Archive for the 'Lessons I've learned' Category

A +/- Approach To Assessment

grade-156087_1280by Elizabeth Jorgensen

A retired colleague entered my classroom today, grunting, his hand in the air. He’s now long-term subbing at a neighboring district. “You know what’s stupid?”

“What?” I asked.

“Rubrics. I was reading short stories and assessing them using the teacher’s rubric. Creative writing earned a four; highly creative writing earned a five. And for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out the difference between what’s creative and what’s highly creative.”

“Yeah, that’s my problem too. Too subjective.”

He told me after his first attempt at scoring, he had a conversation with his students. “The kids, they all agreed that they didn’t know the difference between creative and highly creative either. So I told them we’d scrap that rubric and I’d score the papers differently.” He went on to remind me of his assessments: he awards positive points for everything students do well (stylistic devices, action verbs, entertaining openers) and negative points for errors (run-on sentences, incorrect punctuation, clichés).

When I started teaching thirteen years ago, he shared a favorite assignment with me. In this exercise, students told the story of three people trapped in an elevator. The students wrote in narrative format with correct indents and punctuation and the dialogue tagging rules.

He told students, “You are in charge of this story. You can add as many details as you wish. The rules of reality are also up to you. Maybe people change into sandwiches on this elevator. Whatever! The reason the elevator stalls is also up to you. But your story tells what happens on that elevator with those people. Don’t focus on people outside the elevator, like rescue squads or repairmen. Write about what the people in the elevator say and do.”

He gave students three rules: “1) No ultra-violence. No guns. No bombs. No strangling. Don’t kill off your characters. Be a more astute writer and don’t rely on death to solve your story; 2) No telling the reader what a person thinks or feels. Show us through the character’s actions or words; 3) No graphic sexual scenes!”

And then, he explained his scoring: “You will begin with 50 points and earn your grade accordingly: +3 for each piece of realistic diction used in dialogue; +3 for impressive description that is not overdone; +3 for a WOW (something funny or deep); -3 for repetitive or incorrect tags; -3 for any incorrect grammar, spelling, punctuation or indentations; -3 for inappropriateness or immaturity; and -3 for telling.”

Students, if they felt he missed something when scoring, could argue for more points. He encouraged students to score their own essays before handing them in. Finally, he gave students an example featuring Britney Spears, Elvis, and Buzz Lightyear:

Britney squealed as she twirled her kinky, blond hair and snapped her gum. “Um, like you guys, I think that, um, like, the elevator has like stopped or something. Like hit that button one more time.”

“Hey, baby, how about you and me stop at the Heartbreak Hotel after we get outta here? Priscilla won’t mind,” said an overweight man in a sequined jumpsuit, gyrating his hips so fast it shook the entire elevator.

From out of nowhere, a one-foot tall plastic space man flipped open his space helmet. “Buzz Lightyear to the rescue! This is an intergalactic emergency! Push the button, blonde girl!”

“Like I’m not a slave for you; I’m not a girl, not yet a woman. Treat me with some respect little space man or I’ll send my bodyguard after you!” she said as she applied her pink lip gloss.

And on and on…

My colleagues all grade differently. Some use rubrics; some use the four point system I outlined in an earlier blog; others use the plus and minus system my former colleague favors. No matter your method of assessment, grading challenges instructors to communicate achievement accurately and effectively. I hope your method doesn’t make you throw your hands in the air and grunt.

Exploring Identity in Milwaukee

milwaukee-1809871_640 (1)By Lupe Serna

Growing up, I remember social studies instruction as very textbook heavy. It seemed like everything we learned about social studies was through text. I don’t recall ever going out to the community to explore social studies, much less to personally witness the role of social studies in real life experiences or in my community. Perhaps that is what influenced my imprecise understanding of the social studies. I never got the opportunity to fully immerse myself in the subject, at least I was never aware that I already was immersed in it on a daily basis.

As teachers, we want our students to see the purpose and importance of class content. We want them to be able to explore on their own and discover new things. Students should be able to question and inquire. They should be able to take what they learned and transfer it outside of the classroom.

In order to accomplish that, one of the biggest resources that we can turn to is the outside world. We can engage students into the lesson by making their city and their communities part of the curriculum. Physically taking students out into the community so that they can see the presence of social studies in the real world can make a lesson much more meaningful. Teaching social studies does not have to be limited to inside the classroom, much less to a textbook. The great thing about teaching social studies is that we can use what’s out there! We can look for sites, museums, or neighborhoods in our communities to connect social studies to students’ lives.

A site in the Milwaukee community that can help us teach social studies is the Old South Side Settlement Museum. This museum is located inside of a home in the South Side of Milwaukee. Despite growing up in that area and passing by that house for years, it wasn’t until my junior year of high school that I visited it during a summer camp job. I always wondered why that house stood out from all the others and when I finally got to experience what it was about, I was amazed by what I found. This museum shows the history of Milwaukee’s immigrant communities in that area of the city throughout the decades. Each room in the house is set up to represent the cultural identities of families who once lived there. Aside from displaying photographs of that neighborhood across the years, it also has antiques and furniture that date back to when families lived there. The cultures highlighted in this museum are the Polish and Mexican cultures. Visiting this museum is a great way to see not only the differences in identities, but also the similarities among these two groups. The tour of this museum goes into the cultural component, but also the historical component in regards to immigration and the living conditions throughout the ages.

Before visiting this site, students can explore different cultures (like the Mexican and Polish that they will hear about at the museum) and their similarities and differences. They can also explore the topic of immigration and the waves of migration into Milwaukee throughout the years. Finally, students could look at the challenges that immigrants face in terms of living conditions, but also the identity crisis that they might experience upon moving to a new country. A means of introducing students to this struggle of discovering and freely expressing one’s identity can be through the book Unidentified Suburban Object. The book can engage the students through the story of a young girl who explores her family’s heritage and only then does she feel like she can be herself.

Students can greatly benefit from both that lesson and visiting that site because it is important for students to learn about what has shaped their community and to begin to discover and be proud of their own identity. One’s identity is composed of multiple factors, cultural identity, like can be clearly identified in that museum, is just one example. A person’s identity also consists of their values, ethnicity, language, sexuality, beliefs, and much more.

Religious and spiritual beliefs are large components that shape our identity. There are many different religious affiliations, and even within each affiliation, there are different practices/rituals that people adopt. Discovering one’s religious/spiritual beliefs is a long and complicated journey for many. To expose students to the religious diversity of the world, teachers can of course begin to explore different religions in the classroom so students can pick up on the differences and similarities between them. However, one of the most impactful ways to teach students about religions is by offering them the opportunity to personally witness them.

A site in Milwaukee that can teach students about Judaism through an exhibit on Jewish Belief and Community is the Jewish Museum Milwaukee. Their exhibit focuses on the religious identity and the sense of community among Jewish communities. This site can be used along with the study of different religions and the values tied to those religions. Students can also learn about celebrations/holidays and find commonalities and differences between them. For example, with the lesson below, students can compare and contrast Hanukkah, Ramadan, and Diwali. Finally, students can learn about the Jewish history in Wisconsin to increase their awareness of the lives and struggles of this religious community. This is something that they can directly interact with and explore in the museum.

Going out into the community and visiting monuments, sites, museums, or any other form of public exhibit is a great way to engage students in the exploration of social studies. If students become aware of the presence of social studies in their immediate surroundings and world, they are more likely to become interested in learning more in the classroom because they see the importance and connection of the content to real life. If there’s any way to effectively approach the teaching of social studies, it’s like this.

Favoring Feedforward Rather Than Feedback

Forward ArrowBy Elizabeth Jorgensen

In my approach to providing feedback and assessing student work, my students produce multiple drafts and then use my feedback to elevate their work. In each assignment, students compose at least three drafts and receive at least three rounds of feedback from me. In addition to this, students receive feedback from peers. But I have struggled with why other teachers don’t want to provide this type of feedback. Do they find it too time consuming? Do they not know what to say to elevate student writing? Are they too attached to rubrics?

I believe growth and learning happens when students edit, modify and update work. This philosophy is the bedrock of my classroom structure and helps justify the time I spend providing feedback.

Today, I read the article “Moving from Feedback to Feedforward by Jennifer Gonzales. Gonzales explains why the feedback teachers traditionally give might not be the most effective. This article also put a fancy name to the type of feedback I provide my students: feedforward.

Jennifer Gonzalez states “the experience of school could be described as one long feedback session, where every day, people show up with the goal of improving, while other people tell them how to do it. And it doesn’t always go well. As we give and receive feedback, people get defensive. Feelings get hurt. Too often, the improvements we’re going for don’t happen, because the feedback isn’t given in a way that the receiver can embrace.”

Gonzalez references The Feedback Fix by Joe Hirsch. In this book, she says Hirsch explains that feedforward is more effective than feedback because it regenerates talents and expands possibilities; it’s particular and authentic; and it’s impactful and redefines dynamics between people.

Gonzalez suggests instead of providing feedback that focuses on past performance, teachers should focus on students’ improvement going forward. Gonzalez wrote, “Instead of waiting until she is finished, then marking up all the errors and giving it a grade, I would read parts of the essay while she is writing it, point out things I’m noticing, and ask her questions to get her thinking about how she might improve it.” Gonzalez’s suggestion is consistent with my classroom structure and model. I wonder if teachers shift from a backwards approach to a forward approach if students will learn, grow and ultimately enjoy school more. I also wonder if teachers would be more inclined to provide feedback if they saw the direct connection to progress.

As Gonzalez wrote, “There’s nothing simple or straightforward about telling people how to improve. So it’s no surprise that we’re still figuring it out and finding new ways to refine it. If the feedback you’re giving to your students, your coworkers, and even the people at home isn’t having quite the effect you intend, try shifting to a feedforward approach. Doing so can help us, as Hirsch says, stop seeing ourselves just as who we are, but who we are becoming.”

Being Confident as a Counselor

school-1413366_640By Sabrina Bartels

One of the best things I did when I became a counselor is join the Facebook group called “Caught in the Middle School Counselors.” It’s a group of middle school counselors from around the nation who use the page to ask advice, celebrate triumphs, and support each other through tough times. People post ideas for bulletin boards, classroom lessons, and any trends that they have noticed.

Recently, one of the counselors asked, “How long did it take for you to feel really confident in your position?” And I had to laugh a little. The truth is, I have been doing this for five years now, and there are still days where I feel like I’m fresh out of grad school and meeting with my very first student ever. My confidence varies day by day, student by student, and definitely situation by situation.

As I scrolled the comments, I was relieved that there were others who were in the same boat as me. Some of the counselors responded that they were in their 15th or 16th year of counseling, and still occasionally felt like they weren’t completely confident in what they were doing! It comforted me that even seasoned veterans at counseling still experience doubts sometimes.

My confidence was especially shaky this last week. I spent the last half of my week feeling like I was drowning. I would create a to-do list, and due to various emergencies, would only get through maybe two items on my list. I was constantly busy, but felt like I wasn’t actually getting anything done. I would even stay late to finish up paperwork, but would still go home feeling frustrated with myself. (I blame the super blood blue moon, or whatever that epic lunar experience was on Wednesday.) I kept thinking that somehow, people more experienced than me would have a better handle on things, or at least be able to accomplish more on their to-do list.

One night, I told one of my coworkers that I felt like I just couldn’t keep my head above water. I was getting overwhelmed with everything, and was mad at myself for not doing more and being more. And he gave me great advice. He told me to go home, relax, and remember that I had made a difference to all the students I met with. I hadn’t looked at it like that before. I had been so caught up in thinking about the students that I hadn’t gotten to meet with, that I completely forgot about all the students I did meet with throughout the day. It made me feel better, knowing that even though it was a tough week, I had been there for my students when they needed me.

I remember thinking when I was in grad school that I would have so much confidence after my first few years on the job. And while I do in some ways (I no longer bat an eye when a teacher asks me to have a hygiene talk with a student) I am definitely still learning and slowly gaining confidence in my skills. Being a counselor is a process. It is definitely not a career where you can just wake up and be “better.” It does take time, and patience, and love both for the students you care for and for yourself. But as tough as it is, I have to say that every challenge, struggle, and long night is worth it.

Questioning the Dominant Narrative

books-441866_640By Lupe Serna

Many times, the curriculum is presented through the same dominant narrative. Although this allows for consistency across classrooms, it restricts history teaching to a single story. On the other hand, if we present students with different perspectives and prompt them to question dominant narratives, we open the doors to critical analysis and historical thinking. As a result, students learn how to draw their own conclusions to interpret history, rather than merely accepting the dominant narrative.

Teaching students to question narratives and approach history through different view points can lead to the discovery of new information and facts that are usually disclosed from the dominant narrative of that historical time period.

The Mexican American Civil Rights Movement, also known as the Chicano Movement, is usually briefly mentioned in the classroom. For the most part, students receive a very general understanding of the topic as a fight against discrimination of Hispanics, the fight for farm workers’ rights alongside Cesar Chavez, and the fight for the restoration of land after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

Of course, there are various ways to present this topic. A controversial textbook, “Mexican American Heritage,” describes the Chicano Movement as an attempt to create division. After reading a few excerpts from the book in the article above, I personally did not agree with that perspective. I can see why some might have thought of the movement as one that went against American culture. However, as a Mexican American myself, I think of the Chicano movement as more of a search for identity.

When discussing the Chicano movement, I think it is necessary to go beyond discussing what happened and asking why did it happen? Ultimately, it is the Mexican American people who felt the need to fight for their rights and education. Thus, the focus should be on their own experiences and struggles. Why did Mexican Americans at the time decide to fight for their civil rights? How were they feeling at the time that made them take action? What were they struggling with that led them to take part in a movement?

These questions seem to have straight forward answers: they faced discrimination, their rights as workers were violated, they had limited access to education, among other reasons. That’s as far as discussions in the classroom usually go. The deeper problem that is usually overlooked is the tie to the struggle of identity.

In the movie Selena, there is a scene where her father perfectly describes the struggle of being Mexican American as having to please two different cultures and meeting the expectations of both groups, leading to the feeling of not being good enough to belong to either group.

After the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, many Mexicans were suddenly American. Mexican Americans struggled with this new identity, not completely Mexican but not completely American either. This article from a 1972 newspaper does a great job of explaining the identity crisis among Mexican Americans, claiming it as “One of the most pressing problems for a person of Mexican descent in the United States.” It goes on to talk about the discrimination that they face due to the color of their skin, the feelings of inferiority that they experience in the US, and the pressure to let go of their Mexican roots and customs.

Out of this identity crisis grew great pride in their mixed roots, taking on what came to be known as a Chicano identity. With that pride came awareness. Mexican Americans began to notice the manner in which they were treated differently, like is described in this poem. That awareness is what moved people to action and led to the voicing against injustices, the fight for civil rights and the fight for higher education, which was mostly led by student movements like the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán (MEChA).

Among some of the most well known activists of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement are Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, founders of the National Farm Workers Association, later known as the United Farm Workers union. The fight for farm workers’ rights is the most common story that is taught in regards to the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement.

A different side of the movement that is not usually included in the curriculum is the role of a secret FBI program, COINTELPRO, against activists. Left out of the curriculum and, as a result, not forming a part of students’ social studies knowledge is the use of repression and force against activists and radical groups in the sixties, especially the Black Movement.  This video talks more about the attacks against the Chicano Movement.

Most narratives included in the curriculum focus on the positive outcomes of historical topics. Students are not always exposed to the ugly parts of history that led to those victories. In the case of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement, victories of activists like Cesar Chavez are commonly known, but left in the shadows are those who were silenced.

In the classroom, students should be encouraged to question both what is included in and what is left out of the dominant narrative. While they explore sources and different perspectives, they should question their credibility, their bias, their audience, their intention, and other factors that could influence the manner in which the topic is presented. This is a crucial step to incorporate into the classroom if we want students to learn how to sort out different perspectives to make their own interpretations of social studies.

Drawing from multiple primary sources when preparing for and teaching a lesson on any historical topic opens the doors to historical analysis for students. The sources above, along with the earlier video on COINTELPRO’s attacks on the Chicano Movement, present different information and perspectives on the Chicano Movement.

Social studies is about engaging students in critical thinking and analysis. A great way for them to partake in that is by questioning the narratives presented in the classroom, especially the dominant narrative. Participating in that questioning and inquiry leads to an expansion of students’ knowledge on historical topics because they learn to dig deeper and discover perspectives aside from the dominant narrative.

As teachers, that is what we are called to do — draw from multiple perspectives so that students can question the dominant narrative and make their own interpretations about the manner in which historical topics are presented.

Doing Too Much

An_apple_a_day_by_LD_CrossBy Stephanie Nicoletti

I think every single teacher would agree that their focus throughout the school year is for their students to grow academically and behaviorally. While behavior is important, academics seems to get the main focus throughout the year. I have been lucky enough to see a lot of academic growth this year — especially in literacy.

However, this has been our sole focus. While a lot of growth is excellent, we need to be cognizant of the fact that trying too much for academic growth can have the opposite effects. Often times, we try many different interventions, instructional practices and activities to meet the needs of every single student. Do not get me wrong, meeting the needs of every single student should always be our goal. But when too many initiatives are going around it places burn out on teachers and also on our students. We need to focus on tier one instruction, evaluate growth, and when that growth is limited that is when we intervene-one step at a time.

Supervisors and Supervisees: Advice from an Alumna

We caught up with CECP alum, Jaimie Hauch, to see how her career post-Marquette has been going!

Can you tell us a little about yourself? What’s your title, brief job description, academic background?


I wear many hats at my current job. I am an individual provider (certified to work with both the mental health and substance abuse population), oversee our Intensive Outpatient Program, supervise interns, and engage in some administrative duties. I enjoy wearing many hats because no day is ever the same! I received my bachelor’s in Psychology and a minor in Business Management from Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. Then I came to Marquette where I received my master’s in Community Counseling.


How did your time at Marquette prepare you for your career? Were your expectations on target based on your experiences?

My time at Marquette provided me with a solid foundation to build my practice and career on.

How does your experience as a supervisor differ from your time as a supervisee? Does it affect your interactions with other co-workers?

It is very different being on the supervisor side vs. supervisee side, but I enjoy it. I feel my time as a supervisee has helped me grow into the supervisor that I am. I took away things that I enjoyed from my experiences as a supervisee and changed the things that I did not find helpful or found frustrating as a supervisee. For me personally, my role as a supervisor does not impact my interactions with my co-workers and I am grateful for that as I know it can be a difficult area for people. I have been blessed with a great team at West Grove Clinic and they all support me as a supervisor, which is great! I love knowing that if I need assistance, am having a hard day, or want to share accomplishments as a supervisor, I have co-workers that I can turn to for support.

What is your favorite Marquette memory?

My absolute favorite memory is getting to see Sara Bareilles in concert at Marquette.

What recommendations do you have for students and/or professionals supervising students?

For supervisors to remember their own experiences and to incorporate what they liked and to change what they didn’t like about their supervision experience. Additionally, to give constructive feedback – so share areas for the supervisee to improve on, but also high light their accomplishments. When the supervisee only hears poor feedback, I believe it reflects in their work. For supervisees – utilize the supervision time you are given and to come prepared to learn and have questions. To a certain extent, you get to make your supervision experience what you want it to be. So, if you are not actively engaged in your supervision, you likely are going to walk away from the supervision experience feeling a lack of fulfillment.

You can learn more about the College of Education along with our Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology program by visiting us online!

What is a Marquette Educator?

Follow us on Twitter