Finally, Something that Works!

Brooks, M., Jones, C., & Burt, I. (2013). Are African-American male undergraduate retention programs sucessful? An evaluation of an undergraduate African-American male retention program. Journal of African American Studies, 17(2), 206-221.

There are hundreds of articles about minority retention issues in higher education discussing retention programs that fail to retain minority students. However, very few discuss successful retention programs and how they can be effectively implemented in Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). Brooks, Jones, and Burt (2013) do just that in their article Are African-American Male Undergraduate Retention Programs Successful? An Evaluation of an Undergraduate African-American Male Retention Program. Many colleges and universities have solid retention programs, particularly based on Tinto’s (1999) model. Characteristics of solid retention models are that they provide high expectations for students, give sound advice to understanding and retaining curriculum, provide excellent support in academic and social integration, enabling the student to feel valued and encouraged (Tinto, 1999). While Tinto’s (1999) approach is practical, it addresses a broad range of student populations, lacking consideration of marginalized populations whose present different retention issues than what Tinto examined. Brooks et al (2013) attack Tinto’s (1999) integration model, by proposing that retention integration models require Black students to “unlearn their culture in substitution for the established campus climate” (p. 207).  Rather, Brooks et al (2013) assert that matriculation rates increase when students of color are able to maintain their cultural identities.

The goal of Brooks’ et al (2013) article is to present findings on a study that provided a retention intervention program specifically for Black males in a PWI. First, the researchers specified the importance of a college degree for African American males. The Chronicle of Higher Education (2009) showed that in 2007, 46,400 Black male students received a college degree compared to 90,990 Black female students showing the imbalance of earning potential between Black males and females which ultimately impacts the economic ability of Black families. Because Black women generally search for Black men as potential mates, the lack of Black men in college precludes them from dating, or forces them to date men who have less earning potential affecting the family socioeconomic status. Next, the researchers discussed the success of National College Athletic Association (NCAA) models in retaining Black males. In 2009, Black male college athletes graduated at a rate of 49%, while only 38% percent non-athlete Black males completed their degree program (NCAA Research Staff, 2009). An important fact, the level of support student-athletes receive (e.g. support services, orientation programs, tutoring, financial support, mentorship programs, etc.) is crucial as many athletes score low on entrance exams, yet, graduate at higher rates than Black males who do not participate in collegiate sports programs.

Using a mixed method approach, specifically a QUAN-Qual model, Brooks et al (2013) devised a four-prong approached to creating a retention program. A QUAN-qual method is research method in which both qualitative and quantitative methods are used; however, a greater percentage of the research is conducted used a quantitative approach, denoting the use of capital letters when discussing this research approach. First, they invited 136 African-American freshman males, between the ages of 18-21 years old (90 completed the study) to participate in the semester-long study. Second, participants were required to enroll in a for-credit seminar course which met for one hour each week. The course covered topics applicable to Black male college students, with lessons presented on self-esteem, academic and social support, faculty connection, and financial resources. Coping methods for how to recognize and properly deal with racism on campus were integrated into curriculum as well. Next, students were paired with upperclassmen mentors who shared similar majors, interests, and backgrounds as the freshman students. Students were required to meet with their peer-mentor once a month to discuss coursework, social, and personal issues the student may be facing. Finally, the data collection process was implemented through the pre-test at the start of the semester, and a post-test (final exam) which allowed researchers to investigate the students’ integration into college life. A forty-question final examination asked questions centered on such constructs as social integration, self-esteem, academic culture, and mentor/mentee relationships.

What Brooks et al (2013) found was that students gained an understanding of the academic acculturation process over the semester, a sound understanding of academic advising/support, and where to get help for social and academic issues such as counseling and tutoring services. Specifically important to the students was the mentorship aspect of the program. Students shared that having a personal connection with senior students provided positive role-models that helped them shape their identity as a college-educated Black male.

I love this article! Why? Because it discussed what works, rather than what doesn’t work in retention programs; not to mention it is a good example of an mixed-method, action research study. As stated earlier, anyone can learn the deficiencies in college retention programs and why they do not serve minority students, but, very little attention is paid to programs that are actually succeeding in retaining minority students. For the purpose of my research, I want to attack current retention models in PWIs that inefficiently maintain Black students, and, I want to pose a solution that works! Using the well-respected model by Tinto (1999), Brooks et al (2013) put a spin on it that targeted a very specific population that often gets overlooked. The uniqueness of this approach makes it a solid contribution to the field with solid data using both a qualitative and quantitative approach to paint a very clear picture of how such a program could be beneficial for retention efforts. I realize there are limitations to implementing this type of retention program. The university would need to approve this type of course, a coordinator of the sort would need to promote and enroll students in the course, while a faculty-person would have to be recruited to create the curriculum and teach the course. This is very challenging for many PWIs, mainly because the culture of the environment discourages of any type of ethno-subculture assimilation within the institution. That’s a conversation for another day (we can chat about it in the comments, if you wish). Nonetheless, this article is useful for future research to positively show what a minority retention program could be, what it looks like, and how it impacts academic excellence in higher education.


Brooks, M., Jones, C., & Burt, I. (2013). Are African-American male undergraduate retention programs sucessful? An evaluation of an undergraduate African-American male retention program. Journal of African American Studies, 17(2), 206-221.

Chronicle of Higher Education. (2009). Degrees conferred by racial and ethnic group. Almanac of Higher Education.

NCAA Research Staff. (2009). Research related to graduation rates of Division I student athletes 1984-2002.

Tinto, V. (1999). Taking student retention seriously: Rethinking the first year of college. NACADA Journal, 19, 5-9.

Formal Training for the Informal Leader

Gabel, S. (2014). Expanding the scope of leadership training in medicine. Academic medicine89, 848-852.


Stewart Gabel (2014) in Expanding the Scope of Leadership Training in Medicine defines leadership in both formal and informal terms. Formal leadership is defined by a specific position, role, or title that one holds such as director, executive, president, or chair, while informal leadership is based on ones ability to affect change and attitudes in a non-title given role. For example, an informal leader would be a coordinator in higher education who does not have very many leadership responsibilities because of their title, but implements change through their personality and other interactions with both internal and external populations.

Qualities and characteristics found in formal leaders are a mastering of technical, financial, or regulatory formalities, positional based power, expert knowledge or education, and social and material awards and rewards (Gabel, 2014). While characteristics typically found in an informal leader are, powers derived from personality, relates to many co workers, have clinical competence, often times does not have formal leadership role (Gabel, 2014).

Gabel (2014) makes it known that not all informal leaders aspire to become a formal leaders. Often times an informal leader does not want the responsibility of making tough choices where they are the sole reciprocator of the outcomes, positive or negative. Extra responsibility may result in more working hours causing a change in lifestyles and may place greater time restrains on one’s personal life.

In the vast majority of organizations, informal leadership is the most common type of leader. It is for this reason that Gabel (2014) makes a point that there should be formal training for individuals in this type of role. The author emphasises the importance of transformational leadership training for informal leaders.

Transformational leadership focuses on idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration (Gabel, 2014). With basic training in these areas, an individual often times has higher ethical standards, strong communication skills, and are often able to inspire others to hold similar values (Gabel, 2014). It is important for informal leaders to have these skills as they are often times the greatest contact for other employees and outside populations. Even if at the moment, an informal leader does not want to take on a formal leadership roles early in their career, having the skills and competencies provided by transformational training, could help the informal leader later on in their career if they choose take on a formal leadership role.


The organization of the article was sequential having a very clear beginning, middle and end. It beginning with the descriptions of both formal and informal leaders and the roles they play within an organizations. Gabel (2014) almost immediately lays out his argument for formalized training for informal leaders and then builds his theoretical argument throughout the work. After stating basic definitions and his argument, Gabel (2014) breaks down qualities commonly found in both types of leaders, the different type of leadership and power, types of leadership styles, how to train informal individuals and then finished with his concluding remarks.

Although the piece is helpful with distinguishing between types of leaders found in a work environment, it contains little more than broad ideas. The paper lacks empirical data, direct examples, and does not provide a clear way of implementing formalized training programs. The work seems to lack rigor and substance to support its claims. The author also frequently relies on statements such as “informal leaders potentially are able…to motivate others” (Gabel, 2014, p. 850, ) due to their personality, however he never seems to address which traits helps one motivate others.

The ideas presented seem reasonable and logical making it easy to follow and understand. Essentially, the piece lays a foundation on to which to build research and outcomes. This article by Gable (2014) seems to act as a springboard to inspire individuals to begin thinking about their work environments and the roles each individual plays. It also begins to get the reader to think about how one would go about creating a program that would benefit each type of leader. Gable’s (2014) findings simply point out that we are all charged with being leaders at one point in our professional lives and we should know how to handle the leadership role with the assistance of formalized tools when the moment arises.

Personal Use

I would have to agree with the author that there should be a formal training in transitional leadership skills annually for employees. This article inspired me to look at the potential formalized leadership training could have on the College of Medicine – Phoenix (COM-P) staff. When establishing a growth plan for COM-P, I now may look at employee’s thoughts on professional training programs. This article also helped me realize that there are no current formalized training programs at the COM-P campus and no one to my knowledge has any plans of implementing one. This article helps me think about the types of leaders present on the COM-P campus and how to begin to establish and operate a professional program that would benefit employees on campus.

I believe that by possibly establishing a program available to informal leaders on the COM-P campus, that staff would have greater access to resources that could help them succeed in their current role, but possibly provide extra skills and access to other roles they may be interested in. I also believe that by providing a training, staff member may also experience a greater feeling of acceptance and overall happiness in their work environments due to being able to expand one’s skills set.

All in all, I believe that this article was great at sparking a lot of new ideas in regards to leadership and professional development, which are topics that I can look at when collecting data at the COM-P campus. This article also gave me a new branch in types of leadership which I can examine in my study as I begin to further develop my action research project.

Actively Improving Exam Scores?

Yoder, J. D., and Hochevar, C. M. (2005). Encouraging active learning can improve students’ performance on examinations. Teaching of Psychology, 32(2), 91–95. doi:10.1207/s15328023top3202

I have been enthusiastically reading multiple articles, book chapters and on-line materials in my quest to learn more about active learning. The term ‘active learning’ seemed to be a buzz word as of late, however true active learning had been occurring for thousands of years. The most recent article I read caught my attention simply because of the title, Encouraging active learning can improve students’ performance on examinations (Yoder & Hochevar, 2005). I wanted to know how they can prove this and what methods were used.

Article Summary

The authors (Yoder & Hochevar, 2005) hypothesized that students in upper level psychology classes would perform better on exams if the materials were presented using various active learning methods versus traditional teaching methods. In this article the definition of active learning was, “anything that involves students in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing” (pg. 91). The authors discussed multiple active learning studies and their outcome. However, Yoder and Hochevar felt confident that no other study, until theirs, combined multiple active learning techniques in order to examine the overall effectiveness compared to nonactive teaching models.

The class was taught in the spring semester of 2001 (45 students), 2002 (37 students) and 2003 (38 students) by the same instructor – the first author, Janice Yoder. In order to show the progression of using active learning as the primary teaching modality, the class of 2003 was the base, while tracking changes from 2001 to 2003 as well as from 2002 and 2003 (Yoder & Hochevar, 2005). The procedure for the study included obtaining class GPAs’ that were deidentified and securing institutional research board (IRB) approval to use the class data. The student demographic was relatively fixed with mostly women and the GPAs’ were consistent between all three classes studied. The authors noted that the “unit of analysis was exam items, not students” (pg. 92). The major area of interest in the study was class wide performance (the correct answers) on the exact test across all three classes. The exam questions were coded to the teaching modality when the content was delivered. The authors compared students’ performance on the exact same exam questions over the course of three years. The only slight difference was the minimal editing of two questions out of the 40 questions administered. The active learning methods utilized included, but were not limited to, discussions of materials class wide or in small groups, exercises and simulations (Yoder & Hochevar, 2005).

Summarized Study Results

With the 2001 class being the nonactive learning model, the results from the class of 2002 and 2003 represented a significant shift toward greater reliance on active learning (Yoder & Hochevar, 2005). Additionally, the patterns in the data indicates that the analyses were clear and mostly consistent. “Both within a class and between classes, classes scored higher and less variably on items testing materials presented via active learning compared to lecture, autonomous readings or video without discussion coverage” (pg. 93).

Strengths, Critiques and Response

The purpose of this study was to gauge how students would perform on exams if active learning was utilized. While the study seems strong in using the same instructor and the same exam, I would conceive that using these two main variables alone could possibly have a different outcome in a different setting. For example, the first author in this study, Yoder, was also the instructor. Her enthusiasm for teaching may have increased over the three years because the students were increasingly engaged in the subject matter because it was being taught in a more interactive way. I equate this to having a “good” teacher and having a “bad” teacher. For example, when I was in high school I struggled in any math related subject. I avoided any class that might include any algebraic equations simply because I despised math and my lack of confidence made me feel dumb. I tried to learn basic algebra but it never stuck. Fast forward 15 years and in order to graduate from college I needed to pass college algebra with a 70% or better. Needless to say, I had major anxiety over accomplishing this feat! Luckily I worked at a community college and had the luxury of knowing who was a “good” teacher and who was a “bad” teacher. In reality, none of them were bad there were just different levels of enthusiasm. I wanted an instructor who felt a passion to teach math not just to bring home a paycheck. In order for me to really learn math I decided that I needed to start at the bottom and move my way up to college algebra. My plan of attack worked! Why this plan worked was because of a couple of different factors, they were: I wanted to learn (and never feel inadequate in regards to math again) AND the instructor wanted me to learn. This instructor had a vested interest in me and wanted me to succeed. Finally, in comparing my basic experience to a three year study, one would venture that if a singular instructor could change the outcome for one student (me) just on vested interest alone, then a study and the data produced can be skewed simply because the common denominator over the three year span was the same instructor, Yoder, who also had a large amount of vested interest.

While I am still in the early stages of researching the multiple facets of active learning, I would be very interested to see if the study described in the article Encouraging active learning can improve students’ performance on examinations (Yoder & Hochevar, 2005) could be expanded. The size of the study was very small in terms of the number of students involved and the number of variables were limited. While their intent of the study was to prove that active learning improves test scores, I felt that the study would have been more valid if the active learning techniques were the same but delivered by different instructors who also administered the same exam.



Yoder, J. D., & Hochevar, C. M. (2005). Encouraging active learning can improve students’ performance on examinations. Teaching of Psychology, 32(2), 91–95. doi:10.1207/s15328023top3202

Online Annotations are the new Sticky Notes

Lu, J., & Deng, L. (2012). Reading actively online: An exploratory investigation of online annotation tools for learning inquiry learning. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology. 38(3), 1-16.



Critical thinking is a difficult concept and students need to learn the skills necessary to accomplish that.  My research hopes to incorporate technology, critical thinking, and sound pedagogy in order to help students achieve the maximum benefits when learning.  This research study looks at how a specific piece of technology can be used to help students engage in critical thinking skills during reading.  The research was conducted in Hong Kong with students who were the equivalent of tenth graders in the United States.  Research was evaluated in two categories: a review of pedagogical annotations and a review of currently available annotating web programs.  The literature shows that the more annotations readers take, the more they increase their comprehension.  This is true for both for the frequency and quality of those notes.  The annotation process is helpful when done either individually or collaboratively and this information was factored into the study.  There were five online annotation tools available.  The literature detailed the differences between them and then explained its rationale for choosing Diigo (Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other stuff).  Diigo provided a few features that allowed students to interact with the text in ways that some of the others did not. The authors believed it was best suited to support the critical thinking process.


The study consisted of two classes of students.  One class was an advanced level class.  That class began with 44 students but the study only assessed 42 students after accounting for factors such as excessive absences.  The other group of students was a class of regular education students.  That class began with 37 students but only accounted for 27 once also weighing for absences.  The differences between the two types of classes was purposeful.  One question the researchers examined was the difference between how the two groups’ behaviors and observations related to Diigo.  Other goals of the study were to find out how all of the students used the technology, perceived it, and how their actual use of it compared to their reported responses.  The research was conducted in four sessions.  First, the teacher gave the students material to read.  The next session required the use of Diigo.  On the third session, students worked independently and could take notes or interact with the text however they chose.  The fourth session was for students to share their notes with each other and synthesize information.


The researchers individually observed and assessed each note card entered it into the Diigo system.  Calculations were based on those results.  The notes were categorized into four sections: define, tag, record, and discuss.  A Likert scale assessment was also used to measure the students’ opinions.  MANOVA tests were performed.   Scores were adjusted to account for the differences in the number of students in the two classes. The results showed that Class A used, and reported liking, the sticky notes more.  They also used the define category the most.  Both groups reported enjoying the notes according to the survey results, however, Class B had so few notes that some categories could not be fully assessed.



Strengths and Critiques

This research compares two classes one of which had high achieving students.  One of the big problems is that the tool being assessed involves students’ ability to read critically.  The reason that Class A may have had more notes in Diigo may have had nothing to do with the product or its effectiveness but everything to do with the students’ skill in Class B to complete the assignment.  The research did not detail the reading level of the material presented to the classes nor did it specify if it was the same passage for both groups.  There were a few other problems as well.  Class A and Class B were very small making it unable to be generalizable even if they were both the same type of learners.  Another problem is that one class lost two students while another class lost ten.  There might be some dynamic or secondary issue going on (behavior, illness, etc.) that had an effect on the remainder of the students which could, in turn, effect the results.  The authors didn’t address that issue.  Finally, the design called for students to be grouped by their teachers.  Again, since both classes started out with larger numbers and ended smaller, the research did not explain how groupings were changed during the project as absences occurred.  Since Group B lost ten students and Group A only lost 2 that might have been another factor.


The researchers evaluated each note card themselves.  That left the opportunity for interpretation of the cards.  There was no independent party also evaluating the messages on the sticky notes so the breakdown of data could have been construed differently had someone without a bias been the arbiter.


There literature review was broken into two sections.  The first section evaluated the pedagogy value behind annotations.  The second section was not a review of literature at all.  Rather, it was a review of the products that are currently on the internet and available.  It explained to the readers the rationale behind the choice of using Diigo as the source for this research.


The layout of the paper was fine, however, the one typographical error was very noticeable and did create difficulty when reading.  At the end of the Research Question section, it stated that there were three questions they would be focusing on but then proceeded to list four questions.  I reread that several times as I was initially unsure if the mistake was that the three should have been a four (which is what I concluded) or if one of the questions on the list was the error. That mistake was very confusing and distracting.


Further Study

I think that the researchers had a very valuable idea by choosing to research how a specific piece of technology can assist in building students’ reading skills.  In order to extend beyond this study, the research needs to be repeated with several changes.  First, more students need to be involved.  Second, consistent academic levels need to be considered. Once this study has been repeated accurately, other studies also can be done to compare the other technology options that were presented at the beginning of the literature review section.  One more direction that this study could be taken is to compare the use of the online annotations to traditional annotations with paper and pencil or sticky notes. This study compared higher level students with average students but on a very small scale.  The next study could be done on a large level with groups of students at both high and average academic levels which would make the results generalizable.  The reading passages each group gets could match their abilities.  The results could be compared to each other after the fact thereby eliminating that variable as a factor.


Relate to Another Reading

The literature review and discussions in Effects of Technology on Critical Thinking and Essay Writing Among Gifted Adolescents (Dixon, F., Cassady, J., Cross, T., & Williams, D., 2005) argued that little research has been explored specifically regarding how gifted students learn.  Both studies look at how technology is used by high achieving students.  Neither study used large enough groups to make the results generalizable so neither were able to contribute much to the overall development of literature of the way gifted students acquire knowledge.


Brainstorms for My Area of Interest

This study had two of the three components that I am looking to use in my study; the technology and the critical reading development.  The pedagogy base was discussed in the literature review but not analyzed in the research so I do not consider it as fully part of the research.  I was completely unaware that this type of annotating technology existed until I read this research.  This seems like a simple, free, easily accessible piece of software.  The literature section described several of the options available and provided the sites to access them.  What it made me realize is just how much may be obtainable for my research that I have not even thought about.  I recognize now that I may have been limiting my options.  I am going to begin to trolling through many places to explore what else may be possible before I narrow my research decisions.



Dixon, F., Cassady, J., Cross, T., & Williams, D. (2005). Effects of technology on critical thinking and essay writing among gifted adolescents. The Journal of secondary gifted education, 16(4). 180-189.


Finding Intellectual Capital through Value Chains in Education

Bornemann, M., & Wiedenhofer, R. (2013). Intellectual Capital in Education: A value chain perspective. Intangible Assets consulting

Bornemann and Wiedenhofer (2013) examine the value chain principle, which is a modified version of the supply chain as coined by Michael Porter, to gauge the impact of value chain principles on educational institutions within Austria. The paper examines educational institutions from elementary through higher education and their tie to political/regulatory bodies. Unlike business, educational institutions seem to be far more bogged down in standardization and regulation, losing aspects of the drivers that often help businesses move to the forefront (innovation, creativity, value add and process improvement). With application of certain business principles, Bornemann et al (2013) posit that there are opportunities to build parallels between institutions to find the right set of processes drivers to create success.

What was most interesting in this study is the authors looked at Austrian educational institutions from elementary to higher education as segments of the chain instead of independent of each other. More commonly, authors seem to focus on one level of education instead of across the range which presented interesting perspectives.  By examining across the educational chain, there is opportunity to build experiences that, from the earliest educational level, better prepare individuals for success and achievement. Within their interpretation of intellectual capital, Bornemann et al (2013) assert that this is the distinction that sets institutions apart: the individuals we produce are our product and the better that product, the more successful the institution.

The authors made use of 12 case studies collected between 2011-2012 that examined intellectual capital among Austrian schools. Their assertion based on that data is the creation of a value chain of schools with the learner as this developmental “product” that will add new value throughout each educational experience. They align the case studies with data from the auto industry as the supply chain example to prove their assertions.  Within this, the authors found areas of similarity and differences and used those to help build connections for their model. Challenges that presented themselves in the research included:

  • Definition of individual sets of drivers of Intellectual Capital which are relevant for each individual institution while simultaneously allowing for consolidation into a larger framework.
  • Definition of connecting drivers of Intellectual Capital that establish not only relations but support procedural exchange in order to optimize parts and later the whole value chain.
  • Definition of an appropriate scale with inter-subjective and auditable measures that support comparability and bench-marking. This, however, is clearly of secondary priority.

The majority of their assertion aligns with the idea that the intellectual capital and relational capital (the relationship building internally and externally that adds or detracts from success)  will be part of the differentiator in making the value chain connections work across institutions. How can the relationships between these institutions be connected as they align to processes and outcomes? Again, using the auto industry as the example, the authors assert that the segments with which students move through their education would be similar to the building/production of a car.  Building experiences that fit that segment of the “production” before then moving the individual into a connected segment would make up the chain. The focus would not be so industrial, of course, but would instead focus on value add, as part of the value chain and efficiency of costs and services for an optimal experience.

Thinking through the application of this to my own setting of graduate business education, I can see the correlation between this model and the one in the reading. At a smaller scope, I don’t see this as an application across the educational levels but instead more focused on building undergraduate programs that grow into the graduate programs to create a value-add for a student who wants to move from undergraduate to graduate programs.  Further, within the graduate programs themselves, taking on the business approach to how the individuals learn as well as interact with services and programs would become a major focus.

Transparency with the students would add some value in building the relational capital in that modelling the processes after business approaches should appeal to the business students going through them. The students should be able to draw parallels between their learning and the ways in which they are receiving services in the hopes that it influences their experience and understanding of their curriculum.

The use of the case studies combined with the examples from the auto industry applied a clear picture and methodology to the reading. Still most interesting is the design of a value chain from elementary through to higher education. A model of that size seems, to me, almost too ambitious but does make sense in the idea of connecting the educational experience from early education to higher education. The ability to align this type of system relates back to some of the challenges presented, specifically the challenge in finding drivers that work within the context of the institution but can then connect to the larger framework. Finding that balance would require institutions with similar approaches and perspectives that could easily align. Where this could most be relevant is the community college level into undergrad and graduate programs. There may even be parallels with high school in that a school, charter or academy, could be aligned to link itself to specific institutions. Pulling this all the way down to the elementary level becomes more challenging. I think the challenge lies in creating a system that can cross borders – do institutions different areas, cities or countries align? Not sure if that is possible within the U.S. educational system but perhaps Austria has the system to support this.

Overall the paper adds value to the idea of the application of value chain to education. Although taken from its own slant as it relates to education in Austria, there are connections between how this can apply to graduate business education and influence a new model based on efficient, value added and customer focused experiences and processes. The addition of intellectual capital as a method of analysis becomes one more way in which the model could take shape within a college of business.

Linguistic cultural association and ethnography

This blog post comments on an idea prevalent in McCarty, Wyman and Nicholas’ (2014) chapter on ethnography with indigenous youth.  The first ethnographic vignette in this chapter focused on a conversation with a ninth grader, aged 16, attending a “Navajo community school” (pp. 84).  One of the major themes of the conversation, and one that the researcher admitted she failed to fully connect until well into the interview, is that language often cannot be disconnected from other prescient social factors—culture, racism, and environment as examples.  She noted that the student “repeatedly returned to the integrity of the human and physical landscape in which Dine identity is rooted” (pp. 87).

This idea of interconnectedness brought me back to my first ethnographic field trip.  I was working as an interviewer with a group of cultural anthropologists from the University of Arizona and Native American elders from several southwestern Nations.  We were traveling to the Timber Mountain Caldera, a landscape containing several pan-culturally significant sites that also happened to lay directly in the middle of the Nevada Testing Site (NTS).  The NTS, controlled by the federal Department of Energy, has a long history of classified weapons testing—including the nuclear bomb in the mid-Twentieth Century—as well as a somewhat colorful history working with indigenous groups (Zedeno, Stoffle & Halmo, 2001).  Before any new testing projects can begin, the agency of record must conduct environmental impact assessments (EIA), which determine risks to the geological landscape and native flora or fauna, and social impact assessments (SIA), which determine cultural risks to people, either living nearby or historically associated with a place.

Many of the first SIAs were informed by the standard, and predominantly white, idea of the desert as a negative space with no connection to history or culture.  When faced with the sometimes quite complicated historical and cultural associations with the land in question, federal authorities often responded with disbelief or hostility.  In return, indigenous groups often became more concrete in their language of a place, and more demanding of federal consideration.

This history was beautifully telescoped in the highway sign for Mercury, NV, the NTS checkpoint that houses offices, cafeterias and lodging for personnel at the site: It read “NO SERVICES,” and was flanked at the turn-off by several “DO NOT ENTER”s and “GOVERNMENT PERSONNEL ONLY”s.  This was flanked, at the end of a long dirt road, with a barricaded front office, where we were required to present two forms of ID to an official who already knew our names.  Although we joked about it in the moment, it was the most singularly intimidating town entrance I’ve ever seen, and it had a tangible effect on the elders, even before any interviews were conducted.  It disconnected them from land that culturally was theirs, angered them and drastically changed the tenor of our ethnographic interviews from outside of the NTS.


McCarty, T.L., Wyman, L.T. & S.E. Nicholas. (2014). Activist ethnography with indigenous youth.  In D. Paris & M.T. Winn (Eds.), Humanizing research: Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities.  Los Angeles: Sage Publications Inc.

Stoffle, R.W., M.N. Zedeño, and D.B. Halmo. (2001). American Indians and the Nevada Test Site: A Model of Research and Consultation.  Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office

Losing Language

Chapter 5 in Humanizing Research, “Activist Ethnography With Indigenous Youth:  Lessons From Humanizing Research on Language and Education” by Teresa L. McCarty, Leisy T. Wyman and Sheilah Nicholas, resonated with me.  Indigenous languages are quickly fading.  I see it every day in our youth.  Not all youth have the desire like Jonathan and Justin to learn their Native languages.  Their identity is reflected through their knowledge of their history and their language.  I have had a Jonathan and a Justin, but they are few and far between.

I have talked extensively with my students about learning the culture and the language.  All of them are proud to be Tohono O’odham.  But, very few participate in traditional activities.  They have all taken culture classes in elementary, middle and high school.  In fact, Tohono O’odham History and Native American Studies are required courses for graduation.  In addition, the high school offers Tohono O’odham language classes.  However, the access to these courses is limited in all grade levels.  I think a large part of this is due to the small number of culture and language teachers that we have in the district.  At the very same time, I wonder if we would have more teachers if the district wanted more teachers.  But, that’s a whole other story.

In 2012, the State Board of Education adopted the Native American Language Certification Policy R7-2-614J, which was developed by the Arizona Department of Education and Arizona’s tribal nations (  This policy allows for traditional language speakers to obtain teaching certification through a non-traditional route.  Tribal nations are responsible for developing their own assessments for measuring proficiency.  And, with a passing score on the assessment, a fingerprint clearance card and an application fee, Native speakers are eligible for the Native Language Teacher Certificate (

I know that some of the culture teachers that we have had have utilized this alternative teaching certification.  I believe that this has been extremely beneficial to our district, and, more importantly, our students.  Like McCarty, Wyman and Nicholas (2014) learned from their studies, students are disengaging in their Native languages at a rapid rate and very few are committed to learning their language.  I have experienced this with the youth that I work with.  While many know some vocabulary, stringing together sentences seems like a task not worth attempting.

For the last 3 years, I have had a young woman, now 18, who knows O’odham relatively well and is interested in learning the language.  But, it is something that she keeps very close to herself.  She will not speak it in front of her peers.  When I ask if anyone knows how to say such and such in O’odham, I will glance at her.  If her classmates are around, she will just shrug and say that she does not know like many of my students.  In private, she will tell me what I asked for earlier.  I have asked her several times about this and she said that she does not want to get made fun of for speaking the language.  I have even encouraged her to take the language courses offered, but she refuses because she knows she will have to speak it in front of other students.  She said that she only speaks it at home with her grandpa, which seems to be the trend across Native cultures, according to McCarty, Wyman and Nicholas (2014).

How can we change this?  I honestly have no idea.  I wish I knew.  I wish our youth would see the value in learning our language and culture.  But, I also understand their perspective.  Who else values their language besides other O’odham?  Facebook is not in O’odham.  Television programs and movies are not in O’odham.  Google does not translate English to O’odham.  And, their education is not offered in O’odham.  I know parents/guardians who do not know O’odham either, therefore, they are unable teach their children.  So, whose responsibility is it to teach our youth their language before it disappears forever?

McCarty, T. L., Wyman, L. T., & S. Nicholas (2014).  Activist ethnography with Indigenous youth:  Lessons from humanizing research on language and education.  In D. Paris & M. T. Winn (Eds.), Humanizing research:  Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities (pp. 81-103).  Los Angeles, CA:  Sage Publications, Inc.

Silva, L.  (2012, Aug. 28).  Native American language teacher certification.  Retrieved from

Not So Easy To Do In Real Life

It’s the age-old question: “Should we track them or should we mix them?” (Pivovarova, 2014). Usually, this question pertains to student placement in classrooms, especially in regards to academic achievement levels. For me, this is both a philosophical question and a real life one.

Philosophically, I believe mixing kids is a good thing. I agree that higher student models are necessary for lower kids, and sometimes peers are able to explain things in a way that makes more sense. I also try to remember that students are more than just their academic abilities. They bring so many more things to the table! They have artistic talent, leadership skills, social know-how, persistence, calmness… We need students with all these skills in a classroom so that they can all be models and can learn from one another. We would never dream of putting all the “leaders” in one class and the “followers” in another – no one would want to be in either room!

But in life, it is much harder to make heterogeneous classes happen. To start, in Arizona, English Language Learners (ELL) students are put in a separate ELD (English Language Development) class depending on their score on the ELL test. No English-only students are placed in an ELD class, so these kids are essentially tracked. (They are usually lower academically, because they are still learning the language.)

Then there are the gifted kids. My district changed the way it enriches gifted students a couple of years ago. They used to be mixed throughout all the classes, and the gifted teacher pulled them out once or twice a week. Now each grade level has a class with all the gifted kids. This, too, creates tracks, because they tend to do well academically (even though gifted does not necessarily mean high academics).

And then there are all the other kids in the middle. They’re not gifted and they only speak English. They have to be divided up among the rest of the teachers. When we create class lists each year, we try to even out the number of boys vs. girls, the number of students with special education, the number of well-behaved students with the ones who have more trouble. But it’s hard when the classes are already half-determined!

In my school, they have utilized both models as best they can in the younger grades. Classes are, as much as possible, heterogeneous. This allows for mixed groups, differentiated instruction, and hopefully lots of peer modeling. But for 45-60 minutes a day, all the kids at a certain grade level (say, 2nd grade) are mixed up and move to homogeneous groups during part of their reading block. The kids who are above grade level get extension activities, and the below grade level ones can focus on the parts of reading that are hardest. It has worked pretty well at my school, and helps to off-set some of the drawbacks to heterogeneous classes.

In her article, Pivovarova (2014) found that “peer group composition matters.” She compared low, marginal, average and high students. She found that all groups benefit from being placed with high students, and low students generally didn’t impact the other groups (aside from bringing down marginal learners). She also found that all groups did better when placed with others of their own level. As I mentioned earlier, this philosophically makes sense to me. For her research, though, Pivovarova (2014) only examined academic ability as measured by a specific test. I would love to see something like this completed for other qualities, like leadership or social skills or behavior. I think that if we focused on improving other areas, like the ability to get along in groups or problem-solve in real-time, academic achievement would ultimately go up, too.


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

Teachers College. Tempe: Arizona State University.

Who gets to tell the story and why.

I was particularly moved by one of our readings this week. The excerpts from Rosaldo’s text, Culture and Truth: The remaking of social analysis struck me with a few insights (1994). I was really surprised by a comment that one of Rosaldo’s colleagues had made in regards to one of Frantz Fanon’s anecdotes. Rosaldo’s colleague discounted the account and its perspective because of the participatory narrative of the incident, “it just says that it takes one to know
one” (pg 188). This entire text has helped me understand the history and range of types of stances that one must consider and take when capturing an ethnography, but I must say that I was so surprised to see devalued or undervalued the ethnographies of individuals from within an subaltern group.

I personally connected it to how historical museums are set up or even historical documentaries. That the “unemotional” fact telling narrator is one important way to convey information but the individual, connected storylines or first person accounts are what help us relate our humanity to the humans who experienced the events.

I think that one thing I’ve really begun to pull from our readings and discussions is the awareness that we can never truly “divorce” ourselves from our research or “storytelling” and therefore if we’re forcing ourselves to be “unemotional” and detached in our writing, why is that? Why am I involved in this research in the first place? Can I acknowledge my position, historical context, and perspective and incorporate that transparently and wisely into my work?

One other glaring moment from this text and author comes after he shares and analogy to the interplay of power and position and the oppressed in telling their own story. In contradiction to his colleague’s dismissal of the concept of the oppressed analyzing and writing about their own state, Rosaldo states that in fact our field and peers miss out on something essential if the oppressed don’t write about their own situation (pg 189). He uses the analogy of a master to slave relationship to cue us into who may have the more difficult time truly encompassing all of the perspectives in a situation. The slave or oppressed gambles their daily survival on analyzing and interpreting the mind of the master. It however, seems to be that the one in power never has to engage in the analysis and interpretation of mind of the oppressed. They are engaged in merely ensuring that their own needs are met and how to keep those needs being met. Therefore, as Rosaldo states, it takes a more “imaginative leap to discover slave consciousness” (pg 189). This caveat helps establish the importance of gathering multiple accounts and perspectives in situational ethnographies and having an awareness of our historical, societal positionality.

I will say, that in general, this week’s readings on indigenous epistemologies and struggles with linguicide has highlighted one of my own personal passions around dual language immersion schooling. Some of my passions arise out of my own life experiences with racism and societal shame that is built up in the USA around speaking languages other than English. I think if I had a choice of what area of inquiry I could follow and it not be tied to my current work, it would be dual language immersion or bilingual education. I personally feel heartened by these last two weeks of readings because I sometimes feel battered down by local or national politics and propaganda that really belittle people, heritages, cultures and language and for either purposes of hidden agendas, ignorance or fear. I was about to say misplaced fear, and though I do think there isn’t a fear in honoring people, their history and language, I do think that people who oppress should be fearful of the oppressed. Time and time again, it has been these marginalized communities who have demonstrated centuries of hearty resistance and persistence and they have yet to be crushed.

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

Mixed classes: pre-tracking(?) a realization(?)

The achievement of students on whether or not they are mixed together based on their achievement levels, and if there were positive or negative implications of these groups is the central theme of the article by Pivovarova(2014).  This article brought me to a realization that I may have been in such an environment during elementary school.  I find it interesting that the timing of my experience it what I remember being called “quad learning”/”group learning”,  took place during fourth through sixth grade, very close to the grade levels of those in the research. 

“Quad learning” was introduced to us as a way to learn to work with peers, in groups of four desk clustered together, and to assist each other when problem solving, reviewing readings, etc.  Now understanding that I went to a small school, average class size was 25-30 students, and we were with the same group through all classes, but in each course we were assigned different groups of 4.  Looking back on some of my classes and groups I can almost see that we were mixed based on our achievement.  Each cluster had what would be considered in the article, one high, two average, and one low achieving student. Although we did not know this as students, we just knew that this was our group.

Throughout the course of the year, usually after a midterm, and always after winter break, the groups would be rearranged and we would have a new group that we would work with.  I now wonder, was this because of test scores, remixing the groups to maybe put some higher achieving students with a new peer group of average and lower achieving students to see if the new group would improve the others.  I can remember during our group work, that those of us that really enjoyed the topic would be engaged and continue discussion/debate, or would race to solve problems, and those that did not enjoy the topic would work with the group, get the work done, but it was more of a task to check off a list, but asking questions from time to time.

What I find most interesting after reading the article and thinking back to my elementary years, is the fact that after sixth grade, we entered into high school where we took our standardized test, then began our “track”, college prep, agricultural tech, or vocational tech.  Being in such a small school, you pretty much knew who was at the top of the class, and who was not.  Those that were higher achieving went into college prep, and further into advanced placement classes.  The average kids went college prep or a tech class, usually depending on if the family owned a farm or not, and those that would be low achieving went into the vocational tech. 

Overall I really wonder how our groups were decided in my classes. What, if any were the benefits that the teachers and administration saw in these groups?  Especially that after sixth grade there was no more focus on “group” learning and it was all individual work in the classrooms, outside we made our groups and studied, but that was usually more due to proximity of who you lived by, and if they were in your track. 



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

Indigenous Epistemology and Education

In the article Indigenous Epistemology and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights Teresa L. McCarty and guest editors focus on indigenous epistemologies and its role with educational systems, human rights and indigenous self-determination. The article first introduces a series of questions that helped to drive the research of the various authors involved as the scholars seem to redefine the indigenous research agenda within, outside, and for the fields of education and anthropology (McCarty, Bargoiakova, Gilmore, Lomawaima, & Romero, 2005). As the authors move through the article, there are different positions taken to look at native people, the oppression that they have encountered, and the lasting effects that are reminiscent today with the loss of language, culture, and community systems. The reading helps define indigenous people and relate their historical experiences to challenges that many still face today. It winds down by recognizing the efforts of research taking place today that is driving to revitalize indigenous epistemologies and reverse many of the negative experiences that have transpired.

In this paper, the researchers worked off prior material that found in previous journals and scholarly research that they could build upon. From my perspective, the author and co-authors were looking to continue the momentum in providing scholarly research with indigenous epistemology and education. The report presented readers with supporting data with statistics that highlighted the author’s position on how indigenous languages and people have been plagued over time. The readings also presented research that showed examples from various researchers who shared common ground in means of results to theirs studies conducted in this line of inquiry, but with different segments of people who were studied. In short, the different areas of research analyzed help to highlight a movement by various research projects that all support similar findings.

From my perspective, one of the main things that were discovered in this study is that there have been some recent success from scholars working in this line of inquiry. The research presented in this article provided excellent insight on indigenous epistemologies and the affect they can have education within different cultures and societies. The report also uncovered a common thread amongst various scholars who hold the same passion for reversing the trends that have negatively affected indigenous people. A positive component to this piece, the authors are very motivated that in time more scholarly research will be conducted in this field, more efforts will be made to reverse the cycle of subjugation, and that the articles and commentaries assembled here lead the way toward these transformations (McCarty, 2005).

The piece to this article that grabbed my attention most was the material focused on how indigenous languages have been driven to near extinction in some cases. I agree with the authors points that, the shift toward English represents a shift away from the indigenous (McCarty, 2005). As I read this part to the reading I immediately reflected on my own personal experience as a Latino growing up in the United States, and how I have been unsuccessful in mastering the Spanish language. The English language was the first language spoken in my home and my parents’ home growing up, although both my parents and grandparents speak Spanish. I recall while growing up asking my parents why I was not taught Spanish as a child and why they did not speak Spanish very often. I was given a very direct answer. My parents both attended catholic school in Arizona growing up. It was common practice in the past that students in this school were not allowed to speak Spanish. If they were caught doing so, they would be reprimanded immediately. An interesting fact is that all of my siblings and myself attended this same catholic school growing up, and none of us speaks Spanish fluently today. Ultimately I found an immediate connection to the authors and point of agreement as they described how society has driven indigenous people, their languages, along with many of their social and cultural practices underground over time.


McCarty, T. L., Bargoiakova, T., & Gilmore, P., Lomawaima, K. T., Romero, M. E. (2005). Indigenous Epistemology and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights. Anthropology & Education Quarterly36(1), 1-7.

“Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words!” (Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady”)


As I dive deeper into my first doctoral class, I hear Eliza Doolittle in the musical “My Fair Lady” singing the above.  All these made up words that don’t speak plainly – “processual” (Lave, p.158), “historicism” (Lave p. 159) and “positionality.”  It almost seems as though the writers are working to keep readers out rather than draw us in us.  I love to read yet this week’s readings have been torturous.  Pivovarova’s paper (2014) is a great original study about the effects of tracking high and low achieving students.  Reading it left me confused.  Rosaldo’s (1994) mini-ethnographic stories entertained, but some of his sentences are convoluted and absurd, e.g. “This chapter uses a series of examples to explore the consequences of thus understanding the factors that condition social analysis (page 169).”  Where’s the subject?  Where’s the verb?  I am confused.  If researchers want to make their writing and thoughts accessible to an average person, they need to write for the average person.  I’m so sick of words.

As McCarty writes in her editorial introduction to the special issue of Anthropology & Education Quarterly (2005), “…the shift toward English represents a shift away from the Indigenous (p. 3).”  As researchers focus on English even when working with native peoples, the history, culture and a connection are lost.  In my current state of frustration, I could rewrite that sentence as “the shift toward academic writing represents a shift away from coherent language.”  Academicians are creating their own words and language that is inaccessible to those who aren’t in the circle.  It feels oppressive to me.  This must be how some community college students feel when they hear instructors mention “Blackboard” and “MEID” and “SIS.”  It’s a new vocabulary as well as new, never-performed-before actions – e.g.,“blog” and “submit electronically.”

“Show Me” is the name of the song referred to in the title of this blog.  Youth Participatory Action Research seems geared to do that.  Researchers “show” each other what is important and what they need/want to know.  Adult researchers show the youth how to use research tools while the youth show the adults what’s important to study and how to relate.  That is dialogue.  McCarty writes that she is looking for dialogue in the theme issue of Anthropology & Education Quarterly (2005).  However, if the writers all have doctoral degrees and if people with doctoral degrees make up less than 1% of the population (as Sue Henderson advised us last week), does that 1% isolate itself with a language not understood by most of the rest of the world?  I can see researchers wanting (and needing) to develop their own language; yet it seems antithetical to the idea of social justice when this language cannot be understood by 99% of the population.

Perhaps what I am experiencing is akin to the tracking that Pivovarova (2014) writes about.  Those of us who are “low-achievers” are put in class with the “high-achievers.”  We don’t bring down the high achievers too much (depending on the distribution), but we low-achievers can be brought up.  I feel I am benefitting from all this wordy reading and writing, but I am wary of becoming one of the oppressors.  I want to relate with my colleagues and students in an authentic way. Parker Palmer’s classic book, The Courage to Teach (1998) gently encourages the reader to be authentic.  To teach in dialogue with students.  Though I believe many of the authors we read are hoping to establish dialogue, with such convoluted writing, dialogue is a distant dream for this tyro doctoral student.   Words, words, words…(when I can relate) I love them.


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.

Palmer, P. J. (1998). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass.

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

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




Examining What is Valued in Traditional Education

Quarterly, E. (2005). Editors ’ Introduction Indigenous Epistemologies and Education — Self-Determination , Anthropology , and Human Rights, 36(1), 1–7.

The reading in question introduces a number of ideas regarding indigenous education in not only our country but across the world.  Most importantly I believe, the editor raises a number of points around the languages that are valued and taught around the world and how this globalized approach is causing marginalized cultures and languages to go extinct.  The most astounding fact is that 6000 of our world’s languages are now only spoken by less than 10& of the total worlds people.  Two things pop out to me in this statistic.  One, there are 6000 languages, wow!!  Two, I am surprised to see that even 10% of the world speaks these languages when I can think of maybe 15 that are spoken in the US in total.  I do however completely agree with the authors point that we need to raise awareness about these disappearing languages and do more to affirm their existence and encourage their proliferation.  It is, of course, good to have a means for people to speak a similar language to communicate but with advances in technology we can more than facilitate communication while still appreciating diverse cultures.  To lose one of those languages is, as the authors say, to lose a part of our history, a piece of culture, and  to neglect part of our collective human experience.

Withstanding my agreement of the authors general purpose, I would have a couple of question regarding indigenous education and culture.  First of all I am not sure that I completely understand or appreciate the definition of indigenous in the first place.  I am wondering if there are places that indigenous people do not currently exist and if there are areas where indigenous people are currently refugees away from their true home.  I also wonder how it is possible to respect all cultures while still carrying on their languages and customs.  I think that to have an outsider come and probe the culture of some indigenous people would be inherently disrespectful.  I think that to truly carry on the knowledge and customs of indigenous cultures they cannot be approached with an industrial mindset of simply preserve and protect but rather cherish and uphold.  How do we change the type of knowledge we value from that which is respected by the majority to that which is cherished by the community.

The reading directly ties to my own thoughts regarding culturally responsive teaching as well as blatant acts of cultural depravity at both my school/district and the state as a whole.  To the second point, our state has a law banning the language that a LARGE number of our students speak as their first language.  The law while written (at least on paper) in somewhat good intent is actually a blatant act of racism and prejudice against students who do not share a similar background of the ruling majority.  I watch in sadness as students lose their home language and pieces of their culture which harms in the present (cannot communicate with their own parents) and likely in the future.  To the first point we see classrooms in schools that are forced by their curriculum to study literature that has nothing to do with the lives of their students.  While students become assimilated into the status quo it becomes harder and harder for them to keep up as they make the choice to lose a part of themselves or be lost within the system.

The article is nothing else fires me up about the potential of culturally responsive teaching and reflective practices.  I think that as we modify our tools as educators we modify the system that so often assimilates or simply leaves students behind.  As educators we have a higher calling than maybe anyone as we lay the foundation for how future generations think and act which is the true mechanism of societal change.

Ethnographic Bias

“After Objectivism” is chapter 2 in Renato Rosaldo’s (1994) book entitled, “Culture & Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis.”  Rosaldo (1994) provides a thought-provoking look at the challenges associated with ethnography (i.e., the systematic study of peoples and cultures).  In particular, Rosaldo (1994) criticizes “classic” ethnography that describes events as if they were programmed cultural routines and places the observer at a distance (at least figuratively) from those being observed.  For some, classic ethnography, which was in vogue from about 1920-1970, became the one and only legitimate form for telling the literal truth about other cultures.

In the chapter, numerous examples of descriptions of people and cultures through the “objective” lens of classic ethnography are provided.  The examples have a sterile detached quality that may be perceived as credible and objective because they were written by well-educated western scholars.  Rosalado (1994) posits, however, that the examples are only one perspective.  Others might be less collegial and consider the classic ethnographic view myopic.  The author provides an interesting way to assess the adequacy of social descriptions with the question, “How valid would we find ethnographic discourse about others if it were used to describe ourselves (Rosaldo, 1994)?”  To illustrate this approach the author describes a typical Canadian breakfast scene using classic ethnographic terms.  In the description, the father is the “reigning patriarch, as if just in from the hunt” and “the women talk among themselves and designate one among them as toast maker.”  Throughout the meal, “the women and children, including the designated toast maker, perform the obligatory ritual praise song, saying, ‘These sure are great eggs, Dad.’”  As absurd as this sounds, would the people about whom classic ethnographers wrote have had a similar reaction to the description of their culture and them?  Because the description is written in English and includes sophisticated vocabulary is it more accurate or credible than others?

The broad effects of classic modes of composition typically were not explored at the time because they were assumed to be objective.  Rosaldo (1994) does not believe these perspectives should be rejected outright.  Instead, he recommends they be displaced and become one among a number of viable forms of social descriptions.  Specifically, the classic accounts should be recovered but no longer viewed as the sole truth about other cultures. Instead, classic descriptions should become one perspective among others (Rosaldo, 1994).  How social descriptions are read and understood depends not only on their linguistics but also their content and context.  Who is speaking to whom and about what?  Why are these people speaking and what are the circumstances (Rosaldo, 1994)?

In addition to his criticism of classic ethnography, Rosaldo (1994) provides a number of perspectives and suggestions for reducing individual bias when describing different cultures and peoples.  Personal narratives can add balance to impersonal descriptions to better represent other forms of life.  Another practical idea is to give the same consideration to criticisms from the individuals and groups studied as to criticisms of peers.  This is easier said than done but a noble goal, nonetheless.  Finally, the author takes one step further and suggests that, “we ethnographers should be open to asking not only how our descriptions of others would read if applied to ourselves but how we can learn from other people’s descriptions of ourselves (Rosaldo, 1994).”

The idea of learning from others, particularly in relationships where learning is understood to be one-way, is a powerful and important concept.  Transformational learning can happen when the one-way learning reverses direction.  This occurs when teachers learn from students, when masters learn from apprentices, when ethnographers learn about their own culture and themselves from those they are studying, and so on.

As participant observers in action research, we have a unique opportunity to learn from our community and develop personally and professionally.

Rosaldo, R. (1994). Culture & Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis (pp. 46–67, 168–195). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Virtual schools and the school tracking debate

The personalization of education may be possible and highly impactful for individual students, with effective and strategic leveraging of technology, paired with what we know about learning styles and the influences of the characteristics of the educational “setting.” At the heart of the important debate around school “tracking” is a question about how to provide best for each student.  Do the benefits of grouping students in classrooms by their ability outweigh drawbacks, for the students and for the school?  Pivovarova (2014) explores how the composition of a peer group in a classroom might affect student achievement. She defines school tracking as “ability grouping with or without design of the specific curriculum for different ability groups” (p. 5).


A student’s academic experience can be customized based upon their curricular and learning needs in a virtual institution.  What does online education mean for the conversation around tracking?  Does it offer an alternative that makes the issue moot?  Does it offer a solution to the detriment of “bad” peers by minimizing the peer experience, relative to a brick-and-mortar educational setting?  Does it mean that students miss out on the benefits of groupings that include “good” peers, or high achieving students?  Can online education provide an experience that excludes effects of “bad peers,” forefronts the presence of and interactions with “good peers,” and otherwise individualizes the learning experience to the benefit of each student?


Pivovarova discusses the complexities of how tracking may impact achievement for individual students.  She demonstrates that the composition of the peer group affects different types of students differently.  For example, while a high achieving student seems to be “immune” to the peer group (including any variation in the population that might occur as students enter and leave) (p. 19), low achieving students benefit from the presence of high achievers.  Furthermore, she warns that previous research has shown that tracking can enhance inequality of learning opportunities for low achievers and students who may already be disadvantaged socio-economically (p. 2 & 4).


(Proponents of tracking also espouse the potential for enhanced school efficiency.  Though most schools have scarce resources, and negotiating the economics of providing for the student population is a necessary priority of any school, this stance is justified by an argument comfortable with the objectification of the student body whose only relevant characteristics are their ability and the convenience with which their needs might be attended to.  Since it seems schools’ primary goals ought to revolve around supporting students’ learning – equitably, however diverse their needs may be – I leave the economics of tracking mostly to the side, for this post.)


Online education may offer an alternative to the classroom environment that facilitates a kind of instructional differentiation that equitably attends to the needs of each student.  The low achieving student or the “bad” peer is little able to disrupt the learning of others (Pivovarova, 2014, p. 7).  Activities can be constructed to coordinate the involvement of high achievers, e.g. in academic leadership roles such as tutoring, discussion board posts requiring the readership and critical commentary of the peer group, educational games, and socialization opportunities organized by the school or parent organization.


(This last idea calls forth another related question about informal interaction: does Pivovarova’s study translate into settings that are outside of the classroom but are within the school’s domain [e.g. field trip to the city art museum]?  Online or distance education literature is partially preoccupied by the concept of community, and how achievement, retention, and/or other observable or self-reported factors of the program is positively impacted (e.g. Harrell II, 2008; Jagannathan, Blair, 2013; Sadera, Robertson, Song, & Midon, 2009).  This post will not address this question – peer composition, non-class-related interaction, and achievement – but it seemed intriguing enough to make brief mention.)


Pivovarova’s study was specific to the physical classroom environment – would “good” peers similarly affect their group in a setting held together by technologies and not by face-to-face interaction or the structure of a classroom and the set routine of a school schedule?  The author puts forth an electoral analogy, that of the median voter (in this case, to discuss the median student and how he or she affects or is affected by the peer group’s composition) (p. 21).  In contemplating what Pivovarova’s study suggests about education more broadly, including if or how her findings translate into “nontraditional” settings, the analogy that resonates with me clearly, is one of nutrition.


Because big food industry and associated marketing firms have tried to find new and catchy angles to capture and retain consumers for their food products, and because of our society’s aversion to the complex and desire to reduce a thing to its simplest form, fragmenting it into its component parts, and because of our search for a “quick fix” to immense and accelerating health problems, a holistic understanding of nutrition is neglected.  To address diabetes, consumers are encouraged to switch to artificial sweeteners, to lose weight, they may want to try carbohydrate or fat blockers, or for a mineral or vitamin deficiency, a pill will right one’s nutritive imbalance.  What we’re missing when we pick and choose elements of nutrition and or the food system, extracting them from their context, are the feedback loops, tradeoffs, and interrelationships and their effects.


Like our bodies or our food systems, a classroom environment and a school are complex systems that cannot be understood by studying one decontextualized factor. Pivovarova’s work offers considerations about peer groups that are useful for constructing an educational program – including one delivered largely virtually – that supports a peer culture conducive to each student’s achievement.  The nutrition analogy is a reminder that such findings do not offer “plug and play” solutions, and that context matters.


Moreover – especially – peers matter.  Pivovarova’s study demonstrates that peers don’t just matter for their contribution to a “sense of community” (Sadera, Robertson, Song, & Midon, 2009), which may be important for student sense of belonging, but something about their presence seems to have a more direct impact on student achievement.  Whether it is because the teacher tailors instruction to engage the high achiever and the lower achieving student benefits, because the high achievers inspire or otherwise motivate other students, or for some other reason, those in online education should take note.


The 2014-2015 school year will offer an opportunity for me to conduct action research, at some level, in my workplace.  It will be the inaugural year a small online college preparatory school, emphasizing advisement, community and peer culture, and college readiness.  I will be in a position to observe, experiment with, and engage students in program evaluations that will inform program improvement efforts.  Pivovarova’s findings are cause to further interrogate the program model as it takes shape this summer, and to critically witness the peer-to-peer (or absence of class time peer interaction) effects on academic success.


Harrell II, I. L. (2008). Increasing the success of online students. Inquiry13(1), 36–44.

Jagannathan, U., & Blair, R. (2013). Engage the disengaged: Strategies for addressing the expectations of today’s online millennials. Distance Learning10(4), 1–7.

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

Sadera, William A.; Robertson, James; Song, Liyan; Midon, N. M. (2009). The role of community in online learning success. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 5(2).

Writing the truth – Connie Hahne

Culture & Truth     The Remaking of Social Analysis
After Objectivism Chapter 2

Renato Rosaldo

Renato Rosaldo is a wonderful writer.  Chapter two was witty, engaging and eye opening. His style of composition makes the book accessible to non-scholars. Through personal anecdotes and examples from prominent ethnographers’ writings, Rosaldo leads the reader through the downfalls of traditional modes of classical research.  The strongest points I took away from the chapter are that by not becoming involved and engaging with participants in my research, I may degrade its validity if my interpretations of actions and speech are erroneous. Additionally it would be frivolous of me to not value and exploit my subjects’ personal insights into their culture and lives.  In final compositions my word choice and level of formality influence and can manipulate the reader’s understanding of my research and the participants.

According to Rosaldo (1994), the classic period in ethnography was from about 1921-1971. This was a period when ethnographers were the judges that defined other cultures for society based on distanced and objective observations.  Observations during this time were conveyed using the present tense to make generalizations about the culture’s social life. According to Spradley (1979), Ethnography “involves the disciplined study of what the world is like to people who have learned to see, hear, speak, think, and act in ways that are different. Rather than studying people, ethnography means learning from people” (p. 3).

Rosaldo’s goal “is to speed the process of change already underway in the modes of composition for ethnography as a form of social analysis” (Rosaldo, 1994 p.54). Rosaldo (1994) argues that traditional modes of composition used by ethnographers deteriorate the validity of the researcher’s findings.  Traditional methods of ethnography fail to recognize the individualities of the culture’s members. He refers to this as the “ethnographer’s evaluated, distanced, normalizing discourse” (Rosaldo, 1994 p.51). Distanced objectified observations create erroneous and unreal generalizations of a culture’s social life.  It is assumed that each member of the culture will react and behave equally in any given circumstance.

“Human subjects have often reacted with bemused puzzlement over the ways they have been depicted in anthropologic writings” (Rosaldo, 1994 p.49). Rosaldo (1994) reflects on the validity in ethnographic discourse if it were to describe ourselves. The author’s intended message may be lost if the reader’s response is humor.  Rosaldo (1994) illustrates this through the assessments made by Americo Paredes about Chicanos’ responses to anthropological description about themselves.  The Chicanos often found the writings more “parodic” than offensive. Mistranslations, misinterpretations of humor, unfamiliarity with double meanings in Spanish, and a literal belief in unauthenticated stories and urban legends were among the noted critiques made by the Chicanos.  In order to remediate and avoid such mistakes Rosaldo suggests that ethnographers take the criticisms of their subjects with the same seriousness as those of their academic colleagues.

“The idiom of classic ethnography characteristically describes specific events as if they were programmed cultural routines and places the observer at great distance from the observed” (Rosaldo, 1994 p.55). Although use of the formal and classical idiom of composition can offer rational insights, it can also be very dehumanizing of the subjects it objectifies. Rosaldo voices a need for increased tolerance of diverse rhetorical forms.  Case histories and personal narratives need to be moved from the borders of ethnographical compositions into the body.  This would aide readers in comprehending the anthropomorphic emotions and reactions of the subjects to life situations and events.

Ultimately, Rosaldo (1994) explores the potential for critical reflection and reciprocal reflections from dialogs with the subjects in his research. In order to create a more equal ground, the studied or observed becomes the researcher.  Ethnographers learn from the subject’s perceptions and descriptions about them. To get closer to understanding a culture, the ethnographer not only observes, but engages is meaningful dialog gaining insight into the culture’s ideologies from the perspectives of its members.

            Throughout the various stages of my research, I will review the following questions to be mindful of my purpose in my work and my desired outcomes. What are the truths about a culture?  How does my positionality influence me as an ethnographer and bias my interpretations of my observations?   How do the modes of composition influence the reader’s understanding of the observed culture? Is what I am writing respectful and humanizing of others?


Rosaldo, R. (1994). After objectivism. In Culture & truth: The remaking of social analysis:                       with a new introduction (pp. 46-67). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Spradley, J. P. (1979). The ethnographic interview (p. 1). New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart                                and  Winston.





What do photographs really reflect?

Photographs stand as glimpses into our lives at different points in our journey. Chappell, Chappell and Margolis (2011) see pictures as “memories of seeing” (p. 56) and within an educational journey these pictures can reflect the “face” of the world today but also the ceremonies that many of us go through that shape our future. When I think about educational events captured in photographs, there are two “types” that come to mind for me: graduation and our class photographs.

From childhood, we are gathered every year for our class shot (or at least up to a point in elementary school and maybe junior high). Those pictures are a reflection not only of our own growth but can reflect the make up of a classroom (diversity, gender) but also be reflective of the times (styles, looks, etc). The experience is somewhat of a normative process: something that many (but not all) will have the opportunity to experience.  In that same vein, graduation serves as a transition point to the next stage of life for many young people. When I was growing up, I had two graduations – one from junior high, which signaled my transition to high school and one from high school that signaled my transition to college (or to becoming an adult as I saw it). When I look back at the pictures of these experiences, I think of what that signified to me as a growth opportunity and as an experience that both me as the learner and my family had all hoped for. I think we, as people, want the best for ourselves and our children. These educational experiences become tantamount to not only personal success but may even be considered as a success of the family.

Chappell et al (2011) related educational photographs to a play. In their terms, they indicated that the environment (school) may be the same similarly to how a play is the same but the changes in both of these are the people.  The article was rife with pictures from multiple eras which represented the changing times (racial diversity, gender diversity, etc.). Their notion is that the picture can tell a lot about the progression of our society and how the message of what we stand for could have changed as well. I like to think that we have become a more progressive society and that this is reflected in our societies but that would mean forgetting that there is still a lot of inequality in the world, not just around racial or gender dynamics but around sexuality and even in socioeconomic status and how that may influence who walks across the stage or moves beyond high school. I have worked in higher education for 10 years and I think back on student access – has everyone been given the opportunity to attend? Is it really access for all and if it’s not, are the pictures we take truly reflective of our society or just this segmented piece of it? Thinking through the pictures in the article, it also makes you wonder who are the ones capturing and, in turn, sharing/publicizing the pictures? The individual(s) holding that power are more likely to take it from what they see as relevant than what may actually be reflected in reality.

What will be most interesting for the future is how, in the age of Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms, our journey will be reflected and captured when each moment is often the cause for a “selfie” or some other picture. I think through recent graduation at ASU. I sat on the floor with my students and snapped pictures, posting them for share on Instagram. Will these pictures be characteristic of who we are as people and what we stood for or more just a reflection of our society and what we think the “others” will want to see? Will our ability to connect with people from anyone in the world who have access to this technology (again the key is access) influence how we look at the world and the pictures we share back? Hard to say but interesting to see as an articulated story for future generations.


Chappell, D. Chappell, S. & Margolis, E. (2011). School as ceremony and ritual: How photography illuminates performances of ideological transfer. Qualitative Inquiry, 17(1), 56­73.

The Physical is Political: An (Uneasy) Case for Disability Studies in the High School Curriculum

At the risk of taxing, annoying, or boring you, dear reader, I’m going to go to that well again. I’m going to talk about my arthritis (again). I’m going to write about arthritis (again) because, as Blackburn (2014) argues, “a writer is obliged, both personally and politically, to write about, and thus to name, that which others use to oppress us” (p. 54). In this discussion, I’d like to explore my identity as a person with arthritis and my identity as a teacher, as well as the efforts I’ve made to keep those identities somewhat separate. I also hope to explore the feasibility, implications, and emotional risk of bringing those identities together–that is, to be a teacher with arthritis teaching students about disability studies.

Now, I want to be careful and explicit here: I do not, generally, go around feeling oppressed. As an educated, white, middle-class woman, I benefit from my race and class privilege regularly. As I’ve declared elsewhere, I have an ambivalent relationship to the label “disabled” because of the erratic-but-progressive nature of my illness (rheumatoid arthritis). Nevertheless, I have paid my entry fee, whether I wear the badge or not. The abbreviated inventory, shared here only for the purposes of establishing my “crip cred”:

The little boy in Target who harangued his mother, at top volume, about me: “What is wrong with that lady’s legs what is wrong with that lady’s legs mommy mommy mommy what is wrong with that lady’s legs?”; the man at the bar who asked, “Why are you walking like a cripple? Are you a cripple?”; the car full of boys tearing through a stoplight as I limped across who hollered, “Gimp!”; the 7th-grade P.E. teacher who said, in front of the class, “It’s a shame your body is falling apart at such a young age” and later in the year accused me of making the whole thing up; any number of strangers whose choice of conversation-starter is “What is wrong with you?” There. That’s out of the way. Further references available upon request.

The above list should give you some sense of the ways in which people with disabilities are “dehumanized, that is, made less human by having their individuality, creativity, and humanity taken away, as when one is treated like a number or an object” (Blackburn, 2014, p. 43). And my list is relatively mild. I want to revisit that moment in Target for a moment because I was struck by how similar it was to Fritz Fanon’s attempt (as cited in Rosaldo, 1994) of the “social experiment of trying to ignore his skin color. When he envisions himself as a neutral figure in a public place, his reverie is interrupted by a white child who notices him” (p. 188). The “frightened” child calls for his mother and, as he cowers from Fanon, repeatedly yells “Look, a Negro!” (as cited in Rosaldo, 1994, p. 188).

Certainly some profound differences exist between Fanon’s anecdote, taking place as it did in the 1960s and transpiring between a black man and a white child, and my Target episode, which took place in 2004 between two (three, if you count the mother, who did nothing) white people. There was not the same power differential between me and the child who called me out as between Fanon and his tormentor. However, I would argue that the child so bothered by my legs, like other people (not just children) I’ve encountered, was motivated in good part by fear: fear of a nonstandard body with its scars, lurching gait, curled digits.  Like Fanon, my reverie was also interrupted. I thought I was buying a greeting card on my way home from work. In this moment and others, by daring to go about in a troubled body, I was jarringly yanked from the personal to the public, asked to answer for my body’s wrongness, to sate strangers’ curiosity, and to assuage others’ anxieties. Just as the child came to his experience with Fanon “not as a blank slate but already filled with stories that caused a fear of black people” (Rosaldo, 1994, p. 188), people enter interactions with disabled people preloaded with assumptions, stereotypes, and fears.

As Nancy Mairs (1996) writes, “most non-disabled people I know are so driven by their own fears of damage and death that they dread contact, let alone interaction, with anyone touched by affliction of any kind” (p. 100). Fear, then, creates a chasm of perceived difference, a firm Othering of the disabled person. Mairs (1996) writes that “the people who seem most hostile to my presence are those most fearful of my fate. And since their fear keeps them emotionally distant from me, they are the ones least likely to learn that my life isn’t half so dismal as they assume” (p. 102). Interestingly, fear of disabled people doesn’t always present itself as cowering or apprehension. In some cases, nondisabled people attribute serenity, perseverance, or heroism to a disabled person, but the end result is the same: the disabled person is made of something else, cut from a different cloth, than the nondisabled person. Mairs (1996) writes that “admiration, masking a queasy pity and fear, serves as a distancing mechanism” (p. 32).

This distance allows nondisabled people to relegate disabled people (and their feelings, opinions, characteristics, quirks, flaws, and failings) “to an other, safely remote reality, [rather] than to risk identification of their own lives with a life that dismays and perhaps even disgusts them” (Mairs, 1996, p. 32). It’s tricky, because, like “flattering stereotypes,” this distancing sometimes appears respectful, complimentary. The saintly cripple with the power to teach you how to appreciate all you have is not so different from the trope of the “Magical Negro,” a “black character–usually depicted as wiser and spiritually deeper than the white protagonist–whose purpose in the plot [is] to help the protagonist get out of trouble, to help the protagonist realize his own faults and overcome them” (Okorafor-Mbachu, 2004, para. 1).

At the independent school where I teach 10th-grade English, our students explore and seek to understand the experiences of marginalized people: Across the curriculum, students and educators engage in candid and fruitful discussions of race and racism, class and classism, sex and sexism. In courses like Cultural Anthropology and Holocaust Studies, students learn about the ways people have used bad science to create and uphold divisions among people. Outside of the classroom proper, students participate in a well-attended GSA (gay-straight alliance), we always send a strong delegation of students to the Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), and we regularly hold UniTown, a 48-hour leadership and diversity retreat focused on diversity, tolerance, and social justice.

And yet, I would argue, disability studies has not found a real toehold in this context. I am arguing here that it should–it must–if for no other reason than that “what seems to be rudeness on the part of nondisabled people often arises from ignorance and fear  … and that the best way to relieve these is through education” (Mairs, 1996, p. 138). But the reasons to teach disability studies go well beyond cleaning up people’s manners. After all, we don’t teach people about racism just to make sure they don’t use the “n-word.”

I sometimes think that when we (and I don’t mean just my school) talk about diversity, we’re approaching it from this Crayola-box, United Colors of Benetton standpoint that emphasizes racial and religious diversity–and, to an increasing extent, gender, class and sexual diversity–but not diversity of ability. Consider, as a representative example, the mission of Anytown, a retreat experience for teenagers (on which Unitown is based): “to celebrate diversity and reduce bias, bigotry, and prejudice” (“Frequently Asked Questions,” 2014). The organizers promise that “delegates will confront issues regarding stereotypes, disabilities, gender, occupations, faith and religion, body types, sexual orientation, class and privilege” (“Frequently Asked Questions,” 2014). The website also includes an invitation to bring items such as “quinceanera dresses, native clothing and artifacts, menorahs, kepahs, pictures, music, quotations and readings” (“Frequently Asked Questions,” 2014). These items will be spotlighted on “‘Culture Night,’ when we share and appreciate our heritages with cultural singing, dancing, clothing, objects and customs” (“Frequently Asked Questions,” 2014). This description seems to entail view of diversity that doesn’t really, sincerely, include disability. I guess as artifacts I would bring the knee replacement components that were removed from my joints after failing and being re-replaced. As for songs, maybe “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes (Knees and Toes).” In my culture, there is no dancing to speak of.

So yes, I think we should introduce disability to the curriculum much in the same way we have interwoven or featured race, gender, sexuality, and class as lenses through which we examine power. And, given the amount of creative freedom and autonomy I enjoy as the sole teacher/designer of the 10th grade English curriculum, it might seem like I am ideally positioned to do so. To some extent, I have tried. I have my students read Nancy Mairs’ essay “On Being a Cripple.” Rosaldo (1994) says that Karl Marx’s prose is “designed to grip and persuade a reader  . . . often flamboyant, at times dripping in sarcasm, and often drawn as caricature in order to bring home a political or analytical point” ( p. 191); I like Mairs’ writing for similar reasons.

Although I present this first-person essay to them alongside other readings intended to broaden their view of human experience and to diversify the set of narratives that are valued in the classroom  (a few examples are “Blue-Collar Brilliance,” “Saudis in Bikinis,” “Black Men and Public Space”), I feel sheepish about the Mairs essay. I feel exposed and vulnerable, worried they will sniff out how profoundly I identify with Mairs and think I’m foisting some personal agenda on them. Clearly, I agree that “neither the prophet nor the demagogue has any place in the classroom. . . . One should neither preach one’s religion nor impose one’s politics on a captive audience” (Rosaldo, 2004, p. 170). And in order to uphold that mandate, I must labor at least in part under the delusion that my teaching self is, or can be, separate from my real self. (How telling that as a teacher I am “Ms. Decker” but on the front page of my arthritis memoir manuscript that’s floating around, as well as on the fiction and nonfiction I’ve published, I’m “Andrea Avery.”) The faultiness of this bifurcated identity is revealed to me when I feel so acutely injured in reading my students’ responses to Mairs’ essay. I don’t have their work here in front of me, so I’m generalizing, but these are the kinds of things I’ve read:

  • She seems really angry. She should try to move on.
  • She shouldn’t use the word “cripple.” It’s offensive.
  • It’s great that she found someone to love her even though she can’t really be a good wife or mother. Her family seems really patient.
  • It’s great she hasn’t let her disability keep her from living a nearly normal life.

I read these things, and I feel my supposed teacher objectivity crumbling, and I think, “I am too close to this.” And so perhaps I don’t push back on some of their assumptions or stereotypes, or even their misreadings (for example, the principal point of Mairs’ essay is why she uses the word “cripple” in place of other words. Certainly the objective teacher in me could ding a kid for not getting that, right? That’s reading comprehension!) the way I do when I’m coaching them through essays of race, sexuality, or class. Well, what of gender identity and sexism, you might be asking. Do I feel sheepish when I coach my students through feminist texts? For some reason, no. I identify as, and am perceived as, a woman. My style of dress suggests (correctly) my political leftness. These things pave the way for me to wear my feminism outwardly. Perhaps because of the weight of years and the work of feminists who came before, I do not think of feminism as a personal hobby that I can indulge in my free time but that I mustn’t impose on my students. Rather, I believe I am failing my students (male and female) if I do not teach them to see how imbalanced our world still is, how much work is yet to be done. Patriarchy and rape culture are bad for everyone.

Disability studies, though, remains this passion that I pursue outside of my professional capacity, using my other, “real” name. I write about arthritis and issues of disability, trying to get this finished memoir into the hands of the right agent or editor, truly believing that “sharing significant and intimate parts of our histories with each other . . . is a personal act with with humanizing consequences” (Blackburn, 2014, p. 55). But I’m more comfortable sharing my history beyond and away from my local community. In my daydreams about getting that book published, one of the only clouds floats in when I worry about whether my students (and their parents, and my co-workers) will read my work and know the real me.

That sounds strange, even to me. No one would accuse me of being a circumspect, closely guarded, private person, even among my students. They know quite a lot about me, and it’s not like my arthritis itself is a secret. But disability–not my own, but disability writ large, disability as social study, this thing that is so central to my life and my identity, this thing to which I have committed hours of evening study and early-morning writing, this thing that I fervently believe has as much place in a curriculum as race, gender, or queer studies–I keep held apart. I give it even less airtime in my classroom than I do other issues of social justice and equality to which I have much less personal connection. It is on my own time that I delve into “reading, writing, thinking, talking, some might say perseverating, to untangle the knots. If possible, or, if not, to come to know them intimately so I understand where and why I stand among the intricate tangles” (Blackburn, 2014, p. 47) even as I push my students to examine and reveal their whole selves in their own writing.

The plot thickens further when I consider that the research project that glows with the most heat for me involves working with students with disabilities or learning differences to examine in what ways our school is meeting their particular needs and how we can do more. For this research project, I will need to reconcile (and, likely, share) my own identity in relation to the word “disabled.” To earn their trust as people on the margins, I will likely need to acknowledge and divulge the ways in which I’ve been on the margins.

Personal narratives and individual experiences and testimonies are crucial to disability studies, in both scholarly and nonscholarly writing. As Garland-Thomson (2013) explains, “the field emerged in the 1980s, part of a cluster of politicized identity-based interdisciplinary fields of study . . . that theorized as well as actualized greater inclusion and equality in the academy” (p.916). As such, first-person narratives of illness were brought to the forefront of medical writing after spending years “relegated literally to the margins: prefaces, introductions, afterwords, footnotes, and italicized or small-print case histories” (Rosaldo, 1994, p. 60). Like scholars in other fields of study, the early pioneers of disability studies argued that personal narratives “often facilitate the social processes that have proven difficult even to perceive through distanced normalizing discourse” (Rosaldo, 1994, p. 60). I’ve spent years reading memoirs and testimonies of illness and disability and crafting my own. The narratives of others, including Mairs, have done much to empower me and make me feel less alone.

But personal narratives have their limitations. As Rosaldo (1994) says, “standing current fashion on its head by substituting tales of specific cases for distanced normalizing discourse will not yield a solution to the vexed problem of representing other lives” (p. 62). The primacy of personal narratives should not “discard classic norms but  . . .  displace them so that they become only one among a number of viable forms of social description rather than the one and only mode of writing about” (Rosaldo, 1994, p. 54) disability. And there is danger in over-individualizing experiences like racism, sexism, and ableism. To do so is to under-emphasize the systematic and institutional discrimination that serve to preserve the status quo.

And so, surprising even myself, I think some resolution of this tension for me will come when I move out of personal narratives of disability and spend more time examining the larger social context into which those narratives, including my own, fit. Garland-Thomson (2013) calls for us to think of disability studies as “a civil and human rights issue, a minority identity, a sociological formation, a historical community, a diversity group, and a category of critical analysis in culture and the arts” (p. 917). When I think of it that way, I feel more empowered to approach it the way I do feminism, as a power imbalance I am duty-bound to expose and explore with young people.

That is a call to action. What should my action be? As Blackburn (2014) reminds us, “action might look like a highly visible and audible march through city streets, but it may not. Action often happens at the personal and communal levels but has consequences at institutional and societal levels” (p. 55). Perhaps as a first step, I should make my (Andrea Avery) writing on disability more available in my classroom; maybe I should invite students to read my work while I’m reading theirs. I should make sure that I teach the Mairs essay as well as I teach any other essay. And, in addition refusing to shirk my own duty to teach disability, I should begin to seek out ways to lead my co-faculty to do the same. Jones (2011) provides me with a great starting point, and a potential model for a faculty activity I could lead, in her intervention work with teachers-in-training wherein she guided structured reflective writing assignments to increase their awareness of disability and “challenged [them] to rethink the politics of ability” (p. 219). After all, “teaching is as much a political endeavor as it is a profession. . . .  What we do and say in schools models for children how we expect them to interact in society” (Jones, 2011).


Blackburn, M.V. (2014). Humanizing research with LGBTQ youth through dialogic communication, consciousness raising, and action. In D. Paris & M. Winn (Eds.), Humanizing research: Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities (pp. 43-56). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE Publications.

Frequently asked questions. (2014). In Anytown leadership camp. Retrieved June 17, 2014, from

Garland-Thomson, R. (2013). Disability studies: A field emerged. American Quarterly, 65(4), 915-926.

Jones, M. (2011). Awakening teachers strategies for deconstructing disability and constructing ability. Journal of Ethnographic and Qualitative Research, 5, 218-229.

Mairs, N. (1996). Waist-high in the world: A life among the nondisabled. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Okorafor-Mbachu, N. (2004) Steven King’s super-duper magical negroes. Strange Horizons. Retrieved from

Rosaldo, R. (1994). Culture & truth: The remaking of social analysis. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.


Peer impact and anxiety in the classroom

Coming from a small town, there was always an interesting dynamic in our school classrooms. Most of my classrooms were small, maybe 20-25 people total, which made for both an intimate learning experience but also one that could be challenging if you not only were a high performer but also suffered from social anxiety. Most people would think an intimate classroom would be a great opportunity for students but for me I felt it was more of a challenge for a different reason. I did well in school, being for the most part a solid “A” student. On the social side, I was far more on the geek end of the spectrum than the popular end. Standing out in a classroom as someone who understood their Shakespeare or excelled in biology could make life difficult outside the classroom. It was for that reason that I often held back in the classroom – why stand out in the crowd when it resulted in being made fun of? By drawing as little attention to myself as possible, I felt I could slide through school with ease. I could do my homework and excel that way and avoid the social stigma of being a “dork”.

Pivovarova (2014) in a recent article discussed the impact of peers on learning and environment, whether mixing levels of achievement in the classroom had negative/positive impacts on those individuals (p. 2). Besides the fact that Pivovarova (2014) looked at 6th graders from Ontario, Canada where I’m from, her findings were interesting in the ways in which peers influenced each other for good or bad, for example, in how a student who was a low achiever may perform better surrounded by high performers and how a high performer was somewhat of an “independent learner” (p. 19) in the classroom. This idea of “low” or “high” performers to me took on a different meaning. Why was someone performing lower than another student? I was performing at a high level despite my terror of what that performance would result in outside the classroom but what else could be going on within the other students lives.

Reading this article and with influence from recent discussions in my Doctoral classes, I began to wonder what other issues could be creating low versus high performance. Maybe these “low” performers had challenges not linked to the classroom that were impacting their lives in a way that made it hard to focus on school (family dynamics, money, health). Would putting them in a classroom with a “high” performer really help? What if there was a learning challenge (A.D.D., language barrier) that created issues and that student wasn’t receiving the support they needed. What if just the label of being a “low” performer created a perception that they couldn’t achieve success and created a ceiling that prevented development? My school was also a predominantly white school in a predominantly white farming community in Canada. For those few students of color, I began to wonder what challenges they may have faced in a white institution in a predominantly white town – were they getting fair treatment and access to the same resources or were they being marginalized within the school?

Looking back it makes me wonder about all the challenges and what “low” and “high” performance could really mean when it’s not such a cut and dry term. I realized that none of these ideas had crossed my mind as a child as I was too preoccupied in my own world. As I move forward in my educational journey, I find myself begin to question beyond just the surface issues of a situation to understand what other layers may exist that are far more pressing than was apparent. I hope that the courses continue to influence me towards a better understanding of all the dynamics a situation may hold, whether it be similar to this article in a classroom setting or within my own research pursuits and I hope that this understanding provides the fairness needed to represent all the individuals that may be impacted by that research.


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

Indigenous Language and Culture Backdrop and Educational Revitalization Efforts

I was struck by the discussion regarding the power of indigenous languages in Teresa McCarty’s (2005) journal introduction entitled “Indigenous Epistemologies and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology, and Human Rights.” In the introductory article, McCarty (2005) explains that while indigenous populations may comprise a small percentage of current, world demographics, they do, however, disproportionally possess most of the world’s languages.  She demonstrates this point through the employment of statistics.  McCarty (2005) states that although, “indigenous peoples comprise 4 percent of the world’s population…they speak 4,000 to 5,000 of the world’s more than 6,000 languages” (McCarty, 2005, p. 2).

These languages are threatened by the legacy of colonized diaspora that negatively impact indigenous identities.  Diaspora jeopardizes knowledge and epistemologies that are directly connected that are autochthonous, or indigenous, to specific peoples and lands.  The core of these knowledges is understanding ways of life within particular locations and circumstances through.  These knowledges are orally transmitted to younger generations of indigenous peoples as a means of perpetuating traditional ways of knowing and perceiving the world.  This traditional and orally linguistic transmission of cultural ways of knowing is violently disrupted by the linguistic genocide of indigenous peoples.  Therefore, as language and traditional knowledge is inextricably fused, discourse about indigenous self-determination and education cannot occur without active consideration and exploration of the both elements.

More specifically, McCarty (2005) argues, that the “shift toward English represents a shift away from the Indigenous” (p. 3).  However, the ramifications of a monolingual and resulting monocultural educational system limit the scope of knowledge, epistemologies, and worldviews transmitted to younger generations.  As a result, indigenous linguistic and cultural educational movements have begun to reclaim and propagate traditional ways of knowledge through language in schools.  This effort is bolstered by the ideology that perceives and respects the cruxes of language and self-determination.

Therefore, not only should language revitalization efforts include grassroots initiatives, but also those at all levels of education because loss of indigenous languages and the subsequent knowledge continue to threaten indigenous students’ academic achievement.  This connection and the result it renders is that the educational inclusion of indigenous epistemologies “can lead to a different kind of schooling experience and a different kind of learner” (McCarty, 2005, p. 4).  Indigenous languages, McCarty (2005) contends, belong in the very classrooms that have historically and systematically oppressed their use and transmission, and therefore further marginalize indigenous populations.  However, by including indigenous languages and knowledge in education, these traditional ways of knowing and perceiving the world can empower indigenous peoples and communities toward self-determination.

Indigenous language revitalization efforts in education are at the core of my research agenda, especially those implemented on reservations.  This article illuminated the interconnectedness of the concepts of language, knowledge, of the “power of place.” I completely agree with the argument that education should be the first step in initiating language revitalization efforts.  This is especially powerful due to the colonization and subjugation of indigenous peoples through the educational process.

However, as language is not extrinsic from other cultural aspects and ways of knowing, it should not be taught in isolation.  It is a means of transferring traditional, cultural knowledge.  Therefore, it should be taught as a tool through which cultural knowledge is transmitted.  Although there are many educational programs that attempt to instill linguistic and cultural knowledge, the one I most subscribe to is that of the mother-tongue immersion program.

The mother-tongue immersion program completely immerses children in the traditional, mother-tongue language throughout the entire of the school day in kindergarten.  The language is spoken by elders of the community as a means of exposing and encouraging students to use it, but also as a means of teaching traditional knowledge.  As the children progress throughout the grade-levels, the languages employed by the schools are 50% English and 50% mother-tongue.  The Maori have developed implemented this linguistic and cultural immersion program and have rendered positive results that have resulted in other, international schools to adopt similar programs (Reyhner, 2003).  The mother-tongue immersion program is theoretically supported by the information provided in McCarty’s article and is one that I would like to research further.

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

Reyhner, J. (2003). Native Language Immersion. In L. L. Jon Reyhner, Octaviana V. Trujillo, Roberto Luis Carrasco (Ed.), Nuturing Native Languages (4th ed., pp. 1–6). Flagstaff, AZ: Northern Arizona University. Retrieved from

Using Emotions to Influence Change

Emotions drive people. When we are able to navigate them, they become the fuel for our ability to make change.

Thinking back to 1996, my high school graduation, I vividly remember the emotions that were going through my mind. I was excited and full of joy as I marched across that stage. I knew that in a few months, I would be going off to college. At the time, I didn’t anticipate the struggles and challenges I would have. I realized, very quickly, that I missed home, and I didn’t feel as though I fit in. I remember sitting on my bed and sobbing, wishing I could just quit and go home. I was close to throwing in the towel. I didn’t. Four years later, I had a college diploma and I was applying to graduate schools. I was able to manage my emotions to make choices that supported my goals in life. Where did I learn to do that?

Looking forward, in 2005, as a fifth grade teacher, I was challenged everyday by Jeremy. Jeremy was a Hispanic male from a low-income household. His father was in and out of jail and his mother was uninvolved. Jeremy didn’t like school. He never turned in his homework and he was often off task. Other kids didn’t like him due to his bullying tactics, mean mannerisms and his resentment towards life. Today, Jeremy is in jail for participating in a home invasion.

What happened? It saddens me to think about what I could’ve done differently to increase Jeremy’s chances of being successful. At the time, I did everything I thought I was suppose to…I taught him how to read, compute math equations, memorize the location of the fifty states, and various science concepts. Now, none of that really matters. His anger and bitterness ended up determining his life path. How does one harness their emotions so that they are used to make strategic and informative choices in life? When I think about Jeremy, why didn’t he use his anger about his father to fuel his desire to reach his own goals? I never taught him the skills to do this. Was that my job? If so, I didn’t know nor did I know how.

Many researchers would argue that teaching students social and emotional skills is a missing link in our schools. According to Bridgeland, Bruce, M., and Hariharan, (2013), social and emotional learning (SEL) “involves the processes of developing competencies, including self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making” (p. 1). Studies have shown that SEL can have many positive effects on students including boosting academic performance, increasing student interest in learning, improving student behavior, reducing bullying and improving a school climate.

I think it is really telling that the authors of “Humanizing Research” emphasize the power of emotions.   From a researcher’s standpoint, we need to use our emotions to fuel our ability to inform change. The notion that “feelings circulate and shape our work” (Paris and Winn 2014, p. 10) illustrates the role that feelings play in influencing our actions and decisions. When we are faced with ideas and policies that challenge us, emotions motivate us to see and challenge norms (p.10).

It’s not always easy. When I think about all of the “Jeremys” out there, I want to respond with a sense of urgency to fix this problem. It upsets me and I have often let my feelings of hopelessness stifle my desire to move forward with finding solutions. Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yangidentify with these struggles as they shared their experiences with immigration policy. They talked about how they maintained hope and perseverance despite the continuous political challenges that they faced. They shared, “throughout our four years of work we have not paid significant attention to these feelings, yet they persist and continue to shape our work” (Paris and Winn 2014, p. 5). Despite the long battle, they allowed their feelings and emotions to continue to fuel them.   Knowing that our emotions are powerful in influencing our decisions, I am motivated to act upon my convictions. The need for students to be taught social emotional skills is dire and without it, students, like Jeremy, forfeit their chances to live successful, impactful lives.



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

Paris, D. & Winn, MT. (Eds.). (2014). Humanizing Research: Decolonizing qualitative inquiry with youth and communities. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications



Do Only “Good” Peers Matter?

In this article, Pivovarova (2013) discussed and evaluated the school tracking system. Tracks are classrooms or programs targeted toward homogenous groups. As an economist, her perspective is interesting in that she is considered the financial cost of the trade off between providing an educational experience that is equal or efficient. Pivovarova (2013) states “school tracking is defined as ability grouping with or without design of the specific curriculum for different ability groups. The opponents of tracking argue that channeling students into different tracks increases the inequality of opportunity and aggravates future economic inequality. Proponents of tracking usually cite the increased efficiency when students are grouped by abilities in schools or classes” (pg. 4).

The article includes a thorough literature review and presentation of current models. I found it interesting that a mathematical formula was used to evaluate the data and try to assess the influence of students’ academic performance on one another. The Linear-in-means model of classroom interaction seems to be the common model used to assess peer learning. Pivovarova (2013) was analyzing data available through existing educational assessments and applying this model to determine the model’s applicability.   In the literature review, Pivovarova (2013) shared multiple research views and stated, “the overall consensus in recent literature on peer effects in education is clear – the data do not support the simple linear-in-means model. The evidence suggests that the structure and nature of peer effects in elementary and middle school are more complicated than the standard linear-in-means model implies” (pg. 7).

The researcher was questioning how peers in classrooms affect classroom learning and how do the students in the classroom complement and influence the learning environment. I had always thought of success in school being a function of ability and attitude. I have certainly always loved learning. However, my experience included tracks. I was tracked in gifted programs and had some fantastic educational experiences. I have always wondered what my other classmates did when we all left the room to participate in “gifted” activities. This was my peer, my community. The cost of delivering this type of unique experience for gifted students was the additional instructor and the expenses of the additional programming. When considering the cost of that, the school systems need to consider the cost of delivering a program that is targeting only one group. This would not be inline with an approach trying to provide a high quality experience to all students. There is a cost, according to Pivovarova’s (2013) findings. The costs are financial and beyond in the sense that students who are low achievers might not be receiving the best education if grouped in a certain way. Ultimately, the findings were that high achieving students added to the environment advanced the group even further.

I work with a group of high achieving students. I define them that way based upon a couple of measures. The first is the College Index (CI) score. This is a measure that is determined based upon a variety of typical high school related measures (SAT score, ACT score, class ranking, GPA). The average CI score of the students I work with is 126. The highest possible score is 144. (Interestingly, there are specific programs at ASU for students who have a score less than 100 and those who score at a high level are invited to other specific programs). The other measure I use to qualify my evaluation of the students is that our major has the most students than any other major in the Barrett Honors College (BHC). We have two groups of students in the major, those in BHC and those not in BHC. Pivovarova (2013) found that high ability students do well when grouped with other high ability students. However, the impact of lower ability students was not as clear.

As I read the article, I reflected on the students in this major and what the experience must be like as a “lower” achieving student. I’m not even certain how I would define that, except that I do perceive an imbalance between the two groups based on how they refer to one another. It definitely made me reflect on the programming we deliver and how we frame advising conversations with students.


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



Generational Language Gaps

In the article The Editor’s Introduction of Indigenous Epistemologies and Education – Self-Determination, Anthropology and Human Rights McCarthy (2005) opens the hearts and minds of readers by asking three questions that focus on indigenous epistemologies, anthropology and human rights. Although all three questions the editor opened up the article with are engaging, the one that resonated with me was the first question, “What does self-determination mean for the world’s 300 million Indigenous peoples?” (McCarthy, 2005). The editors collaborated with other scholars to dig deeper into these questions throughout the article.

The editors assert, “Indigenous languages (like minority languages) are increasingly threatened by the forces of globalization-culture, economic, and political forces that work to standardize and homogenize, even as the stratify and marginalize (McCarthy, 2005, p. 2). I felt a deep connection to this part of the article. Both my parents grew up speaking only Spanish in their homes and in their communities. However, when they started elementary school Spanish was not an accepted form of communication. My mom tells the story of how she ran home during recess on the first day of school because they told her, “No Spanish, English only.” She was frightened and knew her language and culture was not embraced in her new school community.

The editors remind us how many languages are spoken only by paternal and grandparental generations. This is true of my family. After my parents experienced difficulties in school due to being second language learners, they chose not to teach my brother and I Spanish. The language stopped in my generation because they saw it as a deficit. The article illustrates how language identifies people, “who we are, where we came from, and where we are going; our family, territory and culture” (McCarthy, 2005, p. 2). Because the language stopped in my generation, I felt a disconnect with my grandparents and parents in relation to who we are, where we came from and where we are going because we did not speak the same language. As a child, I remember sitting with cousins at family gatherings listening to the adults speak in Spanish and tell stories of their childhood, which brought laughter and tears. I remember one time asking for them to tell me the story in English and they did. However, I didn’t find it funny, they said that it wasn’t the same in English because they couldn’t find the right “English words” to appropriately and fully share the story. McCarthy (2005) explains that shifting toward English represents shifting away from Indigenous (p. 3).

In the article, McCarthy (2005) describes four different attempts to incorporate linguistic and cultural content into elementary and high schools. One scholar discusses the importance of both curricular and structural changes in education. Scholar, Mary Hermes, advocates for “cultural incorporation through immersion teaching in the Native language to both strengthen endangered languages and propel the culture-based curriculum movement far beyond superficially adding fragmented pieces of cultural knowledge onto the existing structure” (McCarthy, 2005, p.3). I believe researching the impact of self-determination is worthwhile and positively contributes to the field of education.


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


There’s no crying in research

Several years ago, while working as the assistant director of the Disability Resource Center (DRC), I met with a student regarding a particular accessibility issue. This student was a male, African American, senior, who was a returning veteran, and had a hidden disability (psychiatric disability). The student had expressed some frustration regarding access to one of his classes, and that he was having challenges with one of his instructors. As I listened to his story, I felt it appropriate to try and remain as objective as possible, in order to best advise this student, and eventually the instructor. My goal was to be as neutral in the process as possible. However, as we discussed the particulars of his concerns, I sensed a real disconnect between myself and the student. Sensing that this disconnect was related to my being detached emotionally, I shifted to a more personal approach.

In an attempt to make the conversation more meaningful, I related a story that involved my brother. This story was similar to his own, as my brother, too, had a disability. I expressed the frustration that my brother had felt and experienced during a particular time in his educational pursuits, and the anger that resulted with our family. In doing so, I introduced an emotional and human element to this student’s experience, and could sense, almost immediately, a drastic shift in his trust of me as a participant in that experience.

As researchers, we are taught to be objective when doing observations. In doing so, we lessen the likelihood that our own experiences, feeling, opinions, and cultural identities bias the results of the study. In this week’s reading, author Renato Rosaldo (1993), argues that complete, detached objectivity distorts the true context of the work we are doing, and does not accurately reflect the places and people that we are observing.

In framing the argument, the author notes, “arguably, human feelings and human failings provide as much insight for social analysis as subjecting oneself to the “manly” ordeals of self-discipline that constitute science as a vocation. Why narrow one’s vision to a God’s-eye view from on high? Why not use a wider spectrum of less heroic, but equally insightful, analytical positions” (Rosaldo, 1993, p.173)?

The author gave an example of ethnographer, Jean Briggs, who embedded herself in an Eskimo village as a way to study the people. In her book “Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family”, author Jean Briggs (1970), describes the experiences and the challenges of her own emotional journey. In her book, Briggs introspectively explores her own identity and emotional struggles, which impacted her ability to connect with the people in a meaningful way.

Rosaldo describes her experience by saying, “in conducting her field work, she did not try and elevate herself to the dignified heights of science as a vocation. Instead she used her own feelings, particularly depression, frustration, rage and humiliation,” (Rosaldo, 1993, p. 176). The author goes on further to say that “although the choice was originally her own, Briggs found herself overwhelmed by an alien world. In response to emotional and physical deprivation, she sought consolation through food, and even went so far as to hoard eight sesame seeds in tin foil. The ethnographer was held prisoner, not by the Eskimos but by her determination to succeed in doing fieldwork under demanding conditions” (Rosaldo, 1993, p.177).

While I may never experience the harsh conditions that Jean Briggs experienced among the Eskimo tribe, there is great wisdom in acknowledging the emotional introspection of that journey, and the impact it had on her ability to effectively connect with the very people she was observing. As I look ahead to my own action research, particularly in ensuring access, excellence, and impact through mentoring, I want to be mindful of that balance of my own emotions and attachment to the student participants, and frame my life experience in that process in a way that creates trust among those that I will be working with. Only through doing so, will I be able to truly represent an accurate reflection of the impact of my research.

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

Briggs, J. (1970). Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Revolutionary Change

This week’s readings seem to focus on how people are represented in research.  The study by Rodaldo he examines how in an effort to sound objective research “fails to grasp significant variations in the tone of cultural events.”(Rosaldo, 1993, p.50)  Descriptive language used to describe social activities can be distancing and even “dehumanizing” (Rosaldo, 1993, p. 54).    Research needs to be put in terms used  in everyday life or by adhering to “the highly serious classic ethnographic idiom almost inevitably become parodic when used as self-description?” (Rosaldo, 1993, p. 48)  Accuracy and interpretation of events observed may be improved by including personal accounts of the participants to close the distance in understanding.   This is an experience I witness in parents all too often as I review student’s Individual Education Plans (IEP).  The technical jargon that is contained in legal documents like the IEP is supposedly written in concise language that is specific to the child’s needs.  Furthermore, parents are given and even bigger legal document that outlines the rights and procedures of team members.  The result is, parents are not as tuned in to what the documents say as they are about conversations, in plain words, about how their student is performing. “What does self-determination mean for the world’s 300 million Indigenous peoples?”(McCarty, 2005,p.1)  The same questions educators ask about self determination for students with IEPs are very similar to the questions asked of indigenous people.  They both represent a small population that is caught in the demands of conformity.  The pathways they have to travel for equality in view of the rest of society are very different. Researchers and educators know that, short of a revolution, change is slow and the dominant culture demands conformity. “The coincidence of the change of circumstances and of human activity can be conceived and rationally understood only as revolutionizing practice.”(Lave, 2012, p.158) I believe it goes back to nature’s battle for survival or self preservation.  People and civilizations have been making attempts to divide and conquer since history began.  The irony is that there is just as much to learn from the conquered people as the victors.  Now we notice “the underlying processes of cultural, economic, social, and political displacement that lead to language loss- what some scholars have labeled linguistic genocide” (McCarty, 2005,p.2) and human history with it.  The challenge will be to find a method of change that will find a way to preserve and seek cohabitation. The International Society for Culture & Activity Research (ISCAR) is working to create change with the question, “what is needed for engagement in a political struggle for a different, more inclusive, just and habitable world?” (Lave, 2012, p.156) My inquiry engages the school and its local community in the struggle to make a difference by closing the gap through education and self-determination.   As business professionals, community leaders, and politicians reach out to form school partnerships they plant the seeds to inspire students to set goals for their education.  Change is slow and if one seed is planted as a result of my inquiry, it will be worth the struggle.  “Each of us has much to learn, but together we can help ourselves and one another to understand more adequately our own political situations and struggles and those of the people whose lives we study.”(Lave, 2012, p.169)   References: Lave, J. (2012). Changing Practice. Mind, Culture and Activity, 19(2), 156171. McCarty, T. L. (2005). Indigenous Epistemologies and Education SelfDetermination, Anthropology, and Human Rights. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 36(1), 17.   Rosaldo, R. (1994). Culture and Truth: The remaking of social analysis. Boston, MA: Beacon

Using Inquiry to Improve Pedagogy through K-12/University Partnerships

Huziak-Clark, T., Van Hook, S. J., Nurnberger-Haag, J., & Ballone-Duran, L. (2007). Using inquiry to improve pedagogy through K-12/university partnerships. School Science & Mathematics, 107(8), 311-324.


STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is currently a buzzword in the world of education, with inquiry skills being a considerable component of improving the pedagogy. Inquiry, a process of student investigation to develop knowledge, involves careful orchestration by the teacher and lesson structure in order to reach desired student outcomes. Huziak-Clark, Hook, Nurnberger-Haag, and Ballone-Duran (1999) suggested that in order to improve inquiry within the science classroom, collaboration amongst educators and scientists must occur. The purpose of the authors’ study was to “describe and report effectiveness of a collaborative program that brings together classroom teachers, university faculty, and science or mathematics graduate students to develop better content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and inquiry-based teaching practices among all partners” (Huziak-Clark et al., 1999, p. 311). Thus, all parties involved wanted to work together to discover effective techniques to devise lesson plans that allow students to think critically and construct knowledge without direct instruction, which occurred over a three-year period of time. The program consisted of two parts: the professional development/creation aspect of the process and the implementation phase. Throughout these two sections of the program, researchers noted the effectiveness of the partnership and determined the degree to which it positively contributed to more effective inquiry-based lessons.

University and K-12 partnerships are important to the growth and development of inquiry-based practices in the K-12 classroom because of the knowledge and skills both parties can contribute to the process. All of the inquiry based professional development opportunities I have attended presented a wealth of information but left me with little guidance in regards to implementation, which is why I was intrigued to learn the way in which the authors structured their professional development. During a summer institute, teachers and fellows, participated in two phases of training: “the Workshop Phase and the Planning and Development Phase” (Huziak-Clark et al., 1999, p. 313). So, embedded within the institute was the opportunity for participants to plan for implementation. While lesson planning, the participants used the popular 5E lesson plan (engage, explore, explain, extend, and evaluate). Not only did the teachers and fellows work together during the design phase of the inquiry lesson plan, but they also implemented the lessons together during the academic school year. I believe this type of teamwork capitalizes on the strengths of both individuals, where one is an expert in the teaching field and the other has a deep understanding of the content knowledge.

During the implementation phase of the study, the teachers and fellows co-taught and co-planned in order to effectively implement inquiry-based lesson plans. In order to determine the effectiveness of the lesson implementations both qualitative and quantitative research methods were utilized. The types of data were as follows: classroom observations (during implementation of inquiry lessons), individual participant interviews, journal prompt responses with both teachers and fellows (regarding implementation of lesson), and a Likert survey (with questions pertaining to creation, implementation, and reflection). The classroom observations were quite comprehensive and focused on the areas of lesson design, implementation, science/mathematics content, and classroom culture, where each area was rated on a scale of one (ineffective) to five (exemplary). In regards to the interviews, the teachers and fellows participated in structured interviews with program evaluators in order to provide information on overall impact of the program. The Likert survey addressed the effectiveness of the program goals from the teacher and fellow perspectives.

Although this was a small study, I feel the findings support further investigation into the collaboration of higher education and K-12 education in the creation and implementation of inquiry-based lesson plans. The inquiry lessons described in this study are quite impressive, for example, one pair developed a lesson plan to teach acids and bases in a chemistry unit and one observer described it in the following way:

The design of this lesson incorporated tasks, roles, and interactions consistent with investigative science. The design also encountered a collaborative approach to learning among students…The instructional strategies and activities used in this lesson reflected attention to students’ experience, prior knowledge, and learning styles (Huziak-Clark et al., 1999, p. 315).

As a science teacher, this description alone excites me and makes me believe these educators are onto something phenomenal! This description alone is not the only proof that these educators did exceptionally well, the teacher evaluation system (Horizons) found that “greater than 75% of the scores were rated as a High 3, 4, or 5” (Huziak-Clark et al., 1999, p. 317).” Thus, indicating that overall the lessons were successful, well planned, and implemented effectively. Overall, I believe that these results provided proof that collaboration can create better inquiry-based lesson plans in science and math.

What most impressed me about this study is the sustainability of the learning that occurred for the educators involved. For example, the teacher’s confidence to design and incorporate inquiry-based lessons into the classroom improved, as well as, the teacher’s knowledge of content improved by approximately 60%. Also, built into this study was the opportunity to equip these science and math teachers with new tools that they can continue to utilize in their classrooms, for example, the 5 E lesson plan model, which many stated they would continue to use to lesson plan. Overall, the fellows stated that they saw tremendous growth in their teacher partners and believed that their ability to question improved. Not only did this study provide support to the statement that collaboration between fellows and teachers improves inquiry in K-12 science and math classrooms but it also provided information to support that positive changes occurred in pedagogy of the teachers.

I believe that the “program provides an example of an effective model for mutual beneficial collaboration between a university and K-12 schools” (Huziak-Clark et al., 1999, p. 322). The results of the study showed positive results, however, the question remains: How can we implement such a program on a larger scale?  Also, such a program would require on-going professional development, which means that partnerships between schools and universities would have to remain strong for an extended period of time. How costly would such a program be for K-12 schools and universities? What are the other ways to address improving inquiry-based learning in the science and math classrooms? Is our K-12 education system prepared to make such an extensive commitment to its higher education counterparts and are universities prepared to help such a program exist? These are all questions that must be addressed when beginning to discuss such movements towards improving inquiry-based educational practices in K-12 classrooms.




Huziak-Clark, T., Van Hook, S. J., Nurnberger-Haag, J., & Ballone-Duran, L. (2007). Using inquiry to improve pedagogy through K-12/university partnerships. School Science & Mathematics, 107(8), 311-324.


Educating the Educator

Analysis of Changing Practice

In summary; this article presents the theoretical frame work of research in an effort to “educate the educator”. The author suggests that as part of changing our activity in changing circumstances we need to consider the most politically critical sites of political change.

From this article I outlined three main points:

Main point I. We need to make familiar and recognizable our own everyday possibilities for revolutionary praxis and take them up in our research practices.

Main Point II. That we take seriously the understanding of research as craft, and both learning and changing identity as aspects of craftsmanship.

Main Point III. How can craft practice be constructed as learning, and learning as craft?

According to the author and several other scholars in research communities, we need to make familiar and recognizable our own everyday possibilities for revolutionary praxis and take them up in our research practices. The focal point is theory and practice of scholars and learning communities. The article seeks to examine some issues and questions for researchers and those concerned with lifelong learning. More specifically, The International Society for Cultural and Activity Research (ISCAR). ISCAR is a scientific association that aims at; developing multidisciplinary theoretical and empirical research on societal, cultural and historical dimensions of human practices. Also promoting mutual scientific communication and research cooperation among its members. The author urges ISCAR participants to reevaluate their research practices. ISCAR members and participants are blessed with the obligation of creating long-term theoretical and empirical research. Early on in the article the author made note of a noticeable shift in the direction that ISCAR research has taken over the last decade.

In evaluation of the article, I found that it was clear that the mission and vision behind the article is to encourage the researcher to form collaborative groups, and take part in political discussions. The author suggested taking part in demonstrations, and recognize struggles for change in our universities and communities more broadly, and to engage in critical analysis in order to change our own research (p.158). I recognized several key points and recurring themes such as research as our craft and craftsmanship. Several scholars referenced in the article discuss their approach to research and how to look, and what to look for. They offered a summary of the historical and political dimensions of our practices as researchers.

The article’s contribution to knowledge and its implications made me reflect on another article by author Mark Smith (2009). Smith referenced earlier work by Jean Lave and Etiene Wenger in communities of practice. In this article the authors discuss the idea that learning involves a deepening process of participation in a community of practice. Lave and Wenger (2009) suggest that organizational growth and development is hinged upon developing communities of practice which places a high value on working with groups.

In my opinion, I highly regard the theory of molding and shaping our research and research efforts by treating these research efforts as our craft and using innovation as our craftsmanship tool, much like the ISCAR participants did. I believe the understanding of research as craft, and both learning and changing identity as aspects of craftsmanshipwill make forrevolutionary praxis in our research practices.


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

Smith, M. (2003, 2009). The Encyclopedia of Informal Education. Retrieved June 16th, 2014.

Tracking, Mixing – Actively?

In the paper, Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? (Pivovarova, 2014), the author discussed the effects of peers in a classroom setting. In very broad terms, in Pivovarova’s paper, students are classified as higher, average and lower achieving; the author even made mention of “bad” kids. In addition, there were multiple reasons explaining why this is practiced in schools around the world. I had a few revelations when reading this paper and couldn’t quite get them out of my head.

To begin, I recalled my own childhood when reading this paper. I remember from a very early age, that the “gifted” students were treated differently. They had better books, better teachers and seemed to obtain more help from the teachers. Some of the “bad” students would call these “gifted” students the “teacher’s pet” because they were always getting called on to answer a question or asked to help with special tasks. Looking back now I remember that it made me feel terrible. I would question why I was not asked to clean the erasers (it was cool back then) or to help grade papers. I was a good student but obviously I was not “gifted.” Sadly, I also recalled the students who were not so “good.” My heart hurts a little when I think about how they must have felt.

As in any group there are ranges in intelligence, economic status, culture and race (to name a few) and the groups at my primary school were not much different. The school district that I attended also tracked students and unfortunately everyone knew what track they were in based on which class they were placed. When I think about this now it makes me angry. I questioned: How can this be? Isn’t this a form of segregation and racism? Why did my parent’s allow this to happen? Why did anyone allow this to happen? Of course, some of my questions were answered in the paper as to a probable “why” a school would track but I still don’t like or agree with it.

Putting my childhood memories aside I also thought how my area of interest, active learning, could play a part in halting the practice of tracking students by achievement level. In one of my research blogs I discussed various ways that an instructor can incorporate active learning methods in a classroom, simply and at no cost. Some of these methods include the pause procedure, which means the instructor stops every 10-15 minutes and allows the students to check their notes with a peer. Additionally, another method of active learning is small group work.

Continuing, one of the student groups that Pivovarova analyzed were those that relocated from another school. “The potential reason for lower academic outcomes for movers is that events that make students move – family break- ups, unemployment or loss of parents – also negatively affect their academic achievement” (Pivovarova, 2014, p. 9). In relaying this quote I am hopeful that a potential instructor would correlate that by incorporating one of the active learning methods discussed above it would help a struggling student. These improvement in the student could be reflected in their personal feelings (feeling less isolated) and would encourage their classroom participation, which could possibly improve academic achievement.

In closing, I was particularly surprised how a study on tracking or mixing students in classrooms would have any connection to active learning – and stir up so many emotions for me! I am just scratching the surface on my action research and already feel the desire to learn more. I am excited about how I may be able to contribute solutions to significant issues that are occurring in the United States public educational system.


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

To Track or Not to Track

To track or not to track, that is the question. All administrators grapple with this question because there are pros and cons to ability tracking students. Personally, I have experienced student placement based on ability tracking as well as placement based on a more heterogeneous approach but I have yet to decide which approach I prefer. Pivovarova’s 2014 article opened my eyes to the pros and cons of particular classroom designs and allowed me to begin formulating a better understanding of best practices for placing students in classroom.

During my first four years of teaching, I was asked to be involved in the student placement process for the middle school students. Our process for placing students was not a fine science but instead based on teacher observations such as, student behavior, gender, and grades. With these traits in mind, we attempted to evenly distribute the students into each homeroom with the intention of creating heterogeneous classrooms. This type of distribution seemed to be effective but I always had to wonder how the lower achieving and behavioral issue students were affecting my higher achieving students. I felt a sense of guilt every time I had to stop the class to handle a behavior or begin my lesson with foundational pieces that my higher achieving students already understood. Although I saw some negative aspects to this classroom design, I also was able to witness outstanding cooperative learning moments where higher achieving students would help instruct lower achieving students. I believe this was not only beneficial to the lower achieving students but it was also incredibly advantageous for the higher achieving students. With that being said, Pivovarova (2014) stated that both low and high students benefit from these exchanges and there is a “positive effect of diversity of abilities in the classroom supports the idea that students learn from each other not only from their teacher, and class interaction play an important role in learning and transmission of knowledge” (p. 24).

During my fifth year as a teacher, I was introduced to the concept of student achievement tracking. The middle school students were placed according to achievement on Arizona’s high-stakes test, AIMS (Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards). All high-performing sixth through eighth graders were all placed in the same class, all middle achieving students were placed in another class, and all low-achieving students were placed in a class. The first thing I noticed upon walking into the classroom was the morale of the students; the high-achieving students were upbeat and motivated; the middle-achieving students lacked motivation and were complacent; and the low-achieving students had poor morale and continuously referred to their class as the “dumb class”. Pivovarova (2014) came to a similar conclusion; she stated “while grouping by ability seems to be beneficial for high-achieving students, there is no evidence to support the tracking model for all students” (p. 27). Although it was extraordinary to watch the higher-level students excel and work on more advanced assignments, I knew my lower students were academically stagnant.

By utilizing achievement tracking are we perpetuating the intellectual perceptions that the students already have? I believe so, because it was a daily struggle to get our middle and low achieving students to believe that they can achieve at high ability levels. Unfortunately, I watched as my middle-achieving students, who were capable of meeting our standards and excelling, simply gave up because they were not labeled as “high-level” students. Placing students in these levels, I believe will select an educational path that students will be confined to for the remainder of their academic careers. Is this fair? Is this the message we want to send to our kids?

I still do not have a definitive answer to the question: should we track our students? There are valid pros and cons to both sides of the argument and as a school administrator; I am left to make this challenging decision for my students. After reviewing Pivovarova’s 2014 article, I believe that it would be in my students’ best interest to remain in heterogeneous classes due to the moral obligation I have to do what is best for all students, not just a select few. All students deserve to have access to an excellent education.




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


Who tells the story? Who makes the change?

There exists a strange dichotomy in ethnographic research.  In order to accurately understand a culture or a people, the researcher needs to be an insider, but to be able to take a new critical perspective, the researcher needs to be an outsider.  My first blog post of this doctoral journey began with:

“Garcia (2013) posits that researchers’ own biographies “greatly influence their values, their research questions, and the knowledge they construct” (p. 41).  A researcher must have credibility (be an “insider”) to be trusted and effective with study participants (p. 43).  The sense of Garcia’s writing is that a researcher can’t really understand the plight of someone who is different and whose life experience is different” (Lippincott, 2014).

Now, a full four weeks later, I have read what seem to be mountains of writings.  I am sure that I will soon look back and realize these readings are just the foothills.  Through this reading, I have breathed in a wide variety of opinions about the role of a researcher.  Rosaldo (1993) makes his point in a humorous way, sharing his ethnographic version of breakfast at his in-laws home, where the doting father became the “reigning patriarch” (p. 47) and the daughters’ expressions of gratitude became the “obligatory ritual praise song” (p. 47).  Luckily for Rosaldo, his future in-laws took this as a humorous parody, which, like much humor, had a grain of truth.  Rosaldo (1993) makes the point that “human subjects have often reacted with bemused puzzlement over the ways they have been depicted in anthropological writings” (p. 49).  So, here we see that an insider can not have the same view of an event as an outsider, someone with a different vantage point.  Is the outsider needed to point out truths that an insider can not see?  Is the outsider needed to translate an intimate experience into a general truth for both outsiders and insiders to consider?

You may be thinking that a perceptive insider can fulfill this function as translator.  Kirkland (2014), a young black male researcher, identifies himself as a part of  the demographic of young black men.  He uses his study of literacy in young black men as an example of ethnography, “a process of paradox, of being near while being far away, of engaging participants and their situations close enough while still retaining the necessary distance to explain them” (p. 185).  Yet, I felt his discomfort with this dynamic also.  In a conversation with a small group of young black males regarding their creation of rap, they stress his otherness:  You “can’t feel my flow…you don’t hear me…you be reading stuff about rap, but that don’t make you a rapper…you don’t live in it like us” (p. 186).  Kirkland’s analysis of this exchange included “As a perceived outsider, I got signified on” (p. 188).  Even as Kirkland is holding his outsider-ness as his identity as a researcher, he uses the youth vernacular to show his insider-ness.

Beyond this perspective of who is to tell the story, is the question of who is to create change?  What will be done with the story?  This is where culture circles and participatory research come in.  In these strategies, the researcher teaches the researched group the techniques and methods so that they can speak and do for themselves.  Perhaps researchers should become teachers of research methods and mentors of the formerly-researched, but now researchers themselves.  Participants can develop critical life skills that help them “consider life’s challenges from multiple perspectives” (Souto-Manning, 2014, p. 218).  This fulfills the two aims of research:  to tell an honest story and to affect change.


Garcia, S.B. & Ortiz, A.A. (2013).  Intersectionality as a framework for transformative research to special education.  Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13(2), 32-47.

Kirkland, D. (2014). Why I Study Culture, and Why It Matters. In D. Paris & M. Winn (Eds.), Humanizing Research: Decolonizing Qualitative Inquiry with Youth and Communities (p. 179-200). Sage Publications, Inc.

Lippincott, D. (2014) Is Empathy Enough? [Web log]. Retrieved from

Rosaldo, R. (1993). Culture & Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis. Boston: Beacon Press.

Souto-Manning, M. (2014). Critical for whom? Theoretical and Methodological dilemmas in Critical Approaches to Language Research. In D. Paris & M. Winn (Eds.), Humanizing Research: Decolonizing Qualitative Inquiry with Youth and Communities (p. 201-222). Sage Publications, Inc.