Raising Expectations Is Aim of New Effort

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Raising Expectations Is Aim of New Effort
at the same time countering
what the National Urban
Alliance’s chief executive officer, Yvette Jackson, called
a “focus on weakness.”
Prior research shows that
teachers, particularly those
who are white middle-class,
tend to overemphasize academic and social challenges
for poor and ethnic-minority
students, sometimes overlooking students’ potential
to succeed.
The idea behind involving
students in professionaldevelopment workshops, she
said, is to help teachers look
at their students in a new
way—and vice versa.
“If kids are working with
teachers—not on a totally
equal basis, but with common things that both are
learning at the same time—
Social studies teacher Marjorie Kahiga, second from left, sits among her 6th grade students during a then you have a new experience that you can both talk
two-day professional-development program for teachers at Hawthorne Avenue School of Science
about,” Ms. Jackson said. “So
and Technology in Newark, N.J., last week.
teachers ultimately say: ‘I can’t
By Sarah D. Sparks
automatically judge kids based on my frame of reference. They’re
not coming up with a different answer because they’re stupid, but
Newark, N.J.
Researchers and policymakers agree that because they have a different lens that they see the world out of.’”
teachers’ expectations of what their students
can do can become self-fulfilling prophecies
‘Pygmalion’ Study
for children’s academic performance.
Yet while the “soft bigotry of low expectations” has become an education catchphrase,
The importance of teacher expectations in students’ academicscholars and advocates are just beginning achievement trajectories was made clear in a famous 1964 “Pygmato explore whether it is possible to prevent lion” experiment led by Robert Rosenthal, a psychology professor at
such expectations from taking root by making teachers and students aware of their be- the University of California, Riverside. In it, 18 teachers were told
that a test predicted strong growth from several students (chosen at
liefs about students.
“A lot of what we do is built on a belief sys- random) in the next year. Eight months later, Mr. Rosenthal found
tem,” said Stefanie Rome, the director of professional development children expected to grow had actually improved on an intelligence
for the New York City-based National Urban Alliance for Effective test, and their teachers found them to be “interesting, curious, and
Education. “What beliefs do we have about how students learn? How
do we approach students’ learning?”
The Urban Alliance bases its professional development on Mr.
The National Urban Alliance, which works with school districts
to train teachers to give students of all income levels and all racial Rosenthal’s work, as well as that of Stanford University psycholoand ethnic groups the same enriched instruction that students re- gist Carol S. Dweck and others. For example, Ms. Rome noted that
ceive in gifted education programs, this year launched a program teachers discuss one of Ms. Dweck’s studies that found teachers exin Bridgeport, Conn.; Greene County, Ga.; San Francisco; and, as
of last week, here in Newark, N.J., to bring students and teachers pect more, and students perform better and take more risks, when
together for lessons on cognitive development, instructional strat- they believe that achievement comes from students’ effort and eduegies, and lesson planning, with the students then modeling the cation, rather than from innate intelligence.
instruction in a classroom for the teachers.
The alliance only recently began including students in the sesThe joint professional development course is intended to teach stu- sions, but their participation “has changed the discourse between
dents to think critically about how they learn and are taught, while
students and teachers tremendously,” Ms. Jackson said.
By including
students in teacher
workshops, a N.J.
school may open
eyes to more
students’ potential
OCTOBER 13, 2010
Social studies and literacy teacher Bruce Fryer, right, compares
journal notes with his 8th grade student Shatiana Hilarski,
during Hawthorne’s two-day professional-development
program. Though she called herself “Shy Shatiana” during an
activity at the start of the workshop, by its end she helped teach
a 5th grade class in front of Mr. Fryer and other adults.
Reaching Out
One such workshop was under way last week at one of the Urban
Alliance’s partner schools, the K-8 Hawthorne Avenue School of
Science and Technology in Newark. Over two days, teachers
and middle school students learned new teaching techniques—
from mnemonics to help remember children’s names to a pedagogical flowchart to improve pacing of lesson plans. The teachers helped
students understand a few tricks of the trade, such as creating a
call-and-response to focus class attention, while students related
their class experiences to teachers.
Bruce Fryer, an 8th grade literacy and social studies teacher,
got into an animated discussion of class planning with a trio of 8th
grade girls. Shatiana Hilarski, one of them, expressed surprise that
Mr. Fryer said he works eight hours on a lesson. She said she would
be more engaged in class, knowing now how much time had gone
into planning it.
Mr. Fryer said that learning alongside students has made him
think about how he treats students, particularly boys, in class.
“When I have a time like this to reflect, I think I haven’t been doing
a good job of this,” he said. “Have I really been connecting?”
Stepping Up
The next day, Mr. Fryer and the other adults had a chance to step
back and observe as the students used their new tools to create and
team-teach a writing lesson on the theme of “relationships” for a
5th grade class.
Pairs of students walked the class through activities, from developing a taxonomy of words about relationships to writing about
them and discussing their writing with classmates.
“Normally [class] can get a little chaotic, but this is so structured,
it’s amazing,” said Marjorie Kahiga, a 6th grade teacher, as she
watched the 5th graders listen to the older students.
“Most of these urban kids feel so lost,” she said. “They need to see
this, to see what they can achieve.”
When younger students looked confused, the other student-teachers started to fan out among the desks, answering questions and
helping. Among the student-teachers was 6th grader Marc Manasse,
an intent boy who entered late and was quiet during the initial work
sessions. He hovered over one table, clarifying instructions and
even urging the lead student-teacher to call on one of “his” students
during the class discussion.
Ms. Kahiga watched but stayed back. She was, as she put it,
“Marc is a handful, a real handful,” Ms. Kahiga said. “Normally,
in class every day I’m saying, ‘Why are you doing that?’ I’m always
correcting him. Now when I see him in this opportunity, I can see
what a leader he is.”
The second day ended with a debriefing in which both teachers
and student-teachers discussed how the students had taught and
what they had learned. Marc, the 6th grader, after working with
the younger class, said he decided he wants to become a teacher.
“I learned that teaching is not that easy, because you have to stay
on task,” he said. “You can’t just walk away from the students and
expect them to learn; you have to keep on them and make sure they
get things done.”
It remains to be seen whether the program, which will cover 10
such workshops with different students this year, will lead to improvements in student performance. The Urban Alliance introduced
the change in the fourth year of a five-year grant through the federal
Striving Readers program, and the Rockville, Md. based Westat, the
grant’s evaluators, have yet to review it.
But participating teachers said including students in the session
was eye-opening. “Honestly, as teachers, we can shut them out of
the learning process,” Ms. Kahiga said. “They need to be part of the
learning process.”
Reprinted with permission from Education Week, Vol 30, Issue 7, October 13,
2010, by IPA Publishing Services, 800-259-0470. (12040-1110)
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