The Troubling Neoliberal Overtones of “Undercover Boss” (Or, How Grad School Will Ruin Television For You, Even If It Leaves You Enough Time to Watch It)

Last winter, a serious paper from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives made its way around the Internet and popular American press, garnering mostly eye-rolls. The authors of “Who’s the Boss” argued that the Christmas “Elf on the Shelf” tradition, so popular among parents who want to ensure angelic behavior from their small children in the weeks leading up to Christmas, was a whimsical way to prepare little ones to live in a surveillance state. The authors warned that Elf on the Shelf teaches children to “accept or even seek out external observation of their actions outside of their caregivers and familial structures.” If that doesn’t chill you, the authors raise the stakes: Elf on the Shelf “serves functions that are aligned to the official functions of the panopticon …[and] contributes to the shaping of children as governable subjects” (Pinto & Nemorin, 2014). So Elf on the Shelf is a Christmas tradition that’s less George Bailey and more George Orwell.

I was reminded of that paper last week when, taking a break from homework for my doctoral program, I settled in to take in an uplifting episode of one of my favorite guilty pleasures, “Undercover Boss.” The formula of this reality show is simple: The show follows “high-level corporate executives as they slip anonymously into the rank-and-file of their own companies. Each week, a different executive will leave the comfort of their corner office for an undercover mission to examine the inner workings of their corporation” (“About Undercover Boss”). The show is great fun to watch just for the chintzy wigs they put on the CEOs. And who doesn’t like seeing a white-collar guy break a sweat filling soda bottles or pratfall his way through a loading dock? Each episode ends with the CEO revealing his—yeah, I’ll stick with that pronoun here—true identity to the workers and then, almost invariably, lavishing them with gifts like cash, new cars, scholarships, vacations, or waived franchise fees. The workers often cry (“I just never thought anyone would notice the work I do, but I do it because I love it”) and sometimes, so does the CEO. Television gold, right?

Though I enjoy watching the show—or did, anyway—it has always irked me for reasons I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Sure, there are the obvious things, criticisms one could lodge about almost any “reality” show: the backstories of the front-line workers seem cherry-picked for ultimate emotional effect, for example. And then there are discomforts particular to this show. The CEOs are almost invariably white males, while the dupes, hourly workers struggling to care for elderly parents or disabled kids, are almost invariably women, immigrants, and people of color.

But the show really started to fall apart for me when I read Henry Giroux’s (2014) Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education. I have to confess that before I started studying for my doctorate, I couldn’t have told you what neoliberalism was. In fact, if I’d been approached by one of those Jay Leno “man on the street/aren’t Americans stupid” segments, I probably would have said that neoliberalism was like liberalism, only newer. But learning what neoliberalism was wasn’t so much an experience of learning a new concept as much as learning that there was a name for phenomena I’d observed. Unfailing trust in the invisible hand of the market? Systematic divesting of public programs, dismissal of the whole idea of a safety net for society’s neediest, privatization of everything from ambulances to prisons to zoos, and fidelity to the ideal of individual profit above all? There’s a word for that, and it’s neoliberalism.

Although Giroux (2014) is concerned in this book with the way neoliberalism is gutting the university and rendering it only a hollow imitation of that rich public sphere that encouraged free thought and open debate, he offers a serviceable (if scathing) definition of neoliberalism in the process. According to Giroux (2014), neoliberalism “privileges personal responsibility over larger social forces, reinforces the gap between rich and poor by redistributing wealth to the most powerful and wealthy individuals and groups, … [and] privileges the entrepreneurial subject while encouraging a value system that promotes self-interest, if not unchecked selfishness” (p. 1). If I had to play the neoliberalist’s advocate, I suppose I would say that the ideology puts utmost faith in the power of individuals to succeed. People don’t need handouts—like, say Head Start or WIC—they just need the right attitude.

Furthermore, Giroux warns, neoliberalism’s “unbridled individualism” (Giroux, 201, p. 2), its obsession with private profit, fuels the military industrial complex that perpetuates wars and encourages the increasing infringement of citizens’ privacy and civil liberties. This infringement necessarily causes a widespread feeling of fear, fear that is justified given the expanding role of surveillance in Americans’ lives.

Which brings us back to “Undercover Boss” and its ambush performance reviews. The episode I tuned in to watch the other day was a rerun from 2010 and featured Joseph DePinto, the CEO of 7-Eleven Corporation. The show followed its formula. DePinto donned a wig, called himself “Danny,” and got in the way of several employees including Delores, Waqas, Phil, and Igor, all of whom who were just trying to do their jobs and now had to train this supposed failed realtor while a team of cameras filmed them. These three workers had classically “Undercover Boss” backstories: Delores was slinging more cups of coffee than any other 7-Eleven location while also going for dialysis several times a week and awaiting a kidney transplant; Waqas, an immigrant from Pakistan, worked the night shift in the bakery while pursuing a bachelor’s degree during the day. Phil worked like a dog and spent his shift breaks drawing in his sketchbook and dreaming of being an artist. And Igor, an immigrant from Kazakhstan, spent nights cheerfully stocking his truck and making deliveries to 7-Eleven locations and looking forward to the only two days every week that he got to see his wife.

Lucky for these employees, they performed well under DePinto’s surveillance. And when the time came, each was rewarded. Delores got New York Yankees tickets. Phil got an opportunity to do some “freelance” work in 7-Eleven’s advertising department (paid, I hope). Waqas was offered personal mentorship from DePinto himself. And Igor got a resort vacation with his wife.

By “Undercover Boss” standards, these gifts are relatively modest. CEOs of other companies on the show have been known to dole out large chunks of change (to the tune of $10,000), new cars, rent for a year, or breast augmentation surgery (hey—it was relevant to the employee’s aspirations for success on the job at an institution called Bikinis). Furthermore, touched by Delores’s health issue, DePinto also coughed up a $150,000 donation to an organ-transplant cause and started an organ-donation-awareness campaign in his stores. Inspired by Igor’s up-by-his-bootstraps, nose-to-the-grindstone narrative, DePinto offered Igor his own 7-Eleven franchise and waived the franchise fee. As Igor himself said, “This is American Dream!”

DePinto isn’t the first CEO on the show to discover that his employees are facing hardships and challenges he’s been lucky enough to sidestep. More than one boss, after going undercover, has found that hourly workers are battling health issues, cost-prohibitive childcare, inaccessible education, or all of the above. Moved by these stories, the CEOs usually start emptying their pockets for these employees. And this seeming generosity is exactly what’s problematic: These blue-collar workers’ issues are systematic and widespread, but the bosses on the show address them individually. The show usually includes a clip of the boss returning to his board room and telling his cohorts that they’ve “really got to look into” such-and-such an issue to “better support” the employees, who are the “backbone” of the organization, but that’s about it. How many of these bosses actually revamp their health- or child-care benefits? How many throw money at policies that support continuing education? The emphasis is most certainly individual, not collective—the rewards are designed to address the problems of individuals, not organizations, as if individuals are the cause of, and therefore the solution to, the problem.

In fact, sometimes the gifts lavished on the employees at the end of the show amount to golden handcuffs that serve the ends of the executives while pretending to advance the laborers. Consider, for example, that waived franchise fee for Igor. In the last two years alone, 7-Eleven Corporation has been the object of at least a dozen lawsuits alleging that the company engages in manipulative hardball—and racially motivated—tactics to increase their profits, including illegally spying on franchisees, fabricating sales records, threatening prosecution, and coercing individuals to give up their franchises—so that the corporation can “flip” them for higher franchise fees (Hsu, 2014). Good luck, Igor. This is American Dream.

The CEOs on this show often don’t even pretend to have the employees’ best interests, or aspirations, at heart. Waqas, the immigrant from Pakistan, told DePinto-as-Danny that he didn’t see a real future for himself with 7-Eleven. After the reveal, DePinto addressed Waqas’s sense of a dead-end future with the company, praising him for working so hard to earn a bachelor’s degree while working nights. Waqas said that his real ambition was to return to Pakistan and help poor people, to fight for justice and human rights. In response, DePinto told Waqas that if he instead remained in America working for 7-Eleven, DePinto would personally mentor him. And then, as if remembering that a camera was on him, DePinto lamely added, “If you decide to go back to your country, I think we can help you too.” Call me cynical, but I kind of doubt that any meaningful, long-term help will be on offer from DePinto or 7-Eleven as Waqas fights for social justice in Pakistan.

Ultimately, what’s troublingly neoliberal about “Undercover Boss” is the same thing that makes it irresistible television, and that’s the rags-to-not-exactly-riches story. Igor, for example, came to America in the mid-90s unable to speak English, with $50 in his pocket. When viewers of “Undercover Boss” met him, he’d been working for a decade as an overnight driver for 7-Eleven and was not only fluent in English but fluent in upbeat, self-determined cheer. This guy has a master’s degree in electrical engineering, military experience, and a badass work ethic. As a franchise owner, according a Dallas Morning News piece two years after the show’s airing, he was making netting about $600 a week—and those were 60- to 80-hour weeks—which wasn’t much more than he was making as a driver, though he was working many more hours as a franchisee (Mervosh, 2010). Igor may not be impoverished, and he seems downright thrilled with his work, but that isn’t exactly upward mobility.

“Undercover Boss” is evidence that, as Giroux (2014)suggests, a neoliberalist agenda to preserve and widen a class divide has found “legitimation in a popular culture … of cruelty that promotes and expanding landscape of selfishness, insecurity and precarity that undermines any sense of shared responsibility for the well-being of others” (p. 14). The tacit neoliberal message of stories like Igor’s when framed by “Undercover Boss” seems to be this: See? See what he did? If you are an immigrant, or disabled, or poor, or uneducated, you ought not be struggling. You have a job. You ought to content yourself with the low-paying job you have and work your ass off doing it in the hopes that one day a CEO from corporate will descend in a wig and spy on you and reward you for knowing your place and not crying foul at systematic injustices. The reward you get will be one that purchases your fidelity to the organization while simultaneously ensuring that you will never break through the boardroom door yourself.


“About Undercover Boss.” (n.d.). Retrieved from

Giroux, H.A. (2014). Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education. Chicago: Haymarket Books.

Hsu, T. (2014, June 4). “Franchisees allege hardball tactics, store seizures by 7-Eleven.” [Online news article]. Retrieved from

Mervosh, S. (2012, November 19). “Former 7-Eleven truck driver now runs his own Richardson store—exuberantly.” [Online news article]. Retrieved from–exuberantly.ece

Pinto, L., and Nemorin, S. (2014). “Who’s the Boss?: The ‘Elf on the Shelf’ and the normalization of surveillance.” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. December 1, 2014. Retrieved January 26, 2015 from

Addressing homesickness in university freshmen

Thurber, C.A. & Walton, E.A. (2012). Homesickness and Adjustment in University Students. Journal of American College Health, 60 (5), 415-419.

What does the research literature say about homesickness among university freshmen?  Doctors Christopher A. Thurber and Edward A. Walton provide a clear and concise summary in an article published in the Journal of American Health in 2012.

Reviewing the recent literature on the topic, the researchers presented lists of conditions that result from intense homesickness, risk and protective factors for homesickness, and empirically based strategies for both prevention and treatment.  They concluded the article by calling upon practitioners to implement and then test the effectiveness of interventions to address the issue.

Strengths and Critiques

The organization of this paper was excellent.  The paper was easy to follow, the writing was clear and concise, and the sections were both understandable and sensible.  Most importantly, the paper was a helpful contribution to the field of student retention literature because it provided an excellent and user-friendly summary of recent research on homesickness along with sound strategies for intervention.  A university administrator who wants to address homesickness among students but isn’t sure where or how to start could read this article and walk away with both an understanding of the issue and a plan for how to tackle it.

The major thing lacking in this paper is a clear theoretical framework.  The authors did not espouse any particular theory.  Instead, they just wrote about the challenges that many students face when they transition to a university setting and how those challenges can cause homesickness.  The authors also omitted a data collection and analysis section, presumably because they did not conduct an original study other than a literature review.  They did, however, note that a review had already been done on homesickness in children and adolescents, which justified that their review focus on research on young adults at postsecondary institutions.  They also noted that risk and protective factors for homesickness for youth are nearly identical as risk and protective factors for adults.

The authors’ discussion of the topic, woven throughout the paper, was particularly strong.  They noted that a simple dichotomy of students who are homesick and those who are not is not helpful to understand the issue because so many students, if not all, experience some degree of homesickness.  Instead, the authors recommended conceptualizing homesickness as a spectrum with varying intensity and then distinguishing between normal levels of homesickness and more severe levels which are problematic (including consequences such as significant distress that make those levels problematic).  This conceptualization is helpful because there are specific indicators of when homesickness levels have become above the normal intensity, and the acknowledgement that there is a normal experience of homesickness can help administrators and practitioners with implementing one of the authors’ intervention strategies, which is to normalize homesickness among students.


University and college administrators concerned with student retention should definitely address homesickness, given a finding cited in this paper that homesick students are significantly more likely to drop out of school.  I have anecdotal evidence that confirms this finding.  In my place of practice, I have noticed that homesickness is a common reason given by students when asked why they are leaving or thinking about leaving the university.  In my own experience as a university freshman, I vividly remember homesickness being a major personal struggle.  I never contemplated leaving the university, but my homesickness did contribute to several personal and academic problems.

The authors were transparent with the type of further study that might effectively build upon their research: intervention studies.  They noted that existing research on homesickness has only described the subjective experience of the issue such as risk and protective factors.  With their lists of recommended strategies for intervention complete, the authors were hoping that future researchers would actually implement and assess these strategies.  Reading that such studies have yet to be published (at least as of 2012, when this article was published), I am encouraged because I might be able to bring such an innovation to ASU and also make a needed contribution to the research literature.

Before delving into a homesickness intervention, however, I would want to know answers to two questions that were not answered in this article.  The first question is: what is the prevalence of intense homesickness among university students?  The authors cited one study that found that 7 percent of children and adolescents experienced severe levels of homesickness when away from home.  I wonder if the percentage of college students who experience these high intensity levels of homesickness is similar, lower, or higher.  I’m also curious to know if there are any trends related to homesickness in college students.  Is intense homesickness an issue that is affecting higher percentages of college students today than in previous generations?  Or has the percentage either decreased or remained steady?  On one hand, I could imagine the prevalence being lower today compared with previous generations because contemporary students have the benefit of technology such as Skype, FaceTime, cell phones, and text messaging that can help with staying closely connected with distant relatives and friends.  On the other hand, common knowledge that today’s generation of college students tends to be more reliant on their parents than previous generations might suggest that today’s students might feel more homesick when separated from home than their predecessors.

Addressing homesickness has major implications for exploring humanizing education research.  Students are not just numbers attending an institution.  They have feelings and poignant experiences that affect their success outcomes.  Building an institutional understanding of homesickness can help to humanize students and increase empathy for them from administrators by understanding their emotions. It can also help students have compassion for each other and be supportive of each other.  In my experience, I have observed that students who are struggling with an issue will keep that issue to themselves due to embarrassment and thinking that they are the only ones who are having that issue.  An intervention that draws attention to the widespread and common nature of homesickness might have the effect of encouraging students to be more open about their struggles and to be mutually supportive as they encounter and address their struggles together.


Thurber, C.A. & Walton, E.A. (2012). Homesickness and Adjustment in University Students. Journal of American College Health, 60 (5), 415-419.


Language Loss

In their introduction to Indigenous Epistemologies and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights, McCarty and her team of guest co-editors presented a series of questions related to Indigenous education that they believed to be best explored by scholars.  The core questions were the meaning of self-determination, the placement of Indigenous epistemologies inside and outside the classroom, how human rights are implicated in these questions and their responses, and what the field of anthropology’s contribution to Indigenous peoples might be in the present and future, given the field’s damaging role in the past.  The editors acknowledged difficulty in defining some of these key terms and were careful to include the definitions they used.

I found this introduction to be insightful and educational.  For instance, I did not realize that Indigenous peoples speak such a large percentage of the world’s languages.  Based on the numbers cited by the editors, Indigenous peoples speak between 66 and 83 percent of the world’s languages despite only comprising 4 percent of the world’s population.  That’s amazing! The editors wrote that language is important because it contains local knowledge and ways of knowing.  Unfortunately, the editors also presented evidence that many of these languages are endangered because they are only spoken by older generations.  Unless patterns change, these languages will be lost when the elders who speak them pass.

The topic of language loss is personally relevant to me because I am a Latino who does not speak Spanish.  My Spanish-speaking parents made the choice to refrain from teaching me English because they wanted me to assimilate to the mainstream English-speaking culture.  My father said he didn’t want me to be teased for speaking English improperly as he had been when he was a child.  He also wanted me to do well in school, where classes were taught in English.

I wound up picking up basic Spanish by taking classes in high school and as an undergraduate in college, however, I am far from proficient.  As a result, I feel disconnected from my ethnic culture, and I feel shame that I don’t speak Spanish.  Not being able to communicate in Spanish makes me feel like I’m a “bad” Latino.  I’m especially annoyed when I am around people speaking in Spanish and I can’t understand them or when I’m listening to a salsa song and don’t know what it means.  The worst is when someone asks me if I speak Spanish (usually a fellow Latino or Latina who would like to converse with me in that language) and I have to tell that person that I don’t.  It’s like being exposed and having to confess my faults.

This makes me wonder: how do Indigenous youth feel about their inability to speak the language of their parents and grandparents?  Do they feel shame, as I do?  Are they angry about the cultural, economic, and political forces that are causing their Indigenous languages to be lost?  Has their language loss affected their cultural identity or pride?  If so, in what ways and to what extent?  Are these youth making or have they made any attempts to reclaim or save their language?  Or, are they indifferent?  What is the basis for their feelings?  Given how highly diverse Indigenous peoples are, I would suspect the answers vary.  I think it would be interesting to know percentages of each attitude toward language loss and perhaps see comparisons of attitudes toward language loss based on language.


McCarty, T.L. (2005). Indigenous Epistemologies and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 36(1), 1-7.


Funds of Knowledge Approach in 4th Grade Science

Upadhyay, B. R. (2006). Using students’ lived experiences in an urban science classroom: An elementary school teacher’s thinking. Science Education, 90(1), 94–110. doi:10.1002/sce.20095


The paper is organized so as to build context on key vocabulary and ideas that are being researched before fully presenting the research idea.  The author first grounds the reader in an introduction to not only her work with the “Linking Food in the Environment” program but also the meaning behind key terms like “funds of knowledge” and “students lived experiences”.  The author then goes on to explain the reason for her research and the research questions that are to be answered which are: What does Jane’s life story tell us about her views on teaching, her experiences, and science teaching that is relevant to students and their lived experiences, what student experiences does Jane identify as important funds of knowledge in teaching the LiFE curriculum, and how does Jane connect student experiences to her own and integrate them into her science teaching?

The author follows this by explaining how she will gather data and analyze it in order to make conclusions.  The author has chosen a case study model and will gather qualitative data and analyze it by findings themes and trends in her observations.  After naming some limitations of the study the author proceeds onto her findings.

The findings section is lengthy and detailed as it illuminates Jane’s own personal history in becoming a teacher as well as the various relationships to curriculum, students, and personal development throughout the study. After the author has communicated all of the findings in the different realms of experience in Jane’s classroom she moves onto discussion and conclusion.

Contributions to Field

The study in question provides welcome insight into the specific decision making and thought process that goes through a teacher’s mind while they try to incorporate the funds of knowledge approach to teaching inn their classrooms.  While the findings here are not necessarily replicable they do illuminate a lot of the process that happens within a teachers mind which will inform future research.

Theoretical Framework/Lens

The research was done through a case study approach.  The author chose this method because it offers unique insight into what is happening within a teachers mind as they navigate their classroom.  The researcher was able to operate as a thought partner and probe the teachers thought process and reflections so as to gain further understanding of how at least one individual approaches using students “funds of knowledge” in the classroom.

Data Collection/Analyses

The author gathers entirely qualitative data for use in the current research.  The data is a mix of interviews, observations, classroom videos, and field notes.  The data is collected from only one teacher who the author developed a cordial and professional relationship with during the study.  The author chose the case study format in order to better understand the specific decisions, events and processes that played out in the teachers day to day decision making.  The interview data was gathered by asking open-ended and probing questions that serve to provide valuable insight into the teaches meta cognitive thought process.

The data is analyzed using grounded theory development which has the researcher create categories and themes based on analyses of transcripts, video tapes, field notes and observations.  The author organized her themes into four “index trees” with the first two being what she has written about in the current article.  The index trees were: Students lived experiences and science teaching, social scaffolding, how high stakes testing influences science instruction and science process skills.  Within each index tree are sub categories of themes in the data that were analyzed for the study.


The researcher organized her findings into a number of different domains which I will try to briefly summarize below.

Jane’s Experience as a Student in Different Cultures

Jane grew up around the world switching schools often and regularly being an outsider in a foreign culture.  Jane has very little recollection of Science in her Elementary Classroom when she went to school.  Also Jane did not take many Science classes while in college and upon receiving her teacher certificate she did not feel prepared to do science instruction within her own classroom.  Knowing where Jane is coming from is an important step in preparing a teacher to make connection between their life, their students lives and the choices they make in the classroom.

Jane’s Growth as a Teacher and Becoming an Inclusive Teacher

Jane began her teaching career as a substitute teacher.  She did this for a number of years before actually serving as a full time teacher.  She saw her own daughter struggle with the science curriculum at her school and it prompted her to wonder why this subject could be so hard.  Upon arriving in her classroom Jane recognized the wealth of cultural background in her students and began to wonder how she could use what her students already knew in order to promote more learning in her classroom.  She is self-learner always seeking new opportunities for development and growth.

Jane’s Experience with the LiFE Curriculum and her Thinking About Connected Science Curriculum

Jane feels invested in the LiFE curriculum much more than the FOSS kits she previously had to use in her class.  With the LiFE curriculum she believes she is able to focus on the larger conceptual understandings of science as opposed to the more basic content.  Jane likes that the LiFE curriculum allows her to introduce new ideas in her science classroom.  In addition students partake in the scientific process and make mistakes along the way which is allowed and even encourage so that they know how to respond to failure.

What Student Experiences Does Jane Identify as Important Funds of Knowledge in Teaching the LiFE Curriculum?

Jane that it was most important that her students felt that their questions and ideas were valued in class discussion and would be addressed with fidelity.  When a student would share an experience they had with science in home, Jane would feel free to steer the lesson to a new direction that better aligned with what students had experienced before.  She used the students basic understanding of some terms to demonstrate new concepts.  An example is made of how the students were asking about air and she was able to differentiate between air and oxygen with a candle in a glass jar.  Jane knew that when students offered something to the space she could leverage it to introduce a new idea.

How Does Jane Connect Student Experiences to Her Own and Integrate Them into Her Science Teaching?

New knowledge is best created through the mutual sharing of ideas and experiences.  Jane created a classroom environment that encouraged sharing and discussion between students and teacher.  Jane knew it was important that in order for students to feel it was safe to bring their ideas and perspectives she would have to bring her own.  She would share information about her children or home in order to encourage students to make their own connections with their lives.  She recognized that as part of the culture of the classroom everyone needed to feel that it was safe and encourage to share.


The article does not present and findings that can be implemented or used in a school setting tomorrow, however it does lend more credence to the idea that using students funds of knowledge is an approach and idea that deserves more thought.  Through observations and interviews it is clear that not only were students learning in class but they were enjoying it as well.  The “radical” approach that is funds of knowledge deserves more research and investigation as it seems clear that it sets students up on a better trajectory that is more focused on critical thinking and real world application.  The funds of knowledge approach also serves to meet students at their need so that every child has a chance to learn and engage with content in the classroom.

Alternative Education for American Indian Students

Jeffries, R. B. & Singer, L.C.  (2003).  Successfully educating urban American Indian students:  An alternative school format.  Journal of American Indian Education, 42(3), p. 40 – 57.


In Rhonda B. Jeffries and Lyndon C. Singer’s (2003) article, “Successfully Educating Urban American Indian Students:  An Alternative School Format, the researchers explore the benefits of an alternative school that serves a significant population of American Indian students.  Black Raven High School “was created in 1994 by concerned American Indian professionals, parents and affiliated entities in response to the high academic failure and dropout rate of American Indian high school students in the public school system” (p. 45).

Black Raven High School employed 10 teachers:  3 American Indian, 2 African American and 6 Anglos.  Both the principal and assistant principal were American Indian.  And, the majority of support staff, tutors and volunteers were also American Indian.  The majority of the 9th – 12th grade students between the ages of 14 – 18 identified as American Indian.  The American Indian students that enrolled had either already dropped out or were at risk of dropping out.  Referrals for student enrollment came from other schools and the students’ families.  Student enrollment was limited to 80 students, however, about 70 students would show up on any given day.  Class sizes did not exceed 15 students, with the average being 7-8 students.  Black Raven’s developed a philosophy of values that promoted “a sense of community, self-esteem, ethnic identity and pride, and an appreciation of all cultures and their relevance in today’s society” (p. 46).

Data were collected through observations and “life history interviews with students, teachers, the administrative assistant, and the principal” (p. 46).   The data for this study included perspectives from 1 administrator and 3 students.  The case study was centered around one educator “whose use of culturally relevant curricula has made a significant impact on a randomly selected sample of American Indian students’ lives” (p. 46).  Data were analyzed through the creation of verbatim transcripts, coding the transcripts to develop thematic frameworks using the constant comparative method, and then recoded for confirm the themes initially established.

The data revealed “significant factors contributing toward American Indian/Alaska Native student success” were “(a) small school size, (b) flexible school formats, (c) governance structures, and (d) culturally responsive teachers” (p. 52).  When school size and flexible schedules uncontrollable, the study found that culturally responsive teachers were enough to “create conducive environments” (p. 52).


I appreciated the researchers desire to examine non-traditional education as it pertains to the education of American Indian students.  Much of the research that I have discovered has been focused on traditional educational systems such as public schools and Bureau of Indian Education schools.  I think too often researchers are focused on the traditional educational systems’ lack of equity and quality that they are unaware of the assets that do exist within the system.

However, I would like to know if the researchers considered examining a rural alternative school.  I would be interested to know if they were able to come up with similar findings.  And, if not, what were the reasons for the differences.

I would also like to know the impact this school made in regards to the initial concerns of academic failure and dropout rates.  Did the school create an increase in academic achievement and retention to graduation?

My other concern was the small number of participants in this study.  Only 1 administrator, 1 teacher and 3 students were included in the case study.  I would have liked to read the perspectives of the other administrator, the other 9 teachers, and the other 77 students that made up the school body.  Again, I am left to wonder if the researcher limited her data to these 5 individuals because it proved what she wanted to prove.

I would also have liked the data collection to include interviews and perspectives from graduates.  How did this school change their lives and lead them to graduation, which they may not have accomplished otherwise?

I would also have liked to see the statistics over the course of its existence that included student enrollment numbers, pre- and post-test scores, and attendance, dropout and graduation rates.  I understand that students enjoy the non-traditional approach, but did it have an effect on the data?  If not, then what is the point?  If so, what other interventions did the school provide for the students to achieve this?


As I read this article, I found myself writing in the margins “I need to do this” or “how can I do this?”  I am always looking for ways to improve our program.  And, hopefully, this year, with a new staff coming in, we will be able make significant changes.  However, I know the scope to which we can make these changes will be limited by administration.  But, I will fight for them anyway.

Because I work in an alternative school on the reservation, I was interested in what the study would find.  However, these are all things that I think would benefit any student both Natives and non-Natives.  Culturally relevant teaching should not only pertain to American Indian culture.  It did give me some ideas as to how we may be able to incorporate non-traditional activities into our curriculum.  How I am going to this, I am not sure exactly considering I have 7th – 12th grade students in my classroom at the same time and each is working on coursework specific to them.  I am interested in the new perspectives that will be coming in that may be able to assist in this process.

I especially appreciated this point that Jeffries and Singer addressed “we must remember that American Indians/Alaskan Natives represent over 200 distinct cultures.  What works beautifully on the Navajo Reservation falls flat on the Rosebud Reservation and may be inapplicable in an urban setting representing 60 different cultures” (p. 54).  It is critical that researcher and educators keep this in mind.  I do not like the generalizations that literature often makes about Native Americans.  And, this is precisely why I am only interested in focusing on my tribe, the Tohono O’odham Nation.  It is the community in which I live and my family is from.  It is the community in which my children will attend school.

Time to Survey

Lavin, A. M., Korte, L., & Davies, T. L. (2011). The impact of classroom technology on student behavior. Journal of Technology Research, 2, 1–13. Retrieved from

Technology plays a big role in our lives today. However, the amount of technology we use in our everyday life does not always translate into the amount used in education. At any level, one can find classes that use technology effectively and extensively and classes that do not utilize technology at all. The more technology has become a tool in education, the more important it becomes to understand all the aspects it impacts.

Student behaviors can alter depending on what resources they are using. “The Impact of Classroom Technology on Student Behavior” tries to understand the impact technology has on specific student behaviors. A couple examples are:

  • The level of preparedness for each class.
  • The quality of notes taken.
  • The level of participation in class discussions.

The authors surveyed 700 students, of which 557 were returned and usable. The survey was distributed to students in all levels of business classes at a Mid-western university. “Both versions of the survey used the following five point scale to collect student opinions: “1” was significantly positive, ‘2’ was somewhat positive, ‘3’ was no difference, ‘4’ was somewhat negative, and ‘5’ was significantly negative”(Lavin, Korte, & Davies, 2011, p.4). In order to determine if there were significant effects, the answers were compared to the “neutral”, which is 3. Means above 3 showed a negative impact and means below 3 showed positive impact. The questions were specific for two groups of students, but the way the questions were approached was different. The first group of students came from classes where the professors identified a moderate to extensive use of technology, while the second group of students had professors who indicated that no technology was used.  For the group in classes with technology they were asked how an absence of technology would affect each behavior. For the group in classes without technology they were asked how the addition of technology would impact each behavior.  Overall, the results of the survey showed technology had a positive impact on student behaviors (Lavin et al., 2011).

The most important impact this article has to the field is that it gives researchers a starting point. As with most of the research I have read, it tends to develop more questions than answers. As the researchers pointed out, this is just a first step. There needs to be further studies that include a larger base of students and studies that focus on what technology has the greatest impact on learning. To make the article a little easier to read, especially in the results section, I would have broken it down into sections based on each group, rather than trying to address both at the same time. It made the conclusion a little difficult to track. The authors discussed a few theories and nicely connected them to other literature, but until I got to the “Current Study” section, I wasn’t sure what the focus of the research was. I didn’t feel the discussion of other theories was necessary to discussing the current study. The authors included their data in table format, which I found helpful since the discussion of the results was difficult to track. Additionally, since I plan on including surveys in my work, this gives me a good idea of how to approach. I was surprised to find a few grammatical errors, but they were minor and the meaning of the sections was not lost.

I was expecting the results to be a little different than they were. There were a few areas the group with technology said would improve without technology. This wasn’t a result I would have guessed, however, it also brought additional questions to mind. For instance, the group with technology indicated that the absence of technology “would have a positive impact…on the amount of time they study for class each day” (Lavin et al., 2011, p.5). Had I been the one doing the survey, I would have done a follow-up survey to clarify their reasons. Would they study less because of the amount of notes they would have to take in class or would they study less because without technology they have no distractions? Or, do would they study less because they have fewer materials to look at? In my own research I could do follow-up surveys as needed or I can provide a comments section under each question in which the respondent would be able to clarify their answer. Although, this would complicate the mathematics, as it is difficult to put a value on answers that could vary from person to person. One insight I had while I read through the tables showing the data is that I need to build my mathematical knowledge. There were some sections I vaguely recognize, but I am unsure as how to use them now and there were some that were totally foreign to me. So, either I need to increase my math skills or find a partner who already possesses such skills and will help me.

A survey I would like to do within my community would be how technology affects student achievement from multiple views: the teachers, the administrators, the parents and the students. I would like to address if they feel technology affects their achievement and how, meaning it helps them learn quicker, deeper or if it makes learning more difficult. In the study by Lavin, Korte and Davies they ask specially about how technology affects the students behaviors (Lavin et al., 2011). I would like to address that, but in addition look at if the responders feel there is a specific technology that allows them a deeper understanding of the content. One thing I will have to consider is the number of surveys (one large survey or multiple smaller surveys) and what will be more reliable.

This study brings focus onto the community and gives them a voice. If students feel their opinion matters, they are likely to be more motivated. I think that the surveys in my research will hold valuable information and will play a big role in my research. Teachers do not need to add technology in for the sake of technology. Teachers need to add technology in because it gives the students a deeper understanding for the concept. I suspect that student achievement is impacted by technology when it requires the student to take charge of their learning.


Reading and the Brain: Time and Place



Hruby, G. G., & Goswami, U. (2011). Neuroscience and Reading: A Review for Reading Education Researchers. Reading Research Quarterly, 46(2), 156–172. doi:10.1598/RRQ.46.2.4

Research follows money.  Where there is funding, researchers flourish and new information is discovered and disseminated.  Funding many times is related to solve problems.  Brain research is no different.  Most brain research deals with abnormalities in brain functioning—dementia, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress syndrome, attention deficient disorder, and dyslexia to name a few.  However, little has been done to explore the workings of a normal brain at work.

One area where this is less true is neuroscience and reading.  Scientists are trying to uncover the secrets of the brain and language; language is what differentiates humans from other animals.  Thus, a body of work has been created around the issue of reading.

Hruby and Goswami (2011) review a wide variety of research from the neuroscience field, specifically for researchers in reading education.  Researchers are using imaging studies to find what parts of the brain are involved in reading, while others are studying neural activity to establish a detailed seconds-long timeline of what happens during the reading process.


During decoding, brain areas related to hearing, vision, spatial processing and speaking are activated.  In general, many of the reading functions take place on the left side of the brain.  However, children younger than nine years of age use more of the right side of their brain than older children and adults.  It is supposed that normal development accounts for this difference.  Located on the left side of the brain is an area called the Visual Word Form Area (VWFA).  When adults are shown printed words, this area shows activity.  In children, more activity is seen in this area as they become better readers.  Although this area is responsive to any sequence of printed letters, more activity occurs when the string is an actual word.  The brain can distinguish a real word from a nonsense word in less than 1/5 of a second (the average is 170 milliseconds).  In addition to the VWFA, other parts of the brain are dealing with the auditory functions of decoding (left occipitotemporal regions) and the combining of the auditory and visual functions (temporoparietal junction/TPJ).

When reading, children’s brains activate three core areas in sequence.  In early reading instruction, it is assumed that students first pass through a stage where they identify whole words and their meaning (I equate this to sight words).  If this is true, all three core areas are not needed to go from print to meaning.  However, in one study, the children consistently used all three areas.  With further study and replication, this finding may have implications for the way we teach early literacy.


Moving away from decoding, Hruby and Goswami (2011) move to comprehension, beginning with vocabulary learning.  The most prominent study compared learning vocabulary in one of three ways:  spelling and meaning; spelling and pronunciation; pronunciation and meaning.  Later, they were asked to recognize the new words in other contexts.  Brain activation was strongest for the words that had been learned by spelling and meaning.  This could be important for vocabulary learning because the stronger the recognition, the more easily we can recognize it and begin to add related information.

Along with individual words, language comprehension deals with semantics and syntax.  Semantics is the relation of words to each other; syntax is the grammar that creates well-formed sentences.  Research has shown that these three parts of reading comprehension happen in different parts of the brain and in sequence.  First, the brain activates to understand individual words, then the semantics, and last the syntax.  The areas of the brain that handle semantic and syntactic processing develop uniquely in each person, depending on their differing experiences.  Very little neuroscientific research has been done on a reader’s prior knowledge and how that effects his brain processing as he reads.

Strengths and Contributions

This article is well-organized, clearly laying out at the beginning what will be covered, and ordering the studies in a linear pattern that is easy to follow.  Major studies that apply specifically to reading research and instruction were chosen, and they were interesting to learn about.  The authors are brave souls, attempting to bridge a very wide chasm between neuroscience, with its inherent mystery and intimidating vocabulary, with researchers in the reading field.  This is a daunting task, and they have approached their topic with integrity.  While trying not to diminish the work of the scientists, I think they have left the material too difficult for readers from other fields to understand.  Granted, I have not read much on this topic, but I had to read most of the study summaries multiple times, parsing each sentence in order to get a basic understanding.  The material is still inaccessible to many who need to know what is happening in neuroscience that effects education.

Final Thoughts

Hruby and Goswami (2011) conclude with thoughts concerning the role of neuroscience research and reading research, with which I strongly concur and which reflects conversations in my doctoral classes at Arizona State University.  Neuroscience is an exciting new area of research, which can enlighten classroom practices.  But, it is not the only truth to be considered.  Reading research, whether based on traditional psychology, behaviorialism, or simply what works in the classroom, are equally important.  Each is a lens with which to see a portion of the truth.  Truth is found in the intersection and compilation of all these practices and viewpoints.

The Whole Teacher Enchilada

Twining, P., Raffaghelli, J., Albion, P., & Knezek, D. (2013). Moving education into the digital age: the contribution of teachers’ professional development. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 29(5), 426-437.

I chose that title today because I had no idea what I was getting myself into when it came to today’s article. Today’s title is a play on the more common phrase “the whole enchilada” meaning it’s the whole kit n kaboodle, everything, the kitchen sink, and the dish ran away with the spoon…you get the picture, right?
Well, the article I read pretty much summed up a lot of the major research surrounding teacher professional development (TPD) in general and as it pertained to the topic of Information and communication technology (ICT).

This journal article was particularly unique because it some respects it reminded me of a meta-analysis that combined large elements of information and distilled it down to some basic, general “truths”. And yet it also reminded me of a conference paper that appears a bit more loosey-goosey in its methodologies and formalities.

Let me explain. This article stemmed from a series of discussions at the 2011 EDUsummIT and from one particular group in general, the Technical Working Group on Teacher Professional Development (TWG3). This group consisted of twenty-one individuals from fourteen different nationalities and their discussion really centered on how could TPD ensure that teachers were prepared to use ICT to promote current skills and learning styles presently. As they began their conversation, they focused on what the current literature already stated about TPD in general and anything pertinent in regards to ICT.

Then the article delves deeper into the discussions as to what were the goals of the integration of ICT into TPD and what obstacles and layers of infrastructure must be considered when planning or working within this arena. Generally speaking, much the the goals centered around the idea that the effective and seamless use of ICT in the classroom would be a transformative element to the status quo.

The final portion of the article explores the topics that the group came to a consensus on, what discussion is to still be had and what conclusions this highly diverse group were able to agree upon. Some of the big conclusions were that most international, educational settings do not employ TPD best practices, the distance between practitioner and researcher must shrink and information must flow in both directions in that relationship, and that ICT must be modeled and expected of educators for it to truly have a transformative effect on education.

As I had stated previously, this article was similar to a conference paper in that it seemed less formal and more conversational in nature. As such, I think it was a very easy to read and follow textually. I also do believe that this one article, as I had mentioned before, is similar to a meta-analysis in that it covers a large, breadth of information and is able to distill it down to some very basic, compelling components. In doing so, this article has contributed much to the field of education and specifically to the branch of education dealing with teacher preparation and continued development. Any new district or site administrator could easily come to this article to see some highlighted best practices that are gleaned from strong, international research. And in having the references, you could specifically look further into what a particular author or article is saying about TPD and how they know they should say that.

I do think this article straddles the fence in a few places where parts of it are real strengths and contributions and the other is sure something could be improved upon. For example, the Literature Review wasn’t exactly a review. It did cover a breadth of established research but it didn’t really tease out all of the information for each of those articles. I also believe that the omission of some texts can be as intentional as the submission or use of other texts. To me personally, it didn’t seem like enough of a well-rounded picture was painted for this Literature Review for me to feel comfortable in saying it was comprehensive.

Springboarding off of that last thought, I arrive to a similar one in regards to Theoretical Frameworks. This article explored, very briefly, three frameworks and a bit as to how it generally applied to the present discussion of TWG3. But none of these frameworks were used extensively or explored thoroughly enough for me to really consider that a strength.

Finally, I would have to say that the “data collection” was completely absent. I understand that this article was not an empirical study but there was some ambiguity around some of the practices employed in creating it. For example, a few times the authors stated, “consensus in the discussion…” or even “ the group’s consensus….”. This term was not unpacked as to how a consensus was created and even who was or was not a part of the consensus and what the counter argument/point was to that dominant group. I believe some more clarification could have brought some more transparency to the article in general. There were also some value statements made about particular country’s educational systems or even proposed costs for TPD, that did not have any explanations or rationale tied to them. The findings were were interesting in that they were very broad and basic as to have to be applied internationally but I wonder in doing so, they lose their potency at the national or meso level.

As stated previously, I would recommend this article to others, like myself, who are researching into best practices in TPD because it is a great jumping off point. However, I do believe that in examining this issue at such a macro-international level some elements were overlooked. 1) the assumed bias that technology should be integrated into classrooms, 2) that it is imperative that all schools consider increasing the use of technology regardless of student/teacher access to initial and continued funding for such projects, and 3) the inherent complications and struggles that teacher preparation programs and districts face in regards to demands on their time, finances and attention. I think an article that examined these issues concretely and also clarified some more of the value or statements or even means of coming to a consensus by building more transparency into it, would prove to be an even more effective and powerful article that would truly offer some strong contributions to the field.

A Brand Ecosystem for Higher Education

Pinar, M., Trapp, P., Girard, T., & Boyt, T. E. (2011). Utilizing the brand ecosystem framework in designing branding strategies for higher education. International Journal of Educational Management, 25(7), 724–739. doi:10.1108/09513541111172126

“Utilizing The Brand Ecosystem Framework in Designing Branding Strategies for Higher Education” includes a compelling rationale for the importance of branding institutions of higher education and a framework for developing a brand.  Building off of an extensive review of the literature, the authors provide information specific to higher education institutions (such as challenges associated with the narrow view of branding), present a brand ecosystem, and demonstrate the importance of having a fully integrated effort.  The literature review includes numerous general marketing sources as well as those specific to higher education.

In the article, the authors use a coherent well-organized approach that includes examples of branding and its components both from outside of and within higher education.  This approach, particularly the examples of branding in higher education, presents a clear reason for the value of branding to a higher education audience that may be less familiar with the concept.  The main goal of the article is to present a theoretical framework that includes the major factors and interactions of these factors in developing a university brand (Pinar, Trapp, Girard, & Boyt, 2011).  This theoretical framework is the articles primary contribution to the field.  There was no primary data gathered by the authors and the analysis was based on the information gleamed from the literature review.

With the recent economic downturn, reduced higher education funding from states (for state colleges and universities), and the increase in for profit competitors, higher education institutions have looked for alternative ways to maintain or improve the services they provide.  A number of institutions have explored branding.  According to Kotler and Keller (2006), a brand represents customers’ perceptions and feelings about the product (or service) and its performance.  As one of the most important assets of an organization, brands need to be thoughtfully developed and managed.

Some in higher education view branding as only marketing communication such as brochures, logos, and websites.  A brand is much broader than that and includes the experiences of students, alumni, donors, and employers with the institution.  In higher education, a more significant challenge is the “ideological gap” between designing the university experience to meet student expectations and designing the service to meet what the institution believes the students should experience.  Brands that are successful at the university level focus on students and their needs, not on what the university believes students should need (Ng & Forbes, 2008).  For many universities, the focus on students’ needs will only occur when there is a substantial paradigm shift and operational changes throughout the institution.  These changes may be necessary but likely won’t be easy.

The theoretical framework presented by the authors is called a brand ecosystem (Pinar et al., 2011).  In a brand ecosystem, the preferences and expectations of the target market are the driving force.  Also, every internal and external activity in the brand system inter-relate and should contribute to reinforcing the desired brand image and customer experience with the brand, both short-term and long-term.  With the perspective that students are the only reason universities exist, the center of the brand ecosystem is the student experience, as indicated in the graphic below.  The core value created by the university experience is learning through teaching and research.  Other activities that create value for students include student life, sports, and community activities or service (Pinar et al., 2011).  While these ancillary services may not be essential, they impact the delivery of the core academic service and all services interact to create the entire university experience for students (Ng & Forbes, 2008).  The brand ecosystem also includes the experiences of alumni, donors, and employers with the institution.

Like other services, the students’ education experience is the sum of all encounters including student-faculty, student-administration/staff, and student-student interactions, any of which has the capability to influence students’ perception of the university brand.  The academic experience, for example, can be viewed as the sum of classroom lectures and discussions, homework, tests, class projects, internships, student research supervised by faculty, conversations between students and faculty, academic advising, etc.  Each encounter can improve or negatively affect the students experience and therefore, the brand ecosystem is a compilation of the interrelated experiences over time that share a common focus and direction (Pinar et al., 2011).  Due to the importance of these encounters, universities should clearly articulate the desired student experience and provide a strong internal branding program and provide faculty and staff with the necessary training and support, particularly for those whose duties require direct contact with students.  Highly qualified faculty, staff and administrators are essential to creating excellent student experiences with the brand ecosystem.  Universities should clarify the roles and behavior needed from all employees to deliver on the promises of value associated with the brand.  A university brand and a student experience have an interdependent relationship.  The brand communicates the type of experience (i.e., promise and expectation) while the experience reinforces and (hopefully) builds the brand.  In turn, the brand facilitates the next experience in a relationship that continues in a dynamic and mutually rewarding way.

My view

The authors write with a well-informed marketing perspective that is firmly grounded in higher education.  Some in higher education continue to believe that branding is not appropriate and incompatible with traditional academic values.  I believe that good branding not only is aligned with academic values but can bring them to the forefront.  It isn’t one or the other.  Without branding, universities face greater risk of declines in enrollment and, more importantly, a missed opportunity to become more student focused.

The article presents the rationale for branding in an effective manner for those in higher education.  In addition, the brand ecosystem provides a high level model for universities willing to take the first step in developing a brand.  The authors suggest future research on implementing measuring and testing the brand ecosystem model and I agree.  Developing the model is helpful; implementing and testing it would provide great insight into the model’s effectiveness and capability to facilitate the adoption of much needed branding initiatives in higher education.

Kotler, P., & Keller, K. L. (2006). Marketing Management (12th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Ng, I., & Forbes, J. (2008). Education as service: the understanding of university experience through the service logic. Journal of Marketing Higher Education, 19(1), 38–64.

Pinar, M., Trapp, P., Girard, T., & Boyt, T. E. (2011). Utilizing the brand ecosystem framework in designing branding strategies for higher education. International Journal of Educational Management, 25(7), 724–739. doi:10.1108/09513541111172126


Reading Between the Lines

Ladson-Billings, G. (1992). Reading between the lines and beyond the pages: A culturally relevant approach to literacy teaching. Theory Into Practice. doi:10.1080/00405849209543558

The journal article, Reading Between the Lines and Beyond the Pages: A Culturally Relevant Approach to Literacy teaching by Ladson-Billings (1992) highlights the importance of how teachers frame culturally relevant approaches to literacy teaching. The author effectively describes the need for this study by sharing that the previous research focused primarily on African American teachers servicing African American students. Ladson-Billings (1992) couples this with explaining that there has not been much research on cultural relevance in education with African American students. (p. 313) I was surprised to learn there had not been much research on this topic with African American students and even more surprised to read one of the possible hypotheses. “One hypothesis for this lack of application is the persistent denial of the existence of a distinct African American culture, one that is not merely linked to poverty and the legacy of slavery” (Ladson-Billings, 1992, p. 313).

There were eight teachers involved in the study that took place in North Carolina. The majority of the teachers were of African American descent. The study focused on pedagogical excellence with African American students. The eight teachers were selected because they were deemed exemplary teachers by administrators and parents and because they were especially successful with African American students. Data collection was not a strength of this article. The author collected data through ethnographic interviews, observation and videotaped classroom instruction. The data collection and analysis was rich but it was not detailed enough in the article to duplicate. One of the ways in which data was analyzed was collectively with the teacher participants. Ladson-Billings (1992) described how all of the participants were involved in watching the videotaped lesson segments, discussed their practice and defined dimensions of culturally relevant teaching. As I read this, I was intrigued by the process of having participants reflect, discuss their practice and come to consensus on culturally relevant teaching elements. However, I would have benefited from the author explaining this data collection in more detail. It left me wondering what questions were asked during this collective discussion? What processes and procedures did the author put in place for the participants to respectfully discuss one another’s practice? Finally, what was their collective knowledge level on culturally relevant practice?

Ladson-Billings (1992) is gifted storyteller. In this article, the author delves into two of the eight teachers’ practice. She gives a brief overview of their experience and background and then masterfully describes their teaching practice. A strength of this article is the findings. Ladson-Billings (1992) provides appropriate convincing evidence of elements of culturally relevant teaching practices. She describes one of the findings as teachers’ not “shying” away from issues of race and culture (p. 316) Another finding was that “students are appreciated and celebrated as individuals and as members of a specific culture” (Ladson-Billings, 1992, p. 317). I believe that this is an important element that defines culturally relevant teaching practices. One finding I found interesting was, “although teachers speak and instruct in Standard English, students home language is incorporated into the conversations of the classroom without reprimand and correction”(Ladson-Billings, 1992, p. 317). I believe this would empower students, knowing their teacher accepts and embraces their language. This was illustrated when the researcher provided examples of the teachers using “Black English.”

Collectively the teachers defined three culturally conscious categories that all teachers in the study showed through the interview process or through their videotaped instruction. The three categories Ladson-Billings defines in the article  are culturally relevant conceptions of self and others, culturally relevant conceptions of classroom social relations and culturally relevant conceptions of knowledge.

Ladson-Billings defines culturally relevant conception of self and others as being proud of you you are and what you do.  I connected this concept of self with having high self-efficacy and the belief of knowing what you are doing is making a difference.  The author describes conception of others as “providing support for students to be themselves” (Ladson-Billings, 1992, p. 317). The author defines culturally relevant conceptions of classroom social relations as there is mutual respect between the teacher and student.  She further defines this concept as “the classroom relations are humanely equitable, fostering positive student-to-student and student-to-teacher interactions” (p. 318).  I also noted that she described there is not a power struggle between teachers and students because there is a shared power. The final conception the researcher describes is culturally relevant conceptions of knowledge. Ladson-Billings (1992) defines this concept as being “aware that state and local curriculum mandates may fail to include the experiences of African-American students and, consequently fail to engage the students in meaningful learning, they purposely design curriculum that makes their students (and their heritage) the focus of curriculum inquiry” (p. 318)

As I read the three culturally conscious categories along with the elements that define culturally relevant teaching practices outlined in the article, my initial thought was these are best practices that all teachers should be incorporating in their practice.  I am looking forward to reading more work by Ladson-Billings especially her article entitled, But That’s Just Good Teaching! The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.


Ladson-billings, G. (1995). But that’s just good teaching: The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. Theory into Practice, 34(3), 159-165.

Out of WAC?: Rethinking the Role of English Class in Students’ Writing Lives

Jeffery, J.V., & Wilcox, K. (2014). ‘How do I do it if I don’t like writing?’: Adolescents’ stances toward writing across disciplines. Reading and Writing, 27(6), 1095-1117.

Stories matter. Stories are how make sense of the world and my place in it. I don’t much care if the story is fiction or nonfiction; I believe one can learn as much about human capacity, and about oneself, from a made-up story as from a story “ripped from the headlines.” I was in the 10th grade when I decided for certain that stories, even fictional stories, were sources of understanding about the very real world. Mrs. Rubin assigned The Great Gatsby. Dutifully, I read it. Somewhere in the middle I shifted from doing homework to admiring the naive hopefulness of a person’s insisting he could ignore the objective origins of his life and concoct a preferable one, and mourning the hopelessness of doing so, and ruing the sucking undertow of improvident provenance.

In addition to learning this lesson–which, I would guess, some unfortunate people learn the hard way–I also learned that there was some sad mystery I didn’t yet get underlying Daisy’s heartbreak at bearing a girl and hoping that she’d be a beautiful fool. I learned that assigned reading had the power not just to amuse but to astound me, and that the people who wrote the fictions had the most power of all. F. Scott Fitzgerald is buried in the graveyard directly across from my high school–probably a third of a mile from Mrs. Rubin’s classroom, as a crow flies. Even dead, supposedly having rolled under the major road because of soil erosion, he was making a 15-year-old girl feel wise and weepy. Like I said, power.

Oh, Scott. Could you know how many people would read you and name their cats after you?

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s grave  in Rockville, MD.

A source of mock-tension between me and my father, a scientist by both occupation and temperament, is this disagreement: I say stories matter; they may be all that matters. For him, “reading is done with the objective of acquiring needed information or to find the answer to a question or solve a problem” (C. Avery, personal communication, June 15, 2014). Despite this disagreement, we both love to read, and we both love to write. He does value stories (how else would I know that he dreams in black and white, except for a red barn?) and, as the author of E. Francis Baldwin, Architect: The B&O, Baltimore, and Beyond (available here), histories.

It is so sweetly fitting that I am now a 10th-grade teacher, and I have the opportunity to introduce my students to the books that will awaken them the way The Great Gatsby did me. When I entered this doctoral program (five long-seeming weeks ago), I thought (knew?) that I wanted to study writing instruction. My fuzzy idea, way back then, was that I wanted to better understand students’ attitudes toward writing, why they seemed to behave (and write!) so differently when they perceived a writing assignment as “creative” versus “academic” (air-quotes because I refuse to accept that any writing is any thing but creative).

What I didn’t know until two nights ago was that stories (the telling, writing, and studying of them) could be not only the subject matter of my research but also the (or a) method of my research as well. I’m talking about discourse analysis, or “the study of language in use” (Souto-Manning, 2014, p. 203). A cross-disciplinary study braiding together linguistics, sociology, and anthropology (Souto-Manning, 2014, p. 203), discourse analysis in its current state focuses on language as a means of exploring “socially created ideas and things in the world as well as their maintenance over time” (Souto-Manning, 2014, p. 203). Discourse analysis isn’t a fancy word for sentence-diagramming (though it does entail some elegant ways of presenting conversational elements in graph form, and I love sentence-diagramming, as well). Discourse analysis is based on the idea that language, this ordinary thing we use every day, a tool so clumsy even babies use it, is all bound up in power. According to James Paul Gee (2011), “when we use language, social goods and their distributions are always at stake” (p. 7) Consider, for example, my insistence that my students address me as “Ms.,” not “Mrs.,” Decker. The absence of that little lowercase “r” indicates that I do not believe that a woman should have to announce her marital status to colleagues or associates, especially when her male coworkers are not expected to do so; I signal that my marital status is immaterial to my function as a professional. I reject previous decades’ traditions. I announce myself as a feminist. It is personal and it is political. But, according to Gee (2011), “language is always political in a deep sense” (p.7). Discourse analysis can be concerned with the content of people’s communications, the grammatical construct of their communications, or both (Gee, 2011, p. 8).

So yes. Stories matter. Language matters. The language we choose doesn’t just reflect our reality; it helps to construct our reality. For the last few days, I’ve been working to acquaint myself with empirical studies that use discourse analysis. The one I’m going to look at more closely here is very much like the kind of thing I entered this doctoral program thinking I’d like to do. I will walk through the design, data-collection, and discussion of the study and then discuss what it suggests for educators in general as well as what it suggests for me as a neophyte researcher.

Research Questions
The authors of this study wanted to know if and how students’ attitudes and feelings toward writing varied depending on what course or school subject they were writing for. Secondly, they wanted to know whether these feelings or attitudes varied according to the students’ proficiency and performance as writers (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1100).

Context and Background
Jeffery and Wilcox (2014) make several observations that suggest that their research is both relevant and timely. First of all, the authors point out that the widely adopted but highly controversial Common Core standards emphasize student engagement in “a variety of advanced disciplinary writing tasks” (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1095) while simultaneously acknowledging that “a majority of US students are not adequately developing their [writing] abilities prior to high school graduation” (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1096).

They don’t need to say much to make a compelling case: we hear over and over how crucial writing skills will continue to be for our students’ futures, and yet we all see daily evidence of their profound struggle with writing. I’m sold.

Prior Research
First, the authors acknowledge that while much research has been performed to examine “college-level writing, less is known about variation in writing expectations in secondary school subjects, particularly in subjects other than English language arts (ELA)” (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1098).

Secondly, and crucially, the authors point out that existing research into student writing has been largely limited to standards-based outcomes as opposed to students’ own stances toward the writing and their self-concept as writers (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1097). Jeffery & Wilcox (2014) argue that “how [students] feel about writing and how they perceive their knowledge of writing have been found to be related to performance on writing tasks” (p. 1096). Jeffery and Wilcox (2014) state emphatically that there is a “dearth of research regarding adolescents’ perceptions of writing across disciplinary contexts” (p. 1098). The authors of this study are very concerned with student agency as defined by Ahearn (as cited in Jeffery & Wilcox):  “the socioculturally mediated capacity to act” (p. 1096). That is, the authors wanted to know how students felt about themselves, their abilities, and their capacities as writers. Given the overwhelming reliance on “standards-based outcomes” (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1097), student agency has been overlooked in the research. These authors are less concerned with writing success as measured by standardized tests than with “the extent to which students perceive disciplinary writing tasks as opportunities to transform knowledge . . . and become invested participant[s] in the work of the discipline, as opposed to being constructed as the subject of such work” (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1097). There it is again: power. In this case, who do students perceive to have the power to make them good writers? Themselves? What power do they have as writers–is their power limited to the power to report others’ ideas, or are they empowered, as writers, to make original ideas?

The authors convincingly establish that there is a hole in the research. It’s hard not to agree with their claim that while the nation wrings its hands over Common Core and high-stakes tests, no one’s asking kids themselves how they approach writing, how they feel about it, and what we could do to help them write better. I am always inclined to get on board with a pro-student stance like the one these authors take.

Theoretical Frameworks
Jeffery and Wilcox (2014) operate on trio of theoretical givens: first, they subscribe to “constructivist learning theories, which reject notions of literacy as a static collection of predetermined skills that can be acquired through rote and isolated practice or fully captured in a decontextualized writing event such as a large-scale standardized assessment” (Jonassen & Land, 2000, as cited in Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1096). Secondly, they predicate their study on prior writing research that “suggests students’ stances [toward writing] are not fixed but rather are highly susceptible to change over time and across settings (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1096). Thirdly, Jeffery and Wilcox (2014) rely on prior research that suggests that “writing competence is not a monolithic construct individuals  automatically transfer from one disciplinary setting to another, but rather is socially co-constructed by individual and disciplinary discourse communities within which they write” (p. 1098). In sum, then, the authors presume that students can be and are literate in ways that schools don’t always honor or value; students feel differently about writing depending on where, why, and for whom they’re doing it; and all people redefine their identity and capability as writers each time they engage in a new writing opportunity.

Given these premises, it makes sense to use discourse analysis for this study. What’s being sought is qualitative data about students’ attitudes toward writing, not empirical data reflecting their skill Analyzing the way they talk about writing is really the only way to get at this information.

The Larger Study
This particular study is embedded within the National Study of Writing Instruction, “which investigated the teaching and learning of writing in middle and high school settings across California, Kentucky, Michigan, New York, and Texas” (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1100).  The larger study relies on interviews, surveys, field observations, and samples of student work (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1100). That larger study recruited both 43 English learners and 95 native speakers from 10 schools in the aforementioned states (one middle school and one high school from each state) (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1100). Schools were targeted for inclusion that “served larger-than-average populations of low-income students and had above-average literacy achievement outcomes compared with schools serving comparable demographics” (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1100). Furthermore, the researchers sought schools with “a demonstrated commitment to implementing school-wide literacy initiatives” (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1100).

Some aspects of that recruitment criteria give me pause: For one, the authors themselves reject standardized tests as the measure of student proficiency in literacy, yet they use that very data to locate the schools with above-average literacy outcomes. Secondly, they performed their research at sites that, it could be argued, were already doing writing instruction (comparatively) well. My hunch is that student stances toward writing would be at least as telling at sites where writing instruction isn’t going so well. However, the authors are careful to acknowledge and explain their reasoning, stating that they were looking for “exemplary practice as opposed to status quo or weak practice” (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p.1100). I maintain that a parallel discourse analysis of schools with weak practice would be hugely beneficial.

This Study
From that larger sample of students, Jeffery and Wilcox (2014) focused on the native speakers of English. Attempting to engage with approximately equal splits between higher-achieving and lower-achieving students, boys and girls, and grade levels, they culled a sample of 40 students–“19 lower-achieving and 21 higher-achieving” (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1101). You may be wondering how they identified achievement level among the sample. The answer, again, is standardized tests (in part). They also relied on teacher identification. (I have to raise some reservations here again. The authors themselves dismissed standardized tests as the sole measure of writing skill; teacher identification can also be faulty, although for the inverse reason: standardized tests are cold and fail to reflect the whole student; teachers can bring irrelevant, emotional things to their assessment of students.)

The data collection method for this smaller, embedded study was interview. Interviews were conducted by National Writing Project staff near the end of the school year and were based on a 7-question interview protocol that invited participants to reference, wherever possible, a portfolio of the student’s work from that school year. Interviews lasted approximately 45 minutes (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p.1101).

The interview protocol, provided as an appendix to the article, was hugely helpful. The questions were open-ended but substantive, and the number and type of questions seemed appropriate for both high school and middle school students (that is, they left room for  students to be as abstract and self-reflective as their maturity would permit) (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1113). Interviews were then reviewed, parsed, and graphed on a stance matrix to organize them. Organizing the students’ communications in the stance matrix meant rearranging their syntax and, at times, inverting word order so that student responses could be compared side by side (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1102). Data was triangulated among researchers to ensure validity.

I would have preferred more tables, as I am very visual. If there were phrases or words that came up time and again, I would have liked a list of those coded by their frequency of utterance.

Since the research questions revealed a concern with student stances toward writing against two other variables (a) subject or discipline and b) level of achievement), I will present the most crucial findings in bullet-list form here, arranged according to those two factors:

A. Stances Toward Writing Across Disciplines

  • Of all the positive stances toward writing, 74% were about writing in English language arts (ELA) settings (with 14% for social studies, 9% for science, and 3% for math) (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1103).
  • Of all the negative stances toward writing, 44% were about writing in ELA settings (with 18% for social studies, 19% science, and 9% math) (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1103).
  • The authors argue that the fact that students generated more responses of both types, positive and negative, toward writing in ELA settings is attributable to their simply doing most of their writing there.
  • Students tended to characterize ELA writing as “allowing latitude for ‘voice’ and ‘opinion’; whereas they tended to characterize writing in other subjects as limited to ‘facts’ and ‘accuracy'” (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1104). As for a revelation that wouldn’t come from a purely quantitative study, discourse analysis revealed that students frequently “used language suggestive of capacity (e.g., ‘room,’ ‘space’), signaling their sense of agency” (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1104). Correspondingly, students associated negative writing experiences with rigidity, constraint, and rules (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1105).

B. Stances Toward Writing Across Student Achievement Level

  • Students of both achievement levels, at all grade levels, “were united in their preference for writing involving subjective engagement, which they were more likely to associate with their ELA classes” (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1106).
  • However, students of lower achievement levels “expressed stances only toward extended writing in ELA, implying that they were asked to produce little if any such writing in other classes” (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1108). I must point out that this sentence makes me crazy. The “only” appears to be misplaced, obscuring meaning. To be consistent with what I believe their intended meaning to be, the sentence should read as follows: “[Students] expressed stances toward extended writing only in ELA”–that is, they did not express these stances toward extended writing in science class. As written, a possible meaning is that the students in question expressed stances toward extended writing exclusively and not toward other kinds of writing (in ELA classes).
  • Higher-achieving students were more likely to point out that classes other than ELA offered opportunities for subjective, knowledge-making writing as opposed to rote repetition of facts and figures. Students at lower levels of achievement did not really broach the idea that ELA offered room for opinions, and other classes did not (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1109). The authors attribute this finding to the fact that at lower levels of achievement, students are not required or invited to do much writing in classes other than English. Therefore, for these students, writing in ELA means essays and personal narratives, whereas writing in math and social studies means worksheets (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1108). This is an alarming finding (more on that later).

Discussion and Potential Application and Extension
These data are somewhat heartening (and affirming of my default belief), as they suggest that students sincerely want to write. Students prefer writing tasks that give them a chance to have and refine ideas to tasks that ask them to ploddingly report others’ ideas. Who can blame them? So do I. Furthermore, most of the teachers I know want authentic, original, personal writing from their students. Some people may infer from the data that students prefer tasks they perceive to be subjective and open because those tasks are easier. The most cynical among us might scoff and say, “Well sure! Writing your own opinion or ‘what I did this summer’ is easier than researching facts! These students are afraid of rigor.” I don’t think these data suggest that students want the easy way out. Here again discourse analysis gives us more to work with than a raw score or metric would. Here are some of the things the student writers said they wanted out of writing opportunities:

  • Leon, a sophomore, said his favorite writing assignment was a “uniform position paper” written for ELA because he got to take a stand and argue for it. Leon also declared, “I love school” (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1107). Incidentally, Leon was coded as one of the lower-achieving students.
  • Joe, one of the higher-achieving sophomores, named an essay on A Doll’s House as his favorite assignment because he “got to analyze” (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1106).
  • Katy, an eighth-grader, was most proud of a story she wrote after reading The Diary of Anne Frank,saying that she was “proud because of that piece because I felt it was the closest I could get to the character. I did a lot of research and understood a lot more” (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1108). Katy’s comment suggests that the kinds of writing students prefer can also lead to the kinds of writing generally thought to be rigorous and demanding.  Interestingly, Katy named her least favorite assignment as a creative-sounding math assignment in which she had to design a comic book to explain a math concept to a second-grader. At first, this seems surprising, and I feel empathy for that poor math teacher who probably thought she was giving the kids just what they wanted (comic books! In math! Creative!). My interpretation is that Katy didn’t enjoy it because it had the trappings of creativity without affording her the chance to discover something new, by way of either self-reflection or research.

This study also suggests that students and (some) teachers are aligned on another belief, even if they don’t declare it outright: Writing is supposed to happen in English class. Anywhere else is a stretch at best, an outrage at worst. One of the lower-achieving student participants was quoted as saying, “I’m pretty sure good writing is the same for all classes. They don’t talk about writing in history or science” (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1108). This quarantine is most pronounced at lower levels of achievement. A higher-achieving student said that “In science, good writing deals with relating things, relating and describing processes” (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1109). This gets back to agency: By giving higher-achieving students more opportunities to do substantial, academic writing outside of the English classroom, teachers give these students more opportunities to see themselves as crucial and original constructors of knowledge. When we give lower-achieving kids no opportunities to do real writing in subjects other than English, we contribute to a diminishing of their agency (when they’re probably feeling less agentive to begin with!): We tell them they ought to be mostly passive vessels through which facts should pass without getting messed up.

Furthermore, when we don’t include real and meaningful writing across the curriculum (WAC) for students at all achievement levels, we fail to prepare students for college. Jeffery and Wilcox (2014) point out that “studies conducted in college settings have shown how students struggle to navigate variation in disciplinary expectations regarding source-based writing tasks” (p. 1111). As it stands, the onus of teaching students general rhetorical techniques tends to rest on the ELA teachers’ shoulders, and yet “research on college writers suggests it is students’ limited knowledge of how to argue and to support claims with evidence in a particular discipline–rather than their facility with general argumentative writing technique–that accounts for much of their struggle transitioning to college writing” (Jeffery & Wilcox, 2014, p. 1111). Recall that one of the premises of this research was that writing proficiency isn’t a fixed thing that is transferable across all occasions, disciplines, and tasks. We can’t simply teach kids how to write (in English class) and then expect them to write well in their demanding college science courses. Well, we can, and do, but it’s not working.

But let’s also think past college. We need to acknowledge, and impart to our students, that “subject-area learning is not just about the reproduction of knowledge and information within the boundaries of the subject. . . . It is also about the production of knowledge and the making of personal meanings”  (Green, 1988, p. 163). Our job is not to teach them literacy (as a body of skills) but to teach them to be literate (as a mechanism of interacting with a culture). They may not leave high school literate in all disciplines, but they should have some idea of how to go about becoming literate in whatever fields or communities they join. We need to emphasize that literacy is context-dependent, and that “it is never simply a case of being literate in and of itself but of being literate with regard to something, some aspect of knowledge or experience” (Green, 1988, p. 160).

It is through writing that we accomplish the above, as “writing is not simply the transcription of meaning but very often works actively, in various ways and in varying degrees, as the discovery and production of meaning” (Green, 1988, p. 159). It’s especially important that we ask lower-achieving students to write substantially and meaningfully in all subjects. They more than anyone need practice and support in critical and abstract thinking, and “what is significant in the use of written language is that it enables the user to take up a more abstract, reflexive stance towards texts and so one’s own thinking and processing of meaning” (Green, 1988, p. 164)

This is all very pie-in-the-sky, I know. We oughta, we oughta, we oughta. It’s also the same-old writing across the curriculum (WAC) debate. I believe that students should be writing across the curriculum, and I acknowledge that the “optics” of an English teacher demanding of the algebra teacher why she’s not teaching writing are not great. As Jeffery and Wilcox (2014) point out, “teachers will need far more support around writing instruction than they are currently receiving” (p. 1112). We can, and should, start slow. We can’t expect our first attempts to have students write in geometry, for example, to yield great results. We’ve spent years training students that to engage with math and science, for example, is to stay outside of it, keep their opinions to themselves, and not get their hands dirty. But the more we invite them to write in and about all courses, the better their writing, and thinking, will get. Teachers are likely to experience some discomfort as well. Jeffery and Wilcox (2014) recommend that “content-area teachers who have not received substantive training in literacy instruction may begin with the gradual introduction of ‘writing to learn’ approaches that are less formal and perhaps less daunting than extended, multiple draft assignments” (p. 1112).

But I’d like to go one step further, and maybe this will assuage some of those math and science teachers who balk at an English teacher pushing writing in “their” courses. I’d like to expand the role of the teachers who are comfortable and masterful in teaching writing. Even as we push for writing across the curriculum (WAC) as described above, I’d like to see (and teach!) a required class that I envision as CAW: Content Area Writing. Other names are possible, but let’s play with CAW for a moment. In this dream class, a master teacher of writing would support students as they worked on individual writing assignments conceived or assigned in other classes. It would work almost like a thesis committee, in that students would come to CAW class working on an extensive piece of writing for some other class (biology for example). The biology teacher would serve as the content committee member while the CAW teacher, meeting frequently with the student writer as well as the subject area teacher in conference, guides the student through research, drafting, mechanics, revision, and presentation. Students in the class could have choice in terms of what course they want to use to develop their CAW project or, over the course of a year, students could work on a writing for each of their courses (English would remain a class separate from CAW). Although my initial design for this class entailed its being a senior course, the study I read encouraged me to rethink it as a freshman course, to start giving students subject-specific literacy in their most developmental years.

What students from this study enjoyed most about writing was feeling like they mattered in it–they were implicated, involved. People who don’t teach teenagers every day love to tell me how apathetic kids are these days, how lazy and unoriginal they are. My own experience contradicts that opinion, as does this study. In short, if we don’t ask students to write–really write–about the subjects we’re teaching them, we’re not allowing them to truly engage in the material. in fact, we’re keeping them from learning.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


Gee, J.P. (2011). An introduction to discourse analysis: Theory and method (3rd edition). New York, NY: Routledge.

Green, B. (1988). Subject-specific literacy and school learning: A focus on writing. Australian Journal of Education, 32(2), 156-179.

Jeffery, J.V., & Wilcox, K. (2014). ‘How do I do it if I don’t like writing?’: Adolescents’ stances toward writing across disciplines. Reading and Writing, 27(6), 1095-1117.

Souto-Manning, M. (2014). Critical for whom? Theoretical and methodological dilemmas in critical approaches to language research. In D. Paris and M. Winn (Eds.), Humanizing research: Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities (pp. 201-220). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications.



The Periodic Table of Data Visualizations

Lengler, R. & Eppler, M. (2007).  Towards a periodic table of visualization methods for management. IASTED Proceesing of the Conference on Graphics and Visualization in Engineering.  Lecture conducted from Clearwater, FL.   In this article, Lengler and Eppler (2007) discuss the current state of data visualization as an area of academic inquiry; define their focus in visualization type and usage; and develop an infomap designed to group like methods of visualization for researcher and educator ease. A visualization, for the purposes of this article, is defined by Lengler and Eppler as

“a systematic, rule-based, external, permanent and graphic representation that depicts information in a way that is conducive to acquiring insights, developing an elaborate understanding, or communicating experiences” (pp. 1).

Data visualization as a fractured field

Lengler and Eppler (2007) open with a reflection upon the current state of data visualization literature.  Described as an “emergent” (pp. 1) field, work on data visualization is fractured across multiple, disparate fields—from computer programming to education.  The danger with this, the authors note, is the possibility that scholars may pursue theoretical work or breakthrough ideas in parallel with each other, rather than building collaboratively from each other’s works; this, in turn, could impede the development of data visualization research as its own distinct field. This characterization—a highly dichotomous bed of literature—reminds me strongly of Dr. Jordan’s (2014) thoughts on her work in researching educational “uncertainty.”  Much of the literature foundational for her thesis comes from disciplines focusing upon organization or management; likewise, this discussion of categorizing data visualizations is heavily rooted in management research, perhaps owing to Eppler and Lengler’s management backgrounds.

Overlap between management and education

Lengler and Eppler hone in upon visualization methods that are easily applicable within the field of management; that is, methods that are outcome oriented and favor a strong focus upon problem solving.  Because of this problem-solving focus, most if not all of the visualization methods presented are easily translatable to an educational (or more specifically classroom) environment.  As the authors interpret it, the “key for better execution is to engage employees” (pp. 2).  Through an educational lens, the same could be said of the need for educators to engage their students; Howard (2003) would certainly agree with the importance in considering what Lengler and Eppler term cognitive, social and emotional challenges facing managers; visualization methods, to their end, are tools—“advantages” (pp. 2)—to better understand and incorporate the perspectives of employees, and should either help to simplify a discussion or to foment new ideas and innovations.  This, of course, can is also true in reverse: A good visualization will give employees as much insight into their managers as vice versa.

The data visualization of data visualizations

In order to walk the walk, so to speak, the authors create a visualization—specifically, an infomap—to categorize and explore relationships between particular methods of displaying or interacting with data.  They chose visualization methods that were problem-solving or outcome oriented, per their focus on managerial research.  They also chose visualization methods that are easy to produce (though they may vary in complexity). This infomap is visually based upon the Periodic Table of Elements.  The authors note that the Periodic Table, in particular, is an excellent example of a co-opted visual metaphor; while widely recognized and used within several scientific fields, including chemistry, the Periodic Table is also understood outside of a scientific context as a shorthand to group or describe a complex topic.  Their “Periodic Table of Visualization Methods” is given as one of many examples of nonscientific fields using both the structure and shorthand connotation of the Periodic Table to describe something completely beyond chemical elements.

(Lengler & Eppler, 2007)

To help guide their discussion, Lengler and Eppler codify visualization methods on several axes, beginning first with their complexity and application.  Complexity is visualized as an ordinal characteristic; that is, the authors line up like methods in columns, from simplest at the top to most complex at the bottom.  Application is a bit more complex.  Methods are categorized by color into one of six “groups”:

  • Data visualizations, or “visualizations of quantitative data in schematic form” (pp. 3);
  • Information visualizations, or “the use of interactive visual representations of data to amplify cognition” (pp. 3);
  • Concept visualizations, or “methods to elaborate (mostly) qualitative concepts…through the help of rule-guided mapping procedures” (pp. 3-4);
  • Metaphor visualizations, or “effective and simple templates to convey complex insights” (pp. 4), such as story lines;
  • Strategy visualizations, or the “systematic use of complementary visual representations to improve the analysis, development, formulation, communication and implementation of strategies in organizations” (pp. 4); and
  • Compound visualizations, or methods that combine two or more of the following groupings or formats.

However, the authors also note that the categories listed above are not mutually exclusive; visualization methods can and do belong to multiple “groups.”  They attempted to streamline this process by focusing on both the complexity of a method—removing compound visualizations from ambiguity—and its interactive intent. In addition to grouping like methods, Lengler and Eppler also attempt to systematically categorize each method in their chart.  They focus on interaction, or the strengths of a visualization: Does it provide an excellent summary or overview of data, or does it better drill down into the details?  The authors also take into account what they term “cognitive processes” (pp. 4): Is the visualization an aid to simplify a complex concept (convergent thinking), or does it better jumpstart new and innovative ideas (divergent thinking)? To view the full infomap in all its interactive glory, with scroll over examples of all visualization methods listed, please visit:


Jordan, M. (2014, June). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams.  Lecture conducted from Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ.

An Analysis of Quantitative Research on the Impact of Neoliberal Multiculturalism on the Indigenous Languages of Mexico and Guatemala

Yoshioka, H. (2010). Indigenous Language Usage and Maintenance Patterns Among Indigenous People in the Era of Neoliberal Multiculturalism in Mexico and Guatemala. Latin American Research Review, 45(3), 5–34.

Economic globalization is a contemporary concern that presents potent challenges.  The emphasis of achieving economic wealth through assimilating into a singular, mainstream society applies great pressure for every demographic internationally.  The demographic that experiences the most pressure due to its sociopolitical history of oppression is that of the marginalized, indigenous populations.

Hirotoshi Yoshioka (2010) explores this economic pressure and its impact on indigenous languages in her quantitative study entitled “Indigenous Language Usage and Maintenance Patterns Among Indigenous People in the Era of Neoliberal Multiculturalism in Mexico and Guatemala.”  Yoshioka (2010) argues that economic globalization, particularly neoliberal multiculturalism, has and continues to negatively degrade indigenous languages and cultures.  The expansion of economic wealth has forced many marginalized, indigenous populations to either except extreme poverty, or to assimilate linguistically and culturally to achieve socioeconomic mobility. “Although today’s multicultural reforms certainly help some indigenous people overcome hardships and become included in mainstream society,” she contends, “the changes that seem apparently beneficial to indigenous people can be detrimental to their cultures” (p. 10). This is because they must assimilate linguistically and culturally as well as move away from local communities to compete economically.

The data that Yoshioka employed in her research was the most recent nationally representative data of Mexico (2000) and Guatemala (2002).  This data was gathered through the two nations’ censuses. As the Mexican census data is a 10% sample, Yoshioka employed a sampling weight to balance it with that of Guatemalan data.  Both censuses counted indigenous people by both the inclusion of the respondents’ self-identification as well as the usage of indigenous languages.

Yoshioka segmented and analyzed the data in two parts.  In the first part, she examined the correlation between socioeconomic and community characteristics in relation to indigenous language usage among self-identified indigenous people. The purpose of this is to explore whether indigenous language usage is related to socioeconomic background. In the second part, Yoshioka analyzed how indigenous language usage among children of indigenous language speakers differ by their parents’ and households’ socioeconomic status and if the household head’s spouse speaks an indigenous language. However, Yoshioka was limited in her sampling of children because the most recent census data for both countries did not provide any information about the ex-spouses.  Therefore, she could not account for children who came from unmarried homes.  As a result, she focused exclusively on children ages six through eighteen who lived with both of their parents.

For both parts of the analysis, Yoshioka employed multinomial logistic regression models for the use of indigenous languages, three explanatory variables, and several sociodemograpic factors. For the dependent variables, she divided the indigenous language speakers into monolingual and bilingual (indigenous and Spanish languages) to examine “whether independent variables considered in this study relate differently to indigenous language use on the basis of whether people use indigenous languages as their only language” (Yoshioka, 2010, p. 13).  Yoshioka then applied principal component analysis for Mexico’s asset index based on household’s access or ownership of several resources, such as running water, electricity, and primary cooking fuel. As the Guatemalan census does not account for income, Yoshioka equated Guatemala’s household wealth data with Mexico’s data on asset index for households. Also, Yoshioka (2010) “clustered the data according to municipalities in which respondents lived to obtain robust standard errors, because a person’s place of residence may influence indigenous language usage” (p. 13). Lastly, she could not measure temporary migratory movements or the indigenous language usage of the respondents that occurred five years before the current censuses.

Yoshioka’s findings poignantly reveal the systemic ramifications for indigenous communities inherent within neoliberal multiculturalism movements. The cost of socioeconomic mobility requires the denouncement and exclusion of indigenous heritage and language, as the mainstream societies perceive indigenous language as antiquated and primitive.  Therefore, to be prosperous is to speak the mainstream language, the language of socioeconomic success. Furthermore, “a person’s level of education is negatively correlated to indigenous language usage, which is especially true among those who speak only indigenous languages in both countries” (Yoshioka, 2010, p. 17). This is based on the perception that education is means of perpetuating the power stratification through instilling the importance of a monolingual, unified consciousness (Spring, 2014). Lastly, in both countries, those with higher asset indexes are significantly less likely to speak indigenous languages as the only language or integrate them into Spanish.

Yoshioka found that significantly more Guatemalan children speak indigenous languages than those in Mexico.  However, if the head of household speaks both an indigenous language and Spanish, the children in both countries are more likely to speak only Spanish. Children whose parents are indigenous language speakers and married to non-indigenous language speakers are much more common in Mexico than in Guatemala.  However, in both countries, children who come from higher socioeconomic households are much less likely to speak indigenous languages as their only language. Furthermore, children in both countries are significantly less likely to speak indigenous languages when living in an urban environment. This is due to the fact that they are surrounded by Spanish-speakers at a much higher concentration than their rural counterparts. “Therefore, [from these findings] we can infer,” Yoshioka (2010) argues, “that when people speak Spanish, they are less likely to teach their children to speak indigenous languages, which indicates the difficulty of preserving indigenous languages among younger generations” (p. 27). Based on all of these findings, she contends that, “the goal of today’s indigenous language preservation must be to help people speak both indigenous languages and Spanish and to ensure that they are included in societies rather than that they speak only indigenous languages and are economically marginalized” (p. 31).

The data and their interpretations paint a stark picture of the future of indigenous languages in both Mexico and Guatemala. The strengths of Yoshioka’s research methodologies lie in her transparency.  She identifies limitations and explains how she compensates for them.  For example, Mexico’s data sampling was 10%, so she implemented a weighting system to balance the data to compare and contrast it with that of Guatemala. Yoshioka also explains how she had to employ proxy data to compare Mexico’s asset index to Guatemala’s household wealth. She also identifies her limitations in measuring migratory patterns.

While Yoshioka is very transparent in her limitations, there are a couple of areas that are not addressed.  First, there is no rationale of why she chose to focus on the indigenous languages of Mexico and Guatemala.  Both of these countries are heavily impacted by neoliberal multiculturalism and global economic expansion, but there is no exploration of her decision. The selection criteria may be imperative to the findings and how they compare.

Second, there is no discussion or explanation of her intersectionality and positionality as a researcher, and the lens they provided her during her analysis of the data. Although the inclusion of intersectionality and positionality is not popular in empirical and positivist research, these elements of experiences do contribute to the interpretation of data and should be explicit.

Third, the accessibility of the writing is very limited. She, for example, never defines neoliberal multiculturalism, nor does she explain any of the statistical methodologies she employed in her research.  Therefore, she is writing to a very limited audience, which is ultimately less impactful.

Last, while her findings are very significant of deeply embedded challenges, she does not offer any viable solutions. She simply states a goal, but no ideas on how to address it.

This study has highlighted a seemingly obvious idea for me to explore economics within my area of inquiry.  Before reading Yoshioka’s research, I had never perceived economics as a means of forcing assimilation. I had always understood economics as a symptom of oppression because most indigenous peoples and communities within the United States are impoverished.  Now, I understand that economics is a powerful tool through which mainstream society forces assimilation through language and culture through the lure of wealth and socioeconomic opportunities. In the future, I will explore the impact of economics in the active marginalization of indigenous peoples, not only within the US, but also internationally.

An area of further study could explore how the data set may have changed if critical indigenous inquiry had been implemented.  How would the questions on the censuses change to be more respectful and representative of the indigenous populations it is researching? Would this impact how many people are labeled as impoverished, especially if the indigenous people are choosing to live without the criteria set by Mexico’s index asset data (which is established with a Western lens)? How would the interpretation of the data change if critical indigenous inquiry were used?  Indigenous peoples must be included in the process of research, especially if they are the focal point.  The co-construction of knowledge is a very powerful way in which indigenous peoples can be empowered.  This empowerment can help transform the deficit perception of indigenous peoples’ languages and cultures into one of assets.  Therefore, more studies should be done by indigenous peoples, or at least through using the critical indigenous inquiry process, to ensure that indigenous peoples are ethically represented as powerful, important peoples with critical knowledge and understandings of the world.



Fueling My Sense of Urgency



Bridgeland, J., Bruce, M., & Hariharan, (2013). The Missing Piece: A National Teacher Survey on How Social and Emotional Learning Can Empower Children and Transform Schools. Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. Chicago: Author


In the report, “The Missing Piece”, Bridgeland, Bruce, M., & Hariharan (2013) present findings on teachers’ perspectives about social emotional learning in schools. The stated that emotional learning (SEL) “involves the processes of developing competencies, including self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making” (p. 1). After examining 605 k-12th grade teacher surveys, the authors conclude that SEL is the solution to transforming our American youth.

The authors introduced the article by making a strong case for the importance of social emotional learning in schools. They argued that without it, “America risks a generation of talent, needlessly lost” (p. 11). They go on to say that equipping students with strategies to increase their social and emotional skills “can help solve key national challenges related to our education and workforce readiness” (p. 20). Furthermore, the American dream is at stake for our children. Clearly, the author’s theoretical framework was developed with the intention to convince policy makers, educators and educational stakeholders of the key ingredient (social emotional learning) that can solve many of the nation’s most salient struggles (p. 20).

Overall, the organization of the report was coherent and comprehensive. The article had several parts: an executive summary, an introduction, an overview, and an analysis of the three data trends. The majority of the report focused on the following three trends: Teachers reported favorable views regarding the importance of integrating social and emotional learning in schools, teachers saw social emotional learning as a contributor to student achievement and life success, and teachers identified natural ways to integrate SEL into their curriculums and community outreach programs. For each trend, the authors displayed graphs of the survey data along with a thorough analysis. The authors decorated each report page with convincing quotes from teachers and highlighted persuasive data findings that supported the case for SEL.

At the conclusion, in a section titled, “Paths Forward” (p. 37), the authors present nine recommendations. Similar to the other sections, the introduction stresses the urgency to ensure that SEL be taught and modeled in every school. They assert, “as a nation, we have the opportunity to change the lives of millions of American youth with the use of a very powerful strategy-social emotional learning” (p. 37). Their recommendations include ideas such as; incorporate SEL activities into the school curriculum, coordinate SEL competencies with community partners (including parents), provide professional development to the teachers, include SEL in district goals and standards, and be a federal policy advocate (p. 37-41).

The survey findings have many implications for contributing to the field of education. Teacher beliefs and values should be considered when important decisions are made around standards and curriculum. According to the surveys, teachers see social and emotional skills as driving forces for increased motivation. They reported, “academic, social, and emotional learning are inextricably linked, and SEL can accelerate student learning by increasing students’ intrinsic motivation to achieve, their ability to be attentive and engaged in their work, their satisfaction with learning, their sense of belonging, and their desire to work cooperatively” (p. 30). I found these teacher beliefs to be powerful. Interestingly however, thirty-two percent of teachers reported that their schools place very little emphasis on developing students’ social and emotional skills (p. 17). This tells us that despite teachers’ beliefs about the importance of SEL, if we see this as a need in our schools, we have to convince educational policy and stakeholders.

The authors supported the survey findings by citing other studies that yielded similar results. Some of the studies were ambiguous, leaving out pertinent details that would support the research credibility. I was often unclear of where the study came from and who conducted it. One example of this reads, “One research study shows that among one million students from grades five to twelve, positive emotions such as hope, well-being, and engagement account for 31 percent of the variance in students’ academic success” (p. 20). This study seems fairly profound and convincing, but I was left with questions and skepticism.

Furthermore, throughout the report, the authors presented the survey findings and created statements that seemed to exaggerate the truth. For example, the authors made claims that SEL can have many positive effects on students, including boosting academic performance, increasing student interest in learning, improving student behavior, reducing bullying and improving a school climate. Although this may be true, the surveys that were used to generate this report only included teacher responses.

I was most interested in reading the specific data findings from the report. I wanted to hear the authentic, un-interpreted teacher opinions and beliefs. Teachers are the most important stakeholders, as they are the ones who make the biggest impact in our schools. Most teachers (93%) felt that social and emotional learning should be part of the school experience. Of all the teachers surveyed, ninety-five percent noted that social and emotional skills are teachable. Nearly all teachers (97%) reported that these skills would benefit all students.

The authors chose to break some of the data down further by isolating certain variables. For example, teachers that work in high needs schools (60% or more free and reduced lunch) were more likely to endorse the need for SEL instruction (p. 18). Another way that the findings were broken down was by grade level. Shockingly, only 42% of the high school teachers reported that SEL should be taught during the high school years. Unfortunately, the authors didn’t elaborate on this particular finding. This was not surprising.

Reflecting on the implications for humanizing, access, and equitable education research, I think the teacher survey findings are insightful and should have implications for our schools. Our schools should be preparing children to be more self-aware, develop healthy relationships, and equip them with strategies to make responsible decisions. The report was convincing and only fueled my sense of urgency to get started.

Be Still My Warrior Heart! A Revitalizing Indigenous Education Pedagogy Rooted in Sovereignty

McCarty, Y. & Lee, T. (2014). Critical culturally sustaining/revitalizing pedagogy and Indigenous education sovereignty. Harvard Educational Review, 84(1) 101-124.


Source: Photo by Tarrice Love in Indian County today 4/28/14

Source: Photo by Tarrice Love in Indian County today 4/28/14

I am in research practice love. Okay, maybe not the kind of “love” Martin Sensmeier evokes but love just the same. McCarty and Lee had me at “revitalizing”! As an educator and member of the Navajo Nation I am well read on and conscious of critical race theory, culturally based and culturally relevant pedagogies and Indigenous sovereignty so finding the article, Critical Culturally Sustaining/Revitalizing Pedagogy and Indigenous Education Sovereignty was exciting! Once I started reading I was absorbed in how one word, revitalizing which means “to make (someone or something) active, healthy or energetic again” ( can convey in a powerful way, our need to reclaim our former selves by transforming education for Indigenous leaners. More than a culturally sustaining pedagogy as described by Paris (2012) where “both traditional and evolving ways of cultural connectedness [are supported] for contemporary youth” (p. 102), culturally sustaining/revitalizing pedagogy (CSRP) means to bring us back to life with our identities, language, culture and worldviews intact.

McCarty and Lee (2014) use an ethnographic approach rooted in CSRP to lie out a beautiful and powerful theoretical practice. They “advocate for community-based educational accountability that is rooted in Indigenous education sovereignty” (p. 101). They begin their argument establishing Indigenous education as a form of sovereignty that includes the right of a people to self-education rooted in their Native culture and language. The authors also place Indigenous education in a sociohistorical context rooted in systems of power and domination that methodologically separated Indigenous peoples from their lands, languages, and identities. It is this context where a culturally sustaining and revitalizing pedagogy is necessitated.

The authors identify three defining components of CSRP

  • Exercising sovereignty to transform ongoing legacies of colonization,
  • Reclaiming and revitalizing language education, policies and practices,
  • Serving the needs of the community (as defined by the community) through community-based accountability.

Next, the authors give an overview of the sociolinguistic history for Indigenous learners in the U.S. by centering the magnitude of the issue among 566 federally recognized tribes, with 617 communities and villages where 67-92% of tribal members live off of tribally controlled lands. This means a majority of Indigenous learners are attending schools away from their communities and Alaska native villages. The authors cite the 2010 census where 1 in 10 youth speak their ancestral language. What is seminal to this reality of social life and the need to reclaim language and identity is that the authors argue that despite not being schooled on tribally operated lands, “… tribal sovereignty must include education sovereignty…. in the same way that schools are accountable to state and federal governments, so too are they accountable to the Native American nations whose children they serve” (p. 102). That is a powerful sovereign stance!

Finally, the authors use two charter schools with significant Indigenous learners as case studies to illustrate CSRP in practice. Both schools are charter schools that have some flexibility in their curriculum compared to county public schools and both are in cities near Indigenous communities. Both schools offer language immersion programs as part of their core curriculum and teach culture and protocol with the language. Researcher, Tiffany Lee was involved in the first case study site, Native American Community Academy (NACA), on multiple levels first as a parent, then staff member, council member and researcher. She conducted her research from 2008 -2010 using “in-depth interviews, focus groups, and recorded daily observations of language and teaching” (McCarty & Lee, 2014, p. 106) though she had been with the school since 2005. Researcher, Teresa McCarty, conducted her research at Puente de Hózhó (PdH) from 2009-2011 as part of a national study in response to a 2004 Executive Order 13336 on American Indian and Alaska Native education. She used ethnographic observations of teachers’ monthly curriculum meetings, classroom instruction, individual and focus group interviews with youth, parents and staff, and content analysis of students’ work, teachers’ lesson plans and school documents. The authors use a community-based methodology with the two schools as their foundation and guiding research ethic. They shared their observations and analysis with the participants throughout the process and supplemented their qualitative data with state-required achievement data.

The grounds for this research as a revitalizing pedagogy is the practice of engaging the emotions that derive from the legacies of colonization, what Paris and Alim (2014) describe as the inward gaze, “a decolonizing critique to deconstruct essentialism that reduce the multidimensionality of human experience,…” (p. 118). The authors witnessed the inward gaze as teachers, staff and students dealt with the internalized oppression as a result of colonization. In one example, a student is concerned she will be seen as a “fake Indian” because she isn’t fluent in her language. What it means to be Indigenous is based upon controlling images and romantic stereotypical notions created by the dominant group. Students internalize these stereotypes and believe they are less “Indian” because they are not fluent in their language. Addressing this mis-education and legacy of colonization is what is meant by the inward gaze.

The findings indicate that students outperformed their Indigenous counterparts in non-CSRP schools on the dominant culture standardized tests. More than test scores, however, were the rich and deep stories of the teachers, students and parents. Teachers expressed teaching in a school with a holistic curriculum has given them a tool to reverse the legacy of colonization, “heal forced linguistic wounds and convey important cultural and linguistic knowledge to future generations…” (p. 117). One parent in the study expressed bitter pride that her child was the only grandchild who could speak Navajo to his grandparent. A student expressed that knowing how to speak the language is important as Indigenous people. Schools were not without their challenges, as they had to incorporate the mandates of state, county and national standards.

McCarty and Lee offer two examples of Indigenous-centered pedagogy that are community-based, sustaining and revitalizing for Indigenous learners. This study, specifically CSRP, is a lens I would like to use in my own research. I gleaned so much from this article. Despite the focus on elementary level charter schools there is much that can be applied and practiced at the college level. The inward gaze, culturally sustaining pedagogy and community based collaboration and grounding. The authors cite heavy-hitters in Indigenous epistemologies and culturally sustaining pedagogies like Teresa McCarty, Bryan M.J. Brayboy, K. T. Lomawaima, Tiffany Lee, L. T. Smith, and Django Paris which guides me to establish a foundation in different areas of inquiry like culturally sustaining pedagogy and the practice of Indigenous education and epistemologies. I am looking forward to utilizing these new approaches in my own developing practice.


Paris, D. & Alim, S. (2014). What are we seeking to sustain through culturally sustaining pedagogy? A loving critique forward. Harvard Educational Review, 84(1), 85-100.

McCarty, Y. & Lee, T. (2014). Critical culturally sustaining/revitalizing pedagogy and Indigenous education sovereignty. Harvard Educational Review, 84(1) 101-124.

Revitalizing [Def. 1]. Merriam Webster Online, Retrieved June 20, 2014 , from



Who Would Have Guessed That Research Methods Would Get Me All Excited?

Weist, M. D., Youngstrom, E. a, Stephan, S., Lever, N., Fowler, J., Taylor, L., … Hoagwood, K. (2014). Challenges and ideas from a research program on high-quality, evidence-based practice in school mental health. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 43(2), 244–55. doi:10.1080/15374416.2013.833097


Two weeks ago I wrote about a study completed on school mental health (SMH) in two schools in Baltimore, MD. That study was conducted by Mark D. Weist, who I’m learning is THE man for SMH theory and practices. He has his hands in just about everything I come across. This week I took a look at another study he recently published, “Challenges and Ideas From a Research Program on High-Quality, Evidence-Based Practice in School Mental Health” (Weist et al., 2014).

In this study, Weist, et al. (2014) discuss their findings from two separate research projects funded by the National Institute of Health. Well… they sort of discuss their results. They give some information about what the studies found, but this article is really more about the process of collecting and analyzing the data. (I am already seeing my brain change… If you had told me 6 weeks ago that I would get so excited when I came across clarifying research methods, I would have thought you were crazy!)

Ultimately, they determined that some of the same things are always a problem for program pilots: practitioners trying to learn too much in too short a time and not enough follow-up coaching to carry out the skills with fidelity. In the past, they relied on manuals provided to each clinician. These manuals were nice because they covered many areas, but there were  “concerns about their perceived ‘one size fits all’ approach, and associated concerns about the rigid need for adherence in spite of changing presentations in students and their circumstances” (Weist et al., 2014). This time, they attempted modular evidence-based practices, which allow for more flexible training opportunities in the specified areas. These were somewhat successful, but there were SO. MANY. To get through that the participants often felt overwhelmed with the requirements. The researchers also met some of the concerns last time, such as, “competing responsibilities (of clinicians), lack of support from school administration and teachers, lack of family engagement, (and) student absenteeism (Weist et al., 2014, p. 253).

They also ran into difficulty with their statistical models. I’m in the middle of my statistics class, so I wasn’t able to understand all the problems they mentioned, but I definitely understood the things they mentioned as problematic. Anytime there was a change in a practitioner or family leaving, it messed things up statistically (as well as in the children’s lives, I imagine). They ran into difficulties of statistical power (because it was an inherently small sample size), reliability, missing data and even what type of analysis they were doing.

At this point I have read a lot of articles with Dr. Weist’s involvement. I don’t know if it’s really his doing or not, but I am consistently pleased with the way these articles are set up. He uses a lot of headings and subheadings that make it easy to follow and find information I read earlier. I have also really appreciated the apparently high level of transparency in his writing. He is explicitly up-front with the funding sources for the projects; they aren’t just hidden in the fine print or buried on the title page. That information is in the body of the introduction and he explains his own ties to SMH. Given that he is so closely involved with so many SMH projects, I am really impressed with his transparency about what has gone well and what has not. I’m sure there are ethical rules about these sorts of things, but I feel like I come across studies periodically in which I don’t really trust the findings because I don’t think they’re giving all the information. For these SMH articles, though, I do. They are very honest with the things that haven’t worked, and their problems tend to match the problems I have met implementing other programs.

One last thing I enjoyed about this particular article was that the two studies mentioned were both Randomized Control Trials. I have read a few other articles that use this method, but it’s hard to carry out in a school setting with real students. How do you say to one family, “Sorry; you are still in the study but you don’t actually get help for your kid.” Who would sign up for that? Also, would it actually pass an IRB committee? (An IRB is an Institutional Review Board, which acts as an ethics committee for all biomedical and behavior research completed on humans.) In this case, though, they were able to give Personal Wellness training to the control group. So even though they weren’t specifically addressing mental health, they were not just leaving the kids to fend for themselves. The other problem with randomization they addressed was how to set up the randomized parts. Rather than randomize the students (you can’t make a kid go to a different school just because they are in the control group), they randomized the clinicians. Brilliant!

The only mildly annoying thing was the amount of acronyms. We have a lot in special education, so I recognize how helpful they are to people who use them a lot. But it was a little tedious at first to have to keep checking what various ones stood for. I ended up making a list on a note I kept to the side while reading. This helped and by the end I was hardly looking at it. So it was a little annoying at first, but not overbearing and I’m not sure that I would recommend spelling the words out, as they were used  A LOT (and that would be annoying, too!).

This article was a little different than the others ones I’ve posted about because it wasn’t as focused on the findings as it was the process. I have thought more about my action research and how I will actually be able to put something into place. Obviously it won’t be on this scale. But I am considering using some of the methods discussed in this article. Will randomized control trials be an option? I’m not sure, but before reading this I hadn’t even considered them. The authors reference a tension I am just starting to think about myself:

Is the primary “participant” the clinician or the students? From a policy and public health standpoint, student-level outcomes are imperative. However, the intervention of interest manipulates the training and support for clinicians, and our hypotheses emphasize effects on clinicians’ attitudes, knowledge, and behavior. (Weist et al., 2014, p. 249)

Finally, they referenced a questionnaire they used to help measure participants’ attitudes toward, understanding of, and implementation of SMH. Specifically, they used the School Mental Health Quality Assessment Questionnaire (SMHQAQ; (Weist, Stephan, Lever, Moore, & Lewis, 2006). While I don’t think this particular questionnaire will be helpful yet (there needs to be at least a semblance of SMH in order for answers to be helpful), it did give me some ideas for other types of questionnaires I can look for, or create myself if necessary.



Weist, M. D., Stephan, S., Lever, N., Moore, E., & Lewis, K. (2006). School Mental Health Quality Assessment Questionnaire. Baltimore: Center for School Mental Health Analysis and Action.

Weist, M. D., Youngstrom, E. a, Stephan, S., Lever, N., Fowler, J., Taylor, L., … Hoagwood, K. (2014). Challenges and ideas from a research program on high-quality, evidence-based practice in school mental health. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 43(2), 244–55. doi:10.1080/15374416.2013.833097

Knowing your interpersonal strengths to develop trust and answer questions

Frymier, A. B., & Houser, M. L. (2000). The teacher/student relationship as an interpersonal relationship. Communication Education, 49(3), 207–219.



Developing more effective educators through the understanding of how they communicate with their students is shown to increase student success.  If we take the application from the study done by Frymier (2000), and apply it to higher education administrators we should see an increase in student satisfaction.  The focus of the study was to take existing research on the development of interpersonal relationships, friendships (communication skills) and the use of verbal and non verbal communication(immediacy behaviors), and apply it to student/teacher relationships in the effectiveness of their teaching.

The test used by were based on Burleson and Samter’s Communication Functions Questionnaire (CFQ)(p. 208).  This research tool is able to evaluate eight communications skills: conversational, referential, ego supportive, comforting, conflict, persuasive, narrative and regulation.  Each of these eight areas was then broken down into two different sub sections: affectively oriented and nonaffectively oriented.  Affectively oriented skills consist of: ego support, comforting, regulative behavior and conflict.  The nonaffectively skills consist of: persuasion, narrative, referential, and conversational.

The second focus area of the research was that of the verbal and nonverbal immediacy.  Some of the verbal and nonverbal ways the researchers looked at immediacy were through calling students by name, inquiring about students lives, and engaging them in information seeking (verbal), making eye contact, moving around the room, changes in voice during presentations (nonverbal).  By looking at the ways in which faculty communicate immediacy towards their students, we can see how students perceive closeness and involvement in their classes.

The research was conducted using two studies to answer three research questions looking to answer: perceptions of communication skills and immediacy, differences in male and female perceptions, and relationships between students’ perceptions resulting in motivation and learning.

The first study surveyed students during an introductory communication course in which they completed the CFQ as well as a likert scale test of the importance of immediacy.  The second study was conducted also used the CFQ, and the likert test, but this test focused on the use of immediacy.  Unlike the first study, the second was given to students but they were to reflect on the class in which they just came from.

The first test found that of the eight communication skills, referential, ego support, conflict management, regulative and conversation skills, along with verbal immediacy where the most important factors in the perceived importance of teachers.  The second study showed that the communication skills (referential and ego support) resulted in significant predictors of the learning and the motivation of students to be engaged.

Personal Application:
                        I think that by getting a better understanding of how I communicate with my students and learning how to effectively use my verbal and nonverbal communication, I can better engage with the students I work with.  The researchers discussed that application of better communication and immediacy in the classroom can result in the building of respect and trust (p. 217).  They further state that with increased levels of respect and trust, students are more inclined to engage and most importantly to my work and potential in my research, student ask questions without fear of being judged, or that it is a “stupid question”.

            Unfortunately I am not a mind reader, so when I engage with students I do not always know what is going on with them personally or academically, sometimes they have issues that I can assist them with, if they were willing to share and ask questions.  If I am able to change the way that I am presenting myself to students, I can hope that they become more willing to share so that I can connect them to the resources they need to be successful.

I can also take the information from this study and apply it to the small group that I work with in order to increase the effectiveness of interpersonal communication within the group, which in turn will hopefully make us as a collective more effective in communicating with our students and become more informed of our students.  I find it interesting that much of what is brought up in this research, relates to class discussions in uncertainty reduction, allowing for more open conversations.

Limitations in my practice:
                        Knowing that this research was focused on student/teacher relationships and the ability to be more effective in the classroom, a realm that I am not a part of.  Although I do see myself as an educator, I am not always sure the students that I, and the small group I chair, oversee, see us as teachers.  Bridging the gap between academics and student engagement through formal and informal education will be an area that we need to make more seamless so students can see all administrators at the university as teachers.

Final thoughts:
            I will need to start being more conscious of the ways in which I communicate with my students, including my verbal and nonverbal cues, especially with the first year students that are new to the university and will need more assistance navigating resources.  Only though building more effective interpersonal relationships, supporting students desire to learn, reducing uncertainty, building respect and trust so that they are comfortable talking and asking questions, will I be able to provide the highest levels of access and support to the students so that they can be successful.


Frymier, A. B., & Houser, M. L. (2000). The teacher/student relationship as an interpersonal relationship. Communication Education, 49(3), 207–219.


Self-Determination Skills and Student Persistence

Getzel, E.E., & Thoma, C.A. (2008). Experiences of College Students With Disabilities and the Importance of Self-Determination in Higher Education Settings. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 31(2), 77-84.


The authors in the article “Experiences of College Students With Disabilities and the Importance of Self-Determination in Higher Education Settings” (Getzel & Thoma, 2008), explore the impact that self-determination skills have on students with disabilities in higher education. In the article, self-determination is defined as “being able to advocate for what you need, understanding your disability and how it impacts your learning, having self-confidence, being independent, and adjusting your schedule to make sure things get done” (p. 79).


Participants were chosen to be part a focus group, based on whether they were currently receiving disability support services, and were identified by the disability support services (DSS) office, as having self-determination skills. Researchers were intentional in selecting participants who had already demonstrated these skills, as they wanted to ensure their skills were somewhat similar to one another.

In the sample, there were 34 students total. Their ages ranged from 18 to 48 years. There were 18 females and 16 males. Participants came from various, although limited cultural backgrounds, with 21 Caucasian, 12 African American and 1 Asian. The disability groups represented in the sample, included 2 visually impaired, 8 orthopedic disability, 13 other health impaired, and 2 emotional disturbances.

Focus groups were organized at six different locations across Virginia. Three were community colleges and three were colleges or universities (2- and 4-Year).


Researchers used a semi-structured interview process, and focus group assignments. Focus groups were chosen due to the small group size, which allowed for a more personal, social and intimate experience. In addition, focus groups allow the researchers more flexibility to address issues as they arise. Demographic information was also collected and a summary was developed.

As part of the testing process, participants were asked two primary questions. They were,

  1. “What do you think an effective advocate does to ensure he or she stays in school and gets the support needed” (p.80)?
  2. “What advocacy or self-determination skills do you think are absolutely essential to staying in college and getting the supports you need” (p.81)?


Data analyses were performed on the notes provided by the scribes. Results of the study indicate that participants feel self-determination skills were critical to their success in transitioning into a higher education setting.

The results of question number 1 above indicated that “focus group participants clearly identified self-determination as important to their success in postsecondary education” (p. 80). Reasons given for their decisions were primarily based on participants not self-identifying their disability, or advocating for themselves, failing, and then requesting the support services that they need.

The areas identified as most critical with regards to question number 1 were as follows:

Problem solving – Defined as the ability to think about and solve a problem, prioritizing ones time, and focusing on and achieving success.

Self-awareness – Defined as learning about oneself, developing core competency skills, increasing self-understanding, and self-determination. It’s important to note that learning of one’s disability was particularly important.

Goal setting – Participants reported the importance of setting realistic short- and long-term goals as a critical part of their success.

Self-Management – Defined as one’s ability to organize and plan ahead. In the context of disability services, self-management was particularly important for scheduling classes, allowing time for studying and completing assignments, and planning ahead on assignments that may take longer to complete.

The results of questions number 2 above indicate that participants felt strongly that it was important for “(a) seeking services from the DSS office and college services available to all students; (b) forming relationships with professors and instructors; (c) developing support systems on campus with friends, support groups, and the DSS office; and (d) gaining a self-awareness and understanding of themselves to persevere” (p. 81).

The areas identified as most critical with regards to question number 2 were as follows:

Seeking services on campus – Participants emphasized the importance of academic support services and resources on campus. Of particular note was the DSS office, writing center, math lab, and participation in study sessions.

Developing support systems on campus – Developing friendship and peer networks, seeking out other support staff, and participating in student groups, support groups, and other social networks.

Forming Relationships with Professors and Instructors – Defined as developing critical relationships with professors, meeting with professors on a regular basis, and actively seeking help from professors.

Self-awareness – In the context of question number 2, participants discussed the importance of developing critical skills and behaviors, being aware of their strengths, as well as their limitations, and focusing on their success.

Limitations / Recommendations:

There were a number of limitations with this study, including, limited sample size, limited ethnic diversity, and limited disability diversity. Additionally, participants were identified by DSS staff who believed participants already possessed self-determination skills, so selection was, in part, subjective to the biases of DSS staff. As with any focus group interview process, the authors also note that bias may also be inherent in that participants may report what they feel the interviewer wants to hear, and not necessarily what they truly feel.

Application to my own Action Research / Discussion:

Over the past few weeks, I have struggled with the idea of mentoring in higher education. Mentoring is not new to higher education, which makes the application, as part of original research, more challenging. However, the idea of looking at self-determination as a skill, and students applying self-determination as a learning outcome, has helped narrow the construct of what the mentoring program might look like.

Access, excellence and impact are critical ideals to student success. As a guide, they help frame the work that we do, as well as the high expectations of the academic standard we hold students accountable to. In looking ahead to applying my action research in my community of practice, I want to be mindful of the impact that self-determination skills can have on all students, but particularly students with disabilities.


Getzel, E.E., & Thoma, C.A. (2008). Experiences of College Students With Disabilities and the Importance of Self-Determination in Higher Education Settings. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 31(2), 77-84.


Where is the humanity in education?

Is Arizona’s Approach to Educating its ELS Superior to Other Forms of Instruction? 

By Mary Martinez-Wenzl, Karla Perez, and Patricia Gandara

Martinez-Wenzle, M., Perez, K., & Gandara, P. (2012). Is Arizona’s Approach to Educating its ELs Superior to Other Forms of Instruction? Teachers College record, 114(9), 7.


The article is of great personal interest to me as I have taught English Language Learners (ELL) for the last 17 years.  My teaching methodologies have been drastically encumbered by Arizona’s English-only and Structured English Immersion legislation.  I am required to teach ELL students in a segregated environment.  Students are with me for minimum of four hours a day for explicit instruction in reading, writing, conversation and grammar during the prescribed times. During this time, I am the only native and proficient English speaker among the group. Students remain segregated for the rest of the day as they move in groups to mainstream content area classes.  In those classes, they are often separated off to a corner of the room, or partnered with a mainstream student that speaks their native language to lend them support.  For a program that purports English language acquisition, it allows ELL students little or no exposure to authentic English interactions for with the native language speaking peers or even teachers.  Through this article’s exploration of the segregative, English-only, heritage cultural and language negating constructs of Arizona’s Structured English Language Immersion program, the domination of white culture interests in today’s educational system is confirmed.

The article gives an overview of the legislative actions that have led to the Structured English Language program for English Language learners in Arizona today.   Arizona has the nation’s most restrictive English-only law. Proposition 203, passed in 2000, mandates that all public school instruction be taught only in English.  As part of a ruling from 1992, Flores v. State of Arizona, in which a Nogales parent brought forth a class action suit for failing to provide English Language Learners (ELL) with equitable programs or to take “appropriate action to overcome language barriers that impede equal participation by its students in its instructional programs” (Title 20 U.S.C. § 1703(f)) required under the Equal Educational Opportunity Act.  To ensure Arizona state districts were providing adequate instruction for the ELL students, the state passed HB2064.  It provided specific guidelines for the teaching of ELL students.  Part of the bill created a task force to develop a research-based program for instructing ELL students.  The task force adopted a four-hour SEI (Structure English Immersion) program developed by Kevin Clark.  Mr. Clark is a former board member on the Board of Academic Advisors for Research in English Acquisition and Development (READ) Institute, a conservative think tank for advocating the superiority of English-only programs.

Through professional development in my district, I have attended 5 sessions of day long “Grammar Camp” presented by Kevin Clark and Clark Consulting Group.  Mr. Clark is a very dynamic, charismatic, and believable speaker.  He always has a gimmick, story, or some outrageous fact to share about language acquisition.

As a member of the task force, Clark was required to present research to substantiate his SEI program.  Clark developed a 13-page document titled “Research Summary and Bibliography for Structured English Immersion Programs”. Clark (2007) noted it was not a comprehensive review of literature, but “merely a search for supporting research” (as cited by Martinez-Wenzle, Perez, & Gandara, 2012, p.6). Highly respected, published, linguists, educational researchers, and university professors, Krashen, Rolstad, and Macswan found that in review of Clark’s document, his research did not properly reference his area of inquiry nor were his findings appropriately based on the outcomes of the research (Krashen, Rolstad, & MacSwan, as cited by Martinez-Wenzle, Perez, & Gandara, 2012, p.6). With no regard to overt discrepancies, Clark’s model was adopted. His summary and bibliography became the record of recorded research for program implementation.

I cannot first handedly speak to the motivation of the task force members to approve a model with little or no valid research to confirm the program’s validity.  Common sense would lead me to assume that policy makers with such an important mission would want to conserve valuable time and resources by implementing an ELL program that had proven successful through numerous reputable research studies.  As an outsider, I would theorize that the members may have been influenced to readily approve Clark’s SEI programs because it wholly supports the English-only mandate for instruction in Arizona schools.

Another focus of this paper was to review research to determine which model of instruction was the most successful for ELL students. The first two reviews by the National Literacy Panel (NLP) and The Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence (CREDE) of research used meta-analyses to combine data from 500 collective studies and use statistics to calculate the average effectiveness of each program to teach ELL students English.  The studies looked at time on task and language transfer.  The review established that literacy in a student’s heritage language facilitated academic literacy in English.  Bilingual approaches were more humane for ELL students, aiding in social development as well as supporting them academically.  Additionally, the comparative studies found evidence contrary to Arizona’s theory that 4-hour explicit instruction in English SEI would lead to faster language acquisition; “more time in English does not necessarily result in more rapid acquisition of English” (Martinez-Wenzle, Perez, & Gandara, 2012, p.10).

In conclusion, the authors of this study determined that Arizona’s approach to educating its ELs was not superior to other forms of instruction.  The authors warn that implementation of this model “carries with it additional risks of segregation, isolation, and high school dropout” (Martinez-Wenzle, Perez, & Gandara, 2012, p.25).

The idiom of this paper was appropriate for educational practitioners and administrators. The paper was developed in a traditional format with the question stated at the beginning, rationale for the study, evidence from multiple research studies, explanation of the methods and findings, and finally the results.  For academic research minded scholars, the paper offered nine pages of evidence, reviews, research studies, statistics and bar graphs.  The authors’ detailed explanations made the findings comprehensible even to me, a novice researcher.

The findings from this paper are frustrating, incomprehensible and disconcerting to me as teacher of ELL students because I am a believer in equitable practices for all students, and a participating member in a program that is detrimental to immigrant students in English language programs.  It questions my abilities as an action researcher to impact change inside of a political and educational structure whose undertakings ensure the dominance of one culture group at the expense of another.  Where is the humanity in education?



Equal Educational Opportunities Act of 1974 (EEOA), 20 U.S.C. section 1703(f)(Supp.1984).

Krashen, S., Rolstad, K., & MacSwan, J. (n.d.). Review of “Research Summary and Bibliography for Structured English Immersion Programs” of the Arizona English Language Learners Task Force.

Martinez-Wenzle, M., Perez, K., & Gandara, P. (2012). Is Arizona’s Approach to Educating its ELs Superior to Other Forms of Instruction? Teachers College record, 114(9), 7.


Access to Postsecondary Education for Socioeconomic Disadvantaged


Frempong, G., Ma, X., & Mensah, J. (2012). Access to postsecondary education: can schools compensate for socioeconomic disadvantage?. Higher Education, 63(1), 19-32.


The analysis of access to postsecondary education is essential to me as I embark on my journey with action research in education. I recently finished the article Access to postsecondary education: can schools compensate for socioeconomic disadvantage, which provided me with excellent insight on the relationship between socioeconomic status for high school students in Canada, and their access into higher education. The research was particularly concentrated on those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The author’s analysis was focused on research that continued to support a number of studies that have demonstrated that youth from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds experience some level of exclusion in postsecondary education systems (Frempong, Ma, & Mensah, 2012).

As I read through this article, I found it very easy to compare it to several readings that I have recently completed, as well as active discussions that I find myself interacting with in my professional life. The discussion of access to higher education is a common theme of discussion amongst professionals in higher education, especially at the community college where I work. It is very typical for a topic of discussion to focus on underrepresented youth and access for minorities in college, in my work community. Hence I felt much of the subject matter in this reading was very easy to relate to. I also found the article very interesting in its approach to weigh heavily on its data model and analysis to support the findings of the researchers in this piece. The use of multilevel models to examine access to education was an approach that I had not often seen, so I found it quite interesting.


In looking at the organizational flow and consistency of this article, I found it had a well-developed argument supported by previous research and current data. The paper first introduced the reader to the challenges of access to higher education for high school students in Canada, while also citing similar challenges in the United States. The authors called on several authors and scholarly research that was completed prior to their research to guide the reader in understanding the problem that students face. I found this key in helping the authors frame the need for their research and to then be able highlight the difference in their research and findings, as opposed to other research on similar subject matter. The data analysis helped to drive the idea of the research and to formulate the research’s significant findings. The authors then finalized their piece by presenting their findings in a five step model to ensure the readers had a clear vision of the data as it related to the research conducted.

Contribution to the Field

Did I feel this journal reading was worthwhile and carried strength in its argument? Yes, I believe this article can be a resource for me moving forward in my own research. It contributed to my knowledge base by increasing my awareness in regards to the challenges of access in higher education outside of the U.S. I believe working domestically can sometimes narrow the concept of professionals and researchers in respect to the trials that face the academic world on a global level. The research presented in this article also supports the idea that socioeconomic status is prevalent in communities across the world, just as it is in my own community. The presentation of findings in this report were essential for me. The way they were presented was clear and concise, making it easy for readers to comprehend. I see that as an asset in identifying ways I can present my own research. I certainly see some of the research conducted with this study as a resource for me, as I move into my participatory action research experience.

Literature Review

As previously mentioned, the arrangement of findings and the presentation of the research were key pieces for me with this reading. I respected the way the authors presented their findings in five phases based off the strategic questions they wanted to answer. In my opinion, it helped frame the organization of their research to their audience. I also felt that the use of statistical analysis to show the limitation of access to postsecondary education based off of socioeconomic status and challenges was excellent. The reading did take on a more scientific feel because of this; however I was still captivated, by the way the authors related their data to the various student backgrounds and societal makings of the community in which they were conducting their research. In an example, the authors use the results from a Youth in Transition Survey as the basis for their research, but then did an excellent job at humanizing the findings by highlighting themes of student-teacher relationships and the vulnerability of student experiences based on school surroundings. The fore mentioned issues played key for me in this reading.

Theoretical Review

The theoretical framework of the study presented in this report was taken through its entirety. The authors showed their framework in the onset of the reading, to help the reader understand what was being questioned. The information connected to prior knowledge, experience, and research from the authors and outside scholars. The intent of the research, the data used, and findings were articulated clearly for the audience. The report gave information that was knowledgeable and appropriate for audiences who seek a better understanding of issues with access to higher education in their communities.

Data Collection and Analysis

The data collection and analysis in this article was one of the most in-depth presentations that I have encountered in a recent review of scholarly writings. The authors in this case were very thorough in the presentation and interpretation of their research for this article. As a reader, I engaged a very a well-defined picture of where the data for this analysis was coming from by way of a survey model. The measures were presented clearly including explanation of dependent variables for the surveys conducted. The use of tables to present data findings was an essential component for readers. Also, another valuable component was the written part on how multilevel analysis was chosen as the primary statistical technique in the current study, because the Programme for International Student Assessment and Youth in Transition Survey data used are multilevel in nature (Frempong, Ma, & Mensah, 2012). Although I have not encountered current readings with this in-depth presentation of data and analysis findings, it is my understanding that the methods used in this study are standard for inquiry in education.

Findings, Discussion, and Conclusion

Although the Canadian education system may encompass some of the same Eurocentric ideas that are established in the U.S., this article helped me to get a sense of similar challenges being faces in other countries. I found the reading significant as I try to narrow my own line of inquiry on access and excellence in education. I am looking to conduct research in the realm of high school to college transition and the community of people within this research were ideal to who I wish to work. I found this research to be grounded, while providing a variety of findings on the limitations of access to higher education for Canadian high school students, based off of their socioeconomic makeup. I had an easy connection to the problem being presented and to the findings that showed relationship between economically challenge schools, students, and families, in relation to their education attainment levels after high school. The research tools I found in this article are important to my educational research objective and I hope to use them as a valuable resource for the future.

The Foundation of Mindset

Dweck, C. S., Chiu, C., & Hong, Y. (1995). Implicit Theories and Their Role in Judgments and Reactions: A World From Two Perspectives. Psychological Inquiry, 6(4), 267–285.
The Article

This week I am reviewing one of the references listed in last week’s research article blog.  Dweck, Chiu, & Hong’s 1995 article in Psychological Inquiry is seminal in the mindset literature.   The authors explore the concepts of what has come to be known as “mindset” – whether one believes that certain aspects of self are fixed or whether growth is possible (Yeager & Dweck, 2012).  In the 1995 article being reviewed in this blog entry those binary descriptions are labeled (respectively) “entity” and “incremental” implicit theories.  This research comes from the field of psychology and has worthwhile implications for educational practice.

Though this article is a couple degrees removed from any of our assigned readings for class, the authors sing what has become a familiar tune by now:  Be aware of bias.  Just as bias is naturally found in a scientist’s interpretation of data based on implicit assumptions, the authors suggest that biases or implicit assumptions also guide an individual’s view of life – in this case of “the way information about the self and other people is processed and understood” (Dweck, Chiu, & Hong, 1995, p. 267).  Each individual is a “theorist” relying on implicit assumptions that influence their judgment and behavior.  In essence, bias plays a part on the macro level in interpretation of data as well as on the micro level in an individual’s narrative.

The article is very well organized with useful headings and subheadings and a well-written abstract that allows the reader to anticipate what’s to come in the article.  A thorough groundwork is laid, beginning with reference to psychological theories from the 1950’s, to help readers clearly see the authors’ path.  The meat of the study is examining biases or orientations toward two particular attributes – morality and intelligence. To establish the reliability and validity of the entity and incremental orientations toward morality and intelligence, the authors include the three uni-directional statements from the assessment used to determine entity or incremental orientation.  Both internal and external reliability are high as evidenced by the review of six validation studies.  The validation studies also show that a person’s bias or implicit theory is not a function of age, gender, political or religious affiliation.  Nor is orientation, or bias, necessarily the same across all attributes.  The biases for morality and intelligence are statistically independent.  For example, a person can have an entity (or fixed) theory on intelligence, yet an incremental (or growth) theory on morality.

Dweck, Chiu, & Hong (1995) propose that the two different implicit theories lead to different psychological stances.  For one who holds an entity orientation, for example, any encounter will be a measure of their (fixed) attribute, making every encounter a potential threat and encouraging defensiveness.   For the person with an incremental theory, every encounter is an opportunity to grow and learn (Dweck, Chiu, & Hong, 1995).  As an educator, I want students to experience their encounters with life (including school) as an opportunity for learning and growth.  And the good news is that one’s orientation toward an entity or incremental bias is not fixed; it can be influenced by external stimuli (Sriram, 2014).

I have only a few minor editorial comments.  I was surprised to notice a couple of typos in the text.  They popped up without my intentional search for them – leaving out a word, repeating a word and forgetting a marker for one item in a list of three.  They were only slight hiccoughs in the reading and did not distract from the meaning of the text.  In keeping with the theory being studied in this article, I noticed that my explanation to self about the errors fall on the incremental side of things.  I believe the errors may exist because this article was published nearly 20 years ago before we had as much technological support to catch errors.  If the same article were published today, I’d be surprised to find more than one error.

One other weakness of the research analysis offered in this article is that the demographic variables of the study participants were not addressed except in the validation studies.  The authors were at Columbia University, an exclusive private institution, at the time of this publication.  They refer to studies taking place in their lab.  If their participants mirror the demographics of the school and are mostly White and privileged, will that impact the generalizability of the theory?  Might there be nuances in the theory with a more nuanced population set?

My Line of Inquiry

The theory of mindset provides a great foundation for the kind of impact I want to have as I develop my line of inquiry.  Research is supporting that if students have a growth mindset they are more likely to engage in goal-directed behaviors and to believe in their own self-efficacy and in the ability of others to change (Yeager & Dweck, 2012).  At the community college, many of our students have been marginalized and are skeptical about the system and how accommodating it will be for them.  If students believe the system is not on their side and they have a fixed mindset they are more likely to give up.  If I can encourage the students I work with towards a growth mindset, then their belief in themselves and corresponding goal-directed behaviors may increase.  At the same time, we will be cultivating the belief that the system can change and become a better partner for students as they pursue their personal, career, and academic goals.

Dweck, C. S., Chiu, C., & Hong, Y. (1995). Implicit Theories and Their Role in Judgments and Reactions: A World From Two Perspectives. Psychological Inquiry, 6(4), 267–285.

Sriram, R. (2014). Rethinking Intelligence: The role of mindset in promoting success for academically high-risk students. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory, and Practice, 15(4), 515–536.

Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindsets That Promote Resilience: When Students Believe That Personal Characteristics Can Be Developed. Educational Psychologist, 47(4), 302–314. doi:10.1080/00461520.2012.722805

Online Learning as Professional Development?

Holmes, A., Singer, B., & MacLeod, A. Professional development at a distance: a mixed-method study exploring inservice teachers’ views on presence online. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, p76-85. Retrieved June 19, 2014, from


Professional Development, I’m finding, is being viewed as more and more essential for teacher preparedness to deal with diverse student populations and a teacher’s ability to respond to the ever-changing educational landscape that seemingly shifts its priorities quite often. This is a good thing, as it ensures that I’ll have a job for a long time to come. However, all joking aside, Professional Development, when implemented and facilitated correctly and effectively, can have significantly positive impacts on students’ achievement and outcomes (Holmes, Singer, & MacLeod, 2011). Yet, the challenges presented by this raise questions of access, impact, and excellence.

In their article, Holmes, Singer, and MacLeod (2011) seek to address two of the three aforementioned challenges, each of which I will discuss in turn, as well a missed opportunity to reflect upon the impact of their study, which I will also address in this post, by examining the role of online learning in Professional Development. Using a mixed methods approach, the authors looked at the outcomes of five different online Professional Development courses, as measured by participant course evaluations, which utilized 24 Likert-scale questions, as well as two long-answer responses. The teachers who participated in this study taught, exclusively, at private schools, with the majority working with students in grades 3-8 (Holmes, et al., 2011).

Upon an analysis of the data, they found several connections between teacher demographic information and satisfaction with online Professional Development; most notably, there was a strongly positive correlation between the number of online Professional Development modules a teacher had previously taken and their overall satisfaction with the course they were currently enrolled in. This suggests that teachers who have enjoyed Professional Development online in the past are the ones, who, by and large, are the ones who come back for further development in this medium, which, when one thinks about it, makes sense. If I’ve found value in something in the past, given its convenience, my ease and comfort in the medium, I will likely engage with it again.

Traditional teacher Professional Development, which occurs in person, through face-to-face interactions and facilitation, can be stymied as schools and/or educational agencies are concerned about cost effectiveness, something I can personally understand, given that I work in the field. This issue of access to content and facilitation is meant to be mitigated by the cheaper online modules, as suggested in Holmes, Singer, and Macleod’s (2011) discussion of the background of Professional Development and Online Learning.  However, the idea of access also presents an additional challenge when it comes to teachers who are not technologically proficient. Holmes, Singer, and Macleod (2011) suggested that teachers who self-assessed as being weak or uncomfortable with technology, or had only ever participated in in-person Professional Development, were unlikely to rate the course highly, and responded that they were also unlikely to take such courses again. If facilitators and providers of Professional Development seek to use this medium for large swaths of the teaching population, then they will also need to find ways to support those who lack the technological proficiency to be successful in such a program.

The idea of supporting educators who struggle to use technology has implications for me and for my community of practice, as I begin to think about my innovation. Participants, almost universally, see the role of the facilitator as crucial to the success or failure of a Professional Development session or module (Holmes, et al., 2011). For successful online learning and Professional Development, then, the person or persons in charge of facilitating the modules must ensure that the participants are comfortable with the medium, prior to engaging with the content, or that they have the support systems in place so those educators know where to turn, when they have questions, which they ultimately will.

The second issue raised by this research study is one of excellence, which I am operationally using to mean high quality, for the context of this post. Previous research has suggested that certain criteria must be met, in order to meet a threshold of quality: purposeful design, skillful facilitator(s), rich conversations and reflections centered on classroom instruction, and integration with powerful teaching methods (Holmes, et al., 2011). If online learning will be used to engage teachers and other educators in Professional Development, then the sessions, courses, or modules must meet the above requirements for quality Professional Development. If participants do not see connections to their daily teaching lives, and do not have meaningful opportunities to engage with their fellow colleagues, then the online learning and Professional Development will not meet the requirements of excellence, and will be a waste of teachers’ time.

This, to me, is one of the most important considerations for any innovation I seek to implement into my community of practice; if I cannot implement my innovation well, then it is not an innovation that is worth being implemented at all. This underscores the importance of being very purposeful and thoughtful in the design of any innovation, so as to make it an effective and useful experience for anyone who participates in it.

The last issue raised by this article that represents a missed opportunity on the part of the researchers was to study the impact that their Professional Development courses had on the outcomes of students in the classrooms of the teachers. The authors, by their own admission, suggest that effective Professional Development should better prepare teachers to work with their students in some capacity, for example, classroom management, differentiation, or instructional strategies, among others (Holmes, et al., 2011). The researchers did ask participants if they had implemented any changes in their classroom based on the online Professional Development, and, while 74.8% of them said that they had, there was no measure on the outcomes for students, and whether those changes led to an improvement in student achievement (Holmes, et al., 2011). Seeing this missed opportunity serves as a good example to learn from, in that I should always try, whenever possible to measure the impact that my innovation has on students and their achievement, as that is what really matters.

Schooling for student transformation


Beach, K. (1999). Consequential transitions: A sociocultural expedition beyond transfer in education. Review of Research in Education, 42(1), 101–139.


How can we “prepare individuals to [both] participate in the transformation of society,” as well as to “adapt to existing society” (Beach, 1999, p. 130)?  Helping students find opportunities for consequential transitions may be an important part of the picture (Beach, 1999).  I argue that a strategic and creative application of technology, informed partly by connected learning principles, can facilitate students’ ability to undergo significant personal transformations of identity and skill, and successfully endure or navigate the change of social organizations within which they participate.


In an attempt to move beyond “transfer,” King Beach (1999) offers “consequential transitions” as a more robust and pragmatic concept than the metaphor dominant and persistent throughout educational theory and discourse.  Beach argues that transfer’s theoretical flaws stem from the difficulty involved in studying and fostering it.  He writes that transfer, in educational psychology “refers to the appearance of a person carrying the product of learning from one task, problem, situation, or institution to another,” but neglects how (or anything about the context within which) the tasks or situations were generated.  One of transfer’s essential flaws as a practicable theoretical guide is especially apparent when one attempts to bear witness to transfer, or to demonstrate that transfer has occurred.  Consequential transitions, a conceptual alternative, expands our purview on how individuals come to know things, in part through the lens of the sociocultural theoretical framework.  As a “macrocosm of how we learn new tasks and problems” (Beach, 1999, p. 102), a “consequential transition involves a developmental change in the relation between an individual and one or more social activities.  A change in relation can occur though a change in the individual, the activity, or both” (Beach, 1999, p. 114).


Beach relieves schools of the (sole) responsibility of providing students (and individuals, more generally) with consequential transitions.  But, it may be in this notion that significant educational innovation can occur.  I am situated just ahead of the launch of a personalized learning program for students in grades 7-12, which, primarily, will be delivered virtually.  Its philosophical underpinnings include connected learning discourse.  Connected learning “advocates for broadened access to learning that is socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity.  [It] is realized when a young person is able to pursue a personal interest or passion…and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career success or civic engagement”(Ito et al., 2013, p. 4).  Connected learning recognizes the value of technology to help “connect” students to areas of inquiry that are exciting and meaningful, and participate in a broad range of networks in service of each individual’s disparate orientations.  Further, the cultivation and maintenance of a strong peer culture is important for grounding students – through the learning process, and, arguably, consequential transitions – and helping them to feel a sense of belonging to a supportive community of practice beyond their own agenda.


Buddhist philosophy of dependent origination and Plato’s perspective on individual epistemological continuity (simply, that the “individual and world are separated”[Beach, 1999, p. 102]) are part of the philosophical foundation from which consequential transitions emerges.  Beach explains how American education and psychology also stem from these historical roots on how individuals come to have knowledge, yet experience continuity across time and contexts.  His own approach is sympathetic to the Buddhist outlook, which appreciates interdependency – the dialectical relation between the individual and their context.  He criticizes the typical binary positioning that the concept of transfer legitimizes, and disparages the seeming entrenchment of theorists at their poles on one or another side of the transfer debate.  “That learners and social organizations exist in a recursive and mutually constitutive relation to one another across time” is critical to consequential transitions and should be the premise upon which other transfer alternatives are predicated (Beach, 1999, p. 111).


In what ways might an online learning program provide students with opportunities that might lead to consequential transitions?  Beach explains that a “consequential transition is the conscious reflective struggle to reconstruct knowledge, skills, and identity in ways that are consequential to the individual becoming someone or something new, and in ways that contribute to the creation and metamorphosis of social activity and, ultimately, society” (Beach, 1999, p. 130).  Much like the critical reflection Tyrone Howard encourages of teachers for culturally relevant pedagogy, a consequential transition is spawned partly through conscious reflection, struggle, and, ultimately, change in “one’s sense of self and social positioning” (Beach, 1999, p. 114).  Institutionalizing time and space for students to independently and collaboratively “digest,” think critically and expansively, about their experiences within their context is an important component of an educational program.


Further, integral to a successful online learning initiative may be helping students understand (and providing the support so) that they can generate and shape their own learning and practice – experiences which at times may be constitutive of consequential transitions.  This emphasis on self-directedness and students taking responsibility for their own learning, within a highly personalized educational framework, is an acknowledgement of students’ transformations.  It promotes students’ agency over their own development, identity representation, and social positioning.


Technology may be leveraged for students to gain access to “worlds” they would otherwise be excluded or not imagine entering.  (Their access to relevant technologies is the first step to an education program of the sort referred to here; this consideration of technological access and relevant elements of justice and equity are incredibly important programmatic concerns, but are not dealt with in this post.)  As a tool, technologies may help students find and connect with communities and information relevant to their personal interests, as well as to expansively frame academic areas of inquiry in ways that may be personally relevant.  “Meeting students where they are” and helping them get to where they want, need or can be – in part through students’ ownership and customization of their educational experience, and facilitating opportunities for consequential transitions – is the central objective of my professional agenda.


Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection. Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195–202.

Ito, M., Gutiérrez, K., Livingstone, S., Penuel, B., Rhodes, J., Salen, K., … Watkins, C. S. (2013). Connected learning: An agenda for research and design. Irvine, CA, USA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub. Retrieved from


Teacher-talk about students and families of color

Pollack, T. (2012). Unpacking everyday teacher-talk about students and families of color: Implications for teacher and school leader development. Urban Education. Vol. 48. Issue 6.


This article examines daily dialog between teachers about their perceptions and conceptions of students of color. The author refers to this daily dialog as informal “teacher talk”. The article was well organized and well written, while the argument was developed and the analysis was informative and refreshing.The author critically examines the casual, teacher discourse about student’s racial and cultural differences. The data was collected through participants’ journal entries, group discussion, and interviews. The article reported that the findings revealed three dominant deficit-based discursive themes embedded in informal teacher discourse about students of color.

The findings of the article reported the need to heighten educators’ critical awareness of deficit discourse and its relationship to teaching, learning, and issues of equity. According to Pollack, the research does outline some assumptions about culturally relevant pedagogy and its meaning for intercultural learning. He states that “this article will likely be of interest to educational administration faculty, teacher educators, K-12 educators, and those studying school culture”. The article clearly demonstrated a coherent theoretical framework. And provides a formula for creating a successful analysis of dialog between teachers to create a more culturally sensitive environment classroom.


The article had a profound impact on the field based on the persuasive power of “stories” or conversations. The assertion was made that stories are particularly relevant to understanding how racist views are asserted in less overt and more socially acceptable ways through everyday discourse about others. This concept made me think of how deeply racial jokes are connected to racism. As if it’s possible for a person to refer to them self as “not racist”, but be ok with telling racist jokes. The example the author gave was Van Dijk (1987) found that many conversational stories told by whites about people of color “make negative conclusions credible and defensible, so that the general norm of an ethnic of tolerance is, apparently, not violated”. The author also referenced Denzin (1994), who said stories can also represent individual and group identity in opposition to the “Others” we portray; in this way we communicate who we are by making clear who we are not.


This study offers a sobering look at the nature and content of teacher talk about students of color, their families. The article was of particular interest to me and my former community of practice, as I have experienced (overheard) the racist and discriminatory rants by teachers. It was fascinating to know that someone had researched the effects of this damming dialog and wrote about it. I agree with the claim the article makes that deeply engrained in the everyday culture of schools, these narratives are often unheard, unacknowledged, or seen as harmless. This could have a devastating effective on everyone at the school if the information landed on the wrong ears. I could especially identify with the author’s claim that deficit-based teacher discourse is not harmless and is supported by the participants’ reflections on the deficit narratives they have heard. The crux of the article dismantles the deficit-based teacher talk about students and families of color and shines a light on teachers’ low expectations and negative assumptions about students of color. Personally, I feel that low expectations for students may destroy teachers’ ability teacher with a “blinders off” approach. It stifles their creativity and sense of self-efficacy. Moreover, justifying differential treatment and teaching practices, policies, and teacher behavior are all associated with inferior educational experiences and opportunities for students of color.


Denzin, N. K. (1994). The art and politics of interpretation. (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Van Dijk, T. A. (1987). Communicating racism: Ethnic prejudice in thought and talk. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

What Teachers Think

Warren, S. R., Noftle, J. T., Ganley, D. D., & Quintanar, A. P. (n.d.). Preparing Urban Teachers to Partner with Families and Communities, 21(1), 95–112.

Preparing Urban Teachers to Partner with Families and Communities is a study by Warren, Noftle, Ganley & Quintanar that examines how teachers prepare to teach based on their professional knowledge, dispositions and authentic relationships with students, their families and the community. (2011)

The discussion on family, the community and the teachers relationship with it, ties into my line of inquiry for creating a partnership with the school and community.  The article addresses teachers and instructors of professional development.  It is based on examination of teachers and their perceptions and interactions with their community.  The study is grounded in the research which will “show that when schools, families, and community groups collaborate to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more.” (Warren, Noftle, Ganley & Quintanar, 2011, p.96)

This research is valuable for my topic of inquiry because it regards the interaction of the school and the community. Although the research is conducted from the position of the teacher and my focus has been more from the point of view of the students, both recognize the benefits of a partnership between the school and its surrounding community.  Likewise, another study found “goals for student academic success is best achieved through the cooperation and support of schools, families, and communities” (Willems & Gonzalez-DeHass, 2012, p.10).  The study by Warren, Noftle, Ganley and Quintanar, shows how teacher and parent collaboration will encourage involvement that is beneficial to student achievement (2012).   Research by Durand and Perez also supports parent collaboration, noting that it is “an important component of children’s school success.” (2013, p.49)

The theoretical framework was developed with the plan to educate and inform teachers and change their attitudes through a “course on school, family, and community partnerships” (Warren, Noftle, Ganley and Quintanar, 2013, p.97).  The methods suggested by this work will help me to identify what is needed to guide teachers in working with parents and their own perceptions for building a community partnership.

In an effort to “prove the research hypothesis that a shift in professional attitudes will occur as a consequence of participating in the Family and Community Involvement course” (Warren, Noftle, Ganley and Quintanar, 2013, p.100) data was collected from 26 participating student teachers from two universities.  The qualitative technique for collecting the data was having teachers rate their observations of how they thought the community functioned in schools where they taught.  Data was collected twice; once on the first day and again on the last day. “Triangulation of data was accomplished through the use of three separate sources of data reflecting students’ perceptions of their experiences as family and community builders.” (Warren, Noftle, Ganley and Quintanar, 2013, p.101 – 102)  Triangulation of data has been discussed several times in class discussion and is recognized as a source of validity to research analysis and interpretations.

The findings of the study helped to show participants “valuable resources in the community that they could connect to students and their families.” (Warren, Noftle, Ganley and Quintanar, 2013, p.104)  In addition, the participants realized how their positionality could affect change in the schools relationship to the community.  Finally, their participation had confirmed the research hypothesis by realizing a shift in their attitude as a consequence of their involvement.

The framework for my topic of inquiry is when the success and support realized by the students, their parents and the community it will strengthen bonds and open doors of opportunities for them all. Warren, Noftle, Ganley and Quintanar also state a similar result of “enhanced educational opportunities for children” (2013, p. 109) but do not elaborate.  My goal for my research is currently planned to survey a wider collection of opinion and data.

In further study I would like to explore the connection between student achievement and school partnerships.  The topic of inquiry I am pursuing only supposes the benefits of student achievement in this connection and causes me to question if I should be answering another question first.  The study done by Warren, Noftle, Ganley and Quintanar was specific to result of teacher training.  I plan to conduct an information session with the teachers but nothing more.  I will have to give more consideration to the impact of teacher training or the lack of it as I proceed.  My plan is to focus on the students and how they might be used to research ways to involve the community outside the school.

In view of the implications for humanizing, access, and equitable education research, the study was “centered around the belief that communities cannot be rebuilt by focusing on their needs, problems, and deficiencies. Rather, community building starts with the process of locating the assets, skills, and capacities of residents, particularly families and local institutions.” (Warren, Noftle, Ganley and Quintanar, 2013, p.98)  This could have been a research to show or compare schools that have money and resources and those that don’t and I’m glad it wasn’t.  I appreciated the honest effort in this research to work within the means of available resources. Humanization is seeing things as they are and use them to build relationships, build partnerships and build equity.  There is a level of access that can be made available in all communities.  It is unrealistic to assume that access means that every classroom in the country will look the same.  It is more reasonable to expect that students will have access to the same knowledge and quality of instruction. Determining and assessing the inventory is the key place to start in every building project and is no exception to my topic of inquiry.


Durand, T. M., & Perez, N. A. (2013). Continuity and Variability in the Parental Involvement and Advocacy Beliefs of Latino Families of Young Children : Finding the Potential for a Collective Voice, 23(1), 49–80.

Kladifko, R. E. (2013). Practical School Community Partnerships Leading to Successful Educational Leaders. Educational Leadership and Administration: Teaching and Program Development, 24(January), 54–61.

Willems, P. P., & Gonzalez-DeHass, A. R. (2012). School – Community Partnerships : Using Authentic Contexts to Academically Motivate Students, 22(2), 9–30.

Why Now?

This week’s readings seem to focus on how people are represented in research.  The study by Rodaldo questioned, “Why does the highly serious classic ethnographic idiom almost inevitably become parodic when used as self-description?” (Rosaldo, 200 , p. 48) Our descriptive language in ethnography used to describe things was distancing and “dehumanizing” (Rosaldo, 200 , p. 54).  We learned that, “There is no single recipe for representing other cultures” (Rosaldo, 200 , p. 61)    Similarly, there was a study done on the “peer effects to make classrooms more efficient and equal” (Pivovarova, 2014, p.2) We learned that,  parents will pay for their children to be with better performing peers but it may not really matter as much as they think (Pivovarova, 2014, p.2).  The research has shown that “Peer effect is achievement specific, the diversity of abilities in the classroom does not seem to be a factor that determines own achievement gain of a student.” (Pivovarova, 2014, p.3) In this example parents are attempting to distance their children from under achieving students.

Indigenous peoples are defined as people that still maintain and practice some of the culture and society of the people that once inhabited the country before colonization.  Evidently, researcher’s are realizing that the population of indigenous people is shrinking and with it human history.  For example, notice “the underlying processes of cultural, economic, social, and political displacement that lead to language loss- what some scholars have labeled linguistic genocide” (McCarty, 2005,p.2)  Preservation appears to be the motivation for the research and support of indigenous people.  Why else ask the question, “What does self-determination mean for the world’s 300 million Indigenous peoples?”(McCarty, 2005,p.1)  And why do we wait until now to ask this question? This is an example were people are attempting to distance themselves from the rest of society to preserve their culture.

Is there a renewed possibility for change in human activity where the dominant culture will give up on its demands for conformity?  “The coincidence of the change of circumstances and of human activity can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionizing practice.”(Lave, 2012, p.158)  People and civilizations have been making attempts to divide and conquer since history began.  Maybe it is primal instinct of self preservation/survival of the fittest that is the cause for the number of laws written and broken by people every year.  It seems that when something new or different is revealed, people must learn about it, master it and control it.  Only now are we realizing “that anthropology and anthropologists have historically been complicit in colonizing projects that have undermined Indigenous epistemologies and human rights” (McCarty, 2005,p.1).  In other ways, research has divided and sought domination by its observations where the “researched is the object/other/subject whose existence is described /prescribed by members of the dominant culture model of knowing.” (Denzin, Lincoln and Smith, 2008,  p.86) The challenge will be to find a method of change that will avoid revolution and seek cohabitation.

The International Society for Culture & Activity Research (ISCAR) is asking “what is needed for engagement in a political struggle for a different, more inclusive, just and habitable world.” (Lave, 2012, p.156) First, we must recognize “that the conduct of research is an engagement in political practice.”(Lave, 2012, p.169)  Second, “Each of us has much to learn, but together we can help ourselves and one another to understand more adequately our own political situations and struggles and those of the people whose lives we study.”(Lave, 2012, p.169)


Denzin, N., Lincoln, Y. & Tuhiwai Smith, L. (2008). Handbook of Critical and Indigenous

Methodologies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Lave, J. (2012). Changing Practice. Mind, Culture and Activity, 19(2), 156171.

McCarty, T. L. (2005). Indigenous Epistemologies and Education SelfDetermination,

Anthropology, and Human Rights. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 36(1), 17.


Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Mary Lou Fulton

Teachers College. Tempe: Arizona State University.


Rosaldo, R. (1994). Culture and Truth: The remaking of social analysis. Boston, MA: Beacon

More Information Needed

Wildenger, K., & McIntyre, L. (2010). Family concerns and involvement during kindergarten transition. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 20(3), 387-396.

Transitioning from preschool to kindergarten has been regarded as a “sensitive period” for children (Rimm-Kaufmann and Pianta, 2000).   Recent research findings have concluded that early childhood transition experiences may impact later academic and social outcomes (Eckert et al. 2008). Recently, there has been a growing number of research studies in the area of kindergarten transition experiences and effects, but few studies have addressed the parent or guardian perspective in the area (Wildenger and McIntyre, 2010).

Wildenger and McIntyre’s (2010) study on parent concerns and involvement during the transition period between home and kindergarten or preschool and kindergarten aimed to exam transition experiences from the lens of the parents or guardians. They looked at parent concerns during transition, perceived needs during transition, and parent involvement during kindergarten preparation activities.

Results regarding family concerns showed that most parents and guardians had few concerns about their child transitioning to kindergarten (Wildenger and McIntyre, 2010). Where there were concerns, they mostly had to do with sociobehavioral concerns, such as following directions and getting along well with others.   The issues of least concern to parents were communicating needs, toileting issues, and the ability to get along with the new teacher (Wildenger and McIntyre, 2010).

In the area of the perception of needs, there was a significant area of need identified by parents and guardians concerning what families could be doing at home to help their have a successful transition experience into formalized schooling.   Parents and guardians also listed information on the specifics of the kindergarten program and information about their child’s kindergarten teacher as an area of need (Wildenger and McIntyre, 2010). Although these needs were based on a large number of the participant’s feedback, there was still about one-quarter of the participants that felt they did not have any needs in this area.

The last area that was looked at was the level and type of involvement the parents and guardians had in the areas of formal and informal transition activities that the schools offered. The transition activities offered by the schools ranged in format and in nature. Some examples of the activities included visiting the child’s kindergarten classroom, attending a kindergarten meet the teacher or orientation night, receiving information in the mail about the kindergarten program, receiving a phone call from the kindergarten teacher, and receiving a home visit from the kindergarten teacher (Wildenger and McIntyre, 2010). The researchers found that the most utilized transition activities for the parents were attending a kindergarten open house or orientation and receiving written communication from the kindergarten teacher about the program (Wildenger and McIntyre, 2010). Conversely, parents were least likely to receive a home visit or phone call during the summer transition months.

When looking at the differences in participation in transition activities and socio-economic status, Wildenger and McIntyre (2010), found that total transition involvement was significantly less than for lower socioeconomic groups.

The strengths of this study appear to be the strong focus on parent perspective. It seems that although a significant portion of parent participants reported having needs in the area of information obtainment for transition tips and program details, there were also a significant number of parents that said they did not have any concerns. This indicates to me that in the very least, schools should offer a formalized transition informational event, such as an open house, to be sure that information about program details are communicated. I can also see the value of conducting a home visit during the summer months by the kindergarten teacher. Conducting a home visit would give parents and their child the opportunity to meet and get to know their teacher and also the opportunity to address individual questions or concerns about program details or transition tips. Perhaps for the parents that stated they did not have any concerns about the transition process, a home visit may alert them to some things that they should look out for when they are helping their young one transition into formal schooling. I see this as an educational component about the importance of successful early childhood experiences and some key findings that have proven to be helpful during the transition period. Another argument for making a home visit would be the ability to work around the parents’ schedules and take out transportation and child care as an inhibiting factor.

The issues that I can see arising is that many teachers are not employed in the summer months and even if they are, most teachers do not receive their class rosters for the next school year until just before the school year begins. This has been the case in the school districts that I have worked in. Home visits, just as open houses are, should be a part of the kindergarten teachers back to school contracted hours or it can even be imbedded into a summer transition program that has been created and funded by the school.


Ecker, T. L., McIntyre, L. L., DiGennaro, F. D., Arbolino, L., Begeny, J., & Perry, L.J., (2008). Researching the transition to kindergarten for typically developing children: A literature review of current processes, practices and programs. In D. H. Molina (Ed.), School psychology: 21st century issues and challenges (pp. 235-252. Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.

Rimm-Kaufman S., & Pianta R. (2000). An ecological perspective on the transition to kindergarten: A theoretical framework to guide empirical research. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 21(5), 491-511.

Wildenger, K. & McIntyre, L. (2010). Family concerns and involvement during kindergarten transition. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 20(3), 387-396.


Training Advisors to Conduct Research

Hurt, R. L., & State, C. (2012). An Applied Introduction to Qualitative Research Methods in Academic Advising. NACADA Journal, 32(2010).

This article presents approaches for conducting academic advising research. Presents qualitative and quantitative approaches, however, emphasizes the use of qualitative approaches. Advising as a form of teaching can be evaluated. The writers suggest reluctance on advisors’ part to conduct research due a lack of training in statistical analysis. The writers present frameworks to provide validity to qualitative research.

 Qualitative Research

             The article includes a description of qualitative research. It begins by outlining four characteristics of valid qualitative research: targeted to address a specific question, have qualities which can be measures, seeking to understand the factors influencing behavior, ensure the researcher is genuinely interested in the people he/she is researching so that a deep connection can be made.  Four areas to be mindful of when conducting qualitative research: may last a long span of time, be aware to ensure the story of the data is told and bias is reduced in interpretation, review possible journals that might publish a qualitative (as opposed to quantitative) study, and to possibly incorporate quantitative research (where appropriate).

Three Approaches to Quantitative Research

The writers presented three types of quantitative research approaches and provided examples of how each type can be used. Ethnography is “rooted in cultural anthropology and sociology” (pg. 65). In academic advising, we are trying to describe the student experience. That is an example of an ethnographic study. In my research, I’m interested in describing the learning students may do as a result of advising interactions. This would be supported through this type of research framework. Appreciative Inquiry, is the second type presented. It is described as a form of small group discussion, which leads to the production of the most effective form of “x”. Discussion is guided and attempts to cover four phases: Discovery, Dream, Design, and Destiny. These are described further as identifying the current status of “x”, considering what could be, designing what could be, and finally, creating what could be for “x”. The third type presented is Case Studies. In this type, varying groups are selected by the researcher to discuss a topic. Perhaps this would be different years of students within a major (i.e. Freshman, Sophomores, Juniors, or Seniors) and are guided with open-ended questions to discuss a specific topic. The responses are collected and common themes or further research topics emerge.

 Article Critique

            This article presented very little literature review. It’s based upon a supposition that academic advisors are reluctant to do quantitative research due to lack of understanding of statistics. That idea lacks any reference. The authors suggest identifying journals that will publish qualitative research, but did not recommend any. That would have been helpful, too. In addition, each of the three types of qualitative research presented did not include significant literature support for the explanation or definition.   It could be considered an introductory piece for an advisor beginning to consider research questions. However, further inquiry would need to be done before crafting a research methodology.

Application to My Research

            Well-developed research could build more validity into the field of advising. As I have been doing my literature review, I would agree that much of what I am finding is qualitative research. However, I have seen a transition within the day-to-day execution of advising, as we have been integration technology based tools with our practice. We track and record interactions, use data sets to identify which students to reach out, and have fully online tools available. This is developing data sets that will be available (with the appropriate approvals) for quantitative research. As this is evolving, I am hopeful I can access this information for my research.

I’ve administered surveys and led focus groups in the past, with varying degrees of success. The results from the surveys were presented with very basic statistical analysis along with the focus group comments. The focus groups comments helped to put the data from the surveys into context. In my current role, I’ve been working towards the implementation of quantitative survey assessments. The first two I am considering employing include post appointment surveys and pre and post surveys to test knowledge of a specific academic tool. I hope to publish or present findings in the future. I’m hoping that by collecting data from these surveys, I can open a dialogue with students and advisors to find out more about the factors, which might be contributing to what is being measured in the surveys. This article was helpful in that it will present a starting point for how to conduct the qualitative methodologies, which I need to consider. However, I’ll need to conduct a more in-depth literature review before moving forward.

What drew me to the article was that it helped me understand the context in which my research will be presented.  If the authors are correct in their assumption about advisors’ capacities for statistical analysis and they are the primary audience for my research, I need to understand how to convey my findings in a way that is accepted and understood.

Service May Make a Difference in Reducing Achievement Gaps

Scales, P. C., Roehlkepartain, E. C., Neal, M., Kielsmeier, J. C., & Benson, P. L. (2006). Reducing academic achievement gaps: The role of community service and service-learning. Journal of Experiential Education, 29(1), 38–60. doi:10.1177/105382590602900105

Article Summary

The purpose of this article was to explore whether community service and service-learning has an impact in the achievement rates for low-income students.  This is a quantitative study examining responses from national samples of U.S. public school principals, data from more than 200,000 U.S. middle and high school students from over 300 communities, and a sample of middle and high school students from Colorado Springs, Colorado (Scales, Roehlkepartain, Neal, Kielsmeier, & Benson, 2006).  The researchers focused on three major questions: perceived impact of community service or service-learning, relation of service to achievement gaps, and the effect of participation with service-learning over a longer period of time (Scales, 2006).   Their study indicated that, “Principals of urban, high poverty, or majority nonwhite schools are significantly more likely than other principals to judge service learning’s impact on attendance, school engagement, and academic achievement to be ‘very positive'” (Scales, 2006).  The researchers also found that participation in community service or service-learning “seems to be related to lessened achievement gaps between low SES and high SES students” (Scales et. al., 2006).  Furthermore, study of the data indicated that “low-SES students who contributed  community service reported significantly fewer missed school days and significantly higher grades than other low-SES students who did not participate in service” (Scales et. al., 2006).  Overall, the researchers concluded that service-learning may be a valuable teaching strategy to positively impact achievement and student engagement.  This strategy can be especially valuable in urban, high poverty, or nonwhite environments.  Service learning may also have a correlation to reducing the achievement gap between students from lower and higher incomes (Scales et. al., 2006).  The researchers emphasized that you cannot conlude a direct causality because of the many variables involved in student engagement and achievement; however, they indicate a “strong link between service or service-learning and academic success” (Scales et. al., 2006).

Strengths and Critiques

The researches provided a thorough literature review documenting the research about  low SES students, analysis of various approaches to school success, and prior studies on the effects of experiential learning and service on academic success.  The breadth of additional resources and references utilized spanned multiple decades and multiple k-12 settings.  The researchers also explained their purpose, methodology, and results with very accessible language.  They were also very forthright in discussing the shortcomings of their research as well as adamant that the findings do not show direct causality to academic achievement.

One major critique of the study, as also noted by the researchers, is that much of the data is self-reported.  Principals self-reported their perceptions and attitudes of service learning, and student data was primarily self-reported as well.  Finally, the researchers also noted that there was no measure of the quality of the service experience.

Another critique I had regarding the study was the lack of delineation between community service and service learning.  Service learning includes a direct correlation between the service to the community and the learning outcomes for the course.  Community service is more like volunteerism.  I believe there is a clear distinction between the two, and each has the potential to impact students differently.  Overall, I understand the point of the study was not to compare service learning to community service.  However, I think it is an important distinction as service learning has a direct correlation to curriculum and student learning outcomes.

My Take

I chose this research study as I wanted to review another quantitative study.  I find that I have a long way to go with my development and understanding of quantitative methods and their implications and usefulness within educational research.  This study struck the perfect tone for me in that the researchers clearly wrote the article with audience in mind – school leaders and practitioners.  Consequently, the article was very accessible, and provided clear explanations of the methods utilized.

I also believe this study has great impact for my line of inquiry.  I am becoming excited about the potential of researching the impact of service learning, community service, and experiential learning in the developmental classroom at the community college level.  Although this study focused primary on middle and high school students, I believe the findings may be applicable to the community college setting.  GCC fits the profile for the schools mentioned in this study – high poverty, majority nonwhite, and within an urban setting.  The student demographics outlined in this study also reflect that of our students.  And, GCC has a sizable achievement gap between students of color and white students.  This study indicates that at a minimum, community colleges should explore implementing community service and/or service learning programs within its curriculum.  Furthermore, these service efforts could help make gains in reducing the achievement gap if targeting low SES students as well.

One area I want to explore further is the design of quality service-learning experiences.  I am familiar with service-learning from a distance.  I have discussed with other faculty members who routinely engage in service-learning the need to identify projects that meet the needs of a community organization, while also aligning directly to the course curriculum and learning outcomes.  I also understand there needs to be a strong component of reflection and assessment in quality service-learning programs.  However, I am not clear on what this would mean for the design of a quality service-learning experience, the strategies a faculty member needs to have in order to successfully facilitate service learning, and the duration of service-learning as well.  Furthermore, I am not aware of studies on the impact of service-learning on the developmental student population.  This may be a focus of mine moving forward – is service-learning a strategy that community colleges should emphasize and dedicate resources toward to reduce achievement gaps and improve success rates in the developmental classroom?  If yes, what does that look like and how would a college go about infusing service-learning more deeply in the developmental classroom.

Finally, I also believe a study such as this is ripe for qualitative data as well. Interviewing students who participate in service-learning about its impact on their lives, their attitudes, and their perceptions toward school and the community seem very relevant to this work.  I believe a blend of methods would lead toward a strong project researching the impact of service-learning in the developmental education community.  Student voice, faculty voice, and community voice would complement the data regarding course success, GPA, and student engagement.

Personal Growth & Study Abroad

Ingraham, E. C., & Peterson, D. L. (2004). Assessing the impact of study abroad on student learning at michigan state university. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 10, 83-100.

Since 2000, Michigan State University (MSU) has been engaged in a process of assessing the impact study abroad has on student learning at their institution.  Ingraham and Peterson’s (2004) report is the first publication to present the initial findings of the study.  In the report, the authors rely on pre and post surveys administered to study abroad program participants, journals written by students while abroad, focus groups of returned students, and written reports from faculty who have led programs.  The study also used information from MSU’s central student database “to compare various aspects of students who have studied abroad with those who have not” (p. 85).

What I appreciate about MSU’s project is that it seems like a great example of action research in study abroad from which I can learn for my future research.  Rather than creating a study that is designed to have broad implications for the field, the institutional assessment committee established to oversee the project set out to carry out a study that would continually assess the impact of study abroad on the specific goals and learning outcomes MSU set for its students and programs.  These goals are listed by Ingraham and Peterson as follows:

1. Facilitate students’ intellectual growth
2. Contribute to students’ professional development
3. Accelerate students’ personal growth
4. Develop students’ skills for relating to culturally different others
5. Enhance students’ self-awareness and understanding of their own culture
6. Contribute to the internationalization of the students’ home department, college or university (p. 84)

The project used qualitative and quantitative analyses of the aforementioned datasets to verify its findings.  In terms of a qualitative analysis, the researchers used student self-assessments and consulted faculty observations of students on their programs.  As for qualitative analysis, the project reviewed student data obtained from the University’s central student database. The authors state that because the findings were meant to be used only internally at the institution, “we have not undertaken a search of the existing literature in order to provide a bibliography and citations” (p. 84).  While I understand this to some degree, I think it would have still been useful to present some key pieces of literature that the project’s assessment committee consulted in order to establish their research design, especially to glean some insight as to how they agreed upon the aforementioned goals.

The presentation of the report is organized and concise, but is notably lacking in some areas, such as the research design section.  I would have appreciated more insight into the pre and post program questionnaires that were used, as well as being provided more information in how focus groups were formed, although I suspect a reason why details such as these were not shared was because of the intent to have this serve internal institutional priorities.  I do not think that the findings can necessarily be considered to be significant for the field at large, namely because the research design was based around MSU’s specific goals for its students and programs, but the findings do seem credible and would probably be alike if other institutions were to carry out similar projects.  I appreciate that the study was closely linked to MSU’s own institutional priorities since outcomes of study abroad programs can vary depending upon how study abroad is situated at each individual institution.

As evidenced in some of my earlier posts on this blog, Ingraham and Peterson found that “overall, there is a strong perception of significant gain from participation in study abroad and it is evident that short-term programs provide notable value” (p. 90).  This study further clarified the nature of this gain in finding that personal growth was among the most impacted by study abroad, whereas professional development did not demonstrate any statistically significant difference.  One reason for such a profound effect on personal growth is “the psychological challenge posed by the unfamiliar…[it] is particularly acute when abroad and, while sometimes the anguish it can cause (e.g., homesickness, depression) can diminish the benefit, there is no doubt that the predominant effect on personal growth is positive and profound” (p. 94).

This recalls the notion, posed by Jordan and McDaniel (2014), of “productive uncertainty” (p. 34).  I strongly believe that part of the reason study abroad is lauded as such a transformative educational and personal experience by international educators is precisely because of its ability to encourage learning in highly unfamiliar contexts.  Students not only learn academics, but learn about their various identities and how they react in different scenarios when they are forced to navigate unstructured and foreign settings.  Therefore, it is not surprising to me that the authors would find such marked increase in the area of personal growth.  I think the area of ‘productive uncertainty’ in the study abroad context holds rich opportunities for research.  Specifically, on short-term programs led by American faculty, examining how groups of American students rely on one another and their faculty member to negotiate these unfamiliar settings seems to me as though it would be very useful.  Depending upon the findings, strategies for preparing students to embrace the idea of productive uncertainty rather than succumb to mental health issues that may arise, such as homesickness or depression, would be very useful for the field.

Concerning what further study might effectively build on this piece of research, since it is very tailored to MSU’s study abroad initiatives, I think the researchers should next look at a group of students who have not applied to study abroad and examine personal growth for this group.  In higher education, there is much discussion on student engagement theory so it would be interesting to know if the levels of personal growth gained during study abroad have any statistical significance as compared to those gains in personal growth by students who did not study abroad but who are engaged in other manners on the home campus.

Ingraham, E. C., & Peterson, D. L. (2004). Assessing the impact of study abroad on student learning at michigan state university. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 10, 83-100.

Jordan M.E. & Mcdaniel R. (in press). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams : The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity. Journal of the Learning Sciences.