Teaching the Holidays, Religion, and Common Core: Three strategies to bring it all together

Teaching the Holidays, Religion, and Common Core: Three strategies to bring it all together

Cue singing children:             It’s that time of year . . Christmas is so near . . .   Wait! Can we say that in a public school?! It’s the holidays, a time of year when educators grapple with questions of culture and inclusion. With a diversifying student body, what is appropriate to celebrate? What decorations are allowed? Can the choir sing “Silent Night” in the Christmas—oops—holiday concert? It’s tricky territory. Some schools ban the mention of holidays or religions.  But we can’t learn about other beliefs by pretending they don’t exist. In a diversifying society, schools have an obligation to help students communicate and collaborate across cultures and religions. The holidays can be a great time for building these skills. And—surprise! You do this while meeting Common Core. Here are three strategies: Give students a voice: What do you know about the traditions and celebrations that are important to your students? Provide opportunities for students to speak and write about what matters to them. Student projects can incorporate personal narratives, interviews, oral histories, videos and more. Use these projects to support peer-to-peer teaching, with students sharing their work through exhibits or other venues. This provides multiple opportunities to meet Common Core standards for analyzing texts, presenting information in multiple forms, and speaking and listening. Go ahead—talk about religion. Holidays are a great opportunity to explore the values and beliefs of faiths. Students deepen their understanding of their own faith as they learn about others. Imagine a holiday concert that included Christian, Jewish and secular songs in the spirit of celebrating and learning about a range of traditions. Why...

Shifting Demographics: How schools should respond

This post continues our #NewTeacherVoices series featuring pre-service teachers. Today’s guest blogger is Chandler Lach, a junior at Eastern Michigan University studying Secondary Education English and TESOL. There are a number of factors that are contributing to a change in demographics within K-12 schools. Professionals have noticed a trend where changing patterns of fertility and immigration have diversified the United States population. Though the implications of this trend may vary from region to region, they are universalized through our education system because each individual child is required to go to public school. This means that a diverse population in society means that our school populations become increasingly diverse. Schools must respond to these demographic changes accordingly. The Center for Public Education (CPE) released a document which addresses these issues and the appropriate responses in 2012. The research was founded by Ron Crouch and he interprets demographic changes along with their implications, especially in their application to ELL students. The CPE recommends that when demographic shifts, the need for highly qualified bilingual/ESL teachers will increase dramatically. Issues of equity have always been problematic within the education system, but with increased diversity, race will continue to cause conflict among schools. Crouch identified that we are growing older, we are growing more diverse, and the effects of the two is having an effect on school demographics. One of the primary issues that educators face in communities of diverse populations is the “achievement gap.” It is considered the cause of many social problems and it boils down to this: schools are built for white, middle-class, students. Public education and standardized testing is responsible...
Can Grit Undermine Critical Thinking?

Can Grit Undermine Critical Thinking?

Educators are hearing a lot about “grit” and the need to help kids persevere toward long-term goals. We’re told we need to deliver lessons about how successful people got there by keepin’ at it. But is grit the new bootstrap? And can an individualistic focus on grit keep kids from thinking critically about the social structures that impact their efforts? The narrative in the US is that hard work reaps success (typically defined in material terms). But the evidence keeps mounting that race and socioeconomic status are bigger predictors of advancement. For example, you’re 2.5x more likely to be wealthy as an adult if you were born wealthy and didn’t go to college than if you were born poor and had the grit to graduate from college. Don’t get me wrong: Kids need to set goals and work hard. But they also need critical thinking skills to challenge the inequalities that undermine their best efforts. Critical Thinking Strategies Here’s one way to build critical thinking into the curriculum: Have students ask who benefits? Language arts and social studies provide great opportunities for kids to hear the voices of those often underrepresented in the curriculum– people of color and the working class. Students can examine the impacts of historical and events by analyzing the impacts on different social groups. Who is really benefitting from this law/decision/policy? Who has the power to make the decisions? Understanding structural inequalities is a prerequisite for grit. When students understand problems, they will develop solutions, set goals, and persevere to make them happen. They will rise to the challenge both socially and academically. In this...
My Bootstraps Aren’t As Big As I Thought

My Bootstraps Aren’t As Big As I Thought

Poverty and academic achievement are two big topics most educators are grappling with. What’s the relationship? What factors really determine student success? Some people say hard work and “grit” are the main ingredients, and that if someone isn’t achieving it’s due to their own deficits. These educators say that everyone gets the same opportunities, and that lack of success is really just a lack of effort or character. Others, like myself, believe we address stubborn social and educational inequalities. While hard work certainly matters, I’m very passionate that we need to look beyond bootstraps. Why? Because bootstraps made all the difference in my own life. Sound ironic? Allow me explain: My grandfather, an Italian immigrant, never attended school. He was completely illiterate and could not even sign his own name. He worked as a day laborer and then landed a factory job during WWII that enabled him to move the family into a house with plumbing. My father entered school speaking only Italian and learned English without the benefit of ESL classes. Neither he nor my mother attended college. (She and her siblings took turns going to school because there were not enough shoes to go around.) After a stint in the Army in transportation and logistics, my father transferred his sharp skills to a white-collar job in the private sector. He climbed the proverbial ladder, and after 35+ years, retired the vice president of a major corporation. His hard work and talent continues to inspire me and I’ve learned so much from his example. This rapid advancement is the classic American dream. But the long road to success...