Archive for the ‘teaching’ Tag

CRELI Student Leader Communication Training

CRELI Student Leaders participated in an activity to develop their listening and communication skills. Watch as the students struggle to communicate and persevere through the challenge.


CRELI Summer Program

This summer I am running a program called Connecticut River Extended Learning Institute (CRELI).  It is funded by a Nellie Mae grant and the focus is student-centered learning.  This is my third year working as a teacher in this program, but this is the first year that I am a program manager.  The theme for CRELI this summer is “honoring and sustaining diversity.”  The students will work in small groups to create a product that fits this theme.  Since the program is student-centered, the educators do not know what the final products will be or how they will be created.  In many instances, this would be nerve-racking for educators, but through the process of this program, we will all learn how students at the center of the learning experience can be engaging, challenging and rewarding.  Follow this blog to see how the program develops over the next two weeks.



The title of this post is the file name for a book that I recently scanned and added to my digital collection. Written by the late Bruce Fraser in 1988, Land of Steady Habits: A Brief History of Connecticut is an important work in the Connecticut history literary cadre.  According to the Publisher’s Note, The Connecticut Historical Commission produced this booklet claiming that it “provides the essence of Connecticut.” At the time of publication, the Commission hoped that Land of Steady Habits would stimulate further study and “provide a wider public appreciation” for the states historical heritage.  This work does all of the above and should be a standard in every history classroom across the state.

Fraser’s Land of Steady Habits is especially accessible to middle and high school grades because of its concise nature.  The entire booklet is eighty pages including title page, table of contents, postscript, timeline, images, and a four page listing of CT’s national historic land marks.  The body of the essay is fifty-two pages broken in 15 sections.  This is the equivalent of 3.4 pages per chapter, very manageable for readers at any level.  Although Mr. Fraser’s work is short, it is packed with not only the story of Connecticut, but also connections to the national historical themes.  Classroom history and social studies teachers could use this work to teach history through the lens of the local story from the time “before the Europeans” to the social unrest of the 1960s.  The basic premise behind this book is that the history of Connecticut is important, a message that we need to teach to the youth of the state.

One of the perennial concerns for Connecticut for the last several decades is the lack of local attachment. It is evident in the disjointed nature of the cities and towns and most prominent in the capital city.  Go to downtown Hartford on a weekend day and it is a ghost town.  People come in to work and they leave to their towns in the suburbs and beyond.  This scenario was just as true at the time of Land of Steady Habits publication as it is today.  Fraser and others, myself included, would accredit this lack of connection to suburban crawl and white-flight of the post-War period.  Nutmeggers now have their own enclaves a world apart from the deteriorating and increasingly diverse cities that they left behind. They lost their connection with the culture and history of their surroundings and they are unattached.

Raising our state’s future generations with knowledge and experiences of local culture and history is needed to create attachment to the region.  Students who are exposed to the culture of the state today will contribute to the local community tomorrow.  If we teach about the history and take students to experience Connecticut culture at places like the Wadsworth, Goodspeed, or Peabody and historical sites such as the Old State House, the Soldier and Sailors Memorial Arch, and Tapping Reeve House and Law School, then they are more likely to participate in cultural offerings when they reach adulthood.  Remarkably,  I am seeing a rise in interest in both state history and local connections.  This may be the time for institutions to market themselves to education institutions to increase their presence in the classroom and curriculum.  I am not talking about marketing to schools so you can charge $6 per person to offer a writing program.  Cultural institutions should look at schools as a way to market to future consumers or customers.  The more exposure the better.  Maybe these institutions should take the advice of the Connecticut Historical Commission and work to “provide a wider public appreciation” for the culture of CT…for the future of CT.

*Please note that my mentioning of cultural and historical centers in this article are not an endorsement of any institution or a discredit to those not listed.

Wadsworth image credit: Wikipedia.

Creating a Multicultural Learning Environment

Educators teaching in a multicultural setting may be unsure of how to create a classroom environment that will ensure that each student will reach their full potential.  Perhaps some of these educators have had little contact with people outside of their culture.  Another possibility is that they are just not confident that they can effectively reach all students because of cultural barriers.  Educators, however, do not have anything to fear because they are most likely incorporating the necessary characteristics on a daily basis.  The first characteristic of a successful multicultural classroom is a safe and inclusive learning environment.  Also, teachers with a focus on democratic ideologies will instill dignity and respect for all students.  Finally, incorporating a student-centered, collaborative, project-based curriculum gives all students the opportunity to succeed.  In short, a safe and inclusive classroom that focuses on democratic ideologies while incorporating student-centered, collaborative, and project-based curriculum will successfully foster a successful multicultural learning environment.

One of the first steps to creating a successful multicultural classroom is fostering a safe and inclusive learning environment.  A safe classroom is one where the students and teacher have respect for one another.  Respect for each others differences and respect for each others learning.  Not only do students and teachers need to respect the diversity of the classroom, but everyone must respect that all learners are unique in their abilities and that learning, especially when mistakes are made, is a process free from ridicule.  Students who feel safe in the classroom are more likely to be academic risk takers, which will encourage a greater understanding for the curriculum.  Along with creating a safe environment, a classroom must also be inclusive.  It is not enough that all students participate in the class assignments. Educational materials should be inclusive of diverse voices and perspectives.  Including a multitude of perspectives shows the students that all voices are heard in the class, not just the dominate, mainstream culture. Students who are able to think critically about a wide range of resources and feel safe in doing so will be successful in a multicultural setting.

In addition to creating a safe, inclusive classroom, a multicultural classroom must focus on the democratic ideologies on which United States was founded.  Schools should not promote the ideologies and political goals of any specific group, but should promote democratic ideologies to facilitate societal change that enhances human dignity.  As suggested by the National Council for the Social Studies, “students should be encouraged to examine the democratic values that emerged in the United States, why they emerged, how they were defined in various periods, and to whom they referred in various eras.  It is also important to look at how those values have not been fulfilled and the conflicts that ensued surrounding competing values and interests.  Students who recognize that all Americans had to fight for their freedoms at various points through our nation’s history will understand why it is vital that all cultures work together in support of our democratic society.

In addition to the classroom climate, or the hidden curricula, students in a multicultural setting thrive under a student-centered pedagogy where learners work collaboratively to meet learning goals.  According to Harry and Rosemary Wong in their book The First Days of School, research shows that collaborative learning is the most successful means for fostering student achievement.  In an ideal multicultural setting, student’s voices and experiences are brought to the forefront of the classroom  Students who work together bring a host of experiences and ideas to the table.  Working in a safe and inclusive environment gives students the opportunity while working in groups to hypothesize, test, and implement solutions to problems posed in the classroom.  Collaborative work is also important in a multicultural classroom because after graduation students will enter an increasingly multicultural workforce.  A successful multicultural setting must provide an opportunity for students to showcase their strengths while working to solve a common problem just as many Americans do in the workplace.

In conclusion, a safe and inclusive classroom that focuses on democratic ideologies while incorporating student-centered, collaborative, and project-based curriculum will successfully foster a multicultural learning environment.  The foundation of any successful classroom, especially a multicultural one, is a safe and inclusive learning environment.  Teachers and students in a safe and inclusive multicultural setting are then able to honestly and openly analyze society through the lens of our nation’s democratic ideologies, giving students a common sense of ideals such as liberty and equality.  Finally, much of the research on student learning, in or out of a multicultural setting, indicates that students are most successful when they work collaboratively to meet common goals.  This is important because according to the late president John F. Kennedy, “in America there must be only citizens, not divided by grade, first and second, but citizens, east, west, north, and south.”  It is up to educators to facilitate this type of learning environment to effect positive social change in the years to come.

Further Readings:

Larri Fish. “Building Blocks: The First Steps of Creating a Multicultural Classroom.”

David W. Johnson and Roger T. Johnson “Making Diversity a Strength”

Lee Knefelkamp. “Effective Teaching for the Multicultural Classroom”

“Creating a Multicultural Classroom Environment” Teacher Enrichment Training Solutions Newsletter, vol. 3, issue 12.

Multicultural Education: Roles and Responsibilities

Please note:  This post is not based on original research.  In fact, this is a summary of a report by the National Council for the Social Studies entitled “Curriculum Guidelines for Multicultural Education.”  I accessed this site on July 17 and 18, 2010.  If the above link does not work please Google “ncss, multiculturalism” and it should be the first on the list. Also, the NCSS report offers 23 curriculum guidelines and a program evaluation checklist.  This post only discusses the Roles and Responsibilities for schools incorporating multiculturalism into their curriculum.

Roles and Responsibilities for Multicultural Education.

Ethnic pluralism in the United States is growing at an astounding rate.  According to the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), “students of color will make up nearly half (46%) of the nation’s school-age youth by 2020.”  Furthermore, 27% of that group will be victims of poverty.  Although this is a national trend, it is especially important in Connecticut where the achievement gap between whites, mainly living in the suburbs, and their urban counterparts is the widest compared to any state in the Union. (Hartford Courant 07/16/2010)  Of course, the factors contributing to the achievement gap are many and varied, but the burden of educating students for the future still falls to school districts, administrators, and teachers.  Educators at all levels must help students develop knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to participate in the work force and society.  Unfortunately, many, like NCSS, believe that, “as currently conceptualized and organized, schools today are unable to help most low-income students and students of color attain these goals.”

Before one can discuss the goals of multicultural school reform, it is important to look at the three major factors that make multicultural education a necessity.  First, as discussed above, ethnic pluralism is a growing societal reality that influences the lives of young people.  More and more, students are interacting in microcosms of plurality such as schools, sports teams, and in multicultural communities.  Multicultural education is also a necessity because in one way or another, individuals acquire knowledge or beliefs, sometimes invalid, about ethnic or cultural groups.  A multicultural education, where classes take an unbiased approach to studying cultures in America and the world will work to fend off discrimination.  Finally, beliefs and knowledge about ethnic and cultural groups limit the perspectives of many and make a difference, often a negative difference, in the opportunities and options available to members of ethnic and cultural groups.  Overall, it is important to provide a multicultural education in a democratic society to protect and provide opportunities for ethnic and cultural diversity, while at the same time supporting the overarching values of equality, justice, and human dignity for all groups.

Although it may be obvious that there is a need for multicultural education in our society, how would one know what an effective multicultural program looks like?  The National Council for the Social Studies suggests four principles for ethnic and cultural diversity.  For many individuals, group identity can provide a foundation for self-definition.  Ethnic and cultural group membership can provide a sense of belonging, shared traditions, and interdependence of fate.  As the first principle states, ethnic and cultural diversity should be recognized and respected so individuals who define themselves ethnically can do so without shame or conflict.  Similarly, when students’ cultures are respected and students feel secure, cultural diversity provides a basis for societal enrichment, cohesiveness, and survival.  This second principle seeks not only to recognize and respect ethnic and cultural diversity but establish across racial, ethnic, and cultural lines intercultural bonds that will contribute to the strength and vitality of society.  Next, equality of opportunity must be afforded to all members of ethnic and cultural groups.  Finally, Ethnic and cultural identification should be optional in a democracy.  For instance, just because a student is Asian and they or their parents immigrated from China or India, does not necessarily mean that the student identifies with their culture of origin.

Taking these principles into serious consideration will guide educators in developing the role of the school in a multicultural setting.  Primarily, a school’s socialization practices should incorporate the ethnic diversity that is an integral part of the democratic commitment to human dignity.  This goes beyond celebrating heroes and holidays of particular cultures and demonstrates a commitment to recognizing and respecting ethnic and cultural diversity; promoting societal cohesiveness based on shared participation of ethnically and culturally diverse people; maximizing equality of opportunity for all individuals and groups; and facilitating constructive societal change that enhances human dignity and democratic ideals.  Overall, the study of ethnic heritage should not consist of a narrow promotion of ethnocentrism or nationalism.  This is both counterproductive and detrimental to creating a cohesive learning environment.

In its comprehensive report on multiculturalism in the classroom, the NCSS also points out two goals for schools incorporating multicultural educational program.  First, “schools should create total school environments that are consistent with democratic ideals and cultural diversity.”  In this instance, multiculturalism would be evident not only in curricula and materials, but in policies, hiring practices, governance procedures, and climate or the “hidden curricula.”  This is important because students often learn more about society from non-formal areas of schooling.  Education for multiculturalism requires systemwide changes that permeate all aspects of school life.

The second goal suggested by NCSS is that “schools should define and implement curricular policies that are consistent with democratic ideals and cultural diversity.”  In short, schools should not promote the ideologies and political goals of any specific group, but, rather, promote the democratic ideologies on which the United States was founded.  Students trained to examine bias, prejudice, equality, justice, and human rights through the lens of democratic ideologies will be better equipped to make connections between a multicultural curriculum and their everyday lives.  It is these connections that will effect positive change in our schools, communities, and society.

If the purpose of education is to ready students to participate in the workforce, then multiculturalism must be incorporated into the curriculum.  The United States is already diverse and will continue to become more so in the future.  Gone are the days where it is acceptable to view subjects such as History from the Eurocentric point of view.  This practice negates the debt that Western civilization owes to Africa, Asia, and indigenous America.  In reality, the world is becoming smaller and more interconnected and the students of today must be educated to succeed in the work place of tomorrow.

Building a Classroom Community

Lets say, for instance, you are a teacher at a magnet school.  You are coming up to the first day of the year and want to set the right tone for the school year.  Here’s the catch, since you work at a magnet school, the students are from a wide array of towns from the area and do not know each other.  The students not only don’t know each other, but there is a racial, cultural, and economic divide between the students from suburbs, rural, and urban areas of the state.  What can you do to create an environment conducive to learning?  How can a teacher build a safe, accepting, and productive classroom community?

A safe, accepting and productive classroom community is established through team building or community building activities.  Team building activities are stimulating problem-solving tasks designed to help group members develop their capacity to work effectively together.  Many times they seem like kids games and often they are.  The key to effective team building activities is the interaction between the students and the reflection after the activity is concluded.  Some community building activities are of a get to know you nature.  Others, however, encourage students to work together and discover that they share many of the same qualities and experiences that will help them solve a problem.  Many times in these types of activities a leader will emerge from the group and others will act as facilitators.

In the past, I have worked with team or community building activities in both a getting to know you sense as well as problem solving activity.  Once, I worked with students on various community building activities, each of the activities became increasingly more difficult until they reached a ropes course where the students had to work together to pass the obstacle course safely.  These activities were both fun and challenging.  The students really made connections with their classmates.

Although going to a ropes course for community building sounds great, it is not a viable option for everyone.  A great way to begin the year is with an icebreaker that sets a tone of respect for other cultures and ethnicity.  As for team and community building, the class could create a Big Welcome Book.  In this activity the students share their personal views of the school and themselves.  First, have the students brainstorm about three topics.  For instance, what they think about their new school; what are some things you could say to another student to make them feel at ease; and what are important classroom rules for a new school year?  After the students brainstorm about these topics, list their ideas on the board.  Next, break the students into groups and give each group a large sheet of paper and drawing materials.  The students then create a book that can be kept in the classroom that expresses a little about who they are individually and also as a learning community.  After creating the book the students should reflect on the book making process and share with the class.

All in all, establishing a safe, accepting, productive classroom community is vital to student success.  When the students feel accepted and safe they are motivated to excel in and out of the classroom.  Although a teacher may not have access to a sophisticated ropes course, there are thousands of options for community building activities.   No matter which option you choose, the facilitator (in this case the teacher) is a critical element in the activity.  The students need to see that the teacher is enthusiastic about their responses and believes that they can be successful.  So, in actuality, it is the educators responsibility to create a learning environment that is safe, accepting, and productive.  A good way to meet that goal is to incorporate community building activities where the students work collaboratively to meet a task or solve a problem.

The Home Stretch

As of late I have been working towards getting my students ready for the end of the year.  This may seem easy enough, but there is a lot involved.  Primarily, I have been concentrating on specific skills that students have been developing since I started this longterm substitute assignment.  Some of these skills include organizing and writing essays, analyzing primary sources, reading for information and note taking.  Each of these skills are important not only because they will be utilized on the final exam, but they also can be used in any social studies class as well as in the “real world.”  Students who are able to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize information become well-informed, successful citizens in our democratic society.

Along with skills, I have been referencing course guidelines to ensure that content is introduced in a meaningful way.  I am trying to avoid a top-down march through dates, names and events, however I did give my US History class a PowerPoint presentation on the timeline of the Cold War from 1954-1970.  In this class activity, the students took notes on key events of the time period, some of which we had already discussed in the Vietnam Unit (e.g. My Lai Massacre, Tet Offensive).  Other material presented was important for students to know, but was not essential to their understanding of the course material.

Just this past weekend, I put together an outline for each final exam; three exams total.  This is my second time administering final exams.  For the most part, I think that the process of preparing for exams and administering exams are relatively easy.  The true challenge comes when it is time to grade.  Of course, there are those people out there that will say, “don’t make the test so hard to grade and you will be fine.”  Well, quite frankly, I don’t agree with that statement.  Finals are an important capstone to the semester.  The process is tedious not because of the length of time it takes to grade one paper, but all of the exams combined.

Overall, this is a time-honored tradition, but maybe it is time for a change.  The issue that I have with the typical final exam is the emphasis on memorization of facts.  Many of the finals that I have seen are a large portion multiple choice answers, identifying, matching, or true false.  I don’t see enough skills being tested/evaluated on these types of assessments.  One example of a different type of assessment would be an encompassing project looking at the themes covered in one year.  For instance, my US History class recently completed a project on the Vietnam War.  In this assignment the students had to analyze songs, political cartoons, or images and determine how they showcase a specific theme we have been studying, US democratic principles.  I haven’t graded the assignments yet, but I am already impressed by the amount of effort and creativity the students put into their work.  This assignment focused on higher order thinking, the crown jewel in education theory.  Wouldn’t you agree that would be nice to see some more evidence of higher order thinking on end of the year finals?

What is Public History?

A few weeks ago, I was attending an optional Digital History class and someone there asked if a teacher was a public historian.  At the time, I said that teachers were not public historians.  I said this for two reasons.  First, in my Public History Seminar, pre-collegiate social studies teachers are not in the definition of the class.  If you look at all of the assigned books and readings, not one mentions the role of a pre-collegiate history teacher in a classroom setting.  Due to that, I then became determined to discover a reason that teachers are not public historians.  This mission of discovery led me to my second reason that excludes teachers, in which I mistakenly concluded that teachers don’t contribute anything “new” to the field.  I have since revised my thoughts on the matter, but I am now more in-tune with why teachers are different from public historians.

The difference, in essence, is derived not from the teacher’s contribution to the field, but from the audience.  Teachers most certainly do contribute to the field.  Each day, they present a wide range of primary resources, provide tools for analyzing them, and ultimately contributing to the memory of past events.  Just the act of creating memory and a narrative for an audience is an act of public history.  But the difference lies in the audience.  Typically, public historians either work for an agency or are hired as a freelance.  Regardless of where or when they work, the public historian is working for their audience.  They have to market either their skills or interpretations to attract clients.  For the social studies teacher, it is much different.  Aside from having to apply for the job and interview, the clientele is compulsory.  I bet there are many, if not all, directors of museums or historic houses who would love a compulsory crowd.

This does not mean that a social studies teacher does not use the same tools as a public historian.  Really, if you think about it a public historian and a social studies teacher are very similar.  They both are professionals whom wear many hats.  As a teacher, one has to be a researcher, administrator, editor, archivist, web designer, and much more.  Both positions also require and encourage team work and collaboration.  From my experience, the training of both focus on many similar concepts such as being inclusive, inventive, democratic, interdisciplinary, scholarly, informed, forward-thinking, and civic minded.  This is only a sample of the similarities.  Also, both professions are involved with educating, creating discussion, and promoting analysis.  So now the question becomes, what is public history?  And, who are public historians?

Defining public history is no easy task.  In fact, there is little consensus even among public historians themselves.  J. D. Bowers, of Northern Illinois University describes public historians as a “historian in the middle,” acting as a sort of mediator between academic historians and the public.  Denise Meringolo likens a public historian to a community organizer with the training of a historian.  Jane Becke, however, indicates that the profession is a “part of a broad range of humanities, scholarship and practice.”  The most difficult, and frustrating, part of selecting an appropriate definition for the field is that each of the three mentioned above are all right in their own way.  In my estimation, public history is a progressive field where historians utilize research to make insightful and accessible contributions to a public audience.

This was not my first definition of Public History.  My original definition was too narrow, focusing on employment and the human experience rather than accessibility to a public audience.  After developing my original definition, I searched for other definitions and came across the National Council of Public History (NCPH) website, which had a page describing the ongoing discussion surrounding the definition of Public History.  NCPH defines public history as “a movement, methodology, and approach that promotes the collaborative study and practice of history; its practitioners embrace a mission to make their special insights accessible and useful to the public.”  Along with this definition there are two responses expressing the ideas presented above.  Essentially, I was pleased to find that my description of public history was not that far off from what other professionals in the field have been discussing.

Another time, I will have to describe my reasoning  for my definition of public history, but now it is time to end this post.  Just remember, when you think about public history, it is a broad and developing field.  The evidence of such is in the many different definitions that exist.

Civil War Hartford

I would have to say that the hardest part of creating a digital archive is composing a well thought out introductory essay.  It is not that I have trouble writing or that I don’t know the content enough to write about Hartford in the Civil War.  I would have to say that the difficulty is creating a piece of writing that is interesting and sets forth the scope and importance of my exhibit.

In the future, if this exhibit turns into something more than a class project, the introductory essay may be what people (in my case teachers) use to determine if the archive is worth while.  Essentially, it may determine if my archive is relevant and credible.  Of course, I am probably putting too much emphasis on the importance of this piece…that is typically my shortcoming.  I am always striving to change the world or make some sort of break through.  I think my wife puts it best when she tells me to “Keep it Simple Stupid.”  Honestly, this is great advice, but it hurts every time.

When it comes right down to it in this essay I have to determine why people should care about this archive.  Why is the archive relevant?  To answer this question, my archive is relevant because Hartford is like a microcosm of what might have happened if the South did not secede from the Union.  Essentially, in Hartford, there was a large number of Democrats and Republicans.  The climate of Civil War Hartford was very explosive.  There were Democrats who supported the war, known as War Democrats.  There were anti-War Democrats who, in many cases, supported the Confederacy.  As for Republicans, there were basically two types.  There were what would be considered today fiscal Republicans, whom supported the war effort because they were at the forefront of business innovation and wanted protection from a strong central government for their business adventures.  Finally, there were radical Republicans that pushed to end slavery.

Although I think that this information is all extremely interesting it is not the material that would be typically covered in a Middle or High School setting.  For my essay, I have to focus on how local history reflects the trends that were occurring nationally.  That is the focus of my collection and exhibit.  Now I just need to put the thoughts to paper in a way that entices people to utilize my materials.

The Possibilities of Collecting Born Digital Sources

As a teacher I utilize more and more “born digital” resources in the classroom.  These resources to range from news clips, youtube videos, and personal accounts of historical events.  There are countless sites on the web dedicated to provided a wide array of digital sources that can be incorporated into the classroom.  One of the fastest growing areas of digital sources are oral histories.  This may seem strange considering the intensive process that historians partake when conducting such interviews.  The internet, however, seems to be revolutionizing oral histories as we know it.

Essentially, historians have turned to the web in various formats to collect information from living history sources.  One examples of these efforts is the 9/11 digital archive.  This is a sight where people can tell their story of that historic day by adding email, and uploading images, documents, and other digital files to the archive.  This archive showcases many web 2.0 technologies and creates a truly democratic exhibit where people can connect, recollect, and memorialize the victims of that tragic event.

If I were to build a history website, I would definitely incorporate a section where people could contribute their memories, images, and documents to enrich the site.  My site would have a core set of materials on display such as maps, images, teaching resources, and interactives as well as two types of contribution areas.  The first would be the type described above and the second would be a place where scholars could submit suggestions and content.  Scholars would contribute primary sources, original work related to the topic, and suggestions for site design.  One of the key components to this contributor format is collection of submitter contact info.   This way, when I want to redesign the site or exhibit new or different content, I could send out mass emails asking for intellectual contributions.

Interconnecting quality secondary and primary resources in a digital format is can have a massive effect on learning in and out of the classroom.