2015 Individual Grant Winner

Barbara Rose

Teacher Education

Using Writing to Empower Teachers as Activists


P-12 classroom teachers in the United States face an unprecedented level of external influence on their teaching, including increased state and federal curricular mandates, increased class time associated with standardized testing of students, political assaults on teacher quality, loss of autonomy, and corporate influences. Many of these factors adversely impact classroom practices and student learning, have implications for educational equity for students of color and students in poverty, and have contributed to both teacher attrition and decreases in students entering teacher preparation programs. Most teachers want to focus on students, not politics. They want their professional training and judgment to be allowed and valued, not replaced with inflexible policies and curricula. Teachers want to create expansive and innovative intellectual environments where they can think and reflect, and guide their students do the same.

Voices of teachers should be fully incorporated into school policies and practices, but current educational culture reflects the opposite. Therefore, there is an unmet need within teacher education programs to assist prospective and current teachers in exploring advocacy for the students, families and communities they serve, which is difficult within teacher preparation curricula for two reasons. First is the absence of substantive discussions of political forces infused throughout the curriculum, which sends the message that such issues are nonexistent or unimportant. What preservice teachers frequently see modeled is compliance, illustrated in the large numbers of teacher education programs that have adopted a range of controversial corporate initiatives in selecting and evaluating teacher candidates, and in the lack of critical examination and questioning. Second, while education focuses deeply on content and skills, that depth is not evident in exploring big picture questions.

While the word "activism" conjures images of holding protest signs while marching in a rally or writing letters to politicians, most successful activism movements include a range of strategies designed and implemented by many people with many skills sets that are applied to specific contexts. For educators, meaningful contexts are those that directly impact them, their students, and their communities. Activism is part of the fiber of teaching, as teachers advocate in small and large ways in their daily work.

Purpose, Description of Impacted Courses, and Project Objectives

The purpose of this project is to empower teachers to advocate for their students and be stewards of quality education by exploring types and strategies within activism, which will be broadly defined. Two courses connect to activism and will be impacted by this project. These courses (and others I teach) are exclusively writing-based. I believe that writing is essential for the kind of deep learning, critical thinking, and self-reflection that is necessary for students to engage in to explore complex concepts and issues.

I will teach EDT 483/583 Educators as Activists for the first time in spring 2016. Teacher activism, broadly defined, will be explored using historical perspectives from curriculum, educational policy, and civil rights; and current educational issues, such as educational corporatization, curricular challenges, and educational equity. Students will study activism strategies from a variety of contexts, and will self-reflect on their own identities and educational settings to develop personal philosophies and strategies for activism. Student learning outcomes are to (a) analyze historical, individual, and organizational perspectives on activism; (b) assess the impact of structural inequality on education; (c) evaluate current educational issues related to activism; (d) construct themes and perspectives on activism strategies; and (e) create and apply personal activism strategies to educational contexts.

EDT 422 Studies in Educational Issues is a Miami Plan capstone course that I teach each semester. My sections of EDT 422 have evolved to include an explicit equity and social justice focus. I plan to add "activism" as a third organizing concept for the course (in addition to "teacher identity" and "place-based education"). I believe that adding activism will assist in moving students from a content knowledge base of equity concepts to more substantive understanding and application of knowledge to strategy development and applications for equitable teacher practices. Selected student learning outcomes include (a) articulating the importance of exploring multiple perspectives (including one's own) in complex educational issues; (b) analyzing dimensions of teacher identity for teachers and the impact of identity on students, parents/guardians, colleagues, and communities; (c) applying concepts such as dominant privilege, ethnocentrism, unconscious bias, deficit thinking, and marginalization to self-reflection and educational settings; (d) understanding the role of both individual behaviors and structural factors in educational inequalities; (e) applying the concepts of "activism" to educational issues; and (f) applying a systematic process to answering a question, respond to challenges, and develop strategies for change.

Project objectives are drawn from the issues identified in the previous sections (e.g., lack of emphasis in teacher education on broad educational issues and activism, course learning outcomes), and two logistical challenges of the impacted courses: both are hybrid (partially online) and EDT 483/583 will be offered to both undergraduate and graduate graduate students. I would like to work with staff of the Howe Writing Center on each of the following objectives.

  1. Model the writing process and community building potential of writing for the students by participating as a writer and a co-community member myself.
  2. Create writing assignments that maximize deep learning in the study of the interdisciplinary, complex, and multifaceted concept of activism.
  3. Explore incorporating the benefits of ethnography and large-scale archival research to smaller projects appropriate for course assignments.
  4. Develop professor-created resources that will scaffold student learning in the absence of on-site class sessions in the hybrid course format.
  5. Develop challenging and developmentally appropriate differentiations in assignments for the undergraduate and graduate participants in the course.
  6. Create scoring rubrics for student writing that balance providing structure and sufficient transparency of expectations with allowing for student creativity and flexibility.

Potential Impact

Approximately 100 students will be impacted by this project in its first year (one section of EDT 483/583 and four sections of EDT 422). EDT 483/583 will be offered more frequently in following years, and may become a fully online course available to a broader audience.

Indirect benefits to students in the classes is that they will have skills and knowledge to apply to future challenges, thus empowering them to be change agents, benefiting students, families and communities. Another benefit is the synergistic relationship of this work in my teaching, scholarship and service. Activism is integrated into my administrative roles as Director of the Teacher Academy-Miami University Partnership (working with 12 area high schools) and Director of Graduate Studies in Teacher Education (facilitating the development of several new social justice courses); other service work (e.g., facilitating a 2015-16 CELTUA Faculty Learning Community in on developing deep impact equity projects; and scholarship (e.g., two recent journal submissions, another in process, and an ongoing archival research project studying the Center for Creative Non-violence in the 1970s and 1980s).

Project Plan

The specific tasks in the project plan are aligned with the context, course descriptions, and project objectives described earlier, and include the following.

  1. Develop my own writing activities to parallel those of students in the course.
  2. Create writing assignments for an existing capstone course (EDT 422 Studies in Educational Issues) and a new course (EDT 483/583 Educators as Activists).
  3. Incorporate research methodologies (e.g., archival research and ethnography into course content and assignments.
  4. Develop written Niihka/Canvas resources for students.
  5. Differentiate undergraduate and graduate expectations for student writing.
  6. Develop scoring tools for assignments.

Assessment Plan

Washington State University (WSU) has created a widely adapted model of critical thinking. The core dimensions of their "Critical Thinking Rubric" include identifying (a) the problem or question; (b) the students own perspective and position; (c) other perspectives and positions; (d) key assumptions; (e) supporting data and evidence (f) context; and (g) conclusions, implications and consequences (Washington State University, 2015). The WSU model is useful in exploring activism in school reform movements, educational equity, corporatization, and educational advocacy because it provides a systemic approach to studying complex topics. The inclusion of considering one's own perspective, key assumptions, and context are especially important in exploring controversial issues. I will evaluate the critical thinking and deep learning of this project in the following ways.

  1. The WSU model will be adapted for use in development of assignments and evaluation of student work.
  2. The WSU model will be adapted for student self-reflection of critical thinking.
  3. Additional measures of student self-reflection on learning will be developed and incorporated explicitly as assignment prompts into one or more assignments.
  4. A student end-of-semester evaluation focusing on writing will be created and used.
  5. Because a goal of activism is impact, the potential level of impact of the student-created strategies will be assessed.


SS 2015
EDT 422: Create assignment and written support materials, transition course materials from Niihka to Canvas Learning Management system (LMS)
EDT 483/583: Finalize syllabus; identify core resource list for students; draft assignment and written support materials; explore Canvas features

Fall 2015
EDT 422: Pilot activism integration; revise for spring based on assessment data
EDT 483/583: Finalize course for spring, using feedback from EDT 422; set up Canvas; organize my own writing plan for modeling writing process in spring

Spring 2015
EDT 422: Continue to collect assessment data; revise for summer 2016
EDT 483/583: Teach course for first time; collect assessment data

SS 2016
Write and submit final report to the Howe Center for Writing Excellence

Dissemination of Results

I will disseminate my learning at the Miami level, through the Howe Center for Writing Excellence if asked, by sharing of my proposal and final report to others, and through other campus opportunities. In the past, I have presented on writing for social justice at professional conference (e.g., the National Association of Multicultural Education, the National Conference on Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education), and this project will be of interest to those audiences. Also, there are organizations and conferences that specifically emphasize writing for social justice. I have not yet attended or submitted to at any of those conferences, but feel that is the next step in my own learning about writing. I plan to identify and attend (and possibly present) those opportunities as part of this work.


The $2000 award will be used as compensation for time devoted to the project during summer 2015, and throughout the 2015-16 academic year.

Selected Resources

A sampling of resources related to activism, school reform and critical thinking is included in Appendix A.

Appendix A. A Sampling of Resources

Au, W. (2013). What's a nice test like you doing in a place like this? The edTPA and corporate education reform. Rethinking Schools, 27(4). Retrieved from http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/27_04/27_04_au.shtml

Berdan, K., Boulton, I., Eidman-Aahahl, E., Fleming, J., Gardner, L., Rogers, I., & Solomon, A. (Eds.). (2006). Writing for a change: Boosting literacy and learning through social action. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Chura, D. (2013). The many faces of teacher activism. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/teacher-activism/

Condon, W., & Kelly-Riley, D. (2004). Assessing and teaching what we value: The relationship between college-level writing and critical thinking abilities. Assessing Writing, 56-75.

Dover, A., Schultz, B., Smith, K., & Duggan, T. (2015). Who's preparing our candidates? Teachers College Record. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/news/speeches/2009/10/10222009.html

Foster, A., Cartwright, B., Lum, B., Kuryliw, A., & Baugh, S. (2009). The power of voice: Equity and school practice. Education in Democracy: A Journal of NNER, 1, 36-51.

Hagopian, J. (2013). Seattle test boycott: Our destination is not on the MAP. Rethinking Schools Online. Retrieved from http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/27_03/27_03_hagopian.shtml

Jacobowitz, T., Kovacs, M., & Michelli, N. (2013). Understanding and confronting policy and corporate pressure in the Current Era: Implications for the agenda for education in a democracy. Education in a Democracy: A Journal of the NNER, 5, 167-184. Retrieved April 5, 2015 from http://www.nnerpartnerships.org/wp-content/files/2013nnerjournal.pdf

Jacobowitz, T., Michelli, N., & Marulli, L. (2010). Examining dispositions for social justice and democracy in the context of the public purposes of Education. Education in a Democracy: A Journal of the NNER, 2, 17-35. Retrieved March 29, 2015 from http://www.units.miamioh.edu/nnerjournal/pdf

Kumashiro, K. (2015). Review of proposed 2015 federal teacher preparation regulations. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. Retrieved March 29, 2015 from http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/ttr10-tchrprepregs_0.pdf

Madeloni, B., & Gorlewski, J. (2013a). Radical imagination, not standardization: Critical teacher education and the edTPA. Teachers College Record. Retrieved from http://www.tcrecord.org

Madeloni, B., & Gorlewski, J. (2013b). Wrong answer to the wrong question: Why we need critical teacher education, not standardization. Rethinking Schools, 27(4). Retrieved from http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/27_04/27_04_madeloni-gorlewski.shtml

Quinn, S. (2012, November 10). Cornel West keeps the faith for Occupy Wall Street. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/on-/post/cornel-west-keeps-the-faith-for-occupy-wall-street/2011/11/10/glQAZxhk8M_glog.html

Ravitch, D. (2013, June 3). What is edTPA and why do critics dislike it? Retrieved April 7, 2015 from http://dianeravitch.net/2013/06/03/what-is-edtpa-and-why-do-critics-dislike-it/

Rose, B. (2014). "The Big O'": Occupying against reductionism in education using small and sustained actions. In J. Gorlewski, B. Porfilio, D. Gorlewski, J. Hopkins, & P. Lan (Eds.), Effective or wise? Teaching and assessing professional dispositions in education. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing.

Seattle Education. (2013). The letter from the teachers at Garfield High School regarding the MAP test. Retrieved from http://seattleducation2010.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/the-from-the-teachers-at-garfield-high-school-regarding-the-map-test/

Seattle's teacher uprising: High school faculty faces censure for boycotting standardized MAP tests. (2013, January 29). Retrieved from http://www.democracynow.org/2013/1/29/seattles_teacher_uprising_high_school_faculty

Washington State University. (n.d.). Washington State University Critical Thinking Project. Retrieved from http://wsuctproject.wsu.edu/