Category Archives: Vision

What I Am Learning

Hey friends!

I recently got a piece of feedback from one of our awesome Content Leaders that reminded me of the importance of sharing the learning I am doing in order to continuously improve in my work. I believe that this is a key practice for all of us to maintain, both because I hope you will learn alongside me and discuss these with me, but also because it’s important for us to always be honest: none of us have ever “arrived” and finished our development.

In fact, that’s really valuable for you to share with your students: have you ever considered letting them know what you have learned at a PD, or something you are trying to work on? I feel honesty and openness about development is always key to building trust and understanding among us all.

So, for this week, I am sharing with you all some of the development opportunities I am taking advantage of, as well as some of the articles and books that have been particularly impactful to me recently.

Books and Articles:

The most consistent way that I seek development is through articles and books. Often, these will come my way through colleagues, but a lot of the time they also surface as specific issues arise, or as I recognize I need to inform myself for a session.

  • A Conversation with Linda Christiansen on Social Justice Education (Golden) – Sarah Franzen introduced this one to me because we are both working on designing a Unit Planning Series around Multicultural and Social Justice Unit Plans. Christiansen, who is interviewed here, is an amazing teacher and the author of Teaching For Joy and Justice and her perspectives on what Social Justice teaching should look like, and how to embrace it, and how to tackle its challenges is acute and inspiring. She keeps it concrete, too, which is often rare.
  • Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces (Arao & Clemens) – I read this article a while ago thanks to Sam Crenshaw, who presented it to a group of us after he had undergone a national DEI training with TFA. It’s been kind of an earth-shattering article for me because it has completely shifted the way I want to facilitate and be a part of challenging conversations about race, privilege, class, etc. This article is the foundation of many of my upcoming sessions.
  • Curriculum as Window and Mirror (Style) – Again, Sarah Franzen shared this one with me since we are planning a session together. It’s one that I have seen referenced in other sources, but there is nothing like reading the source itself. The article argues for a deeper caution in selecting texts and curriculum for students – one that goes beyond just selecting works that include identities that resemble our students’. Style argues that, instead, we must present students with a wide diversity of texts and perspectives, challenging them to not only analyze different viewpoints, but also to recon with their own. She calls these Texts “Windows and Mirrors” because they both reflect students back on themselves, and challenge them to look through to another world. Once you start reading, it just gets better and more on-point.
  • The DreamKeepers: Successful Teachers of African-American Students (Landson-Billings) – We read this book recently as part of a Specialist Team book club. If you don’t know it, it is THE seminal text on Culturally Responsive Teaching. Gloria Landson-Billings focuses in on a selection of teachers whom she followed and supported in the effort to learn what it is that makes teachers (from any walk of life) effective with what has traditionally been considered the most challenging demographic to educate. Through this book, she not only demonstrates that African American students can learn, but also that at the end of the day it’s not about a one-size-fist-all strategy, but rather about some key dispositions towards teaching. While I was seeking something more in-depth, it was amazing to read the book that gave origin to the educational philosophy I feel most aligned to.
  • A People’s History of the United States (Zinn) – I have read many excerpts of this before, but the book is huge so reading it cover to cover is still a goal of mine. Especially as we have had more U.S. History teachers this year, I have wanted to increase my knowledge (and creative thinking) around the content. I have been jumping to it and reading a chapter here and there whenever I can. It is without a doubt the best account of American History I have laid my hands on, and it does an incredible job of keeping it engaging and focused on the history of the minority groups and people who actually made history happen. His retelling puts the power back in the hands of those who have always appeared most powerless. He has a student version of the book, which is A Young People’s History of the United States, for those interested in bringing it to the classroom.
  • The New Jim Crow (Alexander) – I read this book for the first time last year, and am re-reading it again now for another iteration of the book club this year. This is hands down the most important book I have read in five years, and one that has completely re-shaped my motivation for this work, and my commitment to it. It helped me learn a lot more about my privilege as well. This year, I am also pairing it with some of the awesome lesson plans that Teaching Tolerance created in collaboration with Michelle Alexander.

Online Resources:

  • Teaching Tolerance – This website is simply incredible, and it features everything from Lesson Plans to Curricula to Articles to Primary Resources and more! They created the Anti-Bias Framework as well, which has taught me so much about age-appropriate learning outcomes when it comes to the four domains they have outlined: identity, diversity, justice and action. Spend a few hours on here and you are sure to leave with more than you can handle.
    • In addition, they recently released the Perspectives for a Diverse America website, which allows you to find lesson plans and Primary Sources aligned to an essential question and one of the above domains. It’s a constant source of inspiration when I am planning example lesson plans, etc.
  • Zinn Education Program: Yep, it’s the same guy who wrote A People’s History of the United States but this time it’s a website chalk-full of lesson plans and resources and ideas for teaching students about the less canonical aspects of history. They always encourage exploration and inquiry rather than teachers telling students what’s right. Their lessons focus on everything from the Civil Rights movement to Art, to Music, and more.
  • Teaching Channel: Whenever I am seeking to re-align myself with what the best classrooms in America look like, I turn to the Teaching Channel to gather ideas. Their videos are simply awesome, and they share tons of great approaches to supporting learners, inquiry-based classrooms, and more.

Experiences and Opportunities:

  • Our most recent Whole Team Meeting, which was held on Wednesday, March 25th, was really incredible. We have recently hired someone to lead us in thinking about local issues of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness while keeping a focus and clear lens on students. They have been outstanding experiences. This time, we all traveled to the small town of Monsanto to visit the DELTAPINE seed company, a huge business and employer here in Mississippi. We started the day by looking at some of the highly technical jobs they have on offer but which they are struggling to find local Mississippians to fill. We asked ourselves the question: How are we preparing our students for these jobs, or any real-life opportunities? In what ways can we ensure that we are supporting them and our teachers to practice situations that are rigorous not because they are abstract, but because they are applicable and interesting? We then got a tour of the processing plant, and learned some interesting facts:
    • 30% of Mississippi works in Agriculture
    • 86% of farmers are White
    • 13.2% of farmers are African American
    • The average age of Mississippi farmers is 60.4

With this information in mind, we considered what the future will look like for Mississippi, as well as what the opportunities could look like for our students. It was a huge window into a part of our State that I so often see, but very seldom think about.

In the afternoon, we met with participants in a Greenville non-profit called Youth Builds. It’s an organization that works with high-school dropouts aged 16-22 to help them get their GEDs and into jobs around their community. They work with Habitat for Humanity on projects, have physical education aspects, and an incredibly strong culture of positivity, perseverance, and high expectations. We had the privilege of hearing the stories of the people whose lives had been changed by this program, as well as the vision of the woman who started it all. Needless to say, it was an incredible opportunity to expand our understanding of our communities and the assets within them.

  • Human-Centered Design Course – I am currently in a TFA-led course on Human-Centered Designing, which is completely online. Besides learning a TON about what a full-scale, semester-long course can look like (without too many webinars and mostly independent or small group learning), I heave been focusing on a set of actions that basically ensure that, as you design experiences and structures for others, you are listening to their feedback consistently while still keeping a disposition towards action – prototyping, testing, etc. It has been really cool to come up with crazy ideas and share them with partners (and some of you!).
  • Rural School Leadership Academy – While this hasn’t started yet, I am proud to have been accepted to the 2015 RSLA cohort. I am hoping to learn a lot from this experience, starting with examining and developing my leadership in Rural areas, and what it might look like for me to become more deeply involved in the communities I care most about here. I am also always wavering on whether or not I want to be a principal or school administrator one day, and I hope this program will give me clarity on what that might look like, and whether or not I would enjoy and have the impact I want to have in that role.

Okay, that is likely WAY more than you all wanted to hear, but I hope that sharing this illuminates some of the areas in which I am constantly seeking to grow and learn so that I can better serve you and your students. In addition, I hope this creates some touch-points for us: read an article or check out a resource, and let me know what you think!

Teaching Resources for Black History Month

black-history-month

Hello All!

A wonderful opportunity:

It’s Black History Month! A really exciting time to explicitly connect our contents to Social Justice, Civil Rights, and African American History (past, present, and future). While I know that we have been proactively including questions of social justice and a diversity of people, themes, and ideas in our unit plans, this is an incredible opportunity for us to collaborate school-wide on building student leadership, cultural competence, and critical consciousness through focusing on African American heritage and culture.

Indeed, I think this is a powerful chance for us to really live up to our Humanities Vision for Content fully.

We believe that the Humanities are critical contents in the actualization of Social Justice and Equity in students’ lives. We thus move students towards Humanities Achievement, Leadership, Critical Consciousness, and Cultural Competence.

As such, we act with the knowledge that every Humanities classroom must aggressively pursue the dismantling of systems of oppression through the provision of rigorous Humanities content and Culturally Responsive Teaching.

A significant challenge:

That said, we often face a real challenge when we start to plan for this month. Mainly, we risk compartmentalizing Black History to a “February thing” rather than an always thing. In addition, since many of us do not share all of the same background – racial, cultural, economic, educational – of all our students, we often also run the risk of telling students their own history, acting like the experts, or, perhaps worse, simply making a cursory attempt at focusing on some key African American role models. This, and more, can be part of the challenge. But it’s an important challenge to meet head-on.

What we hope to accomplish:

I would hope that all of us, ultimately, want to build student leadership this month. At the end of the day, we want our students feeling proud of who they are (whether they are Black or not), critical of current injustices, and united in their creative voice to take action: whether that be a celebration of African American heritage and history, or some other kind of civic engagement. We want to make sure we are learning about Black History alongside our students, in partnership with them and the community. We want to make sure to show that Black History is alive, powerful, and beautiful.

To that end…

Over the past couple years, I have worked with people on our TFA Team and among our Humanities teachers to compile resources for Black History Month that would provide (a) guidance on best approaches, and (b) examples of strong lesson plans and resources for us to use.

How it works:

  1. Read Teaching Tolerance’s “Do’s and Dont’s of Teaching Black History
  2. Go to this spreadsheet.
  3. Check out all the amazing resources!
  4. Have a resource worth sharing? Include it in the spreadsheet for others to use!
  5. Pair up with a buddy to share ideas and get feedback.
  6. Ask Jacob and/or your TLD Coach to see the awesome stuff you are working on.
  7. Teach your heart out 🙂

Have an amazing February!

State of the Humanities (Quarter 2, 2014)

Hello Team Humanities!

As many of you know, at the end of every quarter Team Humanities takes a step-back to see how we have progressed in relation to our goals, and what we will need to do next in order to move further, faster, and with a greater orientation towards our teachers and students. Ultimately, all of this is in service of seeing how far we have gotten towards our Humanities vision: 

We believe that the Humanities are critical contents in the actualization of Social Justice and Equity in students’ lives. We thus move students towards Humanities Achievement, Leadership, Critical Consciousness, and Cultural Competence.

As such, we act with the knowledge that every Humanities classroom must aggressively pursue the dismantling of systems of oppression through the provision of rigorous Humanities content and Culturally Responsive Teaching.

As we wrap up our first semester, I thought it would be important for me to share with you all the data we have collected, and the NEW priorities we are forming for Quarter 3 as a result of our feedback and interpretations. For the sake of brevity and focus on what matters most, I have narrowed this data down to the information that is most directly relevant to students in our classrooms.

As you read over this, I would love for you to consider:

  1. Where do my classroom and my students stand in relation to this data?
  2. How can I act within the Humanities Team to improve our collective data?
  3. What experiences, thoughts, support, resources, or feedback can you share to help us interpret or take action in relation to the data we are seeing?
  4. What changes can we make, as a collective, to impact this data for the betterment of our students?

As always, feel free to comment below, or email/text/call Jacob with any questions, ideas, or feedback!

Wait, first, where does this data come from?

We end up collecting A LOT of information in order to make informed decisions with regards to what our next quarter should look like. That information comes from all of the following sources:

  • Student achievement data from your classrooms, which you share with us.
  • Your First Eight Weeks Survey responses
  • Data collected through classroom observations (Engagement with Rigorous Content, and Culture of Achievement) both from me and your TLD Coach
  • Your responses on Professional Development Exit Forms
  • Your responses to other surveys (such as the ones I send out at the end of every quarter)
  • Humanities Leader and TLD Coach feedback on other surveys
  • Anecdotal and qualitative evidence (student work that has been shared, other stories and celebrations emerging from classrooms)
  • Much more!

Data Point #1: Progress Known

  • What is Progress Known (PK) ? PK is basically a “Yes” or “No” answer to the question: “do we have reliable and complete data on where students stand in this classroom?”
  • How do you collect reliable and complete data? The reliable and complete data comes from you teachers sharing it with your TLD Coach and/or Content Specialist. As long as you have data for student progress on ALL your Metrics (and are not, for instance, missing DBQ Data even if you have Mastery Data), and you have shared a reliable assessment with us, then your students are PK!
Progress Known? Social Studies The Arts World Languages All Humanities
YES 67% 60% 71% 66%
NO 33% 40% 29% 34%
Progress Known by Humanities Content as of November 20th, 2014

Progress Known by Humanities Content as of November 20th, 2014

Data Point #2: Culture of Achievement

  • What is Culture of Achievement (CoA)? CoA is the quality of the classroom culture that your students enjoy as they are learning. Some people think immediately about “management” but this goes well beyond that: it’s the way in which your students actively maintain and foster a positive environment because of the way they care about their learning.
  • How do you collect data around CoA? CoA is determined by the TLD Coach in collaboration with your thinking after an observation, using the Culture of Achievement Pathways rubric to inform our terminology. This then gets collected in our Program Tracker so we can analyze the data at different levels.
Culture of Achievement Social Studies The Arts World Languages All Humanities
Destructive 0% 14% 7% 8%
Apathetic or unruly 33% 29% 21% 28%
Compliant and on-task 58% 21% 57% 45%
Interested/ hard-working 8% 36% 14% 20%

Culture of Achievement by Humanities Content as of November 20th, 2014

Data Point #3: Engagement with Rigorous Content

  • What is Engagement with Rigorous Content (ERC)? ERC is the level of rigor at which students are engaging with the content. Some people think immediately about “difficulty” of the questions being asked by the teacher, but this goes well beyond that: it’s the depth and sophistication with which students are thinking about and working within the content.
  • How do you collect data around ERC? ERC is determined by the TLD Coach in collaboration with your thinking after an observation, using the Engagement with Rigorous Content rubric to inform our terminology. This then gets collected in our Program Tracker so we can analyze the data at different levels.
Engagement with Rigorous Content Social Studies The Arts World Languages All Humanities
Not challenged; no learning 0% 14% 14% 10%
Passive or confused re: new content 25% 21% 7% 18%
Factual recall/procedural 42% 36% 71% 50%
Analysis/application/explaining 25% 29% 7% 20%
Evaluation/synthesis/creation 8% 0% 0% 3%
Rigor

Engagement with Rigorous Content by Humanities Content as of November 20th, 2014

Okay, so what next?

Well, A LOT IS COMING UP NEXT! Given a realistic look at the above data (and much more, including your suggestions), we have come up with the following priorities for us to look forward to. Again, take the time to consider: how are you and your students doing in relation to these priorities? What do you need to accomplish in order to push more towards them?

For more detail on the data presented here, our priorities, and what is coming next in the Humanities, check out our Quarter 3 Priorities at this link.

Priority 1:
  • Students are engaged in the content because it is rigorous, compelling, and focused around essential questions that bring to light social justice issues.
  • …Because teachers are planning units and lessons that have strong visions of mastery, and that are propelled by essential questions and meaningful texts.
Priority 2:
  • Students are “on the hook” for their learning because they are collectively, collaboratively, and fully owning the outcomes of the lesson.
  • … Because teachers are ensuring students are being given ownership of their own learning by facilitating strong collaborative structures around rigorous content.
Priority 3:
  • Students are Invested in their Humanities-content goals because they see their success as critical to their future leadership, and because they are aware of their progress.
  • …Because teachers are invested in their end-of-year goals and what they represent for students, and thus measuring and sharing progress towards goals with students and stakeholders.

Music: Pathways to Opportunity

As you formulate your vision for this year, consider what you hope will be accessible for students thanks to what your classroom is accomplishing this year. What new opportunities will be available to them? How will you prepare them to take advantage of those opportunities, and be competitive for them?

A list of potential Pathways to consider for your vision are below!

SPOTLIGHT: Mississippi School for the Arts

We are starting a partnership with MSA! They want us to send them our students so that they can audition and try to get into their school on a scholarship! They are also starting a summer program next year, and are hoping to draw many more students in that way. We will also be partnering with them for some professional development later this year… SO, they have been kind enough to give us a glimpse into their audition requirements. Check them out!

Potential Pathways for Music

Experiences

Art: Pathways to Opportunity

As you formulate your vision for this year, consider what you hope will be accessible for students thanks to what your classroom is accomplishing this year. What new opportunities will be available to them? How will you prepare them to take advantage of those opportunities, and be competitive for them?

A list of potential Pathways to consider for your vision are below!

SPOTLIGHT: Mississippi School for the Arts

We are starting a partnership with MSA! They want us to send them our students so that they can audition and try to get into their school on a scholarship! They are also starting a summer program next year, and are hoping to draw many more students in that way. We will also be partnering with them for some professional development later this year… SO, they have been kind enough to give us a glimpse into their audition requirements. Check them out!

Opportunities

Other Competitions:

Museums

Dance: Pathways to Opportunity

As you formulate your vision for this year, consider what you hope will be accessible for students thanks to what your classroom is accomplishing this year. What new opportunities will be available to them? How will you prepare them to take advantage of those opportunities, and be competitive for them?

A list of potential Pathways to consider for your vision are below!

SPOTLIGHT: Mississippi School for the Arts

We are starting a partnership with MSA! They want us to send them our students so that they can audition and try to get into their school on a scholarship! They are also starting a summer program next year, and are hoping to draw many more students in that way. We will also be partnering with them for some professional development later this year… SO, they have been kind enough to give us a glimpse into their audition requirements. Check them out!

Potential Pathways for Dance

Experiences

Other Competitions:

Foreign Language: Pathways to Opportunity

As you formulate your vision for this year, consider what you hope will be accessible for students thanks to what your classroom is accomplishing this year. What new opportunities will be available to them? How will you prepare them to take advantage of those opportunities, and be competitive for them?

A list of potential Pathways to consider for your vision are below!

Potential Pathways for Foreign Language:

Museums:

French Inspired Food:

  • Bon Ami (1220 E Northside Dr, Jackson, MS)
  • Anjou (361 Township Avenue, Ridgeland, MS 39157)

Other Competitions:

Additional food for thought:

  • Is there a nearby museum that highlights some part of the culture you are teaching?  Art?  Poetry?
  • Is there a Hispanic or French population in your town?  Could students help tutor elementary students whose first language is Spanish or French?
  • Most language programs in our high schools end after level 2.  Can you work with parents and students so that they advocate for additional course offerings?
  • There are many programs out there that can help you organize a trip out of the country.
  • Are there particular places in the United States that they could visit to learn more about the various cultures you are studying?
  • Work with students to write and perform a play in the target language
  • Preparing students to take the SAT II in their target language (if applicable)
  • If teaching middle school, advocating for Spanish or French one to be officially offered (instead of exploratory) so students are able to earn additional Carnegie Units in middle school and have a great chance of taking additional levels of foreign language in high school
  • Starting the National Spanish or French Honor Society to increase extracurriculars offered and open up more leadership opportunities for students
  • Study abroad, home stay or immersion programs available to high school students

Social Studies Vision for Content

“A primary object…should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing…than…communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country.”
–George Washington

From the Outset:

In 2009, Leon Wieselter, editor of The New Republic (an admittedly opinionated website) responded to a New York Times article that claimed “In Tough Times, The Humanities Must Justify their Worth” as follows:

In tough times, of all times, the worth of the humanities needs no justifying. The reason is that it will take many kinds of sustenance to help people through these troubles. Many people will now have to fall back more on inner resources than on outer ones. They are in need of loans, but they are also in need of meanings…. We are in need of fiscal policy and spiritual policy. And spiritually speaking, literature is a bailout, and so is art, and philosophy, and history, and the rest.  … Regression analysis will not get us through the long night. We need to know more about the human heart than the study of consumer behavior can teach.

The words of Wieselter are remarkable because, rather than defend the worth of the Humanities when these are being questioned, he ultimately questions the purpose of studying everything else. What is its value if it does not impart meaning and spiritual growth? It is through the study of identity and history that we gather meaning and the reasoning abilities to move forward in times of crisis.

Developing Key Skills:

Research shows a positive correlation between an education in Social Studies and cross-disciplinary as well as life-long skills. Students who do not have the opportunity to engage in Social Studies education are often found to be at a disadvantage in the following pillars of learning (for more, see The Ohio Department of Education and Reading Quest):

  • Reading and Writing Readiness
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Classifying, Interpreting, Analyzing, and Evaluating Information
  • Decision-Making
  • Metacognition
  • Social and Political Participation
  • Social Development

Pathways to Opportunity:

While this logically follows from the development of key learning skills, it’s impressive to look more closely at how Social Studies affects future success. Life-long opportunities are at stake for our students.

  • Social and Political Participation: Studies have shown that children may learn to accept and embrace biases – such as racism – as early as 3 years of age. However, the same studies argue that there is hope: if the child can be introduced to environments in which new ways of thinking are fostered, these biases can be re-considered and dismantled. In addition, “a developed sense of justice and law” is a pre-requisite to being an activepatricipant in a democracy (for more, see Social Studies.org) and classrooms in which students must actively think and communicate about each other’s reasoning facilitate this type of growth.
  • College Applications: Should our students want to apply for any top-tier college or university, they will be expected to have a minimum (keeping in mind that applications are looked on more favorably when they exceed the minimum requirements) of 2-3 years of Social Studies classes. Whether or not our students decide to go to college, we must ensure they have access to these opportunities. Harvard, MIT, NYU, and Pomona all require at least two years in the Social Studies classroom.
  • Job Opportunities: The College Board has researched the job listings that their  Social Studies courses and tests make more accessible to students. They list over 130 career paths ranging from Acting to Legislators to Health Educators to News Analysts. Whether or not a student takes these specific courses of study, a Social Studies education will make these careers more available and real. Our students deserve to have these pathways available.

A National Problem

According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), in 2010 only 24% of all graduating seniors were proficient or above in Civics. Breaking these numbers down by race, 30% of White students were proficient or above, and only 8% of Black students were proficient or above. These trends remain consistent across U.S. History, Geography, and Economics. Considering the extent to which this course is directly correlated with engagement in society, these statistics are at a massive detriment to our nation, and to minorities in particular. Most evidence points towards the fact that these are not required or prioritized contents: the Thomas Fordham Institute found that, between 1987 and 2003, the amount of instructional time dedicated to Social Studies in public schools decreased by 18 hours a year. This takes into account only the first year of No Child Left Behind, under which student assessments focused mainly on English/Language Arts and Math – the result being that schools struggling to make needed gains on the test often axed Social Studies instruction in favor of test-prep. And the effects are being felt: despite the election of 2008 being the highest voter turnout in years, only 58% of eligible voters showed, and the number of people who are writing letters to newspapers or to their Congressional representatives have declined by 15%.

Despite all this, there are some slight glimmers of hope. The NAEP also found that there has been a score increase since 2006 for Black and Hispanic eighth-graders on their Civic assessments. And, while there are some legitimate concerns towards the adoption of the Common Core curriculum, the requirements emphasize the importance of non-fiction even within the English/Language Arts classroom.

Social Studies in Mississippi

A recent study conducted by Paul Theobald and Kathy Wood, and featured in Rural Education for the Twenty-First Century, revealed that “rural students and adults alike seem to have learned that to be rural is to be sub-par, that the condition of living in a rural locale creates deficiencies of various kinds – an educational deficiency in particular” even if they are being offered an excellent education (18). The Thomas Fordham institute studied Mississippi’s state standards in social studies and rated them at a 1/7 for rigorous content, and a 1/3 for clarity and specificity. This is an obstacle to our teachers, students, and active participation in democracy. The effects of these mindsets – caused by genuine educational deficiencies – are manifest in the numbers: only 6.8% of adults in Mississippi hold a graduate degree, only 12.6% hold BAs, and only 37% of eligible voters showed up for the presidential elections (Measure of America, 2012). If our students are to succeed and become life-long learners, advocates for their own cause, we need to enact a cultural shift that places value on rural culture and cultural identity.

Given these studies as well as our own regional experiences…

We believe that a strong Social Studies Education is instrumental to overcoming educational inequality for our students in Mississippi. We know that our students deserve equal opportunities in education so that they may have equal opportunities in their futures. Social Studies set students up for those critical opportunities, and yet they are too often ignored, denying their civic power and future pathways. Our students deserve confidence in their cultural identity, and pride in their voice as world citizens and thinkers. They have the right to the long-term benefits of a strong Social Studies education.  They deserve to see Social Studies as providing them with viable pathways to opportunity, with a civic voice, and a knowledge-base of history with which to form their own opinions about the world today. 

It is no mystery that Mississippi is rich in culture, history, politics, and a need for civic engagement. From the birth of the Civil Rights movement to the recent ratification of the 13th amendment, Mississippi is brimming with beautiful and difficult history, as well as a long and challenging pathway forward. We need our students to be prepared and willing – or perhaps ready and compelled – to engage with it.

However, the fertile  grounds of Mississippi are seldom if ever exposed to our students. Comparing our students’ rural experiences to their urban counterparts, it is only logical that they have less access to museums, information, and civic venues where they can see history play out. The locations where Mississippi history is commemorated, celebrated, and criticized are few and far between for our most rural students. Even if they do get a solid Social Studies foundation, they have limited options in terms of real experiences or opportunities to compete on a national level. It is therefore instrumental that we begin such exposure in the classroom and draw upon the communities we work within to enact a paradigm-shift for Social Studies in Mississippi.

World Languages Vision For Content

Often, it is easy for us to look at the most complex reasonings and the hardest facts to explain why our work matters, and then get lost. Professor Emerita at the University of Illinois, Sandra Savignon, reminds us that the answer for why World Languages (WL) education matters is actually quite simple:

 Learning to speak another’s language means taking one’s place in the human community. It means reaching out to others across cultural and linguistic boundaries. Language is far more than a system to be explained. It is our most important link to the world around us. Language is culture in motion. It is people interacting with people.

Fundamentally, our students have the right to be a part of the larger human community as Savignon defines it. They deserve to bring their culture to others, and to experience new cultures in return. Perhaps more materialistically, as we consider our increasing need to compete – as individuals and as a nation – against international education and job markets, our students will require a WL education in order to be prepared and be genuinely competitive.

Developing Key Skills:

Research has found that the benefits of learning a WL in early childhood are significant and long-lasting. Students who do not have the opportunity to engage in a WL education are often found to be at a disadvantage or completely lacking in the following life-long skills (for more, please see The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages and “Why Bilinguals are Smarter”):

  • Cognitive and academic abilities.
  • Language sensitivity
  • Increased vocabulary
  • Reading and listening competencies
  • Problem solving and reasoning
  • Engagement and persistence
  • Improves understanding of  native language.
  • Communication skills
  • Social behavior
  • Cultural awareness
  • Native-like accents

Pathways to Opportunity:

While this logically follows from the development of key learning skills, it’s impressive to look at the numbers for how WL learning can affect future success:

  • Academic Success: According to a study of 13,200 fifth graders in Louisiana public schools, students who had taken WL classes performed better on the English section of the Louisiana Basic Skills Test than those who did not. This was true regardless of race, gender, or academic levels of the students (Dumas 1999).
  • College-Readiness: Students who have studied a WL consistently perform better than their peers who have not, including on all sections of the SAT. The 2007 College Bound Seniors report (issued by the College Board) showed that students with four or more years of WL study score on average 140 points higher (out of 800) in the Critical Reading section, almost 140 points higher in the Math section, and over 150 points higher in the Writing section, than students with half a year or less in WL education. In addition, Horn & Kojaku found in 2001 that students who took three years of WL in high school were likely to earn better grades in college and were less likely to drop out. In addition, students with a strong WL background could save thousands of dollars by testing out of required college courses, and prioritize valuable study abroad experiences.
  • College Applications: Competitive colleges are increasingly requiring several years of WL courses at the high school level from its applicants. Most colleges require at least two years, but Stanford is recommending three or more, and Harvard urges four. With WL experience from an early age, we increase the likelihood of their fluency and confidence with languages in the future.
  • Job Opportunities: The College Board has researched the job listings that their AP WL classes make more accessible to students. They list over 100 career paths ranging from Curators to Editors to Teachers to Public Health Workers to Sociologists. Whether or not a student takes these specific courses of study, a WL education will make these careers more available and real. Our students deserve to have these pathways available.

A National Problem

Despite these wide-spread, consistent findings that participation in a WL education is life-changing for all students, regardless of their background, we are not providing sufficient opportunities to engage in second language acquisition to all our students. In fact, Curtain & Dahlberg found as recently as 2004 that “children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds make the greatest proportionate achievement gains from foreign language study.”  Nonetheless, particularly in low-income and minority school districts, these courses of study are often lacking. In Connecticut, for instance, WL instruction is offered in only one quarter of all urban public schools compared to two-thirds of suburban private schools (for more, see “The Benefits of Foreign Language Studies” on the Connecticut Department of Education website). As of 2003, “29 percent of public school principals in heavily minority school districts anticipated future decreases in instructional time for foreign languages.”

In the past decade, however, interest and support for WL education has been energized by an increasing recognition of a dangerous reality: only two in ten Americans speak a language in addition to English. A report from the Council of Foreign Relations, titled “U.S. Education Reform and National Security”, states that this lack of preparedness can lead to struggles in “economic growth and competitiveness, physical safety, intellectual property, U.S. global awareness, and U.S. unity and cohesion.” Besides the disadvantages we are generating through a lack of WL provision on an individual and on a community level, we have come to realize that these disadvantages will catch up to us on a national level as well. Hopefully, this is an indication of a tide turning towards a more holistic and comprehensive education for all students.

World Languages in Mississippi

A recent study conducted by Paul Theobald and Kathy Wood, and featured in Rural Education for the Twenty-First Century, revealed that “rural students and adults alike seem to have learned that to be rural is to be sub-par, that the condition of living in a rural locale creates deficiencies of various kinds – an educational deficiency in particular” even if they are being offered an excellent education (18). This opinion is reflected in the numbers: in the 2007-2008 school year, Mississippi was one of three states to enroll less than 10% of its students in an WL course, despite showing an increase in enrollment since previous years (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages). The education opportunities our students are receiving is less than satisfactory. Speaking more broadly, only 6.8% of adults in Mississippi hold a graduate degree, and only 12.6% hold BAs (Measure of America, 2012). The effects of this education are felt state-wide. If our students are to succeed and become life-long learners, we need to enact a cultural shift that places value on rural culture and cultural identity. We need to give our students a competitive and holistic education.

Given these studies as well as our own regional experiences…

.. We believe that a strong World Language Education is instrumental to overcoming educational inequality for our students in Mississippi. We know that our students deserve equal opportunities in education so that they may have equal opportunities in their futures. World Language learning is one of those critical opportunities, and one that is too often ignored. Our students deserve confidence in their cultural identity as well as the cognitive, economic, social, and linguistic advantages provided by a World Language Education. They have the right to these long-term benefits.  They deserve to see World Language as providing them with viable pathways to opportunity, both within and outside of their communities.

Comparing our students’ rural experiences to their urban counterparts, it is only logical that they have less access to new cultures, exposure to a diversity of languages, and the opportunities to experience how a second language can be beneficial. Even if our students do get a solid WL foundation, they have limited options in terms of real application, travel, or exchange with a native speaker of the language they are learning. It is therefore instrumental that we begin such exposure in the classroom and draw upon the communities we work within to enact a paradigm-shift for the World Languages in Mississippi.

What an World Language Education Looks Like for Us in the Classroom:

We have found that Total Physical Response (Storytelling) to be an extremely effective pedagogical framework and method for teaching WLs. While we encourage invention, creativity, and exploration of different pedagogies, we want to ensure that every classroom focuses on the following strands throughout the year:

Reading: Building literacy skills through stories. Reading comprehension cements language acquisition through the connections students build between stories and their personal emotions and experiences. How do we know if students are getting it? A Reading section on Regents-aligned assessments (you can find the New York State Standards for Foreign Language here).

Writing: Mastering grammar conventions and vocabulary by crafting stories that echo structures and motifs from their reading. How do we know if students are getting it? A Writing section on Regents-aligned assessments, measured against our Regents-aligned rubric.

Listening: Engaging all resources at our disposal, such as cognates and context clues to help interpret conversations at native speed. How do we know if students are getting it? A Listening section on Regents-aligned assessments

Speaking: Speaking fearlessly about the places and people students love. How do we know if students are getting it? A Speaking on Regents-aligned assessments, measured against our Regents-aligned rubric.

Culture: Taking the time to discuss the idea of culture and define culture in Mississippi so that it can be understood what it means to come from a different culture, to have a different perspective, and to celebrate a different history. How do we know if students are getting it? A Culture section on Regents-aligned assessments