5 Strategies to Use Assessment Purposefully

By Ruthmae Sears and Caree Pinder

In the 2020-2021 school year, many schools moved to remote instruction. It posed challenges and was also a catalyst for new possibilities. It disrupted face-to-face instruction and increased the demands for synchronous and asynchronous interactions. Nevertheless, it created and expanded opportunities for teachers to reflect on creative means to formatively assess students, while also being aware of the constraints students may have.

Students may vary in their abilities to access the internet and other resources, and on their abilities to make vertical or horizontal progression through the curriculum. To provide an equitable learning experience for students during this pandemic, assessments had to be purposefully used to move students’ learning forward. We found the following five strategies effective in ensuring that assessments move the learning forward. Make your assessments….

Familiar: Ensure that you are familiar with your students’ interests, backgrounds, and culture. Develop tasks that they can connect to their everyday lives. In doing so, exhibit culturally responsive teaching. 

Flexible: Give students options to communicate what they learned via a video, a poem, a song, or creating games such as an escape room. Posing assignments that students can complete outside of class can increase opportunities for students to take ownership and gain autonomy in their learning. It can also motivate them to exhibit creativity and critical thinking skills. 

Fair: Establish clear expectations and use detailed rubrics that describe the criteria of what you will be evaluating. Additionally, be aware of implicit bias and unproductive beliefs that may impact how you evaluate students.

Feedback: Providing a score alone is not sufficient to move the learning forward. Instead, seek to provide a strong formative assessment, giving students feedback on the accuracy of their responses and specific items they need to address to improve the overall quality of their work. Give them personal comments or notes often, highlighting the strengths of their work and suggestions for improvement.

Forgiving: Students make mistakes. Failure is part of the learning process. Motivate your students to exhibit cognitive rigor, even if they may experience some degree of difficulty. Additionally, utilize positive affirmation to enhance their self-confidence and develop their identities as they explore new terrain. Therefore, exhibit affective domains of learning to promote student success.

Assessment is more than testing, and you should employ it throughout instruction to facilitate students’ learning. You can use formative assessment to orchestrate rich classroom discussions, clarify learning outcomes, promote critical thinking skills, and provide feedback that can support students’ learning and move their learning forward (Wiliam & Leahy, 2016). 

Reference

Wiliam, D., & Leahy, S. (2016). Embedding formative assessment. Hawker Brownlow Education.

Dr. Sears is an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida for mathematics education, and KDP advisor. Her research focuses on curriculum issues, reasoning and proof, clinical experiences in secondary mathematics, and the integration of technology in mathematics.

Ms. Pinder is a doctoral student and teaching assistant in mathematics education at the University of South Florida, and the KDP chapter treasurer. Her research interest focuses on technology in mathematics, developmental mathematics courses, and equity in mathematics.

Fostering Critical Thinkers and Innovators Who Will Create a Sustainable World

By Lucijan Jovic and Matteo Itri

Education is an integral component of students’ lives and it is rooted in instilling the respective skills needed to read proficiently, think critically, and write with clarity, all of which are essential with today’s complex and rigorous academic standards. Learners begin to develop literacy through their experiences and paying attention to their surroundings. Students begin to acquire academic and cultural awareness through their educators’ instructional approaches. Reading and writing proficiently are two skills that not only prepare students for their years in academia, but in the workforce that follows.

KDP and the United Nations

Being a student at Molloy College and a member of the student government association, Lucijan has “acquired the specific knowledge, attitude, [and] skills [which mediated] the sources of [his] cultural identity” (Cushner, et al, 2006, p.53). Molloy College has taught him to become resilient, never give up, and continue to work hard to become successful. Although any institution can focus on these, Molloy does so through the development of a community. Regardless of one’s position at the college, all are clearly committed to the value system of creating a welcoming and respectable environment where everyone can share their opinions and acquire academic/cultural discourse together. Using a sense of community as a socializing agent in the classroom, Lucijan will work to mold his future students into community builders who value the various backgrounds that exist in the class. Through this, students will gain a skill that is essential in academia and the workforce, collaboration.

As a United Nations Representative, Vice-President for Kappa Delta Pi (Molloy’s Chapter), and former Academic Chair of the Molloy Student Government Association, Lucijan serves as the liaison between students and faculty and works to not only promote awareness of various academic disciplines, but to lead a team in addressing academic concerns that arise. These major leadership roles have shaped Lucijan into the leader he is today through the socialization or “social patterns of behaviors” he executes on a daily basis (Cushner, et al, 2006, p.55). Even though most of his time is spent with upset or frustrated students, he makes it a priority to actively listen to students and faculty and work with them to arrive at possible solutions. He communicates with educators, professors, students, and other members of the learning community on a weekly basis.

The United Nations has designed 17 sustainable development goals to create a more realistic future for communities. College students must make themselves familiar with and implement these goals, because they will have an impact on society for the generations to come. The knowledge and skills acquired at colleges and universities combined with the sustainable development goals set forth by the UN will foster civically engaged individuals who will make their communities more sustainable. Through these collaborative exchanges of discourse, Lucijan has broadened his teaching/learning horizon, which has fueled his drive to best meet the needs of students and foster critical thinkers.

Adapting a Growth Mindset Is One Approach

Encouraging students to adopt a growth mindset will not only be invaluable to their success as students, but as individuals beyond the classroom who understand that struggle and adversity are the foundation of success in all areas of life. Dweck (2006), articulates that a fixed mindset is the belief that we cannot improve upon our basic abilities and talents and are limited to these fixed traits. However, a growth mindset is the belief that we can improve our basic abilities and talents through persistent effort and dedication to our craft.

As educators, our job is to not only provide students with the highest quality of instruction, but to also give them the necessary tools to be successful beyond academia. We can use several pedagogical approaches in our classrooms to promote a growth mindset, and it all starts with teaching students how the brain works. Teaching students about the concept of neuroplasticity, how our brains form new neurons when we learn new concepts, will help them become actively engaged in the learning process (Robinson, 2017). When we are introducing a new concept to our students, we demonstrate the intent to them, so they’ll buy into our pedagogical approaches. We can help our students adapt a growth mindset by utilizing strategies such as retrieval study methods, normalizing mistakes and failures, using positive reinforcement when giving feedback to students, and encouraging students to set goals for themselves (Robinson, 2017).

Additionally, demonstrating to students the major difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset is crucial to instilling this concept in our students. Those who develop a growth mindset believe that we have the power and ability to reach any goal. Dweck (2006), explains that children need honest, constructive feedback to truly grow from moments of adversity and struggle. We must challenge our students to reflect on the mindsets that they adapt, teach them that growth is a never-ending process that gives us the necessary tools to succeed. Through this approach, we are fostering independent individuals who will create a more sustainable world.

References

Cushner, K., McClelland, A., & Safford, P. (2006). Human diversity in education. Boston: McGraw-Hill. Culture and the Culture-Learning Process. Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House. Robinson, C. (2017). Growth mindset in the classroom. Science Scope, 41(2), 18-21. https://molloy.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www-proquest-com.molloy.idm.oclc.org/scholarly-j ournals/growth-mindset-classroom/docview/1942178538/se-2?accountid=28076

Lucijan Jovic is a Graduate student in the School of Education and Human Services at Molloy College. He currently serves as the Vice-President for Molloy’s Kappa Delta Pi chapter and is a Representative to the United Nations in NYC. In addition, he served as the Academic Chair of Molloy Student Government for three years, Head Orientation Leader, Student Ambassador, Peer Mentor, sits on several committees, works as a Graduate Assistant, and is also an Intern for the Department of Special Education.

Matteo Itri is also a Graduate student in the School of Education and Human Services at Molloy College. Aside from teaching, Matteo is the captain of the Molloy College Cross Country/Track and Field programs, Student Ambassador, Social Media Ambassador, Orientation Leader, served as a Resident Assistant, and Executive member of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee.

Bringing the 21st Century to an Academy in Ghana

By Brittney Caldwell

Brittney Caldwell is a high school social studies teacher in Atlanta, Georgia. She is currently pursuing her EdD in Curriculum and Education. Brittney has spent her career advocating for teachers and students. Brittney is passionate about Social Studies being taught through culturally relevant, inclusive, and authentic strategies. She spends her summers traveling and observing school cultures in various countries. Her ultimate goal is to develop a program that allows her to bring other teachers along. She is currently serving KDP on the national level as a member of the Knowledge Development Advisory Council. 

As a public-school teacher at a Title I school in inner-city Atlanta, I am accustomed to complaining about the resources that I do not have.

I have complained to my administration and academic coaches about the lack of software that would assist me in raising test scores, or the old textbooks that were not updated with content required in the standards/objectives. I look at my old-fashioned desk with disdain sometimes, when I compare my classroom to the 21st-century learning environments that I see on Pinterest and Instagram. I even had the nerve to get upset that my county was not yet 1:1, and we had to share a Chromebook cart with my entire department if the computer lab was booked for the day.

As a teacher, I could sometimes only focus on the resources that I was lacking. Poor American public-school teacher, spending her own money on classroom supplies and only being handed the bare minimum. This attitude completely changed once I visited Press On Academy in Accra, Ghana.

I did not arrive in Accra with the intention of coming across this local community school. My boyfriend’s aunt had passed away abruptly, and we flew to Accra. We made plans to stay for the month and, since I was working remotely, it was not a problem. I passed Press On Academy several times. I finally decided to try my luck and visit the school in hopes of a tour. Being a U.S. history teacher to a 99 percent African American school population, I was genuinely curious and wanted to speak with the local social-studies teachers about African history.

Ghanaian public schools are overcrowded, severely underfunded, and full of poverty-stricken students. The economy in Ghana has created a very wide gap between the rich and the poor, leaving a small middle-class population. Most middle-class families cannot afford private schools, but do not wish to send their students to public schools. Press On Academy is technically a private school, but the tuition and resources are much lower because the parents consist of middle-class workers (welders, maids, and merchants) who pay tuition with hard-earned money. The school does not receive money from the government, and solely relies on tuition to pay for all school expenses, including teacher salaries.

The headmaster of Press On Academy opened the school up to me immediately, welcoming me and offering me a tour. He was excited to hear that I was a teacher from America. Visiting the grounds was hard for me and I had to hold back tears.

The children were sharing used workbooks. Several of the desks in the classrooms had nails sticking out or were barely holding together. The teacher’s chair was falling apart as well. They were using chalkboards. There was no air conditioning. There were no textbooks, computers, or even anchor charts on the wall. There was no pencil sharpener.

I hid my feelings well, continuing to smile back at everyone who was smiling at me. The students were so happy and friendly. The teachers were very welcoming. The teachers urged students to go up to the chalkboard and show me the work that they had been learning. First graders were doing three-digit multiplication problems and breaking down fractions! Many of the students were very advanced and excited about learning. The teachers had taught the students so many skills with so few supplies. They were ahead of my own first grader, Brason. My heart automatically called me to help.

I spent the next month, December 2020, in Ghana crowdfunding for Press On Academy. I ultimately raised $4,500 and built a computer lab for the school. I took a vacant room in the corner of the building and dedicated my time to perfecting it. The room needed new flooring, electrical outlets, windows installation, door installation and a paint job. I was able to afford four computers and a projector, computer tables and group tables for students to use when viewing the projector. I also dedicated funds to repainting two classrooms and replacing their chalkboards with dry-erase boards. The children were so grateful and excited when the room was revealed. It was the best feeling in the world.

The teachers were very thankful as well. We all spoke about how teaching is really universal. We all face the same issues on different scales. They have fewer behavioral issues than I, but could relate to distractions in the classroom and lack of resources. In Ghana, teachers are expected to live below middle class and be content. Anyone choosing to be a teacher is dedicating their life to struggle and accepting the Lord’s blessing in return. The headmaster described it as “hand to mouth” living, and told me that teachers would never be able to own a home in Ghana. It was neither realistic nor expected.

I recorded the entire visit and renovation process for my Instagram, Caldwell’s Classroom. Teachers all over the world watched and supported me as I invested my time and energy into helping Press On Academy. Many of them donated to my crowdfunding, and in exchange I sent handwritten letters from the students. So many teachers asked how they could help or be a part of the process. Because of this, I planned a trip for July 2021 to return to Press On Academy and continue raising funds. My goal is to assist them in reaching full completion of the school and connect them to our global education network.

The school is rich in pedagogy and the teachers are talented. They have so much talent, and practices that they could share with the world, but need help connecting and entering 21st-century learning. I am continuing to raise funds for the school and sending supplies as donations are received. I and a group of five teachers, two of them Kappa Delta Pi members as well, are visiting Ghana for a week in July. I am hoping to make this an annual trip and increase participation every year.

We teachers have to take care of each other, and I will be very careful not to complain as often as I do. As a teacher in America, I already have privilege that I am not always aware of. Many teachers worldwide are making do with much less and are perfectly successful.

If you feel compelled to donate or send supplies, please visit www.brittneycaldwell.com or follow my Instagram, @CaldwellsClassroom. Here is the link to my GoFundMe.

What Do Equity and Equality Mean in a Pandemic?

By Emily Hodge

The author contributed a related article to The Educational Forum, Volume 85, Issue 1, “Conceptions of Equity in Common Core Policy Messages in a Metropolitan District,” which is currently available for free online here.


Dr. Emily M. Hodge is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at The Pennsylvania State University. Her work uses qualitative methods as well as social-network analysis to understand the changing nature of strategies for educational equity. Recent projects have explored how educational systems, schools, and teachers negotiate the tension between standardization and differentiation in the context of the Common Core State Standards, and the varied strategies state education agencies are using to support standards implementation.

While scrolling on your social-media feeds, you may have seen the side-by-side images of three children behind a fence trying to watch a baseball game with captions about equity and equality. This image represented “equality” as providing the same amount of the same resource to children of three different heights: a box of the same size for each child to stand on, resulting in only two of them being able to see over the fence. In contrast, the figure depicted “equity” as providing each child with a box of a different size, so that each was able to see the baseball game. Many viewed this image as illustrating the limitations of treating groups in the same way, arguing that groups need varying amounts of resources to achieve similar outcomes. Many have also adapted and critiqued this image, as summarized in the link above, arguing that the children’s different heights implied that inequalities were problematically located within the children themselves, signaling a deficit view. Others changed the height of the fence to signal disproportionate degrees of oppression different communities face, or removed the fence entirely to signal liberation.

My recent article in The Educational Forum, “Conceptions of Equity in Common Core Policy Messages in a Metropolitan District,” invoked similar tensions about the nature of equity and equality in children’s educational opportunities. This article is based on a research study of the messages about equity and equality in professional development (PD) that a large, metropolitan district planned for its secondary literacy teachers around the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Much of the district PD emphasized a general rationale for the CCSS as a means of improving college readiness, but it sometimes referred to the CCSS as necessitating treating students the same way. For example, a goal of PD session on text complexity was for participants to “understand the importance of providing access to all learners, regardless of ability, to complex texts and rich instruction aligned to them.” Later, the presentation specifically referred to English learners as a group that “districts must take steps to ensure…are exposed to and taught complex texts.” Another prominent idea in PD was that text-dependent questions are more equitable to ask students because they do not draw on varying degrees of background knowledge that students may have on a topic.

Both ideas—using text-dependent questions and complex text with “all learners”—are similar to the conception of “equality” in the image described, providing the same amount of a resource to different groups of students, especially students who may not have typically received that resource.

Similar to the critiques of the equality vs. equity graphic, this definition of the CCSS as improving students’ educational experiences has many limitations. First, are complex text and text-dependent questions a resource, as we might normally consider school funding or a skilled teacher? Second, should we expect greater similarity in outcomes if the primary message in these materials is simply equal treatment, rather than providing additional resources to those who have had fewer resources in the past? Further, neither of these more limited forms of equity directly address the racialized structures and systems of oppression creating differing opportunities in access to every major societal institution in the first place.

Thinking about our current context, certain aspects of “equality,” in the sense of providing the same amount of a resource to all students, seem like the bare minimum, such as making sure that every student has a device and internet access to make learning possible. Other aspects of equity (providing more resources to those who need it) seem important: more funding to schools with greater needs or facilities upgrades prioritizing older school buildings.

The new Biden administration’s approach to reopening schools focuses on providing more financial resources, which should be distributed to provide more money to districts with greater needs. Resource distribution reflects values and priorities, but the critiques of the equality vs. equity image apply here as well. White people in particular need to be careful that we are not making assumptions about the needs and resources within particular communities, or making decisions based on deficit-based views. Further, interlocking systems of oppression reinforce each other, shaping how students and teachers interact with each other in schools and how resources are allocated—making the “fence” between the children and the ballgame higher and stronger, rather than breaking it down. Resource allocation does not solve the problem of the fence, but it is the primary policy tool the federal government has to offer to state and local levels. If this is the case, how else might we remove the fence or make it shorter?

“Goldilocks Zone” of Learning Is Neuro-logical

Today’s blogger is Judy Willis, MD, coauthor (with Jay McTighe) of the book Upgrade Your Teaching: Understanding by Design Meets Neuroscience (ASCD, 2019) and author of the article “Stepping Up Social–Emotional Learning to Reignite All Brains,” which appears in the January 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of March.

You likely know the Goldilocks “just right” experience from the fairytale. Or perhaps you’ve heard Goldilocks used as an adjective to describe the potentially “just right” for human habitation—planets that are not too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, and are blessed with oxygen levels adequate for humans to survive.

Although I grasped the fairytale and use of the term in reference to planets, the Goldilocks concept opened possibilities for me while watching the captain in a science fiction show search for such a Goldilocks planet for the survival of her crew. As Goldilocks hunted for the right bowl of porridge and the spaceship engineer pursued the well-suited planet, I was looking for the “just right” zone to best support my learners.

Prior to that insightful day, I had changed careers from practicing neurologist to classroom teacher with a specific goal in mind: I hoped to apply my neuroscience background and study of ongoing research to develop teaching strategies promoting more joyful and successful learning. Notably, I found that substantial challenges for my students emerged from stress. For students who already had mastery, the boredom of the unchallenging lessons and homework were stressors. So was the stress of frustration for students who found no personal relevance in the topics or who progressed more slowly, encumbered by inadequate foundational knowledge.

I know that sustained or frequent boredom or frustration impacts communication circuits within the brain. And these stressors reduce effective transfer of new learning into memory. They reduce the effective top-down messaging descending from the reflective executive functions in the upper brain that are needed to manage emotional reactions. Without the input of these emotional self-control neural networks, the lower brain takes control. It relies on more primitive reactions, such as fight/flight/freeze, exemplified as zoning out, acting out, and withdrawing.

Tapping Into the Dopamine Reward System

As I watched that science fiction show, I clicked into the way the concept of the Goldilocks Zone could put my thoughts into words and action. It was just what I was seeking: to provide students with the neuro-logical benefits of learning zones that were “just right.”

I could tap into their brains’ natural dopamine reward systems, lowering the barriers and not the bar, by offering multiple pathways to success. These would provide a variety of ways to progress to mastery so that learners could work in their own Goldilocks Zones. This system mirrors the way the brain is prompted to sustain motivated effort and retain memory in response to an increased release of dopamine, which enhances pleasure and satisfaction. This dopamine reward system is awakened by cognitive awareness of achieving challenges.

Dopamine, when released in higher amounts in the brain, especially in response to achieving challenges, promotes pleasure, increased attention, motivation, effort, and memory. Other strong dopamine release stimulators include humor, choice, music, optimism, kindness, and gratitude. However, awareness of achieving goals and challenges markedly boosts the dopamine response.

Individualizing Achievable Challenges

To provide learners with achievable challenges, I continued to reinforce my positive expectation that all my students could achieve their goals. At the start of units, I clearly defined the learning goals along with the variety of ways students could achieve mastery and demonstrate their understanding. When possible, I incorporated my students’ interests into learning pathways that were especially motivating to them. My concept of individualizing achievable challenges now had a name, “The Goldilocks Zone.”

To provide this variety of pathways, I used strategies such as:

  • Pre-assessments and ongoing formative assessments and feedback;
  • Flexible groups;
  • Scaffolding and enrichment;
  • Workstations with two or more levels of challenge; and
  • Digital texts, Udio, and Newsela (5 reading levels on same topic).

Recognizing Progress

Once my learners found their Goldilocks Zones for achieving challenges en route to mastery, they needed to recognize and embrace their progress toward their goals. These experiences activated their brains’ release of dopamine and its associated benefits. As they received feedback (from me and later from independent progress awareness), their recognition of incremental goal progress and its dopamine activation were evident in their approach to learning. They were not as frustrated by mistakes and were less susceptible to respond to feedback as criticism. They persevered through more demanding learning tasks, displayed greater responsiveness to making needed revisions, sought the help they needed to continue success, and even took on greater challenges.

Not Always a Fairytale

My goal of Goldilocks Zone pathways, for every individual student in each unit, was not achieved with a magic wand or warm porridge. Particularly frustrating was the time it took to provide this individualized instruction even for a few learners in some units. In response, I applied the achievable challenge practices I used with my students to myself. I found that giving myself “achievable” tasks, en route to my goals for learners, was critical. I learned that I needed to take time and plan for how I would recognize and appreciate my own progress (even in small ways). Seeing a happy and proud student was a dopamine boost to me and an impetus to continue my endeavors.

I hope that you will take the extra time to help students on their Goldilocks path to joyful and successful learning through their low stress, high-engagement, achievable challenge pathways. Starting with even one student or one unit at a time, plan for self-recognition check-ins to sustain your motivation, and dopamine, and to persevere with these efforts so needed by our students.

A Mural That Matters

By Sara Barsaloux

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I had to move classrooms mid-year to accommodate all my students. A temporary wall had to be put up to separate my new classroom and the library. Since the wall is temporary, we could paint it!

Due to the political climate in our country, this year I wanted to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day more meaningful for students. That is why I created our Mural Project. Before beginning the project, we learned about what Martin Luther King Jr. did for our country and talked about the similarities between Dr. King’s movement and the Black Lives Matter movement. We discussed how far we need to go as a country to live out Dr. King’s dream and how we can all be activists. We learned about what it is like to go to a march and even made our own picket signs about issues we are passionate about to share with the class.

Our final project included each student painting their own section of the mural. We started the project by having students brainstorm what each of their dreams were. Then the students sketched out their mural. After this, the students created a presentation about their dreams and their mural. Finally, each student got a chance to paint their mural onto our temporary wall.

The mural provides the students a daily reminder of what they are working towards. The students love showing it off to other students and staff. This project also helped students to develop a stronger understanding of what they want to achieve as well as how they can support their peers in our classroom.

Sara Barsaloux teaches fifth grade in Glendale Heights, Illinois.

The “Othered” Experiences of Minoritized Students in Three Countries

Today’s blogger is Dr. Christopher J. Cormier (Stanford University), who was the lead author on the article “Black Teachers’ Affirmations on the Social–Emotional and Mental-Health Needs of Learners: A Transnational Examination” (co-authored by Drs. Mildred Boveda, Funké Aladejebi, and Alice Gathoni), which appears in the January 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of February.

The “othered” experiences of Black students in schools extend beyond the United States. A common misconception is that the racialized experiences these students face is a phenomenon experienced only by Black Americans, and not only in schools but also in the ethos of the societies in which they reside. However, although challenges Black students face in schools can, and often do, vary depending on the cultural context, the reality is the same. That is, these students face systemic barriers to their academic achievement, which often stifle their ability to be fully functioning members of our classes and schools. Thus, given that students spend most of their waking hours in school, the challenges they face in school can, and will, bleed over into their home lives and interactions with other members of society.

For the article that appears in the January 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record, I was fortunate to work with three colleagues who are also friends and great collaborators on this topic. Each brings experience as a teacher and researcher to the piece. In this transnational narrative (avoiding a U.S.-centric approach), readers will notice that Black teachers often are expected to “fix” the issues of the students who share their racial or ethnic identity; however, we suggest strategies that all teachers can use for all students, regardless of whether they share the same backgrounds.

We believe that one major challenge in schools is that certain teachers are expected to “deal” with certain students because of a shared lineage. What I, even as a co-author, found fascinating is how that manifested differently in different countries—particularly in Kenya. During a late-night Zoom call with my colleague in Kenya, I was fascinated by all the things she related about the challenges Black students face in Kenya. A major takeaway for practitioners is that shared racial or ethnic identity does not necessarily equate to shared experiences, values, or even respect.

Co-author Dr. Alice Gathoni eloquently describes how being Black in Kenya has many layers. A major challenge in Kenya is being considered a minority if you are not a part of the dominant tribe in the region. Furthermore, the same hostile treatment that students wrestle with as “outsiders within” if they are not members of the dominant tribe is mirrored in Canadian and U.S. schools. By exploring Kenyan schools, we hope that practitioners, including school leadership, recognize that just having a Black teacher for Black students does not solve issues of inequity or address the social–emotional and mental-health needs of these students.

We focus on three dominant practices as we describe the nature of the ways in which Black teachers use their shared racial identity to support Black students’ social–emotional needs in each country represented in our article. We believe these are useful to practitioners as well as the scholarly community, especially to support the unique needs of students. The practices include (a) consider insider–outsider knowledges and within-group differences, (b) nurture individualized care and cultural sensitivity, and (c) understand the value of school–community relationships.

These strategies are often used by Black teachers, but do not require a Black teacher to use them to be effective for supporting the needs of not only Black students, but all students in schools. We are hopeful this piece will open dialogue about how all teachers—not just Black teachers—can support all students and, beyond the dialogue, lead to systemic change. We suggest using our article in professional development meetings and ongoing conversations regarding everyone’s responsibility to support students and not to rely on one group because that group mirrors its students’ cultural or gendered makeup.

Go Visual With a Graphic Novel, Comic Book, or Zine!

Today’s blogger is Adam I. Attwood (Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee), whose article “Comic Books and Graphic Novels for the Differentiated Humanities Classroom” appears in the October 2020 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of December.

Incorporating comic books and graphic novels into collaborative English language arts and social studies education offers an additional strategy for bringing complex stories to students and for developing higher-level thinking skills. Teaching core literacy skills in middle and high school often draws on time-tested strategies such as rote memorization, sentence diagramming, or row-by-row read-aloud. Though these strategies can work as part of a balanced, scaffolded curriculum, Jill Gerber and I explain in our article in the Kappa Delta Pi Record that incorporating an increasingly good catalog of graphic literature offers additional opportunities for differentiated instruction using more interactive media to engage and encourage students.

Reading graphic novels or comic books requires students to do multiple literacy activities at once. It makes their brains work more.

For example, looking at integrated illustrations while reading a story takes sight words to another level of “sight ideas.” In middle school, this is a logical progression from elementary sight-word instruction.

Similarly, by integrating social studies and English language arts instruction based in graphic literature, teachers promote connections in contextual understanding of concepts. The stories in comic books and graphic novels create more immersive opportunities to design activities that encourage simultaneously interacting with history, literature, and art so that students make connections between past and present as both a personal dialogue and as a community conversation.

In an easily replicated example of this strategy, Gerber, who hosts a blog about graphic literature at Perceptive Gaze, intentionally applies this literacy strategy by having her students write and self-publish “zines.” Like miniature magazines, zines are small booklets that emphasize comic book–like structure. This activity creates a product-based assessment in which students are required to simultaneously demonstrate their learning across subject areas.

Gerber’s approach involves a multistep process for students to design and present their zines.

  1. Research, organization, and resources. Students research their topics of interest in their assigned subject and use a simple, six-statement template to organize their thoughts for approaching this project. The teacher offers resources for overcoming the challenges of pairing art with concepts and words.
  2. Storyboard and script. Students plan and outline their story on index cards, including how they want to illustrate the concepts.
  3. Production. The teacher can demonstrate how to lay out the students’ plans on paper, advise students on which paper size would best present their stories, and assist them with the “manufacturing” of their zine. Students ultimately do all the work of writing, drawing, folding, and cutting, including making decisions on how to letter the text so that it works with the art in the context of the story.
  4. Editing station. Students practice the complexity of editing in a step-by-step process. At first, the teacher models this process; but, with practice, students edit more and more of their own work and engage in peer editing to practice constructive feedback.
  5. Presentation. In this final step, students present and explain their work. Discussion can be organized in small groups or whole-group seminars.

With practice, students internalize these skills and grow their creative output. Technical artistic skills are less important than form and format. The teacher functions as a guide for students to help them get more comfortable with the concepts and mechanical aspects of the illustrated storyboard development process. Gerber summarizes one such project on her blog and offers some additional advice with examples.

That one sample project focuses on a single activity in a social studies classroom that can be adapted for a personal narrative in a language arts curriculum or extended for other subjects. The rewards from integrating graphic literature into your instructional strategies can be even more pronounced when the approach is used to combine complex concepts in social studies with language arts literary analysis.

This type of project may take extra coordination, but its benefits for a wide range of students can be substantial by increasing their motivation and interest across topics and skills.

8 Tips for a Successful Transition to the Home Teacher Zone

Dr. Tina L. Callaway is the Program Chair of Undergraduate Business and General Education studies as well as the Resource Coordinator at New England College of Business at Cambridge College. She is most recently affiliated with Concordia University – Portland’s Kappa Delta Pi chapter, which has sadly closed its doors after 115 years as an institution.

COVID-19 has unexpectedly opened the door to online education, sending our faces across the web thanks to programs like Zoom. Video conferencing has given our students a view into our lives outside the classroom. As teachers learn how to juggle working from home, teaching a virtual classroom, and reminding the family you’re at work, here are a few pointers from my 17 years of online teaching.

  1. Dress for success (from the waist up). Ladies, that really cute skirt or leggings looks great with a solid cotton t-shirt when you’re in front of a live class. In front of the camera, students see a plain old t-shirt. Get dressed in a shirt with a collar or at least be sure to doll up your t-shirt with a nice necklace or scarf. Male teachers, always wear a collared shirt, whether a button-up or polo. (I was in a pinch once to attend an evening Zoom meeting and had already changed into my fortunately nice pajamas. I threw on a strand of pearls, put on dangle earrings, and finished with a swipe of lipstick. Worked one time; doubtful it would work again. Do not try this at home!)
  2. Put on shoes. Why not just my fuzzy pink slippers? There’s a psychological switch when you put on shoes. Shoes indicate going somewhere and doing something other than sitting on the couch watching Netflix and eating bonbons. The simple act of putting them on will give you an “it’s time to work” mindset. Socks get you bonus points.
  3. You have now entered the Teacher Zone. If possible, dedicate a space or set up a boundary where your family knows that, once you’re there, you are in the Teacher Zone: Do not disturb. There are two benefits to having a dedicated space, whether it’s a desk in a corner or the luxury of your own home office. The first is that this, like shoes, puts you in a work mindset. This is your time for your students, not grabbing snacks for the kiddos, taking Poopsie puppy for a walk, or finding your spouse’s keys. Some people use masking tape on the floor for a boundary. Remember using tape to divide your bedroom with your sibling? The second is, this is your safe place to work and not feel guilty for not giving snacks, walks, or finding keys. You are at work.
  4. What is that?! Have you stopped to look at what’s behind you when you’re on-camera? For those fortunate enough to own a green screen and then apply a background, great. The rest of us are not so well equipped and have to rely on what’s in our home. Turn on your camera and really look at what students can see. I’ve seen a dresser mirror positioned so the unmade bed was visible. Dirty dishes and cluttered counters are distracting. Does your camera pick up the bathroom? Shut the door. Make sure your background is as clean and neat as your classroom at school.
  5. The disappearing head. If you use graphic backgrounds without a green screen, unless you’re able to stay perfectly motionless, parts of your head will disappear as you move, such as an ear or the left quarter of your brain. These backgrounds can be fun, but they’re more of a distraction as students watch to see what’ll vaporize next.
  6. Check me out! Do a test run on camera. Most programs will let you record, so do a quick session and see what your students will see. Do you wear glasses? Are you shooting laser eyes at your students? Do you have a flattop haircut or is your camera too low, cutting off the top of your head? Check your makeup, ladies: too bold makes you look clownish, not enough makes you look washed-out.
  7. Look deep into my eyes…. It’s natural to talk to the screen image of the student, but when you do this, you are not making eye contact with them. Looking into the camera (with the occasional glance to see if they are engaged) will show you are speaking directly to them. Think about watching the news. When they look into the camera, it’s like they’re talking to you. It provides that sense of connection.
  8. Who’s that girl? By now we’ve all seen the funny clips of reporters having their small children bursting into their home office. In your online classroom, these visits are distracting. Make sure your family respects your camera time. Your son may be cute in his Batman undies with his He-Man sword. Your spouse may think he can casually stroll behind you with only his shoulders and knees visible. The pets you love should also be kept away from the camera. Online time means work time. (True story: I was on-camera with a student and his teenage brother came sauntering through in only his whitey-tighties.)

I hope these tips made you smile but also made you think about what you can do to be successful as you navigate the new waters of teaching remotely.

Resources for further information:

4 Tips for Teachers Shifting to Teaching Online
https://www.edutopia.org/article/4-tips-supporting-learning-home

7 Tips on How to Prepare for Teaching Online
https://elearningindustry.com/7-tips-prepare-for-teaching-online

Zoom Tips for Teachers: Learn and Grow Together Online
(Don’t miss 10 tips for running a virtual lesson on Zoom – halfway through the article)
https://techboomers.com/zoom-tips-for-teachers-education

That Uncomfortable Topic of Social Justice

Today’s blogger is Katherine E. L. Norris (West Chester University), whose article “Using the Read-Aloud and Picture Books for Social Justice” appears in the October 2020 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of November.

Over the last six months, issues of race have been in the spotlight. Turning on the television inevitably leads to hearing stories about racial injustices and civil rights protests. In fact, over the last few years, stories of racial tension, immigration, and LGBTQ concerns have received extra media attention as we grapple with policies and practices that impact our diverse population. And children are not immune to the daily news stories and social media posts.

In many classrooms, common practice when it comes to diversity and justice has been avoidance.

With diversity, equity, and inclusion thrust into the spotlight because of the obvious inequities made more visible by the pandemic, racial injustices, and worldwide protests, educators have a renewed opportunity to begin to support students as they attempt to navigate these new realities.

Some teachers aren’t sure how to begin the conversations and how to handle sometimes uncomfortable topics of justice and fairness as they relate to race, immigration, poverty, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. Teachers must start early to introduce students to the ideas of equity and justice, and to begin to give students the tools they need to work together to appreciate and value one another both inside and outside of the classroom.

Most school days are packed with content, and teachers often struggle to cover all the required curricula, so the thought of adding something else into the school day may seem overwhelming. Many teachers already use storytime or the read-aloud in their daily schedules. Why not take this opportunity to incorporate picture books that support teaching social justice and equity in the classroom?

Picture books are a great way to cover diverse concepts and experiences in a way that young children can understand. The use of picture books during the read-aloud allows teachers to introduce topics to students and guide them as they attempt to understand the importance of equity and justice.

By using the read-aloud and picture books to teach social justice, teachers can guide their students’ understanding through questioning and clarification.

The read-aloud gives students a chance to appreciate and understand cultures and lifestyles that differ from their own. Cultural appreciation and understanding serve as a place to start in breaking down barriers and eliminating stereotypes for both teachers and their students. For teachers who feel too overwhelmed to handle diverse topics, the use of the high-quality picture books during the read-aloud time is one way to begin to navigate conversations with students in a nonthreatening way.