Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Teaching Institute seems to be a hotbed of debate!

The following is a posting that appeared on a student blog. It's interesting that students "get it". Sometimes as educators we forget how effective the covert and enduring lessons we teach our students.

Acknowledge my skittles!!!

I never realized until today, how much some people really dislike our school. Attempting to do a lesson in Teaching Institute today about something very near and dear to my heart (near and dear as in I spend a great - huge - portion of my time thinking about said something...) really drove the point home for me. I had students, smart students, very smart students, arguing that we were at a serious disadvantage because our SAT scores weren't top of the line (not mentioning that we're a small school, so we have less people to include in that average than, say, Cardozo HS or some other school with upwards of four thousand students. But, honestly, people were comparing our school to other schools based on STANDARDIZED TEST SCORES. I just wanted to throw up all over everybody at that one...). The books we read, our teaching practices, and even creative writing were all attacked. The books we read are books I read in seventh grade. So what? The books we read are books that have relevance to the students for where they are in their lives. The books we read are books that can be read at any point in life and still have different, multi-dimensional meaning. And the lessons, writing, and discussions that accompany them are more though provoking and critical-thinking based than my writing a research paper on Hazelnuts (AKA: Filberts) after a two month unit on Shakespeare and Hamlet in the ninth grade.

We teach critical thinking, the application of skills, advocating for oneself and sharing one's opinions eloquently and backed up with facts. We teach our students to write creatively and reflectively, but to include facts, other people's opinions, textual references (all cited, of course!), etc, etc, etc. I have heard many people crying that they can't write a thesis paper. I've never written a thesis paper, I don't know how. Yes you do! All the skills we've learned in the millions and millions of reflections and creative pieces we've done have set us up so well for this! A thesis is an opinion on something (remember all those handouts?! Pick a side?! Take a strong stance?!) that one analyzes, draws out and supports with facts. But it is still essentially on opinion!

I don't know how to study. There are scores of people who want to help you! Teachers and peers are everywhere! Ask for help! There is so much opportunity for extra help if you are having trouble, everyone is so accessible and so willing to help.

We're not prepared for college. Our students are so much more prepared for college, in my opinion, than students from traditional high schools. Our school builds so much self-confidence in students, our ability to vocalize thoughts and participate in classroom discussion is so much more valuable than the ability to memorize facts and dates (unless that's what you dig, in which case, memorize to your heart's content).

However, and while I did think of this on my own, this was brought to my attention more so by one of my fave teachers: even if they don't realize it (and, let me tell you, I did tell them. Loudly. And with a lot of emphatic hand flapping.) they are making amazing use of all the Queens High School for Teaching skittles that we've all worked so hard to instill. I don't know why I can see it when they can't as much (maybe because I'm more observant and objective...?). I suppose that makes me feel better, and hopefully when they're off in college (high school version of the "real world") they'll look back and say hey, they were right. I am prepared. (Or as prepared as I can be coming from a NYC high school.) Maybe we'll all call back QHST and tell everyone how well we advocate for ourselves and how much our professors love our reflective, insightful writing. (Well, maybe that's pushing it just a bit.)

If only I could have had this contented-ish kind of calm (and make sure you mind that -ish, still kind of mad that people spent ages attacking the school...) when I was trying to facilitate this discussion. As it was, Lori yelled, as I wanted to, and I just turned red and really wanted to yell and cry, but couldn't decide, so did neither and listened...

(Just a side not: This wasn't the actual convo. I wanted to have, I wanted to have some cool conversation based on some focus group questions created in my participatory action research group that related strongly to the project they're doing - designing concept papers for their own schools - but this was good too. And that discussion can wait until next class.)

I am glad, though, that they are able to use many of these all-important skills, even if they refuse to recognize them.

(And, just because I can hear John saying "But, what's with the skittles?" Skittles is Superfly for Skills. Duh.)

1 comment:

Lori Mayo said...

After I yelled, I took the time to be reflective rather than reactive:

#1- It is age appropriate for adolescents to disagree/rebel/argue/fight against/etc. It's their job. Whether it's worksheets or reading "The Giver" (which I read in graduate school).

#2- It is reflective of our having given students voice, asking them to look at things from multiple perspectives or different points of view, etc. that our students are willing to state their case.

#3- It takes a very long time, and a very large movement, to change people's minds when it comes to the way things have always been done. And I think we may be closer to getting there with the small schools movement and progressive educators moving into leadership positions.