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A Surprisingly Practical Extended Metaphor About Inequality In The Classroom



Extended Metaphor About Inequality In The Classroom

A Surprisingly Practical Extended Metaphor About Inequality In The Classroom

contributed by Matthew Byars

So as a middle school teacher for about 25 years, I’ve learned a few tricks. One of them is that if the kids aren’t engaged in what you’re working on, you’re wasting your time. 

Another is that I’m willing to do almost anything to engage them. 

One of the ways I do this is by making up games, like a lot of teachers do, and because I’m an English teacher, they’re often designed so kids can get practice on basic grammatical skills. And maybe we’ll find there’s more to playing–and ‘winning’–the game than acquiring skills.

Kids are allowed to choose their own teams, usually made up of two-three kids. The games are generally pretty simple: to think of one example, I’ll flash a sentence that needs some grammatical improvement—say, where do you add punctuation to fix a run-on sentence—and the first team to answer correctly gets a point.

So, the first sentence gets posted. Team 1 wins the point, followed by another team winning the next point. In the next few rounds, Team 1 wins most of the points, with a few other teams (Teams 2, 3, and 4) each getting on the board. Team 1 is in the lead, but just by a little bit. Team 5, however, hasn’t won a point yet. They’re last.

The game progresses, and Team 1 pulls away, absolutely destroying the competition. The middle teams get a few wins here and there, but the ones at the bottom have few. Team 5 still has none.

Now, why is Team 1 winning so much? Some information:

One of Team 1’s members is just really, really good with semicolons, which is a big help when you’re trying to fix run-ons. They don’t know why; it wasn’t anything they worked for, they just have it.

The second team member on Team 1 has a kind of vague understanding of how to fix run-ons, but defers to their teammate who’s really good at it, because it pretty much guarantees a win each time.

The third member of Team 1 doesn’t even know what a semicolon is and is only on this team because they’re friends with the other kids on the team, so they always get chosen by them for group activities. Left to their own devices, they wouldn’t earn any points for their team but they’re still on the team that’s winning. So why is Team 5 losing so much?

One member of the team actually has a pretty good grasp of how to fix run-ons, but isn’t as quick in calling out the right answers as the kid on Team 1.

Another team member doesn’t have a great grasp of them.

The third team member doesn’t understand how to fix run-ons at all. He’s just on this team because he sits near these other kids and they needed a third team member.

So, the game progresses.

Team 1 pulls further and further ahead. It took awhile for it to happen, but it’s slowly becoming a rout.

Several of the other teams get wins occasionally, but are still losing to Team 1.

Team 5 falls further and further back.

Now, any teacher will tell you what will happen with Team 5 around this time. They’ll become less and less interested in the game, and try less and less. Why bother when you can’t win anyway?

More time passes. Team 1 pulls further ahead. Team 5 falls further behind. And again, as any teacher could predict, Team 5’s lack of interest transitions to misbehavior and disruption. This game sucks. It’s stupid.

Now, bear with me as I extend this metaphor much further. Let’s say that this game goes on so long that the team members grow into adults, then have kids of their own, who become members of their team.

As far as the children on Team 1 know, their team has always been in first place. Always the best at this. These children didn’t do anything themselves to earn this, and in fact, some of them aren’t very good at fixing run-on sentences, but their team is so far ahead that it doesn’t matter. They would have to suddenly start losing many, many games in a row before there was any threat of them not being in first place.

Team 5’s kids, however, were born onto a team that was behind. Not only have they never been on a winning team, they’ve only been on a team that’s been losing since before they were born. Several of these kids are actually really good at fixing run-ons, but they’d have to win over and over for an incredibly long time before even coming close to pulling themselves out of last place. There would be no room for error for this to happen; everything would have to go perfectly.

By the time the kids on Team 5 have kids of their own—the grandchildren of the original team members—they’re so far behind that they don’t even see the point in learning the game. This game isn’t for them. It’s pointless to even play. So they make up their own game that has nothing to do with the original.

Team 1’s descendants, their kids and grandkids, can’t believe this. They can’t believe the teacher tolerates Team 5 leaving the game and making their own. This game’s fun—it’s fun to win, and a loss or two here and there is no big deal. Amongst themselves, Team 1 talks about how stupid Team 5’s members are. They even develop ugly nicknames and slang that they use to describe Team 5, sometimes just amongst themselves, but eventually, even out loud.

Let’s fast forward even further. Say, a few hundred years or so. Team 5’s members are in the furthest corner of the room. 

Team 1 doesn’t even really try anymore, but they’re still in first. The kids born into Team 1 know not to speak to Team 5’s members. The names Team 1 uses to talk about Team 5–the nicknames and the slang–are all these kids know, as their actual names have long been forgotten, or never learned in the first place. Team 1 is uncomfortable with Team 5’s behavior, and wonders why they won’t just play the game like everyone else.  

But wait: didn’t Team 1 deserve to be the winning team from the beginning of the game? After all, one of their team members had real talent in this skill. Well, okay; that team member was good at this game, for sure, but by their own admission, it was by dumb luck. Did that team member do anything to earn his talent other than being born with it? Also, is knowing how to fix run-on sentences the only way to be a good writer? And that’s the larger goal of the game: to become better at writing.  And think of all the other interesting and important things they could be working on if they hadn’t gotten stuck in this game.

And what about the other members of Team 1, who weren’t very good at the game, but were on the winning team through sheer luck, as were their children, and their children’s children?

Where’s the teacher in all this? Well, since most teachers choose their profession because they want to help kids, in the most literal version of the above analogy (in which the game goes on for just a few class periods), they’d likely redistribute the teams after a class or two, or try to help Team 5 with the skill outside of game time, as the idea is for them to learn to apply the skill, not simply to have winners and losers (because the teacher sees the point as being helping everyone to get good at using semicolons so they can use them successfully in their writing). 

Also, in the more-extended metaphor, when Team 1 starts using nicknames for Team 5, the teacher cuts it off; not okay in their classroom. So while the kids don’t all necessarily love each other, they know that using that kind of language is not going to fly.

There’s another classroom a few doors down that’s playing the same game, with an identical situation, players, and scenario. However, when Team 1 began using some nicknames for Team 5 out loud, the teacher doesn’t intercede. Or perhaps they don’t hear them? Either way, this classroom becomes a place where it’s okay for kids to say deeply unkind, even mean, things to each other.

This teacher also lets the game continue indefinitely and doesn’t really recognize how it’s slowly getting out of control. When Team 5 starts becoming disruptive, this teacher starts sending those members of the team not just to the corner of the classroom, far away from the other teams, but into the hall. When even that doesn’t stop the disruption–the kids keep coming to the door to see what’s going on or to try to get the attention of the other kids–they get sent to the principal’s office. 

This happens so many times that the principal’s office just eventually keeps them there all class, every day. And in the extended metaphor, kids aren’t sent to the principal’s office, they’re born there. They’ve never even seen the actual classroom.

What about the school as a whole? What kind of school would it be if its teachers intercede earlier in the process? What kind of school would it be if it was more like the other classroom, where the teacher doesn’t intercede? 

How would either of these types of school affect the neighborhood around it? The larger community?

How would others perceive their school and its students?

How far do we care to extend this metaphor?

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What Is Edcamp? An Overview For Teachers



What Is Edcamp? An Overview For Teachers

by TeachThought Staff

What is Edcamp? In summary, Edcamp is a low-cost, ‘bottom-up’ approach to teacher improvement where ‘conference’ participants gather, decide what’s going to be learned, then set out to teach one another in a laid-back, communal approach of sessions.

Obviously, the big idea is in the contrast to large conferences or formal professional development (which we also offer and believe has a role in education improvement) that is more ‘top down’ and pre-determined–that is, where a few people come and deliver content to a lot of people about a topic more or less out of their control. Edcamps are often called ‘unconferences’ and the video below explains why.

According to, in an Edcamp event, educators simply gather to learn:

EdCamps are ‘unconference’ events with a focus on education and learning. Most professional learning is done where participants listen to one person who shares their presentation with the audience. EdCamps on the other hand are meant to encourage conversation and participation among the attendees. Participants determine the topics for the day and take an active role in setting the direction of the conference. In the first hour of EdCamp NEPA, attendees will meet and interact over coffee and a light breakfast. An empty session board will be available for everyone to post session titles. From that, a session board will be constructed that will provide the schedule for the day.

Common Elements Of ‘An Edcamp’

A session board for day-of session planning

Participant-driven ‘PD’

Teacher collaboration

Food and ‘swag’

Sponsors (cheap doesn’t mean zero-cost)

Short 30-60 minute sessions

Use of social media to share learning and connect with teachers inside and beyond the Edcamp event using twitter and hashtags like #edcamp and #edcampusa, for example

Teacher-driven ‘promotion’ of Edcamp event that often includes blogs, digital/social ‘groups,’ and larger sign-up tools like Eventbrite

Why Edcamp?

In a previous post on TeachThought from 2014, Dawn Casey-Rowe offered her view on Edcamp:

EdCamp is the essence of collaboration–melding and sharing of ideas in the spirit of excitement. How many school professional development days have seen faculty disappointed that there wasn’t enough slots to do all the interesting professional development?

Now, imagine this. Imagine that your faculty meeting had no agenda. Imagine that there was simply a grid in the front of the room with a certain amount of empty spaces with corresponding rooms and participants could put “I’m going to present this!” Some rooms might have (academic) standards, others might have co-teaching, still others could have “physical fitness and student/teacher wellness.” It could be anything. People vote with their feet–the sessions that were the most helpful for people would be the ones that fill up. It might be that there were a couple of mandatory sessions. It might be the entire day could be up to the participants. But to really do it right, you’d have a nice table full of coffee and treats, and just let the day flow.

Consider having an Edcamp or Edcamp-style PD event at your school and getting your rock star faculty to take ownership of the subject material. You’ll save money, give respect to your on-staff experts, and have a day full of community building and interesting collaboration. Set up a twitter board and tweet between sessions. I give a guarantee this will be a PD format you’ll want to continue.

The Background Of Edcamp

According to their About Us, the story of how Edcamp got started is fairly simple: Educators got together to improve independent of a conference, local requirement, or large-scale training. They just gathered and grew.

The first Edcamp was organized in 2010 by a group of teachers in Philadelphia who met up for a computer science “un-conference.” At BarCamp, they collaborated with others to create discussion sessions based on the interests of the people in the room. There was no presenter; no boring slideshow. The entire day was personalized and learner driven with those in the room sharing their experience and expertise. At the end of the day, the teachers decided this model was too good to contain! They exchanged contact information, and within the next few months they used the “unconference” model of BarCamp to target educators.

We’ll have more on Edcamps soon. In the meantime, if you want to search for Edcamps near you, here you go.

If you’d like to see what they look like ‘ in real life,’ here are some pictures of previous Edcamps shared by participants.

What Is Edcamp? An Overview For Teachers

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Actors Theater Announces New Voices Young Playwrights Festival For Students



From a press release

LOUISVILLE, KYActors Theatre of Louisville is proud to announce the return of the New Voices Young Playwrights Festival. This year’s lineup will feature eight new plays by local high school students. The 15th annual festival will be sponsored by the LG&E and KU Energy Foundation. The New Voices Festival will run from April 27-29, 2020.

This year, 833 students submitted plays in consideration for the New Voices Festival. This includes students from 31 schools in 6 counties in Kentucky and Indiana. Selected plays for the festival were chosen by a group of 37 readers, made up of Actors Theatre staff and volunteers. The winning playwrights represent seven different high schools.

This year’s festival marks the first time a winner has been chosen from Central High School.

The festival is produced by the Learning & Creative Engagement team at Actors Theatre. Each piece is assigned a director, dramaturg, design team, and group of actors from the Professional Training Company (PTC), who work in conjunction with the playwrights to bring these pieces to life. Together, each team participates in workshops, production meetings, and a full rehearsal process before the festival in April. Each year, the plays produced in the festival are also published in the New Voices Young Playwrights Anthology.

To reserve tickets to review, to request images or for any other press inquiries, please contact Elizabeth Greenfield, Director of Communications, [email protected].

Actors Theatre’s Professional Training Company is generously supported by a significant grant from The Roy Cockrum Foundation. The $1.2 million award supports grants over a ten-year period for each apprentice during the nine-month program, and enables year-round employment for the program’s leadership. Founded by Roy Cockrum, the Foundation supports world-class performing arts projects in not-for-profit professional theatres throughout the United States. The Foundation considers grants by invitation only and is dedicated to helping non-profit theatres reach beyond their normal scope of activities and undertake ambitious and creative productions. 

The selections for this year’s 15th Annual New Voices Young Playwrights Festival

Once Upon a Breakroom
by Alexandra Rapp (Mercy High School)

The Bow and Its Arrow
by Jocelynn Pry (Brown High School)

Posthumous Mishaps
by J.C. Hyde (Floyd Central High School)

His Lesson
by Lita Van (Atherton High School)

Sister Shook
by Skylar Wooden (Central High School)

Waffle Angel
by Aiden Kash (St. Francis High School)

by Katie Dobson (Ballard High School)

Postmodern Dad
by Ethan Bower (Salem High School)

Honorable Mentions:
A Bite of Strange Fruit
by Olivia Benford (Moore High School)

by Islan F (Brooklawn)    

Listing Information


15th New Voices Young Playwrights Festival
An Evening of New Work
Written by local high school students
Sponsored by the LG&E and KU Energy Foundation.
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 W. Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Bingham Theatre

Press Opening
Tuesday, April 27
7:00 p.m.
Bingham Theatre

April 27, 28, 29 at 7:00 p.m.
Tickets are $5.
Tickets will be available starting in April.

Call the Box Office at 502.584.1205 or visit

To reserve tickets to review, to request images or for any other press inquiries, please contact Elizabeth Greenfield, Director of Communications, [email protected]About Learning & Creative Engagement at Actors Theatre of Louisville
Erica Denise, Director of Learning & Creative Engagement
Janelle Renee Dunn, Learning & Creative Engagement Associate 
Abigail Miskowiec, Learning & Creative Engagement Associate

As the home of the Humana Festival of New American Plays, Actors Theatre of Louisville is world-renowned for developing new work by playwrights with varying styles, interests, opinions and innovative approaches to making plays. Learning & Creative Engagement shares this energy and passion for playmaking by venturing into classrooms and teaching the art and craft of playwriting in fun, collaborative and differentiated ways.

By harnessing the wildly creative resources under its roof, the Learning & Creative Engagement department at Actors Theatre of Louisville aims to create outstanding artistic and learning experiences, where young people of all backgrounds, from elementary school to college, are invited to see plays and make theatre happen.

About the New Voices Playwriting Residency

Since its inception in 2003, the New Voices Playwriting Residency has introduced thousands of students from around the region to the basics of playwriting. Over the course of nine sessions, character development, conflict, dramatic structure and stakes are explored, as every student completes a ten-minute play. The Residency has inspired an annual New Voices Play Contest, a New Voices Young Playwrights Festival—fully produced by Learning & Creative Engagement and the Professional Training Company—and published New Voices anthologies of student-written work.

About the Professional Training Company
Jonathan Ruiz, Professional Training Company Producer

Now in its 48thyear, the Professional Training Company (PTC) is the cornerstone of Actors Theatre of Louisville’s commitment to education. One of the nation’s oldest pre-professional training programs, the PTC is a one-of-a-kind immersive program designed to elevate early-career practitioners in the American theatre industry by teaching the business and art of being a theatre professional. Members of the Company work directly with Actors Theatre artistic, administrative and production staff leaders as well as visiting guest artists, to receive hands-on training in their respective fields. The PTC is a diverse ensemble comprised of 39 talented individuals who are the next generation of American theatre. 

About Actors Theatre of Louisville
Robert Barry Fleming, Artistic Director

Now in its 56th Season, Actors Theatre of Louisville, the State Theatre of Kentucky, is the flagship arts organization in the Louisville community. Actors Theatre serves to unlock human potential, build community, and enrich quality of life by engaging people in theatre that reflects the wonder and complexity of our time.

Actors Theatre presents almost 350 performances annually and delivers a broad range of programming, including classics and contemporary work through the Brown-Forman Series, holiday plays, a series of theatrical events produced by the Professional Training Company, and the Humana Festival of New American Plays—the premier new play festival in the nation, which has introduced more than 450 plays into the American theatre repertoire over the past 43 years. In addition, Actors Theatre provides over 15,000 arts experiences each year to students across the region through its Learning & Creative Engagement Department, and boasts one of the nation’s most prestigious continuing pre-professional resident training companies, now in its 48th year.

Over the past half-century, Actors Theatre has also emerged as one of America’s most consistently innovative professional theatre companies, with an annual attendance of 140,000. Actors Theatre has been the recipient of some of the most prestigious awards bestowed on a regional theatre, including a Tony Award for Distinguished Achievement, the James N. Vaughan Memorial Award for Exceptional Achievement and Contribution to the Development of Professional Theatre, and the Margo Jones Award for the Encouragement of New Plays. Actors Theatre has toured to 29 cities and 15 countries worldwide, totaling more than 1,400 appearances internationally.

Currently, there are more than 50 published books of plays and criticism from Actors Theatre in circulation—including anthologies of Humana Festival plays, volumes of ten-minute plays, monologues, essays, scripts, and lectures from the Brown-Forman Classics in Context Festival. Numerous plays first produced at Actors Theatre have also been published as individual acting editions, and have been printed in many other anthologies, magazines, and journals—making an enduring contribution to American dramatic literature.

You can find more information at

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Survey: High School Students Are Tired, Bored, And Stressed



image attribution flickr user Tulane Public Relations

by TeachThought Staff

Researchers from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and the Yale Child Study Center surveyed 21,678 American high school students and found that nearly 75% of the students’ emotions about school were negative.

Yale News published recently the results from the survey–with co-author and research scientist Zorana Ivcevic admitting that the percentage was surprising.

“It was higher than we expected,” Ivcevic explained. “We know from talking to students that they are feeling tired, stressed, and bored, but were surprised by how overwhelming it was.”

The article continued to break down the gist: High school students are tried–and not just tired, but stressed and bored:

“They are on the positive side of zero,” Ivcevic said, “but they are not energized or enthusiastic.” Feeling “interested” or “curious,” she noted, would reveal a high level of engagement that is predictive of deeper and more enduring learning.”

It continued, “In the open-ended responses, the most common emotion students reported was tired (58%). The next most-reported emotions — all just under 50% — were stressed, bored, calm, and happy. The ratings scale supported the findings, with students reporting feeling stressed (79.83%) and bored (69.51%) the most. When those feelings are examined with more granularity, said Ivcevic, they reveal something interesting. The most-cited positive descriptions–calm and happy–are vague.”

We investigated students’ feelings at high school in a nation-wide survey of 21,678 US students (study 1), and in a four-week study using experience sampling methodology (ESM) with 472 students across 5 high schools (study 2).

Abstract Excerpt

Study Highlights

75% of all feelings students reported in their open-ended responses were negative.

Feeling tired was the most prominent feeling, across measures and samples.

Negative feelings about school prevailed across all demographic groups.

Survey Takeaways

We’ve explored emotion as a cause and effect of learning for years–even going as far as to suggest that emotion is more important than understanding. when Terry Heick explained, “While you look for your students’ attention and try to cause engagement, it’s their emotion you need to skillfully identify, navigate and masterfully manipulate.”

In general, the survey is data that reports what most teachers already know: Students are tired and, mostly, bored. And stressed. The conclusions we take away from this data are more critical–and we might consider answering some of the following questions:

Why exactly are students bored? Content? Learning models? Pacing? Their expectations? Pressure? Agency and ownership (or lack thereof)? The survey looked at demographic data. Are there any co-relations with learning models, teacher experience, content areas, letter grades, and said boredom/tiredness/stress?

What are the primary causes of the ‘tiredness’? Mental health? Engagemet? Sleep quality? Sleep duration? (The former could be psychological while the latter more behaviorial.)

What is the impact of negative emotions not just on academic performance but the long-term quality of life for ‘students’ (i.e., young human beings)?

And maybe most critically and broadly, in the face of this data, how should we respond?


“We investigated students’ feelings at high school in a nation-wide survey of 21,678 US students (study 1), and in a four-week study using experience sampling methodology (ESM) with 472 students across 5 high schools (study 2). Both studies combined mixed methods, including open-ended questions and rating scales (e.g., PANAS). In study 1, seventy-five percent of the feelings students reported in their responses to open-ended questions were negative. The three most frequently mentioned feelings were tired, stressed, and bored. Similar findings emerged with rated items, The prevalence of negative feelings was largely similar across demographic groups. Study 2 largely corroborated the findings from study 1. Although the retrospective measures showed similar results to study 1, the in-the-moment measures also showed frequent positive feelings. We discuss the findings in light of the ‘sleep deprivation epidemic,’ the achievement motivation literature, and implications for the validity of state- and trait measures of academic emotions.”

To analyze the data and methodology, you can download the full survey results here.

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