An Autoethnographic Exploration of Judaism in a Rural Louisiana School

Danielle M. Klein, PhD Candidate, Department of Education, Louisiana State University, Dklei16 @ lsu.edu


I lived the first 18 years of my life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in a suburb where people looked like me and where I was part of the religious majority of Jewish individuals, both practicing or secular. I consider myself of the secular group that respects traditions but doesn’t adhere to the theology, so I still attended countless Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies, celebrating the rite of passage into adulthood. Being Jewish in this enclave was commonplace and familiar, so my experience of being a White, female Jew in high school was similarly commonplace. Although I didn’t participate in the religious practices, I embraced Judaism as a heritage with which I aligned, as did many of my friends and peers. In this area of Milwaukee, this was unquestioned and culturally supported.

My experiences of being a Jewish educator in a rural Louisiana high school that serves primarily Black, Christian students, however, have been quite different because my identity has provoked ethical deliberations and questions of pedagogical responsibility. This paper aims to explore some of the tensions that I experienced in this setting. It details my interactions through autoethnographic study and draws upon pedagogical literature to offer best practices that might ameliorate these tensions. It is an exploration of place and identity, and how place largely constructs identity itself.

The Move
When I moved to Baton Rouge, the religious landscape shifted dramatically from my hometown, where there are more than twenty synagogues and countless delis and restaurants that offer Kosher and Jewish cuisine. In Baton Rouge, conversely, there are only two operating synagogues. While functioning synagogues are not necessarily indicative of the number of Jews in a particular locale, it is fair to assume that the number of Jewish places of worship correlates to the number of religiously practicing Jewish people, just as a lack of Jewish food options indicates a small population of culturally practicing Jews.

In Baton Rouge, Christianity is the dominant religion. When driving down I-10, one of the major highways, I am unsurprised to see billboards for churches, Bible studies, and attorney offices that use Christian Biblical quotes to draw clients. A church parking lot off the highway overflows so that congregation members must park along the grassy strip across the street. There is no shortage of Christian practitioners or places of worship here. In this same vein, there are boundless churches, yet no temples, in the small rural town where I work. It is in this small rural town, where the population is well under 1000, where my Jewish identity is most palpable.

The School
Here, I have experienced being situated as “other” most potently. Although the school is public, the religious affiliation is clear. Before many staff meetings, an administrator has led the group in prayer to remind everyone that this is a praying community. On professional development days when community members and new hires alike introduce themselves, speakers share their gratefulness to God and Jesus Christ for the blessings they have received. One of the principals that I had worked under enlisted a pastor to attend each morning assembly to lead a prayer. A student of mine astutely asked if this was illegal, which certainly it is (McCarthy, 2009), but my multiple layers of identity abated my intercession in this praying practice.

In order to understand the nuances of my Jewishness in contrast to this rural, Christian school, it is fully necessary to examine the multiple intersecting power dynamics. First and foremost, I am a white, Northern teacher in a traditional public school, one that adheres to state curriculum and encourages the teacher-as-head-of-classroom mentality. Research realizes that this, in and of itself, is an influential position. Delpit (2006) notes that “issues of power are enacted in classrooms,” including “the power of teachers over students” (p. 24). As a teacher, opinions, inclinations, and overall biases are received as coming from a place of authority. For this reason, my thoughts are heavily weighted and must be presented with caution. Furthermore, if I intend to discuss religion and my positionality as a religious minority, I must tread lightly, contrary to the practices of my school. A teacher wields immense power, and broaching a controversial topic, or a topic that simply questions ordinary practices of a specific place, must be done delicately.

In addition, I am a White educator amongst a student body comprised nearly completely of Black learners. As noted by Gramsci, “educators need to understand how the dominant culture structures ideology and produces social practices in schools, for the purpose of shattering the mystification of the existing power relationships and the social arrangements that sustain them” (as cited in Darder, 1991, p. 33). The school where I teach is situated in a high-poverty area, and I must be aware of the power that I yield as a member of the racial hegemony and a representative of the power structure of the United States. Scholars have noticed the proclivity many White educators have when entering into a school with primarily Black learners in low socioeconomic situations to “fix problems” and “reroute learning,” which have rings of deficit-model thinking, as “teacher education usually focuses on research that links failure and socioeconomic status, failure and cultural differences” (Delpit, p. 172).

In such a position of power, it is necessary to self-regulate and analyze the information I present, constantly scanning for rings of White savior tendency and colonizer mentality. Emdin (2016) observes a tendency to “exoticize the schools … and downplay the assets and strengths of the communities [teachers] are seeking to improve” (p. 7). He likens many of these tendencies coming from privileged cultures as “Carlisle-type practices” (p. 7), practices that forcefully suppress the agency, culture, and tradition of a school and community with intention of White acculturation. He also finds a penchant for White teachers to inhabit “the idea that one individual or school can give students ‘a life,’” an idea that “emanates from a problematic savior complex that results in making students, their varied experiences, their emotions, and the good in their communities invisible” (p. 20). That being said, it is imperative to be cognizant that I am a White outsider in a community where I was not raised and to which I commute. I must approach the students and school from a place of collaboration, not remediation. In general, as a White, Jewish teacher in a primarily Black school and Christian community, I need to “lean back” and ensure that I give adequate space for my students’ voices and choices, as “the notion of student voice is fundamental to the struggle for democracy and equality in the classroom, particularly as it relates to the development of voice in students of color (Darder, p. 66).

Current research overwhelmingly says I need to restrict normalizing pedagogical practices and offer grounds to embrace and explore “the unique instances of self-expression through which students affirm their own class, culture racial, and gender identities” (Darder, p. 66). This, of course, would include their Christianity and the role that the church has played in African American identity, civil rights, and social justice. Ironically, what has functioned as historically liberatory for my students, that is, the power of Christianity, now functions as a form of oppression for me. At the same time, research admonishes teachers from suppressing student culture, as “to provide school for everyone’s children that reflects liberal, middle-class values and aspirations is to ensure the maintenance of the status quo, to ensure that power, the culture of power, remains in the hands of those who already have it” (Delpit, p. 28). Consequently, I am placed in an ethically ambiguous situation, attempting to reconcile my power as a White educator with my marginalized position as a Jew.

Thus, as teacher and, particularly, a White teacher, I have a lot of power in the classroom. My words are impactful, as is my criticism. If I were a devout Christian, I’m not sure how my attitude to the ubiquitous Christianity in my school would manifest itself. As a secular Jew, however, the morning prayers and sporadic Christian references are unsettling. They did not make me feel unsafe, but simply ill-at-ease. I felt uncomfortable bowing my head in prayer but conflicted about what a lack of participation would relay. In a miniscule act of defiance, I occasionally would simply leave the auditorium. I didn’t participate, but in cowardice masked my noncompliance as teacher-duty by feigning that I was on the lookout for some minor misbehavior from the student body. In prayer before a teacher workshop, any trace of valor completely diminished. I would bow my head completely but maintained a sliver of defiance in my refusal to say “amen.” In retrospect, these minute challenges to the Christian school culture are pitiful, but, removed now from the situation, I see how oppressive that same culture was to me as a Jew.

One of the more overt challenges I faced was within the classroom confines itself. It is in this context that I had to analyze more thoroughly my multiple layers of identity. Particularly, I had to examine the best way to dispel anti-Semitic sentiment that emerged in the class without exercising my position of power oppressively. That is, how should I negotiate my multi-layered identity, one simultaneously marginalized as a Jew and privileged as a White teacher in the context of my rural school? How do I speak from the position being maligned without exercising an oppressive ideology attuned with the mentality of White supremacy culture and its circumlocution of power and truth?

My students have verbalized their own prejudices and have likely been a mouthpiece for their parents’ prejudices, saying that Jews deserved their fate in the Holocaust when we read Night, the autobiographical novel by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, and that the Jews invite torture because they killed Jesus. Even in the political sphere, the presence of political contenders like David Duke eliminate the distinctions between religiously Jewish and Jewish-by-heritage and lump all of us together. Furthermore, while living among other Jews, I never felt the need to explain myself because there was a common understanding of the absurdity of Jewish stereotypes. I have had to answer earnest high schoolers’ questions and explain that Jews do not have horns growing on their heads. Navigating this space has been particularly difficult.

On the one hand, it is my profession to dispel ignorance and present knowledge in constructive and nurturing ways. My duty is to support them in examining their preconceptions and welcoming questions in a manner that doesn’t scold or inhibit the questioning itself. In the same breath, I am shocked that my students have internalized prejudices enough not only to believe them, but to repeat them. Off-handed, anti-Semitic remarks are brazen and unflinching, but often they don’t realize the problematic things they say. This complicates my Judaism even more: how do I give them the space to learn about and explore difference while not getting overly emotionally involved? Living among my own people, perhaps, blinded me to what those outside of my community think. Living in a place where I am not like everyone else has made me think more thoroughly about how I would define my Jewishness, particularly as a secularist.

My situation is not unique. Goldfield (2006) notes that “at first glance, few groups seem more out of place in the South than the Jew” (p. 60). He links this to a series of Jewish diaspora, and notices that, because many areas of the South put emphasis on lineage and heritage, these immigrant Jews seem particularly out of place. This creates tension among Jews and Gentiles, as a primary means of understanding (e. g., your family, your last name, where you attended school) is rooted in a practice that diasporic Jews cannot join.

In addition, Goldfield notes that much of the religious education directly villainizes Jews while incorporating Jewish text, a seemingly contradictory practice. He finds that “children learn to respect and adhere to the lessons of the Old Testament, but although numerous qualifiers frame the story of the crucifixion, many southern Gentiles learn early in their lives that Jews are Christ killers” (pp. 60-61). This affirms my experience in the classroom and confusingly puts me more at ease. I am somewhat pacified that these mis- and pre-conceptions aren’t directed specifically at me, but I am also disturbed that this is a definable trend and way of thinking.

Research also supports my feelings of heightened Jewishness in Louisiana. According to Alper and Olson (2013), “the ‘odd-man out’ effect may heighten the salience of Jews living in less Jewish areas. The absence of the ‘odd-man out’ effect in more Jewish areas may allow Jews in those areas to take their identities for granted” (p. 101). While I have never been religious myself, there are, unsurprisingly, more opportunities to be religious in areas where there is a shared religion. For example, in Milwaukee, many of my neighbors made a Sukkah, a temporary hut adorned with branches in celebration of the harvest festival of Sukkot, without fear or concern of prejudice. The community was religious and supportive. However, in rural Louisiana, my Jewish identity has emerged more strongly than it had in Milwaukee because I am an ethnic minority in the region.

Application in the Classroom
While there isn’t a template answer as to how to properly combat prejudicial thinking, I posit that a reverse culturally relevant pedagogy can take place. Culturally relevant pedagogy, in quick, “advocates for a consideration of the culture of the students in determining the ways in which they are taught” (Emdin, 2016, p. 10). While much research focuses on teaching those from multicultural backgrounds, the same practices could easily be mirrored to apply to my own minority standing. If there were any doubt about the importance of exploring cultural differences and the imperative necessity for me to expose my students to the unfamiliar Jewish identity, Pinar (1996) alleviates these concerns by noting that “students must demonstrate cultural competence in the language and cultural practice of groups other than the one in which they hold exclusive or primary membership” (p. 324). It is through culturally relevant pedagogy and explorations of difference that they can learn about Judaism and, through these practices, diversity.

One suggestion that emerges from culturally relevant pedagogical thought, as made by Freeman and Webb (2018), is through a practice of positive disruption. While their focus revolves around racial positive disruption in a higher education curriculum, the same process could be used regarding Judaism in the secondary classroom. In their study, they note that explicitly addressing race in the classroom has been viewed as disruptive, if not hazardous. The study, however, highlights the benefits of explicitly discussing racial issues. Freeman and Webb find that explicit discussion of taboo topics, such as race, allows for more open and honest dialogue. Instead of shirking from the topic, students confronted their prejudices and latent stereotypes head-on in a conversation that was “positively disruptive, but not prohibitively onerous” (p. 151). Participants read supplemental texts pertaining to racism in various mediums including the short essay and the graphic novel. The inclusion of supplemental material beyond an anchor text gave rise to analyzing multiple representations and gave depth to discussions of race.

In addition to explicit dialogue about race, Freeman and Webb observed constant implementation of reflective practices. Students wrote journal entries and formalized papers on their experiences, and they were evaluated on their thoughtful participation and collaboration. Thus they were assessed in traditional ways through their cognitive learning, and they were assessed based on their socio-emotional growth and levels of introspection. Initially, students were hesitant to engage in “touchy feely practices” (p. 142), but as the course progressed, they became more invested in the practices. Teachers gave feedback on their reflections, noting growth and pushing them to question assumptions. In all, allowing race to take a front seat permitted “classes … to change focus more easily and to provide space for more creativity and collaboration” (p. 151). Approaching sensitive topics in a direct conversation, and using some of the aforementioned assessments, might yield similarly positive results. Students of the study reported thinking about race for the first time and, after the class, considered “‘how best to talk about race’ with friends and family members” (p. 146). Although the study focuses around a different subject and age level, the findings are encouraging.

Freeman and Webb’s ideas could seamlessly be integrated into my lesson plans on Night. The text itself provides the space to discuss the reception of the Jewish identity in Romania and the perception of Jews by non-Jews. By centering a text by a Jewish author, I broaden my students’ knowledge of Judaism and give an opportunity to explore difference, which would allow them to confront a voice and experience they might not have encountered otherwise and would allow ample time to explore representation and perceived identity through discussion, coupled with reflective practices such as journaling. Much of their misconception and anti-Semitism might simply correlate to lack of exposure, not a deep-seated bigotry. The explicit confrontation of anti-Semitic sentiments, as race was confronted in Freeman and Webb’s study, could yield positive results in my classroom and in my community.

Colby and Lyon (2004) also discuss the importance of multicultural education, particularly “how important it is to integrate multicultural literature in the classroom as one method for creating learning communities that acknowledge and celebrate diversity” (p. 27). They find that incorporating multicultural literature allows students to engage more thoroughly and tackle big ideas because it has the “power to dispel stereotypes” (p.27). The researchers find that the incorporation of multicultural literature allows for empathize and bridging gaps between groups of people. This process does not simply mean finding a character they like or with whom they share interests, but instead to identify characters with whom they have core, almost spiritual commonalities. This practice dissolves lines of differences in hopes of unveiling unity in the human condition. Exercises surrounding finding themselves in the story might involve reflective journaling and writing from the vantage point of the character. The texts call students to put themselves in others’ shoes in order to understand a different life experience, thus broadening cultural awareness and acceptance. This type of practice lends itself well to any character analysis but could be particularly useful in the classroom when introduced with texts featuring minorities. Having them write from the viewpoint of the protagonist in Night would be a clear way for them to practice empathy and embrace of racial and cultural differences. In doing so, they would notice the universality of the human condition and explore unifying attributes between all individuals, no matter their religious beliefs.

Sleeter (1995), although not in a secondary classroom, offers some culturally relevant pedagogical practices that lend themselves well to the high school English classroom. She proposes explicit group work for investigating other identities in classrooms where there is little diversity, in an effort to create “collective knowledge” (p. 431). While her work centers around racial diversity, the same methods could be applied to exploring religious diversity. She encourages allotting time for group research with the intention of reporting findings to the class at large, as likely the information they find enlightening or surprising will match a class of heterogeneously religious students. She also proposes “why” investigative writing. Students are to derive questions about different identities as a starting-off point for investigations. She illustrates a student’s question of “why do African American males experience difficulties in schools” as the basis of a research project (p. 420). From such a simple question, power structures, economic disparities, and biases are unearthed. Similar research questions could be crafted as a starting-off point for investigation because they function as entrances into discussion and would serve well in the facilitation of identity work.

Additionally, Teaching Tolerance, an online curriculum created by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has a variety of lessons for expanding cultural understandings and deepening respect and appreciation for diversity. Particularly, the resource has many lessons on Judaism, not solely focusing on the Holocaust. The website offers lessons discussing the practice of inaugural prayer, different accounts of protests movements, and Jewish involvement in the Civil Rights Movements, and questioning whether the academic calendar is equitable for all religions. The focus of these lessons, while centered on Jewish involvement and beliefs, also highlight the importance of understanding and examining multiple perspectives. In addition, the lessons focus on questioning previously held beliefs and offer ways to respectfully question these beliefs. For example, the objectives written by the author of the lesson plan “One Survivor Remembers” include “learn about antisemitism; learn about propaganda and stereotypes; make connections to current-day antisemitism, racism, prejudice, and bigotry” in attempts to explore the essential question of “what are the dangers of creating ‘us’ and ‘them’ labels?” The implementation of these lessons prepares students to analyze preconceptions and move toward growth. Using such lessons in the classroom supports authentic discussion, which, as noted earlier, is the first step in understanding difference.

In addition, Teaching Tolerance highlights the need for Black and Jewish students alike to explore each other’s culture. Teaching Tolerance notes that “African Americans and Jewish Americans have a long history of shared concerns …. In recent decades, however, members of both groups have observed that distrust and resistance are eroding this affinity” (Yellin, 1998). If I had had any doubt about the need to explicitly address anti-Semitic concerns, research highlights that need. Particularly in a rural school where encounters with Jews are rare, it is necessary to dispel misconceptions that may circulate.

Harven and Soodjinda (2016) also offer strategies on how to implement culturally relevant and culturally responsive pedagogy. They emphasize the need for a classroom built on trust and support, suggesting that teachers explicitly set out norms for discussion and an overall atmosphere where self-exploration and opinions are appreciated. In this classroom, it is assumed that all students enter into the conversation with the best intentions and that the classroom is a place for growth and development. They then suggestion explicit group discussion around the concept of oppression and its many facets. In my classroom particularly, this would be fruitful. To discuss oppression of the Jewish people would not discount the oppression of my Black students, and approaching oppression, micro-aggressions, and positive and negative stereotyping as branches from the same bigoted source would allow a fruitful exploration of power structures in the United States.

Though she does not offer best practices, Weiner (2010) examines ways in which Jewish and African American plights in the United States share commonalities. Using critical race method, she analyzes grassroots movements in which both groups have fought to have representation in curricula and collaborated to rework textbooks that employ Anglo-European hegemonic thinking. She also tracks each group’s presence in the South as the “racialized other” (p. 11) and how comparing and contrasting their experiences “allows for a more nuanced understanding of the way in the schools shape racial meanings, patrol the boundaries of whiteness, and undergrid a system of oppression” (p. 2). In this way, the Jewish experience and the Black experience have historical similarities and further emphasize the importance of acknowledgement and discussion surrounding race and ethnicity.

The aforementioned scholars offer various approaches to delving into Judaism and Jewish identity. Importantly, each strategy invites discussion and dialogue, not lecture. As Freire (1970) notes, “without dialogue, there is no communication, and without communication there can be no true education. Dialogue presents itself as an indispensable component of the process of both learning and knowing” (p. 73). This is paramount to my instruction, as it gives voice and room for student exploration without oppressive pedagogy from the teacher. The use of conversation as a pedagogical tool settles some of the reservations that I had had about my White identity’s intersection with my Jewish identity. Through conversation, I do not mandate thought patterns or ideologies; students are presented with materials and are to engage in the exploration and analysis of these through constructive dialogue. I am able to step back and facilitate learning, rather than implement my own agenda, and give room for student voice. They discover and share their opinions and findings organically, relying on collaboration, cooperation, and conversation.

Conclusion
Each year, the fact that I am not Christian is brought up in the classroom. It normally emerges when students, without hesitation, ask what church I go to. Each year, I feel the same indecision. I worry about how my credibility in their eyes might shift if they knew about my Jewish heritage. I worry, albeit minutely, about my safety. Do I avoid the topic by saying that I don’t attend a church in their community because I live in Baton Rouge? Do I side step the question by saying that I haven’t found a “church home” (and never will)? Inevitably, I decide to self-identify. Each year, it provokes questions and, often, genuine concerns about my everlasting soul. Each year, I choose to identify because I realize that I might be the only Jew, to their knowledge, that these students have met.

In all, despite the tension between being submerged in a praying community while being a secular Jew and the prejudices and anti-Semitism that arises, it is necessary to be a positive representation of Jewish identity. Theorists and researchers have provided resources on the value of discussions of Judaism in text and in current events, and the aforementioned resources offer valuable ways to enter into analysis of prejudice and identity, all while respecting boundaries and individual credence. It is through this authentic discussion and exploration that commonalities can be found. Particularly, I find that much of the scholarship surrounding critical race theory and culturally relevant pedagogy that I included allowed for me to present issues as a collaborative dialogue and prevent any unfair or unequal exercise of power, a hesitation that I had had.

While my exploration of my Judaism in the context of my school is still developing, it is evident that the work that I am doing has impact beyond the confines of the classroom. One student, nonchalantly, mentioned to me that his grandmother had called him a dirty Jew. He retorted to her that Jews aren’t dirty and that, in fact, his teacher is a Jew. His willingness to discuss his grandmother’s misconception with me, and his impulse to correct this anti-Semitism, proves to me that, while changing prejudices is not immediate, it does have value and larger implications.

References
Alper, B. A., & Olson, D. V. A. (2013). Religious population share and religious identity salience: Is Jewish identity more important to Jews in less Jewish areas? Sociology of Religion, 74(1), 82-106. https://doi.org/10.1093/socrel/srs044

Colby, S. A., & Lyon, A. F. (2004). Heightening awareness about the importance of using multicultural literature. Multicultural Education, 11(3), 24-28. Retrieved from the ERIC database. (Accession No. EJ783082)

Darder, A. (1991). Culture and power in the classroom: A critical foundation for bicultural education. New York: Bergin & Garvey.

Delpit, L. D. (2006). Other people’s children: Cultural conflict in the classroom. New York: New Press.

Emdin, C. (2016). For white folks who teach in the hood … and the rest of y’all too: Reality pedagogy and urban education. Boston: Beacon Press.

Freeman, A. N., & Webb, L. (2018). Positive disruption: Addressing race in a time of social change through a team-taught, reflection-based, outward-looking law school seminar. University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law & Social Change, 21(2), 121-152. Retrieved from https://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/jlasc/vol21/iss2/2/

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed (M. B. Ramos, Trans.). New York: Herder and Herder.

Goldfield, D. (1997). A sense of place: Jews, Blacks, and White Gentiles in the American South. Southern Cultures, 3(1), 58-79. Retrieved from the America: History & Life database. (Accession No. 45761403)

Harven, A. M., & Soodjinda, D. (2016). Pedagogical strategies for challenging students’ world views. In R. Papa, D. M. Eadens, & D. W. Eadens (Eds.), Social justice instruction: Empowerment on the chalkboard (pp. 3-14). Cham, Switzerland: Springer.

McCarthy, M. (2009). Beyond the wall of separation: Church-state concerns in public schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 90(10), 714-719. Retrieved from the MasterFILE Complete database. (Accession No. 40735917)

One survivor remembers: Antisemitism. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2018, from https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/spring-1998/around-the-freedom-table

Pinar, W. F., Reynolds, W. M, Slattery, P., & Taubman, P. M. (1996). Understanding curriculum: An introduction to the study of historical and contemporary curriculum discourses. New York: Peter Lang.

Sleeter, C. E. (1995). Reflections on my use of multicultural and critical pedagogy when students are white. In C. E. Sleeter & P. McLaren (Eds.), Multicultural education, critical pedagogy, and the politics of difference (pp. 415-438). Albany: SUNY Press.

Weiner, M. F. (2010). Power, protest, and the public schools: Jewish and African American struggles in New York City. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Yellin, E. (1998). Around the freedom table: Black and Jewish youths share a heritage of liberation. Teaching Tolerance, 13. Retrieved from https://www.tolerance.org/
magazine/spring-1998/around-the-freedom-table

Continuing the Conversation: Socrative’s Impact on Student Emotions, Student Comfort Levels, and Classroom Interactions

Adam Sprague, Assistant Professor and Student Success Coordinator, Bellin College, adam.sprague @ bellincollege.edu


Socrative is a free, cloud-based, online student response system (SRS) available via any Smartphone or tablet with a Wi-Fi connection (Awdeh, Mueen, Zafar, & Manzoor, 2014; Dervan, 2014; Pham, 2016; Steed, 2013; Sprague, 2016). In fact, over the last decade, many studies have highlighted how Socrative increases both student achievement and complex cognitive processes (see, for example, McLaughlin & Yan, 2017). Indeed, this SRS differs from its competitors because 1) it is designed specifically for formative assessment purposes and 2) it allows instructors to create tests, peer reviews, and exit tickets quickly and easily by registering an e-mail address and password at http://www.socrative.com (see Figure 1). Such assessments play a crucial role because it is vital to regularly and quickly inform students of their academic progress (Richards, 2015; Sprague, 2016).

sprague1

Figure 1. Socrative’s welcome screen

These conversations are now moving beyond simply looking at the impact that SRS’s have on academic achievement. Now, researchers are investigating how they impact students’ feelings toward their instructors and peers and how such technology impacts their overall emotional state (McLaughlin & Yan, 2017). Building on my study that analyzed multilingual students’ perceptions about the use of Socrative in an English as a Second Language (ESL) writing classroom (Sprague, 2016), this study addresses a new call for research by investigating the how the 44 students enrolled in my two sections of English Composition II at Dalton State College felt about my use of Socrative to create exit tickets. Specifically, I wanted to discover how the technology impacted their relationship with their peers and me, and how the technology changed their overall emotional state.

I began by creating two anonymous surveys. I distributed the first (Appendix A) to each student after the first eight weeks of class, at which time I had yet to use Socrative. This survey asked them to use a Likert scale to rank whether they strongly agreed, agreed, disagreed or strongly disagreed with 17 statements regarding their own feelings about the course, and to explain their answers in a more detailed paragraph at the end. Key responses at this time included:

I feel a lot of pressure to do well in this course because I am a bad writer.

[The teacher] goes really fast.

Writing [essays] makes me anxious.

There’s a lot of pressure to write really good in this class.

I am very anxious in this class.

I hate reviewing lectures online.

At this half-way point and for the remainder of the semester, I incorporated exit ticket prompts through Socrative as a technique to assess what my students were thinking and what they learned immediately following a lesson. For example:

  1. What are the three ways to count syllables that we covered in class today? Which of the 3 was most confusing and why?

  2. How do importance-level marking transitions differ from guiding transitions at the paragraph level? What still does not make sense about these types of transitions?

  3. We discussed numerous reasons today why we must consider the rhetorical triangle for the upcoming essay. What were some of those reasons? Additionally, what is most confusing about the rhetorical triangle?

  4. What, if anything, would you like to review again about the rhetorical situation?

  5. Describe the reverse triangle and how writers can use it to write an introduction.

  6. Please write 1 in-text citation from the article you read for today’s class in correct MLA format. Also, what about citing sources in MLA format would you like to review once more that is giving you trouble?

  7. What is the most difficult part of MLA format so far?

  8. What knowledge do you still need from Adam before you turn in your essay to feel as though you will get an A on the project?

  9. What literary terms are currently the most difficult for you to remember?

At week 15, I distributed the second survey (Appendix B) to the same students, which allowed me to measure changes in their feelings about the course and instructor. Key responses at this time included:

Seems like the professor cares more now.

Adam takes a lot of time reviewing compared to before.

I feel in control because of [Socrative]. I say what I want to review and Adam does it. It’s awesome.

My anxiety about writing is a lot less.

My professor takes more time to review [course materials].

Seems like he cares more about us [than] before.

Our opinion matters now.

I feel less stressed out now when I come to class.

Based on these responses, I discovered that their feelings were drastically impacted by the implementation of Socrative. First, they felt as though they had more control over the course material. This student-perceived increase in control likely led to the second most significant finding, that they had decreased anxiety levels in regard to writing in class. It seems logical to conclude, then, that the use of Socrative positively impacted students in that they felt as though they had more control over the course material, and that increased feeling of control likely led to their feeling less anxious about the essay assignments.

Moreover, it was not only a reduction in anxiety related to essay writing. In fact, they also reported that they felt less test anxiety. These findings show that while Socrative may have direct benefits for students in writing courses, the use of this particular software may also help reduce test anxiety in other courses as well.

Another significant finding was that Socrative led to an increased feeling of meaningfulness for students when engaging in peer-to-peer interactions. This finding is likely due to the collaborative nature of Socrative. Students inputted their answers to the exit ticket questions in class, but the results of those answers were viewed and discussed collaboratively and led to collaborative review work the next class period. Because Socrative allowed for easy, quick collaboration in regard to reviewing course concepts, these findings are significant but not altogether surprising.

Consequently, students also reported feeling as though they had more frequent interactions with their peers. This means they felt that peer-to-peer interactions were more meaningful and that they were occurring much more frequently even though the first half and the second half of the semester had the exact same number of group work days, highlighting how the technology promoted more frequent interaction within the classroom despite being a digital tool. They also felt themselves growing and developing in a positive manner more so during the second half of the semester than the first. It can be argued that Socrative may have played a significant role in allowing them to feel more positively about themselves as a result of my change in pedagogy via the implementation of Socrative.

This is a truly monumental finding, as it points to the widespread positive impact Socrative had on the students in this study. Thus, it can be safely argued that Socrative was a major affordance as it played a major role in improving the students’ happiness, feelings toward me as their instructor, feelings toward their peers, feelings toward the course materials and course structure, sense of self-worth, sense of maturation, and feelings of anxiety. In other words, Socrative had a major impact on the students’ emotional domain in a wide variety of ways, which was what this study was determined to investigate.

Ultimately, these responses mirror much of what I felt as the instructor. To me, the primary affordance of using Socrative was that I had the ability to cater to problem areas visible as a result of my students’ exit ticket responses. It is my belief that this built a stronger community of students who better understood why I chose the materials for the next lesson, as they were the materials students showed they had the most trouble with overall. In other words, Socrative provided an increased level of transparency to the course, which led to students feeling a greater sense of control. By doing this, I felt more assured that I was providing the information that they needed, which visibly reduced their anxiety levels about the work asked of them for the course and significantly lowered the number of students asking for help during office hours likely because they received a review of concepts at the beginning of each class session.

This study answered the current call for more robust research in regard to whether or not SRS have a significant impact on students’ emotional domain (McLaughlin & Yan, 2017). Although this remains somewhat of a modestly sized investigation, the study is unique because it focuses primarily on the impact Socrative had on student emotion. The results of this study continue to push the conversation forward in regard to how teachers may best use Socrative in the classroom.

Specifically, the findings of this study suggest that Socrative allows instructors rather easily to enhance their students’ feelings about the overall course, course content, their peers, and their instructor while reducing their students’ anxiety levels. The software was particularly useful as Socrative allowed me to quickly make sure everyone in the class understood the day’s lesson and were keeping up with the materials covered. Still, this study does not provide enough data to draw definitive conclusions. Therefore, further studies could examine the use of Socrative across a wider variety of courses or over a number of years to determine if the findings in this study are generalizable or isolated to my specific writing course.

In closing, Socrative may be a good choice for teachers working in classrooms where technological resources are rare and where computer labs may be unavailable. In a time when mobile phone usage is ubiquitous in today’s youth culture, more campuses may want to consider delivering online formative assessment using mobile devices given the overwhelmingly positive reaction students had to its use in this study.

References
Awdeh, M., Mueen, A., Zafar, B., & Manzoor, U. (2014). Using Socrative and Smartphones for the support of collaborative learning. International Journal on Integration Technology in Education, 3(4), 17-24. Retrieved from http://airccse.org/

journal/ijite/papers/3414ijite02.pdf

Dervan, P. (2014). Enhancing in-class student engagement using Socrative (an online student response system). All Ireland Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 6(3), 1801-1813. Retrieved from http://ojs.aishe.org/index.php/aishe-j/article/view/180/283

McLaughlin, T., & Yan, Z. (2017). Diverse delivery methods and strong psychological benefits: A review of online formative assessment. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 33(6), 562-574. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcal.12200

Pham, H. (2016). Integrating Quizlet and Socrative into teaching vocabulary. Issues in Language Instruction, 5(1), 27-28. https://doi.org/10.17161/ili.v5i1.7018

Richards, J. C. (2015). Key issues in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sprague, A. (2016). Improving the ESL graduate writing classroom using Socrative: (Re) considering exit tickets. TESOL Journal, 7(4), 989-998. https://doi.org/10.1002/
tesj.295

Steed, A. (2013). Technology in the classroom. Teaching Business & Economics, 17(3), 7-9. Retrieved from the Education Research Complete database. (Accession No. 93286186)
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Vol 60, No 1 (2018)

Table of Contents

Editor’s Introduction
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John Pruitt, University of Wisconsin-Rock County

What the Wisconsin DPI Can Do for You
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Marci Glaus, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction


Articles

“We Are Not All the Same”: Strengthening Teacher-Student Relationships through Online Classroom Dialogue
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Abstract. The authors look at how teachers and students can guide change from within classrooms by using digital tools to recontextualize the cultural experiences and relationships at the core of learning and growth in public schools.
Robyn Seglem, Illinois State University
Antero Garcia, Stanford Graduate School of Education

Fostering Persistence Through Relevant Writing Assignments
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Abstract. Broad access institutions, such as community colleges, struggle with losing nearly half of their students in the first two years. Composition courses are among the first-year courses uniquely positioned to help students persist. This article suggests three types of writing assignments that may help learners–particularly online learners–persist in their academic studies.
Jeff Bergin, Macmillan Learning

Teaching English Online: Challenges and Successes
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Abstract. Teaching English–or any subject–online requires industrious, hard working teachers who keep current on technology trends and learning management systems (LMS). Resilience and professional development aid teachers navigating this ever-changing landscape. Without Wisconsin state requirements for online teacher professional development, quality instruction falls solely on teachers and administrators.
Elizabeth Jorgensen, Arrowhead Union High School

Redefining the Culture: Understanding Nontraditional College Students
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Abstract. This essay argues that creating a more active learning environment by incorporating more than pedagogy in the classroom, utilizing electronics for multiple reasons and uses, and creating positive student/instructor relationships may diminish the chances of nontraditional college students transferring or dropping out.
Dolores Greenawalt, Bryant & Stratton College

Reading Aloud to Older Students: Benefits and Tips
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Abstract. The research is clear that reading aloud to students is sound educational practice for many reasons including building vocabulary and increasing fluency. At the middle and high school levels the literacy demands on students increase exponentially, yet teachers are less likely to take the time to read aloud. This article shares some of the research supporting reading aloud to secondary students as well as benefits, tips, and links to book lists for your classroom.
Lisa Hollihan Allen, West De Pere Middle School

Poetry Unveiled
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Abstract. This paper introduces the UnVEIL approach to understanding poetry, a step-by-step consideration of UNderstanding language, Voice, Events, Interpretation of techniques, and Look/Listen/Lesson, serving to take some of the mystery out of poetry while maintaining all the magic of the language.
Dan Hansen and Becky Hansen, The Poetry Professors

Carroll University’s Pre-College Programs Aim to Build Emotional, Social, and Academic Aptitude of High School Students
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Abstract. Carroll University’s Pre-College Programs aim to nurture high school students academically, personally and socially. Through mini lessons, field trips, cultural experiences and volunteering, students from underserved communities learn about themselves and their role in the world. As English skills are integral to academic success, in addition to reviewing the scope of Carroll University Pre-College Programs, specific strategies for building career and college readiness are explored.
Elizabeth Jorgensen, Arrowhead Union High School
Maria Ramirez, Carroll University

Poetry in Motion
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Abstract. The author partnered with Wisconsin’s Ice Age Trail Alliance in order to provide community-based learning skills to the pre-service teachers enrolled in her Children’s Literature course.
Kelly L Hatch, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater


Symposium: ELA in Charter Schools

The Evolution of the English Classroom: From Brick and Mortar to Virtual
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Abstract
. This article highlights best practices in online teaching, as well as some of the benefits a student may have from choosing to attend a virtual high school. Specific anecdotes and references pertain to the author’s experiences teaching in a Wausau School District brick and mortar high school using a traditional delivery method as contrasted to teaching in Wausau Area Virtual Education (WAVE), also part of the Wausau School District.
Jennifer A Seymour, Wausau Area Virtual Education

Corner Rock–The Phoenix of Park Falls: A Social Justice Action Venture for Project-Based Learners
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Abstract. This action project demonstrates teaching in an alternative educational setting using an interdisciplinary, learner-led experience that engages students in social change.
Paula A Zwicke, Class ACT Charter School

Student-Led Literature Circles in an Interdisciplinary High School Classroom
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Abstract. This essay looks at reading in a high school interdisciplinary English/Social Studies classroom, focusing on student book choice to help inspire, engage, and get students to read.

Erin Jensen, Rock University High School

Documentation as an English Language Arts Tool in a Project-Based Learning Environment
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Abstract. Charter schools often use project-based learning time to teach students how to be accountable for their own educations. To make sure they are reaching goals and making the most out of their learning experiences, Northern Lakes Regional Academy started using a documentation process to teach summarizing and reflecting skills to students of all grade levels. Those who document can keep track of their mistakes, successes, and the steps of the project.
Megan Raether, Northern Lakes Regional Academy


Spotlight on Student Writing:
Mimicking Gertrude Stein

This inaugural section spotlighting student writing came to me when those enrolled in my Modernism course asked about showcasing their in-class creative writing. Following a number of instructors who argue that imaginative writing can complement and enrich formal literary analysis, I challenged my students to imitate Gertrude Stein’s elusive style in Tender Buttons (what the heck is “A Piece of Coffee” anyway?!), whose effect and meaning making are achieved through stream of consciousness, the repetition of words and concepts, and the ephemerality of sound.

Enjoy their writing, and contact me if you’d like to showcase the work of your own students!

John Pruitt, WEJ Editor, University of Wisconsin-Rock County