Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Guest Teacher: Buster Nelson

Buster Nelson teaches sixth grade English Language Arts at Keigwin Middle School in Middletown, Connecticut.  He has taught in New York City, San Francisco, Hartford, and Middletown.  Buster received his B.A. from Amherst College, M.S. from the University of New Haven, and is completing an M.A. in Liberal Studies at Wesleyan University (CT).  He co-chairs his local library’s Strategic Educational Partnership Committee and is a founding member of his school’s Educational Equity Study/Action Group.  Buster is interested in how critical pedagogy and the study of youth pop culture texts affect learning.  Buster has been an LTI Fellow since Spring 2014.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Voices That Matter

By Andrew Wintner

I recently had the privilege of presenting my research at the NCTE conference in Washington DC. First, let me make the generic claim that participating in events such as these; whether as a presenter or as an audience member is revitalizing. In my last post I touched upon the idea of the "teaching profession", while at NCTE teaching felt like a profession that people wanted to study and master. During our day to day as teachers it is easy to get bogged down and forget about the mission that drew us into the profession; educating children to the best of our ability. Being at these events reminds the individual teacher that they are apart of something meaningful and powerful, an ideal that is easy to lose.

While at the conference we saw a variety of presentations lead by a variety of presenters. All of the work was incredibly impressive and informative. Moreover, all of the presentations that I attended over the course of the weekend had clear universal implications. What was fascinating was the way in which different presenters, from different walks of the educational world, formulated their studies. Most graduate students / PHD candidates focused the collection of their data through quantitative measures, using clear metrics to compare student growth in a targeted area through the use of pre / post assessments; while many teachers triangulated qualitative data.

The contrast was stark, and the epiphany fleeting, but during these presentations it was clear that regardless of how data was collected and analyzed, the implications for the classrooms were the same. Rather it seemed that the most impressive implications stemmed from qualitative data; motivational words from student interviews, beautiful quips collected through written reflection and amazing growth in student affect towards varied skills left an impact much more lasting than t-tests that showed 99% significance.

The realization was pertinent; the last two years of teaching has allowed me to begin to view myself as a teacher researcher. However, I was so worried with designing the perfect design to track all data points that I lost sight of what was most important, the student. I was so worried about making sure that all data points had a pre and post assessment that it seemed like half the amount of time I spent with my focus group was dedicated to gathering data. Basically, I was not acting as a teacher researcher, I was acting as a researcher and while that has its benefits it is not the end all and be all. This is an important notion to internalize; important research in the classroom does not need to be entrenched in numbers and statistics.

There have been so many instances in which I wanted to study student motivation, or the impact of heterogenous grouping alternating with homogenous grouping every other day or the correlation between stamina and student affect towards a task, but I never studied any of the things that were of great interest in me because I could not wrap my head around how the design would look.

I am not making the claim that you should not triangulate your data or that your work does not need to based on prior research (mainly because a certain professor would kill me), however I am very clearly stating that you need to study what you think is important and will move student learning forward. If the design is not perfect, or the data collected is qualitative instead of quantitative, who cares, don't lose sight of why we want to engage in this work in the first place; to increase student learning. There are plenty of other times when we can let bureaucracy guide or pedagogy, but don't let that transcend into the research you conduct in your classroom because that research is so uniquely your own and so imperative to the profession of teaching and in turn student learning.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Profession Under Fire? Or a Much Needed Call for Improvement?

By, Andrew Wintner

The Direction of the Teaching Profession?

As many of you know the recent cover of Time magazine calls the ‘profession’ of teaching into question; directly blaming teachers and the structure of tenure / unionization for the “downfall” of public education. This cover has created nothing short of a nation wide debate within educational circles; one side protecting the unionization of the profession and the rights of individual teachers; the other calling for accountability, high standards and transparency that are synonymous with new teacher evaluation systems, namely The Danielson Framework.

As the common core states, one important standard for a writer to understand and master is a knowledge  of the format and intended audience of a written piece (yeah I just made a CCSS reference). With that in mind I am very aware that this is a blog and I will not at all try and hide my opinions. In most aspects of life I am very liberal and open minded; I believe deeply in the need for protection of workers and in a freedom for teachers to address the diverse needs of individual students, which in many instances requires them to deviate from the robotic norm that some consider to be successful teaching. However, I am afraid that often the protection of teachers that are not pushing the profession forward minimizes the innovation and problem solving needed to maximize the potential of teaching and transform it from a job into a profession. Lackluster teachers spread a sense of complacency; in order to fight this sentiment, education must stop viewing itself as a job and rather invest in its capital as a profession by creating intellectual space for professionals to grow their craft and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Programs like Literacy Teachers Initiative (LTI) create this space, however one does not need to be a part of an organization to engage in this type of work.

Why is this Relevant?
Why would this generic argument find its place within a blog dedicated to teacher researchers; the answer is simple; teachers need to band together to push the profession forward. We should invite accountability and transparency, not in a negative light, but in a light that draws attention to the intellectual and innovative work that transpires within the walls of schools countrywide. We need to call attention to teachers who not only fight complacency, but research and reflect upon their own practice to create new norms and push peers forward. Illuminating; this aspect of teaching will draw intelligent and dedicated teachers; and then keep them within the realm. Previous entries in this blog have chronicled how to create a research question and follow through with its implementation, I want to take a step back and illuminate the importance of this type of work on education; the “Why should I implement these practices in my own practice?” question.

For the better part of a decade I have watched my peer group in other disciplines climb up pay scales, move to corner offices and receive accolades for their efforts. For the first half of my teaching career I was incredibly envious; not of their accomplishments, but rather of the recognition. I was jealous they were in professions that documented and pushed innovation. It was not until I became part of LTI that I realized the same community is available within teaching, one just needs to search the appropriate outlets to find it.

Ever since delving into the world of research within my classroom I have felt rejuvenated in my practice as an educator. Namely, I feel like a professional in a career; a huge change in my discourse as before I viewed myself as a proponent of social justice that found himself in the classroom (noble intentions, but not the right mindset to really affect change), teaching was just a job to me. Being a teacher researcher pushes my thinking, forces me to be uncomfortable and live in that ambiguity in order to create something uniquely mine that will promote the learning of students. This type of work fights stagnant practice by creating an environment that celebrates intelligence and nurtures the growth of it. By no means do I consider myself intelligent (and if you are still reading this blog you can testify to my idiocracy through the incoherent nature of this article) however by engrossing myself in the world of research I was able to create a niche that engaged my intellectual curiosity.

Teaching is perpetually in the proverbial spotlight, but in my estimation this is a critical time for the ‘profession’ and if you are reading this blog that means that you are invested at some fundamental level in its success. Therefore, I am urging you to apply for a grant, to write a research article, to submit a piece to chalktalk, write a proposal to speak at a conference or call a friend and discuss the implications of the findings of an article that dissects the importance of heterogeneous grouping in ESL classrooms . These actions will renew your faith in your job if you are feeling lost or burnt out as I once was, it will help you transform your practice into a profession. Even if that seems too cliche don’t embark on this process for yourself, embark on this process because you believe in education and you understand the incredible need for the profession to be viewed as one that promotes and grows intellectual curiosity. You understand that the smartest people in our society do not need to make loads of money, rather they need to feel challenged and successful within their craft. These outlets allow for that, therefore we need to ensure that our community; moreover our profession as a whole begins to take this work seriously. It just may be the thing that transforms teaching from a job into a profession.

Guest Teacher: Andrew Wintner

Andrew Wintner is a 6th grade English Language Arts teacher and Literacy Coach at Fahari Academy Charter School in Brooklyn, NY. He is now in his 7th year of teaching and has taught 5th - 8th grade in the Bronx and Harlem. He recently completed his Literacy Specialist Masters degree at Teachers College, Columbia University. Andrew joined the LTI Project in fall, 2013. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Student Self Reflection-Action Research Question 2014

By Marie Clevering

In the past two months, I have begun my first year teaching third grade. Earlier in my career, I taught primarily middle school students, with a focus on fifth and sixth grades. 

First Impressions

I learned rather quickly that no matter the age, all students face similar struggles. At the beginning of the year, I may have even thought “Oh third grade. It’ll be so easy after teaching middle school.” Not so. Third grade has its unique challenges, and is forcing my approach to dealing with students to evolve.

Sarcasm is no longer a go-to strategy for working with a student with a good sense of humor. Third graders also are aware of some current events, but do not have the ability to talk about them in any depth or detail. And third graders take a long time to write down their homework. A long time. A very long time. I also realized quickly that students have a LOT of questions. These questions aren’t necessarily important, or a question that needs to be answered right away, but the students think they are. 

I don’t want to come off like I don’t enjoy my seven and eight year olds. I do. They are excited to learn. They are proud of their accomplishments. They love listening to vocabulary songs, love doing art projects, and love to read. It is an amazing age where children are just starting to become more aware of their community, and to develop their character. It is a great time to work with children to help make them life long learners.

Behavior Motivation Formats

At the beginning of the year, I struggled with what I wanted for the focus of my research. I felt like I needed an entire year to become acclimated with the elementary model. But, over the past month, it’s become clear that there is a place in my classroom (and other upper elementary grades) for motivation around self-reflection that can be tied to incentives for improved behavior.

In the past, third graders at my school were in one classroom all day. If they were off-task, their names were moved along a very public ladder that started out at “Doing Great” and ended with “Take A Break.” Sometimes, extra recess was given to the entire class for being particularly compliant during transitions, or when listening to directions.

I found the past approach problematic for multiple reasons:

1)  Students in the 3rd grade at my school are now departmentalized. This means that they travel between a science/math room and a humanities room. This is in addition to going to gym, art and elective. It’s a packed day where students engage with different teachers, different classrooms and different rules.  Having a system in only one room just doesn’t work.

2)  Giving incentives and rewards to the entire class for doing well is a great idea. I have used this approach many times before, and I will continue to do so. However, if it’s the only way of making sure students are motivated to learn and follow directions, it falls short during independent work time and discussions in small groups. This model is awkward because the students who are always doing the right thing become increasingly frustrated with students who have a harder time following directions.

SHOW Grades

I wanted something new and better. I wanted students to be held individually accountable for their daily work and behavior, and be rewarded for their good decisions in the classroom.

The result: Scholarly Habit Of Work (or SHOW) Grades.  It is a system based off of the following concepts:

·     Grit
·     Zest (Enthusiasm)
·     Participation in classroom discussions
·     Being Prepared
·     Being Steady (try not to wiggle!)
·     On Task
·     Working as a team

It’s a lot of components. It’s a lot to ask of eight year olds. But I’m hopeful that it will have a positive effect on their learning. I also hope that self-reflection on these concepts will inspire better character in my kids both inside and outside the classroom.

How SHOW Works

SHOW Grades are student-driven. Students reflect each week on the seven components, and grade themselves on a scale of 4,3,2,1. This is a holistic score that includes all the classes for the whole week. (This is clearly a stumbling block I’m working on: it’s pretty hard to remember as a 31 year old adult what yesterday was like, much less an eight year old trying to assess their entire week!) Student’s self-grades are then reviewed by a teacher, and modified as appropriate.

If students are on the higher end of the rubric scale (either a 3 or a 4), they receive an extended recess period of about 15 minute. If students receive a 2, they receive half the extended recess. If students receive a 1, they do not get any extended recess, and have a one-on-one conversation with the teacher about ways to improve.

Research Goals

This research project has many goals. I want more accountability from my students. I also want to foster a more reflective classroom where students learn how to think about how they have acted. Also, I want to tie this research to literacy.  Besides the writing that students do when they reflect on their behavior for the week, I also want to bring in current event stories of students who show grit and teamwork to get a solution done. 

I’m also in the process of collecting data each week on students’ reflections and self-assessments. I have found a dramatic increase in the scores reported in the self-assessments (with teacher approval). From the first week, which was just three weeks ago, to last week, the class average for receiving a 3 or 4 went from 70% to 90%. Also, after an anonymous survey, over half the class agreed that SHOW helps them become better students. These are very hopeful, encouraging signs that some of the SHOW components can be successful. We shall see…

Saturday, October 18, 2014

“Aha” Moments, Surprises and Questions From Three Years in LTI

By Marie Clevering

I joined Literacy Teachers Initiative three years ago. Honestly, with a switch to a different school, a new curriculum and a new grade to teach, and with starting a family, I didn’t know how long I’d last. But whatever preconceptions I had going in, I got hooked quick, and am still involved today!

         LTI is a chance for the teachers to tell our stories, and to share our unique insights. We see students thrive and we see them struggle. We know there are ways to make every student successful; we just have to find the right methods. Action research within the LTI community is a powerful tool to revitalize and refine our teaching strategies. This is why even experienced teachers with a lot on our plates are excited to participate.

From being in the program for there years, I have gained knowledge that I never would have gained elsewhere. Below are some “aha” moments, surprises, and questions from my time with LTI thus far.

“Aha” Moments!

My first action research project with LTI was all about conferencing.  Specifically, “How can conferencing help my students’ comprehension and metacognitive strategies in my book clubs and independent reading?”

I loved conferencing with my students to begin with, and felt confident that I was good at it. I thought my research would validate my impressions.

         My first “aha” moment was that I needed to listen more in conferences, especially with lower-performing students.

         During my research, I applied an increased level of critical reflection and focused closely on who was saying what during each conference. I began to realize that I was taking a leadership role in the conferences more than I had thought. I want my conferences to be student-led, and learned I needed to be more patient, giving students (especially lower-performing students) time to think through difficult topics before I offered assistance.

         Upon further reflection, I came to my second “aha” moment. I learned that even a format that was working well for me could be dramatically improved, to great effect for my students!

We must never plateau as teachers. Action research is a great way for me to keep pushing myself forward.


”How do you have time to do all that extra work?”

This is what people often ask when I talk about my action research through LTI. This sort of question was forefront in my mind when I began my involvement in the program as well.

My first surprise was that working with LTI was not another “thing to do”, but an uplifting experience that helped every aspect of my teaching.

As part of LTI, I get to bounce ideas off of smart, inquisitive, solution-orientated teachers. LTI helps solve problems I did not even know I had, and breaks roadblocks that would otherwise likely cause extended frustration. And while participation often brings out more questions, it also brings out more energy to address these questions by making me feel more conscious and empowered as a teacher.

My second surprise was that I can and should ask the “bigger questions” in education that are sometime seen as off-limits to teachers (only permitted to be asked by specialists).

Administrators and policy makers are not the only ones who should be thinking about the “hows” and “whys” of teaching beyond the day-to-day. One of the most empowering things I realized from LTI (and the action research component in particular) is that I can and should think broader and deeper about what is going on in the classroom. By critically reflecting on my teaching, and by challenging myself to come up with solutions (that may or may not work), I am engaging in a process that enriches me as a teacher, and my students benefit as a result.


         I know that great teachers are always improving, and so I always seek to improve my teaching. My first question, as always, is how?

This year, I’m looking at quantitative and qualitative data over a work habits rubric. Specifically, “Can a work habits rubric with an emphasis on reflection and literary character study improve students self motivation?”

         That’s the question I set out with, but I know that as I conduct by research, more and more questions will arise. I also know that the LTI community will be right there with me as I work towards better and better solutions for whatever I find!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Guest Teacher: Marie Clevering

Marie Clevering is a 3rd grade Humanities teacher at the Urban Assembly Academy of Arts and Letters in Brooklyn, NY.  She is now in her 9th year of teaching and has also taught middle school across three boroughs - Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn. Marie joined the LTI Project in January 2012 and is a member of the first cohort of teacher-researchers.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Analyze and Revise

By: Lexie Fichera

In my last post, I talked about getting started with action research in your classroom. If you missed it, you should definitely check it out before reading on!

   When you've spent some time reflecting on your practice and gathering entries into your researcher's journal, you will have enough information about your practice to analyze. But wait! Analyze?! Didn't we forget a few steps in the research process? Don't panic-this isn't our data yet. The purpose of the first exercise was to become a reflective practitioner. By doing so, we are able to know exactly what we want to study and where the "action" and "research" of our work truly come into play. Let me use my own research as an example.

In my last post, I discussed my researcher's journal. This journal was comprised of entries written over two months. You don't have to wait that long to start analyzing your reflections; however, you do want to make sure that you've collected entries that portray multiple aspects of your practice. For example, classroom management, differentiation, questioning, classroom culture – to name a few. Once you're ready, you can begin to do what I recommended previously — determine trends and patterns that you see in your reflections. I love to color-code things and, on recommendation from Jodene Morrell, I created a key that would help me see the trends in my own researcher's journal.

Then, I reread my entries from beginning to end and color-coded the trends that I saw. I ended up with something that looks like these pages:

From here, you can choose many different research paths. You may choose to continue to write in your researcher's journal, especially if you feel that you want to gather more information about your own practice. You may want to look across the entries at the trends that you highlighted and determine the trends that stand out to you the most. Finally, but not exclusively, you may decide to zoom in on one or two entries that stand out to you. What do I mean by "stand out?" For some researchers, technique becomes a focus. Those researchers build their research around one technique they use, or would like to use, in their classroom. Some researchers focus in the same manner on strategies, which are very similar to techniques, although famed educator, researcher, and coach, Doug Lemov, makes a valid argument for their difference[1]. Some researchers zoom out further and focus their research on entire unit plans. Whatever focus you choose, know that some of the best research comes from an itch—yes, itch—a feeling of something bothering you so much that you can’t ignore it. Maybe it’s that new curriculum that the students aren’t taking up yet or the student who isn’t participating in class discussion. Perhaps it’s the incessant bullying in your class or school, or perhaps you’re grappling with how to get parents involved in the curriculum. Could it be that you’re eager to open your students up to new possibilities in their learning—through sketchbooks or technology or explorations outside the classroom walls? Do you wish you could reach your higher and lower level learners at the same time, or that you could find a classroom routine that complements your teaching?
If any of these scenarios resonate with you, or if you have your own secret itch, then you will be pleased to read on from teacher researchers who have studied some of these very same problems—and who boldly scratched their itch! They have presented at conferences, written articles and chapters in books, been awarded grants, and made a valuable impact on education.
How far will you go from just a little itch? 

[1] “To me, a strategy is a generalized approach to problems, a way to inform decisions. A technique is a thing you say or do in a particular way. If you are a sprinter, your strategy might be to get out of the blocks fast and run from the front; your technique would be to incline your body forward at about five degrees as you drive your legs up and out ahead of you.” Lemov, Doug. Teach like a champion: 49 techniques that put students on the path to college. Jossey-Bass.—1st ed.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Research AND Teach? Where to Begin…

By: Lexie Fichera

When I first started teaching, I thought that there was NO way to do ANYTHING beyond the “call of duty” during the school year.  Planning, grading, administrative tasks (my nice way of saying, “paperwork, paperwork, paperwork”), professional development, continuing education courses…there wasn’t enough time in the day, week, 180-day-plus-vacation-and-weekend-time school year for that alone, never mind any activities beyond that.

 Sound familiar?

Flash forward to the end of my third year teaching.  After taking Dr. Jodene Morrell’s amazing course at Teachers College, “Literacy, Culture, and the Teaching of Reading,” as part of my graduate program, I could feel this need to stretch that seemingly impossible extra mile. The course, coupled with my classroom experience in a Title I middle school (where I taught at the time), shed light on the inequalities in education. The readings emphasized the importance of teacher influence and culturally-relevant pedagogy as part of bridging the opportunity gap. Suddenly, I realized the great importance of my role as an educator, an importance that transcends the walls of the classroom and the doors to the school building. And that’s when I asked, “What more can I do?” And Jodene replied, “Join LTI!”

In spite of my “Ah Ha! Moment,” I still did not know where to start in my research. So, I looked for patterns and disconnects in my classroom—I began to analyze what my students just did not understand and observe when they seemed disinterested. I would quickly jot down what I noticed and when I noticed it. In my second year of LTI, I did this first step with more intention and wrote in a research journal. As I sat on the train on my way home from work, I would reflect on something that stood out to me from my lessons that day. As I kept up with my journaling, I began to notice patterns in my reflections, such as writing about successful strategies  or “best practices,” class culture, student engagement, and areas of improvement, which I called, “ideas for future practice.”  

And that’s it!
But not all.

I promised you I would tell you where to begin

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Guest Teacher: Lexie Fichera

Lexie Fichera is a 4th grade special education teacher in an ICT class at PS/IS 49 - The Dorothy Bonawit Kole School in Queens. She has been with the LTI Project for two years, presented her research at Teachers College and the New York State Reading Association annual conference. Be sure to check in regularly to read Lexie's blogs on teaching!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Welcome to our Blog!!

Welcome to the LTI Project Teacher Fellow blog. We are a close-knit group of K-8 teacher researchers from 10 schools, three New York City boroughs, and 2 states (NY & CT). We are passionate about improving our teaching to improve our children's learning and one way we do this is by engaging in collaborative action research.

We have presented our research to teachers, college students, professors, administrators and many others in education through state and national conferences. We have been to the New York State Reading Association annual conference, the Literacy Research Association annual conference and the National Council of Teachers of English annual convention.

We are challenging notions about who gets to do research, who gets to tell our stories, and where the answers can be found to the most challenging issues in literacy education (*in the classroom!).

Each month we will feature a different LTI Fellow blogger so check back regularly and jump into our world of teaching, researching, sharing, and caring about our profession and our students.

Presenting our research at Teachers College (Oct, 2013)

Andrew Wintner and Barry Goldenberg receiving ING Grant Award

At the New York State Reading Association Conference