they are not without challenges. The biggest challenge was the collaborative work that required teachers to be out of their classrooms. One participant asked that her grade level team be able to collaborate around classroom observations, and that was accomplished. It’s also been more difficult than anticipated to get teachers to keep up with data collection. But they are already coming up with ideas on how to improve next year. Things like: 1) Supporting a full day of professional learning around math fluency/PBL for any teacher not involved in year one who volunteers (sub time/materials stipend); 2) Supporting grade level teams to collaborate around math fluency through collegial visits/observations (sub time); 3) And finally, approaching Port Townsend Rigging Company as an additional maritime partner to help expand and grow the program for years to come.
All in all, it’s an exciting project to see come together. We’re all waiting with bated breath for this ship to come back to harbor with tales of their next success.
The educators over at Bates Middle School in Sumter, South Carolina have been working hard laying tracks for the past year in order to bring their exciting project to fruition. By combining Project Based Learning (PBL) and a curriculum focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) and working with local businesses they are hoping to create a new generation of students who are prepared to be in an agile and competitive work force. One of the brilliant concepts behind this project is that nothing exists in a vacuum. You can’t well understand engineering if you don’t have a good handle on physics. You can’t code a videogame without understanding the underlying code. And you certainly can’t have music without math.
The Full STEAM Ahead project aims to remove the traditional isolation of subjects through the use of the “Critical C’s” of Collaboration, Cooperation and Communication which are emphasized with project based learning through interdisciplinary activities.
Now that they are a year in, let’s see what has transpired.
Bates teachers, led by the Transforming Learning Together (TLT)
mentor teachers, in the first stage of this initiative begun by identifying large-scale student learning goals for the year. They then researched new teaching approaches in order to integrate STEAM and Project Based Learning to help them achieve their goals, along with developing “action plans” for each year’s practice. The belief was that art can spark creativity in young scientists and engineers, develop observational abilities, and strengthen collaborative skills. One of the guiding questions for this project is ” How can we improve instruction, pedagogy, and student learning across the curriculum through the use of STEAM and PBL?”
So how do they propose to do this?
They began by having their trainers and the TLT team attend a PBL and STEAM workshop that spaned six sessions. This team returned to Bates to lead the entire staff through a STEAM Project Based Learning activity in order to familiarize everyone with the methods. Teachers investigated and utilized critical inquiry to work through this challenge. The thinking was that teachers will experience everything that the students do, giving them the tools to help elevate the projects as well as answer previously unanticipated questions. Teachers then guided students through one PBL unit in the first year of implementation.
A year in… where are they now?
They started off by providing professional development to their teachers during the first semester of the school year. STEAM lessons were developed to be a part of the regular curricula as well as embedded in Project Based Learning. The second semester brought about school-wide PBL units. Then on March 24th, there was a school-wide PBL Kickoff to begin the grade level units. This is where things really began to take off. For this initial thrust into the unknown they gave each year a different subject field to dig into. Sixth graders explored the guiding question: “Are animals placed in captivity at an advantage or disadvantage than those in their natural habit? Why/ Why not?”
The kick-off was a field trip to the Riverbanks Zoo. The 6th graders researched the question and created suitable habitats for animals of their choice. The 7th graders explored the guiding question: “How can we be prepared for the unexpected?” Dealing with the preparedness for natural or man-made disasters was the focal point. The Red Cross, Fire Department, EMS, Disaster Management, Police Department, Shaw AFB and Salvation Army each set up a station to explain their role in disasters and how the community can prepare for disasters in the future. Students researched a disaster and prepared community service presentations on disaster preparedness. Eighth graders explored the, very relevant, guiding question: “Can separate be equal?” This question dealt with the Civil Rights movements of 1960 -1990. Guest speakers, Nathaniel Briggs (Briggs vs. Elliot) and Artrell Benbow (civil rights activist in Summerton and Sumter) spoke to the students of their personal experiences. This culminated with the 8th grade Drama class presenting a skit about the infamous Orangeburg Massacre. Students then rotated rooms to watch films about civil rights, explored civil rights virtual museums, and participated in gallery walks. Students researched the civil rights eras of 1960’s through the 1990’s and created projects to address the guiding question. The PBL classes occurred every Tuesday and Thursday beginning March 28th and ended in a PBL Excellence Fair held on May 4th at 6:00 pm at BMS to showcase student work and presentations.
What are some challenges facing STEAM/PBL learning?
For as exciting as this method of PBL learning is, and it’s clear that it’s starting to work; students and teachers on the whole are more engaged in their study areas… it’s not without it’s challenges. One of the biggest cited in the report is that not all of the teachers have bought into the STEAM /PBL concept. This makes communicating those ideas to students that much harder. Further professional development is needed in order to ensure more participation by teachers. They have also had some difficulty setting up model classrooms so we are hoping teachers observing other teachers will assist in this. But as more teachers undergo professional development and find the merit in this method of teaching the easier it will get. And year two has some exciting things in store for the students. One word: Robots. We look forward to hearing about their experiences with Robots.
How might Robots, cross-cultural references and civil rights intersect?
Let’s mix up that engineering and art a bit, shall we? The term “robot” came from a Czech play called Rossums Universal Robots and is derived from the word “robotnik” which means slave. It’s about a robot who is forced to work for a shady company that then rebels and leads to the extinction of the human race. It’s bleak, but not without hope. But it’s a good lesson and a challenge for students on how we should be thinking about a newly created servant class. Just some food for thought.
It’s easy, as an educator, to feel like an unmoored ship in a vast sea. Pricks of light in the distance indicate other ships, largely unreachable. Even though teachers in the same districts and schools work closely in a physical sense the gulf of communication can be vast and many good ideas and techniques are not shared and refined amongst a larger pool of minds.
This is what Elizabeth Homan, of Waltham Public Schools in Waltham, MA, is changing with her program Waltham Integration Network: Connecting Teachers to Improve and Investigate Digital Learning in Urban Settings. While the name is complicated, the aims are simple. This project proposed to bring together a small group of teacher leaders from across an urban school district to engage in collaborative inquiry and teacher-research related to the integration of digital technologies in classroom practice. The goal of this project is twofold: (1) research the challenges and possibilities of digital integration in a high-needs urban school district, and (2) increase the capacity of the district’s digital professional learning opportunities for teachers.
How can collaborative inquiry for teacher development work?
By keeping research at its center, engaging teachers in conversations about “what works” for their digital learning, and helping teachers support their colleagues in reinventing their teaching to meet the needs of today’s very “plugged in” learners. The first year was largely preparatory with an articulation of goals and a formulation of an action plan that would turn into quarterly meetings.
At the start of the project, cohort members worked to identify the student learning goals for the year and articulate how their goals could be measured using qualitative or quantitative classroom data. These goals could be as simple as learning how to create and fully integrate a new tool, such as a classroom website, or it may involve an entirely new approach to instruction, such as “flipping” the classroom. Later in the year, team members shared classroom artifacts, lesson plans, and examples of videotaped practice from their classrooms with other team members in quarterly face-to-face workshops, connecting their practice with research-based approaches and examples.
The project will continue to meet these goals through recruitment of additional teachers, teacher mentorship of new recruits, sharing teacher work through the blog and, in the summer, development of video evidence of teacher practice with technologies.
How can collaborative inquiry impact educators?
The educators at Waltham Public Schools have been busy. In their first year they have recruited research assistants to help mentor teachers at the middle and elementary school levels. They have also developed a number of #WINproj spaces for sharing practice. From their blog (walthamintegrationnetwork.org) to their twitter hashtag (#WINproj) and Facebook page, these educators have worked this year to foster a digital voice for the network and to develop consistent expectations around the content and design of their website/blog and social media interactions. The teachers have worked throughout the year to archive photos, examples of student work, or videos of their practice, which they will use this coming summer to develop video reflections on their experience and what they have learned. And because the project and leader are new to the district, much of this year has been about building relationships, learning what’s happening in the buildings, and building excitement for the project.
How can collaborative inquiry improve instruction and pedagogy?
The first and most obvious benefit is a larger network of teachers and educators who have bridged the communication gap. Partnerships between teachers have formed both online and in person. The teachers are also becoming increasingly proficient with web writing and familiarity with the online tools such as the blogs and message boards. It’s clear they’ve been doing something right as they’ve been asked to present at the National Council of Teachers of English in November which will serve to get the word out about the program and widen the network of the educators involved.
How could this program be improved?
According to the team, the biggest challenge the program participants faced was that of time. Not expectantly they had trouble with the temporal logistics of getting so many teachers in the same space physically. More support and training for online meeting spaces is paramount for the growth of this project.
On a lesser, but no less important note, they found that some teachers needed to get acclimated to blogging. While they’re perfectly proficient in the classroom, the public articulation of methods of pedagogy doesn’t come easy for everyone. More support for first time bloggers would have a large impact on the productivity and communication between all parties.
Back in May we introduced you to an innovative and exciting project being spearheaded by Scott Storm and the educators at Harvest Collegiate High School called Teaching for Social Justice. While it’s only been a few months since the original blog post, “Teaching for Social Justice transforms curriculum, educator mindset and improves student learning” (May 2016), it’s been two years since the McCarthy Dressman Education Foundation funded this project. We are exciting to be brining you another update on this effort to improve effectiveness and equity in high school classrooms.
Before we can talk about what they are doing now, let’s revisit the project’s original goals. “Teaching for Social Justice” aims to design curriculum, support the development of teachers as social justice educators, and disseminate these lessons to progressively wider audiences. This requires a break from a dominant paradigm which views teaching as monologic, teacher-centered, and lecture-based. The following goals have been explored in this project.
Design and revise courses to better support teaching for social justice.
Conduct cycles of teacher inquiry and action research to further teaching and learning.
Develop and grow a Professional Learning Community in our school that shares curricular materials, participates in peer-observation, and supports each other in formal and informal ways toward the goal of teaching for social justice.
Disseminate our curriculum and research to teachers, teacher-educators, and the public.
Recipient Scott Storm explains, “In our work, we saw that the conception of teaching for social justice has been theorized from disparate, sometimes contradictory, epistemological and ideological positions. Our project aims to mesh these theoretical stances in locally situated practice.”
What kind of teacher development efforts strengthen social justice pedagogy?
In the past two years they have made a lot of progress on the following four goals. We’ve shared them below with some examples of student work in this teacher development project.
Goal 1: Design and revise courses to better support the Teaching of Social Justice
Curriculum Retreats: In the first year of the project they held Curriculum Retreats to promote ideas for new courses, start to draft the courses, and reflect on their past work.
New And Revised Courses:
o Fall 2014, New Course: “Identity Quest”
o Fall 2014, Revised Course: “Constructing Monsters”
o Spring 2015, New Course: “Lit Crit & Grit”
o Spring 2015, New Course: “Pop!”
o Winters 2015 and 2016, New Course: “Writer’s Retreat”: They created a new course for the January term (two weeks) called “Writer’s Retreat” in which 26 students traveled to a cabin (with no Internet, television or other electronic distractions) for several days. Many of the students came out of this experience with stronger writing skills.
o Fall 2015, New English Course—“Human Nature”: In this class students read Locke, Hobbs, & Rousseau alongside Lord of the Flies and Macbeth. Students explored ethical and moral issues and participated in group simulations and role-playing activities that identified ethics, oppression, and privilege.
o Spring 2016, New English Course—“Dysfunctional Love”: This course engaged students in questions around love and relationships through some classic literature. Students read Romeo and Juliet,Jane Eyre, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and other texts. Students talked through difficult issues while also analyzing textual form.
o 2015-2016 School Year, New Course—“AP English Literature & Composition”: This past year they offered an AP English Course open to all students. They recruited from special education classes, English Language Learners, low-income students, and those who are normally not encouraged to take AP at other schools. Students read poetry and many works including: Pride & Prejudice,The Sound and The Fury, Mrs. Dalloway, Invisible Man, Waiting for Godot, The Woman Warrior, Beloved, Midnight’s Children, Angels in America, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Some essential questions that guided these courses were “what is literature—and what do we do with it?” and “what is the relationship between form and meaning?” The assessment at the end of the unit asked students to use the theories of literary modernism to create their own short stories, poems, paintings, or musical scores, and then present and/or perform these at an evening coffee-house event.
Goal 2: Conduct cycles of teacher inquiry and action research to further teaching and learning.
Teacher Research Team: For the past two years, Teacher Research Teams conducted inquiry on their teaching. They developed essential questions, created research designs, discussed relevant scholarship/literature, collected data, and analyzed the data together using qualitative research.
English Department as Teacher Inquiry Team: Teachers focused on two areas: reading literary texts and writing as process. For each of these inquiries, they read articles about pedagogy around close reading, conducted their own close readings together, analyzed student work, planned for implementing shared practices, implemented these practices, analyzed post-intervention data, and created a plan for future directions.
Classroom Ethnography Project: Teachers in the teacher research team served as ethnographic participant observers in each other’s classes (one or two periods a day). The dialogue between the teacher and the researcher improved both teaching and student learning.
Goal 3: Develop and Grow a Professional Learning Community in our school
The Teacher Summit: A “Teacher Summit” was a day-long conference where half of the faculty presented on the courses they developed, on a portfolio of their work, or on one of their teacher inquiry projects. The faculty were excited for continued improvement of their teaching and the enhancement of their professional community.
Teacher Learning Teams:
o Year One: In the first year of the project they brought together three teacher teams focused on: 1) descriptive review of student work in order to reflect on and refine teaching practices; 2) designing and implementing intervention plans for high-need students.; and 3) use of Critical Friends Group protocols from the National School Reform Faculty to fine-tune curriculum and assessment. Year one was about deep understanding and new knowledge.
o Year Two: In the second year of the project, they had the teachers from each of these teams use the skills that they had learned the first year to spread this learning so that all teachers became more familiar with these methods.
o Teacher Study Group: Each semester the Teacher Study Group chose a focus of study. In the fall, the group looked at “questioning as pedagogical tool” and in the spring they explored “formative assessment.” Each week they read a peer-reviewed journal article about the topic and discussed how this could improve their practice.
o Whole-Faculty Peer-Observations: In year one they had all teachers conduct a series of monthly peer-observations. They continued this practice in year two which has been helpful for the teachers to see themselves as a community of practitioners rather than individual silos.
Goal 4: Disseminate Curriculum and Research
There has been substantial progress in this area. They have written conference proposals, presented at conferences, and had articles published about their work!
Publication: Storm, S. (2016). “Teacher-Researcher-Leaders: Intellectuals for Social Justice” Schools: Studies in Education. 13.1 57-75.
Academic Conference Presentations:
o February 2015, “Tensions in the Teaching for Social Justice” presented at the University of Pennsylvania’s Ethnography in Education Forum.
o December 2015, “Adolescents Enacting Disciplinary Literacy in English Literature: Education for Social Justice or Model of Cultural Reproduction?” presented at the Literacy Research Association’s annual conference in Carlsbad, CA
o December 2015, “Epistemological Tensions in Teaching for Social Justice: A Case Study” presented at the Literacy Research Association’s annual conference in Carlsbad, CA.
o February 2016, “Reading Literary Criticism: Method of Critical Liberation or Tool of Cultural Assimilation?” presented at the University of Pennsylvania’s Ethnography in Education Forum.
o Fall 2015, Critical Pedagogy Workshop for Student Teachers: Swarthmore College
o Fall 2015, Grammar/Writing Pedagogy for Justice Workshop for Student Teachers: Swarthmore College
o Spring 2015, Teachers as Researchers Presentation for pre-service English education students at the University of Pittsburgh
o Spring 2015, NYC Writing Project Teacher to Teacher Conference—one of our colleagues presented her work at this conference.
Additionally, they have submitted a number of presentations that are currently under review.
How does social justice pedagogy impact teachers and students?
They have definitely been busy and while it is great to hear what they have accomplished, it is even more important to hear about how they are doing. We also wanted to know how the teachers responded and how this has impacted students.
This project allowed teachers to collaborate, build shared professional knowledge, and to work toward social justice. In the first year of the project they did a lot of capacity-building as they worked to develop the skills of teacher-researchers. This year they have gotten to reap the benefits of putting so much time and energy into these activities.
In a reflective meeting in August before they started the new school year, one teacher remarked, “it’s incredible how much we learned…and now we get to use it all year!”
The English department in particular had some major achievements. They continue to create new courses that leverage students’ strengths and engage them in rigorous intellectual instruction. This has been a benefit to both teachers and their students.
At the school-wide level, the team is seeing the benefits of training teachers in peer observation, descriptive review, equity interventions, and Critical Friends protocols. Teachers who were participants in these groups last year are leading these activities in their departments and their grade teams. One teacher remarked, “I just feel like the tools that we have now let us actually focus on teaching and learning more and that to me is what improves practice.”
Finally, a big achievement this year has been having some of the teachers going to and presenting at conferences. At the conferences they shared their work with a wider audience. By doing this, they are hoping to improve practice beyond their school.
The teachers are not alone in being recipients of the benefits of this program. Students across the school were able to engage in interesting and deeper work through the courses that they have designed. Through the AP English course, students who might not have access to this level of work in another school were able not only to access the curriculum but also really thrived in this environment. One of the assessments in the course had students write an 8-10 page literary analysis on a book and question/topic of their choice and then present their work in an oral defense to a panel of external examiners. The examiners used a rubric to score the student’s work. One of the teachers, who has been doing this type of work for a decade, said of the students, “I have never seen so many students get [the highest level of the rubric] on projects like this. Our students have really learned how to do so much.”
Here is a sample of some students and the titles of their papers:
Leo R. – “Flower Imagery in Mrs. Dalloway“
Elijah R. – “The Comparative Use of Animals in Modernism and Postmodernism”
Omar C. – “To Close Read or Not To Close Read: Resolving the Epistemological Tensions Between Close Reading and Pleasure Reading”
Emely H. – “The Gothic: A Solace for Humanity”
Michelle H. – “The Coalition of Inner versus Outer Self in Palahniuk’s Fight Club”
Francisca H. – “Accepting the Inevitable: A Discussion of Death and Time in Mrs. Dalloway and Beloved“
Vanessa P. – “Forming Identity with Talk-Story in The Woman Warrior”
Lucas G. – “Beloved: Redefining Motherhood Through the Language of Obligation”
Nafissa M. – “Literary Era and the Construction of Motherhood”
As exciting as this project is, it’s not without it’s challenges and ways to improve. While many of the challenges from year one were about creating buy in and building capacity, the challenges the second year have been about sustainability. The teachers have found themselves with less time budgeted for professional development meetings than they would like but they are working around it as best they can. Additionally, it has been difficult to get teachers to write about their experiences for wider audiences. To address these for next year, they are scheduling more time to write, reflect and think about how they can frame their learning for wider audiences. They have also started to have more teachers present at conferences to “get their feet wet” in conversations beyond their school.
Challenges aside, it sounds like this program is reaping benefits that ripple far beyond teacher development. Students who were never given this opportunity are excelling and teachers are learning to better serve those students. The pursuit of Social Justice is an invaluable virtue but this program goes to show it can also be a valuable teaching tool.
Where can I learn more about implementing a social justice curriculum?
Both educators and students want to be excited and engaged by the curriculum, but they also need it to support learning effectiveness. By examining how they could meet the needs of their students, these educators improved engagement and equity. We are excited to share a report from the team of Teaching for Social Justice.
Why teach for social justice?
Teaching for social justice has been heralded as a way to meet the Common Core State Standards, increase student learning, and work toward equity and justice in a democratic society. Scholars who argue for social justice pedagogy encourage approaches such as:
encouraging the students to pursue their own curiosities and questions
afford students the opportunities to question knowledge, explore their identities, and become producers of knowledge, and
using critical literacy to enact transformative, liberatory education.
How can teacher development efforts support social justice pedagogy?
In a creative effort featuring the educators and students at
Harvest Collegiate High School in New York, NY and funded by McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation, Scott Stamm is leading a project called Teaching for Social Justice with the following goals:
Design and revise courses to better support teaching for social justice.
Conduct cycles of teacher inquiry and action research to further teaching and learning.
Develop and grow a Professional Learning Community in our school that shares curricular materials, participates in peer-observation, and supports each other in formal and informal ways toward the goal of teaching for social justice.
Disseminate our curriculum and research to teachers, teacher-educators, and the public.
How do you design a teacher development program for social justice pedagogy?
With the ambitious goals described above, the project emphasizes time for teachers to investigate and improve their curriculum. Through creative and collaborative inquiry, this team explored many ways to improve their teaching both in and around the school day. In order to achieve these goals, these exciting strategies were described in the project report.
Goal 1: Design and revise courses to better support the Teaching of Social Justice
Fall Curriculum Retreat – In August 2014 several English and special education teachers came together to plan new courses and revise existing ones by utilizing our framework for teaching for social justice (critical literacy, constructivist inquiry, and disciplinary literacy). Two courses came out of this retreat.
A New English Course—“Identity Quest” – One of the courses that the team created was a grades 9/10 fully-inclusive/untracked English course called “Identity Quest.” Through this course, students read critical identity theorists like bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldua, and Prudence Carter, and used these theories to frame their readings of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Homer’s The Odyssey. Students wrote close readings, lengthy literary analyses, autobiographies, and visual/multi-modal texts. Through these texts students explored both the canonical literature and their own identities/subjectivities.
Revision of English Course—“Constructing Monsters” – The team also revised a course that had not previously been tuned to our aims of teaching for social justice. In the revised version of this course, students participated in daily dialogically organized discussions (constructivist inquiry) about Beowulf, Frankenstein, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (disciplinary literacy) in order to conduct critical readings about gender, sexuality, race, and society (critical literacy). The previous versions of this course had the disciplinary content, but lacked the inquiry and critical pedagogy components.
Winter Curriculum Retreat – Near the end of the fall semester, the whole teacher research team met to evaluate fall courses and to begin developing new courses for the Spring semester. They staged a day-long retreat on a Saturday in order to have enough time to do the deep reflective work needed.
Development of English New Course—“Lit Crit & Grit” – This 11th grade untracked course was designed to begin with having students read The Great Gatsby and then read literary criticism of the novel from scholarly peer-reviewed journals. Students read the articles chronologically starting in the 1940s and moving to the present-day. In this way, students can be enabled to get a glimpse into the shifting ideological terrain as criticism moves from schools of literary thought including New Criticism, psychoanalysis, feminism, Marxism, structuralism, deconstruction, critical race theory, cultural studies, and queer theory. Each week of the course four students are prompted write their own literary criticism that situates their argument into the arguments of the other critical scholars. Students present their papers to the entire class and all members of the class community give feedback for revision. In this way, students become not only consumers, but also producers of literary criticism for more authentic audiences.
Development of English New Course—“Pop!” – This is a 9/10th grade inclusive/untracked class where students will read literary and sociological scholarship (such as the work of Roland Barthes, Peggy McIntosh, Judith Butler, Deborah Tannen, bell hooks, and Eve Segwick) to critically analyze pop cultural artifacts. Each week students will bring in artifacts (print-text, movies, commercials, songs, tv shows, digital media) that are important to them and then the entire class will use the scholarship that they are reading in order to have a seminar about the pop-cultural artifacts. This course is designed for students to develop critical inquiry skills and engage with both texts important to their everyday lives and complex academic texts important to the discipline.
Goal 2: Conduct cycles of teacher inquiry and action research to further teaching and learning.
Teacher Research Team – A Teacher Research Team was created to conduct cycles of inquiry on their teaching. They developed questions, created research designs, discussed relevant scholarship/literature, collected data (student work, student interviews, video recordings of class discussions), and analyzed the data together using methods from qualitative research (including methods from Critical Discourse Analysis, ethnography, and grounded theory). They also wrote about, reflected on, and shared our findings with each other.
English Department as Teacher Inquiry Team – The English department became a group focused on a collaborative inquiry around the practice of “close reading” (careful interpretation and deep analysis of text). They read articles about pedagogy around close reading, conducted their own close readings together, analyzed student work, made a plan for implementing shared practices, implemented these practices, analyzed post-intervention data, and created a plan for future directions.
Classroom Ethnography Project – Two teachers in the teacher research team served as ethnographic participant observers in each other’s classes. Each teacher observed two class periods a day of the other teacher’s course. In the fall Scott observed “Monsters” and Beth observed “Identity Quest.” In the spring semester Scott observed “Pop!” while Beth observed “Lit Crit & Grit.” Teacher researchers took ethnographic fieldnotes, collected audio-recordings of class discussions, collected and artifacts of student writing. Each day the teachers debriefed both classes. In this debriefing meeting the teacher researchers discussed not only pedagogy and curriculum but also research questions, relevant scholarship/theory, research methods, emergent analyses, and conceptual memos. This continuous dialectical tacking between the typical domains of the teacher (curriculum/pedagogy) and of the researcher (methodology/scholarship/analyses) strengthened both the teaching and the research, and ultimately enhanced both teacher and student learning.
Teacher Field Trip—NCTE Conference – The English department attended the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Conference in Washington, DC in the fall. There they were able to network with teachers and researchers. They attended many useful sessions including ones presented by Nancy Fry, Deborah Appleman, Michael Smith, Samantha Caughlin, and more.
Goal 3: Develop and Grow a Professional Learning Community in our school
Student Solutions Teams – This year the team implemented cross-disciplinary teacher teams on issues of social justice. Every Monday teachers met in these teams for 70 minutes. Teachers were able to choose which team they wanted to join. The team leader, Scott Stamm, conducted qualitative interviews with teachers and collecting other data about the effectiveness of these groups so that they can make them even stronger next year. Briefly, here is a description of each of the three groups:
Student Work Group – This group looked closely and carefully at all types of student work and used the Prospect Center’s Descriptive Review process to reflect on the teacher practices and student learning. This process allowed teachers to work toward not only more socially just practices for instruction on “Monday Morning” but also to develop more strengths-based and critically-conscious ideologies about teaching/learning.
Equity Interventions Group – This group focused on creating, implementing, monitoring and revising academic and behavioral action plans for their highest-needs students. The group approached these tasks from a strengths-based perspective to be strategic about how they made sure all students are learning. The group also created interventions for their school as an institution in order to combat institutional racism and other forms of institutional oppression.
Curriculum & Instruction Group – This group uses Critical Friend Group protocols from the National School Reform Faculty to improve teachers’ curriculum and instruction in their classes. This group uses protocols to tune curriculum and tackle dilemmas of practice.
Whole-Faculty Peer-Observations – As part of the project, for the first time all teachers conducted a series of peer-observations. Team memers trained teachers in the practices of clinical supervision, peer-mentoring, and cognitive coaching. During the training, teachers role-played and practiced the pre-observation conference and the post-observation conference. They then did a mock-observation by viewing a video and practicing how to observe and record in ways that would be constructive to others. After the training, teachers did several observations of colleagues and each month they came back together as a whole staff to check-in on how the process was working and to continue to support people in doing the peer-observations.
Goal 4: Disseminate Curriculum and Research
Conference Presentation – During the fall, team members Beth and Scott wrote a paper proposal, which was accepted to the Ethnography Forum at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education. They traveled to Philadelphia where we presented our paper entitled “Epistemological Tensions in the Teaching for Social Justice.” They were able to network with many teachers and researchers at the Ethnography Forum and had many great conversations about research and pedagogy. With feedback from their audience, they are now working on a new version of this paper for publication in a peer-reviewed academic journal.
Proposals Under Review – The team members have written drafts of two papers based their research this year. They wrote one based on the research of the “Classroom Ethnography Project” about student constructions of identity in classes geared toward social justice. They also drafted a paper about the research on students’ learning with literary criticism. Formal proposals to present these research findings were also prepared and submitted to the Literacy Research Association’s annual conference.
June Writing Retreat – The Teacher Research team is also planning to hold a multi-day writing retreat during the summer to reflect on the year and write up further findings for dissemination.
What is the impact of teacher development for social justice pedagogy?
The efforts of this program have affected the learning of students and the teachers and created positive change in many ways.
Educators Improve Practice and Build Shared Theoretical Models Through Teacher Inquiry and Action Research
This program made it possible for teachers to work on improving practice and building shared theoretical models for how to do the work of teaching for social justice. Teachers in the teacher-research group have said that the group, “totally made me re-think the way that I teach.”
In further reflection on how the group had changed our practice, one teacher explained,
“For example, my inquiry question was around students who were less talkative in dialogically organized class discussions. I was wondering what I could do to make all students be more a part of the conversation. Using our social justice framework, I tried different strategies each week. One week I tried re-framing my questions so that they included asking readers to draw from the text and their own experiences and responses. That got one of the more reluctant students. Another week I tried doing informal on-demand writing before our seminar discussions. That got another reluctant student to participate more. Another week I taught students how to ask questions that they were authentically interested in figuring out. That strategy got one more student. One time I posed provocative questions about power ‘like is the text racist?’ That really woke up one of my students. By the end I realized that many of the strategies worked for certain kids, but there wasn’t a panacea. Now my toolbox is bigger and I can deploy the strategies based on my ethnographic observations of which strategy I think the student will best respond to. It’s not the way I’m used to teaching, but now more of my students are learning in seminar and I’m getting better.”
Teachers also learned much about methods of teacher inquiry and action research, which allowed them to become more reflective and thoughtful teachers.
For example, one teacher explained,
“It was just so refreshing to get time to reflect and think together, and now I have so many more ways to look at my teaching. I used to think research was about experimental designs only and control groups and that seemed weird for a classroom. But our work with ethnography and with descriptive review and with the theory readings that we did was really helpful. Now I know I like naturalistic ethnographic inquiry and I can see how thick description is so useful. But also I know that a formative or design research study works well for another one of my colleagues who was interested in engineering a solution to a particular problem of practice and I know how to do that now. And now I also know more about how critical discourse analysis can be useful and how that can really change how you are approaching something.”
In addition to the research group, teachers in the whole school talked about the usefulness of our new peer-observation system and of the learning that they had done through our “Student Solutions Teams.”
One teacher said,
“I’m just so glad we had a way to make interventions not just for the ‘tough cases’ among students but also for our school. When we saw that boys of color were being over represented in the discipline structure we could then name it as institutional racism and take steps to start to deal with that. We’re not done yet, but we are taking steps toward being better as a school.”
Many students were able to engage in interesting and deeper work through the classes that were designed for this project. In all of the revised and new courses, the goal was to blend the ideas of critical literacy, disciplinary literacy, and constructivist/inquiry-driven thinking.
One example of evidence of student learning that captures the goals for the project relates to the “benchmark” essay students complete at the beginning and end of the course. The benchmark asks students to write a literary analysis close reading essay of a passage that they have never seen before.
Ninth and tenth grade students have a text that falls within the 9-10 grade level of text complexity according to the framework in the Common Core State Standards for text complexity, and eleventh and twelfth graders have a text that fits into the 11-12 grade band of text complexity.
The department scores all the benchmark essays and makes sure to develop strong inter-rater reliability across the department. They score the benchmarks on a shared departmental rubric that they have created and that is aligned to the Common Core State Standards. The school-wide goal is for students to grow at least 0.5 points in each indicator on the rubric in a semester-long course because that amount of growth would keep students on track to be at the mastery stages of the rubric by graduation.
Below is the data showing growth on the benchmark from just one section of the “Identity Quest” course. This course was a fully inclusive mixed 9/10 grade class. About 30% of students had Individualized Educational Plans and 15% of students were identified as English Language Learners. The graph shows the growth in rubric points in each scored area of the rubric between the first and last benchmark:
As is evident, most students grew by 1, 1.5, or more points on the rubric in each indicator. This is more growth than seen previously and all students met the goal of growing 0.5 in each indicator within a semester-long class.
While the team members do not have the data sets to claim a direct causal relationship between our Teaching for Social Justice project and this student learning growth, they do believe that these elements are closely intertwined.
This project allowed educators to narrow in on particular skills while also creating opportunities for students to construct their own meanings and expand their academic identities. In the report they state “.. we believe that, while not at all conclusive, this data is fascinating.”
The team also shared examples of the types of complex writing that their students are doing. Both student authors are eleventh graders in the “Lit Crit & Grit” course. In this course, students read The Great Gatsby, and literary theory and criticism about the novel. Throughout the course, students took turns writing “seminar papers” which are analytic literary arguments. All of their classmates read and gave feedback on the student’s seminar paper and the student defends their seminar paper to the class. The example papers show how students are combining the ideas of constructivist inquiry, critical literacy, and disciplinary literacy in interesting ways.
In the arena of disciplinary literacy, student writing samples are strong – using academic language such as words and phrases like “ideology,” “deconstruct,” and “binary opposition.” Samples also highlight student ability to describe literary devices and situate their arguments within the context of other scholarship in the field. With regard to critical literacy, these students conduct analyses of gender/sexuality and power, explicitly refer to a “feminist lens,” and tackle ideas of wealth, social class, identity, and agency in the novel. Finally, from an inquiry perspective, these student samples showed an authentic interest in going deeper into deconstruction as a topic, reading additional sources about deconstruction, hunting for evidence throughout the novel to refute and support their ideas, and developing their ideas through multiple drafts and process writing. Even with areas of improvement, student writing from this project exhibits many of the characteristics of the types of work the team want students to be doing.
What can other teacher development projects take away from this one?
The team reported that it was initially challenging to build buy-in and support amongst the teachers to do research on their own teaching. Teachers needed to see that it was immediately useful to their practice. Although some were initially skeptical, this faded as the project began to reveal how useful and even liberating it can be to conduct inquiries into the social justice aspects of teaching.
Once the project got up and running, it was sometimes also difficult to sustain the work week after week. On days when the lessons didn’t go as well, more of their time was spent together was spent troubleshooting lessons than on the specific agenda items around next steps for the research process. However, the team came to realize that this collaborative troubleshooting actually was strengthening the research and that they could view challenges in the classroom as more data to think through. To improve the project, the team now has a “pedagogical check-in” as the first part of the meeting, which allows them to have a space that is always reserved for this type of talk.
Also, the team reported that they learned that it can be overwhelming to jump right into the process of creating research-questions and designs for systematic inquiries. After a few failed attempts early on to try and create a whole research design, they shifted focus to doing everything in smaller more systematic parts. They began with a few months of just doing descriptive review, ethnographic thick description, and participant observations. This work helped them become aware of what was going on in classrooms, and only then were they able to come fresh to the process of creating research questions. To improve the project, for the next school year, they are going to start with these observation and recording techniques before they go further into their inquiries.
Where can I learn more about implementing a social justice curriculum?
We talk a lot about how isolating it can be to be a teacher, but nowhere is that more apparent than in small, rural districts. The teachers there are often the only instructor for a single subject. This is especially difficult for such an important and variable subject as mathematics. As Phillips and Hughes explain:
“Too often, teachers do not have sufficient opportunities to work together to examine work and structure interventions within their classrooms.
As the new standards are implemented, we must ensure that teachers are not left alone to figure out how best to teach to them.
The standards are an opportunity for greater collaboration, fresher thinking, and a rearticulation of shared goals for teachers and students.
By collaborating with each other and with instructional specialists through cycles of examining student work, creating hypotheses about how to implement common-core-aligned lessons, implementing them, and making adjustments in their practice in real time, teachers can find the best ways to help their students reach these higher expectations while still maintaining individual styles and flexibility.” (2012, Education Week)
With multiple levels and subjects within it, math is a daunting subject to teach. But that’s what the educators at West Elementary School in Manhattan, Kansas plan to do.
What is Project RENEW?
Project RENEW emphasizes the development of deeper content knowledge among teachers, as well as pedagogical knowledge aligned with a standards-based approach to content teaching. By building a cadre of elite math educators, the teachers at West Elementary School aim to create an easily adoptable model to improve math scores within their district and beyond.
What are the project goals?
With the adoption of a much more rigorous set of standards, Common Core Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM), the teachers at West Elementary realized that they must rethink how they teach mathematics. So, they came up with the following goals:
Increase student achievement in mathematics for ALL students in grades K-12.
Strengthen the content and pedagogical knowledge of K-12 teachers.
Increase the implementation of CCSS-based mathematics instruction and curriculum in K-12 classrooms.
Strengthen and expand existing leadership opportunities for teachers in mathematics to enhance collaboration to address the needs of K-12 schools, especially in small rural school districts.
The project proposed that by completing goals two through four (strengthening teachers, instruction and math leadership) that goal one (improved student achievement in math) would follow shortly after.
How did this project strengthen teaching in mathematics?
Project participants attended a summer math academy to develop CCSSM aligned curriculum and tasks. This academy helped the group understand their current practice and focus on ways to improve it.
First, teachers were pre-tested on their mathematical knowledge in relation to how they would implement mathematical practices in the classroom and had to submit an “action plan related to these practices and instructional strategies used for implementation.”
Next, they were observed during instruction and given feedback during professional development sessions.
In addition to this, teachers in smaller districts nearby that do not have funding for professional development and/or resources were contacted by the teachers from Project RENEW. Together, they were able to share resources and provide professional development for these small districts. Funds provided by McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation were also used to purchase new materials for the academy, so they were able to box up their “used” standards-based textbooks, load them up in a truck and delivered them to four different districts in the area.
How did this project impact the math instruction?
After a year of funding they’ve improved “by leaps and bounds and are ready to tackle the next steps” according to the project report.
The difference between the teacher Pre-Test and Post-Test was phenomenal. The average score starting out was a 2/7 correct responses and by the end that average had improved to 5/7. That’s 42.8% improvement in teacher knowledge of how to implement math instruction for CCSSM.
Teachers were also observed showing marked improvements on their in class instructional skills, particularly in the realm of “providing problem solving opportunities for their students, requiring productive struggle and discourse.”
To further extend the benefits of the program in their community, the teachers involved in the project were also responsible for disseminating what they learned in professional development sessions with the smaller districts.
What knowledge would they share with teachers exploring similar projects?
Like many of these ambitious projects one of the hurdles that must be overcome is the lack of resources. Even with the grant funding, they were unable to accommodate all the educators they would have liked to. The waitlist for additional involvement is long and shows no sign of letting up, much to the disappointment of those who know the project’s promise. In the future, they plan to video tape the lessons to help smaller districts to gain access to this valuable resource. This will be a focus in the year to come.
Also of note, the implementation of this program might encounter challenges operating on a larger scale due to the vast time requirements put on the educators and the stipends needed to cover their time. They hope that in the coming years that the texts, videos, and seminars resulting from this program will be able to be adapted for use by other districts and schools around the country.