Objectivity and the White Racial Frame Subdued?


(From author's personal files)

(From author’s personal files)

I was suspicious of an article from Anthropology Education Quarterly, Indigenous Epistemologies and Education—Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights (McCarty, 2005) because of the role of anthropologists in cultural appropriation, genocide, reinforcing romantic notions of and problematizing Indigenous peoples and a host of other negative outcomes for non-Whites. The editor, however, confesses to the discipline’s role in this brutal history and expresses the need for centering Indigenous epistemologies (ways of knowing). It sounds good. The theme of the editorial piece is a call for systemic change to center Indigenous voices. Given the power of white logic, the white racial frame, centuries of relegating all things non-White to the margins, is it possible for researchers using dominant culture tools and logic to achieve such a movement? This is what it would have to be, a movement. I’ll return to this question later.

Several articles about action research by authors such as Jean Lave, Teresa McCarty, and Renato Rosaldo expose us once more to thinking about our standpoint, intersections, and identities as researchers in relation to our practice. In Culture and Truth, Rosaldo (1993) forces us to examine the ridiculousness of using objective descriptions to explain deeply human interaction and events in cultures that are not our own. When researchers do this they are subscribing to social norms of a science established to be distanced, unemotional, and dominant, in many ways, stereotypically masculine and oppressive. Rosaldo describes how this is harmful in ethnography. “Such accounts visualize people’s actions from the outside and fail to provide the participants’ reflections in their own experiences. They normalize by presenting generalized recipes for ritual action…. (Rosaldo, 1993, p. 58). Interestingly, this gaze or white racial frame as coined by sociologist Joe Feagin has been the dominant framing that has allowed systemic racism to flourish for over 400 years.

A brief historical note: Carolus Linneas, a biologist and the person credited with the organization system for the plant and animal world, together with Blumenbach, a physician, naturalist and anthropologist, believed that people could be categorized into racial groups—much like plants and animals. Linneaus created the categories, and Blumenbach, believing race to be about phenotype and temperament, went so far as to assign meaning to each group, essentially, a racial hierarchy.

Groups of Humankind Temperament
Africanus Black skin; phlegmatic (sluggish), slow, relaxed, negligent
Americanus Red Skin; choleric (quick-tempered), straightforward, eager, combative
Asiaticus Yellow skin: melancholic, inflexible, severe, avaricious
Europeanus White skin and muscular body; sanguine (warm), swift, clever, inventive
(As illustrated in Scott, 2012)

These racial hierarchies are the roots of the social norms we have been socialized into today—the norms that we are challenged to reconsider, resist and replace. In doing this work, Jean Lave in Changing Practice (2012), challenges the silence surrounding researchers’ political stance and the lack of research rooted in time and place. While recognizing that his discipline of Cultural Ethnography is developing theory with the person at the forefront “…for engagement in a political struggle for a different, more inclusive, just and habitable world (Lave, 2012, p. 156) he also recognizes the absence of critical reflection, an awareness of our own political and cultural locations, and the constraints of our own research. Lave talks at length about the contributions of political and social scientist, Antonio Gramsci and his contribution to critical thought. Gramsci was taken with Frederick Taylor’s (the man who developed scientific management and who devised ways to get the most work out of workers in the industrial era) comment that a trained gorilla would make a better worker than a human being because of an inability to think. Gramsci, writing in the early 20th century, believed that the “aim of American society is to develop a mechanical and automatic behavior …where workers carry out repetitive movements without the use of imagination, …creativity, thus forget their craft, … culture… and origins” (as stated by Guiseppe Fiori in the documentary, New York and the mystery of Naples). I think Gramsci was on to something. With the help of 18th century racialization, the colonization of the Americas and establishment of white supremacy, many people adhere to social norms based on the dominant culture, the white culture, without question.

What this means is difficulty for many Whites and those who have embraced the white racial frame to think critically about their own identities, political struggles, value systems, location in relation to others, and essentially the relationship between culture and power. Whiteness is invisible and omnipotent such that when non-Whites engage in truth telling, our experiences are relegated to anecdotes, distortions or are merely subordinated to other more powerful voices (Lave, 1993). Two examples from the literature and one from a recent experience illustrate this.

In Culture and Truth, while Rosaldo makes the case for examining our culture and the interplay between culture and power, he states in his argument that “in many cases the oppressed fail to talk straight [my emphasis]. Precisely because of their oppression, subordinate people often avoid unambiguous literal speech. They take up more oblique modes of address laced with double meanings, metaphor, irony and humor” (p. 190). Whether he meant it to read that way or not, there is a value judgment in that statement, not in favor of subalterns. In Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Pivovarova (2014), in her research on the impact of tracking on students states, “but is it true that only good peers matter” (p.2)[emphasis added]? And later, “it turns out that independent of own ability, all students benefit when surrounded by good peers” (p. 3)[emphasis added]. It stands to reason that if there are good peers, there are bad peers. Who are they? One need not answer because centuries of socialization have created images of the bad peers: low-income, non-White, immigrant, low achieving, etc. Lastly, in a recent project with colleagues we had decided to ask our peers to reflect on living in a white supremacist world. Once determined, there was concern about the question being too uncomfortable for Whites and adding to an already tense topic. The question was changed to one that allowed “an out” for people to distance themselves from racial inequality and white supremacy much like the objectifying voice Rosaldo explains. The comfort of Whites was primary over the learning that could have taken place and the trust in our peers to take the step to educate the educator (Lave, 2012).

Returning to my question above, is it possible for researchers using dominant culture tools and logic to achieve a movement of systemic change? McCarty (2005) who calls for the centering of Indigenous epistemologies asks, “what does self-determination mean for the world’s 300 million Indigenous peoples” (p. 1).  When the question is rephrased as, “what does Indigenous self-determination mean for the world?” I will feel well on the way to that systemic change. For now, the question is still additive. I’ll leave the question for the reader to ponder whilst exploring and challenging the constraints of her or his own research practice. I will say, resisting and challenging the white racial frame is exhausting. In the words of rapper, Talib Kweli, some days I do enough “just to get by.”


Barrata, G. (Director). (1994). New York and the mystery of Naples: A journey through Gramsci’s world [Documentary]. Italy: Le Rose e i Quaderni.

Feagin, J. (2013). The white racial frame: Centuries of racial framing and counter-framing (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Lave, J. (2012). Changing practice. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 19(2), 156-171.

McCarty, T. L. (2005). Indigenous epistemologies and education—Self-determination, anthropology, and human rights. Anthropology Education Quarterly, 36(1), 1-7.

Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should we track or should we mix them? Unpublished manuscript.

Rosaldo, R. (1993). Culture and truth: The remaking of social analysis. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Scott, M. (2012). Think race & ethnicity. New York, NY: Pearson.


Mixing or Tracking Students: Reflections on Voice, Accessibility, and Implications for Higher Education

As I reviewed our list of readings this week, I was drawn to the article by Margarita Pivovarova, “Should We Track or Should We Mix Them?”  for two reasons.  First, as a former eighth grade English teacher, my students were tracked to some degree as students’ math classes dictated schedules. Inevitably, high achieving math students were grouped together throughout day.  Secondly, as a community college administrator, we currently practice ability homogenous grouping in some disciplines as students take placement tests in order to determine what level of English, reading or math aligns to their current abilities.  So, the question of tracking or mixing students is one that has been part of my educational career for the past twenty years, and those twenty years of teaching and educational experience, along with our current development in this course, influence my reaction to this article.Voice

First, I must confess that I am biased regarding using equations, mathematical terminology, and statistics to exclusively discuss an educational topic.  So, I offer this reflection about voice not as a criticism of this study, but as my own development as a scholar-practitioner embarking on my research journey.  Pivovarova analyzes the interactions between classmates with varying achievement levels in the elementary and middle school classrooms.  She utilizes data from Ontario public schools and explains mathematically and statistically the effect of high-achieving (good) and low-achieving (bad) students on groups of students.  According to Pivovarova (2014), “The presence of low-achievers in a class does not impede the achievement of other students, and even helps students who are low achievers themselves.”    Furthermore, “being surrounded by good peers is beneficial for everyone independent of their own learning level.”  To sum it all up,  Pivovarova states that “peer group composition matters”  (p. 28).

In no way do I question the validity of the study, or the means as to which Pivovarova arrives at her conclusions.  But, I left this study wanting more – specifically, the voices of those instructors in the classrooms and the voices of the students (high, low, marginal, etc. – all the labels utilized in the study).  Each of the groups of students from Ontatrio whose data were used for this study has a story to tell.  Each of the teachers who worked with the respective students has a story to tell.  And, from our readings thus far in this course, I now have a sense that by not telling those stories, we may not have a true sense as to the impact of mixing or tracking students on the students themselves.  This study adds to the discussion of ability tracking or streaming, which was the goal of the author.  I offer that it is critical to also include the voices of the participants in the study to gain additional knowledge and insight about tracking or mixing students based on ability level.


As I think further about my development as a scholar-practitioner, I am beginning to question the accessibility of research studies.  How are they written?  Who is the audience?  Is the language used in an article accessible to those impacted by the research? In this case, the author uses very scientific language that includes descriptions of formulas and mathematical explanations, all necessary to fully understand the methodology and processes involved to derive the respective conclusions.  But, as I think of principals I have worked with over the years responsible for making schedules, or I think of the many teachers and administrator who struggle with this question each year, I wonder will studies such as these impact this particular audience?   As I reflect on my upcoming research, I hope I am able to connect my research to my audience and make it accessible to them, in order for it to have a positive impact on current practices and policies.

Implications for Higher Education

Finally, this study caused me to contemplate some current practices in higher education.  In some respects, a community college classroom has the most diverse (mixed) population a teacher could imagine.  Students will differ by age, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, personal experiences, and religious affiliation.   But, community colleges also track students in some disciplines.  As mentioned earlier, students are initially placed into English, math and reading courses based on results of a single placement exam.  So, grouping in this instance is based on ability, granted only a single measure is being used to determine ability.  Four-year universities, for the most part, could be viewed as a glorified tracking system.  There are highly selective universities that only accept students who demonstrate a certain academic ability-level.  Isn’t this an example of tracking?  So what does this all mean for higher education?  I think it should cause faculty and administrators to pause and evaluate how our systems may unintentionally or intentionally track students, and discuss whether this tracking is in the best interest of students.

Regarding my line of inquiry with developmental education, is it beneficial to have college students who for varying reasons may be struggling academically in a particular discipline take classes only with other students experiencing similar academic challenges?  Are there advantages to rethinking this model, to allow for mixed classrooms that could benefit all students in some manner? Studies such as these help to shed light on the issue of tracking or mixing students by ability; however, I also believe student and educator voices need to be included in discussions before policies and practices are altered. 



Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Tempe: Arizona State University.


Languages Need to Live

Reading Indigenous Epistemologies and Education—Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights (McCarthy, 2005) struck a very personal cord with me.  The article explains that the groups of people who are identified as being Indigenous live on nineteen percent of the world’s land but populate only four percent of the world.  In contrast to their small demographic population, they speak 4000-5000 of the 6000 languages worldwide.  Of the 210 languages in the area that is now the Unites States and Canada, only sixteen percent are currently being learned by children through their families and communities as they grow up.  If languages are not being learned by children, they will eventually cease to exist.  Not only does the language itself die, but along with it goes other cultural connections.


The concern addressed in the article is the loss of many of those languages and what the school systems can do to try and help change that situation.  This article is an introduction to four examples of K-12 schools that try and incorporate Indigenous languages and cultures into their systems in the hopes of saving them.  When providing the example about inclusion of Native Hawaiian into Hawaiian elementary schools, it discussed the importance of doing more than just teach the language—inclusion of the culture must accompany it.  That same lesson was learned for the schools that tried to implement the learning of Ojibwe as an “add-on” course.


One successful example of a language reintroduction has been the language immersion program done in New Zealand with the Maori language.  In addition to learning the language, the program has also helped to support a rise in self-determination to a limited extent.  Another positive example is a program connected to a large university (Michigan State University) that has had encouraging effects in revitalizing the Ojibwe language by creating a plan that worked to do more than just implement language learning.


My interest in this week’s article stems from my personal experience with a dying language: Yiddish.  I realize that the culture connected to it as a whole, Judaism, is still very much thriving.  That said, I am also very aware that when a language dies there are components and nuances that cannot be recovered.  I have also personally witnessed a small portion of that language die.  As a child, Yiddish was something that my grandmother spoke to my great-grandfather sporadically.  It was also, and still is, the handful of words that some Jewish people, including myself, use to communicate with each other when English words just “aren’t quite right.”  They are also words that have become part of the larger American Jewish culture which still remains intact.


What changed dramatically for me regarding my attitude towards Yiddish was when I met my husband.  Yiddish was his first language.  For his parents, who were born in Europe in the years preceding World War II and moved here (and met here) after the war, Yiddish was their primary language.  It was the way that Jewish people communicated with each other in Europe.  Regardless of what country someone lived in or what other language they spoke, Jews could communicate with each other through Yiddish.  After his parents immigrated to the United States, met and married, Yiddish remained the language of their home.  Although his parents learned English fluently, when they had children they still spoke Yiddish.  When I met my in-laws, I became immersed in Yiddish.  Although they were happy to speak English around me, I was eager to listen them speak their primary tongue.  I had hoped to pick up as much as I could.  Now, one generation later, my in-laws have both passed away, my husband has nobody to speak the language to, and my children only know the handful of “cultural” words that I know.  Yiddish wasn’t spoken in our home.  In my little part of the world, in one quick generation, I witnessed the language and the parts of the culture that accompany it go from complete to gone.


For Indigenous cultures, the ramifications of lost languages is far more significant than the loss of Yiddish.  The rest of my culture is still intact and Hebrew has now become a daily spoken language where it didn’t used to be.  Although the culture that goes with Yiddish is different, the remainder of the community and many other parts of it are still intact.  That is not the case for all of the Indigenous communities.  The impact of the loss of those languages has had a voluminous loss of access to many things.  For example, many of their stories were often oral so without the language, an even larger part of their culture died.  Work needs to be done to bring as much of those languages back but in ways that manages to help support and encourage the cultures to become stronger and reach independence and excellence and not ways that, inadvertently, impose the same type of oppression on them that has been in place for the past several centuries.   Ethnographers are in the perfect position to monitor the various programs as Indigenous languages are being revived to ensure that they are helping empower the communities they are setting out to support.  They are in the perfect position to be truly be able to assess the inner dynamics of the groups (Paris & Winn, 2014).  With that support, hopefully the languages that are currently alive, and those that are attempting to be reintroduced will be able to thrive from this point on.






McCarthy, T. L. (2005). Indigenous epistemologies and education–self-determination, anthropology, and human rights. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, (36)1, 1-7.


Paris, D. & Winn, M. T. (2014).  Humanizing research: Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities. Los Angles: Sage.


Turning a New Leaf: The Realization of Exclusion

Teresa L. McCarty (2005) in the “Editor’s Introduction” of Indigenous Epistemologies and Education – Self-Determined, Anthropology, and Human Rights, discusses several insightful points about indigenous history, language, and education.

I know this article was short in length but it was full of great information that I had never considered before. Personally, I had never had a draw or connection with indigenous studies, articles, or news. Every so often, working in higher education, I would hear about different indigenous issues and brush it off. It was not really until this article and this doctoral class that I really begin to take a different stance at looking and considering the many influences affecting indigenous populations.

One of the main reasons that I began to connect and wonder about indigenous populations was the use of the term ‘ally’. In the last sentence of the article, McCarty (2005) states, “We hope the articles…assembled here lead the way toward transformation…for indigenous people and their allies to build the…cultural infrastructures required to nurture self-determination in education” (p. 4). It was the first time that I had even considered that indigenous people need an ally to help support and protect their interests. I was so used to the term ‘ally’ referring to the LGBTQ population, that I never considered that other populations would need the same support – support from those who are not indigenous or connected to indigenous cultures.

I was also fascinated about the complexities and importance of language to indigenous people. McCarty (2005) opened my eyes to the fact that indigenous populations speak approximately 5000 out of the 6000 known languages. However, although there are thousands of languages, languages are disappearing at an alarming rate which researchers refer to as linguicide (McCarty, 2005). A lot of the reason for their disappearance is the dominance of other languages specifically in educational and urban environments. The author emphasized that languages are epicenters to indigenous populations as they are carriers of identity, knowledge, and ways of knowing, underlining that with a loss of language, there is a loss of history and culture (McCarty, 2005). One way in which to preserve languages is through the implementation of indigenous languages in education. By implementing specific indigenous languages in targeted areas of education, we begin to protect that particular population’s culture and history.

One way that language can be revitalized in education is through universities and language development course work. By implementing programs and spaces for students to have everyday speaking interactions, education can help keep the language alive and thriving (McCarty, 2005). By helping to teach and keep these languages alive, we help support a population that was “burned by centuries of repression, marginalization,and negation” (McCarty, p. 4, 2005).

I am excited to be expanding my education by reflecting and engaging in new information. Because of this class and this article, I can definitely say that I will work on being a better and more educated ally. Which in turn means being more educated about many different types of educational aspects through a willingness to listen and discover new areas of education and its populations.


McCarthy, T. (2005). Indigenous epistemologies and education self-determination, anthropology, and human rights. Anthropology Education Quarterly, 36, 1-7.


“Our failure to account for how researchers leave the field–how they can responsibly extricate themselves from an ethnographic situation that binds researcher and researched through ongoing processes of ‘colonialism, imperialism, missionization, multinational capital, global cultural flows, and travel’–is a troubling area of silence” (Figueroa, 2014, p.129).

This week I choose to reflect on the above quote from Paris and Winn’s (2014) Humanizing Research because of the applicability to my own area of research.  In education abroad, reentry, or reverse culture shock, “is the process of readjusting, reacculturating, and reassimilating into one’s own home culture after living in a different culture for a significant period of time” (Gaw, 2000, p.83).   In Figueroa’s poignant essay, she implores social researchers to pay more attention to the ‘exit’ phase of the research process, whereby the researchers depart their communities that they have been studying to return to their regular communities of practice. This part of the research process can be overlooked and instead, Figueroa suggests that researchers should ask, “have we acknowledged and fulfilled our responsibility to the communities who have welcomed us?  Have we–in both our own opinion and the opinion of participants–fulfilled the commitments we made at the beginning of the study?” (p.129).  

Just as researchers must leave a community that at once may have seemed foreign and personal to them, so to do our students leave their host cultures only to return to a home that is perhaps less familiar where they must then make sense of all that they encountered and learned while abroad.  Consider this #ReEntryProblem tweet from Twitter user @DanielleSleeper:

The sad fact is, that as Figueroa asserts is the case in research, often times, not much attention is paid to the critical exit and reentry period.  Aside from a myriad of psychological issues that might affect returning students, such as depression, loneliness, and general anxiety (Gaw, 2000), having an intervention during the reentry process can be important for meaning-making as part of the students overall transformational experience. Rowan-Kenyon and Niehaus  (2011) echo this sentiment, stating, “as institutions provide these short-term experiences, it is also important for follow-up to occur after the experience is over. This follow-up presents opportunities for students to build on their experiences rather than letting them fade” (p. 225).

Therefore, as I consider the goals international educators often have for their study abroad participants it is intriguing to apply this education abroad lens to support Figueroa’s plea for researchers to “move beyond outdated notions of researcher neutrality,” (p.130).  Rather than merely being passive bystanders observing the host culture from a bubble, we tend to want to see our students engaging in thoughtful, reciprocal interaction with their hosts.  That is where intercultural learning and understanding can occur.  Why, then, do we expect that this would be any different for social researchers?

While I still struggle with the concept of forgoing objectivity in research, when I think about this dilemma from my education abroad lens, I begin to see logic in what Figueroa and others are advocating for in terms of humanizing research.  In order to maximize the learning opportunity, shouldn’t researchers seek to understand their subjects by injecting themselves in the middle of their daily lives?  The problem is, if this is done, then care must be taken when it comes time to leave the community.  It is a question of humans interacting with humans–a science wholly different from that of a researcher breaking down enzymes in a lab or an engineer working with software on a computer.  When we relegate our human research participants to data in a spreadsheet, what do we lose in the knowledge-making process?  What about ethics?  These questions are similar to those questions I have about our American students studying abroad.  When we fail to assist our students in reflecting in order to derive meaning and to be able to articulate their abroad experiences, when we turn a group of American college students loose in a foreign town without teaching them about humility and cultural relativism, do we not do more harm than good?



Gaw, K. (2000). Reverse culture shock in students returning from overseas. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 24, 83-104.

Paris, D., & Winn, M. (Eds.). (2014). Humanizing research. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Rowan-Kenyon, H. T., & Niehaus, E. K. (2011). One year later: The influence of short-term study abroad experiences on students. The Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 48(2), 213-228.



Tracking = Resegregation?

Source (image): “Coming Clean Beyond the Fiscal Cliff”, http://solari.com/articles/beyond_the_fiscal_cliff

I am always amazed at how excellence in education is equated with equity. Although, I am not an elementary or secondary educator, I am often privy to my educator-friends who are assured that one of these concepts comes at the expense of the other; that a school lending itself to equity will undoubtedly sacrifice excellence. Or, that to be academically excellent, the school must limit its equity in order to properly serve high-achieving students who deserve academic consistency and progressiveness. Forgive me, but I am somewhat confused by this idea. Wouldn’t an environment that offers its best curriculum to all students be simultaneously achieving excellence?

In Margarita Pivovarova’s (2014) article , Show we Track or Should we Mix Them?, she explores the notion of tracking in elementary schools. Tracking refers to the grouping of students by ability; thereby placing high-performing students in an environment with peers of the same ability, while placing lower-achieving student with low-achieving peers. Basically, this is a fancy way of saying “put the smart kids in one classroom; put the dumb kids together in a different classroom.” You can tell by my tone, that I do not agree with this idea in any form. Pivovarova (2014) asserts that while positive effects can be seen through tracking, it greatly impacts lower-performing students in detrimental ways. She based her assertion on literature that implicitly showed that “the data does not support the linear-in-means model” (p.7), coming to the realization that the nature of peer effects within the learning environment are more complicated than the model suggests. While Pivovarova (2014) doesn’t clearly state which data set presented this finding, she mentions that some research indicated positive findings, while other research indicated no effect; she finds that peer interaction is a highly important component to achieving the success of tracking (Pivovarova, 2014). I agree with Pivovarova’s (2014) assertion here. Simply grouping students together based on ability alone is not sufficient to prove that this method achieves optimal results. Students must be able and willing to engage with peers and instructors in a way that fosters positive identity and confidence in the learning environment, therefore, producing desired results.

High school principle and author, Carol Corbett Burris (2014) discusses tracking in her book On the Same Track: How Schools Can Join the Twenty-First-Century Struggle against Resegregation pointing out that previous literature documents tracks as “racially and economically stratified” (p. 112). For example, if a high-performing Black student who comes from a low socio-economic background is put into a classroom with a large number of White students from middle to high socio-economic status would the linear-in-means model be so clear cut? Would the student feel confident to perform? Would he/she be able to relate to the classroom climate or culture of privilege within the group? While some students may perform well in this environment, some may not. In addition to the inconsistency of this model, other learning theories come into play (i.e. stereotype threat, “performing whiteness”, etc.) that can easily blur the framework of academic tracking. Tracking also puts a great burden the teacher to ensure that equity is maintained between groups; a burden that lends itself to resources, tools, and institutional support. Pivovarova (2014) concludes that a mixed learning environment is optimal, asserting that the quality of peers has a great impact on both high and low achieving students stating, “…while the average quality of peers is more important for high-achievers, adding just one more smart kid in a classroom has a larger impact on marginal kids than it has on top students” (p. 28).

Tracking, in my opinion, lends itself to labeling as well. In a society where emphasis is placed on the level of coursework studied by the student, it is no wonder that parents will work the system to ensure their child is put into high-achieving classrooms to ensure that all social and academic opportunities are made available to them. Labels such as “gifted”, “honor student”, “special needs” and “remedial” are identities placed on the student which often confirm the student’ identity of self-worth, and so very often students perform to the label by which they are identified. Why not eliminate the curriculum gap in an effort to close the achievement gap? I am sure there is no easy solution to this issue, but we must work harder to ensure educational equity, or risk repeating the injustices of the past.


Burris, C. C. (2014). On the same track: How schools can join the twenty-first-century struggle against resegregation. Boston: Beacon Press.

Pivovarova, M. (2013). Should we track them or should we mix them? Tempe, AZ: Arizona State University.

Tracking v. Mixing; Seeking Humanization

Classroom dynamics are shaped by many things, including attributes, dispositions, knowledge, and skills of the teacher, students’ personalities and backgrounds, and, among other things, students’ academic abilities. Margarita Pivovarova (2014) seeks to isolate and measure the effect of students’ academic abilities, as measured by a low-stakes standardized test, on the performance of other students on subsequent exams, in effect, attempting to address the title question of whether students should be homogenously tracked or heterogeneously mixed according to academic ability. As I read this article, there were several things that I took issue with, each of which I want to address in turn.

Relatively early in the article, Pivovarova (2014) begins to use certain words to describe students’ academic performance that I found to be rather unsettling and dehumanizing in nature; by simply reducing them students to statistics on a page and using descriptors such as, good, bad, average, and marginal, she fails to positively recognize that the data she are interpreting are individual humans who are much more complex than simple adjectives. In an attempt to distance herself from the inescapable connotations associated with such words, she includes the following in her notes section, nearly three fourths of the way through the article:

4In order to make the interpretation easier, instead of labeling students by the level of achievement as 1 to 4, I will call students at the lowest level of achievement “bad” students without attaching the actual meaning of the word “bad”; students at the highest level – “good” students, and students in the middle of the achievement distribution – “average”. Among “average” students, I will distinguish between “marginal” (those whose achievement is below provincial standards, or level 2) and just “average” (level 3). (Pivovarova, 2014, p. 29)

While I recognize that it can often be easier to simplify data for ease of writing and communication with the reader, I found the inclusion and repeated use of these words to be over-simplified and indelible choice. The visceral reaction I had when reading these words, to me, underscores the importance and value of being very conscious and intentional in my word choices when making qualitative judgments and assessments about data points, and to always remember what the data I describe actually represent, which, in this case are students.

                When I began to reflect on the situative context behind Pivovarova’s (2014) work to better her dispositions and analyses, it became clear that her approach was quite distanced from any actual interaction with the students themselves. With such a large sample size (n=228,947 students), it seems likely that this information was reported to her by, or obtained through an institution involved with Ontario’s standardized testing, as opposed to being collected by she herself. While there were likely human-to-human interactions in the collection and analysis of these data, it seems as though one could reproduce such a study without ever seeing an actual person represented by the data. I see this as a major weakness of her methods; by never interacting with the ‘subjects’ of a study, it seems as though it would be quite easy to make such qualitative assessments that fail to acknowledge the humanity of the data points. As I read more about the author and her background, I found that her focus is in field of economics, which can have a cold, sterile distance to it, which was the feeling conveyed through this article.

Despite my above sentiments, when I began to reflect on the motivation behind Pivovarova’s work, I see the most noble of intentions behind it. The article intends to dispel current thinking on the linear relationship between the effects peers have on an individual achiever’s learning. This is done in the name of improving school effectiveness and efficiency, with the ultimate goal of improving student achievement.  If current practice dictates that students be grouped into classrooms in a certain way, homogeneously by achievement, for example, and new information suggests that more students would benefit to a greater extent if they were grouped using a different method, then the paper serves to fill an invaluable need that will improve outcomes for a significant number of students, something that has limitless value. An example of this, representing another particular strength of Pivovarova’s (2014) article is the manner through which she debunked an oft-used excuse of educators: the idea that a “bad apple” student can ruin the learning environment for all other students. Her data suggest that an increased number of low-performing students do not, on the whole, negatively impact the outcomes of high achieving students (Pivovarova, 2014). To use data to soundly reject such a dehumanizing (of students) notion is one of my most valuable take-aways from this research.

Through reading this article, I have gained a valuable insight about how I will implement my innovation into my own practice. I hope that collecting data through participative action research and utilizing methods that always actively seek to humanize my participants, my innovations will not reduce the lives and abilities of those involved to mathematical formulas, algorithms, and simple numbers on paper. But rather, that my methods will always refer to the data in ways that respectfully acknowledge the various backgrounds and stories of those involved in the study.


Works Cited:

Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Mary Lou Fulton
Teachers College. Tempe: Arizona State University.

Policing of Native Bodies and Minds

Quijada Cerecer, P. D.  (2013).  The policing of Native bodies and minds:  Perspectives on schooling from American Indian youth.  American Journal of Education, 111(4), p. 591-616.


In Patricia P. Quijada Cerecer’s (2013) article, “The Policing of Native Bodies and Minds:  Perspectives on Schooling from American Indian Youth,” Quijada Cerecer analyzes “how school policies and leadership practices have assimilationist underpinnings that create hostile environments for these youth, negatively affecting their identities as learners.”  Using four of the nine Tribal Critical Race Theory tenets, Quijada analyzed how “colonization is endemic to society,” “U.S. policies toward Indigenous peoples are rooted in imperialism, White supremacy, and a desire for material gain,” Indigenous peoples occupy a liminal space that account for the political and racialized natures of our identities,” and “educational policies toward Indigenous peoples are intimately linked around the problematic goal of assimilation” (Brayboy, 2005).

The study involved 21 high school Pueblo youth (11 female and 10 male).  Participants must be students at the public high school and have lived on or near the reservation for at least 10 years.  The author decided upon this requirement to “capture perspectives of students who had lived on the reservation for most of their lives” (Quijada Cerecer, 2013).  Data was taken from the qualitative study that spanned over the course of 5 years.  The data were collected from interviews, focus groups, and observations with students, families and community members.

Quijada Cerecer said, “the research unveils a narrative that runs counter to the ‘neutral’ tone embedded throughout institutional policies alleging to foster healthy academic identities for all students; instead, the youth’s experiences and voices illustrate how campus climates and institutional policies restrict and control Native students.”  This was supported by the leadership decisions to hire a police officer to work on campus even though there had not been a history of violence or gangs on campus.  It was also supported by the implementation of a dress code, in which all students had to wear khaki pants, and, again, there had never been an issue with gang-related activities.

The study found that “leadership practices and curriculum did not reflect Native views of the world or lived experiences” (Quijada Cerecer, 2013).  This was reflected in Arizona’s banned books initiative, which included some Native American authored books, such as Sherman Alexie.  William, an eleventh grader, also posed important questions to the researcher and his peers, “’Why do we have to learn the White man’s way?  Why can’t we learn our way?’” (Quijada Cerecer, 2013).  Quijada Cerecer wrote, “his question underscores the notion that schools expect Native American youth to learn and adopt a white identity as students learners.  In other words, schools expect Native youth to assimilate.”  She also found that, for the most part, students were not actively involved or encouraged to become involved in ways to improve the school’s policies or leadership activities.


I appreciate Quijada Cerecer’s requirement of having lived on or near the reservation for most of their lives to get a more accurate perspective of what schooling has been like for these students.  I also thought it was a great idea to have the study span over a 5 year time period.  However, I would have liked to read more dialogue that occurred between her and those she interviewed, students, families and community members.  It seems as though she selected snippets that would support her research.  Out of the 21 students who participated less than a handful were presented in her article.  This leaves me wondering if they had seen and felt the same divide as the ones she did include.  Or, if their perspectives did not support her research.

Because I like visuals, I would have liked to see a record of her data, either in the form of a chart, graph, or diagram.  I would imagine that she would have extensive data to share considering her study lasted for 5 years.  I feel like the numbers would have made this article more impactful.  Instead, I feel like she molded her data into what she wanted it to be.   Which led me to question, again and as we have discussed in class on several occasions, is there such a thing as objective research??

Quijada Cerecer mentioned Arizona’s ban on books that was a result of the dismantling of the Mexican American Studies Department in Tucson Unified School District.  However, I questioned whether or not this had an impact in New Mexico.  If not, then why mention it?  Unless it was just to support her research, which led me to wonder if her data was limited or non-existent during the course of her 5-year research.


As I began to read this article, I immediately connected with it because this is something that I am very interested in.  For the purpose of this blog, I did not delve into the story of Mr. Thompson, a white English teacher, because he would have consumed this entire blog.  While I understand Quijada Cerecer’s desire to include his racist perspectives, I wonder about the other teachers.  I wonder if there were other teachers that did their best to include culturally relevant material in their classrooms.  I wonder if other teachers valued their students and built positive relationships with them.

I remember when the controversy with the Mexican American Studies Department in Tucson.  I worked in its sister department, the Native American Studies Department for 4 years.  I saw their classes in action, and it was nothing like it was portrayed by the opposition.  I was saddened when they had to dismantle the program because I knew what the students walked away with.  And, it most definitely was not trying to find ways to overthrow the U.S. government.  They did not walk away with hatred for other races.  They walked away empowered by their culture, knowledge of their own history, and an appreciation for others.

This study has made me think about how I could do something similar with my students, their families and community members.  I am truly interested in learning more about their perspectives and how they have changed over the years, if at all.  One of Quijada Cerecer’s suggestions was to form both student and parent councils that report to an administrator.  I wonder if this is something that my principal or superintendent would be open to doing.  If not, I will find a way to make someone listen.  Our school need a voice.  And, I know my students want to be heard.  I am going to make this happen, one way or another.

Brayboy, B. M. K.  (2005).  Toward a tribal critical race theory in education.  The Urban Review, (37)5, p. 425-446.

Quijada Cerecer, P. D.  (2013).  The policing of Native bodies and minds:  Perspectives on schooling from American Indian youth.  American Journal of Education, 111(4), p. 591-616.

Subjectivity in Social Analysis

Traditional elements of social analysis, particularly ethnography in research include a high level of detachment from the people or group that is being observed. Removal from the context being observed is thought to give the researcher an objective view to record the “truth” of what is being observed. Rosaldo (1993) argues that pure objectivity cannot be achieved and should not be sought after. He made reference to the Horace Miner’s “Body Ritual of the Nacirema,” as a poignant example of the dangers of stark objectivity (pp. 51). He claims that this approach disguises what is really going on and misses the most important elements for observation and analysis (Rosaldo, 1993). What are the most important elements for observation and analysis then? One important element is self recognition of your own culture and experiences. Or in other words, what makes you know what you know. According to Rosaldo (1993), what you observe as truth in ethnography has a lot to do with your backgrounds, identities, and interactions within your context. Rosaldo (1993), places importance on this recognition of self as you interact with what you are studying. Another important element is the power of the analysis and views, and reflections from the people or groups that you are observing. Who else would know more about their situations than the people that are living them? He warns that excluding the voice of the observed participants, “fails to provide the participants’ reflections in their own experiences.” (Rosaldo, 1993, pp. 51) This may lead to incorrect generalizations of cultures, events, and situations.

I can only see benefit in including a level of subjectivity in ethnographic types of research. According to Crow’s New American College ideologies (2002), “We measure ourselves by those we include, not by those we exclude”. Excluding the thoughts, and stories or research participants only stands to exclude and marginalize them. If we take into consideration how our experiences or lack of them may create biases when we are trying so hard to be objective researchers and we consider the views and reflections of those being observed, the result will be the truthful depiction of what is being studied. When we are exposing truth in research, we create opportunities to tear down walls of oppression based on ignorance or false perceptions. I am not saying that objectivity is harmful; I just see Rosaldo’s vision of social analysis as a way to give a voice to the voiceless and report truth. Our research should focus on access, accessibility, and impact. Keeping this in mind, our research should tell the stories accurately so we can clearly respect those in which we are trying to learn about in order to make an impact that will be positive in nature.


Arizona State University. (2002). A new American university: The new gold standard. Retrieved from http://www.asu.edu/inaugural/address/.

Rosaldo, R. (1993). Culture & Truth: The remaking of social analysis. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.




Branding at Embry-Riddle

Curtis, T., Abratt, R., & Minor, W. (2009). Corporate brand management in higher education: the case of ERAU. Journal of Product & Brand Management, 18(6), 404–413. doi:10.1108/10610420910989721

“Corporate Brand Management in Higher Education: The Case of ERAU” is a good primer on branding a higher education institution.  The article is easy to read, well organized, and has appropriate headings.  Included in the article is an extensive and clearly presented literature review with an overview of corporate branding as well as how this concept and the concepts of corporate identity and corporate image can be used in higher education.  The rationale for adopting corporate brand management in higher education is comprehensive and straightforward.  Regarding contribution to field, this article is helpful for institutions that don’t have much experience in branding, particularly those that are considering starting a branding initiative.  I don’t believe the information in the article is strong enough to change the mind of skeptics who believe branding is incompatible with academic principles and values.

The theoretical framework for the research is informed by the perspectives provided regarding how corporate branding, corporate identity, and corporate image relate to higher education.  This is helpful because the information presented is applicable to most businesses and institutions including colleges and universities.

A qualitative approach with a single case study method was used for the research.  Data was collected from a variety of sources including secondary sources (e.g., university documents and Web site, archival data) and interviews of top university administrators.  A discussion document focused on brand management was drawn up for the interviews based on the literature review.  Open ended questions for administrators were focused on identifying the purpose of the corporate brand management process and logistics.  This approach is appropriate due to the complexity of the process, multiple and dynamic variables involved, and numerous participants on the initiative.

Corporate Branding in Higher Education

Corporate brands should be true, meaningful to the target audience, and distinct from the competition. Target audiences in higher education might include prospective and current students, parents, faculty and staff, alumni, community stakeholders, and the general public.  A brand can also incorporate “belonging.” This is important in higher education where graduates may identify with the brand of their school throughout their life. University brands may include a variety of quantitative measures to position themselves compared to competitors such as faculty research productivity, student scores on entrance exams, selectivity of admissions, and starting salary of graduates.  Qualitative measures used for positioning may include the perceptions of the university’s target audiences.  Branding is not only the responsibility of the school’s marketing department.  A successful brand requires alignment of all the university’s resources.  The quality of the institution’s faculty and research, the programs offered, the service provided to students, and the physical attributes of the campus and facilities should all express and reinforce the brand.

Corporate Identity and Image for Higher Education

Corporate identity is the portion of the brand that is created by internal stakeholders.  In higher education these identities should position the school appropriately in the marketplace, be accepted by society, and create a consistent image among stakeholders.   Previously, corporate identity used to be limited to visual identifications and logos but has now evolved to include how the school’s employees behave and interact with those outside of the institution.

Corporate image is how those outside the institution (including external stakeholders) view the school.  For comparison, corporate identity is “what the school wants to be” and corporate image is “what the school is perceived to be.”  Corporate image is the result of corporate branding.  Improving image is no easy task because of the diversity of multiple stakeholders and effects of many factors including organizational, situational, personal, business, and regulatory.

The case at Embry-Riddle

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is a well-known institution specializing in aviation and aerospace education with about 34,000 students on two residential campuses, online, and at training facilities around the world.  With the leadership of a new president in 2006, the university embarked on a corporate brand management initiative to facilitate additional expansion of the school outside of the United States market.  A substantial challenge was the lack of unity among university constituencies with regard to the brand, image, and identity that the school should have to maintain or improve its existing competitive advantage while expanding programs and research domestically and internationally.

For corporate brand management, the marketing proposed a new website, some program marketing, and developing corporate brand positioning.  The information provided about the website and program marketing activities was basic.  Developing a new website is commonplace in higher education institutions whether or not they embrace branding and the program marketing example was unsophisticated.  The information about developing the corporate brand position illustrated some of the strategic complexity associated with defining a brand.  Should Embry-Riddle broaden its position to become a premium provider of comprehensive education or should they focus their efforts on building on their existing strengths in the domestic and international markets?  These questions are of critical importance and once the brand position is defined it should drive organizational focus and resources.

The next step in the process was to conduct a brand audit.  The article had worthwhile information about the internal and external groups that were to participate and about a brand positioning process model that was used.  There are three measures in a brand audit: awareness, key attributes, and relationship outcomes.  Awareness was measured among key segments in geographical areas. Key attributes were measured as percentages for geographical segments such as, “Embry-Riddle has a broad selection of programs (to meet a variety of needs)” or “Embry-Riddle helps you get a job or advance your career.”  Relational outcomes were measured as percentages for geographic segments among key prospective student groups.  Examples of questions to measure relational outcomes are: “Would you consider Embry-Riddle if you were planning to obtain an aviation/aerospace or general education?” and “Would you advise a co-worker, family member or a friend to consider Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University if they were planning to obtain an aviation/aerospace education or general education?”

Information in the article about the rest of the corporate brand management process was limited. The results of the brand audit are used to generate a concept, which in turn is used to develop the university brand positioning statement.  In the next phase the positioning statement is tested among key stakeholders.  Based on the feedback the formal university positioning statement is created.  The final phase of the process is to develop the marketing campaign based on the statement and determining metrics to evaluate the brand on a regular (in this case annual) basis.

My view

The authors utilized a comprehensive literature review to provide a strong rationale for why institutions of higher learning should articulate and manage their brand.  I liked their use of “corporate” to modify the terms of branding, identity, and image.  In this way, they communicated that the concepts they are recommending for higher education are the same that have been used successfully in businesses and other organizations.  I had high hopes that the case study would provide information regarding the challenges and opportunities faced by the university and substantive implications for developing and managing a brand.  The research did provide helpful information about branding process used by the university but little about the position developed or the lessons learned about the process, both of which were beyond the scope of the study.  What university positioning did Embry-Riddle develop? How was it implemented? Was it effective?

It would have also been helpful to include information from the contrary viewpoint that sees branding as unsuited for higher education.  Individuals with this viewpoint have strong positions that can derail a well-intended branding effort.  Developing a compelling brand for a university is an important and difficult challenge.  Even with an elegant process, there are going to be bumps along the way.

Preparing teachers for diversity

Multicultural education knowledgebase, attitudes and preparedness for diversity by Teresa Wasonga

Wasonga, T. A. (2005). Multicultural education knowledgebase, attitudes and preparedness for diversity. The International Journal of Educational Management, 19(1), 67-74. Retrieved from http://login.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/229173969?accountid=4485


Over the last four school years, budget crisis, school closings and boundary rezoning have greatly altered the demographics of the school where I teach English language learners.  Participation in free and reduced-fee lunch programs has more than doubled from 27.2% to 70.1%; students that speak a language other than English at home increased from 10.5% to 34%; and the number of minority students grew from 38.7 % to 68.4%.  These rapid changes have left my school challenged to meet the needs of this newly diverse population. Through my action research, I want to study, develop and implement multicultural educational practices to improve the equity of students’ access to academic and social resources at our school.  This paper investigates the effects on attitudes and feelings of preparedness of pre-service teachers after taking a class in multicultural education to prepare them to teach diverse groups of students.

In 2005, Teresa Wasonga associate professor of leadership, educational philosophy and foundations at Northern Illinois University conducted a research study to determine the impact multicultural knowledge has on attitudes of pre-service teachers.  With the passing of time, student populations across the United States have become increasingly diverse. According to the study, the pool of new teachers is increasingly white, female, and middle class. The study questions how future teachers should be best prepared to successfully impact educational achievement for diverse students.  Watonga’s definition of diverse students includes “aspects of ethnicity, language, socioeconomic class, learning styles, disabilities, sexual orientation, race, and gender.”(Wasonga, p.67).

“The question in this study was to establish a nexus among multicultural knowledge, multicultural attitudes, and feeling prepared to teach children from diverse backgrounds.”(Wasonga, p.71). The second fundamental question was how much knowledge base in multicultural education and personal interactions with diverse cultures pre-service teachers need in order to alter their attitudes and feelings of preparedness about working with diverse students.

The subjects of the research were from three classes of senior year pre-service Caucasian female teachers, average age 23, enrolled in “Multiculturalism in education” a 500 level course at a Mid-west university.  They all took pre- and post-tests. Questionnaires included Multicultural Content Test-Educational (MCCT-E) to assess their knowledge, Multicultural Questionnaire (MC) to measure attitudes about educational diversity issues nationally and internationally, and a Preparedness Survey (PS) to rate pre-service teachers’ feeling of preparedness to work with diverse students. Descriptive statistics were used for data analysis. Researchers were looking for growth during one semester.

Findings from the post-tests showed that the one semester course in Multiculturalism in education increased the pre-service teachers’ knowledge about multiculturalism.  Also, pre-service teachers reported feeling more confident about working with diverse learners, except for children from same gender parents.  There was low to no correlation between multicultural knowledge and attitudes.  There were also no correlations between attitudes and preparedness to teach children from diverse backgrounds. The growth in knowledgebase did not have a direct effect on the pre-service teachers’ attitudes or beliefs about multiculturalism.

The author concluded from the research that a knowledgebase in multiculturalism is not enough to strongly influence teachers’ attitudes or change their practices. Wasonga refers to other studies that encourage strategies like personal experiences, sustained interaction with diverse students and extensive study of issues about diversity as means of impacting pre-service teachers’ attitudes and beliefs. (Gay,2002;King,1991;Schoorman,2002;Watts,1984.)

The article ends with suggestions for future teacher education programs. More integrated methods of teaching multiculturalism  should be included for pre-service teachers.  Wasonga also suggests authentic, direct, and significant interactions with diverse students.

I chose this article because I was curious about how effective learning about multicultural education would be in changing teacher’s attitudes about diverse students.  Based on the results of the study knowledge is not everything.  If I conducted a similar study among teachers at my school, I am curious about how daily interaction with diverse students, while learning about multiculturalism would shape their attitudes and practices.

The research methods were straight forward, clear, and detailed enough to duplicate.  I question the use of such a segregated population of all white young female students.  The group was so homogenous, that I also question if the research results could be applied to all pre-service teachers.  The population of my school is mostly white females with about ten percent of the teachers being male. There are no minority teachers or administrations. Some support staff members are minorities. The biggest diversity among teachers is in age and life and teaching experience among the teachers. Still, I was shocked that among the three graduating classes of pre-service teachers in this study all participants were all white, female, and around twenty-three years old. Would the findings have been different if the pre-service teachers group included a wider range of ages and was mixed with males?  How would the results from minority pre-service teachers vary from the all white group?

With widening gaps in achievement between minority and white students schools are scrambling to meet the needs of struggling students.  How can we create equity in our academic settings for all students? “To meet this challenge, teachers must employ not only theoretically sound but also culturally responsive pedagogy. Teachers must create a classroom culture where all students, regardless of their cultural and linguistic background, are welcomed and supported and provided with the best opportunity to learn.” (Richards, Brown, Forde, 2007).Pre-service teachers need to be exposed to multicultural education in more than just one course. Pre-service teachers need to not only read about, but experience firsthand through visiting, volunteering, and meaningful interactions with members from the communities where their future students live.  Experiences will help pre-service teachers confront fears, misconceptions, and prejudices they may hold.  The demographics of teachers and students should not be so disparate. Teacher Colleges should be filled with a heterogeneous grouping of pre-service teachers from diverse backgrounds.


Gay, G. (2002). Preparing For Culturally Responsive Teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53(2), 106-116.


Jones, R. L. (1984). Attitudes and attitude change in special education: theory and practice. Reston, Va.: Council for Exceptional Children.


King, J. E. (1991). Dysconscious Racism: Ideology, Identity, and the Miseducation of Teachers. The Journal of Negro Education, 60(2), 133.


Richards, H. V., Brown, A. F., & Forde, T. B. (2007).

Addressing diversity in schools: culturally responsive      pedagogy. Teaching Exceptional Children, 39(3), 64-68.


Schoorman, D. (2002). Increasing Critical Multicultural Understanding Via Technology: “Teachable Moments” in a University-School Partnership Project. Journal of Teacher Education, 53(4), 356-369.


Watts, W.A. (1984), “Attitude change: theories and methods”, in Jones, R.L(Ed.) Attitudes and attitude change in special education: theory and practice. Reston, Va.: Council for Exceptional Children. Pp. 41-69.





‘High ability’ does not equal ‘high achieving’

In the article “Should We Track or Should We Mix Them?” (Pivovarova, 2014), the issue of class tracking is tackled. Though I fear this will be a controversial statement, to put it in more simple terms, this article sought to answer whether its okay for the ‘smart’ kids to be together in one class and have a separate class for the ‘slower’ kids. As a teacher, this is a question that I have been struggling with for the past seven years, and truthfully, I still do not have a clear answer. I can see both sides. I get the argument that Pivovarova (2014) summarizes that ability tracking allows teachers to specialize, meaning that they can really individualize the curriculum and instruction for the particular ability of their students. In this model, teachers can more efficiently plan lessons that align to student needs and more easily pace the curriculum.

I myself have benefited from ability tracking as a teacher. When I taught 7th grade English language arts, I had a group of the ‘high ability’ students in one class and ‘low ability’ students in another class. Just as a side note, I will not refer to the high ability group as the high achieving students, because that implies that all high ability students are high achieving students, which I can assure you is definitely not true. Anyway, within this context, it was very easy for me to form a rigorous curriculum for my higher ability students specifically. Throughout that process, I realized that there were modifications that I could make to make my instruction as strong for the lower ability students and get them to reach the same outcomes. I had much more guided practice of the instructional objective for that day with my lower ability group. I chunked out larger pieces of text so they were not overwhelmed by so many words on the page. They were doing the same work and taking the same tests, but the strategies I used were unique to the ability level of the group. To be truthful, I felt like I was a better teacher with my lower ability group. The achievement level in my lower ability class was equivalent to my high ability class, making the need for these ability groups fairly obsolete the following year.

Pivovarova (2014), however, argues that though there can be benefits to ability tracking, overall, it negatively affects lower ability students. Previous literature that she reviewed asserts this, though I am a bit skeptical about what data suggests that. There was some research that suggested that there was no positive or negative effect from tracking and some that suggested tracking was a positive thing. From my own experience, I really think the effectiveness of ability tracking as to do with how well the teacher is at ensuring that all classes are getting the same curriculum and being held to the same high standards. Another point that I most definitely agree with Pivovarova (2014) on is that the effectiveness of this model has a lot to do with peer interactions. For me personally, I think I was successful because I had students engage in the same projects and discussions, no matter what class there were in. Though, I cannot ignore the fact that the author brings up that having high achievers is good for everyone and low-achievers are not harmful to achievement of everyone else (Pivovarova, 2014), I question this notion that low-achievers and low-ability are synonymous. One of the reasons why I believe my ‘low-ability’ class was so successful was due to certain students being able to really shine. They proved that they were and could be consistently high achieving because they had the confidence to move up and be considered one of those higher ability students within this group of peers. They were not lost and timid to speak up, unlike when they were in the same setting as the higher ability students. So, though I definitely see the argument for not tracking, I do not agree that high ability means that you are high achieving and vice versa.

I also assure you that I do not love the term ‘low ability’ but have yet to find a great alternative; hope everyone can give me the benefit of the doubt here.


Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.  Tempe: Arizona State University.

Some good can come from this

Kevin was not the name of my sixth grade bully – it is the name I’ll use here to reflect upon him, though. I could just as easily call him Voldemort, the dark lord, or he who will not be named. Yes, I have been watching and reading a lot of Harry Potter this summer with my children in between all the readings and papers in the three doctoral classes I’m taking right now.

harry pI’ll never forget Kevin. He was the new kid back in sixth grade. He was the bully. He was the boy who was constantly in trouble. And, he was the boy who struggled to read. I learned a lot from Kevin that school. It was his one and only year at my school, and in that year, I learned a lot about what not to do. When I think back upon Kevin, there was real value in me knowing him because his behavior reinforced all of the good things I’ve been taught by him doing the opposite. Kevin wasn’t the only “Kevin” in my school career. He and people like him taught me a lot over the years, and I wonder who I’d be today if all my classes were homogenized, and I wasn’t able take classes with all of those Kevins.

Schools, it seems, are trending towards classroom grouping.  Any given fourth grade at any given grammar school might have its “high-achieving” class, its group of middle or average students grouped together, and a “low achieving” class.  The thinking, of course, behind this grouping is that it allows teachers to concentrate their teaching on all the low students at once or all the high.  No longer would a teacher have to teach multiple lessons at once considering both his or her high group and low group in the context of a single lesson.  This seems much easier for teachers.  It seems as if these manufactured, homogeneous classes would benefit learners as well, but do they?

Is there value in having “slow kids” in your classroom if you are a high-achieving student?  Do heterogeneous classrooms further learning for low-achievers since they can learn and model themselves after some of the higher achievers in the class?  If schools and teachers edit out all types of heterogeneous-ness to coin a phrase, does that ultimately benefit learners?

I think of classrooms from 50 or 60 years ago.  There wasn’t a movement back then to mix classrooms according to standardized test data.  All sections of fourth grade classrooms at that same hypothetical school referenced prior were mixed up randomly in that era.  This may have been okay because schools tended to me more homogeneous themselves back then.  Now, with immigration, refugee populations, and more movement from state to state than prior, schools are decidedly more heterogeneous.

Pivovarova’s “Should we track or should we mix them?” explores issues related to the “to be or not to be” of the current state of education. Pivovarova (2014) starts with this premise, “The standard argument in favour of tracking is that it is easier to teach a group with small variance of abilities” (p. 2). It does follow logically that tracking does make teaching easier. The question that then arises is: are things that are easier for teachers necessarily better for students? Pivovarova goes on with her studies and uses mathematical formulas to advance arguments on whether or not schools should track. She (2014) writes, “To put the numbers into perspective, a high-achiever being surrounded by good peers gains a quarter of standard deviation in test score for every standard deviation increase in the average ability of classmates, while a low-achiever gains 0.15 of standard deviation – still a sizable improvement” (p. 16). The numbers seem clear here. High-achievers make everything better. Still, high-achieving students are a limited resource in classrooms. Is it better to group them to promote the learning of all high achievers or should they be better “utilized” helping low-achieving students – and, is that even ethical, to use high-achievers consciously to better other students? Pivovarova (2014) relates, “For instance, a teacher might need to adjust her instruction to tailor it to the largest share of students in class – the high achievers. That might have an adverse impact on low achievers and even on the average students. At the same time, if there are spillovers from good students, then a larger share of high-achievers would have a positive impact on everyone in the classroom” (p.18). These decisions remind me a lot of playing chess, or possibly there are the decisions a general would make in war. How do schools and teachers best utilize their students to best promote growth in classrooms?

I do not envy these types of administrative decisions. I almost couldn’t blame them if they all just decided to randomize classes again if only for the ease of it all. Again, though, I do think there is value in this type of randomization. I probably wouldn’t have met Kevin otherwise, and in doing so, I may not have learned all those valuable lessons of what not to do.


Pivovarova, Margarita (2014). Should we track or should we mix them?

Uncertainties at Camp

This week I am blogging from Prescott, Arizona: land of cool breezes, tall pines, and intermittent wireless. Each year I have the amazing opportunity to act as dean for the 3rd through 6th graders at our church’s week-long camp. It is so much fun to see these desert kids experience squirrels and stars and nature for the first time. One of the biggest things I run into each year is helping kids learn how to work together. (And, yes, I am thankful when this is the biggest problem!) The kids aren’t used to solving problems on their own, or having to work with people they don’t know very well – especially when there isn’t a teacher walking around to guide every step. It is really fun to watch them realize that there are a lot of ways to solve problems. Sometimes there’s not a “right” or “wrong” way – they just need to find a solution.

So reading Jordan’s and McDaniels’s (2014) “Managing Uncertainty During Collaborative Problem Solving in Elementary School Teams : The Role of Peer Influence in Robotics Engineering Activity” was really timely!

In this article, Jordan and McDaniel explore how students display, react to, and resolve uncertainty in themselves and others, especially in situations where there aren’t right/wrong answers. They defined uncertainty as any time a student expressed doubt, was unsure of something, or wondered about something. They specifically watched how students express uncertainty to their peers, rather than to a teacher. They found that there tended to be two types of uncertainty: “content uncertainty (pertaining to the problem to be solved) and relational uncertainty (pertaining to interactional challenges and opportunities, including issues of identity related to one’s self and one’s partners)” (Jordan & Mcdaniel, 2014, p. 8).

In cataloging peer responses, Jordan and McDonald found that peers tended to respond in either a supportive or unsupportive way. When peers acknowledged their own uncertainties about the same question or were able to answer the question, it was considered supportive. Other times, peers made fun of the student expressing uncertainty or ignored the question. These were considered unsupportive, which makes sense!
With this in mind, I have been observing how students solve problems at camp. Sometimes these occur during group activities led by a leader. More often than not, though, I hear social uncertainties happening during unstructured times (i.e. free time, meals, etc).
One of the greatest parts of camp is trying new things and making new friends. But for kiddos who have difficulty building relationships, it’s often one of the most troubling parts. Every year there are students like Charlie* and Luis – best friends since forever. Another student, Mark, is also in their group. He is new to church and has really hit it off with Charlie. Yay! Except that Luis doesn’t make friends as easily, and has trouble handling more than one friend at a time. He is very uncertain as to his place in this new relationship dynamic. At times, he expresses himself quite plainly. He asks Charlie if they are still friends, or says to Mark, “I don’t like it that you’re at camp; you stole my best friend.” Inappropriate? Probably. But a pretty clear indication that he is uncertain of his part in the dynamic!

Other times it seems to be more subtle. Luis acts out more than usual, or he says passive aggressive things against Charlie and Mark during group discussions. Less direct, but as I considered “uncertainties,” it seems just as clear to me.

Keeping this idea in mind has helped me to better respond to these group dynamics. There are times that Mark and Charlie are actually really supportive – they want Luis to hang out with them (Luis just has a hard time with two people). Other times, especially as we move later into the week, they are getting more annoyed so their responses are less supportive. They are ignoring Luis or responding with unkind words.

I have found it helpful to reinforce their supportive responses when I hear them. And when I hear their not-so-supportive responses, I can suggest other ways they could be more kind. I have also been able to help identify with Luis why he might be acting this way. Not because he’s mad at Charlie, but because he’s just not sure what this means for his and Charlie’s friendship after camp. When I asked if that might be part of it, his eyes lit up and I could almost see the lightbulb go off. It opened a whole new conversation, and has really helped him in times of subsequent uncertainty.

At the end of their article, Jordan and McDaniel suggest some next steps to consider, and they were right in line with my questions as I was reading. I wondered if anyone has ever tried to specifically teach kids how to express and recognize uncertainties or how to handle it when they recognize it in someone else. It sounds like there have been some studies looking at individual pieces, but there hasn’t been one to see if teaching the whole “big picture” would be helpful in the long run.

In the short term, though, even just helping Luis recognize it is starting to help his relationship with Charlie and Mark!

*Names have been changed

Jordan, M. E., & Mcdaniel, R. R. (2014). Managing Uncertainty During Collaborative Problem Solving in Elementary School Teams : The Role of Peer Influence in Robotics Engineering Activity. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 00(2002), 1–47.

Changing the conversation, challenging the hegemony

A number of scholars are changing the conversation on race and, in so doing, challenging the hegemony.  These scholars are eloquently  pointing out how biases among dominant groups in academia have led to limiting the conversation on race and, consequently, limiting understandings of racial inequality and injustices.  With powerful and thought-provoking rhetoric coupled with well-documented research, these scholars are shaking up the academic enterprise.

In the first chapter of White logic, White methods: Racism and methodology, Tukufu Zuberi and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva (2008) examine the dangerous effects that bias and misconceptions of race prevalent among white researchers can have on the research questions they ask, the methods they employ, the results they obtain, and even their interpretation of their results.  As Zuberi notes:

Data do not tell us a story.  We use data to craft a story that comports with our understanding of the world.  If we begin with a racially biased view of the world, then we will end with a racially biased view of what the data have to say. (p. 7)

Zuberi also observes that many researchers erroneously attempt to study the “effect of race” (p. 8) as if race was a causal factor for various outcomes; this is erroneous because, as Zuberi explains, race in and of itself does not cause anything.  Rather, the true causes of differential experiences and societal disparities are the various forms of racism and bias.

Critical race theorists also provide compelling arguments against the dangers of only considering society through the lens of hegemonic norms.  Tara J. Yosso (2005) describes how privileging only one dominant (white) form of cultural capital has led to a deficit framing of the experience of non-dominant groups.  Yasso then names six forms of cultural wealth common in communities of color: aspirational capital, familial capital, social capital, navigational capital, resistant capital, and linguistic capital.

As a Latino scholar who is committed to social justice and to utilizing research and education to advance social justice, I am excited about and grateful for the bold work being done to change the conversation and challenge the hegemony.  Too often, students of color and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are viewed as being disadvantaged because they don’t have the forms of cultural capital that those in power deem valuable and necessary.  Rather than view these students as “less than”, we should celebrate, value, and tap into their unique forms of cultural wealth.

I’m particularly encouraged to see scholars such as Yosso, Zuberi, and Bonilla-Silva advocating for dominant-identity researchers to critically reflect on their personal biases and to question how their perspectives influence their research.  Too often, only those with oppressed identities are made to justify their work or explain the impact of their identities on their practice.  As Bonilla-Silva demonstrated, researchers of color are interrogated about the identities of their data coders.  Similarly, female Supreme Court Justices such as Sandra Day O’Connor and Sonia Sotomayor had to field questions about how their gender affects their decision-making on the bench; such questions are never posed to males. LGBTQ scholars sometimes need to defend their very existence.  Imagine heterosexual people being expected to complete the Heterosexual Questionnaire on a regular basis.

With the excellent consciousness-raising work being done by scholars such as Yosso, Zuberi, and Bonilla-Silva, I am hopeful that, in time, we will see profound changes in research on and understandings of race and social justice.

Yosso, T.J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community and cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 1(8), 69-91.

Zuberi, T. & Bonilla-Silva, E. (2008). White logic, White methods: Racism and methodology. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

The Uncertainty of a New Environment

As I read Michelle E. Jordan and Reuben R. McDaniel, Jr.’s (2014) article, “Managing Uncertainty During Collaborative Problem Solving in Elementary School Teams:  The Role of Peer Influence in Robotics Engineering Activity, I began to reflect on how I have dealt with uncertainty from kindergarten until now, a current doctoral student.  Jordan and McDaniel (2014) define uncertainty as “an individual’s subjective experience of doubting, being unsure, or wondering about how the future will unfold, what the present means, or how to interpret the past.”

All of this brought me back to the 5th grade, when I had attended 5 different elementary schools!  Yes, FIVE!  Two in Houston and 3 in Phoenix.  I spent kindergarten through 4th grade in the same school so making the transition to a new school, in a new state, terrified me.  But, because I did not have a say in the matter, I walked into my new 5th grade class.  It was definitely a culture shock.  I thought there was no way for sure that I would ever fit in…we were so different.  Jordan and McDaniel (2014) stated, “social interaction is a primary means of expressing uncertainty and can also be a source of uncertainty.”

I remember all of the students listening to my every word.  I did not understand why, but they just kept asking me question after question about where I came from.  But, then a boy asked me, “why do you talk so funny?”  Me?  I talked funny?  Are you kidding me?  Have you heard what YOU sound like?  And, that is the first time I remember feeling out of place.

From there, it just got worse.  My neighbor downstairs asked me if I wanted to go play with her in the bayou and catch crawdads.  I didn’t know what a bayou or a crawdad was…but, I didn’t say that I didn’t know.  I just said, “sure.”  As Jordan and McDaniel (2014) would say, my uncertainty stemmed from my “partial knowledge and understanding” (I knew that it was going to involve “playing”) and “the negotiation of social roles” (I just wanted to make a new friend).  When we got to the bayou, I was confused.  Then, my neighbor skidded down the side of it and began running her hands through the water.  She picked up some creature and popped it into a jar.  Yep, that was the crawdad.  Talk about weird!  But, you know what?  After a few weeks of refusing to step foot in that bayou and try and catch crawdads it became my new favorite thing to do!  Go figure!  After reading Jordan and McDaniel (2014), it appears that I had received some support from my peer and was able to learn from her that it was the “cool” thing to do.

Then came the biggest culture shock of them all…line dancing!  I didn’t have the slightest idea of what it was and this was actually a part of our school day.  I remember watching from the sidelines and I did not have the slightest idea what they were doing.  I even asked my teacher if I had to learn how to line dance.  And, I got a very firm, “yes.”  I stumbled my way through line dancing and, eventually, I actually became good at it.

And, then, WHAM!, I was hit with another foreign task…SQUARE dancing!  Except this was different…I had to dance with someone else…a boy!  Not only was I faced with “content uncertainty,” but “relational uncertainty” as well (Jordan & McDaniel, 2014).  Like line dancing, I hadn’t the slightest idea what it was, and I remember wondering why would anyone want to dance in a square?  On top of that, I had never danced with anyone before.  I tried to avoid participating for a couple of days and asked if I could just watch.  Once I understood the lingo, I was able to start to make a connection with the content.  I practiced what I remembered at home.  But, once I began participating, it was clear that I had no idea what I was doing.  I stuck out like a sore thumb.  I remember some kids making fun of me because the girl from Arizona didn’t know how to square dance.  I remember some of the boys saying that they didn’t want to be my partner because I couldn’t dance.  The unsupportive responses (Jordan & McDaniel, 2014).  But, I also remember the boys and girls who volunteered to be my partner.  I remember them walking me through every move of every song until I got the hang of it.  The supportive responses (Jordan & McDaniel, 2014).  And, eventually, I did, but it definitely wasn’t my cup of tea.

Later that year, we finally moved back to Arizona because my mom couldn’t take being in Texas anymore.  Thank goodness!  Looking back on it now, while I was back in familiar territory, I ended up attending three different schools in two very different areas of town.  I wish I remembered more about what I experienced in those schools, but it was one crazy school year and everything is a bit hazy.  But, I will never forget learning about bayous, crawdads, line dancing and square dancing!

Jordan, M.E. and R.R. McDaniel, Jr.  (2014).  Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams:  The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity.  The Journal of the Learning Sciences.  (00)0, p. 1-47.

That came out of left field!

Jordan, M., McDaniel, Jr., R.R. (2014). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: the role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity. The Journal of the Learning Sciences. 0(0), 1-47.

Yosso*, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69-91.

That came out of left field!

The articles that resonated with me this week are surprising to say the least. The first article that grabbed my attention was Jordan & McDaniel’s Managing Uncertainty During Collaborative Problem Solving in Elementary School teams: The Role of Peer Influence in Robotics Engineering Activity. This article focuses on the reasons why uncertainty can arise for an individual in various settings and also how those individuals cope with feelings of uncertainty. One other novel element about this text, is that it follows the causes of uncertainty and the coping mechanisms of 5th grade students in relation to their collaborative peers. The causes of uncertainty can come from the content or the relationships within the collaborative group. This particular article really struck me as I started to consider the content of the article through the lens of leadership. As an educator and leader within our communities of practice, it would be important and beneficial to be familiar with this information and its implications. Jordan & McDaniel (2014) state that some types of uncertainty can be good for a group because it can increase creativity and innovation. Other sources of uncertainty could be damaging to a group and its productivity because it pulls attention away from creativity and innovation. As the leader in a community of practice, I would want to be engaging the learning community in the examination of this research and the direct utilization of it to define better harnessing this “sustained” productive uncertainty.
Yosso’s article entitled, Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth, was a great article because of what it spoke about. For all the years that I’ve had in the classroom, I have heard countless educators critique my students’ parents or their students’ parents on all the things they are doing wrong in regards to parenting or what they lack. It seems that I’m more apt to hear why a parent is bad or can’t help their student at all rather than colleagues expounding on all of the essential and unique information that parents and students carry with them. It painfully reminds me of when I hear colleagues speak about their ELL students as if they have no knowledge or information at all and are a complete “tabula rasas” (or blank slates).
One of the other points of agreement that I had within this article, came from two quotes from outside this article. “We need to de-academize theory and to connect the community to the academy (Anzaldua, 1990). Now that I’ve concluded my third year working within higher education, I’m constantly plagued by the concept of community benefited research. Who could really use this new knowledge and put it to the most, good use? If we are educational researchers and our findings from our work never reach or positively benefit students, what good is that research? I’ll conclude with one last quote from this particular article and a comment. This quote is simple yet powerful and to me speaks to the importance of not only publishing our work and knowledge, but ensuring that it leaves the minimally intended impact on the target audience. “Change requires more than words on a page–it takes perseverance, creative ingenuity and acts of love “ (Azaldua, 2002). I truly believe that quote speaks to the short and long-term tribulations, responsibilities, and joys of being an educational researcher. Well, being new to this role, I hope it does.

Anzaldua, G. (1990). Haciendo caras/making face, making soul: creative and critical perspectives by women of color. (San Francisco, CA, Aunt Lute Press).

Anzaldua, G. (2002). Now let us shift…the path of conocomiento…inner work, public acts, in: G. Anzaldua & A. Keating (eds). This bridge we call come: radical visions for transformation (New York, Routledge), 540-578.

Embrace uncertainty in and across communities of practice to promote learning and innovation

Uncertainty is an inevitable feature of collaborative complex problem-solving efforts. Though uncomfortable, the presence of uncertainty in “learning communities” may facilitate productive collaboration and learning if managed supportively by individuals and by peers in the community.  Jordan and McDaniel (2014) urge leaders in education to pay attention to uncertainty in the context of youth collaboration, as an important element in instructional design and facilitating problem-solving activities (including action research) among peers.  They write “that when uncertainty is experienced and expressed in conjunction with peer support, then uncertainty generates a platform for learning. This is because as these activities come together in the same space, students find themselves engaged in complex patterns of social interaction that facilitate learning: explaining, critiquing, elaborating, and generating multiple representations and methods” (Jordan & Mcdaniel, 2014, p. 34).


Communities of practice engaged in “ambiguous and intractably complex contexts,” which, in the study the authors conducted, refer to controlled groupings of 5th grade students focused on a cross-disciplinary engineering based project, may in fact benefit from uncertainty.  Pushing back against the presupposition that uncertainty ought to be prevented or that deliberative processes ought to be shielded from its presence to make way for a successful learning experience, Jordan and McDaniel put forth that not only may uncertainty “foster innovation and promote learning,” “generating uncertainty can facilitate the reorganization of current beliefs, values and conceptions” (Jordan & Mcdaniel, 2014, p. 4).  How the roles within communities of practices negotiate uncertainties and wrestle with the tension between “competences” and “experiences” both within and across the boundaries, may have important implications.  “Innovative learning” may require a “divergence” of experiences and competences, Wenger (2000) postulates; this involves “active boundary processes” that, by nature, involve uncertainty.


As a graduate student, I participated on a National Science Foundation grant-funded project implemented by the Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC), an institute made possible by the Decision Making Under Uncertainty initiative.  My work focused on an interactive model, WaterSim in the Decision Theater, which “was analyzed as a hybrid boundary object embedded within a boundary organization designed to link science and policy to improve environmental decision-making under conditions of uncertainty” (White, Wutich, Larson, Gober, Lant, Senneville, 2010, p. 230).  We developed a conceptual framework for analyzing WaterSim’s utility as a decision support tool, or boundary object, on the basis of its credibility, saliency, and legitimacy to stakeholders.


Relevant “boundaries,” in this case, are at the interfaces of the knowledges and ways of knowing within the scientific community and among policy makers across different scales.  Uncertainty, in the discourse of decision-making for sustainability is manageable only to the degree leaders acknowledge and, ultimately, embrace uncertainty as integral to planning for sustainability.  (A favorable articulation of “sustainability” is made by Dr. Charles Redman, Founding Director and Professor, School of Sustainability: “Sustainability is an awareness of the connectivity of the world and the implications of our actions. It is finding solutions through innovative approaches, expanding future options by practicing environmental stewardship, building governance institutions that continually learn, and instilling values that promote justice” [http://schoolofsustainability.asu.edu/about/what-is-sustainability.php]).


In a sense, the intent of WaterSim is as a “boundary object,” involved in active boundary management, to better connect the policy and science communities of practice, e.g. local water managers and academic water scientists.  Both communities are working under conditions of uncertainty – e.g. fluctuating budgets, a receding water table, climatic change, and rapid urbanization’s local landscape and population transformation – but must converge as the production of knowledge in one community becomes relevant and important to the action another community must and is obligated to take.  Boundary objects, or “artifacts (things, tools, terms, representations, etc.),” are among the ways Wenger (2000) proposes the boundaries of communities of practice can be “bridged” for “the coherent functioning of social learning systems” (23).  “Conceptualizing collaborative problem solving as a process of negotiating uncertainties [and “recogniz[ing] the importance of interdependencies] can help [leaders] shape tasks and relational contexts to facilitate learning,” conclude Jordan and McDaniel (2014, p. 36).  This lesson is salient for constructing contexts supportive of decision-making for sustainability, as well as for complex collaborative cross-curricular projects in grade school.


Jordan, M. E., & Mcdaniel, R. R. (2014). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 00, 1–47.

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of practice and social learning systems. Organization, 7(2), 225–246. doi:10.1177/135050840072002

White, D. D., Wutich, A., Larson, K. L., Gober, P., Lant, T., & Senneville, C. (2010). Credibility, salience, and legitimacy of boundary objects: water managers’ assessment of a simulation model in an immersive decision theater. Science & Public Policy (SPP), 37(3), 219-232. doi:10.3152/030234210X497726

Situating “uncertainty” in communities of practice and competency-based medical education

This blog post discusses Jordan & McDaniel’s (in press) conceptualization of “uncertainty,” and seeks to situate that “uncertainty” in Wenger’s (2000) visualization of organizational structure.  We will also apply these theories to the adoption of competency-based assessments in graduate medical education.

Jordan and McDaniel describe uncertainty as

“an individual’s subjective experience of doubting, being unsure, or wondering about how the future will unfold, what the present means, or how to interpret the past” (pp. 3).

For them, this concept is central to the process of learning.  However, they also note that uncertainty may play differing roles in learning outcomes.  Uncertainty can as easily be considered a desirable outcome—for example, in demonstrating the complexity of a concept, or the limits of a learner’s knowledge on a subject—as an undesirable one—where learners respond to an “impulse” to reduce their uncertainty (pp. 4).

Wenger, speaking systemically of our communities of practice, outlines two major types of knowledge: social competence, meaning the socially and historically situated understanding of our community; and experience, which captures personally acquired knowledge that may or may not align with wider societal beliefs (pp. 226-227).  When social competence and experience clash, this creates space for learning to occur, and knowledge, be it societal or individual, to change (pp. 227).

How, then, does uncertainty fit in Wenger’s community of practice?  Jordan & McDaniel have outlined two potential theories: Uncertainty can take the place of individual experience.  As Jordan & McDaniel note, uncertainty (particularly in a classroom setting) can be very experiential; it is a common modality for learners to see and challenge the structure of their classroom, or relationships with fellow students.  Uncertainty, however, can also take the place of learning, or as a part of learning, that allows learners to identify questions regarding societal competence and to be inquisitive about their social knowledge.

The below example, discussing core curricular expectations of graduate medical education, is an example of uncertainty as both a mode of experience as well as a situation for learning.  

The American Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) is the nonprofit accrediting body for American medical schools; it focuses upon “graduate” medical education, meaning residency programs, internships, fellowships and the like, rather than “undergraduate” medical institutions, which award the MD or DO degrees.  Traditionally, “variability in the quality of resident education” was a major systemic stressor (Nasca et al. 2012, pp. 1051).  In response to this, the ACGME historically focused upon quality of teaching and program structure when evaluating an institution.  However, to many such institutions, this focus created an undue administrative burden, stifling innovation, reducing staff and faculty availability to mentor students, and lagging behind systemic changes in the wider medical system.  In 1999, the ACGME introduced six core competencies that, in order to remain accredited, graduate medical education programs must include in their curriculum (Nasca 2012):

  • Medical Knowledge (MK)
  • Patient Care (PC)
  • Interpersonal Skills and Communication (IPC)
  • Professionalism (P)
  • Systems-Based Practice (SBP)
  • Practice-Based Learning and Improvement (PBLI)

The six factors outlined above were designed to shift administrative focus toward tangible “outcomes and learner-centered approaches” (pp. 1052).  For learners, it shifted the focus of medical curriculum closer to real world application.  With traditional didactic lecturing concentrated within one of the six categories, this system presented a unique opportunity to reduce the uncertainty that existed between rote medical knowledge and the myriad of other competencies expected of a practicing physician.  It mandated space within the medical curriculum to both experience parts of being a physician beyond a textbook knowledge of medicine or medical procedures—displaying professionalism with patients, families and other medical professionals; clearly communicating complicated concepts to lay audiences; refine their bedside manner, and practice composure in emotionally difficult situations.  The addition of “System-Based Practice” and “Practice-Based Learning and Improvement” also gave learners the room to confront uncertainty as a part of Wegner’s learning: To practice critical reflexivity, identify strengths and weaknesses in the current structure of the medical system, and to situate themselves as physicians and advocates within that system.



Jordan, M.E. and McDaniel, R.R. (In Press). “Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: The role of peer influences in robotics engineering activity.” The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 1-49.

Nasca, TJ et al. (2012). “The next GME accreditation system: Rationale and benefits.” New England Journal of Medicine, 366(11), 1051-1056.

Wenger, E. (2000).  “Communities of practice and social learning systems.” Organization, 7, 225-246.

The Power of Verbal and Non-Verbal Behavior

In the article Managing Uncertainty During Collaborative Problem Solving in Elementary School Teams: The Role of Peer Influence in Robotics Engineering Activity, Jordan and McDaniel (in press) explore how peer interaction influence the ways in which students manage uncertainty. The authors explain how “communication is the primary means by which individuals cope with uncertainty.” (Jordan & McDaniel, in press)

The study on managing uncertainty was conducted with 24 fifth graders who represented the demographics of the school. The research involved three collaborative robotics-engineering projects throughout the school year. The researchers chose to focus on robotics and engineering because “learning to participate in engineering practices is one context in which uncertainty is particularly relevant.” (Jordan & McDaniel, in press, p. 4)

This year, I had the opportunity to participate in a professional development with pre-service teachers to support Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in the classroom. During this professional development we collaboratively engaged in an ill-structured engineering project that focused on building wind turbines. My group consisted of three teachers and one pre-service teacher. I experienced uncertainty during this group project. I was unfamiliar with the tools we were using along with the math and science concepts needed to develop the wind turbine. Reflecting back on the project and the interactions of our small group, the pre-service teacher was willing to take the most risks in communicating strategies to manage uncertainty, which positively supported the development of our wind turbine and our new learning during the professional development. Jordan and McDaniel remind us that “involving students in active struggle can be productive for learning.” (in press)

The authors used a variety of methods to collect data on uncertainty and uncertainty management. They thoroughly explain how they collected data and how they refined their collection of data from Project A to Project C. As a future researcher, I really appreciated the deep insight into what methods the authors used to collect the data and why they chose those methods. I was especially interested in the transcript examples throughout the article and how the authors paid special attention to verbal and non-verbal behavior in both the transcripts and the video. The authors also explained how the data sources were not used in silos. They describe how analysis of one source of data would lead them to go back and analyze another data source. The data collection section of this article was beneficial because the authors listed questions they asked themselves during the data collection process and described how they networked with other experts in the field.

Through the analysis of data, Jordan and McDaniel found that “students’ success at managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving was dependent on the willingness and ability of their peer collaborators to respond supportively.” (in press, p. 26) The authors also developed an easy to read flow chart to support their findings visually. (Jordan and McDaniel, in press, p. 33) As a doctoral student, I feel that I can learn a lot from these findings. I am constantly in a state of uncertainty in exploring new content and unfamiliar tasks. I believe as a doctoral cohort, we have already started taking risks within our community in managing uncertainty and responding respectfully and supportively. This article reaffirms the influence of our verbal and non-verbal communication within our communities of practice and I want to be mindful that my words and non-verbal behavior are supportive and productive.



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. doi:10.1080/10508406.2014.896254

Looking for students in all the right places

Imagine you are responsible for recruiting high quality students for your university. What if you knew of a group of prospective students who would add rich diversity and bring their unique experiences and skills to your university?  What if these students created an environment in which learning was enriched for your other students and them?

Here are some of the characteristics of the group.  They are hopeful and believe they can overcome substantial obstacles that many of your other students will never have to face.  They are multilingual with good cross-cultural awareness, literacy and math skills, teaching and tutoring skills, civic and familial responsibility, and are socially mature.  They draw from and give back to a strong network of social contacts (Yosso, 2005).  The individuals in this group have and rely on a strong family orientation and possess a deep sense of community history and culture.  They are adept at finding their way in unfamiliar situations and have developed capabilities by opposing societal inequities (Yosso, 2005).

Who are these students?  They are People of Color in groups who have been historically marginalized in our society.

Tara Yosso’s (2005) “Whose Culture Has Capital? A Critical Race Theory Discussion of Community Cultural Wealth” provides an opportunity for institutions of higher learning to positively transform the access, scholarship, and impact they provide by including groups that have historically been marginalized.  The article details the concept of critical race theory, which is called community cultural wealth.  Yosso (2005) describes critical race theory as a framework that can be used to theorize, examine, and change the ways race and racism affect social structures, practices, and discourses.  Community cultural wealth as defined in the article is an array of knowledge, skills, abilities, and contacts possessed and utilized by Communities of Color to survive and resist macro and micro-forms of oppression (Yosso, 2005).

Yosso (2005) believes that deficit thinking is one of the most prevalent forms of contemporary racism in United States’ schools.  Deficit thinking blames minority students and families for poor academic performance because: 1) students enter school without the normative cultural knowledge and skills and 2) parents neither value nor support their child’s education.  Basically, deficit thinking says it’s your fault you don’t fit in our model, we know our model is right, and we’re not interested in changing it.  In stark contrast, community cultural wealth calls attention to the unique aspects and contributions of marginalized groups.

Communities of Color nurture cultural wealth via at least six forms of capital including aspirational, linguistic, familial, social, navigational,  and resistant (Yosso, 2005).  Aspirational capital is the ability to maintain hope for the future, despite real and perceived obstacles.  This capital is about the community dreaming beyond their present circumstances.  What if?

Linguistic capital includes the intellectual and social skills attained through experiences with more than one language or style.  When I studied for my masters I had the opportunity to take a foreign language. As a result of this experience I developed a deeper appreciation for the culture of the language I was studying.  An additional bonus was an improvement in understanding my native language.  Non-native English speakers possess a rich cultural heritage that complements the study and acquisition of English.  Children in these communities often have engaged in storytelling, which involves memorization, attention to detail, vocal tone, and rhyme(Yosso, 2005).

Familial capital is the cultural knowledge nurtured by family that consists of community history, memory, and cultural intuition.  Through the strong family bond, individuals learn the importance of maintaining a healthy connection to the community and its resources.  Social capital includes networks of people and community resources (Yosso, 2005).  An example of social capital is the importance of community support in Latina/o students going to college (Liou, Antrop-Gonzalez, & Cooper, 2009).

Navigational capital is being able to find the way through social institutions, particularly those that were not designed with Communities of Color in mind.  Lastly, resistant capital is the knowledge and skills that have developed by opposing inequity (Yosso, 2005).

There is a great need for universities to welcome individuals from Communities of Color.  By valuing community cultural wealth and changing the lens through which prospective students are viewed, we will improve access to our institutions and increase the excellence and impact we create.


Liou, D. D., Antrop-Gonzalez, R., & Cooper, R. (2009). Unveiling the Promise of Community Cultural Wealth to Sustaining Latina/o Students’ College-Going Information Networks. Educational Studies Journal of the American Educational Studies Association, 45(6), 534–555. doi:10.1080/00131940903311347

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69–91. doi:10.1080/1361332052000341006

The Power of Language in Academia and Indigenous Populations

Language has always been a passion of mine.  The concept that arbitrary utterances possess meaning and shape ideas within the worldviews of those who employ is profound.  The fact that some ideas can only be conveyed within the language they were conceived tantalizes me.  Language is a means of perpetuating social constructs, identities, histories, ideas, and worldviews.  It transforms, shifts, adapts to the ideological, cultural, political, and social needs of those who implement it.  It is a reflection of society and, ultimately, humanity.  This is precisely why Tuhiwai-Smith’s (1999) chapter entitled “Imperialism, History, Writing and Theory” from Decolonizing Methodologies Research and Indigenous Peoples immediately captivated me.

The chapter begins by outlining the various forms in which Western imperialism and colonialism have impacted indigenous communities.  Understanding the continual effect and perpetuation of imperialism and colonialism is the critical and initial step in decolonizing research methodologies, as “decolonization is a process which engages with imperialism and colonialism at multiple levels” (Tuhiwai-Smith, 1999, p. 20).  Tuhiwai-Smith explains that the connection between imperialism and colonialism is that colonialism is an extension through which imperialism is exacted.  Western imperialism, which began in the fifteenth century, can be described as economic expansion, subjugation of ‘others’, idea with multiple forms of realization, and discursive field of knowledge.  Imperialism follows a linear chronology of “ ‘discovery’, conquest, exploitation, distribution and appropriation” (p. 21).  Colonialism is the act of economic, political, social, and cultural domination.  One form of colonialism is the determination of which version of history is repeated and, therefore, legitimized by mainstream society.

Tuhiwai-Smith (1999) argues that the standard of determining legitimate history was through the implementation of written language.  Western imperialist researchers perceived written language as an objective criterion for categorizing people as “civilized” or “savages” within racial stratification. This methodology was informed by the notion that written languages separated humans from animals.  The researchers reasoned that written literacy skills required a critical objectivity that animals do not possess.  This myopic ideology was then transferred to the categorization of indigenous populations as their histories, ideologies, cultures, and worldviews were orally transmitted. Therefore, Western researchers, employing the binary of human/animal, classified indigenous peoples as “savages,” as they were perceived to be closer to nature and more animalistic due to their oral traditions and lack of “civilized”, written literacy skills.

Tuhiwai-Smith (1999) contends that indigenous people need to reclaim history by providing their own accounts of it.  “Coming to know the past,” she argues, “has been part of the critical pedagogy of decolonization. To hold alternative histories is to hold alternative knowledges” (p. 34).  While numerous perspectives of how indigenous decolonization should be written, Tuhiwai-Smith (1999) eventually sides with notion that “Academic writing is a way of ‘writing back’ whilst at the same time writing to ourselves” (p. 37).  Basically, indigenous scholars should academically write so that the research and writing is accessible to those within academia but, more importantly, to themselves as indigenous peoples.  Furthermore, the variation of the purpose, perspectives, and intended audience contribute to a more holistic understanding of the complex issues surrounding indigenous populations.

While reading this riveting, albeit dense work, I realized that Tuhiwai-Smith’s (1999) purpose for writing this chapter is two-fold in nature.  Based on her ideas and approach to writing, I gathered that the first purpose is to raise awareness of White, Western scholars of the imperialistic and colonial ideologies and methodologies that inform research and writing about indigenous populations.   The second purpose is to motivate indigenous peoples to be more involved by writing and conducting research that will challenge and decolonize academia.  These ideas have been highlighted in the previous paragraphs.

Tuhiwai-Smith’s (1999) style of writing supports this insight as it draws attention to the challenges that stem from most widely-accepted scholarly work written from White, Western perspectives.  For example, she illuminates this challenge with the statement of, “even the use of pronouns such as ‘I’ and ‘we’ can cause difficulties when writing for several audiences, because while it may be acceptable now in academic writing, it is not always acceptable to indigenous audiences” (p. 37).  She contends that the employment of these pronouns excludes indigenous peoples.  After reflecting on this point, and continuing to read, I could not help but notice the her use of first-person singular and plural pronouns.  For instance, she writes, “Any consideration of the ways our origins have been examined, our histories recounted, our arts analyzed, our cultures, dissected, measured, torn apart and distorted back to us will suggest that theories have not looked sympathetically or ethically at us” (p. 38). After rereading sections of the chapter, I realized that it is riddled with first-person singular and plural pronouns.  I just was unaware of it until she explicitly drew my attention to it.  This illustration underscores her purpose of raising awareness of White, Western scholars and the language they use when writing as well demonstrating to indigenous scholars now to academically write to themselves as people.

Tuhiwai Smith, L. (1999). Decolonizing Methodologies Research and Indigenous Peoples. In Decolonizing Methodologies Research and Indigenous People. New York: University of Otago Press.

Leadership and Uncertainty

I read the article by Jordan and McDaniel (in press) in terms of not just how elementary school students can deal with uncertainty, but also how adults also manage uncertainty. While their article focused on elementary students, I kept wondering if that type of uncertainty and learning through peer interactions occurs in adult learning communities as well. As an individual moves into a new community of practice, he/she will experience uncertainty (Wenger, 2000).  I thought about the fellow classmates of the elementary students as fellow peers in a learning community and drew a correlation that perhaps joining a new community begins with uncertainty and that a leader has a responsibility to understand that uncertainty.

Communities of practice help people thrive and manage uncertainty.  Those that have established the norms and culture for a group set the stage for how someone can be successful within that group. Collaboration is a strategy which can enables learning about a culture. An individual learns who is in charge, how decisions are made, and what outcomes are expected (Wenger, 2000). These peer interactions are very influential, as discovered by Jordan and McDaniel (in press) in their study of elementary students. Learning can occur as a result of this lack of balance of power.

Social supportiveness was closely evaluated in the study by Jordan and McDaniel (in press). The social supportiveness helped the students deal with uncertainty while completing the project task. A factor that influenced whether a peer responded in a socially supportive manner was prior experience with the individual expressing uncertainty. The social support varied based upon whether a student wants something from a fellow student who was expressing uncertainty. If not, the uncertainty was dismissed. If so, the need was addressed. The socially supportive responses were more likely to occur when one’s peers were also uncertain or believed the uncertainty was appropriate to the situation at hand.

In terms of leadership, the authors found that framing the uncertainty helped the students move through the uncertainty. Awareness about the community of practice can then help a leader understand how to introduce someone into the community. The other readings this week, though, highlighted the lack of awareness that people outside of marginalized groups may experience as a result of trying to exist within a white community.

I believe a leader should ensure all members of the community are thriving, engaging, collaborating, supporting, etc. What do you do, though, if you don’t have the opportunity to relate to people within the community or even understand that social support is being offered? Is leadership then a function of realizing whose knowledge you are including or not including? And, is leadership ensuring the social support needed for community members to engage and succeed? These were some questions that came to mind as I reviewed the articles this week. As we begin to learn about the communities we plan to study, perhaps action research, as outlined by Bautista and Morrell (2013) can suggest a model by which leaders can learn more about the communities they lead and determine methods to provide the social supportiveness which can enable learning and success by the community members.


Bautista, M., Bertrand, M., Morrell, E., Scorza, D. & Matthews, C. (2013). Participatory Action Research and City Youth: Methodological Insights From the Council of Youth Research. Teachers College Record, 115(100303), 1­23.

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. doi: 10.1080/10508406.2014.896254

Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems. Organization, 7(2), 225–246.


In retrospect: Growing up “wealthy”

Growing up in a small tight knit community in southwest Pennsylvania was the worst thing ever, so says that part of me growing up in that town.  Everyone in the town knew everyone else’s business, children had half a dozen parents, and there was a steady pace to life.  I often thought, “I cannot wait to get out of here.”  Eventually I did leave; I left the safety and comfort of my home of 18 years and moved across the country.  The culture shock hit me during my first weeks of college.

I was suddenly very aware of how small town I was, and just how different my life was as compared to those of my new peers.  My entire school, K-12 could fit into my residence hall.  During the get to know you part of residence hall socialization was taking place with the year book perusing, I was asked if mine was an appendix, due to the fact that the almost two inch thick books were dwarfing what was my 120 pages.  Then began the stories of high school experiences; extensive travel opportunities (abroad, concerts, plays, etc.), advanced placement classes, internships, high profile speakers at graduation.  People talked about their first cars, second cars, all of which were made in the last 5 years.  My car was made shortly after I was born.  For the first time I was feeling self conscious about who I was, where I came from, and maybe even a little judged.  I did not feel as if I was an equal to my peers because I did not have the experience, or similarities that I was used to having.

While reading Yosso’s article about cultural capital it got me thinking of what my small town added to my own cultural wealth and how this wealth has played into my own successes, failures, and approach to my personal and professional life.

Yosso outlines six areas that add to one’s own capital: aspirational, linguistic, familial, social, navigational, and resistant (77-81).  For my own case I have reflected on the importance that the community and teachers had on me, particularly in building aspirational capital.  Aspirational capital is the ability to maintain hopes and dreams for the future, even with the perceived and real barriers (Yasso, 2005).   Having grown up in the community that the minority was college educated and the majority farmers, coal miners, tool and die workers, and other blue collar jobs, I never had anyone tell me that college was not an option or did not support the idea.

Social capital is having the resources and networks of people to assist in navigating societal institutions (Yasso, 2005).  For those that were in my community that went off to college and returned, mostly as teachers, they assisted me in application processes, reviewing course catalogues, suggestions for class schedules, and helping make connections with other individuals on similar career paths.

Now while my own take on the article does not relate to race, as I grew up in a very homogenized community, I see the theory take shape in that I grew up in a small rural environment that may not necessarily have all the benefits of some of the financially well of communities of my college peers.  However because of the additional support and areas of capital afforded to me, I was able to leave my environment to better myself, and had great support.

By understanding how these area’s that contribute to cultural capital play into an individual’s own experience, one can better address the needs of the person to find the best ways to support and supplement services in order to promote success.  Or in the case of self reflection, being able to see how a small boring town can be instrumental in the development and eventual success of someone.


Yosso, T.J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, (8)1,69-91.

Many parts, One body

One body, Many parts

The intentional destruction of cultures and annihilation of people through imperialism, colonization, and neglect has been devastating to the world.  When one group sees themselves as greater than others and as a consequence believes they must wipe out or at least subjugate others, that faulty thinking kills spirit and life.  In preparation for liturgy this Sunday I was reading the scriptures that my husband and I were to proclaim to the assembled.  In our church it is the feast of Pentecost, a time when the Holy Spirit is believed to have inSpired followers of Jesus to take his story and message of peace and respect for the marginalized to the world.  The following passage connected with the readings for our Introduction to Doctoral Studies class, TEL 706, for me: “The body is one and has many members, but all the members, many though they are, are one body” (1 Corinthians 12:12 New American Bible).

That passage is hopeful for me.  Despite the beliefs of some that White is right and that everyone else should try to imitate the majority culture in power and that some people are not worthy of going to college, if we focus on communities’ cultural wealth (Yosso, 2005), we may recognize one community’s parts (or wealth) as different from another’s yet necessary to make the “body” complete.

Uncertainty is necessary for learning (Piaget in Jordan & McDaniel, in press) and managing that uncertainty is necessary in collaborative learning (Jordan & McDaniel, in press).  Research requires collaborative learning.  If researchers are anything like fifth graders working on robot projects, by expressing uncertainty about established research methods or the causality of “racial” problems as Zuberi & Bonilla-Silva (2008) do, the path is open for other researchers to explore the uncertainties as well and create new methods or explanations. Uncertainty allows a step back to “see” with fresh eyes a sharper, more focused image.  It’s like when you lose something and get frantic searching for it – so frantic that you can’t see it’s right in front of you.  Stepping away and then coming back to contentious research questions when you are calmer often brings the “lost” item into focus.

I may be naive, but I would like to believe the “lost” item is the viewpoint of indigenous people throughout the world who, through imperialism, colonization, and neglect, lost their culture and ways of knowing.  It will take more than just stepping away to reclaim culture and ways of knowing, but that’s a start.  Being open to stepping away and seeing research methods or ways of knowing or teaching with new eyes may allow the white folks and the indigenous to see what’s been right in front of them – a narrative, cultural capital, learning by engaging with the earth.  Because ultimately, we are all of the same body – just many parts:  Africans, Maori, Anglos; one an eye, another an ear, another a foot – all parts that are needed to complete one body that functions effectively in the world.

“If the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ would it then no longer belong to the body?  If the body were all eye what would happen to our hearing?  If it were all ear, what would happen to our smelling?” 1 Corinthians 12:16-17



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, doi: 10.1080/10508406.2014.896254

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69–91. doi:10.1080/1361332052000341006

Zuberi, T. & Bonilla-Silva, E. (2008). White Logic , White Methods: Racism and methodology. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Challenges of Shifting Cultural Capital

I found the reading of Tara J. Yosso’s (2005) article, Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community and cultural wealth, to be quite challenging. Not because it was written in a manner that was unclear, or in any way difficult to understand, but rather, because it challenged the systemic beliefs instilled in me by my upbringing in a White, middle class family. Throughout this post I want to share my reflections on the things that were points of tension for me and other thoughts and connections with the various assertions that Yosso makes about culture, race, hierarchies, and the assortment of cultural capitals that people of color possess.

Near the close of the article, there was a quote that stuck with me, “we need to de-academize theory and connect the community to the academy” (Yosso, 2005, p. 82). I found this refreshing, especially in a research article; this grounding in practice was one of the first times that I’ve read something academic that also provided a strong connection to reality. Yosso (2005) accomplishes this by sharing examples of the six different types of capital that marginalized people possess. In articles that I’ve previously read, it almost seemed as though it were an unstated, but also unquestionable, fact as to the intrinsic value of racial diversity. These different capitals (aspirational, familial, social, linguistic, resistant, and navigational) serve to clearly articulate (some of) what people of minority groups possess that can be viewed as assets, standing in stark contrast to the deficits that have been ascribed to them in the past. These areas of strength provide a conceptual framework, upon which educators can build relationships with students of diverse backgrounds and increase the contributions of these students to their environments, their learning, and the learning of others. However, the value of the above capitals will be lost, if, as Yosso asserts, educators assume that our schools work, and it is the job of students, parents, and communities to change to conform to the standards of a White, middle class society (Yosso, 2005). It is here that my first point of tension arises.

While I strongly believe that all students have valuable insights to share from their families, cultures, and other facets of their lives (see the cultural capitals above), I truly struggle with the idea that we need to radically change what our societal values are. The idea that minority groups should not strive for the American Dream, which has worked, on the whole, so well for so many people throughout our country’s history, is, honestly, a scary proposition.  I didn’t explicitly come across in this article, but I think more emphasis ought to be placed on the promotion of minority groups, but not at the expense of those for whom the system is working. Yet, despite this, I recognize that societies of hierarchy tend to stay hierarchical (Yosso, 2005). These two notions are conflicting for me; a truly egalitarian society will still have winners, that is to say, those at the top, and loser, or those at the bottom; I fear that a radical shift that begins to value new cultural capitals, would simply replace one group at the bottom with a different group, thereby achieving no real or meaningful change.

Yet, despite this fear of mine, I believe we must radically reform the education system, lest we end up with marginalized groups competing against one another to succeed in a rigged game. Cherrie Moraga (1983) writes, “The danger lies in ranking the oppressions” (Moraga, 1983, p.52) if we force diverse groups to retrofit themselves to our system, competing for access to limited resources, we’ve done nothing but pit them against one another, bringing one group up, at the expense of another.


Works cited:

Yosso, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69–91. doi:10.1080/1361332052000341006

Moraga, C. (1983) La güera, in: C. Moraga & G. Anzaldúa (Eds) This bridge called my back: writings by radical women of color (2nd edn) (New York, Kitchen Table).


Equipping Students to Persevere in spite of Uncertainty

I have facilitated countless professional developments for our iTeachAZ Site Coordinators, mentor teachers and teacher candidates, and one question that I always ask when I am beginning a session on teaching is, “when you walk out of a lesson that you deem to be effective, what elements have led you to that decision?” Nearly every time I ask that question, participant responses include things like…lessons should be appropriately challenging or students should be a little uncomfortable. These responses, although I am in agreement with them, have always puzzled me. How do you measure the appropriate amount of discomfort or challenge without losing the students’ motivation to stay involved in the lesson? How do we equip students to have the tools necessary to persevere in spite of their desire to want to give up when solving difficult tasks?

In ‘Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity”, Jordan et al. conducted a qualitative study on fifth graders. The study focused on collaborative groups and the role that the groups played in how students responded to content and uncertainty while working on engineering projects. They explain, “Managing uncertainty refers to behaviors an individual engages in to enable action 
in the face of uncertainty. Uncertainty is a regularly occurring experience for humans. Although it is often a difficult experience to manage, it is not inherently
an aversive state. Individuals are often motivated to reduce uncertainty through various information-seeking strategies” (P.5). Jordan et al. describes that uncertainty (or what I described above as appropriate challenge/discomfort) is a feeling and our natural response is to try to minimize it. Furthermore, they imply that there are strategies that can equip students to persevere and not let the feelings of uncertainty result in mismanagement.

In the study, Jordan et al. emphasize the importance of relationships and the key role that they play in supporting students to work through their uncertainty (P. 7). They describe various responses that students had while working on the engineering project. They observed interactions amongst the collaborative groups and examined the influence that the collaborative peers had on one another. During one observation, the authors observed a student who wasn’t able to articulate her uncertainty. They noticed that one of the group members began to question, challenge, and explain information to this student to assist her in articulating the uncertainty. The authors noted, “For this peer response to occur, 
a responder had to believe the uncertainty being expressed by his or her peer was at a minimum legitimate, warranted, or reasonable” (P. 20). This response by the authors implies that students need to have the ability to empathize or see things from a different perspective in order to respond appropriately and support their peers. In this instance, for example, what would’ve happened if the peer didn’t have empathy? What effect would that have had on her ability to move forward and persevere with the project?

Empathy, which is an emotional intelligence competency, allowed the peers to respond by willingly supporting the student who was struggling. Jordan et al. echoes this idea and states, “students’ success at managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving was dependent on the willingness and ability of their peer collaborators to respond supportively. As students received responses from peers, those responses
 acted as negative or positive feedback for subsequent attempts to manage uncertainty” (P. 26). The authors go on to further describe groups that did not have supportive peers and the effects that it had on the group members. They labeled these groups as “not particularly well-functioning” (P. 28).

Reverting back to the question about equipping students with the necessary tools to persevere in spite of uncertainty, it’s clear from the study that cooperative learning played a critical role in students’ perseverance with completing engineering projects. One would argue, however, that the group members, who lacked the emotional intelligence to empathize and support their peers, had an adverse effect on the students’ ability to move forward with the project.

Daniel Goleman (1995) first introduced the idea that one’s social skill, or emotional intelligence (EI), is a great contributor to relational success. There are several competencies that fall under the umbrella of EI including self-awareness, emotional management, empathy, and social competence. Further, Low and Nelson (2006) explain EI as a “learned ability to understand, use, and express human emotions in healthy and productive ways” (P. 2). Both Goleman and Low agree that these skills need to be taught and developed. As I conclude, it would seem that peer influence can be an effective tool, when the students are equipped with the emotional intelligence competencies to support their peers.


Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ for character, health, and lifelong achievement. New York, NY: Ban- tam Books.

Jordan, M.E. & McDaniel, (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. Doi: 10.1080/10508406.2014.896254

Low, G. R., & Nelson, D. B. (2006). Emotional Intelligence and college success: A research- based assessment and intervention model. In Center for Education Development & Evaluation (CEDER) Retrieved from Texas A&M University-Kingsville website: 1-10. http:// www.operamentis.com/upload/O/EI_and_ College_Success-2006.cederpaper.pdf


Challenging Traditional Theories of Cultural Capital

As I reviewed numerous scholarly readings this week, the article Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth, stood out to me. This piece by Tara J. Yosso was very powerful as it focused on critical race theory (CRT). According to Yosso (2005), “This article conceptualizes community cultural wealth as a critical race theory (CRT) challenge to traditional interpretations of cultural capital” (p.69). The author came across strong in her challenges to previous research in her area of focus and with the presentation of her own theory with the power of Communities of Color.  It was a very telling article that discusses racism and its role in the Unites States educational system, and the how cultural capital is truly an asset for students of minority backgrounds in the U.S. that continues to be overlooked.

Being a Hispanic male who was raised in the United States, and an individual who has worked in the field of education, the analysis of CRT always seems to captivate my attention. As this article provided a variety of material to the reader, I found myself agreeing quite frequently with the authors points of contention and theory. One strong point that I can reflect on was Yosso’s statement that, the shifting of the research lens allows critical race scholars to ‘see’ various forms of capital within Communities of Color (Yosso, 2005). I agree that moving the lens in general can unmask a whole world of new ideas and results. In this case, Yosso presented her theory in five views that corroborate the experiences of people of color. I agree with her six themes and how they present challenges to previous research, by demonstrating Communities of Color as entities with various strengths by means of measuring atypical indicators and the role of racism in education. (Yosso, 2005) The article led me to look outside the box in terms of the approach that I my take moving forward in my own research agendas. Looking at research that is not afraid to push the envelope and propose new ideas is exciting to review, when it is supported and thorough.

I found Yosso’s article interested me not only because I agree with many of her positions of cultural wealth and the powerful role it can play for people in education, but also because her research opened my eyes to new ideas for my own research agenda. The approach to her research showed that it was ok to go against the grain and not be afraid to challenge the status quo. She was able to show the strides that were made in research before her time on the topic of cultural capital, but also highlighted the need for research and the position on cultural wealth to evolve. I loved the way the six tenets provide a helpful guiding lens that can inform research in Communities of Color. (Yosso, 2005)

Another reason the authors findings captured my attention was because I can see many of the members of my community of practice that I aspire to work with, as members of the Communities of Color mentioned. Because I anticipate working with similarly diverse communities being discussed in the article, the reading brought a personal connection to me. The article made me think more critically about the concept of CRT, community cultural wealth, and my own research moving forward. Reading this article allowed me to open my mind and see that although research may have been conducted in my area of inquiry, that there are always new theories and questions that can be asked.

I believe cultural capital is an essential component to the world of education and Tara Yosso presented one theory on how it can be measured that strayed from other researchers looking at CRT. Reading this piece was excellence for me, as it reminded me to be cognizant of looking at research from many angles, and recognize taking a different path then the norm is ok.


Yosso, T. J. (2005, March). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69-91.

Redefining Where Cultural Capital Lies: Affirming Students in the Classroom

Yosso *, T. J. (2005). Whose culture has capital? A critical race theory discussion of community cultural wealth. Race Ethnicity and Education, 8(1), 69–91. doi:10.1080/1361332052000341006

The article proposes a framework, justification and argument for a need for critical race theory in education.  I could not agree with the article more but the article also did good work in defining traits and aspects of marginalized people that can be leveraged in the classroom.  The article goes to great lengths to explain and articulate ways in which the dominant system is oppressive and then list traits that students of color bring to the classroom that can be leveraged for greater success.  The main critique is simple in that the system is built for the dominant culture which then causes it to devalue, bias and even criticize marginalized cultures.  The individuals who identify with these cultures then are forced to give parts of themselves, their past or their history in order to succeed in the dominant system.  The antithesis would be what the article presents which is to value the perspectives of students of color and all of the strengths and assets that they bring into the classroom.  If these traits can be leveraged then they can catalyze great successes in the classroom while keeping the identity and culture of students intact.

The article does a great job of justifying and then identifying the purpose of critical race theory in education but I wonder how the authors could have further elaborated what they expect of teachers in the classroom. I agree in full with everything that the article articulates but I question it in practice.  I do not question that it will work, rather I question what it looks like.  I have been on a personal journey for over two years to build my culturally responsive teaching toolbox and skillsets and still feel like I am lacking in major ways.  I think that we have identified mindsets and  justifications for culturally responsive teaching but not all of the methods that are needed.   I would ask the authors to next begin to identify key things that one would observe a teacher doing in a classroom to be deemed “culturally responsive”.

The lack of culturally responsive techniques and practices actually leads me to my, not critique, but hurdle I see in implementing CRT in classrooms across the nation.  Our country still suffers from an industrialized view of education.  From teacher preparation to student learning we see the whole process as an assembly line that we send individuals through, hoping that they fit the mold to head out of the other end successful and “intelligent”.  In order to stymie the current cultural deprivation theory that runs rampant throughout schools and the districts that support them, we must change the way we prepare our teachers and leaders in education.  The current preparation method looks to have teachers streamline their activities, grading and assessment while focusing little on the population they will teach.  I wonder what it will take to reform the “teaching teachers” process so that we have candidates that enter the classroom seeking to understand their own biases and operating systems while connecting and affirming their students.  To implement CRT in education we must start at the source which is the teacher preparation colleges.

This brings me to my topic for possible research.  I have long thought that if teachers were immersed in their communities and fully understand both the local and larger socio-political context of where they teach they would be better educators. This article seem to lend support and urgency to this belief and my instinct to explore it in my own context.  I personally know that the most effective teachers that I have seen know their kids extremely well and take intentional steps to steep themselves in the student experience.  I believe one of my avenues for research may certainly pertain to discovering the value of building context both around the community and of the experience of the student.

Productive Failure?

For most of my life I have been involved in some form of schooling.  At this point, it is beginning to seem as though I will forever be a student.  It was with this framework that, as I read Jordan and McDaniel’s (2014) study this week, I began to think about the idea of failure and how since I was in kindergarten, I have been conditioned to think that failure is not an option.  There was no use for failure in terms of my education.  Though I acknowledge that my parents’ strong work ethics had a role to play in helping me to form this opinion, I think that much credit is due to my own self-motivation and being conditioned in the United States education system where competition seemed to start at such a young age.  Therefore, I paused when I read the following passage in Jordan and McDaniel’s study,

“However, research by Kapur and colleagues has shown that, properly managed, involving students in active struggle can be productive for learning.  Both failure and uncertainty create opportunities for argumentation, for the pursuit of different lines of logic, for knowledge construction, and for the movement of ideas from tacit to explicit…achieving productive failure is no easy task and requires careful attention to the entire process of the educational endeavor” (p. 34).

Productive failure.  As the product of nearly 20 years of conditioning myself to believe that anything less than an ‘A’ is unacceptable, this phrase seems highly oxymoronic.  Yet, when I consider the intersection of this aspect of the study with my line of research in education abroad, I immediately see the logic in this line of reasoning.  Some of the moments where the most powerful learning happened to me while studying abroad occurred when I was engaged in a process of productive failure (only I certainly did not think of it in this way at the time!).  I can remember a time when I was trying to communicate with a crêpe-maker on the streets in Paris after a long day of class and all I wanted was a ”crêpe au sucre,” only thanks to my poor American accent, the crêpe-maker could not understand what I was asking for.  Baffled at why I could not succeed in communicating when, in my mind, I was saying exactly what I wanted, I then proceeded to practice the nefarious French ‘R’ sound with my newly-made French friends later that evening for hours on end.  After failing to succeed in this most basic of tasks, I was determined to figure out what the issue was so I could fix it.  The rest of my summer seemed to be spent over-correcting my French R’s, much to the amusement of my Parisian friends.

Study abroad seems like a perfect environment in which to build upon Jordan and McDaniel’s intriguing research on how uncertainty is managed, in particular with relation to peer influence. On short-term programs where students are studying abroad with fellow U.S. students, group dynamics are very intriguing to watch as it seems relationships form and deconstruct very quickly as peers navigate the foreign and highly uncertain contexts in which they find themselves.  To be sure there are many opportunities for productive failure.

However, with productive being the operative word, success with this model all depends upon a methodical intervention.  I believe that left unsupervised, or without a student who is intrinsically motivated, these opportunities may do more damage then good.  Consider moments where students fail to understand why a host culture does something a particular way.  That student might interpret the host culture as worse than their own simply because of a misunderstanding that had gone unchecked.  As Perry, Stoner, and Tarrant (2012) argue in their article, “Within study abroad experiences, exposure to new places, cultures, and learning environments where a students’ preconceived and established notions and beliefs are tested, may act as the catalyst or impetus for bringing forth a transformative experience.  Of particular importance is the creation of moments of critical reflection and discussion.  In these types of environments, exposed to realities that are outside their previous understanding, the learner may discover a need to acquire new perspectives in order to gain a more complete understanding” (p. 682).  Though international educators laud the experience as a transformative one, the reality is that this cannot be the case without intentional opportunities for critical reflection.  Moments for productive failure will remain failure if we do not seek to engage students in this process of thoughtful reflection.


Jordan, M., & McDaniel, R. (2014). Managing uncertainty during collaborative problem solving in elementary school teams: The role of peer influence in robotics engineering activity. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 00, 1-47.

Perry, L., Stoner, L., & Tarrant, M. (2012).
More than a vacation: Short-term study abroad as a critically reflective, transformative learning experience  Creative Education, 3(5), 679-683.