For those of you who don’t know, the school I have been teaching at for the last three years is being reformed (posts on that here). I was asked to stay on as the computer lab teacher (the same position that I’ve had the last three years) by the new site administrator. So I am now part of a school reform movement that is being under-taken by my school and within the district among the lowest performing schools. I thought it might be illuminating to share some of what is going on, since it’s rare to hear about this process unless you’re a participant. Obviously, this will not be a “tell all”, but more a sharing of the general blue-print about what is going on.
No reform is complete without consultants, and trainings. I spent three weeks straight being trained. On the positive side, almost all of them were excellent, and of a much higher quality than I’ve experienced in the past. The only negative, that was a pretty large hunk of learning to digest. There is follow-up scheduled throughout the year (another positive).
Here is a precis of some of programs underway….
First up, Data Wise comes out of Richard Elmore’s work at Harvard University School of Education. The idea is that the staff works together collaboratively to analyze data and instruction, and make appropriate changes. It’s very similar to the PLC work that Bill Ferriter discusses on his Tempered Radical blog. I think this program holds a lot of potential, but it’s one of those things that is only as good as what your staff puts into the process. There seems to be good buy-in from my site staff, but I could see an effort like this coming up short elsewhere if a whole site was not behind the effort. For me, this is the exciting and scary part because it gives us responsibility, which means we’re responsible.
The trainings on Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning were like the anti-thesis of Ruby Payne. It was also like a trip down memory lane for me, because my teacher preparation at San Francisco State University was under-girded by a lot of what was then referred to as culturally diverse approaches. The program is based on two big ideas, that students are under-served by society and public education will do better if teacher has a positive, rather negative approach to their home culture. They also believe in teaching students explicit and systematic strategies of “code-switching” from their home language or vernacular (I prefer the term AAVE or African American Vernacular English myself) to standard and academic English. Their model is based on a program that started in Sweden to teach students who came from families using regional dialects (who on the whole did worse in school) standard Swedish. Having started my career in Oakland, CA (the “home” of Ebonics), I know, that this is a political football, but I also know from that experience that this approach has support from people who know what they are talking about, like linguist, so to put it bluntly, I’m down with this program and it’s consistent with my existing belief system.
Our reform program, interestingly enough, will be centered on student writing. Why is that interesting? Well, it’s not currently a tested subject. It used to be tested in fourth grade, but with budget cuts, they eliminated the test because it’s more expensive to grade than multiple-choice. The thinking behind using writing to improve student’s overall academics is that if the kids become better, more fluent, and happier writers, they will be better readers, etc. We’re using a program that the district has already been using for the last two years or so called Write Tools for expository writing. That training is now a little fuzzy in my mind (it was one of the earlier trainings), so I’m not going to say as much about it, except that I will be trying to “dovetail” the writing I assign students on blogs with the program.
School starts up after Labor Day on September 7, so wish me and my co-workers luck as we go into the new school year!