Friday, July 29, 2011

Course Reflection for Language and Culture Class

I have completed my first round of courses in TEP at UCSB and was asked to write a reflection on my Language and Culture in Education course.  Here it is...

Course Reflection

There are times when it is very easy to teach dry facts. If you have motivated, mature adults whose career aspirations depend on them memorizing facts all you have to do is say them and watch as they furiously write down notes on their laptops. Unfortunately teaching facts seems to be inadequate for making successful teachers (and from my foundations of education class it seems like that is true for most learning outside of learning to teach) and a lecture format of educating teachers probably breaks a cardinal rule of teacher education; do not teach your students in a way you do not want them to teach their students. In the early days of taking both the culture and language class and the foundations of education class I was getting frustrated because when I went home at the end of the day I did not feel like I had learned anything new. I like to debrief myself before going to bed and go over events of the day. During the early stages of the class I would get disappointed that I did not have more facts to replay in my mental repertoire. Unlike a lot of children who are in school because they are supposed to or in college because it is a hoop they feel they have to jump through I have no problem sitting through lectures to memorize facts and procedures. It took me a little while to realize that learning was not just about memorization of facts or procedures. The type of learning in these early stages of TEP seems to be to change the way I think. While this type of learning is beneficial to creating successful teachers it is a challenge to find exactly what classroom activities and assignments were the most effective.

One question I had hoped to get answered was how to teach different cultures, as if the class was going to be spent analyzing the different cultures represented in California schools and having us practice teaching them. Perhaps Anissa would have us role-play teaching a class of 25% Samoan, 50% Hispanic, 15% Caucasian and 10% other. We would then get a rubric back from her when we were done that scored us on buzzwords like “cultural compassion” and “inclusiveness.” We would have to make sure our content was properly divided proportionally by percent into items that are intended to reach each different culture. That means that my grade would go down if 25% of my content was not designed to appeal to Samoan students.
Perhaps I will change my mind about this after more classes, but right now I doubt anyone knows the best procedure for teaching a multicultural classroom; nor am I convinced that such a procedure exists as nice as it would be if it did. To be a better teacher who understands the role of language and culture in education we must learn to think in a way that takes language and culture into consideration in how we assess our classrooms. We now have practice analyzing our classroom culture and rationales for being sensitive to the cultures our students come from. That way we become teachers who are equipped to develop our own methods of being culturally responsive and responsible educators.

We worked to accomplish this mostly through observation and discussion. By observation I mean we observe examples of classrooms either first hand, on film or through written descriptions. We then discuss these observations with each other in order to get ideas of how to handle situations we may have to that are similar to what we observed. We were not alone in this. Anissa helped push us in certain directions when we needed it, also our readings often included commentary with the observations that suggested their own solutions to the problems recorded.

The most useful reading we did was probably “I Won't Learn From You” by Kohl. While doing my pre-professional teaching I had a tutorial period for students who were failing their classes. I remember there was one student who would rather stare at the wall than do homework. Every morning he would just sit and do nothing (I would have found it more entertaining to work on my homework) for one hour during homework tutoring. This was obviously a situation of active non-learning. There was something about giving in to the demands of a teacher or doing assignments that he felt threatened by to the point where he would choose intentional boredom over doing any work on assignments. While our class did not give me a step-by-step procedure for convincing this person to do homework it helped me learn to classify what was going on so that I know what to work on for a solution. Instead of asking myself “what's this kid's problem?” I can ask myself “what has engaged this student in active non-learning and how can I address it?” While the difference between those responses seems slight the outcomes have drastically different potentials. The former response is likely to alienate the student and cause him to dig deeper into his immutable trench. The latter may help me find a way to work around the barrier between the lesson and the student's desire to learn.

In a similar vein, discussing contemporary issues in education helped us learn to think clearly about these issues. Though it did not give us definitive answers it helped us learn the concerns behind the issues and to consider the different responses people would have to them. Probably the most effective way to accomplish this (and with minimal bloodshed) was to assign us a position to debate. While there is a chance that the issue one of us received was one we had done a lot of research and thinking on and the position we received was one we are passionate about in general this forced students to attempt to see things from a point of view that was not their own (even if they had no opinion, they had to argue as if they did have an opinion so it was still a point of view that was not their own).

If I had to choose a tangible artifact that showed my progress in this class I would have to say that the blog I started for the class is it ( I had intended to start a teaching blog anyway because it is a hobby I had been meaning to get into. I spent five years between undergrad and TEP and my writing ability had declined significantly and I wanted to start a blog on a topic that I would want to write about a lot. I had tried other blogs (a personal blog and a theology blog) before but would not update them very often. It turns out that the level of writing for a personal blog tends to get too informal for what I was trying to accomplish and I do not have nearly as much to say about theology as I thought I did. The education blog, however, allowed me to continue discussions with fellow students outside of class (and form the comfort of my own home). I also could make posts on my own that helped me work out primitive thoughts I had into something comprehensive, reflect on something I heard or read outside of class and try to apply it to what I was learning or just post an idea I had in class that we did not get around to discussing. I can in to the program with a strong opinion about what education was and how it worked. With my own areas of idealism and cynicism. The blog has helped me work some of those out with the topics we have been discussing in class. I am seriously considering using it (or something like it) when I am a teacher. To be honest, not a lot has changed, but I am more confident that my way of thinking is not misguided and that, while I have not had a paradigm shift, I have had a shift in how I think about education (I mentioned one big example at the beginning where I think that learning to teach does not involve memorizing procedures). Because I have found the blog so useful I intend to keep updating it (I considered this earlier and have been trying not to make my posts look like class assignments).

Though I did expand my way of thinking in our class there are still some questions I have. I am not convinced that simply altering historical meta-narratives taught in class is enough to break students out of active non-learning. I would like to discuss other methods of convincing students that participating in class is in their best interest. I would also like to further discuss the consequences of certain features of classroom cultures. While the topic was touched on more time was spent discussing the more serious issues we ended up debating. Still, while it seems outside of the intention of the program to tell us what kind of classroom culture we should foster I would like to hear views on what some results of different classroom culture styles are.

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