Tag Archives: Speaker

Student Perspective: A Visit (and Some Inspiration) from Penny Kittle

Bridget Sheppard is a current Master of Arts in Teaching student concentrating in Secondary English Education. This semester, the English MAT classroom was visited by a very special guest speaker, Penny Kittle, an English teacher, author, and student advocate. Bridget has graciously shared with us some of her thoughts and reflections on the experience. Read her words below!


There are those books you encounter that entirely change the way you see something–those moments of discovery that shift your perspective. For me, “Book Love” by Penny Kittle was one of those transformative books. So you can imagine my excitement when Ms. Kittle, also the author of “Write Beside Them,” visited Brown to talk with current English MATs, alumni, and local teachers.

During her presentation, Ms. Kittle shared more about her teaching philosophy: she believes that English class should be more focused on students discovering a love of books and of learning. She encourages this through a curriculum that has students each semester read one whole class novel, one option for a book club with other students, and their own independent reading.

As she showed us videos of her students discussing their reading and conferencing with her about books, it was clear how impactful this approach could be. One of her students in a video interview said he had never read any books for school before, but this year had read an entire stack of them–and the best part of this fact was the pride he had in saying it. What is so inspiring about Ms. Kittle is how she cares about and listens to her students and believes that they will find the books that resonate with them–they sense this belief she has in them and this love she has for books, and eventually, they believe it, too.

These moments of her students stood out to me among the million other ideas that stayed with me after the talk. I left Ms. Kittle’s presentation with enough enthusiasm and new ideas that I wanted to burst into a classroom the next morning and start trying them out right away. I wanted to try Draftback on Google Docs, I wanted to have students create their own reading ladders, I wanted to conference with students, I wanted to build up my own classroom library, I wanted to have book talks, and I wanted to have students freewrite and edit like we did on the idea of “Being 12” (sidenote: if you haven’t seen this video on YouTube, you should watch it–right after you finish reading this).

But most of all, I left wanting to see students discover the books that they love–the books that will make them fall in love with stories the way that Harry Potter did for me and did for my friend Hannah (Ms. Kittle’s daughter, who was also at the talk), the books that will then lead them to making friends with someone equally as enthused about them (because Harry Potter is part of the foundation of my friendship with Hannah–I’m refraining now from delving into an analysis of our Houses). I left wanting to put the ideas I learned from Ms. Kittle into practice, so that my students can find the books–like “Book Love” for me–that change the way they see the world.

Penny Kittle with English MATs, alumni, and local teachers

The Brown Education Department Speaker Series Presents Dr. Ansley Erickson

The Brown Department of Education hosted another installment of its Speaker Series last week, and was proud to feature Dr. Ansley T. Erickson, Assistant Professor of History and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. Erickson co­-directs the collaborative and digital historical research project Educating Harlem.​ Dr. Erickson is a graduate of Brown University, class of 1995, with a B.A. in Education Studies and Political Science.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As Dr. Erickson began her talk, she remarked how the classroom where we were assembled coincidentally held special significance for her. The lecture hall was the ​location of her first Brown University Education class, taught by the legendary education reform leader Ted Sizer, the Founding Director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform.  We were further honored to have the late Sizer’s wife, Nancy Faust Sizer, present in the audience for Dr. Erickson’s presentation.

American schools today are starkly segregated by race and class. After a few decades of limited attention to this problem, advocates are calling for a new era of desegregation. Dr. Erickson walked the group through her research on the history of desegregation in Nashville, Tennessee, one of the longest-­running, broadest, and most statistically successful school desegregation plans in the country, and indicated how her case study could offer important lessons, and at times cautions, for desegregation efforts going forward.

Dr. Erickson pointed out various systemic roadblocks to true integration. For example, despite the new illegality of school segregation in the 1960s, it continued to be unofficially enforced by the state due to federal suburban home financing only being available to white families. Once busing was introduced, a more genuine integration began, however this still raised the moral question of if a black student’s education was “equal” if they were systemically being told that in order to receive a quality education they must be removed from their communities.

Dr. Erickson argued that fostering equality today depends on reckoning with segregation’s deep roots, desegregation’s complex history, and considering these intricate questions.

The Brown Education Department Speaker Series Presents Dr. Luther Spoehr

The Brown Education Department Speaker Series kicked off this week, and was proud to feature Dr. Luther Spoehr, a Senior Lecturer in Education and History at Brown University, and the Director of Brown Undergraduate Studies. Spoehr’s main activities at Brown involve teaching about the history of American higher education and the history of American school reform. His First-Year Seminar, “Campus on Fire,” looks at American colleges and universities in the 1960s. Other courses include a survey of the history of American higher education, the history of intercollegiate athletics, and the history of academic freedom. Dr. Spoehr also does work on best practices in the teaching of history and frequently consults with schools and school systems that want to improve their history teaching.

This Wednesday, Dr. Spoehr delivered a presentation to the Department of Education entitled “Francis and Ira’s (Sometimes) Excellent Adventures: Wayland, Magaziner, and Curriculum Reform at Brown,” a talk outlining the research Spoehr has conducted into Brown’s curriculum journey since the University’s founding in 1764.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dr. Spoehr began by discussing the University’s roots as a small school of approximately 80 male students, being taught Latin and the classics by a single professor, and then touched upon the (at the time) outlandish reforms implemented by President Francis Wayland in the 1800’s, allowing for modern languages and practical skills such as agriculture, and science and chemistry applied to the arts. These reforms were considered a failure initially, supposedly attracting a lower caliber of students, but today are frequently sited as being “ahead of their time”.

Brown University’s “New Curriculum” of no required core curriculum or distribution requirements was not born until the 1960’s, when student activists led by undergraduate Ira Magaziner (whom Dr. Spoehr has had the privilege of interviewing for his research) pushed for more engaging and utilitarian courses. Elements of Magaziner’s New Curriculum exist to this day at Brown University, and current faculty in the audience remarked that it is because of the lack of requirements at Brown that they can be sure that when they walk into a classroom, their students want to be there.