Tag Archives: Teaching

Week of Conferences: Part 1

So this past week, Shara and I have been to a few conferences. When I say Shara and I, I really mean that Shara went to the biggie conference (NAJDS) and I went to a smaller scale one (Common Sense Media’s “Gender & Digital Life” conference).

So, this will be a two-part post.

The Common Sense Media Conference
We’ve been fans of the San Francisco based Common Sense Media for awhile now.  We use their Test Before You Trust worksheet with the students when we talk about bias and researching information on the Internet (more on this later) and have found it to be very useful in the classroom.

That’s why I was excited to attend this workshop.

While the backbone of it was a kind of explanation and validation of mainstream sociological and psychological theories (gender as a social construct, etc.,), it did raise a few questions for me: Are gender stereotypes online exacerbated by the Internet or are they a reflection of the students’ reality?
What are some ways that we can make students aware of gender disparity and shift their behavior? Are some of the ways that our students self-objectify on social media harmful for their developing psyche? How can we engage parents in a meaningful conversation about how students can use social media in a responsible way?

And most importantly: How do I apply my new knowledge to my classroom/school?
Common Sense Media has a curriculum for this, but I wonder if it is possible to integrate some of their ideas into what we are doing already.

My Big Question:
The big idea that I kept thinking about when I left the conference was not necessarily about gender and social media, but social media itself.

When I went to the conference I had just come from teaching a class where the students make pretend Facebook pages (using Edmodo) for four founders of the United States: Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, and Adams. Students then collaborated in teams trying to figure out what to post from the perspective of Thomas Jefferson/Alexander Hamilton/James Madison/John Adams about important issues at that time (the Great Compromise, the Three-Fifths Compromise, the National Bank, the Federalist Papers, etc.).
And then they commented on each other’s posts:

My question: we kind of encourage the students to argue with each other–respectfully–on these topics (as the characters, of course) in order to help them to clarify their person’s perspective. This activity could end up mirroring the negative aspects of social media. In the picture, Thomas Jefferson is calling Hamilton “pig filth.” While this may reflect the tone of the discourse of the time, it is certainly not representative of how we want students to talk to each other in real life or on social media. After, we stopped for a moment and talked about the line between argument and attack.

Is it ethical to do this activity? Even though the students are more engaged than they usually are when discussing content?

I was thinking that maybe we could use a student analysis of this process to bring up some of the issues that social media brings up in terms of relationships and how the students speak to each other. This could be a jumping-off point for discussing digital citizenship. 

Does anyone have thoughts or suggestions?


Parent Communication

Parent communication is a huge key to the success of the student and the teacher. Most parents have differing levels of expectations for this.  Some want to know every single thing that happens in the classroom, some want to know if their child needs extra support, and some feel already overwhelmed with the number of daily emails they get and want minimal communication–just the “important stuff.” As a teacher, it’s important to make sure that your means of communication meets each parent where they are. Though this may seem like an overwhelming feat, here is an explanation of how the two of us communicate with parents.

Building positive rapport with parents is something that you must focus on in the first month of school.  Once parents know that you have a personal investment in the life of their child, they will much more supportive of your action plans, should their child need more help later on in the year.  Parent teacher cooperation is one of the easiest ways to improve student outcomes. Our middle school director encourages us to make positive connections as often, or more often, than calls dealing with problems; we find this to be invaluable. These positive connections help build that rapport, and can be as small as “I saw your son show kindness to a friend,” or “your daughter clearly spent a lot of time on this assignment.” In the first two days of school, the student’s advisory teacher calls each parent, touching base about student needs and making sure that the parents know their child has an advocate–even though school has just started.

It can be hard for parents to hear negative things about his or her child, but it can be a lot easier for parents to process feedback if they know it is coming from a teacher who has their child’s best interests at heart. We make a point of contacting parents once we see a student start to academically falter; we notify parents after the first month of school if their child is earning a B- or below. This way, if there are any interventions that can help the student, they can be acted upon while there is still time to raise their grade. Additionally, after grading a test or large assignment, we notify the parents of students who earned a C or below, who showed significant progress, and who did exceptionally well. These e-mails are usually only two to three sentences long, and though they do require a small time investment, they could prevent small problems from becoming big ones.

Much of teaching, especially in the younger grades, is attending to the social and emotional needs of students. We teach middle school, and only see the students for short increments of time. Often, we will notice that a student seems out-or-sorts, or had a falling out with a peer, but will not have time to address it before the bell rings and the student moves onto their next class. In this case (and depending on the family), a quick e-mail home can be invaluable. Though it is nice to have a paper trail to help you remember the communications you have had with a particular family, some issues require a phone call or face-to-face interactions–also, sometimes an issue is complicated, and will take less time to explain over the phone. We usually default to e-mail, but it is not always sufficient.

Some parents want access to due dates, assignment details, their child’s grades, course materials, etc. For parents who want this level of access, it is not practical to communicate this information to them individually. Rather, make this information available to them online. We do this through a learning management system called Haiku purchased by our school, but there are many free Internet tools to make a class website or blog; teachers can also periodically send home score reports.

This may seem like a huge undertaking, but creating a good relationship with the parents through relationships goes a long way toward improving student success.