by Dan Lukiv
- Part One: How to Create a Literary Journal to Publish Students' writing
- Part Two: How to Develop a Creative Writing Program (Includes Examples of How to Publish/Display Students' Work)
- Part Three: How to Create and Publish a Specialized Journal of Education to Provide Direction for Specialist Teachers
In preparation for starting up The [Home-grown] Journal of Secondary Alternate Education, which would create a forum for theory, research, and experience regarding the teaching of troubled high school students, I e-mailed the following letter to each education professor and many professors of social work working in the four universities in British Columbia, Canada:
c/o 440 McNaughton Avenue
Quesnel, British Columbia V2J 3K8
The University of British Columbia or The University of Victoria or Simon Fraser University or The Univeristy of Northern British Columbia
Dear Dr. So-And-So:
I have taught in public schools in Quesnel, British Columbia, for 23 years: three years as a primary teacher and the last 20 as a secondary alternate teacher. I have published many articles about teaching in general, and, more specifically, about teaching children with socio-emotional issues. Presently I'm part of a 22-student cohort that is completing a Master of Education Program at the University of Northern British Columbia. I'm certainly interested in education; in fact, I'm planning to start a low-budget journal, The Journal of Secondary Alternate Education, with a focus on educational and socio-emotional issues.
Perhaps you would like to submit an article, based on research, experience, or theory, of up to 3000 words. Articles should relate to teaching, counselling, or youth care work. Copyright will remain with authors. Payment: a copy of the journal for each contributor. The journal will provide the staff at McNaughton Centre (my secondary alternate school) with a body of articles that should help teachers and youth care workers better service students. The online version will provide an international service.
If this sounds interesting so far, then I encourage you to read the Windows 95/7.0 doc attachment, which explains The Journal of Secondary Alternate Education in more detail.
Thank you for your time.
Dan Lukiv (B.Sc., UBC, 1976; Teacher Training, UBC, 1977)
I sent e-mails appropriately addressed to about 250 professors. I obtained the e-mail addresses through browsing the four universities' Web sites. The Windows 95/7.0 doc attachment read as follows:
The Journal of Secondary Alternate Education
If "faith follows the thing heard," then action should follow need (New World Translation, Romans 10:17). A dozen years ago I saw a need for a literary journal that represented the poetic voice of northern British Columbia, especially the voice of young northern poets, so I invented CHALLENGER international (Ci).1 It "offers an opportunity for neophyte-writers, shy as they might be, to...display[ ] their wares alongside the works of established writers" (Lukiv, 2001c, paragraph 3). "Ci's mandate: to encourage young writers" (CHALLENGER international, 2001, pp. 96-97). As a secondary alternate teacher, I now see another need. No education journal in northern British Columbia exists that focuses on northern issues in secondary alternate education. Actually, to my knowledge, no secondary alternate journal exists world-wide.
Within the world of secondary alternate education, teachers, youth care workers, administrators, parents, and even students should see that as an issue, because such a journal could provide sound direction and theory regarding teaching students with socio-emotional problems. Not only those stakeholders, but community members should likewise welcome a journal that helps professionals prepare any high school student for the work force or further education.
The concept of our helping students certainly isn't novel. As an example of one helping hand, a great collaboration of many and diverse stakeholders in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, has "the goal of keeping students in school to prepare them for jobs in business" (Chrislip & Larson, 1994, p. 115). They call this collaboration the Baltimore Commonwealth. Its "mission...is to prepare young people to be responsible, contributing citizens. The Commonwealth does this by establishing programs and incentives designed to keep students in school and to graduate them with the capacity to be economically productive and to be good citizens" (p. 43).
That mission sounds like a typical secondary alternate school mandate. And that mission explains how a journal of secondary alternate education could help secondary alternate students: it would contain articles and research conclusions that would help teachers and youth care workers "establish[ ] programs and incentives designed to keep students in school and to graduate." Sounds good--aye?
In the spirit of collaboration, I asked our staff at McNaughton Centre, my secondary alternate school in Quesnel, British Columbia, Canada, "Would you like a new opportunity for professional development? We have four universities in British Columbia, with their professors in education and human services departments who do research and write articles and books, and yet how much of that valuable information reaches us? Suppose I contact the appropriate professors in those universities to solicit articles for a journal I'd like to start called The Journal of Secondary Alternate Education. It could, like CHALLENGER international, cost very little as an 8.5 x 11-inch-laser-printed journal that comes out three times per year. Each contributor and each member of our staff would receive a copy, which would serve us as part of our school's professional development."
They loved the idea. We discussed some of our outstanding needs: for example, meeting the needs of northern cultures, such as those rural and Aboriginal. I invited others to serve with me as editors, for the purpose of our choosing articles that best fit our needs as a staff, employing the idea of "interdependence[:]...the paradigm of we--we can do it; we can cooperate; we can combine our talents and abilities and create something greater together" (Covey, 1989, p. 49). They let me loose, and so now I'm preparing for the journal's birth.
I'm clearly expanding that idea of interdependence to include the professors I mentioned. I want to see their insights and their research conclusions in our journal. "The university researcher may study one classroom or school at a time but usually bases conclusions on larger samples, thereby gaining credibility and perhaps the capacity to generalize" (Barth, 1990, p. 91). I hope some of those generalizations will translate into better programs for our students.
But I'm not soliciting what I'd call poor research. Robin Barrow begins to show in the next quote that too many variables can invalidate research: "[Learning is related to the teacher's mode of] instruction, [to his] sarcasm, precision, discussion-groups, free and easy classes, disciplined material, disciplined demands on behaviour, humour, kindness, appearance, age, compassion, fear,...[and to factors such as] Henry on his own, Henry in the company of Jane,...in the context of a school like this, a school like that, parents of one sort, headmasters of another" (Barrow, 1981, p. 190).
I'll add to the pot. "The overbearing manner of a teacher may itself add a new dimension of content to whatever is being taught by making it seem objectionable. An authoritative type of instruction may add a further lesson and have consequences that are distinct from, say, a discussion group in the same topic" (Barrow, 1981, p. 190).
Variables. That's what Barrow is spinning, and these variables can make testing one method of instruction over another invalid. A researcher might think he is testing a method (a variable) when in fact he is unwittingly testing a plethora of variables that are muddying up his work. For example, "different ages and different personalities amongst students may respond in different ways to different styles and techniques of teaching." Also, "different teachers because of their personal idiosyncrasies, strengths and weaknesses may be better employed using different approaches" (p. 191). I'm my own example: I disliked the formalistic teaching methods of my grade two teacher (Mrs. Moore) and my grade three teacher (Miss McKormick), but I worked much, much, much harder in Miss McKormick's class, largely because she, unlike her grumpy-looking colleague, often flashed a pretty smile my way. I would have climbed Mount Everest for her! [In short,] I distrust variable-drunk (poor) research. (Lukiv, 2001a, p. 14)
I'm looking for good research that will help us "create something greater together." But to do that, first I need to address some copyright issues that could stand between authors' works and our journal.
Many researchers/writers have published their work in American Psychological Association (APA)-endorsed journals, and therefore stand bound to APA copyrights. Authors who wish to "use their own material commercially...must secure prior written permission from APA" (Publication Manual, 1994, pp. 299-300). Some might feel uncomfortable about doing that, but I have another solution. I suggest authors simply rephrase published works or conclusions, "avoid[ing] any of the original word combinations [and] structures" (Waller, 1996, p. 14). Many magazine article writers do this all the time. An author will write an article, using the same base information, say, ten different ways, and thereby get published ten times in ten different magazines.
I should add that we don't want to publish charts, statistics, and figures, preferring to keep the cost of paper use to a minimum through brevity,2 and we don't want unnecessary jargon. No pulpit speeches in Latin, please. "The social science dialects, the medical dialects, the science dialects, the linguist dialects, the artist dialects. Thousands and thousands of them, purposefully impenetrable to the non-expert, with thick defensive walls that protect each [faction's] sense of importance" (Saul, 1995, p. 49). J. R. Saul doesn't like impenetrable prose, and neither do I.
Using, as much as possible, a common language, each author, I hope, will "grab [the] reader's attention from the first line" (Jones, 1978, p. 118). To keep that attention, authors should follow this advice from J. D. Bates:
Be concise. Keep sentences and paragraphs short. State your purpose clearly. Get straight to the point. Be specific; avoid abstractions [when possible]. Know your audience. Write to be understood, not to impress. Prefer the active voice. Put action in your verbs. Weed out unnecessary words, phrases, and ideas. (Bates, 1980, p. 5)
I invite work from teachers and principals, too, but "many are dreadful writers" (Barth, 1990, p. 91). The message here, then: "Write simple active sentences, outmaneuvering all passive eddies, all shallow is's, of's, which's and that's, all overlappings, all rocky clusters of nouns: they take you off your course, delay your delivery, and wreck many a straight and gallant thought" (Baker, 1973, p. 60).
Good research and experiential works "as a basis for knowledge about education and for influencing decisions, programs, and policy" (McMillan & Schumacher, 1997, p. xvii) written in clear prose could provide our staff with useful direction. Secondary alternate students could benefit from enlightened teachers and youth care workers. The Journal of Secondary Alternate Education3 could be a new, northern voice that more than invites professors to share their expertise and insights; it could also invite secondary alternate staff to think like many professors, to "think[ ] otherwise" (Barth, 1990, p. 114), to think with greater breadth and depth.
1The international side of Ci transcends northern British Columbia. Ci has published poetry not only from Canada, but also from the USA, Australia, Columbia, Sweden, and Russia, and soon will publish poetry from Korea and Ireland.
2Readers who wish to look at data and statistics to determine statistical and practical significance, and to determine the possible existence of confounding or intervening variables, can contact the authors.
3I plan to construct online issues of the journal, to widen the pool of readers and writers.
Many professors sent words of encouragement, validating the project as worthwhile and trend setting. After the first issue came out in the autumn of 2001, I received this review:
"Thanks Dan for the issues. They look great and congratulations on your first sailing. I think you've found an important niche in the literature and that you are going to be very instrumental in bringing attention to this emerging area of importance."--Thomas Fleming, Professor of Education, University of Victoria
To give you an idea of the sort of information found in the first issue of The Journal of Secondary Alternate Education, consider this article:
Direction for Secondary Alternate Teachers: A Content-Review of The Journal of Secondary Alternate Education, Volume 1, Number 1 (Autumn 2001)
One high school teacher once asked me, "How can you teach those secondary alternate students? They're nightmares!" Another teacher, a substitute for the day, said, "I don't ever want to come back here again!" Many substitute teachers say, "I'll teach anywhere but a secondary alternate school!"
Those comments make me chuckle. The truth of the matter is that I love working at my secondary alternate school (McNaughton Centre), where teachers and youth care workers place students on Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that address socio-emotional and academic needs. These plans in the hands of experience generally turn non-achieving students with moderate to severe behavioural problems into good achievers with manageable problems (the students are not nightmares!--usually). That said, I sympathize with substitute teachers whose eyes display deeper levels of despair as the school day progresses, but sometimes their despair germinates from a need to be in charge, to be the traditional teacher who tells students what to do and when to do it and how to do it.
The problem is these teachers need direction about how to teach secondary alternate students; even experienced secondary alternate teachers need direction about how to enhance their teaching. With that problem in mind, I have constructed a forum of theory, research, and experience, which I call The Journal of Secondary Alternate Education, which provides direction for teachers, and which is, quite simply, a much-needed journal. In fact,
to my knowledge, no secondary alternate journal [has] exist[ed] world-wide. Within the world of secondary alternate education, teachers, youth care workers, administrators, parents, and even students should [have] see[n] that as an issue, because such a journal could [have] provide[d] sound direction and theory regarding teaching students with socio-emotional problems. Not only those stakeholders, but community members should likewise welcome a journal that helps professionals prepare any high school student for the work force or further education. (The Journal of Secondary Alternate Education [article as found in part three of this symposium], paragraphs 1-2)
The purpose of this paper, as a content-review, is to draw on direction and theory for teachers as published in the journal's first issue (autumn 2001). The paper also draws on direction from a useful text of classic proportions by N. C. Myll called The Dropout Prevention Handbook. I discuss, within a secondary alternate setting, what a teacher's focus should be; why he or she should try new teaching methods; why "new" teachers should be seasoned teachers; why student-teacher relationships are so important; and why a collaborative, bottom-up rather than an administrative, top-down (traditionalist) approach serves students best.
A Matter of Focus
After a few "up yours" from disgruntled students who don't appreciate their individuality being ignored, "traditional" teachers understandably look stressed. But, simply put, "meet a student's needs in class, and, very likely, he will be motivated to learn [and to cooperate]" (Lukiv, 2001d, p. 29). "Our need to always be ‘in control' of the situation sometimes backfires" (Wassermann, 2001, p. 28), as it invariably does for teachers who focus on demanding control of students rather than focussing on allowing students the opportunity to fulfil their needs.
Successful secondary alternate teachers focus on the latter:
A student might have a pronounced need to make choices. The teacher "provide[s the] student[ ] with more autonomy" (Stipek, 1998, p. 12). William Glasser says that "teachers...[need to learn] enough Choice Theory to understand how students [in particular, at-risk students] need to be treated if they are to [begin doing work at school]" (1977, p. 601). He adds, "We asked...students why they were no longer disruptive and why they were beginning to work in school[. O]ver and over they said, ‘You care about us.' And sometimes they added, ‘And now you give us choices [more autonomy] and work that we like to do'" (p. 601).
Does that sound like "work with us, not against us"? (Lukiv, 2001d, p. 29).
Yes, it does, doesn't it? Many refer to this approach as student-centred.
Teachers, Try new Things
To work with students with special needs implies to abandon reluctance to try new things. "The reluctance of many teachers to use "machines" [like computers] has been thoughtfully documented by Larry Cuban in Teachers and Machines" (Wassermann, 2001, p. 18), which reminds me that reluctance in the classroom can dwarf a teacher's ability to teach troubled youth. Here is an example of how trying new things can help both teacher and student:
Let's take Curt, in your Science 10 class, who looks red-faced. In fact, he has looked that way all class, he hasn't done any work on the latest assignment, and he is fidgeting much more than usual.
"Curt, you don't look like you're enjoying this science."
He doesn't look up. He seldom does. He stares at his blank sheet of paper, and says, "It sucks."
Other kids are busy with their work, so you have some privacy. "Could you tell me what you don't like about it?"
Curt is not introspective, but at least you're letting him know that you're interested in what he thinks.
"I don't know! It sucks!"
Fortunately you and him still have some privacy. Otherwise, this discussion might need to take place somewhere else, without an audience. You recall that Curt loves using computers. You negotiate with him and discover that he knows he could easily complete the assignment by using the Internet rather than "the boring textbook" (as he calls it) to gather necessary information. You haven't psychoanalysed him. You don't really understand this introverted, often-frustrated student, but you and he are working together. Next class this boy actually brings in homework! Homework? Homework that he has assigned to himself! He has a stack of printed-out information that he assembles on his desk. He begins to organize it. He underlines pertinent sentences. Next class he begins formatting the information into a report.
That really happened (however, I was the teacher, and his name has been changed). Curt was frustrated because he disliked the original assignment that was based on "the boring textbook." He redesigned the assignment, and then his motivation soared. (Lukiv, 2001d, p. 30)
I tried something "new," and it worked. Successful, long-standing secondary alternate teachers try new methods as circumstances demand such.
Seasoned Teachers Needed
I hope the foregoing example (of Curt) implies the need for seasoned teachers to work as secondary alternate teachers. "Past experience with [alternate settings] demonstrates that inexperienced first-year teachers do not function well in them" (Myll, 1988, p. 114). There is nothing wrong with new teachers being new; they simply haven't "acquired [enough] expertise in dealing with troubled youth" (p. 114). To say that alternate teachers "should have a sincere concern for the kinds of students who need...special [individualized] help" is not enough (p. 70). They should also possess enough experience to enable them to juggle a day filled with, say, 20 students with 20 different IEPs without going nuts and without allowing the class to descend into chaos. Not surprisingly, "research indicates that staff should not be assigned to work with at-risk youth but rather should make this choice themselves" (Raptis & Fleming, 2001, p. 4).
I would hope that a teacher's choice to work in a secondary alternate school accompanies a deep desire for him or her to genuinely deal with "each child['s]...individual differences: idiosyncrasies and deviant behaviour; approaches to work and to play; ways of relating [or not relating] to other children and to adults" (Sainsbury, 1992, 123). This genuine desire to help creates positive student-teacher relationships. "Teachers [must] work closely with students to ensure that course work is relevant to learners' needs and matches their particular learning styles" (Raptis & Fleming, 2001, p. 7). Students generally appreciate such efforts; the student-teacher relationship deepens.
Why is such a relationship important? "Low attachment to school [and teachers] is...manifest in...behaviours such as alienation, truancy, rebellion" (Fleming & Post, 2001, p. 12). "In a recent investigation, at-risk students reported that..supports played an essential part in preventing them from leaving school and they ranked its importance accordingly: peers (32 [%]); teachers (28 [%]); counselors (15 [%]); and principals (10 [%])" (p. 14). Do not underestimate the value and power of student-teacher relationships in which teachers know students well. Because alternate teachers "accommodate the needs and interests of students who [were] having trouble in a traditional setting" (Myll, 1988, p. 34), they can't help but grow to know their students well, and that knowledge will further enhance teachers' ability to address needs and interests.
The Fruits of Collaboration
Often new students in our school who start up with anger in their faces soon begin to smile and even cheerfully respond to a staff member's "Good morning" with his or her own "Good morning"--without grunting! School becomes a good place to be because of
individualized approaches based on learners' needs; a caring staff; a sense of belonging; inclusion of parents and community members; programmatic and curricular choice; program flexibility; small school size and low teacher-student ratio; authentic and relevant learning materials; high degree of structure and commitment through contract; volunteering or work experience; support of out-of-school personnel; autonomy for school-based management. (Raptis & Fleming, 2001, p. 3)
"Individualized approaches" include "operat[ing] around students' schedules" (Raptis & Fleming, 2001, p. 4). Some students work part-time, some have baby-sitting responsibilities or a grandmother to care for at home, or a depressed mother who doesn't like to be left alone, or--get the picture? No wonder "teacher-student ratios must...remain small[,] to allow for consistent individual attention from teachers who need to monitor students' learning inside the programs, but also to know something about their lives outside schools" (p. 4). This holistic view of the student does not treat him or her as an island: IEPs are
planned, designed and managed with the participation of students, teachers and other supporting adults such as parents, administration and possibly health workers or counselors [bottom-up]. This school-based approach to program management differs considerably from the regular school system, managed generally by principals and district administrators [top-down]. (Raptis & Fleming, 2001, p. 3)
Time spent in such collaboration can't be side-stepped without harming the teacher-student relationship and student success.
A secondary alternate project called the New Futures project did not achieve its desired goals because it failed to alter the underlying social relationships in the experimental schools. Instead of planning and collaborating with learners, teachers spent their planning time with each other. More importantly, teacher conferencing often prompted "recommendations to refer students elsewhere (to school counselors, psychologists, social workers, or other human services professionals)," thus depriving teachers of a vital connection with students. (Raptis & Fleming, 2001, p. 6)
As I said, side-stepping the collaboration harms students.
Teachers should deal with students' discipline problems collaboratively too, involving the students themselves, for the purpose of encouraging them to take responsibility for their actions. The New Futures project also failed here.
Punitive, in-school suspension created an adversarial school climate. Program evaluation revealed that, despite advocating local initiatives and inventiveness, the [New Futures project] took an activist top-down approach which weakened the autonomy of school-based management teams. (Raptis & Fleming, 2001, pp. 6-7)
Top-down thinking doesn't work. The collaborative team, which includes the student, creates, evaluates, and sustains the IEP. This is bottom-up, and it works a lot better than top-down. In different words, "the most successful alternative education programs evolve directly from the needs and life situations of learners" (Raptis & Fleming, 2001, p. 7).
These learners should see their teachers as advocates, people interested in their lives. "Student perceptions about a lack of teacher interest...are frequently examples of school factors that lead students to drop out" (Fleming & Post, 2001, p. 12). My experience tells me that interest shown by any adult member of the collaborative team toward the student encourages him or her to continue school, even amidst a crisis. Interest in action = support. "Teachers [support]...students by providing...individualized programs[;]...principals offer support in terms of school-wide facilities[; and] social workers provide...community support through programming or financial assistance" (Fleming & Post, 2001, p. 15). Others provide support in other ways, such as youth care workers who support students by helping them sort through socio-emotional issues.
I have discussed what a secondary alternate teacher's focus should be, why he or she should be open to a variety of teaching methods, why neophytes should have previous teaching experience, why positive student-teacher relationships are important, and why a collaborative rather than a traditionalist approach works best for students. The short of this: don't disregard the student. "Disregard for individual differences only accentuates the numbers of drop-outs" (Fleming & Post, 2001, p. 14). This disregard can spawn serious behavioural problems in students.
The opposite of this disregard is the student-centred, collaborative approach that direction in the first issue of The Journal of Secondary Alternate Education advocates. This approach does not focus on controlling students. It focuses on creating circumstances at school that allow students the opportunity to fulfil their needs. As I said, "meet a student's needs in class, and, very likely, he will be motivated to learn." In other words, for discourse in the classroom to likely occur for secondary alternate students, address their socio-emotional and academic needs.
This means teachers, even seasoned teachers, need to try, as I have mentioned, new methods of instruction as they promote strong student-teacher relationships. The Journal of Secondary Alternate Education should provide these teachers further research, theory, and experience as a forum of scholarly inquiry that will help them think about new methods, and help them meet students' academic and socio-emotional needs. Presently I distribute copies of the journal to contributors and to staff members at McNaughton Centre, but soon I will establish an online version of the journal that will provide an international service for professionals working with secondary alternate students.
This symposium on home-grown publishing has taken a practical look at how to create a literary journal to publish students' writing, how to create a creative writing program and how to display/publish students' work, and how to create and publish a specialized journal of education to provide direction for specialist teachers. CHALLENGER international has given my students an opportunity for publication for 12 years. My Story Day model has provided me with a theoretically sound framework for teaching students creative writing concepts. The Journal of Secondary Alternate Education gives secondary alternate teachers, like myself, direction about how to teach troubled high school students. I hope readers are able to apply my ideas herein to their own circumstances and needs.