Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Our Students Respond to School Law Issues with Presentations and Podcasts; Yours Can, Too!

Guest Post By Angelo Carideo and Dr. Rose Reissman


Middle school students must develop persuasive writing skills. They need to be able to take a side on an issue and explain and support their position with at least two details from a print or online text. 

These are important, meaningful Common Core Literacy and Social Studies goals. However, achieving them can seem elusive.  Further, you’d like to captivate and inspire your students. You’d like to involve them in small and large group discussions, ones in which they have the chance to exchange views with one another and not just answer your teacher questions

We’ve accomplished this with our students through an easy to do project.  A project that makes them eager to do research,  to trade views on a topic and that fosters  genuine personal interest in what their peer partners have to contribute.   

Our project has students create products that effectively represent their written and spoken efforts in a contemporary context as digital learners and creators.

Actually, they create not one, but two technology-based literacy products, things that teachers can use to document students’ research, persuasive, argumentative and conversational skills. These are products that can be easily and proudly shared with parents, ratings officers, and administration.

 By the way, we work with students in a Brooklyn middle school and are well aware of how overwhelmed with instructional mandates teachers can be. Many have at least 125 students (or more) to teach and grade, and consequently would wonder how much time they’d have to devote to a project like this, no matter how worthwhile and rigorous the resulting learning might be. Does a 6 to 8 period maximum sound reasonable? 

Projects are inherently engaging and kids thoroughly enjoy working on them. They also result in important skills-learning as students create learning products. To make this happen, though, teachers need to select effective project content themes.

We select themes that put our students in the role of informed, active citizens of their world.  The following is a step by step description of how one of our projects unfolds and how colleagues can easily adopt our approach and similarly engage their own students. This description centers on real local news stories we presented to our students. However, locating other, similar stories for other areas of the country is an easy matter. Thus, there is much room for colleagues to adapt what we’ve done with topics that will resonate well in their specific schools and groups of students. We did this project with 6th grade students, but it can work at various grade levels and across a multitude of student population types.

Case Story #1: Lifting the Student Cell Phone Use Ban
Our students read the following story, which is still available online:

“Department of Education lifts ban on cell phones in New York City Schools”

 
http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/dept-education-ends-cell-phone-ban-nyc-schools-article-1.2134970


STEP 1:

Take the topic of School Law or more specifically, school law cases concerning infractions of city and state law by students or staff.  Engage students in considering specific issues which resonate locally, statewide, nationally and internationally.  Have them read about a local student school law case in print or online and then react it.

In New York City in the first months of 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina decided to change the NYC school law banning student cell phone use in all city schools.  They strongly suggested, although individual school principals still could make a joint decision with teachers, parents and administrators, that students needed to have access to their cell phones at times during the school day so that they could call their parents and their parents could be in touch with them. 

At Middle School /IS 62-Ditmas-in Kensington , Brooklyn, NYC, the sixth graders in our ethnically diverse class (including Jamaican, Dominican, Uzbek, and Bengali students, plus native born Brooklynites) were very “into” this issue, since many of them carried cell phones in their back packs.  According to the ongoing school regulations of Principal, Kevorkian, they could not use their cell phones during class or lunch, and had to keep them turned off in their back packs.  If the phones were discovered being used in class or lunch or hallways, they were confiscated for the day by the Dean and returned later to be taken home at the end of the school day.

The students were excited about the Mayor and School’s Chancellor created opportunity for their school to revise its ban on students carrying and using cell phones during the school day.  They listened intently to the news and carefully read for details and arguments in favor of lifting the NYC public school system citywide cell phone ban.

 STEP 2:  The students each wrote their personal reactions to the news.  These were framed as persuasive paragraphs with the purpose of getting a peer or adult reader to agree with the point of view presented.  The students worked in small groups of three to four, sharing their key persuasive reactions to school law news.  PowerPoint turned out to be an effective resource to support this activity.

The students used the software’s “Callouts” feature to insert dialogue bubbles of various shapes carrying portions of their writing.  This process dignifies each student voice, giving it enhanced presence and stature.  The students also included photos of themselves in their slides, as well as searching for and importing images they felt enhanced their positions. Music chosen by the students to accompany their text and images can be imported as well, by the way.


STEP 3:  While the slide presentations involve group work and writing persuasive paragraphs, they do not have to be the only product produced from this school law and literacy skills unit. The basic student persuasive arguments can also become the written supports for conducting an open public forum about a controversial school law topic; one that will be recorded and posted as a podcast. This conversation can involve students first sharing their reactions to the topic and then reacting to one another’s commentary, allowing the student to learn and appropriately use statements such as these:  “Building on what ____ said,”  “In response to _____ I must respectfully disagree  because _______,”  ”Another point not yet mentioned _____” and “I also agree with what ____ said .”  As each student takes the floor, he or she is urged to speak loudly and slowly, enunciating every word.  The students are alerted to the fact that their discussion will be recorded for a podcast.  They also sample some past school podcasts from their website and the archives as preparation. 

Step 4:  A student host or emcee of the Podcast is chosen and asked to prepare a short introduction to contextualize the student research into the topic.  A student sound engineer is also chosen who will handle the audio recording (we use Audacity, a free, downloadable software).  The assembled students are cautioned about shifting in their seats or tapping pencils; things can ruin the quality of the sound recording.   They are shown how to lean in to the mike and how to pitch their comments so that the recording levels are acceptable.   The sight of the recording in progress is one that can raise the spirits of any teacher, particularly one focused on inculcating students into the ways of a discussant community, in which students share views and listen to peers attentively. 

Case Story #2: The Department of Education Changes Student Suspension Policy

Our students read the following story, which is still available online:

“Less suspensions, more insubordination in NYC's schools”


 
http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/editorial-school-supensions-insubordination-article-1.2123517

In New York City’s public schools, up to Spring 2015, students were subject  to two types of suspension from school punishments: 1)  In-school Principal Suspension: for student actions like hitting another student or harassing a teacher or  fighting or being disrespectful of authority on an ongoing basis.  This suspension, which could run from 2 days to a week, would take place within the student’s home school.  The student would travel those days with a class other than his own, but would still receive the homework assignments from his /her class for the week.  During lunch, the student would remain in the Dean’s or Assistant Principal’s office and not be able to eat with peers or have the same scheduled outdoor recess. 

2) Students who  committed  grave infractions of the school’s behavior or disciplinary code, such as stealing, fighting with other students so that blood was drawn, hitting a teacher, or other adult staff member, inappropriate touching, cyber bullying, bringing or using a weapon to school, and  bringing or using narcotics, alcohol or other controlled substances into school, were subject to a different type of suspension  These types of infractions,  once reviewed by school administrators and confirmed by sufficient evidence,  would result in a Superintendent’s Suspension.  This suspension, which could run from a week, to a month, to even a year would not be served in the student’s school.  It would be served in a specially designated school for a population of students across the district who were suspended for these high level infractions. While records of the Principal’s Suspension would be kept only during the time period the student attended the school in which it was given, the Superintendent’s Suspension became part of the student’s permanent school record.  It would follow with him or her to high school, and likely would bar the student for consideration for admission to some desirable high school programs that require application.  In Spring 2015 the Chancellor of  New York City Public schools proposed that the suspension process should be changed so that it would be more difficult to issue suspensions and schools would lessen their number of both Principal’s and Superintendent’s  suspensions.

We made news coverage of this change in suspension policy a focus for discussion with our students. Our students were, at first, asked to define suspension as part of a paragraph, based on their current and previous experiences in school. Next, they listened to the Dean and Guidance Counselor, who shared with them the actual definitions of violations of the school behavior code which would lead to either of these suspensions.  Using word processing and PowerPoint they created presentations with vignettes of such discipline infractions or comments from the Deans or teachers or Assistant Principals or the Principal about it.

Students in Newcomer /ESL Classes were asked to compare and contrast some of the punishments given in their home countries; places like Uzbekistan, Russia, and Mexico.   In Uzbekistan students who misbehaved ran laps or held up tables for several hours.  Our students talked of punishments for students who were disrespectful or got into fights; they were hit with long rods until red or purple bruises formed. They described schools at which a student who committed a severe behavior infraction would be expelled and unable to return. They also told of teachers in Bangladesh or Yemen who prefaced their hitting of the students with the comments- “I am your second parent, so I can hit you as your parent will at home.”  Students for the most part did not mention any parental support in objecting to their punishments or any meetings with principal or teachers before enduring the punishments.  Ironically, many of these same ESL international students professed a love of schools in their native country which had “rules” and “taught character.”  Some even said they would like their own children to go to school systems like those of their native counties.

Our podcast project required 2 periods which were used as recording sessions. These were held as student forums in which students aired their views and positions and responded to one another. These took place after 4 previous periods during which the students prepared themselves through research, writing, and discussion.

Our experience with this project was very positive, as was that of our students. We feel certain that fellow busy Technology, ELA, SS or other content teachers would find this to be a practical and satisfying project to engage their students in, as well. This content theme is one that is m while one of great relevance, is offered to students far too rarely. However, because of its relevance, students quickly embrace it, take ownership of their learning experience, and create products of high quality that in turn, have the potential to affect their peers, engaging them in researching and reacting to issues of law that hit home, as well.

The technologies used: word processing, PowerPoint-based slide presentation, and digital audio, while simple, are ones used very commonly in the workplace.  The research, discussions, and individual opinions and arguments on the topics studied are the stuff informed citizenship is made of. 

Literacy, informed citizenship, technology use, this is very much a project for today’s students and tomorrow’s leaders and contributors to society.

What Our Students Did and Learned
The students worked in small groups to produce a PowerPoint-based slide presentation featuring their research and persuasive reactions to the CELL Phone use issue.  They enjoyed working in their small .groups.  This truly engaged all of them in a citizenship and school law issue being hotly debated in the newspapers; but more importantly in their own school building with the Dean Ms. Rigger and Principal Kevorkian available for commentary, as well as their teachers eager to debate the issue.  These title 1 students, many from ESL families and facing economic/acculturation challenges, truly relished working on these presentations having them displayed at a school wide expo.
These student presentations involved the students reading print and online texts (some with videos embedded) concerning school law issues. Thus they were engaged in reading for detail, ideas, and point of view as required by the Common Core Standards.
Additionally, the students discussed their reactions to news articles that presented the issues and wrote a short, persuasive paragraph defending their point of view, using details from the print, online or visual sources. This had them address Common Core required writing of persuasive arguments and speaking and listening.
Further, the students worked in small groups on slide presentations drawing on their writings and in-class discussions for source material. Photos and videos may be imported. Importing photos and videos, too, they addressed Common Core required writing, using graphic illustrations and videos to enhance their message. They also addressed Common Core speaking and listening, by working in their collaborative small groups.
Finally, students voiced their reactions to these cases through a student directed podcast.  Thus, they a broad range of aspects of required speaking and listening skills through a single project that had them focus on values, law, and citizenship. 
 

About the Author: Angelo Carideo is an award winning Social Studies educator with recognition from Chase Learning, Pennsylvania Social Studies Council and Representative Brad Lander.  He co-founded Ditmas Network News with David Liotta and collaborates with Mr.Liotta on the Science Engineering Program.  He collaborates with Dr. Reissman Writing Institute on The School Law Citizens Now program. 





About the Author: Dr. Rose Reissman is a veteran English Language Arts educator who founded the Writing Institute Program currently based in Ditmas IS 62.  Under the leadership of Barry Kevorkian, Principal, 18 educators collaborate with Dr. Reissman to produce literacy projects.  Mr. Downes (Head Advisor), Ms. Xavier (ELA Editor), and Dr. Reissman are faculty advisors for the Ditmas Bulldog Buzz, a student newspaper that reports on local neighborhood, New York State and International News as it affects the students’ lives as citizens of the world.

roshchaya@gmail.com

 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

 





 
  

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