Thursday, February 10, 2011

Multigenre Research: Student Reflections and a Teacher's Thoughts

The long, cold wenter seems a fitting metaphor for the challenges students and I faced navigating the multigenre research project, which I began assigning seniors last year.  Tom Romano created the multigenre research project, which in my class is a hybrid traditional/creative assignment. This year we began the project January 3, 2011 and today students (most) handed in their completed projects.

The way I have students approach research has evolved through the years, and the multigenre project is the latest incarnation of that evolution.

In his reflection, one student wrote about the six-page handout in exasperation. One student who wrote about abusive relationships referenced her abusive "ex-boyfriend." That's the best reflection I read since through her project she found her way out of the abuse.

 Some other student reflections follow:
  • I feel like this project has helped widen my writing skills and made me think a little bit harder on what contents I am adding to my paper.
  • Most projects tell me exactly what to do and how to do them. I felt like I had more control over the type of work I cose and the grade I will receive. I feel like this project was a real eye-opener on what real work is and how much time it truly takes to do a good job on it.
  • One thing I found really helpful was the note cards. Collecting data that I found relevant to my topic and recording them on the note cards really saved me time when it came down to the final deadline.
  • The other genres also got me thinking more about the topic and gave me more ideas for my paper.
  • This project has really been fun for me, because if [sic] gave me and [sic] opportunity to research about a job that I could discover and learn about.
  • I also learned that this project is extremely difficult. My computer seems to think so too considering it crashed on me three times in one night while compiling tghe final paperwork....
  • This little stack of papers is my pride and joy right now, and it's about to be fine-tooth picked combed by Mrs. Funk here, or already has.
  • When I first heard about this thing that my teacher was calling a multi genre research project...I thought that she was crazy to give us such and [sic] immense project.
  • Another thing I enjoyed about this particular project was the different genres that we did such as the Toondoos, Glogster, Prezi, or even looking on the and having the opportunities be endless.
  • If I had to do something differently I would do a lot differently....Hopefully learning from my mistakes will make me a better writer and a better student.
  • When I first looked at the project and all we had to do, I thought I would never be able to do it. It looked to [sic] big and hard for my brain to comprehend.
  • Things such as the poster are the things that I do best on; I am able to show my creativity.
Among the most enjoyable part of the project is the student presentations of two of their genres, including a love letter to a snowboard and a snowboarding video showcasing our local ski area, Pebble Creek. For students who shun traditional essays and who have creative talents not ofen evident in more traditional English classes, the multigenre research project offers the best of both worlds.

Monday, February 7, 2011

"The Best Teachers in the Nation" Under Siege by Many Who Claim to Love Us

"We love Idaho teachers! Our children love them! They put in extra hours. They care deeply about the growth and development of our children. They have a strong desire to help kids succeed and take pride in them even after they graduate and move on with their lives...Teachers deserve job security and need to be paid extremely well in order to attract and reward the best of them."  

The preceding comment from Frank L. Vandersloot, founder of Melaleuca Inc., a multi-million dollar company based in Idaho Falls, Idaho, appeareed in a full-page newspaper ad Sunday, February 6, 2011 (Idaho State Journal, A7)

With such praise, why then is Mr. Vandersloot supporting legislation (proposed by State Superintendent Tom Luna) that would return Idaho teachers to the primitive working conditions of the early 1970's? Simply, Mr. Vandersloot's hate of the IEA (Idaho Education Association) far outweighs his love of teachers. He infers as much in his ad. More about that later. 

While campaigning for a second term last fall, Mr. Luna cast himself as the savior of Idaho's school system; he claimed his policies had increased student achievement that Idaho is an innovator in education; now he and his supporters, including Mr. Vandersloot, castigate Idaho schools and teachers: "Governor Otter's and Superintendent Luna's plan, Students Come First, will transform a system that has been broken for decades," claims the Melaluca ad. 

Opposed to the Luna plan, my district's school board and Superintendent Mary Vagner penned a white paper addressing the myriad flaws in the proposed legislation. Among the key points:

  • The state has historically shown an inability to fund what may have been termed at one point either “reforms” or basic services.  The paper lists 13 failed funding measures enacted by the legislature. 
  • The reform based legislation does nothing to address the cost increases that school districts will be forced to absorb just to open their doors next fall with or without various staffing levels. In my building one of the huge expenditures would be wiring the school to support the proposed technology mandates. 
  • The legislation itself is insulting in its title, thinking that any one of the school boards in this state would not put children first.  The full title of the proposed legislation is Students Come First – Labor Relations and Employee Entitlements and Public School Modernization and Reform. Rather than modernization, I characterize the legislation as Draconian.  
  • The legislation ignores best practices based on research and piloting of reforms. Mr. Luna provided no opportunity for input and consideration of the "reforms" he offers. 
  • Merit Pay doesn't work: Studies report the attempts made to implement such practices and the subsequent failures of the practices are due to the lack of sustainable funding and objective measures upon which to make pay for performance decisions. 
  • Further, as a school board there is a legitimate concern about the nature of pay for performance promoting competition rather than collaboration and cooperation among staff with a concern that staff members may be pitted against each other for the dollar.  
  • This legislation appears again to erode the duties of Trustees and puts most decision making in the hands of the legislature and the state superintendent of public education.  
In penning the white paper, our board deemed it necessary to list 18 harmful effects the legislation will have on students, teachers, and patrons should the bill pass. Here are a few: 
  • Damaged relationships with employees, community and parents
  • Deterioration of instructional time for students without teachers
  • Lack of accountability and quality control for student achievement
  • School buildings do not have the capacity to run the technology investment in either a wireless platform or an electrical platform
  • Student behavior management issues will be evident without teacher supervision
  • Technology “haves” and “have nots” will still exist due to a lack of internet access for all students outside of the school day.
In contrast to my district's position, Mr. Vandersloot implores teacher to have faith in the legislature: 

"Contrary to the propaganda, good teachers do not have anything to be frightened of  under a "pay for performance" system...Only those teachers who have good reason to believe they cannot perform would choose to stay away from a 'pay for performance' system...But knowing that we share the objective of creating schools where both students and teachers prosper can assure teachers that lawmakers will crate a system where that can happen." 

Mr. Vandersloot is so out of touch with teachers that he actually believes educators will flock to Idaho to work under a merit pay system that denies teachers due process. Union members and non-union members alike recognize the inherent flaws in such systems. 

By using words like fear, propaganda, and union bosses, Mr. Vandersloot articulates a point of view that casts the IEA as a predator taking advantage of unsuspecting teachers too ignorant and vulnerable to choose for themselves, when, in fact, most IEA positions (if not all) are filled by classroom teachers. 

Through his use of rhetoric, Mr. Vandersloot labels all educators who oppose Luna's proposal as "bad teachers." For his part, Luna so desires a seat at the reform table that he attempts to "reconfigure" the movement in his euphemistically titled legislation. 

Mr. Luna uses his charismatic image to great effect by exploiting the propaganda of failing schools and labels Idaho's education system, which he has led the past four years, broken. Both count on an emotional response from teachers and the legislature rather than rational thinking.

In Virgil's The Aeneid, Dido falls on her sword when Aeneas leaves her to fulfill his destiny of founding Rome. For the sake of putting students first, I hope the Idaho legislature avoids Dido's fate and rejects Luna's legislation.