Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Lunar Eclipse/Winter Solstice

Winter Solstice. 12.21.10


My husband and I got up in the middle of the night in order to see the lunar eclipse.  The sky was so extraordinary with Orion and a lunar eclipse equally visible. I cannot recall seeing anything quite so beautiful. Fierce wind.

A few images:


Eclipse. 12.21.10


Lunar Eclipse 3:10 a.m. 12.21.10


Lunar Night 12.21.10



Starry Night
Lunar Night II



Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Issue of Representation in Schools: Be the Revolution

The issue of representation is the deciding issue in education in this century.

As the division between "economic haves and have nots" increases at accelerated rates and the clarity between actual and fictive is rendered less clear through personal, institutional, and national educational practices and beliefs—how we position and are positioned matters. Such action often sets a trajectory that for some children is nothing less than fatal, while for others affords them the kingdom.

Allow me to be specific. Across the last 30 years, in the K-12 public schools, I have heard teachers, administrators, parents, community members, and even students utter these statements.  Additionally,  I have uttered some as well:

  • He's a shop kid.
  • She tries, but she's special ed.
  • I just got two bilinguals in my general ed class. Now what am I suppose to do? 
  • Mrs. X, your son is just not honors material.
  • You should see what my honors kids are doing...
  • My special ed kids need me to take it slower. They are incapable of doing x. 
  • Let's face it: bilingual students just learn differently.
  • My honors-child cannot and will not be in class with non-honors children. They will slow him down.
  • What are we going to do with all the level 1s? They are bringing down our school profile. 
  • Place all the bilingual students in course x. No exceptions.
  • Give me the band kids, they're fabulous in math. 
  • These partially proficient kids need to be placed in... 
I want to suggest that as these phrases become accepted discourse at a school, the language and the meanings carried shape expectation by turning opinion into "the" truth.   Further, the language also homogenizes people who may share some similarities (perceived and real) by limiting their definition to a single group identification so that terms such as: bilingual, special education, honors, shop, band and so on carry specific meaning. In these scenarios, the child is no longer multifaceted. She is bilingual. She is special ed. Such categorization locates actual performance beyond the realm of possible by lodging it within an epic construct that becomes institutionalized and across time is often thought of a defining tradition: At School X, this is what we know to be true. As new faculty and students join existing faculty and classmates, they learn these truths and in doing so, essentially render a dynamic place of learning into an epic world where the "past is locked into itself and walled off from all subsequent times by an impenetrable boundary..." (Bakhtin).

As our beliefs about children solidify--it becomes more difficult to engage in new thinking; to consider other possibilities. Odd traditions find permanence in places where epic stances are the norm.  Again Mikhail Bakhtin states, "tradition isolates the world of the epic from the personal experience, from any new insights, from any personal initiative in understanding and interpreting, from new points of view and evaluations. The epic past is an utterly finished thing, not only as an authentic event of a distant past but also on it's own terms and by it's own standards; it is impossible to change, to re-think, to re-evaluate anything in it."

I think about all of the rhetoric regarding "reform" of schools and the too-easy placement of public schools as places of chronic failure.  I can't help but think while those who are often far removed from actual schools banter questions about reform and reform models from lofty places--those of us who actually work in schools could exercise a profound and lasting revolution by taking a single action.

If we consciously took a stance to resist categorizing children and instead dwell in possibility, the revolution would be upon us.  Rather than limit ourselves to definitions of children via fixed categories, imagine what might happen if we practiced seeing possibility in other and uncertainty in ourselves.  Imagine how different the learning trajectory for both child and self might be.

Profound change has always rested in our hands.  Now is the time to accept responsibility and shape the outcomes that are so possible.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Guest Blog: Children of Color and the Poor Left Way Behind in the National Governors Association and State Education Chiefs Common Core State Standards Initiative: “Text Exemplars” for Kindergarten through 5th Grade


Jane M. Gangi
 This week's guest blog is authored by a friend, colleague and coauthor of Deepening Literacy Learning, Jane M. Gangi.  In this post, Jane analyzes the K-5 text exemplars recommended in the Common Core State Standards in order to see the racial representation of the texts. It always disappoints me and angers me that limited representation of African American, Asian, Latino/a, and Native American people in the texts offered as exemplars is so often done. Jane's article, "The Unbearable Whiteness of Literacy Instruction: Realizing the Implications of the Proficient Reader Research"(MC Review, 2008) referenced in this blog post offers an important critique of racial representation in the literacy textbooks for teachers and teacher candidates.






Jane M. Gangi, Ph.D.
December 11, 2010

Despite comprising 40% of the population in the United States (and 70% of the world’s), in the K-5 Text Exemplars in the National Governors Association and State Education Chiefs Common Core State Standards Initiative, children of color are represented in just 21% of the selections. Decades of research have taught us that, to become proficient readers, children must be able to make text-to-self connections; they must be able to activate their prior knowledge. When the books we offer children represent mostly European American and middle-class children, European American middle-class children are hugely advantaged.
I analyzed the 88 books in the categories of K-1 stories, poetry, read-aloud stories, and read-aloud poetry; Grades 2-3 stories, poetry, read-aloud stories, and read-aloud poetry; and Grades 4-5 stories, poetry, read-aloud stories, and read-aloud poetry. Of the authors represented 69 were European American; 10 were African American; 3 were Asian American; 5 were Latino; and 1 was American Indian (see Table 1). Of the 88 books, 6 focused on poor and working class children: 7%, at a time when 21% of America’s children live in poverty—about 13 million children. Yet, in many of the stories and poems they find in school, the world is portrayed as white, middle-to-upper-class, and happy. (The informational texts recommended also looked mostly white.)
This pattern continues patterns documented elsewhere—patterns that, taken as an aggregate—persistently marginalize children of color and the poor. For a summary of the  treatment of children of color and the poor in classroom collections, book fairs and book order forms, awards, book lists, children’s literature and literacy text and professional books (the books that teach teachers how to teach), see Hughes-Hassell, Barkley, & Koehler (2010) at http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/aasl/aaslpubsandjournals/slmrb/slmrcontents/volume12/hughes_hassell.cfm ,and my article (Gangi, 2008), “The Unbearable Whiteness of Literacy Instruction,” at http://www.mcreview.com/members_login/2008/Spring/whitenessofliteracy_article2.pdf .
The Grade 6 and up “Text Exemplars” seem more multicultural than those for Kindergarten through 5th grade—but there are six long years before grade 6 when children can learn they don’t belong, don’t count, don’t have a voice, and that they are “deficient” or “substandard.” When we wonder why so many children of color and the poor drop out of high school, perhaps we should look at our classrooms for the ways we invite children in—or not. And perhaps we should listen to Stephen Krashen and David Berliner who repeatedly illuminate the international comparisons in which the U. S. takes a trouncing: When American students who live in districts with less than 10% poverty are compared internationally, the United States does just as well as Finland, which has a 3% poverty rate, compared to our 21% poverty rate. The National Governors Association and State Education Chiefs Common Core State Standards Initiative Text Exemplars ensures that the status quo will remain the status quo.
The good news is that there are many wonderful multicultural books and authors. Please visit my website for multiple resources at: http://www.wcsu.edu/sps/fbiojgangi.asp. Or email me at gangij@wcsu.edu.

TABLE 1
K-5 “Text Exemplars” Authors and Poets

European American (EA)
African American
(Af A)
Asian American
(As A)
Latino

(L)
American Indian
(A I)
Total
%
K-1 Stories
8
0
0
0
0
8
100% EA
0% Af A
0% As A
0% L
0% AI
K-1 Poetry
7
4
0
1
0
13*

54% EA
31% Af A
0% As A
8% L
0% A O
K-1 Read-Aloud Stories
7
0
1
2
0
10
70% EA
0% Af A
10% As A
20% L
0% A I
K-1 Read-Aloud Poetry
3
1
0
0
0
5*
60% EA
20% Af A
0% As A
0% L
0% AI
2-3 Stories
13
0
0
0
0
13
100% EA
0% Af A
0% As I
0% L
0% A I
2-3 Poetry
7
2
0
1
0
10
70% EA
20% Af A
0% As A
10% L
0% A I
2-3 Read-Aloud Stories
5
1
1
0
0
7
71% EA
14%% Af A
14% % As A
0% L
0% A I
2-3 Read-Aloud Poetry
5
0
0
0
0
5
100% EA
0% Af A
0% As A
0 % L
0% A I
Grades 4-5 Stories
6
2
1
0
1
10
60% EA
20% Af A
10% As A
10% A I
Grades 4-5 Poetry
8
0
0
1
0
9
89% EA
0% Af A
0% As A
11% L
0% A I
Total
69
10
3
5
1
88
78% EA
11% Af A
3% As A
6% L
1% A I
*1 author was anonymous

Monday, November 29, 2010

Hegemony Or Why I Will Not Talk in Class Anymore

Scene 1
A former graduate student shared that shortly after taking over a class (she's the 4th teacher this year) she reviewed the children's writers' notebooks.  She said she was dismayed to see that a few students had written the following entry:


"I will not talk in class anymore."


Scene 2
Last week a teacher I know discontinued working with a student teacher. She indicated that the student was not ready to teach given her lack of preparation that resulted in significant and consistent errors while teaching. The student teacher was denied a credential and returned to the college.
Scene 3
Some years ago I oversaw the literacy program for a public city school system. A neighboring charter school would hire the city's Reading Recovery teachers to work as after school tutors in order to teach those students who were most at risk for reading difficulties.  The leader of the Charter explained that he could not match the salaries of such senior and well educated teachers, nor could his school pay for the continuing contact and other costs associated with Reading Recovery.  What he could and did do was to pay for after school eduction for children. As he told me then, "Our teachers are too green to know how to do this (prevent reading difficulties).  They can help the Reading Recovery teachers and learn as the students are learning."
Scene 4
Yesterday, I passed by a charter school in an inner city.  It was a beautiful building in a neighborhood of mostly boarded buildings and largely littered sidewalks.  The building was well maintained and attractive with the sidewalks surrounding it, neatly swept. I thought about the number of studies I have read and the plethora of comments from public school advocates I have read all indicating that charter schools are no better or worse than public schools as measured by single test instruments and I wondered if such a measurement makes any difference to the people who send their children to this charter school.

I think of the players (teachers, students, student teacher, administrators) in these minor dramas and wonder about the complex issue that (in)form our understanding of schooling—a topic that ought to be fraught with positions, especially these days. Where one might expect to hear the clamor of different voices chiming, there seems to be just two dominant voices that relentlessly sound and sound again.  Are you pro-public schools or are you pro-charter schools?

Such a query is hegemonic posturing at best.  The current public discourse about teaching and learning is dangerously narrowed in order to position one's perspective and to obfuscate the more challenging realities we fail to discuss:
  1. who has consistent opportunities to access high level curricula in this country and who does not and why is that;
  2. what constitutes high level curricula (for whom?);
  3. how do local values matter;
  4. what are the relationships between poverty and learning and how do we create equitable environments for all;
  5. how do we reconcile differences (who & what gets valued and not).
Instead of substantive conversations that take longer than the end page in a popular press magazine, we are subjected to smoke and mirrors. Consider the recent Newsweek column, A Case of Senioritis, Jonathan Alter penned. Alter writes:
After exhaustive study, the Gates Foundation and other experts have learned that the only in-school factor that fully correlates is quality teaching, which seniority hardly guarantees. It’s a moral issue. Who can defend a system where top teachers are laid off in a budget crunch for no other reason than that they’re young?
I am curious as to what study he is referencing (no citation was included) and take exception (and hope you do as well) with the syllogistic leap in logic that posits "top" teachers as being synonymous with youth.  Is Alter suggesting that youth and inexperience are correlates for fine teaching?  Is there some juried study that shows that?  The faultiness in such thinking is extraordinary, but no longer unusual in these Shoot Out at the O.K. Corral days. 

Lost in such binary advantaging (get rid of senior teachers and keep young teachers) are the necessary conversations about privilege, quality, relevance, context, opportunity, and empowerment we need to be having.  This us vs. them drama distracts and keeps us from addressing our shared responsibilities regarding democracy and schooling.  Recall John Dewey who wrote, “We naturally associate democracy, to be sure, with freedom of action, but freedom of action without freed capacity of thought behind it is only chaos.”  

I can't help but wonder what sense Dewey would make of the repeated calls for action (get rid of tenure, stop health benefits, do not pay for teachers' higher degrees, employ beginning teachers, privilege youth) by bureaucrats and billionaires who seem to make such utterances with mindfulness that makes me wonder to what end our democracy is secure.  Their posturing (employ young teachers, build charter schools) leaves not only public schools in chaos by undermining public trust, but our democractic system as well.  

I will not talk (in class) anymore may well be the first volley in this grand monologue about public schooling, especially as we seem to be running headlong into a two class system populated by those who have and those who serve those who have. Makes me wonder if all this posturing is a prelude to a return to serfdom.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Year of Sundays: November - December 2010

What might a year of Sundays look like? I have been wondering about this for awhile and decided to set myself an assignment. Every Sunday, since the beginning of November,  I have set out early in the morning to make an image of ordinary life.

During the month of November all of the images were made in the early morning and the majority of images were taken in Manhattan, mostly in Harlem. In December images were made in Harlem, midtown Manhattan, Paterson, NJ and Ringwood, NJ.

Salvation & Deliverance. (Harlem, NY). 12.16.10

125th Street (Harlem, NYC) 12.16.10

December's End. (Paterson, NJ). 12.16.10

The Apollo. (Harlem, NY) 12.16.10

After Christmas. (Harlem, NYC) 12.26.10

At Rockefeller Center. (Manhattan, NYC). 12.19.10

Salvation. (Harlem, NYC). 12.19.10

Out Walking II. (Manhattan, NYC). 12.19.10


Rain and Light. (Ringwood, NJ) 12.12.10
Leaving. (Paterson, NJ) 12.5.10
Sisyphus. (Paterson, NJ) 12.5.10.

Ain't I a Woman? (Paterson, NJ) 12.5.10.


God's in the House (Harlem, NYC) 11.28.10.

Church.  (Harlem, NYC) 11.28.10.

Out Walking.  (Harlem, NYC) 11.28.10.
Wall Street. (NYC). 11.21.10
The East River. (NYC). 11.21.10
Spanish Harlem, Sunday Morning III. (NYC) 11.14.10
 

Spanish Harlem, Sunday Morning. (NYC) 11.14.10
Three at the Beach. (Avon at the Sea, NJ) 11.7.10

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Say it, no ideas but in things


At the Station. November 20, 2010. Paterson, NJ

—Say it, no ideas but in things—
  nothing but the blank faces of the houses
  and cylindrical trees
  bent, forked by preconception and accident—
  split, furrowed, creased, mottled, stained—
  secret—into the body of the light!

From Book I—Paterson, William Carlos Williams

I spent part of Saturday in Paterson, NJ.  I have always been fascinated by William Carlos Williams's concept of no ideas but in things and wanted to speak with few words, but more strongly with image about a moment in the city.


What's Left Behind. November 20, 2010, Paterson, NJ

Late Fall. November 20, 2010. Paterson, NJ.

Home. November 20, 2010. Paterson, NJ

Friday, November 19, 2010

Guest Blog: Scott Klepesch - The Use of Moodle at a High School

After 29 years of working as an educator I have come to work with and know scores of teachers. Without question, one of the most talented educators I have had the pleasure to work with and learn from is this week's guest blogger, Scott Klepesch. Scott  is the supervisor of instruction at Morristown High School where he has served as an administrator for the past two years.  Prior to joining the Morristown staff, Scott was a social studies teacher at Chatham High School and also at West Essex High School. Scott is a product of the New York City public school system where he taught at Manhattan Village Academy in Chelsea.  These diverse experiences have shaped Scott’s views as an educator and his belief that school is a place where all learners can succeed. Scott’s full time job is as the proud parent of three daughters; two second graders and preschooler.  Boys beware!!!

Scott Klepesch can be reached at the following:

Blog- A Teaching Life
Twitter- @shklepesch
Email- scott.klepesch@morristownhighschool.org





How would you answer the following question:

  • What is the role of creativity in education?
I’m confident that a collection of responses to the above question would reveal a wide range of insights into the meaning of creativity and its role in education.  An open-ended question such as the one shared above is powerful in that it has the potential to stimulate critical reflection.  Before offering a response, one has to give considerable pause to confront their own beliefs, consider competing perspectives and prepare to be engaged in a complex debate.

The role of creativity in education came from an online forum discussion.  A teacher at Morristown High School developed the question and posted it in an online forum discussion for students to access.  Considering the demands of the 21st Century and the need for students to think critically and creatively and for teachers to be instructional innovators, dissecting what creativity means is a worthy intellectual pursuit.  However, how can this inquiry, with the potential to generate a heated debate, be contained within a single or even multiple instructional periods?  In short, it cannot. More time is needed and a space privileged to extend meaningful exchanges.  The forum in which the question about creativity was posted generated 80 individual responses from students enrolled in the class. One post by a student elicited 37 replies.  Weeks after the question was posted it still garnered attention from students.  

Students accessed the question through a teacher’s Moodle page.   Teachers at the high school where I am a supervisor of instruction have realized the importance of establishing online learning communities for students.   Numerous instructors have turned to Moodle as a platform to virtually extend teaching and learning.  The notion that learning is confined to a scheduled block of time is outdated.  Virtual learning communities such as Moodle ensures that learning can occur at any time and anywhere.

As one of the two educators who oversee our use of Moodle, I am afforded the chance to see how Moodle is being deployed across all academic disciplines.  At first, teachers used Moodle as a place to post assignments and links to resources on the internet.  This current school year, teachers are moving beyond a basic use of Moodle to explore collaborative activities integrated into the open source program.  Teachers have been developing chat sessions, surveys, choice lessons and forum discussions for students to support the delivery of curriculum.  

Collaboratively inspired spaces on Moodle have subtly transformed interactions between classroom stakeholders. By initiating an activity on Moodle, the teacher is no longer the sole purveyor of content. Learners are empowered to assume responsibility for leading class discussions and developing meaningful content.   Activities on Moodle rarely draw a distinction between classroom roles. Participants are viewed as equals and provided with an outlet to voice beliefs and share in the exchange of information.  Through spirited exchanges about creativity, a hero's journey through a work of literature, or the meaning one might make of abstract art—students are active in the development of scholarship.  When teachers engage students in these spaces, a team approach to learning transpires.

It is important to move beyond the hope that students are engaged and instead strive towards creating learning environments where students are empowered.  What students think matters. Providing a platform for students to publicly articulate personal insights is critical and necessary considering the demands of the 21st Century.  The work centered on virtual learning communities and in particular Moodle, has instigated changes to our learning environment. Traditional paradigms governing time, space and scholarship have been questioned and new models for the ways in which class is conducted are forming.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Spanish Harlem, Sunday Morning

On our way to visit a friend in Manhattan last night Rob and I got off the FDR at 155th Street exit and traveled by street to our destination. The sights I saw in the dark interested me and not having a camera nor the time to stop, I decided to revisit this morning.

This series of images I have titled: Spanish Harlem, Sunday Morning. I enjoyed the ordinariness of the morning: people on their way to church, talking on cell phones, the loveliness and intensity of urban architecture, the contrast of oranges and blue.  No matter how often I am in Manhattan, it is always eye opening.


Spanish Harlem, Sunday Morning, I. Nikon D300. 11.14.10

Spanish Harlem, Sunday Morning, II. Nikon D300. 11.14.10
Spanish Harlem, Sunday Morning, III. Nikon D300. 11.14.10
Spanish Harlem, Sunday Morning, IV. Nikon D300. 11.14.10
Spanish Harlem, Sunday Morning, V. Nikon D300. 11.14.10


Spilling. Nikon D300. 11.14.10

A Train. Nikon D300. 11.14.10

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Guest Blog: Sharon Rosner & Jessica Gallico—Using Storybird in 6th Grade

This week Sharon Rosner and Jessica Galico are guest bloggers.  It is a particular pleasure to welcome both to Between the By-Road and the Main Road. I had the pleasure of meeting and working with Sharon five years ago when I was consulting at the middle school where she works.  Sharon is a veteran sixth grade language arts teacher, having taught for 15 years at Frelinghuysen Middle School (FMS) in Morristown, NJ.  Storybird, Sharon said showed her that students are able to create and extend their imaginations with the help of technology. “This is so easy,” joked Sharon. Sharon says that she continues to look for new innovative lessons to motivate her students to achieve greatness.  I only recently met Jessica. She is the new Educational Technology Specialist at FMS and is already contributing greatly to the Morris School District through direct services to teachers and students.  Jessica embodies the spirit of collaboration. She assisted Sharon in the work outlined in this blog post. 
I had the pleasure of reviewing several stories students composed earlier this week when Sharon invited me to class.  What impressed me the most, in addition to the fine work students composed, was the joy evident in making written art.  As students were still engaged in the composing process, I took a moment to look at the class.  Huddled around MacBook laptops, pairs of students were engaged in the work at hand, spread out at multiple tables in the school's media center.  There was that most appropriate hum in the room, interrupted from time to time with laughter--the type of noises that lets you know students are deeply involved and empowered by the work they are doing.
Two of the stories (authored by Shelby and Kathleen, and Lennart and Nick) are featured in this blog. 
You can contact Sharon @ sbrosner29@gmail.com.

 
Sharon Writes:
Sharon Rosner
Storybird is a collaborative approach to writing stories. My students were excited and motivated to write using this website. The students chose their theme and the artist and then began the writing process.  Having pictures to inspire them increased their imagination. I used Storybird as a follow up for reading/writing workshop. The students felt confident after learning through mini lessons ways to use dialogue, ways to structure paragraphs, and ways to represent a character's internal and external thoughts. As the students explored the different artists, they learned to think about how they as writers might communicate meaning to their readers--people they more than likely will not meet as their work is now accessible to the public through the website. As the students worked cooperatively they listened to one another.  They shared the tasks and considered each other's perspective. They shared goals and accomplishments. I was and am very impressed with Storybird and enjoyed observing my students as they smiled, laughed and worked together as a team!

The Sandwich Prince  and A Hip Vacation are two examples of sixth grade students' first attempts at collaborative storytelling using Storybird.

Below are the opening three pages to A Hip Vacation.
Cover.

Page 1 of Shelby and Kathleen's story.

Page 2 of Shelby and Kathleen's story.

How to integrate Storybird into the Classroom: Jessica writes:
Jessica L. Gallico

Storybird is an excellent way to get your students enthusiastically writing. The imaginative artwork will have your students creating stories in no time. Storybird stories are meant to be collaborative between multiple authors, as well as authors and artists. Students can work together in teams to create stories. This type of learning through play reminds me of the “let's pretend” stories that students create on the playground. Students feed off of each other’s ideas, creating finer stories while having the opportunity to learn from one another. Storybird is also a fantastic place to create a classroom story; each student can contribute pages to the story. The final product can be easily shared with families and friends in the online library. Storybird can be used by teachers to make ‘special’ stories for their students. They can include students as characters, emphasize classroom themes or curriculum, and be created for specific reading levels. Encourage your students to create and share their stories on Storybird.

I was so excited when Sharon Rosner came to me with her ideas and lesson for using Storybird with her class. The students created original literature pieces and became authors. It was so rewarding to see how excited the students become about learning and writing. Even struggling writers became inspired and were excited to participate. I was even more thrilled when I saw Sharon overwhelmed with joy when rereading student pieces. By incorporating Storybird into her lesson, Sharon created a more rigorous standard for her students—one her students met. Sharon and her students are a pure example of how technology and 21st century learning can change education from good to great!

Wonderful job Sharon and the 6th grade students! I am eager to see what the future holds as I know this is just the beginning of your technology education journey. Kudos to all.

Tips: StoryBird is currently in an open Beta version. Right now all features on StoryBird are free. Storybird plans to keep story creation, reading, and sharing as free features.

Screen Shots from The Sandwich Prince.


Cover

Page 1  by Lennart and Nick.