The Boston Book Festival with English Educators

By Carina Traub, SED 2016

Carina Traub

At Boston University, we like to say that Boston is our campus. This felt especially true the weekend of the Boston Book Festival in October. English Educators, the club for English education majors and other students interested in the teaching of English, explored the festival together, and attended two talks, one about education and another about young adult literature.

The first talk we attended was Finnish Lessons, featuring Pasi Sahlberg, an education expert from Finland. I had written a final paper using his book Finnish Lessons and even blogged about my excitement over the Finnish education system last year. Listening to him speak was so fantastic, and it was so gratifying to introduce my fellow club members to the magic of Finnish education.

Between talks, we wandered through the various booths. The community value of literacy was palpable, and affirming as an English Educator. We stopped by the booth for 826 Boston, a creative writing and homework center for underserved students in the Boston Public Schools. Our club raised over $500 for the organization last year during the Write-a-Thon, so it was rewarding to see all the students they were engaging at the festival.

After collecting a plethora of free bookmarks and perusing the $3 book sales, we headed to our second talk: Young Adult (YA) Literature- Tackling Tough Topics. As English teachers, we seek to help our students learn from other perspectives and process important topics. However, it can be quite the balancing act to raise such meaningful issues and then break them down effectively. The panel, featuring four YA authors and moderated by the Boston Public Library children’s librarian, discussed issues such as sexuality, abuse, sexual assault and rape.

As a student organization of future educators, we greatly benefitted from the discussion. One of the English Educators club members, an exchange student from France, could not believe that talking about sex was so taboo in American schools. I personally was interested in how books that tackle tough topics could avoid being classified as “problem novels,” a YA literature term about books that are reductive in their treatment of a particular issue. Problem novels cease to exist outside their issues, while the books of our panelists and many reputable YA authors take a more whole-book approach, where the emphasis is on characters and plot as opposed to a single issue consuming everything.

During the Boston Book Festival, I was especially grateful to have Boston as my campus. My professors were authors and experts, and I was immersed in a world passionate about literacy. Thank you, Boston, for a wonderful weekend.

Carina Traub is a junior in the School of Education, majoring in English Education.

Giving Math a Second Chance

By Debra Regensburger, SED 2017

Its-OK-To-Like-Math-image-500x500

I have never liked math. I dreaded math classes in elementary through high school and saved my math homework for last when I got home. I don’t quite have a reason for why I didn’t like it. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t very good at it. I try to think back as to why I didn’t understand the concepts, and I can’t pinpoint one reason. I suspect I didn’t like the mystery of math. I never knew why I did certain formulas or solved problems in certain ways. As someone who needs to understand why I do something in order to comfortably perform the task, math class was tough to sit through.

Today however there have been changes in curriculum. I understand that the Common Core Curriculum is a controversial topic, but the differences it is making in math are tremendous. It requires teachers to have conversations with students about why math is the way it is, why we get the answer we get. It requires that the students know how to articulate what they are learning. It requires that the students and teachers help one another to understand.

When I saw that math was a required class for my sophomore year at BU I panicked. However this experience has been the opposite of everything I had earlier anticipated. In accordance with the curriculum we will one day have to teach, this class urges me to think, solve and then articulate my process in five different ways. I used to think addition, multiplication and fractions were easy. In some sense they are still easy to solve, but now I am learning why these equations work and how to provide explanations to any type of learner. I am practicing the skills I want my students to understand and also getting a chance to stand in front of the class and practice being an instructor. I develop my conversational, mathematic and literary skills from the teamwork and discourse our class is based on.

I think about the future of education and this is why I want to be a part of it. Perhaps if I had been taught math in this way I would not have dreaded the classes or homework as much as I did. At such a young age we decide what we like and dislike and rarely do we go back on our word. Now I see that with the right discussions, multiple presentations of the same topic and dedication, hard topics can be broken down and explained. I was worried that I would not be able to properly teach math in my own classroom because of my feelings towards the topic, but now I have the confidence needed.  Math is my favorite class this semester (an accomplishment on its own) because I leave that class everyday knowing I come out a better teacher.

Debra Regensburger is a sophomore in the School of Education, majoring in Elementary and Special Education. 

Expect the Unexpected

By Sophie Klein, SED 2016

My first summer as a camp counselor 7 years ago, I took on the additional duty of bus counselor. When the camp director called me and asked me if I would consider this position, I was flattered that he thought I was responsible and I was thrilled to be making extra money. I was going to be the best bus counselor in the history of bus counseling. I had a clipboard, names, addresses and an emergency barf kit that my mother put together that morning.

I was excited as the bus doors shut and the bus pulled away from my building. This was going to be fun. By the time the bus reached the camp 60 minutes later, I had a camper with magic marker all over his face, a camper loudly sobbing as to why he even had to go to camp, multiple campers asking if we were there yet, a camper who tossed a note for his counselor out the window and a camper who threw up in the aisle as the other horrified campers (and myself) watched the puke rolling up and down the aisle as we all covered our noses. Needless to say, I no longer felt flattered and I never wanted to take the bus again. But guess what?  I stuck it out. I stayed, and was thanked a great deal by the nannies and the moms at the end of the day as their children arrived home in one piece.

So what’s the point of this story? Every time I walk into a classroom, I think back to that chaotic scene and know that as a teacher, there will be many first days filled with unexpected moments, and in a way that is what makes education and teaching so exciting; you never know what you’re going to walk into. I know that by the time I graduate I will be prepared to take on a classroom of 30 New York City public schoolers thanks to my education from SED. We have been taught to expect the unexpected and think on our toes and use every resource imaginable to make a lasting impact on our students. I look forward to finding a community similar to the one that I have found at SED that values all of the first days and surprises along the way.

Sophie Klein is a junior in the School of Education, majoring in Early Childhood Education.

Why I Care

By Bonnie Tynes, SED 2016

I am currently in my third year of studying education and second year of studying special education at Boston University. This third year is monumental in many ways for me. It means that I’ve now spent nearly one fifth of my life (does that make me feel old or young?) consumed by thoughts, emotions, readings, and assessments surrounding education. It means that I’m three years closer to becoming a real person and pursuing a real career in the field of education. It means that I’m an upperclassman now. It means no turning back. It means confidence in my choices, as worrisome as they may have seemed at the time of conception.

Friends and family frequently ask me, “what made you want to become a teacher?” and my response today is fairly automatic. I want to be a teacher because I want to help children reach their full potential. I want to be their mentor, moral pilot, and mother when they don’t have one at home. I want them to want to succeed, and I want our future generations to be a product of the hard work put in by my fellow educators and myself.

I say inspirational things, and I think inspirational thoughts about education, but it isn’t really until I’m in a classroom with a child that the real inspiration happens. I can tell person after person why I’m passionate about education, but until you see me interact with a student you won’t really know. The real concept of education, all of the blood, sweat, and tears that actually go into the field, is uncharted territory for most. It’s not about any of that though. What I wish I could tell my friends and family when they ask me this is “come see me with a student, and then you’ll see.”

I spent my summer this year as a teacher’s assistant at Carroll School in Waltham, Massachusetts. A school for students with dyslexia and language-based disabilities, Carroll strives to encourage and empower their children to be model students and confident learners for future years to come. On my first day at Carroll, I was extremely nervous to approach an entirely new class of students. However, by the end of the day my six lovely second-graders treated me like a friend who they’d known their whole life. On my second day, I was greeted with hugs from the girls, high fives from two of the boys, and one sweet “good morning Miss Bonnie.” You would have thought I’d won the lottery.

I am not studying education because I think that I can single-handedly change the face of one of the most complex working systems in our great nation. I am not studying education to pour knowledge into young minds and see that knowledge reflected on tests and assessments. I am studying education because I can’t see myself doing any other job in this world. I live for these kids’ success. Not just academic success, but long-term success as a happy healthy member of society. Not to mention, their hugs, drawings, and “good mornings.”

Bonnie Tynes is a junior in the School of Education, majoring in Special Education.

 

Theory into Practice: Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences

By Colleen Mahany, SED 2015

I am in my senior year at Boston University’s School of Education and I am student teaching at a middle school. I’ve been at the school for less than two months and I’m already fully in charge of the lesson plans, classroom management, grading, and general wellbeing of my students. In short, I feel like a real, walking, talking teacher. Finally.

Anyway, after three years of filling my undergraduate head with as much pedagogy as I can, I have begun to test it all on my students. Essentially, my seventh graders are my guinea pigs. Sometimes I implement strategies on purpose, such as having students sort tier three vocabulary words into a word web. That’s a fancy way of saying that I have my students sort domain-specific vocabulary into different categories on a graphic organizer. Other times, I put together a lesson and realize happily (and luckily) that aspects of my lesson reflect established, research-based instruction.

For example, my very first, independently planned and executed lesson was about what constitutes a civilization. For homework, I wanted them to review the information and convey to me that they understood the notes and group work from that day. I allowed students to choose their mode of response. If they felt that they were a strong writer, I encouraged them to write a letter, speech, or skit. If they felt that they were better able to express their ideas through pictures, I encouraged them to create an illustration, comic, or cartoon. If they were talented songstresses, I encouraged them to write a song.

The next day I received a variety of versions of the assignment, which made me happy since the students, for the most part, demonstrated that they understood the major concepts of the lesson. Some of my students struggle to work independently, but thrive working in groups. As a result, I had a group of students turn in a group skit. I also found that this approach was most helpful for English Language Leaners who are not completely comfortable with the language yet. Obviously English Language Learners need ample practice with reading, writing, and speaking, but, when appropriate, I try to allow them to show they know the information in a comfortable way. One of my students also voluntarily turned the small homework assignment into a poster presentation. I was beyond thrilled that this 12-year-old boy felt inspired to go beyond the ordinary and expected.

The whole point of this rant is not to glorify my first teaching experience; trust me, I have had my fair share of flopped and confusing lessons this semester. I just want to explain how I reflected and realized that I accidentally took something I learned in my Introduction to Education course and put its ideas into my lesson.  Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory basically asserts that students have nine different areas of strengths and learn best through different modalities. These strengths include visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic, logical-mathematical, naturalist, and existential. In a small way, the homework assignment reflected this theory and translated it into practice. Students were able to explore their strengths and learn in a way that made the most sense to them. Hopefully, I make the happy mistake of being influenced by classic, education research while planning lessons. Or, you know, include instructionally sound practices on purpose.

Colleen Mahany is a senior in the School of Education, majoring in History.

Reshaping Standardized Testing

By Griffin Monahan, SED 2016

Standardized testing isn’t going anywhere soon, but it can be reshaped. Without a powerful piece of federal legislation to counter The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, it will be impossible to remove standardized testing from public schools in America. It’s a hard pill to swallow for some. Spending several days of school taking state exams. Students sit at their desks for several hours as they tackle thick packets of multiple-choice questions. It is an ugly realization: standardized testing isn’t going anywhere soon.

Fear not, the future of education isn’t as dark as it may seem. Recently Matt Malone, the Massachusetts Secretary of Education, spoke to a large group of Boston University students. He spoke on the current state of education in Massachusetts and the country. A major issue that Mr. Malone recognized was how standardized testing has grown to Godzilla sized proportions. One of Massachusetts’ major leaders in the field of education believes that there is too much test taking. That means there is potential for change if the uppermost leadership recognizes a problem with testing. Mr. Malone conceded that formal measurements of student progress will not fade away anytime soon but he did assert that they can be reduced in size.

How else can states measure student progress other than formal standardized testing? One method that Mr. Malone suggested was statewide student portfolios. Both students and teachers would collect student work throughout the year to demonstrate proficiency and more importantly progress. Standardized tests could be reduced in size and emphasis through the addition of alternative measures such as the student portfolio. Hands on assessments like this give some control back to classroom teachers. If teachers do not have to worry about two weeks of testing then they can teach more lessons focused on their curriculum and less on state test standards. Less drill and kill and more projects and student collaboration results in engaging classrooms. The future of education isn’t so bleak after all, we just need to reshape some of the problems into solutions.

Griffin Monahan is a junior in the School of Education, majoring in History.