Computers and iPhones and iPads, Oh My!

By Allison Nadler, SED 2017

Technology consumes our lives. We are constantly on our phones to check emails, texts, Facebook… the list could go on forever. I’ve even heard people say that they feel empty and lost when they forget their phones. Supposedly, people are missing out on what’s right in front of them and are forgetting how to have a “normal” conversation because of technology. Strict rules are created at schools to prevent students from using their phones until the end of the day and parents complain that they never see their kids anymore because they are always on the Internet or texting a friend. While all of these opinions seem to be putting technology under a bad light, my experiences at Boston University allowed me to see the opposite.

Last year, I had the privilege of chaperoning a field trip to the Museum of Fine Arts. I led a group of nine students around the museum as they analyzed artwork and recorded interesting facts on their worksheets. All the students seemed to be enjoying the cultural environment and making sure they filled out assignments. But as they day progressed, the students looked tired and they started to sit on the couches and avoid the exhibits. One student said something that really stuck with me. I overheard her mention to her friend, “why should I waste my time wandering around the museum filling out this worksheet, when I can just look up all the answers online later?” Her friend agreed and the two of them proceeded to sit on a couch and check Facebook on their phones. My first reaction was that these girls were being disrespectful to and unappreciative of the art around them, but then I had a different interpretation of the situation. Of course this is what these girls thought; they spend every moment online expecting immediate answers, why should they spend six minutes finding the painting, two minutes searching for the answer, one minute reading the answer, and two minutes copying it down on the worksheet, only to forget it in four minutes once they begin to search for the next piece of artwork listed on the assignment. It made perfect sense.

As a student in the School of Education, I have the privilege of going to many different schools and classrooms in and around Boston. So far, I have only been to elementary schools, but at these schools I am able to see how technology is used during the day. Most of the classrooms I’ve seen have SmartBoards, projectors, and iPads. SmartBoards are used to watch educational YouTube videos, play interactive games, and help students practice their handwriting. Projectors allow teachers to read a book aloud to the class, while showing them the pictures the whole time. The apps on iPads are perfect for teaching math and writing skills. Educational technology is clearly promoted in the classroom. Additionally, teachers are constantly encouraging their students to learn about the world around them; but from what I’ve noticed, seeing the world means using interactive maps online to find the Eiffel Tower, Googling an image of the Mona Lisa, and discovering new information on Wikipedia. While this is not the most conventional way to absorb information, it is the most instantaneous; and students today seem to want instantaneous results.

So, is it really so bad that the girls at the museum wanted to research the paintings at home? On the Internet they will find endless information about the artist and the location in which the painting was created in just a few clicks, but instead they were limited to the four-sentence description on the small plaque to the right of the artwork. Yes, using a phone during class to send texts or post pictures does not allow students to focus on important material, but using an iPhone during class to define an unknown word, figure out the chronology of historical events, and look up a complex mathematical formula definitely adds to the learning experience. When technology is used for educational purposes, it expands the options students have for learning. As a teacher during such an advanced time period, it will be very difficult to help students recognize when it is appropriate to use technology for academic purposes and when it is not.

Allison Nadler is a sophomore in the School of Education, majoring in Special Education.

Never Say: “I can’t”

By Sonia Yang, SED 2017

I always tell people around me that I want to be teacher. When I was young, my parents asked me why I wanted to be a teacher, and I told them because teachers had a longer vacation than others. When I was in middle school, my classmates asked me the same question, and I answered them because I wanted to give students much more homework to finish. When I applied to BU in my senior year, the “Why BU” essay asked me the same question again, and I responded that I wanted to be an innovated math teacher who gave students’ real-life math experience instead of tedious lectures. If you ask me this question now, I would like to tell you because I want to discover my students’ potential and help them achieve their dreams.

“Prof. Louis, I think I could not finish this assignment because I don’t write even a word about this topic.” I still remembered I was almost crying to my Special Education professor when I went to her office hours for my research paper. As a student who didn’t know anything about special education, I always could hear a voice in my heart scream: “No, you can’t write this research paper. Can’t! Can’t!” Prof. Louis comforted me and asked me to list some bulletin points that I wanted to write in my research paper. She then asked me are there any points can be related to each other or can go under the same topic. And she encouraged me to see myself as a special needs student and imagine how can my teachers and parents help me. Drawing the outline with my professor for my research paper, I noticed the screaming voice became quieter and quieter.

There are so many challenges and difficulties in our way when we try to make our dreams come true. The same situation can happened to students when they study the content areas. Some students who love to face the difficulties have confidence to achieve their high academic achievements. However, as for the students who always don’t have enough confidence and seeks for extra support, I will never leave them behind. Making the class material more accessible, giving them a longer time to think about the material and encouraging them to be confident are all the things I learn from myself by finishing the assignments. I was that cowardly student but I became strong by stopping saying: “I can’t”. And one day, I will let my students be stronger.

Sonia Yang is a sophomore in the School of Education, majoring in Mathematics Education

Drowning in the Melting Pot

By Katrina Kretchman, SED 2016

It is estimated that one-in-four children in the United States are from immigrant families and live in households where a language other than English is spoken. This has significant implications for schools and for the current discourse about the role of teacher quality and effectiveness in improving educational outcomes.

Some states are beginning to adopt the Common Core Standards as benchmarks, and have altered their educational policies to match the priorities of the U.S. Department of Education in an effort to be eligible to receive federal funding under the Race to the Top grant. To meet these new high standards, ELLs must be given special attention, especially given their growing numbers and low-performance on test scores relative to their non-ELL peers. Massachusetts is one of the highest performing states, according to test scores, and has large populations of English Language Learners in various areas.

In 2002, Massachusetts’s voters approved a ballot initiative against the continuance of Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE) as a method of instruction for English Language Learners. It was replaced with a wide-ranging set of bilingual programs, but most students participate in Sheltered English Immersion (SEI). SEI’s main purpose is to accelerate the learning of the English language, and unlike TBE, which relies on the English Language Learners’ own language to facilitate the learning of academic subjects as they master English, the SEI model is based on the concepts that the English language is acquired quickly when taught through meaningful content and effective interaction.

The law has a goal that ELLs be placed in SEI programs for no longer than one year and then transition into mainstream classrooms. Parents can seek to “waive” the placement of their children in SEI programs and request to have their children placed in general education classrooms or other bilingual programs, but not all are aware of this option. The new law had broad implications for the instruction offered to ELLS: it affected the use of native language in instruction, the types of instructional materials and books allowed, the content taught, and the teaching skills required. Although results vary throughout the states, five years after SEI began to be implemented in Massachusetts, there was little information about the positive impact of the changes on outcomes for ELLs in the state.

This is what happened after SEI was implemented in Massachusetts:

  • The enrollment of students of limited English proficiency (LEP) in special education programs is increasing. It went from 15.3% in 2003 to 19.5% three years later. In Holyoke, 39.2% of all students of LEP were in a SPED program during 2008-2009.
  • Districts became limited in their capacities to respond to the diverse needs of ELLs, as most of the students were only offered SEI programs. Among high school students, for whom immersion programs are least likely to be effective, 97% of Boston’s ELLs were in those programs. The highest proportion of students who made progress in acquiring English proficiency did so in the early grades. 70.5% of students tested in grades 3-4 made progress, compared to only 57.5% in high school.
  • The annual dropout rates of ELLs are two to three times those of their English proficient peers. The annual high school drop-out rate among students in programs for ELLs increase substantially, from 6.3% in 2003 to 12.1% in 2006. The drop out rate of middle school students is equally troubling.
  • The ELA and Math MCAS scores show that large gaps in academic achievement still persist between ELLs and their English-speaking peers.

Some people argue that this situation for ELLs has greatly improved, because their performance on MCAS is increasing in certain areas. However, their situation is far from ideal. There are many different solutions proposed, but my take-away is that I need to be as prepared as possible to educate ELLs in my classroom. Taking one SEI course here at BU is not enough for me, so I plan to get my Masters in TESOL. We’ll most likely all have ELLs in our classrooms—So what will you do? How will you help the fastest growing student population in the United States?

Source: Mauricio Gastón Institute. (2009). English language learners in Massachusetts: Trends in enrollments and outcomes. Boston, MA: Author.

Katrina Kretchman is a junior in the School of Education, majoring in Early Childhood Education.

What Third Graders Taught Me About Life

By Jessica Gulotta, SED 2017

“You just gotta be happy.”

While doing my pre-practicum teaching experience in a Boston elementary school, I started writing down funny things that the students said. When I looked at the notes of quotes I had written down, I realized how many of them were actually valuable pieces of advice. The innocent minds of eight-year-olds are truly filled with inspiring optimism and knowledge.

“Sometimes when I’m stressed, I need to take a break.”

Yes. When a student said this to me, I immediately chuckled and thought this was something this student must have heard from a parent. When I thought about it, I realized how important this actually is in life. When we’re stressed, especially in college, we tend to spiral into black holes of self-doubt. When this happens, taking a break and clearing our minds is the best remedy.

“I don’t think bullies have as much fun as me.”

A student said this to me after she had told me about another student who was bullying her every day at recess. I asked her questions that made her explore the mind of the bully. She came to the conclusion on her own, that bullies aren’t happy with themselves. There will always be people in life who don’t seek the good or positivity in others. We must be able to empathize with their dullness and see past the insecurities they try to bring forth.

“When I read I think about really cool stuff.”

Third graders read tons of books every week, and love it. They have series, or picture books that they go to when they want to imagine things. We mustn’t forget to leave time to challenge ourselves to think differently. This may not be through reading, but through music, art, whatever it is, challenging our brains to expand past its constraints can lead to amazing self-discoveries.

“If I’m sad I like to think about something happy.”

How simple, yet beautiful. It’s very easy to sulk when we get bad grades or don’t feel like ourselves. The best thing to do to get ourselves on track, is to think about happy, optimistic things. When I find myself getting upset about day-to-day problems, I like to think of myself ten years from now, teaching in my own classroom, reading Hamlet, talking about the hidden messages and fan-girling over Shakespeare.

“Can I have help?”

A question asked almost every minute in a third grade classroom. Without fear of judgment or embarrassment, these students ask for help when they don’t understand anything. In college, asking for help often feels like a sign of weakness: not knowing the answer makes us believe in some way, we have failed. We must remember that by asking for help, we are humbling ourselves, and seeking knowledge we don’t understand. Asking for help is a powerful thing and progressing from confusion to comprehension coincides with pride and confidence.

Jessica Gulotta is a sophomore in the School of Education, majoring in English Education.

The Business of Blazers

By Mackenzie Morgan, SED 2016

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When I wear high heels I feel empowered to take on the world and when I throw on a blazer, I know that I mean business that day; I mean business most days.

My extensive wardrobe of business clothes is one of my proudest accomplishments (I’ve been slowly working on it for years). I like dressing like a professional—wait, no—I like being a professional. I also like waking up on Sunday and throwing on leggings and my largest sweater, covering my hands with droopy sleeves and throwing my hair into a messy ponytail. Our outfit choices each day relay a message both to the world and to ourselves regarding how we are feeling that day, what we plan to accomplish, and how we want to be seen by those around us. So what do we mean when we say “dress to impress” or “dress for success” and how does that translate to teachers?

Teachers have very different wardrobe expectations than politicians or business people and I don’t think that this is a trend we should accept. We are being watched by young minds each and every day. Snazzy bowties and novelty ties are not only a great conversation starter, but they also provide a way to elevate the position of teachers and reach our students in new ways by showing them the power of emboldening yourself through an outfit that puts you in charge. Teachers who ditch the jeans and white sneakers in favor of more professional alternatives indicate to students, parents, and anyone with an eye on the world of education that they take their job seriously. Dressing to the same caliber as business people, lawyers, and politicians is one way of putting ourselves on their playing field; they are trained professionals and so are we. We are experts in our field and our knowledge should be respected. We need to be indicating to the world that what we are doing matters and we know that and we want others to know that too.

Many people think that dressing nice means dressing boring, but we don’t have to compromise our identities or expression of individuality in order to dress like professionals. Professional outfits have just as many, if not more, opportunities for customization, creativity and expression. You can wear purple heels on Tuesday and red flats on Friday. You can replace the tie with a bowtie or throw on a tweed blazer on the days you’re feeling extra quirky. Pair your favorite dress with a nice sweater, express yourself through the pattern on your shirt, or make your outfit shine with some choice jewelry. Whatever you do, show your students that you mean business when it comes to teaching them because you know that each and every one of them, if they so desire, has what it takes to one day rock a blazer and the responsibilities that come with it.

Mackenzie Morgan is a junior in the School of Education, majoring in History Education

Experiencing a New Kind of Beautiful

By Grace Dastous, SED 2017

Before coming to Boston University, I had never been exposed to a lot of people who have disabilities. In my school and my town, it was never something that was talked about or discussed. Of course, I had friends who had disabilities and struggled with living in a world that is all about being “normal,” but I had never had a serious conversation about what it meant to be a person who has a disability or how that disability defines you. However, when I came to BU, I decided that I wanted to major in Special Education as well as Elementary Education. I had never realized how many opportunities I would have in the past couple years to really explore what it meant to work with people who have a disability.

My first real discussion about disabilities was during the First Year Student Outreach Program this summer when I was a staff member. My group and I had great discussions about what it meant to be someone with a disability. If you just Google “Inspirational disabilities TED talk,” the first one that comes up is a discussion with Stella Young about people who have disabilities. Many people who have a disability do not want to be gawked or admired for simply getting out of bed in the morning. These people are more than just their disability. It does not define someone; it is just a part of the person they are.

I am participating in Special Olympics this semester. Every Tuesday from 5-7, I go and volunteer with the Special Olympics team in Brookline while they practice their flag football. Last week we had our tournament on Sunday, which was just amazing to see these athletes play. To be honest, going to Special Olympics every Tuesday lightens up my week. My friend Steve is not afraid to give you an Elvis Presley or a Johnny Cash impression. I see Melanie every week at Special Olympics, but she also works at the dining hall, which is awesome because I get to talk to her at least twice a week. Dmitri is always willing and excited to give you a high five. Rem will always give you a hug if you are feeling sad, happy, or simply just cold.

I have discovered that my new friends are more than just someone with a disability; they are individuals with depth and understanding that is similar to everyone else. I think that sometimes people are afraid to talk about disabilities or to talk to someone with a disability, but to them I would say just try it and find out.  I knew that I was always nervous about it, but you cannot overcome that fear without experiencing someone who has a disability. It was something that has changed my life. Although I want to do Elementary Education and Special Education, I am constantly rethinking of doing more involving children and people who have a disability. You could be surprised how much they would be able to make you smile every day.

Grace Dastous is a sophomore in the School of Education, majoring in Elementary and Special Education