Monday, December 28, 2009


I am big fan of starting the new year with newness. My birthday is January 3 and this year I am turning 40. So I am trying to make some resolutions. I have often read The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards and been inspired/overwhelmed.

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God's help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ's sake.

Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God's glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriad's of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great so ever.

That is 1 of 70. The 70th says "
Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak."

While I do not propose to be as eloquent or as ambitious about my resolutions, I am hoping to adopt a few significant changes to my life. The first is a single word, Less -doing less, having less, spending less. All in the hopes of having more - more time, more freedom, more joy. The other change was gleaned from reading Calm my anxious heart, it is "Never complain about anything, not even the weather" (you can ask me about this in August).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Quality teaching

Quality teaching is one of my "scholarly" interests. My dissertation focused on quality teaching practices and I spent a fair amount of time defining “quality”

As a parent, I have had numerous conversations about finding the “best school” for my son when he starts kindergarten next fall - public v. private, transfer v. neighborhood, traditional v. Montessori, etc. Everyone wants their child to be in a high quality school.

I recently came across an interesting piece of research concerning classroom quality. I was interested in how they had defined quality, but I was also hoping to find some helpful information about identifying a good school for my son.

This research, conducted by Stuhlam & Pianta (2009) for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Early Child Care Research Network (NICHD ECCRN) observed and analyzed data from over 800 1st grade classrooms at over 700 different schools. The classrooms involved were varied demographically (socio-economic, ethnicity, public schools and private schools) and so were the teachers (years of experience, education, certification).

When assessing quality, each classroom was rated on both the affective nature (how supportive and positive the teacher was to a student's emotional needs) and the academic nature (the type of academic challenges and the type of feedback a teacher provided for her students). Sadly, only about 31% rated positively on both scales. 17% were rated with “overall low quality”. The rest of the classrooms were either ranked as being positive emotional climate with low academic quality or “mediocre”.

After the classrooms were rated the researchers compared the demographic data and made some interesting discoveries.

1) Students of color and those with lower family incomes were more likely to be in the lowest overall quality classrooms. Good news if you are white and middle class - not so much for everyone else.

2) Students with lower achievement scores in Pre-school were more likely to be in the lowest overall quality classrooms.

3) A teacher's education and her years of experience does not necessarily translate into a quality classroom environment.

4) Private schools do not necessarily provide higher quality classroom environments.

5) Teachers in the lowest quality classrooms were more likely to report feeling stressed, and facing significant challenges and barriers to success.

All of these findings have implications for parents and other stakeholders. But to me, the most interesting finding was that the main difference between the "high quality classrooms" and "positive emotional climate, lower academic demand classrooms" was the nature of the feedback that teachers gave to students.

6) Teachers in the high quality classrooms “frequently engaged students in conversations about their ideas, their work and their process of learning” (p. 332), while those in the other classrooms “rarely engaged students in discussions about the process of learning”.

No category existed for classrooms where the teacher engaged students academically but didn’t provide a positive emotional climate. Interesting?

In other words, you want your kid in a classroom where the teacher asks him questions and then listens to his answers and asks him more questions

It is strange to think that your socio-economic status and your ethnicity make your child more or less likely to have a quality classroom environment.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


As blogging goes, I am not the most consistent person. I have tried on many occasions to make it a habit. Not something I do daily, just something I do on a regular basis.

Recently I have been struck with how many people achieve some professional note by making a promise to do something everyday and write about it on their blog (or other chosen venue).

For example, Julie and Julia, a lovely movie about two woman Julia Child and Julie Powell, started out as Julie's attempt to cook every recipe in Julia's Mastering the art of French Cooking in one year and blog about it. She got a book deal first, by the way.

Another new movie is a documentary about one man, who with his family attempts to erase his carbon footprint over the course of a year and blogs about his journey. He got a book deal out of it, as well.

On a smaller scale, I followed one blog for a while, as one woman cooked her family a crock pot meal everyday for 365 days. She got a guest spot on Rachel Ray and a book deal. She had some fantastic recipes.

Today, I was checking out the New York Times and found this. One woman decided to read a book a day a post a review on her blog. That is ambitious. She tried to limit her books to between 250-300 pages but still, that is a lot of reading. I wonder if she will get (or has) a book deal.

A.J. Jacobs has made the "my life as experiment" genre his life. He has written three books about 1)Reading the entire encyclopedia in a year, 2)Following all the commands in the Bible in a year and 3)a year spent testing out various lifestyles.

Okay.... I need a "life as experiment" type of experiment. One that no has not been done. One that might actually move me forward in my career and one that will get me a book deal.

Any ideas?

Friday, October 9, 2009


Do you remember staying home from school when you were sick. It always seemed like a good deal when I was a kid. Laying on the couch Mom bringing me whatever I wanted, including special treats and watching all TV I wanted.

Sick isn't so good anymore.

The boy spent last week laying on the couch watching videos, getting all sorts of special treats. He had the flu. By Tuesday night he was feeling better but I had caught whatever he had and have been laying on the couch watching videos since. Today we had an unexpected twist, I got a call from the boy's school - He has pinkeye. The man is home from work and after wrestling the boy to the ground and enduring his screams while trying to put drops into eyes squeezed shut the two are playing video games, while I use an entire box of tissues, wishing I wasn't the mom.

I am sick of sickness.

Friday, May 15, 2009

starting a fresh....

I have now finished my dissertation and am officially done with my career in graduate school.

I am hoping to use this space to share my plans, ideas and goals and integrating my professional life as an academic with my personal life as a wife and mother.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Just call me Dr. Feger

It is done. I defended the dissertation yesterday afternoon. It was scary and exciting. The committee talked about my work and the potential it has take the conversation about quality teaching and high-stakes testing in new directions.

I am so excited. I just need to finish my paper work and get the last signature.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Differentiation and Dancing with the stars

Today in my class we talked about differentiating lessons. Several students were concerned about labeling students and the "tyranny of low expectations". I don't think I did a very good job explaining the concept. I ended the lesson early, feeling defeated.

When I got home I decided to watch Dancing with the Stars. I am just going to admit that I LOVE THIS SHOW. The premise of the show for those who have been locked up writing in a library. Is that professional dancers are paired with "celebrities" and each week the professionals teach their partner a new dance. The couples then perform the dance for a panel of judges, a live studio audience, and the viewers at home. The judges rate the dances on a scale of 1 to 10 and the audience votes for their favorite. Each week one couple gets eliminated.

As I was watching, it occurred to me that this show is an excellent example of differentiating instruction. Here's why...

First, each week the celebrity must learn a new skill (a different dance). The second, it that the job of the professional to design and teach the dance to the celebrity. Each dance must include certain elements (kicks, steps, etc), the judges look for these elements and others which are marks of good dancing in general (style, grace, musicality, etc.). At the end of each dance, there is an evaluation of the performance and the judges use the criteria to assign a score.

Of course, the metaphor doesn't always Reality television and education are very different. Besides the budget and the costumes, the most major difference is that on the show each week one contestant is eliminated and at the end there can only be one winner. Which is ironic, since the whole goal of differentiation is to facilitate success for everyone.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

one last glitch

Well, the end is truly near.....

I am working on the final edits from the SAM. I am gathering the necessary signatures. I have reserved a room.

AND.... I am sick.... no not the "sick and tired" kind of sick - the lay in bed with tissues and ginger ale kind of sick. Could the timing be worse? I am not sure...... I have 6 DAYS to get this dissertation done and sent to the committee. And it hurts to think.

I keep reminding myself that I will get the dissertation looking as good as I can and then I will GRADUATE. But I want it to look better than it does.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tuesday night writing club.

Just so you know how "un-hip" I am... when my husband called the community the "Tuesday night writing club" I had no idea it was a reference... apparently this album was a big deal a while back.... oh well, just one more confirmation of my tragic lack of coolness and deeply absent knowledge of popular culture... apparently this gal dated some bike rider from around here. But that is not the point.

Last night our group met and we had read a piece that SAM had submitted to a journal and had gotten back to "revise and resubmit", a popular refrain in the academic world. I was amazed at how harsh and specific the feedback was. But... here is why SAM continues to inspire me. He had responded to all the critique from the editors, done the revisions and then sent his new draft (including the letter) to our group and asked for more feedback. The group was honest and in spite of the fact that he is in some ways our boss (perhaps leader is a better word) we had a lot to say and he seemed very grateful for our critique.

I am learning more and more that this whole thing - life, graduate school, writing is all a process and the only way we can learn from our mistakes- is for someone to kindly (hopefully) point them out. I think about how much better my writing and my thinking has become as a result of all this.

I am hoping that I can continue to meet with this group after I have finished...

Friday, March 20, 2009

turning it in...

The dissertation draft is in the hands of the SAM. I am under no illusion that it is finished, but the appendices and references are in place and the acknowledgments have been written. I emailed my committee to set up a time for the oral defense and it looks right now like it will happen on May 1st at 3:00pm. I will have editing and revising and also the bureaucracy related to graduation before then.

Oh my word...... or words.... lots of them. In the interest of brevity I will not include them all here. Rather here are my dedication and acknowledgments...


To the teachers in my life


I have been blessed with many great teachers during my life, without them, I could not have completed this endeavor.

First my mom –R., you taught me about love and sacrifice, you always made decisions with my best interest in mind, you told me that I could do and be anything I wanted to be and supported me in each pursuit. This belongs to you.

To my dad- D., you taught me how to balance my checkbook, ride a bike and persevere, you taught me that life wasn’t fair and worked to give me every advantage, you taught me that faith was about actions more than words. This belongs to you.

To my brother –A, you taught me about excellence, you reminded me that someone would always be richer, smarter and prettier and then told me I was blessed, smart and beautiful. This belongs to you.

To my elementary teachers– Mrs. B., you believed in me and told me that I was lovable and capable. Mr. P., you taught me about rigor and humor. This belongs to you.

To my teaching colleagues – R.S., you loved me and weren’t afraid to speak truth into my life.W. G., you always worked to learn more and be a better teacher, and taught me about being myself as a person and a teacher. T. M., you taught me about planning, challenging students and laughing so hard you cry. This belongs to you.

To my grad school supporters, the Friendly Frogs and J.W., you have taught me to hear and accept critical feedback. You have read drafts of this paper to numerous to count and my writing and this work are better for it. This belongs to you

To my friends and sisters in Christ –E. H., S. N., S. S., M.W., B. Y. and many others – You taught me about friendship, trust, and rising to challenging and fearless pursuits. You have prayed for me, encouraged me and celebrated with me. This belongs to you.

To my readers, B. Y. and R.S., you read this work and found misplaced comma and dangling modifiers and questioned my assumptions. This belongs to you.

To my sister-in-law, S. you taught me about discipline, mothering and putting family first; you are always willing to help when I need it. Thank you. This belongs to you.

To my niece and nephew, G. and D., you taught me about joy, living in the moment and laughter. This belongs to you.

To my husband, N., the words that tell what you have taught me are insufficient: passion, hard work, joy, contentment, humor, problem-solving and most of all sacrificial love. You model all these for me daily. Without your love, encouragement and support I would have given up long ago. This belongs to you.

To the boy, my angel, you have taught me to live outside myself, to truly live sacrificially, but most of all you have taught me to enjoy each moment and reminded me daily, that I do have time for what is most important. I am a better person because I am your mother. This belongs to you.

To my committee – you have challenged me to produce excellent work and asked me questions that pushed me to think about the issues in new and different ways. This belongs to you.

To Rose Jackson, Margaret Anderson, and Douglas Parker – you opened your classrooms and your lives to me and taught me about quality teaching. You taught me that the best teachers know how to be themselves and enjoy each day. This belongs to you

Finally, to SAM– you have taught me what it means to be a scholar but more importantly you taught me that hard work and honesty are the best tools for success. You remind me to be myself and keep writing. Peace and Cheers to you! This belongs to you.

(of course in the document I used everyone's actual name)

I am feeling tired, and excited and overwhelmed and happy - happy to be here at home with my boy, working in the yard and thinking about what to put into the garden. I will continue to work on the class I am teaching and trying to get a proposal together for NAECTE, which is in Washington, D. C. next fall. I will work over the summer to try to get a piece together for a journal submission and figuring out what I am going to do for a job next fall.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

field trips, content and pedagogy

This past weekend we took our son on a field trip, the local university had an "open house" - basically every single student group puts up a booth and the university gives presentations to prospective students (and their parents) On the advice of a "tour guide" we visited the natural sciences area. The boy enjoyed the activities they had... using glue, borax and water to make "slime", recycling plastic by making "shrinkie dinks" and of course putting solid CO2 into water to watch it boil......Cool.

Now a word about content knowledge and pedagogy. One element of the new federal legislation is to put a "high quality teacher" in every classroom. Sounds like a good idea, yes? Well.... the problem for many of us within the field (check out Cochran-Smith and Lytle, 2006) is in how this notion is defined. The federal government strongly favors content knowledge over pedagogical knowledge - basically it is more important that teachers know Chemistry than that they know how to teach it. (See how this might not sit well with the College of education? - We spend the bulk of our time teaching pedagogical knowledge.)

So what does this have to do with the field trip? The young man working at the CO2 booth made a comment about how they would only have a "shrinkie dink" - portraying some chemical symbol in the Chemistry department. This guy was excited about Chemistry. He loved Chemistry. He challenged students to blow on the solid stuff and see the steam rise. It was pretty cool. No explanation of why it was so cool, just repeated exhortations that it was.

Now I began to wonder.... I am not suggesting that this young man had expressed an interest in becoming a teacher. I simply wondered about people like him becoming high-school Chemistry teachers, if only for a short time. He sure knew his chemistry- but did the children learn anything?

He lacked a fundamental pedagogical knowledge as he related to the children visiting his booth.... he was so excited about the coolness of the solid Co2, that he forgot to tell the kids that this is the stuff that we exhale when we breath- that this is a essential to plants for the production of O2 (I know this probable gets taught in the biology or botany department but...)

I am not suggesting that we should simply train teachers with pedagogical knowledge and let them learn Chemistry elsewhere. I just think send Chemistry teachers out into the field without a fundamental/working knowledge of teaching is not beneficial for students, teachers or the profession.

Wondering how education is improved when we forget that it takes more than content knowledge to help children become successful in the world around them (not to mention in the classroom).

Keep asking questions. I am sending a draft of the dissertation to my adviser at the end of next week.... I couldn't be happier (or more stressed).

Sunday, March 1, 2009

PhD. Graduation May 23, 2009 @ 12:00 noon

I will be there. I will finish. I will purchase my regalia and hang that stuff in the closet to remind myself that I can do this.

I have finished chapter 4. Of course I did this by moving the messy part into another chapter but, it is still finished.

I talked with SAM this week and I have been battling a particularly messy bit of data.
Here is a bit of our conversation...

SAM: Why don't you cut out the whole section?
Me: Well... Really? just cut it out?
SAM: Yeah, It doesn't relate directly to your research questions.
Me: I guess but... doesn't it have to be in there, if it is a finding don't I have to include it.
SAM: No.
Me: so I can just cut that section out?
SAM: Yes.
Me: Are you sure?

This goes on a bit longer, finally I go home and cut out the section.

I am getting closer.... I just need to finish the messy part of chapter 5 and get the significance ironed out.

I will have a draft to send to the SAM by the end of Spring Break March 20, 2009.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


When I was in high school, I doubt anyone would have called me smart. I was not voted most likely to succeed, nor was I in the top ten percent. I was however voted "personality plus" by my senior class. That is me... fun, cute, great to have at a party. Yes. Smart, intelligent, thoughtful - Not so much.

When I decided to become a teacher - it seemed like a good fit. I like kids, I am fun and easy going, particularly patient. Few go to the college of education with aspirations of an academic life.

It wasn't until very recently I had begun to consider that, in spite of nearly completing a PhD, I have never really thought of myself as being smart. Getting through this program requires hard work and perseverance.

All of this to say that I have realized that many of my choices have been influenced by a fear that someone is going to figure out that I am not really that smart. I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine and we discussed the parable of the talents, and after letting me know that she thinks I am one of the smartest people she knows, she reminded me that it doesn't matter how smart I am, but whether like the good servants in the parable I choose to use my intelligence (and my other gifts) to the glory of God.

Yesterday was a crappy day (literally- the boy flushed the toilet and flooded our bathroom), I was struck with the reality of how difficult writing this dissertation is and by how no matter how smart I am I will NOT be able to complete this project without submitting to the Lord. This is, after all His work.

So after cleaning up the literal mess. I began the work of cleaning up the messes I have created elsewhere, realizing I need God's help with both.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

What am I doing here?

I am figuring out the balance between thinking and writing. Writing helps me think and thinking helps me write. SAM reminds me that both are important. Right now I would rather not do either.....

When I talked to SAM about what to do regarding my literacy questions. He reminded me that I have a committee for a reason and suggested that I send that piece of my diss. to the literacy person on my committee. I spoke with her and she was very helpful. She helped with that piece and gave me some suggestions that improved the quality of the entire piece.

I have revised my deadline and I am now looking at an April 1st defense. I am trying to get a draft of the finished product to SAM by the end of February. He will send it back to me and I will spend Spring Break revising it so I can have it to the committee by March 20th.

I keep fussing with chapter 4 and feel like I have done a sufficient job of looking at the data I have for one of my teachers. I need to finish chapter 4 this week. - I will spend the next few days with the data and send 4 to my reader by Sunday.

I still need to tackle chapter 5 and the Significance.... oh and by the way I am teaching an undergraduate class this semester. What am I doing?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

thinking vs. writing

I have been doing too much thinking lately.... thinking as a means of avoiding writing is insidious.

It works like this.... it is important to think through what you are going to write to ensure that you are clear and concise. It is important also that your writing is connected to what has already been said but brings something new to the discussion. Thus reading is an important part of the writing process - but twice recently I have been distracted from writing by thinking.

1) one element of my dissertation is the unique teaching practices of Margaret Anderson. I am using the lens of "third space" to explore her teaching. BUT the authors of the original piece use a bunch of terms such as "heterglossia, discourse and identity" which I don't want to take the time to explain or explore. I get stuck thinking about the critical nature of the original piece and whether or not it really fits what I saw happening in the classroom and it does but I just spent an hour thinking and now it is time to go home......

2) success and reading.... As an early childhood person - somehow the topic of reading is off limits to me.... reserved for the language and literacy folks, but perhaps not - perhaps the notion of reading (literacy development) is an important success for the students in these classroom aside from the success they are experiencing on the reading TAKS test. I just went to find two books on the literacy elements and haven't written a word.

Now perhaps all of this thinking is necessary and important and ultimately productive BUT I just want to finish this thing.