Learning in the Sandbox: Early Childhood at its Best

When my son Michael was little, he attended Playhouse, a progressive cooperative preschool.

There he was the most engaged when he was able to create an activity on his own.

One spring day, Michael brought a small plastic white leopard to school. During outdoor playground time, he developed a game where over and over again he would bury the leopard and then find it and dig it up. On his third round of “bury and excavate,” the leopard seemed to disappear. Michael grew more and more frustrated, especially when it was announced that it was time to go back into the classroom.

Authentic learning is messy, and it may involve expanded time for play, investigation, and reflection.

Rather than dismiss his concern, the teachers sat down with Michael and tried to understand his feelings and come up with a potential solution. Instead of digging around randomly in the sandbox, they asked him to think about what an archaeologist might do in this case. They shared that archaeologists often excavate to find things and that perhaps they could use a grid method to make the process easier. They turned a very difficult situation into a teachable moment, and they helped Michael to redirect his focus away from being frustrated to concentrating on making a grid out of the sandbox. The process was tedious, but the reward was enormous. Michael appreciated that his concerns were taken seriously and that the teachers were listening to him. It didn’t hurt that he found the leopard, too!

In early childhood classrooms, learning looks different than it does in elementary schools. The teachers understand that child-centered curriculum and instruction require an atmosphere where adults and children need to know one another well and develop trust.

An emergent curriculum reflects the values of caring and social change, encourages children to think critically about the world in which they live, and talk back to it. Teachers strive to create a classroom community that is a safe space where students not only can show support for one another, but also question and disrupt the norms of society and imagine a community that accepts others. This is a space where all children and teachers are valued and can speak freely, listen actively, dream, invent, and imagine.

Teachers understand that no two children are alike and therefore are open to the idea that the ways they approach a problem will differ. When students’ curiosity becomes the driving force of the curriculum, then the role of the teacher becomes one of coach, who provides materials, asks provocative questions, and encourages children to make decisions about their own learning.

Authentic learning is messy, and it may involve expanded time for play, investigation, and reflection. Ultimately, in a child-centered classroom, anything and everything has the potential to be explored.

Although we are aware of the importance and value of constructivist early childhood classrooms for all children, as Gallo-Fox and Cuccuini-Harmon point out in their article “The Non-Tested Years: Policy’s Impact on Early Childhood Curriculum,” standards and accountability policies continue to create tensions between early childhood and elementary curriculum, imposing teacher-directive approaches that focus on academic and test preparation, and significantly impact the voice and role of early childhood educators.

With an increased focus on academics, this shift has also increased the number of children at risk for failure due to poverty, race, or disability because their classroom behaviors do not align with school expectations. Gallo-Fox and Cuccuini-Harmon provide an insightful window into the constraints of policy on early childhood instruction and also the possibility of supporting rich learning environments that foster the success of all young learners.


Dr. Monica Taylor

Today’s blogger is Monica Taylor, a Professor at Montclair State University, Academic Editor of The Educational Forum, and author of Playhouse: Optimistic Stories of Real Hope for Families With Little Children (Garn Press, 2017). She comments on the recently published article “The Non-Tested Years: Policy’s Impact on Early Childhood Curriculum,” which appears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through December 31, 2018.

 

Workplace Bullying in Schools: Teachers Speak Out

Today’s blogger is Amy Orange, an Assistant Professor at University of Houston–Clear Lake, whose recently published article Workplace Bullying in Schools: Teachers’ Perceptions of Why They Were Mistreatedappears in the latest issue of The Educational Forum. In that article, she shares her research on teachers who have suffered mistreatment.

As educators, we are familiar with student bullying in schools and various ways to address the problem.

What isn’t publicly discussed as much is workplace bullying in schools. Yet workplace bullying in educational settings is more prevalent than in other environments (Fahie & Devine, 2014), with the exception of nursing (Berry, Gillespie, Fisher, & Gormley, 2016).

When I looked at the reasons why teachers felt bullied by their administrators, few patterns emerged that showed a single clear factor that led to teachers being targeted. Some felt it was because of their age and others felt that their own behaviors, such as being outspoken or questioning their principals, may have led to the mistreatment.

Others felt that their administrators were jealous of them, either personally or professionally. Some teachers perceived that it was simply about power and that their administrators needed to exert power over them for unknown reasons. Ultimately, most of them will never know why an administrator targeted them, but the perceptions they shared with me are their realities (see my piece in this issue of The Educational Forum).

Interestingly, when discussing my research with colleagues or at conferences, I’ve had some ask whether the teachers who felt bullied were “bad” teachers, as if that somehow excuses the administrators’ behaviors.

Others have asked how I know whether the teachers I spoke with were really bullied without talking to administrators too, as if the teachers’ perceptions of what happened to them were not valid without the administrators’ discussing their perspectives. If people feel bullied, it is real to them and they will react accordingly; it has consequences for their performance at work, their desire to stay in the profession, and their mental health.

Even if it is a misunderstanding or misperception, it should be dealt with so that both the teacher and administrator reach an agreement about how to positively work together and treat each other with professional courtesy.

Prior research found a connection between low autonomy and the likelihood of being bullied in the workplace (Baillien, De Cuyper, & De Witte, 2011; Bowling & Beere, 2006). Therefore, one potential approach to managing this crisis is to increase the amount of autonomy teachers have in the workplace; hopefully this could contribute to decreases in workplace bullying in schools. Another approach may be to change the culture of the workplace. Changing workplace cultures that condone bullying, rather than refusing to deal with the problem, is not easy; but everyone deserves to work in an environment that is not harmful.

There are no simple solutions to this problem. One of the major issues with addressing workplace bullying is that we can’t create policies to make people treat others decently—kindness can’t be legislated. But we need to hold adults in schools to the same standards we do students and create the expectation of treating people with respect.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from the current issue of The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through October 31, 2018.

Asking the Question: What Is the Purpose of Public Education in a Democracy?

Today’s blogger is Aaron Samuel Zimmerman, an Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education at Texas Tech University, whose recently published article Democratic Teacher Education: Preserving Public Education as a Public Good in an Era of Neoliberalismappears in the special issue of The Educational Forum on educator activism in politically polarized times. In that article, he argues that teacher educators play an essential role in preserving public education as a public good.

In your opinion, what is the purpose of public education?

  • To prepare students with the skills they need for the workforce?
  • To provide students with credentials that will facilitate their social mobility?
  • To cultivate the virtues that students need in order to participate as active citizens within a democracy?

Americans tend to hold multiple (and sometimes conflicting) priorities when it comes to public education (Labaree, 2011). We tend to believe that public schools can prepare students for democratic participation while simultaneously preparing students with the knowledge, skills, and credentials they need to advance in a capitalist economy. When we examine the current state of public schools in our country, however, we disturbingly find that schools tend to function almost exclusively as private businesses catering to consumers rather than as public institutions committed to preserving the public good (Ravitch, 2014).

I understand this to be just one more symptom of neoliberalism, the political and economic ideology that places a premium on privatization and self-interest. At this point, the influence of neoliberalism in our country is so prevalent that we are hardly even aware that it consistently shapes our values and decision-making (Giroux, 2008). One need look no farther than Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos—and, before her, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan—to see the way in which neoliberal values have crept into public education. Parents are treated as customers, schools are positioned as businesses producing a product, and students are taught how to become diligent workers (and faithful consumers) in a capitalist economy.

Sadly, teacher education tends to perpetuate neoliberal ideology. Most teacher education programs (both university-based programs as well as alternative routes to teacher certification) focus on helping teacher candidates learn how to raise student test scores (Kumashiro, 2010). Indeed, teacher quality is often measured by standardized test scores (Harris & Sass, 2011); but, unless teacher educators actively challenge this paradigm, early-career teachers will enter the profession assuming that high scores on standardized tests represent the ultimate goal of public education.

Of course, this is not to say that we should never measure student achievement or teacher quality through standardized tests. Public education in our nation, however, is in danger of being completely overtaken by this neoliberal logic. Teachers in public schools do more than help students achieve a credential; public school teachers also play a formative role in sustaining democracy by cultivating the virtuous dispositions required for democratic participation (dispositions such as open-mindedness, honesty, imagination, and generosity; see Huber-Warring & Warring, 2006). Our country’s democracy will suffer if teachers and teacher educators do not actively defend public education’s democratic purpose. We need to remind ourselves that public education can do so much more than provide students with degrees, grades, and GPAs. Public education has the potential—and, perhaps, the responsibility—to nurture democratic citizens.

Therefore, I would like to ask teachers and teacher educators the following questions:

  • What do you believe is the purpose of public education?
  • Do you actively pose this question to the aspiring teachers whom you mentor?
  • Do you pose this question to the members in the communities whom you serve?
  • What are ways that we can collectively invite teachers, students, and, indeed, all citizens to reimagine the role that public education can play in our democracy?

I titled this blog entry “Asking the Question” because, indeed, asking the question is half the battle. If we do not actively ask ourselves questions about the purpose of public education, other people will answer the questions for us . . . and those answers are likely to be justified only by a profit margin.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share an essay from the special issue of The Educational Forum with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through August 31, 2018.

References
Giroux, H. A. (2008). Against the terror of neoliberalism: Politics beyond the age of greed. New York, NY: Paradigm.
Harris, D. N., & Sass, T. R. (2011). Teacher training, teacher quality and student achievement. Journal of Public Economics, 95(7–8), 798–812.
Huber-Warring, T., & Warring, D. F. (2006). Are you teaching for democracy? Developing dispositions, promoting democratic practice, and embracing social justice and diversity. Action in Teacher Education, 28(2), 38–52.
Kumashiro, K. K. (2010). Seeing the bigger picture: Troubling movements to end teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(1–2), 56–65.
Labaree, D. F. (2011). Consuming the public school. Educational Theory, 61(4), 381–394.
Ravitch, D. (2014). Reign of error: The hoax of the privatization movement and the danger to America’s public schools. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

 

Getting Political About Teacher Preparation for Multilingual Learners

Today’s blogger is Kathryn Strom, California State University, whose essay (co-authored with Tamara Lucas, Meghan Bratkovich, and Jennifer Wnuk) on professional development opportunities on ELL for inservice teachers appears in The Educational Forum.

Recently, I attended a superintendent “Listening Forum” with executive leaders serving districts in the East Bay of San Francisco.

One superintendent, who headed a district with a large migrant worker population, described observing a downward trend in attendance across her district among specific groups. Latino students and, in smaller numbers, other groups of immigrant populations, were not coming to school.

When she and her team spoke to principals, teachers, and parents to find out what was happening, they were told that undocumented families were avoiding their public schools due to fears of U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests, which had risen in 2017. In response to this story, several other superintendents shared that they were grappling with racially charged speech and acts toward the same groups of students. While these types of incidents had occurred in the past in their districts, the superintendents collectively agreed that since the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States, they had skyrocketed.

These stories reflect a national trend. In the month after the 2016 election, the Southern Poverty Law Center (2016) conducted a survey of more than 10,000 teachers. More than 90% reported a negative impact on their school climate, and 80% said their historically underserved students exhibited heightened anxiety.

While we might like to pretend that education is solely about the enterprise of learning and is unaffected by what is happening outside the classroom, stories like these demonstrate that it is not. Our educational systems, curricula, and classroom pedagogies are not somehow separate from the rest of the world, nor are they neutral. They are shaped by multiple external factors, including historical conditions, policy makers with specific political agendas, and current societal trends. Schooling and teaching are profoundly political, and perhaps nowhere is that more visible than in the education of multilingual learners, also known as “emergent bilinguals” or “English language learners” (ELLs).

As Lucas and Villegas (2011) detailed in their Linguistically Responsive Teaching Framework, the teaching of multilingual learners has important historical and sociopolitical dimensions that teachers need to understand to effectively educate these students. For instance, the United States has long valued English over other languages. This has resulted in multilingual students having limited access to dual-language or bilingual programs, and has led several states to mandate that multilingual learners would be taught exclusively in English—policies that contradict a large body of research on quality second-language instruction. Furthermore, teachers of multilingual learners need to understand their own possible biases and how these may translate into low expectations or deficit views of their linguistically diverse students—which, in turn, may influence their instructional decisions and interactions with these students.

Many initial teacher preparation programs in the United States now offer at least some coursework focused on instruction for multilingual learners. However, as shown in the recent review of literature regarding preservice preparation for second-language learner instruction by Villegas, SaizdeLaMora, Martin, and Mills (2018), most programs do not offer sufficient experiences to develop “sociopolitical consciousness,” or understanding of how social and political issues affect the education of multilingual learners. Similarly, in Lucas, Strom, Bratkovich, and Wnuk’s (2018) recent review of professional development opportunities for teachers of multilingual learners, the researchers found little evidence that inservice teachers engaged in learning aimed at increasing their understanding of how the current political context, societal divisions, and their own deep-set beliefs about language and diversity may influence the learning of their multilingual students.

As a country, we are more polarized than perhaps at any other time in recent memory. Already a politically fraught area in education, the instruction of multilingual learners is being further affected by the mainstreaming of xenophobia as part of an ethno-nationalist presidential administration. Across the professional continuum, teacher candidates, beginning teachers, and veteran teachers need learning opportunities not just about quality instructional practices; they also need sustained opportunities that explicitly address how the political climate and potentially their own internalized understandings of language and second-language learners impact their multilingual students.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Kathryn Strom’s essay with the education community. Access the article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through May 31, 2018.

 

References

Lucas, T., Strom, K., Bratkovich, M., & Wnuk, J. (2018). Inservice preparation for mainstream teachers of English language learners: A review of empirical literature. The Educational Forum, 82(2), 156–173.

Lucas, T., & Villegas, A. M. (2011). A framework for preparing linguistically responsive teachers. In T. Lucas (Ed.), Teacher preparation for linguistically diverse classrooms: A resource for teacher educators (pp. 55–72). New York, NY: Routledge.

Southern Poverty Law Center. (2016, November 28). The Trump effect: The impact of the 2016 presidential election on our nation’s schools. Retrieved from https://www.splcenter.org/20161128/trump-effect-impact-2016-presidential-election-our-nations-schools

Villegas, A. M., SaizdeLaMora, K., Martin, A. D., & Mills, T. (2018). Preparing future mainstream teachers to teach English language learners: A review of the empirical literature. The Educational Forum, 82(2), 138–155.

Twice-Exceptional Learners: Reaching Full Potential

Today’s bloggers are Chin-Wen Lee, University of Louisville, and Jennifer A. Ritchotte, University of Northern Colorado, whose essay on twice-exceptional (2e) learners appears in The Educational Forum.

“To believe is to look at the tiniest seed and envision a blossoming flower.” —Anonymous

Schools should provide educational opportunities that help all students reach their full potential.

Too often, a focus on ensuring all students are performing at grade level overshadows the critical need to develop potential in our brightest students. A high-quality education needs to be accessible to all students; equity in education is critical. Failing to fully address the unique learning needs of gifted students implies an inequity in our educational system that is simply indefensible. Unfortunately, this issue is most pervasive for gifted students from underserved populations, such as twice-exceptional (2e) students.

Many parents of 2e students express frustration over receiving little help for their children within the school system. Parents commonly report that their requests for additional services at the school and district levels are denied because their 2e children appear to be performing at grade level. Teachers of 2e students often report this same frustration. Limited access to training and resources limits teachers’ ability to effectively meet their 2e students’ unique learning needs.

Twice-exceptional learners, defined by the National Twice-Exceptional Community of Practice (2e CoP), demonstrate “exceptional ability and disability, which results in a unique set of circumstances.” A unique set of circumstances includes masking of abilities and disabilities. The 2e CoP’s definition highlights that twice-exceptional learners “may perform below, at, or above grade level.” Supporting these learners requires specialized methods of identification, enriched educational opportunities, and simultaneous supports for academic and social-emotional growth.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1, holds promise for providing educational services to twice-exceptional students. The Supreme Court concluded that for students with disabilities, meaningful educational benefits should be made possible through individualized education plans. In other words, providing meaningful educational benefits does not stop when students with both gifts and disabilities demonstrate that they can perform at grade level.

To provide educational services for 2e learners, educators need specialized academic training and ongoing professional learning. There is also a need for recruiting a more diverse, representative sample of professionals to support 2e learners. General and special education teachers, school counselors, school psychologists, and other specialized service professionals should be part of the teamwork.

Of course, there is no single solution that will fix the educational system for learners who are not receiving adequate opportunities for talent development. Keeping an active agenda for advocacy and striving for policy change is critical, especially given that states where the coexistence of giftedness and disabilities is addressed in state law may have better opportunities to improve their practices than states where gifted education is not mandated.

All students deserve opportunities to develop their gifts and talents. This represents a unique challenge for those parenting and teaching 2e learners because of commonly used non-comprehensive approaches to identification, a lack of training on the specialized needs of this student population, and limited access to resources that might improve 2e students’ educational experiences. We contend that the first step to empowering 2e students is to empower ourselves and those around us with the knowledge needed to provide these students with the education they deserve.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Lee and Ritchotte’s essay with the education community. Access their article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through March 31, 2018.

Chin-Wen Lee

Jennifer Ritchotte

Intersectional Thinking as a Tool for Educational Equity

(L-R) Roderick L. Carey, Laura S. Yee, David DeMatthews

Today’s bloggers are Roderick L. Carey, University of Delaware; Laura S. Yee, Georgetown Day School; and David DeMatthews, University of Texas at El Paso, whose essay on intersectionality appears in The Educational Forum.

Anthony is an 11-year-old Black boy in Ms. Johnson’s fifth-grade classroom. Although he’s a contributing classroom citizen, well liked by his peers and eager to excel, Ms. Johnson struggles to sustain his interest in reading. She restructures reading groups, attempts to draw connections between popular television shows and the content of books, and even purchases titles portraying racially diverse children and topics that other Black boys in his class seem to find interesting: cars, machinery, sports. Shunning even books that portray Black boys, Anthony retreats further. “I still don’t see myself in these books!” he exclaims.

Mr. Richardson, the principal at a racially and ethnically diverse U.S. high school, noted that toward the end of the year, more boys than girls enrolled in advanced math and science courses for the following year. To remedy this disparity, he used a grant to create a summer enrichment STEM program geared toward girls. However, very few Latina girls enrolled. Yesenia, an enthusiastic Latina sophomore, declined to enroll in the program because of the overnight travel required. She noted, “I can’t take that time away from my job and family this summer.”

What similarities do Anthony and Yesenia’s school and social experiences reflect? What similar yet unsuccessful thinking did Ms. Johnson and Mr. Richardson use to engage their students?

Perhaps intersectionality, a concept more regularly taken up in women’s studies, political science, and sociology, can provide some insights into these school-based challenges. Intersectionality describes the co-relational forces of how oppressions such as (but not limited to) racism, sexism, and classism interlock and intersect simultaneously within the lives of individuals. Intersectionality has been adapted as a way to understand that forces like race, class, and gender (as well as ethnicity, sexuality, age, and nation of origin) may not stand alone in their impact on individuals’ lives.

Schools are not free from such dynamics; they mirror and perpetuate them. So, intersectionality pushes educators to view the complexity inherent in students’ lives, drawing attention to the sometimes hidden yet critical domains of oppression that overlap in the experiences of students who most often struggle to secure success in schools.

Why didn’t the interventions put in place by Ms. Johnson and Mr. Richardson work for Anthony and Yesenia? Both students are marginalized for multiple facets of their identities.

A closer look reveals that Anthony faced marginalization not only for his race, but also in the way his race intersected with gendered expectations for Black boys. Anthony, a young Black boy from low-income circumstances, was also questioning his gender expression, and so the reading interventions missed the mark by not considering this crucial nuance. Mr. Richardson’s STEM program for girls considered gender but did not take into account intersections of gender with ethnicity, class, and cultural norms. Removing Yesenia from her home, even for supplemental educational, could prove difficult for her recently arrived immigrant family without significant supports in place.

In our article “Power, Penalty, and Critical Praxis: Employing Intersectionality in Educator Practices to Achieve School Equity,” we argue that intersectionality provides educators deeper insights into the lives of their students. Educators or youth service providers implementing interventions to create equity and address disparities caused by societal oppression must utilize intersectional thinking to more precisely meet the needs of their increasingly diverse student populations. Employing intersectional approaches to PreK–12 policy and practice supports the possibility for better shaping and enacting critically refined curriculum and programs. Intersectionality can prove to be a highly effective tool in deconstructing taken-for-granted notions of our students and how best to serve them.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Carey, Yee, and DeMatthews’ essay with the education community. Access their article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through February 28, 2018.

A Framework for School Safety and Risk Management

This year’s holiday season marked the fifth anniversary of the deadly Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Since 2013, there have been at least 272 school shootings in the United States—about one per week, according to Everytown USA, a nonprofit organization that researches and reports on public gun violence. In 2017 alone, there were 64 shootings at schools and universities, with 31 of those resulting in injury or death.

As Everytown USA asks, how many more students will have to die before legislators pass common-sense laws to prevent gun violence and save lives?

Until that question is settled, teachers and administrators are on the front lines of protecting their schools from targeted shootings. In a new article published this month in The Educational Forum, school violence expert Ann Marie C. Lenhardt, professor of counseling and human services at Canisius College, reports on “A Framework for School Safety and Risk Management: Results from a Study of 18 Targeted School Shooters.”  With coauthors Lemuel W. Graham and Melissa L. Farrell, Lenhardt expands on the long-term study they first reported in the Forum in 2010.

According to the authors, although awareness of targeted school violence has increased in the last decade, school-based mental health services and resources with a framework for threat assessment and prevention are still largely absent. The authors’ current paper builds on their previous study of 15 cases of targeted school shooters between 1996 and 2005, which focused exclusively on school culture, peer/social dynamics, and disclosure of intentions. The new paper focuses on 18 premeditated cases (16 incidents) of targeted secondary school shooters between 1996 and 2012, using publicly available resources to look at the contextual root variables.

In their new paper, Lenhardt and her coauthors examined 22 indicators in three areas—individual factors and behaviors, family dynamics, and triggering events—and found that the higher the number of risk factors present, the greater the potential for violent acts.

According to the authors’ data, environmental factors within the family may play a key role in how an adolescent responds to stress. Results showed that 94% percent of the shooters had demonstrated a lack of resiliency or an inability to rebound from an unsatisfactory experience, hindrance, or insult. This lack of inner resolve or self-confidence, coupled with poor coping skills in 83% of the shooters, was the deadliest combination of indicators measured. In addition, 67% of the shooters felt alienated, had been bullied, or had issued a violent threat. Five indicators were present in 61% of cases: signs of depression, lack of empathy, poor anger management, intent to carry out threats, and a history of previous threats or attempted suicide. Most of the shooters (83%) had access to weapons in their homes.

The authors recommend that teachers and principals use the study’s indicators to identify students at risk of violent behavior, and then take these steps to preclude school shootings: enhance mental health services in schools, include threat-assessment services, and promote family engagement in services. Everytown USA points out that in addition to the heartbreaking losses from targeted homicides, affected schools experience a drop in student enrollment and a nearly 5% decline in surviving students’ standardized test scores.

Lenhardt and her coauthors note that all students who receive counseling support services can become more resilient and, as a result, will be more likely to achieve academic and life goals.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Lenhardt, Graham, and Farrell’s research with the education community. Access their article at Taylor and Francis Online, free through January 31, 2018.