Science, Education, and Science Education

classroom applications
September 22nd, 2015 by Luann

All Means All, Part 5: The Elephants in My Classroom

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts summarizing my reflections on what it means to provide learning opportunities for every student, every day. Find the series here, at  #AllMeansAll 

A slim majority of my physical science students are Caucasian. The rest declare their heritage as Hispanic, African American, Pacific Islander, Native American, No matter their background, they have a few things in common: most don’t read. Most don’t write, at least not more than text messages. And most can’t verbalize the importance of school. They just don’t know. I recently took a closer look at the achievement gap in these 2 classes, and looked at the stories behind the data (I’ve done this before.) I was very, very uncomfortable with what I learned.

I cannot post specifics about student responses as there was no IRB and I will protect student privacy, so this discussion will be vague.

Throughout our learning, we discuss why the learning is important. Students are frequently asked what they are learning, to show evidence that they learned, and why the learning is important.  Answers related to grades, passing, or graduating are expected outcomes not valid explanations of the importance of their learning.

Sixty-one students have responded to a few reflection questions posed on exit tickets over several days. Four students have not responded to any of the questions in writing and answered they didn’t know when asked in a one-on-one situation. One of those 4 students is caucasian. The written responses from students of color and/or learning challenges sort themselves out. The responses are short and do not address the question, or they simply don’t write anything. Sometimes, the responses contain grammatical errors and misspellings. Do the students writing these responses not know, or do they not know how to express their thoughts?  Over the next few classes, we did some lab work around our learning. I made a bit of time to talk to each student who hadn’t responded. We just spoke conversationally. I did not ask why they hadn’t responded. I asked about their learning, rephrasing a question from one of the exit passes, and let each student answer as they chose.

Turns out, the answer was yes; yes to all of the above reasons. Some students could show me what they’d learned, or tell me, or tell me they didn’t know and ask questions. Each student I asked said they were glad to be able to talk instead of write. Not one student hadn’t responded in writing although being able to do so.  Clearly, I will need to find more ways for every student to reflect on their learning and ask the questions they need to ask as they continue to build their reading and writing skills.

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