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Marshall Memo 886

In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“Perhaps the greatest tragedy to come from Covid-related distance learning would be not learning from this experience to improve our teaching when we physically return to classrooms.”

John Hattie (see item #5)

“Students want to come back to school – to see their friends. But after they see their friends, how long will they want to submit to a structure that they have not had for a year and a half? Getting up at 7:00 a.m., classes that last 45 to 90 minutes, three-minute passing periods between classes, sitting in a seat with no food or drink allowed in class, and no access to social media?”

Ruby Payne (see item #4)

“To learn deeply, students need to interact with content, e.g., by linking new information with prior knowledge, wrestling with questions and problems, considering different points of view, and trying to apply their learning to novel situations.”

Harvey Silver and Jay McTighe (see item #6)

“The chicken and the egg sit together in the barn. We lead for specific changes in practice, and at the same time surface the beliefs from which they stem.”

Jon Saphier (see item #1)

“Leveraging the power of poetry is one way to inspire hope. Whether by reading and discussing a poem together before diving into a brainstorming session, or coming to a work session with a poem that inspires them, principals need to make space for harnessing the poetic imagination.”

Sarah Pazur in “The Principal’s Dream Work” in Phi Delta Kappan, May 2021 (Vol.

102, #8, pp. 58-59); Pazur can be reached at

1. Jon Saphier on Courageous School Leadership

In this article from Research for Better Teaching, PD guru Jon Saphier presents six propositions on the courage and skill it takes to move a school to truly equitable outcomes:

• Proposition #1 – “Raising student achievement significantly means large-scale change in teaching practice at the classroom level and high-level team work at grade levels,” says Saphier. Effective improvement initiatives aim directly or indirectly at what happens every day in classrooms.

• Proposition #2 – Reform initiatives that succeed are grounded in a set of core beliefs. Here are the most important ones:

– Academic ability is malleable. Children may be way behind right now, but it’s not a lack of innate ability that’s holding them back.

– We are individually responsible for seeing to it that each and every one of our students masters the objectives of our lessons and units.

– We are collectively responsible and able to get all our students to proficiency, which means we are interdependent with our teaching colleagues.

– There is an extensive and authoritative knowledge base on expert teaching.

– For many children of poverty, part of educators’ job is instilling motivation where it is lacking.

– We must use evidence of student learning on a daily basis to reteach what students didn’t master the first time.

– Being observed by colleagues, and non-defensive reflection on one’s teaching, are helpful practices.

These tenets are essential to the work, but are not often explicitly discussed by educators.

• Proposition #3 – The inertia of business-as-usual teaching and unproductive team meetings is strong, and it takes determined leadership to push for better practices, including:

– Constant checking for understanding during instruction;

– Daily error analysis of what students didn’t understand;

– Frequent, detailed, non-judgmental feedback to students that helps them identify mistakes and misconceptions;

– Helping students believe they can grow their own academic ability;

– Teaching students how to exert effective effort when learning doesn’t come easily;

– Frequent teacher team analysis of student work on common assessments, with colleagues helping each other design teaching and reteaching strategies;

– Using a variety of cognitive tools to make ideas vivid and clear.

“The scale of this change and the very large inertia of sticking with the status quo,” says Saphier, “combines with the identity threat to millions of teachers whose self-esteem is invested in continuing to do business as they always have.” The good news is that many teachers already operate on the beliefs listed above. For others, starting to implement new practices can bring about changes in their beliefs – especially with good leadership and support from colleagues.

• Proposition #4 – Leadership that changes mediocre and ineffective practices involves shifting from the “language of suggestions” – for example:

– I wonder if it would make sense to…

– Do you think it would be a good idea if…

– Have you thought about trying…

to the “language of urgency and expectations” – for example:

– We’ve got to figure out more ways to…

– We have to get more…

– What the kids need from us is that we…

Strong instructional leadership must include acknowledging that these changes are difficult, being humble about not knowing everything, reaching out to other leaders, and listening to the views and worries of teachers.

• Proposition #5 – Large-scale improvement of classroom instruction requires explicit discussion of the key beliefs. “The chicken and the egg sit together in the barn,” says Saphier. “We lead for specific changes in practice, and at the same time surface the beliefs from which they stem.” Leaders have to contend with doubts and fears:

– Fear of being disliked, discounted as “too idealistic,” or losing relationships;

– Fear of conflict;

– Fear of failure;

– Fear of being fired;

– Fear of being revealed as incompetent;

– Fear of being shallow;

– Fear of the hard work involved – and exhaustion.

“It takes courage to push through these fears,” says Saphier, “courage to face resistance and to cause the inevitable discomfort.”

• Proposition #6 – We know what it takes to grow courage, because “courage can be grown; it’s not inborn.”

– Be clear on what your deepest and most strongly held beliefs are and how strongly you hold them.

– Name and face your fears.

– Decide what you’ll hold yourself accountable for – and what you won’t.

– Develop your self-awareness and ability to be mindful in stressful moments.

– Learn key skills of communication and change.

– Work with your network of contacts and supervisors and communicate your plan well.

– Have a professional support group that gives you practice and feedback.

“The Courage to Lead” by Jon Saphier, Research for Better Teaching, April 2021; Saphier can be reached at

2. An Unfortunate Tendency in PLC Meetings

In this article in Phi Delta Kappan, Melanie Bertrand (Arizona State University) and Julie Marsh (University of Southern California) report on what they observed in teacher data meetings in a number of urban, suburban, and rural middle schools. “Time and again,” they say, “when reviewing test scores and other data, teachers would refer to the supposedly inherent deficits of emergent bilingual students, students with disabilities, and other student populations. Instead of reflecting on their own classroom instruction or asking what the school could do to support those children more effectively, many teachers were quick to conclude that the children were themselves to blame for their performance, by virtue of their categorization.” In one seventh-grade team meeting, a teacher said that ELL students were “literal learners” and that “those kinds of kids” had difficulty with abstract and metaphorical thinking.

The idea behind PLCs is to focus on learning problems revealed by interim assessments, analyze why students are struggling, and share (or invent) teaching strategies that help students do better. But too many teachers, say Bertrand and Marsh, are looking at student data with a deficit mindset, in essence blaming students for the historic inequities, special needs, or language barriers that impede their performance. The result is lower expectations for those students and a failure to use PLCs to improve teaching and learning.

Part of the blame, say Bertrand and Marsh, is state and federal policies that lead educators to think of students in categories like “basic” and “far below basic” and exert pressure to improve test scores so poor-performing students move to a higher category. “‘Looking at data’,” say the authors, “tends to mean looking for ways to boost the scores of certain subgroups, lest the whole school be sanctioned.”

Bertrand and Marsh offer two suggestions for turning around this unfortunate dynamic in data meetings:

• Provide the broader context. Training, coaching, and facilitation of PLCs should speak explicitly about the historical roots of student achievement gaps and the role that unconscious bias can play in pigeonholing students and explaining away poor performance. Teacher teams should be continuously reminded that it’s not enough to disaggregate assessment data; the essence of this work is to identify teaching strategies and curriculum materials that improve student performance.

• Eschew tracking. Using assessment data to track students results in groupings “that do not often change and that severely limit opportunities for students in the ‘low’ tracks,” say Bertrand and Marsh. Far better, they believe, is differentiating instruction and using flexible, temporary groupings that address specific needs. In several of the middle schools they observed, the researchers noticed a particularly effective practice: teachers helped students analyze their own learning data, set goals, and choose from several learning activities to boost their performance.

These two suggestions are particularly important, conclude Bertrand and Marsh, as schools return to in-person instruction after the disruptions of the pandemic.

“How Data-Driven Reform Can Drive Deficit Thinking” by Melanie Bertrand and Julie Marsh in Phi Delta Kappan, May 2021 (Vol. 102, #8, pp. 35-39); the authors can be reached at and

3. Online “Mastermind” Groups for School Leaders

In this article on The Main Idea website, Jenn David-Lang says school leaders are hungry for professional development, but receive less than other educators – which may explain some of the attrition we’re seeing among administrators. While schools were closed during the pandemic, David-Lang had an idea: why not involve groups of administrators in Masterminds, an online version of accountable, results-focused teacher PLCs? The term Masterminds was coined almost 100 years ago by author Napoleon Hill, but has only recently found its way into the world of K-12 schools.

Here’s how David-Lang and her colleague Mitch Center have implemented the concept. They’re running several year-long Mastermind groups, each with about eight school- and district-based leaders from varied locations (“from Baltimore to Bangkok,” says David-Lang). Groups meet twice a month via Zoom to learn new ideas, share strategies, solve problems, and support one another. The one-hour meetings go quickly, following this structure:

• Check-ins – Everyone briefly shares a struggle or a win. “Getting an inside view of how everyone is doing and what is going on at each other’s schools builds trust,” says David-Lang; “principals are rarely given space to share how they’re honestly doing without the need to put on their ‘principal face.’”

• Goal sharing – In two-person breakout rooms, members report on a goal they committed to in a shared Google Doc at the end of the previous session. This provides continuity from meeting to meeting and keeps people accountable for actions to which they have committed.

• New content – David-Lang and Center share a one-page summary of ideas or research on their screens and everyone reads it silently. A recent example: a synthesis of five mindset shifts described in a recent book on unconscious bias by Sarah Fiarman and Tracey Benson. David-Lang and Center then facilitate a discussion of the ideas, sometimes regrouping into two breakout rooms, or participants fill out a shared graphic organizer.

• Think tank – One member presents a real-life dilemma, including the background and context of the problem (one example: dealing with a new assistant principal who is not garnering respect from colleagues). Other members ask clarifying questions, and then the presenter remains silent while the rest of the team discusses the issue and suggests possible solutions. Finally, the presenter recaps those ideas and thinks out loud about the ones that seem most likely to work.

• One Big Thing (OBT) – In the Chat area, there’s a link to a shared Google Sheet with a row for each member, and they write their biggest takeaways from the session. This makes available to everyone the collective learning from the reading, discussion, and problem-solving. This segment was inspired by John Dewey’s insight that true understanding comes not from doing, but from reflecting on what’s been done.

• Committing to a goal. Each session ends with each member writing a commitment for specific action, to be reviewed at the beginning of the next meeting.

Reflecting on a year of leading Mastermind groups, David-Lang looked up the criteria for effective professional development compiled by Linda Darling-Hammond and colleagues. It turned out that her groups were meeting every one of them:

– Focused on content;

– Incorporating active learning;

– Supporting collaboration;

– Using models of effective practice;

– Providing coaching and expert support;

– Offering opportunities for feedback and reflection;

– Sustained over time.

“While my co-facilitator and I have coached school leaders individually,” says David-Lang, “we were immediately struck by the exponential power of coaching that comes from all members sharing their own learned strategies and diverse perspectives… It is the collective wisdom, energy, and passion that truly distinguishes Masterminds from other forms of PD for educational leaders.”

While the sessions have been particularly valuable during the disruptions of the pandemic, David-Lang believes they should continue to be an important forum in the new normal.

“Masterminds: When PL Meets PLC” by Jenn David-Lang, The Main Idea, May 2021; David-Lang can be reached at

4. Reasons for Teenagers to Come to School – and Keep Coming

“Students want to come back to school – to see their friends,” says Ruby Payne (Aha! Process) in this article in Principal Leadership. “But after they see their friends, how long will they want to submit to a structure that they have not had for a year and a half? Getting up at 7:00 a.m., classes that last 45 to 90 minutes, three-minute passing periods between classes, sitting in a seat with no food or drink allowed in class, and no access to social media?” On top of all that, students may be dealing with mental health challenges and trauma. Many teachers have dialed back their expectations, giving good grades for just handing in work – and students have learned they can get a day’s work done by noon.

So how are educators going to keep students coming back after the initial round of camaraderie? Focusing on secondary-school students, Payne suggests the following:

• Build a future story. She likes the idea of a nine-box storyboard in which students picture themselves at age 25 and think about what they want to have, be, and do:

– High-school diploma

– College, technical school, or military

– Work (What do you love to do that you would do even if you didn’t get paid?)

– Car or other vehicle

– Pay/money

– House/apartment

– Friends

– Relationships/marriage

– Fun/hobbies

Having found images for each box, students think about their plan to get to their desired future – and how classes in school right now are part of that plan.

• Create opportunities for belonging and relationships. An example: one high-school principal shaved a couple of minutes off each class and scheduled 20 minutes of socialization time right after first period when clubs met and students were allowed to be on their cellphones, talk, and eat. One catch: students could participate only if their grades, attendance, and tardies were at an acceptable level.

• Organize consistent mentors. “Each student should have a key relationship with an adult on staff who makes daily contact and does not give up on them,” says Payne. If a student doesn’t have at least one adult serving this purpose in their life, the school mentor spends 3-4 minutes talking to them every day.

• Access support systems. The school must ensure that students who are struggling with homelessness, abuse, emotional and mental health issues, and housing insecurity connect with professionals in the school and community agencies that can help them.

“Getting Students to Come Back – and Remain – for In-Person Learning” by Ruby Payne in Principal Leadership, May 2021 (Vol. 21, #9, pp. 22-23)

5. John Hattie on Continuing Practices That Worked During the Pandemic

(Originally titled “What Can We Learn from Covid-Era Instruction?”)

“Perhaps the greatest tragedy to come from Covid-related distance learning would be not learning from this experience to improve our teaching when we physically return to classrooms,” says research guru John Hattie (University of Melbourne) in this article in Educational Leadership. Hattie points to several positive developments he hopes will continue:

• Focusing on equity – The pandemic dramatically highlighted gaps in technology and access, and some progress was made. As in-person schooling resumes, Hattie urges that we double down, “shifting from measuring seat time to learning engagement; prioritizing assessments that illuminate student growth and learning; supporting acceleration in learning, not remediation; and identifying safe, culturally responsive practices.”

• Listening to the troops – What succeeded over the last 15 months – rapid adaptation to new technology and new instructional practices – did not happen because of top-down mandates but through the initiative and ingenuity of teachers and other school-based educators. In the future, Hattie hopes that district leaders will be more willing to listen to their teachers and build collaborative teams.

• Self-regulation – Remote and hybrid instruction put a premium on teachers and students working more independently. “Teachers who talked a lot in class, asked questions that required less-than-three-word responses, and focused myopically on the facts and content had trouble engaging learners remotely,” says Hattie. Students who already possessed (or picked up) the skills of independent learning thrived, as did teachers who focused on content and deep learning, taught in engaging ways, and gradually released responsibility. He urges educators to continue those practices in the new normal.

• Connections – Many educators used online tools to communicate more effectively with families and get them invested in deeper learning for their children. Teachers also had to get a better handle on how students were thinking, what they already knew, and what mastery of skills and content looked like. All of this should make teaching and learning more efficient and effective in post-Covid schools.

“What Can We Learn from Covid-Era Instruction?” by John Hattie in Educational Leadership, May 2021 (Vol. 78, #8, pp. 14-17); Hattie can be reached at

6. “Learning Loss” – Wrong and Right Solutions

In this online article, Harvey Silver and Jay McTighe worry that “lost learning” is an unfortunate way to define the challenge schools face as they reopen for in-person instruction. By framing the challenge as instructional time lost, there’s a tendency to think the solution is rapidly covering the curriculum that students missed – which has two downsides. “At the classroom level,” say Silver and McTighe, “this solution could take the form of cutting out any of those time-consuming learning activities such as discussions, debates, hands-on science investigations, art creation, and authentic performance tasks and projects” – instead “trying to blitz through lots of factual information.”

Rather than focusing on the content that wasn’t covered during remote and hybrid instruction, they propose two more-productive approaches:

• Prioritizing the curriculum on outcomes that matter the most – A simple but effective way to accomplish this is preceding the title of each curriculum unit with the words, A study in… Several examples:

– The calendar – A study in systems

– Linear equations – A study in mathematical modeling

– Media literacy – A study in critical thinking

– Any sport – A study in technique

– Argumentation – A study in craftsmanship

Preceding a unit title with those three words, say Silver and McTighe, “establishes a conceptual lens to focus learning on transferable ideas, rather than isolated facts or discrete skills.”

It’s also helpful to frame the unit around Essential Questions. For the five units above, here are some possibilities:

– How is the calendar a system? What makes a system a system?

– How can mathematics model or represent change? What are the limits of a mathematical model?

– Can I trust this source? How do I know what to believe in what I read, hear, and view?

– Why does technique matter? How can I achieve maximum power without losing control?

– What makes an argument convincing? How do you craft a persuasive argument?

Well-framed Essential Questions are open-ended, stimulate thinking, discussions, and debate, and raise additional questions.

• Engaging learners in deeper learning that will endure – “To learn deeply,” say Silver and McTighe, “students need to interact with content, e.g., by linking new information with prior knowledge, wrestling with questions and problems, considering different points of view, and trying to apply their learning to novel situations.” The most important skills are comparing, conceptualizing, reading for understanding, predicting and hypothesizing, perspective-taking, and exercising empathy.

A kindergarten example: challenging students to predict how high they can stack blocks before a tower falls down, then having them try different hypotheses and see what works best, and note the success factors. “This focus on cause and effect will become a yearlong inquiry for students,” say Silver and McTighe, “as they learn to use it to examine scientific phenomena, characters’ behavior in stories, and even their own attitudes and motivations as learners.” (The full article, linked below, includes a middle-school unit on genetically modified food and a high-school unit comparing the educational philosophies of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois.)

This two-part approach to curriculum is not just “a stopgap measure tied to current anxieties about learning loss,” conclude Silver and McTighe: “Framing content around big ideas and actively engaging students in powerful forms of thinking is good practice – in any year, under any conditions.”

“Learning Loss: Are We Defining the Problem Correctly?” by Harvey Silver and Jay McTighe on McTighe’s website, May 7, 2021; McTighe can be reached at

7. Can School Climate Data Be Part of Accountability?

In this article in Phi Delta Kappan, Deborah Temkin, Joy Thompson, Alex Gabriel, Emily Fulks, Sarah Sun, and Yosmary Rodriguez (ChildTrends) say that nonacademic factors are getting more attention since the 2015 ESSA legislation, which required state accountability reports to go beyond ELA and math test scores, English language proficiency, student progress in those areas, and graduation rates. This was an opening to give school climate a more prominent role in K-12 conversations, but by 2019, only eight states had it in their ESSA accountability plans (five others planned to measure school climate, but not for accountability).

Why the hesitancy? Because, say Temkin et al., there’s a paucity of tools that reliably measure school climate and track progress over time. Here are the methodological concerns:

– A survey might provide accurate measures of individual students’ perceptions of climate, but combining those into an overall school measure might not be valid.

– An aggregate climate score can mask critical differences between and within schools.

– The survey might not measure all subgroups, including LGBTQ+ students, who are often victims of a negative school climate.

– Most surveys rely on students’ subjective, self-reported impressions, which might be vulnerable to adults’ attempts to influence students and game the system.

– The survey might have a low response rate, giving a distorted measure of opinion.

– Definitions of school climate vary from researcher to researcher, and states might select a particular survey that they believe will make their schools look good.

“The limitations of existing school climate surveys should come as no surprise,” say Temkin et al., “given how new most of these tools are.”

But it’s important, the authors believe, “to hold schools accountable to the goal of providing every child with a healthy environment in which to learn and grow.” They have these suggestions for measuring climate in ways that are valid, reliable, and comparable:

• Picking a high-quality survey and ensuring broad participation.

• Analyzing the variance in survey scores within schools – Here’s an example of why this is important: two schools have the same average climate score of 8, but in one school, there’s little variation among students’ scores (they all cluster between 7 and 9), whereas in the other school, there’s wide variation, with some students giving scores of 3 and 4 and others 9 and 10. In the second school, some students are happy with the climate while others are having a very different experience, indicating a need to take a closer look at what’s going on.

• Combining climate surveys with independent, structured observations – This involves people who have no personal stake in the school’s reputation systematically observing classrooms, corridors, lunchrooms, and other public spaces and scoring them on a rubric. “Unlike student surveys,” say Temkin et al., “this approach comes with no risk that the results will be skewed because school leaders have tried to influence students’ ratings, or because certain students have chosen to skip it. Further, structured observations can make it easier to measure school climate consistently from one school to another, since the same observers, using the same rubrics, can visit many classrooms at many schools.”

“Toward Better Ways of Measuring School Climate” by Deborah Temkin, Joy Thompson, Alex Gabriel, Emily Fulks, Sarah Sun, and Yosmary Rodriguez in Phi Delta Kappan, May 2021 (Vol. 102, #8, pp. 52-57); Temkin can be reached at

8. Recommended Children’s Books on the AAPI Experience

In this Edutopia article, Monisha Bajaj (University of San Francisco) recommends books that help students explore historical and contemporary experiences of Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities. “While windows and mirrors offer opportunities for exploring and reflecting on cultural traditions, holidays, goods, and ways of life that are all extremely important,” says Bajaj, “the prism, when applied to children’s literature, presents the chance to critically analyze inequalities and injustices in age-appropriate ways.” Her choices (click the link below for cover images, short reviews, and educator guides):

Grades K-2:

– Ohana Means Family by Ilima Loomis, illustrated by Kenard Pak

– Always Anjali by Sheetal Sheth, illustrated by Jessica Blank

– Fish for Jimmy by Katie Yamasaki

– Danbi Leads the School Parade by Anna Kim

– Paper Son: The Inspiring Story of Tyrus Wong, Immigrant and Artist by Julie Leung, illustrated by Chris Sasaki

Grades 3-6:

– The Paper Boat: A Refugee Story illustrated by Thao Lam

– Journey for Justice: The Life of Larry Itliong by Dawn Bohulano Mabalon and Gayle Romasanta, illustrated by Andre Sibayan

– Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi, illustrated by Yutaka Houlette

– The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

“Incorporating Asian-American and Pacific Islander Experiences in Elementary School” by Monisha Bajaj in Edutopia, April 28, 2021; Bajaj can be reached at

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Marshall Memo 885

In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“Many school leaders turn away from conflict and never realize its potential for promoting growth rather than disorder.”

Robert Feirsen and Seth Weitzman (see item #3)

“The problem of education reform is not a lack of good ideas, but a lack of good ideas sensibly implemented.”

Robert Slavin in “Reading by Third Grade – or Else” August 15, 2014

“Teenagers’ social media worlds promise connection yet frequently inspire anxiety and isolation.”

Andrew Simmons in “Using Literature to Help Teens Develop Healthy Relationships”

in Edutopia, April 26, 2021

“Returning to my classroom, some students have forgotten how to carry on a face-to-face conversation. They’re rusty. And now they’re relearning how to treat friends, belong to a community that’s been ephemeral, and, yes, court each other. They are probably more aware of their bodies now, and more insecure, having spent a year considering what their cameras capture in daily Zooms.”

Andrew Simmons (ibid.)

“Helping students emerge as better social citizens should feel as pressing as any academic standard, for the benefit of students, their loved ones, their communities, and the troubled world they’ll inherit. The almost-adults who act bravely, kindly, and with self-awareness in love and friendship are more likely to do so elsewhere. It’s hardly referenced in school mission statements, but American institutions need them badly.”

Andrew Simmons (ibid.)

1. Robert Pondiscio on What It Means to Be an Antiracist Educator

In this Education Gadfly article, Robert Pondiscio remembers the reasons he began teaching in high-poverty New York City classrooms almost 20 years ago – the “manifest unfairness” of educational opportunities for children of color – and lists the criteria for effective teaching to which he aspired: “holding every pupil to high standards and expectations for academics and classroom conduct; offering a rich and rigorous curriculum, taught as engagingly as possible; and fostering a school culture and climate that valorizes student achievement.” He believes that “children do not fail; rather, adults fail children when schools do not deliver any or all of these ingredients.”

Pondiscio says that in recent years, he’s become increasingly uncomfortable with the messages that some antiracist activists and trainers are conveying in schools. Here are his points of disagreement:

• Aspiring to move beyond race – Dr. King’s dream that his children should be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character “resonates as both a calling and a statement of the highest American aspirations,” says Pondiscio. “If I define ‘equity’ as working toward an America where race no longer describes or limits us; if I reject the idea… that to be white is to be inherently racist and a beneficiary of unearned privileges; if I hold to a definition of racism that is manifested in behavior, not an immutable characteristic of my race over which I have no control, am I no longer fit to teach black and brown children?”

• Addressing academic achievement gaps – Pondiscio takes exception to Ibram X. Kendi’s contention that talking about achievement gaps is inherently racist. There are flaws in standardized tests, says Pondiscio, but he believes test data have spotlighted shameful variations in the quality of education and brought “vast amounts of resources and moral authority” to improving school outcomes for those who were being shortchanged. “Discrediting any reference to a racial achievement gap is counterproductive to the interests of students of color,” he says, and cites a statement in which the NAACP, National Urban League, La Raza, and nine other civil rights groups said that test data “are critical for understanding whether and where there is equal opportunity.”

• Discomfort but not shame – Effective teaching sometimes confronts students with ideas and information that make them uncomfortable, even upset, says Pondiscio, and he believes that’s a good thing. But teaching should never upset students “because of who they are or what they look like,” he continues. “No element of ethical classroom practice should allow inflicting intentional harm or emotional distress on students – rich or poor, black or white – or seek to make a virtue of it… Neither should we encourage in children a sense of insurmountable oppression, victimhood, or grievance – the very opposite of the uplifting formation of mind and character that education should aspire to.”

• Teaching essential knowledge and skills – Every child in U.S. schools should see their history, heritage, and culture reflected in classroom content and the books they are assigned to read, says Pondiscio. But he believes the push to “decolonize” the curriculum has gone too far and will end up holding back children of color. “A clear-eyed view of language proficiency obligates us to expose children to the full range of taken-for-granted knowledge that their fellow citizens possess,” he says. “At present, that requires familiarity with a substantial (if perhaps declining) amount of Western thought, literature, history, science, and art. To pretend otherwise is to risk cementing disadvantage in place, or to embrace a separatist impulse.” Close reasoning, the written word, and objectivity are not “white” practices being imposed on black and brown children, he contends; they are essential to opportunity and success in America.

• The role of white teachers – Recruiting and supporting educators of color “is an unambiguous benefit” and a top priority, says Pondiscio. But can’t “committed teachers of all races work together to advance educational opportunity? If the answer is no, something has gone very wrong.” He tells the story of an effective, experienced white teacher (“not a naïve young recruit with a savior complex”) who feels she’s being pushed out of her New York City school by its “aggressive diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda… Nothing about her teaching or relationship with students has changed, but she has gone from being a valued colleague to a figure of suspicion merely because of her race.”

• Making a difference – “What if I believe that fixing institutions that routinely fail black and brown children is just as important as changing racial attitudes?” Pondiscio asks. “If I do not believe that white supremacy is the primary stumbling block to educational progress, if I think that literacy – not antiracism – is the last word in educational equity, if I’m unwilling to accept uncritically the new antiracism orthodoxy, am I still welcome in classrooms where all or most of the students are not white?” He says he became a teacher not to be a social engineer dedicated to dismantling systemic racism but to improve the life chances of his students.

• Parents’ perspective – “What are the non-negotiable beliefs that a teacher must have to stand in front of a classroom where all or most of the students are black or brown?” Pondiscio asks. “What beliefs are disqualifying? Let’s ask parents of color. In the view of many teachers, effective education for all children means high standards and expectations, both academically and behaviorally. That meets my test for antiracist education. But does it meet yours? Would you feel comfortable with me as your child’s teacher?”

“I Believe ‘Antiracism’ Is Misguided. Can I Still Teach Black Children?” by Robert Pondiscio in Education Gadfly, April 29, 2021

2. Substantive Actions and Words on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

In this Chronicle of Higher Education article, Kim Brettschneider (WittKieffer) and Dallas Grundy (University of Akron) say that nowadays it’s common for job applicants to be asked the “DEI question.” One version: How have you advanced your values of diversity, equity, and inclusion? “Answering in a meaningful way is not a matter of mastering the most up-to-date lingo or checking the right boxes,” say Brettschneider and Grundy. What thoughtful employers want is “candidates who have clearly defined DEI values and who are living up to them in real and significant ways.”

“How you answer this question has the potential to do much more than just help or hurt your interview,” continue the authors. “By thinking critically about, and engaging earnestly with, the DEI question, you are helping advance an important conversation that may create better, healthier institutions for everyone.” Speaking from their experience observing hundreds of job interviews, Brettschneider and Grundy suggest three steps to answer the question well:

• Write down your personal definition of DEI. This should speak to your experience and values – why this matters and what you’ve done – and mention mentors and role models who have influenced you. After running the statement by critical friends, it’s a good idea to include it with your application, even if it’s not specifically requested.

• Be specific. Brettschneider and Grundy suggest thinking backwards from the ultimate goal – creating an environment where diverse professional talent can thrive for the benefit of all – and listing actions you’ve taken, or would take, to make that happen – including hiring, budget allocations, mentoring, coaching, inviting “productive disagreement” and “uncomfortable conversations,” and disrupting entrenched inequalities.

• Map out an authentic theory of change. A well-reasoned, detailed if-then statement demonstrates that you’ve thought through a strategy that goes beyond rhetoric and good intentions. Brettschneider and Grundy suggest including examples you’ve observed outside your field, and stumbles you’ve made along the way. “Brave leaders model how to take responsibility for failures and disclose their own shortcomings,” they say. “You might inspire others to look inward.”

“How to Prepare for the DEI Question” by Kim Brettschneider and Dallas Grundy in The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 30, 2021 (Vol. 67, #17, pp. 59-61)

3. Conflict-Agile School Leaders

(Originally titled “Constructive Conflict”)

In this article in Educational Leadership, Robert Feirsen (New York Institute of Technology) and Seth Weitzman (a retired New York principal) say that principals spend 20-40 percent of the school day on their least favorite activity – managing conflict: discipline problems, friction about feedback to teachers, philosophical differences, parent complaints about grades and consequences, duty assignments, schedules, and more.

“And yet,” say Feirsen and Weitzman, “if administrators are to exercise instructional leadership and instill a shared vision, they must be prepared to deal with inevitable resistance and discord… Many school leaders turn away from conflict and never realize its potential for promoting growth rather than disorder.” When they don’t step up, problems fester unresolved, including mediocre and ineffective teaching, racial microaggressions, and systemic inequities.

From their experience as school leaders and a review of the research, Feirsen and Weitzman say there are three common responses to discord:

• Avoiding – This can sometimes be the correct approach, as in “Pick your battles,” but papering over deep problems with friendliness and collegiality won’t produce effective education for all students.

• Attacking – School leaders who respond this way – retaliating against teachers, punishing those who cause “trouble” – may drive resistance underground, but that creates a negative, us-versus-them climate that’s detrimental for everyone.

• Addressing – Feirsen and Weitzman describe three leadership skills that “reduce strife while harnessing conflict in the service of improving educational outcomes and relationships.”

Each depersonalizes the conflict and respects everyone involved.

– Avoid being defensive. Adopting a nonjudgmental, genuinely inquisitive stance can avoid an us-versus-them, win-lose dynamic. A leader needs to cool down and slow down, taking a deep breath and looking at the big picture. One strategy is for each party to present its case while the other listens silently, then allowing only clarifying questions.

– First things first – “Many conflicts in schools reflect competing values,” say Feirsen and Weitzman. “Heated discussions about grades mask deeper questions about the purpose of assessment and the responsibilities of teachers and students.” These underlying conflicts need to be heard and talked through before policy decisions can be made. Conflict-agility skills need to be practiced and built over time, ideally becoming part of the school’s way of operating in meetings and small-group situations.

– Focus on actionable ideas. When people disparage each other’s character, ability, motives, and intelligence, nothing gets resolved. The leader’s role is to “separate the problem from the people,” as the Getting to Yesapproach suggests, get the parties to focus on their genuine interests, not their positions, and brainstorm solutions that haven’t yet been considered. It’s helpful if leaders are conversant with common cognitive biases that prevent people from letting go of entrenched positions.

“Constructive Conflict” by Robert Feirsen and Seth Weitzman in Educational Leadership, April 2021 (Vol. 78, #7, pp. 26-31); the authors can be reached at and

4. Outsmarting Anxiety

In this article in Psychology Today, psychotherapist Linda Esposito suggests twelve “intentional acts of calm”:

• Reframe. When you feel overwhelmed, ask yourself, What is a different way of looking at my situation?“Doing this, says Esposito, “is a key step toward regarding yourself as a capable problem-solver.”

• Get outside. Take a walk. If you’re walking with a wily dog, that will help you get out of your own head.

• Hydrate. “Water,” says Esposito, “facilitates the delivery of nutrients to the brain, removes toxins and inflammatory markers, and improves cognitive functioning.”

• Do pushups. A short burst of physical exertion releases nervous energy.

• Visualize an admired person. What would they do?

• Use Pomodoro. Work in 25-minute chunks followed by 5-minute breaks, and after four cycles, take a 15-20-minute break.

• Insert a mindful buffer. Between work and home, “spend a few minutes in silence to make peace with what’s happened during the day,” says Esposito, “then take a few cleansing breaths before switching gears with presence and intention.”

• Clear clutter. This is especially helpful just before going to bed.

• Read hard-copy news. Onscreen news feeds are distracting and provoke anxiety.

• Dump smiley-face. “Sometimes you need to take off the rose-tinted glasses to see your smudged, cloudy challenges as they are,” says Esposito.

• Make a fun plan. Thinking about a get-together with people who are good for your mental health creates positive anticipation.

• Accept anxiety. “Sometimes letting go of the need to control outcomes leads to greater acceptance of your circumstances,” Esposito concludes.

“12 Ways to Curb Anxiety” by Linda Esposito in Psychology Today, May/June 2021 (Vol. 54, #3, p. 41)

5. A Tool for Measuring School Climate

In this article in AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice, Keith Zullig (West Virginia University School of Public Health), Molly Matthews-Ewald (Creative Research Solutions), and Scott Huebner (University of South Carolina) describe – and provide free access to – their School Climate Measure. The survey is designed to measure students’ subjective experience in school, which the authors describe as “the norms, goals, values, interpersonal relationships, teaching and learning practices, and organizational structures… including order and rules and social and emotional safety.” These factors have been shown to be closely tied to students’ academic achievement, meaning that improving school climate can be a rising tide that lifts all boats.

The survey has been conducted in several diverse districts around the United States. “Nationally normative data for the SCM are not yet available,” say Zullig, Matthews-Ewald, and Huebner; “however, understanding student perceptions and knowing whether students agree or disagree with various statements within the domains is arguably of considerable importance.” They believe the survey can be used to measure the overall climate of a school (by combining all the elements), to zero in on specific domains, and to analyze data on subgroups and individual students – then putting the insights to work guiding school improvement. Here is the survey (lightly edited). Each response is scored on a 1-2-3-4-5 Likert scale.

Positive student-teacher relationships:

– Teachers and staff seem to take a real interest in my future.

– Teachers are available when I need to talk with them.

– It is easy to talk with teachers.

– Students get along well with teachers.

– Teachers at my school help us with our problems.

– My teachers care about me.

– My teacher makes me feel good about myself.

Order and discipline:

– Classroom rules are applied equally.

– Problems in this school are solved by students and staff.

– The rules of the school are fair.

– School rules are enforced consistently and fairly.

– My teachers make it clear to me when I have misbehaved in class.

– Discipline is fair.

Opportunities for student engagement:

– Students have the same opportunity in class to speak, and be listened to.

– Students can express feelings and thoughts about school work and life.

– Students “different” in any way are treated with respect.

– Nobody in my school is excluded from being successful.

– Females and males are treated as equals at school.

– I can participate in a lot of interesting activities at school.

School physical environment:

– The school grounds are kept clean.

– My school is neat and clean.

– My school buildings are generally pleasant and well-maintained.

Academic support:

– I usually understand my homework assignments.

– Teachers make it clear what work needs to be done to get the grade I want.

– I believe that teachers expect all students to learn.

– I feel that I can do well in this school.

Parental involvement:

– My parents talk with teachers about what is happening at home.

– My parents are involved in school activities.

– My parents are involved in discussions about what is taught at school.

School connections:

– My schoolwork is exciting.

– Students can make suggestions on courses that are offered.

– This school makes students enthusiastic about learning.

– Students are frequently rewarded or praised by faculty and staff for following school rules.

Perceived exclusion/privilege:

– At my school, the same person always gets to help the teacher.

– At my school, the same students get chosen every time to take part in after-school or special activities.

– The same students always get to use things, like a computer, a ball, or piano.

School social environment:

– I am happy, in general, with the other students who go to my school.

Academic satisfaction:

– I am happy about the number of tests I have.

– I am happy about the amount of homework I have.

“An Introduction to the School Climate Measure” by Keith Zullig, Molly Matthews-Ewald, and Scott Huebner in AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice, Spring 2021 (Vol. 18, #1, pp. 49-60); the authors can be reached at,, and

6. Three Cautionary Notes as Regular School Resumes

In this Education Gadfly article, consultant Dale Chu says there are three issues that could potentially “gum up the works” as the pandemic recedes:

• Mask mandates – Some educators and students may continue in-school mask wearing in perpetuity, and there should be no objection to that. Requiring students to wear masks can help families feel comfortable sending their children back to school, but as vaccination rates rise, mandates are already provoking strong opposition in some quarters. If schools don’t find the middle ground, says Chu, “this fracas could pose a real distraction to getting schools back to any semblance of the ordinary.”

• Standardized testing – Students, educators, and parents “have grown accustomed to the absence of a yearly academic checkup,” he says, and anti-testing activists are making the argument that no harm has been done. A growing number of educators and parents are questioning the whole premise of annual testing and the important insights it generates.

• The four-day school week – Before the pandemic, a shortened school week was mostly limited to the intermountain West, says Chu, but the idea has since spread “as thousands of districts have used the discredited pretense of deep cleaning to dial back the amount of live instruction per week.” If districts decide to make the four-day week a permanent fixture, that will mean fewer instructional hours at a point when academic learning time is more essential than ever.

“We are nothing if not creatures of habit,” concludes Chu, “and in the case of keeping masks on, testing off, and four-day school weeks the new normal, these routines may prove to be stubborn habits to break… So while it’s heartening to know that teachers are setting their sights on the tutoring and other programming that may soon be required – with policymakers laying out the tools to help – we would do well to keep an eye on the abiding crisis-mongering and bad-news bias that continue to shape habits and threaten to handicap the best laid plans for reopening schools.”

“Three Things to Watch for in Schools’ Post-Covid Recovery” by Dale Chu in Education Gadfly, April 29, 2021

7. Common Complaints About Meetings

In this Project Manager News article, Ben Aston compiled data from international studies of people’s opinions on meetings. A few excerpts:

– The biggest gripe was meetings that weren’t necessary; respondents said they attended two hours of pointless meetings each week.

– 76 percent of employees prefer face-to-face meetings to video calls.

– Preparing for meetings takes significant amounts of time.

– There’s a lot of multitasking during meetings, including eating lunch, checking personal e-mails, and responding to e-mails.

– People complain publicly about meetings, but privately, they admit that meetings are sometimes productive: 59 percent rated meetings as good or excellent.

Here’s a list of things that annoyed people about others’ behavior during meetings:

– Sending texts and responding to phone calls;

– Failing to listen;

– Interrupting;

– Talking about nothing for extended periods;

– Arriving late or leaving early;

– Unwillingness to contribute during discussions;

– Eating;

– Taking notes on a laptop.

“11+ Meeting Statistics to Pay Attention to in 2021” by Ben Aston in Project Manager News, April 9, 2021

8. Short Items:

a. Adam Grant on Confident Humility – In this TED Talk, Wharton social psychologist Adam Grant expounds on rethinking before it’s too late, and punctures the myth that a frog will tolerate gradually warming water until it’s cooked.

“What Frogs in Hot Water Can Teach Us About Thinking Again” a TED Talk by Adam Grant, April 2021

b. Media Bias Chart 7.1 – The latest edition of the Ad Fontes Media Bias Chart was just released. See also the extensive resources for training adults and students in savvy analysis of the news.

“Media Bias Chart 7.1” by Vanessa Otero et al., April 28, 2021

c. An Infographic on Figures of Speech – In this infographic/article in Visual Capitalist, Carmen Ang presents 40 ways to use vivid language to improve writing.

“Figures of Speech: 40 Ways to Improve Your Writing” by Carmen Ang in Visual Capitalist, April 30, 2021

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In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“Let’s look at this year as a welcome jolt to find the soul of what education should be for our students and families.”

Jay McClain (see item #3)

“Whatever we do when we return will be historic by definition. If all we come up with is passing out diagnostic tests to quantify learning loss and then track kids into groups for remediation, it will be a terrible failure of imagination.”

Stephen Merrill in “Too Much Focus on ‘Learning Loss’ Will be a Historic Mistake” in Edutopia, April 16, 2021

“Good teaching involves offering students opportunities to grapple with problems that stretch but do not overwhelm their reasoning; asking good questions; providing spaces for students to discuss their ideas with others; and offering them the right kinds of encouragement, support, and challenges.”

Susan Ahrendt, Debra Monson, and Kathleen Cramer (see item #5)

“Leaders need to make compromises, be flexible in tweaking their approach, and go one step back to be able to move two steps forward.”

Paul Leinwand, Mahadeva Matt Mani, and Blair Sheppard (see item #2)

1. A Tribute to Robert Slavin

Robert Slavin of Johns Hopkins University and Success for All fame died on April 24th. We’ve lost a powerful advocate for improving classroom instruction, especially in the elementary grades. Most recently, Slavin has been a leading advocate for high-quality tutoring as the most effective intervention to support student learning in the wake of the pandemic. Yesterday this work came to fruition with the launch of
Over the years, the Memo has summarized no fewer than 23 articles by Slavin. Here are a few memorable quotes from those articles:
“No one ever built a cathedral by waving a wand. Instead, magnificent cathedrals are built one stone at a time. In the same way, we can build a solid structure of learning using proven programs every year.”

“The middle school years offer the last chance for many struggling students to build the literacy skills they need to succeed in demanding high-school courses.”

“There are many problems in education that we don’t know how to solve, but reading failure in elementary school isn’t one of them.”

“Technology may be fun, and may be individualized, but it usually separates students from the personal attention of caring adults.”

“Benchmark assessments fall into the enormous category of educational solutions that are simple, compelling, and wrong. Yes, teachers need to know what students are learning and what is needed to improve it, but they have available many more tools that are far more sensitive, useful, timely, and tied to actions teachers can take.”

“The ability to express ideas in writing is one of the most important of all skills. Good writing is a mark of an educated person and perhaps for that reason it is one of the most important skills sought by employers and higher education institutions.”

“Perhaps more than any other subject, writing demands a supportive environment, in which students want to become better writers because they love the opportunity to express themselves, and to interact in writing with valued peers and teachers… Motivation is particularly important. If students love to write, because their peers as well as their teachers are eager to see what they have to say, then they will write with energy and pleasure.”

“There is a reason that homeschooling is rare.”

“All sorts of solutions have been proposed, but only one, tutoring, has both a solid and substantial research base and a significant number of proven, practical, cost-effective solutions.”

2. Complementary Facets of Effective Leadership

In this Harvard Business Review article, Paul Leinwand, Mahadeva Matt Mani, and Blair Sheppard (PwC) say that to succeed in the post-pandemic world, leaders need to straddle six paradoxical sets of leadership characteristics:

• Strategic executor – Leaders need to clear about what the new world looks like and be able to step back from the day-to-day and see where their ship is headed. “Being a good strategist, however, is not enough,” say Leinwand, Mani, and Sheppard. “Leaders need to be equally skilled at execution… They need to be able to make rapid operational decisions that help deliver the path to the future.”

• Humble hero – Leaders need to be willing to make bold decisions in times of uncertainty, but they also need to acknowledge what they don’t know and depend on and learn from colleagues with different skills, capabilities, and backgrounds. “They need to be highly inclusive and great listeners,” say the authors, “to understand not only new technologies, but also new ways of doing things that are different from how they did it before.”

• Tech-savvy humanist – With technology playing such a central role, leaders need to understand and be proficient in different modes of communication. “At the same time,” say Leinwand, Mani, and Sheppard, “they also need to understand and care about people… This means engaging people with a huge degree of empathy and authenticity – helping them to embrace the changes and co-own the transformation.”

• Traditioned innovator – In the midst of tumult and uncertainty, leaders need to embody the time-honored purpose and values of their organization. At the same time, they need to try out new things and have the courage to fail – and allow others to fail.

• High-integrity politician – It’s more vital than ever for leaders to be able to “gather support, negotiate, form coalitions and partnerships, and overcome resistance,” say Leinwand, Mani, and Sheppard. “Leaders need to make compromises, be flexible in tweaking their approach, and go one step back to be able to move two steps forward.” But being a politician will be effective only if there is a foundation of trust and integrity with colleagues.

• Globally-minded localist – “Technology has erased many boundaries and distances,” say the authors, and leaders need to draw insights and be open to new thinking from around the world. At the same time, they should be “deeply aware of and responsive to… the local communities and ecosystems in which they operate.”

“6 Leadership Paradoxes for the Post-Pandemic Era” by Paul Leinwand, Mahadeva Matt Mani, and Blair Sheppard in Harvard Business Review, April 23, 2021

3. Reinventing Schools for the “New Normal”

In this article in High Tech High Unboxed, Virginia school administrator Jay McClain says that many believe this has been a lost year. “It certainly has been a year of great loss,” he says. “Loss of an incomprehensible number of lives. Loss of the basic human connections and interactions that we crave and take for granted. But a ‘year of loss’ and a ‘lost year’ is not the same thing. When we say ‘lost year,’ the loss we are describing is ‘normal school.’”

But was the old normal so terrific? Fundamentally unchanged over the last century, our pre-pandemic schools failed to engage more than half of students by the time they reached high school, and didn’t come close to producing equitable results for students of color. The coronavirus has compounded these long-standing deficiencies, widening health and achievement gaps. “Can we really respond to these two crises by just returning to ‘normal’?” asks McClain. “Let’s look at this year as a welcome jolt to find the soul of what education should be for our students and families.” He suggests four “persistent elements” in education – time, place, group, and curriculum – that we should now rethink:

• Time – During the pandemic, following the traditional bell schedule was not sustainable, and schools experimented with a mix of synchronous and asynchronous activities with more choice for students, more sleep for adolescents, and more deference to the needs of working parents. As regular schooling resumes, McClain believes we should open up choices for when older students are in school – morning, afternoon, or evening. “Think of the impact that this could have,” he says, “for high-school students who need to have a job, watch their siblings, or whose parents work a late shift. We are due for a mindset shift in which the time of school gives students and families the best options for success.”

• Place – With schools closed by the virus, learning was no longer linked to classrooms, a school building, or even an attendance zone. As “normal” returns, many families will exercise choice on a sliding scale from full-time in a building to full-time remote, sometimes crossing geographic boundaries. “All of this depends on ensuring that we have the WiFi infrastructure and accessibility to technology across communities that has been so lacking,” says McClain. “Access to the Internet is understood now, more than ever, as not only essential to commerce and the operation of government in a pandemic, but also to the learning of students.”

• Group – Over the last year, most schools didn’t change how they grouped students; third-grade classes still functioned as such, as did algebra groups. But there was some loosening up – students grouped by needs, teachers specializing in areas of strength, students from different schools being taught together. Returning to “normal,” says McClain, “the potential to rethink learning/class groups goes far beyond this.” With time and place more flexible, there’s potential for a variety of groupings in synchronous and asynchronous settings, from lectures to lessons on topics chosen by students to small-group activities to individual teacher-student check-ins. In addition, teachers can work across boundaries with colleagues and students and have much more flexibility regrouping students during the year.

• Curriculum – “A fundamental shift that has long been needed,” says McClain, “is with the balance between a common curriculum and the context of each child – [their] needs, interests, styles, and passions.” He believes that now is the time to pare each grade’s curriculum standards down to a smaller set of high-leverage standards in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies, and give students more choice in how they master them while pursuing their passions. “In this way,” he says, “we can be more culturally responsive to our students and cause our students to feel a sense of belonging and purpose and not just be taught how to conform.”

In short, McClain concludes, we have the opportunity to build a great deal more choice and customization into time, place, groupings, and the curriculum. “Choice does not mean we need to take away the elements of our current system that work for some families,” he says. “Rather, it means we provide a variety of pathways that will work for all families… The needs of families, the passions of our students, and our own humanity demand that we meet students and families where they are and give them choice so that we wrap around them, not the other way around.”

“A Found Year” by Jay McClain in High Tech High Unboxed, April 9, 2021; McClain can be reached at

4. Priorities for Dealing with Unfinished Learning in Math and ELA

With an eye to closing significant learning gaps in the wake of school closures and hybrid instruction, this paper by Harold Asturias, Phil Daro, Judy Elliott, and Lily Wong Filmore from the Council of the Great City Schools, has specific suggestions on the most important mathematics concepts and skills for these key transitions:

– To grade 3 (page 11-12 in the link below)

– To grade 6 (page 13-14)

– To algebra I (page 15-17)

– From algebra I to geometry (page 17-19)

The authors also have suggestions for priorities in English language arts for these transitions:

– To grade 3 (page 21-27)

– To grade 6 (page 27-32)

– To grade 9 (page 33-38)

In addition, Asturias, Daro, Elliott, and Filmore make strong recommendations on how educators should handle unfinished learning as schools emerge from the pandemic:

• Stick to grade-level content and instructional rigor. There will be a tendency to immediately identify deficits and reteach/remediate. “According to research,” say the authors, “both are largely ineffective practices, resulting in student disengagement with school and greater inequities in access to grade-level instruction and educational opportunity.” Instead, teachers should move ahead with the grade’s curriculum, scaffolding and addressing learning gaps as needed. “This daily reengagement of prior knowledge in the context of grade-level assignments will add up over time,” they say, “resulting in more-functional learning than if we resort to watered down instruction or try to reteach topics out of context.”

• Focus on the depth of instruction, not on the pace. Similarly, there will be a tendency to rush to cover all the gaps in learning from the 2020-21 school year. But that will mean “rushing ahead of many students, leaving them abandoned and discouraged,” say the authors. “It will also feed students a steady diet of curricular junk food: shallow engagement with the content, low standards for understanding, and low cognitive load – all bad learning habits to acquire.” This will be especially inappropriate at a time when schools need to attend to students’ social and emotional wellbeing. The authors say that “taking the time to provide patient, in-depth instruction allows for issues related to unfinished learning to arise naturally when dealing with new content, allowing for just in time instruction and reengagement of students in the context of grade-level work.”

• Prioritize content and learning. Teachers need guidance on “where to invest their time and effort, what areas can be cut, and where they should teach only to awareness level to save time for priorities,” say the authors. This will allow teachers to slow down and take the time to fill gaps – in context – and allow for the kind of “constructive struggle” that will build students’ confidence and understanding. Curriculum leaders should not be asking what needs to be covered at each grade level, but rather, What is the importance and purpose of this topic? See the full text below for specific suggestions at several strategic points in the math and ELA curriculum.

• Ensure inclusion of ELLs and students with disabilities. The authors caution against excessive pullout of these students for remediation, advocating instead for including them in Tier 1 instruction and having them present in regular classes at least 80 percent of the day. They advocate building unit and lesson plans guided by an asset-based approach and universal design for learning (UDL). Now more than ever, they say, “it is essential to ensure that each and every student has equitable access to engaging grade-level content and instructional rigor.” To support this, families need to be informed of the curriculum expectations and how they can support learning at home.

• Identify and address gaps in learning through instruction, avoiding the misuse of standardized testing. “The first instinct of many districts will be to immediately test students upon their return to school in order to gauge their academic levels and needs,” say the authors. “This would be a mistake for many reasons” – especially if it results in achievement grouping and lower expectations for students who have fallen behind. The authors say the priority in the opening weeks should be on helping students reacclimate to school, rebuild relationships and trust, and gain a level of self-confidence. From the beginning, the priority needs to be “strong, attentive instruction, with embedded formative assessment,” responding to students’ needs in real time in the context of grade-level instruction. Several weeks along, diagnostic assessments can serve as “temperature checks” to identify key areas that will need attention.

• Capitalize on people’s shared experience during the crisis. Some students will reenter school with significant trauma as well as unfinished learning, say the authors. But they contend that educators should focus on the commonalities of the pandemic. “The virus, school closures, social distancing, and nationwide protests have created new common experiences that can serve as the basis for work across subjects in the first weeks of school,” they say. “This will allow schools and teachers to reengage students, directly address student and adult hardship, stress, or trauma, and resume instruction in a way that feels contextualized and responsive, helping students comprehend the world around them.” Every subject area – science, ELA, math, social studies, and more – can be part of this effort.

“Addressing Unfinished Learning After Covid-19 School Closures” by Harold Asturias, Phil Daro, Judy Elliott, and Lily Wong Filmore, Council of the Great City Schools, Council of the Great City Schools, June 2020, spotted in “Using Feedback to Support Students’ Critical Learning” by Cathy Martin in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, April 2021 (Vol. 114, #4, pp. 266-268)

5. Orchestrating “Productive Discussions” in Math Classes

“Good teaching involves offering students opportunities to grapple with problems that stretch but do not overwhelm their reasoning; asking good questions; providing spaces for students to discuss their ideas with others; and offering them the right kinds of encouragement, support, and challenges,” say Susan Ahrendt (Metropolitan State University), Debra Monson (University of St. Thomas), and Kathleen Cramer (the Rational Number Project) in this article in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12. In that vein, they ask us to consider this fourth-grade fractions problem:

_|__________________|_______________ Where is 1 on this number line? Where is ½?

0 4/3

“This task,” say the authors, “has been particularly fruitful in generating a discussion among students to apply prior fraction knowledge, reveal common misunderstandings about the unit on the number line, and challenge students to reconsider the unit on this model.” Students need to think about how to partition the length between 0 and 4/3 into equal parts to show thirds. If they partition the length into four equal parts, is each part ¼ or 1/3? When they locate ½, is it halfway between 0 and 1 or 0 and 4/3?

Ahrendt, Monson, and Cramer believe problems like this, if handled well, can produce much deeper student understanding than standard math lessons – provided these steps are followed:

• Choosing a meaty task – Having identified a learning goal, teachers find a high-level task that will support students in meeting that goal. In the case of the problem above, the concept is identifying the unit, and a number line with missing information is a good way to get students grappling with the concept.

• Anticipating students’ thinking – From previous instruction or one-on-one interviews, teachers get insights on what is likely to happen when students work with the problem. For example, a student makes a mark to the left of 4/3 for where 1 should be, but doesn’t have a clear idea of where it should go. Another student successfully divides the space from 0 to 4/3 into four thirds, but guesses at where ½ should be on the number line.

• Monitoring student work – The teacher circulates, observing the strategies students are using, watching for misconceptions, and asking probing questions. “The biggest challenge,” say Ahrendt, Monson, and Cramer, “may come from trusting students to find unique solution strategies that will support a larger discussion to promote deeper understanding.”

• Selecting students to share their work and sequencing the share-outs – When it’s time to discuss solutions, the teacher needs to be strategic in the order in which they are presented. The right sequence, say the authors, “will motivate and guide discussion to scaffold students’ thinking about unit, partitioning, order, and fraction as a point and distance.” A teacher might start with a student who understood that 1 needs to be placed to the left of 4/3 on the number line, closer to 4/3 than 0. The teacher follows up by calling on students who had insights on how to be more precise. Students’ responses show different strategies for dividing up the space between 0 and 1. The teacher asks one student, “Why did you name the points in thirds and not fourths?” Finally, the teacher calls on students who solved this conundrum and labeled 1/3, 2/3, 3/3, 4/3.

• Building connections – The last step in the problem – finding the location of ½ on the number line – has students scratching their heads. It’s tempting, say the authors, for the teacher to just tell students the answer, but “we are suggesting the kinds of understandings that students build through grappling with this type of discourse are more resilient.” By persevering in making sense of the problem, trying out different arguments, and critiquing the reasoning of others, students build a deeper understanding of the core concept. There’s a reason that ½ falls halfway between 1/3 and 2/3.

“Promoting Discourse: Fractions on Number Lines” by Susan Ahrendt, Debra Monson, and Kathleen Cramer in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, April 2021 (Vol. 114, #4, pp. 284-289); the authors can be reached at,, and

6. Five Habits of Mind Students Need to Unlearn

In this History Tech article, teacher/consultant and self-described social studies nerd Glenn Wiebe has recently spent time looking over the soon-to-be-required Kansas social studies assessments. The best way to prepare students to be successful? “Have kids practice critical and historical thinking skills,” he says. “Done.” That’s because the assessment will ask students to solve a problem using evidence and communicate their solution.

But while Wiebe sees that students need to get better at this kind of thinking, he also believes they need to stopthinking in other ways. Inspired by a Global Digital Citizen article by Lee Watanabe-Crockett, Wiebe lists the following thought processes that are unproductive:

• Accepting false and inaccurate information – Because of the amount of intentional and unintentional fake news and propaganda out there, says Wiebe, “our kids need specific skills to make sense of what they see and read, not just online but wherever they find evidence.” They need to learn how to ask better questions and hone their skills at identifying false and misleading information.

• Jumping to conclusions – “This is often the first thing our kids will do when we ask them to look at a particular problem or issue,” says Wiebe. “Before looking at any evidence at all, the brains of many students will automatically decide that he or she already knows the answer.” Students need to understand that their brains are wired to look for patterns where they may not exist, especially when emotions are involved – anger, sadness, anxiety. Kids also need to know what they don’t know, and proceed with some humility to fill in the gaps of their “unknowing.”

• Being close-minded – “Battling this is at the core of what we do every day,” says Wiebe. A single point of view can get wrapped up in students’ identity and prevent them from hearing others’ views. Presenting facts on the other side usually doesn’t work. Telling and reading stories does, building bridge of empathy to the lives of others.

• Negative thinking – It’s easy for students to conclude that they’re not capable of doing the heavy intellectual lifting that’s being asked of them in rigorous curriculum standards. Teachers need to “do more formative and ungraded assessments and fewer graded, larger summative assessments,” says Wiebe. “Build failure into your instruction and assessment. Learning happens when we screw it up. Provide a place for kids to fail without penalty.”

• Losing track of purpose – “Distractions are everywhere,” says Wiebe. “Phones. Mobile apps. Homecoming. Sports. Friends.” Teachers need to be crystal clear about what’s expected, have students paraphrase it back in digital or written form, provide a step-by-step checklist, and build in checkpoints. Students also need to be schooled on how distracting it is to have a cellphone in the vicinity, and put it away when they’re working.

“Your Kids Are Screwing Up Their Summative Assessments. 5 Ways to Fix It” by Glenn Wiebe in History Tech, April 25, 2021

7. Locating High-Quality Lesson Ideas Online

In this article in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, Stefanie Livers (Missouri State University) and Victoria Miller Bennett (The Collaborative for Teaching and Learning, Louisville) worry that a lot of teachers are searching the Internet for lesson plans and all too often choosing material that is “superficial and cute” and lacks “substance, equity considerations, and sometimes mathematics.” Livers and Bennett suggest the following desiderata for high-quality mathematics tasks (adapted from Margaret Schwan Smith and Mary Kay Stein, 1998):

– Sets the stage for complex, high-order thinking;

– Provides the opportunity for exploration of concepts, processes, or relationships;

– Requires students to self-regulate and monitor their reasoning;

– Provides multiple entry points for engagement;

– Allows for students to build on their funds of knowledge;

– Requires substantial cognitive effort;

– Often requires students to make decisions and choices.

To zero in on material with these qualities, online and elsewhere, Livers and Bennett developed the Mathematics Lesson Planning Protocol (MLP2):

– Is the website’s material vetted? If not, the steps below are especially important.

– What is the mathematics? Perhaps it’s just a fun activity.

– Is it aligned with standards? If not, can it be modified so it’s on target?

– What is the understanding being developed? Or is it just a following-directions task?

– Is it high-quality, promoting reasoning and problem solving? If not, keep searching.

– Does it offer accessible, equitable opportunity for all students? If not, keep looking.

– Does it meet the criteria listed above? If not, keep trying.

– Does it ask students to demonstrate evidence of their thinking? If not, ditto.

– Can I manage it? If not, find a better lesson.

“Planning Pitfalls: Considerations for Decision-Making” by Stefanie Livers and Victoria Miller Bennett in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, April 2021 (Vol. 114, #4, pp. 306-311 the authors can be reached at and

8. Children’s Books to Combat Anti-Asian-American Prejudice and Hatred

In this New York Times feature, Michelle Lee recommends books that help young people understand and work against prejudice and hatred directed at AAIP people. (Click the link below for the cover image and a brief description of each book.)

Children’s books:

– My Footprints by Bao Phi, illustrated by Basia Tran, age 4-7

– My Name is Bilal by Asma Mobin-Uddin, illustrated by Barbara Kiwak, age 6-9

– Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, age 9-12

– Count Me In by Versha Bajaj, age 9-12

– Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi, illustrated by Yutaka Houlette, age 9-12

Teenage nonfiction books:

– They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott, illustrated by Harmony Becker, age 12 and up

– From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial That Galvanized the Asian-American Movement by Paula Yoo, age 13 and up

Teenage graphic novels:

– Displacement by Kiko Hughes, age 12 and up

– Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang, art by Gurihiru, age 12 and up

– Flamer by Mike Curato, age 14 and up

“Help Your Kids Understand Asian-American Hate” by Michelle Lee in The New York Times, April 25, 2021

9. Short Items:

a. Teaching the Economics of the Pandemic – In this article in Social Education, Kim Holder (University of West Georgia) and Scott Niederjohn (Lakeland University) include a series of graphs and infographics to describe the economic impact of Covid-19. In a sidebar, they include the URLs of ten online teaching resources.

“Pandemic 101: A Roadmap to Help Students Grasp an Economic Shock” by Kim Holder and Scott Niederjohn in Social Education, March/April 2021 (Vol. 85, #2, pp. 64-71); the authors can be reached at and

b. Online Primary-Source U.S. History Materials – This free history website (supported by the Library of Congress) has teaching resources and educator guides on these key periods: American Revolution and early republic (1760s-1800s); Civil War (1860s); mental health (1840s-1890s); women’s suffrage (1840s-1920); muckrakers (1890s-1920s); exploitation: labor and immigration (early to mid-1900s); World War II (1939-1945); Vietnam (1954-1975); Watergate (1972-1974); and gender equality (1850s-present).

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In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“If we want to interrupt cycles of trauma, if we want to disrupt inequitable social and racial arrangements, we cannot put that weight on those whom the system disadvantages the most.”

Jerome Bennett (see item #1)

“People only change after they’ve felt understood.”

David Brooks in “Wisdom Isn’t What You Think It Is” in The New York Times,

April 15, 2021

“Remote learning has found many teachers eager to know what’s going on behind those small squares of students on their screens.”

Samantha Pack (see item #3)

“In faculty hiring, you are gauging candidates’ knowledge, skills, and training, but you’re also seeking an intellectual capacity and a set of ideas that will help (and yes, challenge) you.”

David Perlmutter (see item #5)

“Mistakes are a natural part of learning, but students cannot develop into critical thinkers if they regularly freeze out of fear of making a mistake.”

Colin Seale (see item #2)

“There is tremendous empathy to be gained from learning why someone sees something different than you do.”

Colin Seale (ibid.)

“Don’t raise your voice. Improve your argument.”

Colin Seale (on his website)

1. A School Addresses Racially Disparate Discipline Referrals

In this article in Principal Leadership, equity consultant Jerome Bennett and educators Jake Giessman and Jane Hubley describe how a school followed up when its leaders realized that there were three times more discipline referrals for African-American male students as for other students. Some key facts about this middle school in Portland, Maine:

– The staff was mostly white.

– Half the students were white.

– A quarter were black, almost entirely first- and second-generation refugees and asylum-seekers from across the African continent.

The school’s leaders convened three focus groups to explore stakeholders’ perceptions. The first group, composed of faculty and staff (all white), concluded that any discipline disparities were explained by cultural misunderstandings between white staff and black students. The other two groups, composed of students of color, bluntly stated that the root cause was racial bias.

Administrators had to decide which interpretation to endorse. Fearing adult backlash if they went with the students’ view, the school’s leaders overruled some dissenting voices (including Bennett and Hubley), embraced the first focus group’s interpretation, and got to work designing an intervention to bridge cultural differences. For three months, Hubley (the school’s social worker) had a series of meetings with an existing affinity/support group of male students of color (called the Gentlemen), and together they crafted a statement of behavioral values that captured students’ culture and aspirations. The hope was that this would be more culturally responsive than the school’s existing expectations. Here’s what the “Gentlemen’s Code” included:

– I am a gentleman.

– I fight for what is fair and right.

– I own up to my mistakes and learn from them.

– I lead by example and take care of those I lead.

– I am kind… I am helpful… and I give my best in everything that I do.

– I always show up for my fellow Gentlemen because we are family.

– We are Gentlemen.

– We support each other when we are not feeling the best.

– We help each together stay focused and put in the extra work to get good grades.

– We don’t fight with each other.

– We know how to have fun.

– Because we are Gentlemen.

Posters and presentations familiarized the school community with the Gentlemen’s Code.

After three months, administrators conducted follow-up interviews and looked at discipline data. The students who had worked on the code were proud of what they had produced and felt good about their group. Teachers were uncertain how to use the code in their interactions with students of color, but had a slightly more-positive and more-nuanced perception of those students. However, there was only a slight decrease in discipline referrals for black male students. “In sum,” conclude Bennett, Giessman, and Hubley, “the impact seemed minimal.” Here’s how each of them described the situation:

• Hubley – “I never liked the idea of a Gentlemen’s Code,” she says. “[It] felt scripted to me, not authentic… I felt pressure, though, to define the work of the gentlemen.” She hoped it would help adults in the school understand the group and its purpose. “However,” she continues, “we knew that they would never really get it.” The boys – and their sister group, the Fierce Girls – believed the school was not committed to addressing racial bias. “The culture put these boys and girls at a disadvantage from the beginning,” Hubley says. “They knew it, felt it, and reacted to it. They navigated it, knowing and feeling its harm to their beings.” She felt her obligation to the boys was to give them space to be with each other.

• Giessman – As the school’s (white) assistant principal with major responsibility for discipline, Giessman says he felt “caught between a faculty’s – and my own – racialized notion of a safe and orderly school and a moral imperative to disrupt that. Where Hubley has sought to protect the gentlemen from the school, I have sought to raise the gentlemen’s standing in the school through videos, photographs, and presentations about them. I have been marketing the gentlemen to white people in hopes that this would move white people’s consciousnesses… That I would gravitate toward this marketing strategy highlights both the deeply embedded negative social attitudes about students of color and my own fear of engaging in the real work. The real work would have been, as the gentlemen told us, for the adults to investigate and remediate their own biases.”

Shortly after the school’s unsuccessful effort to leverage the Gentlemen’s Code, the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other people of color prompted a deeper reckoning. “The decision to avoid directly confronting bias for fear of white backlash,” says Giessman, “was cowardly. I should not have placed the burden of intervention on the gentlemen or their families. If the gentlemen were to do the labor of articulating their values, the staff and faculty should have been taking on even greater and more-urgent labors of reflection and antiracist action. Perhaps more importantly, I should have been risking my standing among the faculty to model and lead that work.”

• Bennett – Serving as a part-time equity consultant to the school, Bennett (who is African-American) says that implicit biases against people of color, deeply rooted in the history of slavery, Jim Crow, and a century of opportunity gaps, are “ingrained in our subconscious and manifest in our actions. Despite all the good that schools and the people who work in them do, the fact is that schools perpetuate cycles of racial trauma. To eliminate discipline disparities, a school staff and faculty would need to truly understand the nuances of systemic racism and implicit bias and how they lead to differential treatment. They would then need to rebuild their schools as antiracist institutions.”

Bennett believes there were two missed opportunities in the school’s handling of this situation. First, the Gentlemen’s Code was developed “without an accompanying change process for adults.” The code opened male students of color to more scrutiny by teachers, and some of them used it to chastise students for not adhering to their professed values. But most adults in the school didn’t refer to the code because they were not sure how to use it.

Second, Bennett believes the gentlemen already held the values articulated in the code. “The real action,” he says, “would have been to consider how the school could learn from the code and incorporate those values into schoolwide policy, practice, and norms.” For starters, the value of owning up to mistakes and learning from them could be a starting point for addressing how implicit bias resulted in disparate discipline referrals. “Equity work requires everyone to think and act differently,” Bennett concludes. “If we want to interrupt cycles of trauma, if we want to disrupt inequitable social and racial arrangements, we cannot put that weight on those whom the system disadvantages the most.”

The school got the message, launching required and voluntary equity trainings and reading groups and engaging all stakeholders in rewriting school behavioral expectations to apply to adults as well as students. In addition, a restorative practices coordinator was hired to receive, investigate, and mediate race-related complaints. Further, students can now request a specific adult or peer “ally” to join them in disciplinary meetings with teachers or administrators. Finally, the school’s assistant principal “is trying to raise his consciousness and take responsibility for his central role in either perpetuating or eliminating discipline disparities.”

“None of this is easy or comfortable,” conclude Bennett, Giessman, and Hubley, “but it’s time to honor what the gentlemen were telling us from the start: white adults in the school have serious work to do.”

“The Gentlemen’s Code” by Jerome Bennett, Jake Giessman, and Jane Hubley in Principal Leadership, April 2021 (Vol. 21, #8, p. 40-45); Giessman can be reached at

2. Using Students’ Errors as Teachable Moments

In this Cult of Pedagogy article, Colin Seale (math teacher turned lawyer and writer) describes an interaction between his son and a kindergarten teacher during a Zoom class earlier this school year. The teacher asked students to suggest words beginning with each letter of the alphabet. When they got to the letter I, one student called out, “Iguana.” “Great work!” said the teacher. “Who else has a word that starts with our letter?” After a few moments of silence, Seale’s son unmuted and, with a huge smile on his face, said, “Lizard!” The teacher looked at him, smiled, and said, “I’m sorry, that’s not right. Does anyone else have a word that works?”

Observing his son, Seale was an unhappy dad. “I looked at him and saw the joy stripped from his eyes,” he says. “There are some serious pedagogical issues with what happened here.” He believes this was a golden opportunity to pause and figure out what was behind the error:

– The boy could have been thinking of the second letter in lizard.

– He could have been associating lizards with iguanas, not with their initial letter.

– He could have been confused by the fact that in the Ariel typestyle being used for online instruction, an uppercase i is identical to a lowercase L.

By moving on so quickly, the teacher didn’t teach the whole class some important skills – and Seale’s son missed the chance to explain what he was thinking, sharpen his reasoning skills, and learn how to support claims with evidence.

Students’ errors can be teachable moments, says Seale: “Mistakes are a natural part of learning, but students cannot develop into critical thinkers if they regularly freeze out of fear of making a mistake.” He himself was a student with “a lot of behavior challenges,” says Seale, “but it turned out these were the result of not being challenged. It was only later in life, when I attended law school, that I was taught the kind of critical thinking I needed when I was younger, the kind of thinking that would have kept me challenged.”

Critical thinking should not be treated as a “luxury good,” he says, reserved for the most advanced students, which assumes that other kids aren’t capable. “I view critical thinking as THE pathway to making equity real at the classroom level,” says Seale, “by giving students the opportunity to lead, innovate, and break the things that must be broken as a core part of their educational experience. This is not possible in a world where students are afraid of getting the wrong answer.”

Seale has become an advocate of making mistake analysis a regular part of K-12 classroom teaching. He suggests four strategies:

• Anticipate “good” mistakes. Teachers know from experience the errors students are likely to make – for example, being tripped up when adding fractions with unlike denominators. The key is understanding why the error is made and doing a better job giving students an effective strategy for avoiding the mistake.

• Grapple with good mistakes in real time. For example, in response to this question, “Who would you argue is most responsible for the assassination of Malcolm X?” a student says, “John F. Kennedy.” At first blush, the answer seems totally off base (Kennedy was killed in 1963, Malcolm X in 1965), but rather than moving on, the teacher might probe:

– JFK? Interesting. What makes you say that?

– Why might some of your classmates disagree with you?

– JFK was assassinated before Malcolm X. Help me understand why you believe he’s responsible for the assassination of Malcolm X.

It turns out that what the student had in mind was the fact that Malcolm X’s controversial “chickens coming home to roost” statement after Kennedy’s death was a turning point in growing tensions between Malcolm X the leadership of the Nation of Islam, which is widely believed to have led to his murder.

• Ask students to create their own “good” errors. “When we have students anticipate the most predictable mistakes that might be made on a task,” says Seale, “we’re moving well beyond that lower level of test-taking skills and instead, getting students to think like test-makers, coming up with viable (but incorrect) options on a multiple-choice test.” Seale liked to ask his own students to think of the kind of wrong response that would trip up “Joe Schmo,” the average person who always falls for the trick answer.

• What’s the best wrong answer? Students rise to the challenge of distinguishing between incorrect responses that have an important difference and making judgments about their relative merits – for example, two essays where one has structural problems and the other is full of spelling and grammatical errors.

“To be clear,” concludes Seale, “I am not advocating for a world with no wrong answers. I am advocating for a world where children (and adults) are less obsessed with being right and much more focused on the process of understanding what it means to be right… There is tremendous empathy to be gained from learning why someone sees something different than you do.”

“The Magic of Mistakes: 4 Ways to Boost Critical Thinking with Mistake Analysis” by Colin Seale in Cult of Pedagogy, April 18, 2021; Seale’s recent book is Thinking Like a Lawyer: A Framework for Teaching Critical Thinking to All Students (Prufrock Press, 2020).

3. Pandemic-Inspired Classroom Practices That Should Continue

In this Edutopia article, California English teacher Samantha Pack says there may be a silver lining from this challenging year: a set of insights and ideas that can, when schools return to normal, improve instruction and increase student agency:

• A living agenda – Instead of writing the daily schedule and assignments on the board, Pack has been creating a digital agenda for the unit that includes an outline of the day’s lesson, the rationale for each activity, relevant hyperlinks, and homework. This constantly updated agenda, which provides access to all unit materials, lets students see how the unit is progressing, provides talking points for teacher-student conferences, and supports self-paced learning. With this agenda at their fingertips, students shouldn’t have any, “Wait, what did we do today?” moments at home.

• Orchestrating back-channel engagement – The way the chat function has been used in remote instruction – soliciting quick feedback, checking for understanding, engaging quieter students, doing one-on-one check-ins, and a space for “parking lot” ideas – can definitely be incorporated in regular classes. This can be done with high-tech tools like Mentimeter and Google Docs, or low-tech whiteboards and chart paper, providing nonverbal channels to get more students engaged with the content.

• Mindful breaks – “Remote learning has made breaks nonnegotiable,” says Pack, “and there’s no reason why we should abandon those benefits…” During longer blocks of in-person instruction, breaks are a must, with student input on when they take place. Pack recommends not taking breaks in the first 20 minutes of a class, and giving students accountability tasks to complete before and after breaks. Pauses in instruction are also good for teachers – to check work for misunderstandings, figure out student groupings, reflect on the lesson so far, and model screen-free mindfulness.

• Splitting whole-group discussions in half – Zoom classes have made it possible for teachers to have two simultaneous discussions, which gives each student more air-time and takes conversations to a deeper level. Pack suggests modifying this process with in-person classes by assigning half the class a quiet independent task (perhaps using headphones to avoid being distracted) while the other half has a discussion, then flipping the groups.

• Soliciting student feedback – “Remote learning has found many teachers eager to know what’s going on behind those small squares of students on their screens,” says Pack. Many teachers have used polls and surveys to check in with students on pacing, learning modalities, and homework load – and to get a sense of their morale and mental health. This practice certainly should continue with in-person instruction, she says, fostering mutual understanding and student voice and choice.

“Enduring Practices from Remote Learning” by Samantha Pack in Edutopia, April 2, 2021

4. Advice on Dealing with Too Much Homework

In their weekly “Homeroom” column in The Atlantic, teachers Abby Freireich and Brian Platzer answer a question from a parent who is distraught that her ninth-grade son is spending 5-6 hours every weeknight on homework, “and that’s on top of spending most of the weekend writing essays or studying for tests.” The school’s stated policy limits core subject teachers to 30 minutes of homework a night, electives to an hour a week, so that’s clearly not being followed. The kid is getting six hours of sleep and is “beyond exhausted.”

Freireich and Platzer reply that, handled well, homework can support instruction in four important ways:

– Having students do work that prepares them for interactive classroom discussions;

– Getting students to internalize skills and knowledge through independent practice;

– Providing teachers with data on how well students have mastered what’s been taught;

– Helping students get better at planning, organizing, and completing their work.

“Unfortunately,” they say, “many schools assign homework for its own sake, in amounts that are out of proportion to these basic functions – a problem that seems to have gotten worse over the past 20 years.” Another factor is the belief that lots of homework is a marker of a “good” school.

The problem in this boy’s case may be that teachers are underestimating how much time their assignments will take and not coordinating with each other. Freireich and Platzer suggest that the student tell his teachers that assignments are taking him well past the school’s parameters. He might draw a line at the point in a set of math homework problems that he reached after 30 minutes, move on to his other subject assignments and do the same with them, and communicate his stop-points to teachers the next day. “That way,” say Freireich and Platzer, “he will be able to spread his time more evenly among classes, and his teachers will get a better sense of how long their homework is taking… Most teachers would prefer to recalibrate our students’ workload than find ourselves responsible for keeping them up late.”

If a respectful discussion with teachers doesn’t improve the situation, Freireich and Platzer suggest contacting the school’s leaders. “Hopefully,” they say, “this will prompt a larger conversation within the school about the reasons to assign homework in the first place – and the reasons not to.”

“The Worsening Homework Problem” by Abby Freireich and Brian Platzer in The Atlantic, April 13, 2021; the authors answer questions about kids’ education issues each Tuesday at

5. Evaluating Candidates’ Résumés During a Hiring Process

In this Chronicle of Higher Education article, David Perlmutter (Texas Tech University) offers advice on reading job applicants’ résumés. Although written for a university audience, these pointers are equally helpful in K-12 job searches.

• Rank how well applicants meet the must-have and preferred criteria. This is an area where subjectivity and favoritism have been a problem in the past, so it’s a good idea to create a matrix and objectively score relevant experience and qualifications.

• Use the résumé to get insights on the candidate’s priorities. Jobs held, teaching positions, and volunteer work are highly informative.

• Gauge candidates’ learning curve and career momentum. In addition to employment history, are there degrees, awards, or other recognition that tell a story of progress, goals, and aspirations?

• Look for synergies with your program. The goal, says Perlmutter, is to “connect the dots between the person – whom you may have yet to meet and don’t know anything about – and the ambitions you have for this position. Look for keywords, phrases, areas, and concepts that resonate.” For example, has the candidate shown interest in the type of student population served by your school?

• Look for examples of nimble thought and practice. Perlmutter says that in the wake of the pandemic, all organizations see the importance of flexibility and resilience: “Obviously, we want to hire people who have demonstrated their agility in these dark days.” Specifically, what does the résumé say about how the candidate handled the shift to virtual instruction in the spring of 2020?

• Read the résumé to generate follow-up questions. “In faculty hiring,” says Perlmutter, “you are gauging candidates’ knowledge, skills, and training, but you’re also seeking an intellectual capacity and a set of ideas that will help (and yes, challenge) you.”

• Keep the résumé in perspective. “Learn from the document,” concludes Perlmutter; “don’t be hypnotized by it.” The point is to make “fairness, humanity, decency, efficiency, and integrity the meta-goals of the hiring process.”

“How to Read a Job Candidate’s CV” by David Perlmutter in The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 16, 2021 (Vol. 67, #16, pp. 46-48); Perlmutter can be reached at

6. Improving Students’ “User Experience” Through Course Design

In this Global Online Academy (GOA) article, instructional designer Amanda Burch suggests seven design concepts for crafting a curriculum unit plan, whether online or in-person. “An effectively designed learning experience not only increases usability,” she says, “but may also provoke emotion and delight in your learners – which can positively affect learning and strengthens perceptions of your instruction or of your institution or school.” Here are the concepts, with Burch’s questions and comments for each (see the article link below for a graphic):

• Contrast – Are important elements visually distinguished in your design? For example, are hyperlinks clearly different from the rest of a text, so learners immediately recognize that they are clickable?

• Gestalt – Does your design group common elements together and have clearly defined sections? Our brains want to see part-whole relationships, says Burch, which is why it’s important to chunk information, use breaks, headers, and different colors, and show how content sections relate to the overall unit.

• Balance – Are elements equally weighted? This involves using size, spacing, color, style, contrast, and density to show the co-equal relationship between similarly important content elements.

• Hierarchy – Does your design show the relative importance of the elements? Headings and a numerical sequence are the best ways to demonstrate which ideas are most important, and the logical flow from one to another.

• Scale – Does your design use size and shape to convey relevance? The type size of headers, page layout, and use of sidebars helps learners see the relative importance of different sections.

• Dominance – Are single “focus elements” used across your design to draw attention? A repeating design (for example, a grid) can show the overall organization and how the elements fit in.

• Unity – Does your design create harmony among the elements? The key elements are color and consistent use of typestyles, structure, and language.

“From User Experience to Learner Experience: Seven Key Concepts in Effective Online Learning Design” by Amanda Burch in Global Online Academy, April 15, 2021

7. Short Item:

Online Beethoven Resources – Beethoven, Independent Man is a collection of eight illustrated biographical stories weaving together the story of the composer’s life and music. The site includes a “Search and Discover” section where students can find out more about Beethoven.

“Free Teacher Resource Brings Beethoven to Life for Students of All Ages” by Nancy and Randall Faber in Principal Leadership, April 2021 (Vol. 21, #8, p. 8)

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In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“Now is the time to ask straightforward questions about what we’ve learned in this extraordinary year.”

Justin Wells (see item #1)

“My bet is that the biggest shift from Covid will not be any one tool or technique, but a broadening sense that engagement is not merely something that students ‘bring to class,’ but is a result of the environment of the class itself, and that environment can be designed to better support or encourage engagement.”

Clay Shirky (quoted in item #2)

“I think that serious damage can occur when we mislabel demoralization as burnout. That creates degrees of shame and frustration in teachers that could actually move them out of the classroom rather than helping them to better understand how the conditions need to change in order to feel good about their work.”

Doris Santoro (Bowdoin College) in “Educating in a Pandemic: Burnout and

Demoralization,” Portland, Maine, June 25, 2020 (quoted in The Learning Professional,

April 2021 (Vol 42, #2, p. 3); Santoro can be reached at

“Traditional teacher professional development often takes the form of a lecture-heavy workshop disconnected from the day-to-day lessons that teachers lead. By contrast, curriculum-based professional learning is active, ongoing, and focused on improving the rigor and impact of teachers’ lessons.”

“The Elements: Transforming Teaching Through Curriculum-Based Professional Learning” by Jim Short and Stephanie Hirsch, Carnegie Corporation, November 19,

2020, quoted in “High-Quality Curriculum Doesn’t Teach Itself” by Robert Pondiscio

in Education Gadfly, April 8, 2021

“Let us, by showing grace, make the memory of this stormy school year just a bit more peaceful.”

Matthew Kay (see item # 4)

1. Grading for Learning, Not Sorting

“Now is the time to ask straightforward questions about what we’ve learned in this extraordinary year,” says Justin Wells (Envision Learning Partners) in this article in Edutopia. “In general, things that worked during the pandemic are things we should do more of. Things that broke down or exacerbated inequities deserve serious rethinking.”

Wells’s nominee in the latter category: point-based grading. Students getting zeroes for missed assignments, and having those averaged into their overall grades, has been a major factor in a spiraling failure rate in recent months. This is one of several problems with points. Another is turning school into a numbers game. A student is asked how she’s doing in a course. Her answer: “I’m getting a 74.” Nothing about learning goals, skills that need work, or a pathway to improvement.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with points, says Wells. Some aspects of learning are measurable – there are right and wrong answers – and teachers need to keep track and assess students on objective criteria. But there are ways to avoid the negative effects. Here are Wells’s suggestions:

• Don’t add up all grades. A lot of the work students do is formative in nature – homework, practice exercises, short quizzes – intended to build mastery. But when these pieces are aggregated and become part of a summative grade, bumps on the road to learning have a disproportionate impact. “As a teacher,” says Wells, “when I kept my students’ practice data discrete (or ignored the aggregations that grading software would do without my asking it to), I was better able to preserve an analytic lens when surveying evidence of student learning. My conversations with students were more nuanced. I found it easier to awaken them, rather than coerce them, into the understanding that practice and performance are strongly correlated.”

• Have students think in terms of a portfolio. Often used in visual arts, the idea is to have students curate demonstrations of learning and think of the collection as a photo album. “Portfolios tend to move assessment in healthy directions,” says Wells, “opening more paths to success, inviting more student engagement, focusing more on the work, and creating more opportunities for revision and redemption.”

• Use a 4-point rubric for course grades. It’s significant that GPAs, most rubrics, and letter grades use roughly the same 4-point scale, translated by one teacher thusly:

4 – You nailed it

3 – You got it.

2 – You almost got it.

1 – Something isn’t working here.

Describing each level in a straightforward 4-level course rubric is very helpful to students, especially those who are struggling, whereas byzantine point systems are confusing and demoralizing. “My students’ relationships to their grades changed dramatically when they used a rubric to self-assess,” says Wells. “Their conclusions almost always matched my own. When they didn’t, important conversations ensued, and sometimes I would have to rethink my judgment.” Using this approach, a grade is “a description of the student’s learning, as demonstrated through evidence.”

• Listen to students for whom things are not working well. Many successful students have figured out how to do well in a points-based grading system and don’t see a problem. But struggling students are the canary in the mine, and improving the system for them will improve it for everyone, says Wells.

“What’s Wrong with Points?” by Justin Wells in Edutopia, April 2, 2021; Wells can be reached at

2. Which Covid-Time Practices Will We Carry Over to the New Normal?

In this Chronicle of Higher Education article, Beth McMurtrie shares pandemic-driven innovations instructors say they will keep using when in-person classes return. Although written for a university audience, most of these suggestions also apply to K-12:

• Make connections – Several instructors told McMurtrie that taking time to “simply talk to students” before and at the end of classes “paid off in ways both expected and surprising.” Giving students time to talk about what was on their minds helped build relationships and know “the competing pressures in their students’ lives.” It’s part of teachers’ realization that the teacher/student ratio of classroom talk needs to bend more toward student talk. “My bet,” says Clay Shirky of New York University, “is that the biggest shift from Covid will not be any one tool or technique, but a broadening sense that engagement is not merely something that students ‘bring to class,’ but is a result of the environment of the class itself, and that environment can be designed to better support or encourage engagement.”

• Online guest speakers – “I know I could have been doing this for years,” says Andrea Bixler of Clarke University in Iowa, “but I was never forced to, so I never did. Now I have guest speakers from around the region (and they could be from much farther afield) join my classes to discuss various topics.” And, she added, it’s more environmentally responsible because there’s no travel.

• Online tutoring – Several instructors reported that offering one-on-one instruction via Zoom greatly increased the number of students who showed up. Continuing this after the pandemic seems worthwhile for tutoring, advising, coaching writing, and other individual support. “Definitely a keeper!” said one instructor.

• Flexibility with due dates and grading – The concern here is accusations of unfairness or favoritism when an instructor “goes easy” with some students. But during the pandemic, being flexible with deadlines has not been seen as giving students a pass. Kari Morgan, an instructor at Kansas State University, started giving full credit for late work. She checked with her students on adopting that policy going forward, and hearing no complaints, she plans to continue flexible deadlines with no penalty when regular classes resume. “Treating students with respect and care builds trust,” says Morgan. “This serves as a foundation for learning. It also allows me to focus on the ‘big’ issues, and not the nitpicky ones. I mean, really, if I am not going to grade at the stroke of midnight, why does it matter if their work is a bit late?” But she is strict on assignments that need to be handed in as preparation for a specific class, and explains why.

• Virtual faculty workshops – “We have gotten double or triple the attendance we used to have,” says Karyn Sproles, dean of faculty development at the U.S. Naval Academy, “and the workshops have been even more interactive through chat and small groups… Not only did they answer questions we asked them to respond to in chat, but they asked questions, answered each other’s questions, and posted links to resources.”

“Teaching: After the Pandemic, What Innovations Are Worth Keeping?” by Beth McMurtrie in The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 1, 2021

3. Using the Chat Function to Deepen and Extend Student Engagement

“How do teachers motivate students to share ideas and risk ‘being wrong’ in the digital space, or the public space of the in-person classroom?” asks writer/educator Maureen Picard Robins in this Edutopia article. The chat! Robins says she’s found this medium is an effective way to get kids involved during remote classes, and she plans to continue using it when the pandemic is over. Her bag of tricks:

• Chat me – Robins pauses at key points in a lesson – after a warm-up, mini-lecture, or breakout discussion – and invites students to contribute ideas in the chat. This “facilitates student comment, questions, connection-making, and time to process information so that it sticks,” she says.

• Routine openings for thinking – Robins regularly uses entrance and exit tickets and mid-lesson check-ins. She finds that “insightful student thinking emerges when rituals are put into practice and pace the lesson.”

• Acknowledging and encouraging – Robins reads some students’ chats aloud, even if they aren’t fully articulated, and says thank you for every contribution.

• To prompt longer responses – Here’s an example: Describe your emotions in five sentences or more after reading chapter 4 of The Hate U Give. A prompt like this gets the whole class thinking more deeply and prevents impulsive responses. Students might compose their responses on paper or in a Word doc and then paste them into the chat.

• For accountability – “I want to know what they are taking away from the lesson and what they think they are taking away from the lesson,” says Robins. “I want to see if they have been listening or they are present in name only.”

• To give wait time – “We make the mistake of asking, ‘Are there any questions?’ and are greeted by silence, which we incorrectly interpret as an affirmation of understanding,” says Robins. Better to ask students to make their thinking visible in the chat.

• Monitoring – Some teachers are able to toggle back and forth between listening to a discussion and reading the chat. For those who find this kind of multitasking difficult, it’s important to have another adult or a trusted student reading chat comments. Some of what appears in the chat gets an immediate response, other items go into a parking lot for “things we are curious about” or “topics we want to learn more about.”

• Contributing information – For example, when the class encounters a word whose meaning might not be familiar to everyone, a student might look it up on another device and put the definition in the chat.

• Private chats – “This works well for conferring, checking in, providing feedback, reteaching, and enriching,” says Robins, perhaps taking place while students are working in groups or a co-teacher leads the class.

• Memorializing a conversation – Shared chat comments can serve as a brainstorm page for students’ writing, research, or inquiry, and can provide grist for discussions with colleagues.

“10 Ways to Harness the Power of the Chat Function” by Maureen Picard Robins in Edutopia, April 5, 2021

4. Positive Endings

(Originally titled “Confronting Inequity/Getting the Endings Right”)

In this Educational Leadership, article, Philadelphia teacher Matthew Kay says the way we end human interactions – lessons, meetings, conversations – really matters. But endings are often mishandled – for example, a teacher calls on a student who raises his hand 15 seconds before the bell rings. Other students’ minds are on getting to the cafeteria line, nobody hears the question, the teacher admonishes students to “be respectful,” and the interchange fizzles.

“With that in mind,” says Kay, “it might be best to assure that last-minute participant that we will give their contributions the time and patient attention they deserve – tomorrow,” then finish with a strong recap of a key point and something to whet students’ appetite for the next lesson.

Kay lists several other situations where paying attention to how we end interactions will leave a positive imprint:

– After pulling a student aside for an inappropriate remark, closing by saying how she is so much more than this moment;

– When a student stays after class to ask a question he was afraid to ask in class, ending by celebrating the courage it took to approach the teacher;

– A principal ending a fraught faculty discussion on race and equity with actionable steps to address the issue;

– A supervisor ending a teacher debrief on a problematic observation with reassurances of support on the journey to improvement;

– Closing a disciplinary conversation with a student by asking about something unrelated to their school performance;

– Ending the 2020-21 year on a positive note. “Let us,” says Kay, “by showing grace, make the memory of this stormy school year just a bit more peaceful.”

“Confronting Inequity/Getting the Endings Right” by Matthew Kay in Educational Leadership, April 2021 (Vol. 78, #7, pp. 80-81); Kay can be reached at

5. Options for Spending Recently Approved Federal Funds

In this Education Gadfly article, Marguerite Roza and Chad Aldeman say district policymakers have a lot of leeway for spending $122 billion of K-12 relief funding approved by Congress last month. It’s clear, however, that the money is short-term, which means, say Roza and Aldeman, that “leaders who commit to things they won’t be able to afford once the money runs out are setting themselves up to fall off a funding cliff in a few years.”

The new funding comes to about $2,450 per child, with variations by state and school district. Roza and Aldeman present five options for addressing unfinished learning, each costing about $1,000 per child. They encourage districts to open up a discussion on which combination will have the greatest impact:

• Option A: Reduce class sizes by two students for a year. This would ease teachers’ workload a little, but it wouldn’t add instructional time for students who have fallen behind. It would also mean hiring more teachers, which would get tricky when the funding stops.

• Option B: Extend a school year by four weeks for all students. This would add instructional time, but wouldn’t focus extra help on the students who need it the most.

• Option C: Provide one-third of students with a year of intensive tutoring. This supports the neediest students and would work only if schools organized a large-scale, effective tutoring program above and beyond regular instruction and persuaded students to participate.

• Option D: Offer four-week learning camps for all students for the summer of 2021 and 2022. The impact would depend on whether lagging students attended, which depends on competing summer activities and family preferences.

• Option E: Let principals decide what makes the most sense for their school. This would spur creativity and customize interventions to each school’s needs, but there would be inconsistencies and a need for accountability.

“One thing’s for sure,” conclude Roza and Aldeman: “District leaders should prepare to be judged for how they spend their federal relief money. Big one-time sums draw big scrutiny.”

“Reduce Class Sizes, Lengthen the School Year, Provide Tutoring – or Let Principals Decide?” by Marguerite Roza and Chad Aldeman in Education Gadfly, April 8, 2021

6. Maximizing the Impact of 2021 Summer Schools

In this article in Chalkbeat, Matt Barnum reports on what researchers and districts have learned about running effective summer school programs:

• Find ways to get high attendance. The evidence is that only students who regularly attend summer school make gains – but threatening to hold students back if they don’t show up is often counterproductive. The best strategy is to avoid drudgery and make summer school attractive by including music, art, dance, and field trips to live theater and art museums, as well as reading and math. A highly engaging summer program goes beyond test-score gains, building students’ connections to school and willingness to take advanced courses.

• Reach out to families and address barriers to attendance. Many parents need to be coaxed to sign up their children. It’s helpful to identify students who will benefit the most, make personal contact with their families, and reassure parents about transportation, accommodating working hours, and Covid safety measures.

• Make summer school appealing for teachers. Those who are on the fence about teaching in the summer after a very difficult year need to think, “Oh, I could do this.” Enticements might include higher pay, small class sizes, curriculum resources, and the option to work half days and have fewer preps.

• Go with in-person instruction. The difficulties with online instruction that educators and children have experienced in 2020-21 will only be magnified over the summer, and studies conducted before the pandemic show few gains from summer programs conducted remotely.

• Spin summer school as getting a head start on the coming school year. Better yet, have teachers from the school year loop with students into summer school, or summer school teachers remain with students into the 2021-22 year (although these approaches are likely to be logistically challenging and should be used only when looping is easy to orchestrate).

• Don’t over-promise. After all, summer school is only a few extra weeks of instruction. But there may be gains beyond book learning, including students reengaging with school, reconnecting with friends, and giving their parents a break from 24/7 child care. “The challenge is so substantial,” said one school leader. “It’s not a one-year approach. It’s a three-year approach.”

“Summer School Programs Are Set to Grow. Here Are 6 Tips for Making Them Successful” by Matt Barnum in Chalkbeat, March 30, 2021

7. Involving Students in Constructing the Criteria for Good Writing

In this Cult of Pedagogy article, Jennifer Gonzalez says that early in her teaching career, she would spend entire weekends grading papers, writing extensive comments and highlighting strengths and weaknesses on a rubric. Alas, when she returned the papers, “far too many students would look at their grades and feedback like it was written in another language.” It made no difference that Gonzalez had given them a copy of the rubric and gone over her expectations.

Over time, she added two more steps that improved students’ writing – showing models of finished products and getting students to look more closely at the rubric – but there was still something missing. That’s been supplied by author/educator Starr Sackstein in her latest book, Assessing with Respect (ASCD, 2021). The key insight: including students in shaping what will be assessed. “It’s essentially backward planning with students for success,” says Sackstein. “We’re going over an assignment with them, and we’re having a conversation about what it would take to be successful at it.”

Why is it necessary to include students when the teacher – the professional – has well-developed criteria for good student work? Three reasons:

– Clarity is in the eye of the beholder. “I can have amazing ideas, but sometimes how I communicate them in the assignment doesn’t always come out the way that I think they do in my head,” says Sackstein.

– Unit planning is improved. Going over the criteria with students, the teacher can get a better sense of what skills students have already mastered and where they need help.

– Students get more proficient at self-assessing and commenting on classmates’ writing.

Gonzalez and Sackstein say co-constructing success criteria involves four steps, which will take a full class period at first:

• Unpack and rewrite the standards. “Kids have to be familiar with the language of the standards,” says Sackstein. They might work in small groups, circling verbs in a standard (usually the skills) and nouns (the concepts) and brainstorming what it might look like when a student masters it. Students might also translate the standard into kid-friendly I can… language and create posters to be displayed around the classroom.

• Annotate the assignment. As a new project or learning cycle is launched, students study the prompt, highlighting important words or phrases and writing comments or questions in the margins. The prompt: What would success look like on this assignment?

• Study exemplars. Next, students quietly read high-quality examples of completed assignments (teacher-made or by other students) and talk with a partner about which rubric criteria they see in the exemplar. The whole class then shares insights on where in the exemplar the required qualities show up, using the language of the standards. “This step really makes the success criteria come alive,” says Gonzalez, “helping students see exactly what it looks like when a student is meeting the standards well.”

• Identify instructional needs. Students then identify specifically where they will need instructional support. This might be done as a whole-class KWL chart, a poll, a Google form, or an exit slip – all valuable information as the teacher plans mini-lessons.

When the unit is finished and students hand in their completed work, says Sackstein, “Give very direct, instructive feedback, and make it an iterative process where student voice is a large part of how we assess them with reflection and self-assessment. The partnership between what’s going on for them as learners and what we’re seeing as educators comes together to help them start to set goals and move on, making progress on their own learning.”

“Build It Together: Co-Constructing Success Criteria with Students” by Jennifer Gonzalez and Starr Sackstein in Cult of Pedagogy, April 4, 2021

8. Jim Knight on the Vital Role of Instructional Coaches

In this article in The Learning Professional, coaching guru Jim Knight (University of Kansas) describes two approaches to improving teaching and learning:

• Outside-in – Higher-ups decide that teachers should be using certain proven, research-based strategies and mandate implementation. The problem is that teachers may not be convinced about the efficacy of these “best practices,” or may have difficulty fitting the required practices into their existing teaching repertoires – and are then branded as “resistant.” “Not surprisingly,” says Knight, “the outside-in model often has little impact on what really happens in classrooms.”

• Inside-out – Teachers identify something their students need, find a strategy to address it, learn the strategy, and implement it, bringing about improvements in their students’ performance. “Theoretically, teachers could do inside-out professional learning on their own,” says Knight. “But, in reality, this is too much without the support of an expert partner whose job it is to think through these steps… Teaching in and of itself makes significant cognitive demands, and there are few teachers who can do all of the knowledge work that teaching entails plus the complex work involved in learning and implementing new strategies.”

Instructional coaches are perfectly positioned to fill this gap – non-evaluative colleagues who can work shoulder to shoulder with teachers in ways that are much more likely to improve teaching and learning: observing classes; chatting with students; reviewing class videos and student work with teachers; working with teachers to identify an important need; setting achievable goals; researching effective strategies; and adapting them for optimal impact.

“Real Learning Happens in Real Life” by Jim Knight in The Learning Professional, April 2021 (Vol 42, #2, p. 14); Knight can be reached at

9. Recommended Graphic Biographies

In this School Library Journal article, Brigid Alverson recommends ten carefully researched graphic-novel treatments of notable people (click the free link below for cover images, publishers, and brief descriptions):

• Before They Were Artists: Famous Illustrators as Kids by Elizabeth Haidle (grade 3 and up)

• Billionaires: The Lives of the Rich and Powerful by Darryl Cunningham (grade 11 and up)

• Chasin’ the Bird: A Charlie Parker Graphic Novel by Dave Chisholm (grade 10 and up)

• Corpse Talk by Adam and Lisa Murphy (grade 5-8)

• The Incredible Nellie Bly: Journalist, Investigator, Feminist, and Philanthropist by Luciana

Cimino, illustrated by Sergio Algozzino (grade 6 and up)

• Redbone: The True Story of a Native American Rock Band by Christian Staebler and Sonia

Paoloni, illustrated by Thibault Balahy (grade 6 and up)

• Seen: Edmonia Lewis by Jasmine Walls, illustrated by Bex Glendining (grade 7-9)

• Teddy by Laurence Luckinbill, adapted by Eryck Tait (grade 7 and up)

• Why She Wrote by Hannah Chapman and Laurel Burke, illustrated by Kaley Bales (grade 9

and up)

• Women Discoverers: Top Women in Science by Marie Moinard, illustrated by Christelle

Pecout (grade 7 and up)

“Distinguished Panels: Graphic Biographies Bring Notable Figures to Life” by Brigid Alverson in School Library Journal, April 2021 (Vol. 67, #4, pp. 38-41)

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In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“We have long treated teachers as technicians who need to be fixed or filled up with the right knowledge and dispositions, rather than encouraging them to take a lead role in developing their own expertise.”

Isobel Stevenson and Richard Lemons (see item #2)

“Understanding what students are thinking is one of the greatest challenges for experienced math teachers.”

Bobson Wong and Larisa Bukalov (see item #5)

“A high-quality plan results in everyone understanding change efforts, why they matter, how they will be achieved, and how schools know these efforts are making a difference.”

Coby Meyers and Bryan VanGronigen (see item #3)

“Adults and kids are quick to use terms such as good, troublemaker, or tomboy to make sense of interactions among children, between children and adults, and between children and the curriculum.”

Alexandra Freidus (see item #1)

“If principal supervisors don’t see themselves as coaches, districts are failing to employ a key resource that is already in place in most school systems.”

Candice McQueen in “Follow the Instructional Leader” in Educational Leadership,

April 2021 (Vol. 78, #7, pp. 63-67)

“Third grade was a crucial time for me as a reader. I felt I was coming to a fork in the library aisles, where one path led to the Hardy Boys doing hardy boy things while Nancy Drew did mysteriously girl-coded things down the other.”

David Levithan (see item #6)

1. Race, Gender, and Behavior in a New York City Kindergarten Class

In this Harvard Educational Review article, Alexandra Freidus (Seton Hall University) reports on her 51 days observing a kindergarten class in a New York City elementary school in the early stages of gentrification. Freidus also conducted interviews with the school’s educators, students, and families. She found the school “full of well-intentioned people who saw the work of teaching low-income children of color and promoting school integration as an antiracist endeavor.” The teacher in the kindergarten class was experienced and committed to running a calm, productive classroom, allowing students time for creative play, and meeting curriculum expectations.

Freidus cites research on three frames that are frequently used to size up students’ behavior in classrooms:

– Disposition – A discrete act is taken to represent a child’s essential nature, and then, by a circular logic, is used to interpret future actions.

– Medicalization – A diagnosis of a physical or psychological condition (such as ADHD) frames a child’s behavior and then is formally addressed in an IEP.

– Family and community – Educators’ narrative of a family as indulgent, neglectful, cooperative, or interfering can lead to the conclusion that the family, not the child, bears responsibility for behavioral challenges.

“Reputations harden relatively quickly,” says Freidus, “and become deeply entrenched over the course of the academic year so that children’s behaviors are read through and reinscribe these frames. Adults and kids are quick to use terms such as good, troublemaker, or tomboy to make sense of interactions among children, between children and adults, and between children and the curriculum… Reputations are solidified through the use of classroom artifacts (e.g., rewards charts), public praise and condemnation, and the selective enforcement of rules and consequences.”

Freidus zeroed in on two students whose behavior most frequently disrupted the classroom (pseudonyms are used): Hazel was a white girl from a family of professionals, Marquise an African-American boy living in public housing near the school. Both students were having a familiar problem – making the transition to formal schooling. Freidus describes the quite different classroom experiences of these two students:

• Hazel – Although frequently praised for her compliant behavior and correct answers to teachers’ questions and held up as a model student, she frequently clung to her mother in the morning, and on several occasions she took off running down the hallway and had to be chased and brought back to the classroom. Hazel had “expansive, extended crying jags” almost every day. One day in early October, she refused to enter the classroom and became violent with her teacher, kicking and trying to bite her.

“This defiant behavior did not fit with Hazel’s reputation for goodness,” says Freidus, “and so Hazel’s teachers and parents searched for an alternative explanation.” Hazel was referred to the school psychologist, who made a diagnosis of anxiety and counseled the child, her parents, and her teacher on ways to help Hazel feel more comfortable in the classroom. The teacher “repeatedly returned to Hazel’s diagnosis to make sense of her behavior,” says Freidus. Even when the girl had a series of “wild and wicked temper tantrums” in which she screamed that she hated her teacher and the school and again tried to bite her teacher, she wasn’t reprimanded in the same way as other students.

“Hazel’s diagnosis relieved her of responsibility for her behavior,” continues Freidus, “shaping not only how her teacher responded to Hazel but also how the teacher characterized Hazel’s disposition. This made it possible for Hazel to preserve her reputation for innocence despite exhibiting the same actions that might have tarnished the reputation of her peers.” When Hazel kicked her teacher, a school administrator sat down with the parents to make a plan, not to administer a punishment. Educators had a positive view of Hazel’s parents and their supportive home environment, in contrast to the way they viewed the home lives of most other students. “Nobody felt the need to teach Hazel a lesson,” says Freidus; “they just wanted to help a little girl and her family.”

There is another dimension to this dynamic: the neighborhood’s shifting demographics, “together with the tendency of gentrifying schools to cater to newcomer families, rendered racialized school discipline norms, values, and practices particularly visible.”

• Marquise – This boy, despite his winning smile and the hugs he frequently gave adults and children, quickly acquired a reputation as a problem child (whereas Hazel was viewed as a child with problems). On the very first day of school, the teacher reprimanded Marquise for the way he was moving around the classroom, pulled him aside, and said in no uncertain terms that he needed to obey the adults in the school. When Marquise’s mother picked him up that afternoon, she got the full report and told her son to always say, “Yes, Ma’am!” when the teacher asked him a question.

But Marquise’s behavior got worse, including not going to his assigned rug spot, interrupting class discussions, yelling when he didn’t get his choice for activity time, and sometimes lying on the floor, wailing loudly, and violently kicking his legs. The teacher tried everything: praising him and giving stickers when he followed directions, calling his mother on speaker phone when he misbehaved, keeping him in from recess, letting him have his snack earlier than other students, and having him removed from the classroom when he was especially disruptive. The teacher asked the special education coordinator about having him diagnosed for special needs or ADHD and had her observe Marquise in the classroom, but the coordinator said he showed no signs of having a disability; rather, she said, it was a case of “learned behavior.”

The teacher sat down with the boy’s mother and made a plan that would hold the family responsible for his behavior. But by this time the family, as well as Marquise, had a bad reputation in the school, and the special education coordinator warned the teacher that “Mom is not going to keep her end of the bargain.” Freidus asked the teacher if consideration had been given to referring Marquise to the school psychologist, and she said it had not, although a black male counselor had been enlisted to provide him with occasional classroom support.

In early November, Marquise attempted to kick, hit, and bite his teacher, and a paraprofessional was assigned to the classroom to help with his behavior. But when this extra help was pulled out, Marquise hit another student, the teacher had reached her limit. She filed an incident report and Marquise got a two-day in-school suspension supervised by a black male parent coordinator. This proved to be a turning point; a “changed boy” showed marked improvement in behavior for the rest of the school year. The teacher attributed this to the suspension; Marquise finally got the message that there were consequences for his bad behavior.

But Marquise’s mother and the parent coordinator had a different explanation for the turnaround: love. The parent coordinator spent the two days of the in-school suspension connecting with the boy, recognizing him as a child, and approaching discipline from a caring and protective stance. He remembers telling Marquise, “Hey, I’m concerned about you. When I tell you ‘I love you,’ I really love you. … My love for you runs deep like that. I want to see you excel, and I’m going to do everything I possibly can to help that.”

Freidus describes what she learned observing and interviewing students in the class: “Kids clearly demonstrated their understanding that Hazel, white and female, was good, while Marquise, black and male, was not. They knew that students were responsible for making good choices and that Marquise repeatedly failed to do so. They understood that if you made bad choices, there would be no place for you within the classroom community. They believed that you need protection from children like Marquise. And they learned to be patient and flexible with children like Hazel, who required and deserved their protection.”

Freidus concludes: “What might it take to remake these relational categories of innocence and culpability, whiteness and blackness? … To see children excel, we must reconsider the hidden curriculum of school discipline. Rather than locating the problem in children’s behavior, we must examine schools’ norms and practices. We must track when and why we decide to direct additional resources toward some kids and not others, monitoring how we offer access to mental health services to all children. We must ask which kids have access to protective relationships with school staff and which do not. We must reconsider where we locate expertise in schools. How could we support students by drawing on the skills and knowledge of not only psychologists and learning specialists but also parent coordinators and paraprofessionals?… We might be willing to bend or change the rules for more kids if the rules do not serve our goals for learning, safety, and growth. We might refuse to use exclusion as a tool for social control. We might repeatedly demonstrate that all kids belong in the classroom community. We might see them as good.”

“‘Problem Children’ and ‘Children with Problems’: Discipline and Innocence in a Gentrifying Elementary School” by Alexandra Freidus in Harvard Educational Review, Winter 2020 (Vol. 90, #4, pp. 550-572); Freidus can be reached at

2. Improvement Routines That Continuously Strengthen Practice

“We have long treated teachers as technicians who need to be fixed or filled up with the right knowledge and dispositions, rather than encouraging them to take a lead role in developing their own expertise,” say Isobel Stevenson and Richard Lemons (Connecticut Center for School Change) in this Phi Delta Kappan article. They go on to share how each side of the research-practice chasm sees the world:

– University folks complain that front-line educators don’t read, resist research findings that challenge their ideas about teaching and learning, and are too enamored of plug-and-play programs that aren’t backed up by careful studies.

– Practitioners complain that researchers focus on esoteric topics with no relevance to schools, and that their studies are ambiguous, contradictory, and filled with jargon.

“Our experience suggests that there is truth to all of these observations,” say Stevenson and Lemons.

So is the gulf between researchers and front-line educators unbridgeable? No, say the authors, if K-12 educators engage in improvement routines in which they ask research-informed questions, spend time in classrooms, work with teacher teams, look at data, and continuously reflect on teaching and learning. The goal is the same as that of university researchers: more good teaching in more classrooms more of the time.

Four examples of improvement routines are communities of practice, instructional rounds, results-focused teacher teams (a.k.a. PLCs), and instructional coaching. Stevenson and Lemons describe how a Connecticut district used instructional rounds. The superintendent realized from reading research and looking at data that students needed more-challenging mathematics curriculum and instruction to be prepared for post-secondary success. She asked school leaders and instructional coaches to visit math classrooms in all the district’s schools. They developed a shared definition of the kinds of numeric reasoning (not currently taught in most classrooms) that students would need to meet Common Core standards. Teams of teachers made classroom visits and joined the conversation about changes that would be needed, and how to support their colleagues in making them. Teams explored relevant research and analytic frameworks to redesign classroom instruction.

Stevenson and Lemons note the bookending role of research in this story. Rather than having research drive the process, district leaders used it to spark an internal discussion that engaged educators “in an active and ongoing process that involved observing classrooms, collecting and analyzing data, identifying needs and priorities, designing solutions, trying them out, observing the results, and regrouping. In short, while local practitioners were informed by their reading of academic research, they were fully invested in generating new knowledge and applying it to their own practice, right where it matters most – the instructional core.” The result of this multi-year effort was a dramatic improvement in students’ math achievement.

From their experience with efforts like this, Stevenson and Lemons list the key characteristics of well-executed improvement routines:

– They focus on teachers’ instructional practice, the curriculum they teach, and the tasks they assign to students.

– They craft a shared understanding of school improvement and high-quality instruction.

– They enable participants to build their professional knowledge and become better prepared to put what they’ve learned into practice.

– They spread the new insights to educators across the district.

– They collect and analyze evidence in a way that provides actionable information on how things are going.

– The routine happens often enough to become part of a school’s culture.

“It is important that routines run smoothly,” say Stevenson and Lemons, “but this is not the primary goal. Ultimately, the point must be to build educators’ capacity to deliver consistent, high-quality instruction to all students across all classrooms.”

Once again drawing from their experience with school improvement efforts, the authors note three issues that often crop up:

• Problem #1: Educators who are wedded to an “inspirational and transformational” model of leadership are impatient with the “slow, tiresome, procedural, and regressive” pace of an improvement routine. “In our experience,” say Stevenson and Lemons, “the most effective educational leaders pay close attention to detail, have a deep technical background in instruction, understand that it takes time for new professional routines to develop, mature, and show their effects, and are willing to stay the course.”

• Problem #2: District leaders failing to realize that improvement routines have to be localized, bringing school-based educators together to look at their own work and figure out better ways to accomplish broader goals.

• Problem #3: Superintendents who don’t hear and follow up on feedback during the process. “Successful improvement routines rely on feedback loops,” say Stevenson and Lemons. “If teachers and administrators offer constructive feedback only to be ignored or receive a defensive response from their superiors, then they’re likely to view improvement routines as just another set of hoops they have to jump through.”

“Improvement Routines: Research by and for Practitioners” by Isobel Stevenson and Richard Lemons in Phi Delta Kappan, April 2021 (Vol. 102, #7, pp. 34-37); the authors can be reached at and

3. The Benefits of Short-Cycle Planning

(Originally titled “The Best-Laid Plans Can Succeed”)

In this Educational Leadership article, Coby Meyers (University of Virginia) and Bryan VanGronigen (University of Delaware) acknowledge the cynicism that principals often have about mandated school improvement planning – and the fact that many central-office leaders tolerate a bureaucratic process and don’t insist on high-quality planning. The result is “satisficing” behavior: settling for a “good enough” plan that suffices to satisfy the boss’s requirements. Yet another problem with traditional plans is that they frontload activities and budget lines at the beginning of the school year, scheduling very little for subsequent months despite the likelihood that unexpected developments will create the need for mid-course corrections or new planning.

Meyers and VanGronigen believe that short-cycle operational planning is an “empowering departure” from, and a “powerful supplement” to, traditional strategic planning. Quarterly 90-day plans can be “living documents” that are widely visible, involve key stakeholders, inform daily operations, and are constantly tinkered with in light of new data. From their work with school districts over the last five years (and seeing plenty of short-cycle plans that weren’t effective), Meyers and VanGronigen suggest five fundamentals:

• Driving purposes – “The most empowering aspect of any planning process is envisioning what can be,” they say. “Short-cycle planning requires a long-term, ambitious vision that can inspire change.” But short-cycle plans follow up by focusing on a few immediate priorities, signaling what must change quickly – for example, teachers using on-the-spot assessments to measure and respond to students’ daily reading progress – in service of the long-range goal of improving reading instruction.

• Root cause analysis – This is essential “to pinpoint foundational reasons why success has been interrupted or not yet achieved,” say Meyers and VanGronigen. “Without identifying root causes, subsequent stages of the planning process either respond to symptoms or are likely unrelated to what changes need to occur to realize meaningful change.” For example, a principal might bemoan that she is not getting into classrooms; a deeper analysis would reveal that the problem was not getting an assistant principal to take care of certain responsibilities that would free up the principal to observe instruction.

• Action steps – Traditional plans often have lists of “loosely related things that fail to build toward organizational change,” say Meyers and VanGronigen, as well as lists of routine tasks (like holding PLC meetings) without details of how they will be improved. Good short-cycle plans have specific, high-leverage leadership moves that will improve classroom teaching and school culture, the what, how, and why of school improvement – for example, how many classroom visits, using look-fors decided by the faculty, with what kind of follow-up with teachers afterward – and why this will be helpful, rather than being seen as infringing on teachers’ autonomy.

• Measurement – “While measures do not have to be complex or burdensome,” say Meyers and VanGronigen, “they should be continuous, attainable, and understandable. Anyone in a school should be able to track progress with action steps and understand when goals have been met.” Rather than waiting for end-of-year test scores to judge a new curriculum, short-cycle plans would look at initial teacher buy-in, then interim measures of implementation, and benchmark measures of student gains.

• Alignment – Effective plans have a through-line from vision to results: “The driving purposes are clear,” say Meyers and VanGronigen. “Root causes emerge from evidence that strongly suggests addressing those causes will help realize driving purposes. Action steps are coherent and hang together in ways that build toward addressing root causes. Meaningful measures are in place to understand whether action steps are working and highlight the extent to which the school has changed or is changing… A high-quality plan results in everyone understanding change efforts, why they matter, how they will be achieved, and how schools know these efforts are making a difference.”

“The Best-Laid Plans Can Succeed” by Coby Meyers and Bryan VanGronigen in Educational Leadership, April 2021 (Vol. 78, #7, pp. 50-55); the authors can be reached at and

4. Supporting Students As They Emerge from Remote Instruction

In this Phi Delta Kappan column, Phyllis Fagell counsels a third-grade teacher who writes, “These eight- and nine-year-old kids can’t manage little setbacks well, whether it’s a tough worksheet problem or a missed chance to be line leader, and I think it’s because they’re also coping with big disappointments.” Her students hate Zoom and lack the resilience they exhibited in the past. The teacher asks how she can reacclimate next year’s students when they’ve been through so much.

“The pandemic has had a huge impact on children,” Fagell responds, “changing how they learn, live, and play. And no two kids are going to respond exactly the same way, because everyone has a different backstory and risk factors.” Teachers are a vital part of kids’ support system, she says, and quotes two experts with suggestions:

• The 80/20 rule – “Typically, after a disaster, around 80% of kids will be just fine and recover well, and around 20% will struggle,” says Jonathan Wilson, director of OpSAFE International. Adults who focus on the 20% “end up playing whack-a-mole, jumping from crisis to crisis. It’s better to work with the 100% to rebuild community, talk about feelings, and reduce distress. Then the whole group helps you support the 20% and everybody builds resilience.”

• Anticipation and problem-solving – If, for example, students are having problems with new classroom groupings that separate them from friends, the teacher might suggest after-school play dates to keep those connections, suggests Ryan DeLapp, a child psychologist at Montefiore Health Systems in New York City. Problem-solving skills need explicit instruction, followed by praise when students apply them successfully, and when they deal well with disappointments. An important teacher skill: knowing when a student meltdown is coming and putting aside academics for a few minutes of quiet reading, mindfulness, or play.

“Career Confidential: A Teacher Wants to Help Students Manage Disappointment Better” by Phyllis Fagell in Phi Delta Kappan, April 2021 (Vol. 102, #7, pp. 66-67); Fagell can be reached at

5. Will Online Whiteboards Be a Lasting Legacy of the Pandemic?

“Understanding what students are thinking is one of the greatest challenges for experienced math teachers,” say New York high-school teachers Bobson Wong and Larisa Bukalov in Edutopia. Dry-erase boards are helpful, with all students displaying their responses simultaneously and building their mathematical confidence. But dry-erase boards have disadvantages: they’re small, making it difficult for the teacher and classmates to see some answers; answers aren’t preserved as the class moves on to the next problem; whiteboards need to be cleaned and replenished; and in remote classes it’s even more difficult to see students’ responses.

A better strategy, say Wong and Bukalov, is online whiteboards. Teachers log on to one of the free websites – GeoGebra, Demos, Google Jamboard, Whiteboard, – and create a session activity. Then students access the content by typing a code in the whiteboard site (or clicking a unique link). Students can give quick responses to questions posed by the teacher – Which answer is correct? What is a ratio? – or mark up content that the teacher sends from the class’s learning management system. In GeoGebra and Desmos, students can create and manipulate animations, type mathematical symbols, and use built-in calculators.

The most helpful feature of online whiteboards is that the teacher can see all students’ whiteboards simultaneously, spot learning problems, and give quick feedback on individuals’ efforts. Additional advantages: fewer handouts and less need for copying. “Even when we resume teaching in person,” say Wong and Bukalov, “we plan to continue using them.”

“Using Online Whiteboards to Boost Student Engagement and Confidence in Math” by Bobson Wong and Larisa Bukalov in Edutopia, March 24, 2021

6. A Writer Pays Tribute to Beverly Cleary

In this New York Times article, David Levithan describes Beverly Cleary’s impact on him in elementary school. “Third grade was a crucial time for me as a reader,” he says. “I felt I was coming to a fork in the library aisles, where one path led to the Hardy Boys doing hardy boy things while Nancy Drew did mysteriously girl-coded things down the other… I was supposed to read for action, not depth… Feelings were not a mystery the Hardy Boys ever needed to solve.”

It was Ralph, the motorcycle-riding mouse, and the connection to Levithan’s Matchhbox cars, that hooked him on another literary pathway. “Claiming a book about a talking mouse as a work of realism might seem like a stretch,” says Levithan, “but Ms. Cleary’s magic was that she placed her flights of fancy so firmly in the lives of her very human characters that reading her stories always feels like soaring through real life.” He read more of her books, which led to Judy Blume and a wide array of literature that he loved and shared with like-minded friends.

“Ms. Cleary spoke the same language as so many kids,” Levithan concludes, “and so naturally. How wise of an author to use a mouse, a motorcycle, and a boy who loves cars to guide me where I needed to go, as a reader, a writer, and a human being.”

“Beverly Cleary Helped Boys to Love Books” by David Levithan in The New York Times, March 31, 2021

7. Recommended Books for 11-14 Year-Olds

In this School Library Journal feature, Monica Cabarcas recommends these books for tweens and young teens (see the link below for cover images and short reviews):

– Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo (grade 8-12)

– King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender (grade 6-8)

– Turning Point by Paula Chase (grade 6-8)

– The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert (grade 5-8)

– Rick by Alex Gino (grade 4-7)

– Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir by Robin Ha (grade 7-9)

– The Boys in the Back Row by Mike Jung (grade 5-7)

– Stand up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim (grade 4-7)

– Millionaires for the Month by Stacy McAnulty (grade 5-8)

– Everything Sad is Untrue: (A True Story) by Daniel Nayeri (grade 7-12)

– Free Lunch by Rex Ogle (grade 6-8)

– Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes (grade 5-8)

– Clean Getaway by Nic Stone (grade 5-8)

“Reading in Between” by Monica Cabarcas in School Library Journal, March 2021 (Vol. 67, #3, pp. 60-62)

8. Short Items:

a. An Online Q&A with Jay McTighe on Returning to “Normal” – This Thursday, April 8th at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, Jay McTighe joins Newsela for a conversation on the pitfalls of planning around deficit-oriented language like “learning loss,” and best practices for charting a new way forward that provides students with the right support for meaningful learning.

b. A Video on the Suez Canal Blockage – This YouTube video does a good job capturing the story of one ship blocking the Suez Canal for six days, complete with maps and an explanation of the global supply chain.

“How One Ship Caused a Global Traffic Jam” on YouTube, March 31, 2021

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In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“All sorts of solutions have been proposed, but only one, tutoring, has both a solid and substantial research base and a significant number of proven, practical, cost-effective solutions.”

Robert Slavin (see item #1)

“I don’t expect perfection. I expect improvement.”

Richard Gordon, principal of Paul Robeson High School in Philadelphia, quoted in

“Nation’s Top Principal on Developing Our Greatness” in an Educational Leadership

interview with Sarah McKibben, April 2021 (Vol. 78, #7, pp. 12-13)

“Researchers are, in our experience, frustrated and saddened that teachers do not make greater use of research findings in their practice. But nothing will change until the researchers recognize that their standard methodology is useful for answering research questions, not for improving practice.”

Daniel Willingham and David Daniel in “Making Education Research Relevant”

in Education Next, Spring 2021 (Vol. 21, #22, pp. 28-33)

“It’s possible for two things to be true: for numbers to come up short before the nuances of reality, while also being the most powerful instrument we have when it comes to understanding that reality.”

Hannah Fry in “What Really Counts”, a review of two new books about statistics in

The New Yorker, March 29, 2021

“The aim of history class isn’t to get students to love or loathe their country. It’s to prepare them to live in it.”

Daniel Immerwahr (see item #6)

1. Robert Slavin on Tutoring as a Crucial Post-Covid Intervention

In this article on his website, Robert Slavin (Johns Hopkins University) bemoans the fact that so few U.S. schools are using research-proven programs. Medicine used to have an evidence-to-practice gap, but in the 1900s, penicillin, morphine, sulfa drugs, and cures for polio changed people’s mindset. “These breakthroughs,” says Slavin, “were explicitly engineered to solve health problems of great concern to the public, just as the Covid-19 vaccines were explicitly engineered to solve the pandemic.”

What is to be done about the unfinished learning of millions of students in the wake of the coronavirus? “All sorts of solutions have been proposed,” says Slavin, “but only one, tutoring, has both a solid and substantial research base and a significant number of proven, practical, cost-effective solutions.”

Slavin and several colleagues are launching a new initiative, Proven Tutoring, to promote 14 effective tutoring programs for reading and math and organize training and support to take them to scale. The goal is 100,000 tutors who can serve 4 million students. Slavin suggests recruiting and training college-educated tutors “because evidence finds that well-supported teaching assistants get results as good as those obtained by certified teachers” – and getting thousands of tutors certified is not practical in the short term. The idea is to give schools and districts a choice of the proven tutoring programs and then provide PD via webinars to make sure the quality of tutoring is maintained as it’s taken to scale.

If the initiative is successful, says Slavin, this might be the “penicillin/polio/Covid moment” for educational research, proving that it can solve big, practical problems in schools. This could lead to much more widespread implementation of proven programs for teaching reading, algebra, science, ELL instruction, and other areas.

“ Getting Proven Tutoring Programs Into Widespread Practice” by Robert Slavin, March 2, 2021; Slavin can be reached at

2. New Insights on Summer Learning Loss

In this American Educational Research Journal article, Allison Atteberry (University of Colorado/Boulder) and Andrew McEachin (RAND Corporation and Pardee RAND Graduate School) report on their study of grade 1-8 summer learning loss, using an NWEA data set of 18 million students across 50 states. The major findings:

• On average, there is a zig-zag pattern through the grades, with learning gains during the school year and losses over the summer. The fluctuations flatten as students move through the grades, with less gain and less loss each year. However, these averages are misleading since…

• There is dramatic student-to-student variation in summer learning loss. Some students maintain their in-school learning pace over the summer, while others lose almost everything they learned from September to May in summertime.

• Surprisingly, only 4 percent of the variation in summer learning loss is explained by students’ race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status. What is causing almost all of the variation? It’s for “mostly unknown reasons,” say Atteberry and McEachin. “To date we have only limited insight into what accounts for most of that variation.” Further research is needed to pinpoint the role of families’ economic capital, time with children, parenting skills, and expectations over the summer.

• Students who had significant summertime learning loss tended to continue that pattern year after year. “Summer losses accrue to the same students over time in a way that would contribute to the widening of end-of-school student outcomes,” say Atteberry and McEachin. By eighth grade, their cumulative losses left them 40 percent behind where their school-year gains would have left them, widening achievement gaps in the student population.

• This study clearly points to the need for high-quality summer programs – or an extension of the school year – for students who are consistently falling behind. Research is only beginning to identify the key characteristics of effective programs.

• Atteberry and McEachin conducted an interesting thought experiment. If all students hypothetically entered kindergarten with the same learning and skill levels, and learned exactly the same amount each school year, what would achievement look like over time? Even with identical starting points and school-year experiences, the graphs are troubling: there is an ever-widening math and reading achievement gap between students who make progress over the summer and those who lose ground.

• Of course, students enter school with large inequalities in skills and knowledge, some gain more than others during each year, and some teachers and schools have a more-positive impact than others. “The summer can be thought of as a counterfactual to schooling,” say Atteberry and McEachin, “giving us a window into how inequality would grow in the absence of the school’s influence… Should schools be reframed, then, as ‘equalizers’ – ameliorating rather than exacerbating outcome inequality?”

“School’s Out: The Role of Summers in Understanding Achievement Disparities” by Allison Atteberry and Andrew McEachin in American Educational Research Journal, April 2021 (Vol. 58, #2, pp. 239-282); Atteberry can be reached at

3. Six Everyday Supports for Students Who’ve Experienced Trauma

In this Elementary School Journal article, Jessica Koslouski and Kristabel Stark (Boston University) say that few teachers receive training on how to support students who have experienced adversity or trauma. (Nearly half of elementary students have had at least one potentially traumatic event; experts have described trauma as a close encounter with violence or death that violates the child’s sense of control, connection, and meaning.) But even if teachers haven’t had training on trauma, like the teachers in this study, their everyday actions can significantly improve vulnerable students’ school experience. “These organic actions,” say Koslouski and Stark, “likely have important and positive consequences for the students themselves, as well as their peers, teachers, families, and school community.” From in-depth interviews with ten elementary teachers, the authors identified specific practices that benefit all students, but are particularly important for students with the greatest needs.

• Prioritizing relationships with and between students – Building trust and safety and nurturing a calm, supportive classroom community are key priorities. “I think meeting those emotional needs has to come before academics,” said one teacher. “I want them to be happy, feel good about coming to school.”

• Allocating time to teach self-regulation and social skills – This includes using morning meetings to talk about emotions and stress responses and teach conflict resolution and anger management. The interviewed teachers also blocked out time for mindfulness, yoga, movement breaks, and just plain quiet. Some teachers implemented the Open Circle or Responsive Classroom program.

• Providing and advocating for academic, social, and emotional support – This included predictable daily routines; a non-punitive break area where students could color, write, or reflect; giving students choices; and making full use of school counselors, psychologists, social workers, and other supportive staff members.

• Practicing cultural humility and responsiveness – For teachers, this meant rethinking curriculum objectives and materials and taking into account students’ race, ethnicity, language, religions, sexual identity and orientation, citizenship status, (dis)ability, and learning styles. One teacher said she was constantly aware that she wasn’t just teaching the child in front of her but also “their trauma, their history, what they come with, last year’s learning, the previous year’s learning.” In deference to instances of gender fluidity, teachers addressed students as “friends” or “scholars” rather than “boys and girls.”

• Striving to ally with parents – This involved reaching out to parents of students experiencing adversity and trauma; engaging parents who had the time and energy to be involved; and understanding why parents sometimes couldn’t or wouldn’t get involved with the school. Teachers empathized with the competing demands parents’ time and recognized that some were dealing with their own negative experiences in school. Teachers aimed to be flexible and inclusive in their communication with homes, including getting notes translated, to promote maximum engagement.

• Engaging in ongoing learning and reflection – Teachers reflected on their cultural experiences, learned from colleagues and workshops, and rethought classroom approaches (one incorporated yoga on a whim and now uses it daily with her students). Importantly, teachers realized that incorporating small changes each year made the work manageable and could lead to significant changes in their teaching over time. One explained, “I’ve already got the yoga part down… So I’m thinking about the cool-down or quiet-time boxes. I think that’s a really perfect thing to do next year.”

Koslouski and Stark are full of admiration for the ten teachers they interviewed and the everyday ways they supported vulnerable students. However, these teachers’ efforts took a toll: five of the ten were considering leaving the profession because of the extra work they were putting in and the anguish they felt for students whose lives were so difficult. The article closes with a call for better training and support for all teachers so they are not called upon to perform heroics on their own – resulting in students having nurturing experiences throughout their time in school.

“Promoting Learning for Students Experiencing Adversity and Trauma” by Jessica Koslouski and Kristabel Stark in Elementary School Journal, March 2021 (Vol. 121, #3, pp. 430-453); the authors can be reached at and

4. An Ode to UDL (Universal Design for Learning)

In this Cult of Pedagogy article, author/consultant Katie Novak (University of Pennsylvania) compares the offerings at two schools’ PTO teacher appreciation breakfasts:

– School #1: Bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches on biscuits (no substitutions)

– School #2: A selection of fruit salad, homemade quiches, scrambled eggs, miso soup, gallo pinto, bagels, croissants, chapattis, churros, apples, coffee, and tea

“Now, I personally love a good ol’ brekkie sammy,” says Novak, “but it certainly won’t meet everyone’s needs. Some staff members may be vegetarian, lactose-intolerant, or gluten-free. Some may be watching their waistlines. And some may think that the sandwich is GROSS. We all can predict the outcome: many will leave hungry, frustrated, and needless to say – unappreciated.

The schools’ breakfast choices are a metaphor for a one-size-all lesson versus a UDL approach. Novak argues that rigid, take-it-or-leave-it lessons severely limit the learning of many students, especially those who don’t do well with traditional pedagogy. “When we design the same learning pathways for all learners,” she says, “we might tell ourselves we are being fair, but in fact, single pathways are exclusionary.”

Novak lists three core principles of effective Universal Design for Learning unit and lesson planning:

• Recognizing human variability – Every student brings a “unique mix of skills, interests, needs, and preferences to the classroom,” she says. “Because of variability, what students need is ever-changing and evolving.” So wouldn’t it be good for a teacher to meet the needs of a specific group of students? Using the breakfast example, should a PTO cater to vegan parents by setting aside plates with sliced tomatoes and plain oatmeal? The problem is that not all vegans like the same things; they want choices too. The same goes for trying to target lessons to student subgroups – ELLs, African Americans, students with disabilities. Within each group, there’s lots of individuality, and kids will want to make choices based on preferences, mood, and who-knows-what. This points to lessons with the widest possible array of choices for all students.

• Providing firm goals and flexible means – The first step is establishing the learning outcomes for a unit or lesson: when it’s finished, here’s what students should know and be able to do. The next UDL question: based on the variability in my class, what barriers may prevent learners from working toward that goal, and how can I eliminate those barriers through design? This leads to planning multiple means of access for students, depending on the content and skills being taught: a lecture, video, texts, hands-on experiments, visiting speaker, etc.

• Offering choice – with accountability – Given a choice of lesson activities, some students may make unwise choices – for example, sitting with friends and spending too much time goofing off. But if everything is programmed, students will become dependent learners. The middle ground, says Novak, is students being able to make some choices and continuously reviewing how things are working in terms of their learning objectives, thus becoming “expert learners.”

Novak compares a sixth-grade health lesson with the same learning objectives taught conventionally and then using UDL:


– The posted learning objective says students will identify ways to reduce their risk of spreading or contracting a communicable disease.

– Students watch a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention video.

– Students write an essay on how to reduce the risk of spreading or contracting Covid-19.

Universal Design for Learning:

– The teacher projects a list of communicable diseases, each paired with a visual: the common cold, strep throat, influenza A, and Covid-19.

– Some students take out their phones, look at their throats, and ask elbow partners, “Does my throat look like that?”

– The teacher asks for additions to the list of diseases, and a student suggests mono.

– The teacher does a mini-lesson on key vocabulary, including risk, communicable disease, community spread.

– One student’s father who is a nurse conducts a brief Zoom chat with the class on the importance of washing hands and wearing masks. As closed captioning displays his words, students ask questions.

– For the next ten minutes, students list as many symptoms as they can for at least one of the diseases; students can work independently, with a partner, or in a small group with the teacher; students can work at standing desks, sitting down, or on the floor.

– Students can write their responses, or draw images, on a graphic organizer.

– As they work, students are encouraged to use their devices for research.

– After a short discussion, the teacher shares some essential questions and students choose from several ways to learn more about communicable diseases: watching the CDC video (in English or Spanish), reading a Newsela article, reviewing pamphlets from the nurse’s office, or exploring a combination of resources.

– The teacher circulates, asking questions and providing feedback.

– Students have several options on how to show what they have learned: a written response, recording a video or podcast, creating a pamphlet or infographic, or suggesting an alternative (one student wants to do a rap and the teacher agrees).

– The teacher provides a word bank with target vocabulary, a single-point rubric, and a checklist so students can self-assess before submitting their work.

Novak draws a distinction between differentiation and Universal Design for Learning: differentiation adapts the content, process, product, and environment to meet individual students’ needs (in the PTO breakfast analogy, this is like having a special option for the vegan group). UDL has students reflecting, making choices, and building ownership of their learning, with direct support when necessary; they are self-differentiating and building autonomy and independence. The implicit message from teachers: You are important and I will honor you with instruction that holds you accountable and empowers you to take ownership of your own learning.

“If Equity Is a Priority, UDL Is a Must” by Katie Novak in Cult of Pedagogy, March 21, 2021; Novak’s book, with co-author Mirko Chardin, is Equity by Design (Corwin 2020)

5. Can People Be “Inoculated” Against Online Nonsense?

In this article in Behavioral Scientist, Jon Roozenbeek, Melisa Basol, and Sander van der Linden (University of Cambridge, U.K.) say that “misinformation – both intentional and unintentional – is difficult to fight once it’s out in the digital wild.” Viral falsehoods take on a life of their own, often sticking in people’s minds and being accepted as factual – especially if they’re repeated.

Roozenbeek, Basol, and van der Linden suggest a novel approach for preventing the spread of misinformation: prebunking – giving people the tools to resist seduction by falsehoods and avoid playing a part in spreading them. This strategy is analogous to being immunized against a disease: vaccinations expose people to a weakened dose of a pathogen to trigger the production of antibodies that fight a full-fledged onslaught of germs. Prebunking exposes people to a watered-down version of a piece of misinformation to build resistance to more-virulent manipulation.

Prebunking sounds promising, but it isn’t helpful if it’s too narrow, building resistance to only one type of junk information. How can people get better at spotting and squelching a broader spectrum? Researchers believe the best strategy is to build awareness of the most common manipulative techniques, so people understand the ways in which they are vulnerable and become savvier at pushing back. Roozenbeek, Basol, van der Linden, and their colleagues designed a series of free online games that have been played over a million times around the world:

Bad News – Players are exposed to six common misinformation techniques, including emotional buzzwords like “horrific” and “terrifying,” all of which get people jazzed up about spreading information.

Harmony Square – Produced by the Department of Homeland Security, this game targets election misinformation and puts players in the role of a “bad guy” trying to stir up conflict in a community. “There’s no better way to inoculate yourself than to walk a mile in the shoes of someone trying to dupe you,” say the authors.

Go Viral! – Designed in the U.K., Go Viral! focuses on Covid-19 misinformation, addressing fearmongering, using fake experts, and coming up with conspiracy theories.

The games are designed to make people realize how vulnerable they are and build the skills necessary to identify, argue against, and prevent the spread of harmful misinformation.

Roozenbeek, Basol, and van der Linden report preliminary results showing that after playing the games, people are more skeptical of manipulative social media messages, more confident in their own judgment, and less likely to share dubious information. The downsides: people need “booster shots” of game-playing because their resistance tends to atrophy; people need help identifying high-quality, credible news – perhaps they become skeptical of everything; and there’s the perennial challenging of reaching the people who would benefit most from the intervention.

“A New Way to Inoculate People Against Misinformation” by Jon Roozenbeek, Melisa Basol, and Sander van der Linden in Behavioral Scientist, February 22, 2021; the authors are at,, and

6. Should History Classes Teach American Exceptionalism?

In this Washington Post article, Daniel Immerwahr (Northwestern University) reports that in a 2012 survey, 70 percent of U.S. citizens said their country was the greatest in the world. This seems like a healthy emotion, since people who are proud of a nation are more likely to uphold its institutions, respect its laws, and share a common purpose. But a recent study found only 54 percent see the United States as exceptional. There’s a left/right split on the issue, with progressives more likely to focus on how an imperfect nation might better realize its ideals, and conservatives lauding patriotic achievements and civic and military service. But the more-recent survey documented declines across the political spectrum.

This raises the question of why we teach history. “Should students learn their country’s virtues or shortcomings?” asks Immerwahr. “Should they leave class feeling proud or ashamed?” Neither, he says; the purpose of a curriculum is to promote knowledge, not emotions. “The aim of a geometry class is not for students to love or hate triangles but to learn the Pythagorean theorem. Similarly, the point of U.S. history isn’t to have students revere or reject the country but to help them understand it… By imagining history class as a pep rally or a gripe session, we squeeze the history out of it.”

How great are we? is the wrong question for a history class, says Immerwahr. “‘How did we get here?’ is closer to the mark. The aim of history class isn’t to get students to love or loathe their country. It’s to prepare them to live in it.”

So what should the history curriculum look like in classrooms? For one thing, he believes, history teachers should contrast the political, social, and intellectual scene of the 1700s with current realities: “It was an honor society where leading politicians responded to slights by fighting fatal duels. It was a hierarchical society, where, according to the Articles of Confederation, ‘paupers’ and ‘vagabonds’ weren’t due the protection of the law. And it was, of course, a slave society, where the national bank issued loans using human captives as collateral.”

How things have changed! “The most compelling case for national greatness,” Immerwahr continues, “if you’re playing that game, is that the country is ironically great, in that it started with dubious ideals but, fortunately, failed to realize them.” Why? Because people pushed back, fought and in many cases died, and ultimately prevailed against archaic values and institutions. Politicians point with pride to a variety of national achievements. Thomas Jefferson, asked to defend the virtues of the new nation, pointed to the size of its quadrupeds.

Good history teaching helps students see this moving target, Immerwahr concludes. “It doesn’t treat the United States as an unvarying force for freedom or oppression but as an arena where worldviews compete. Students learn that different people had irreconcilable dreams, clashing understandings of what made their country ‘great.’ They learn that history is messy… The point of history is not to list all the things that have happened, nor to strike some desired balance between them. It’s to understand origins, persistence, and change… It gives them the intellectual tools to act on their society: a complex, dynamic place that is theirs to change or conserve.”

“History Isn’t Just for Patriots” by Daniel Immerwahr in The Washington Post, December 23, 2020; Immerwahr can be reached at

7. Recommended Children’s Picture Books and Novels

In this review in Language Arts, Jeanne Gilliam Fain and six colleagues highlight the 2020 Notable ELA Children’s Books (click the link below to see cover images, publishers, and short descriptions):

Picture books:

– The Bell Rang by James Ransome

– The Book Rescuer: How a Mensch from Massachusetts Saved Yiddish Literature for Generations to Come by Sue Macy, illustrated by Stacy Innerst

– Born to Ride: A Story About Bicycle Face by Larissa Theule, illustrated by Kelsey Garrity-Riley

– Carter Reads the Newspaper by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Don Tate

– Feed Your Mind: A Story of August Wilson by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Cannaday Chapman

– Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara

– Going Down Home with Daddy by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by Daniel Minter

– Grandpa’s Stories: A Book of Remembering by Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Allison Colpoys

– I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins

– Insect Superpowers: 18 Real Bugs That Smash, Zap, Hypnotize, Sting, and Devour! by Kate Messner, illustrated by Jillian Nickell

– Lion of the Sky: Haiku for All Seasons by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Mercè López

– The Magic of Letters by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Wendell Minor

– A Plan for Pops by Heather Smith, illustrated by Brooke Kerrigan

– Rise! From Caged Bird to Poet of the People, Maya Angelou by Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Tonya Engel

– Room on Our Rock by Kate and Jol Temple, illustrated by Terri Rose Baynton

– Say Something! by Peter Reynolds

– Small World by Ishta Mercurio, illustrated by Jen Corace

– Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Sáenz and the Great War by Duncan Tonatiuh

– Thanku: Poems of Gratitude edited by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Marlena Myles


– Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo

– Dream Within a Dream by Patricia MacLachlan

– Free Lunch by Rex Ogle

– Genesis Begins Again by Alicia Williams

– Look Both Ways: A Tale Told in Ten Blocks by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Alexander Nabaum

– New Kid by Jerry Craft

– Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

– Searching for Lottie by Susan Ross

– Soaring Earth by Margarita Engle

– To Night Owl from Dogfish by Holly Goldberg Sloan and Meg Wolitzer

“The 2020 Notable Children’s Books in the English Language Arts” by Jeanne Gilliam Fain, Vera Ahiyya, Elizabeth Bemiss, Janine Schall, Rebecca Leigh, Jennifer Summerlin, and Kathryn Will in Language Arts, March 2021 (Vol. 98, #4, pp. 208-223); Fain can be reached at

8. Books for Students to Read with Popular Movies and TV Shows

n this School Library Journal article, Abby Johnson suggests books that students might want to read with popular films and online features (click the link below for more details on each book):

Cobra Kai (Netflix), a reboot of the 1984 Karate Kid movie

– Becoming Muhammad Ali by Kwame Alexander and James Patterson (grade 4-8)

– The Berlin Boxing Club by Rob Sharenow (grade 7 and up)

– Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina (grade 7 and up)

Chaos Walking (Lionsgate, in theaters, PG-13), adapted from The Knife of Never Letting Go

– Feed by M.T. Anderson (grade 8 and up)

– The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (grade 8 and up)

– Scythe by Neal Shusterman (grade 8 and up)

Shadow and Bone (Netflix), adapted from the first book in the Grisha trilogy

– A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne Brown (grade 9 and up)

– The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye (grade 8 and up)

– The Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia by Cindy Pon (grade 9 and up)

– Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (grade 9 and up)

“Have a Book With That Show” by Abby Johnson in School Library Journal, March 2021 (Vol. 67, #3, pp. 58-59)

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In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“The best thing educators can do right now is to gather as much information as possible about what students have experienced over the past year – their learning, their worries, and their ideas – and take that data seriously and build on it as we return to in-person learning.”

Joe Heim in “Teachers Tested” in “How the Pandemic Is Reshaping Education”

in The Washington Post, March 15, 2021

“Instead of segregating these children and trying to give them what they didn’t learn, you say to yourself, ‘What must they know in order to stick with their peers and have access to next week’s lesson?’ The key is you’re always asking yourself, ‘What do they need for next week?’ not ‘What did they miss?’”

David Steiner (Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy), quoted in “The Great

Catch-Up: Schools Set to Attack Lost Learning” by Laura Meckler in ibid.

“Anyone who hasn’t already tried to solve their problem is either wise, lazy, or afraid.”

Dan Rockwell (see item #8)

“After all, what does a letter grade tell anyone about a writer’s capabilities and need for improvement?”

Steve Benjamin and Michael Wagner (see item #1)

“Let’s stop pretending that scattershot, half-hearted, and formulaic efforts to teach writing will succeed. In reality, learning to write well is a complex skill that requires focused instruction and frequent practice.”

Steve Benjamin and Michael Wagner (ibid.)

1. New Thinking on Improving Students’ Writing

In this Phi Delta Kappan article, consultant Steve Benjamin and Michael Wagner (Concord Community Schools, IN) describe how, years before, Benjamin panicked when confronted with his first college writing assignment (analyzing key themes in The Great Gatsby) and sought help from his Aunt Elaine, who was three years ahead of him at the same college. “We sat together in the library,” Benjamin remembers, “and she showed me how to identify a workable theme, draft an opening paragraph, and select a few quotes that would support my thinking.” He thought they were done, but Elaine insisted on several more sessions discussing his drafts, rewriting, cutting, adding, and polishing. The final product got an A. “I’ve forgotten most everything about The Great Gatsby,” says Benjamin, “but, thanks to Aunt Elaine, I learned enduring skills and attitudes that made me a better writer.”

The problem with writing instruction in many K-12 schools, say Benjamin and Wagner, is a short-cycle approach: students are given a prompt, in-class time to compose, perhaps some teacher comments in the margins of the first draft, and then the paper is graded. This procedure, they believe, doesn’t give students enough time to develop a piece and limits teachers’ instructional repertoire. The result: a flat trajectory of U.S. students’ writing proficiency in recent national assessments, with few students able to produce the kind of writing that’s expected in college and the workplace.

The good news, say Benjamin and Wagner, is that recent research has identified a number of highly effective practices for developing better writing – and they bear a striking resemblance to Aunt Elaine’s, with one addition:

– Allocating ample time for students to develop each writing project;

– Teachers guiding students through multiple cycles of drafting, reviewing feedback, and revising (the biggest difference between expert and inexpert writers is time spent revising);

– Setting clear and high expectations for the quality of students’ writing;

– Integrating writing in science, social studies, mathematics, and other classes.

If we want to get better writing, say Benjamin and Wagner, teachers have to treat students as “apprentices to the craft of advanced literacy” – teachers model how to do a task and students narrate their step-by-step thinking and repeat the process, explaining what they are doing as they write and revise. Here are some key components to this approach:

• Expectations – A barrier to implementing this process in schools is the low bar for the writing students can and should do. In the lower grades, Benjamin and Wagner believe students can produce much more writing than is currently the case. One kindergarten student, with a little coaching from Benjamin, expanded a single sentence about wanting to live in a skyscraper (accompanied by an artful drawing) to five sentences – a full paragraph! Rather than telling students that a picture is worth a thousand words, he says, perhaps we should be thinking that a thousand words are worth a picture. Benjamin and Wagner also believe elementary classrooms should put less emphasis on personal narratives and more on argument using evidence from read-aloud stories and nonfiction reading.

• Narrow feedback – Another manifestation of low expectations is correcting only spelling, grammar, and mechanics – and sometimes jotting Awk and Run-on sentence in the margins. Feedback is much more helpful, say Benjamin and Wagner, when it addresses “the amount of detail students include, their use of transitions, their use of repetitive or varying sentence structures, the way in which they quote and paraphrase evidence, and their use of descriptive language.”

• Time – Benjamin and Wagner believe the same amount of time teachers are currently devoting to writing would have much more impact if they assigned fewer prompts – perhaps one a month – with a more detailed focus on each one. “In the end,” they say, “students and teachers must believe that working on their work, intensively, is more important than churning out dozens of lightly revised (if revised at all) pieces throughout the school year. In effect, writing instruction should shift from mass production to a small-batch approach, with the aim of creating fewer, better crafted pieces.”

• The process approach – A major problem, say Benjamin and Wagner, is the 5-6-step charts they see on classroom walls across the nation: brainstorming/prewriting, outlining, first draft, revising, editing, and publishing. New research suggests letting go of this time-honored sequence, allowing students more choice and flexibility, and spending much more time on revising. “For example,” they say, “one student might express an interest in voting rights and decide to gather information before beginning to write, but another student might choose to begin writing straightaway, drawing on extensive prior knowledge and experience before engaging in additional research. Yet another student might choose to edit and further develop an almost-forgotten poem that she has discovered in her writing journal, one that will require some expert advice from her teacher before she can overcome a stumbling block. In short, the writing process shouldn’t be viewed as rigid and linear; it can work in different ways for different people.”

• Teacher training – Clearly, some teachers need to update their repertoires to make this shift – and supervisors need to let go of the process they’ve been expecting teachers to follow for years. One of the best uses of PD time is groups of teachers reviewing samples of student work and discussing what would be the best feedback to give each writer. “In doing so,” say Benjamin and Wagner, “those teachers who struggle with their own writing tend to learn, in a nonthreatening environment, how they can improve not only their students’ writing, but also their own.”

• Grading – “Fewer writing prompts will also mean fewer completed writing projects and fewer grades,” say Benjamin and Wagner, “which may require school leaders and parents to rethink some expectations, as well, especially the assumption that a grade should be affixed to everything students produce.” That also means less teacher grading time – welcome news for English and other humanities teachers. Giving feedback on initial and interim drafts is an opportunity for teachers to provide formative, ungraded comments and suggestions on students’ progress toward specific goals, aligned to a detailed rubric, “rather than constantly trying to figure out what letter grade they deserve,” they say. “After all, what does a letter grade tell anyone about a writer’s capabilities and need for improvement?”

“Let’s stop pretending that scattershot, half-hearted, and formulaic efforts to teach writing will succeed,” conclude Benjamin and Wagner. “In reality, learning to write well is a complex skill that requires focused instruction and frequent practice.”

“Developing Accomplished Writers: Lessons from Recent Research” by Steve Benjamin and Michael Wagner in Phi Delta Kappan, March 2021 (Vol. 102, #6, pp. 44-49); the authors can be reached at and

2. Teaching a History Unit in a Way That Supports Struggling Readers

In this article in American Educator, Jeanne Wanzek (Vanderbilt University) says students with reading difficulties face “incredible challenges” when they’re asked to make sense of information-heavy social studies material, especially at the secondary level. “These students,” she says, “face significant barriers in preparing for college, for careers with livable wages, and for civic engagement.” How can social studies teachers deal with disparities in reading proficiency that can span 70 percentile points – from students who can work independently with complex texts to those who lack the background knowledge, vocabulary, and word-reading skills to make sense of textbooks and primary-source documents?

While those students should get reading support outside content-area classes, Wanzek believes social studies teachers can do a lot to boost skills and understanding as each unit is taught. Here’s what she suggests, using a unit on the Gilded Age as an example:

• Start with a 7-10-minute “comprehension canopy.” At the beginning of a unit, the teacher: (a) sets a clear purpose, (b) refreshes important background knowledge (perhaps by showing a brief video), and (c) poses a well-framed overarching question (for example, During the Gilded Age, how did the economic, political, and social landscape of the United States change?). Students turn and talk, addressing a question that connects the unit to their family history (for example, Who in your family was the first to come to America? Why did they leave their country of origin?).

• Teach 4-5 essential words and concepts. This is especially helpful for students with reading difficulties; Wanzek suggests several steps to introduce each word, using urbanization as an example:

– Give a student-friendly definition – The movement of people from rural to urban areas and the resulting physical growth of cities.

– Provide a visual – An aerial photo of Manhattan

– Present related words and use the word in context – The United Nations forecasts that the pace of global urbanization will continue to quicken, and by the year 2030, 60 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. That’s amazing, considering that in 1900, only 13 percent lived in cities.

– Give examples and non-examples – New York City and Harvard, IL

– Have students work in pairs to discuss and apply the meaning of the word – Tell your partner two benefits and two challenges of urbanization, possibly including economic opportunity, public health, housing, transportation, and environment.

Since students need repeated exposure to new words and concepts to establish them in long-term memory, it’s important to return to these key words throughout the unit, perhaps in warm-ups at the beginning of lessons.

• Provide support for critical content readings. The teacher chooses two or three key textbook or primary-source passages, and in the course of the unit does an in-class close reading with the following components:

– The teacher gives a brief introduction to set the context and link the passage to the overarching question – for example, In this reading, we will learn about some of the economic issues facing workers during the Gilded Age.

– Students read the text as a class, in small groups, in pairs, or independently.

– The teacher chooses 2-3 stopping points and checks on comprehension with a quick question – for example, In what ways does the author seem to feel that immigrants were important to the American economy?

– When students are finished reading the passage, the teacher debriefs, making connections to the overarching question, key vocabulary, and previous units.

It’s important that students do most of the reading themselves, says Wanzek, rather than listening to someone else reading: “Students can only gain practice in reading and understanding content-area text independently if they are actually reading.”

• Use teams to monitor content understanding. A couple of times during the unit, students take a short quiz with about five multiple-choice questions that ask them to integrate and make sense of the content and vocabulary learned so far – for example, Which of the following is not a cause of rapid urbanization during the Gilded Age? Students turn in the quiz and then sit in heterogeneous 3-5-person teams (which continue throughout the course) and discuss the quiz questions, using the text and their notes to reach consensus on each question. As students mark their answers, they get immediate feedback (via scratch-off cards or a digital device) on whether their answer is correct; if it’s not, they try again. The teacher circulates, listening for misconceptions and misunderstandings and prodding students to use evidence and critical reasoning. At the end, the teacher notes questions that took teams multiple attempts to answer correctly and plans individual, team, and whole-class follow-up.

• Use teams for a summative assessment. At the end of the unit, students meet in their teams and take part in a problem-solving or perspective-taking activity – for example, Imagine you serve on an advisory committee to a Gilded Age president. As a team, make a recommendation on whether the United States should limit immigration. Provide at least two economic, two political, and two social reasons in support of your recommendation. Each team prepares a written response and teams then report on their conclusions and rationale to the whole class. The teacher highlights effective use of the text to support ideas, prompts teams to use evidence where it’s lacking, and facilitates students’ questions on each presentation. The class then focuses on the overarching question for the unit and brings closure with an assessment of how the group process worked: using text-based evidence, member contributions and listening, critical thinking, and teamwork.

“Unlocking Social Studies Text” by Jeanne Wanzek in American Educator, Spring 2021 (Vol. 45, #1, p. 10-14); Wanzek can be reached at

3. A Workshop Model in Elementary Math Classes

In this article in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, Connecticut elementary teachers Kathryn O’Connor and Emma Dearborne teamed up with Tutita Casa (University of Connecticut) to describe how they used a workshop approach in math classes to teach three important standards:

– Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

– Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

– Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

The idea was to move students away from an “answer searching” approach to math, always looking for the right answer, to taking responsibility for developing their own strategies and achieving a deeper level of conceptual understanding.

O’Connor, Dearborne, and Casa say workshops in elementary math classes are different from reading and writing workshops. “Instead of the usual mini-lesson, guided practice, and independent activities that we are accustomed to using,” they say, “our idea of a math workshop starts and ends with student investigation.” The teacher begins by giving an everyday context for the activity, assigning a challenge, giving students ample time to work independently or in small groups, and then coming back together as a class to discuss students’ findings.

Shifting students from an answer-oriented mindset was not without challenges, say O’Connor, Dearborne, and Casa, and they describe three steps they found were necessary:

• Step 1: Ensuring high-level math tasks – The school district wanted students to be able to perform standard algorithms, but the authors wanted students to go well beyond that and engage in authentic problem solving. Here’s one of their problems:

I need your help to figure out how much I need to pay to buy the juice boxes you all want for our class party. You said everyone should have two boxes to quench their thirst. A carton of 10 juice boxes is on sale for $8.25. Work with a partner to share two different ways to represent the total cost of the cartons I need to buy. Be prepared to convince your classmates why your strategies work.

O’Connor, Dearborne, and Casa created a checklist to evaluate possible workshop problems:

– The task may be represented in a variety of ways, including diagrams, pictures, manipulatives, symbols, problem situations, text, or books.

– Students have time to engage conceptual ideas.

– There’s time for partner/group work.

– Students are encouraged to use strategies that work for them.

– Students’ thinking is pushed through teachers’ questioning.

– Students’ work is celebrated through posters, gallery walks, and conferencing.

– Students create personal math resources when appropriate.

– The teacher acts as a facilitator.

• Step 2: Keeping teachers’ one-on-one and small-group conferences focused on students. O’Connor, Dearborne, and Casa created a set of possible prompts for teachers to use as they circulated and conferenced with students during the workshop time:

Work in progress:

– How did you decide where to start?

– Are you finding this strategy helpful? What else could you do?

– What other strategies have you tried?

– Why did you find this strategy helpful?

– Why does this make sense? How did you know that?

– Why did you do that? Can you explain more?

– So is this what you’re saying?

In need of assistance:

– How can I help you? What are you struggling with?

– What’re you working on? What’re you trying to do as a mathematician?

– Does this remind you of other problems you’ve worked on?

– Can you explain to me what you were thinking here?

– How do you know you are done? Can you explain everything on your final product?

– Does this make sense mathematically?

Preparing to present to others:

– Can you explain the process you used to solve this problem?

– What do other people need to know in order to follow your reasoning?

– How will you explain your thoughts? How will you convince your audience?

– Where might your audience get confused when looking at this?

– Will this always be the case? How did you know?


– Everyone can explain the strategy.

– Asking one student if they agree with another’s ideas.

– Leaving students with a task.

Am I done yet? A checklist for students to use on their own, covering the same items.

• Step 3: Promoting productive mathematical discourse. The authors suggest a key question: “How do we empower students to articulate their ideas clearly, actively listen to one another, and respond to their peers’ thoughts?” In other words, how could they make the math workshops truly student-centered? They decided on a set of “talk moves” including: rephrasing (So you said…), agreeing/disagreeing and why, adding on/elaborating (We did the same thing, but then we also…), wait time (Don’t feel like you have to answer right away), and equitable participation (Can you let them have a turn because they haven’t shared yet?).

“Inquiry + Math Workshop Model = Success!” by Kathryn O’Connor, Emma Dearborne, and Tutita Casa in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, March 2021 (Vol. 114, #3, pp. 187-195); the authors can be reached at,, and

4. Applying the Dunning-Kruger Curve to Equity Training

(Originally titled “The Illusion of Equity PD”)

In this article in Educational Leadership, Nicole Tucker-Smith (Lessoncast and Jumpstart PD Network) says that an equity PD workshop can appear to be effective but actually isn’t. “It can receive rave reviews from participants,” she says, “but leaves individual biases and systemic barriers unchanged.”

To explain how that can happen, Tucker-Smith introduces us to the Dunning-Kruger curve, which plots perceived ability on the vertical axis against actual knowledge on the horizontal. A novice driver, for example, is in the upper left of the graph, with high perceived ability (I’m a terrific driver) but low actual knowledge – “the peak of ignorance.” After an accident, the driver plunges to the “valley of humility” in the middle of the graph, and is ready to learn skills and gradually send the curve up to high knowledge and perceived ability.

In schools, all too many people believe they are not prejudiced and unfailingly treat all students equally, but actually have low levels of cultural competence and limited awareness of students’ cultural assets (the peak of ignorance). An ineffective equity PD session can send participants back to their classrooms and offices excited about a superficial understanding of implicit bias and equity – but without coming to grips with their own shortcomings. “Getting to this place of humility,” says Tucker-Smith, “where one can recognize that assumptions and perceptions are illusions of expertise, is a process that begins by exposing gaps in knowledge.”

Unfortunately some equity trainings take people to the valley of humility and cause such upset and recriminations among participants that leaders abandon them, leaving schools in worse shape than they were before.

Truly effective trainings provide the skills and knowledge to send the Dunning-Kruger curve upward after people recognize how much they have to grow. They move people from saying, I’m not biased against anyone to I understand my unconscious biases to We need to examine our curriculum to ensure that diverse perspectives, cultures, and authors are represented. Effective training (which takes time, hard work, persistence, and leadership) gets educators asking How might we questions: How might we identify bias in learning materials and classroom interactions? How might we learn from the experience of successful schools?

“Effective equity PD fosters a growth mindset among educators and includes structures to help teachers refine application until the changes become daily habits,” says Tucker-Smith. “Equity PD that works empowers school communities to answer the question: What does equity best practice look like here – in our classrooms, hallways, front offices, and meetings?”

How should schools evaluate equity professional development programs? Not by how people feel immediately after a session, says Tucker-Smith, but on actual results as measured by key indicators like curriculum inclusiveness, the composition of special education and gifted programs, discipline referrals, and students’ learning outcomes.

“The Illusion of Equity PD” by Nicole Tucker-Smith in Educational Leadership, March 2021 (Vol. 78, #6, pp. 72-75); Tucker-Smith can be reached at

6. Accelerating Elementary Students’ Post-Covid Achievement

This open-source Thomas B. Fordham Institute paper by Barbara Davidson and Greg Woodward (with input from numerous educators, including Kim Marshall) has 129 pages of suggestions on how elementary schools can address unfinished learning in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The table of contents:

– School Culture and Climate: Positive school culture; adult mindsets; professional learning; safe and supportive climate; family engagement.

– Curriculum: High-quality, knowledge-rich curriculum; reading; writing; mathematics; science and social studies; social and emotional learning.

– Instruction: Instructional strategies; assessing student progress; supports for students with disabilities; supports for English learners; supports for low-income gifted and talented students.

– Recovery: Targeted help and high-dosage tutoring; expanded mental-health supports; implementation.

“The Acceleration Imperative: A Plan to Address Elementary Students’ Unfinished Learning in the Wake of Covid-19” Version 1.0, edited by Kathleen Carroll, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, March 23, 2021

7. Lesson Ideas for Supporting Students During and After the Pandemic

In this article in American Educator, the Share My Lesson Team suggests the following resources for addressing the emotional needs of students who have experienced trauma over the past year:

Supporting Grieving Students During the Pandemic

Supporting Grieving Children in Our Schools

Talking with Children

What Not to Say

Peer Support

Connecting with Families

Cultural Sensitivity

Coordinating Services and Supporting Transitions

“Caring for Grieving Students and Families” by the Share My Lesson Team in American Educator, Spring 2021 (Vol. 45, #1, p. 3)

8. Pushing Back on Workplace Harassment

In this letter to The New York Times, Susan Clark Behnke (of Alexandria, Virginia) says that when people get unwanted personal questions in the workplace, it’s helpful to have responses at the ready. Some strategies: Act as if you don’t hear it; act confused; take the high road; establish a clear boundary; be explicit; leave. Suggested wording:

– What did you think of the report presented at the meeting today?

– I’m a little confused. What does this have to do with work?

– Oh, I keep my private life private.

– Your questions are making me very uncomfortable. Let’s change the subject.

– Let’s focus on doing the people’s work.

– Stop (holding up your hand like a crossing guard). Your words are making me uncomfortable. Did you have questions about work?

– Your words are unwelcome/inappropriate. I’m going back to my office now.

“This may not solve the problem,” says Behnke, “but it could defuse the situation. And you will have empowered yourself to speak up for yourself and delivered the right message from the start.”

“You’re Being Harassed. Here’s What to Say” by Susan Clark Behnke in a letter to The New York Times, March 17, 2021 [See article #2 in Memo 760 for detailed suggestions in the same vein.]

9. How to Respond When You’re Asked for Advice

In this Leadership Freak article, Dan Rockwell says that when someone wants to know what we think they should do, it’s flattering and we’re inclined to share our wisdom. Instead, Rockwell advises, we should tap the brakes and follow these steps:

– Ask questions to see what’s really going on. “Anyone who hasn’t already tried to solve their problem,” says Rockwell, “is either wise, lazy, or afraid.”

– Paraphrase and check for understanding: Here’s what I hear you saying. Do you think I understand the problem?

– If the advice-seeker is seeking to change someone else, shift the focus back to the advice-seeker.

– Keep asking questions to maximize the chance that the person will take ownership and solve the problem themselves: What do you want for yourself? What do you want for others? What do you want in this relationship? What have you tried? How did it work?

“Skillful advice-givers accelerate the trajectory of individuals and teams,” concludes Rockwell.

“The 4 Unbreakable Rules of Giving Advice That People Actually Respect” by Dan Rockwell in Leadership Freak, March 16, 2021; Rockwell can be reached at

10. Children’s and Young Adult Books About Periods

This School Library Journal feature lists eleven recent books on menstruation; see the link below for publishers, brief descriptions, and recommended grade levels.


– Go with the Flow by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann

– The Moon Within by Aida Salazar

– Revenge of the Red Club by Kim Harrington

– The Places We Sleep by Caroline DuBois

– Lobizona by Romina Garber

– Blood Moon by Lucy Cuthew

– Little Miss P by Ken Koyama

– Red Hood by Elana Arnold


– I’ve Got My Period. So What? by Clara Henry, translated by Gun Penhoat

– Period Power: A Manifesto for the Menstrual Movement by Nadya Okamoto

– Period: Twelve Voices Tell the Bloody Truth edited by Kate Farrell

“Period Power: 11 Books That Destigmatize Menstruation” in School Library Journal, March 2021 (Vol. 67, #3, p. 44)

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In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“What’s the most important thing I need to know about you?”

The final question in a beginning-of-school survey given to her middle-school

math students, in “Relevant Curriculum Is Equitable Curriculum” by Chaunté

Garrett in Educational Leadership, March 2021 (Vol. 78, #6, pp. 48-53)

“It’s really hard to make massive gains in skill and performance and talent, especially overnight. But it’s fairly easy to make small changes every day.”

Jeff Haden (see item #2)

“In a world that will likely always involve some level of remote learning or work, it’s more important than ever that we understand and accept that our role as educators is to teach time management and other executive-functioning skills, not just expect our students to have them and get frustrated when they don’t.”

Emily Rinkema and Stan Williams (see item #7)

“It’s hard to get traction for improvement with a team of defensive educators. Building a culture of nondefensive ownership of our biases is a crucial first step in any improvement process.”

Sarah Fiarman, Kristin Kyles-Smith, and Alison Lee (see item #3)

“Shouldn’t the schools that serve poor children be the very best schools we have?”

Caitlin Flanagan in “Private Schools Are Indefensible: The Gulf Between How Rich Kids and Poor Kids are Educated in America Is Obscene” in The Atlantic, April 2021

(Vol. 327, #3, pp. 50-60)

1. Is Tutoring the Best Intervention for Covid-19 Unfinished Learning?

In this Thomas B. Fordham Institute paper, Michael Goldstein (Match Education) and Bowen Paulle (University of Amsterdam) say that high-dosage tutoring has “huge potential” for addressing the lost learning of so many students due to the coronavirus. But they worry that implementing tutoring at scale will produce disappointing results. First, the research on tutoring is not unanimously positive: a good many unsuccessful programs were terminated before being written up; plus, there’s the problem of implementing tutoring on a large scale.

Goldstein and Paulle list some attributes that have been suggested for an effective tutoring program:

– Substantial tutoring time each week;

– Mandatory for targeted students;

– Strong, sustained tutor-tutee relationships;

– Aligning tutoring with the school curriculum;

– Close monitoring of student knowledge and skills;

– Oversight of tutors to assure quality interactions.

Sounds straightforward, right? “If you believe tutoring is simple,” say Goldstein and Paulle, “then the path to scale is easy: Get some cash, use it to pay smart and kind adults to sit across from kids and teach, create some rules, and get to work.”

But sometimes tutoring flops. Natalie Wexler, a noted education writer, described a recent one-on-one session she conducted in a school. The tutee stared straight ahead, refused to answer questions, “clearly hated the whole exercise, and eventually refused to come.” This student wished she was back with her classmates where she might actually be learning something, as opposed to practicing the skill of the week – summarizing – with a book about the Golden Gate Bridge.

“Natalie’s example was with one student,” say Goldstein and Paulle. “Frequently there are two to four kids in a tutorial. Some are not paying attention, eyes drawn to the windows, or covertly scanning phones in their laps. Some are confused, brows furrowed. Some are irritable, lips pursed, sighing theatrically at the slightest challenge, rolling their eyes at each task change. Often the tutor is talking too much, over-explaining. Often both parties are bored with the curriculum. Maybe the Zoom session just timed out. Maybe Kid 1 was tight with Kid 2 in September, but they had a big fight, and now they hate each other. Maybe Kid 3 was ‘sort of OK’ with tutoring but became resentful when the tutor called her mom and mentioned missed assignments.”

Likening tutoring in schools to the challenge of creating a new vaccine, Goldstein and Paulle say that in human cells, things are constantly changing, and successful vaccines have to be designed to adapt to those changes. Similarly, school conditions are always in flux: “New schedules. New leadership. New priorities. New internal politics.” A tutoring program that tries to create a recipe (a list of best practices) and apply it consistently won’t do well in this environment. Conventional, rule-following managers are not good at adapting to change, say Goldstein and Paulle. A different kind of leader is needed for tutoring programs to succeed at scale: people who thrive on solving problems.

“These unusual managers obsessively look for problems caused by school changes,” they say, “fiercely try to fix them, and humbly realize that often their first and second and third ‘fix attempts’ might not work. They persist until they get the right result.” Their hypothesis is that if tutoring programs are led by managers like this, they can succeed at scale.

But first there needs to be an open competition, as with Covid-19 vaccines, for “candidate” tutoring programs tried out with small populations of students. Those that are successful (which will be a small percentage) should then be tried with a larger population of students, and again, the failures discarded – and so on. Again, the key ingredient is managers who embrace failure and uncertainty, keep trying, and constantly improve tutoring interventions.

“The Narrow Path to Do It Right: Lessons from Vaccine Making for High-Dose Tutoring” by Michael Goldstein and Bowen Paulle in a Thomas B. Fordham Institute paper, March 2021; Paulle can be reached at

2. Continuous Improvement 101

“It’s really hard to make massive gains in skill and performance and talent, especially overnight,” says Jeff Haden in this article in Inc. “But it’s fairly easy to make small changes every day.” He gives the example of Britain’s three-year effort to take its cycling team to a first-ever victory in the Tour de France.

Coach Sir Dave Brailsford analyzed the individual components of a world-class cyclist, and cycling team, and focused on improving each one by one percent. “Not 20 percent,” says Haden. “Or 10 percent. Or even 5 percent. Just 1 percent… Think small, not big. Think progression, not perfection. Think small improvements to create a major improvement.” Some of the elements they focused on:

– Experimenting in a wind tunnel to tweak cycler aerodynamics.

– Painting the floor of the team truck white so dust was easier to spot and clean up, which improved bicycle maintenance.

– Having cyclists frequently wash their hands to avoid illness during competition.

– Being meticulous with food preparation.

– Having cyclists bring their own pillows and mattresses so they could sleep in familiar postures.

The spirit of incrementally improving routine activities became part of the team’s culture. “There’s something inherently rewarding about identifying marginal gains,” says Brailsford. “People want to identify opportunities and share them with the group. Our team became a very positive place to be.”

These and other refinements, along with a rigorous training regimen, gave the British team a significant competitive advantage. After three years, one member, Bradley Wiggins, won the Tour de France and an Olympic gold medal. In three of the next four years, another, Chris Froome, won the Tour de France.

How does this apply to a workplace or school? By breaking down the parts of routine tasks and making small but meaningful improvements. Even if an improvement saves only 10 seconds or brings about seemingly small improvements, it adds up. “You don’t have to get a lot better at one big thing,” says Haden. “You can just get a tiny bit better at a whole lot of things.” Some possible areas:

– Managing e-mail;

– Using online collaboration platforms;

– Making recurring decisions;

– The way meetings are run (or having fewer meetings);

– [Small changes in teaching and assessment practices.]

“Improvement feels good,” says Haden. “Improvement is fulfilling. Fulfillment provides the motivation to seek further improvement. The result is an endless cycle of effort, success, fulfillment, motivation, effort, success.”

“Why Brilliant Leadership Minds Embrace the Rule of 1 Percent” by Jeff Haden in Inc., March 12, 2021

3. Getting Teacher Teams Focused on Equity

(Originally titled “Is Your Approach to Continuous Improvement Colorblind?”)

“It’s hard to get traction for improvement with a team of defensive educators,” say author/leadership consultant Sarah Fiarman, Kristin Kyles-Smith (Two Rivers Public Charter School), and Alison Lee (EL Education) in this article in Educational Leadership. “Building a culture of nondefensive ownership of our biases is a crucial first step in any improvement process.” They suggest five steps for addressing racial inequities and unconscious biases in schools.

• Break down assessment and survey results by race, gender, and ELL status. “Every school will have different variations of student populations to pay attention to and different ways to sort the data to learn where to investigate,” say Fiarman, Kyles-Smith, and Lee. “But key problems will remain invisible when schools neglect to disaggregate their data.” For example, a survey might show that 90 percent of students say they have an adult they trust in the school, but what if the 10 percent who don’t are mostly African-American girls? Other possible data sources to disaggregate and analyze: benchmark tests, AP enrollment, which students raise their hands in class, who tries out for chorus or Math Olympics.

• Take an honest look at what’s working for which students. Skillful facilitation of teams can help teachers make the connection between their classroom practices and patterns of student achievement – something that’s often avoided when educators blame outside-of-school conditions or take an I-taught-it-they just-didn’t-learn-it attitude.

• Shift to the language of personal responsibility. This is difficult in schools where few students of color are achieving, but Fiarman, Kyles-Smith, and Lee say educators need to look past undeniable social and economic inequities and see current patterns of student achievement as “absolutely abnormal.” A sign that this crucial attitude shift has taken place would be hearing this in a team meeting: “I still haven’t landed the right strategy to get all my students to complete independent reading. What are you doing that’s getting better results?”

• Identify root causes and effective strategies. The authors describe a Baltimore school in which teachers believed that students’ low assessment results pointed to after-school remediation, summer school, and repeating a grade. They jumped from data to solutions without considering whether daily teaching practices might be part of the problem. The school’s leaders scheduled time for English teachers to meet with a broader group of colleagues (including those who taught AP classes) and observe each other’s classes. As a result, better teaching practices spread from teacher to teacher. One example: teachers who had been using rote Do Now assignments at the beginning of classes experimented with asking students to grapple with more-engaging prompts and saw immediate improvement. “Along the way,” say Fiarman, Kyles-Smith, and Lee, “teachers came to see that the intervention students needed more meaningful, challenging classroom learning – not additional hours of worksheets after school.”

• Look within. In addition to the steps above, the authors recommend that educators push themselves with questions like these:

– What has allowed us to be complacent about low performance from students of color?

– Do we dole out harsher punishments to these students?

– Are we more focused on compliance over independent thinking?

– Whose skills, values, and experiences do we appreciate and celebrate?

– What prevents us from engaging students and other stakeholders in the process of improvement?

“True improvement work,” conclude Fiarman, Kyles-Smith, and Lee, “requires transforming ourselves as well as our practices.”

“Is Your Approach to Continuous Improvement Colorblind?” by Sarah Fiarman, Kristin Kyles-Smith, and Alison Lee in Educational Leadership, March 2021 (Vol. 78, #6, pp. 16-21); the authors can be reached at,, and

4. How Three California Schools Treated Students’ Use of Social Media

In this article in Phi Delta Kappan, Matthew Rafalow (University of California/ Berkeley) reports on his study of three California middle schools that had similar technology tools and resources for all students, a similar focus on technology-based instruction, and similar teachers (mostly white women). Students in all three schools had lots of experience using digital technologies in their personal lives, and they were skilled at using online platforms and tools to communicate with peers and create and share new media.

“Importantly, though,” says Rafalow, “the schools differed in their student demographics” – and that corresponded with the very different ways teachers thought and talked about digital skills and the classroom opportunities they offered students. Here’s how the differences played out:

• A school serving mostly wealthy white students – Teachers described the skills students gained from digital play as essential to their success because they fostered individual creativity. One teacher likened kids’ informal, off-the-books digital activity to Steve Jobs and other tech pioneers tinkering in their garages. “At this school,” says Rafalow, “students were encouraged to take what they learned from online play and apply it to their work in the classroom.”

• A school serving mostly middle-class Asian-American students – Teachers at this school saw students’ personal digital activity as a threat to learning, and forbade or heavily monitored non-school technology use, including Facebook and Instagram. One teacher referred to students’ informal tech apps as “this garbage.” Educators appeared to be drawing on stereotypes of driven Asian Americans to justify their traditional pedagogical approach, and minimized students’ online participation in classrooms.

• A school serving mostly working-class Latinx students – Teachers at this school saw the skills students were picking up from informal technology use as irrelevant to the mission of the school. “Those skills from playing video games don’t translate to schools,” said one teacher. “So they have fast phones? So what? The kids we teach, if we’re being realistic, they need skills for hands-on jobs. Like how to fix a new-wave car. If they learn technology, it’s for those purposes.”

The very different way students’ digital skills and experiences were treated in these schools suggests, says Rafalow, “that even if our schools succeed in closing the nation’s existing gaps in digital access and skills, technology education would likely remain grossly inequitable. All three of these schools had plenty of technology available, all three were committed to providing technology-based instruction, and all three sets of students had developed, in the process of using social media and playing around online, a broad range of digital skills. However, only at the first school were these skills treated as assets to be valued and built upon. At the other two schools, serving less-affluent students of color, those very same digital skills were viewed with scorn or indifference.”

“Digital Equality Requires More Than Access” by Matthew Rafalow in Phi Delta Kappan, March 2020 (Vol. 102, #6, pp. 26-29); Rafalow can be reached at

5. Teaching Students How to Ask Good Questions

“Most of what students discuss and write in school is in response to questions their teachers pose,” says veteran New York City educator Joan Brodsky Schur in this article in Social Education. She believes teaching and learning benefit when students formulate their own questions – but when asked to do this, students often ask low-level questions, sending classmates on a hunt for specific facts in a text. “We cannot blame students if they don’t know how to ask higher-level thinking questions,” says Schur; “teachers are trained to believe that is their job. But unless students learn to formulate their own inquiries, they remain passive learners guided by the questions of others.”

Recent social studies standards (C3 and NCSS) call for students to be able to construct questions starting in sixth grade, culminating in independent inquiries by high-school graduation. Schur suggests a protocol from the Right Question Institute to build students’ question-asking skills. In a unit on the Cold War, for example, students are asked to spend 15 minutes brainstorming questions – perhaps prompted by a photograph of a fallout shelter – with one student acting as a scribe. Students then sort the questions into those that are closed – the correct answer can be found on Wikipedia – and those that are open-ended, inviting disagreement and debate. Both types of questions can play a part in a social studies unit, but the latter go deeper:

– Closed questions elicit answers that define terms, satisfy curiosity, give context, draw on prior knowledge, and provide evidence to support an argument.

– Open questions introduce complexities, invite debate from different perspectives, draw on big-picture thinking, connect different places and eras, and suggest the need for further research.

Some examples of closed questions for a unit on the Cold War:

– When did the Cold War begin and end?

– What was one promise the Soviet Union failed to keep to its allies in 1945?

– Who first developed the term domino theory?

– Which countries became satellites of the Soviet Union?

– What event escalated the Cold War?

– What did Americans fear most during the Cold War?

– What percentage of Americans built bomb shelters?

– Did Ronald Reagan end the Cold War?

Some examples of open questions for the unit:

– If the Soviet Union was our ally during World War II, why did it become our enemy so soon after?

– In what ways was the Cold War an outgrowth of World War II?

– On what basis can we decide who started the Cold War?

– How were fears of nuclear war manipulated by both sides?

– How did the use of figurative language (Cold War, Iron Curtain, satellites, dominos) affect people’s emotions and perceptions?

– Why was the Berlin Wall built?

– To what degree was President Reagan responsible for ending the Cold War?

– What were the effects of the end of the Cold War?

– What were the consequences of applying the domino theory to Vietnam in the 1960s?

– On what basis could we argue that the Cold War continues today?

Students might then be asked to sort questions into chronological order; categorize and analyze questions according to which field they fall into: history, geography, sociology, economics, civics, psychology, anthropology; and perhaps group them into the six types of Socratic questions:

– Asking for clarification;

– Probing assumptions;

– Probing reasons and evidence;

– Exploring viewpoints and perspectives;

– Looking at implications and consequences;

– Asking questions about questions.

“What Makes a Question Valuable? Teaching Students to Pose Their Own Questions” by Joan Brodsky Schur in Social Education, January/February 2021 (Vol. 85, #1, pp. 40-44); this article is excerpted from Schur’s recent book, Teaching Writing in the Social Studies (NCSS, 2020).

6. Two Approaches to Rigor in High-School Social Studies

In this article in Principal Leadership, Brian Gibbs (University of North Carolina/ Chapel Hill) says the word “rigor” is frequently bandied about in K-12 schools, but what does it mean? Interviewing and observing 21 high-school social studies teachers and reflecting on his own classroom experience, Gibbs formulated a continuum: Rigor for Academics is at one end and Rigor for Democracy at the other. Here is a description of a teacher enacting each approach:

• Rigor for Academics – A unit on the U.S. Civil War:

– In the first five minutes of class, there’s a short multiple-choice quiz on the textbook homework reading.

– The teacher delivers a lecture on the major battles of the Civil War.

– Students occasionally ask a clarifying question, for example, “Was it Seminary Ridge or Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg?”

– Occasionally there’s a more penetrating question like, “Why don’t we consider the Sons of Liberty to be a gang of anti-intellectual thugs? Is it because they were on our side?”

– Students occasionally work in small teams to break down primary-source documents read for homework.

– At least twice a week there is a 5-10-question multiple-choice quiz on facts, names, dates, places, and events.

– Every Friday students take a longer test with 30 multiple-choice questions.

– Every two weeks students write a document-based or traditional essay.

– At the beginning of the semester the teacher gave students support on their essays, but after that, students were on their own.

• Rigor for Democracy – A unit on the 2008 financial crisis:

– The previous night’s homework was to write 15 questions about seven readings on the Occupy Movement, the Progressive Movement, and the New Deal.

– The teacher says, “Circle up and talk to a partner. Which text describes the best way out of a financial crisis?”

– As students discuss in pairs, the teacher circulates and listens.

– After 15 minutes, the teacher calls the class together and says, “Remember, the point of discussion is to engage each other intellectually. We are examining these texts for ideas; we are then going to evaluate those ideas, combine them with other information from class, and apply them to our current economic crisis. To do this, we can’t have any interruptions or personal attacks. Now, which text has the best solution to our financial crisis?”

– Students discuss the question, showing their grasp of the content, asking questions, making arguments, and trying out solutions.

– As the discussion winds up, there are no clear-cut answers, but students’ thinking has been propelled forward.

– At the beginning of the year, students read shorter, more straightforward texts; subsequent readings are longer with more-challenging vocabulary and greater conceptual complexity.

– Students write frequently, in multiple genres.

– Historical content becomes steadily more “unpleasant” as students read about violence, racism, misogyny, classism, and homophobia.

Parents and fellow educators are more familiar with the first teacher’s approach to rigor, says Gibbs, and often more comfortable with it. It’s the traditional college-bound AP pedagogy and curriculum. The second teacher’s approach is more controversial; many teachers steer clear of hot-button issues, fearing negative reactions from students and parents, and may feel unprepared to teach them.

“The hard question we have to ask as a profession is this,” says Gibbs: “What do we want for our children? Do we want students to be prepared for college by learning the less complicated and largely celebratory nationalist interpretation of history similar to Teacher 1? Or is part of rigor engaging in difficult and challenging history through a lens of inquiry and discussion more like Teacher 2? This is a conversation we need to have.”

“Academic Rigor” by Brian Gibbs in Principal Leadership, March 2021 (Vol. 21, #7, pp. 50-53); Gibbs can be reached at

7. Helping Students Manage Their Time

“In a world that will likely always involve some level of remote learning or work, it’s more important than ever that we understand and accept that our role as educators is to teach time management and other executive-functioning skills, not just expect our students to have them and get frustrated when they don’t,” say author/consultants Emily Rinkema and Stan Williams in this Education Week article. They suggest four steps:

• Clearly articulate the components of effective time management. These include breaking down a complex task into its component parts, assessing their relative importance, estimating how long each will take, and allocating time to meet a deadline. As assessment expert Rick Stiggins says, students can “hit any target that they can see and stands still for them” – which suggests creating a time management rubric.

• Give students time to practice. Students need to hone their skills as they wrestle with hypothetical time-management scenarios.

• Design a task-specific formative assessment. Teachers need real-time data on how students are doing with executive functioning (separated out from the actual work they’re performing).

• Give students timely feedback. This means “slowly and intentionally helping all our students build the skills and habits that will lead them to be more-effective managers of their time,” say Rinkema and Williams.

“Remote Learning Makes Time Management Even Harder” by Emily Rinkema and Stan Williams in Education Week, March 10, 2021 (Vol. 40, #25, p. 19)

8. Online Library of Congress Resources for Science and Social Studies

In this article in Social Education, Michael Apfeldorf, an educational resources specialist at the Library of Congress, promotes the use of historical newspaper articles in history and science classes. One example: a 1913 article in a Bridgeport, Connecticut newspaper exhorting families to quarantine children if they showed signs of measles, which in those days killed one in ten infected kids (the piece had this memorable title, “Measles Make Many Mothers Mourn”). This article, with clear relevance today, addressed a common misconception in 1913: that having “measles parties” would create herd immunity and protect children.

Apfeldorf cites a number of links that teachers can use to put online science and history articles to work in classrooms:

Research guides in science and technology with links to background material and primary sources;

Everyday Mysteries – provocative questions and interesting science facts;

Webcasts – recorded conversations with experts in various fields, including the Earth and Space Lecture Series;

– The “Inside Adams” blog, pointing readers to the Library of Congress’s collection of books, journals, prints, photographs, digital collections, finding aids, and webcasts on science, technology, and business;

Ask a Librarian allows researchers of all ages to get reference help from subject-matter specialists.

“Science Literacy and Citizen Behavior: Helping Students See the Connections Using Historical Newspaper Articles” by Michael Apfeldorf in Social Education, January/February 2021 (Vol. 85, #1, pp. 16-19)

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© Copyright 2021 Marshall Memo LLC, all rights reserved; permission is granted to clip and share individual article summaries with colleagues for educational purposes, being sure to include the author/publication citation and mention that it’s a Marshall Memo summary.

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In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“Parents everywhere, clinging to their very last shred of sanity, report that, in fact, children with laptops cannot learn anything by themselves, and can’t even go more than about five blessed minutes without needing a snack or help with a password.”

Justin Reich (see item #1)

“What’s the equivalent of the chat box when we go back to in-person learning?”

Jal Mehta (see item #2)

“If you count something interesting, you will learn something interesting.”

Atul Gawande (quoted in item #6)

“As the world races to combat a pandemic, slow climate change, and solve many other public health challenges, it’s clear that developing young people’s scientific knowledge should be an urgent priority in schools.”

Justin Andersson, Daniel Sitzman, Amy Arneson, and Elizabeth Gandhi (see item #8)

“Give greater consideration to candidates who are most likely to challenge assumptions, interrupt default ways of thinking, force difficult debates over complex issues, and ask ‘Why?’ over and over again.”

Allison Vaillancourt (see item #4)

“A few kind words can go a long way.”

Eric Boothby (see item #9)

1. Making the Best of Imperfect Teaching Technology During the Pandemic

In this Kappan article, Justin Reich (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) says that for more than a century, evangelists of educational technology have been promising game-changing breakthroughs. In 1913, Thomas Edison predicted that within ten years, all instruction would be conducted by motion picture and books would be “obsolete in the public schools.” In 2008, Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen said that by 2019, all secondary-school courses would be replaced by adaptive online learning at one-third the cost. Others have predicted that students would soon be learning independently on the Internet, making schools obsolete.

Then in 2020, educational technology was thrust center stage when the coronavirus closed schools for 1.6 billion students. “Parents everywhere,” says Reich, “clinging to their very last shred of sanity, report that, in fact, children with laptops cannot learn anything by themselves, and can’t even go more than about five blessed minutes without needing a snack or help with a password.” Yes, a few students have thrived with remote learning, but for most kids and families, “the results have ranged from disappointing to disastrous.”

Why? Because rather than using emerging technologies like adaptive tutors, open online courses, virtual reality, or artificial intelligence, schools have mostly tried to replicate regular school routines by using two of our oldest technologies:

– Learning management systems (like Google Classroom, Canvas, Moodle), developed in the 1960s and 70s, which basically involve teachers and students passing documents back and forth, like what’s carried between school and home in students’ backpacks;

– Video conferencing, dubbed video telephony in the 1930s, which allows people at a distance to take turns speaking while appearing onscreen.

The result of this, says Reich, is “a Kabuki theatre version of a school day… Teachers can shout lectures through the video keyhole, respond to student questions in the Zoom chat, and collect worksheets through the learning management system.” But most remote classrooms relying on these two technologies “cannot support the range of interactions that are possible in a classroom with a human teacher who has access to chairs, desks, paper, blackboards, and a cart of laptops… For most students, it’s boring and uninspiring, and for most teachers, it’s frustrating and unrewarding.”

Schools have added apps and remote learning tools that improve teacher-student interactions – Dreambox, STMath, ASSISTments, Khan Academy – but these are mostly in math and work best with motivated students who have strong parent support and a good Internet connection. Another problem: few of the apps get students explaining their reasoning in oral and written language. Similarly, there currently aren’t programs that can provide high-quality support in science, social studies, literature, persuasive writing, and other subjects where students learn to reason from evidence. “In addition,” says Reich, “while some learning apps may be valuable, every new app or tool comes with overhead costs. And every app that a school adds to its suite of online tools means one more password for students to forget, one more login for families to keep track of, and one more technology platform for teachers to master.” The simple truth: it takes time to begin to teach well with technology. Reich gives lots of credit to teachers who have poured energy and creativity into making these technologies work for their students.

One positive outcome of the pandemic, he says, is that we’re much less likely to trust “charismatic” proponents of classroom technology. The right approach, he believes, is a “tinkering” approach: seeing the potential of what we have and making small improvements. “If technology isn’t transformative,” says Reich, “that doesn’t mean it can’t be useful. If we adopt a tinkerer’s mindset, then we can learn important lessons from school closures.” To wit:

– In order to use technology effectively, teachers need intensive training, coaching, and lots of practice.

– To support teachers, school leaders must tinker with the curriculum, schedules, and assessments.

– All this will be put to use again, because there are likely to be other interruptions in schooling caused by disease outbreaks, fires, poor air quality, floods, and extreme weather events.

“The good news,” concludes Reich, “is that millions of teachers have come up with new teaching tricks and classroom routines, and tens of millions of students have deepened their skills in technology-mediated communication and self-regulated learning. These are valuable assets, and our schools can and should build on them, continuing the process of learning how to teach, learn, and use our digital tools more effectively.”

“Ed Tech’s Failure During the Pandemic, and What Comes After” by Justin Reich in Phi Delta Kappan, March 2021 (Vol.102, #6, pp. 20-24); Reich can be reached at

2. What Will Change When We’re Back To Regular School?

In this interview with Suzanne Bouffard and Elizabeth Foster in The Learning Professional, Jal Mehta (Harvard University) says the disruption of the pandemic has spurred new thinking about schooling – for example, teachers using “flipped” instruction, with students listening to recorded mini-lectures at night and having lively synchronous discussions about them the next day. As schools return to in-person instruction, says Mehta, “it might be a really positive opportunity to incorporate what’s working and let go of what’s not working.” To jump-start that process, he suggests asking questions like these:

– What have you learned about your students and their families this year?

– How could that shape the way you connect with families and students next year?

– What has worked well this year, and how could you amplify those things as you transition out of emergency education mode?

– What are you not looking forward to about going back to “regular” school?

During remote schooling, educators have really missed the informal connections with colleagues in hallways and lunchrooms but appreciated the slower pace of life, not commuting, and having more time with family. Mehta says we need to allow for a period of “hospicing” as we let go of things that have been important to us but now seem less helpful.

Gearing up for a “new normal,” timing is important. “Teachers are not going to have the bandwidth for significant reimagining during the school year,” says Mehta. This June and July, during paid professional time, will be the best opportunity for teachers and administrators to brainstorm about what worked well and do some initial planning for the school year ahead. “Then, in August,” he says, “when there is fresh energy, a lot of schools have at least a few days of professional learning time, and that would be a natural time to talk about what will be different in the coming school year.”

School and district leaders have a vital role in orchestrating these conversations. The research points to four tasks:

– Naming practices that have worked well during the pandemic, like better connections with families;

– Nourishing practices that are starting to take root and helping them grow;

– Connecting educators with similar instincts and interests so they can think things through, which means scheduling common time and using remote connections;

– Growing expertise by drawing on the best thinking inside and outside the school.

“But overall,” says Mehta, “we don’t currently have the time we need for adults in schools, and that’s a huge barrier to everything else we’re trying to do. That needs to be addressed.”

In that regard, he describes how educators in Chelsea, Massachusetts negotiated an extra 10 days for professional learning at the beginning of the school year. After reflecting on their own experiences as students, teachers conducted “trust visits” with families on sidewalks outside students’ homes, elsewhere outside the school buildings, and on Zoom. Then the district convened nine “working tables” in which teachers, educators, and families across different schools focused on an issue (with parents doing most of the sharing and educators most of the listening) and made recommendations for the upcoming year.

Mehta closes with a question: “What’s the equivalent of the chat box when we go back to in-person learning? I don’t have a good answer yet, but I’m hoping some teachers will have a good answer.”

“Crisis Creates Opportunity. Will We Seize It?” Jal Mehta interviewed by Suzanne Bouffard and Elizabeth Foster in The Learning Professional, February 2021 (Vol. 42, #1, pp. 32-35); Mehta is at, Bouffard at, and Foster at

3. Some Recommendations for the Fall

In this Education Gadfly article, Michael Petrilli shares a preliminary set of crowd-sourced recommendations for the hoped-for reopening of fully in-person instruction:

– Aim for acceleration, not remediation.

– Build everything around a set of high-quality, content-rich instructional materials.

– Ensure that tutoring and other extended-learning opportunities are closely tied to regular classroom instruction and curriculum.

– Offer beefed-up mental health services.

– Work hard at getting the school’s culture right “since a great culture is what’s going to largely determine whether kids get the social and emotional support they most need,” says Petrilli.

He continues to advocate for schools to insert a “second 2nd grade” to accommodate the unfinished learning of many students in the wake of the pandemic.

“Personalized Learning for the Wee Ones in the Wake of the Pandemic, Part I” by Michael Petrilli in Education Gadfly, March 4, 2021

4. Tweaking the Hiring Process to Improve Diversity

In this Chronicle of Higher Education article, Allison Vaillancourt (University of Arizona) says many university hiring committees began using objective rubrics to prevent members’ “gut” feelings from introducing biases into the process; the goal was greater gender and racial diversity in leadership positions. For screening résumés, reports Vaillancourt, the rubrics were helpful, producing a more-diverse slate of first-round candidates. But in one-hour on-camera interviews, white male candidates outperformed women and people of color on every criterion of the rubric, including “strong public speaking skills” and “comfort with conflict.”

What was going on? Vaillancourt says that even using an objective rubric, “committee members often rely on narrow visions and demonstrations of leadership to assess candidates. Candidates who do not look or sound like the leaders we have come to expect end up being evaluated less favorably. White male candidates score well against the evaluation criteria because they act in accordance with the visual and auditory expectations that come to mind when we think about the majority of higher-education leaders we have seen for as long as we can remember.”

What can be done? Vaillancourt suggests keeping five things in mind during the hiring process to level the playing field:

• Examine rubric scores. The criteria may not be as objective as they seem, or the scores given by committee members may be influenced by unconscious biases. “While initial assessment scores can be useful in getting a sense of how candidates compare against one another,” says Vaillancourt “be sure to take time to discuss why each candidate scored well or poorly.”

• Beware of “likeability.” It’s natural to favor candidates with whom we’re comfortable: It would be fun to work with her, I felt an immediate connection. “Make it a practice to both name and analyze how candidates make you feel,” says Vaillancourt.

• Is charisma really what you need? When hiring for leadership positions, she says, committees tend to be impressed by candidates who “have a strong sense of self, make bold declarations, and discuss visionary plans.” During an interview, a candidate who reflects for a moment before answering a question or seems quiet and reserved might be screened out. But once hired, those attributes might be exactly what’s needed to get results.

• Reconsider “professionalism” and “gravitas.” In committee members’ minds, these qualities may be unconsciously aligned with the leaders they’ve worked with in the past – usually white males.

• Be open to new ways of thinking about old problems. “Give greater consideration to candidates who are most likely to challenge assumptions, interrupt default ways of thinking, force difficult debates over complex issues, and ask ‘Why?’ over and over again,” says Vaillancourt. “While it may not be easy or even pleasant, constructive conflict typically yields better analysis and results than comfortable conversations do.”

“Why Your ‘Objective’ Rubric Got Biased Results” by Allison Vaillancourt in The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 5, 2021 (Vol. 67, #13, pp. 42-44)

5. What Happens in Middle School When Adults Aren’t Looking

In this article in Middle School Journal, Benjamin Wellenreiter (Illinois State University) reports on his field research on middle-school students using – and misusing – the areas in their school intermittently supervised by adults – bathrooms, hallways, water fountains, cafeterias, locker rooms, buses, and dances. “The opportunities and risks of these places deeply influence young adolescents’ middle-school lives,” says Wellenreiter. As one student put it, “The only thing I look forward to is the passing periods. And art.”

Interactions in semi-autonomous spaces include friendship-formation, flirtation, and self-discovery – and also bullying, sexual harassment, and illegal activity. The challenge this poses for educators, says Wellenreiter, is avoiding two extremes: being aloof and clueless on the one hand, and implementing inappropriate and antagonistic policies on the other. The goal is the “creation and maintenance of more flexible, equitable, just, safe, and developmentally appropriate policies and procedures.” Three insights from his observations and interviews:

• Spaces that are student “playgrounds” – Bathrooms, only occasionally visited by adults, were especially active social venues. Students dove into social media, created Tic-Toc videos, primped, gossiped, and got into fights. Students were adept at quickly shifting to acceptable activities when an adult entered, sometimes using lookouts. Ideally, adults supervise enough to ensure students’ safety, while respecting privacy and allowing a degree of autonomy.

• Adults enforcing trivial rules while not seeing (or choosing not to see) bad stuff – To students, it seemed that adults intervened when they saw students wearing hoodies, cursing, using their phones, and talking about teachers – but not with bullying, intimidation, or ostracizing. As one student put it, “They care more about what you doing than what someone else is doing to you.” Another student: “It’s like the opposite stuff of what they are supposed to see, they see.” Students also believed adults were more likely to reprimand students of color than white students.

• The tricky balance between supervision and autonomy – “It’s like they smother us,” said one student. “It’s like they’re all up on you, wanting to know what you’re doing every second.” But students did recognize the need for adults to monitor what was going on and prevent harmful activities. The middle ground, says Wellenreiter, is “more-meaningful conversations with adults regarding root causes of behaviors and social processes.” That means adults being less concerned with the trivial and more observant and perceptive about social dynamics among students. The best quality: genuine interest in students as individuals and understanding of the difficulties and complexities of their lives.

“Where the Action Is: Exploring Adolescents’ Perspective of Middle-School Social Venues” by Benjamin Wellenreiter “in Middle School Journal, March 2021 (Vol. 52, #2, pp. 5-13); Wellenreiter can be reached at

6. Teachers’ Commitment to Social Justice: Necessary but Not Sufficient

(Originally titled “What Counts as a Social Justice Educator?”)

In this article in Educational Leadership, veteran teacher Henry Seton describes several classroom interactions in which teachers committed to social justice did not teach well:

– A middle-school teacher asks her students to define universal human rights and for 20 minutes allows students to flounder with guesses about aliens from outer space.

– A high-school teacher uses an auto-play PowerPoint for most of a class period – an ironically disempowering form of instruction for a lesson about colonialism.

– An outspoken feminist frequently ejects young men of color from her classroom.

– A teacher who prides himself on including material on the Black Power movement never reads his students’ IEPs.

– A vocal advocate of transgender rights takes months to give his students feedback on their essays.

Equally dismaying to Seton was a Social Justice for Educators conference with many “woke” topics but nothing about high-quality instruction.

Seton is quick to admit his own teaching errors, including mistaking a student’s gender and making inconsiderate assumptions about students’ home lives. But he’s concerned when educators don’t see, and aren’t working to remedy, major flaws in their work with students. “Sometimes it seems we are focused so much on social inequity beyond our classroom,” he says, “that we forget about our instructional responsibility as teachers to ensure that all students are learning. We highlight structural forces yet lose sight of the souls directly in front of us. We speak out against social injustice yet at times end up reproducing societal inequalities and opportunity gaps among our own students. We say we care about change yet we at times ignore the locus of control where we likely have the most leverage – our own classroom.”

In the daily work of making classrooms places where “all students can be safe, known, valued, loved, and engaged,” Seton suggests two steps to guide teachers’ continuous improvement:

• Adopting a listening stance – This includes inviting colleagues, parents, and community members to observe and offer constructive feedback, especially on the “blind spots in our practice.” It might include setting up a student advisory group that meets regularly over lunch to offer suggestions, and conducting anonymous student surveys.

• Looking at data – Seton quotes Boston surgeon/writer Atul Gawande: “If you count something interesting, you will learn something interesting.” Teachers can gain important insights by disaggregating student assessment results, patterns of classroom interactions (who gets called on, who is silent), and discipline referrals. Seton sometimes asks his more-restless students to keep track of classroom interactions and clue him in on what he’s missing.

“We must adopt culturally sustaining curriculum,” Seton concludes, “and also ensure that our instruction equips all students to be readers, writers, mathematicians, and scientists. We need to be as passionate about data-driven instruction as we are about teaching Latinx history, as attentive to research on effective literacy practices as we are to bringing diverse voices into our texts. With this more-expansive vision, we can better move toward justice in both our classrooms and our broader society.”

“What Counts as a Social Justice Educator?” by Henry Seton in Educational Leadership, March 2021 (Vol. 78, #6); Seton can be reached at

7. Using the Goodreads Online Platform in High-School English

In this article in English Journal, Matthew Duvall (Vista Autism Services) describes how he teamed up with a high-school teacher to introduce literature students to Goodreads, a social network site that encourages its 80 million users to communicate about books. On the site, says Duvall, users can “review books, add other users as friends, read reviews, get system-generated reading recommendations, participate in polls and message boards, and follow authors.” The plan was for students to treat literacy not as an academic exercise but to engage in authentic literacy practices.

Students read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Sherman Alexie) and Eleanor and Park(Rainbow Rowell). Rather than doing the usual reading quizzes, short written reflections, and presentations, students used the Goodreads platform to communicate with each other, their teacher, and a global audience. For starters, students read a short story in class and discussed it using the class’s private Goodreads discussion board. Next they found reviews of the two texts and worked in groups to identify and discuss favorable and unfavorable reviews. Finally students wrote and published their own reviews of Eleanor and Park. Students who usually had difficulty handing in work were right on time posting their online reviews. Compared with reviews students had written before starting to use Goodreads, the teachers found their online efforts were almost twice as long, and included more elaboration and evidence that they understood the book.

More importantly, says Duvall, “Reading Goodreads reviews with the perspectives of real, everyday readers around the world gave the students a different view of literary criticism.” Students noticed that some 5-star reviews didn’t have much detail and some 1-star reviews included more evidence and insights. One student said that if he were deciding whether to buy a book online, he might read a longer 1-star review that had lots of details. “This idea,” says Duvall, “– that the supporting evidence in a book review is more important than the subjective rating of the book’s quality – is a valuable understanding for high-school students.”

“Using Goodreads to Create Authentic Classroom Experiences” by Matthew Duvall in English Journal, January 2021 (Vol. 110, #, pp. 13-15); Duvall can be reached at

8. Bringing Science Instruction Up to Speed in Omaha

“As the world races to combat a pandemic, slow climate change, and solve many other public health challenges, it’s clear that developing young people’s scientific knowledge should be an urgent priority in schools,” say Justin Andersson and Daniel Sitzman (Omaha Public Schools) and Amy Arneson and Elizabeth Gandhi (Education Northwest) in this article in The Learning Professional. They believe the Next Generation Science Standards show the way, but say that many schools are having difficulty embracing an inquiry-based approach.

The Omaha Public Schools took on this challenge by launching a district-wide initiative that included in-depth coaching and other professional learning experiences. Over a 15-month period, evaluators observed classes, interviewed teachers, looked at achievement data, and surveyed students, and reported marked improvements in teaching and learning. The most interesting data came from comparing teachers’ self-assessments with what their students said in anonymous surveys. Here are some of the questions students were asked:

– My teacher thinks mistakes are okay as long as we are learning.

– My teacher wants us to understand our work, not just memorize it.

– My teacher gives us time to really explore and understand new ideas.

– In my science lessons, I get a better understanding of the world outside of school.

– In my science lessons, I explain my ideas to other students.

– In my science lessons, other students explain their ideas to me

– During science lessons, my teacher asks me questions.

– In my science lessons, we learn by doing experiments rather than being told the answer.

“With New Science Standards, Coaching Is Key” by Justin Andersson, Daniel Sitzman, Amy Arneson, and Elizabeth Gandhi in The Learning Professional, February 2021 (Vol. 42, #1, pp. 44-48); the authors can be reached at,,, and

9. The Surprising Impact of a Small Compliment

In this article in Psychology Today, David Ludden reports the results of five studies published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. It turns out that people underestimate the impact of a small compliment – saying something as simple as “I love your scarf” – and overestimate the psychic effort involved in giving it. The researchers had people take a few seconds to pay an out-of-the-blue compliment to a same-gender stranger. Some details:

– Just before giving the compliment, participants were anxious that the recipient would feel awkward and annoyed.

– Those predictions significantly underestimated how flattered, happy, and pleased most recipients felt.

– After the compliment, the mood of those who gave it improved significantly.

– But blinded by their own discomfort, they didn’t see the impact on the other person.

– Third-party observers could see the positive impact of the compliment.

“The biggest challenge is getting out of our own head,” says Erica Boothby, one of the researchers (University of Pennsylvania). “We tend to be overly focused on our own ability to give a compliment effectively, or worried about what the other person will think of us.” Better to think about how we would feel receiving a positive comment, and realize that most other people will have the same reaction. “A few kind words can go a long way,” she says.

“The Power of a Kind Word” by David Ludden in Psychology Today, April 2021 (Vol. 54, #2, p. 17)

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