education Ms. Sue

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Hello, Thanks for the response I got the idea now for the teaching practices but what would be an example for 3 teaching practices that undermine academic achievemtn. Thanks

Editor's Choice: Valuing Diversity—Student-Teacher Relationships that Enhance Achievement
Community College Review, Summer, 2000 by Linda Olson JacobsonBased on experience as a developmental writing teacher, the author describes strategies for promoting student success within diverse groups of learners. After discussing how teachers can innocently contribute to student failure, the author describes specific ways to develop a valuing teacher-student relationship that promotes success: Getting to know students and providing structures such as individual conferences and meaningful evaluation systems can help learners to feel valued as individuals, to understand the basic knowledge they lack, and to affirm their abilities. Examples of student reactions to these strategies are included.

Although ... poverty, racism, poor language skills, neglect, abuse and crime cannot be dismissed as contributing to the academic failure that some ... youngster face, deficit explanations have rarely considered how schools and society have been complications in causing these failures. (Nieto, 1996)

Professor Nieto's statement provides a sobering reminder that schools, and particularly teachers, play an important role in determining students' academic success or failure. Though her comment refers specifically to the problems of Puerto Rican students in school, current educational research (Steele, 1992; Nieto, 1998) reveals the seriousness of this issue for many other racial and ethnic minorities as well. Because research shows that many more minorities than White students drop out of college, educators who seek social justice and remain committed to helping students reach their educational goals are challenged to understand the reasons for this disparity and ways to mitigate it.

Steele reports that "70 percent of all back Americans at four-year colleges drop out at some point, as compared with 45 percent of whites" (1992, p. 70). Steele believes that the "culprit that can undermine black achievements ... is stigma, the endemic devaluation many blacks face in our society and schools" (p. 68). Research on the educational achievement of other minorities reveals similar problems. As Nieto writes,

African American, Latino, American Indian, and poor children in general
continue to achieve below grade level, drop out in much greater numbers,
and go to college in much lower proportion than their middle-class and
European American peers ... Latino students drop out of school at a rate
higher than any other major group, and in some places the rate has been as
high as 80 percent. (Nieto, 1996, p. 36)
The disproportion between minority and White dropout rates suggests that the educational systems through which these students have passed have failed to address equitably the needs of all those they serve. Too often, minorities are not on an equal footing with their White counterparts in school because, as Steele notes, "In ways often too subtle to be conscious but sometimes overt, ... students (of color) remain devalued in American schools" (1992, p. 74). Unfortunately, even teachers with the best of intentions sometimes inadvertently act in ways that interface with students learning the basic skills they need to compete successfully in school, work, and society.

Seventy percent of the community college students I teach are minorities, of which approximately 63% are African American, 33% Hispanic, and 4% Asian. Because they arrive in college without the writing skills they need to succeed academically, they are required to take developmental writing courses. Most of these students lack confidence in their ability to communicate their thoughts in writing, and many speak of educational experiences that have made it difficult for them to sustain their motivation to complete their educational goods. Yet the students I have taught over the 14 years possess many abilities and skills. Among them are talented artists, computer "whizzes," and strong leaders. We, as educators, must find methods that ensure success for such diverse populations of students because we cannot afford to lose the contributions that they, because of their unique skills and diversity, can make to strengthen our society and make it a better place in which to live.

In this article I discuss how teachers can become more aware of and sensitive to the specific needs of students and to both the factors that negatively affect students' attitudes towards the educational process and those that enhance their learning experiences. Through this increased awareness, we can motivate greater numbers of students to remain in school and realize their promise.

Complicity versus Sensitivity

How is it that well-meaning teachers can be complicitous in causing student failure as Nieto suggests? To some, the word may sound ominous, but my experience has shown that this complicity can often occur quite innocently, simply because teachers are often unaware of elements of culture, race, and educational experiences that make some students more vulnerable in school than others.

Sensitive teachers recognize that certain attitudes and behaviors can devalue students in school. Just as parents who love and value their children strive to give them the support and guidance they need to succeed in school, work, family, and community, teachers who value students work to ensure that they graduate with the skills they need to succeed in college and the work place. When high school seniors are allowed to graduate with reading and writing skills far below the twelfth-grade level, and often as low as the fourth-grade level, they have been devalued by the professionals whose responsibility it is to ensure that they have the skills required for future academic succes
Insensitive teaching practices can undermine motivation and unnerve already academically bruised students. Comments such as "We will do the best we can for these people, but we don't expect them to go very far," and "We all know what those developmental students are like--they are just a joke in the English department" suggest that developmental writing students are often stigmatized and branded as "losers" long before much effort is made to explore their potential for learning and growth. A teacher who tells students that "Statistics show that only 30% of you are going to make it in college; let's see who it's going to be," can set in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy for students who may already lack academic confidence. "Among the mechanisms discovered to affect minority education adversely, none is more important than teacher's low expectations" (Ogbu, as cited in McElroy-Johnson, 1996). In addition, teachers' statements that are intended to endear them to some students may devalue and alienate others. For example, telling a few White, female students that they are "keepers" in the presence of students of Hispanic and African-American heritage ignores the possible inference that being excluded from the "keeper" category, the minority and male students present may be considered "disposables."

Often, students who have had negative academic experiences are reluctant to participate in class discussions. In her description of voice, educator McElroy-Johnson comments as follows: "Most of my students are Asian, African-American, and Hispanic. Because their inner and outer voices have often been historically muted and stifled, they have little sense of security when they speak during class discussions" (1996, p. 108). Whether they have been laughed at for their imperfect English or are just uncertain about their fluency, students who are afraid to make their voices heard in a classroom lose the opportunity to be full participants in their education. When such situations exist, it is important for teachers to use methods that can reverse the pattern and bolster the students' confidence and sense of voice.
Environmental Challenges and the Importance of Valuing

Establishing an educational environment that values all students often requires unique approaches for students who have been at a disadvantage within the educational system. "Blacks remain devalued in American schools where, for example, they are still more than twice as likely as white children to receive corporal punishment, be suspended from school, or be labeled mentally retarded" (Steele, 1992, p. 74). Such devaluation forces Black students to realize that "society is preconditioned to see the worst in them" (p. 74). Students of Hispanic and other minority backgrounds also report this kind of discrimination. In her recent study of Puerto Rican students in U.S. schools, Nieto writes that "The message that emerges from this study of fact and fiction is one that underlies all the others: the care or rejection experienced by Puerto Rican students in U.S. schools can have a significant impact on their academic success or failure" (Nieto, 1998, p. 157, emphasis in original)

In addition to negative social attitudes, many of the students I teach contend with family and environmental circumstances that strain their ability to succeed academically. From surveys completed by 180 developmental writing students in my classes, I learned that many are the first in their family to attend college and over 70% have parents with no academic experience beyond high school. Consequently, they do not have parents who, by sharing their own college experiences, can act as resources to help them manage the challenges of college. The majority of these students have full or part-trine jobs, and many struggle to combine school and work while trying to raise a family. Furthermore, many students commute to and from work and school through neighborhoods where they are confronted by gangs and often witness beatings and random shootings. One student wrote, "I live in the famous Pilsen Neighborhood where the community is filled with gangs and all sorts of violence going on, but what else is new? I thank God that I have managed to stay out of gangs and drugs and for the opportunity to do something better for myself after high school."

Recently Time magazine (January 25, 1999) profiled some of these issues as they affect many economically poor urban high school students:

While their suburban peers return home to parents eager to boot up the
computer to help with a research paper, many inner-city students don't have
the same resources or have parents who are undereducated or too busy making
ends meet to help with homework. (Morse, 1999, p. 59)
Morse offers a poignant illustration of some students' difficulties through the experience of tenth grader Shante Bodley:

For Bodley, it's not debating practice or piano lessons that keep her busy
but rather a $6.25-an-hour job ... (and) after her shift ends at 6 p.m.,
... (baby-sitting) for her five-year-old niece, often until 10 p.m. Only
then does she begin to think about hitting the books. (Bodley's) ... not
doing homework could hinder her progress.... her teachers say she has
plenty of smarts, but the missed assignments added up to three Cs on her
latest report card. More grades like those, her teachers worry, could keep
her out of college. (Morse, p. 59)It is because of the handicaps that confront so many developmental writing students--the predisposition of society to see the worst in them, a lack of academic family role models, the stress of work, school, family and environment--that I propose perhaps uncharacteristic approaches for teaching this student population. The experiences and information I discuss have originated from work with college writing students specifically, and most references are to writing situations; nevertheless, I believe that the techniques described can be used to empower students in most classrooms by giving them the skills and support they need to succeed. They will also encourage the development of a student-teacher rapport that allows students "to entrust (themselves) to this place, and (measure themselves) against its values and goals" (Steele, 1992, p. 74) and create an environment in which students are challenged and motivated to persevere academically. "A valuing teacher student relationship goes nowhere without challenge, and challenge will always be resisted outside a valuing relationship. Where students are, valued and challenged, they will generally succeed" (Steele, 1992, p. 78).

Getting to Know Students
The process of getting to know students can begin with the simple accomplishment of learning each student's name. Although this may not be possible in a large lecture hall, it is not difficult with a class of 35 students or less. When their names are learned early and used often, students recognize that the teacher respects them and doesn't view them only as bodies sitting at desks.

Students also respond positively when they are asked to write some personal information about themselves that will help the teacher better understand them as students. Such an initial assignment accomplishes several goals:

* It allows students to begin writing early and about a subject they know well and feel comfortable with.

* It tells students that the teacher wants to know them as individuals.

* It shows students that because they can choose what they write about, the teacher is willing to allow them a voice in deciding how learning will take place in the classroom: "pedagogical approaches that empower students encourage them to assume greater control over setting their own learning goals" (Cummins, 1996, p. 360).* read student essays carefully and give the student a thorough and specific evaluation,

* use a clear evaluation system that is meaningful to the student,

* demystify the essay's basic structural requirements,

* encourage and consistently respond to students' questions,

* discuss the value of incorrect answers, and

* encourage students to help one another
A clear and meaningful evaluation system also helps students improve their writing skills. A student from another class once overheard me explaining my evaluation system to one of my students and commented, "Now that's something I can understand. All we get is a pass or fail mark on our essays, and no one tells me what was bad or good about the paper." An evaluation system that is simple and easy to understand helps students become good critics of their writing. For example, using a grading system based on 100 points for a five-paragraph essay helps students begin to evaluate their own essays by comparing paragraphs that receive a high number of points with those that receive fewer points. They can then examine the strengths and weaknesses in their compositions that have created the differences between paragraphs. For this type of rating system to be effective, writing skills that earn evaluation points as well as errors that will result in a loss of points must be clearly explained.

Developmental writing students feel more control over their writing when teachers demystify the basic structural elements of short essays. This demystification separates the morass of formal English grammatical terminology from such basic structural elements as the thesis and supporting points. I often draw an analogy between the human skeleton and the essay's basic structure: Just as the human body needs a strong skeleton to support flesh and skin, the basic essay needs a strong thesis and supporting points to keep an effective argument on target. Once students understand that the strength of their essay depends on the "strong skeleton" of a clearly stated thesis that is supported with convincing evidence, they are able to produce more coherent and forceful essays
Oftentimes students can help each other understand elements of language and sentence structure that an instructor may have difficulty communicating. I have found this to be true particularly when working with bilingual students whose native language is unfamiliar to me. When it is possible to identify students in the class who speak the same language or who are having similar writing problems, it can be rewarding for them to work together to solve the problem. Frequently one student has figured out how to handle one aspect of the problem while the other student has grasped a different aspect; when they put their heads together, they are usually able to complement each other's understanding to arrive at a satisfactory solution.

Mentoring One-on-One

Frequent one-on-one instructional sessions with students contribute to their success by creating learning situations in which it is possible for student and teacher to share what I refer to as "mentoring moments"--moments when teachers provide students with positive and accurate comments about their academic work that can bolster self-esteem and motivate them to improve their skills. Although the most common understanding of a mentor-student relationship is one that operates over an extended period of time, I believe that good teachers regularly act as mentors when they encourage, motivate, and support students and serve as role models for them. A mentoring moment can be as simple as telling a student that he or she writes with a wonderful sense of humor or that his or her use of colorful details really brought an essay to life; some mentoring moments can be life-changing.

The success of the teaching methods and attitudes I have described can be measured in several ways. Significantly, the number of students who complete my writing classes successfully is typically 15% greater than the departmental average. The community college's Office of Research and Analysis report (issued November 1998) shows that 67% of students who enrolled in the developmental writing courses passed the course in which they were registered My success with the same population of students is usually an 83 to 90% passing rate. Just as important, the responses I have received from students through questionnaires, interviews, teacher evaluations, and unsolicited comments have been rewardingly positive. Some examples of the 180 survey question responses that have guided my focus in teaching developmental writing students are as follows:

Question: "What in your view is good teaching?"

Juan: Good teaching is not giving up on a student until he or she fully

Roxana: Good teachers work with students on a one-to-one basis and provide
tutoring, if necessary, discuss work thoroughly, and take the time to
answer questions.

Maria: Good teaching is when the teacher worries about us and teaches us
clearly. When the teacher cares about our grades and tells us how to make
that a higher grade.

Angela: Good teaching is, the ability to come down to the students' level
and make them feel very comfortable in asking questions.
Personal interviews also reflect how classroom procedures affect individuals. One student, a 36-year-old Black woman, confided that when she began the semester she had low self-esteem at home dealing with the demands of her family and that academically she had very little confidence in her writing skills. After the 16-week developmental writing course (in which she did exceedingly well), she happily shared that her self-esteem had been given a boost and she looked forward to her next writing classes with confidence. One group of students shared that they liked the teaching techniques because they gave them the desire and motivation to learn even more.

Asking students to write about the factors that have influenced their learning experience can also help teachers evaluate the success of instructional strategies. Some recent examples in essays that I have received include the following:

Some teaching techniques that helped me were the one-on-one sessions and
the feedback.

The way you were tough and made me work hard for my grade.

This class has made me feel good about myself because I thought I could
never do it.

The most helpful teaching technique was individual talking with the
students and explaining every case separately.

It is very important for students like me to know how to change something.
Just information that something is wrong is not helpful for me. I have to
know what technique I have to use to change it.
Students' unsolicited responses also suggest the effectiveness of pedagogical methods. Many students over the years have surprised me with notes of appreciation and occasional surprise parties at semester's end. Some, on occasion, have even brought their children with them to visit the writing class. I believe this indicates that they feel positively about their learning experience and they want their children to share some part of it with them because they feel a commitment to their educational pursuits that extends beyond the present class.
One of the most memorable experiences I've had over the years involved a 20-year-old Black male student who greatly improved his writing skills and earned an A in the course. Although we had shared one-on-one mentoring time during the semester when I complimented him on his descriptive skills and effective use of humor in his writing, he had never voiced any positive or negative feelings about the course. That is why I was both surprised and touched by the appreciative card he gave me at the end of the semester, the title words of which read, "You Have Made a Difference in My Life." Inside the card he had written the following: "Writing was the only thing that I truly feared. Yet you made it seem so easy."

The poignancy of the card's verse and the words he had written made me realize something I had not known before: this student, and perhaps many others, might actually fear writing their thoughts on paper. I was also unaware that what had transpired in class had somehow affected at least this particular student very deeply. But why was this the case, I wondered? These realizations made me determined to discover what kinds of student-teacher interactions were important and beneficial to students. Consequently, I began to listen to students even more carefully, observe body language more closely, and to ask students for information about the kinds of learning experiences that "worked for them."

Caring, Family, and Affirmation

Nieto addresses the issue of caring as follows:

The literature and research describe "caring" as providing affection and
support for students, building strong interpersonal relationships with them
and their families, learning about and from them, respecting and affirming
their language and culture and building on it, and having high expectations
for them. (Nieto, 1998, p. 159)
She also discusses a successful high school program for Latino students that suggested to her that a sense of belonging can counter the cultural isolation that Puerto Rican students feel. One of the keys to the program's success was the teacher who directed the program by incorporating motivational strategies that built on the students' culture and their need for family-like affection and caring. This teacher created a world in the classroom in which the students felt they "belonged." The students in turn described him as "a father, brother and friend to us." (Nieto, p. 156)

Classroom teachers have frequent opportunities to show students that they are valued members of a class. Calling attention to a student's absence in a parental fashion can show that the welfare of the students in the class is of concern. One might comment, "Sharon's not in class today. I wonder what the problem is? I'll have to give her a call." Positive observations about language, customs, or dress can demonstrate to students of ethnic and racial minorities that their unique culture, race, and language is appreciated in the class. For example, if a bilingual student is reluctant to speak in class, it can be helpful to express admiration for people who can speak more than one language and an appreciation for how difficult it must be to do so when coming to a new country, particularly as an adult. Also, admiring a beautiful sari or other interesting aspects of cultural dress and customs can help students take pride in elements of their culture that are unique.
Over the years, college students have told me in their personal statements that they want teachers who care about them and are not "just there for the paycheck." They want teachers who show them respect, attend to their questions, and value their individual and unique responses. When they have teachers who respond to these needs, they know that they will be treated with fairness as valued persons and that their teachers will work to ensure that they acquire, the skills they need for academic success.


The negative experiences many students have in school can be avoided and counteracted when teachers cultivate sensitivity to the broader contexts of students' lives and use teaching methods that value and support all students irrespective of their group membership. Although the methods and ideas suggested here have been used exclusively with community college students, I believe they can be modified to benefit students in other situations as well and to enable "educators (to) redefine their roles within the classroom ... so that these role definitions result in interactions that empower rather than disable students" (Cummins, 1996, p. 366). These redefined student-teacher interactions are necessary in classrooms where the diversity of the students renders a one-size-fits-all pedagogy particularly inequitable.

The teaching approaches discussed here help students to achieve and remain committed to completing their education. When students receive specific information about their strengths and weaknesses in a subject and a clear understanding of what is expected of them, along with the tools with which to attain the required standard, they are enabled to experience continued academic success and are freed from instructional dependence (Cummins, 1996, p. 365). When teachers care about students as individuals, and support and hear their voices, they assist students in "shaping (their lives) towards a productive and positive fulfillment for self, family, community, nation, and the world" (McElroy-Johnson, 1996, p. 107). I believe, after all, that if we make pedagogical methods more responsive to the needs of diverse student populations, it is possible to turn students' hopes into achievable realities. As one student wrote about a teacher who provided inspiration: "She makes me feel that I can do anything I put my mind to."
Morse, J. (1999, January 25). Where it's an unaffordable luxury. Time, p. 59.

Nieto, S. (1996), Affirming diversity (2nd ed.). New York: Longman Publishers.

Nieto, S. (1998, Summer). Fact and fiction: Stories of Puerto Ricans in U.S. schools. Harvard Educational Review, 2, 133-163.

Steele, C. (1992, April). Race and the schooling of Black Americans. Atlantic Monthly, pp. 68-78.

Linda Olson Jacobson is an adjunct professor at Triton College in River Grove, Illinois.

I know this is long, but I will let you get your own information and word it the way you want to. I hope it helps.

You could take the opposite points of view than the good teaching practices. For instance, lecturing, rather than involving students, often undermines student achievement. Large classes, indifferent teachers, disorderly classrooms, etc. also undermine student achievement.

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