Friday, January 30, 2015

Responding to Sagor

Chapters 1-3 in Sagor provide an overview of the whys and hows of teacher inquiry/research. 

We will be working through the processes he describes, so don't worry if they are not clear to you right now. The first step is "finding a focus" (p. 12).  Without overthinking, what are some issues/problems that you could see researching?  These could be big picture issues about pedagogy, such as grading, for example, or they could be one kid or a small group of kids who are having specific issues in your class, either academically or behaviorally. 

Why are these issues important to you?  When did they arise? 


  1. Lately, I have been feeling more and more frustrated by a certain group of students. They are a group of students for whom something is not working. I am pretty sure this something is more on my part than on theirs, seeing that I had felt this same frustration with a similar group of students last year and the other teachers do not seem to be having the consistent difficulty that I am experiencing.

    In class, it is a challenge for me to engage them and secure their motivation. This often results in off-task behavior like shouting out, wandering the room, refusal to do work, and disruptive interactions with peers that can sometimes be disrespectful. My immediate reaction is that this is a problem of “won’t do.” However, I also know that several of these students struggle academically. Of the seven I have in mind, one graduated from an IEP a few years ago, one is currently being evaluated through the RTI process, and another finally received an IEP this year. This would suggest that it is (also) an issue of “can’t do.” How can I better evaluate the root of the issue so that I can be a better teacher for them?

    Also, when I think about their personalities and dispositions toward school, I hit another road block. As a student who loved reading aloud and sharing answers and getting to know my teachers and revising until I got it right, I know that I struggle to connect with these students who think of school as “kid prison.” Yes, I know that the education system is outdated in its resemblance to the factories of the industrial revolution, but I know that my teammates and I try our hardest to create as interactive and as relevant of an experience as possible within the confines of that system. It is important to me that my students recognize the extreme privilege that they have in free, public education. I want them to know that we teachers are here because we believe that education is their way to become the person that they want to be and create a better future for the world. So how can I develop relationships with students whose motivations and outlooks are so different from my own?

    This certainly isn’t the most original research, but I hope that more careful attention and reflection will help to figure this out.

  2. Time.... Time is my biggest enemy right now. I do not have enough of it. I feel that I am rushing my lessons, I am not taking the time to create imaginative, creative, project based learning because I don't have enough time with my students. I have plenty of planning time, and time outside the classroom but I do not know how to put this time to use so that my students can get the most out of our 30 minutes together. I used to have centers once a week, I used to teach math with games and projects. I used to have students work on written response and written explanations to the concepts we were working on. In class we used to take time to talk about how to take notes, how to study, how to be organized. Now I have 30 minutes, 5 times a week if I'm lucky to cram an accelerated math program in. My administration does not seem to think that instructional time is important. Recently at a PD day (which I personally can't even call PD because there is absolutely no professional development, its just house keeping) I brought up the issue of classroom time. This year the principal added a second recess to the schedule. Students now how two 20 minute recess breaks a day. The school day starts at 9 and goes to 3. The day is broken into 8 periods and 20 minutes for lunch. That means that each class is an average of 40 minutes, but when you factor in transition its about 35 if your lucky (and they always have 40 minutes of recess, longer then my schedule math class for 8th grade...). Now that we have snow on the ground the principal has also encouraged students playing in the snow at recess and sledding. This is wonderful, and the students really enjoy it but getting dressed to play in the snow twice a day, five days a week actually eats about 5 hours out of instruction time a week. We have asked to reduce sledding to once a week, but he argues that it is more important that children be children. He says we have a responsibility to the students to allow them a childhood. I say I have a responsibility as a teacher to teach my students, and make sure that they are ready for the next step in their education. A little balance goes a long way......

  3. This is a tough question to answer as I have so many ideas swirling around in my mind. However, a couple of "focuses" are beginning to stand out to me. The first focus involves my observation that many of my students are overly consumed with getting a high grade and not at all motivated by actually learning anything. They only want to know if they earned/received an "A" or not. They do not seem interested in looking at my comments or revising their work. We have an electronic grading system called Aspen. Once they see the grade posted on Aspen, many times they do not even want to get their assignments back. I have noticed this problem expand greatly over my past three or four years of teaching. For the past two years, I have been teaching two honors level courses and I have noticed it even more with this level of students. I know students are under a tremendous amount of pressure now to get into college and class rank/GPA are paramount in this pursuit. It just saddens me that learning for actual learning's sake seems to have fallen by the wayside.

    Another focus that comes to mind are discrepancies within the grading system and grading criteria within my department. This is, in my opinion, a serious problem and one that I (as a parent and teacher) am very concerned with. We have four teachers in our department who teach the same class...for example English 9 College Prep. However, one teacher may give two major assessments per quarter and the other might give five. One teacher may grade most essays in the A/B range while the other hands out many C's and D's. Some might grade based on a rubric; some might not. I'm not sure if this is a problem I could even look into researching on my level as a teacher. I think there is definitely an inequity in the grading system. I know it is not a perfect system; however, I know there is room for definite improvement. And I think this is something we as teachers should all be on the same page about...not fighting against.

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  5. Like Brittany, I also have been focusing the four students that have banded together to cause some problems. I spoke about them in the first class about some of the inappropriate behaviors that are now interfering with their academics. We had an RTI meeting with these students in mid-October when we started to notice the "untouchable" behavior being displayed. This behavior means that students felt like they could get away abiding by the rules while seeing some ‘push-back’ with work and teachers. As we have brought this up with the RTI team and the administration, we started to notice it was getting worse over time.

    The next step in the school-wide policy was to have “Student-Success Meetings”. Student-Success Meetings are meetings where the four content teachers, their advisor, administration, student and parents come to the meeting. At first it is a meeting where we try to understand why we are calling this meeting. Usually this meeting is geared towards the positives, where we share what we are seeing the student do correctly. Before the meeting, the grade-level team we come up with three measurable goals which the student needs to improve on. This stems from our Positive Behavior System (PBS) which is something we want all our students to attain. So they are goals that students know and understand. We measure them on a daily basis and it gets reported to the RTI team to see if things are improving. A family member gets the student report weekly or bi-weekly, depending on each circumstance. We had success meetings with the four students and are currently monitoring their behavior to see if things are improving.

    I have two of those students in my advisory and the other two are in a class together where I have given education freedom to take responsibility for their own education. These students have the mindset that teachers and staff are against them and feel that we are the enemy. As a team and as their math teacher I am currently trying to find out more information on how to reach the goals of these students. I am currently giving students more freedom in the classroom and to see if they will take responsibility for their academic choices. I want to see if there is a correlation between making their own choice will in turn see better grades and behavior.

  6. There are several issues I can think of looking into through my research, none of which are standing out to me at the moment, though. One of them closely mirrors one of Melissa's concerns, regarding grading (in)consistencies among different teachers. Now that I've joined the eighth grade English forces at BMS, there are three of us, and although we all follow the Common Core standards and common assessments, each of us has different assignments and expectations for our students. Grading is one of the things I find most difficult as a teacher (rubrics and numbers and letters all mixed together), but I think it should be something that is helpful to both teachers and students, regardless of which teacher the student is assigned to for the school year. I think it's important for teachers across grade levels to be somewhat consistent, especially considering the new CCSS, but I know that each teacher has his/her preferences regarding novels and assignments and grading practices. This issue has recently come to my attention, as several students are switching their classes because of the teachers and the kind of work that is expected from each of them.

    Along these lines, there is a class that every student has to take, entitled "Content Enrichment." Most teachers teach at least one section of this course - there is, however, no curriculum that teachers have to follow. Some treat it as a study period. Others assign reading projects to students or practice online testing, while still others create fun activities for students to engage in. Since this is one of the two classes I teach on a daily basis, I treat it like an academic class, but have (more) fun assignments that force students to think outside of the box, including a daily "Writing Challenge" prompt, to encourage them to write regularly about a variety of topics. I wonder if there would be a way for me to look into what would be the most efficient and effective use of this class, for both teachers and students, but am not sure this research opportunity would be the time to do so.

    Another issue I want to look into is creative writing, and the (lack of) time we have for it in our classrooms. So many of my students strongly dislike writing persuasive and informative essays, but I feel that the opportunity to write creatively in their Writers' Notebooks every week is not nearly enough. They don't share these entries in class due to a lack of time, and not every student participates in his/her Writer's Notebook. In fact, I have several students that have not handed in a single entry all year. This is an opportunity for them to express themselves, get to share with and know one another, and experience the power of true, organic writing. How can I create a balance in my classroom of academic and creative writing? How can I share with my students my own love of writing, since it definitely doesn't involve writing argumentative essays? How can I encourage the students that are clearly struggling with this?

    I feel as if my thoughts are very scattered right now, and perhaps some of that may have to do with the alert I just received, notifying me of another snow day tomorrow (yay, PJ's all day!), but I am looking forward to talking about some of these ideas with you all this week, and starting to narrow our focuses even more.


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