National Board Videotape Analysis
Yvonne Divans Hutchinson

Instructional Analysis Whole Class Discussion

I. Students

What are the relevant features of the class?

The video shows my period four, eighth grade English class. Twenty-one students from a class of twenty-nine appear in the video. The students range in ability, but a disproportionate number of them are reluctant or recalcitrant learners (i.e., students with previous records of low academic achievement and/or problematic behavior). Twenty students scored below the twenty-fifth percentile in Reading Comprehension on the Stanford 9 Achievement Test; twenty-three scored below the twenty-fifth percentile in Language. There are three English Language Learners and three special education students in the class. Fifteen students have been identified in Category EC49079, the designation for students who have demonstrated violent behavior of some kind (e.g. defiance of authority, verbal confrontation, fighting, or assault) while enrolled in the district.

What are the instructional challenges represented by this group of students?

The greatest challenges are to harness the playful exuberance of the group and to provide constant motivation to learn and to value academic achievement. An additional challenge lies in providing equal access to the curriculum for students whose overall reading and writing skills are low. The ultimate challenge is to maintain a classroom decorum in which students display respect for themselves and others.

What other information will help an assessor “see” this class?

I worked hard to establish a learning community in my classroom. At the beginning of the school year, many of my students demonstrated negative attitudes toward learning. Some of them seemed genuinely surprised when I informed them of the class requirements to bring a notebook, the textbook, and a book for recreational reading to class every day. As I stilled the chorus of moans and groans, one boy told me that carrying a notebook wasn’t “cool,” that only “school boys” not “home boys” carried books to class. I swiftly dispelled that notion by informing the class that upon entering my classroom, all “home boys” and “home girls” would transform them selves into “school boys” and “school girls.” I told them that I believed that nothing was more important than their education. I let them know that I expected them to work hard and to learn to the best of their ability. I established a safe and caring learning environment where students felt comfortable in voicing their opinions or at the least in letting their voices be heard. During discussion, which was usually open-ended, I led my students to express their ideas, thoughts, and opinions, and to justify them with evidence and logical reasoning. To ensure that everyone would be able to speak, I taught the class my protocol for Academic (Literate) Discourse. My ground-rule was that everyone must speak up, one way or another, either to contribute to the conversation at hand or to demur. I stipulated that if a student wanted to demur, he/she must respond with a stock response. I taught the students stock responses to enable the reticent students to engage in discourse without resorting to the silent, shrinking in their seats or shrugging of the shoulders which is typical of shy students. Anyone painfully shy or momentarily bereft of ideas was invited to offer one of the stock responses listed below:

Stock Responses

You don’t know the answer: I don’t know, but I will try to figure (or find) out the answer and get back to you.
You are confused: I don’t understand.
You haven’t done the homework or are unprepared: I regret that I am not prepared, but I will be next time.
You were not paying attention: I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention. Please repeat the question.
You wish to have the question restated for clarification: I need clarification. Would you please restate
the question?
The discussion is of a personal nature, and you do not wish to respond: I do not wish to share this time, but I will be happy to share the next time (Note: the class sees to it that this promise is kept).
You disagree with someone else’s response or you feel the answer is incorrect: I respectfully disagree. I think…. I feel… or I have a different opinion. I think…. (Articulate your idea and justify it).
You agree, but want to add to what was said or extend the idea in some way: I agree with…. I feel…. Or I think….
My idea is similar in that…. Or I want to add to what… said.

Final Stipulation: Since peer pressure is a strong influence in the lives of teenagers, and I wanted them to be thoughtful and kind to each other, I devised a system which enables students to call on students. I employed this system to make sure that everyone participated in the discussion and that everyone received affirmation from being recognized by her/his peers. I also promoted inclusion, awareness, and tolerance for diversity by requiring that the speaker call on someone else who is different (or who appears to be) in race, ethnicity, gender, and who is not part of the student's immediate circle of friends outside of the classroom.
In listening to my students engage in active discourse, it must be noted that many of them might be classified as “language minority students.” They spoke “non-standard” or informal English, employing the speech patterns characteristic of the language described by linguistic experts Lisa Delpit, Geneva Smitherman, and others as Black English or black dialect. Out of deference for my students, I addressed this issue by declining to interfere in their free flow of spontaneous conversation with disruptive corrections. Rather, in two or three instances when there was a pause, I reiterated the student’s usage by restating a phrase in standard English. During the course of my regular classroom instruction, the acquisition of standard English was facilitated by systematic practice in formal speaking situations (i.e. speeches, student seminars, presentations, etc.) and written discourse, thereby helping my students to understand that the use of their home or neighborhood language and “school English” is determined by the appropriateness of the situation.

II. Planning and Teaching

What was the instructional purpose for the lesson on the video and your rationale for choosing the whole-class discussion format for this lesson?

The purpose of this lesson was for the students to be able to read and reflect upon the theme of corporal punishment as it is presented in three literary texts: a passage in their core literature text, Black Boy by Richard Wright; a reflective essay (memoir) “Angry Fathers” by Mell Lazurus from The New York Times Magazine; and a persuasive essay, “Spanking: An Idea Whose Time Has Gone: by Agustin Gurza from The Los Angeles Times. In the lessons which preceded the video, students had read and discussed the first two selections and had just finished reading and responding in writing to the article by Gurza. I wanted students to engage in a comparative analysis of all three selections and to understand their psychological and social implications. I hoped that students would be able to recognize multiple perspectives and to make personal connections as they interacted with the ideas in the texts. I chose the whole group format for this lesson because the issue of corporal punishment is of immediate relevance to the lives of my students. I knew that for minors who are still subject to the authority of parents and other adults, this controversial topic would elicit passionate response. Moreover, since it is a potentially explosive and sensitive issue, I decided that a more public discussion would lend itself to a free flow of ideas and exchange of ideas and expose students to alternative points of view without putting anyone on the spot or invading privacy. I knew that some students would feel safe to generalize and to share personal stories which might be instructive yet not intrusive and that would provide alternative views for others. I know the personal background of my students and realize that the cultural practices among their families are mirrored in the literature. Finally, I wanted them to engage in reflection and conversation which would model the argumentation strategies they needed to employ in writing a persuasive essay opposing or supporting the use of corporal punishment.

In what ways does the lesson fit into your long term goals—that is, your goals for the unit of study and your goals for the whole school year? Why are these goals appropriate for these students?

The lesson fits into the goals of the unit which was for students to read and reflect upon the themes of growing up, developing an awareness of one’s self, and the forming of personal codes of behavior. Ultimately, I wanted students to be able to apply the active reading strategies of asking questions and drawing inferences which I had taught them at the beginning of the year, to analyze different sides of the issues encountered in the reading, and to connect the ideas and events in the selected texts to their own experiences and real life situations. I intended for students to compare and analyze different sides of an issue which they encountered in literature and other sources and to propose solutions using problem solving strategies, to ask appropriate, challenging questions, and to respond to the questions of others. These goals are appropriate for my students for three reasons. First, it enables them to learn about themselves and others by holding up the “mirror” of literature. Second, it offers multiple perspectives by which they can measure, form, restructure, or change their own ideas about culturally and socially relevant issues. Lastly, it promotes and strengthens the skill of meaningful social interaction and discourse about universal human values.

What materials did you use in this lesson? What were your reasons for choosing these materials?

The materials used in this lesson were: Black Boy, the autobiography of Richard Wright, which was the core text for my class; a reflective essay published in The New York Times Magazine “Angry Fathers,” by cartoonist Mell Lazurus; and a persuasive essay from The Los Angeles Times, “Spanking: An Idea Whose Time Has Gone,” by Mexican American writer Agustin Gurza. I chose Black Boy because of its cultural relevance. I felt that my black and brown students would readily connect with the trials and tribulations of a person of color struggling to overcome the obstacles of poverty, racism, and oppression. Black Boy, a seminal work in American literature, proved engaging as a tale of growing up (rites of passage) from which students can learn as they negotiate their own paths from adolescence to adulthood. Further, Wright’s lyrical writing and riveting narrative sparks questions and ideas about values and beliefs which govern all of our lives as we struggle to pursue the American Dream of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The passage to which the students responded for this lesson electrified their sense of fairness. Richard’s mother beats her four year old son into unconsciousness because he attempted to burn down the house. Almost before we finished reading the passage, students began expressing their viewpoints. Hot debates erupted. I chose the two newspaper articles, in essence, two different types of essays, to stimulate further thought—hopefully more discernment—about the controversial issue of corporal punishment. I also wanted them to read different types of texts. “Angry Fathers” provided a poignant memoir about three small boys who are disciplined in different ways by their fathers for a willful act of vandalism. The two friends of the author are treated brutally and humiliated by their fathers, while his father performs a puzzling, but loving act of penitence for his son, eschewing the physical violence embraced by so many parents of his era. While it resembles an autobiography in its narrative style, it also offers a critical view of corporal punishment. I knew that this piece would greatly affect the students and provide a counter-argument to harsh views about hitting, spanking, and whipping children. Lazurus’ reflection at the end of his essay provoked thought and discussion as students pondered the implications of his father’s actions. I chose Gurza’s opinion column both for its cultural relevance to my students and to teach them strategies for reading expository (efferent) texts. The reading of literary (aesthetic) texts requires a different kind of thinking than that required by efferent texts. Gurza not only argues powerfully against his own father’s Mexican American cultural practice of harsh, physical discipline, but presents research to bolster his claim. Reading this piece required my students to focus on new information and to understand a logical argument. In this type of reading, according to expert Judith Langer. “... the sense of the whole serves as a steady point of reference, while in literary reading it is a constantly changing horizon of possibilities. Instruction that helps students become competent readers of literature needs to reflect an awareness of these distinctions.” Because of its strong personal appeal, the article readily lent itself to scaffolding strategies for reading non-fiction texts. Both kinds of reading provided opportunities for students to become critics: to analyze, evaluate, argue, and defend, and to make comparisons among the selections or their own understandings with the interpretations of others.

What specific procedures and teaching strategies did you use in this lesson and what were your reasons for those choices?

As mentioned previously, I taught my students the art of academic (literate) discourse. They had already become accustomed to exhibiting kind and thoughtful behavior in their classroom interactions. I always require written responses to open-ended questions and activities each time they read a selection, thereby insuring that they “bring ideas to the table,” that is, that everybody has something to say. To send them back to the three texts, I assigned them a “dialectical journal, “ which was an invitation to re-read a passage from each selection and to choose one for written reflection. Thus armed, they brought to the discussions those ideas that engaged their imagination and concern. I wanted their discussion to be a genuine conversation about the issues, values, attitudes that they were intrigued by and that they held most dear; I wanted them to listen to and learn from each other, accede or to concede, to change their viewpoints, and to grow in their understanding of this very real dilemma. Since I had taught them already to engage readily in meaningful discussion, I set out to spark the dialogue, but not to intrude upon it. I asked open-ended questions so that students would feel confident about contributing their ideas without having to worry about “right or wrong” answers. I led them to explore their own thinking, to reflect, connect, draw upon prior knowledge, evaluate their own arguments and those of others. Because I had already established a classroom procedure for allowing students to state what they believe, they felt safe in expressing their views and felt assured that they would be validated. My purpose in structuring the lesson in this manner was to provide the opportunity for the clash and harmony of lively, spontaneous, and passionate discussion of an issue, which is clearly relevant in the lives of my students.

What activities came before and after this video clip? What was the rationale for selecting the sequence? How did you provide for integrated instruction?

My students had begun reading Black Boy in the second phase of our thematic unit, “Understanding Ourselves.” In phase one, reading stories such as “An American Childhood” by Annie Dillard, “Thank You, Ma’am” by Langston Hughes, “Looking for Work” by Gary Soto, and an excerpt from Warrior Woman by Maxine Hong Kingston, students read to understand the point of view of a child, the point of view of an adult looking back at childhood. They reflected on their own rites of passage, their relationship with peers and their family, personal qualities, their personal values and beliefs, and other issues of self awareness and understanding. They wrote essays about autobiographical incidents and first hand biography sketches of people who influenced their lives. They performed skits and participated in role playing of situations from their own lives and from literature. Since they reacted so strongly to the scene about Richard’s whipping in the book, I gave them the two related readings: “Angry Fathers” and “Spanking: An Idea Whose Time Has Gone.” We had just finished the discussion of “Angry Fathers” as the sequence began. After the segment shown on the video, students brainstormed ideas they gained from the discussion in preparation for writing a persuasive essay in favor for or against corporal punishment. In developing their essays, students were required to incorporate evidence, quotations, or allusions from one or more of the texts. Next, they resumed their reading of Black Boy, gaining insights about themselves and others as they explored themes such as growing up, overcoming the obstacles of racism, poverty, and oppression and the resilience of the human spirit. When they finish the book, students will chose an autobiography from among the following list:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Growing Up by Russell Baker
Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Barrio Boy by Ernesto Galarza
Farewell to Manzanar by Jean Houston
Always Running, La Vida Loca by Luis Rodriguez

They will keep Reading Logs and meet in Literature Circles three times a week to discuss their books. Finally, they will plan presentations and performances in their Literature Circle groups including the use of artwork, graphic organizers, readers’ theatre, role-playing, seminars, video, music, and the use of computer technology.

What would you do differently, if anything, if you were to re-teach this particular lesson?

A significant change would be to factor in time for students to write reflections immediately after the discussion. I have used this method in the past. Students write “After Thoughts.” Coupled with the pre-reading invitation of a “Before You Read” that encourages students to express their initial envisionment of an issue or idea, it allows students to debrief and to “see” how their thinking as changed or not changed or how their understanding has deepened and grown (or not). And, contrary to the passionate declaration by R’Lesia, the student who uttered the “last word,” some students may have changed their views or at least shown a willingness to seriously consider alternative viewpoints. I might also have students to draw up a Parent’s Manual with suggested alternatives for physical discipline, echoing LaShatto’s idea that “hitting may not be necessary” and that sometimes non-physical punishment is more effective than hitting, spanking, or beating.

How well was the purpose(s) of the lesson met?

My students readily voiced their opinions about corporal punishment and demonstrated evidence of thoughtful, perceptive, and discerning reading of the selected texts. They showed a high level of engagement as they expressed their opinions, shared personal anecdotes, and presented their analysis. Every student spoke, either voluntarily or when called upon. They listened to each other, and they all had important things to say. With and without an invitation, they made references to the texts to support their ideas. Brandy alluded to “the sound of a cracking whip…” made by Agustin Gurza’s father as he hit his sons with a belt. Lorena mentioned “coscorron…” a sharp rapping of the skull with bare knuckles….” Jeremy noticed the extreme practice of “lashings which stung bare bottoms.” Marcus—a shy, special education student—mentioned the “jalon de oreja,” a Spanish phrase translated for him by Lorena as a yank on the ear (ouch!). Several students enthusiastically recounted their personal experiences. Keyarrow laughingly recalled a time when she lit a nocturnal bonfire in the kitchen trash can and received a severe beating for it, so painful that she attempted to report it to the police. Similarly, Shalee (Shahira), when prompted, voiced her disapproval with a poignant assertion, “I don’t like it when my daddy whips me.” Demonstrating their ability to engage in literate discourse as they had been taught, my students expressed multiple points of view. They showed an acceptance of the right of each person to have opposing views. They offered their ideas in attempt to persuade others to agree. Jeremy cheerfully grappled with the distinction between mere spanking, “Parents can give “ten, fifteen swacks, whatever, if they do bad, but not too harsh….” While his concept of what constitutes ordinary discipline may prove disconcerting to an outsider, he nevertheless showed evidence of critical thinking in forming his definitions. His radical views met with rebuttal from Anthony, who avowed that “all of it is abuse.” YaQuinn corroborated Anthony’s point of view, declaring, “ When parents hit you, it makes you want to do it more.” Brandy concurred, “I agree because it builds up a lot of anger.” Offering an alternative to the somewhat brutal methods discussed so far, LaShatto quietly reflected on the idea that sometimes physical punishment isn’t necessary or needed. Without going into detail, she referred to a method her mother used which proved effective. And to Jeremy’s disbelieving query, “Did it work?” she quickly replied in the affirmative. Keyarrow, whose jovial anecdote we heard earlier, quoted a line from the article “Angry Fathers.” “Spanking is beating and beating is criminal.” Clearly, in this debate, students demonstrated what they knew from their own experiences, what they learned, and how well they could think on an issue of global significance. Another purpose of the lesson, which was clearly met, was exemplified in the manner in which the students engaged in reflective conversation, that is, they listened to each other, not just to await an opportunity to weigh in with their opinions, but in an attempt to understand and consider different points of view. They were polite, often beginning a rebuttal with, “ I respectfully disagree…” They challenged each other’s logic, asked questions, called on each other, prompted their more reticent peers or responded despite their shyness, encouraged, and applauded. They showed patience, forbearance, and understanding of ideas that were wildly different from their own. They engaged in spontaneous conversation and seemed to enjoy each other’s company, resembling a circle of friends involved in a friendly discussion after dinner. Judging from the high level of enthusiasm and spontaneous exchange of ideas, I feel that the purposes of my lesson were met successfully.

What was the influence of the lesson’s outcome on future instruction of this class or members of this class?

“All children will learn,” the mission statement of our district resonates resoundingly when I reflect upon the influence of this lesson on future instruction. The most profound implication for me was how well the “at risk” students flourished in the supportive, nurturing, and inclusive learning environment in my classroom. For the purpose of my discussion, I placed them into three categories:

What was a successful moment/aspect of this lesson from which the video was taken? Explain why it was so successful.

The lunch bell rang, but no one noticed until Graniesha chided me for my inadvertent rudeness in interrupting her commentary. The class discussion, at times both hilarious and serious, proved most successful in the level of engagement. The second most impressive aspect of the lesson was the effective manner in which students demonstrated the ability to interpret and analyze complex texts of different types. The third aspect was the cohesiveness of the group.

What is most evident from observing the interaction of my students was how much they enjoyed the conversation. The exchange of ideas was dynamic at times, thoughtful, perceptive, and always, fun. Good humor permeated the conversation. Laughter rang out frequently, as did spontaneous applause. Clearly, my students found the topic compelling. The conversation flowed spontaneously, meeting my goal to have students make meaning of the texts and to engage with one another. Every one had important things to say. Everyone’s ideas were accorded respect even if they conflicted with someone else’s opinion. Because the topic of corporal punishment and the reading selections related to their issues and concerns, my students demonstrated the ability to interpret complex texts of different types, both aesthetic and efferent. Students referred constantly to the texts to summarize, reiterate, re-think, evaluate the opinions of others, and to defend their own interpretation and analysis. In their reflective conversation they learned from each other by sharing insights and perceptions, asking questions, agreeing and disagreeing, and sharing their own personal stories. Their lively exchanges were guided always by referring to the text. They had marked and highlighted their copies of the newspaper articles and written open-ended responses about the passages and the articles. Demonstrating their own meaning making and enthusiasm for the topic, they pursued their interests and concerns, engaging constantly in critical thinking and analysis. The final aspect of this dynamic interaction among my students demonstrates the strength of the learning environment in my classroom. The cohesive nature of the group was evident. Students felt free to venture their opinions without being ridiculed. They knew that they would be accorded respect, that they could speak without being inhibited, no matter their level of ability or language proficiency. Demonstrating heart-warming esprit de corps, they applauded and cheered one another. The evident enjoyment of being together and sharing ideas stems from the fact that I firmly established a culture of learning in my classroom. This conversation is indicative of a growing passion for learning and grappling with ideas. In short, my students are an excited, engaged, community of learners because I have given them ways to extend their thinking and abilities into, through, and beyond literature to make meaning, not only of complex texts, but of their own world.