Reform me!

August25

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!

4 Comments to

“Reform me!”

  1. August 26th, 2010 at 11:57 am      Reply Mathew Says:

    Quite an interesting read, thanks for bringing us in on the intimate details.

    Assuming you take the same test that we do down south, I would say that writing is tested only in reverse. Students have to revise and proofread by multiple choice in the writing strategies and conventions sections. Those tend to be our weakest scores, probably because many teachers skip teaching writing. I think you’re wise to focus in that area, particularly because if done right, it allows a lot of student choice and expression that can lead to more critical thinkers and happier students. However, you still have to provide the multiple choice/test practice so that the new skills translate to filling in bubbles.

    I look forward to future posts.


  2. August 26th, 2010 at 2:52 pm      Reply alicemercer Says:

    Yes, it’s the writing conventions part that is the hardest on the state test, so you have a point about it helping with that.
    I’m glad that you are finding this interesting.


  3. September 4th, 2010 at 12:55 pm      Reply Bill Ferriter Says:

    Wow, Alice—they ARE asking y’all to learn a ton this year, aren’t they?

    That’s got me scared. You’re right that by giving you responsibility, they’re making you responsible—but don’t forget that Elmore is the same guy who argues that reciprocal accountability demands that the “reformers” give you the tools, time and training to master the new skills they’re expecting of you.

    While you may have the tools and the time, it sure doesn’t look like you’re going to have the time, does it?

    And that’s probably the key factor.

    I wonder if that’ll keep ‘em from shaming y’all if these new efforts don’t produce remarkable results this year?

    Probably not…and that’s what frustrates me!

    Glad you have a job, though….
    Bill


    • September 6th, 2010 at 9:29 am      Reply alicemercer Says:

      Most of it is not new though. The district has already been doing Write Tools, so this is just digging in more deeply. Many of the teachers, new and old, have done Culturally Relevant Teaching and Learning in the past (and even though I haven’t, my basic teacher preparation was grounded in those same principles). Data Wise is the new part, and that’s like an umbrella.
      We will have time, because we’re adding 30 minutes onto our instructional day (bringing it to 6 hours and 30 minutes) and doing weekly 60 minute grade-level meetings to collaborate.
      This is obviously going to be more demanding for the regular classroom teachers, than for me.
      I feel like I left a lot out of this post based on the feedback I’m getting, lol. I really like that point about Elmore. If you have any further words of wisdom about the collaboration process, send them my way.


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All of Ms. Mercer's work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Howdy! I teach sixth grade at an elementary school in Sacramento, CA. I started my career in Oakland, Ca, and moved here to Sacramento in 2001.

My goals are:

  1. To reflect on how I am teaching, and how effective my practices are;
  2. To reflect on my profession, and how effective various practices are;
  3. To understand the political and cultural context that we teach in; and,
  4. To network with other like-minded educators.

To help me reach my goals, I use this blog as a place for me to reflect on best practices, and the practices I’m (trying to) putting in place in my classroom.

I can be contacted here.

Disclaimer

The views expressed here are those of the writer and do not those of Sacramento City Unified School District.