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.

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.

Productive Failure?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Learning styles” and education in a controlled environment

Pashler, H. et al. (2009). “Learning styles: Concepts and evidence.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 106-119.

People best learn in different ways.  This is a deceptively simple and interestingly familiar idea in modern educational research and curriculum design.  It’s also a concept accepted—or at least understood—by a wider general public, and fits nicely within the twenty-first century cultural (and technological) context that personalization easily available, expected and best.  But regardless of this wider acceptance, is there quantitative evidence to support the theory?  Pashler et al. (2009) set out to explore the current literature, historical context and quantitative support for what they term “learning styles.”  Through what historical context did this idea germinate?  What experimental methodology would best quantitatively prove its efficacy?  Has such research been performed in the current literature, and if so, what does the evidence prove?

It’s all Jungian

The authors begin by situating the idea of categorizing people into disparate “types”; this, they explain, draws from the work of Jung, whose research in psychology and psychoanalysis led to the creation of behavioral tests—like the Myers-Briggs—that perform much the same function as learning styles.  They categorize people into “supposedly disparate groups” based upon a set of distinct characteristics, which in turn explains something deeper about a person.  Although the authors do not regard these tests as objectively scientific, they do note that these tests have “some eternal and deep appeal” (pp. 107) with the general public.

The authors hold that this “deep appeal” partially explains what draws researchers, educators, learners and parents to the idea of learning styles.  Beyond being a method to feel like a larger and often cumbersome system is treating a learner uniquely, the authors write that learning styles can become straw men for underachievement:

“If a person or person’s child is not succeeding or excelling in school, it may be more comfortable for that person to think the educational system, not the person or the child himself or herself, is responsible” (pp. 108).

Even including the evidence presented, this is an unfair prognostication.  In their desire to explore the objective science of learning styles, the authors have shut down consideration of a slew of externally confounding factors, including socioeconomic stressors, racial background and cultural barriers, which all have a demonstrated influence upon classroom performance (Howard 2003; Liou 2009).  More than that, however, this passage reflects an underlying bias among the authors commentary—that a theory is lesser when it speaks to people emotionally.

What are learning styles really for?

However, when the authors break down the unspoken hypotheses that govern the idea of learning styles, they make an excellent point.  There are two very distinct issues at play:

  1. The idea that if an educator fails to consider the learning styles of his or her student, their instruction will be ineffective (or less effective).  The authors also consider what they term the reverse of this assumption: That “individualizing instruction to the learner’s style can allow people to achieve a better outcome” (pp. 108).
  2. What the authors term the meshing hypothesis, which assumes that students are always best “matched” with instructional methods that reflect their learning style.

These represent both disparate theories of curricular design and widely differing levels of analysis; whereas the first hypothesis presented above represents the assessment of learning styles as critical to the creation of a curriculum, the meshing hypothesis treats learning styles as more of a delivery method.  Most importantly, by confusing these two ideas in exploration of this theory, researchers overlook the possibility that one may prove true while the other does not.

One experimental methodology to rule them all

Before reviewing the current literature, the authors outline abstractly a simple, experimental methodology.  They identify this methodology as the truest way to “provide evidence” of the existence and efficacy of learning styles, and use it as a guideline to measure the quality of data in existing literature.  The requirements are listed below:

  1. Learners must be separated into groups reflective of their learning style; the authors suggest “putative visual learners” and “auditory learners” (pp. 109).
  2. Within their groups, learners are randomly assigned one of two instructional treatments.
  3. All subjects are assessed using the same instrument.

In order to prove the quantitative efficacy of learning styles, the results of this experiment must show a “crossover interaction”: That the most effective instructional method is different for each group.  The authors note that this interaction is visible regardless of mean ability; if Group A scores wildly higher on the final assessment than Group B, a crossover interaction can still be observed.

However, it seems that the authors are confounding their hypotheses in much the same way they identify the literature does; assessing the learning styles of a class and identifying which instructional tools will best speak to a particular learning style are completely different processes.  The latter includes interference from several factors, least of which is the assumption that all instructional methods are equally effective ways to explain the content at hand.  They also do not allow for these hypotheses to be proven independently true; by stating that the only acceptable outcome of this experiment is some magnitude of crossover interaction, they ignore confounding factors—the comparative strength of instructional methods to each other; that all learning styles are equally effective ways to explain the content; that students who identify either an audio or visual strength will respond to the content in the same way—and assume that either both hypotheses are true, or both or false.

But what are the tools for?

In their review of the associated literature, the authors denote only one article that supports the existence of learning styles and uses their outlined experimental method.  They conclude that

“although [this study is suggestive of an interaction of the type we have been looking for, the study has peculiar features that make us view it as providing only tenuous evidence” (pp. 112).

These tenuous features include omitting the mean scores of each group’s final assessment in the paper (instead matching learners with a control); that learner performance was measured by raters; and that the instructional treatments used vary significantly from those “more widely promoted” (pp. 112).

This lack of appropriate evidence, conclude the authors, demonstrates that the theory of learning styles is untested at best and nonexistent at worst.  However, the one point that the authors decline to discuss is why experimental methodology is best for “proving” this theory in the first place.  They assume that a controlled environment will provide truer or cleaner data without recognizing a singular truth of classroom education—there is no controlled environment.  Educators at the classroom level have no control over the previous education and content exposure of their learners; over the influences learners face outside of school; of the gender-based, racial or cultural experiences that shape a learner’s perception.  In such an environment, why would it matter to educators that one mode of assessing learning styles, or one instructional intervention, is statistically better than another?  That environment is far removed from the situation this theory is designed to elucidate.

The authors are unresponsive to their own biases, namely bridging the distance between an idea in theory and in practice.  They make the claim in their introduction that because learning styles are so untested, meager educational resources should not be focused on studying or including them in instructional design (pp. 105).  However, they fail to consider learning styles on a concrete level.  Is it truly more expensive to personalize a curriculum based on learning styles?  Does learner benefit need to be statistically significant in a controlled environment for it to be “worth” the effort?  Although the authors are in some ways critically reflexive of the unspoken hypotheses researchers assume in discussing learning styles, they are unaware of how their personal biases have shaded their commentary, which begs the question: To whom are the authors speaking?


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

Liou, D.D., Antrop-Gonzalez, R.A. & Cooper, R. (2009). Unveiling the promise of community cultural wealth to sustaining Latina/o students’ college-going networks. Educational Series, 45, 534-555.


Critical Reflectivity and Student Agency

This blog article will focus on bridging the work of Bautista et. al (2013) and Liou et. al (2009) with Howard’s (2003) rubric for self-reflection; beyond the ability to recognize your individual biases and agency, it is also important for research and researchers to recognize power built from student experience and the wider community.

Howard (2003) described a very personal rubric to aid educators in reflecting inward: upon their current racial or cultural biases, as well as major (personal) historical influences upon them. Bautisa et. al, expand upon this practice of cultural reflection, but move the focus outward; using a youth participatory research program (YPAR) as an example, the authors situate the power of student experience and student voice in educational research. The authors’ goal was to explore which “traditional tools of research” (pp. 2) students appropriated to evaluate their program—the Council of Youth Research. As part of a wider discussion, they also note the absence of student experience from educational research as a whole.

Liou et. al, likewise, expand upon the theme of critical reflexivity by focusing upon the agency that exists outside of a traditional school. How do local communities empower students to succeed–or, in this case, to seek out relevant resources and materials to apply for college–in the absence of such assistance from an underperforming school? The authors note that often, when services do not exist in underperforming schools–or when those services are not readily available to all students–students instead look to their community. This creates an interesting paradigm for school improvement; focusing upon the resources a wider community provides to students (as well as their quality) gives a school a new understanding of the services students need, as well as “improv[ing] the quality of relationships between school adults and the students they serve” (pp. 551).

These readings made me reflect upon one personal and very applicable example of the power of student agency, and how difficult it can be to build. During my time with the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), I worked to build and sustain a coalition for youth anti-tobacco advocacy, made of disparate school-based and community-based youth organizations from across the state. Historically, anti-tobacco work with youth in Arizona had heavily focused upon what we called in shorthand the “DARE model:” in-classroom lectures, featuring a figure of authority from the school or greater community who gave a very fact-based presentation. In focus groups with middle and high school students, however, we learned that this model was effective in passing along those facts–that cigarettes are deadly and addictive–but it did not personalize the subject, nor give students a sense of involvement in the cause. The goal of this new advocacy-based coalition was to empower students to understand what policy is, how it affects them and how they could affect it.

This was a radical change in the student-educator relationship, and one of the most difficult pieces to put into play was to demonstrate to these student leaders that they had agency–within their homes, their schools and their communities–and to support them in developing their confidence. Many, at the outset, simply asked for a list of acceptable club activities, without giving much thought to their local environment or personal interests. Definitely putting Howard’s rubric into play, adult educators were a vital piece of building confidence among students to tackle issues of importance to themselves and their peers; these adults, who could be anything from a homeroom teacher to someone working in outreach at the county health office to a volunteer with a community youth program, approached “advocacy” and “student agency” in very different ways; we helped all parties, including ourselves, to reflect upon our own biases, and our own communities, in order to formulate a better way to speak to coalition student leaders. Likewise, as Bautista suggests, we guided these students in the same process, asking them to identify their individual agency, as well as the agency of their local club, and to use that to find projects that were meaningful on both a personal and community level. This conversation was essential; without the wealth of student voices and experience added to the conversation, this coalition would never have risen past the lecture–a figure of authority telling the students what they should do.


Bautista, M.A. et al. (2013). Participatory action research and city youth: Methodological insights from the Council of Youth Research. Teachers College Record, 115, 1-23.

Liou, D.D., Antrop-Gonzalez, R.A. & R. Cooper. (2009). Unveiling the promise of community cultural wealth to sustaining Latina/o students’ college-going networks. Educational Series, 45, 534-555.

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

Self-reflection – Try it, you’ll be more successful!

Hudesman, J., Crosby, S. Flugman, B., Issac, S., Everson, H., & Clay, D. (2013). Using formative assessment and metacognition to improve student achievement.  Journal of Developmental Education, 13(2), 2-13.

Teachers, students, researchers do it….You’ll be more successful if you do it….Try it, I bet you’ll like it!

The above article from the Fall 2013 issue of the Journal of Developmental Education shows that students who engage in regular and on-going reflection about their learning process show improved results in developmental Math courses.  This metacognitive process is essentially the same process that we as nascent researchers are being asked to do for ourselves and, as teachers, that most, if not all, of us do by training or temperament:  thinking about what we do, doing it, examining and reflecting on our results, and making adjustments to improve.

Data from four studies of students in developmental Math courses at an urban college of technology were gathered.  More than a thousand students were included over the course of three summer sessions and four academic years in the mid-2000’s.  In each study, an experimental group engaged in a special program (embedded in the class) that included regular self-reflection and a continuous feedback loop where the students and instructors both adjusted behavior.  This process was called EFAP-SRL (Enhanced Formative Assessment Program with features of Self-Regulated Learning).  For each experimental group, there was a control group of students taking the same level Math course without the added formative assessment, reflection, and feedback.  Whether the classes were short-term summer classes or full year classes, the students in the experimental groups earned higher pass rates in the course as well as higher pass rates on the Math portion of the ACT.  Some data support that students also did better on subsequent Math courses.

To facilitate the metacognitive process and “teach the students how to better plan, practice, and evaluate their ‘learning how to learn’ strategies,” (Hudesman, Crosby, Flugman, Issac, Everson, and Clay, 2013) instructors gave students regular (weekly during the school year, more often during the summer sessions) quizzes.  Students had to first predict their score on the quiz and write how much time they had spent preparing.  Prior to answering each of the five quiz questions, students had to rate their level of confidence in getting it correct and rate their expectation of having solved the problem correctly after completing each problem.   After the corrected quizzes were returned, students had to complete reflections comparing their predictions to the actual results.

The metacognitive process continued and was enhanced with instructor-facilitated class discussions about the reflective process and learning opportunities for the students using personalized data.  For example, students created graphs comparing their predictions of success with their actual quiz scores and then had to generate explanations for the results.  Students also came up with a plan for improvement that could include strategies discussed previously in class.

Instructors received training on the theory and practice of the EFAP-SRL process prior to teaching in the experimental groups and were observed throughout the term to see how often they were using the EFAP-SRL strategies.

This research, though it considered success in courses that I don’t teach, is still very exciting to me because it supports the value of on-going reflection and two-way feedback in the classroom setting.  I found the literature review rich in its explanation of formative assessment and student-regulated learning.  The Methods section is comprehensive; it took me several readings to understand, but I attribute that to my lack of familiarity with research methods.  The results and data tables are clear, simply presented, and easy to read.  The theoretical framework is strong and carried throughout the article.  The contribution to the field is significant because this study supports the efficacy of metacognitive learning which can be applied to all subjects and gives examples of instructor strategies that can be adapted for other subjects as well.  The Appendices contain examples of a quiz and a post-quiz reflection sheet.

The authors acknowledge that engaging in the EFAP-SRL process created more work for instructors and students.  Some instructors gave the researchers feedback that they were uncomfortable with the role of “educational psychologist” in the classroom.  A possible collaboration that I could see even before it was mentioned by the authors was to link the Math course with either a college success course or a counselor who could more comfortably handle the self-reflection piece.  I saw no mention of how the instructors were selected to participate which may have some influence on results.  The authors acknowledge that several interventions were included in this collection of studies and that further research would benefit from separating out the quizzes from the self-reflections to compare the impact of the different interventions.

I am interested to know more about whether students’ level of engagement with the reflections had any impact.  If a student only cursorily reflected was their pass rate still as high?  Yet, rating a student’s depth of reflection seems subjective.  Also, if a student started in the program and then dropped out, was there any measurable difference when they attempted Math again?

One small critique/confusion I have is that the abstract mentions that students’ pass rates on the ACT were higher after students completed the courses engaged in metacognitive activities; whereas in the results section it talks about COMPASS results.  From what I could tell from a Google search, ACT publishes the COMPASS test, but that connection could be more clearly stated in the article.

This research is important because as the authors point out, a third of students who enter college come in needing developmental classes to prepare for their college level classes.  Colleges need to be better prepared to help those students achieve their goals.  With President Obama’s completion agenda, community college funding will be tied to students’ graduation rates which provides another incentive to colleges to help students move through required course work in order to graduate.

All in all, I found these results highly encouraging.  The EFAP-SRL process seems replicable – think about what you are doing, do it, examine the results and reflect, adjust.  I am anxious to be more intentional with my students about using metacognitive strategies.  I am also beginning to think this may be a more viable line of inquiry I could tackle for my research.

Hudesman, J., Crosby, S. Flugman, B., Issac, S., Everson, H., & Clay, D. (2013). Using formative assessment and metacognition to improve student achievement.  Journal of Developmental Education, 13(2), 2-13.

The Need for Critical Reflection

The article Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection by Tyrone C. Howard, is a reading that focused on the need for critical reflection by teachers in the classroom. The article provided a great perspective on the potential positive results from the use of critical reflection in teaching strategies, as well as the difficulties that are often faced by teachers who are implementing culturally related pedagogy into their teaching methods. The research presented in Howard’s writing looks at variety of different topics varying from data on the educational struggles of Latinos and African Americans in the United States to a case study conducted on preparing educators to teach by using critical reflection in the classroom. The reading presents a plethora of information on critical teacher reflection and the value it can present in teaching practice.

The article content provided me with insight on the delicate nature, yet strong value of bringing topics of cultural awareness, race, and ethnicity into classrooms. The research material presented in the reading helped to support the need for significant teacher reflection and to establish a more conducive learning environment for the growing ethnically diverse classrooms in the United States. Tyrone Howard provided strong examples of how the Latino and African American student populations have faced challenges to assimilate to the American school system, while explaining his theory of more critical reflection in teaching, and how it would improve African American and Latino student’s chances for success in education. The information offered by Howard supports the theory that teaching practices that engage in critical reflection can help breakdown some of cultural difference that may cause some of the struggles that these students face in the U.S. school system.

As I reflect on this particular reading now, I also recognize the points made by Howard on challenges that teachers can face in bringing critical
into the classroom. Howard states, “The nature of critical reflection can be an arduous task because it forces the individual to ask challenging questions that pertain to one’s construction of individuals from diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.” I can defiantly relate to these topic areas and how they can be intimidating and difficult for an individual to talk about in their classroom, and can see how many educators may shy away from these topics whether inadvertently or not. The article continued to grasp my attention  as it stressed the importance of critical reflection and how it engages learners in a positive notion, yet clearly defined that one must be fully committed and trained adequately to bring this practice to fruition successfully in their teaching and learning environment.

This article struck me from the onset as I began to think of the challenges that may arise, “as educators address the demographic divide” (Howard, 2013, p.195) that continues to grow in the United States. As a Latino who attended a predominantly white private religious based educational institution for the majority of schooling growing up, it made me think about how my experience may have been different in a classroom setting of this type. How might my experience have been different, if I were allowed to develop and foster as an individual in a classroom environment that encouraged teachers to embrace cultural diversity in the classroom, as opposed to limiting it? Would I have adapted easier? Would I have been more successful academically at a younger age? There are many questions this reading brought to light for me. My final position is to agree, “the need for critical reflection can be an important tool for all teachers” (Howard, 2013, p.201). If all educators adapt to culturally relevant pedagogy as Howard explains, the results to many struggling students in academia may prosper in the future.


Howard, T. C. (2003, Summer). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Reflection. THEORY INTO PRACTICE, 42(3), 195-201.

Mismeasuring Man

“American Polygeny and Craniometry before Darwin” is chapter 2 in “The Mismeasure of Man” by Stephen Jay Gould.  The chapter provides detailed information about how nineteenth century science and research were used to support a position that was broadly held at the time, rather than advance knowledge through discovery.

In the nineteenth century, the prevailing view among Caucasians was that they were superior to other races.  This was not a new position.  Writings the author presents by revered American figures, including Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln would be considered racist today.  The author provides information about two views that were both used as justifications for racial ranking: monogenism and polygenism. Monogenism (origin from a single source) is the belief that human races are degenerations from the perfection of the bible’s Eden.  Even though all peoples descend from Adam and Eve, some races have declined more than others according to this view.  By contrast, polygenism is the belief that human races are separate biological species and descendants of different Adams.  Of the two, monogenism was probably the more popular, perhaps because it was consistent with common interpretation of scripture.

Much of the chapter is devoted to a critical review of the beliefs of Louis Agassiz and the research of Samuel George Morton, both of whom were staunch supporters of polygenism.

Agassiz, an esteemed Swiss naturalist, moved to America and became a leading spokesperson for polygenism.  His position on polygenism was bolstered his personal theory and methods.  First, he developed a theory of “centers of creation” while studying the geographic distribution of animals and plants.  Agassiz believed species were created in their proper places and didn’t stray far from these centers.  Secondly, he focused on minute distinctions to establish species based on small peculiarities of design, which is known in taxonomic practices as an extreme splitter.  Agassiz speculated freely about his beliefs but didn’t have any data for support.

Morton, an aristocrat from Philadelphia with two medical degrees, provided data that won worldwide respect for the American view of polygeny.  He had a reputation as a great data-gatherer and objectivist of American science.  His hypothesis was that races could be ranked by measuring the size of the brain.  Morton published data and findings that supported his hypothesis.  Gould, the author of this chapter, reanalyzed Morton’s data and found four categories of problems: 1) Large subsamples were included or deleted to match group averages with prior expectations, 2) Some measures were sufficiently imprecise to allow for a wide range of influence by subjective bias (e.g., blacks fared poorest and whites best when results could be biased towards expectations), 3) Procedural omissions (e.g., Morton believed skull size recorded mental ability but didn’t consider sex or stature, both of which effected the results), and 4) Miscalculations and omissions that added justification to Morton’s position.

Fear played a prominent role in these biases: fear of the unknown, fear of losing control, fear of those who were different, and fear of not being safe.  The chapter was a reminder that racism was pervasive and broadly accepted in America as recent as the mid-nineteenth century.  Today, the prejudicial views of our founding fathers would be unacceptable to most.

The chapter provided a vivid example of how bias can influence research.  Because Morton’s views were extreme compared to current societal norms, it’s easy to see how bias influenced his approach and findings.  Morton attempted to add credibility to his position by using an objective and methodologically sound approach, which was later debunked by Gould.

How can we know that research we conduct is balanced?  What about our own biases today?  We must be vigilant about objectivity in our research.  Elliot Eisner has some practical advice about objectivity in educational research including: striving to eliminate bias, focusing on the world rather than ourselves, being fair and open to all sides of an argument, using objective methods, and seeing things as they are.


Gould, S. J. (1981). American Polygeny and Craniometry before Darwin. In The Mismeasure of Man (pp. 30–72). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Eisner, E. (1992). Objectivity in Educational Research. Curriculum Inquiry, 22(1), 9–15.

Is Empathy Enough?

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 (Garcia, 2013).  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. Because a researcher’s identity is intertwined with his research, he may (or should) exclude some groups, but this, in turn, renders them invisible and marginalizes them (Garcia, 2013).  This marginalization may occur even as the researcher is trying to help the subjects of a study.

Medicine Stories (Levin-Morales, 1998) also discusses the marginalization of groups by colonizing powers who try to help those they deem inferior by educating their young.  Levin-Morales states that “colonizing powers take over the transmission of culture to the young” (p. 23) in the guise of helping them.  Culture has always been the glue that holds a society together, and children are inculcated into the society and government by schools.  My own daughter started her school years in Argentina, where we lived as part of an exchange program.  Her assignments were often to draw the flag, create art representing the country, and sing songs about the motherland.  One day, her father said to her, “That’s what Argentines do.”  She furiously informed him that she was an Argentine, although we knew her to be an Anglo-American Caucasian.  Seeing this through Levin-Morales’ eyes enlightened me to a different view of these practices.

Levin-Morales (1998) also includes a thought-provoking essay about “good English.”  She feels that editors have tried to strip away part of her identity by changing her writing in the name of correcting her English to a standard that is not representative of the many Englishes spoken and written throughout the world.  This article touches on a hotly-discussed issue in linguistic circles:  world Englishes.  Who does English belong to?  British?  Americans?  Or the millions of other English-speakers?  The paradox is that, as an English as a Second Language teacher, I must teach my students something that equates to correctness.  At one level, this is English to help them communicate ideas, which must follow some set of basic norms (for example, using past tense to talk about the past, pronunciation that is distinguishable to the listener, or word order in sentences that is clear enough to express an idea).  As the fluency of English rises, my students are preparing to study in American universities, where the English used is probably the English of stuffy, white male professors.  However, if the student is to compete in this playing field, he/she must know these rules, which I teach.  Am I harming my students’ identities by trying to strip away their brand of English to replace it with one that will serve them well in an academic setting?

Pondering the ideas of Garcia & Ortiz (2013) and Levin-Morales’ Medicine Stories (1998) worried me:  can I  teach students of color if I am not a teacher of color? am I doing a disservice to the identities of my students by teaching an academically-acceptable brand of English?  These concerns were  somewhat allayed by Howard’s “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.”  According to Howard (2003), teachers must first believe that all students can succeed and make sure that their actions don’t reinforce prejudice.  They should view different cultures and the way they learn as an asset in the process and use a wide variety of teaching practices which change with the students’ strengths and weaknesses.  This left me hopeful that I can do justice to my students and be helpful to them within their own context.  I need to spend more time getting to know them individually and not labeling them with one-dimensional descriptions.  Through on-going critical self-reflection, I can confront my own learned prejudices in order to overcome them and move forward.

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.

Howard, T. C. (2003).  Culturally Relevant Pedagogy:  Ingredients for critical teacher reflection, 42(3), 195-202.

Levins-Morales, A. (1998).  Medicine Stories: History, Culture, and the Politics of Identity.  Cambridge: South End Press.

Researcher Beware

First year teachers are like brand new pennies, they have been untouched by the issues in education, all shiny and new. They start out with their excited smiles and the “I’m going to change the world,” attitude. This is not to say that veteran teachers are not passionate about their role, but it is easy to see that veteran teachers have a weight on their shoulders. As teachers, we fight for what is right for our students and work without the resources we need, but we give our students the best education we can offer.

I remember the moment I realized that my students were not given the same opportunities. I was a first or second year teacher and I was at a music conference, still shiny and new. I was in awe, watching a middle school band; they were amazing! When the band finished playing, the director had the kids stand and take a bow. I was struck with the realization that, with the exception of four students, the entire ensemble was Caucasian. I instantly found this odd, as this was not the case at my school.

Then the director started talking about what he did to get the students to produce such incredible music. He was adamant that the teachers in the room needed to make sure the students were playing on matched instruments. Matched instruments! I was lucky if my students had instruments at all. Not only were these students all playing on school instruments, but they were all matched and brand new. It was at this point that I became a little tarnished. I was astonished that he had the budget for that. I had to fight for every piece of music I had and instruments were not an option. At that moment I realized that my students were disadvantaged and that the director and I were not playing on the same field.

While I read the article by Garcia and Ortiz (2013), I kept coming back to the same thoughts of my students. What could they have achieved had they been given the same access to resources? Garcia stated, educational equity remains an elusive goal for students from non-dominant racial, ethnic, linguistic and socio-cultural communities…” (Garcia & Ortiz, 2013) Our schools are not equitable. The students do not have the same classes, services, resources or diversity.

As I contemplate my research along with the articles, I was struck by the fact that my research could have a lasting effect on education. It is doubtful that teachers and researchers enter their field with thoughts of holding people back, yet the unconscious bias one has, can do just that. Gould discusses this very problem.

Morton made no attempt to cover his tracks and I must presume that he was unaware he had left them. He explained all his procedures and published all his raw data. All I can discern is an a priori conviction about racial ranking so powerful that it directed his tabulations along preestablished lines. Yet Morton was widely hailed as the objectivist of his age, the man who would rescue American science from the mire of unsupported speculation. (Gould, 1996)

The research presented by Morton was, in his eyes, objective. However, his research held bias towards minorities and had an impact on education and society. (Gould, 1996) If one looks at the demographics of our schools, specifically race, and the access they have to resources, it is easy to see that the bias Morton held, still affect us today. “Education equity remains an elusive goal for students from non-dominant racial, ethnic, linguistic, and socio-cultural communities; the research conducted to-date has not been successful in altering this trajectory.” (Garcia & Ortiz, 2013)

I find myself wary of my own possible bias as I approach the start of my research. As previously stated, it is doubtful that any researcher has the intent of causing harm to another person or culture; however, it is clearly possible. How does one avoid such a disaster? If I were required to list my bias at this very moment, I don’t know that I would be able to write anything down. In order to know what one’s bias is critical reflection must be utilized. As discussed by Howard, “Critical reflection is the type of processing that is crucial to the concept of culturally relevant pedagogy.”(Howard, 2003) He goes on to state that “Critical reflection should include an examination of how race, culture, and social class shape students’ thinking learning, and various understandings of the world.” (Howard, 2003) This could also be applied to researchers and educators. If educators have a clear understanding of how race, culture and social class shape their own thinking, we would have a better idea of our bias and how we are unconsciously communicating these ideas to our students. What becomes plainly obvious is that researchers in general need to spend time in critical reflection in order to keep the bias from affecting their work, as it did with Melton. By using Melton (Gould, 1996) as an example, one can find the following guidance:

  1. Look at the whole picture, be aware of the sub-samples and be consistent in the collection of the data.
  2. Set bias aside and confirm that the results can be reproduced
  3. Keep an open mind. If the data leads to alternate hypotheses, follow it.
  4. Check the math and leave nothing out.

As I set out to tackle my own research, critical reflection will play a role in my awareness of how I fit into the culture I will be studying. By being aware of my preconceived notions of culture, race and social class prior to my research I may be able to keep my ideas of such from hindering my research. The idea that I could impact others’ lives is both exciting and intimidating, as there is a fear there that research can hinder as much as help.

Garcia, S. B., & Ortiz, A. A. (2013). Intersectionality as a Framework for Transformative Research in Special Education. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Lerners, 13(2), 32–47.

Gould, S. (1996). The Mismeasure of Man: American Polygeny and Craniometry Before Darwin. The “racial” economy of science (pp. 30–72). New York: WW Norton & Company. Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books=en&lr=&id=CmJWBaANlsEC&oi=fnd&pg=PA84&dq=American+Polygeny+and+Craniometry+before+Darwin&ots=gu4mtzHxt_&sig=SJ7qO0-EjTwDdury27I9m2tcam8

Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection. Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195–202. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1477320

Diversity in Virtual Classrooms

With more of our courses going online, I find myself struggling with creating programs and student experiences that have value across cultures, language, technology and curriculum.  From our week 1 reading, what stood out most in this area was the Howard (2003) reading. Of particular interest is the shifting perspective of the teaching population and the idea around better representing the cultural aspects of the classroom populations that the teachers teach in (p.195). This brought to mind many of the virtual programs that I manage with individuals who are across the world.

I currently run a certificate program for professional Supply Chain students who are dispersed around the world with individuals in countries like China, Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan. When working with these students, our professors have to find a balance within the virtual classroom that can work with such a diverse audience yet still maintain the educational standards of the program. This becomes an interesting balance for them but also for our staff as we work to assist the students with navigating through the courses and ensuring they have the tools needed for success.

One of the pieces that really stuck out to me is how much we may overlay our own ideas of the persons culture over their actions and let the stereotypes we know about the culture interfere with the students creating their own identity (Howard, 2003, p. 200). In some cases with my students, I assume the learning styles that I am used to and that our system of education will all work for them. I need to remind myself and the professors that the context that these individuals may be coming from could be quite different from what we are accustomed to. Getting a better sense of who these students are, how they learn and approach education will help us better serve these populations.

Garcia and Ortiz (2013) also forced me to pause and think through some of my actions and approaches to the virtual programs. Similar to above, the idea that intersectionality “makes possible the examination of the simultaneous interactions among race, class, gender, and (dis)ability for any individual child, family and community, as well as the interplay between these individual or group characteristics and organizational responses to them” stood out as an interesting dynamic that I had not looked at in this way (Garcia & Ortiz, 2013, p. 34).

What most stood out was this idea that there are so many interactions that go into not only who we are but how we perceive others and how our actions both take place and may be received. Within this, I was able to further draw parallels back to the work I do within higher education but also able to look across the W. P. Carey School of Business and think about how important this is in how we set up our courses, our processes for moving students through the system and the other interactions that play into graduate business student success.

I realize that I often get lost in my daily operations and interactions and forget to look more holistically at the actions and interactions within the day to day. Thinking through the research really put into perspective how we, as educational leaders, need to take a step back from time to time to see the full picture and how I can be more cognizant of my perceptions and how I present myself and my work to others.

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

Howard, T.C. (2003). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection,
42(3), 195- 202.