Posts Tagged 'Education'

For the Love of Reading

books-933333_960_720By Stephanie Nicoletti

Recently, I have been participating in a book club for  The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. She discusses how important it is for students to have an actual love for reading, and how teachers can instill that in their students.

When I look back at my own elementary reading experiences, I think of everyone reading the same book in a whole group setting followed by many worksheets. I often wonder how much more I would have enjoyed school if these classroom practices were NOT around:

Reading Logs: As an adult reader I never track how much or how long I read. I find time to read because I simply enjoy it. I think if we want our students to love reading and read on their own, willingly, we need to promote this in the classroom. Sure, we want to hold them accountable, but this can be done through book talks and book clubs.

“You HAVE to finish this book!”: There are so many times I have not finished a book because I simply did not like it. I remember vividly in school, even high school, being required to read and finish a novel that I hated. Children should be allowed to abandon a book when they are just not that into it. This takes tapping into student interest to make sure book abandonment doesn’t happen on the regular.

One Size Fits All: The days of a one size fits all curriculum are over with ranging levels and high achieving standards. Using one book with a class and follow up worksheets will not allow for student growth and achievement. Children are so different than they were in the past and need to be engaged all of the time. When engagement and differentiation work hand in hand, the possibilities are endless.

So what should we do? I cannot sit here and preach all of the problems in reading instruction without giving a solution. The solution is choice. This is what students want the most, let them choose the books they want to read and when. There are so many things we expect of our students that we would never do ourselves.

All You Who Procrastinate

6261230701_7368aa73d6_bBy Dhanya Nair

Let me begin by admitting that I am a procrastinator, have been one for a long while now. The prospect of writing papers and preparing for tests somehow makes tidying my wardrobe, reading for leisure, and sleeping very tempting to me. I cannot trace the origins of this tenacious tendency of mine (probably because I have been a student for most of my existence), but can vividly remember several panic-stricken hours I endured because of it.

So, despite the anxiety and panic caused due to procrastination, why have I not been able to get rid of it completely? I think, the answer to this question lies in my fairly large arsenal of rationalizations for putting things off until the very last minute. One explanation is that after having spent a fairly large chunk of my life being a student, some intelligence native to that role has crept up on me, so I know which shortcuts to take while preparing for a test or writing a paper. Another rationalization is that I think I produce my best work when working under pressure. However, I know that not every task can be accomplished well if it is postponed. Perhaps the intermittent nature of positive reinforcement I have received by procrastinating makes me sustain it. An acquaintance of mine, who happens to be a counselor, once told me that rationalizations for procrastinating are self-sustaining lies.

I do not intend to make a case against procrastination here, however, for those who find procrastination to be a source of concern, using mindfulness might be useful. I have recently started being mindful about my tendency to put things off and feel that I have benefitted from attending to the psychological minutiae of procrastination. Being mindful about the potential costs and benefits of procrastinating can be a helpful start. Having said that, I do feel that no one should abandon their guilty pleasures completely; instead, realistically determining how much time a particular activity will take might do the trick. Attending to one’s visceral and psychological reactions to an imminent deadline might be useful to lessen the negative impact of procrastination. Take into account all the negative reactions you might experience when you can almost hear that deadline whooshing past you and work on mitigating them one at a time. Practicing mindfulness while indulging in pleasurable activities could amplify those experiences, so while watching a movie, make sure you are not thinking about what needs to be done next. The same applies to tasks like studying for a test or working on a presentation, being mindful of the task at hand makes us more productive. Mindfulness might seem counterintuitive in an age where multitasking seems to be the byword and stress, a badge of honor. However, I feel it is the best way to ensure one’s sanity in the long run. So, my fellow procrastinators, keep persevering mindfully! And, now, time for me to practice what I’ve preached and move on to my next assignment.

The Frogs are Boiling

frogBy Claudia Felske – Something inhumane and downright repulsive is happening in school districts across the country. Frogs are slowly being boiled to death, en masse. And once more, no one seems to be noticing, least of all the frogs.

You may have heard the story that if you put a frog into a boiling pot of water, it will leap out to escape certain death. But if you put a frog into a kettle at room temperature, and gradually heat the water to boiling, the frog will stay for the duration, facing death without so much as a splash.

This is what’s happening in education today: the slow and systematic boiling of frogs.

Case in point: my school district.

This past spring, I heard a devastating piece of news—forensics, an extracurricular speech and performance program—was on the chopping block. I expected (or at least hoped) for some vocal opposition, but there was nothing, no letters to the editor, no outraged parents, students, or coaches at school board meetings. Not a croak of a frog or a chirp of a cricket to be heard.  And so, the forensics program quietly disappeared. 

Since I’m not longer a forensics coach, (I resigned when I realized that teaching, coaching, and parenting would render me inept at all three) I can’t make a plea for the reinstatement of my forensics program, but I do want to go on record about what forensics and extracurriculars in general mean to students.

My dozen plus years in forensics as a coach, judge, and participant were defining moments in my life, taking me from a quivery-voiced freshman to a confident orator when I was in high school, and allowing me a deep connection with my students as I coached them through similar experiences.  

When we weren’t dispelling the misconceptions about forensics (no, it does not involve dissecting cadavers) we were reciting, orating, storytelling, demonstrating, impromptu speaking, broadcasting, and acting. (Fun fact: “Forensics” is a tradition rooted in ancient Greek speaking competitions, a skill they deemed central to democracy.)

In forensics, aside from collecting state medals and power round trophies, students gain confidence as speakers, and develop their voices, ideas, and identities in authentic ways, no longer needing to rely on the “imagine your audience in their underwear” mantra in order to survive and thrive in public speaking situations.  

And, as is the case in so many extracurriculars, far more important than the tangible take aways are the incidental ones. I suspect many on my forensics team will remember the following phenomena as much if not more than their trophy-winning performances:

  • The lengthy “thank you” speeches by every team member on the bus ride home
  • The “Golden Pizza Award” given for the most slices consumed at the Pizza Hut buffet
  • Kevin reciting all the US Presidents and their birthdays by memory at each meet
  • The Least-Need-for-Caffine Award (Gwen!)
  • Videographer Andrea’s sordid interviews and season highlights
  • Emily floating down the halls at meets, flapping her “wings” like a butterfly
  • Kopp’s meets (“no cheeseburgers!”)
  • Fel and Scott dancing the tango across the awards stage
  • The improbably coupling of Henry and Leah
  • Jason’s infamous “Capitalism, Sweet Capitalism” speech
  • Jesse, Ian & Brett as the typing monkeys
  • Our Austin Powers themed home meet

And so many more…

Together, we were supportive, hilarious, melodramatic, ridiculous, inappropriate, serious, proud, accomplished, protective, defeated, victorious, nervous, ecstatic, goofy. Priceless stuff in the life of a teenager. 

And such moments, while specific to our team, will feel familiar to anyone who has been involved in an extra-curricular activity. While teams provide a constructive use of time and a structured opportunity to improve skills, perhaps more importantly, they provide a sense of belonging and confidence and happiness that many students don’t necessarily find elsewhere.

Studies confirm that extracurriculars increase student self-esteem, collaboration, positive relationships, and positive feelings about school; they decrease unexcused absences, academic failure, and bullying behaviors. Research shows that 68% of students who participate in extracurriculars are likely to earn a Bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 48% of those who don’t.

What we also know is that our student body is diverse. Not everyone is interested in football or soccer or FBLA, or science club, or forensics, or band, but the hope is that the more diverse our offerings are, the more likely it is that each student can find one activity which interests him/her, one way to connect with peers, build confidence, and develop a sense of belonging at school. And if they do, the relatively small cost of extracurriculars more than pays for itself in the long-term social-emotional well being of that student and in the civic and socioeconomic well being of our larger society.

My fear is that we are so accustomed to cuts and losses in education these days that, like the frog in the kettle, we have become desensitized to the imminent danger that lies ahead. Cutting one more program is akin to cranking the temperature up five more degrees on the stove, all too easy to slip by unnoticed while the frog slowly dies on our watch.  

save the frogsI think about what I would have missed out on without having forensics. I think of Stacey, Tiffany, the Gwens, Scott, Karen, Alan, Andrea, Sarah, Jason, Jenny, Anna, Ian, Laura, Jesse, Brett, Kristin, Brian, Joe, Jackie, Stephanie, Josie, Henry, Alicia, Jillian, Tara, Margaret, Sheri, Molly, Jenni, Vicki, Leah, Alicia, Kevin, Kate, and so many others.

If we don’t speak up, we’re all complicit in the death of this frog.

Save our Frogs.  

Save our Kids.

An Imperfect Cake: Gamification in AP English


I presented Megan with the first Golden Ape

By Claudia Felske — If you’re a Marquette Educator loyalist (or dare I dream a Claudia Felske enthusiast) you may recall that in Fall, I committed to gamification in one of my classes as chronicled in my post Monkey Business: The Gamification of AP English.

The notion of gamification appealed to me because of its potential to engage and motivate students, and to somehow make the difficult process of writing an AP Timed essay fun.  Shouldn’t that, after all, be the goal of every educator (and possibly very human being): to make the hard stuff in life fun?

So, I took the toughest part of my Advanced Placement English class and    gamified. Each student competed with him/herself to achieve the requisite AP analytical writing skills (one badge for each skill: focusing  on the prompt, embedding quotes, providing scholarly commentary,  using the vocabulary of literary analysis, and including a substantive  closing) in the hopes that this would land them to a good AP exam score,  and more importantly it would help them master these critical skills for  college and beyond. The golden ape pin (their culminating prize with all 5  badges earned) would be a tangible motivator that would remind them of  their writing ability and the growth they made.


Badge Pride on a Student Binder

 So, what happened? After explaining the gamification process and  badge skills, we dove right in, and  the return of each timed essay found  the room teeming with anticipation. Would they get a badge? If not, why  not? And what would they have to improve in order to get one?

These  simple little stickers were somehow having a profound effect on these  high-achieving students.  This was arguably childish, perhaps even pathetic, but it seemed to be working. They were clearly tuned into their writing at a level I had not previously seen. They proudly displayed their badges on their binders and folders.

Bottom line results?  All of my students received some badges, but only 5 of the 16 received all badges (and the highly-coveted Golden Ape). More on my “take aways” later, but first, theirs:

What They Thought: In an end-of-the-year survey,  All but one student reported that we had “the right amount” of focus on the badges or we should have spent even “more time” on them.



IMG_4157    IMG_4159     IMG_4155    IMG_4160    MEgan.jpg2

Their comments included:

  • “The badges helped my by breaking down each category that I needed to focus on in my papers, and helped me to improve in that way.”
  • “It helped me think about the components of a good essay, especially the Big Ending one. I feel like almost each essay I wrote was stronger than the last.”
  • “Although I didn’t get the golden ape, I found it incredibly useful on focussing myself during essays. It really helped me improve in each of the five important components.”
  • “Not only does it make us think of all of the devices that need to be incorporated, but also adds a challenge and ‘competition’ for us to look forward to.”
  • “I know I worked harder than I would have just for a grade. I really wanted to get that golden APE, and I’m sure any future apes worth their buttons will likewise.’
  • “Having the mini-goals working up to the golden ape was actually very motivating to me and helped me concentrate on all aspects of my papers.”

Not all comments were rainbows and unicorns however, bringing up some critical points for me to consider:

  • “It may have strayed me from the real goal a little bit. I really wanted to get all the badges so I would only focus on doing one thing to get a certain one that week when writing an essay, instead of thinking about having all five components in every one.”
  • “I prefer focusing on well-rounded essays instead of trying to get a specific badge and missing out on the other components.”
  • “It helped me try to incorporate the 5 components, however I think that students should be able to do this without trying to get an award.”

What I thought:
My students were much more motivated to look at specific aspects of their writing and improve them. One of the biggest frustrations in teaching is seeing students make the same mistakes repeatedly without exerting effort to fix them. This was clearly not the case when the process was gamified. Improvement was seen as a logical step in reaching the next level. More students than in any previous year came to conference with me on how they could improve. Students consciously planned what they’d change in their next essay. In this regard, gamification was an unqualified success.

Interestingly, though, when comparing my gamification numbers with the results of the College Board AP English exam, “success” was much more ambiguous. Of the 5 students who received the Golden Ape, demonstrating mastery of each of the timed essay components, 2 of them did not receive a passing score on the College Board AP English exam. Furthermore, none of those who received the top AP English Exam Score of 5 received a Golden Ape in class.

I’ve mulled over these incongruities and I see two different ways to interpret them: 1. My gamification process is not in line with the AP English Exam. I am either measuring the wrong things or evaluating them incorrectly. 2. Those two students who received the Golden APE but did not receive a passing AP exam score either choked on the AP English exam, or their AP Multiple Choice score was so low that even strong essay scores could not bring them up to a passing holistic score.

So my bottom line debrief on year 1: While this experiment clearly succeeded in the areas of student motivation and reflection, there is less clarity in its correlation to AP English exam performance. While I’d prefer that this wasn’t the case (and maybe next year it won’t be) I am comfortable with it.


I have always told my students that a passing score on the AP exam  (translating to college credits) is icing on the cake. The true take-away of any class should be learning, self-improvement, and readiness for what the next step in life brings. By that criteria, and from what students said and I observed, I think the gamification process is an imperfect but delicious cake, with or without the icing.  So I’ll tweak the recipe, but continue to serve it.

To Answer Her Question…

dialogue1By Claudia Felske — If you’re anything like me, you frequently have the perfect come back…twenty minutes too late.

In this case, was 24 hours too late.

Friday night, my husband and I were at a banquet where we knew no one, so when we noticed a couple searching for a seat, we welcomed them to our table, hoping for some scintillating conversation from strangers.

Conversation inevitably led to “What do you do?” and when she found out I am a teacher,  she asked me what I thought of Governor Walker and all that’s happened in Wisconsin on the educational front these past few years.

“Do you really want to know what I think?” I asked/warned her. “Yes,” she said with sincerity.

I told her budgets are tight, red tape is thick, and morale is low. I told her that I’m not typically one for conspiracy theories, but with the educational legislation being passed (like course choice) it’s hard not to believe that the powers that be are attempting to dismantle public education, to privatize it.

Her response was “And what do you think of that?”

I was  a bit taken aback her question. Was she suggesting privatization would be a good thing? I was about to ask her to clarify when the emcee chimed in and our conversation ended.

And so, now, 24 hours later, I’d like finally to answer her question.

What do I think of privatizing public education?  

  • It’s exclusive. The aim of public education is to benefit all; the aim of privatization is profit for the few. Many charter schools, online academies and for-profit colleges have demonstrated this phenomenon by accruing enormous profits at the expense of their students (high dropout rates and astronomical student debt).
  • It’s elitist. Privatizing education would increase the already existing problem of inequality among schools: the wealthiest areas have greater per student spending and superior resources for their schools. Privatization would exacerbate this problem: the have’s will have the means to attend the best schools and the have-nots will not. Marketplace 101: businesses cater to their wealthiest clientele.
  • It’s dehumanizing. Progressive movements in education strive to individualize the learning experience of each student; for-profit institutions are likely to treat students as widgets and strive to turn out the greatest possible quantity of widgets at the lowest possible cost.
  • It invites corruption. Privatization could result in an increasingly biased and unbalanced curriculum:  Should evolution be taught? the holocaust? human growth and sexuality? religion? All this and more could be decided by the highest bidder, the most influential corporate voice.
  • It’s dangerous to our democracy.  James Madison said “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” Taking the public out of public education will jeopardize a knowledgeable electorate and the foundation of our democracy.

It’s true that public education needs reform, but privatization is not the answer.

So don’t throw the baby out, just the bathwater.

And that, 24 hours later, is my answer to her question.

Incredible or Idiotic? Turns Out, It’s Somewhere Inbetween.

resultsBy Claudia Felske — You may recall dear reader, (or more optimistically, dear readers) back in September, I was embarking on a classroom experiment called the 20% project. Here’s the whole sordid ordeal: “Incredible or Idiotic? You Be the Judge.”

In a nutshell, I was following the progressive corporate model Google and 3M use in allowing employees to spend 20% of their time experimenting with ideas that interest them, resulting in some of their most innovative products. My classroom version had students spending 20% of their time (1 day per week) doing the same: exploring an interest or curiosity. At the end of my initial blogpost, I concluded:

Time will tell…we’ll see if 20% time turns out to be “wasted time” or “an incredible experience.”

Well, the results are in…and reviews are mixed. Things didn’t go as swimmingly as I’d hoped or they had hoped. In general, and students didn’t achieve as much as they had planned. But beneath it all, some learning (both theirs and mine) did happen.

Their final presentations showed a variety of results: the budding linguists, attempting to create a new language, were not yet finished; the pair who intended to create a documentary on lucid dreaming never really left the research stage; the 365 Club had loads of ideas, but never got the membership it had hoping for. Yet, the equestrian website was live, the cancer patient bracelets were made and distributed, the Sports Drink was developed. A mixed bag of success, kind of like real life.

What was also evident to me that although a central part of the project from the start was embracing the unknown and learning from failure, these accelerated students felt inadequate with anything less than certain success.

Three themes emerged in their reflections:

  1. It’s their fault (public education, that is)
  2. It’s our fault (human nature)
  3. It wasn’t all bad (we did learn something)

1. It’s their fault.

With what seemed to be wisdom beyond their years, a number of students pointed directly at the institution of public education to explain their shortcomings on the 20% project:

“All we have been taught in school is how to fill out worksheets and do specific assignments. We never get independent thinking time which is crucial in the word. In real life, our bosses aren’t going to be sitting behind us and being back seat drivers in the workplace.”

And another: “In school, the answers are all in our books, and the questions are all written out.  With this project though, we had none of that.  We had to create our own questions to find answers to and make up our own goals and deadlines.  This style of learning was very hard for me, as well as many other people, because were just not used to it.”

Another student came up with a top 5 list:Ken Robinson

“There [are]  5 things public school teach.

  1. Truth comes from authority
  2. Intelligence is the ability to remember and repeat
  3. Accurate memory and repetition are rewarded
  4. Conform: intellectually and socially
  5. Non-conformity is punishable.”

Interestingly, students drew the same conclusion as Sir Ken Robinson in the TED Talk which inspired the 20% project: our educational system simply does not give students enough opportunities for problem solving, creativity and discovery. Therefore, such opportunities are foreign, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable for them.

2. It’s OUR Fault:

Others pointed inward, blaming themselves, and perhaps even human nature.

“The biggest problem I encountered in this project was procrastination.   Although this is a big problem, it is hard to fix because it is just part of human nature.”

Another, said it’s not procrastination, but rather the general harried pace of school to be blamed: “the biggest reason why I didn’t achieve as much was because I really didn’t have an extra 20% of my time. During the school year, everything is fast paced, set in stone routines. Wake up, get ready, school, home, family, homework, chores, homework, dinner, shower, more homework, and then off to bed; it is life of a 21st century teenager.”

Others said that when it’s “work,” it’s joyless. That perhaps anything that’s assigned becomes drudgery: “At first glance, 20% seems like a creative, fun idea, but as time dragged on, being forced to use fun for school sucked the joy right out of what was once fun.”

3. It wasn’t all bad.

failure_successOnce blame was passed around, students admitted to learning among the “failing”:

“I learned a lot about different syntax. Before I wasn’t aware that there was so much diversity in languages.”

“I learned a lot about myself, such as that I get off track fairly easily and I am a huge procrastinator. It helped me kick the problems I had with my behavior a little, which will hopefully help me in the long run for other projects.”

“This shows me that I am self driven and that I don’t need to be nagged so that I can complete something by a deadline.”

“I learned from this project that I am a more hands-on type of person, and I don’t prefer the textbook and desk style.”

              “I learned that to be more realistic in setting goals, managing time and being more strategic in planning.”

“It’s disappointing to think I failed to do what I had imagined, but as a young teenager I can learn from those mistakes. You can use this knowledge throughout your life to take one step at a time, and soon you will be able to look back and see how far you have come. Hopefully, the distance will make you proud.”

So what’s my overall take on all this?

Was it “their fault” (public education?), “our fault” (human nature), or  was it “not all bad” (did they learn?)

Yes, yes, and yes.

One of my more persistent students commented at the end of her reflection: “Perhaps in my future blog posts when the weather starts to warm up. I may be able to report a bit more on this project. Even though the classroom aspect of this is over, I don’t plan on giving up.

Me neither.


Delightfully Awkward: Those First Few Days of Freshman Year

ready-or-not-freshmanBy Aubrey Murtha — I am a volunteer in admissions here at Marquette, and I had several students ask about MU’s Freshman Frontier program—a summer opportunity for incoming students to live and learn on campus for a few weeks.

They thought that maybe enrolling in the program would help them avoid embarrassment during their first few weeks of school come the fall.  I was honest with them: “Freshmen Frontier gives you a great opportunity to explore the campus and get a better feel for the MU environment. Will you still embarrass yourself next year? Obviously! That’s the nature of being a freshman. Been there, done that, times a million.”

This got me thinking about my first days on campus.  I can’t even comprehend how incredibly fast this academic year has flown by.  I know it seems cliché, but I remember my orientation week as if it had taken place just yesterday.  I remember that queasy feeling that came over me as my mom, my sister and I were driving the ten minutes from my house in Wauwatosa to my new residence—Abbottsford Hall on good ole Wisconsin Ave.  The night before, I had spent several hours picking out an outfit for the next day, ensuring that I had every little necessity gathered and packed away for the big move, and stalking and re-stalking my two roommates on Facebook (sorry Maddie and Nicole).

When we finally reached our destination, campus pretty much looked like a movie.  Bubbly upperclassman O-Staff leaders greeted us with giant, cheesy smiles.  New Golden Eagles dragged massive loads of junk to the end of the elevator line that wove around the lobby in zig-zags.  Girls giggled as they surveyed the male population of the floor above them.  A set of first time college parents got misty eyed as they watched their son collect the keys to his new home.

We made our way up to the fourth floor.  It was probably a solid 90 degrees that day, but it felt like 120 up there in room 409.  I shook hands with my roommates.  We lofted the beds, unpacked our clothes, organized our new home, and finally, said goodbye to the people who had lived with us for the past 18 years and loved us anyway.

And thus the most hectic week of our young lives began.  We played nice with as many people as we could because, after all, we had no idea who our best friend would be for the next four years.  We attended an exorbitant number of meetings.  We threw ourselves into terribly awkward situations.  Some attended their first college party.  Others uh…enjoyed their first McCormick meal.  If you’re like me, you got lost on campus two, three, four, maybe ten times during that first week.  We asked seniors for advice.  We did service in Milwaukee for the first time.  We attended the first of many Tuesday night masses at Joan of Arc.  We bonded with our floors.  We got excited about MU basketball.  We went to class and learned some stuff that we probably don’t remember now.  We explored the city that we would call home for the next four years.

Wow, what a beautifully precious time that was when we freshmen were awkward and excited and nervous and phony and fresh.  I’ve got one tip for this incoming class, the Marquette University Class of 2018.  Cherish those silly times.  I am a young freshman and still relatively naïve compared to my friends of MU senior status.  Some of you might be thinking, what does this kid know anyway? But take it from me for whatever it is worth: a Marquette education has truly been the best thing that’s ever happened to this homegrown Midwesterner, and you will make irreplaceable memories during those first few weeks if you are open to the many opportunities that this campus and these people have to offer.  Not sold just yet?  Call me, text me, write me.  Instant Messaging, anyone?  Heck, fax me if that’s the mode of communication you prefer.  I’ll convince you.        


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