The latest findings of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights reveal troubling statistics about the lack of racial equity within America’s public schools. While the Common Core State Standards were adopted to guarantee that all students graduate high school with the skills needed for success, whether in college or employment, standards alone don’t address the culture of a school or the social and emotional lives of children.
Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom, published by the Digital Media + Learning Research Hub and available as a free PDF and ebook, looks at educational equity through a collection of 18 essays about real-life classrooms where teachers are actively shaping instruction to meet the needs of diverse populations amid the challenges of new standards, high-stakes testing, and sometimes skeptical school administrators. Most exciting are the teachers’ commitment to designing emotionally safe and educationally supportive environments coupled with high expectations for each student.
Katie McKay, a teacher in a “small Texas Title I school” under academic review, describes a unit in which her bilingual, multiethnic fourth-graders overcome discrimination within the classroom and the larger community as they work collaboratively to produce iMovies that explore the question, “Has Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream come true?” Consider the power of Lacy Manship’s decision to initiate the job of “class videographer” as she and her culturally and linguistically diverse urban students looped through kindergarten and first grade. By putting a Flip camera into young hands she supported “a story of school in which the children made decisions about the time, space, and activity they chose to record.” Or read about what happens when Jennifer Woollven’s students at Eastside Memorial, a “shut down, repurposed, and renamed” high school in Austin, Texas, work together to alter their school’s negative image in the press, and on a broader scale. Equally impressive are Danielle Filipiak’s high school students in Detroit who move from a study of Elie Wiesel’s Night, to the roots of hip-hop, to deeper thinking about themselves and their community.
All of the essays in the book were originally posted on the National Writing Project’s Digital Is website, an “open knowledge base” whose users explore teaching writing in a digital landscape and its relation to connected learning, “an educational approach designed for our ever-changing world” that emphasizes “equitable, social, and participatory learning” in and outside the classroom. Each of the six chapters (“Interest-Driven Learning,” “Peer-Supported Learning,” “Academically Oriented Teaching,” “Production-Centered Classrooms,” “Openly Networked,” and “Shared Purpose”) includes three case studies chosen and presented by a Writing Project educator. In his introduction, editor and contributor Antero Garcia, an Assistant Professor in the English Department of Colorado State University, explains that the essays are not a series of how-tos or packaged lesson plans; rather, they’re examples of content-driven practice that can be used as “conversation starters” for pre-service and practicing teachers and anyone else interested in 21st-century education.
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