The material or the digital?

The idea for this post came to me as I was cooking dinner. There was much less risk in writing the idea on a piece of paper than getting out the laptop, or even my phone, and exposing either to heaven-knows-what from my fingers or on the counter. Also, you don’t need to charge paper and pen.

Book or iBook?

Arts & crafts or Minecraft?

CDs or Spotify?

How many parents are already regretting the new game system/tablet/phone Christmas gift? How many hours have your children stared into the glowing screen, working hard on their dowger’s hump? As my husband and I are trying to think about how to manage time spent with the new Wii, I’m reminded that in a world filled with screens — and still filled with books and paper and pens — both/and is really the answer to all of the questions above.

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Wordless texts

Looking for something fun to do to fill the long hours of winter break? I recommend a family viewing of LEGO City. Seriously.

My husband and I got talked into watching an episode of LEGO City after dinner the other night. While I monitor my sons’ TV watching, I also know they refuse to watch anything in the least bit frightening/violent. We didn’t make it through the storm scene of Ratatouille, or Toy Story, to give you some idea of our threshold. Before LEGO started, both sons were giving an extensive preface about the story. And when it started, they kept talking. You see, there are no words in LEGO City. There’s some tonally appropriate mumbling, but no actual words. It was brilliant. Their narration, talking over one another, punctuated by the baby’s exclamations when a helicopter showed up.

What’s the big deal, you might be asking? Simply, that wordless texts invite children into deep engagement with that text. My sons participated actively in the watching of this TV show, demonstrated an understanding of plot structures, plot twists, character development, and all kinds of other literary devices that show up in state standards. They were also inferencing, another $10 reading teacher word, the whole time. And this happened through TV, of all things.

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Where teachers learn to teach matters

I teach future teachers. I teach them in a traditional undergraduate program, and in a Master in the Art of Teaching program. And if feedback from my former students, and their principals is any indication, I do a pretty good job. Teacher preparation is a bit in the news now because the new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now known as Every Student Succeeds Act, included some language around teacher preparation that has people like me — people who teacher future teachers — worried, angry, and flummoxed. And how teachers become teachers matters to anyone with a connection to schools: public, private, or charter.

State Board of Educator Certification data

I won’t go into the whole history of teaching and teacher education here — it’s a blog post after all. Though I will recommend Teacher Wars by Dana Goldstein. The book is a great over view of how things got the way they are, though I disagree with some of her arguments about recent developments. For a more scholarly read, Schoolteacher, is a classic sociological study of the profession of teaching.

What matters for now, though, is that some of the language in the new law appears to allow for (yes, I’m hedging, but the hedge is about the difference between the spirit and the implementation of the policy) something called teaching academies to prepare teachers. Academies seem to be similar to the various “fast-track” teacher preparation programs like Teach for America or local alternative certification programs. The irony being that the ESSA backed off federal meddling in education at the classroom and test level (sort of), but it meddled more in the teacher preparation side.

What’s the problem with fast-track certification programs? To answer that, consider an analogy, one you may be familiar with: teachers are like doctors. Alternative certification for teaching would be like this: taking an undergrad who couldn’t get into medical school, or a mid-career professional wanting to become a doctor, and saying, “You want to be a doctor? Step right up!” Maybe (and that’s a big maybe) this program is picky about who it admits: applicants had to have a C average in college. But all programs aren’t like this. The program might then train this individual for a year, maybe even letting them see patients in clinical settings  — practicing to be a “real doctor.” Then, after a year of courses and some supervised experiences in the clinic, the program says, “Okay, you’ve done our program, go forth and see patients!” Do you want to go see that doctor? Do you want to send your kid to that doctor? Do you want other people to have to send their kid to that doctor?

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On being researched

Survey noteI research people. Mostly in classrooms and schools, but I’ve also done my fair share of interviews in coffee shops. This research has focused on writing and the teaching of writing and professional development and technology and departments and communities. All of it has required the cooperation of the individuals involved. They agreed to be observed, videotaped, audio recorded, photographed, interviewed, and — eventually — written about for the public. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to do the research that I do. And without people willing to say “yes” to participating, science wouldn’t happen.

At one point it finally occurred to me and a colleague to ask these teachers we were working with, “What’s it like to be researched?” (This ah-ha happened far later in my research process than I’d like to admit, btw.) Though when my colleague and I started looking for other people who had written about this question, (because that’s what doctoral students do, see who has already written about the stuff we’re interested in) we were surprised that there wasn’t a whole lot out there. So we thought, “Hey, we can write about it!” Which also meant, of course, asking our teachers what they experienced. So we wrote, and the article was published by the awesome journal.

Some answers
I say “some answers” because solid research rarely purports to have “all the answers.” For our research, teachers’ broad answer to the question “What’s it like to be researched?” was “Good, if I trust you.”

Some specifics: when participating in research, teachers

    • valued trust, respect, and a philosophical alignment with the researcher,
    • were more reflective during research, both in the midst of teaching and afterwards, and
    • felt they were contributing to important scholarly conversations about teaching and learning.

Important to note is when teachers felt like their teaching philosophy didn’t align with a researcher, they resisted the research. What does that mean? A hypothetical: Say a researcher, Jane, comes into Annabeth’s (one teacher from the article) classroom. Jane didn’t think Annabeth’s students could really do the work. Those expectations will affect the students, as the Pygmalion Effect has repeatedly shown. Annabeth objected to Jane’s deficit view of her students and resisted Jane’s visits and research. While neither of the teachers in this article sabotaged the research — they’re professionals, after all — the quality of the research could likely have been affected. Building relationships matters, trust matters, respect matters. (Um, duh? But I find myself having to say a lot of ‘duh’ stuff right now, so why not this?)

What’s it all mean?
Findings from research like this (not just about bacon) definitely influence my life and the choices that I make. As a researcher, I’ll continue to work hard to build trust with people — teachers, students, anyone — who agrees to participate in my research. As a parent of school-age children, I’ll support my children’s teachers if they participate in research — as long as they feel confident in the research! And, as a voter, I’ll support the research process as practiced by the scholarly community.

A letter to Rep. Lamar Alexander

A letter to Rep. Lamar Alexander:

Dear Representative Smith,

As a scientist and researcher, I’m disappointed that, as chair of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee, you’ve decided to politicize the question of whether or not governmentally-funded organizations can collect and analyze data to the best of their scientific ability. Peer review of research, while an imperfect system, is far superior to legislating science. In fact, as a proponent of smaller government and less regulation, that you’ve taken a position that doesn’t allow the ‘scientific marketplace’ to best determine what counts as high quality science. In addition, there is not “a lot” of disagreement about the basic idea that the climate is warming and humans are the cause. The scientists who disagree fully are generally not within the mainstream and those who disagree on any particular metric are working toward better understandings of the science, but not disagreeing with the basic idea behind climate change.

I’m also a parent. And I’m scared about the world we’re going to leave our children. One of pollution, extinction, scarce and polluted water, few green spaces, disappearing coastal cities… Taxing carbon, moving to a renewable energy economy, and eliminating subsidies for coal and oil are essential to the nation’s economic and societal well-being.

Thank you for your service to our nation and I hope you’re willing to push against the political winds and chart a path to move our nation in a direction that ensure prosperity in the future.

Sincerely, Dr. David

Note: Nope, not about literacy or anything, but research matters and I’ll stand up for climate scientists in the hopes that they’ll stand up for me. Rep. Smith is actually my representative, so there’s a better chance someone in his staff will actually read what I wrote. And I know there are lots of mixed metaphors in that last paragraph, but it’s politi-speak, right?