Module 3 Reflection

Module 3 Reaction

In “Creativity: Its Place in Education,” the author Wayne Morris makes some very key and influential points for educators.  One conclusion that I found particularly meaningful in Morris’ writing was, “our school system is a thinly disguised conspiracy to quash creativity” (p. 3).  When I considered the statement, it actually seemed to be largely true.  Students are encouraged to be creative in art classes and perhaps English courses such as “Creative Writing.”  But are students actually encouraged (and perhaps even rewarded) to implement divergent thinking and their creative resources in their everyday educational experience.  From my experience, the answer is no, unfortunately.  Morris (2006) proposes some useful suggestions as to what the creative classroom should look like – students should be encouraged to question, challenge, and make connections, and should receive constructive criticism and the chance to reflect.  Morris (2006) also has some ideas for teachers as to how they can encourage creativity in the classroom – allow for learning extension (more time!), allow the engaged learners to continue to explore their ideas without interruption, develop a welcoming classroom, provide students with stimulating resources, and create an environment in which students feel they can take risks.  Of these suggestions, the most important to me are allowing for extension and creating an environment that encourages risk-taking.  Particularly for adolescents, speaking out against the group is often a daunting task, yet conformity can hinder creativity and the learning process.  This requires the teacher to model mutual respect.

In “Education and Creativity” by Daniel Fasko Jr, Fasko Jr (2001) connects the concepts of creativity and motivation.  Fasko Jr (2001) highlights studies that have concluded that motivation facilitates creative thinking and exercises such as problem finding would lead to the further development of intrinsic motivation.  Fasko Jr and Heacox (2002) both agree that student choice is critical for increasing student motivation.  It does not seem that high school students are often given the opportunity to work in challenge centers, or make their own choices in spin-off projects.  Although this is clearly very possible, there has to be some reason that students often lack opportunities to provide input or have choices (and therefore, have a lack of intrinsic motivation).  I was thinking about this while developing my Junior Project Guidelines for my AP students, and decided to give them more of a choice this year.  Although I still handed out my Recommended Book List for the students, I also allowed students to select a book on their own and receive approval from me to explore their interests.

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Module Two Reflection: Gardner, Prensky, and Heacox

Module Two Reflection: Gardner, Prensky, and Heacox

                While reading “The Understanding Pathway: A Conversation with Howard Garnder” by Marge Scherer, I find it both reassuring and somewhat unsettling that Howard Gardner suggests teaching with the pressures of standardized testing and the desire to teach the immeasurable concepts of life are incompatible.  Howard Gardner has received widespread accolades and recognition for his theory of multiple intelligences and how it can be applied to better the learning process for individuals, and I agree with him that often the “immeasurable concepts” are not being explored in schools today.  Yet, the pressures of standardized tests are still present.  I do not think these pressures will fade anytime soon, so what does that mean for teaching?  As a teacher in a high-achieving school, I often find that I would love to spend more time exploring something like the reasoning behind an historical speech or event or analyzing various points of view (as Gardner suggests throughout the article), but then I also risk my students falling behind in terms of the curriculum. 

                I found Heacox’s thoughts on Gardner to be refreshing.  I think educators often have good intentions when trying to apply the theory of Multiple Intelligences to their classroom, but are perhaps misguided.  Heacox states that although students “learn and produce with greater ease when they’re using an area of strength,” this does not mean that other areas cannot be “developed through practice” (Heacox, p. 70).  I actually have my students take a survey at the beginning of the school year to determine their strengths and areas.  I think this allows me to better reach each student, but it does not mean that I do not try to develop new ways of thinking and creating for my students. 

                Although I have implemented many different strategies to group my students for cooperative or group learning activities, I must be honest and admit that these strategies do not generally include the principles of flexible grouping, as outlined by Heacox.  I found the section on flexible grouping to be very informative due to my inexperience.  With flexible grouping and tiered assignments, I also found that Heacox answered some of my internal reading questions.  Flexible grouping and differentiation should be “invisible” to the students if done correctly (Heacox); I had been somewhat concerned of the students’ perceptions and feelings when I initially read the description of flexible grouping and tiered assignments.  I’m sure that these strategies, like most teaching strategies, take practice but can be implemented smoothly within the classroom.

                After reading “Adopt and Adapt: 21st-Century Schools Need 21st-Century Technology” by Marc Prensky, I thought about my high school experience.  I began high school in the fall of 1999 and graduated in the spring of 2003.  I attended Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, MD and graduated with a diploma from the International Baccalaureate program.  I now work in Winston Churchill High School, which is right down the road, and the majority of my students take at least one (if not more) Advanced Placement courses.  So, for the sake of my reflection, the two schools have very similar school climates.  But, the similarities do not really stop there.  The classrooms still look the same.  With the exception of the addition of the Promethean board, my classroom looks just like the classrooms I sat in during high school.  There are white boards, about 35 student desks, a teacher’s desk, a TV, and some posters on the wall.  The bigger surprise is that teaching strategy has not really changed either – that looks the same.  The reason this is all so surprising is due to the fact that technology has progressed a great deal since I attended high school.  After reflecting upon my own high school experience, I find Prensky’s argument to be very strong.  Invention does not occur within the school enough!  Why do schools resist change so vehemently when change is exactly what education needs?  I think Prensky is right – he states that schools face “political, parental, social, organizational, supervisory, and financial” pressures, and that change requires effort and work from the educators who already feel overworked and overwhelmed.  I could not agree more with his argument.  We have teachers and administrators who fight change within my school every day.

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Reflections on Heacox Chapters 1-3

After reading through Tomlinson’s and O’Grady’s articles and exploring CAST.org, I question whether or not I am actually meeting the needs of ALL learners in my classroom.  I have taken pride in the past in my lesson plans and the fact that I try very hard to create an engaging and relevant classroom.  But, after this module’s exploration, I really wonder if I do meet the needs of all learners?  I agree with Heacox (2002) and several other educators that “one size doesn’t fit all,” but does my classroom reflect this belief?  I was a bit relieved to read Heacox’s suggestion to “start where you are” (p. 7).

I strongly agree with Heacox (2002) that socioeconomic and family factors have a significant effect on student learning and performance.  Winston Churchill HS is a school that thrives in the Potomac community and most families represent the upper-middle class (and higher!) of society.  Yet, there are some deep-rooted tensions and divisions in the learning environment, especially when I work with students from a few of the low-income housing developments in Potomac.

After looking over Heacox’s “Classroom Practices Inventory” in chapter one, the areas of needed improvement for me are pacing of instruction, reteaching opportunities, and offering different activities based upon learning preferences.

Although Heacox (2002) mentions in chapter two that students enjoy learning about Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, I was quite surprised when I covered this topic in the “Intelligence and Testing” unit of AP Psychology – almost all of my students had not heard of Gardner or his theory!  The inventories, letters, and surveys in chapter two are similar to some of the resources I have received from veteran teachers over the past couple years, but it’s always good to explore new options.

I have found that providing students with a unit overview and essential questions leads to a more organized classroom.  Students have a better understanding of what the learning process will entail, and what the learning goals are for the unit.  I found this particularly important for my ESSO 9th grade class.  I like how Heacox provided an example of the curriculum map – makes it much easier to handle!

Heacox, Diane (2002). Differentiating instruction in the regular classroom. Minneapolis, MD: Free Spirit Publishing Inc.

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Mapping a Route toward Differentiated Instruction

“Mapping a Route Toward Differentiated Instruction” Educational Leadership

Carol Ann Tomlinson

            Overall, I think Carol Ann Tomlinson does a very good job of describing the process required to achieve the goal of differentiated instruction in the classroom.  One component of the article with which I strongly agree is Tomlinson’s (1999) discussion of the “first step” of successful differentiation.  According to Tomlinson (1999), the first step is having “solid curriculum and instruction in place” (p. 13).  Without a clear path and a well-organized and well-developed curriculum, the learning process is incomplete. 

            Tomlinson’s decision to evaluate Mr. Appleton’s, Mrs. Baker’s, and Ms. Casell’s classrooms is very effective. I find this to be an effective writing strategy because I am able to identify with components of all of the classrooms.  In particular, I think Tomlinson makes a very good point about Mrs. Baker’s classroom.  Tomlinson (1999) outlines the numerous activities that Mrs. Baker creates for her students, yet explains that there is a difference between differentiation and “creating activities that students will like” (p. 14).  I feel as if differentiation and “likeable” activities may often be misrepresented as the same thing at times, even in county training sessions.  Tomlinson then introduces the best model of a differentiated class, Ms. Cassell’s classroom, after evaluating Mrs. Baker’s and Mr. Appleton’s classrooms.  This is effective because as a reader I had already noted several ways to enhance the learning environment in the other two classrooms before reading about Ms. Cassell’s instructional practices.  As she discusses Ms. Cassell’s classroom, one of Tomlinson’s statements in particular stood out to me; Tomlinson (1999) states that differentiation is “not a strategy to be plugged in occasionally or often, but is a way of thinking” (p. 16).  This statement made me think about my own teaching practices – is differentiation actually a way of thinking in my classroom?

As I reflect upon my own teaching practices, there is one reoccurring stressor – time constraints!  At times, I feel the pressure of time constraints due to the AP Psychology curriculum and schedule, and feel as if I sacrifice further exploration of topics in which the students express interest.  More importantly, I realize I sacrifice opportunities to differentiate in the classroom in an effort to “cover everything.”  Although I try to make the learning process relevant and engaging, not all of my students learn in their ideal learning environment on a daily basis.  I work in a school that heavily stresses the importance of AP test scores.  It’s a struggle, although I do believe I have continuously made advancements in this struggle over the past four years.  Rather than seeking out opportunities to differentiate (on specific days), I should be developing a classroom that is wholly reflective of differentiation.

Tomlinson, Carol Ann (1999). Mapping a route toward differentiated instruction. Educational Leadership, September 1999, 12-16.

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“Don’t Smile Until Christmas”

Don’t Smile Until Christmas: The Promise of Positive Psychology in the Classroom from “New Horizons for Learning Online Journal”

Dr. Patty O’Grady, Ph.D.

Dr. Patty O’Grady (2011) begins her article with a discussion of how young teachers often adopt or adapt the teaching and philosophical methods of teachers they have observed or taught with.  I find this to be true in my case.  I have adopted AND adapted many of the strategies and lessons that my mentor teacher utilized in his classroom.  Unfortunately, some of the methods young teachers are exposed to do not meet the needs of all learners!  I was originally interested in this article because of the term “positive psychology” in the title.  Throughout the AP Psychology course I teach, I discuss Seligman a number of times and was curious how his ideas of positive psychology and optimism would be related to the old saying that almost all young teachers have heard – “Don’t Smile until Christmas!”

                Contrary to this belief, positive psychology can be incorporated in the classroom for all ages.  Dr. O’Grady (2011) outlines the three concerns of positive psychology: positive emotions, positive individual traits, and positive institutions.  Teachers must gain an understanding of these concerns and reflect this understanding in their teaching.  The atmosphere created by a true understanding and implementation of these concerns will enhance the learning experience, help students find meaning in their lives, and support their goals. 

                I enjoyed reading the suggestions of positive psychology activities for the classroom.  I think that these activities would be well suited to my ESSO class in particular.  ESSO is a program at WCHS for students who need special attention and development in organization, structure, and higher-level thinking.   The class is capped at 22 students, and the students get to know each other very well throughout the year.  These would be great exercises for the beginning of the year; they would give me great insight into some of the students’ deeper thoughts and, sense of well-being, and their own interests. 

                I definitely think that the more research available on the benefits of positive psychology is extremely valuable for the learning process.   I have had several students begin high school with poor self-constructs and a low feeling of self-worth.  Positive psychology could assist these students tremendously on their path to something meaningful and fulfilling.  Better yet, these environments can be developed in elementary school and continued in high school, so that learned helplessness and poor self-constructs are a lesser concern at the secondary level.

O’Grady, Patty, (2011). Don’t smile until Christmas: the promise of positive psychology in the classroom. New Horizons for Learning, Winter 2011. Retrieved from http://education.jhu.edu/newhorizons/Journals/Winter2011/OGrady

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Check out my Bball Girls!

The picture is of my 2010-2011 Girls Basketball team… great season 🙂

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