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Marshall Memo 897

In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“I believe the absence of math literacy in urban and rural communities throughout this country is an issue as urgent as the lack of registered black voters in Mississippi was in 1961.”

Robert Moses, a heroic civil rights leader who went on to found the Algebra Project,

in his book, Radical Equations (Beacon Press, 2002). Moses died at 86 on July 25,

2021; here are obituaries in the Washington Post and the New York Times.

“Data awareness and data literacy are needed to not only be an effective employee but also function in the modern world… If we do not help students become data literate, they will be vulnerable to people who are misrepresenting issues and data.”

Jo Boaler, Tanya LaMar, and Cathy Williams (see item #5)

“A child who has more to learn to reach a goal needs more time to get there. It takes ample learning opportunities, sufficient practice, and, for many children, additional instruction.”

Julie Washington and Mark Seidenberg (see item #1)

“Owning a personal library is thought to promote a scholarly culture, a set of practices and preferences that are associated with reading development and school learning.”

Susan Neuman, Donna Celano, and Maya Portillo (see item #2)

“Today’s wide availability of digital reading devices and the rich tradition of children’s paper books beg the question of which reading format is better suited for young readers’ learning.”

May Irene Furenes, Natalia Kucirkova, and Adriana Bus (see item #3)

“Summer has always provided me the mental space to play with ideas and mentally wander through possibilities. I know I am firmly into summer break and relaxation mode when the days have blended together and it takes some mental energy to figure out exactly what day of the week it is.”

Heather McKay in Read by Example, July 23, 2021

1. Linguistically Sensitive Literacy Instruction

In this article in American Educator, Julie Washington (University of California/Irvine) and Mark Seidenberg (University of Wisconsin/Madison) share research and best practices for literacy instruction with children whose oral language from home differs from the linguistic structure of their schools. “There is a large and growing body of evidence,” they say, “indicating that language variation impacts reading, spelling, and writing in predictable ways.”

Many black children grow up hearing and speaking African-American English (AAE), and a major task upon entering school is becoming bidialectal in General American English (GAE) – the language of instruction, commerce, and mainstream media. AAE has often been seen as “bad English,” “poor grammar,” and “ghetto” by people outside that community of speakers, say Washington and Seidenberg, and these negative views “sometimes become conflated with the children who speak it, and expectations for them are lowered… The social stigma surrounding varieties spoken by linguistic minorities can be compounded by race and class.” Successfully handling this challenge is essential to closing persistent opportunity gaps.

That’s why it’s important for educators to understand that AAE is equal in linguistic complexity and consistency to GAE – it’s different, not inferior. The main variations are in verb morphology, syntax, and phonology, all of which come into play when African-American children learn to read in school. Here are some of the most common features, with examples for each:

Verb morphology

– Variable past tense – The cow jump over the moon.

– Variable plural – She saw three cat in the window.

– Variable third person – My friend want to buy some candy when he get to the store.

– Variable possessive – I rode in my uncle car. They waitin’ for they car.

Syntax

– Variable subject-verb agreement – My friends was runnin’ fast to catch the bus.

– Variable inclusion of to be in linking and auxiliary forms – They watchin’ the girls jump rope.

Phonology

– Consonant cluster reduction – Col for cold, fiel for field, cas for cast

– Dropped g – jumpin, waitin, goin

– Unvoiced consonants – wit for with, wif for with, bave for bathe

– Th- replaced with d – dis for this, dem for them, dat for that

– Consonant cluster movement – aks for ask, ekscape for escape

A key issue for teachers is determining dialect density – the amount of dialect present in a child’s language. This can range from 10 percent to more than 50 percent, and is directly linked to socioeconomic status. “The higher the dialect density,” say Washington and Seidenberg, “the further the child’s speech is from the language used in reading and writing. Simply put, linguistic distance influences how much instruction and practice a child is likely to need to bridge the differences between oral language at home, oral language spoken by the teacher, and the written language of books and other texts.” The key is extra instructional time and sensitivity to the cultural and linguistic issues involved.

Isn’t it more difficult for English language learners than African-American students to become proficient in reading? Not so, say Washington and Seidenberg. They argue that the learning curve of a child who speaks AAE may be steeper: “The subtle transformations between the cultural and the general varieties of a single language may be even more difficult for young children to detect and resolve than the more obvious differences between two languages,” they say. “By design, curricula and instructional activities for children who are learning English take their dual language status into account.”

“Similar to bilingual speakers,” the authors continue, “bidialectal speakers engage in monitoring their own speech to evaluate its appropriateness and self-correct as needed. They may actively avoid speaking in fear of producing non-GAE expressions. They may consciously engage in mental translation from AAE to GAE before speaking, and they may compose utterances to confirm to linguistic expectations rather than speaking freely…Assuming different personas in differing contexts, in this case school and home, creates the ‘double consciousness’ described by sociologist W.E.B. De Bois. Monitoring the presentation of self, which includes language, carries cognitive and emotional costs. Cognitively, it is an additional task to be performed while engaged in other activities (such as reading). Emotionally, it involves continuous self-evaluation, criticism, and correction.”

Washington and Seidenberg have six recommendations for steps schools can take to support and engage African-American children as they become bidialectal and learn to read proficiently – always building on children’s knowledge rather than disparaging it:

• First, enhance teachers’ knowledge of language variation. As argued above, it’s essential for educators to have a non-pejorative understanding of the differences between GAE and AAE, tune in to differences in dialect density among their students, and use effective methods. A key insight for teachers, say the authors, is that “learning more about GAE does not require extinguishing knowledge of AAE, any more than learning a second language requires unlearning the first. Rather, it places AAE speakers on a more equal footing with children who have learned GAE in the home, while still honoring the need, and desire, to communicate with their families, communities, and friends who also use AAE.”

• Second, expand children’s knowledge of language in preschool. “Young children are exceptionally good language learners,” say Washington and Seidenberg. In a high-quality, language-rich preschool, AAE speakers gain knowledge and facility with GAE – and a sense of when and where to use each kind of language – through exposure and daily use. This is enhanced when preschool educators communicate frequently with parents and encourage them to read and converse with their children. A key policy and funding priority, say the authors, is increasing the number of children of color in exemplary preschools.

• Third, use classroom materials and practices that are effective with AAE speakers. Few published curriculum materials “accommodate differences in language background or provide clear guidance about appropriate practices for children who need support to become bidialectal,” say Washington and Seidenberg. That’s why teachers must supplement commercial texts and materials with their own insights on what works for different children. Here are some important areas:

Rhymes are often used by teachers to develop children’s phonological awareness (for example, bear/care), but some rhyming pairs will be confusing to children speaking AAE – for example, thing may rhyme with king or rang, and cold with hole, depending on how students pronounce them.

Phonemic awareness exercises involving final consonants can confuse AAE speakers –for example, the pronunciation of words like cold when the final consonant is omitted. “When children take longer to acquire such knowledge, we should not assume that they are less capable learners,” say the authors.

Phonics involves matching letters with sounds, which is a vital step in decoding, fluent reading, and comprehension. But an AAE-speaking student may be confused when the teacher sounds out the four letter sounds in the word gold. One study found that because of omitted final consonants, children speaking AAE had to do extra cognitive work with half of the words on a list of common monosyllabic words.

Children reading aloud is an important literacy activity, but AAE-speaking children sometimes slow down to deal with AAE-GAE discrepancies (affecting fluency) or make errors in comprehension. “When reading aloud occurs in front of other students,” say Washington and Seidenberg, “the appearance of lower proficiency can be deeply embarrassing and can create aversion to reading.”

“Children who are still learning the school dialect have to focus greater attention and effort on understanding the teacher’s speech,” say the authors, “which can detract from being able to focus on the content.” This is especially difficult in an active classroom, even more so when there are distracting discipline problems. It’s helpful for teachers to provide in writing, or with visual supports, anything important that’s presented orally. And it’s important for teachers to be familiar with AAE to better understand some students’ predictable misunderstandings and confusions.

• Fourth, provide enough time on task. “A child who has more to learn to reach a goal needs more time to get there,” say Washington and Seidenberg. “It takes ample learning opportunities, sufficient practice, and, for many children, additional instruction.” This means rethinking time-honored pacing schedules in the early grades and providing the additional time needed for children to become proficient and confident readers by the time they reach the middle grades. An essential component is supplementing children’s background knowledge from home with plenty of school knowledge, providing “velcro” for new learning.

• Fifth, respond constructively to AAE use in the classroom. Some educators ignore students’ use of AAE in an effort to be culturally sensitive. Washington and Seidenberg believe this further disadvantages African-American students by depriving them of teachable moments on the road to mastering both dialects. At the other extreme is correcting AAE usage in ways that make students feel their home language is “bad.” A researcher observed a teacher repeatedly correcting a third grader in front of his classmates when he read street as skreet (a regional dialect). When the teacher finally stopped, the boy read “haltingly, mumbling, and fearful of saying the wrong thing and being further embarrassed by the teacher,” say Washington and Seidenberg, “making him likely to be more resistant to reading aloud in the future.” A better approach would be for the teacher to note the boy’s pronunciation of the word street (probably there are other children in the class who say it that way) and making it part of an all-class language lesson at another time, without calling attention to the student who said the word in dialect. Similarly, when a primary-grade student says, “This my backpack,” the teacher might say, “Yes, this IS your backpack. Let’s put it away.” Over time, these gentle, respectful transpositions have an impact.

• Sixth, know that becoming bidialectal is a manageable task. The good news, say Washington and Seidenberg, is that, “with few exceptions, AAE and GAE are mutually intelligible. Given sufficient time and relevant experience, bidialectal speakers, like bilinguals, will learn to navigate the two codes in both oral language and print… Teaching children who are becoming bidialectal to read does not require an entirely new, separate theory of reading instruction. The same elements that have been identified for all developing readers to break the code are necessary for children who speak AAE as well. What differs is the delivery of these elements.”

“All children,” conclude the authors, “need to have the skills to make linguistic choices across contexts: formal, informal, home, school, speaking, reading, or writing. Even within these contexts, there are choices that require varied skills, such as writing a report for school, writing a thank-you card for a birthday gift, or writing a text to meet up with friends. Above all, our shared goal should be for all children to become good readers…”

“Teaching Reading to African-American Children: When Home and School Language Differ” by Julie Washington and Mark Seidenberg in American Educator, Summer 2021; the authors can be reached at julie.washington@uci.edu and seidenberg@wisc.edu.

2. Insights from a Book Distribution Program in Philadelphia

In this American Educational Research Journal article, Susan Neuman (New York University), Donna Celano (LaSalle University), and Maya Portillo (Robert R. McCormick Foundation) describe their study of an effort to distribute almost 500,000 books to families in Philadelphia at a total cost of more than $1.4 million. “Owning a personal library,” the authors report, “is thought to promote a scholarly culture, a set of practices and preferences that are associated with reading development and school learning.” The number of books in different homes is directly correlated with family wealth: a 2016 study found that the most economically advantaged children had several times the number of books than the poorest.

Findings like these spurred the Philadelphia program and a number of other efforts to put books in the hands of children, especially those with economic disadvantages. Neuman, Celano, and Portillo wanted to find the most strategic and effective way of accomplishing this, since many well-intentioned programs have been fragmented, poorly targeted, mismatched books with recipients, and have a mixed track record on improving children’s literacy levels. The authors wondered whether there was a causal link between the number of books in the home and children’s reading achievement. Could other factors be the true drivers of growth – family preferences around learning, adults’ educational levels, the amount of time parents spend reading with children? But a 2011 meta-analysis of literacy exposure found that book ownership had an independent effect, setting in motion a “spiral of causality” that boosted children’s oral language, comprehension skills, and school achievement. Other researchers speculated that books in the home might “nudge” children and adults toward productive literacy experiences. So book distribution programs can make a positive difference.

Neuman, Celano, and Portillo conducted focus groups in Philadelphia neighborhoods to gauge the impact of the books families received. Many were thrilled to get books, spent quality time reading with their children, and eagerly looked forward to the next batch. But some parents said they had more books than they knew what to do with – they got books from their doctor’s office, schools, and other programs. There were also comments about getting several copies of the same book or age-inappropriate books; not enough guidance on how to read with their children (some reported that their toddlers were most interested in chewing on the books; others were impatient when older kids peppered them with questions); not enough multicultural and Spanish-language content; not enough books that built school skills; and a feeling of being condescended to with unwanted gifts.

The authors’ big takeaways: fine-tune book distribution to neighborhoods and families according to need (in some cases, middle-class families received books while the poorest families did not); coordinate to avoid duplication; involve families in the program’s policymaking; give parents and kids a choice of books; and provide more support on the finer points of reading with children at different ages.

“Getting Books in Children’s Hands: Creating a Citywide Book Distribution Policy Using a Mixed-Methods Geospatial Approach” by Susan Neuman, Donna Celano, and Maya Portillo in American Educational Research Journal, August 2021 (Vol. 58, #4, pp. 815-849); Neuman can be reached at sbneuman@nyu.edu, Celano at celano@lasalle.edu.

3. For Young Children, Which Is Better, Paper or Digital Books?

“Today’s wide availability of digital reading devices and the rich tradition of children’s paper books beg the question of which reading format is better suited for young readers’ learning,” say May Irene Furenes (University of Stavanger, Norway), Natalia Kucirkova (University of Stavanger and The Open University, UK), and Adriana Bus (University of Stavanger and ELTE Eötvös Loránd University) in this Review of Educational Research article. To answer the question, they conducted a meta-analysis of 39 studies comparing the story comprehension and vocabulary learning of children ages 1 to 8 reading paper and on-screen books.

The conclusion? “We found,” say Furenes, Kucirkova, and Bus, “that when the paper and digital versions of the story are practically the same and only differ by the voiceover or highlighted print as additional features in the digital book, then paper outperforms digital.” They believe the key factor is limits on children’s cognitive load. “The device,” say the authors, “seems to attract young children’s attention at the expense of attention paid to the storyline, even when the content of the paper and digital books was the same. The parsimonious resources available for processing the main information in picture books – the central narrative – may have been misallocated to the means of achieving it (e.g., point, click, and swipe), thus hampering meaning-making.”

Interactive components of on-screen books can be another distraction from the content – but these components may not be as lively as the computer games children have been playing, further pulling their attention from the content. Of course these problems can be moderated or overcome by the design of digital books – or an adult’s support. If the bells and whistles of digital books are closely aligned with the content, comprehension improves. For enhancing children’s vocabulary, digital books with a dictionary feature that defines and explains difficult words are more effective than paper books, which don’t have a built-in dictionary. But the researchers note that it is difficult for children to juggle using the dictionary at the same time as other content-related enhancements; the dictionary is most helpful when it’s used alone.

An important variable is how an adult sitting with a child interacts while a paper or digital text is being read. Some studies report that with on-screen texts, the adult-child conversation is mostly about the device – or the child’s behavior – rather than the story itself. With paper books, on the other hand, the adult talks mostly about the story and provides support and background knowledge that enhances the child’s comprehension.

“A Comparison of Children’s Reading on Paper Versus Screen: A Meta-Analysis” by May Irene Furenes, Natalia Kucirkova, and Adriana Bus in Review of Educational Research, August 2021 (Vol. 91, #4, pp. 483-517); the authors can be reached at may.i.furenes@uis.no, natalia.kucirkova@uis.no, and jeanetbus@gmail.com.

4. How Effective Is Orton-Gillingham?

In this article in Exceptional Children, Elizabeth Stevens (Georgia State University), Clint Moore, Nancy Scammacca, Alexis Boucher, and Sharon Vaughn (University of Texas/Austin), and Christy Austin (University of Utah) report on their meta-analysis of 16 studies of Orton-Gillingham, a popular and widely used approach to reading instruction. Orton-Gillingham is described as a “direct, explicit, multisensory, structured, sequential, diagnostic, and prescriptive” method for teaching children with (or at risk for) word-level reading disabilities, including dyslexia.

The researchers’ conclusion: although the mean effect size (0.22) was positive and somewhat promising, Orton-Gillingham did not substantially improve children’s phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, spelling, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. “Despite the continued widespread acceptance, use, and support for Orton-Gillingham instruction,” conclude Stevens et al., “there is little evidence to date that these interventions significantly improve reading outcomes for students with or at risk for word-level reading disabilities over and above comparison group instruction.”

This finding certainly raises concerns about the fact that a number of states have adopted legislation mandating Orton-Gillingham. “More high-quality, rigorous research with larger samples of students with word-level reading disabilities,” say the authors, “is needed to fully understand the effects of Orton-Gillingham interventions on the reading outcomes of this population.”

“Current State of the Evidence: Examining the Effects of Orton-Gillingham Reading Interventions for Students with or at Risk for Word-Level Reading Disabilities” by Elizabeth Stevens, Christy Austin, Clint Moore, Nancy Scammacca, Alexis Boucher, and Sharon Vaughn in Exceptional Children, July 2021 (Vol. 87, #4, pp. 397-417); Stevens can be reached at estevens11@gsu.edu.

5. What Kinds of Mathematics Do Students Need for the Real World?

In this article in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, Jo Boaler, Tanya LaMar, and Cathy Williams (Stanford University) report on a project that started with a phone call Boaler received from Steve Levitt of Freakonomics fame. Levitt had been helping his own children with their high-school mathematics homework and was struck by what he considered the antiquated nature of the work they were doing. Very little of it, he said, was the kind of math that he used in his professional and personal life.

To check this perception with a wider group, Levitt and his colleagues at the University of Chicago did a survey of visitors to the Freakonomics website asking what kinds of math they used on a daily basis, and 913 people responded. Boaler, LaMar, and Williams saw the results and noticed that almost 3/4 of the respondents were men, so they asked the same questions of education leaders; 427 responded, mostly women. Strikingly, the responses from the two groups were quite similar. Here are the percentages in each group saying they used each kind of mathematics “daily”:

Freakonomics Educators

– Use Excel/Google sheets 66 56

– Access and use databases 42 37

– Analyze and interpret data 31 21

– Visual data 23 12

– Algebra 11 4

– Geometry 4 0

– Calculus 2 1

– Trigonometry 2 0

The percentages who said they “never” used algebra, geometry, calculus, and trigonometry were 28, 50, 70, and 79 respectively for the Freakonomics group and 41, 59, 71, and 82 for the educators.

Clearly these adults don’t use much of the math they learned in school – but they do make heavy use of data knowledge and tools. “For generations,” say Boaler, LaMar, and Williams, “high schools in the United States have focused on one course as the ultimate, college-attractive, and high-level course – calculus. This has led to a heavy focus on algebraic content in the earlier years even though a tiny proportion of students in the school system take calculus. When students do take calculus, it is often taken after rushing through years of content without the development of deep understanding.” And most students who take calculus in high school end up repeating it in college, or taking a lower-level course.

The Common Core standards put more emphasis on data and statistics – but not enough, say the authors, which is why some states, including California, are beefing up data literacy in their curriculum standards. In that spirit, the Stanford and University of Chicago teams joined with colleagues around the world and spent 18 months thinking through what needs to change. “It quickly became clear,” say Boaler, LaMar, and Williams, “that all students – starting from the youngest in prekindergarten to those in college – need to learn the mathematics that will help them develop data literacy, to make sense of the data-filled world in which we all live… Whatever job your students go into, they will be making sense of data… Data awareness and data literacy are needed to not only be an effective employee but also function in the modern world… If we do not help students become data literate, they will be vulnerable to people who are misrepresenting issues and data.”

This line of thinking has spawned an initiative called YouCubed; the website has had more than 51 million visitors so far. It includes a series of “data talks,” which show students a data representation and ask, What do you notice? and What do you wonder? Among the topics: basketball, endangered species, popular dogs, and data ethics. Here’s an example of a middle-school data talk (see the article link below for more). Naturally, Boaler, LaMar, and Williams advocate a K-12 curriculum with an alternative pathway focused on data science and statistics. “Research suggests that the content of such a pathway is much more engaging for broader groups of students,” they say, “providing more-equitable participation in higher-level courses.”

“Making Sense of a Data-Filled World” by Jo Boaler, Tanya LaMar, and Cathy Williams in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, July 2021 (Vol. 114, #7, pp. 508-517); the authors can be reached at joboaler@stanford.edu, tlamar@stanford.edu, and cathyw11@stanford.edu.

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Marshall Memo 896

In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“The Declaration of Independence promised Americans unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If we want that pursuit to bring us bliss, we may need to create a Declaration of Interdependence.”

Adam Grant (see item #1)

“We find our greatest bliss in moments of collective effervescence.”

Adam Grant (ibid.)

“The human mind seems exquisitely tuned to understand and remember stories.”

Daniel Willingham (see item #2)

“The most important thing about schooling is what students will remember after the school day is over.”

Daniel Willingham (ibid.)

“You can also read American history in the same spirit, the way you would read a great piece of literature, seeking to understand the complexities and the nuances, the dark and the light, the good and the bad. You can be inspired by the Declaration of Independence, horrified by the expulsions of Native Americans, amazed by the energy of immigrants and frontier settlers. You can understand that the United States is a great and unique country whose values are worth defending – and realize simultaneously that this same country has made terrible mistakes and carried out horrific crimes. Is it so difficult to hold all of these disparate ideas in your head at the same time?”

Anne Applebaum in “Democracies Don’t Try to Make Everyone Agree” in The

Atlantic, June 28, 2021

“You might not feel intimidating, but you probably are.”

Dan Rockwell on how leaders are seen by their colleagues (see item #5)

1. Adam Grant on “Collective Effervescence”

“Most people view emotions as existing primarily or even exclusively in their heads,” says University of Pennsylvania/Wharton School psychologist Adam Grant in this New York Times article. “But the reality is that emotions are inherently social; they’re woven through our interactions… We find our greatest bliss in moments of collective effervescence.”

That term was coined by the French sociologist Emile Durkheim in 1912 to describe the feeling of energy and harmony when people are engaged in a shared purpose. Some examples:

– Sliding into rhythm with strangers on a dance floor;

– At a concert, singing along with a song that everybody knows;

– Engaging in a lively brainstorming session with colleagues and solving a problem;

– Singing in a chorus;

– Stretching in a group yoga class;

– Executing a successful play with soccer teammates;

– Enjoying a religious service with family members;

– Laughing with friends at a comedy show.

Researchers have found that in normal times, people experience this collective joie de vivre quite frequently – once a week, even daily.

But during the pandemic, there was a marked decline of collective effervescence. Negative emotions like fear and loneliness spread from person to person like the disease, amplified by social media, e-mail, and texts. “The number of adults with symptoms of depression or anxiety spiked from one in 10 Americans to about four in 10,” says Grant. He believes that Zoom fatigue is partly the result of “hours of communicating with people who are also sad, stressed, lonely, or tired.” When the pandemic began, there was speculation that introverts would thrive in an environment that limited social contact. But introverts have suffered as much as extroverts during this period of isolation; they, too, missed the joy of sharing positive in-person experiences with others.

As the pandemic wanes and we return to something approaching normalcy, people want to be joyful again, says Grant. He believes this is the perfect time to realize that we are hardwired to experience the greatest happiness with others. “We should think of flourishing less as personal euphoria and more as collective effervescence,” he says. “The Declaration of Independence promised Americans unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If we want that pursuit to bring us bliss, we may need to create a Declaration of Interdependence… Joy shared is joy sustained.”

“The Joy We’ve Been Missing” by Adam Grant in The New York Times, July 11, 2021; Grant can be reached at adam@adamgrant.net.

2. Daniel Willingham on the Psychology of Remembering

“The most important thing about schooling is what students will remember after the school day is over,” says Daniel Willingham (University of Virginia) in this article in American Educator. But many educators are unclear about how the human memory system works. We wonder why kids remember everything they’ve seen on TV and forget what we’ve painstakingly taught them – even when they seemed to be paying attention. On a more personal level, we forget what we came into the kitchen to retrieve (we knew it 15 seconds ago!), but can hum every note of an advertising jingle from years ago. Educators need a better understanding of the nuts and bolts of memory if students are going to remember what matters in the K-12 curriculum.

Willingham starts with a few misconceptions about improving students’ retention of classroom content:

– Emotions – It’s true that people remember things that are accompanied by strong feelings – a first date, the death of a loved one – but a lot of classroom instruction doesn’t have much affect.

– Repetition – This is helpful, but it’s not sufficient. For example, we’ve all looked at hundreds of pennies, but researchers have found that people are not successful at picking a genuine coin from counterfeits.

– Motivation – It would be great if really wanting to remember something would make it stick. “Sadly,” says Willingham, “memory doesn’t work that way.”

So how does it work? Over the course of evolution, the human brain has come up with a system: If we don’t focus cognitively on something while it’s happening, it probably isn’t that important – so it’s forgotten. If we do attend to something in real time, it’s a sign that it will be important to us in the future – so it’s remembered. In short, says Willingham, our grey matter has evolved to be much more likely to remember what we’ve spent some time thinking about. In other words, memory is the residue of thought.

For teachers, there are two twists. First, schools want students to think about and remember what things mean – not what curriculum content looks like or sounds like or feels like, but what it means. This puts a premium on “message discipline” with each lesson. Second, students won’t remember something unless they’ve mentally focused on an aspect of the fact, concept, or skill that’s most likely to be retrieved later on. Willingham gives the example of quizzing young students on their memory of the word piano when it’s been presented in different ways (a piano being laboriously hoisted up a flight of stairs; a maestro playing with grace and artistry). Students remember much better if the prompt for remembering the word piano is close to the way it was initially taught.

“The obvious implication for teachers,” says Willingham, “is that they must design lessons that will ensure that students are thinking about the meaning of the material.” Here’s a negative example: a sixth-grade teacher has students draw a diagram of the plot of a book they’ve read showing how the story elements relate to one another. Students get engaged in their intricate drawings and lose sight of the plot. A better approach: have students use words and phrases rather than pictures, which gets students focused on how the elements of the plot were connected.

Good unit and lesson plans present ideas coherently, which helps students focus, understand, and remember. Here are some key principles:

• Organize lessons like a story. “The human mind seems exquisitely tuned to understand and remember stories,” says Willingham, which is why story structure is one of the most effective way to present lessons. There are four key elements, all beginning with C:

– Causality – Events are causally linked to one another.

– Conflict – For example, the main character is pursuing a goal and can’t yet attain it.

– Complications – These make it challenging to reach the goal.

– Character – A good story is built around strong, interesting people in action.

These elements help students know that events aren’t happening in a random sequence and stay interested because there’s a lot going on. Because students have been thinking about the story and making inferences as events unfold, the curriculum content is more likely to be remembered.

“This doesn’t mean you must do most of the talking,” says Willingham. “Small-group work or projects or any other method may be used.” The key is orchestrating the lesson so the key question is clear, there are conflicts and complications and characters, and students have to do some real cognitive work to arrive at the answer (the point of the lesson). “I sometimes feel that we, as teachers, are so focused on getting to the answer,” says Willingham, “we spend insufficient time making sure that students understand the question and appreciate its significance. To us, the question and its importance are obvious. To them, they aren’t.”

• Scrutinize lessons for what students will think about. Not what we hope they’ll think about, but what thinking experiences it’s impossible for them to avoid. Willingham once observed a high-school lesson on the Spanish Civil War where this didn’t happen. Groups of students got so caught up in the bells and whistles of PowerPoint presentations they were preparing for classmates that there was little attention to the historical content. (After this debacle, the teacher restructured the plan for the following year.)

• Think carefully about attention grabbers. It’s good to kick off a unit or lesson with something dramatic to pique students’ interest, but this gambit can backfire, says Willingham. He once questioned his sixth-grade daughter about a demonstration she had observed in a science lesson on chemicals. “He had this glass?” she said. “That looked like water? But when he put this little metal thingy in it, it boiled. It was so cool. We all screamed.” Dad asked why the teacher did that. “I don’t know,” she said. No doubt the teacher explained what it was all about, but because students were still thinking about the dramatic demonstration, they tuned out the explanation. Kids remember what they think about.

Here’s a more effective attention grabber. A biology teacher asks students to remember the very first thing they saw in their lives. Students mention their mother, the doctor who pulled them out, and other early experiences. “Actually,” says the teacher, “the first thing each of you saw was the same. It was pinkish, diffuse light coming through your mother’s belly. Today we’re going to talk about how that experience affected how your visual system developed, and how it continues to influence the way you see today.” This surprising revelation intrigues students and they’re eager to learn more as the lesson unfolds.

The challenge for teachers, says Willingham, is “how you will draw a connection between the attention grabber and the point it’s designed to make.” In his daughter’s science class, it would have been better for the teacher to explain the principle first, then do the metal thingy demonstration – having first asked students to make a prediction.

• Use discovery learning with care. Getting students to explore objects, discuss problems with classmates, design experiments, and engage in inquiry can be valuable, says Willingham, especially if students have choice and agency and think deeply about the content. But teachers may fail to get their intended learning results if students explore ideas that are not relevant to the lesson – which can easily happen because what students think about is unpredictable. “If memory is the residue of thought,” he says, “then students will remember incorrect ‘discoveries’ as much as they will remember correct ones.”

This suggests a cardinal principle for discovery learning: students must get prompt feedback on whether they’re thinking about the problem in a useful way, and be provided with immediate help is they’re off track. This principle tends to operate well when students are exploring a new computer program or app in an unstructured way: they find out very quickly if they’re not using it correctly. The same would not be true if they were “messing around” with a frog dissection.

• Organize lessons around a conflict. “There is a conflict in almost any lesson plan, if you look for it,” says Willingham. Students need to find the answer to a key question, and that’s the challenge or conflict. Being very clear about the question provides a natural progression of topics, he says. Take a sixth-grade science standard – learning about the different models of the atom that scientists were debating around the turn of the 20th century. Thinking backwards from the intended learning, the curriculum unit can be structured as a story, with competing scientific models and experiments – and complications – all revolving around an essential question: What is the nature of matter?If this process is handled well, students will come away with an understanding of the big ideas and enduring understandings of the discipline.

• Don’t overdo relevance. Willingham says he’s bothered by the frequent message that teachers need to make the curriculum relevant to students. First of all, he says, a lot of what’s taught is not immediately relevant to kids. Trigonometry? The Epic of Gilgamesh? “Making these topics relevant to students’ daily lives will be a strain,” he says, “and students will probably think it’s phony.” Second, if we’re not successful in convincing students that something is relevant, should we take it out of the curriculum? If we keep trying to build bridges to kids’ lives, doesn’t that convey that school is always about them? Willingham believes there is “value, interest, and beauty” in learning about lots of things that aren’t currently on students’ radar.

“What I’m suggesting,” he concludes, “is that student interests should not be the main driving force of lesson planning. Rather, they might be used as initial points of contact that help students understand the main ideas you want them to consider, rather than as the reason or motivation for them to consider these ideas.”

“Ask the Cognitive Scientist: Why Do Students Remember Everything That’s on Television and Forget Everything I Say?” by Daniel Willingham in American Educator, Summer 2021 (Vol. 45, #2); Willingham can be reached at willingham@virginia.edu.

3. The Advantages of Having Students Use Handwritten Notebooks

In this Edutopia article, Pennsylvania high-school teacher Benjamin Barbour says that during the 2021-22 school year, he will require students to take notes by hand in paper notebooks. After a year of staring at tablets and laptops, he believes this low-tech approach will “reclaim some balance between digital and analog learning.” Here’s how:

• Organization – When students use an app for notetaking, the technology helps them create and manage their thoughts – but perhaps it helps them too much. “I’ve found that using notebooks places more responsibility on students to find, adapt, and stick to a method that works best for them,” says Barbour. Being able to capture a lecture or presentation in real time, devise symbols and shorthand techniques, and organize information in a way that’s easy to study later on – all these are essential skills for high school, college, and many careers.

• Focus – When students are taking notes on a device, they can’t help but see updates, messages, and notifications and are constantly tempted to browse the Internet. Learning significant content, says Barbour, “requires concentration and deep, uninterrupted immersion in a topic.” Constant interruptions and multitasking produce fleeting attention and superficial learning. Daniel Goleman has said that the ability to focus is more important to a student’s life success than IQ and socioeconomic status. Yes, students can doodle and daydream as they write in their notebooks, but a break from their devices gives them a leg up.

• Learning – Some studies have shown that taking notes in longhand (versus typing) results in better retention and deeper understanding of cognitively complex material. The same benefits may apply to using a stylus to write notes on a tablet or laptop with apps like Notability, Noteshelf, and GoodNotes. But students may be in college classes where the instructor does not permit the use of electronic devices, so being skilled at handwritten notetaking is a skill worth learning.

• Monitoring – “When I review students’ notebooks,” says Barbour, “I can quickly see if they’re following directions and keeping up with the material satisfactorily or if they’re taking disorganized or incomprehensible notes.” When he spots problematic notes, he intervenes and helps students shift to a better notetaking approach – sometimes prodded by points or a grade for organization, legibility, and completeness.

• Creativity – A common misconception is that traditional notebooks limit students’ creativity. Not so, says Barbour, if the teacher has students pause and reflect on what they’ve written and jot big ideas, perhaps using color, images, or a sketch to capture their deeper thoughts.

“One Advantage of Paper Notebooks” by Benjamin Barbour in Edutopia, July 13, 2021

4. Beyond Black History Month

In this article in Edutopia, New Jersey educator Rann Miller says that Dr. Carter G. Woodson’s idea for Negro History Week “was never meant to be a one-off acknowledgement, recognition, and celebration of black history. It was meant to serve as a short period for students to display what they’d learned about the history of black people, as well as their accomplishments and contributions to the United States and the world.” Woodson advocated teaching African-American history every week, and would have seen Black History Month the same way – a culmination of learning that happens throughout the school year and across the curriculum.

What does this look like in the classroom? For starters, it means including people of color in whatever subject is being taught. For example, when an American literature course get to the Romantic period, include writers of color from that era – what inspired them and what connects their work with the social events and injustices of that time.

Teachers can also incorporate African-American perspectives by highlighting the work of scholars, journalists, and artists and what motivated them. “Doing this,” says Miller, “can inspire students to discover their own purpose, which fuels their ambition.”

Finally, Miller urges teachers to invite diverse politicians, doctors, and entrepreneurs into classrooms throughout the year, not only as guest speakers but to partner with students on projects and performances – always putting classroom guests’ work and contributions in historical perspective. “We can do this similarly,” says Miller, “through the lens of the Indigenous, Latino/a, and Asian communities with reference to the American experience and questioning injustice.”

“Teaching Black History Year-Round Requires Rigorous Sight” by Rann Miller in Edutopia, July 9, 2021

5. Managing by Walking Around – Done Right

In this Leadership Freak article, Dan Rockwell says he’s a big fan of leaders spending time out and about, observing and interacting with colleagues face to face. But if this style of management is to be productive, it must be handled with emotional intelligence. Rockwell’s suggestions:

– Show up enough that people aren’t shocked to see you.

– Show up to connect with people, supporting more than challenging.

– Keep visits short; several mini-observations are better than a long visit.

– Give more than you take; listen more than you talk.

– Smile. You might not feel intimidating, but you probably are.

– Demonstrate humble respect; you’re nothing without the people you lead.

– Ask, “What’s working?” and “What do you think?” Listen for people’s ideas and solutions.

“5 Reasons People Wish Lousy Leaders Would Stay Away” by Dan Rockwell in Leadership Freak, July 16, 2021

6. Short Item:

Recommended Reading for Students – These online School Library Journal links highlight high-quality children’s books and include cover images and short reviews:

“16 Must Read Realistic Chapter Books, Summer Reading 2021”

“10 YA Sports Novels That Knock It Out of the Park; Summer Reading 2021”

“Game, Set, Match: Two Picture Books About Tennis Superstars” (Althea Gibson and Serena Williams)

“Summer Reading 2021” in School Library Journal, May 19, May 25, and July 1, 2021

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In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“My relationship to deadlines, like that of almost everyone I know, is full of contradictions. I crave them and avoid them, depend on them and resent them.”

Rachel Syme (see item #1)

“This is a fight over how to explain American history, society, and culture to all our children, whom we are counting on to be morally committed to protecting, defending, and perfecting it as adults.”

Robert Pondiscio in “No, School Choice Is Not the Answer to Critical Race Theory”

in American Enterprise Institute Ideas, July 2, 2021 and Education Gadfly, July 8, 2021

“In middle school I learned how to solve for the hypotenuse and identify properties of an atom, but the most enduring skill I picked up was how to gossip.”

Kristen Radtke (see item #2)

“Social media platforms reward our meanest, least empathetic selves and push us toward extreme positions.”

Kristen Radtke (ibid.)

“One giant step to building esteem in our learning spaces would be to reduce the emphasis we place on right answers. When students feel they should know the answers from the onset of a lesson, they engage in efforts that do not promote building their knowledge (an esteem booster) but rather, reinforce a feeling of incompetence (an esteem buster).”

Connie Hamilton (see item #2)

1. Can Deadlines Spur Better Work?

In this New Yorker article, Rachel Syme says that action-forcing deadlines “add both structure and suspense to our lives” – things like bills, tooth cleanings, tax returns. “My relationship to deadlines,” she says, “like that of almost everyone I know, is full of contradictions. I crave them and avoid them, depend on them and resent them.” Syme confesses that she’s a chronic procrastinator, waiting until the last minute and counting on adrenaline and caffeine to get things done on time.

Experts disagree on whether looming deadlines lead to better work; those who wait until the last minute may not leave enough time to produce a high-quality product. One magazine editor tried giving writers a fierce, non-negotiable deadline that was in fact a week before articles were actually needed. This worked quite well, with writers getting serious a few days earlier than usual and articles coming in by the real deadline. The trick was getting people to work like it was the last minute before the last minute.

“If you’re the kind of person who sets the kitchen clock ten minutes fast and still shows up late for dinner reservations, you may doubt the efficacy of this approach,” says Syme. One way to deal with that is to make a group of people responsible for finishing something on time, motivating everyone to do their best work and not let the team down. “In this all-for-one-and-one-for-all scenario,” says Syme, “deadlines aren’t just tools for individual achievement – they’re levers of collective accountability.” An analogy in restaurants and stores is the “soft opening” – launching (or restarting) for friends and family to make sure everything is working smoothly a few days before welcoming the public. Soft deadlines can engender focus, urgency, and collegiality – versus rashness, desperation, and sloppy work.

One danger of deadlines, Syme concludes, is being so focused on finishing a task on time that we don’t look up and see the bigger picture. “Life is one long soft opening,” she says. “We might as well experiment, stumble, fail, and sometimes not even finish… Maybe the thing we’re trying not to look at is the ultimate deadline – the only one that matters, the one that’s coming for us all.”

“Clock’s Ticking” by Rachel Syme in The New Yorker, July 5, 2021, reviewing The Deadline Effect by Christopher Cox.

2. Helping Students Feel Valued and Respected in the Classroom

In this Cult of Pedagogy article, instructional coach/author Connie Hamilton says that early in her teaching career, she had an “amateur diagnosis” of her students’ attention-seeking behaviors. She was correct that students’ ridiculous, disruptive actions showed a need for affirmation and prestige with peers. “However,” she says, “what I missed completely is how and why esteem needs cause students to act in ways that defy what they know is right, to ignore their own strengths and accomplishments, and to restrict their success as a learner.” In the fourth level of Maslow’s hierarchy – esteem – she’s found what she was missing. “If we can better understand how this tier works,” says Hamilton, “we can help our students satisfy their esteem needs in healthy and beneficial ways.”

Esteem is in the first four tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy – physiological, safety, love/belonging, and esteem – all of which are deficiency needs: that is, when people are deprived of them, they can’t concentrate or function at higher levels.

– Tier 1 – Physiological: food, water, shelter, warmth, sleep, clothing; students lacking these basics are not open to learning.

– Tier 2 – Safety: personal security, freedom from fear, health, stability, order; the pandemic deprived many families of these key elements; the return of regular school routines will be helpful.

– Tier 3 – Love and belonging: beyond their families, students can get these needs met at school: the homeroom, friendship groups, clubs, sports teams, and a climate of caring and compassion.

– Tier 4 – Esteem: there are two types: self-esteem – dignity, achievement, mastery, success, positive self-regard; and esteem from others – status, prestige, popularity, reputation, respect from others.

Tier 5, self-actualization, is a growth need: the energy that is presented as anxiety when seeking to meet the four lower levels converts to actions to improve oneself at the top level.

“The need to be respected by others plays a direct role in students’ willingness to take risks in the classroom,” says Hamilton. “If students’ status is vulnerable, they are less likely to engage in activities that will prevent their esteem needs from being met.” Telling students not to worry about what others think of them is ineffective; kids can’t respect themselves if they don’t feel respected by others.

Trying to meet students’ esteem needs with phony praise and participation trophies doesn’t work, says Hamilton. Educators must orchestrate “authentic experiences of knowledge, competence, independence, recognition, and confidence.” Challenge and rigor are essential, as is supporting students through failures and frustrations to genuine accomplishments. That’s how real esteem is built. “One giant step to building esteem in our learning spaces would be to reduce the emphasis we place on right answers,” she says. “When students feel they should know the answers from the onset of a lesson, they engage in efforts that do not promote building their knowledge (an esteem booster) but rather, reinforce a feeling of incompetence (an esteem buster).”

Hamilton suggests three esteem-building strategies that she believes are effective at heading off a lot of disruptive, attention-seeking behavior:

• Give students an “out” up front. Encouraging students to be tentative as they answer challenging questions actually builds confidence. Students might use lines like these:

– I might change my mind later, but right now here’s what I’m thinking…

– I know it’s not — because —

– It’s either —, —, or —

– I’m 80% sure.

– I’m only 20% certain.

• Watch for opportunities to elevate a student’s status. Call attention to contributions students make in class, narrating the positive. Some examples:

– Look at how many people are nodding their heads in agreement.

– It seems your classmates appreciate that you asked that question.

– I noticed Skyler took Alexandra’s idea and built on it.

And here are some ways to solicit peer esteem-builders:

– How did Jordan’s explanation help you understand?

– Who do you want to honor today?

– Take a moment to show gratitude to Stella for…

– How many of you had the same thought as Jay?

• Support positive peer interactions. Classroom culture is a key to individual students’ esteem, says Hamilton. Some teacher moves:

– Establish a compliment board.

– Promote affirmations.

– Praise publicly and encourage students to do so as well.

– Set expectations for acceptance and compassion.

– Provide prompts for students to give credit to their classmates.

– Choose partners and groups based on a variety of strengths so everyone can shine.

“The Importance of Maslow’s Fourth Tier” by Connie Hamilton in Cult of Pedagogy, July 11, 2021; Hamilton’s book is Hacking Questions (Times 10, 2019).

3. What to Say When Students Shine

In this Edutopia article, teacher/author Tarn Wilson says she began having second thoughts about saying “I’m proud of you” when her high-school students shared a personal triumph – making a team, doing well on a test, getting their driver’s license. Why not express pride? Because it shifts attention from what the student did to the teacher’s approval – and also tends to truncate the interaction. “I wanted my students to spend more time basking in their accomplishments and taking ownership for their successes,” says Wilson. Over time, she developed these different reactions:

• I’m so happy for you. Tell me more. “This strategy allows students to relive the moment and magnify their happiness through sharing,” says Wilson. It also lets them decide which details to share.

• Wow, you must feel so proud. “Although naming students’ emotions sounds as if it might shut down conversations, it generally has the opposite effect,” says Wilson. “…Offering them some language can be a powerful opening.” Then it’s important to pause and give the student time to confirm, elaborate, modify, or correct the teacher’s surmise.

• Fantastic! What did you do to make that happen? This prompts students to articulate the choices and behaviors that led to a success. Students who are not self-aware may need some prompting to name the study habits, collaboration with peers, and other factors that worked for them.

• I appreciate… I admire… Following this lead-off phrase with specific actions the student has taken is different from saying I’m proud of you; it conveys the message that pleasing the teacher is not the name of the game; it’s all about the student’s growth and development.

Wilson says there are moments when she can’t resist saying she’s proud of what a class has achieved, and there are students whose self-esteem is so low that hearing teachers express pride can make them feel “seen, valued, and supported.” But most of the time, she believes the teacher should not become the center of attention – the one bestowing approval. “Instead,” she concludes, “our feedback should be used as a tool to cultivate in our students a healthy self-awareness and self-trust.”

“What to Say Instead of ‘I’m Proud of You’” by Tarn Wilson in Edutopia, June 22, 2021

4. The Role of Gossip Among Students – and Adults

In this New York Times Magazine article, author Kristen Radtke says that in her Catholic middle school, “I learned how to solve for the hypotenuse and identify properties of an atom, but the most enduring skill I picked up was how to gossip.” One of her eighth-grade teachers had no tolerance for the chit-chat and quoted Proverbs: “A whisperer separates close friends.” As a result, Radtke “burned with shame over my recess gossip, fearing that eternal flames awaited me if I didn’t stop.”

Nevertheless, she and her friends continued, and looking back, she understands why: “We were trying to understand things about ourselves, and the tiny world we inhabited, the only way we knew how: by observing one another and making sense of those observations together.” Students found another passage in Proverbs that seemed more relevant: “The words of a whisperer are delicious morsels.”

Radtke has concluded that gossip is simultaneously petty, enjoyable, and an important bond among friends. During her adolescence, it was about “currying favor, remaining on the inside of a group as a pimply teen terrified of being pushed outside.” As a young professional in New York City, there was a similar dynamic. She and her best friend texted each other with tidbits about their colleagues. Her friend felt guilty, saying, “It’s like candy. If you eat too much, you feel a little gross.” But they continued to be fascinated with details of other people’s lives, rationalizing that their chatter wasn’t the same as indiscriminately passing along important secrets. “That doesn’t mean gossip is ever moral or fair or even true,” says Radtke; “it’s just that it can also be an enormous amount of fun.”

The Internet has complicated things, she continues, making it easy to communicate to a wider audience with fewer filters. “Social media platforms reward our meanest, least empathetic selves and push us toward extreme positions,” says Radtke. “In this context, the benign exaggerations of gossip can morph into catastrophic untruths. The Internet also obliterates the privacy of a personal network, undermining in-person gossip’s primary pleasure: in disclosing something to someone one on one, you’re also saying that you trust them.”

“Gossip” by Kristen Radtke in The New York Times Magazine, July 4, 2021

5. A Different Structure for Socratic Seminars

(Originally titled “Socratics, Remixed”)

In this article in Educational Leadership, veteran high-school teacher Henry Seton says that Socratic seminars “frequently fall flat.” Among the reasons: students don’t prepare; discussions lack rigor, go off on tangents, or end in awkward silences; teachers do too much talking; and complex protocols over-manage discussions or don’t provide enough scaffolding. Seton has developed a “remix” of the Socratic seminar that he believes provides the right balance of structure, rigor, skill-building, and joy. He usually uses it in the second half of the year, after students have been schooled in close reading and discussion skills. He departs from it if students are “infectiously and insatiably engaged by a text.” Here’s Seton’s revised Socratic model for a one-hour class:

• Pre-work – Students read an assigned text, perhaps a chapter in a novel or a selection of poems (an example: Act 2, scene 1 of August Wilson’s play, Gem of the Ocean).

• Warm-up (10 minutes) – Students silently read a student’s exit ticket from the previous day and write about what was on target and what needs improvement. The teacher then cold-calls students to share their thoughts, zeroing in on the most important skill. Later in the school year, the teacher might ask students to compare two students’ exit tickets and work on rewriting the weaker of the two.

• Discussion (30 minutes) – Students sit in one, two, or three circles, decide within each group on the most important passages in the homework text, read them closely, and connect them to larger themes. The teacher sits on the outside, taking notes and intervening only to get a group back on track. At the end of this segment, students debrief, guided by the teacher at first, highlighting the most effective discussion skills. (When this version of the Socratic seminar is first launched, the teacher explains the format, reviews key discussion skills, and introduces students to the important skill of identifying the passages most worthy of discussion, one of which will be the focus of that day’s exit ticket.)

• Exit ticket (20 minutes) – The teacher chooses one passage from the homework text and students write a page in which they identify, contextualize, and analyze it, making connections to larger themes. The teacher circulates and coaches writing skills and content, looking for students to identify who is talking to whom, what is happening in the passage, and how this passage sheds light on the text as a whole.

• Assessing and grading – Seton recommends an occasional reading quiz, daily in-class homework checks, keeping track of how much each student participates for a “small classroom grade” every few days, bonus points for guessing that day’s exit ticket passage (his students find this a delightful game), a quick grade or comment on exit tickets (perhaps only once a week), and a multi-day paper as the culminating unit assessment, using a longer passage-identification challenge.

“This revised lesson structure is simple,” says Seton, “but its elements work together powerfully,” integrating what he calls the “holy trinity of literacy skills: reading, writing, and discussing.” Not knowing which passage will be picked for the exit ticket, students are engaged in a high-level guessing game for most of the class period. When they work on their exit ticket, students use notes they took in the earlier segments and draw on what they learned from the discussion.

“While students are initially intimidated by the pop quiz awaiting them at the end of each lesson,” says Seton, “most quickly become fans.” In interviews with several former 10th grade students, he found they remembered this kind of Socratic seminar fondly; they appreciated the “themed potluck” contributions that classmates made during discussions, feeling more independent (like a college student), and the “treasure hunt” for meaning.

“Socratics, Remixed” by Henry Seton in Educational Leadership, July 2021 (Vol. 78, #9, pp. 50-54); Seton can be reached at hseton@gmail.com.

6. Fair, Effective Group Work

(Originally titled “Planning for Fair Group Work”)

In this article in Educational Leadership, Amir Rasooli (Queen’s University, Canada) and Susan Brookhart (Duquesne University) say that getting students working in groups can be a positive classroom strategy, but it’s often implemented in unproductive ways. To avoid this, Rasooli and Brookhart suggest the following principles:

• Be clear about why students are working in groups. There are four ways that collaborative work can contribute to positive academic and social-emotional outcomes:

– Each student learns the intended content and skills;

– Each student learns how to work effectively with groupmates;

– Each group’s work product meets standards for quality work;

– Students learn to function well as a group.

These can be assessed at the individual and group level (more on that below).

• Group students heterogeneously, with choice if possible. Rasooli and Brookhart say it’s important for collaborative student groups to have a mix of achievement levels and backgrounds. But there’s something to be said for students having input on which group they join and the role they’ll play in the group’s work; these increase student ownership and may result in better group dynamics and learning results.

• Establish norms to ensure equitable participation. If some group members are slacking off, others will bear an unfair burden and might refuse to apply themselves. Rasooli and Brookhart suggest establishing several understandings up front.

– Respect all group members.

– Include everyone in the group’s work.

– Recognize and appreciate that different ways of thinking, working, and behaving can support successful group work.

– Ask that everyone contribute as much as they would like others to contribute.

Expectations like these should get all members contributing to their fullest.

• Maximize students’ contributions via seating formats and artfully designed tasks. Having each group sit in a circle helps elicit equitable contributions (four students seems to be the best size), and tasks should be orchestrated to get everyone working hard (not too simple and not too complex). Positive interdependence is the goal.

• Separately assess individual learning and group collaboration. Rasooli and Brookhart say the research is clear that group grading is not a good idea: it encourages free-loading, unfairly boosts the grades of students who are not contributing, and lowers the grades of the high achievers who are doing a disproportionate share of the work. The best approach is holding students individually accountable for learning outcomes, with “softer” assessments of group dynamics. It’s definitely important to gather data and give feedback on how well students are working together (from teacher observation and student self-reports), but those assessments are separate from students’ academic grades.

Rasooli and Brookhart give an example of a high-school group project that meets these criteria. It’s on the impact of World War I on the social, cultural, and economic conditions of one region of North America:

– Each group of four students decides which region to investigate and how the work will be divvied up.

– Students draw on multiple sources and collaborate to integrate their findings.

– The teacher shares a rubric that will be used to grade what students produce.

– Each group presents its conclusions in a poster.

– Posters are displayed in a gallery walk, and classmates and the teacher provide feedback on each one.

– Students self-assess how well their group worked together.

– Students write individual essays on the impact of World War I on the social, cultural, and economic conditions of a region of their choice in North America.

– The teacher gives feedback on each essay and assigns grades.

“Planning for Fair Group Work” by Amir Rasooli and Susan Brookhart in Educational Leadership, July 2021 (Vol. 78, #9, pp. 44-49); the authors can be reached at amir.rasooli@queensu.ca and suebrookhart@gmail.com.

7. Texting Preschool Parents: What Is the Goldilocks Frequency?

In this Education Gadfly article, Jeremy Smith reports on a paper published in Education Finance and Policyinvestigating the efficacy of texting preschool parents with reminders and literacy suggestions. The researchers studied three different models (delivered in English and Spanish):

– A text message sent every Wednesday.

– Three texts a week.

– Five texts a week, one for each school day.

The texts included letter recognition, letter sound awareness, beginning sound awareness, rhymes, children writing their names, story comprehension, vocabulary development, and parent-child book reading routines.. The complexity of the texts increased during the school year, with some topics reintroduced for reinforcement. The suggested activities were geared to family routines such as mealtimes.

The researchers used three measures to find the best frequency: assessments of students’ literacy levels, parent surveys, and the rate at which parents opted out of the texting program. Three times a week came through as the strongest model, striking the right balance between too much and not enough information. It may also have done best because it had a balance of actionable tips, general information, and encouragement.

“Texting Parents Helps Improve Student Literacy. But How Much Is Too Much?” by Jeremy Smith in Education Gadfly, July 8, 2021; the full study is “Too Little or Too Much? Actionable Advice in an Early-Childhood Text Messaging Experiment” by Kalena Cortes, Hans Fricke, Susanna Loeb, David Song, and Benjamin York in Education Finance and Policy, April 2021 (Vol. 16, #2, pp. 209-232); Cortes can be reached at kcortes@tamu.edu.

8. Reflections on Teaching U.S. History

In this Education Gadfly article, Georgia teacher José Gregory (who participated in the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s analysis of state standards for U.S. history) shares his takeaways from almost two decades teaching high-school history:

• Students need more time on task. Gregory advocates a foundational survey year at the elementary level, followed by a high-school course more focused on conceptual understandings and sophisticated historical thinking.

• Chronological reasoning and thematic connections can co-exist. Students must know the sequence of events and basic cause-and-effect relationships, but teachers should also make connections across and within periods – for example, the changing role of government in society.

• Breadth and depth aren’t mutually exclusive. In too many classrooms the curriculum is a mile wide and an inch deep. Solid content standards are important, and Gregory suggests going deeper on a few well-chosen turning points – for example, the Civil War.

• Content and thinking skills are two sides of the coin. “In fact,” says Gregory, “I’m not sure it’s possible to have a good lesson plan if both of these things aren’t included.”

• Students need to be exposed to diverse perspectives, but… “By definition, the past is what happened,” says Gregory, “while history is our interpretation.” The standard for inclusion in the curriculum is solid historical evidence.

“5 Things I’ve Learned from Teaching U.S. History to High Schoolers” by José Gregory in Education Gadfly, July 2, 2021; Gregory can be reached at gregoryj@marist.com.

9. Recommended Children’s Books Related to the Tokyo Olympics

This School Library Journal feature suggests books for students who will be following the Summer Olympics:

Nonfiction:

– She Persisted in Sports: American Olympians Who Changed the Game by Chelsea Clinton, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger, PreK-Grade 3

– Sakamoto’s Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory by Julie Abery, illustrated by Chris Sasaki, K-Grade 3

– Simone Biles: Making the Case for the Greatest of All Time by Susan Blackaby, Grade 4-7

– Proud: Living My American Dream by Ibtihaj Muhammad, Grade 6 and up

– Black Power Salute: How a Photograph Captured a Political Protest by Danielle Smith-Llera, Grade 5-8

Fiction:

– The Mystery of the Masked Medalist by Maia Shibutani, Alex Shibutani, and Michelle Schusterman, illustrated by Yaoyao Ma Van As, Grade 3-6

– Every Reason We Shouldn’t by Sara Fujimura, Grade 7 and up

– Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean, Grade 8 and up

– Dive! by Eto Mori, illustrated by Ruzuru Akashiba, Grade 8 and up

“Fun and Games: Capitalize on Olympics Enthusiasm with These Titles” in School Library Journal, July 2021 (Vol. 67, #7, p. 13)

10. Brief Videos on Civics

This series of ten 4-5-minute videos from We the People by Chris Nee, Kenya Burns, Barack Obama, and Michelle Obama covers these topics:

– Active Citizenship

– Bill of Rights

– Taxes

– Three Branches of Government

– First Amendment

– Federal and State Power

– Immigration

– The Courts

– We the People

– The Miracle of Morning

Here’s a trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3IRW4zH18A

“We the People” on Netflix by Chris Nee, Kenya Burns, Barack Obama, and Michelle Obama, Netflix, 2021

11. Short Items:

Media Bias Chart – In this article in School Library Journal, Texas educator Maggie Knapp gives a very positive review of the Ad Fontes Media Bias Chart, highlighting the features of the free and professional versions. The SUMMA curriculum allows teachers to adjust lessons on media sources to students’ levels and the time available, focusing on news sources’ language, political position, headlines, and graphics.

“Media Bias Chart” by Maggie Knapp in School Library Journal, July 2021 (Vol. 67, #7, p. 37)

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In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“Screw-ups are, paradoxically, opportunities to build trust, so long as you admit error and are clear about what you’ve learned and what you’re doing to change.”

David Brooks (see item #2)

“A major source of stress for many is the pervasive feeling that there is never enough time.”

Dane Jensen (see item #3)

“Beginning in elementary school, we are taught to sit still, work quietly, think hard – a model for mental activity that will dominate during the years that follow. The skills we develop and the techniques we are taught are mostly those that involve using our individual, unaided brains: committing information to memory, engaging in internal reasoning and deliberation, mustering out mental powers from within… The limits of this approach have become painfully evident. The days when we could do it all in our heads are over. Our knowledge is too abundant, our expertise too specialized, our challenges too enormous. The best chance we have to thrive in the extraordinarily complex world we’ve created is to allow that world to assume some of our mental labor. Our brains can’t do it alone.”

Annie Murphy Paul in “How to Think Outside Your Brain” in The New York Times,

June 13, 2021

“There are some things in math that need to be memorized and drilled, such as addition and multiplication facts. Repetitive practice lies at the heart of mastery of almost every discipline, and mathematics is no exception. No sensible person would suggest eliminating drills from sports, music, or dance. De-emphasize skill and memorization and you take away the child’s primary scaffold for understanding.”

Barry Garelick in “What It Takes to Actually Improve Math Education” in Education

Week, June 30, 2021

1. A Historian Reflects on Attempts to Control How History Is Taught

In this New York Times Magazine article, Timothy Snyder (Yale University) describes the famine in the Soviet republic of Ukraine in the early 1930s, in which 3.9 million Ukrainians died as a result of Stalin’s policies. “The Soviet Union took drastic steps to ensure that these events went unnoticed,” says Snyder. Foreign journalists were not allowed to travel to Ukraine. The New York Times correspondent in Moscow followed the party line and downplayed the genocide. Subsequently, Soviet and Russian history textbooks portrayed the Ukrainian famine as the result of administrative errors.

In 2009, Russian president Medvedev established a Commission to Counter Attempts to Falsify History to the Detriment of Russia’s Interests. Any attempt to revive the memory of what happened in Ukraine, anything that might cause Russians to feel uncomfortable, was deemed divisive, unpatriotic, and criminal. “These Russian policies,” says Snyder, “belong to a growing international body of what are called ‘memory laws’: government actions designed to guide public interpretation of the past. Such measures work by asserting a mandatory view of historical events, by forbidding the discussion of historical facts or interpretations, or by providing vague guidelines that lead to self-censorship.”

Snyder notes the similarity of these memory laws and what happened in the wake of the 1921 Tulsa race riot. “Documents concerning the massacre vanished from state archives,” he says. “Oklahoma history textbooks had nothing to say. Young Tulsans and Oklahomans were denied the chance to think about their own history for themselves. Silence prevailed for decades.” One hundred years after the tragedy, the Oklahoma legislature passed a law forbidding schools to act in a way that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” on issues related to race. The governor of Oklahoma said recently that the Tulsa massacre can still be taught, but educators have their doubts, and the chilling effect is clear. One community college has already cancelled a course on race and ethnicity.

In recent months, dozens of similar bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the U.S. They attack Critical Race Theory and attempt to guide and control the teaching of history in K-12 schools. So far, Idaho, Iowa, Tennessee, Texas, and Oklahoma have passed laws that direct and restrict classroom discussions, and a number of other states are following a similar path. The most common feature of the bills, says Snyder, “is their attention to feelings. In almost identical language, several forbid any classroom activity that would give rise to “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of the individual’s race or sex.”

At the center of this activity is the way the word racism is perceived. The traditional understanding is that the term refers to an individual’s irrational beliefs (most often negative) about people of another race. A more recent understanding (included in Critical Race Theory and a number of books and diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives) is that there can be racism without racists – that racial advantage and disadvantage can become embedded in economic, social, and political systems and endure for centuries.

Many white people, still thinking in terms of the traditional definition, see talk of “systemic racism” as a personal attack (I’m not a racist!). Taking it a step further, they fear that a detailed study of the nation’s racial history will result in their being called racists and asked to shoulder personal responsibility and guilt because of their race. Of course white people’s perceptions and fears are only part of the story. “What would it really take,” asks Snyder, “to remove ‘discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress’ on account of race from the lives of black people, or from the school days of black students?” He believes that, in an age-appropriate way, the facts of U.S. racial history need to be taught.

“Facts do tend to be controversial,” Snyder acknowledges. “It would be controversial to note, for example, that the Tulsa massacre was one of many such instances of racial cleansing in the United States, or that its consequences are manifest in Oklahoma to this day. It would be controversial to note that racial pogroms, alongside whippings, shootings, and lynchings, are traditional tools to intimidate black Americans and to keep them away from the ballot box.”

But in the final analysis, he concludes, “History is not therapy, and discomfort is part of growing up… My experience as a historian of mass killing tells me that everything worth knowing is discomforting; my experience as a teacher tells me that the process is worth it. Trying to shield young people from guilt prevents them from seeing history for what it was and becoming the citizens that they might be. Part of becoming an adult is seeing your life in its broader settings. Only that process enables a sense of responsibility that, in its turn, activates thought about the future. Democracy requires individual responsibility, which is impossible without critical history. It thrives in a spirit of self-awareness and self-correction. Authoritarianism, on the other hand, is infantilizing. We should not have to feel any negative emotions; difficult subjects should be kept from us. Our memory laws amount to therapy, a talking cure.”

“Forced Forgetting” by Timothy Snyder in The New York Times Magazine, July 4, 2021; Snyder can be reached at timothy.snyder@yale.edu.

2. David Brooks on Specific Leadership Actions That Build Trust

In this New York Times column, David Brooks suggests nine ways leaders can increase trust within complex and diverse organizations:

• Assume excellence. Micromanaging people makes them feel distrusted and leads them to be distrustful themselves. Once a leader has set the vision and goals, there should be plenty of operational autonomy.

• Be more human. When a group of young interns Brooks was working with asked to spend an afternoon sharing their childhood photos, he thought the idea was ridiculous but said okay. He ended up being pleasantly surprised at how helpful the time was at establishing “new levels of vulnerability and emotional rapport.” Studies have shown that in professional meetings, as little as five minutes of time chatting about nonwork stuff builds collaboration and trust.

• Don’t support backchannel criticism. Brooks condemns the practice of encouraging members of an organization to criticize colleagues online. “Once this behavior becomes acceptable,” he says, “the harshest people in the organization take over and everyone else cowers.”

• Discourage cliques. “A team that has split into different subcultures is bound to become a team in which distrust thrives,” says Brooks. Having people work in mixed groups cuts down on in-group behavior.

• Don’t overvalue transparency. Making an organization’s operations highly visible to outsiders has not worked well over time, says Brooks. Trust comes from competence and results.

• Be honest about mistakes. “Screw-ups are, paradoxically, opportunities to build trust,” says Brooks, “so long as you admit error and are clear about what you’ve learned and what you’re doing to change.” Leaders who preen and self-promote are often distrusted.

• Recognize that you’re not psychic. Lots of people think they know what’s going on in others’ minds, says Brooks, and actually don’t. “People who feel mis-seen and misheard will not trust you.”

• Give away power. A good way to earn trust is to spread authority among your colleagues, which encourages cooperation.

• Answer distrust with trust. If you keep showing up for people even if they seem to have rejected you, advises Brooks, “it will eventually change their lives.”

“A Practical Guide to Building Trust” by David Brooks in The New York Times, June 11, 2021

3. Beyond Time Management

“A major source of stress for many is the pervasive feeling that there is never enough time,” says Dane Jensen (Third Factor) in this Harvard Business Review article. He believes that the conventional advice on time management – work more efficiently, squeeze in more tasks, reduce “unproductive” time – does not reduce overload and anxiety. The pandemic has provided a natural experiment. People had more time because they weren’t commuting and making business trips, and many said they used their time more productively. But it turns out that people worked longer hours, which meant they had less time for the fun activities that increased productivity should have made possible. Why? “As we become more efficient,” says Jensen, “we make room for even more tasks and feel even more pressure.”

As the world returns to something approaching normal, Jensen suggests that we attack the root cause of workplace overload – namely, that there are too many tasks, decisions, and distractions. Here’s his approach for each:

• Reduce the volume of tasks. Every time we agree to do something and add it to our to-do list, there’s pressure to deliver on time. If we can’t meet the deadline, says Jensen, “we add the additional stress of a challenging conversation and the guilt of letting someone down.” When your boss assigns a new task, saying you don’t have time can make you sound uncooperative, like you’re not a can-do team player. An alternative question for your superior: “Where would you like me to prioritize this against x, y, and z?” This shifts the onus of prioritizing and reframes the conversation from you refusing a request to the two of you discussing what’s most important.

For self-assigned or self-imposed tasks, stress occurs when we’re unrealistic about when we can finish and the deadline looms. Jensen believes this happens because we put in our calendar the items that involve meetings, calls, and interpersonal activities, but don’t block out time for work we need to do on our own. The solution: put everything on the calendar, making us more realistic about how much time we have to finish a task.

• Replace decisions with principles. Deciding what to do with imperfect information can produce cognitive overload, says Jensen, and that increases errors and stress. The alternative is to adopt a simple principle that eliminates the need to make a number of decisions. Three examples:

– A person trying to lose weight had decided, I’ll limit my snacking after 7 p.m., which created multiple decisions every evening (a banana? ice cream?). With the shift to, I won’t eat after 7 p.m., things were much simpler.

– Steve Jobs got tired of deciding what to wear every morning and began to wear the same outfit every day.

– Jon Mackey, head of a Canadian company, realized that he was deciding multiple times a day which meetings to accept and which to reject, and wasn’t carving out time for the deep work he needed to do. His solution: no meetings on Fridays. Now he had a full day each week for uninterrupted think time.

• Use structure, not will power, to minimize distractions. Anything that pulls us away from making progress on important tasks has a corrosive effect on morale and productivity, says Jensen, but the usual advice on self-discipline isn’t helpful. “When you try to use willpower to shut out distractions such as social media,” he says, “you are pitting yourself against an army of our generation’s greatest minds.” Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others are brilliantly designed to “steal a slice of your attention.” Similarly, managers with an open door find it difficult to say no when a colleague drops in and asks, “Got a minute?” Three examples of structures that solve these problems:

– Establish a time every day when you turn off WiFi and Internet access to your devices and work without distraction.

– Create a standing 30-minute time when colleagues can pop in to get direction and answers to questions.

– Don’t schedule back-to-back meetings; always leave a 10-minute buffer between meetings for SMORs – small moments of reflection.

“Time Management Won’t Save You” by Dane Jensen in Harvard Business Review, June 23, 2021; Jensen can be reached at dane.jensen@thirdfactor.com.

4. Getting Off to a Strong Start in Algebra 1 This Fall

In this Education Week article, Sarah Schwartz reports that mathematics has suffered more than other subjects during the pandemic. Why? Math teachers she interviewed said remote teaching made it more difficult to:

– Show enough visual representations;

– Get students working with manipulatives;

– Have structured student conversations about math concepts;

– Work out problems collaboratively with students;

– Orchestrate student collaboration on whiteboards and informal peer-to-peer help;

– Evaluate student understanding in real time;

– Quickly follow up on misunderstandings, misconceptions, and learning problems.

Teachers said they anticipate that Algebra 1 is going to be especially challenging as the 2021-22 school year begins. This gateway course, often taken in ninth grade, is a prerequisite to advanced math, and passing Algebra 1 is key to on-time graduation and college and career readiness.

“Even in a regular year,” says Schwartz, “…students come into Algebra with varying degrees of readiness. But this year, the range might be even greater, depending on what opportunities and resources they had during remote learning.” The teachers and experts she interviewed had the following recommendations:

– Be explicit about class norms, especially not being afraid to ask questions and make mistakes.

– Set aside time for students to get to know their classmates. This is vital since many students are strangers to each other and will be hesitant to engage in turn-and-talks and group work until they build relationships.

– Teach the on-grade curriculum.

– For each unit, be clear about the prerequisite knowledge and skills.

– Give quick assessments of those items to gauge students’ needs.

– Give a task or mini-lesson to shore up gaps, making clear to students the connection to the rest of the unit.

– Give multiple representations for new concepts – for example, the way a linear function looks written as a mathematical expression, a graph, and an equation, then showing real-world applications.

– Listen to students during group work, ask guiding questions, address misunderstandings, and reinforce the use of mathematical language.

– Get students to practice, practice, practice so they build fluency and confidence.

This kind of just-in-time help is better than remediation, which slows things down and is demotivating to students. The key is diving into on-level material and catching students up as needed.

“Algebra 1 Is a Turning Point. Here’s How to Help Incoming Students” by Sarah Schwartz in Education Week, June 22, 2021

5. Supporting English Learners in the Wake of the Pandemic

Many of the nation’s five million English learners faced especially difficult challenges during the pandemic, reports Ileana Najarro in this Education Week article – limited access to computers, a weak Internet connection, glitches with remote learning, and less time for informal conversations with educators and peers. However, says Najarro, “it’s important to remember that being immersed in their families’ languages and cultures also offered some potential benefits to this group.”

For example, a girl might have helped to prepare family meals, learning a number of recipes, and spent hours listening to her grandmother telling stories in Spanish, boosting her vocabulary and background knowledge. The same girl might also have picked up useful tech skills. “As she steps into a new grade this fall,” says Navarro, “her teachers will have to sort out just how big an impact the remote setting had on her English-language proficiency progress, and how to incorporate the silver linings that emerged over the past year into their teaching plans.”

The experts Navarro interviewed stressed the importance of not making assumptions, implementing language- and content-rich instruction, and not getting bogged down in remedial drilling of knowledge and skills in isolation. Additional recommendations:

– Check in with students and parents on what occurred during the pandemic, which might include economic hardship, illness, deaths in the family.

– Continue to do wellness checks through the year.

– Take time up front to build relationships with students, among students, and with families.

– Look at previous language proficiency assessments, which might date back to 2019.

– Do quick informal assessments of listening, speaking, reading, and writing proficiency in English to see how much catching up is needed, and take note of strengths in the native language.

– A thorough assessment is especially important for students who were newcomers to the U.S. during Covid-time and might not be proficient in reading and writing their native language.

– Set ambitious goals for the school year, with student buy-in.

– Give ELs frequent opportunities to practice their English in class and with peers.

– Provide in-class scaffolding and continuous assessment of progress.

– Provide social-emotional support, with native language speaking staff when possible.

– Continue to use online technology to provide extra support and feedback to ELs.

– Organize summer school, after-school, and tutoring support closely linked to classroom instruction.

“English Learners May Need More Support This Fall. But That Doesn’t Mean They’re Behind” by Ileana Najarro in Education Week, June 22, 2021

6. A1990 Article on the Reading Wars: What’s Different?

In this Education Week article from 31 years ago, Robert Rothman reports on the ongoing debate between phonics and “whole language.” Rothman describes a just-released Congressionally mandated study that seemed to settle the matter in favor of a balanced approach. The report concluded that an understanding of letter-sound correspondences is “of inescapable importance to both skillful reading and its acquisition.” The vast majority of studies, said the authors, found that “intensive, explicit phonics instruction resulted in comprehension skills that are at least comparable to, and word-recognition and spelling skills that are significantly better than, those that do not.” The result of effective phonics instruction: students can read without getting bogged down in decoding. The report said that relegating phonics to “seatwork,” which some teachers were doing, was a big mistake, especially for students entering school without good preschool preparation.

But the report went on to say that phonics-based instruction was not enough to give children the skills and intrinsic motivation they need to become proficient readers. “As important as it is to sound words out,” the report said, “it is important only as an intermediate step. Sounding words out should not be the end goal, but a way of teaching what they need to know to comprehend text. The only reason for reading words is to understand text.”

And that means not postponing reading while phonics instruction takes place. For children who enter school with good skills, that would be a waste of time; for students without a strong literacy background, “the drawbacks would even greater,” said the authors. “These children need to be exposed to meaningful, written text as soon as possible so they will begin to notice and have an interest in reading all of the things that are around them that there are to read.”

In terms of classroom methodology, the report recommended that teachers use writing and spelling to reinforce knowledge of spelling sound patterns and help students get a deeper appreciation of a text’s meaning. It praised Reading Recovery, which had been recently introduced in the U.S., for its balanced approach to phonics and “the reading and appreciation of informative and engaging texts.” The report also highlighted the role for parents: “The single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills eventually required for reading appears to be reading aloud to children regularly and interactively.”

The report’s closing plea on the phonics/meaning wars: “Isn’t it time for us to stop bickering about which is more important? Isn’t it time we recognized that written text has both form and function? To read, children must have both, and we must help them.”

“Balance Between Phonics, ‘Whole Language’ Urged” by Robert Rothman in Education Week, January 10, 1990

7. Jay McTighe on Putting Lesson Plans in Perspective

(Originally titled “For School Leaders, Reviewing Isolated Lessons Isn’t Enough”)

In this article in Educational Leadership, backwards-planning guru Jay McTighe says that when principals and other supervisors look at teachers’ lesson plans, they risk missing the forest for the trees. The forest is the curriculum unit plan, whose key elements, ideally, are big ideas, anticipating misconceptions, essential questions, skill and knowledge outcomes, transfer goals, formative assessments, and performance tasks. All this is “too complex and multifaceted to be satisfactorily addressed within a single lesson,” says McTighe. “For instance, essential questions are intended to be explored over time, not fully ‘answered’ by the end of one lesson.”

There’s another reason for looking at curriculum unit plans as part of teacher supervision, says McTighe: the lessons a principal might observe at different points in a unit serve quite different purposes:

– An opening lesson will feature a “hook” to engage and focus students on the new topic, assess students’ prior knowledge and skills, introduce key vocabulary and the essential questions, preview the summative assessment, and share success criteria.

– Lessons in the middle of a unit should systematically build knowledge and skills, use a variety of instructional strategies and checks for understanding, and gradually release responsibility;

– Lessons toward the end of a unit should prepare students for culminating assessments and presentations, with opportunities for students to self-assess and reflect on what they’ve learned;

– The final lesson should include a celebration of worthy achievements and a preview of the next unit.

In short, says McTighe, it’s vital for supervisors to review the big picture of the curriculum unit before observing a teacher in action and spot-checking the plan for that lesson.

“For School Leaders, Reviewing Isolated Lessons Isn’t Enough” by Jay McTighe in Educational Leadership, July 2021 (Vol. 78, #9, pp. 26-28); McTighe can be reached at jmctigh@aol.com.

8. Ways to Understand Very Big Numbers

In this New York Times article, Aiyana Green and Steven Strogatz (Cornell University) says a lot of us have difficulty making sense of very big numbers – whether it’s the price tag on federal budget items or the wealth of the richest Americans. The trick to getting our arms around trillions and billions and millions is to relate them to something more familiar. An example with elapsed time:

– A million seconds from now is about 12 days.

– A billion seconds is 32 years.

“Suddenly the vastness of the gulf between a million and a billion becomes obvious,” say Green and Strogatz. “A million seconds is a brief vacation; a billion seconds is a major fraction of a lifetime.”

An example with physical distance: in Ithaca, New York, there’s the Sagan Walk, a scale model of the solar system at one five-billionth of actual scale. The sun is the size of a serving plate, the Earth a small pea, Jupiter a brussels sprout. The distance from the sun to the Earth in this model is a few dozen footsteps, the distance from the sun to Pluto is a 15-minute hike across town. Experiencing distances in this way, say Green and Strogatz, “Your body grasps it even if your mind cannot.”

To help people understand large sums of money, they scale the U.S. federal budget to the expenditures of a family whose total annual income is $100,000. A few proportional expenditures:

– Social Security – $28,654

– Medicare – $18,352

– Medicaid – $13,680

– Department of Defense – $17,130

– Education – $2,463

– Homeland Security – $1,251

– Justice – $846

– NASA – $594

– EPA – $268

– The family’s total spending – $144,011 (a deficit of $44,011)

– Interest on the debt – $7,307

“Who’s Afraid of Extremely Large Numbers?” by Aiyana Green and Steven Strogatz in The New York Times, June 22, 2021; Strogatz can be reached at strogatz@cornell.edu.

9. Recommended Children’s Books on the Middle East and North Africa

In this article in Social Studies and the Young Learner, Ilham Nasser (National Arab American Women’s Association) recommends “high-quality, unbiased, and non-stereotypical portrayals” of the people of the Middle East and North Africa. Click the link below for the cover image and short review of each book.

Picture books for Pre-K-Grade 2:

– Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns by Hena Khan, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini

– Laith the Lion Goes to Palestine by Jameeleh Shelo, illustrated by Sara Mcmullin

– Let’s Paint the Arabic Alphabet! by Sidrah Abdul

– P Is for Palestine: A Palestine Alphabet Book by Golbarg Bashi, illustrated by Golrokh Nafisi

– Sitti’s Secrets by Naomi Shihab Nye, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

– Sitti and the Cats: A Tale of Friendship by Sally Bahous, illustrated by Nancy Malick

– Tunjur! Tunjur! Tunjur! A Palestinian Tale by Margaret Read MacDonald, illustrated by Alik Arzoumanian

Grades 3-5:

– Farah Rocks Fifth Grade by Susan Muaddi Darraj, illustrated by Ruaida Mannaa

– Ibn Al-Haytham: The Man Who Discovered How We See by Libby Romero

“Picture Books That Bring Arab Voices and Middle East and North African Culture to K-6 Classrooms” by Ilham Nasser in Social Studies and the Young Learner, January/February 2021 (Vol. 33, #3, pp. 17-19); Nasser can be reached at general@naawa.org.

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Marshall Memo 893

In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“We can try to return to the pre-pandemic status quo, or we can decide to do better. Let’s choose wisely.”

Kevin Gannon (see item #4)

“What we’ve seen is that when we try to meet kids where they are, we never build a bridge to where they should be. We just stay where they are forever.”

Bailey Cato Czupryk (quoted in item #2)

“Until we reach the day when intrinsic motivation is enough to get most kids and teenagers to prioritize their schoolwork (in other words, never), or when we’ve transitioned to a system focused on mastery, we’re going to need grades to get kids to put in the necessary effort.”

Michael Petrilli (see item #1)

“You can’t assess the brain without first passing through the heart of a student.”

Laura Chang (quoted in item #3)

“Administrators who have made the most meaningful organizational changes have the greatest potential to upset people.”

Jeffrey Ratje (see item #5)

“The person who does a few quick things before beginning an important thing spends their best energy on low-impact activities.”

Dan Rockwell (see item #7)

1. Michael Petrilli on Covid-Time Ideas We Need to Kiss Goodbye

In this Education Gadfly article, Michael Petrilli says the pandemic we’ve just experienced “can accelerate changes that were already underway but otherwise would have taken root much more slowly,” including:

– Parent conferences and PTA meetings via Zoom – a boon for working parents;

– Using online curriculum materials instead of hard-copy textbooks;

– Highly effective teachers recording lessons that can be used in multiple classes, freeing up teachers to provide support and one-on-one instruction.

But some K-12 Covid developments should be dumped, says Petrilli. Here are his top nominees:

• Simultaneous roomies and zoomies – Teaching half a class in person and the other half remotely is not “humanly possible,” said AFT president Randi Weingarten. Petrilli agrees, saying hybrid instruction meant huge amounts of stress for teachers and less-than-ideal learning for students. Petrilli does think it’s workable for a few students to watch a class remotely if they need to be home or are doing an in-school suspension in another part of the school – as long as it’s clear that the teacher is not expected to actively engage them. Longer term, interactive remote teaching may also be feasible for medically fragile students, and to replace snow days, but the key is that remote classes have the full attention of their teachers.

• Waiving seat-time requirements – Petrilli likes the idea of competency-based education, with students demonstrating mastery of content versus putting in a certain number of hours in classrooms. But he says not so fast to continuing pandemic-era seat-time waivers without putting good summative assessments in place and guaranteeing that students are having robust learning experiences.

• Asynchronous days – During the pandemic, the Maryland district that Petrilli’s two sons attend made every Wednesday an asynchronous day, with custodians doing deep cleaning and all students at home working independently (or getting remote one-on-one help from teachers). “I don’t think I’m ratting out my sons by reporting… that very little independent work was happening on Wednesdays,” he says, “beyond some regular homework that would and should be expected any day of the week.” Petrilli likes the idea of innovative scheduling at the high-school level, with time for rigorous project-based work and internships, but he cites a recent report on lower student achievement in districts with four-day weeks [see Memo 890]. “There is no reason to keep asynchronous learning days once the pandemic is over,” he concludes.

• Grade inflation – When schools first shut down in March 2020, many districts decided it would be unfair to apply normal grading standards, and used students’ previous grades or shifted to pass/fail. This was a necessary emergency measure, says Petrilli, but when it was continued over time, kids got the message that they weren’t accountable for paying attention and doing the work. Petrilli’s conclusion: “Until we reach the day when intrinsic motivation is enough to get most kids and teenagers to prioritize their schoolwork (in other words, never), or when we’ve transitioned to a system focused on mastery, we’re going to need grades to get kids to put in the necessary effort.”

• Graduation standards – Petrilli is deeply concerned that many districts have graduated thousands of students from high school – and boasted about high graduation rates – without those students passing key courses or exit exams. Waiving requirements during the pandemic was understandable, he says, and of course, “helping more students graduate high school is an urgent goal. But it is also urgently important to make sure they graduate well prepared for what’s ahead.” In other words, a high-school diploma must signify real competence in reading, writing, math, and other key areas.

“Five Pandemic-Era Education Practices That Deserve to Be Dumped in the Dustbin” by Michael Petrilli in Education Gadfly, June 24, 2021

2. How Will Acceleration Work This Fall?

In this Education Week article, Stephen Sawchuk and Liana Loewus report that many schools are planning to deal with students’ unfinished learning by teaching on-grade material while providing “just in time” supports and scaffolds to help students catch up. “But what about an entering 1st grader who’s only learned phonics lessons on a computer screen, or in-person through masks?” ask Sawchuk and Loewus. “Or a student navigating the rocks and shoals of freshman-year Algebra I who still has difficulties plotting points on a graph?” Or a class of English learners who are at many different proficiency levels?

In a three-part report, Education Week picked those three examples because they represent points in the K-12 continuum where acceleration is especially challenging. Time-honored advice to teachers is to meet students where they are, but that won’t work with those who have missed large chunks of instruction. “What we’ve seen,” says Bailey Cato Czupryk of TNTP, “is that when we try to meet kids where they are, we never build a bridge to where they should be. We just stay where they are forever.”

The summary just below addresses the challenge for first graders. Next week’s Memo will cover what can be done for ninth graders learning Algebra I and English learners.

“Understanding Learning ‘Acceleration’: Going Slow to Go Fast” by Stephen Sawchuk and Liana Loewus in Education Week, June 22, 2021

3. The Daunting Challenge Awaiting Next Year’s First-Grade Teachers

In this Education Week article, Madeline Will says many students entering first grade this fall will have significant learning deficits. “Kindergarten is typically where 5- and 6-year-olds learn how to be students,” says Will. “They learn how to regulate their own behavior and their emotions; how to raise their hands and listen to the teacher’s instructions; and how to take turns, share, and work together with their classmates.” They also acquire important knowledge and skills in reading, math, and other subjects.

Remote instruction was more challenging for kindergarten teachers than other grades, says Will, because most kids that age aren’t schooled in paying attention, working independently, or using a keyboard. Teaching through a digital keyhole was especially difficult because it lacked the kinds of hands-on, over-the-shoulder work that builds reading and writing skills. On top of that, kindergarten enrollment was down in many schools, meaning that a fair number of students who are old enough for first grade won’t have had the kindergarten experience at all.

All this means first-grade teachers will be dealing with a wider-than-usual variation in students’ academic and social skills, including:

– Children whose parents kept them from interacting with children outside the home;

– Children who had poor Internet connectivity and missed a lot of instruction;

– Children whose parents worked with them throughout the school day;

– Children who had the advantage of being in a learning pod with other families;

– Children who lost family members to Covid-19 or dealt with illness;

– Children whose families experienced economic hardship, perhaps violence;

– Children who sat out kindergarten.

“The hardest part will be the variability,” says Deborah Stipek of Stanford University. “Some of the kids will be gung-ho and ready for 1st-grade curriculum as planned, and others, both academically and socially, are going to be clueless.”

Drawing on interviews with almost a dozen experts, Will summarizes their advice for first-grade teachers:

• Make sure students feel safe and supported. A foundation of strong teacher-student relationships will be essential to academic learning. “You can’t assess the brain without first passing through the heart of a student,” says Michigan educator Laura Chang.

• Spend time building interpersonal and non-academic skills. This includes getting children accustomed to not having a parent at their elbow and learning to share, work in groups, take turns, raise hands, use manipulatives, hold a pencil, and handle scissors.

• Find out what students know and don’t know. This includes quick assessments of decoding skills, number sense, recognizing quantities and numerals. Teachers may be pleasantly surprised by unexpected strengths. “Students might have done more cooking with their parents this year,” says Will, “and learned about numbers that way. They might have learned about the world around them through family walks or outside play. Or they might have learned vocabulary or other skills from watching educational TV programs like Sesame Street.

• Create dual-purpose lessons. Building science and social studies knowledge and vocabulary can go along with standard reading and math lessons. In addition, lessons should include as much social interaction with classmates as possible. That’s especially important for English learners, who might have heard less English during remote schooling.

• Monitor for disabilities. Learning problems may have gone undetected during remote kindergarten instruction (or with children who were out of school), says Will. The challenge is distinguishing a genuine disability from trauma, undeveloped social skills, behavior problems, or gaps in learning.

• Don’t forget joy. Students won’t thrive in a humorless, driven classroom. One Chicago parent said she was looking forward to her son getting away from passively looking at his laptop screen. “I’m looking forward to him having a little more joy in his learning,” she said, “and not being so stuck with the limitations he’s been under.”

• Surround first-grade teachers with other supports. This includes robust summer school programing, intensive tutoring, professional development, time for team collaboration, and, if possible, smaller class sizes.

“The Tough Task Ahead for 1st-Grade Teachers” by Madeline Will in Education Week, June 22, 2021

4. Rethinking Instructor Evaluation in the Wake of the Pandemic

In this Chronicle of Higher Education article, Kevin Gannon (Grand View University) explores the implications of Covid disruption on faculty evaluation. Some universities are pausing the “tenure clock” (the countdown for a tenure decision) to compensate for the impact of the pandemic on instructors’ productivity. But there’s been pushback on equity grounds: did the disruption disproportionately affect those who shouldered child care and had to supervise children receiving remote instruction?

“Lack of consensus on how to evaluate faculty work during this unprecedented year, however, should not mean inaction,” says Gannon. “The challenge for institutions and their decision makers is to discern varied and flexible solutions that benefit individual candidates for contract renewal, tenure, and promotion as well as institutional well-being.” Here are his suggestions for evaluating faculty work during and after the pandemic:

• Acknowledge that the past 14 months have been difficult for many colleagues. “As seductive as ‘back to normal’ sounds,” says Gannon, “we cannot pretend that trauma isn’t part of the institutional landscape that we all now occupy. That recognition should inform all of our post-pandemic practices.”

• Leverage that awareness to evaluate existing policies and practices. Gannon suggests this might be the time to put more emphasis on advising and mentoring colleagues and students, which has often been undervalued as “women’s labor” in the past.

• Understand that “equality” and “equity” are related but not synonymous. A single mother is simply not operating on the same playing field as an instructor who lives alone, says Gannon. “The goal of our contract and tenure processes is a fair evaluation of a faculty member’s performance and future contributions to the institution. To accomplish that goal, we cannot apply the same criteria to both of those hypothetical cases after a year of Covid.”

• Be as flexible with junior colleagues as you’ve been with students. “Compassion,” “empathy,” and “grace” were the watchwords as students struggled in the early weeks of the pandemic. “We need to recognize that what happened to our students this past year also happened to us, collectively,” says Gannon – and much more acutely to some.

• Evaluating flexibly and compassionately doesn’t mean weakening standards and accommodating the less deserving. Faculty evaluation still needs to be rigorous so that all students will receive effective instruction, says Gannon. But he believes we should use this “hinge moment” to apply what we’ve learned during a year of profound disruption – flexibility, empathy, innovation, and experimentation – to reshape how educators are supervised, coached, and evaluated. “We can try to return to the pre-pandemic status quo, or we can decide to do better,” says Gannon. “Let’s choose wisely.”

“Faculty Evaluation After the Pandemic” by Kevin Gannon in The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 25, 2021 (Vol. 67, #21, pp. 42-43)

5. Getting the Most Out of a Comprehensive Performance Review

In this Chronicle of Higher Education article, Jeffrey Ratje (University of Arizona) says that an administrator’s evaluation often involves a written self-assessment shared with a number of colleagues; an anonymous 360-degree survey of leadership given to the same people; a committee reviewing responses and submitting a report; and an “after-action review” with the administrator. Having recently gone through a process like this, Ratje has several observations:

• The committee chair – Having a chair who is fair and thorough is key to getting helpful, accurate feedback on your temperament, humility, communication skills, equity efforts, and results.

• The self-assessment – Ratje suggests taking this exercise seriously and communicating the full scope and complexity of your job. “The people reading your self-assessment need to know that big picture,” he says. “They want to see how you defined a problem and found its solution; how you led change and what was the outcome; what you honestly think worked and didn’t work, and how you view your personal growth as a leader.”

• Positive feedback – There’s a tendency to dwell on criticism and become defensive, says Ratje. “Instead, plan to celebrate the praise and recognize the positive impact you’ve had and the strengths you possess… If 15 percent of the comments were negative, don’t give them 90 percent of your attention.”

• Sharply critical comments – “Administrators who have made the most meaningful organizational changes have the greatest potential to upset people,” says Ratje. That might be a reason to take hurtful criticism with a grain of salt. But the nastiest comments might also point to important shortcomings. In a recent evaluation, Ratje was accused of being aloof and not connecting with colleagues, which he took to heart as he rethought his approach to leadership.

• Supervisors and mentors – These are the best people to help a leader process criticism on unpopular but necessary decisions and focus on what’s been accomplished. They are also best positioned to hold the leader’s feet to the fire in cases involving serious errors or misconduct.

“Getting and Surviving an ‘Administrator Review’” by Jeffrey Ratje in The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 25, 2021 (Vol. 67, #21, pp. 46-47); Ratje can be reached at jmratje@email.arizona.edu.

6. Using Music to Explore Three Kinds of Patriotism

In this article in Social Education, Sarah Nielsen, Karen Washburn, and Andrea Hawkman (Utah State University) suggest a secondary-school lesson plan that uses the C3 Inquiry Arc and music to teach about three kinds of patriotism. Some key questions:

– What does it mean to be patriotic?

– How does music help us understand American patriotism?

– How have displays of patriotism changed through U.S. history?

Students start by exploring what they know about patriotism, sharing examples from their own experience, current events, and the past – for example, flying an American flag in one’s yard, family members voting in local and national elections, taking part in a city council meeting, Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem.

Drawing on this discussion, the teacher defines three types of patriotism – authoritarian, democratic, and critical – and has students work in groups to research slogans and descriptions for each. Some possibilities:

• Authoritarian patriotism – Slogans: My country, right or wrong. America, love it or leave it. Ideology: the superiority of one’s country; unquestioning loyalty; allegiance to land, birthright, and legal citizenship; unconditional support of leaders; uncritical of shortcomings; dissent seen as dangerous and destabilizing.

• Democratic patriotism – Slogans: Dissent is patriotic. You have the right to not remain silent. Ideology: the nation’s democratic principles are worthy of admiration and respect; condemning the nation’s shortcomings; respectful of dissent.

• Critical patriotism – Slogans: Dissent is an essential part of the nation’s history. Ideology: Deepening one’s understanding of history; critiquing discriminatory systems and working to change them; resisting injustices; loyalty to equality and justice over the status quo; commitment to egalitarianism.

Students then choose a historic era (e.g., Reconstruction, post-World War II, Civil Rights, Vietnam, post-9/11) and use the Internet (including the Library of Congress’s “Thinking About Song Lyrics” worksheet) to identify two songs that exemplify different types of patriotism. Some possibilities:

– My Country ’tis of Thee by Samuel Francis Smith – authoritarian

– Ragged Old Flag by Johnny Cash – authoritarian

– America the Beautiful by Homeboy Sandman – democratic

– A Change Is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke – democratic

– The Land of the Free by the Killers – critical

– Americans by Janelle Monáe – critical

Students read the lyrics and analyze the songs’ historical, social, and political context and the role they played in that time period.

Finally, groups present to the whole class what they learned about patriotism from the songs and the era they studied.

“Patriotism in Music Across Eras: Building Critical Media Literacy in U.S. History” by Sarah Nielsen, Karen Washburn, and Andrea Hawkman in Social Education, May/June 2021 (Vol. 85, #3, pp. 148-154); Hawkman can be reached at andrea.hawkman@usu.edu.

7. Dealing with Procrastination

In this Leadership Freak article, Dan Rockwell has these pointers on the perennial challenge of procrastination:

• Do the hard things first. “The person who does a few quick things before beginning an important thing spends their best energy on low-impact activities,” says Rockwell. “It takes courage to stop doing the next thing so you can focus on important things.” In the words of Brian Tracy, Eat the frog.

• Don’t let perfectionism keep you from starting. “Something done imperfectly is better than something not done at all,” says Rockwell. “You can always improve something after you do it imperfectly.”

• Use your calendar. “The ability to manage your calendar is the ability to manage your life,” says Rockwell. Schedule important items a week ahead to keep lower priority items from filling up the time. And block out free time. “The procrastinator in you loves to see free time on your calendar.”

• Make it easy to do the things you tend to put off. Rockwell has a set of dumbbells near the door of his office and is reminded to use them regularly.

• Don’t waste energy on guilt. “Don’t beat yourself up for procrastinating,” says Rockwell. “You’re less likely to solve a problem when guilt and shame dominate your thinking.”

“How to Procrastinate Successfully and Defeat Pointless Procrastination” by Dan Rockwell in Leadership Freak, June 24, 2021; Rockwell can be reached at dan@leadershipfreak.com.

8. Recommended Elementary and Secondary Books on Race Relations

This Social Education feature spotlights the Carter G. Woodson awards for 2021 – books that explore and uncover issues related to racially minoritized groups and race relations.

Elementary winner and honoree:

– William Still and His Freedom Stories: The Father of the Underground Railroad by Don Tate

– The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by John Parra

Middle level winner and honoree:

– Black Heroes of the Wild West by James Otis Smith, introduction by Kadir Nelson

– Dream Builder: The Story of Architect Philip Freelon by Kelly Starling Lyons

Secondary level winner and honoree:

– Lifting As We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box by Evette Dionne

– Dragon Hoops, a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang, color by Lark Pien

“The Carter G. Woodson Book Award, 2021” by The Carter G. Woodson Committee in Social Education, May/June 2021 (Vol. 85, #3, pp. 159-162)

9. Recommended Elementary and Secondary Books on Women in History

This Social Education feature announces the Septima Clark awards for 2021 – books that describe women’s experience through history. Click the link below for cover images and short reviews.

Elementary winner and honoree:

– The Only Woman in the Photo: Frances Perkins & Her New Deal for America by Kathleen Krull

– Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb! by Veronica Chambers, illustrations by Rachelle Baker

Middle level winner and honoree:

– Finish the Fight: The Brave and Revolutionary Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote by Veronica Chambers and the Staff of the New York Times

– Breaking Through: How Female Athletes Shattered Stereotypes in the Roaring Twenties by Sue Macy, foreword by Muffet McGraw

Secondary level winner and honoree:

– Jane Against the World: Roe v. Wade and the Fight for Reproductive Rights by Karen Blumenthal

– Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks

“Septima Clark Book Award, 2021” by The Septima Clark Committee in Social Education, May/June 2021 (Vol. 85, #3, pp. 163-166)

10. Short Items:

a. Rating States’ Civics and U.S. History Standards – This report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute provides an evaluation of each state’s (and D.C.’s) curriculum standards for U.S. history and civics. Five were rated “exemplary” in both subjects: Alabama, California, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia. Ten states were “good” in both subjects. Fifteen were deemed “mediocre” in at least one subject, and 20 states were “inadequate” in civics and U.S. history.

“The State of State Standards for Civics and U.S. History in 2021” by Jeremy Stern, Alison Brody, Jose Gregory, Stephen Griffin, and Jonathan Pulvers, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, June 23, 2021

b. Fractions Assessment Questions – This EDC website has sample probes for one-on-one interviews with students to assess their understanding of fractions. The website includes number-line graphics and two videos of students talking through their answers with a teacher.

“Formative Assessment Probes” from the Education Development Center, 2020, spotted in “The Power of Interviewing Students” by Theresa MacVicar, Amy Brodesky, and Emily Fagan in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, June 2021 (Vol. 114, #6, pp. 436-444); MacVicar can be reached at tmacvicar@edc.org.

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In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“Classics for whom? Who decides something is a classic?”

Donalyn Miller (quoted in item #2)

“Are your students the readers, writers, and thinkers you want them to be?”

Angela Peery (see item #3)

“Learning how to express ideas, take risks in sharing perspectives publicly, and collaborate with peers has enormous social, cognitive, and economic value over time and is therefore central to high-quality education.”

Kristie Ford and Kendra Welling-Riley (see item #1)

“When you allow students to have the agency of knowing that history is not always as authoritative as we tend to imagine, it actually invites them to establish a deeper intellectual relationship with the past.”

Jarvis Givens (see item #4)

“Many of us were taught that dogged, singularly focused practice is the way to mastery, and our belief in this runs deep. But research indicates that gains during interleaving promote longer-term skill development and retention, plus more seamless transfer to other contexts.”

Meg Riordan, quoted in “How to Use Interleaving to Foster Deeper Learning” by

Hoa Nguyen in Edutopia, June 11, 2021

“Honestly? I’d rather we didn’t have to talk to kids about explicit media, and I wish pornography weren’t, for so many, their first encounter with human sexuality, that it didn’t arrive so early to hijack their imaginations with its proscribed fantasies. But given all that, parents and educators need to work together to help kids develop a critical stance – to help them understand what’s untrue and what’s missing from those images – to ensure that, here in the real world, they proceed with consent, mutual respect, and authentic intimacy. Awkward as it may be, we can no longer afford the luxury, or the false comfort, of silence.”

Peggy Orenstein in “Ignoring Pornography Won’t Make It Go Away” in The New

York Times, June 15, 2021

1. The Link Between Classroom Talk and Equity in Detroit Science Classes

In this article in The Learning Professional, Kristie Ford and Kendra Welling-Riley say that despite decades of progress in U.S. schools, there are still “stubborn patterns of inequity in graduation rates, grades, test scores, disciplinary actions, and access to extra- and co-curricular activities. These patterns exist across urban, suburban, and rural schools, and even within schools.” With the implementation of Next Generation Standards, they say, science has been especially challenging from an equity standpoint.

As district science leaders in the Detroit Public Schools, Ford and Welling-Riley are working to close achievement gaps, with a special focus over the last two years on students’ verbal participation during instruction. That’s because the students who are typically talking least in classrooms are English learners, students of color, and students with disabilities. Verbal discourse – between teachers and students and among students – plays a key role in equitable learning outcomes because:

– Student talk helps them process information.

– It helps students create connections between and among facts and concepts.

– It facilitates reasoning and problem-solving.

– It solidifies science vocabulary, content, and conceptual understanding.

– It helps move ideas from working memory to long-term storage.

– Students who participate substantively in class have fewer disciplinary referrals.

– Verbal facility in science is vital to progressing in science, math, engineering, and technology courses beyond high school.

“Apart from STEM ,” say Ford and Welling-Riley, “learning how to express ideas, take risks in sharing perspectives publicly, and collaborate with peers has enormous social, cognitive, and economic value over time and is therefore central to high-quality education.”

In Detroit schools, implementing rigorous science standards has unfortunately led to certain classroom dynamics becoming even more entrenched: teacher lectures, only a few students being called on or speaking up, lots of worksheets, and classes hurrying through the required curriculum – with highly inequitable student outcomes.

That’s why Ford and Welling-Riley worked with colleagues to launch a science initiative focused on breaking down the standards and getting teachers to plan lessons around experiments, hypothesis-development, debates, and problem-solving activities that get more students talking. Some key training topics in their PD monthly meetings:

– Integrating science standards into units and lessons;

– Writing unit and lesson plans around open-ended, authentic prompts;

– Instructional materials that involve inquiry, problem-solving, and discussion;

– Creating questions that provoke three-minute student debates open to all;

– Writing short formative assessments to check for understanding during lessons;

– Creating posters with student-talk scaffolds;

– Posting essential questions to get students thinking and talking about central concepts.

Instructional coaches observed lessons and gave teachers feedback afterwards on how these elements were working out.

An important focus of the initiative has been changing teachers’ expectations of students and convincing them of the importance of getting more students talking during lessons. “Teachers have to believe in the power, agency and resiliency of their students as they puzzle through understandings with greater depths of knowledge,” say Ford and Welling-Riley, “which is often captured by student discourse. In short, we want to help shift teacher mindsets from getting through content to understanding how students grow their skills and knowledge to become adept STEM thinkers.”

Detroit’s science initiative is piloting TeachFX, an app that automatically measures the amount of teacher and student talk during lessons, as well as questioning techniques, think time, equity of voice, and lesson design. The app provides data to teachers – but not to their supervisors – which encourages teachers to take risks, try new strategies, and reflect on results without fear of negative consequences in their formal evaluations. Data from this app has been a wake-up call for many teachers. “The very first time I used TeachFX, I was amazed at the amount of time I was talking,” said one.

“Teachers can triangulate data from TeachFX, student work, live coaching feedback, and summative assessments to calibrate their own instruction and learn from peer educators,” say Ford and Welling-Riley. “By anonymously analyzing discourse patterns by student group, grade level, and content area among volunteer teachers, we can see where we need to better support teachers to make science talk more equitable.”

Feedback on Detroit’s science initiative has been encouraging so far. More than 300 teachers have used TeachFX or attended PD workshops on teaching in ways that increase student talk. Among teachers experimenting with the app, there has been a 45 percent increase in student talk. Teachers say they have a better grasp of science standards, are developing their skills, and are more frequently sharing ideas and techniques with colleagues. One teacher said, “I like the idea of building on questions from one to another to add depth to the classroom discussion and the engagement of the students.”

“Student Talk in Science Class” by Kristie Ford and Kendra Welling-Riley in The Learning Professional, June 2021 (Vol. 42, #3, pp. 58-61); the authors can be reached at kristie.ford@detroitk12.org and kendra.wellingriley@detroitk12.org.

2. A North Dakota District Thinks Through Its Secondary ELA Curriculum

In this article in The Learning Professional, Aimee Volk, district curriculum coordinator for English in the West Fargo Public Schools, describes the district’s journey toward more-inclusive literature options for secondary students. It started when Donalyn Miller, a visiting speaker, was asked where the classics fit into the curriculum. “Classics for whom?” Miller responded. “Who decides something is a classic?” This got Volk thinking about several other questions:

– What is the purpose of requiring all students to read a specific text?

– Do the same texts need to be read across a grade or course to ensure equity?

– When does text uniformity help and when does it undermine equity?

– Why are so many middle- and high-school students turned off reading, especially the less-advantaged students?

Committed to implementing a “guaranteed and viable curriculum” built around rigorous curriculum standards, teachers and administrators had a series of meetings to decide what students at each grade should know and be able to do, vetted classroom resources and a number of texts, and continued the practice of allowing teachers to choose the texts their students would read.

Strong disagreements emerged. “Some educators spoke passionately about including more relevant and diverse texts and offering more student choice,” says Volk. “Others felt their current instructional practices and beliefs were being challenged.” She realized they needed to slow down, build trust, and think more carefully about the deeper purpose. Volk asked English teachers to think about three questions: Who are you as a reader? What is your reading life story? When did you fall in love with reading? Some teachers said they’d always been readers, while others remembered they had been nonreaders until a particular book ignited their passion. This exercise got teachers thinking about how they could get more of their students engaged in reading. They embraced the metaphor of mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors: books in which students could see themselves or identify with a main character or experience; books that helped students relate to the experiences and perspectives of others; and books that made students want to vicariously take part in the experience of a story.

“Next,” says Volk, “we focused on the components that needed to be present in the books we chose.” They wanted identity development, skill development (which had been overemphasized in the past), intellectual development, and criticality; books that would build students’ self-efficacy, agency, and identity.

What emerged from all these discussions was a compromise between books read by all students in a grade or course and student choice:

– An anchor text that would be a shared classroom experience, to which teachers and students would refer through the year;

– A mentor text that illuminates an author’s craft;

(All students read the anchor and mentor texts, which are chosen to be engaging, diverse, relevant, and offer different perspectives.)

– Book club books that students read in groups and that include different perspectives, reading levels, and formats;

– Classroom library books with a wider variety of topics, experiences, and reading levels;

– The media center, with an even wider range of choices.

As this policy was implemented, not all stakeholders agreed on what was appropriate for each grade level: Is this a social studies or an English class? What standards are you teaching? Why are you teaching politics? This led to further discussion and teachers providing a rationale for their choices to colleagues and families, pointing to specific state standards: reading and writing skills, content knowledge, and critical understandings of themselves, their community, and the world. Students whose parents disagreed with a reading selection were offered an alternative text.

“Teachers have been passionate about this work,” concludes Volk, “and eager to incorporate more relevant and diverse texts to add to our district resources. Still, there has been much debate about the importance of whole-class reading, teaching the classics, and how to ensure that our texts are complex enough.” Even so, the most common reactions from students and teachers have been positive: students saying they loved reading for the first time since third grade, eagerly looking forward to literature circles, and showing improvements in classroom engagement and reading achievement.

“Reading List Rewrite” by Aimee Volk in The Learning Professional, June 2021 (Vol. 42, #3, pp. 66-69); Volk can be reached at aimee.volk@gmail.com.

3. Conducting a Schoolwide Literacy Check-Up

“Are your students the readers, writers, and thinkers you want them to be?” asks consultant/author Angela Peery in this Cult of Pedagogy article. After visiting hundreds of classrooms in recent years, she’s concerned about:

– A paucity of authentic reading and writing activities;

– Cut-color-paste activities masquerading as literacy instruction;

– Low-level worksheets;

– Disparities in the content taught by same-grade and same-course teachers;

– Teachers calling on students who raise their hands while other students are inattentive and bored.

The pandemic has challenged teachers, students, and families and sparked many creative efforts, but also led to passive screen time and too many YouTube videos without thoughtful follow-up discussions.

As schools return fully to in-person instruction, Peery believes that literacy is, more than ever, a civil rights issue. Without key skills, knowledge, and habits of mind, she says, K-12 graduates “become prey to misinformation and economic manipulation… will earn lower wages… and risk living a life devoid of the beauty and power of literature.” She suggests that schools and districts should conduct a literacy check-up to fill gaps and fine-tune the K-12 effort. “What gets monitored gets done,” she says. “It’s time to refocus.” Some key areas:

• Defining good literacy instruction – A starting point is being clear about what it means to be well-prepared, literate high-school graduates. They:

– Choose to read independently and can tackle complex texts in all disciplines;

– Can speak and write well, share information effectively, defend their positions with evidence, and collaborate;

– Can think critically, analyze and synthesize, and take into account the credibility of sources;

– Seek out information about their interests and find answers to meaningful questions;

– Are global citizens who embrace diversity and seek cultural understanding.

All this prepares graduates for success in the years ahead.

• Whole-school environment – A team might conduct a building tour looking at literacy displays in common areas, hallways, and classroom doors, including:

– Students’ responses to what they are reading;

– Students’ writing;

– Displays of books students are reading;

– A sign on each classroom door saying what book the teacher is currently reading.

“Displays don’t have to be elaborate or time-consuming,” says Peery. “Encouraging and celebrating all things literate throughout a school sends a clear message to students and families that literacy is valued.”

• Classroom libraries – In addition to the school library, all students should have ready access to books in the rooms where they spend most of the school day. Some look-fors:

– A robust collection – about 30 books per student;

– A mix of fiction and nonfiction, including reference books;

– A range of readability levels – at, above, and below grade level;

– A multicultural mix with plenty of recent books;

– An organization system;

– Books displayed in an inviting manner.

Classroom libraries should have their own area in the classroom and lend themselves to browsing, so groups of students can find related books to read together.

• Reading instruction – For building tours by administrators and peers (a.k.a. instructional rounds or learning walks), some look-fors in the elementary grades:

– Interactive readalouds conducted by the teacher;

– Direct vocabulary instruction (versus video);

– Analysis of focus words and explicit connections to word meanings and context;

– A word wall with sight words and academic vocabulary, frequently referenced;

– Effective lesson execution, including clear objectives, success criteria, background knowledge activated, checks for understanding;

– Minilessons and modeling, guided practice, and independent practice, with gradual release of responsibility.

For middle- and high-school classrooms, some additional look-fors:

– Clarity on lesson intentions;

– Direct teaching of key vocabulary;

– Activating background knowledge;

– Direct instruction of new content/skills, checks for understanding, then gradual release of responsibility;

– Text-based, higher-level questions;

– Reciprocal teaching, jigsaw;

– Time for independent and self-directed reading;

– Instruction in note-taking, summarizing, annotating, and other study skills.

Big-picture objectives in the upper grades: increasing student independence and motivation.

• Writing instruction – Elementary students need to be able to “express their ideas with correct spelling and fluent, legible handwriting,” says Peery. “They need lots of opportunities to write in order to become both more competent and confident.” Some components:

– Orchestrating whole-class, small-group, and independent writing work;

– Handwriting instruction, modeling, and practice;

– Spelling instruction and practice;

– Direct instruction and practice with language conventions;

– The teacher using shared and interactive writing;

– The teacher reading aloud and discussing mentor texts and sentences;

– Using exemplar texts and explicit instruction about a certain type of writing;

– The teacher modeling/demonstrating the writing process;

– Minilessons focused on a need that has arisen as students write;

– Students holding peer conferences, conferring with the teacher, and sharing their writing.

In middle- and high-school ELA and content-area classrooms, Peery is concerned about what she calls “fake writing assignments” – students making posters and writing reports with lots of material pasted in from websites. “Students do these assignments,” she says, “with little conversation among themselves and with very little initial direction or ongoing feedback from their teachers.” Many of the secondary-level look-fors are the same as elementary, with these additions:

– Writing as an integral part of content courses, including note-taking and entrance and exit tickets;

– Clear directions for the current writing assignment;

– A word wall with domain-specific terms for the current unit;

– Dictionaries, atlases, encyclopedias, displays, and print material from the library;

– Exemplars of writing appropriate to the discipline;

– Rubrics or proficiency scales;

– Teachers modeling and using think-alouds and exemplars;

– Teachers conferring individually and with small groups.

“Does Your School Need a Literacy Check-Up?” by Angela Peery in Cult of Pedagogy, June 14, 2021; Peery can be reached at drangelapeery@gmail.com. Her book (with Tracey Shiel) is What To Look for in Literacy (Routledge, 2021).

4. More on What It Means to Be an Anti-Racist Educator

In this Vox piece, Sean Illing interviews Jarvis Givens (Harvard Graduate School of Education), focusing on the current debate about how U.S. schools should handle teaching about the nation’s racial history. Some excerpts:

• What is the historical context of anti-racist teaching? “We’ve been talking about it in public as though it’s this novel thing,” says Givens, “and perhaps it’s because so much of this discussion is about how to teach white students, but for well over a century, black teachers have been modeling an anti-racist disposition in their pedagogical practices. They recognized how the dreams of their students were at odds with the structural context in which they found themselves. And they had to offer their students ways of thinking about themselves that were life-affirming, despite a society that was physically organized in a way that explicitly told them they were subhuman.”

• Does anti-racist teaching have a political agenda? “Any approach to framing history is going to have some political commitments baked into the narrative,” says Givens. “The choices we make about what to highlight or omit, all of that reflects certain values and biases… The best educational models can teach us to recognize injustices, and they can cultivate a commitment to resisting those things, but equally important – and this is something black educators have done for a long time in their own communities – is modeling other ways of being in the world, other ways of being in relationships to the world.”

• Can teachers find the right balance? “If you’re striving to create more justice in the world, you can’t do that if you’re only focusing on the things you’re trying to negate,” says Givens. “You have to have some life-affirming vision that you can hold on to, a vision that’s more meaningful and points us in the direction of a better world… Absolutely, there’s injustice. This is a part of the story, part of our story, but black life is much more expansive than that. It always has been… Our strategy can’t be just about proving injury. At the same time, the public has to stop denying that harm and violence has been and continues to be done. Both of these things are challenges before us.”

• What was the role of the Brown decision? The U.S. Supreme Court ruling was vital to dismantling de juresegregation, with schools for African-American students systematically underresourced, says Givens. But before Brown, many black teachers were providing first-rate schooling for the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and Angela Davis, not to mention writing textbooks challenging distortions of black history in the standard curriculum and setting up organizations to advocate for black educators and students. “This is all to say, we can hold both things in our minds,” says Givens. “We can talk about the violent resistance against black educational strivings and the intentional underdevelopment of African-American schools, but we also have to rigorously account for the things black folks were doing on a daily basis to make meaningful education possible despite the neglect.”

• Can individual teachers make a difference? “One of the best things my high-school U.S. history teacher did for me,” says Givens, “was help me understand that no history is an exhaustive representation of anything. She made me aware of silences. When you allow students to have the agency of knowing that history is not always as authoritative as we tend to imagine, it actually invites them to establish a deeper intellectual relationship with the past.It allows us to think about why certain scholars might have chosen to represent certain aspects of the past in ways that they did.”

• What does it mean to be an anti-racist teacher? “A lot of the conversations around anti-racist teaching are directed at white teachers and white students, without actually being named as such,” says Givens. “This is obviously very different than talking about how black educators engaged black students in the Jim Crow South, or even my own experience growing up in Compton, California, where I attended majority-black schools with mostly black teachers… A fundamental part of being a critical educator, an educator committed to justice and equality, means being committed to reckoning with the history of racial injustice and trying to teach students in a way that supports the development of a critical awareness of the past, which includes acknowledging how that past continues to structure the ways in which we’re in relationships with one another in the present.

“It means recognizing that many of the institutions we have inherited have very long roots in this history. There’s a moral imperative for all teachers who choose to face those realities of history and own it in the present. Being an anti-racist teacher in this moment means to honor the depths of human suffering reflected in that history by telling the truth about it. But then again, that’s what anti-racist teaching has always demanded of those educators who chose to teach in a manner that was disruptive of the racial inequality in our society. We can’t look away from it because it’s in every direction you turn. I do recognize that learning the truth about our histories as different racial groups, and as a country, can be difficult. There’s going to be some level of discomfort, and we have to be real about that.”

• How much discomfort can we handle? “One thing I do know,” concludes Givens, “is that there are some people in this country who never had the luxury of not facing this stuff. And they’ve always encountered a lot of discomfort. It’s not comfortable for black folks or Native American communities to think about this history of land dispossession or slavery or Jim Crow or lynchings, and how the legacy of these things persists today… So now we’re in a place where we’re trying to figure out how to be more intentional in acknowledging our history and its consequences, and that means that discomfort is going to have to be shared in a way it hasn’t been up to this point.”

“Is There an Uncontroversial Way to Teach America’s Racist History?” An Interview of Jarvis Givens by Sean Illing in Vox, June 11, 2021; Illing can be reached at seanilling@vox.com. The stimulus for this interview was Givens’s May 2021 article in The Atlantic, “What’s Missing from the Discourse about Anti-Racist Teaching.” Givens is the author of Fugitive Pedagogy: Carter G. Woodson and the Art of Black Teaching (Harvard University Press, 2021); he can be reached at jarvis_givens@gse.harvard.edu.

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In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“Young people are dragging themselves to the finish line of a frustrating, depressing, and, for some, unbearably isolating year of school.”

Lisa Damour (see item #7)

“When thinking about how to spend this [ESSER] money, teachers, students, and families should know what will be concretely different and improved in schools both a year from now and when federal dollars end in 2023.”

Will Austin (see item #6)

“Authentic tasks reflect a worthy goal, a target audience, realistic constraints, a tangible product or performance, and success criteria.”

Jay McTighe and Chris Gareis (see item #5)

“Race, in the United States, is the visible agent of the unseen force of caste. Caste is the bones, race the skin. Race is what we can see, the physical traits that have been given arbitrary meaning and become shorthand for who a person is. Caste is the powerful infrastructure that holds each group in its place. Its very invisibility is what gives it power and longevity.”

Isabel Wilkerson (see item #1)

“America is an old house. Wind, flood, drought, and human upheavals batter a structure that is already fighting whatever flaws were left unattended in the original foundation… We in this country are like homeowners who inherited a house on a piece of land that is beautiful on the outside but whose soil is unstable loam and rock, heaving and contracting over generations, cracks patched but the deeper ruptures waved away for decades, centuries even.”

Isabel Wilkerson (ibid.)

1. Isabel Wilkerson on America’s Caste System

In this New York Times Magazine article excerpted from her 2020 book, Isabel Wilkerson uses her aging house as a metaphor for the nation’s current troubles. “America is an old house,” she says. “Wind, flood, drought, and human upheavals batter a structure that is already fighting whatever flaws were left unattended in the original foundation… We in this country are like homeowners who inherited a house on a piece of land that is beautiful on the outside but whose soil is unstable loam and rock, heaving and contracting over generations, cracks patched but the deeper ruptures waved away for decades, centuries even.”

“Many people may rightly say,” Wilkerson continues: “‘I had nothing to do with how this all started. I have nothing to do with the sins of the past. My ancestors never attacked indigenous people, never owned slaves.’ And yes. Not one of us was here when this house was built. Our immediate ancestors may have had nothing to do with it, but here we are, the current occupants of a property with stress cracks and bowed walls and fissures in the foundation. We are the heirs to whatever is right or wrong with it. We did not erect the uneven pillars and joists, but they are ours to deal with now. And any further deterioration is, in fact, on our hands. Unaddressed, the ruptures and diagonal cracks will not fix themselves. The toxins will not go away but rather will spread, leach, and mutate, as they already have.”

Wilkerson then argues that caste is the fundamental issue in the U.S. “Like other old houses,” she says, “America has an unseen skeleton: its caste system, which is as central to its operation as are the studs and joists that we cannot see in the physical building we call home. Caste is the infrastructure of our divisions. It is the architecture of human hierarchy, the subconscious code of instructions for maintaining, in our case, a 400-year-old social order.”

“A caste system is an artificial construction,” she says, “a fixed and embedded ranking of human value that sets the presumed supremacy of one group against the presumed inferiority of other groups on the basis of ancestry and often immutable traits, traits that would be neutral in the abstract but are ascribed life-and-death meaning in a hierarchy favoring the dominant caste, whose forebears designed it. A caste system uses rigid, often arbitrary boundaries to keep the ranks apart, distinct from one another and in their assigned places.”

Changing the metaphor, Wilkerson describes the effect of caste in our daily lives: “Caste is the wordless usher in a darkened theater, flashlight cast down in the aisles, guiding us to our assigned seats for a performance. The hierarchy of caste is not about feelings or morality. It is about power – which groups have it and which do not. It is about resources – which groups are seen as worthy of them and which are not, who gets to acquire and control them and who does not. It is about respect, authority, and assumptions of competence – who is accorded these and who is not.”

How does caste interact with racial divisions? “Race does the heavy lifting for a caste system that demands a means of human division,” says Wilkerson. “What people look like, or rather, the race they have been assigned or are perceived to belong to, is the visible cue to their caste… Caste and race are neither synonymous nor mutually exclusive. They can and do coexist in the same culture and serve to reinforce each other. Race, in the United States, is the visible agent of the unseen force of caste. Caste is the bones, race the skin. Race is what we can see, the physical traits that have been given arbitrary meaning and become shorthand for who a person is. Caste is the powerful infrastructure that holds each group in its place. Its very invisibility is what gives it power and longevity.”

“Thus,” Wilkerson continues, “we are all born into a silent war game, centuries old, enlisted in teams not of our choosing. The side to which we are assigned in the American system of categorizing people is proclaimed by the team uniform that each caste wears, signaling our presumed worth and potential. That any of us manages to create abiding connections across these manufactured divisions is a testament to the beauty of the human spirit.”

Shifting the metaphor once more, Wilkerson says, “What we face in our current day is not the classical racism of our ancestors’ era but a mutation of the software that adjusts to the updated needs of the operating system. In the half century since civil rights protests forced the United States to make state-sanctioned discrimination illegal, what Americans consider to be racism has shifted, and now the word is one of the most contentious and misunderstood in American culture. For many in the dominant caste, the word is radioactive – resented, feared, denied, lobbed back toward anyone who dares to suggest it. Resistance to the word often derails any discussion of the underlying behavior it is meant to describe, thus eroding it of meaning.”

What does this look like in everyday terms? “It’s not racism that prompts a white shopper in a clothing store to go up to a random black or brown person who is also shopping and to ask for a sweater in a different size, or for a white guest at a party to ask a black or brown person who is also a guest to fetch a drink, as happened to Barack Obama as a state senator, or even perhaps a judge to sentence a subordinate-caste person for an offense for which a dominant-caste person might not even be charged… It’s the automatic, unconscious, reflexive response to expectations from a thousand imaging inputs and neurological societal downloads that affix people to certain roles based upon what they look like and what they historically have been assigned to or the characteristics and stereotypes by which they have been categorized. No ethnic or racial category is immune to the messaging we all receive about the hierarchy, and thus no one escapes its consequences.”

Lacking a universally agreed-upon definition of racism, Wilkerson says, racism might be seen “as a continuum rather than an absolute. We might release ourselves of the purity test of whether someone is or is not racist and exchange that mindset for one that sees people as existing on a scale based on the toxins they have absorbed from the polluted and inescapable air of social instruction we receive from childhood.”

But caste, she says, “predates the notion of race and has survived the era of formal state-sponsored racism long officially practiced in the mainstream. The modern-day version of easily deniable racism may be able to cloak the invisible structure that created and maintains hierarchy and inequality. But caste does not allow us to ignore structure. Caste is structure. Caste is ranking. Caste is the boundaries that reinforce the fixed assignment based upon what people look like. Caste is a living, breathing entity.”

“Caste,” Wilkerson continues, “is the granting and withholding of respect, status, honor, attention, privileges, resources, benefit of the doubt, and human kindness to someone on the basis of their perceived rank or standing in the hierarchy… What race and its precursor, racism, do extraordinarily well is to confuse and distract from the underlying structural and more powerful Sith lord of caste. Like the cast on a broken arm, like the cast in a play, a caste system holds everyone in a fixed place.”

Caste entitlement crosses economic boundaries, says Wilkerson, It’s “not about luxury cars and watches, country clubs and private banks, but knowing without thinking that you are one up from another based on rules not set down on paper but reinforced in commercials, television shows and billboards, from boardrooms to newsrooms to gated subdivisions to who gets killed first in the first half-hour of a movie, and affects everyone up and down the hierarchy. This is the blindsiding banality of caste.”

Wilkerson says that Covid-19 “planted itself in the gaps of disparity, the torn kinships and fraying infrastructure in the country’s caste system, just as it exploited the weakened immune system in the human body. Soon, America had the largest coronavirus outbreak in the world. The virus exposed both the vulnerability of all humans and the layers of hierarchy. While anyone could contract the virus, it was Asian Americans who were scapegoated for it merely because they looked like the people from the part of the world that the virus first struck. As the crisis wore on, it was African Americans and Latinos who began dying at higher rates. Pre-existing conditions, often tied to the stresses of marginalized people, contributed to the divergence. But it was the castelike occupations at the bottom of the hierarchy – grocery clerks, bus drivers, package deliverers, sanitation workers, low-paying jobs with high levels of public contact – that put them at greater risk of contracting the virus in the first place… the jobs less likely to guarantee health coverage or sick days but that sustain the rest of society, allowing others to shelter in place.”

At the end of the article, Wilkerson returns to the corrosion lurking behind the ceiling in her house. “I hadn’t caused this problem,” she says, “hadn’t been there when the leak first crept toward the ceiling. In fact, I had been the one to install the new roof. But it fell to me to fix it or suffer the consequences.” Contractors suggested ways to do partial repairs that would literally plaster over the problem but inevitably lead to bigger issues in the future. The only way to fix it, she realized, “was to tear out the plaster, down to the beams, inspect, and rebuild the rotting lath and replaster the entire ceiling. And so we did. It took days to scrape and inspect, recast and reconstruct. When it was done, it was quietly glorious, as ceilings go.”

“And I could breathe free,” Wilkerson concludes, turning the metaphor to the nation’s dilemmas, “knowing as we now are called up to do in our era, in the house we all live in, that it was sound and secure, not merely patched and papered over, but maybe even better than it was, for ourselves and for the generations that come after us.”

“America’s Enduring Caste System” by Isabel Wilkerson in The New York Times Magazine, July 5, 2020; this article is excerpted from Wilkerson’s book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents (Random House, 2020)

2. Teacher Expectations, Assessments, and Reading Achievement

In this Elementary School Journal article, Brandy Gatlin-Nash (University of California/Irvine) and seven colleagues report on their study of teachers’ perceptions of students’ academic competence and how those affect classroom instruction. The researchers suggest the following logic model:

– Teachers use assessments to gauge students’ knowledge and skills.

– Assessment information also influences teachers’ expectations of students.

– So does students’ behavior in school; teachers tend to see students with behavior problems as less academically competent than they actually are.

– Teachers convey their expectations to students in a variety of ways.

– Students who are seen as less academically able often get fewer rich learning experiences.

– Those students tend to make less progress than other students.

– Thus, teachers’ perceptions of students’ abilities can be part of a self-fulfilling prophecy of low achievement.

The researchers explored this dynamic by looking at another factor in teachers’ perceptions: students’ socioeconomic status. In a study of first graders in a diverse Florida district, Gatlin-Nash et al. found that teachers underestimated the academic ability of students who qualified for free or reduced-price meals. This was most pronounced in schools that had a higher percentage of affluent students.

The researchers proceeded to train teachers in using formative reading assessments (Assessment-to-Instruction, or A2i) to personalize reading instruction. They found that with this training, teachers’ perceptions of students’ competence better aligned with students’ actual abilities, regardless of their socioeconomic status. This led to higher expectations, better instruction, and improved student achievement.

“This finding,” conclude Gatlin-Nash et al., “underscores the importance of accuracy in teachers’ ratings of students’ academic competence and the forging of appropriate expectations for all students… Thus, we argue that the judicious use of assessment offers a way to improve student achievement by allowing more-tailored instruction based on students’ constellation of skills, and by improving the accuracy of teachers’ perceptions of their students’ abilities. This is particularly important for children who are typically underserved by schools – children living in poverty.”

“Using Assessment to Improve the Accuracy of Teachers’ Perceptions of Students’ Academic Competence” by Brandy Gatlin-Nash, Jin Kyoung Hwang, Novell Tani, Elham Zargar, Taffeta Star Wood, Dandan Yang, Khamia Powell, and Carol McDonald Connor in Elementary School Journal, June 2021 (Vol. 121, #4, pp. 609-634); Gatlin-Nash can be reached at gatlinb@uci.edu.

3. Improving Reading Comprehension for Struggling Fourth Graders

In this Elementary School Journal article, Erin Washburn (University of North Carolina/Charlotte), Sherri Abdullah (Windsor Central School District), and Candace Mulcahy (Binghamton University/SUNY) note that in the 2017 NAEP assessment, only 36 percent of U.S. fourth graders were reading at or above the proficient level. These disappointing results, say the authors, reflect the fact that learning to read with good comprehension is a “complex and multifaceted process” that involves:

– Using text features;

– Identifying main ideas;

– Locating relevant supporting information;

– In fiction texts, analyzing characters and authors’ craft;

– In nonfiction texts, explaining simple cause-and-effect relationships;

– With multiple texts, locating and analyzing relevant information.

Clearly, in many classrooms, students aren’t learning and applying these skills.

Washburn, Abdullah, and Mulcahy believe there’s a way to bring about improvement. They report on an experiment (carried out by Abdullah) using the TRAP reading comprehension strategy with struggling fourth graders in a rural school. Students were prompted to take four steps as they read each paragraph of a text:

– Think about what I’m about to read.

– Read a paragraph.

– Ask myself, what was the main idea and two details of this paragraph.

– Paraphrase or Put it into my own words.

TRAP is an variation of the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD), which emphasizes shifting the cognitive responsibility for learning to students and gradually releasing responsibility.

The authors report that the TRAP strategy, implemented over six lessons supplementing the ELA block, had an immediate, positive effect on students’ comprehension, especially those who struggled in this area, and also on their self-concept as readers.

“Effects of a Paraphrasing Strategy on the Text Comprehension of Fourth-Grade Striving Readers” by Erin Washburn, Sherri Abdullah, and Candace Mulcahy in Elementary School Journal, June 2021 (Vol. 121, #4, pp. 586-608); the authors can be reached at ewashbu1@uncc.edu, sabdullah@windsor-csd.org, and cmulcahy@binghamton.edu.

4. Team Commitments Made by a High-School English Department

Alexis Wiggins and the English department she leads at their Texas school recently agreed on a series of commitments for the coming school year. Here’s a paraphrase:

Curriculum for core courses:

• Students regularly experience, analyze, and create content that spans different genres, time periods, settings, authors, and text types, including:

– Literature (fiction, poetry, memoir, drama);

– Journalism and creative nonfiction;

– Graphic novels, films, print and digital media, advertising, propaganda;

– Interviews, speeches, debates, songs.

• Students have regular exposure to and experience with the following skills:

– Schaffer paragraph method for analytical and rhetorical writing;

– Timed in-class writing;

– Close reading;

– Self-evaluation and reflection;

– Student-led discussions;

– Oral presentations;

– Independent research;

– Learning and analyzing literary, poetic, rhetorical, and cinematic devices;

– Grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, and usage;

– MLA in-text citation and works cited.

• All courses begin with a formative benchmark in-class essay to provide a snapshot of students’ writing at the beginning of the year.

• Courses are framed by Essential Questions that get at the heart of the texts, themes, skills, and concepts teachers want students to understand.

Teaming and collaboration:

• Meeting as an English team once per cycle to work on:

– Calibrating every major assessment, with each teacher contributing at least one sample;

– Filling in the course scope and sequence by the end of each quarter, aiming to complete the year’s scope and sequence for core courses by the end of the school year;

– Using a teacher-designed (or chosen) electronic pacing guide to plan lessons, share resources, and keep everyone aligned;

– Sharing teaching resources, materials, and ideas.

• Committing to the “twin philosophy” – namely, that twins in two different classes will experience common:

– Assignments and deadlines;

– Pacing guides;

– Assessments and rubrics;

– Grading procedures;

– Teacher approachability and availability of extra help.

• Communicating openly, honestly, and equally with team members so everyone is an integral part of the team; issues that can’t be resolved at the team level are raised with the department chair, academic dean, and/or principal.

Feedback to students:

• Providing students feedback on their learning and development with these qualities:

– It’s specific, useful, and timely.

– Major and minor assessments are returned within two calendar weeks of completion.

– Student work, including graded work, is accessible to students throughout the course (using Turn-It-In, Teams, or folders in the classroom).

– Grade 11 student writing is kept until December of students’ senior year.

– Students may take photos or ask for scanned copies of their work or feedback at any time.

– Parents are contacted by e-mail whenever there’s a concern about a student.

– Teachers regularly write “kudos” to praise student improvements or breakthroughs.

Assessment:

• All major assessments:

– Will use department-wide rubrics and grade boundaries;

– Will come with a student handout of instructions and the department-wide rubric (or AP rubric) that will be used for grading;

– Won’t be considered “tests” (with the exception of AP practice tests);

– In-class essays will be hand-written, in line with the College Board (with exceptions for pandemic teaching, students with accommodations, etc.);

– Typed assessments must be submitted to Turn-It-In.

• Assessments will follow the department philosophy and be in sync with the team, namely:

– Using department criteria and grade boundaries on rubrics;

– Using identical gradebooks for teammates on assignments, percentage values, criteria;

– Not including behavior, completion, effort, or extra credit in grades;

– Assessing as a team, not individually – for example, the team might decide to drop the lowest grade for all students, but only with team agreement.

• Students are integral to their own learning and assessment, and should partner with teachers to ensure transparency and clarity. This philosophy means:

– Encouraging students to talk with teachers about assessment criteria, expectations, questions, and concerns;

– Scheduling extra help outside of class and during office hours for all students who want more clarity, feedback, or practice;

– Encouraging students to ask about their grade/average at any point;

– Allowing students to request a “re-grade” on a major assessment, on the condition that the whole grade-level team will be involved in the re-grade, and whatever grade they decide will stand, even if it is lower.

“Commitments on Curriculum” at The John Cooper School in The Woodlands, Texas, June 2021; Wiggins can be reached at awiggins@ceelcenter.org.

5. Authentic Performance Tasks to Measure Deeper Learning

(Originally titled “Assessing Deeper Learning After a Year of Change”)

In this ASCD Express article, backwards-design expert Jay McTighe and Chris Gareis (William and Mary School of Education) say the huge disruptions and unfinished learning of the last 15 months have led some educators to advocate for covering more curriculum more rapidly so students will catch up on what they’ve missed. This is the wrong approach, argue McTighe and Gareis. Instead, they say, educators need to slow down and pivot in two important ways: (a) focus on getting students to learn the most important ideas and skills more deeply; and (b) teach so students can apply ideas and skills in new contexts.

One of the best ways to accomplish this, they say, is having students do performance tasks at the end of curriculum units. These have the following characteristics:

– Students are asked to apply their learning, explain their reasoning, justify their decisions, and support their interpretations.

– Students transfer what they’ve learned to a novel situation, different from the one in which initial instruction took place.

– The novel situation is as “real world” as possible.

– Students engage in complex thinking – i.e., at Levels 3 and 4 of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge matrix – analysis, interpretation, investigation, problem solving, argumentation, and design.

“Authentic tasks,” say McTighe and Gareis, “reflect a worthy goal, a target audience, realistic constraints, a tangible product or performance, and success criteria.” A helpful acronym: GRASPS:

– Goal, as real-world as possible;

– Role for the student;

– Audience, authentic or simulated;

– Situation that involves real-world application;

– Product or performance that culminates students’ work;

– Success criteria to assess evidence of learning.

Performance tasks, continue McTighe and Gareis, “can range from conventional essays to open-ended mathematics problems to scientific experiments to a research project to tackling a community-based issue.” Here’s an example: Several exchange students are visiting from another country. You’ve been asked to plan a four-day tour of your state so the visitors will understand the state’s history, geography, economy, and culture. Prepare a written tour itinerary, including why you chose each site. Include a map showing the route and the budget for the trip.

A common pushback on performance tasks is that scoring will be subjective. In fact, human judgment is used in many situations, including state writing assessments, AP art portfolios, and Olympic events. Assessments of performance tasks can be valid and reliable if:

– There’s sufficient evidence to measure how much deep learning occurred for each student.

– Each student’s performance provides evidence that they can effectively apply their learning in new situations.

– Teachers can be sure that each student’s work was not influenced by chance, a faulty assessment instrument, implicit biases, cheating, or inconsistency in teachers’ evaluations.

“Assessing Deeper Learning After a Year of Change” by Jay McTighe and Chris Gareis in ASCD Express, June 10, 2021; the authors can be reached at jmctigh@aol.com and crgare@wm.edu.

6. Ideas for the Effective Use of ESSER Funding

In this article in CommonWealth, Will Austin (Boston Schools Fund) marvels at the amount of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding coming to Massachusetts; Boston’s schools alone will receive $435 million. Adjusted for inflation, ESSER is comparable to what the U.S. spent to rebuild Europe after World War II. Austin suggests five principles to maximize the positive impact on teaching and learning:

• Transparency – “The magnitude and gravity of this investment demands public input,” he says: “Families, students, educators, and taxpayers have a right to know how these funds will be distributed.”

• Proximity – Decisions should be made close to the classroom level, with local budgetary autonomy, coupled with training, to support children’s academic, social, and emotional recovery.

• Equity – The pandemic has hit some children, families, and communities harder than others, and funding should prioritize those who have the greatest needs.

• Innovation – “When thinking about how to spend this money,” says Austin, “teachers, students, and families should know what will be concretely different and improved in schools both a year from now and when federal dollars end in 2023.”

• Boldness – The Covid-19 crisis, for all its associated disruption and trauma, has been a rare opportunity “to rethink systems and structures that haven’t fully served all students,” says Austin. “Funding now exists to test bold theories and ideas for education grounded in research and best practice.” Some possibilities:

– The length of the school day and the school year;

– Schoolwork that happens in the classroom versus remotely;

– Later high-school start times to match teens’ brain development.

“5 Principles That Should Drive Boston’s Enormous Federal School Aid” by Will Austin in CommonWealth, May 12, 2021; Austin can be reached at waustin@bostonschoolsfund.org.

7. Teens Need to Chill Out This Summer

In this New York Times article, psychologist/author Lisa Damour says that in her 20 years working with adolescents, “I have never seen teenagers so worn down at the end of an academic year as they are right now…Young people are dragging themselves to the finish line of a frustrating, depressing, and, for some, unbearably isolating year of school.”

Damour suggests the analogy of a vigorous workout with weights: muscles are built by strenuous exertion followed by a period of rest. To put the “psychological workout of their lives” to work, she says, teens “need time for recovery so that they can enjoy increased emotional resilience by fall.” Her suggestions:

• Let grieving run its course. Teens have lost loved ones, friendships, milestone birthday parties, holidays with grandparents, graduations, sports seasons, field days, and other ceremonies and events that can’t be rescheduled. Rather than saying kids should move on to brighter days, it’s wise to let them process what’s happened in the company of friends – or alone. One teen wrote poems reflecting on “how the pandemic sucks, and how things are still going on in the world that are really horrible.” Damour says grieving is a healthy process that will help teens, “over time, savor what remains and embrace what lies ahead.”

• Be open to negotiating the necessities. “Everyone has different emotional settings,” she says. “What energizes one person might leave another spent.” Teens fortunate enough to have choices will hopefully find summer activities that refresh and replenish – an interesting job, travel, learning a new language, an academic enrichment program. Parents may be worried about academic deficits, but if the school hasn’t raised a red flag, Damour advises, “it may be best to let it go.”

• Don’t let guilt ruin restoration. Teens may think that after a year of not doing very much, it’s sinful to relax over the summer. Help them see past this misconception, says Damour. “The point of recovery is not to relax, but to grow. And if downtime is soaked in guilt, that growth is going to suffer.” Kids need to “go through the quiet work of rebuilding themselves.”

“A Pandemic Recovery Period for Teenagers” by Lisa Damour in The New York Times, June 8, 2021

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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.

Marshall Memo 890

In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“To navigate all the junk on the Internet, you need powers of critical thinking – but also critical ignoring.”

Sam Wineburg in Nieman Journalism Lab article with that title, May 17, 2021

“Rather than exhorting that coaches should not be involved in evaluation, researchers and leaders should consider how coaches are enmeshed in the structures and activities of evaluation.”

Sarah Galey-Horn and Sarah Woulfin (see item #2)

“We can’t teach our students of color without accounting for racism, and we can’t prepare white students for a better world without an antiracist approach in the work we do.”

Simon Rodberg (see item #1)

“At school you are not engaged so much in acquiring knowledge as in making mental efforts under criticism. A certain amount of knowledge you can indeed with average facilities acquire so as to retain, nor need you regret the hours you spend on much that is forgotten, for the shadow of lost knowledge at least protects you from many illusions. But you go to a great school not so much for knowledge as for arts and habits: for the habit of attention; for the art of expression; for the art of assuming at a moment’s notice a new intellectual position; for the habit of submitting to censure and refutation; for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms; for the art of working out what is possible in a given time; for discrimination; for mental courage and mental soberness.”

William Johnson Cory, 1875

“There are but two kinds of people in the district: Those who teach and those who support those who teach.”

Alvin Wilbanks, recently retired superintendent of Gwinnett County Schools (Georgia)

1. Ways for Leaders to See What They’re Missing

(Originally titled “What Am I Missing?”)

In the first chapter of his book What If I’m Wrong?, veteran educator Simon Rodberg says a perennial challenge for school leaders is captured in the acronym WYSIATI: What You See Is All There Is. Principals know they’re not seeing everything, but because there’s never enough time, they act as if they’re omniscient: a short visit to a classroom reveals enough to be representative of a teacher’s overall performance; a student’s discipline infraction represents who they are. “The key challenge for school leaders,” says Rodberg, “is to know that our information is limited and to ask… What am I missing?” And that means slowing down and using these strategies:

• Surveys – Polls of teachers, students, and families are the best way to get accurate data on questions like: How are teacher-student relationships? What locations in the school are hot spots for bullying? Did back-to-school night work for parents? Schools can create their own polls by using free tools like Google Forms, or use commercial surveys, which have the added benefit of giving a sense of how one’s school compares to others. A few examples: TNTP has a survey on parent attitudes, Panorama Education on student opinions, Making Caring Common on school climate. Getting enough survey responses takes work, such as placing tables with computers near the school’s front door during a parent meeting. Rodberg once took a low-tech student survey of secondary-school students: he stood in the cafeteria holding a sign asking, How well do you feel we’re preparing you for college? and had students jot their answers on sticky notes.

• Focus groups – These are easier than surveys – just convene a small, representative group and spend 20 minutes (or two hours) asking for their opinions on a key issue. Rodberg tells how a principal used a less elaborate approach, stopping three teachers in the corridor and asking them how the staff bulletin could be improved. The process took three minutes, built three relationships, and led to three specific improvements: consistent sections in each issue of the newsletter, formatted so people could more easily read the bulletin on a phone, and always starting with shout-outs for staff members. “More importantly,” says Rodberg, “the principal shed her reputation for go-it-alone isolation; teachers noticed that she asked, listened, and changed.”

• Stack audits – These are best for answering questions like, How challenging is the homework we assign? Are Do Nows in the school a valuable use of time? Are we communicating efficiently with all-staff e-mails? The principal collects a day’s worth of the item in question (hard copies or electronic), puts them in a stack, and a team goes through them looking for patterns and answering the key question. Having looked at a representative sample, the team addresses questions that have been raised, for example:

– Why does all the homework consist of low-level practice?

– Why are Do Nows not serving as a segue to the lesson about to be launched?

– Why do so many people send a large number of e-mails that are relevant to only a few colleagues?

[See Memo 636 for an article by Doug Lemov describing stack audits.]

Instructional Rounds (a.k.a. Learning Walks) are another form of stack audit, providing a quick glimpse of instructional practices throughout a school. With these, as with audits of artifacts, says Rodberg, it’s important to jot notes throughout the process to counteract the tendency to remember the last item, rather than overall takeaways.

• Compensating for blind spots – The ways we want to see the world are often not the ways we actually see it, says Rodberg. “Race screws up vision. It creates bias, stereotypes, and blindness… We can’t teach our students of color without accounting for racism, and we can’t prepare white students for a better world without an antiracist approach in the work we do.” School leaders who are white, he says, need “racial humility: to accept that we may not see manifestations of racism that really are there, and that different perspectives, including those that disagree with or attack us, really are important.”

• Understanding non-teaching staff – When Rodberg became an assistant principal in the D.C. public schools, the principal assigned him to supervise the custodial team. The custodians and this wet-behind-the-ears administrator could not have been more different, and the experience was transformative – for Rodberg. Administrators, he says, need to “understand that there are different ways of looking at the world of the school, with reasons and experience behind them. This is a recognition of our own limitations.”

• Shifting from either/or to multiple options – For a while, Rodberg was at an impasse with the custodians: he wanted them to walk around the school after lunch picking up milk cartons, food wrappers, and soda cans dropped by thoughtless students. The custodians had settled on a routine of working as a team to do a thorough job cleaning the cafeteria at the end of each lunch. After a lot of discussion, another option emerged: the chief custodian walked the building with students who had been caught littering (they picked up the trash), and the other two custodians cleaned the cafeteria. Everybody grew: the chief custodian mentoring challenging students; the kids, learning the impact of their actions; the other custodians from handling the cafeteria without their boss; and Rodberg, finally getting why the custodians had resisted his original idea.

• Getting past magical thinking – “We’ll institute this program, announce this initiative, update this system, and the teachers will teach better, the students will learn better, the school will improve,” says Rodberg. “If we put motivational signs on the walls, students will be better motivated. (Why?) If we give interim assessments, teachers will more successfully target instruction to student strengths and weaknesses (How?).” The problem is that in each case, there’s a gap in the logic model; some crucial steps are missing. The solution: principals need to have a solid theory of action for each bright idea – an if-then statement that makes explicit the connection between actions and the desired results. A good theory of action can shift magical thinking into specific steps that actually produce results.

“What Am I Missing?” a chapter in Simon Rodberg’s book, What If I’m Wrong? and Other Key Questions for Decisive School Leadership (ASCD, 2020); Rodberg can be reached at simonr@gmail.com.

2. Instructional Coaches: Developers of Teachers or Agents of Reform?

In this American Journal of Education article, Sarah Galey-Horn (University of Edinburgh) and Sarah Woulfin (University of Connecticut) report on their study of the “muddy waters” that instructional coaches must navigate between supporting teachers in their classrooms and the school’s formal teacher-evaluation process. Some dilemmas: How should coaches use teacher-evaluation rubrics as they work with teachers? Should coaches get involved in prepping teachers for formal evaluations? How should a coach respond when a principal asks how a particular teacher is doing?

Drawing on observations, surveys, and interviews in three traditional districts and two charter management organizations in the U.S., Galey-Horn and Woulfin describe how coaches spent their time:

– Conducting classroom walkthroughs with an eye to specific instructional practices;

– Supporting the implementation of a new curriculum;

– Facilitating grade-level team meetings focused on curriculum materials, assessments, and classroom strategies;

– Working with teachers to analyze student work and plan to improve instruction and student outcomes;

– In some cases, helping teams share data and take collective rather than individual responsibility for improving teaching and learning;

– Helping teachers make sense of new digital learning models and plan lessons;

– Leading PD sessions on curriculum and pedagogy;

– Meeting regularly with school administrators on schoolwide goals and priorities;

– Taking part in decisions on programs and curriculum.

Coaches in the two charter organizations were directly involved in the teacher-evaluation process, conducting classroom observations and giving teachers feedback based on rubric criteria. Coaches in the three traditional districts avoided these activities and told teachers there was a firewall between their support and the evaluation process.

However, the role of coaches in the traditional districts wasn’t totally divorced from teacher evaluation. Galey-Horn and Woulfin describe “micropolitical” ways in which coaches were part of the process. “Coaches did not want to be seen as spies,” they say, but they bought into their systems’ policies and “took up the principles and practices of evaluation systems” in specific ways. While they didn’t do classroom observations followed by one-on-one feedback to teachers (which resembled administrators’ formal evaluations), coaches:

– Explained and modeled teaching behaviors described in the rubrics;

– Helped teachers set student learning goals and fill out required forms;

– Explained the process and principals’ stance on performance and goal-setting (saving administrators time);

– Shared with principals information on teachers’ dispositions and practices;

– Downplayed certain parts of the evaluation rubric.

The bottom line: coaches’ work can’t be separated from the teacher-evaluation process. “Rather than exhorting that coaches should not be involved in evaluation,” say Galey-Horn and Woulfin, “researchers and leaders should consider how coaches are enmeshed in the structures and activities of evaluation. By acknowledging and, in turn, legitimizing coaches’ enactment of facets of evaluation, leaders can improve the design and enactment of coaching and evaluation systems.”

The implication: coaches’ role should be made explicit so they can be supporters of better instruction and of schoolwide improvement. Specifically, conclude the researchers, traditional school districts and charter management organizations “should consider when, where, and how system leaders, principals, coaches, and teachers conduct the work of evaluation, ranging from facilitating professional development on observation rubrics and drafting student learning objectives to observing instruction and providing feedback to teachers.”

“Muddy Waters: The Micropolitics of Instructional Coaches’ Work in Evaluation” by Sarah Galey-Horn and Sarah Woulfin in American Journal of Education, May 2021 (Vol. 127, #3, pp. 441-470); Woulfin can be reached at sarah.woulfin@uconn.edu.

3. A Survey to Measure Inclusion in the Workplace

In this Harvard Business Review article, Lauren Romansky, Mia Garrod, Katie Brown, and Kartik Deo (Gartner) note the increased importance of advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). “Unfortunately,” they say, “many organizations still struggle to measure the impact of their strategies and communicate that impact to a growing number of stakeholders.” Diversity isn’t always easy to track (What does “good” look like?), but even more challenging is measuring an inclusive work environment, “where all people feel respected, accepted, supported, and valued.” Getting a handle on that is vital, say the authors, since it’s inclusion “that unlocks the potential of a diverse workforce.”

Romansky, Garrod, Brown, and Deo believe they have the answer: a quick survey that measures key aspects of an inclusive culture, based on the thinking of 30 DEI experts. Here is the Gartner Inclusion Index, with responses recorded on a scale from Agree to Disagree. The more employees agree with each statement, the more inclusive the organization is:

– Fair treatment: Employees at my organization who help the organization achieve its strategic objectives are rewarded and recognized fairly.

– Integrating differences: Employees at my organization respect and value each other’s opinions.

– Decision making: Members of my team fairly consider ideas and suggestions offered by other team members.

– Psychological safety: I feel welcome to express my true feelings at work.

– Trust: Communication we receive from the organization is honest and open.

– Belonging: People in my organization care about me.

– Diversity: Managers at my organization are as diverse as the broader workforce.

The authors recommend doing a baseline survey, analyzing the data, and looking for “pockets of inconsistency” – variation within teams and across the organization. With the data in hand, the leadership team should promptly share the results and engage in:

– Listening – using meetings and focus groups to get more-detailed insights, including insights on the work of high-performing teams;

– Self-reflection – considering management styles and ways to improve;

– Vigilance – being on the lookout for exclusionary behavior, microaggressions, and cultural violations;

– Changing processes – recruiting, performance evaluation, and succession planning.

“How to Measure Inclusion in the Workplace” by Lauren Romansky, Mia Garrod, Katie Brown, and Kartik Deo in Harvard Business Review, May 27, 2021

4. What is the Impact of a Four-Day School Week?

In this article in Education Next, Paul Thompson (Oregon State University) reports on four-day school weeks in the U.S. Some background:

– The earliest known four-day week was in South Dakota in the 1930s.

– More than 1,500 schools now have four-day weeks, mostly in the rural North and West (Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, and South Dakota have the most).

– Four-day weeks are almost always instituted because of a budget crunch, to avoid teacher layoffs and increases in class size and reduce transportation costs.

– Four-day schedules average 148 school days, versus 175-180 for traditional schools.

– Four-day schools lengthen school hours to meet their state’s minimum requirements, averaging 7 hours 45 minutes a day, versus 6 hours 54 minutes in five-day schools.

– However, students in four-day schools typically get 3-4 hours less instructional time each week.

– About half of the schools Thompson surveyed were fully closed on the fifth day; about 30 percent offered remedial or enrichment activities for students, including teacher office hours and field trips.

– About 25 percent used the fifth day for educator professional development.

– Four-day weeks save 1-2 percent in operational costs – about $350 per pupil.

What differences does a four-day week make? Looking at 15 years of data from Oregon, Thompson found that having fewer hours of instruction resulted in math test scores dropping 5.9 percent of a standard deviation and reading scores dropping 4.2 percent of a standard deviation. In a typical school, this translated to 7-10 fewer students passing state tests. “These impacts,” says Thompson, “are comparable to those associated with other cost-saving measures, such as increasing class sizes and cutting student-support programs.” The most negative effects were in grades 7 and 8, and the reduction in student achievement increased with the number of years of four-day schooling. Schools that returned to a five-day schedule gained back their losses in student achievement quite quickly. Other insights:

– Four-day weeks are appealing to many educators, but squeezing the required curriculum into fewer instructional hours can be challenging.

– Students’ learning loss is mitigated in schools that use the fifth day to offer remediation and other instructional opportunities.

– Some students are harmed by not having access to nutritious meals one day a week, as well as less organized physical education, less time with teachers and counselors, and less peer interaction.

– One day a week, students are less sheltered from possible stresses and adult-size responsibilities at home.

– One study found four-day school weeks were associated with lower workplace participation for women who had to supervise children on the non-school weekday.

– Lack of supervision on the non-school day was associated with higher rates of juvenile crime and risky behaviors, including marijuana use, bullying, and sexual activity.

Thompson’s bottom line: “A four-day school week that reduces instructional time has a negative and statistically significant impact on student learning.”

“The Shrinking School Week” by Paul Thompson in Education Next, Summer 2021 (Vol. 21, #3, pp. 60-65); Thompson can be reached at Paul.Thompson@oregonstate.edu.

5. Improving High-School Students’ Attitudes About Poetry

In this article in English Journal, Illinois teacher Kyle O’Daniel says that every winter his ninth graders used to groan when he announced a unit on poetry. Asked why, students said:

– It’s stupid and a waste of time.

– I don’t know. I just don’t like it.

– It’s too confusing… like c’mon, just say what you mean!

– In seventh grade, we had to write this poetry book and it was awful! So many rules!

O’Daniel hoped he could change these attitudes by picking engaging poems and conducting lively discussions, but the negativism persisted. He realized that kids had learned to hate poetry because of teachers’ unrelenting focus on analyzing each poem for its meaning, and a steady diet of poems from the traditional canon.

O’Daniel decided to try something new. He kicked off each lesson in his one-month poetry unit by having students listen to a poem from a diverse array of living writers (read aloud, or a video of the poet performing the poem) and then spend five minutes jotting their reactions. The goal was to keep things relaxed, low-stakes, enjoyable, and brief, and immediately move on to the rest of the lesson (sometimes he took a moment to answer a student’s question or read a response). Here are some of the prompts O’Daniel provided:

– What is your immediate reaction to the poem? Do you like or dislike it?

– What did the poem make you think of or remind you of?

– What personal connections can you make?

– What is your favorite line? Why?

– What confuses you about this poem? What questions do you have after reading it?

– Why do you think the poet wrote this?

– If we’re watching/listening to the poet perform the poem, how did the spoken poem differ from the one on the page? Did you like reading or listening better? Why?

– If you write poetry, is there anything about this poem you’d like to emulate?

– Try writing a poem inspired by this one, perhaps using its opening as a starting point.

“By asking students to experience a poem first, rather than analyze it,” says O’Daniel, “we allow them to interact with the poem in a way that is simultaneously more authentic and less intimidating – two factors necessary to improve students’ opinions.” He spot-checked students’ responses and provided written feedback in their journals or one-on-one conferences. Students’ responses also gave him feedback on the poems he was choosing and how the activity was going.

O’Daniel offers these suggestions for selecting high-quality poems-of-the-day, drawing on books, the Internet (www.poetryfoundation.org, www.teachlivingpoets.com), www.poets.org), and social media (#TeachLivingPoets):

– Use living poets from a variety of backgrounds, and give a brief bio.

– Tailor choices to students’ interests and to current events – sports (for example, “Game Player” by Al Ortolani), farming (“The Brinkmeiers” by Austin Smith), the LGBTQ experience (“When I Was Straight” by Julie Marie Wade), and more.

– Choose poems that are “accessible and approachable,” with which students “can experience some immediate success,” versus “scaring them off.”

– Provide definitions or translations when needed.

– Make pop culture connections to classic poems – O’Daniel had students read “O, Were My Love Yon Lilac Fair” by Robert Burns, followed by the Parks and Recreation episode in which Ron Swanson reads the poem and weeps at its beauty.

Of course not every student likes every poem, but O’Daniel is delighted to see positive comments – sometimes even a desire to read more poems by the writer. Prior to launching Poem a Day, he says, “a student considering reading more poetry felt much like a child asking for more veggies – not likely – but this activity has made this experience far more common.”

For teachers thinking about implementing the idea, O’Daniel has these cautions and suggestions:

• It’s important to read widely to find engaging, approachable poems. Finding the right poem is a matter of trial and error; some won’t work, and the trick is to figure out why. Some poems may get pushback from students, administrators, and parents, and O’Daniel urges teachers to be prepared to defend their diverse choices.

• There might be concerns about the daily classroom time spent responding in a “nonacademic” way to a poem. O’Daniel believes the passion and engagement are well worth the time, plus there’s real academic value in the daily regimen of writing about a piece of poetry.

• For maximum impact, the poem-a-day activity should take place in more than one classroom. O’Daniel suggests inviting colleagues in to observe and showing them a selection of student responses.

“Poem-a-Day: Remedying Students’ Aversion to Verse” by Kyle O’Daniel in English Journal, May 2021 (Vol. 110, #5, pp. 51-57); O’Daniel can be reached at kodaniel@ms.k12.il.us.

6. Shakespeare Meets Facebook

In this article in English Journal, Singapore teacher Faith Kaylie Ong describes how she taught Romeo and Juliet during the pandemic. This was especially challenging because it was a remedial course, students were struggling to understand Shakespeare’s language, and the text seemed alien to their everyday lives. Here’s how Ong proceeded:

– She set up a Facebook page for the class.

– Students read the play offline and each chose a character they liked.

– Taking the role of their character, students got on the Facebook page and engaged in conversations and role-plays.

– As they did so, Ong helped unpack the vocabulary and explain the text.

– Some students spoke their lines directly from the play, while others riffed in creative ways, sometimes capturing the spirit of Elizabethan language.

– Ong reports that the online interactions worked remarkably well, and were especially helpful for reticent and reluctant students and those who were having difficulty with the language.

– “Online,” says Ong, “the students did not have the classroom pressure of ‘wait time’ but were instead free to take their time behind the screen to craft a response.”

“As a teacher,” concludes Ong, “I was reminded to have more faith in students, even in the most challenging linguistic situations… I found that when the students were given room to experiment with the text, they were able to showcase their understanding of character relationships through playful adaptation of the language of the script.”

“Star-Crossed Profiles: Romeo and Juliet in a Singapore Classroom” by Faith Kaylie Ong in English Journal, May 2021 (Vol. 110, #5, pp. 112-114); Ong can be reached at faith_kaylie_ong@moe.edu.sg.

7. Recommended Multicultural Books

In this School Library Journal feature, Cathy Camper recommends books to broaden students’ cultural and historical horizons:

– What Is Hip-Hop? by Eric Morse (grade 2-5)

– Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi (grade 7 and up)

– Beast Rider: A Boy’s Journey Beyond the Border by Tony Johnston and Maria Elena Fontanot de Rhoades (grade 4-7)

– We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Young Adults by Susan Kuklin (grade 5 and up)

– Stormy Seas: Stories of Young Boat Refugees by Mary Beth Leatherdale (grade 4-7)

– The Arrival by Shaun Tan (grade 4 and up)

– Undocumented: A Worker’s Fight by Duncan Tonatiuh (grade 2-5)

– Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga (grade 4-8)

– Front Desk by Kelly Yang (grade 4-6)

– Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale (grade 6 and up)

– An Indigenous People’s History of the United States for Young People by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (grade 9 and up)

“Great Books: More to the Story” by Cathy Camper in School Library Journal, June 2021 (Vol. 67, #6, pp. 35-37)

8. Short Item:

Summer Reading for Middle-School Students – School Library Journal has these online suggestions for summer reading; click for brief reviews and cover images:

12 Riveting Middle-Grade Adventures

Summer Camp and Beyond: 24 Middle-Grade Graphic Novels

School Library Journal, June 2021 (Vol. 67, #6, online)

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In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“When you teach online, every single student is sitting in the front row.”

Eric Mazur (see item #8b)

“The future of education is less about adopting online learning just because we are better at it, and more about using it to design learning experiences that move schools closer to agency, equity, and transfer.”

Eric Hudson (see item #1)

“An essential element of grading for equity is that grading structures and learning outcomes are transparent and understandable to students.”

Eric Hudson (ibid.)

“To accelerate learning, it is essential that districts and schools have the systems, processes, and practices in place to allow teachers to know quickly whether students are making appropriate progress… Weekly or bi-weekly assessments and check-ins… and coaching supports need to be in place to leverage when appropriate progress is not being made.”

John Kim and Kathleen Choi in “Accelerating Learning to Address Learning Loss”

in District Management Journal, Spring 2021 (Vol. 29, pp. 16-29)

“Even advocates of longer school days and years emphasize that extra time by itself often doesn’t have an impact. What you do with the time matters. Devoting the extra time to a daily dose of tutoring seems the most promising. But tutoring can work equally well even when the school day isn’t lengthened… What is clear is that using the extra time for just more hours or more days of traditional instruction doesn’t appear to achieve much.”

Jill Barshay in “Proof Points: Could More Time in School Help Students After the Pandemic?”, Hechinger Report, May 24, 2021

1. Keepers from Covid-Time

“The future of education is less about adopting online learning just because we are better at it, and more about using it to design learning experiences that move schools closer to agency, equity, and transfer,” says Eric Hudson in this Global Online Academy article. He believes a number of online instructional practices are worth continuing as schools return to in-person instruction (for screenshots and links to resources, click the full article below):

• An online learning hub – Accessible to students anytime, from almost anywhere, a robust platform can display all the information needed for a class or course, including:

the schedule, philosophy, goals, learning objectives, modules, homework assignments, teaching videos, rubrics, assessments, final projects, reminders, and housekeeping details.

• Student choices – Hudson says an online platform can also “offer students a variety of learning pathways, or the opportunity to design projects that matter to them, or the chance to explore the world beyond the classroom and present their learning using tools they know well.”

• Pre-recorded videos – Teachers can flip instruction, having students view online mini-lessons outside school hours and then engage in discussions and hands-on learning in the classroom. Videos don’t have to have great production values, says Hudson, as long as the pedagogy is sound.

• Student-made videos – Tools like Flipgrid give students an alternative, creative way to demonstrate learning and explain their thinking asynchronously.

• Digital portfolios – Students can use online platforms like Seesaw to curate evidence, share artifacts, describe their learning process, and demonstrate understanding.

• Online assessments – Quizzes, polls, and asynchronous discussions are more flexible and avoid the social pressures of in-class tests. Students can take an online quiz several times and use immediate, automated feedback to figure out errors and misconceptions.

• Differentiated pacing – Students can work at their own speed as they follow an online content playlist to complete a unit, project, or other learning experience.

• One-on-one video conferences – A platform like Zoom “can make targeted support more accessible and flexible,” says Hudson, “whether it’s via teacher-hosted office hours or individual conferences or small discussion groups.” Students can check in while doing independent projects, fieldwork, internships, and community-based work.

• Asynchronous discussions – Tools like Padlet and Jamboard can “broaden our notion of ‘class participation’ and make it more meaningful for more students,” says Hudson. They give students more time to “compose and express their thoughts, and shift the power dynamic in discussions from favoring the extrovert or the more verbose.” In addition, students can share ideas via text, audio, or video.

• Improved feedback – Quizzes, polling, and assessments built into learning management systems can give students real-time feedback, and screencasts and multimedia tools like Mote support feedback via video or audio. Peers can also provide feedback, improving the quality of work that’s submitted to teachers and lightening their correcting load.

• Open gradebooks – “An essential element of grading for equity,” says Hudson, “is that grading structures and learning outcomes are transparent and understandable to students.” Online gradebooks, included in most learning management systems, help teachers collect, visualize, and use data – and nudge them to rethink outmoded grading practices, emphasizing mastery over compliance. Online gradebooks also allow students to monitor their work and see a pathway to success.

• Student project management and collaboration – Tools like Kanban Boards and Greenlight Spreadsheets give students responsibility for monitoring their work, with the teacher looking over their shoulders electronically. Tools like Microsoft Teams and Slack can support students as they share and coordinate with each other inside and outside of the classroom.

• Partnering with families, communities, and the outside world – One of the most positive developments during the pandemic has been improved communication with families – both in remote conferences and by making the curriculum more transparent. Teachers have also learned how to bring a wide variety of outside speakers and resources into their classrooms and give students authentic audiences for their learning products.

“13 Online Strategies for All Learning Environments” by Eric Hudson in Global Online Academy, May 27, 2021

2. Effective Equity Work in Schools

In this District Management Journal interview, John Kim and Rachel Klein speak with social psychologist Robert Livingston (Harvard Kennedy School of Government). Some excerpts:

• Livingston describes growing up in a predominantly black, middle-class neighborhood in Kentucky. “The school I attended was integrated,” he says, “but we black students were in the advanced classes and we were the cool kids.” When he went to college, it was a shock to learn “how negatively black people were perceived by much of the world.” But the “solid armor” provided by his first 18 years allowed him to approach the problem with curiosity, asking in college and graduate school, What is racism? Where is it in the brain? What causes it?

• Livingston has developed a step-by-step model for addressing issues of racial equity in the workplace. He sums this up in the acronym PRESS:

– Problem awareness – It takes work for people to shift from seeing racism as a few “bad apples” to understanding the group advantages that have been embedded in the system over many generations.

– Root-cause analysis – This involves shifting from a defensive stance (I’m not a racist) to seeing the systemic factors that create racial advantage and disadvantage. Schools play a vital role when they do an accurate job teaching U.S. and world history.

– Empathy – From the first two steps, there’s usually an understanding of the historical and right-now challenges experienced by people of color and a desire to take action.

– Strategy – There’s a variety of effective interventions to address individual attitudes and institutional policies.

– Sacrifice – To make a difference, individuals and organizations need to invest time, energy, and resources.

PRESS can be summed up in three questions: (a) Do I understand what the problem is and where it comes from? (b) Do I care enough about the problem and the people it harms? and

(c) Do I know how to correct the problem and am I willing to do it?

• “I think a rookie mistake that a lot of organizations make,” says Livingston, “is wanting to jump straight to a solution without going through this process of education and conversation before you get to action.” He quotes Albert Einstein’s famous quip that if he had an hour to solve the world’s most difficult problem, he’s spend 55 minutes thinking about it and five minutes on the solution. The first stage – education – involves putting facts, versus opinions, on the table. In the second stage – conversation – it’s important to focus on the problem at hand (racial inequity) not personal characteristics (Who’s the racist in the room?). Of course people’s feelings need to be addressed, especially the fear of being ostracized or “cast out” of one’s group.

• Livingston says leaders interested in promoting equity usually have to figure out the best strategy to use with three types of colleagues, anthropomorphized as:

– Dolphins – They care about promoting social justice and know what to do. Leaders only need to appeal to their better angels and provide tools and opportunities to shine.

– Ostriches – They are apathetic, uninformed, or don’t know what to do. Leaders can use the PRESS approach, perhaps accompanied by incentives to act constructively.

– Sharks – They are vehemently opposed to change. Leaders may need to use sanctions to prevent harm and nudge them to act in accordance with institutional norms.

Livingston cites research indicating that fewer than half of people are in the dolphin category; leaders shouldn’t be naïve about the need for carrots and sticks to bring along those who are apathetic, uninformed, or resistant.

• On confronting racism and microaggressions in the workplace, Livingston cites studies showing that when people of color speak up, “it has the intended effect, but there’s a cost to the individual – they’re often seen as being a complainer or a troublemaker… and [they] have to calculate the trade-off between the cost and the benefit. But white people are able to be antiracist with more latitude and more impunity… So I think that puts an even greater responsibility on white people to do this work.”

• On the question of using SAT, ACT, and other standardized test scores for college admission, Livingston uses the analogy of the Kentucky Derby, where people who place bets have lots of data on each horse, but most of them do not predict the winner. In addition, the horse that wins the Derby seldom wins the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness. Clearly there’s no single characteristic or environmental factor that predicts the outcome of a horse race – or a student’s success in college. “So what I say,” says Livingston, “is pick good candidates and invest all your energy into developing them. That is the message for educators.”

• Livingston says he often hears from people of color that it’s best to have a mentor of the same racial or ethnic group. In fact, he says, “the research shows that your mentor or sponsor does not have to look like you… Sponsorship from a person who’s not from your group is seen as more credible because there’s no group interest involved.”

“Pressing Toward Racial Equity: An Interview with Dr. Robert Livingston” by John Kim and Rachel Klein in District Management Journal, Spring 2021 (Vol. 29, pp. 6-14); Livingston can be reached at robert_livingston@hks.harvard.edu.

3. Michael Petrilli on Finding Common Ground

In this Education Gadfly article, Michael Petrilli weighs in on the current debate about race in U.S. schools, suggesting five “promising and praiseworthy practices” on which he believes most educators and families can agree:

• Culturally affirming classroom materials – Students should feel represented and valued in the books and activities that are adopted and implemented in schools. “Mostly that’s about making sure the canon is inclusive and diverse,” says Petrilli, “with authors and characters that represent America’s diversity.” He’s encouraged that several ELA programs accomplish this, especially EL Education’s, which has received top ratings from EdReports.

• More-diverse educators – “This is simply common sense,” says Petrilli, “especially because of the large demographic gulf between our student population and our educator corps.” It’s especially important for students of color, since research points to achievement gains when these students have same-race teachers in their K-12 trajectory.

• High expectations – “Simply put, it’s racist to expect less from black children and other children of color,” says Petrilli. “It’s also un-American.” Of course everything has to be handled well: appropriate state standards for each grade level; high-quality assessments and classroom materials; fair grading practices; and careful attention to “the subtle messages that educators send to their students.”

• Empathy – Teaching children to see the world through the eyes of others has been part of character and civics education for thousands of years, says Petrilli, but “given America’s growing diversity and inequalities, it’s more important than ever…” Privileged children need to understand that many kids have it much harder than they do, and empathy is key to white students grasping how an accumulation of historical factors makes growing up in America considerably more challenging for schoolmates of color. “We also need to help students learn to listen to each other,” says Petrilli, “and engage with views from across the ideological spectrum.”

• Accurate history – The curriculum must tell the (age-appropriate) truth about slavery, racism, Jim Crow, discrimination, red-lining, and other painful chapters in U.S. history, making comparisons to the nation’s founding principles and current aspirations. “This isn’t reinventing the past on the basis of today’s values,” says Petrilli. “It’s correcting efforts to sugarcoat the horrors of those chapters in American history.” He hopes for a curriculum that is “both critical and patriotic,” describing historical evils and significant progress that’s been made.

“The Common Ground on Race and Education That’s Hiding in Plain Sight” by Michael Petrilli in Education Gadfly, May 27, 2021; Petrilli is at mpetrilli@fordhaminstitute.org.

4. Getting Higher-Ups to Adopt a Good Idea

In this Harvard Business Review article, Andy Molinsky (Brandeis University) and Jeff Tan (Epizyme) suggest how junior employees can get their innovations recognized and implemented:

• Figure out who has the power to get your idea implemented. It may be that there isn’t one person who has that role, say Molinsky and Tan, and they recommend doing a RACI analysis to determine who is:

– Responsible – the people in charge of completing tasks or reaching an objective;

– Accountable – the person who must give final approval for those people’s work;

– Consulted – those whose input is needed for work to be done well;

– Informed – the people who need updates on status and decisions.

Doing reconnaissance on the people in each of these roles is a key starting point.

• Choose your champion. “Few young professionals have the social capital to get their ideas immediately noticed by the right people,” say Molinsky and Tan. That’s why it’s important to build trust with someone with formal or informal power who might advocate for your idea in high-level meetings.

• Do your homework. Think the idea through and test-drive it with a variety of stakeholders to fine-tune the logic and fix problems you may not have noticed.

• Frame your proposal in the most compelling way possible. “When pitching your idea to your champion,” say Molinsky and Tan, “you need to have a clear objective, purpose, and success metrics. That’s why it’s critical to frame your idea as one that will not only improve the organization, but also make your champion’s life easier.”

• Follow through and follow up. If your champion is on board, when will the idea be on the leadership team’s agenda? At this point, schmoozing with administrative assistants can be helpful. If your champion is not on board, what are the personal and organizational obstacles? Patience and persistence are essential.

“How to Get Your Big Ideas Noticed by the Right People” by Andy Molinsky and Jeff Tan in Harvard Business Review, April 21, 2021; Molinsky is at molinsky@brandeis.edu.

5. Five Components of Clear Writing

In this article in The Atlantic, former teacher John Maguire says that as a veteran college writing instructor, he’s had lots of students who believed they couldn’t write – and indeed, their writing was dense, overly abstract, and often unreadable. “They didn’t realize,” says Maguire, “that it’s because they lacked certain skills that were common among college freshmen 40 years ago.” He admires secondary schools like New Dorp High School in New York City that asked the question, What skills do these students lack? and followed up with a program that brought about dramatic improvements in their writing (see Memo 454 for a description).

In this video, Maguire describes five keys to clear, readable writing that he believes can and should be taught at every level (along with a growth mindset: you really can learn to write well):

– Short sentences (averaging 17 words);

– Concrete nouns (real objects, says Maguire; things you can drop on your foot);

– Active verbs;

– Telling about real people;

– One-syllable words (75 percent).

Practicing these skills, and having students stop doing the opposite (long sentences, abstract nouns, passive verbs, not including people, polysyllabic words) has brought about dramatic improvements in his students’ writing – and delight at being able to communicate much more clearly in academic and real-world settings.

“The Secret to Good Writing: It’s About Objects, Not Ideas” by John Maguire in The Atlantic, October 2, 2012; Maguire can be reached at maguirejohn@comcast.net.

6. Will Snow Days Be Gone Forever?

In this New York Times column, Michelle Goldberg says one of her children has been miserable about online Zoom classes, saying at one point, “I wish I wasn’t alive.” Goldberg commiserates: “As we emerge from the worst year of our lives, I care a lot more about their lost happiness than their lost learning.”

When the New York City schools announced that there would be no more snow days in the 2021-22 school year (they will be replaced by remote learning so the district can comply with the state’s 180-day school year), Goldberg was upset. “It seems like callousness bordering on cruelty to scrap one of childhood’s greatest pleasures in favor of a rehash of pandemic life,” she says. “After what our kids have endured, we shouldn’t take such an uncommon, blissful reprieve and turn it into a day of drudgery.” True, snow days mean that families have to scramble to arrange child care. But with remote learning, the obligation to supervise online learning means it’s no longer an option to send kids to play outside or park them in front of a long movie.

Goldberg found a kindred spirit in Jamaal Bowman, a former New York City educator who is now a member of Congress. “If I was still a middle-school principal,” says Bowman, “I would strongly advocate for my kids using technology as rarely as possible because they’ve been staring at a freaking screen for over a year!” He wants more funding for teachers and counselors who can give individual attention to students who’ve fallen behind and suffered losses, but he believes that “play is going to be a very important part of dealing with this trauma.”

“Save Snow Days!” by Michelle Goldberg in The New York Times, May 8, 2021

7. Recommended Children’s Picturebooks

In this feature in Language Arts, Grace Enriquez, Summer Clark, and Erika Thulin Dawes (Lesley University), Gilberto Lara (University of Texas/Austin), and Katie Egan Cunningham (Manhattanville College) highlight what they believe are the most outstanding fiction and nonfiction picturebooks published within the last year:

– Your Name Is a Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illustrated by Luisa Uribe

– The Blue House by Phoebe Wahl

– A Bowl Full of Peace: A True Story by Caren Stelson, illustrated by Akira Kusaka

– We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade

– Your Place in the Universe by Jason Chin

– Already a Butterfly: A Meditation Story by Julia Alvarez, illustrated by Raúl Colón

– Feathered Serpent and the Five Suns: A Mesoamerican Creation Myth by Duncan Tonatiuh

– Dandelion’s Dream by Yoko Tanaka

– The Ocean Calls: A Haenyeo Mermaid Story by Tina Cho, illustrated by Jess Snow

– Nesting by Henry Cole

– Me and Mama by Cozbi Cabrera

– ¡Vamos! Let’s Go Eat by Raul the Third, colors by Elaine Bay

– Window by Marion Arbona

– Digging for Words: José Alberto Gutiérrez and the Library He Built by Angela Burke Kunkel, illustrated by Paola Escobar

“What’s New in Picturebooks?” by Grace Enriquez, Summer Clark, Gilberto Lara, Katie Egan Cunningham, and Erika Thulin Dawes in Language Arts, May 2021 (Vol. 98, #5, pp. 289-297); Enriquez can be reached at genrique@lesley.edu.

8. Short Items:

8. Short Items:
a. A Video on Infectious Diseases – This 53-minute video gives a vivid description of the fight against smallpox and its implications for the Covid-19 pandemic. The Pulitzer Center has lesson plans to accompany the video.

“Extra Life: A Short History of Living Longer: Vaccines” from PBS, May 11, 2021

b. Was Online Instruction All Bad? – In this 22-minute video, Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur describes the impact of the pandemic on how he taught – and his surprising conclusions.

“Remote Teaching Was a Disaster. Was It?” by Eric Mazur on YouTube, May 2021

c. The Massachusetts Acceleration Roadmap – Here are suggestions from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for returning to in-person instruction after the pandemic: School Leader Edition and Classroom Educator Edition.

d. New Ideas for U.S. History and Civics – This curriculum framework from the Educating for American Democracy Initiative has been years in the making, with input from scores of educators across the ideological landscape. Here’s a short video in which the principal authors explain the project’s rationale.

“Educating for American Democracy: Excellence in History and Civics for All Learners” by Danielle Allen et al., the Educating for American Democracy Initiative, March 2, 2021; Allen can be reached at ejscedirectorteam@fas.harvard.edu.

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Marshall Memo 888

In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“I’m still waiting on Zoom to create a ‘dot-dot-dot-so-and-so-is-typing’ feature. I never know if a student is typing or asleep, or their Wi-Fi cut out, or my Wi-Fi cut out, or they’re straight up ignoring me.”

Massachusetts high-school teacher Olivia Phillips in “What I Learned from Teaching Algebra on TikTok” in Ed. Magazine, Spring 2021 (#168, pp. 44-45)

“In this two-dimensional world, we realized that the back of your hair didn’t matter anymore and that we could show up to class barefoot.”

Kelsea Turner (quoted in item #1)

“When we limit independent reading to a small range of topics, genres, and reading levels, and routinely assign rote accountability tasks like daily reading logs, we inadvertently send a signal that reading isn’t meant to be a joyful, inspiring, and even revelatory activity.”

Hoa Nguyen in “How to Provide Less Structure for Independent Reading” in Edutopia,

May 17, 2021

“Without follow-up observation and feedback, the fruits of training are susceptible to drift and entropy.”

Mike Schmoker (see item #4)

“We can no longer get away with telling students that the ancient Greeks invented mathematics, that Columbus discovered America, that the Declaration of Independence was truly democratic, that European and American literature and history are essentially the only humanities worth knowing, or that it is somehow understandable that historical heroes and leaders in the history books have been almost entirely white men… Decolonizing the curriculum is about being more accurate, more inclusive, and more interculturally responsive. It’s not about forcing one ideological perspective on students; it’s about telling both sides of the story.”

Conrad Hughes in “Decolonizing the Curriculum” in CIS Perspectives, May 3, 2021

1. Continuing Effective Covid-Time Practices in the “New Normal”

In this article in Ed. Magazine, Lory Hough compiles suggestions from educators on practices implemented during the pandemic that should continue when schools return to fully in-person instruction. Some excerpts:

• Cultivate trust. “The pandemic has reminded me just how important it is to listen, care for one another, seek perspectives, solve problems together, stay true to core values, and follow through,” says Jennifer Perry Cheatham (Public Education Leadership Project). She hopes “active trust-building emerges as a necessity in education – a foundational tenet through which we perform all our work.”

• Rethink grading. “We must realize that our century-old inherited grading practices have alwaysdisproportionately punished students with weaker support nets and fewer resources, students of color, from poor families, with special needs, and English learners,” says Joe Feldman (author, former teacher and administrator). During the pandemic, it became apparent that problems with grading affected many more students, waking up educators to the need to more accurately and fairly measure student learning.

• Truly include parents. “For all their pieties,” says Frederick Hess (American Enterprise Institute), “schools have seemingly gotten into a habit of treating parents as a nuisance… [giving] the gentle brush-off to parents concerned about discipline, special education, or testing.” With remote learning, parents have had a front-row seat on their children’s curriculum content, how teachers teach, and how school time is used. Reactions have ranged from positive (I had no idea teachers were so organized) to helpful (Now I see why my daughter is confused about parts of speech), to negative (I never knew how little learning occurs during my kids’ school day). “There’s great power in all this,” says Hess. “This kind of openness can strengthen school communities, enable valuable oversight for what schools are doing, and provide students more of the support they need. Here’s hoping that we find a way to keep it, long after the kids are out of the kitchen and back in the classroom.”

• Learn from the positive anomalies. Some students, perhaps one in 20, have actually performed better on schoolwork during the pandemic, observes author/former principal Tracey Benson. Perhaps this happened, he says, because of “the truncated direct instruction time, the streamlined curriculum, or the absence of the social stimuli of being constantly surrounded by other students.” We can learn a lot from these positive outliers: “What is it about the distance learning environment that has helped them turn the corner, and how can we preserve these strategies as we return to traditional in-person instruction?”

• Stop teaching by telling. Teacher lectures and plodding through textbook chapters have been even less effective via Zoom than they were beforehand, says Chris Dede (Harvard Graduate School of Education). Seeing students tuning out, many teachers shifted to problem-based and project-based activities, teaching science, technology, engineering, and math with materials found in students’ homes and communities and using family members as mentors and co-teachers. “Let’s not give up the powerful, novel models of learning and motivation that are a silver lining in the dark cloud of this human tragedy,” says Dede.

• Continue creative assessing. While there’s definitely a role for standardized testing, says New York City social studies teacher Tyler Tarnowicz, being liberated from high-stakes testing for two years has led to some creative ways to assess student learning and growth in real time, involve students in the process, and hold educators accountable. As standardized tests return, Tarnowicz urges us to keep them in perspective and continue to get valuable insights from lower-key classroom practices.

• Keep opening doors to higher education. During the pandemic, several changes have been implemented to level the playing field for college admissions, says Brennan Barnard (Making Caring Common):

– Wider access to college counseling;

– High-quality virtual visits to colleges;

– Test-optional policies;

– Better understanding of applicants’ family responsibilities and other circumstances that affect their educational opportunities;

– Admissions officers having more insight about who is being left behind.

Barnard hopes these practices will continue in the years ahead.

• Rethink attendance policies. Thousands of students have “gone missing” during school closures, says Bree Dusseault (Center on Reinventing Pubic Education), often students who were already struggling. This has led many educators to implement strategies like these:

– Collaborating with families to reengage missing students and bridge technology gaps;

– Ensuring that every student has at least one consistent relationship with a caring adult;

– Providing options like evening classes, flexible schedules, and independent study;

– Focusing on content mastery versus seat time.

“The solution to chronic absenteeism does not revolve around truancy boards or court dates,” says Dusseault. “We need to incentivize schools to use wellness-centered approaches that hold students to high expectations but avoid punishments that only set them back.”

• Expand learning time. Many students lost months of learning during the pandemic, says Karen Hawley Miles (Education Resource Strategies), in some cases a full year. As schools return to regular schedules, she points to schools that have reorganized staff, time, and technology to help those students catch up. Among the options: extended learning time, high-dosage tutoring, and after-school learning opportunities.

• Change teacher-student ratios. During remote learning, some high schools shifted from seven-period days to a quarter system with students taking no more than three subjects at a time, says Jal Mehta (Harvard Graduate School of Education). This frees teachers to focus on 80 students at a time, versus 160, making it much easier to build relationships and rapport. This is a practice that should continue, says Mehta.

• Ask what matters. “It was a wild ride,” says graduate student Kelsea Turner. “We were teleported into breakout rooms where we found ourselves taking solace in a familiar face or marking time in a silent standoff, waiting for someone to initiate the conversation. In this two-dimensional world, we realized that the back of your hair didn’t matter anymore and that we could show up to class barefoot. We learned that ‘I had an unstable Internet connection’ was the new ‘my dog ate my homework,’ and that the effort required to click ‘unmute’ somehow made us feel like whatever we said had better be worth it – most of us, anyway. We discovered that vibes transmit through Wi-Fi and we can feel them without ever knowing how a person moves through the world…

“So many variables demanded radical flexibility, forcing us to try what we would have resisted before, to fail, then to try something else. We learned how to learn again in this bizarre here and now. And to both our chagrin and delight, this year inspired us to ask and really mean it: What matters now in education? As we prepare to depart Zoomland to return to classrooms or embark on new endeavors, may we remember to never stop asking this question, and to mute ourselves to listen for the answers. And if we are lucky enough to work with students, let’s not forget the tenderness we felt when someone greeted us warmly by name when we arrived in class – and how sometimes it was the only proof we had that we were actually there, in person or not.”

“For Keeps” by Lory Hough in Ed. Magazine, Spring 2021 (#168, pp. 26-35); Hough can be reached at lory_hough@gse.harvard.edu.

2. Maintaining High Expectations in the Face of Unfinished Learning

In this Newsweek article, Paul Bambrick-Santoyo and Stephen Chiger (Uncommon Schools) say the best way to address the “massive instructional loss” resulting from school closings is not to lower expectations, which seems to be the argument made by some who are concerned about the emotional fragility of students as they emerge from the pandemic. Rather, say Bambrick-Santoyo and Chiger, we need to get an accurate assessment of where students are in the fall and challenge them to engage in “productive struggle.”

Consider the analogy of weightlifting, they say, where strength is built by working at the edge of one’s current ability, lifting increasingly heavier weights over time. “We should not be hoping to avoid challenge this fall,” they argue. “Rather, we should embrace it, in classrooms that validate students for who they are and inspire them to take intellectual risks.”

That’s the essence of equity in schools, conclude Bambrick-Santoyo and Chiger: “that all students, regardless of their race, gender, class, or anything else, have the support they need to ensure they can learn. What equity does notmean is lowering the bar to where students happen to be currently. Embracing equity means building a challenging curriculum, not because being difficult is inherently virtuous, but because it’s good for kids.” In short, we don’t have to choose between wellness and intellect.

“After the Pandemic, Schools Can’t Hide from ‘Learning Loss.’ We Need to Embrace It” by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo and Stephen Chiger in Newsweek, May 7, 2021; the authors can be reached at pbambrick@uncommonschools.org and schiger@uncommonschools.org.

3. Elena Aguilar Reflects on the Year

(Originally titled “Emerging Stronger”)

“Although this school year has been exceptionally hard, and although I’ve experienced a great deal of insecurity about my skills, I’ve learned a whole lot,” says Elena Aguilar (Bright Morning Consulting) in this Educational Leadership article. As the school year ends, she is encouraging educators to reflect on what they’ve been through by answering these questions:

– What did you learn about yourself as a person this year? As a teacher, coach, leader?

– What did you learn about creating the conditions for learning?

– What did you learn about your students and colleagues?

– What did you learn about your emotions? Your resilience? What you need in order to thrive?

Three possible activities:

– Draw a simply illustrated timeline of the year with significant highs, lows, and learning moments.

– Capture on a storyboard or in dialogue boxes a few conversations that were particularly helpful and insightful.

– Describe this school year in a body movement.

“Emerging Stronger” by Elena Aguilar in Educational Leadership, May 2021 (Vol. 78, #8, pp. 82-83); Aguilar can be reached at elena@brightmorningteam.com.

4. Mike Schmoker on Four Keys to Better Professional Learning

(Originally titled “The Obvious Path to Better Professional Development”)

In this article in Educational Leadership, writer/consultant Mike Schmoker says that in spite of millions of dollars and countless hours spent on K-12 professional development, “Many students are still subjected to an incoherent, knowledge-poor, worksheet-driven curriculum.” What’s more, he says, poor and historically marginalized students are most often the victims of this kind of instruction.

Schmoker describes the very different PD he received as a brand-new middle-school teacher several decades ago. When the principal made her first drop-in visit early in the year, she noticed he called only on students who raised their hands, explained several things before having students process and apply, didn’t circulate to monitor progress between chunks of instruction, and failed to reteach when students seemed confused. The principal had Schmoker work with a PD trainer on how to execute the key elements of instruction – and practice until he got it. The principal continued to make brief classroom visits and give targeted feedback until Schmoker’s students were getting skillful teaching on a regular basis.

He believes this story highlights some simple, obvious principles that should guide PD in all schools:

• Follow the evidence. The research is clear about what boosts learning, especially for struggling students:

– Coherent, content-rich lessons;

– Explicit modeling followed by lots of practice;

– Frequent checks for understanding;

– Targeted reteaching of what hasn’t been mastered;

– An abundance of purposeful reading, discussion, and writing.

Alas, says Schmoker, too many PD leaders are driven by “whims, fads, opportunism, and ideology,” and principals allow way too much “aimless group work,” low-level “busysheets,” and in elementary schools, the “Crayola curriculum.”

• Focus. With the best intentions, many schools have adopted a bunch of initiatives at once, says Schmoker: “As a result, none of them received the sustained attention – the ‘depth and intensity’ necessary for success.” Less is more, sticking to one or two major initiatives until they bear fruit. There are few better PD initiatives, he says, than ensuring that every teacher is “fully, deeply trained” in the elements of effective instruction.

• Actually train. Exposing teachers to a key practice – leading a good discussion, analyzing a text – however engaging and entertaining, is not the same as training. That involves explanation, demonstration, modeling, role-playing, practice with coaching and correction – and actual mastery. Schmoker points to the Uncommon Schools charter network as an exemplar of this kind of training.

• Monitor like crazy. “Without follow-up observation and feedback,” he says, “the fruits of training are susceptible to drift and entropy. Sustained, consistent performance depends upon our willingness to observe, guide, and celebrate effective implementation of evidence-based practices.” The primary vehicle is frequent classroom visits by administrators and instructional coaches with informal, individual feedback and follow-up training where necessary. Schmoker also endorses brief, all-faculty refresher sessions on targeted practices so individual teachers don’t feel singled out but get the message. But school leaders must be willing and able to “confront and correct ineffective practice in individual classrooms.” He spotlights the work of former principal Sue Szachowicz and her colleagues in orchestrating the dramatic turnaround of Brockton High School in Massachusetts starting in 1999 – a success story that also featured a relentless schoolwide focus on reading, writing, thinking, and reasoning.

“The Obvious Path to Better Professional Development” by Mike Schmoker in Educational Leadership, May 2021 (Vol. 78, #8, pp. 65-69); Schmoker can be reached at schmoker@futureone.com.

5. Using Peer Feedback in High-School Writing Classes

In this American Educational Research Journal article, Yong Wu and Christian Schunn (University of Pittsburgh) describe their study of peer feedback in high-school AP English composition classes. Here’s the procedure they used:

– Students wrote an initial draft of a writing task and turned it in using an online platform.

– Students’ drafts were randomly distributed to peers across AP English classrooms.

– Each student was required to review four peers’ essays.

– Students used a detailed rubric adapted from the one used by AP scorers.

– Before scoring began, teachers trained students using two sample essays, as follows:

– Students read the first essay and were shown comments that were unhelpful (e.g., vague) and then comments that were specific and constructive, and discussed the difference.

– Teachers encouraged students to focus most of their attention on higher-level comments (e.g., quality of explanations and arguments) versus lower-level comments (e.g., spelling and grammar)

– Students read the second sample essay and worked with a partner to complete a review.

– The whole class discussed possible comments and what an appropriate rubric rating for the essay would be.

– Students then had one week to comment on and rate the four essays assigned to them.

– All students got their first drafts back with comments and ratings.

– Students made revisions and submitted their second drafts online.

– Students were then asked to write a second essay on a different prompt.

– Those were scored by the research team and compared to the initial draft of the first essay.

Based on a careful analysis of the students’ essays, Wu and Schunn concluded that: (a) with the first essay, there was a marked improvement from students’ first to second drafts; and (b) with the second essay (submitted after the first essay was written, revised, and submitted), the initial draft was significantly better than the initial draft of the first essay. In other words, getting and producing peer review not only improved an existing draft, but helped students be better writers going forward.

“Overall,” say the authors, “the results indicated that both providing and receiving feedback predicted performance and learning… By receiving and providing high-level feedback targeting similar problems, students develop a better understanding of their weaknesses and are motivated to review to narrow the gap between their current and desired performance.”

Interestingly, the process of critiquing their peers’ essays helped students notice and correct problems in their own writing that were not identified by those who reviewed their essays. This seemed to happen because putting on a “reviewer hat” helped students see their own writing through the eyes of a reader, as well as taking on the active role of a teacher.

“The Effects of Providing and Receiving Peer Feedback on Writing Performance and Learning of Secondary-School Students” by Yong Wu and Christian Schunn in American Educational Research Journal, June 2021 (Vol. 58, #3, pp. 492-526); the authors can be reached at yongwu@pitt.edu and schunn@pitt.edu.

6. The Difference Between Handwritten and Computer Note-taking

(Originally titled “The Duel Between the Pen and Keyboard Continues”)

In this Educational Leadership article, Montana teachers Dana Haring and Tom Kelner report on action research they conducted to test whether it’s better for students to take notes by hand or on a laptop. They were intrigued by a study conducted at the university level that found handwritten notes resulted in better student understanding [see Memo 698 for a summary]. As an English/social studies team collaborating on teaching students to write research essays, Haring and Kelner were especially interested in this debate because their seventh graders had a tendency to copy and paste chunks of texts they were researching and not engage in close reading and paraphrasing. The teachers’ research question: What difference will there be in the content scores between students who take longhand notes and students who type notes using Google Docs?

In January of the 2019-20 school year, students had written at least three research essays, and Haring and Kelner launched the experiment. They divided 85 students randomly into two groups and explained what was about to happen. At the end of the unit, both groups would type their final essays, but one would take online research notes by hand, using a printed graphic organizer, while the other typed notes on a computer, using the same organizer shared via Google Classroom. The question was whether there would be a difference in the essays depending on the notetaking method.

Students did their research in the school library’s computer lab, with the teachers circulating and providing support throughout the week. After students had typed their essays, a group of college students who were enrolled in a writing methods course scored them using an analytical rubric. The scorers were not told students’ names, which essays came from which group, or the nature of the experiment. Students’ essays were scored on evidence and analysis: the information they’d gathered, and their explanations of how it connected to their thesis statements.

What was the result? In both evidence and analysis, students who typed their notes did better – 11 percentage points higher on evidence and 19 percentage points higher on analysis. However, say Haring and Kelner, “both groups of students were found to have recorded a large swath of their notes verbatim from their sources… Our hope was that handwriting notes would lessen, if not eliminate, this tendency. It did not.” While the teachers planned to work on getting their students to improve on paraphrasing and citing sources, their firm conclusion was that students should be allowed to use computers for note-taking.

Shortly after this, the pandemic shut down schools, so it was fortuitous that keyboarding was, in the teachers’ minds, a validated method of notetaking.

“The Duel Between the Pen and Keyboard Continues” by Dana Haring and Tom Kelner in Educational Leadership, May 2021 (Vol. 78, #8); the authors can be reached at dkharing@gmail.com and tkelner22@gmail.com.

7. What Is the Purpose of Mathematics?

In this article in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, Lucy Watson (Belmont University) and Christopher Bonnesen and Jeremy Strayer (Middle Tennessee State University) describe a common dilemma for math teachers: what do you say when students ask, Why do I need to know that? Some teachers point to practical, real-life applications in science, technology, engineering, and math education. Others extoll the beauty and wonder of mathematics. What teachers say might reveal one of three views of the nature of mathematics:

– It’s a set of facts, rules, and tools that need to be memorized;

– It’s a static body of knowledge bound by discovered truths that never change;

– It’s a dynamic, problem-driven discipline defined by creativity, inquiry, and openness to revision.

Students taught by a teacher holding each view will learn mathematics quite differently, and will likely be exposed to distinct teaching methods, from rote lectures to discussions and hands-on projects.

Watson, Bonnesen, and Strayer believe there hasn’t been enough guidance for math teachers on exactly what the nature of mathematics is, leaving the field wide open to a variety of rationales – and probably some pretty dull teaching. Drawing on several guiding documents in the field, the authors suggest this five-point view of the nature of mathematics:

• Mathematics is a product of the exploration of structure and patterns.

• Mathematics uses multiple strategies and multiple representations to make claims.

• Mathematics is critiqued and verified by people within particular cultures through justification or proof that is communicated to oneself and others.

• Mathematics is refined over time as cultures interact and change.

• Mathematics is worthwhile, beautiful, often useful, and can be produced by each and every person.

The authors believe that as students grapple with high-quality math problems, teachers should get them thinking about this broader view of the nature of mathematics, asking students about purpose before, during, and after solving the problems. Watson, Bonnesen, and Strayer suggest repeating this meaning-seeking activity at intervals through the grades – perhaps with a unit on counting in kindergarten, equivalent fractions in third grade, area relationships in middle school, and absolute value in high school. If this occurs, say the authors, teachers will less frequently hear the question, Why do I need to know that?

“The Nature of Mathematics: Let’s Talk About It” by Lucy Watson, Christopher Bonnesen, and Jeremy Strayer in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, May 2021 (Vol. 114, #5, pp. 552-561); the authors can be reached at Lucy.watson@belmont.edu, ctb4d@mtmail.mtsu.edu, and jeremy.strayer@mtsu.edu.

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