Weekly Update 10.14.16

This has been a hodge-podge week with extra Mondays and Fridays. Next week we get back into a regular schedule of five days a week. Just as we have both enjoyed and been discombobulated by the irregular schedule, so have our students. It is helpful to remind ourselves that for every person who likes novelty and change, there is a person who craves a routine. Next Monday let's start our day revisiting routines and expectations-it is reassuring to both types of students to be reminded that our classroom communities thrive on shared values.

Have a great weekend!

Jean & Chris

Social-Class Differences in Student Assertiveness Asking for Help

In this article in American Educator, Jessica Calarco (Indiana University) reports on SES-based differences in student support-seeking in elementary classrooms. Her conclusion: children from middle-class families tend to actively seek help from teachers when they’re stumped, while children from working-class families generally try to manage learning problems on their own. “I found that they did so because of contrasting lessons they learned at home,” says Calarco, “with parents coaching them to adopt class-based understandings of the ‘appropriate’ way to problem solve.” Unless teachers are aware of these differences and compensate accordingly, middle-class children get more help and existing educational inequalities get worse.

What exactly do parents teach their children about how to deal with academic frustration? During three years observing classrooms and interviewing teachers, parents, and students in a suburban elementary school, Calarco found that working-class parents took a “no-excuses” approach. They encouraged their children to not bother their teachers, respect their authority, work hard, and deal with academic frustrations on their own. In interviews, says Calarco, parents “worried that teachers might perceive requests for help or clarification as disrespectful” – or even as a sign of laziness. This was true despite the fact that Calarco never once saw a teacher reprimand a student for seeking support. One working-class father said, “My kids know that you just do your best and try. I just want my kids to be respectful, responsible… I tell ’em to just get it done and not complain.” One day in a fifth-grade classroom, Calarco noticed that a boy from a working-class family was having great difficulty with a math problem. The teacher noticed his furrowed brow, walked over and asked if he needed help, explained the problem, and moved on. The boy was still confused but he didn’t ask for follow-up help and got the problem wrong.

Middle-class parents, on the other hand, explicitly encouraged a “by-any-means” approach, telling their children to be squeaky wheels and get the help they needed. Children “felt entitled to assistance from teachers and were very comfortable making requests,” says Calarco. “While shy and high-achieving children from middle-class families were sometimes nervous about speaking up or being perceived as ‘stupid,’ their parents’ persistent coaching helped to reassure these children that teachers would welcome their request and that the benefits would outweigh the risks.” One mother said, “I always tell them they should go up to the teacher and ask… They should get clarification, as opposed to making a bad decision or getting it wrong.” In the same fifth-grade classroom class described above, a middle-class student called the teacher over for help, got an explanation, still didn’t understand, and pushed for more help until it made sense.

As a result of parental messages, says Calarco, children from middle-class families tended to complete their work more quickly and accurately than those from working-class families, compounding other class-based advantages with which they entered school.

This dynamic put the school’s teachers in a bind. If they quite naturally responded to student requests that popped up, teachers’ help would have a social-class skew, with more going to students from middle-class families. Calarco is at pains to say that teachers were not overtly biased against students from working-class families. “By no means do teachers intend to respond to students in different ways,” she says. “In many ways, it was clear they cared deeply about all their students and worried about those who, as one teacher noted, were not getting enough ‘support at home.’ But despite their good intentions, the structure of the school day and the pressures they faced made it hard for teachers to provide equal support to all their students… There simply was not enough time in the day to repeatedly check on each student and provide him or her with personalized support and assistance.” One teacher blurted out to her students, “I can’t read minds. You have to let me know [if you are struggling].”

“Still,” Calarco concludes, “if educators are aware of their students’ class-based patterns and possible misperceptions, they may be better equipped to help all their students succeed.” She noticed some of the teachers taking helpful steps such as:

- Walking around the room looking over students’ shoulders as they worked and intervening where there were misunderstandings and struggles.

- Frequently saying, “Let me know if you have any questions” or “Come and see me up here if you need help.”

- A teacher noticing a worried face and asking, “You okay?” Students from working-class families were more comfortable asking for help when it was explicitly offered, since they knew they wouldn’t be reprimanded for their requests.

- Teachers reassuring students that questions are okay, directions can’t cover all situations, and confusion is normal.

But if teachers didn’t make their expectations around giving support “extremely explicit,” says Calarco, “students were left to determine whether and how to make requests. Such decisions, in turn, tended to exacerbate social-class differences in student help-seeking… It is important that teachers realize the power they have to prevent students’ social-class backgrounds from determining who receives support in managing challenges at school.”

“Help-Seekers and Silent Strugglers: Student Problem-Solving in Elementary Classrooms” by Jessica Calarco in American Educator, Winter 2014-15 (Vol. 38, #4, p. 24-27, 30-13, 44),

http://www.aft.org/ae/winter2014-2015/calarco; the author is at jcalarco@indiana.edu.

Calendar Events

Monday, 10/17

8:30 ESL Meeting-Room 121

Tuesday, 10/18

8:30 Sped Meeting

10:25 Grade 2 Team Meeting

11:25 Grade 4 Team Meeting

1:10 Kindergarten Team Meeting

1:55 Grade 1 Team Meeting

5-8 PTO Culver's Night

Wednesday, 10/19

12:10 Early Release

1:20 PD-see agenda above

Thursday, 10/20

8:30 BASE meeting

9:25 Grade 5 Team Meeting

11:25 Grade 6 Team Meeting

2:55 Grade 3 Team Meeting

Friday, 10/21

National Pumpkin Cheesecake Day

Saturday, 10/22

10-2 Fall Fest

Arrival/Dismissal Care

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