Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sample Post #2: “If You Know Our Names It Helps!” Students’ perspectives about “good” teaching.

This annotation was created by Jacqui Allen.

Robertson, Joanne (2006) “If You Know Our Names It Helps!” Students’ perspectives about “good” teaching. Qualitative Inquiry, 12, 4, 156-768

This narrative consists of a group of people from the field of education coming together for a panel discussion based upon effective teaching practices. The author, Robertson, collected and compiled data over a three year period of time to construct this panel discussion. There were students of different grade levels, from urban, suburban, private and public schools, educators, researchers and educational policy makers all contributing to this discussion. Robertson facilitated this discussion and posed many different questions that allowed each individual to share their perspectives. Students of all grade levels had the opportunity to share their opinions on the characteristics of an effective teacher and classroom as well as different things that may hinder their learning. As Robertson also stated, “We can also learn from the “white spaces,” or what students do not say about schooling.”

There were some very common themes appearing throughout the discussion. Many students felt that the best teachers made connections between their curriculum and the real world and taught students how to think critically about their learning and the world around them. They also said that their favorite teachers set high expectations and took time to form connections with them, getting to know them as people. A fifth grade student mentioned, “My teacher is smart enough to know how far to push but helps you when you need it.” People agreed that many teachers do not even try to get to know each student individually, but instead are just going through the motions of teaching the materials they will be tested on. Students are not being taught how to be good thinkers and problem solvers; instead they are just getting prepared for the tests. All students seem to feel that if the curriculum was relevant to their lives and presented in an interesting way, they were more likely to be engaged in the learning. This is also where the issues and concerns of “teaching to the test” lie.

Having people on the panel that wear different hats in the field of education definitely created certain tensions throughout the panel discussion. While some felt that students and teachers need to be held accountable through testing and other standardized methods of assessment, the majority felt that there are other ways to measure accountability that do not involve standardized testing. In conclusion, teachers, researchers and policy makers need to reassess what their priorities on education are and how they can increase the level of student engagement while teaching students to be good thinkers and problem solvers in the “real world.”

As mentioned earlier, there were a variety of voices hear d throughout this narrative, however, Robertson does not discuss specifically the process for choosing her panel representatives. This makes me wonder whose voice is not being heard. How many students were of minorities? Which teachers taught in inner city schools? Who were the policy makers? If the author provided more background information on each panel member, then it would easier to understand the dialogue that took place and all of the tensions that formed throughout it. I found myself often wondering, “Who is this guy talking and why does he feel this way? What is at stake for him?”

I found listening to the students’ perspectives the most useful part of this narrative. Robertson posed some excellent questions and gave them many opportunities to respond honestly and thoughtfully. She facilitated the discussion in a way that allowed students to be honest and get at the root of what a great teacher looks like. Robertson gave opportunities for other educators to chime in and share why they believe education is in “the dark ages” and how we can create reform among schools today.

This narrative inspired me to develop more opportunities for my own students to share their perspectives on effective teaching. In the beginning of the year, I gave my students a written assignment in which they share about their most favorite teacher ever and why they were their favorite teacher. Just as we as a class have created student expectations for the classroom, I wanted them to have the opportunity to create teacher expectations. After reading their responses, I compiled a list to review with them. It was almost like “teacher rules.” I told them that this is how I will also hold myself accountable as a good teacher and when they thought that I might have broken a “rule” they should communicate this with me. Students felt empowered because their voices were being heard in my classroom and they have made themselves part of this learning community we have created together. Listening to all of the student in the panel speak about how important it is for teachers to take the time to listen and really get to know each student, validated my beliefs on how important this really is. I do not want my students to think I am a robot teacher whose one and only job is teaching them our math curriculum. When students know you care about their learning and them as individuals, they will respect you more and they will be more apt to engage themselves in your classroom.

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