Writing is Important-er-er


Spelling and Grammar: Important, Writing: Important-er-er

Many of my blog posts and LinkedIn writings contain spelling errors or grammatical mistakes. I love these little gems of reality. I need an editor of course. When I worked with an educational team or at the university I relied on a group of colleagues for peer feedback. Sometimes students volunteered to help with my less than fluent writing. The thing is, I love writing and I love writing wildly.

I love writing, not for the act of writing itself, but for the expression. Writing, like my digital art endeavors and videos, provides an opportunity to say something. Let a thought out into the wilderness. Unfortunately writing comes with a cost. It is not pure expression.

Too many short sentences in a row breaks a readers concentration. Too many long sentences slow down the pace too much. Repetitiously using the same sentence style drives folks batty. Referencing obscure puns while starting each sentence off with the same sound does not help the reader echo-locate their way through a passage. You said the the same article twice. An article in a sentence makes the writer a bat without flight…..

These are sneaky grammatical and spelling issues. Well, “the the” is really a typo. Typos and spelling errors are actually the sneakiest of writing stumps. Especially with spellcheck. Or is it spell check? Who knows? Spellcheck doesn’t spell check or check the spelling of spell and check. Does it matter? In a recent letter of interest to a position in equity education advocacy that I would dearly love to have – “the the” happened. It was supposed to be “to the”. I only noticed after my nerves calmed down post-application submission. Hopefully the-the reader “to the” letter will give-give me-me a break-break. Now I sound like juvenile. This letter mattered to me. So spellcheck or spell check – it does matter. Except on my blog and on my personal social media. Here I write for the wilderness.

Why do I love to write if my product is full of errors and open to so much criticism? Why do I love to write when my colleagues and friends have become inhibited in their writing? I think, in part, this was due to a teacher of English I met as a sign language interpreter. To them writing was artwork. Make mistakes. Discover gems in mistakes. Let students write wildly. Let the writing roam the wilderness for a few months. We can peer edit later, once the wilderness starts to pale.

I loved this philosophy and yet I hear friends state that they loathe writing. My belief is that this comes from the systematic education of our industrial age education system. Writing became, less art, more system. Education targets perfection in writing over art. Since when did perfection, grammatical soundness, or correct (and arbitrary) spelling have anything to do with expression?

Real English used by native speakers does not exist within the idealized written form. So why do we strive, and beat ourselves up for failing to achieve, the idealized form of English? “Standard Written English” is a consensus form of English. Over the years folks at the upper echelons of academic society (publishers, writers, educators and others) developed this consensus agreement of what is clear and proper for English writing. The idea is that a uniform standard of communication can be understood by all speakers and users of English regardless of differences in dialect, pronunciation, and usage.

My objection to this idea is that the consensus version of Standard Written English creates a class barrier. English educators, untrained in taking a social justice approach to sharing Standard Written English, often lay the foundations that inhibit potential writers. Happily, new training and conferences are slowly correcting this issue.

Recently, attending a social justice for teaching English style conference, I listened to presenters urge teachers to follow the critical reflection; six “re-s” of reflecting, reconsidering, refusing, reconceptualizing, rejuvenating, and reengaging as applied to lessons. As APPLIED to lessons! How does your writing assignment (not classroom culture but CURRICLUM!) support the diverse student body culturally? Does your approach to sharing Standard Written English perpetuate class barriers? Or break them down? Teaching for social justice is not just an act of student reflection, acceptance, and respect, but an act of teacher reflection, acceptance, and respect.

Let us not disenfranchise writers. Please do not oppress the writings of diverse people. Let them write into the wild – on blogs, LinkedIn, and other sources. Then, cautiously and with respect for the diverse wild creature of self-expression, show writers how to create and domesticate their works into the docile Standard Written English version of their writing. Grammatically correct sentences are important. Spelling is important. Writing is important-er-er.


What is Educational Equity Doing?

scales balancing educationEducational Equity AKA Equity in Education:

Defined as fairness, opportunity, and measure of achievement in education according to the indomitable wikipedia. The idea of educational equity is much more nebulous than the wiki definition. According to some scholars equity in education is most significantly influenced by race and class. Others cite gender and socio-economics. Language diversity. Religion. Sexuality. Rural vs metropolitan areas. Regardless of which area viewed as the “most” influential, I think educators can agree that all children deserve the advantages they need to graduate from high school and either succeed in college or find competitive employment opportunities. So what are the resources needed to give all children the opportunities they need to meet this goal?

  • Qualified Teachers, Principals and Other Personnel
  • Suitable, Up-to-Date Curricula
  • Additional Resources for “At-Risk” Youth
  • Resources for Youth with Additional Needs (Disabilities, English Language)
  • Class Size/Group Size
  • Safe Environment
  • Facilities that are Accessible and Adequate
  • Books, Media Center, Technologies and Other Supplies (Desks etc)

How many? What type? The Equity Campaign found deficiencies in 28 out of 33 schools in their study. Those were based on state (NY) minimum requirements. That the state minimum requirements have become the maximum that students can expect in some schools is pretty terrible. And that assumes state minimums actually achieve educational equity. Not only are the minimum violated, but these basic requirements do not sufficiently meet the needs to provide students the opportunity to meet standards for a high school graduation that leads to college or career readiness.

Oregon, my home state, also struggles with how to build an equitable educational system. Senate Bill 253 requires that all adults in Oregon will have a high school diploma or equivalent by 2025. Sounds great. Wait? 2025? The Bill also says that 40% of adults will have an associate’s degree or another postsecondary certificate and another 40% will have a bachelor’s or other advanced degree. Just in case you are worried that the 20% without a college degree will be those who are already treated inequitably – the Bill stipulates a 40-40-20 representation of every student in Oregon. People of color should, if the Bill achieves the goals set out in it, attain 40% bachelor or higher degrees, 40% associates, and 20% high school diploma or the equivalent. Great goal but are they going to achieve all this?

There is still a disportionality in terms of people of color receiving fewer opportunities. Social opportunity plays a big part in educational opportunity. The Oregon Investment Board discusses implementing more culturally responsive teaching practices but how will they provide the educator development to meet these goals. A young person in second-grade today is supposed to graduate high school under this 40-40-20 ratio. Have their teachers received the training they need to make this happen? Have class sizes shrunken appropriately? Is the curricula up to date?

Cornell West said, “A fully functional multiracial society cannot be achieved without a sense of history and open, honest dialogue.” I would love to join the educational equity dialogue world-wide and seek to make the substantive changes within explicit, implicit, and hidden curriculums. Why does the bell ring have more significance than immersion in a learning opportunity? What are the root causes of disparity attributed to race, class, language, and other societal and institutional barriers? How can we make school culture visible so that all stakeholders can look to implement a culturally responsive culture. What needs to happen to help educators adapt their discourse and perspective to the ideal of equitable education?

I think about these issues a lot. Usually in the context of LGBTQ educational equity. Typically people can agree on the need for the big picture to change. As we dive into the specifics, educators, policy makers, parents, and others start to argue about what suitable curricula look like. Whether class size really matters. Financial constraints. What composes a qualified school administrator or teacher. I might say an LGBTQ identified educator provides invaluable mentorship to LGBTQ youth. Another educator immediately disagree and suggest such a member of the educational team is not needed. I have witnessed a faculty agree that hiring more diverse candidates is the priority during a hiring cycle only to discard the resumes of people of color. The discourse, therefore, needs to be reflective and continual.

Whether conflicts center around behavior, work habits, pedagogical ideas, policies, or practices, to attain educational equity for a school requires school leaders and educators to build trust and healthy collaboration. Relationships are critical to the work of schools. Student-teacher, teacher-teacher, teacher-administrator, all the relationships are important for building and maintaining a school climate conducive to equity in education according to the National School Climate Council. In this, questioning the systemic causes of disparities amongst students, schools have the opportunity to attain greater equity.

Online Education – Still Figuring Out Where I Think it Fits

Top of an infographic on online learning

Click the above image for a link to a detailed infographic sharing information about the growing demand for online learning solutions.

The article located here, by David Brooks, explains a couple perspectives with online learning. I think it does an okay job of taking a balanced look at online education. Currently my opinion on online learning and blended learning fits within the frame of the article; online education provides a mode of learning roughly equivalent to a regular classroom for motivated students.

They key part of that last idea, “motivated” students, requires a bit more explanation though. Many students choose online learning for great reasons, especially at my high school. They have experienced life style changes that no longer allow them to leave home as easily, they experience social phobias, local school bullies have made life too miserably, and other situations that make online learning a more convenient option. Other students choose the online school as an “easy” route to credits and a high school diploma. For the most part these students are not motivated in their regular schools and this has led them to needing an alternative. Personally and professionally I believe that alternative should not be online schooling.

If a students lacks motivation in a brick and mortar school moving to an online school will only exacerbate their problems. At a regular school students make one choice about attending or not attending school for the day and once they are there they are more or less captive. I understand many students skip class and walk off campus but this requires effort and sometimes quite a bit of planning. In an online school the students make that choice about attending every moment of the day. “Would I rather read up on Facebook posts or complete an assignment?” “Play that video game or add a response to that discussion.”

Even in online schools where the students participate in synchronous learning sessions they have the opportunity to make choices that lead their attention much further from their classwork than they can in a regular classroom. In a regular classroom a teacher can see students and visually assess their attentiveness. In an online session I have had students get up, go to their refrigerator for orange juice, turn on some music, welcome someone into their home, and play a hand of virtual poker. Were they paying attention when I explained that we use Astronomical Units as a way to measure distances within our solar system? Unlikely. In fact the student I am thinking of did poorly on that section of the exam. The only reason I even know this happened was because they accidentally left their mic on. Most of the time the instructor has little notion of student engagement except through polling tools, chat, and quick response buttons.

All of this makes me think that online education serves a useful purpose and, in a blended learning situation, provides greater tools and access to the best resoures. Ill-motivated students, on the other hand, will find themselves ill-prepared and likely fail in a virtual school environment. For online learning – motivation is key! Despite this one area of misgiving I think that online learning will continue to grow and that teachers and school districts should work to take advantage of online learning as a powerful way to connect students to greater learning.

Equity and Reaching Out to the Community

Today I had the opportunity to listen to a presentation by Reiko Williams about family engagement. She referenced Joyce Epstein’s Framework of Six Types of Involvement as the model Portland Public School’s use to engage families. The Framework

Portland’s Statement on Equity:

A key strategy to closing the gap is cultural competency and race awareness training that Portland Public Schools is rolling out district wide. This professional development is offered in partnership with Glenn Singleton and his San Francisco based Pacific Educational Group, which helps education organizations nationwide understand and address the impact of systemic racism on student achievement. The training is built on what’s called Courageous Conversations.”

The dynamics in Portland schools are changing as families move and neighborhoods change. From 2001 to 2011 there have been huge demographics shifts. Keeping these issues in mind – communicating with families and the community is more important than ever.

One thing the speaker mentioned was that the high school engagement and conversations need improvement. By seeing kids by, “their every aspect,” teachers can work smarter and not harder. She also shared a few experiences developing relationships with families and specific ways educators and schools can develop this collaboration. For teachers to educate in the community they need these relationships that inform their teaching.