Posts Tagged 'Nick Rocha'

A Quick Guide to Graduate School Applications

graduates_of_brunswick_high_in_2007By Nick Rocha

Applying for graduate school is often a daunting task for students who are attempting to balance work, school, and family life.  Submitting an application, asking for letters of recommendations, and writing an essay takes both time and energy.  Students who are currently working on applications or students who are interested in attending a graduate program after their undergrad might benefit from these 4 tips.

  1. Ask for letters of recommendations early. Professors and academics are often busy on their own work and responsibilities, so it is imperative that you ask for letters of recommendation early on in the application process.  Some experts recommend giving professors at a minimum three to four weeks to write a letter.  Many graduate school applications require the professor to submit the letter on to their website or complete additional questions about the applicant.  Make sure to send a resume to the professor detailing your relevant experiences and why graduate school is the next step for your career.  In addition, it is okay to contact your professor to ask about the status of the letter of recommendation when the deadline is approaching, but do not constantly ask them if they have submitted it yet.
  2. Establish a hook. When you are drafting your essay, it is important to spend a considerate amount of time on your first few sentences.  A hook simply means that you engage the reader in a meaningful way to encourage them to continue reading.  Students can talk about a powerful interaction with a teacher or a professor.  Some students can talk about the first break through that they had with a difficult student during their student teaching experience.  What is important is that you develop a narrative that captures the reader and provides a sense of mystery.
  3. Look for application fee waivers. This is something that is often overlooked by students.  When submitting applications to different graduate school programs, the application costs can add up quickly.  Many graduate school programs offer some information on their websites on how to apply for application fee waivers.  Students who have completed service work such as AmeriCorps and Peace Corps are sometimes eligible for a waiver.  If you are low-income, participated in summer research programs, a McNair scholar, or demonstrate economic hardship you may qualify for a fee waiver.  It is important to note, however, that many graduate schools offer application fee waivers on a first-come first-serve basis so it is important to look for opportunities long before the official deadline.
  4. Establish connections with professors you want to work with in graduate school. Who you will be working with in graduate school has a significant impact on your overall experience and your retention in the program.  Spend some time finding professors at your dream graduate school who are conducting research in an area that you want to get involved with.  Don’t be afraid to ask your current professors if they know anyone from those schools! Academia is actually quite a small place and you may have someone you know who can get you connected to someone at your graduate school.  If you have the opportunity to visit the prospective graduate school prior to applying, I encourage you to do so.  That will give you the chance to see not only if you are a good fit for you, but if the school is a good fit for you.

Finding and applying to graduate school is like dating.  Not only are you being assessed on your ability to contribute to the graduate school, but you also have to make a decision on whether that particular graduate school program is right for you and whether you want to pursue it further.  Finding your niche is not an easy process, but once you have found it things become that much easier.

 

Preparing for Finals: Thinking About How You Can Increase Memory Retention

books-927394_960_720.jpgBy Nick Rocha – It is that time of year already!  The stiff backs, the all-nighters, the delivered pizza to your apartment.

Finals are usually a hassle and a stressful time for many students.  Making sure to keep your mind, your spirit, and your physical self in check is crucial for doing well on your exams and here are some tips that you can adopt during your exam week to help with memory retention and stress.

  1. Do not cram your studying! Make sure that you are not waiting until the last minute to prepare for your exams. Prioritize your classes, gauge which exams might be more difficult than others, and make sure that you give yourself mental breaks every hour or so.  Breaks in your studying sessions helps with the “absorption” of the material and allows you to come back to studying with a fresh mind.
  2. Change up your study location! Staying in the library all the time to study may be suitable because it is quiet, but make sure that you are not becoming drained from your environment. Changing up your study location makes you move around, which increases blood flow and reduces fatigue.  Just make sure to find another place that is also quiet or suitable for you to study.
  3. Reduce the distractions! If you need to, change your Facebook password and give it to a trusted friend for exam week.  Listening to music, watching television, texting or using the phone while you are studying might impact your memory retention of the material; classmates can be a good resource for studying as long as they continue to talk about the study materials.
  4. Engage in some light cardio activity during exam week! Studies have explored the connection between a moderate cardio activity and memory retention; make sure that you set time of your busy studying schedule for a 20 minute walk or jog. Exercise has some tremendous benefits for your body and mind and it can also “unlock” some of the stress muscles experience during exam week.
  5. Eat right! Having pizza every single night because of exam week may not be the best approach. Make sure that you include a heavy dose of fruits and vegetables into your diet at least a week prior to exam week.  Having the proper vitamins and nutrients helps with memory retention, and avoiding sugary drinks will prevent crashes that might impact exam performance.

Exam week is a stressful time for many students, but think about how far you have come and think about the feeling of accomplishment when you are finished.  In order to do the best on those exams, it is important that you are in your best state; keep organized, keep calm, and know that all that stress is temporary.  Hopefully some of these tips will be helpful, and I wish you the best on your upcoming exams!

The Identity Transformation of Male First Generational Students

first gender identityBy Nick Rocha – First generation students often face a multitude of academic and social challenges when they are transitioning into the college environment.  A first-generation student is someone whose parents have not completed or obtained a four-year college degree.  There is an increasing amount of research centered on the connection between social class and academic success, but there is a need for research that focuses on how identity formation strategies are challenged or sustained as students transition from high school to college.  How might certain students socialize and form identities based on their experiences on campus? Does the approach students use in high school translate to the approach used in college?

When considering how students formulate identity about themselves, it is important to take into consideration the intersectionality of race, class, gender, and other statuses when attempting to examine patterns and connections.  “Intersectionality thus provides a framework for understanding how multiple dimensions of identities affect experience, opportunities, and outcomes” (Wilkins, 2014).  As we take each category and status into account, we often get different experiences, explanations, and approaches to identity formation.  So for example a white lower-class first generational male will have a different strategy to define themselves as compared to a black lower-class first generational male.

Based on Amy Wilkin’s observations and interviews of first generational white and black men, the white students mentioned that they did not receive proactive support for their parents in regards to attending college.  They were warmly supportive of whatever decision that the students made regarding occupational goals, even it if meant not attending college.  They also employed a “blending in approach” to identity within high school.  This tactic involved glossing over class differences between themselves and middle-class students; white lower-class students would engage in low-cost activities such as video games, playing Frisbee, and hiking in attempts to develop a social network of friends.  They also avoided trouble such as drinking by changing their peer groups and engaging in sports.

This technique of “acting normal and blending in” translated well into the college atmosphere.  The participants mentioned that they opted out of partying due to it feeling “immature” and being contrary to their academic goals.  They mentioned that they were often bored and lonely due to avoiding social parties, but managed to establish alternative strategies for finding friends.  They used their tactic of blending in to develop peer groups that were often academically focused and supportive of their identity as an academic learner.

For the first generation black students, they mentioned that their families’ prioritized education by moving to certain geographical areas in order to attend certain schools, enrolled their students into desegregation programs, or obtained scholarships for private schools.  Of the students who were interviewed, many of them attended high schools that were predominantly white and as a result their identity was tied to their race and their conception of black masculinity.  Sports were a major status indicator for blacks.  “Sports provide an adult-sanctioned way for boys to demonstrate masculine competitiveness, toughness, and physical prowess, without necessarily compromising academic commitment” (Wilkins, 2014, p.181).  Since black masculinity was limited in predominantly white schools, it was considered valuable and rare.  First generation black males utilized the approach of “standing out” within their high schools; they were not coerced by their peers to fit into the black masculinity identity and this allowed them to integrate well within their social network.  This changed drastically when they attended college however.

Both groups experienced social hardships during the transition into college culture.  Black first generation students, however, struggled to implement their strategies to form and sustain their personal identity in college. Black students who do not play sports are often socially invisible as black masculine men.  “They are marginalized because they do not fulfill peer expectations of youthful black masculinity” (Wilkins, 2014, p.183).  Black first generation men struggle to find social spaces in which they can express their own identity without being coerced by their peers to fit into the adolescent black masculinity stereotype and often found managing relationships with their peers to be emotionally exhausting.  Race became a more impactful factor in identity development for black first generation men compared to their white counterpart.  One student mentioned that all of his peers would talk to him about football even though they were in an engineering class and they ignored his attempts to talk about engineering with them.

Examining the characteristics and strategies utilized by both white and black first generation men provides insight into the challenges and experiences that first generation students face when transitioning from the high school environment to the college environment.  More research should be conducted to examine identity strategies when social class is taken into account and when student’s high school environments are primarily minority students.  “Standing out” may not be a tactic used by black students when their school environment is not primarily white.

Additional research should also examine the differences between gender and how identity development might be different.  According to Chambliss and Takacs (2014), student friendships are critical to student retention.  Educators and social scientists should take a closer look into how identities are reinforced and challenged in college and how a student’s peer group might influence the strategies and techniques that first generation students take in developing their own identity.

Teaching and the Consequences of Self-Evaluation

Tso_Kiagar_Lake_Ladakh.jpgBy Nick Rocha – Teaching within our current educational system often involves a great deal of autonomy, emotional competency, and a passion to build and sustain an organized learning environment.  One element that is often unique and challenging to teachers (as compared to other professions) is how to effectively evaluate their instruction and methodology.  A typical classroom houses one teacher; peer educators are conducting classes at the same time and usually cannot observe other classrooms.  How might self-evaluation pose some significant challenges to improving on lessons and classroom management? What can be done to minimize bias?

It is appropriate to define what self-evaluation means in this particular context.  When a teacher completes a lesson, how do they know if the lesson was engaging or valuable for the students? Many teachers utilize self-evaluation techniques to address this question.  They will often reflect on whether students were attentive, if students asked questions pertaining to the materials covered, or if they looked dazed or confused.  It is hard to engage critical evaluation through self-reflection because our own assumptions might influence how we choose to evaluate our style and techniques.

If teachers plan to reflect on their experiences within the classroom, they should first create a list of the learning objectives and outcomes that they want to cover before the lesson.  That way they can reflect on whether or not they have achieved their objectives for the class period and if not, what they could do to address the situation. The process of critical evaluation should occur as a regular routine so that you can measure progress over the week and the semester.

Collecting information from students is another way to obtain evaluation without teacher biases.  Teachers can administer a questionnaire about the course and instruction to their students and ask for an honest review of the class thus far.  I would argue that students’ responses should be anonymous so that they feel that their feedback will not affect their relationship with the instructor.  If teachers design the evaluation using the Likert-scale and use the same evaluation questions throughout the semester, it might provide an extremely valuable insight into the teacher’s techniques and course material throughout the semester (and how it might have changed).

If teachers desire a more insightful evaluation of their teaching, they can also ask a fellow teacher to conduct a group interview after class or after school to ask the students specifically about the class and the facilitator.  This can be voluntary, but it is important to make sure that class demographics are being represented through the small interview group.  Small group sessions are a strong alternative to the questionnaire approach if most students are likely to put down limited responses on their evaluations.

It is fairly difficult to self-evaluate your own teaching methods and classroom management skills.  Since teachers work mainly by themselves in the classroom, finding ways to measure attentiveness or student engagement is vital for self-evaluation and improvement.  Allowing students to be open and honest with their critiques might be scary at first, but measuring how teachers grow over a certain period of time can be a truly gratifying experience.

Tso_Kiagar_Lake_Ladakh.jpg

Six Tips for Classroom Management

classroom managementBy Nick Rocha – One of the most important aspects of the teaching profession involves effective classroom management skills.  After teachers plan out their lessons and curriculum, being able to properly implement the lesson within a classroom is crucial for engaged learning and to minimize disruptions.  Dave Foley, a retired teacher and counselor from Michigan, suggests six tips for classroom management.

  1. Take charge of your class: Before you start the lesson, make sure that you have everyone’s full attention and everyone is in their seats.
  2. Focus on disruptive students: Make sure to address instances of disruption through either non-verbal communication, pausing while giving a lecture, or specifically calling out the student’s name in class to answer questions or to give their opinion.
  3. Let students choose their seats: Dave argues that allowing students to decide on their own seating arrangement gives them “ownership” of their spot and often encourages students to behave well so that they do not get moved.
  4. Give incentives to do their best on assignments: Sometimes assignments are either not graded or collected from the students. One strategy is to tell the class that all of the activities will be collected and one response will be randomly selected to be evaluated on the board.  If the response is well done, the teacher can give incentives such as smaller warm-up assignments.
  5. Keep an eye on your students: When you are teaching, make sure that you are in visible site with all of your students within the classroom. This allows you to make eye contact with all of your students and address concerns before they become disruptions.  Another recommendation is to vary your position in the room when you teach.
  6. Establish consequences for misbehaving: It is important to explain expectations and consequences of actions in the early days of class. One tactic is to write a student’s name down on the board if they are misbehaving and mention that if they do well for the rest of the class, they name will be erased from the board.  A consequence of having the name on the board could be staying after class.  Dave recommends that teachers should follow up with their consequences of misbehavior to show students that you are serious and as a result they will be serious with you.

Incorporating Multiculturalism in the Classroom around the Holidays

xmas treeBy Nick Rocha – Teaching during the winter months can often inspire teachers to integrate Christmas symbols and topics into their classroom activities. The holiday season is a wonderful time to reflect on the previous year, spend time with friends and family, and show compassion to the less fortunate. But integrating Christmas traditions and practices into the curriculum can alienate students who do not share a similar faith or cannot afford presents under the tree. How can teachers instill the fundamental principles of Christmas, such as compassion and generosity, without isolating students?

The Christmas season and consumerism has been deeply connected. Many companies and industries advertise holiday deals and reinforce the idea that Christmas gifts should be something physical and material in nature. Telling students that they will be rewarded with physical goods for being “good” around Christmas time also reinforces that idea. Asking students specifically what they want for Christmas can bring about disappointment if their families cannot afford presents for the holidays.

According to the Child Defense Fund, more than one out of five children live in poverty, and the proportion increases to one out of four for children below the age of six. One method that teachers can utilize in the classroom is to ask students about what they are grateful for and focus on giving instead of receiving. This allows students to reflect and to appreciate the goodness that is around them without feeling disappointed or feel like they are in a contest with their peers.

The Christmas season can also bring about ethnocentrism. “The intensity of the Christmas curriculum in non-religiously affiliated schools and centers isolates children of minority faiths, while contributing to the development of ethnocentrism in majority children” (Schlachter, 1986). Highlighting Christmas traditions and symbols without highlighting other religious practices and holidays can advocate Christianity as superior over other religions. Teachers should appreciate multiculturalism and note that some students do not celebrate Christmas or have other religious celebrations throughout the year. Educators should allow students to be open about their religion and integrate other religious symbols and festivities (besides Christmas) into the curriculum so that no student feels left out.

Educators need to appreciate multicultural diversity in their classrooms and to take into consideration the socioeconomic status of each student. Christmas is a time to appreciate what we have and to teach students how to be compassionate and generous. Celebrating other religions and allowing students to explore their spirituality will bring about cultural appreciation and a greater understanding of diversity within the classroom.

The Impact of Service Learning on White Attitudes

Untitled-1logoBy Nick Rocha – Service learning programs have been a growing trend among institutes of higher education.  Many universities and colleges provide week-long or semester-long programs that are designed to encourage students to interact with other students and communities.  “The general philosophy is to encourage a mutually beneficial partnership between students and a community group, with students providing needed services to a community that in turn provides rich professional and personal learning opportunities for students” (National and Community Service Trust Act, 1993).  How might service-learning, specifically multicultural service-learning, affect the racial attitudes of White, middle-class students?

There has been a great deal of research that highlights the value of multicultural service-learning.  According to Guilfoile and Ryan of the Education Commission of the States, “a growing body of research shows that students engaged in high-quality service-learning learn to collaborate, think critically, and problem solve” (2013).  In addition, service-learning can challenge stereotypes, reducing student ignorance, intolerance, prejudice and modern racism.  In contrast, “critics have expressed skepticism about bringing White middle-class students to low-income communities of color, especially when benefits to the community are unclear” (Reardon, 1998).  White students often benefit from feelings of self-worth, but they often view themselves as the “advantaged providing a service to the disadvantaged [and] this may perpetuate students’ negative stereotypes of community members” (Hess, Lanig, and Vaughan 2007).  This deficit-oriented approach “may contribute little to their intellectual and practical understanding of social justice and racial inequality” (Reardon, 1994).  What aspects of service-learning influence whether or not White, middle-class students’ attitudes perpetuate negative stereotypes or strengthen a higher intercultural sensitivity towards other communities?

Multicultural service-learning programs often consist of five themes: Investigation, Preparation, Action, Reflection, and Demonstration (Kaye and Connolly 2010).  The investigation involves the collection of student interests and a social analysis of the issue being addressed.  Preparation involves the continuation of knowledge of the issue and the organization of the service-learning objectives.  The Investigation and Preparation stages are critical for the development of White student attitudes regarding disadvantaged communities and racial stereotypes.  Even though White middle-class students are reluctant to talk about race for fear of appearing racist, discussing structural racism and White privilege prior to the Action stage of service-learning helps to make power relations visible and critical reflection on racial attitudes possible (Green, 2003).  Additional research will needed to be conducted regarding student multicultural learning outcomes through service-learning, but it would seem that service-learning on its own merit does not positively influence White students’ racial attitudes (Houshmand et.al 2014).  Service-learning should provide a significant amount of background knowledge regarding power relations, White privilege, and racial colorblindness in order to encourage students to critically reflect on their service experience and their social status.


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