Voices of the Dropout Nation: Online Teaching and Building Bridges Across Cultures


This post originally appeared on Dropout Nation, a site focusing on America’s dropout crisis and education reform. This is an expansion of a commentary on education that began four years ago for the Indianapolis Star with Left Behind, a series of editorials editorialist RiShawn Biddle co-wrote detailing Indiana’s — and the nation’s — dropout crisis. View Original >


When Susan Sawyers wrote an article for USA Today showcasing how some students are using online course to graduate on time and avoid dropping out, it highlighted one of the important benefits of online education: Providing equity in and access to high quality education.  A diverse population of students can take classes in order to retrieve credit for classes they may have failed in the past without dealing with the barriers that led them astray in the first place.

At the same time, there are potential pitfalls. As Sedef Uzuner wrote recently, online and distance  learning environments as as prone to aggravating cultural differences as traditional classrooms because students are removed from native cultures and interacting with students from different ones. So teachers in the online space need to be as thoughtful about race, ethnicity, gender, religion and even socioeconomic status and land of birth as those in their counterparts in old-school classrooms.

So we need teachers in the online space to be culturally responsive in their instruction. What do I mean by that? Culturally Responsive Online Teachers identify and utilize cultural strengths and resiliencies through aligned online teaching best practices, while utilizing diverse discourse structures and curriculum. These resiliencies vary across culture and experience.

As an example, many of our students have the resiliency to be highly adaptive and agile. They can look at a subway system many and easily navigate from place to place in a variety of ways. Many of our students have the resiliency to communicate across cultures. The common language at school might be English, while Tagalog is spoken at home. Even online students have a culture that they live in. They access a different language. They navigate and evaluate data constantly. Why shouldn’t we utilize these resiliencies?

Geneva Gay recently printed a new edition of her book, Culturally Responsive Teaching: Research, Theory and Practice, and it explains the many of the dispositions and practices teachers need to have. The next step is to ensure this sort of practice occurs consistent in online course instruction. Learning Management systems and the online structures need to be just as diverse as the cultures they serve. The typical paradigm of “reading and doing” that many online courses have needs to change. We are in danger of replicating a system for the online world that has not served all students in the brick and mortar world. Structures need to be examined and built to allow for diverse discourses that align with online teaching best practices.

We need to ensure we train our online educators with the tools and skills it takes to interact with students of diverse populations, especially as more students begin taking more courses online. All students have cultural strengths and resiliencies; we need to ensure we are using all these strengths, including the culture of online learners.


Previous edReformer Blogs

I have been blogging for Edreformer for quite some time now in a variety of topics from online learning, to standards based grade books, to project based learning. Edreformer describes itself as:

“A community of advocates, entrepreneurs, educators, policy makers, philanthropists and investors seeking to promote excellence and equity in education through innovation. EdRefomer serves as a catalyst for innovation in education by encouraging and promoting public and private investment in new learning tools, schools, and platforms.”

Here is a link all the my blogs, as well as the topics.

  1. Culturally Responsive Online Teaching: A Call to Action
  2. Supporting Student Voice and Choice Leads to Equity
  3. From Drop Out to Push Out in Online Learning
  4. Rethinking Time in Online Learning
  5. Why Standards-Based Gradebooks & What Next?
  6. Project-Based Online Learning-Natural Fit and Next Step


Why Standards-Based Gradebooks & What Next?


This post originally appeared on edReformer, a community of advocates, entrepreneurs, educators, policy makers, philanthropists and investors seeking to promote excellence and equity in education through innovatation.  edRefomer serves as a catalyst for innovation in education by encouraging and  promoting public and private investment in new learning tools, schools, and platforms. View Original >


With the rise of standards-based instruction, districts and schools have been seeking out the best tools to foster it. Standards-Based grade books have been created is response to this need. As with educational changes, there are exciting potentials and pitfalls. First of all, here is what works when using the standards-based grade book:

1)     Ensures targeted Assessment and Rubrics – When the standards are presented and transparent to the teachers on a continuous basis, teachers are bound to be thinking about their assessments and whether or not there are standards based. As a teacher inputting grades, one can be reflective in practice, thinking– “Is this assessment/ assignment really targeted toward the standard?”

2)     Continuity across Classes and Teachers – When the same content grade book is being used by all the teachers, then the inconsistencies will fade. Conversations will no longer have to happen about why a certain teacher leverages a certain standard or target more than others. Conversations can instead occur about the targeted instruction and assessment in the classroom.

3)     Leverage Summative Assessment – This is the big one, and the idea that may “upset the apple cart.” When teachers start putting in assignments in the standards-based grade book, teachers will encounter issues in weighting their assignments. All assignments, whether formative or summative may weighted the same, based on the programming of the grade book itself. Teachers will of course bring this concern to life. The response will be, “put in only Summative Assessment,” as that is what the grade should be. Formative assessment is practice, and Summative is the performance. Teachers will then protest “If I don’t count the worksheets and assignments I give out, then they won’t do it.” If I were there, I would answer, “You trying to ‘cattle-prod’ your students into doing work by giving leverage in the grade book instead of focusing on the real problem – Your students aren’t engaged.” The focus should be on creating relevance, inquiry and engagement in the Summative Assessments.

While the Standards-based grade book is helping to ensure better teaching and instruction, we need to make sure that fosters innovation in education. In general. there needs to be some flexibility in the creation and utilization of the grade book between the school and provider. In order to do that, here are some tips for not only those constructing the grade book, but also for the teachers using it.

1)     Make sure the Grade book allows for 21st Century Skills – If we value 21st century skills, then we need to teach and assess them. In order to leverage them as much as content standards, they need to be included in the grade. Collaboration, Technology Literacy and even Presentation Skill should be taught and assessed in a grade just as much as the content standards. They are learning targets and standards.

2)     Make sure there is place for Formative Assessments – In order to be transparent to parents and students, you need to be able to track and monitor ongoing formative assessments, that show work toward that standard. It can be worth nothing, as it should be, but there must be a place to have this data so that effective conversations can be had for all partners in the learning of the student.

3)     Keep Assessments rigorous – One of the pitfalls of standards-based instruction and assessment is that some of the assessments can only be geared toward standards that are lower on Bloom’s taxonomy. Carol Jago, current NCTE president talks about this in terms of the English class in her book Beyond Standards: Excellence in the High School English Classroom. Make sure you are targeting standards that have higher order thinking skills. Be targeted, but also aim “beyond standards” in the assessments

Standards-Based grade books can help ensure quality instruction and assessments for our students as long as there is a level of flexibility and rigor. Providers need to listen to their clients and clients need to provide good feedback to their providers. Teachers need to make sure they are not only aiming at a target standard in their assessment, but also aiming for rigor. They need to use the grade book to leverage their content as well as 21st century skills, and teachers need to be transparent with the work being done in the classroom.