Archive for February, 2012

Character Education: In the midst of this process called “life”~

Blog for Module 8    Character Education: In the midst of this process called “life”~

Among the readings for this week, the quote by Kirk that I was particularly drawn to was, “By example and precept, until quite recently, grandparents and parents conveyed to young people—or a considerable part of them—some notion of virtue, even if the word itself was not well understood” (Kirk, 1987, p. 1). As with all students–the students within my high school setting are influenced by a wide range of family dynamics—both positive and negative. At times, I have had the unique opportunity of having the children of former students in my classes. Most often, these have been positive experiences and my former students (now parents of teenagers) have either remained positive about education, or in some cases—have become more positive (unlike when they were teenagers). This year, a sad event occurred when a particular student of mine was busted for drugs (unfortunately, not an uncommon occurrence). What was unusual was that I remember well when his mother was in my class. I vividly recall the great difficulties she encountered after each of her parents were killed in separate “self-inflicted” drunk driving accidents—one year apart. As I considered her son, I was deeply saddened to see such a clear picture of generational problems—from this vantage point.

One of my colleagues posted the following comments that strongly resonated with me: “We must involve students in a life-like situation where their emotions are drawn into the scenario so that they may understand how someone with self-control or humility acts. Although many people would argue we don’t have time to teach things like respect, honesty, and love, I believe another implication of this statement is that we are constantly teaching students values throughout our schools.”

I try to be mindful of modeling for my students and feel compelled to be an example of, “respect, honesty, and love”. Several days ago, we had a particularly focused time of discussion in my classes regarding self-control. I had previously selected a handout regarding appropriate communication skills in the school setting (including specific steps to follow when maintaining self-control)–and introduced the discussion by saying, “I know you already know this information, but every-day–we hear in the news about someone who has ‘lost control’. In the last 72 hours–in our county, alone–there have been at least 3 fatal shootings, and 5 within the last month.  Additionally, a young 3rd grade girl—is now in critical condition (shot at the school where my grandson is scheduled to attend kindergarten in the fall)”. My students were all aware of these events and actively participated in the discussion with unusual seriousness. (Although absent that day, one of my students had been friends with a young man—shot and killed by police several weeks ago. He had last spoken with his friend—the day before.)

Indeed—this lesson was “a life-like situation where their emotions [were] drawn in”…

As this week’s module draws to a close, I am profoundly aware of the fact that  I not only carry my own emotions, but I also tend to carry the emotions of my students—due to my highly empathetic nature. I must remind myself to daily relinquish these often heavy burdens to God—entrusting each person represented–to His care. Only then will I be able to begin each new day with hope for the future.


Kirk, R. (1987).The Wise Men Know What Wicked Things are Written in the Sky. “Can Virtue Be Taught?”


Encouragement with Respect~

Blog for Week 7

How does one take into account to student personalities and emotions?

Simple actions such as eye contact, greeting a student by name, smiling and responding with affirmation to something they have said or done, can convey basic regard for students. Noticing uniqueness or something of importance to a student can convey respect for them as an individual. I believe, however, that this is just a beginning. “Teacher encouragement consists of assuring all students that the teacher truly believes they can succeed; letting students know the teacher is available to help in whatever way the students need; and letting students know that it matters to the teacher’s very sense of self that her students succeed” (Ronald Ferguson, as cited by McAdoo, 2011).

As Carl Rogers stated in Freedom to Learn (1983), “the research evidence clearly indicates that when students’ feelings are responded to, when they are regarded as worthwhile human beings capable of self-direction, and when their teacher relates to them in a person-to-person manner, good things happen” (as cited by Dr. Williams in materials for Survey of Instructional Strategies, 2011).

Reading the Howard Gardner materials on Multiple Intelligences again this week (as I have in times past) reminded me of a devotional written by Charles Swindoll, entitled, “A Rabbit on the Swim Team”. In a fictitious school created for the animals, each animal took all took all subjects. The following are some of the observations made of two of the “students”:

“…The duck was excellent in swimming; in fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying, and was very poor in running. This caused his web feet to be badly worn, so that he was only average in swimming. But average is quite acceptable, so nobody worried about that—except the duck. The rabbit started at the top of his class in running, but developed a nervous twitch in his leg muscles because of so much make-up work in swimming….” (1983, p. 461).

In the discussion board this week, one colleague, Julie, wrote, “Howard Gardner’s (1993) classifications of multiple intelligences show how students excel and take in information in a variety of ways….affirm[ing] that not everyone will learn in the same way, so it is critical that we do not always teach in the same way”. Many interesting posts describing how teachers in this course are creatively involving the…”Logical-mathematical, Linguistic, Musical, Spatial, Bodily kinesthetic, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal” strengths of their students!

I have always tried to convey to my students that we all have strengths—but that these may or may not always be in the “spotlight”. Teacher encouragement is especially vital for students with a disability and is evidenced by the manner in which a teacher responds to a student’s needs and implements their accommodations. Often in the process there are opportunities to be mindful of student’s personalities and emotions. Encouragement, as we know, is important to the success of ALL students—with or without an IEP.


Howard Gardner, Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice (1993).

McAdoo, M. (2011). Inside the Mystery of Good Teaching, SPU website. Reprinted with permission from New York Teacher, United Federation of Teachers.

Swindoll, C. (1983). A rabbit on the swim team. Growing strong in the seasons of life. (p. 461-462). Multnomah Press, Portland. OR.

Williams, T. (2011). Survey of instructional strategies course materials, Blackboard. Seattle Pacific University.

Excellence in Constructivism~

Instructional Strategies: BLOG for Week 6

Excellence in Constructivism~

Activities which support constructivism are not specifically teacher directed, but rather require that “students construct meaning from hands-on experiences” (Dell’Olio & Donk, 2007, p. 168) and responsibility for learning is given to each individual student.  After assessing the understandings of students “…lessons are driven by the actions and reactions of the students as they respond to the teachers’ questions and work with data they have generated” (p. 177).

In consideration of the fact that students enter the classroom with different levels of understanding and represent a wide variety of background experiences, then perhaps “excellence” should be understood as a relative term.  In a constructivist classroom, what is meant by the statement, “student is making excellent progress”? It seems that through effectively using the “basic cooperative learning components [of]: Positive interdependence, Group Processing, Appropriate us of Social Skills, Face-to-face promotive interaction, Individual and group accountability ( Johnson & Johnson, 1999)”, (as cited within Marzano, Pickering, and Pollack, 2001, p. 90)—teachers can provide the flexibility needed to address the question of excellence.

This week amongst the discussion posts was one from a colleague who stated, “In education it is the teacher who helps the students put the many ideas together using the students own personal understanding of knowledge. We as educators have the amazing task of doing so in a fashion that is understood by every student.”

I do believe he is correct and that the goal of education is for students to internalize what is taught—an endeavor which can only be effectively accomplished at a personal level. I see this concept as relating to John Dewey’s thoughts expressed in the following statement:

“I believe that as simplified social life, the school life should grow gradually out of the home life; that it should take up and continue the activities with which the child is already familiar in the home. I believe that it should exhibit these activities of the child, and reproduce them in such ways that the child will gradually learn the meaning of them, and be capable of playing his own part in relation to them” (Dewey, 1897, p.4).

In the context of families and communities, the mosaic of a child’s life is begun. Experiences and knowledge from home, community, and school become the collection– the pieces and fragments—children bring with them into the classroom. Within our classrooms, we provide materials and opportunities to arrange and bind these “bits” together into a larger “whole”–offering new “gems” along the way. We trust that our students will “…gradually learn the meaning of them…” and come to realize that they have become the artist.


Dell’Olio, J. M., Donk, T. (2007). Models of teaching. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Dewey, J. (1897). My Pedagogic Creed. The School Journal. Retrieved from SPU website

Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D. J., & Pollock, J. E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Announcing…Advance Organizers!

Module 5–Advance Organizers

“Advance Organizers are a model for helping students organize information by connecting it to a larger cognitive structure that reflects the organization of the discipline itself” (Dell’Olio & Donk, 2007, p. 388). Much of my teaching occurs in the context of individual appointments with high school special education students—with a large focus on teaching goal-setting and problem-solving skills.  Not only is my purpose to help these students make progress toward their IEP goals, but also to assist them in navigating through their high school years—gaining in confidence and skills to successfully advocate for themselves–both in the present and in the future. Often the emphasis is more on process than specific content. In Classroom Instruction That Works, authors Marzano, Pickering, and Pollack state: “Advance organizers are most useful with information that is not well-organized….for example, an advance organizer might work better as a preparation for a field trip than it would as a preparation for reading a chapter in a textbook that is well organized with clear headings and subheadings” (2001, p. 118). Preparing for life after high school—unfortunately does not fall under the category of being “organized with clear headings and subheadings”.

An advance organizer I might use with an individual student working on self-advocacy skills is to describe the process our family went through to go on a camping trip. I might briefly (verbally) state topics we had to think about as we made our plans, such as: Deciding on a destination, where to stay, what clothing to pack, directions on how to get there, what to eat, gear to take, vehicle to drive, time to leave/return, etc. The advance organizer of the camping trip analogy can serve as a springboard for having a student create a step-by-step plan to accomplish particular personal or academic goals—and to carry out the actual process.  This advance organizer could relate to any type of goal—from preparing for a test, working a long-term project, preparing their senior portfolio, or applying for a job. Students will be required to take into consideration necessary time, materials, schedules, possible need for accommodations, as well as how to ask for assistance along the way. Having students create their plan using an actual visual or graphic organizer –specifically designed in a checklist fashion and customized for the particular outcome–could provide extra scaffolding for students, as needed.  “Ausubel’s definition of advance organizers does not include strict operational guidelines for constructing them….Perhaps the key is flexibility and consideration of the learners and the content” (Dell’Olio and Donk, 2007, p. 394).

This week, one of my colleagues (a fellow special educator) wrote: “My students need social skill instruction and some of my students need things very clearly defined”. She went on to describe great examples of situations in which she effectively uses advance organizers with her students in a very strategic manner.  I then shared that last week (in a far less structured manner), I had an impromptu opportunity to use a “word picture” as an advance organizer with one of my high school boys. He was returning from several days in juvenile detention–following an incident of poor judgment on his part. As he was sharing of his desire to improve, I was reminding him of the fresh start of a new semester. In the process, he was saying “I really do want to make good choices, Mrs. James, but sometimes in the moment– I just get carried away”. Instantly, an image of a lawn mower came to mind, so I drew the analogy of the importance of “hanging on” to the handle and not letting the mower go off on its own, or down a hill. He laughed out loud—immediately getting the point! We then created an agreement that if I noticed him beginning to “rev his engine” in class, that I would quietly come over and ask him how his lawn mower was. We’ll see how effective the strategy will be, but at least he was non-defensive and agreeable to the informal plan. 

The post of another colleague reminded me of the different situations when graphic organizers overlap with advance organizers and times when they do not. This helped me to understand that the seeming “contradictions” in definition do not have to lead to confusion, but simply the realization a method can be used differently in various settings. Perhaps the true test of a particular approach should be based on the effect it has on the student, as suggested in our text:  “…an advance organizer may best be defined by what it does. It allows students to develop and understanding of the structure behind a subject or content area—the hierarchy (Dell’Olio & Donk, 2007, p. 394).

Dell’Olio, J. M., Donk, T. (2007). Models of Teaching. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D. J., & Pollock, J. E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.