Category Archives for "Marshall Memo"

Marshall Memo 907

In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“When I was a kid, nobody spoke about college. There was nothing to talk about… My daughter thinks about it all the time. She knows she has money in there.”

Vaniqua Hudson-Figueroa, a Queens mother, on the $100 college savings account that

was set up four years ago when her daughter was in kindergarten (it will be worth

$3,000 at high-school graduation) in “Seeding Accounts for Kindergartners and Hoping to Grow College Graduates” by Tara Siegel Bernard in The New York Times, October

13, 2021

“People are amazingly quick to drop stereotypes when they meet an actual individual. You may distrust lawyers but Mary, who is a lawyer, seems quite nice. In general, I’d say people are much more granular, sophisticated, and complex about seeing persons than they are when seeing groups, and the more personalistic the perspective people adopt the wiser and kinder they will be.”

David Brooks in “Here’s the Mindset That’s Tearing Us Apart” in The New York

Times, October 8, 2021

“Feedback is information about how we are doing that guides our efforts to reach a goal.”

Grant Wiggins (quoted in item #1)

“Feedback should be more work for the recipient than the donor.”

Dylan Wiliam (quoted in item #1)

“High-school-age students have a sixth sense for when things feel dopey, dumb, sus, cheesy, corny, basic, cringe, or ‘cheugy.’”

Stephen Sawchuk (see item #4)

“For girls in America, taking in content that seems intended to make you hate your body is an adolescent rite of passage. The medium changes but the ritual stays the same.”

Lindsay Crouse (see item #7)

1. Giving Feedback That Isn’t Consigned to the Bottom of the Backpack

In this Tang Institute article, Bowman Dickson and Andy Housiaux describe every teacher’s least-favorite scenario: after spending hours reading students’ papers, correcting errors, and writing comments, students glance briefly at the grade, compare what they got with a few classmates, and continue to make the same mistakes on the next assignment. “It doesn’t have to be this way,” say Dickson and Housiaux, and provide a synthesis of the academic research on feedback that actually works.

They start with Grant Wiggins’s definition: Feedback is information about how we are doing that guides our efforts to reach a goal. “It can come from others, oneself, or even the task itself,” say Dickson and Housiaux. “It aims to improve subsequent efforts and not just correct work that has already been done.” They give several examples of feedback containing evaluation, advice, and praise, each followed by teacher feedback that’s far more likely to improve students’ work:

– Ineffective: B+ You still need to master exponent rules.

– Better: You are confusing the two main exponent rules – when multiplying two bases you need to add the exponent, not multiply. Practice a few of these types of problems for the next homework assignment.

– Ineffective: Make sure your main idea paragraph relates to your topic.

– Better: Your first sentence is about therapy dogs, but the rest of your paragraph talks about what dogs eat and where dogs sleep. Look at the examples of effective writing on your handout and then rewrite the paragraph.

– Ineffective: Wow! Your lab report is really nicely done.

– Better: You explained your results with good scientific nuance, your methods section is appropriately detailed, and your data presentation is just as polished as the sample lab reports.

“Feedback that is delivered effectively,” say Dickson and Housiaux, “will advance student learning in ways that even the most well-intentioned evaluation, advice, and praise simply cannot.” They boil down the research on effective feedback to four big ideas:

• Big idea #1: Students must engage with feedback in order to learn from it. “Feedback should cause thinking,” says British assessment guru Dylan Wiliam. “Feedback should be more work for the recipient than the donor.” This means reserving classroom time for students to process the teacher’s comments (often posed as questions or hints) and engage with a brief follow-up task – which might be correcting an error or writing about what they learned from the comments, what they did well, and what they will do differently next time. Students need to learn how to be “feedback seekers,” looking for it, taking it in, and following up.

• Big idea #2: Relationships matter. Establishing trust is an essential precursor; then the teacher can be a “warm demander,” setting high expectations and conveying feedback with growth-mindset language that speaks to students’ work, not their identity. Without a trusting relationship, teachers’ power position, along with their gender, race, or other characteristics, can trigger stereotype threat in students. “Don’t withhold criticism or overpraise mediocre work,” say Dickson and Housiaux. And create a classroom culture in which mistakes are seen as an important part of learning.

• Big idea #3: Focus on specific instructional goals. “If students do not understand where they are aiming, they will not be able to make sense of the feedback they receive on their performance,” say Dickson and Housiaux. That’s why it’s vital to be transparent about learning outcomes and assessment criteria, and provide exemplars of student work at different levels of proficiency. The teacher’s goal is to build skills and habits of mind that will help students think differently and get better. “Feedback should change the way students think and engage with future material,” say the authors, “instead of just fixing mistakes on past work.” To that end, less is more; feedback should target only a few key areas.

• Big idea #4: Separate feedback from grading. Giving grades is a requirement in almost all schools, but teachers should be under no illusions that grades improve performance. The challenge is getting students less focused on grades and more on continuous improvement. “Teachers can encourage students to focus more on the feedback they receive by spending time explaining the difference between feedback and grades,” say Dickson and Housiaux, “and then showing the ways in which students can improve by attending carefully to the teacher’s feedback.” Teachers also need to nudge students toward autonomy and independence, providing opportunities for and instruction in self-assessment and peer feedback versus constant dependence on teachers.

At the end of their paper, Dickson and Housiaux include six case studies showing how these big ideas play out in classrooms – a student demanding to know why a classmate got a better grade; students not improving despite copious written feedback on their work; a teacher’s comment taken the wrong way by a student; a student not doing homework and failing to ask for help. Each case is followed by focusing questions on what might change a frustrating situation.

“Feedback in Practice: Research for Teachers” by Bowman Dickson and Andy Housiaux, Tang Institute at Andover, August 2021; Housiaux can be reached at

2. What Rigor Looks Like in an Equitable Classroom

In this Chronicle of Higher Education article with implications for K-12, Jordynn Jack and Viji Sathy (University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill) say they’re troubled by the way “rigor” is interpreted by some instructors:

– It’s students’ responsibility to show grit and do the deep analysis and thinking.

– Otherwise, how will students succeed in the real world?

– Providing too much structure and hand-holding sells students short.

– It amounts to lowering standards and watering down the curriculum.

– If too many students are getting high grades, the class isn’t rigorous.

– Weed out students who aren’t up to par.

“We’re not in that camp,” say Jack and Sathy. These beliefs, they assert, “privilege students who already have high academic literacy or who are already adept at managing higher education’s unofficial rules, routines, and structures – also known as the hidden curriculum.” The result is that struggling students feel blamed, that they don’t belong.

So how can teachers maintain high standards and prepare students for future success? Jack and Sathy have three suggestions:

• Build plenty of structure into assignments. That means making sure students are clear about what’s expected – with an English assignment, for example, specifying the assignment’s genre, audience, purpose, and success criteria. “Showing students the process – the nuts and bolts of how to do the assignment – is not doing the work for them,” say Jack and Sathy. “In fact, you may well be asking students to do more, not less.”

• Develop a fair grading structure. Grading on a curve (for example, only the top five percent of students get an A) creates competition for high grades and communicates exclusion. Who is most likely to succeed? ask Jack and Sathy. “Students who already do well on high-stakes tests, who have tutors, who’ve had test-preparation training, who have time to form a study group or who are able to complete all the practice problems because they don’t have work or caregiving responsibilities.” Competitive grading can be profoundly discouraging for some students and even derail their desire to pursue a major or a career.

• Commit to inclusive teaching. For starters, Jack and Sathy suggest that we stop using the word rigor, which too often conveys the idea that some students don’t belong. Instructors’ mission should be to work with all students and “invite them in.” Some specific actions:

– Clearly communicate high standards and learning expectations.

– Convey the belief that all students will be successful.

– Design lessons that get all students actively engaged, including collaborative work.

– Frequently assign low-stakes tasks that allow students to put concepts and skills to work.

– Promptly give formative feedback.

– Grade students’ work on mastery of learning objectives, not on a curve.

“It’s Time to Cancel the Word ‘Rigor’” by Jordynn Jack and Viji Sathy in The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 15, 2021 (Vol. 68, #4, pp. 46-47); the authors can be reached at and

3. A High-School Class Debates Whether Othello Should Be Taught

“How well does our literary canon serve our society, and how does it need to be changed?” asks North Carolina teacher Anne Beatty in this English Journal article. Specifically, what about Shakespeare’s Othello? Beatty was moved to reconsider teaching the play when an African-American student said, “All I see is another angry black man.” Three years ago, Beatty decided to study the play with an honors ninth-grade class with a dual focus: the quality of the play as literature, and the issue of race. Here’s how her three-week unit proceeded.

The first half of each class was devoted to studying the play – characters, language, motifs; the second half focused on race. “Each day,” says Beatty, “when we transition from Shakespeare (back then) to racism (right now), the room’s energy shifts into a cocktail of giddiness, relief, and apprehension.” Students are eager to talk about the issue, but hesitant to share; when they do, their personal anecdotes create a tricky dynamic. Seeing the need for ground rules, Beatty adopted Glenn Singleton’s Four Agreements: Stay engaged. Speak your truth. Experience discomfort. Expect and accept non-closure.

After asking students to share family dynamics on race (some said it was never talked about, others that it was talked about all the time), the class discussed definitions of racism and how it was evident in the play: blatantly racist descriptions of Othello; assumptions about his magical ability to trick Desdemona into marrying him; and whether students of color can learn about racism in a play written from the oppressor’s point of view.

Beatty then had students complete brief writing prompts on their experiences and views on race and the literary canon: first encounters with racism (there were lots of stories about hair and food); reactions to books they’d been assigned in English classes, including books about people different from them; feelings about Shakespeare; and their opinions on books in the canon and who gets to decide what belongs and what doesn’t. One student wrote, “While reading books about different stories is good, when ‘valuable’ stories (usually confusing) are pushed onto you and you are told they have a ‘greater meaning’ it lessens the experience of reading the book.” This led straight back to the question of whether Othello belongs in the canon.

Next, students read a selection of articles, including one by an African-American actor on his changing view of playing the part of Othello, another about white actors playing Othello in blackface; and watched a video about a Shakespeare production. What did you notice? asked Beatty. What surprised you? Did you disagree with anything? “As students analyze the implications of dehumanization, evil, and criminality in Shakespeare’s language describing Othello,” says Beatty, “the jump from Shakespeare in the first half of class to contemporary racism in the second begins to feel not like a jump at all.” Students do more writing in response to articles and artifacts, making observations and forming judgments.

Finally the class returns to the essential question of the unit. “Armed with an understanding of the play and (for some more than others) an appreciation of its literary merit,” says Beatty, “students understand why people choose to teach it. If I did my job well, they glimpsed the beauty and richness of Shakespeare…Across four hundred years, Shakespeare calls out the dangers inherent in spinning a reality out of lies, grudges, and envy; he reminds us of the real, violent consequences that a false reality can bring to people’s lives. Iago has something to teach us.”

The class’s rich discussion of race in America focuses students on the troubling narrative in the denouement of the play: an angry, violent black man killing an innocent white woman. Students read arguments for and against teaching the play and make their closing arguments in a Socratic seminar, with classmates taking notes. Finally, they write an essay in which they are asked to respond to the essential question, include some analysis of the play, and provide a synthesis of at least three other sources.

What did students say? They came down on both sides, with some arguing for teaching the play, others saying the dangers of perpetuating racist views outweigh the literary merits and historical importance. All agreed that if the play is taught, it must be accompanied by an open discussion of race. “Most satisfying,” says Beatty, “is that students see this question as central to their lives, and their voice as worthy of weighing in. Revamping this unit reminded me of a piece of wisdom from an Advanced Placement trainer: the best questions to ask are the ones you do not know the answer to. Let’s invite our students into the asking, and let’s wrestle with these difficult questions alongside them.”

Beatty has continued to teach this unit, incorporating one student’s suggestion to teach a contemporary book alongside Othello (she’s used The Hate U Give, The Bluest Eye, and Homegoing, as well as James Baldwin’s “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew.” She believes a similar approach would work with other canonical works that have been challenged for their depiction of marginalized people, including Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Heart of Darkness.

“Challenging the Canon: Teaching Othello as a Questionable Text” by Anne Beatty in English Journal, September 2021 (Vol. 111, #1, pp. 32-39); Beatty can be reached at

4. Why Is Social-Emotional Learning More Challenging with Adolescents?

“High-school-age students have a sixth sense for when things feel dopey, dumb, sus, cheesy, corny, basic, cringe, or ‘cheugy,’” says Stephen Sawchuk in this Education Week article. “Nowhere are the pitfalls greater than in well-intentioned social-emotional learning programs for secondary students.” When handled poorly, they’re seen as patronizing and not speaking to students’ real priorities: identity, competence, agency, status with peers, and committing to goals. To be successful, says Sawchuk, an SEL program for older students has to be less theatrical than at the elementary level and give adolescents the opportunity “to exercise their relationship and self-regulation muscles.”

Sawchuk says there’s little good research on social-emotional learning for secondary students. From anecdotal evidence, it seems wise to take an indirect approach, integrating SEL into the school’s overall program – “a little like sneaking kale into a fruit smoothie.” He summarizes several insights from his reading and reporting:

• Integrate SEL into academic learning. There are opportunities in English, social studies, science, art, and other classes to address empathy, growth mindset, persistence, self-management, ethical decision-making, disagreeing constructively, and persuading others.

• Aim for coherence across classrooms. Students can get very different SEL messages as they move from class to class: the ELA teacher may allow multiple re-takes and revision opportunities while the history teacher doesn’t; the health teacher may have advice on how to succeed while the math teacher espouses a very different approach. It’s helpful if teachers agree on some of the key SEL skills and implement model lessons across grades, as the Washington, D.C. schools have done with their ELA/social studies Cornerstone lessons.

• Foster a positive school climate. “Schools’ dress codes and conduct manuals,” says Sawchuk, “…can convey a quiet authoritarianism that undercuts some of the values schools purport to care about, like fostering citizenship and independence.”

• Enhance extracurricular and out-of-class opportunities. Activities like debate, theater, chorus, athletics, cheerleading, clubs, service learning, and studio arts are rich with opportunities to develop social-emotional skills, says Sawchuk.

• Consider peer mentoring and restorative justice programs. A peer leader in a KIPP New York City high school’s freshman transition program said, “We talked a lot about organization, about making friends and reaching out to teachers – just learning how to manage yourself and be independent, because you’re in transition from a place in middle school where your hand is being held. In high school, you either do the work or you don’t.”

“Why High-School SEL Programs Feel ‘Lame’ – and How to Fix Them” by Stephen Sawchuk in Education Week, October 13, 2021 (Vol. 41, #9, pp. 13-16)

5. PLCs’ Focus on Standards; Necessary But Not Sufficient

In this article in All Things PLC Magazine, teacher/writer William Ferriter, who works in a school that has enthusiastically embraced professional learning community work, describes his shock when he heard two respected educators say that the PLC movement “harms children.” How so? By turning classrooms into test-prep factories, they said, and not preparing students for tomorrow’s world. Thinking this over, Ferriter has three reactions.

First he acknowledges that the PLC model has been misunderstood in some schools, putting too much emphasis on raising scores on high-stakes assessments. This narrows the curriculum, distorts pedagogy, and crowds out vitally important life skills – selling students short.

Second, Ferriter says that “ensuring every student masters the essentials in the required curriculum is a foundational part of the work of collaborative teams.” Schools must teach the curriculum their communities have defined as important. That means clarifying standards, teaching to them, developing common assessments, and intervening when students aren’t successful. “There is nothing inherently evil about this work,” he says, “and teams who engage in it are certainly not harming children.”

Third, says Ferriter, PLC teams need to go beyond a knowledge- and-skill-based curriculum and teach higher-level skills and dispositions, even if they’re not assessed on state tests. For students to be successful after graduation, they must be able to think critically, work with others, solve complex problems, and be comfortable with uncertainty. Focusing on this broader array of learning goals will increase the chance that PLC work will be effective. For example, Ferriter’s eighth-grade science team, working toward a state test almost entirely focused on factual knowledge, spent last year doing an extensive study of how critical thinking could be integrated into their curriculum.

“First Thing: Do PLCs Harm Children?” by William Ferriter in All Things PLC Magazine, Fall 2021 (pp. 4-5)

6. Clarifying the Definition of SMART Goals

This All Things PLC Magazine feature quotes from Anne Conzemius and Jan O’Neill’s book on SMART school teams. Their definition is helpful because the meaning of the R in SMART is often taken to be “Relevant” or “Realistic,” which is duplicative of other letters and misses the all-important feature of focusing teacher teams on actual student learning. Here’s how Conzemius and O’Neill define SMART goals:

• Strategic and Specific – Linked to district priorities and part of a larger vision of success focused on students’ needs.

• Measurable – The goal specifies how teachers will know that the desired learning was accomplished. “Measurement can and should occur in a number of different ways using a variety of different tools and strategies,” say Conzemius and O’Neill.

• Attainable – The learning outcome is within the realm of teachers’ influence and control, and doable given current resources.

• Results-oriented – Aimed at specific student learning outcomes that schools can measure or observe; this could be a percentage of students who improve in a certain area, or a demonstration of learning defined by the teacher.

• Time-bound – Having a specific date by which the learning will be completed helps make the goal a priority and determine if it’s attainable.

“Words Matter: What Are SMART Goals?” by Anne Conzemius and Jan O’Neill in in All Things PLC Magazine, Fall 2021 (p. 41); this comes from their book The Handbook for SMART School Teams: Revitalizing Best Practices for Collaboration (Solution Tree, 2nd edition, 2014)

7. Instagram and Teen Girls

In this New York Times article, Lindsay Crouse (Opinion) reports on recent Wall Street Journal revelations of Facebook’s internal research on the impact of their Instagram app. According to the Facebook survey, “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.” Here’s an example of how this plays out with a 13-year-old girl. She’s beginning to feel anxious about her appearance; she follows some diet influencers on Instagram and the algorithm suggests more-extreme dieting accounts; she follows more eating-disorder content, gets caught up in a feedback cycle of hating her body, and becomes increasingly depressed.

“Anybody who has ever spent time as a teenage girl is unlikely to find any of these revelations particularly surprising,” says Crouse. “For girls in America, taking in content that seems intended to make you hate your body is an adolescent rite of passage.” For previous generations, it was magazines with images of impossibly thin models. “If magazines left girls with the distinct impression that our bodies and faces were being constantly appraised, assessed, and compared, that impression was confirmed by our experiences in the world,” says Crouse. “The body positivity movement may have helped, but girls still internalize the message that part of their success in life will rest upon their ability to be admired for their appearance.”

Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms turbocharge what magazines did in a new medium. (The idea for Facebook was cooked up in Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room, where he had friends rate female classmates on how “hot” they were.) Instagram’s message to young women, says Crouse, goes something like this: “You are riddled with flaws and imperfections. We will tell you what to buy, and what to do, to fix yourself.” Images of celebrities, peers, and girls themselves get rated with “likes” and comments in a gamified environment not unlike a high-school cafeteria. And hundreds of billions of advertising dollars flow to the beauty and weight-management industry.

“Girls themselves often know Instagram is not good for them,” says Crouse, “but they keep coming back. That’s because social media is addictive.” According to Derek Thompson, it’s “attention alcohol. Like booze, social media seems to offer an intoxicating cocktail of dopamine, disorientation, and, for some, dependency.”

Facebook has pledged to do better, and Mark Zuckerberg is now the father of girls. But, says Crouse, what’s “more telling than what Silicon Valley parents say is what they do. Many of them have long known that technology can be harmful. That’s why they’ve often banned their own children from using it.”

“For Teenage Girls, Instagram Is a Cesspool” by Lindsay Crouse in The New York Times, October 9, 2021

8. Recommendations for Young Adult Nonfiction

“We are truly in a golden age of YA nonfiction,” says Sarah Hannah Gómez in this School Library Journalarticle. “Today’s offerings prove that works about real people and events are as immersive and gripping as the best novels.” Her recommendations:

Single-subject memoirs and biographies

– Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson, grade 8 and up

– Apple: Skin to the Core by Eric Gansworth, grade 7 and up

– Passport by Sophia Glock, grade 9 and up

– Hurricane: My Story of Resistance by Salvador Gómez-Colón, grade 6 and up

– A Face for Picasso by Ariel Henley, grade 8 and up

– All Boys Aren’t Blue: A Memoir-Manifesto by George Johnson, grade 8 and up

– High School by Sara Quin and Tegan Quin, grade 9 and up

– From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial That Galvanized the Asian-American Movement by Paula Yoo, grade 8 and up

Collective Biographies

– Girlhood: Teens Around the World in Their Own Voices by Masuma Ahuja, grade 7 and up

– African Icons: Ten People Who Built a Continent by Tracey Baptiste, grade 4-8

– Notable Native People: 50 Indigenous Leaders, Dreamers, and Changemakers from Past and Present by Adrienne Keene, illustrated by Ciara Sana, grade 8 and up

Extrapolated Histories

– Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts by Rebecca Hall, illustrated by Hugo Martínez, grade 8 and up

– And We Rise: The Civil Rights Movement in Poems by Erica Martin, grade 7 and up

“Changing the Narrative” by Sarah Hannah Gómez in School Library Journal, October 2021 (Vol. 67, #10, pp. 48-50)

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Marshall Memo 906

In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“There is sort of this superhero mentality that you’re supposed to do it all. And you can’t. You won’t be able to sustain yourself at all. You need to have some coping strategies, some ways of managing your emotions, particularly stress, in order to do the important interpersonal work you need to do as a school leader.”

Rick Rogers, quoted in “SEL for Principals: How a PD Program Addresses Their High-Stress Needs” by Denisa Superville in Education Week, September 29, 2021 (Vol. 41,

#7, pp. 8-9)

“Tell me about a time this person did something really well. Tell me about a time this person really screwed up something… In the time they did something poorly, what did they learn? Did they improve after that? Did they handle the same situation and similar ones better?… And what’s the general reputation that this person has created in their position?”

Daniel Goleman on suggested questions to ask when calling a reference for a job

candidate, “The Emotions of Leadership”, an interview with Julie Vitale in School

Administrator, October 2021 (Vol. 78, #9, pp. 18-23)

“Moving past reading words on the page or screen to being able to comprehend at appropriate levels of sophistication – the whole point of reading – requires the foundational skills and much more. Successful reading programs must also include language development (vocabulary, syntax, discourse), strategies that help students comprehend what they read, making sure students acquire specific and general knowledge, and providing students with motivating reading material and instruction that is engaging, organized, purposeful, and effective.”

Claude Goldenberg in “Science of Reading Advocates Have a Messaging Problem” in

Education Week, May 3, 2021; Goldenberg can be reached at

1. Lorrie Shepard on Integrating Assessments with High-Quality Teaching

In this article in American Educator, Lorrie Shepard (University of Colorado/Boulder) traces the arc of assessment in U.S schools over the last 50 years:

– Minimum competency tests in the 1970s;

– Basic skills tests in the 1980s;

– Tests geared to world-class standards (“worth teaching to”) in the 1990s;

– Frequent high-stakes accountability tests in the 2000s;

– The addition of commercial interim tests in the 2010s;

– Most recently, assessments of social-emotional development.

What we have now, says Shepard, is a “multi-layered testing system that is limited in its ability to document progress toward deep learning goals, much less cultivate deeper learning. State tests must be curriculum-neutral to allow for local control, interim tests purchased by districts have to be generic enough to sell to national markets, and costs preclude portfolios or performance tasks.”

All this has resulted in minimal gains in student achievement, says Shepard – roughly 3-4 percentile points – along with huge expenditures, a loss of instructional time, test score inflation, low-level test prep, and bending the curriculum away from social studies, science, art, music, and physical education.

“Inequities are systemic in American society,” she continues. Advocates believed high-stakes accountability testing would further the cause of equity, but that hasn’t worked out. We can’t “incentivize our way to equity and excellence.”

Shepard believes two recent developments open the door to better policies: Covid-19 highlighted socioeconomic and racial inequalities, and significant ESSER funding is available to schools. “As we emerge from the pandemic and take stock of our values,” she says, “I hope we will fundamentally rethink how we approach teaching, assessment, learning, and youth development.”

To make progress on deep learning for all students, says Shepard, we need “rigorous, authentic learning goals and instructional supports that ensure a sense of safety and belonging.” Integral to those aspirational goals are ambitious teaching practices geared to who students are – academically, emotionally, socially, and culturally – and equitable assessment practices implemented “for the sole purpose of supporting learning – not ranking students, teachers, or schools… Some teachers already exemplify ambitious teaching and equitable assessment.” Shepard hopes to build on their work.

Assessments that make a positive difference are entirely formative, she says; they are grounded in the classroom curriculum and fully integrated with instructional practice. “Often, students do not know they are being assessed – they are simply sharing their thoughts and participating in activities as a normal part of the learning process,” says Shepard. “In addition, because the teacher is engaging with the student, the results are more meaningful; problems like bad days, issues at home, or simply misunderstanding a question do not skew the teacher’s understanding of the student’s progress.” To reach that goal, these are the steps Shepard believes schools need to take:

• Develop a shared understanding of ambitious learning goals and the features of quality student work. “Learning goals direct effort and shape thinking,” she says. “Goals help to explain context and purpose and create a vision for what mature or expert practice looks like. To serve equity, goals must be challenging for all students…” It’s essential that students are involved in shaping goals and monitoring their own progress.

• Provide rich and authentic instructional and assessment tasks. This means plenty of “open-ended, high-cognitive-demand tasks,” says Shepard. In social studies, for example, “If a goal is for students to be able to develop and evaluate historical claims and arguments, then instructional activities must involve this kind of experience, including reading across texts, examining primary documents, presenting and critiquing arguments, and the like.” The teacher should do whole-class checks for understanding during each lesson and hold students individually accountable, perhaps with an exit ticket.

• Make connections to students’ interests and funds of knowledge. Kids’ experiences from home and the community are highly relevant to school learning, says Shepard – “cooking, budgets, first aid, and automobile repair and …core cultural values regarding morals and ethics… Drawing connections and providing scaffolds from everyday knowledge to academic knowledge also support intellectual development while contributing emotionally to a student’s feeling of belonging.”

• Develop disciplinary discourse practices. This means getting students to explain their reasoning and nurture language and inquiry skills in lively verbal interactions, such as posing challenging questions, analyzing and interpreting data, argumentation, poster presentations, and more.

• Elicit students’ thinking and help them learn to build on each other’s ideas. “Engaging in challenging intellectual work requires emotional support,” says Shepard, “respecting who students are…” Prompts and tasks must be challenging and interesting, students’ thinking needs to be made visible, and the classroom culture must make students feel safe about offering inaccurate or incomplete thoughts.

• Engage students in self- and peer assessment. This helps students better understand learning goals, understand the features of quality work, retrieve knowledge and skills on a regular basis, and take advantage of opportunities to re-do and improve their work.

• Ensure equitable participation. This includes sentence starters and other pedagogical “talk moves” that get all students actively engaged – for example, “Can you give an example?” and “What evidence supports that idea?”

• Present tasks in multiple modes and use artifacts to help students demonstrate their learning. This deepens students’ conceptual understanding by making connections and helping them see more than one way to think about a new idea.

• Foster student agency and self-regulation. These are “closely overlapping constructs,” says Shepard, “having to do with both cognitive and affective aspects of learning.” They are all about self-awareness, self-confidence, motivation, persistence, and taking responsibility for one’s own learning. None of this should involve external rewards like stickers, prizes, or pizza parties.

• Provide improvement-focused feedback. Saying that a student’s work is “below basic” or “55th percentile,” or comparing them to other students, undermines learning, says Shepard, citing research findings that students who get this kind of feedback do worse than students who receive none. The best feedback is timely, focused on the learning task, and delivered in a way that supports the learner.

• Develop classroom norms of respect, responsibility, and improvement. Students should feel safe to make mistakes and offer critiques of one another’s reasoning “without meanness or injured feelings,” says Shepard. “Explicit work to jointly establish such norms is imperative…”

• Establish a healthy relationship between formative and summative assessment. Making posters, using Google Docs to report learning, and peer assessment help a class learn together, says Shepard. But there must be “clear conceptual linkages to culminating summative assessments.” Low-stakes checks for understanding must be seen as supporting improvement toward, and clearly aligned with, higher-stakes assessments of learning. Shepard is not a fan of frequent tests with grades recorded in grade-book management systems, which externalize students’ progress, signal that learning is “done,” and don’t enlist students in self-improvement.

• Avoid grading practices that undermine interest, demean students, and distort learning goals. Grades should be based on mastery of specific learning goals, says Shepard, not on other factors like effort, ability, improvement, work habits, attention, or participation. Shepard confesses that she’s found it very difficult to convince educators to give up on the idea that grades are motivators. People mistakenly believe that extrinsic rewards work – that “students are more likely to turn in assignments and turn off their phones if you make things ‘count’ toward their grades.” Research is convincing on the negative impact of extrinsic rewards.

Unfortunately, concludes Shepard, school districts frequently are part of the problem. This happens when they apply intense pressure to raise scores on high-stakes tests, invest in multiple-choice interim assessments, and use data management systems that emphasize “data” rather than substantively describing students’ progress. But Shepard believes that, “even under the current, highly counterproductive federal and state testing regimes,” districts can take constructive action:

– Understand and communicate how better assessment practices are essential to equitable outcomes.

– Implement coherent policies that integrate curriculum, instruction, and assessment – and eliminate initiatives that aren’t part of that effort.

– Get curriculum and assessment departments collaborating to inform the design and implementation of those coherent policies.

– Provide professional development and coaching to support the new things teachers will be asked to do (and affirm what some are already doing).

– Develop or adopt district-level assessments that embody the full range of desired learning goals.

– Establish grading practices with clear success criteria and steer teachers away from using grades as motivators.

“Ambitious Teaching and Equitable Assessment: A Vision for Prioritizing Learning, Not Testing” by Lorrie Shepard in American Educator, Fall 2021 (Vol. 45, #3, pp. 28-37); Shepard can be reached at

2. Preventing the College Gender Disparity in the Early Grades

In this Education Gadfly article, Michael Petrilli reports that at the end of the 2020-21 school year, women made up 59.5 percent of college students, men 40.5 percent. Looking at all Americans age 25-29, 44 percent of women and 35 percent of men have earned at least a four-year degree. Doing the math, 56 percent of college completers are female.

Why the male-female gap? Petrilli doesn’t buy the argument that young men are giving up on college. “Virtually all American students who are academically well-prepared for college continue to matriculate into college and then go on to graduate,” he says. The problem is that fewer young men come out of high school prepared for college: “In other words,” says Petrilli, “the college readiness gap is perfectly predictive of the college completion gap.” (Interestingly, the percentages of students ready for college and completing college are very similar among white, black, and Latino students.)

So what are the origins of the college gender gap? Petrilli traces the class of 2013 back through the grades and finds a remarkably similar male-female disparity at each level:

– 56 percent of college-ready high-school students (as defined by NAEP reading levels) were female.

– 57 percent of NAEP-proficient eighth graders were female.

– 54 percent of NAEP-proficient fourth graders were female.

Petrilli’s time machine couldn’t go earlier than fourth grade, but looking at data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS), it appears that boys and girls enter kindergarten with almost identical achievement – girls were only one percentage point ahead of boys.

The gender gap begins to open up right away: girls make significantly more progress in kindergarten and first grade, and somewhat more in second and third; entering fourth grade, girls are four percentage points ahead. Boys close the gap a little in the upper elementary grades, but then fall behind again in early adolescence, always playing catch-up on their deficit from the primary grades.

Why are boys falling behind girls in the early grades? One theory is that primary-grade boys’ slower-developing brains put them at a disadvantage with the more-rigorous elementary literacy curriculum implemented in recent years. Maybe that’s the case, says Petrilli, but he is more convinced by a study by Joseph Paul Robinson and Sarah Theule Lubienski, which found that teachers systematically underestimate boys’ reading abilities as they enter kindergarten and navigate the early grades. Teachers’ perceptions may be influenced by the fact that girls are generally better behaved. The fact that elementary teachers are 89 percent female may also play a part. In addition, it appears that single-parent households have a greater negative impact on boys. Whatever the reasons, the bottom line is that boys are more often assigned to lower reading groups and handed less-challenging books to read.

What steps can educators take to get boys off to a better start, especially in reading? Elementary schools definitely need to focus on the foundational skills with high-quality curriculum materials, says Petrilli. He also believes teachers must address any “anti-little-boy biases they might harbor.” Effective use of formative assessments, he says, can provide data on students’ actual reading achievement that “might contradict teachers’ own perceptions, perhaps in a good way,” leading to higher expectations and getting boys reading higher-level books.

“There’s good reason to believe,” Petrilli concludes, “that if we keep the reading gender gap from opening up in grades K-3, we could eventually close the college gender gap, as well.”

“The College Gender Gap Begins in Kindergarten” by Michael Petrilli in Education Gadfly, October 7, 2021; Petrilli can be reached at

3. Does Flipped Teaching Work?

In this Brookings Brown Center Chalkboard article, Patricia Roehling and Carrie Bredow report on their meta-analysis of 317 published studies of flipped learning, a classroom strategy whose popularity surged during the pandemic, especially in colleges and secondary schools. Here’s what is involved in a flipped class:

– Students view an online lecture or presentation to prepare for class.

– In-person time is devoted to discussions, peer teaching, presentations, projects, problem solving, computations, and group activities.

– Thus the traditional sequence is flipped, with passive learning experiences happening at home, conducted at students’ convenience and repeated as often as necessary, and class time devoted to active learning experiences.

– Flipped learning is based on constructivist theory, with classroom time helping students build on pre-existing cognitive frameworks and construct their own knowledge.

– Flipping aims to lighten students’ cognitive load during class, helping them to shift knowledge and skills to long-term memory and develop their interpersonal skills.

The meta-analysis focused on college classes, comparing flipped learning with traditional lecture-based instruction on several dimensions. The major findings:

• Students in flipped classrooms performed better in most subject areas. Outcomes were best with foundational knowledge, professional and academic skills, and (to a lesser degree) higher-order thinking.

• Students in flipped classes did better in all non-cognitive areas, including interpersonal skills, engaging with the content, and developing metacognitive abilities such as time management and learning strategies.

• Flipped learning was most effective in skill-based courses, including technology, health-science, and languages. This seemed to be because class time could be spent practicing and mastering skills with peers and the instructor. Mathematics and engineering classes showed the smallest gains with flipped learning.

• Flipped learning had the widest advantage over traditional teaching in countries in the Middle East and Asia where teachers implementing the new practices were making the most radical departure from the way most teaching was being conducted.

• Instructors who gave pre-class quizzes to make sure students were doing their homework registered lower academic gains than those who didn’t. Roehling and Bredow speculate that this was because students focused on doing well on the quizzes rather than understanding the material. This points to the wisdom of giving in-class rather than before-class quizzes, say the researchers.

• Instructors who combined flipped and traditional classes tended to get better results than those who were fully flipped. This was probably because a mixed approach lightened the workload (designing a flipped class takes extra time) and reserved traditional lecture classes for where they were most appropriate: introducing new, complex, and foundational knowledge and skills.

• Student satisfaction with flipped courses was slightly higher than for traditional teaching.

“Flipped Learning: What Is It, and When Is It Effective?” by Patricia Roehling and Carrie Bredow in Brookings Brown Center Chalkboard, September 28, 2021

4. 4. Research on Restorative Justice

In this Educational Leadership article, Bryan Goodwin (McREL) reports on the status of restorative justice, which has origins in Indigenous cultures and is being adopted in some schools to reduce punitive discipline and address racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. The key elements:

– Shared values are established, along with character building and a sense of community.

– When an infraction occurs, punishment is not the immediate reaction.

– Rather, wrongdoers meet with a trained mediator and those they harmed.

– They are shown the results of their actions and taught how to ask for forgiveness.

– If there is resolution, wrongdoers are invited to return to the community.

There is anecdotal evidence of positive results in some schools, including declines in exclusionary discipline and improvements in academic achievement.

However, says Goodwin, studies using scientific methodology have not documented that restorative programs work. Implementation is the biggest challenge, he reports; it’s not “a simple plug-and-play program that leaders can set and forget after a few workshops.” Successful implementation requires intensive PD, consistent leadership, modeling, ongoing coaching, and regular meetings to win educator understanding and buy-in.

Goodwin describes what happened at Algonquin High School in Virginia. They started with just a few volunteers, developed teachers’ expertise, saw results, and gradually expanded the program, with increasingly positive outcomes. “That’s as it should be,” Goodwin concludes. “After all, the only research that really matters is whether something works in your school and for your students.”

“Does Restorative Justice Work?” by Bryan Goodwin in Educational Leadership, October 2021 (Vol. 79, #2, pp. 82-83, 85); Goodwin can be reached at

5. A Trauma-Informed Response to an Out-of-Control Student

In this Educational Leadership article, Andrea Gutmann and Christie Badry (educators in Camrose, Canada) say that when a young student is screaming, threatening, or hiding, asking them to choose a calm-down strategy or presenting consequences won’t work. They suggest these steps:

– Size up the situation. Is the student unsafe? Overwhelmed? Can the student’s dignity be preserved?

– Stay calm. “If your words say you’re safe but your tone and breathing project stress, your message will be lost,” say Gutmann and Badry. The student is “hurt, not bad.”

– Talk very little. “The desire to communicate is often to ease our anxiety,” they say, “not the students’.”

– Offer food. A juice box, a lollipop, an apple or carrot can help; acceptance signals de-escalation.

– Give the kid something to tinker with. Legos, playdough, markers, a sand table; it’s not a reward but a tool to help self-regulation.

– Don’t rush. It might be minutes or hours.

“6 Steps to Help a Distressed Student Get to the ‘Upstairs’ Brain” by Andrea Gutmann and Christie Badry in Educational Leadership, October 2021 (Vol. 79, #2, pp. 10-11)

6. Can a Simple Intervention Narrow the Black-White Suspension Gap?

In this Education Gadfly article, Jeff Murray reports on an experiment conducted with more than 2,000 seventh graders in Wisconsin’s Madison Metropolitan School District (classes were 53% white, 19% African American, 17% Latino, 11% Asian):

– Students were asked to complete a writing exercise during class at three points during the school year, about an hour each time.

– Teachers and students were not told the purpose of the exercise.

– Students in a randomly selected control group were given a list of values, items, and attributes (for example, being a family member, enjoying sports, being creative, having a sense of humor) and asked to choose three that were most important to them.

– Treatment students were then asked to write about why those items were important; there was no time or word limit, and students were assured that they wouldn’t be graded on content, length, spelling, or grammar.

– The purpose, say the researchers, was to “help students access positive aspects of their identities less associated with troublemaking in school.”

– Control group students were given the same list and asked to choose three items that were not important to them personally, and then wrote about how those items might be important to others.

– Students who were not part of the study were given an unrelated but similarly structured writing task.

– Researchers got data on students’ suspensions in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades.

– Students with a very high number of suspensions were excluded from the study.

What were the results?

– Black students in the treatment group had a 50 percent reduction in suspensions.

– Other racial/ethnic groups in the treatment and control populations showed no change in suspension rates.

– Thus the black-white suspension gap was reduced by about two-thirds.

– There was also a gap-closing effect on being sent to the principal’s office for moderately serious discipline infractions.

– Positive effects were even stronger among black seventh graders who had a higher than average suspension rate as sixth graders.

– The year after the intervention, results were similar.

– The study did not find any changes in students’ academic achievement.

Murray notes three caveats with the study: (a) the researchers didn’t pinpoint the mechanism of the positive changes in behavior; (b) we don’t know if teachers had access to what students wrote, which might have helped build relationships, reduce race-based stereotyping, and contributed to the positive impact; and (c) students with the most serious discipline problems were not part of the study, leaving unanswered the question of whether it would have worked for them. Clearly there’s more research to be done.

But meanwhile, asks Murray, “Why wouldn’t schools want to jump on this, even while the mechanisms at work here are being evaluated?” It takes very little time, virtually no resources (paper and writing implements), and might produce positive results.

“Researchers Test a Simple Method to Reduce Suspensions for Black Students” by Jeff Murray in Education Gadfly, October 4, 2021; the original study is “A Replicable Identity-Based Intervention Reduces Black-White Suspension Gap at Scale” by Geoffrey Borman, James Pyne, Christopher Rozek, and Alex Schmidt in American Educational Research Journal, September 2021.

7. Reflective Questions for Antiracist Leaders

In this article in Independent School, NAIS president Donna Orem suggests generative questions that school leaders might ask as they address issues of race and equity (these come from the work of Mica Pollock, University of California/San Diego):

– Am I seeing, understanding, and addressing the ways the world treats me and my students as members of racial groups?

– Am I seeing, understanding, and addressing communities and individuals in their full complexity?

– Am I seeing, understanding, and addressing the ways that opportunities to learn or thrive are unequally distributed to racial groups?

– What actions offer necessary opportunities to students in such a world?

– With a specific action or initiative, is it moving students closer to educational opportunity or farther away from it? Why? What is our evidence?

“The Work to Be Done” by Donna Orem in Independent School, Winter 2021 (Vol. 80, #2, pp. 8-11)

8. Problems with Impromptu Discussions of Hot-Button Topics

In this Educational Leadership article, Philadelphia teacher Matthew Kay says he can relate to the desire to take advantage of a teachable moment – perhaps a dramatic development in the news – to jump into a classroom discussion. He says this often “reflects our commitment to equity, our care for our students, and especially nowadays, our respect for the truth. If we move forward with our carefully planned lessons, we are, in many people’s estimation, a fraud.” But here’s what can happen:

– Without careful preparation, things can very quickly get out of hand. “Kids who are unprepared for difficult discussions often embarrass themselves and say things they regret or don’t mean,” says Kay. “They are more likely to weaponize stereotypes.”

– In the heat of the moment, the teacher might step out of bounds, revealing biases and damaging their role as a trusted pedagogue and authority figure.

– Such discussions can open teachers to attack from irate parents or community members who learn about the discussion through a misleading social media post. “We make it really hard for good administrators to have our back,” says Kay, “when we fly blind.”

Better to take the time to plan a discussion carefully, anticipate the reactions different students might have, consult with colleagues, find links to the curriculum, even design a free-standing unit. “If we want to teach about an issue,” Kay concludes, “we should actually teach about it – giving ourselves the time to be our best selves and apply our best training. And we might even do this with a little bit of swagger, knowing that while it takes nothing for folks who don’t know our students to rush us to discuss some issue, it takes wisdom for us to discern the best moment to get after it.”

“The Problem with ‘Pop-up’ Discussions” by Matthew Kay in Educational Leadership, October 2021 (Vol. 79, #2, pp. 80-81); Kay can be reached at

9. Getting the Most Out of Primary Sources

In this article in History Tech, Glenn Wiebe celebrates the increasing availability of online historical documents and the fact that more and more social studies teachers are using them. He summarizes five suggestions from Joe Sangillo of Discovery Ed:

– Consider multiple formats of primary sources, including speeches, photos, maps, graphs, charts, political cartoons, and video clips.

– Use primary sources to inquire more deeply into a secondary source like a textbook chapter, documentary film, or newspaper article.

– Create a dialogue with historical figures based on reading primary sources – for example, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson arguing about economic theories.

– Have students go beyond summarizing the main idea of a historical document; a close reading for evidence will take them deeper.

– Find sources that allow students to hear from a range of historical figures, not just politicians and famous people.

Click the link below for Wiebe’s curation of online sources.

“5 Powerful Things to Think About When Using Primary Sources” by Glenn Wiebe in History Tech, October 7, 2021; Wiebe can be reached at

10. Coming-of-Age Movies for Students in Middle School

In this Edutopia article, Jennifer Fisher recommends four films that teachers can use to help young adolescents understand themselves and deal with relationships and the tumultuous world around them:

– Wonder (2017, PG) is the story of a boy with facial differences as he enters fifth grade. Resources for using this film in the classroom are available here.

– Akeelah and the Bee (2006, PG) tells about an 11-year-old girl who falls in love with words and, amidst family challenges, enters a local spelling bee.

– Whale Rider (2002, PG-13) is about a 12-year-old Maori girl learning the ways of her ancestors, including gender roles, with her grandmother’s help.

– Children of Heaven (1997, PG) is an Iranian story of siblings forced to share one pair of shoes, and how the boy enters a running competition to win a coveted pair of new shoes for his sister.

“These films,” says Fisher, “can support students and offer them insight into and understanding

of their own ability to cope with change and to navigate the external challenges they face. Through the stories of others, we come to understand ourselves more fully.”

“4 Coming-of-Age Films That Help Students Cope with Change” by Jennifer Fischer in Edutopia, October 4, 2021

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In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“Requiring lesson plans burdens all teachers with a mandate many of them don’t need, and burdens administrators with oversight work that has little value.”
Justin Baeder (see item #1)

“Never say ‘but’ after saying something good.”
Dan Rockwell (see item #7)

“There is more to reading than recognizing words.”
Claude Goldenberg (see item #2)

“Higher education is at its best when it creates tomorrow’s opportunities. It is at its worst when it reinforces today’s inequalities.”
James Fallows (see item #3)

“People are suckers for lists.”
James Fallows (ibid.)

“The past is a foreign country: They do things differently there.”
The opening line of L.P. Hartley’s novel, The Go-Between, quoted in “What Should I
Do with My Portrait of a Slaveholding Ancestor?” in The Ethicist by Kwame Anthony
Appiah, The New York Times, October 3, 2021

“We have preferred to diminish slavery because of the uneasiness with which it sits beside our founding propositions about equality and liberty, and for the price we fear we might have to pay for exhuming it for full pedagogical display.”
Allen Guelzo in “Teaching About Slavery” in Education Next, Fall 2021

“We cannot take the politics out of public schools, because decisions about what to teach and what to leave out are inherently political. Social studies curricula seem the most political of all, since they lack the precision of math and combine history with heritage.”
Robert Maranto (ibid.)

“Educators today are trying to figure out how to portray slavery in America as an example of state-sanctioned oppression and one that is central to our history. Their challenge is to do that effectively while also celebrating how our nation’s enduring principles have provided the world an indispensable model of how formerly enslaved people came to regularly produce some of the country’s most influential leaders in virtually every facet of American life.”
Ian Rowe (ibid.)

1. Should Teachers Be Required to Hand in Lesson Plans?

In this article in The Principal Center, Justin Baeder notes an interesting difference in lesson plan policies. In schools with low staff turnover, teachers are less often asked to turn in their plans – perhaps, says Baeder, “because they’ve demonstrated other ways to satisfy administrators that they are teaching appropriate content and sufficiently planning ahead.” In schools with high staff turnover (which often serve less-advantaged students), it’s usually required that teachers turn in lesson plans.
Baeder believes this is part of a self-perpetuating feedback loop. In high-turnover, underresourced schools, teachers are often in the first or last decade of their careers. Administrators tend to have less confidence in these teachers and ask for lesson plans to keep tabs and manage them. That is a factor in some teachers deciding to leave. In low-turnover, better-resourced schools, most teachers are in the middle of their careers – ten or more years of experience and some time until retirement. Administrators have more confidence that these teachers will be prepared, and give them more autonomy. That’s a factor in teachers staying and those schools having lower turnover.
So teachers across the U.S. work in two different worlds: one where teachers are generally trusted to be prepared, the other where they’re burdened with turning in lesson plans. For the latter, the question is whether collecting lesson plans makes a positive difference to teaching and learning. Baeder has found no evidence that it does.
So what is administrators’ motivation for making teachers turn in lesson plans? Accountability, pure and simple: making sure that teachers are prepared each day. Teachers hear the implicit message loud and clear: without a lesson plan requirement, they wouldn’t be prepared. To most teachers, that is insulting.
Okay, a few teachers are winging it. What do administrators want from them (and actually, from all teachers)?
– Being fully prepared to teach each lesson;
– Teaching lessons that are part of units embedded in a well-articulated, ambitious scope and sequence aligned with standards;
– Each lesson containing learning targets, success criteria, and how learning will be assessed;
– Ultimately, students learning what they’re supposed to learn.
The problem is that requiring this information from all teachers creates an extraordinary workload. For teachers, even the best prepared, there’s an extra step. “Organizing oneself for the work ahead is one thing,” says Baeder. “Making those plans comprehensible to someone else, who doesn’t share the same knowledge of the curriculum, students, and the classroom, is something else entirely.”
For administrators, things are even worse. Let’s start with basic accountability – making sure all teachers are planning. A schoolwide lesson plan requirement involves:
– Establishing the expectation, “which may be costly in terms of leadership capital and goodwill,” says Baeder.
– Creating a system for submitting lesson plans, which involves e-mails and notifications;
– Checking that each teacher has submitted plans;
– Following up with teachers who haven’t;
– Implementing further measures for chronic noncompliance.
“This level of accountability is not necessary for many teachers,” says Baeder, “yet it’s insufficient for others, who may need closer oversight of their plans’ quality.”
For administrators to monitor the quality of lesson plans, there’s additional work: getting right to work on hundreds of plans so feedback can be timely; consulting standards and pacing guides; giving e-mail or in-person feedback where needed and following up. Doing this for all teachers is an impossible task; besides, administrators know that only a few teachers need such concentrated attention. But is it fair to require that only poor planners and laggards turn in lesson plans? This is the dilemma that drives a schoolwide requirement. Here’s how that plays out:
– Conscientious teachers take the time to turn in their plans, but they’re already well prepared and don’t need micromanagement.
– Administrators often fall behind on holding teachers accountable because of the sheer quantity of plans; in a school with 30 teachers, there are about 750 lesson plans a week.
– As a result, feedback to teachers is minimal or non-existent.
– Teachers who struggle with planning probably need other forms of support, but because of administrators’ paperwork burden, these teachers may slip through the cracks.
The problem is clear, says Baeder: “Requiring lesson plans burdens all teachers with a mandate many of them don’t need, and burdens administrators with oversight work that has little value.” Teachers may not complain, but lesson plan requirements are a factor in attrition – which results in more novice teachers who may need supervision and support on lesson planning. It’s a doom loop.
Yes, being prepared is essential to successful teaching, and “planning one’s lessons should be an expectation in all schools,” says Baeder. He suggests six alternatives that address the basic goal of teachers being well prepared – without the needless paperwork:
• Adopt solid curriculum materials. If there isn’t a well-developed curriculum (or a good textbook), it’s asking a lot of teachers to create one on the fly. Most teachers, especially rookies, don’t have the time or skills, and the result may be random activities and mediocre online materials. If there is a comprehensive curriculum, asking teachers to cut and paste lessons each week is not a good use of their time. The key: a well-developed curriculum that contains lesson plans and obviates the need for teachers to turn in their own.
• Visit classrooms regularly. “Instead of asking teachers to send you their plans, go and see what they’re doing,” says Baeder. “Classroom visits that are frequent (3 a day) and brief (5-15 minutes) can give excellent insight into what teachers are doing, while actually taking less time than reviewing lesson plans.”
• Check out classroom work, portfolios, projects, and hallway displays. “If students seem to be producing little work,” says Baeder, “or if assignments seem random and disconnected from standards and learning targets, that may indicate a planning problem.”
• Tap into same-grade/same-subject teams. Colleagues who are teaching the same content and skills (within a school or across a district) are the best resource for teachers who are struggling with lesson planning.
• Lean on PLCs. Same-grade/same-subject teacher teams “should be the primary setting where teachers discuss what they’re teaching and how they’re teaching it,” says Baeder. Dropping in on PLC meetings is an excellent way for administrators to monitor content and pedagogy – and also collegiality.
• Make lesson planning part of an individual improvement plan. The teacher’s plan might focus on a particular area where mapping out lessons will help a teacher improve – content-area knowledge, curriculum resources, training on adopted materials. The supervisor might also mitigate factors that are causing the teacher to struggle – perhaps too many preps or excessive extracurricular duties.

“Alternatives to Collecting Lesson Plans: A Guide for School Administrators” by Justin Baeder in The Principal Center, September 21, 2021; Baeder can be reached at

2. Some “Known Unknowns” About Early Reading Instruction

In this article in Education Week, Claude Goldenberg (Stanford University) says the pandemic has reminded us of something important: scientific findings are never definitive, and there’s always some uncertainty – viz the evolving advice from experts on sanitizing, social distancing, masks, boosters, and virus variants. There are ways to reduce the risk of infection, but there are things we don’t understand and no guarantees. Actually, says Goldenberg, “This is what gives science its credibility: the systematic search for answers coupled with a willingness to acknowledge uncertainty.”
In the current debate about early reading instruction, several things can be said with reasonable certainty:
– Children who are poor readers at the end of first grade rarely become at least average-level readers by the end of elementary school.
– Early reading failure can be reduced if primary-grade teachers focus on foundational skills, without which students are at risk of developing reading difficulties.
– Foundational skills include the alphabetic principle, knowing letters and sounds, phonemic awareness, and knowing how to use letters and sounds to read words.
– All children benefit from some instruction in foundational skills.
“But just how much foundational skills instruction is needed, how intensely and explicitly, varies,” says Goldenberg. “Some will require very little; some will require a great deal.” This is one of a number of uncertainties; he identifies five more:
– One study found that solid instruction in foundational skills brings the lowest readers at least to the 30th percentile of word-reading skills – not exactly mastery.
– It’s not clear how effective early intervention is in the absence of solid Tier 1 classroom instruction.
– Researchers have not adequately explored the role of language, comprehension, knowledge, and experience in preventing reading failure. “There is more to reading than recognizing words,” says Goldenberg.
– Researchers haven’t defined the conditions needed for virtually all students to acquire adequate word-level reading skills in the early elementary grades.
– We don’t know how effective early interventions are in preventing reading failure from third grade on.
Returning to parallels with the pandemic, Goldenberg says, “The science of reading is not as clear on fundamental facts as is the science of Covid-19 immunology. Phonics, decoding, and associated skills provide no immunizations against poor reading outcomes. But they do provide a foundation upon which we must build… Most important, there’s still a great deal we don’t know about how to assure virtually all children become successful readers.”

“Science of Reading Advocates Need to Acknowledge Uncertainties” by Claude Goldenberg in Education Week, September 29, 2021 (Vol. 41, #7, p. 17); Goldenberg can be reached at

3. Better Information on the “Best” Colleges

In this Breaking the News article, reporter James Fallows traces the history of how college admissions became a marker of privilege and status, setting off a frenzy among families around the world to achieve “positional good.” He says this is a relatively recent phenomenon; before the 1950s, admissions to selective colleges was regional, family-based, and mostly from prep schools. Until around 1940, less than 10 percent of the U.S. population had attended college, and less than five percent had a four-year degree (now it’s 38 percent and rising).
Even when college admission expanded after World War II, driven by the GI Bill and other social changes, getting into college wasn’t that big of a deal and remained quite regional. Things changed in the 1960s as elite colleges diversified and the competition for the limited number of seats in the most selective colleges intensified. The overwhelming majority of colleges and universities in the country accept most students who apply, but the desire to get a seat in name-brand universities went off the charts. “The resulting situation,” says Fallows, “is distorting for those schools; it’s insanely pressurized for students; and it serves no clear educational or public goal.”
Around 1964, U.S. News launched its college rankings with the well-intentioned (and shrewd) goal of providing guidance around higher education. The rank-ordered college lists became immensely popular with college-aspiring families around the world. But a ranked list has huge problems, says Fallows: “Is Cal/Tech ‘better’ than Amherst? And which of them is ‘better’ than the University of Chicago? Or West Point? In the real world, the answer is: it depends on what you’re looking for. But in the ranking world, one or the other would be ‘better’ than the others, and every year they could move up or down the charts.”
This basic flaw notwithstanding, colleges began to take the rankings seriously, driving all kinds of distortions as they tried to game the system. The fact remains, says Fallows, that rankings are based “largely on the advantages their students already have, when coming into the school. What their test scores were, how tough a selective-admissions process they survived, the range of experiences their family background has exposed them to. Plus the advantage a college itself has, starting with its endowment.” The U.S. News and World Reports rankings are based on measures of wealth, exclusivity, and prestige that are easily manipulated.
“People are suckers for lists,” says Fallows, and rankings are here to stay, but he points to one idea for making the competition for seats in elite colleges somewhat less frenzied: measuring results rather than input. Starting in 2005, The Washington Monthly has published rankings based largely on how students do after they graduate. These rankings, which are published every year, aim to push colleges and universities to be engines of upward mobility, scientific progress, and democratic participation.
Fallows says that in his travels around the U.S., he’s “repeatedly found that the crucial American education institutions of the moment are not the ones that dominate the ‘best colleges’ list. They’re community colleges; ‘career-technical’ academies; land-grant universities; and others in addition to the crown-jewel research institutions and liberal arts colleges that still distinguish American education. Higher education is at its best when it creates tomorrow’s opportunities. It is at its worst when it reinforces today’s inequalities. More tools are now at hand to measure, publicize, and thus encourage more of the opportunity-expansion education can provide. Check them out.”

“The College Rankings Racket” by James Fallows in Breaking the News, September 6, 2021

4. Making Research Findings Clear and Informative for Teachers

In this article in Educational Researcher, Hugues Lortie-Forgues and Matthew Inglis (Loughborough University, UK) and Ut Na Sio (University of Sheffield, UK) report on their study of 250 teachers’ preferences on how they are given data on the impact of educational interventions. (Teachers were asked for the clearest and most informative method of reporting results.) Here’s how teachers rank-ordered several ways of presenting data; note in all five, the effect size was 0.15, which some consider “promising” for classroom interventions:
– Threshold – In the group that did not receive the intervention, 79% of students received a passing grade on the test, while in the group receiving the intervention, 83.2% of students received a passing grade on the test.
– Months of progress – The intervention had an average impact of 2 additional months’ progress. In other words, the pupils receiving the intervention made, on average, 2 months’ more progress than the pupils not receiving the intervention.
– Test scores – In the group that did not receive the intervention, the average standard score on the KS2 math test was 105.0 out of 120, while in the group receiving the intervention, the average standard score was 106.1 out of 120.
– Percentile gain – The intervention had an average impact of 6 percentile points. In other words, an average student (percentile 50) in the group not receiving the intervention would have scored 6 percentile points higher on the test (percentile 56) had the student received the intervention.
– Cohen’s U3 – 56% of the students in the group that received the intervention scored above the mean score of the group that did not receive the intervention.
Lortie-Forgues, Sio and Inglis add three cautionary notes.
First, teachers can misinterpret data presentations, believing that an intervention is more (or less) effective based on which method is used. “Reporting effects in terms of Months of Progress,” say the authors, “is likely to lead to higher perceptions of effectiveness, whereas using the other metrics examined, particularly Test Score units, are likely to result in lower perceptions of efficacy.”
Second, say Lortie-Forgues, Sio and Inglis, researchers can manipulate teachers’ perceptions of an intervention’s impact by the way they report the data. An intervention can be spun with teachers by choosing a metric that makes the results seem better than they really are.
And third, the Months of Progress approach, although it’s one of the most popular with teachers, can be unreliable and misleading. A potential solution, suggest the researchers, is to use multiple metrics when reporting results to teachers – for example, months of progress and test scores.

“How Should Educational Effects Be Communicated to Teachers?” by Hugues Lortie-Forgues, Ut Na Sio, and Matthew Inglis in Educational Researcher, August/September 2021 (Vol. 50, #6, pp. 345-354); the authors can be reached at,, and

5. An Analysis of DonorsChoose Crowdfunding

“America’s education system is rife with resource inequality,” say Sarah Wolff and Deven Carlson (University of Oklahoma) in this article in Educational Researcher. Expenditures per pupil range from under $9,000 to more than $20,000, and there is variation within states, with some schools spending two or three times more than others. “Such realities,” say Wolff and Carlson, “regularly lead to scenarios where students in well-off districts have access to state-of-the-art technology, while their peers in less-affluent districts work with tattered textbooks and struggle to gain access to basic supplies.”
As a direct response to these inequities, crowdfunding platforms have sprung up, serving as a “shadow financing” mechanism. Many teachers in underresourced schools are writing proposals to procure essential classroom supplies and technology. Wolff and Carlson gathered data on DonorsChoose – the largest education-focused crowdfunding organization in the U.S. – to learn more about supplementary funding. Here’s what they found:
– Over the last two decades, more than 80 percent of U.S. public schools have posted a project with DonorsChoose (it was founded in 2000 by a New York City teacher).
– More than 4.3 million individual donors have contributed almost $1 billion to schools.
– Each year, about one-third of schools post a project on DonorsChoose.
– The teachers most likely to post projects are working in schools that serve less-advantaged students, in states with the lowest spending for public schools.
– Most projects focus on reading and math, but those proposals are slightly less likely to reach full funding than those in other subjects.
– Schools enrolling economically disadvantaged students are less likely have expensive projects funded.
Wolff and Carlson have several thoughts about these findings:
• Teachers who apply for crowdfunding are making a laudable effort to level the playing field for their students, but the hours they spend writing proposals are hours not spent on their students. “Teachers in more-advantaged environs,” say Wolff and Carlson, “have the luxury of focusing almost exclusively on instruction, rather than procuring materials.”
• “DonorsChoose is serving a purpose that should arguably be the responsibility of states’ school finance systems,” say the researchers. “There are both legal and moral cases to be made that teachers should have ready access to such materials to educate our nation’s youth.”
• The generous contributions made by crowdfunding donors unwittingly mask the continuing problem of inadequate funding by school districts and states. “Teachers’ crowdfunding efforts,” say Wolff and Carlson, “may mitigate discontent among parents and the public that would have otherwise been directed at public officials.”

“Who Chooses DonorsChoose? Submission and Funding Patterns on the Nation’s Largest Education Crowdfunding Platform” by Sarah Wolff and Deven Carlson in Educational Researcher, August/September 2021 (Vol. 50, #6, pp. 355-367); Carlson can be reached at

6. How School Librarians Can Maximize Their Impact in Unsettled Times

In this article in Knowledge Quest, Kristin Fontichiaro (University of Michigan) and Wendy Steadman Stephens (Jacksonville State University) suggest 40 ways that school librarians can maximize learning in a time of uncertainty. A selection:
– Realize your leadership potential – what Ewan McIntosh describes as “agile, whole-school interdisciplinary work that is needed to create the exceptional learning experience our young people deserve.”
– Define success by the impact you make, not by how busy you are, leaning into the influential, urgent, critical tasks in your building role.
– Replenish your “surge capacity” by carving out time to connect with others, exercising, practicing hobbies, and living your faith.
– Retool your website so it works for students who are learning remotely.
– “Go spelunking” into a database to find advanced features, tuning into webinars, and updating assignments with new tools.
– Reconsider punitive overdue policies – for example, letting items auto-renew, permitting students to renew on their own, and ending fines.
– Adapt online lessons for offline students, partnering with special educators to keep lessons accessible for students with learning differences.
– Do a diversity audit of your collection and adapt selection criteria to reflect the richness of a global society and a multicultural community.
– Remember that parents are watching, with some ready to pounce on cultural differences between home and school; anticipate these conflicts and mediate a new level of family involvement in the curriculum.
– Consider taking on the role of supporting families as they master virtual connections with the school.
– Tune in to school board and public library meetings.
– Teach students how to explore multiple perspectives on the news, including Freedom Forum’s collection of front pages.
– Curate e-books available to students at home, creating “bookshelves” of hand-picked titles.
– Explore how you will address widespread misinformation and disinformation – for example, by using Rand Corporation’s Media Literacy Standards to Counter Truth Decay.
– Explore and share Google Scholar, a powerful search tool to find scholarly papers.
– Evaluate your media diet and that of your school with tools like Ad Fontes Media and AllSides.
– Build in some time for students to wonder, using digital resources like livecams or remote locales, Google Arts and Culture, and digitized museum collections.
– Do one thing you’ve put off. “You’ll feel relief and accomplishment,” say Fontichiaro an Steadman.

“Pushing Forward While Treading Water” by Kristin Fontichiaro and Wendy Steadman Stephens in Knowledge Quest, September/October 2021 (Vol. 50, #1, pp. 42-48); the authors can be reached at and

7. Some Words for Leaders to Avoid

In this Leadership Freak article, Dan Rockwell suggests turns of phrase that colleagues find annoying or worse:
– I should have… This is “backwards facing,” says Rockwell. Better to say, “Next time…”
– You should have… Again, better to start with, “Next time…”
– What can we do about that? “It’s insincere to say ‘we’ when you mean ‘you,’” says Rockwell. Better to ask, “What could you do next?”
– It’s simple. It’s easy. What’s simple to you may be difficult for others. “Judge people through the lens of their experience and strength, not yours,” says Rockwell.
– I don’t care. Whatever. People who say this often do care but are afraid to admit it.
– Don’t you agree? This question pressures people to agree or insults their intelligence.
– Failure is not an option. “People set low goals when failure is not an option,” says Rockwell. Better to foster a culture where people feel safe to learn from mistakes.
– But… “‘But’ is an eraser,” he says. “Never say ‘but’ after saying something good. Try using ‘and’ when you’re tempted to use ‘but.’”
– I didn’t mean to… This is a way of not taking responsibility. “Say what you intended, not what you didn’t intend,” says Rockwell. “Own it and move on.”
– Nice job. Be specific when giving compliments; what was “nice” about it?

“12 Things Smart Leaders Don’t Say” by Dan Rockwell in Leadership Freak, September 30, 2021; Rockwell can be reached at

8. Short Items:

a. Smithsonian Resources for Teaching and Learning – The Smithsonian Institution and PBS have teamed up to make extensive materials available online. Check out this link for free PK-12 resources on coral reefs, ocean ecosystems, air and space exploration, African-American history and culture, and more.

Spotted in “Smithsonian at Home” in Independent School, Spring 2021 (Vol. 80, #3, p. 17)
b. A Website for English Teachers – On her Drawings of… site, Boston teacher Lillie Marshall (yes, I’m her proud father) tackles homophones, figurative language, commonly confused words, and literary devices, accompanied by cartoons and explanations. Check it out!

“Drawings of…” by Lillie Marshall

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In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

I would rather them yell at me than yell at my administrative team, yell at the teachers, yell at the nurse, yell at the main office people.”

Aaron Eyler, New Jersey principal, in “Principals Bear the Brunt of Parental Anger, Staff Fatigue as Covid Drags On” by Andrew Ujifusa in Education Week, September

22, 2021 (Vol. 41, #6, pp. 6-7)

“As schools courageously embrace a new conception of rigor that rises above merely a crushing workload, we expect to see both increased student wellness and higher levels of more-meaningful academic achievement.”

Percy Abram and Olaf Jorgenson (see item #1)

“For the rest of your life, you won’t be judged by test scores. You’ll be judged by the kind of human being you are, and the kind of work that you do.”

Ron Berger in “Ron Berger on the Power of ‘Beautiful Work’” by Sarah Gonser in

Edutopia, September 20, 2021

“Learners vary in how well they see, hear, and move. They vary in how well they can remember mathematical facts and their ways of paying attention. Learners vary in their emotional response to mathematics.”

Rachel Lambert (see item # 6)

“If we as teachers can learn more about the experience of students who are at the margins, we can leverage that knowledge to design across differences.”

Rachel Lambert (ibid.)

“The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”

Ida B. Wells, 1892

1. Rethinking “Rigor” in Secondary Schools

In this article in Independent School, Percy Abram (The Bush School) and Olaf Jorgenson (Almaden Country Day School) say that academic rigor has been “catnip” for many parents, “associated with favorable outcomes ranging from high standardized test scores and weighted grades to the grand prize, admission to elite colleges and universities.” But what does rigor mean in the classroom?

The usual association is with difficulty – rigorous classes are hard – and not necessarily that they are intellectually challenging and conceptually deep. Rigor is more often associated with piled-on reading, homework, and assignments that produce anxiety, sleep deprivation, isolation, and emotional fatigue. Rigor-as-suffering harkens back to the Latin derivation – stiffness, rigidity, harshness – and echoes contemporary dictionary definitions – inflexibility, strict precision, exactness, making life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable.

“This is not to suggest that academic achievement, ambition, or aspiration aren’t worthy and noble drivers,” say Abram and Jorgenson, “but there is an argument to be made against unnecessary, unhealthy, and inhumane academic distress – about the peril and the ethics of putting student achievement ahead of student wellness, and the fallacy that the two are competing aims.” The additional layers of stress placed on young people during the pandemic have added urgency to the need to rethink rigor in middle and high schools.

The irony is that parents who push schools to implement the hard-nosed conception of rigor are not helping their children prepare for the “best” careers. Many elite companies are looking for a different set of skills: emotional intelligence, listening and empathy, collaboration, creativity, problem-solving, generosity, and fairness. “Certainly,” say Abram and Jorgenson, “students need exposure to direct instruction, core knowledge, memorization and recall, and automaticity – and some students truly blossom when fed and watered by facts.” But this is only part of what young people require to lead fulfilling lives.

The authors propose a new definition of rigor: The degree to which a student is in equal parts intellectually challenged, engaged, enriched, and empowered. The big idea is challenge, not in the sense of an onerous workload but the “provocative, stimulating, sometimes vexing challenge of grasping complex ideas that make learning meaningful and rewarding (as well as empowering) to master.” And this has to be tuned to students’ incoming knowledge, skills and attitudes, so that work is at the Goldilocks level – not too difficult and not too easy.

“As schools courageously embrace a new conception of rigor that rises above merely a crushing workload,” conclude Abram and Jorgenson, “we expect to see both increased student wellness and higher levels of more-meaningful academic achievement.” They believe that even the most driven parents should be persuadable around the goal of producing graduates who are also healthy, well-adjusted, confident, and happy.

In a series of sidebars, Abram and Jorgenson share steps that several secondary schools have taken to tone down rigor-as-suffering and improve their students’ experience:

– Later start times;

– Block scheduling with fewer, longer classes that don’t meet every day;

– Individualized work-study options;

– Integrating co-curricular programs (versus piling them on top of academic courses);

– Tweaking schedules to allow more unstructured downtime;

– Expanding advisory programs;

– Increasing teacher conferencing time;

– Adding mental health counselors;

– Providing forums for students to discuss their school experience;

– Rethinking homework policies.

– Allowing re-dos of tests;

– Eliminating AP courses and replacing them with honors courses designed by teachers;

– More emphasis on experiential learning;

– End-of-term interdisciplinary, immersive experiences on real-life challenges;

– Replacing final exams with expositions in which students demonstrate their learning.

“Out of the Shadows” by Percy Abram and Olaf Jorgenson in Independent School, Summer 2021 (Vol. 80, #4, pp. 70-77)

2. What Is the Best Way for Teachers to Present New Concepts?

In this Review of Educational Research article, Tanmay Sinha and Manu Kapur (ETH Zurich) report on their meta-analysis of an age-old instructional dilemma: when learning a new concept, should students begin by wrestling with a problem and then hear the teacher’s explanation, or should they hear instruction first and then practice solving problems? Sinha and Kapur summarize arguments for each approach:

• Instruction first – Teachers need to focus students on the critical aspects of the material, provide background knowledge and skills, and decrease the chance of kids making errors and floundering around using trial and error.

• Problem-solving first – Students need opportunities to notice and learn critical information on their own, develop agency in dealing with challenging learning experiences, and engage in “productive failure” in which they use what they know to develop approximate solutions to novel problems, followed by instruction and practice.

What did the researchers find? After reading accounts of 166 comparisons of problems-first and instruction-first pedagogy, Sinha and Kapur report a “significant, moderate effect” in favor of starting with problem-solving, especially for students in grades 6-12. The key factors in successful problem-first instruction at all grade levels were:

– Providing a safe space to generate and explore ideas without fear of failure, and providing support for persistence;

– Presenting rich problems that focus on conceptual features of the learning goal with “intuitive hooks” that engage students;

– Drawing on students’ relevant prior knowledge;

– Incorporating interesting “opportunities for failure;”

– Having students work in mixed-achievement groups that allow for explanation and elaboration;

– Having students explain their ideas, paraphrasing their explanations, comparing and contrasting them, distilling critical features, directing students’ attention to those features, and assembling the core ideas into critical understandings.

“When Problem Solving Followed by Instruction Works: Evidence for Productive Failure” by Tanmay Sinha and Manu Kapur in Review of Educational Research, October 2021 (Vol. 91, #5, pp. 761-798); the authors can be reached at and

3. Teaching Controversial Issues: Lessons from Three Countries

In this article in Social Education, Judith Pace (University of San Francisco) describes a teacher education class in Northern Ireland in which aspiring teachers were asked to write a controversial issue on a sticky note and place it on a continuum on the floor from “happy to teach” to “wouldn’t touch with a barge pole.” This sparked a lively discussion about whether and how these hot topics should be taught once they were in classrooms.

Pace shares a definition of controversial topics: Those problems and disputes that divide society and for which significant groups within society offer conflicting explanations and solutions based on alternative values. These might include contemporary political issues (climate change, immigration, gun safety) or contested histories (the Dust Bowl, the Rwandan genocide), some of which are settled and some are still open. “Determining the reasonableness of competing perspectives on a particular issue,” says Pace, “is critical to deciding which viewpoints should be ‘given a fair hearing’ in the classroom.”

Why take on hot topics, especially in today’s divided political climate? “Researchers have found that open classroom discussion of issues is correlated with increased political efficacy, interest, tolerance, and knowledge,” says Pace. “Exploration of issues from multiple perspectives is integral to promoting media literacy, civic reasoning and discourse, informed independent thought, and other capabilities of democratic citizens. But teaching controversial issues is highly complex and demanding work.”

Pace believes there is another dimension when it comes to teaching difficult topics: a “civic opportunity gap,” with students in wealthier communities and upper-track classes having more opportunities to engage in important discussions than less-advantaged students and lower-track classes. This may be based on the assumption that the latter groups “cannot handle the intellectual and behavioral requirement of studying controversy,” she says. But research has shown that discussing controversial issues yields great benefits for all students, including opportunities for dialogue among groups, helping students understand structural inequalities, building empathy, and bridging social, economic, and racial differences.

Pace conducted research on teaching hot topics in Northern Ireland, England, and the United States and found that teachers fell into three categories: Avoiders (didn’t take on hot topics), Containers (taught those topics but stuck to straightforward facts), and Risk-takers (dove into controversies with role-playing and provocative resources). Pace believes the best posture for teachers is between the second and third position, which she calls contained risk-taking – tackling hard questions with democratic pedagogies and thought-provoking materials – and skillfully handling interactions with students, parents, and school leaders. She has formulated eight strategies for successfully navigating these tricky waters:

• Cultivating a warm, supportive classroom environment – Teachers affirm students’ ideas, build group cohesion, teach respectful listening, use humor for bonding and trust-building, and engage students in collaborative learning.

• Thorough preparation and planning – This means continuously building content knowledge, being clear on the purpose, rationale, and goal of units and lessons, and crafting learning experiences that build students’ conceptual understanding.

• Thinking through one’s own identity and roles – Teachers need to clarify their own positions on the issues they teach, whether or not to disclose them, and how to be an effective facilitator of inquiry (sometimes a devil’s advocate) so students reach their own conclusions.

• Up-front communication with parents, colleagues, and students – Everyone has to know in advance what will be taught and why it’s important.

• Thoughtful selection, sequencing, and framing of issues – It’s wise to start with less-contentious issues and present all controversies in non-personal terms, promoting understanding of different perspectives rather than debating personal opinions.

• Using creative resources and group activities – Small-group discussions and effective use of curriculum materials stimulate thinking and provide entry points for opening students’ minds – as well as avoiding possible pitfalls of all-class discussions.

• Skillfully steering classroom dynamics – “Questioning, discussion formats, and protocols provide structure to discussion,” says Pace, “which typically starts in small groups and moves to whole-class plenaries,” perhaps including Socratic Seminars or Town Hall discussions.

• Dealing with emotional conflicts – This includes not arousing strong emotions, balancing affective with intellectual engagement, getting students to think metacognitively, and using de-escalation techniques if tempers flare.

“How Can Educators Prepare for Teaching Controversial Issues? Cross-National Lessons” by Judith Pace in Social Education, September 2021 (Vol. 85, #4, pp. 228-233); Pace can be reached at

4. Does Selling Curriculum Materials Online Improve Teachers’ Work?

In this Elementary School Journal article, Catharyn Shelton (Northern Arizona University) and Tray Geiger and Leanna Archambault (Arizona State University) report on their study of 226 “teacherpreneurs” who had been selling curriculum materials they developed on the TeachersPayTeachers website. Only a small percentage of teachers are involved in marketing their materials online, but websites like this one are popular, especially among young teachers; in 2019, TeachersPayTeachers hosted more than 200,000 sellers.

The pandemic boosted traffic on the site, with per-buyer weekly spending increasing 20 percent from the spring of 2019 to the spring of 2020. Other similar platforms – Share My Lesson, Pinterest, Amazon Ignite, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and Patreon – also saw more activity.

Shelton, Geiger, and Archambault were interested in whether putting curriculum materials on an internet marketplace affected teachers’ perceptions of their classroom performance and interactions with colleagues. Here’s what they found:

• Teachers in the study believed that selling their curriculum creations online improved the quality of their day-to-day teaching, irrespective of how much money they earned.

• Teachers reported that selling materials was a valuable way to connect with colleagues, which they believed led to improved performance and self-efficacy. “Because teaching can be an isolating profession,” say the authors, “…Teacherpreneurship may present a novel way for teachers to connect with others that can lead to positive impacts on one’s own practice… When teacherpreneurs collaborate with other teachers and in their work as informal teacher leaders, they may engage more deeply and critically with their own classroom practices. They may then be better positioned to refine and hone their pedagogical skills and materials, which may lead to improved confidence in the classroom.”

• Selling curriculum materials online was an avenue for women to assert leadership in a profession historically dominated by men. It was also a pathway for female educators to enter an entrepreneurial space often seen as male territory.

• Teacherpreneurs challenged the influence of textbook companies on classrooms, say the authors, “potentially allowing for female teacher voices to be heard rather than devalued.”

• Teachers in the study who didn’t have graduate degrees reported the greatest improvements in their classroom practices. “Teacherpreneurship,” say Shelton, Geiger, and Archambault, “may be a valuable approach to improving classroom practice that, unlike formal teacher education, pays the teacher rather than the teacher having to pay an institution of higher education.” Since there’s little evidence that graduate education and traditional PD improves classroom practice, say the authors, developing and selling curriculum ideas online can be seen as a viable alternative to improving teaching practices.

The article concludes with several cautionary notes: “Although teacherpreneurial approaches may represent grassroots and teacher-led efforts,” say Shelton, Geiger, and Archambault, “they still occur within the context of an imperfect capitalist system.” Their concerns:

– While some teachers profit from online sales, buyers are out of pocket for materials that should be paid for by their schools.

– Some of the best-selling online materials are of “moderate or subpar quality,” say the researchers, and the worst may be doing more harm than good.

– Accordingly, teachers need more guidance on how to tell the wheat from the chaff in the burgeoning online marketplace.

– Teacherpreneurs are overwhelmingly white, with teachers of color taking part in much smaller numbers. “Racially diverse curriculum authors are needed,” say Shelton, Geiger, and Archambault, “because these individuals bring valuable lived experiences and perspectives to the design of lessons and materials, which in turn can support students who are traditionally disempowered in schools.”

– Online marketplaces foster some teachers’ desire to be “Pinterest-worthy” – possessing the aesthetic qualities to be popular on social media. This may not produce the best instruction for students.

“Becoming a Better Teacher Through Online Teacherpreneurship?” by Catharyn Shelton, Tray Geiger, and Leanna Archambault in Elementary School Journal, September 2021 (Vol. 122, #1, pp. 8-25); the authors can be reached at,, and

5. Nevada Second Graders Write Up a Storm on Twitter

In this Elementary School Journal article, Holly Marich, Christine Greenhow, Douglas Hartman (Michigan State University) and Diana Brandon (Florida State University) report on their study of Nevada second graders doing short-form writing on their class Twitter account. Up to six students a day could tweet on class iPads (tweeting was encouraged but not required), and family members were admitted as followers, along with other educators and students in the school. Students understood that their tweets could be read by anyone.

The teacher started the year with Twitter basics – followers, hashtags, emojis, likes, retweeting, the 280-character limit, and online safety skills – and went over the writing process (planning, drafting, revising, spelling, punctuation, capitals, and publishing). The point of the Twitter writing, she said, was to improve communication and writing skills and connect with the world beyond their classroom.

The teacher modeled writing tweets, projected short compositions on the interactive whiteboard, and had students read them chorally. Students then used a class “Twitter sheet” to compose their own writing on the day they had access to the iPads:

– Write 2 sentences: What are you learning about? Why are you learning about it? How will you use this information?

– or Ask a question about what you are learning about. Why did you ask this question?

– A reprise of the steps of writing: Plan, Draft, Revise, Edit, Publish.

– Read your sentences out loud and check for the following: my sentences have subjects (who, what); my sentences have predicates (action, what); my sentences make sense; my sentences have capitalization; my sentences have punctuation (.?!).

As the year progressed, the teacher gradually released responsibility and students became increasingly independent tweeters.

How did this experiment work out? Students weren’t especially into the act of writing, say Marich, Greenhow, Hartman, and Brandon, but “were rapturously willing to use the medium through which writing was enacted.” They loved the technology, the playful nature of a lot of the tweets, and the quick responses they received from followers. Students were motivated to present themselves well and connect with their wide audience, and that built their confidence and skill as writers.

The researchers were particularly impressed by how goal-setting – a standard part of the writing process – was enhanced by the Twitter format, with both in-advance and in-the-moment planning (more typically associated with older students). “In summary,” say the authors, “children set goals for managing the medium as they form text online, and the medium itself permits the goal posts for writing to be set beyond the text at hand, toward future aspirations and identities that the writers hold.”

Marich, Greenhow, Hartman, and Brandon also noticed a “network effect” as students wrote their tweets, boosting the academic impact. “The children in our study,” they say, “noted that they were also part of the audience for their own tweets, just as others were. Because of the medium, they could track followers’ responses to their tweets as if they too were a follower, responding to their own tweets and others’ responses to their tweets. As such, the writer simultaneously has followers who follow their tweets (and like them) and is also a follower of their own tweets. Thus, the ‘new’ realization for thinking about the audience for a tweet is a broader conception of the audience, one that includes the author as one of their own followers.”

“Eight Tweeters Tweeting” by Holly Marich, Christine Greenhow, Douglas Hartman, and Diana Brandon in Elementary School Journal, September 2021 (Vol. 122, #1, pp. 26-56); Greenhow can be reached at, Hartman at

6. Universal Design for Learning in Math Classes

In this article in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, Richard Lambert (University of California/Santa Barbara) describes three math lessons in which teachers used UDL with inclusive groups of students:

• A kindergarten class gathers on the rug as students prepare to measure a sensory path they are designing in the hallway outside their classroom. After discussing measuring tools and how to be a supportive partner, students team up, gather sets of connecting cubes, and get to work. As they count and measure, the teacher circulates, reteaching and clarifying. Before long a student notices that his group’s measurement isn’t the same as another group’s, and the teacher leads a mini-lesson on accuracy in measurement.

• A fifth-grade class is asked to figure out how a family of eight can share six large burritos in a fair and equitable manner. The teacher gives students a moment to think and then lets them choose whether to work in a small group, with a partner, or independently. Students work with manipulatives and supplies, and when they’re finished, they gather and share their strategies with the whole class. The teacher names each strategy and helps students troubleshoot their solutions.

• A ninth-grade class continues its multi-day exploration of functions as two quantities with a relationship. Some students graph data from a video of their classmates throwing balled-up paper into a trashcan. Others graph problems on the online program Desmos. The teacher works with a smaller group doing a paper-and-pencil graph of a function. Near the end of the lesson, the teacher calls the class together, reminds them of the big idea of the day (Functions have multiple representations), and asks, “How did that idea emerge in your work today?” Several students respond, and the class wraps up with students doing a self-evaluation of their work.

The key element in each class was that the teacher’s lesson plan made learning accessible to a wide range of students, including those with disabilities. “Learners vary in how well they see, hear, and move,” says Lambert. “They vary in how well they can remember mathematical facts and their ways of paying attention. Learners vary in their emotional response to mathematics.” The key insight of UDL, he says, is that by planning skillfully around the needs of students with learning differences, teachers can meet the needs of the whole class.

UDL lessons are built on empathy for students’ experiences, says Lambert, with the aim of all students succeeding and becoming expert, strategic, and lifelong learners. He recommends conducting “empathy interviews” to better understand what makes students tick and identify barriers to their accessing learning. Lesson design especially benefits from an understanding of marginalized students – understanding issues around disability, race, gender, language, and other social positionings. “If we as teachers can learn more about the experience of students who are at the margins,” he says, “we can leverage that knowledge to design across differences.”

The researchers who developed the UDL framework proposed that lessons should be designed to target three domains:

• The why of learning – Presenting lessons so learners get engaged and stay challenged, excited, interested, and motivated; key elements:

– A supportive classroom environment: Do students feel safe enough to take risks? (This means deemphasizing speed and accuracy.) Are students building relationships in and through math?

– Meaningful mathematics: Is the math relevant, engaging, and culturally responsive? Do students regularly work in groups and engage in sense-making?

• The what of learning – Presenting information and content in different ways because students differ in how they gather facts and categorize what they see, hear, and read; key elements:

– Focusing on core ideas: Do unit and lesson plans guide students to understand and remember fundamental math ideas?

– Multimodal: Is math content accessible? Can students choose how they solve problems?

• The how of learning – Differentiating the way students show what they have learned; key elements:

– Equitable feedback: Does feedback help students grow as mathematicians? Is assessment appropriate for all learners?

– Understanding oneself as a mathematics learner: What do students learn about themselves as math learners? How do lessons support that development?

“The Magic Is in the Margins: UDL Math” by Rachel Lambert in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, September 2021 (Vol. 114, #9, pp. 660-669); Lambert can be reached at

7. Questions and Answers on ESSER Funds

This Education Week article by Mark Lieberman and Andrew Ujifusa provides comprehensive information on ESSER I, II, and III funding:

– Why did schools get so much federal money during the pandemic?

– How much money did my school district get?

– Why did some school districts get so much more or less than others?

– What’s the difference between the three federal relief aid packages? What does that mean for my school district?

– What should I call the three sets of federal relief?

– How long does my district have to spend the federal money?

– Can my governor or state lawmakers influence how my school district spends federal Covid relief?

– I know the federal government passed Covid-19 relief for schools months ago. Does my school district currently have access to those dollars?

– When does my district have to decide how to spend the funds? Can it change course after making plans?

– I’ve heard that districts have to spend 20 percent of stimulus funds on helping students recover from learning loss. What does that mean?

– Is there anything my district isn’t allowed to spend its federal money on?

– What happens when the money runs out?

– How will the government hold schools accountable for how they spend their money?

– What are the odds that the federal government approves another Covid relief package for schools?

“Everything You Need to Know About Schools and Covid Relief Funds” by Mark Lieberman and Andrew Ujifusa in Education Week, September 22, 2021 (Vol. 41, #6, pp. 12-13)

8. Online Practices from the Pandemic That May Continue

This “Up Front” feature in Independent School reports on the percentage of private school leaders who say they will continue certain Covid-era online practices going forward:

– Parent-teacher conferences – 77%

– Virtual learning for students who are ill – 77%

– Professional development events – 72%

– Board meetings – 71%

– Parent town halls – 70%

– School tours and admission events – 66%

– Alumni events – 50%

– Faculty/staff meetings – 49%

– Hybrid learning options – 37%

– Fundraising events – 37%

“What Stays?” in Independent School, Summer 2021 (Vol. 80, #4, p. 3)

9. Short Item:

A New Website with K-12 Resources on Climate Change – The Subject to Climate website has a wide variety of free, carefully curated lesson plans, videos, and other materials on climate change, geared to Next Generation Science and Common Core standards. For more information, contact Margaret Wang at

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In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“Here, in America, I’m a brown woman and an immigrant, but in my private high school in India, I was part of the privileged group. Indian casteism and colorism were as present in my high school as racism is here.”

Eesha Pendharkar (see item #2)

“In out-of-school suspension you are removing kids from the socialization of the school and… you’re placing them potentially in a different environment at home alone or even out on the street with their friends.”

David Osher (quoted in item #3)

“In leadership, it doesn’t matter what you say – only what they hear.”

Leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith, quoted in “The Better Boss” by Larissa

MacFarquhar in The New Yorker, April 22/29, 2002

“He [leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith] always tells his clients that he doesn’t care about their past, doesn’t care how they feel, doesn’t care about their inner psyche – all he cares about is their future behavior.”

Larissa MacFarquhar (ibid.)

“Never start a sentence with the word ‘No,’ ‘But,’ or ‘However.’”

Marshall Goldsmith (ibid.)

“The teaching of mathematics has always been individualized. In its simplest and unfortunately most common form, this individualization consisted of lectures by the instructor, which were individually ‘turned off’ or ignored by the students whenever they got the urge.”

Stephen Willoughby in “Individualization” in Mathematics Teacher, May 1976

1. Can Racial Inequities Be Healed?

In this article in Education Week, Eesha Pendharkar says that when she was a reporter for a local newspaper in Bangor, Maine, she wrote a story about public complaints by three African-American students about racist actions in their high school. In a school that was 96 percent white, these included frequent use of the N-word by white students, black students being told to “go back where you come from,” and in classroom discussions, justification of slavery and inferior status for black people.

When Pendharkar’s article was published in May 2020, in the midst of a national awakening on race after the murder of George Floyd, there was a swift reaction. The district launched an independent investigation of the students’ claims, conducted diversity training for educators, and overhauled the high school’s history and English curriculum. It also hired an affirmative action coordinator and set up channels for middle- and high-school students to report troubling incidents. A new superintendent pledged to continue the focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and plans were made to conduct an equity audit to assess culture and opportunity gaps.

Bangor’s efforts are impressive, says Pendharkar, better than those of many other school districts around the U.S. But checking in with Bangor students and city officials in recent months, in the midst of noisy backlash on Black Lives Matter and Critical Race Theory, she says progress is mixed. Students are stepping up and the curriculum changes are helping teachers and students “understand the history of how and why people of color were treated as they were in the past and why that needs to change with the investment of a lot of time, money, and commitment.” But it’s an uphill battle, she says, especially getting some people to change their deeply held beliefs on race and hierarchy.

All this has led Pendharkar to reflect on her childhood in India before coming to the U.S. Growing up as a member of a dominant caste, she had all the privileges of her family’s social and economic position. “Here, in America,” she says “I’m a brown woman and an immigrant, but in my private high school in India, I was part of the privileged group. Indian casteism and colorism were as present in my high school as racism is here. No curriculum change or affirmative action coordinator could have prevented all of the discrimination students faced. That would have required all of us in the dominant caste to get on the same page about the origins and history of the caste system, how it’s present in the modern day and why it’s morally wrong. And because our teachers and administrators and our families could not identify the ways in which the school system was inherently casteist – we perpetuated it. Collectively.”

“I don’t know that schools can fundamentally change the mindset of teachers, administrators, parents, and students,” she concludes, “perhaps because I come from a culture where racism, too, is so deeply embedded. The answer might be that it can’t. Because unless you acknowledge that systemic racism is ingrained in schools, pledge to identify how, and work constantly to make changes, the education system will not get better. I stand on more than 3,500 years of Indian history to prove it.”

What the Indian Caste System Taught Me About Racism” by Eesha Pendharkar “What the Indian Caste System Taught Me About Racism” by Eesha Pendharkar in Education Week, September 15, 2021 (Vol. 41, # 5, pp. 10-12)

2. Is It Helpful for Social Justice Educators to Talk About White Privilege?

In this Harvard Educational Review article, Nicolas Tanchuk (Iowa State University), Tomas Rocha (University of Washington), and Marc Kruse (University of Winnipeg) critique the common understanding of privilege as “unearned advantages accrued by members of dominant groups through the oppression of subordinate groups.” Social justice educators typically argue that teaching about how privilege benefits whites, males, heterosexuals, and other groups equips students “to combat dominating and oppressive relationships.” But Tanchuk, Rocha, and Kruse believe this approach actually supports inequity among groups. They suggest that oppression works to the disadvantage of all groups and that social justice education needs to be reframed.

Their argument starts with a white student’s reaction when Beverly Tatum described white privilege in her university class: greater access to jobs, housing, and education, the ability to shop in department stores without being followed by suspicious salespeople, not having to worry about police harassment and misconduct, and the expectation of better health and longevity. Absorbing all this, the student didn’t deny that he had those benefits, that they were undeserved, and that they were not the result of innate superiority. He acknowledged that his white privilege stemmed from centuries of oppressive harm to others in which he was complicit. But why, he asked, should he give up those advantages?

Such a question is not unique to this student, say Tanchuk, Rocha, and Kruse, “but has been asked by other students in dominant groups in classes seeking to educate toward social justice.” The key characteristic of this student’s reaction to the idea of white privilege is that it is atomistic – he sees his ethical responsibilities in purely selfish terms, separated from responsibilities to others and his community. Atomistic thinking, say Tanchuk, Rocha, and Kruse, is very much part of modern capitalism, which frames “civilization, progress, and advantage in individualistic acquisitive terms,” as distinct from cultures that emphasize communal responsibilities. They add that colonial-era Indian Affairs Commissioner John Oberly had in mind that distinction between European and Native American cultures when he said that Indian children needed to be taught the “exalting egotism of American civilization, so that he will say ‘I’ instead of ‘We,’ and ‘This is mine’ instead of ‘This is ours.’”

The reaction of Tatum’s student is troubling, and raises the question of how social justice educators should approach the idea of privilege. “Is this atomistic conception, rooted in an Enlightenment colonial project, the best we can do?” ask Tanchuk, Rocha, and Kruse. They believe the way white privilege is being discussed in many schools “gives rise to a serious structural problem for social justice educators seeking to combat oppression between dominant majority groups and subordinated minority groups in democracies. Namely, where dominant majority groups embrace and effectively pursue an atomistic conception of advantage, inequality can be expected to persist and expand.” Given that white Americans are a majority, and that a significant number are unlikely to give up their advantages, the authors believe schools should take a different approach to teaching about privilege.

“To mitigate this problem,” the authors continue, “we advocate for a shift in the way we teach individual advantage, particularly to those in dominant groups, toward a relational responsibility view so that the oppression of any is consistently framed as disadvantageous to all.” Drawing on Native American, African-American feminist, and other philosophical traditions, they suggest framing social justice education as mutual aid – a “commitment to relational responsibilities forged through solidarity in joint problem solving, inquiry, and learning.” Viewed through this approach, Tatum’s student engaged in “an irrational confusion that reinforces inequality and oppression by making injustice seem beneficial to those in power – the problem of privilege.” The student needs to see that he is living ethically “only to the extent that he uses the instruments at his disposal – power, comfort, or wealth – to fulfill joint responsibilities with others to combat oppression and forge liberation.”

Tatum has described the experiences of black students on predominantly white university campuses – racist graffiti on dormitory room doors, racist jokes circulated through campus e-mail, racial epithets and sometimes beer bottles hurled from a passing car. Tatum says the strength and resilience of black students who survive experiences like these is a higher form of relational excellence than the selfish reaction of her atomistic student. With a “transformed view of advantage,” say Tanchuk, Rocha, and Kruse, he might see “these acts and the resulting pain of black students as a moral and political disaster because these conditions block the growth of joint flourishing through learning relationships.”

The ultimate goal of social justice educators, conclude the authors, is to convince advantaged students to take responsibility for antiracist and ecologically just action “in proportion to their often greater institutional power and culpability… to work to transfer resources and create material conditions for leaders from subordinated groups to guide and inform the direction that we collectively take on this path.”

“Is Complicity in Oppression a Privilege? Toward Social Justice Education as Mutual Aid” by Nicolas Tanchuk, Tomas Rocha, and Marc Kruse in Harvard Educational Review, Fall 2021 (Vol. 91, #3, pp. 341-361); Rocha can be reached at, Kruse at

3. Correcting Misconceptions About Suspensions

In this article in Education Week, Sarah Sparks draws on recent studies of exclusionary discipline by the American Institutes of Research (AIR), the Civil Rights Project, and others to push back on four common myths:

• Myth #1: Suspensions improve student behavior. The AIR researchers found that students who were given out-of-school suspensions behaved more poorly afterwards than students who got in-school suspensions. And the longer suspensions lasted, the worse students’ behavior was going forward. Why? “In out-of-school suspension,” says David Osher of AIR, “you are removing kids from the socialization of the school and… you’re placing them potentially in a different environment at home alone or even out on the street with their friends.”

• Myth #2: Suspensions help get at-risk students back on track. Like other absences from class, disciplinary exclusion sets students back academically. This is most pronounced with out-of-school and longer suspensions.

• Myth #3: Excluding a troublemaker improves learning for the rest of the class. Researchers found there was no benefit for classmates when the “bad apples” weren’t there. And exclusion may backfire if peers see it as unjust. “When students feel that discipline is inconsistent or unfair,” says Christina LiCalsi of AIR, “it gives them a negative view of the schooling environment… It’s having a negative effect on their feelings of connection and belonging, fairness and justice within their school, that might be having some negative impacts on their behavior.”

• Myth #4: The severity of a student’s behavior drives suspensions. “Suspensions continue to disproportionately affect students of color and those with disabilities or trauma,” reports Sparks, “even when they engage in the same misbehaviors as their peers.” Students with multiple adverse experiences outside school – neglect and abuse, a parent’s death, incarceration, mental illness, or substance abuse – have four times the likelihood of being suspended compared to a student without a history of trauma.

“4 Myths About Suspensions That Could Hurt Students in the Long Term” by Sarah Sparks in Education Week, September 8, 2021 (Vol. 41, #4, p. 7)

4. Charter Schools Work on Improving Students’ College Graduation Rates

In this article in Education Next, Jon Marcus reports on how several charter networks are supporting their college-going graduates, many of whom are the first in their families to attend postsecondary institutions. Marcus focuses on the Achievement First, Bright Star, KIPP, Summit, and Uncommon networks. A high rate of college success is central to their mission and to attracting students and financial support; KIPP, for example, publicly commits to “preparing students for economically self-sufficient, choice-filled lives,” which in most cases involves earning a bachelor’s or associate’s degree.

One helpful development has been the availability of data on where students enroll, attend, and graduate provided by the National Student Clearinghouse’s StudentTracker and other organizations. Nationwide, the percent of high-school graduates going on to four-year colleges has risen to 70 percent, but there are demographic differences: 64 percent of white students earn a four-year degree within six years compared to 54 percent of Hispanic and 40 percent of African-American students. There’s also a strong correlation between college graduation rates and family income, ranging from 64 percent for the highest economic quartile to 16 percent for the lowest.

The charter networks’ efforts address the multiple challenges faced by graduates as they head for college. Some of the initiatives:

• Preparing students for college admission and success – This includes building academic skills, interviewing students about their goals and college choices, nudging them to apply to higher-ranked colleges than they might otherwise consider, counseling on financial aid and applications, establishing a relationship with their high school’s college and career specialist, and preparing for a “warm handoff” from high school to college.

• Steering students toward supportive colleges – and advising them to avoid colleges that have a poor track record for graduating students of color. In addition, the charter networks are pushing colleges to do a better job supporting their students. “The potential pool of applicants coming out of charter schools is especially attractive to colleges and universities amid enrollment declines and new calls for diversity and inclusion,” says Marcus. This is been accentuated by the pandemic, which has resulted in a sharp drop in college enrollment and in applications from first-generation students. Some colleges have resisted working with high schools, while others have embraced the common mission of supporting high-need students’ success. One college has agreed to split the cost of a full-time advisor for KIPP students on campus.

• Dealing with “summer melt” – Between 10 and 40 percent of students who achieve college admission don’t show up in the fall. Through a combination of text nudges, artificial intelligence, and human interaction, the charter networks remind students of upcoming deadlines, encourage them, and keep them on track for college enrollment. One bot says, “I think you’re amazing. Just popping in to tell you you’ve got this.”

• Supporting students after they enroll – This includes help with finding housing, attending orientations, registering for classes, being sure to meet core requirements (versus taking only fun electives), buying books and supplies, adjusting to campus life, dealing with homesickness and family responsibilities, understanding “imposter syndrome,” picking majors, budgeting money, not missing meals, dealing with campus jobs, work study, and internships, not hesitating to take advantage of professors’ office hours, cutting through red tape, keeping financial aid flowing, connecting with adult advocates and a “posse” of fellow students for support, reaching out for mental health support when needed, improving study skills, and managing time. Being on call is a vital part of the charter networks’ support people. “I don’t have to be their therapist,” says Onjheney Warren, a college transition specialist at a KIPP school in Houston. “I don’t have to be their mom. I don’t have to be their best friend. But I want them to be able to text us when they need some help.”

• Using data to improve high-school programs – Many high schools aspire to graduate students who are “college ready,” but downstream data have led some to rethink what they’re doing. For example, the Summit network boasted a 98 percent high-school graduation rate, but found that just 49.9 percent of graduates earned a college degree within six years. This was well above national statistics for their students’ demographic, but network leaders were not satisfied. The same is true of other networks; here are stats on several of their six-year postsecondary graduation rates:

– Uncommon – 58 percent;

– Achievement First – 53 percent;

– KIPP – 43 percent bachelor’s, plus 6 percent earning an associate’s degree;

– Bright Star – 37 percent, plus 8 percent earning an associate’s degree.

Network leaders realized that students who received intensive support and handholding throughout high school – for example, small classes, highly structured discipline, being able to retake tests and submit do-overs of papers – were not prepared to be self-sufficient in an unstructured, less-supportive college environment. This has led to revised policies and explicit efforts to improve students’ ability to work independently, handle multi-step projects, and manage their time.

“Charter Schools Go to College” by Jon Marcus in Education Next, Fall 2021 (Vol. 21, #4, pp. 8-16; Marcus can be reached at

5. Using Quick Surveys to Check in with Students

In this Edutopia article, Sarah Gonser reports how some teachers at the university and K-12 levels get “early-term feedback” by asking students to answer a few anonymous questions (on paper or online), leading discussions on the results the next day, and following up (except where requests are unreasonable, such as having no deadlines for assignments). Surveys can reveal all kinds of helpful information, including a teacher’s blind spots, problems with classroom logistics, and what students are finding confusing or inefficient. Gathering and incorporating feedback can improve teaching in real time and also change the culture of a classroom, showing students that their opinions are respected. Questions like What helps you learn? are especially useful.

Here are some sample questions from a University of Minnesota class taught by journalism professor Gayle Golden:

– What should be happening in this class?

– What should we start doing in this class?

– What should we stop doing in this class?

And here are some questions suggested by Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project, EduCause, and the Hawaii Department of Education:

– Are assignments clear? Are you able to access them?

– Do you feel like your voice is heard?

– Do you feel like you belong in this classroom?

– What can I do to improve our classroom?

“Regardless of how carefully you position the survey and explain its purpose to students,” Gonser concludes, “be prepared, as well, to hear negative feedback.” With especially harsh criticism, ask yourself, What’s up?, don’t take it personally, and focus on actionable steps you can take.

“Continuously Refine Your Practice with Student Feedback” by Sarah Gonser in Edutopia, August 6, 2021

6. Ideas for Quieting a Noisy Middle-School Class

In this Education Week article, Catherine Gewertz passes along suggestions from readers in response to this prompt: “If middle schoolers are incessantly talking and I need their attention, I _________.” A number of teachers suggested counting backwards from five, flipping the lights off and on, and hand claps. Here are some others (click the link to see photos and short videos):


– I say “Hairspray” and students shhhhhh each other. It’s hilarious and effective.

– Wireless doorbell (purchased from Amazon). Mine currently meows when I ring it.

– My phone or tablet is connected via Bluetooth to a speaker, allowing me to play sound effects from the free app, 100s of Buttons and Sounds. When my students hear the “gong” sound, they know it’s time to quiet down and listen up.

– Sing “Red Robin” and they will reply, “Yum.” They can’t help themselves.

– If you really want to mess them up, do the elementary clapping thing. They will start clapping back without even thinking, and it weirds them out.

– I give them one of my crazy facial expressions they all say I have.

– Stare. I heard that it doesn’t work for all teachers but my stare is amazing, I’ve been working on it since birth so it’s who I am lol. If your stare isn’t alarming then don’t even bother and listen to someone else’s advice.

– Stand silently at the front of the room and wait. After 34 years, my wait time is on point. If that doesn’t work, I dim the lights. I will not yell over them.

– I’ve always randomly said “nose goes” and touch my nose! They’ll quickly touch their nose and then get quiet to see what the heck they are touching their nose for!

“How Do You Get Middle-School Students to Stop Talking? Creative Tips from Teachers” by Catherine Gewertz in Education Week, August 7, 2021

7. Phi Delta Kappa Poll Results

This year’s Phi Delta Kappa Poll had fewer questions because of the drastically different situation in U.S. schools during the pandemic. It focused on how schools did during Covid-time and public attitudes about the 2021-22 school year. The big takeaways: the majority of Americans gave high marks to their community’s public schools and teachers for handling the pandemic, and the public is broadly confident about the ability of schools to reopen safely and handle the 2021-22 school year well. Some details (click the link below for full results):

– 63 percent of public school parents gave their local public schools an A or B.

– 67 percent of public school parents gave their local teachers an A or B.

– 54 percent of all adults gave their local public schools an A or B.

– As has been the case in previous PDK polls, fewer people gave the nation’s schools an A or B: 43 percent of public school parents and 39 percent of all adults.

– Asked about priorities for the current school year, respondents most frequently mentioned students catching up academically, readjusting to school schedules, and addressing kids’ social-emotional needs.

“Positive Marks, High Hopes for Local Schools’ Pandemic Response” in Phi Delta Kappan, September 2021 (Vol. 103, #1, pp. 34-37)

8. Adaptations of Best-Selling Books for Young Readers

In this School Library Journal article, Kelly Jensen recommends several adaptations of popular trade books for middle-and high-school students (see the link below for cover images and short descriptions). “These books,” says Jensen, “are outstanding tools for classroom incorporation, reader’s advisory, and helping young people dream big, all with the inspiration from their favorite leaders.”

– Chasing the Truth: A Young Journalist’s Guide to Investigative Reporting by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, adapted by Ruby Shamir

– The Disappearing Spoon and Other True Tales of Rivalry, Adventure, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, Young Readers Edition by Sam Kean

– The Burning (Young Reader’s Edition): Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 by Tim Madigan, adapted by Hilary Beard

– Chasing Space, Young Readers Edition by Leland Melvin

– One Life, Young Readers Edition by Megan Rapinoe

– Mighty Justice: The Untold Story of Civil Rights Trailblazer Dovey Johnson Roundtree by Dovey Johnson Roundtree and Katie McCabe, adapted by Jabari Asim

“Remixes for Young Readers” by Kelly Jensen in School Library Journal, September 2021 (Vol. 67, #9, pp. 30-33)

9. Short Item:

Challenging Math Problems – Thanks to Dan Jubert, head of the American International School of Cape Town, South Africa, here are several websites with a wide range of interesting and challenging math problems:

– Bongard problems:
– Unique math lessons:

– Bowlands Math:

– When Math Happens:

And if you haven’t had a chance to check it out, here’s the link to Stella’s Stunners, Rudd

Crawford’s collection of non-routine math problems.

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In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“People need small wins now more than ever.”

Jenn David-Lang (see item #2)

“The responsibility to the child belongs to the teacher and not a ‘program.’”

Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell (see item #3)

“Keeping politics out of the curriculum does little to help young people understand and critically examine the political issues of the day, nor does it help them to imagine what a stronger democracy will look like.”

Paula McAvoy and Gregory McAvoy (see item #6)

“It can be a remarkable experience, too, when young people realize that they have the right and ability to reach out to elected officials, and to know that those public figures or governmental workers may be interested in what they have to say…”

Sarah Andes, Jason Fitzgerald, Alison Cohen, and Scott Warren (see item #7)

“A growth mindset is not an all-compassing panacea for improving academic achievement. Rather, a growth mindset needs to align with contextual supports – such as the provision of necessary skillsets, resources, and opportunities to experience mastery in their learning – before it is effective.”

Xu Qin, Alberto Guzman-Alvarez, Ming-Te Wang, and Stephanie Wormington

(see item #5)

“I can’t read one thing with words and listen to something else with different words and actually process both.”

Jennifer Gonzalez (see item #8)

1. A Tribute to Roland Barth

My friend and mentor Roland Barth died on Sunday at 84. Throughout his storied career as a teacher, principal, writer, and developer of school leaders, Roland was foursquare for quality, equity, shared leadership, humor, and great metaphors. Here are a few quotes (see Memos 127 and 504 for summaries of two of his articles):
“The nature of relationships among the adults within a school has a greater influence on the character and quality of that school and on student accomplishment than anything else. If the relationships between administrators and teachers are trusting, generous, helpful, and cooperative, then the relationships between teachers and students, between students and students, and between teachers and parents are likely to be trusting, generous, helpful, and cooperative. If, on the other hand, relationships between administrators and teachers are fearful, competitive, suspicious, and corrosive, then these qualities will disseminate throughout the school community.”

“A precondition for doing anything to strengthen our practice and improve a school is the existence of a collegial culture in which professionals talk about practice, share their craft knowledge, and observe and root for the success of one another. Without these in place, no meaningful improvement – no staff or curriculum development, no teacher leadership, no student appraisal, no team teaching, no parent involvement, and no sustained change – is possible.”

“For a long time, people have realized that the principal alone can’t run something as complex and enormous as a school. But now I think principals realize that.”

“In many respects, principals do not possess power until they share it.”

“What the principal needs is helpful, nonjudgmental, nonpunitive assistance in sorting out, reflecting upon, and sharpening professional practice. Unfortunately, what most principals find is at best benign neglect, at worst inservice training.”

“If all teachers are expected to be leaders, no one is breaking the taboo about standing higher than the others because everyone is on the same higher level… The shift comes when you also take a piece of leading the school. There’s tremendous satisfaction that comes from making that jump, to being an owner rather than a renter here.”

“The primary problem with public education is not that teachers and principals aren’t doing their jobs. The problem is that they are frequently under pressure to behave in ways dictated by others…”

“From the teacher’s standpoint, a resentful parent can make a school year a torment. As one teacher put it, ‘It’s a little like driving down the turnpike with a hornet in the car. It’s only one hornet, but it can sure interfere with where you’re trying to go, getting there, and how you feel about the trip!’ If Ms. Smith is trying to educate children while some of their parents are persistently trying to educate her, she has her hands full.”

“Many parents control the hour at which a child goes to bed at night, but much as they might like to, these parents cannot control the hour that a child goes to sleep. Similarly, we in the schools can control to some extent what is taught, but we cannot ensure what is learned.”

“Rather than viewing differences among children and teachers as problems to be solved, I have explored the flip side of the coin. I have tried to find ways in which differences can be turned to educational advantage and enlisted in the service of personal and intellectual growth for those within the school.”

“The teacher who can intelligently appraise what children are doing today can prepare an effective lesson tomorrow.”

“Good education is neither gerbils nor workbooks; it is not externally prescribed behavior for teacher or student. Rather, good education is rooted in a teacher’s personal belief about how children learn best. Good education grows in a situation where the teacher’s behavior is a response to first-hand observations of children’s behavior. Thus, good education necessarily varies from classroom to classroom, teacher to teacher, year to year.”

“Leadership is attempting to hold the flood of daily administrivia – forms to fill out, meetings to attend, reports to submit – at arm’s length so that other important issues like staff organization, placement, evaluation of students, and staff development can be closely addressed.”

“Selective risk taking is somewhat like working on an old car. I once asked a neighbor who was helping me rebuild the engine of a Model A Ford how much I should tighten a head nut. ‘Stop a quarter of a turn before you strip it,’ he said. I think that is an apt way to think about school administration. I stop a quarter of a turn before I strip the organizational nut.”

“My objective is for all of us to come to school each September with at least one significant new element in our professional (and therefore personal) lives – something to dream about, think about, worry about, get excited about, be afraid about, lose sleep about, become and remain alive about.”

2. Five Questions to Help Decide on Priorities for the Year

In this Edutopia article, Jenn David-Lang (The Main Idea) says that after an exceptionally scattered 18 months dealing with the pandemic, educators need to be focused on no more than three key priorities for 2021-22. Why three? According to Chris McChesney, with 4-10 priorities, we’re likely to achieve only one or two with quality, and with ten or more, we won’t accomplish anything of significance. Steve Jobs famously led an annual retreat in which Apple’s top leaders narrowed possible initiatives to ten – and then Jobs theatrically crossed out the bottom seven and declared that resources would be devoted only to the top three.

How to choose a school’s Big Three? Drawing on her extensive reading, David-Lang suggests asking these questions about each competing initiative:

• How much impact will it have on student learning and well-being? Among the practices with the best research track record: professional collaboration, collective teacher efficacy, formative assessments, feedback, a clear curriculum, student collaboration, Response to Intervention (RTI), and high-impact teaching strategies like nonfiction writing.

• Can it have an impact within three months? “People need small wins now more than ever,” says David-Lang. There are strategies to quickly improve staff morale and reduce suspensions, chronic absenteeism, and failure rates.

• Does it address our school’s most pressing needs? To zero in on those, the leadership team should look at test scores, attendance, course passing rates, students’ reading levels and algebra readiness, and insights gathered in surveys, focus groups, one-on-one conversations, and observations.

• Does it piggyback on existing initiatives, strengths, and school values? “The path to success is often faster and easier when it’s built on what you already do well,” says David-Lang. “Lots of schools found successful new approaches during the pandemic that they want to build on.”

• How much will it affect other aspects of the school? Charles Duhigg (in his book The Power of Habit) describes the way certain “keystone habits” (for example, families eating dinner together) have a positive effect on other behaviors. This suggests being very strategic in choosing initiatives that serve as catalysts for other variables within a school. “For example,” says David-Lang, “if you choose to focus on absenteeism as one of your priorities, that would impact engagement (students can’t be engaged if they’re not attending), learning (they can’t learn if they’re missing classes), and staff morale (teachers question their worth when students don’t show up).”

“The Value of Limiting Your Priorities for the School Year” by Jenn David-Lang in Edutopia, September 10, 2021; David-Lang can be reached at

3. Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell Weigh In on the Literacy Debate

In this article in Education Week, literacy gurus Irene Fountas (Lesley University) and Gay Su Pinnell (Ohio State University) say that over the decades, the pendulum has swung back and forth on the “right” way to teach reading. At one pole are rigidly scripted phonics programs that can take the interest and joy out of reading; at the other are romantic approaches that expect children to figure out reading for themselves while absorbed in pleasurable literacy experiences. “Any approach that overemphasizes one aspect of literacy over another,” say Fountas and Pinnell, “will likely neglect other important areas.”

They don’t argue with the data and research put forward in the current “science of reading” debate. Classroom and laboratory research have clearly established the importance of phonics and phonemic awareness. However, Fountas and Pinnell believe the research “has not identified any particular kind of phonics instruction to be better than others, nor has it identified a need to use a particular kind of text.” In the primary grades, they believe, phonics instruction needs to be part of a comprehensive set of related practices. Students should apply what they learn in reading and writing continuous text, with well-trained teachers differentiating to meet individual students’ needs. “The responsibility to the child belongs to the teacher and not a ‘program,’” they say.

On the issue of equity, Fountas and Pinnell say today’s educators serve “a highly diverse student population, including many children who come to school with disadvantages. Individuals have different needs and learn in different ways. There is no quick fix, nor is there one way that all children must learn. We do see patterns in children’s literacy development, but expert teachers tune in to individual needs and strengths and thoughtfully adapt the way they teach. This is responsive teaching. These small but constant instructional decisions make teaching powerful enough to make a difference.”

Over several decades, Fountas and Pinnell have developed – and passionately advocate for – a comprehensive approach that orchestrates all the key components of literacy: phonemic awareness, phonics, accuracy, fluency, comprehension, vocabulary, and student engagement. While this approach has been labeled “balanced literacy,” Fountas and Pinnell don’t believe the term is descriptive and urge educators to steer clear of labels. “We aim to provide instruction that is deeply connected,” they say, “so that school makes sense to children, and they learn how written language is connected to spoken language.”

Fountas and Pinnell believe there’s plenty of common ground even among those who disagree on instructional methods. They suggest these precepts:

– Too many children aren’t reading proficiently in the early grades, with serious implications for their futures.

– Strong teaching of reading and writing is essential to equitable outcomes.

– Very few children can learn to read and write by themselves. “The great majority of students need good instruction,” say Fountas and Pinnell, “and all students can benefit from it.”

– A strong primary-grade literacy program must include daily, explicit phonics and word study, and teachers need solid mastery of how our language works – and how to teach it.

– The ultimate goal is students who are “competent, voluminous, voluntary readers who continue to learn from and use literacy all their lives.”

“Our message today,” conclude Fountas and Pinnell, “is that – especially at the start of another challenging school year – if we work together and not against each other, we stand a better chance of ensuring that all children have the chance to live a literate life.”

“Teachers, More Than Programs, Make for Great Reading Instruction” by Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell in Education Week, September 8, 2021

4. Does a One-Year Delay in Kindergarten Entry Improve Achievement?

In this Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness article, Angela Johnson and Megan Kuhfeld (NWEA) report on their study of the impact of delaying kindergarten entry on students’ progress in the first three years of school. “The prevailing assumption behind raising the age of school entry,” say Johnson and Kuhfeld, “is that being older and more mature helps children derive more benefit from schooling… Assuming years of schooling are the same, if older entrants learn at a higher rate than younger entrants while in school, then entering school older would result in greater human capital accumulation in the long run. In addition to this absolute advantage, parents may perceive a relative advantage of being older than one’s classmates: that school staff may allocate academic opportunities in ways that favor higher-achieving, better-behaved children.”

What did the researchers find? Based on NWEA reading and mathematics MAP assessment results from hundreds of schools in three states, these were the conclusions:

– Students who are a year older in kindergarten do significantly better on initial math and reading assessments, and their monthly growth rates during the kindergarten year are also higher than younger students.

– The effects of being a year older fade in first and second grade, with older students growing at slower rates than younger students.

– Students’ rates of growth do not differ significantly by gender or ethnicity, especially after the kindergarten year (where there are some differences).

– Math achievement and growth varied significantly across different schools, but with reading there was little variation across schools.

The initial advantage of being a year older in kindergarten is easy to explain, say Johnson and Kuhfeld: children have an additional year to develop executive functioning skills and some benefit from high-quality preschool experiences. The fade-out in subsequent years is more difficult to explain. “It may be that teachers in these grades focus more attention on helping the younger students catch up,” say the researchers. It may be the fact that the developmental differences between 5- and 6-year-olds are larger than those between 7- and 8-year-olds. Or it could be that younger students benefit from interacting with older, higher-achieving, and better-behaved classmates.

“Our findings,” conclude Johnson and Kuhfeld, “beg future research to explore the mechanisms behind the causal link between age and growth trajectories.”

“Impacts of School Entry Age on Academic Growth Through 2nd Grade: A Multi-State Regression Discontinuity Analysis” by Angela Johnson and Megan Kuhfeld in Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, July-September 2021 (Vol. 14, #3, pp. 543-569); Johnson can be reached at

5. With Growth Mindset Interventions, Context Matters

“A growth mindset is not an all-compassing panacea for improving academic achievement,” say Xu Qin, Alberto Guzman-Alvarez, and Ming-Te Wang (University of Pittsburgh) and Stephanie Wormington (Center for Creative Leadership) in this Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness article. “Rather, a growth mindset needs to align with contextual supports – such as the provision of necessary skillsets, resources, and opportunities to experience mastery in their learning – before it is effective.”

These insights came from the researchers’ analysis of growth mindset interventions with students making the transition from middle to high school. A key insight: talking to students about the malleability of intelligence – You can get smarter through effective effort – is not enough. Growth mindset interventions have a positive impact with struggling students when the message is backed with resources, opportunities, and supports.

Qin, Wormington, Guzman-Alvarez, and Wang focused on how struggling students dealt with moments of frustration and failure and their willingness to take on difficult tasks. “Historically, academic challenges have jeopardized these students’ ability to form positive beliefs about school,” say the researchers. “By providing a supportive narrative in which maladaptive beliefs about the school context are addressed or minimized, the growth mindset intervention provides an opportunity to bolster and support low-performing students’ self-beliefs and academic behaviors…

“Challenge-seeking is a malleable target behavior,” continue the authors, “that educators can promote through authentic classroom and school activities, and the growth mindset intervention works directly on students’ mindset about efforts in school by reappraising academic challenges and struggles. As such, the growth mindset intervention provides reassurance that challenges occur for every new high-school student, and suggests that the challenges can be resolved with adequate effort, strategies, and time. When students understand that academic ability can be improved and these seemingly insurmountable challenges can be overcome, they are better positioned to read negative and ambiguous cues as external and changeable and respond adaptively to stressors and failures. This growth mindset framing encourages students to seek out more challenges rather than avoid them, a behavior that is expected to eventually enhance their academic achievement.”

“Why Does a Growth Mindset Intervention Impact Achievement Differently Across Secondary Schools? Unpacking the Causal Mediation Mechanism from a National Multisite Randomized Experiment” by Xu Qin, Stephanie Wormington, Alberto Guzman-Alvarez, and Ming-Te Wang in Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, July-September 2021 (Vol. 14, #3, pp. 617-644); Qin can be reached at

6. Discussing Hot Political Issues with High-School Students

In this Peabody Journal of Education article, Paula McAvoy (North Carolina State University) and Gregory McAvoy (University of North Carolina/Greensboro) report on their study of high-school students discussing controversial political topics. The research was conducted at a time of deep polarization in the U.S. (2019-20), with strong opinions on key issues, deep animosities toward those with opposing views, the diminishing ideological center, and a high level of citizen distrust toward elected officials. “These problems arise at a time of historic income inequality and worsening race relations,” say McAvoy and McAvoy, “developments that map onto partisan divides and further exacerbate our contentious political climate.”

All this puts social studies educators in a “precarious position” as they work to develop their students’ civic skills and dispositions. Some teachers avoid discussions of hot topics for fear that things will get out of hand. “But keeping politics out of the curriculum does little to help young people understand and critically examine the political issues of the day,” say the authors, “nor does it help them to imagine what a stronger democracy will look like.”

Handled well, classroom discussions can teach students to give reasons for their opinions, listen to opposing views, see disagreements as normal, become better informed, and clarify their own opinions – all with the aim of coming to agreement for the common good.

The McAvoys conducted their study at the Close Up program, which brings high-school students from all 50 states and territories to Washington, D.C. for a week of activities, working in geographically mixed groups of 20-24. Two evenings are devoted to 90-minute discussions of controversial issues, using these structures on each successive gathering:

– Deliberative discussions – Groups of 30 students are given a topic, randomly assigned to groups of six, read about the issue, consider various policy proposals, come to consensus about a policy they can all endorse, and present their ideas to others.

– Team debates – Groups of 20-24 students read about an issue, choose a side, form two opposing teams, prepare arguments, and then each student is required to stand and give a one-minute persuasive statement, followed by a back-and-forth exchange. A panel of three peers decides on the winning team.

Among the issues discussed and debated: criminal justice reform, climate change, gun regulation, abortion, health care, homelessness, the minimum wage, English as the official U.S. language, and immigration.

McAvoy and McAvoy conducted pre- and post-activity surveys and interviewed students (165 participated, a 76 percent response rate). While students overwhelmingly said they enjoyed both formats and became more interested in the issues they discussed, there were important differences:

• With the deliberative format, 90 percent of students felt respected and 91 percent felt good about their comments. This format resulted in more students changing their views and moving toward consensus.

• With the debate format, 76 percent felt respected and 70 percent felt good about their comments. More students reported feeling more anxious and hesitant to speak, as compared to the deliberative format. And more students hardened their previous positions, moving away from consensus.

• In both formats, female students were significantly more likely to report hearing something offensive, and said they were hesitant to speak. “They were also significantly less likely to say that they felt good about the comments they made,” say the McAvoys. Analyzing the data by race, ethnicity, and social class, the researchers found no significant differences between the two formats.

“Can Debate and Deliberation Reduce Partisan Divisions? Evidence from a Study of High-School Students” by Paula McAvoy and Gregory McAvoy in Peabody Journal of Education, Fall 2021 (Vol. 96, #3, pp. 275-284); the first author can be reached at

7. Teaching Civics Through Local Action

In this Peabody Journal of Education article, Sarah Andes (Tufts University), Jason Fitzgerald (Monmouth University), Alison Cohen (Tufts University and University of California/San Francisco), and Scott Warren (Johns Hopkins University) describe how the decade-old Generation Citizen program teaches citizenship by getting a student class engaged in a local issue, following these steps:

– Studying their community;

– Choosing an issue that will engage students with people and perspectives different from their own, but with connections to their own lived experience;

– Researching the issue;

– Planning for action;

– Taking action;

– Reflecting on the initiative.

Working in cities across the U.S., Generation Citizen has steered students toward nonpartisan, non-controversial issues where students can have a direct impact on their community without getting caught up in partisan fights. Four examples:

• High-school students in New York City discovered that female, African-American abolitionists were not represented among the city’s public statues. Students succeeded in getting a seat on a board committed to public artwork honoring women’s history.

• Eighth graders in California brought the issue of unsafe city buses to the attention of the local transportation department and the problem was fixed.

• Students in Lowell, Massachusetts launched a gun buy-back initiative, raised funds from 35 houses of worship and 21 nonprofit organizations and business, publicized the effort through an op-ed and bilingual advertisements, and used gift cards to get 38 guns off the streets.

• Students in Berkeley, California were successful in getting a youth homeless shelter that had been open only during the school year to open year-round.

“Many times,” say the authors, “when local politics is concerned, people take precedence over partisanship. It can be a remarkable experience, too, when young people realize that they have the right and ability to reach out to elected officials, and to know that those public figures or governmental workers may be interested in what they have to say…”

“Teaching Students to Be Political in a Nonpartisan Way: Reflections from Action Civics Education Across Red and Blue States” by Sarah Andes, Jason Fitzgerald, Alison Cohen, and Scott Warren in Peabody Journal of Education, Fall 2021 (Vol. 96, #3, pp. 285-293); Andes can be reached at

8. Jennifer Gonzalez on the Dual Attention Problem

In this Cult of Pedagogy “EduTip,” Jennifer Gonzalez says that a very common teaching mistake is presenting students with something to read – perhaps a handout or a PowerPoint slide – and then talking while they’re trying to read it. “I don’t know about you,” says Gonzalez, “but my brain doesn’t work like that. I can’t read one thing with words and listen to something else with different words and actually process both.” Quite often teachers get upset when students don’t grasp what they were supposed to read or don’t seem to have been listening to what was said. “The truth is,” she says, “we caused the problem.”

This suggests that when we want students to read something and also have information that needs to be conveyed orally, we provide separate times for each – specifically:

– Do the explaining before handing out or projecting the written material.

– If the text is already in front of students, tell them to stop reading and look up at you (or turn off the projector) and wait until you have their full attention.

– While students are reading, insist on quiet.

– If students have questions during the silent reading time, tell them to jot them down and hold them for an upcoming Q&A time.

“EduTip 1: Don’t Make Them Read and Listen at the Same Time” by Jennifer Gonzalez in Cult of Pedagogy, September 12, 2021

9. Recommended Graphic Novels About History and Science

In this School Library Journal article, Brigid Alverson highlights graphic novels about overlooked historical figures and scientific phenomena (click the link below for cover images and short summaries):

– We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration by Frank Abe, Tamiko Nimura, Ross Ishikawa, and Matt Sasaki, grade 8 and up

– History Comics: The Wild Mustang by Chris Duffy and Falynn Koch, grade 4-6

– Yummy by Victoria Grace Elliott, grade 3-7

– The Bug Club by Elise Gravel, grade 1-2

– “Strange Fruit” by Joel Christian Gill, grade 7 and up

– Robert Smalls: Tales of the Talented Tenth by Joel Christian Gill, grade 7 and up

– Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Cold War Correspondent by Nathan Hale, grade 3-7

– History Comics: The National Parks by Falynn Koch, grade 4-8

– Expedition Backyard by Rosemary Mosco and Binglin Hu, grade 2 and up

– Science Comics: Dinosaurs by MK Reed and Joe Flood, grade 4-6

– Andy Warner’s Oddball Histories: Pests and Pets by Andy Warner, grade 3-7

– Brief Histories of Everyday Objects by Andy Warner, grade 7 and up

“(Previously) Untold Stories” by Brigid Alverson in School Library Journal, September 2021 (Vol. 67, #9, pp. 38-41)

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In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“Finding a balance with screens is larger than imposing restrictions for children and teens; it is about modeling, fostering candid and engaging discussions, empowering learners, providing resources, setting clear expectations, and designing assessments and learning opportunities that call upon creativity and imagination.”

Alicia Johnson in “Screen Angst: The Search for Digital Balance” in Principal

Leadership, September 2021 (Vol. 22, #1, pp. 22-23)

“Many people are socialized, at a deep psychological level, to be more comfortable with brilliance coming from a male body, or to believe that people of a darker skin tone are less capable.”

Stephon Alexander, Brown University physics professor and accomplished jazz

musician in “The Cosmic Improviser” in Psychology Today, September/October 2021

(Vol. 54, #5, pp. 12-13); see this 2015 TEDX talk in which Alexander describes the

impact of a Bronx high-school teacher; Alexander is at

“I wanted my books to enable black children to realize how beautiful and smart they are.”

Eloise Greenfield, author of 47 children’s books, who died last week at 92

“Almost always, when professionals watch themselves on video, they’re astonished by what they see – sometimes delighted, sometimes disappointed, rarely unsurprised… Video is rocket fuel for learning because it gives us a clear picture of reality.”

Jim Knight (see item #2)

“One of the most essential yet difficult strategies for promoting independence is to let failure happen. We all want to see our students succeed, but the learning is in the struggle.”

Katerina Watson (see item #5)

“If you fire someone for making an error, you’ve probably just gotten rid of the one person who is never likely to make that mistake again.”

Art Markman (see item #9)

1. Words That Support and Encourage Students

For this Edutopia article, Stephen Merrill checked with a number of highly proficient teachers and collected seven comments they use to empower students and create a supportive classroom environment:

• We really missed you yesterday. A student hearing this upon returning from an absence understands that they are a valued contributor to the classroom community.

• I’m listening. An open-ended invitation to say more is effective – if the teacher doesn’t jump in to fill the silence and if their body language signals that the student has their full attention.

• Oops, I made a mistake. Teachers modeling the comfortable acknowledgement of errors “is essential to academic resilience in students,” says Merrill. Adding humor makes it that much better: That’s a real whopper! or I can’t believe I did that again! Teachers should also praise the thinking behind a student’s creative error.

• I’m sorry. A judicious use of apologies “instantly humanizes the relationship between teachers and students,” says Merrill. It “instills trust, signals respect for the receiver, and makes you more accessible.”

• We’ll figure it out together. This positions the teacher and student as co-learners, flipping the usual top-down script and giving the student encouragement and agency.

• You’ve really improved on… “Feedback that is specific, measured, and focused on a student’s process or effort is motivating and actionable,” says Merrill. “Steer clear of feedback that engages in hyperbole, lacks specificity, or praises ostensibly inherent qualities like intelligence.”

• I believe in you. “Teachers are required to correct papers, hand out grades, and at times chastise poor behavior,” says Merrill. “That power dynamic can subtly undermine students’ self-confidence.” Periodically expressing belief in students’ individuality and high expectations for their success can get things back on an even keel.

“7 Things Teachers Say to Create a Supportive Classroom” by Stephen Merrill in Edutopia, August 26, 2021

2. Maxims for Instructional Coaches

(Originally titled “Hey Instructional Coach, What Do You Do?”)

In this Educational Leadership article, Jim Knight (University of Kansas, Instructional Coaching Group) suggests five maxims for instructional coaches as they help teachers get better at their craft:

• A coach is a teacher talking with a teacher. In other words, the coach should be a partner, not an expert. “A partnership conversation is one between two people who have equal power,” says Knight. “This means that instructional coaches interact in ways that ensure that collaborating teachers make the decisions about what happens in their classrooms.”

• Videos of teachers in their classrooms help them see reality as it is, not as they wish it to be. “Almost always, when professionals watch themselves on video, they’re astonished by what they see,” says Knight, “– sometimes delighted, sometimes disappointed, rarely unsurprised.” That’s why looking at videos with a coach is “rocket fuel” for improvement.

• If there’s no goal, it’s just a nice conversation. “When teachers pursue a powerful, student-focused goal that truly matters to them,” says Knight, “unmistakable improvements happen in students’ lives and learning.”

• Who’s doing the work here? Coaches need to resist the temptation to say, “Oh, I’ve had that issue. Let me tell you what you should do.” Better to listen, ask reflective questions, and make tentative suggestions. An imperfect solution owned by the teacher often produces better results than the perfect solution from the coach.

• Real learning happens in real life. Conversations are important, but in the end teachers need to try new skills, ideas, and beliefs with students and see whether they work. “Coaches walk a tightrope between support and dialogue,” concludes Knight, “to ensure that such real-life learning occurs.”

“Hey Instructional Coach, What Do You Do?” by Jim Knight in Educational Leadership, September 2021 (Vol. 79, #1, pp. 80-81); Knight can be reached at

3. Getting the Most from Teacher Teams This Year

(Originally titled “Why Teacher Teams Are More Critical Than Ever”)

In this article in Educational Leadership, Susan Moore Johnson (Harvard Graduate School of Education) says her interviews with educators during the pandemic pointed to the key role of school-based teams in supporting schools’ “resolve and resilience.” Going forward, she urges school leaders to maximize the impact of teams in five ways:

– Build a schedule with weekly common planning time for same-grade/same-subject teachers.

– “Doggedly protect” meeting times so teachers can count on them.

– Give teams responsibility for important decisions, including curriculum materials, analyzing student work, and parent outreach.

– Coach team facilitators on assigning roles to members and running meetings that continuously improve teaching and learning.

– Keep the whole staff informed about each team’s deliberations and decisions.

“Why Teacher Teams Are More Critical Than Ever” by Susan Moore Johnson in Educational Leadership, September 2021 (Vol. 79, #1, pp. 59-63); Johnson can be reached at

4. More Than “Fluffy Stuff” – Social-Emotional Learning in Math Classes

In this article in The Learning Professional, mathematics instructional specialists Carrie Edmond, Rebekah Kmieciak, Rachel Mane, and Ashley Taplin (North East ISD, Texas) describe the evolution of their thinking on integrating CASEL’s five social-emotional skills into math lessons: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. As they built trust with their colleagues and engaged in coaching cycles (reflection, independent brainstorming, and collaboration implementing ideas), they zeroed in on specific entry points for SEL:

• A welcoming activity up front to help students feel included – for example, what’s new, mix and mingle, four corners;

• An engaging practice maximizing student voice – for example, think/pair/share, quick-writes, Pear Deck, mindful minute, gallery walks, give one/get one/move on;

• An optimistic lesson closure – for example, a one-word whip around, a human bar graph, my next step.

At all three points in the lesson, students might be asked:

– What am I still curious about?

– What might be a different perspective?

– What would happen if…?

– What is one takeaway from this experience?

– How has your thinking changed about…?

The authors also suggest that teachers explicitly name the way in which the CASEL social-emotional skills are being put to work – for example:

– We’re doing this check-in as a way for you and me to be aware of your energy level before beginning today’s lesson.

– When you set a goal based on today’s target, we are working on self-management to achieve it.

– When you tell me where you’re at in your understanding, you are making a decision to help me know how best to help you.

– I’m pairing you up so we can develop effective communication, collaboration, and relationships.

– Someone might not have seen it the same way you did; when we talk about different strategies and perspectives, we’re working on social awareness.

The authors’ coaching work was initially done in high-school math classes but began spreading to other subject areas. In one districtwide meeting, the superintendent joked that if Algebra II could embed SEL, anyone could.

“Coaching with SEL in Mind” by Carrie Edmond, Rebekah Kmieciak, Rachel Mane, and Ashley Taplin in The Learning Professional, August 2021 (Vol. 42, #4, pp. 36-39, 44); the authors can be reached at,,, and

5. Intentionally Building Primary Students’ Self-Reliance

In this Edutopia article, Katerina Watson says there was a point when she realized she was doing too much for her elementary students – picking up a snack wrapper, helping a student finish cutting out a circle – and resolved to break out of that pattern. “As soon as I became more mindful of stepping back,” she says, “I saw nearly immediate results in my students’ independence, academic progress, and pride in themselves.” Here are several ways she put her epiphany to work:

• Side-by-side modeling – For example, Watson sits next to a student with a whiteboard and writes a word that follows a similar phonics rule but isn’t exactly the same – for example, if the student is struggling to write bat, Watson writes cat and prompts the student to figure out the correct spelling.

• Normalizing errors – “One of the most essential yet difficult strategies for promoting independence is to let failure happen,” she says. “We all want to see our students succeed, but the learning is in the struggle.” When a student accidentally cut her craft project in half, Watson waited, and when the student did nothing, asked, “What is your plan for fixing this?” The student grabbed some tape and patched up her project.

• Saving students from regrettable actions – To prevent students from messing up something they’ve been working on for weeks, Watson narrates what will happen if they make a certain choice and then lets them proceed. “Sometimes they decide to avoid the harmful action,” she says; “other times, they ruin the project. Either option prompts meaningful learning while still allowing the student to think critically and make their own choices.”

• Self-provisioning – It saves time to give students what they need in advance – for example, a pencil to complete a writing project. Watson now makes students responsible for getting the materials they need.

• Tying shoelaces and zipping up jackets – Continuing to do this for students when it’s no longer age-appropriate “only does them a disservice,” says Watson. “Even if the skill takes a significant portion of time during the first few go-arounds, allowing an independent process will have the student performing the skill quickly in no time and takes a major task off of your plate.”

• Choosing the right words – The teacher’s language truly makes a difference, says Watson. Some suggestions:

– Where can you look to find that information?

– Have we seen this anywhere before?

– I see how hard you are working. What you’re doing is helping you learn so much.

– I’m so proud of you! You put in the work, and you did this all on your own.

– You’re such a creative problem solver. Look how much you were able to accomplish by yourself.

“While honoring the process takes more time and often means a bit more mess in our classrooms,” Watson concludes, “in the long run it gives our students invaluable opportunities to think critically, reflect, and build independence. The meaningful learning that happens during the process is far more important than ensuring a perfect final product.”

“What Have I Been Doing for My Students That They Could Do for Themselves?” by Katerina Watson in Edutopia, August 13, 2021

6. Ian Rowe on Achievement Gaps Versus the “Distance to 100”

In this Education Gadfly article, New York City educator Ian Rowe (American Enterprise Institute) says it’s discouraging that in recent decades, U.S. student achievement has plateaued, and that despite strenuous efforts to close achievement gaps, there’s still a stubborn correlation between race, class, and test scores. Asked to speak before the Rhode Island Board of Education on ways to improve educational outcomes, Rowe shared the state’s NAEP scores from 1998 to 2019 (quite similar to the nation as a whole).

The data showed a gap of more than 20 percentage points between the average reading scores of white students and students of color. But white students’ scores were nothing to boast about: fewer than half of white eighth graders were proficient in reading. “The sad irony,” says Rowe, “is that closing the black- or Hispanic-white achievement gap in reading, without improving outcomes for all students, would mean growing black and Hispanic outcomes from sub-mediocrity to full mediocrity.”

The raw numbers of Rhode Island eighth graders reading below proficiency drive home the nature of the problem: 3,429 white students, 2,233 Hispanic students, and 784 black students at an unacceptable level of literacy. “These data on reading proficiency,” says Rowe, “– both in raw numbers and proportional rates by group – underscore our nation’s massive collective failure to effectively teach literacy and build verbal proficiency across all races and classes. It also shatters the accepted truth that there is any sole or even primary cause of low proficiency rates among black and Hispanic Americans.” If more than half of all students are below par in reading, the reasons can’t be specific to race, ethnicity, or social class.

A better way of looking at the educational challenge, Rowe believes, is focusing on the distance to 100 – that is, the gap between students’ current level of proficiency and the aspirational goal of all students reaching proficiency. The gap between the average reading level for all students and 100 percent proficiency – about 70 percentage points at a national level – is far larger than the racial and economic gaps. That should be the focus of our attention.

Looking through this lens, says Rowe, helps us realize that “white students read below grade level for many of the same reasons black and Hispanic students do.” For starters, few elementary schools focus on building students’ knowledge in literature, science, and social studies. Instead, most students are taught reading in a way that’s disconnected from content, on the theory that if students know how to decode, find the main idea, make inferences, and draw conclusions, they will apply those skills to understand any reading passage put before them. In other words, says this widely implemented theory, children must learn to read before they read to learn. Thus most classroom texts are generic, not linked to a systematic K-12 knowledge curriculum.

Rowe closes by quoting a 2019 study by Eric Hanushek, Paul Peterson, Laura Talpey, and Ludger Woessman: “The stubborn endurance of achievement inequalities suggests the need to reconsider policies and practices aimed at shrinking the gap. Although policymakers have repeatedly tried to break the link between students’ learning and their socioeconomic background, these interventions thus far have been unable to dent the relationship between socioeconomic status and achievement. Perhaps it is time to consider alternatives.”

“A Better Way to Improve Literacy Among Black and Hispanic Children” by Ian Rowe in Education Gadfly, September 2, 2021; Rowe can be reached at

7. Reading Strategies to Avoid – and to Embrace

In this Edutopia article, Sarah Gonser nominates four literacy practices that she believes should be relegated to the dustbin of pedagogy:

• Reading logs and other rote accountability tasks – The evidence is that having students fill out a mandatory record of 20 minutes of at-home reading saps interest in reading and reduces kids’ intrinsic motivation to find the right books and truly enjoy them.

• Turn-taking oral reading – Even with variations like popcorn and using popsicle sticks to decide the next reader, this is a poor use of classroom time that somehow persists despite 50 years of contrary evidence. It stigmatizes struggling readers, weakens comprehension, and undermines many students’ fluency and pronunciation. Oral reading is important, says Gonser (as is an increasing amount of silent reading as students move through the elementary grades), but round-robin reading is the wrong approach.

• Giving prizes for reading – Extrinsic rewards do little to build good reading habits and may actually decrease the motivation of students who already love to read. Better incentives might be extra reading time or well-chosen books that students can keep.

• Overemphasizing discrete reading skills – Having students read unfamiliar texts while learning ostensibly transferable skills (e.g., main idea and summarizing) is increasingly viewed as a poor way to improve overall reading proficiency, especially for students who enter school with disadvantages. A far more effective strategy is building age-appropriate background knowledge, fluency, and comprehension using proven pedagogy and well-chosen texts.

Gonser goes on to describe six classroom strategies that are supported by research and anecdotal evidence:

– Reading accountability partners, with pairs of students meeting daily for ten minutes to discuss homework reading;

– Mini-lessons and group work, with students learning roles (e.g., holding peers accountable, being receptive to feedback), getting guiding questions, and then doing small-group work with close teacher monitoring;

– Choral reading with the class and teacher reading a passage aloud together; this reduces struggling readers’ public exposure while immersing all students in the text. The teacher occasionally pauses before a key word, inviting the class to say it out loud.

– Scaffolding silent reading by pre-teaching vocabulary and providing a plot overview;

– Teacher readaloud for 5-7 minutes each day, modeling reading strategies (e.g., what to do with an unknown word), stopping frequently to wonder out loud, and giving a running commentary on the plot and characters;

– Cross-grade reading buddies, with upper-grade students pairing up with lower-grade partners once a month; this benefits both the younger and older students and builds classroom community.

These strategies, concludes Gonser, coupled with systematically building background knowledge and providing a rich variety of books and other reading matter, will build motivation, increase the time spent reading inside and outside of school, and steadily improve reading proficiency. This will be especially true for students who come to school with disadvantages.

“4 Reading Strategies to Retire This Year (Plus 6 to Try Out!)” by Sarah Gonser in Edutopia, August 12, 2021

8. Should Teachers Tell Students Their Personal Opinions on Hot Topics?

(Originally titled “A Matter of Opinion”)

Should teachers share their personal views on controversial issues? wonders Philadelphia high-school teacher/author Matthew Kay in this Educational Leadership article. It’s a tricky question because teachers tend to have strong opinions and, as authority figures, are in a position to influence students, especially those who care about teachers’ approval and accept what they say as gospel. Teachers are often urged to keep their views to themselves, facilitate debates among students, and, when put on the spot, ask, What do you think?

Kay agrees that teachers shouldn’t proselytize or indoctrinate, but he’s troubled by being totally silent on hot topics. Students who ask what teachers think are seeking understanding. “When we deflect their questions about our own perspectives,” says Kay, “I believe they feel misled and patronized, as if guided back to the kiddie table.” In addition, these are missed opportunities for students to get insights on how a teacher’s thinking on tough questions has evolved through reading, discussion, and analysis.

The middle ground, he believes, is teachers being honest about their opinions and humble about their expertise. A teacher might respond by sharing a view, followed by, I’m not an expert on that subject; tell me honestly, does this hold water? This last part is vital, says Kay: “Often, kids don’t know when it is a good time to disagree with their teacher. Sometimes questioning an ‘authority figure’ is applauded, and other times it gets them sent to the dean’s office. So the invitation to respectfully critique a teacher’s personal opinions should not just be offered, but offered earnestly.” Kay believes using this approach conveys three important messages:

– It’s okay to question a teacher’s views.

– People can express views that aren’t fully formed.

– “Criticism and clarification can be humbly sought and thoughtfully engaged.”

“A Matter of Opinion” by Matthew Kay in Educational Leadership, September 2021 (Vol. 79, #1, pp. 82-83); Kay can be reached at

9. How to Avoid Being a Bad Boss

In this article in Fast Company, Art Markman (University of Texas/Austin) describes four leader behaviors that destroy motivation, poison relationships, and keep people from doing their best work:

• Hogging credit for successes and blaming others for failures – “As a leader,” says Markman, “you are going to get more credit for the success of your team than you deserve, because you are the most visible member of that team.” A wise boss will counter this tendency by thanking colleagues when things go well and drawing attention to their contributions. And when things go badly, the leader needs to shoulder responsibility and shield colleagues from blame. “Even if team members slipped up,” says Markman, “it was the leader’s role to ensure that everyone was prepared, to check on the status of the project, and to deal with missteps.”

• Creating uncertainty – When people aren’t sure what’s going to happen next, they get anxious and hyper-vigilant, which is not conducive to collegiality and focusing on the mission. Unwise leaders dole out information on a need-to-know basis, move the goalposts without warning, and implement new initiatives without consulting others. “Good bosses,” says Markman, “make the landscape more predictable for their team. They communicate expectations clearly and reward people who meet or exceed those expectations… They provide as much information as they can in unstable times – like during the pandemic. They even admit when they themselves don’t know exactly what is coming next.”

• Sowing mistrust – Humans are social creatures and cooperation is at the heart of successful organizations, says Markman. But cooperation requires trust – a belief that others won’t use your valuable insights to advance their own position, that your contributions will be reciprocated. Bad bosses pit people against each other, play favorites, and reward people who aren’t working for the common good, while good bosses do the opposite.

• Using sticks more than carrots – “A single time someone gets mad at you affects your mood far more than a single instance of praise,” says Markman. Harsh criticism and yelling “whittles away at people’s joy of coming to work.” Punishments, he believes, should be reserved for negligence, repeatedly making the same mistake, not coming forward to report an error, or deliberately sabotaging the mission. “Routine mistakes – even ones that have big consequences – are just teaching opportunities. And if you fire someone for making an error, you’ve probably just gotten rid of the one person who is never likely to make that mistake again.”

“4 Ways a Boss Can Create a Toxic Workspace” by Art Markman in Fast Company, September 3, 2021; Markman can be reached at

10. Being Present As a Leader

“Distracted leaders don’t know what’s going on around them and can’t see what’s in front of them,” says Dan Rockwell in this Leadership Freak article. Rushing to a meeting or thinking about something on the to-do list, they devalue a colleague who’s trying to have a conversation with them. To counter this, Rockwell preaches situational awareness: “Release thoughts of the next thing so you can focus on this thing.” Some specifics:

– Watch faces.

– Hear tone.

– Notice the environment.

– Be aware of a colleague’s back story.

– Consider saying, “I could be wrong, but something feels off. What’s happening?”

– Ask, “What should I be noticing?”

– Perhaps say, “I want to give you my full attention. I have a meeting in five minutes. Could we connect after the meeting?”

“Situational Awareness: How to Stop Hitting People with Bats” by Dan Rockwell in Leadership Freak, September 2, 2021; Rockwell is at

11. A Reenactment of a Difficult Conversation

In this interactive presentation at the July SAM conference in Tucson, two educators took the roles of an elementary principal and second-grade teacher (Lew and Helen) as they engaged in a series of five conversations about the teacher’s problematic performance. This true-to-life case by consultant Barry Jentz, who coached the real Lew as he prepared for each meeting, was summarized in Marshall Memo 849 and can be read in full in Jentz’s book, Leadership and Learning: Personal Change in a Professional Setting, available here.

“Lew’s Case” acted by J. Roth and Carol Merritt, with narration by Kim Marshall, at the National SAM Conference, Tucson, Arizona, July 9, 2021; Jentz can be reached at

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In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“There is nobody more dangerous than one who has been humiliated, even when you humiliate him rightly.”

Nelson Mandela (quoted in item #3)

“At least half of what people need in conflict is to be heard, even if they don’t get their way in the end.”

Amanda Ripley (ibid.)

“It now appears that electronically mediated social interactions are like empty calories.”

Jonathan Haidt and Jean Twenge (see item #1)

“… an outrage machine that made life online far uglier, faster, more polarized, and more likely to incite performative shaming.”

Jonathan Haidt and Jean Twenge on the impact of social media (ibid.)

“Writing is an incredibly complex task. It involves the instant integration of several components – handwriting and letter formation (and later typing), spacing and formatting on the page, spelling, grammar, sentence formation, adding punctuation – all while holding your ideas, and some sort of organizational scheme for those ideas, in your memory.”

Sarah Riggs Johnson (see item #6)

“The biggest impact a school leader can make in the quality of instruction for all learners is to give co-teachers common planning time.”

Sarah Riggs Johnson (ibid.)

1. Mitigating the Impact of Smartphones and Social Media on Adolescents

In this New York Times article, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt (NYU’s Stern School) and psychologist Jean Twenge (San Diego State University) say that in 2012, the incidence of teenage loneliness, depression, self-harm, and suicide began to rise sharply. “By 2019,” they say, “just before the pandemic, rates of depression among adolescents had nearly doubled.”

In a time of relative prosperity, what could explain these troubling statistics? Smartphones and social media, say Haidt and Twenge; 2012 was the first year that most Americans owned a smartphone, and by 2015, two-thirds of teenagers had one, and most were hooked on social media. Facebook had added a Like button, Twitter a retweet button, and algorithms were jiggered to amplify content that triggered emotions, creating what the authors call “an outrage machine that made life online far uglier, faster, more polarized, and more likely to incite performative shaming.” Instagram had an especially strong impact on girls and young women, “inviting them to ‘compare and despair’ as they scrolled through posts from friends and strangers showing face, bodies, and lives that had been edited and re-edited until many were closer to perfection than to reality.”

These effects are echoed around the world, operating at the individual and group level. “The smartphone brought about a planetary rewiring of human interactions,” say Haidt and Twenge. “As smartphones became common, they transformed peer relationships, family relationships, and the texture of daily life for everyone – even those who don’t own a phone or don’t have an Instagram account. It’s harder to strike up a casual conversation in the cafeteria or after class when everyone is staring down at their phones. It’s harder to have a deep conversation when each party is interrupted randomly by buzzing, vibrating ‘notifications.’”

The result is “an incredibly isolated group of people,” said a Canadian college student a year before the pandemic. “We have shallow friendships and superfluous romantic relationships that are mediated and governed to a large degree by social media.” He described walking into a lecture hall before class and seeing everyone silently on their devices, a manifestation of isolation and weakened self-identity and confidence.

Can’t phones and social media be used to connect people and foster meaningful and playful communication? They can, but for many teens, it hasn’t worked out that way, say Haidt and Twenge: “It now appears that electronically mediated social interactions are like empty calories.”

What is to be done? Clearly we can’t put the genie back in the bottle, but the authors suggest two “reasonable steps to help teens get more of what they need:”

• During the school day, lock phones up “so students can practice the lost art of paying full attention to the people around them – including their teachers.”

• Kids shouldn’t be allowed to use social media before high school. Since there’s tremendous peer pressure for elementary- and middle-school students to get a phone, enforcement would need to come by requiring social media companies to implement third-party identity verification for all new accounts, preventing younger children from joining.

As students emerge from the pandemic, during which they became even more reliant on digital communication, Haidt and Twenge believe this is the ideal time to implement these policies, helping young people wean themselves from an unhealthy dependency and enjoy better relationships – and mental health.

“The Smartphone Trap” by Jonathan Haidt and Jean Twenge in The New York Times, August 1, 2021; the authors can be reached at and

2. Some Kids Did Better with Remote Learning. What Now?

In this article in Education Week, Alyson Klein says that although many students struggled during remote and hybrid instruction, some thrived. For example, in an Arizona high school, three students on the autism spectrum “blossomed,” according to their teacher. Liberated from the difficulty of dealing with social distractions, they were able to focus on their work and excel academically. Teachers report that this was true for a number of students with learning and thinking differences, anxiety, and mental health conditions. In addition, some high-performing students enjoyed the autonomy made possible by remote instruction.

Now that most schools are once again in-person, how can all students be successful in an environment that wasn’t effective for many of them in the past? Klein reports that some schools are conducting surveys, asking students what worked and what didn’t during remote and hybrid instruction. Insights from these surveys can help improve in-person instruction. “You might find they really benefited from the freedom to use their time more flexibly or focus without interruption,” says Claire Schu at the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. Klein lists ideas from interviews with Schu and other educators:

– Explicitly teaching social skills: “Even the most extroverted kids may need help getting back into the swing of things socially after an extended period of relative isolation at home,” says Klein;

– Allowing some students to work alone during lunch and unstructured parts of the day rather than forcing them into unwanted social activities;

– Sticking to a consistent, predictable sequence of activities in each lesson;

– Not rushing instruction (despite the pressure to cover unfinished learning at a rapid pace) and having students periodically do meditative breathing;

– Providing more opportunities for one-on-one, personalized interactions;

– Using apps like Kahoot to “gamify” lessons, increasing student engagement and allowing teachers to make immediate corrections to errors and misconceptions;

– Encouraging students to go over material – for example, watching videos of teacher lectures several times;

– As much as possible, giving students choices on projects and the sequence in which they do their work – for example, deciding to do the “worst first” or waiting till the end of the day to tackle difficult assignments.

“Virtual Learning Was Better for Some Kids. Here’s What Teachers Learned from Them” by Alyson Klein in Education Week, August 25, 2021 (Vol. 41, #2, p. 9)

3. Skillfully Handling Hot-Button Issues in the Months Ahead

In this Education Week article, author/journalist Amanda Ripley says many U.S. schools are experiencing a “superstorm” of fraught issues, including masks, vaccinations, and what parts of American history should and should not be taught. “Having studied high-conflict elections, divorces, gangs, and even civil wars,” says Ripley, “I can say that the behavior is chillingly predictable. People become very certain of their own moral righteousness, and they make a lot of mistakes” – which can end up harming children.

But bad outcomes are not inevitable, she says, if we realize the ways in which high conflict is a trap and take these steps:

• Avoid polarization. Ripley quotes Nelson Mandela: “There is nobody more dangerous than one who has been humiliated, even when you humiliate him rightly.” Leaders need to avoid binary characterizations of others, she says, lower the temperature, and think about stakeholders “as complicated human beings who can change.”

• Articulate the hidden agenda. Under the surface in high-conflict situations, says Ripley, is often fear. “Sometimes it is justified, sometimes not. Either way, it will just metastasize until it gets surfaced.” Leaders need to be curious, ask questions, engage in active listening, acknowledge their own uncertainty, and keep the focus on the kids. “At least half of what people need in conflict is to be heard,” she says, “even if they don’t get their way in the end.”

• Don’t be afraid of “good conflict.” This kind of disagreement can be heated and stressful, says Ripley, but if it’s built on a foundation of relationships, it’s often productive: “Questions get asked. We experience flashes of anger and frustration – alongside flashes of humor and curiosity. That is the kind of conflict that pushes us to be better people.” That will happen only if there’s rapport and trust – over time, a five-to-one ratio of positive to negative interactions. Ripley has a few suggestions:

– School leaders standing outside in the morning warmly greeting every student and chatting with parents;

– Inviting the head of the teachers’ union to lunch;

– Giving positive feedback to a reporter who wrote a thoughtful article about schools (with a copy to the editor);

– Buying masks with students’ favorite sports team logo and giving them out free.

“These fleeting moments matter,” concludes Ripley, “and we’ve had precious few of them for the past 17 months. Think of each connection, no matter how simple, as an investment in your own future sanity.”

“Schools Are Facing a High-Conflict ‘Superstorm’” by Amanda Ripley in Education Week, August 25, 2021 (Vol. 41, #2, p. 24)

4. Strategies to Get Equitable Student Participation in Math Classes

In this article in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, Marcy Wood (University of Arizona/Tucson) and six colleagues say that in math classes, it’s common that some students see themselves (and are seen by others) as less intelligent in that subject. Students might say:

– I’m not good at math.

– I can’t do this.

– Ask Daniel what this means. I copied it from him.

Teachers find these students frustrating (and disruptive), may label them struggling, slow, and low-achieving, and give them less-challenging tasks so they won’t be overwhelmed. Another approach is putting students in groups in hopes that less-confident students will get more air time.

But these strategies are not effective, say the authors, because they don’t get at the root cause of unequal participation. “In particular,” they say, “we need to address perceptions of intelligence that mean some students are seen as more entitled to participate than others.” Those students are seen as “smart” at mathematics – and it’s not necessarily because of what they do in math class: “Students may judge one another’s intelligence on the basis of physical attractiveness, popularity, reading ability, social skills, race, gender expression, or first language.”

These perceptions are part of a self-perpetuating cycle that leads some students to overparticipate and others to underparticipate. When “smarter” students’ contributions are recognized by the teacher and by peers, their confidence gets a boost and they contribute more frequently. They may also call out answers, interrupt, and tell other students what to do. Watching these behaviors, lower-achieving students often hold back and contribute less and less. “As a result,” say Wood and colleagues, “high-status students spiral up in status and participate more as low-status students spiral down and participate less.”

The authors believe this dynamic can be turned around. First, they say, teachers need to embrace the belief that “all students can solve complex mathematical problems, and that each student brings important mathematical strengths to the table.” Second, students (working in groups) need to be presented with complex and challenging tasks with multiple entry points and paths to solutions; the problems must challenge students to use a diverse set of abilities, and individual students shouldn’t be able to solve them without help from their teammates. Third, teachers need to consistently implement the following “teaching moves”:

• Level the participation playing field. By calling on students equitably, shutting down overparticipation by some students, and encouraging equal contributions within groups, teachers can change the classroom dynamic and shift students’ invidious perceptions of their peers. “These moves,” say the authors, “bring more-diverse ideas into the open, providing a more-complex and enriching mathematical problem space.”

• Expand what counts as mathematical competence. There’s a common misconception that students who are quick to solve standard algorithms and equations are mathematically smart, and that often leads to them dominating group interactions. By assigning complex problems and making sure different approaches to solving problems are heard, teachers can change the way students think about math ability – and encourage the participation of students who never thought of themselves as good at the subject.

• Make “yet” the norm. When students say they can’t solve a problem, the teacher quickly adds, Yet. “This additional word,” say the authors, “prevents students from using claims about current incompetence as an excuse for nonparticipation. In fact, the word yet quietly reinforces a classroom expectation that all students (regardless of status) will become more capable over time.” Students may begin prompting each other when a classmate sounds negative while solving a problem.

• Give students responsibility for managing work. Wood et al. believe teachers need to have students do many of the tasks that teachers have traditionally shouldered: managing materials, keeping track of the time remaining, reminding teammates to stay on task, ensuring equitable participation, relaying questions to the teacher, making sure the group’s ideas are recorded, and checking off completed work. By delegating these tasks and training students to carry them out (being careful not to let overparticipators dominate), teachers build students’ self-reliance and free themselves up to focus on students’ math learning and progress.

• Don’t hover. The authors suggest that teachers move around the classroom and observe unobtrusively, not standing so close to a group that students ask for help, but close enough to hear discussions and intervene if students are really off track.

• Highlight good thinking. “Once teachers have noticed students’ mathematical strengths,” say the authors, “they can use this information to raise student status.” The best way to do this is publicly recognizing a specific academic contribution from a student who is not regarded as a math whiz. Standing across the group from the student with the idea, the teacher might say, “I think Andrea has an idea that might help you. Andrea, can you explain what you wrote on your paper?”

• Take only group questions. Students should understand that when groups are working on problems, the teacher will only answer questions that the group can’t answer through its own deliberations. If called over to a group by a student, the teacher should ask a different student, “What is your group’s question?” If that student doesn’t know the question, the teacher says, “It sounds like you need to talk as a group first. If you still have a question after that, call me back,” and walks away. Students learn they need to rely on each other and involve the teacher only if they are truly stuck.

• Establish the norm that a group isn’t finished until everyone understands. Before presenting their problem solution, one student goes around and makes sure that every student grasps the solution. When the teacher is called over to hear a group’s solution, the teacher calls on a student who typically underparticipates, and stops overparticipators from butting in: “Pat, I asked Terry to respond, and I would like to hear from him.” If the student called on is explaining the solution well, the teacher should interrupt and call on another student to continue. If a student can’t answer the teacher’s questions, the teacher walks away, conveying that students need to quiz each other and make sure everyone really understands.

“8 Teaching Moves Supporting Equitable Participation” by Marcy Wood, James Sheldon, Mathew Felton-Koestler, Joy Oslund, Amy Noelle Parks, Sandra Crespo, and Helen Featherstone in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, August 2021 (Vol. 114, #8, pp. 646-651); Wood can be reached at

5. Using Dry-Erase Whiteboards in Middle- and High-School Social Studies

In this History Tech article, educator/consultant Glenn Wiebe suggests five ways that dry-erase whiteboards can make students’ thinking immediately visible to the teacher and classmates and engage them in critical thinking, gathering new information, and activating prior knowledge. You don’t have whiteboards? “I can almost guarantee,” says Wiebe, “that somewhere in your building is a set of boards in a closet or shelf that someone ordered years ago and isn’t being used anymore.”

• Making connections – The teacher gives students two events or terms and asks them to write phrases on their whiteboards that connect them. Some examples:

– Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis

– The 13th Amendment and the 1965 Voting Rights Act

– The New Deal FDIC and the 2008 Great Recession

– The 1783 Treaty of Paris and the Treaty of Ghent

– The 1868 Japanese Meiji Restoration and the 1300s rise of European merchant guilds

This might be a think-pair-share or a small-group activity, or students might write their answers and then roam around the room comparing and contrasting their ideas with others. For closure, there might be an all-class debate on which answers make the most sense and have the best evidence.

• A timeline activity – The teacher shares a series of events in a random sequence and has students use their whiteboards to put them in the correct order. Students could also look at a political cartoon, primary source, or an image of an artifact and jot sentences to explain their significance.

• Agree/disagree – The teacher shares a statement – for example, The judicial branch of the U.S. government is the most powerful of the three – and students write whether they agree or disagree and why.

• Make like an archivist – After viewing an artifact, political cartoon, or primary source, students write captions on their whiteboards indicating how the items should be catalogued by source and context.

• Rank the importance – The teacher lists 3-5 primary sources on a topic and students use their whiteboards to sequence them from the most to the least important, with a short phrase by each giving their reasoning.

Of course all these activities can be implemented with digital whiteboards like Jamboard or with a new product – – which allows the teacher to create digital student whiteboards that the teacher can monitor.

“Whiteboards. The Old-Fashioned Dry-Erase Kind. And Yes, They Still Work” by Glenn Wiebe in History Tech, August 26, 2021; Wiebe can be reached at

6. Key Elements of an Elementary ELA/Special Education Teacher Team

In this Cult of Pedagogy article, learning specialist Sarah Riggs Johnson says that writing is especially challenging for her elementary special needs students as she pushes in to ELA classes and pulls students out for intervention time. “Writing is an incredibly complex task,” she says. “It involves the instant integration of several components – handwriting and letter formation (and later typing), spacing and formatting on the page, spelling, grammar, sentence formation, adding punctuation – all while holding your ideas, and some sort of organizational scheme for those ideas, in your memory.” For students with language-based learning disabilities, it’s no wonder that writing can be a “cognitive bottleneck.”

For these students to become proficient writers, Johnson believes a two-person teaching team is essential. She suggests eleven key elements for successful ELA/specialist collaboration:

• Time to plan – “The biggest impact a school leader can make in the quality of instruction for all learners,” she says, “is to give co-teachers common planning time.” When she first became a learning specialist, Johnson was lucky to work in a school where she and the three humanities teachers she worked with had 55 minutes together each week. They used the time to plan writing workshops, design social studies lessons, analyze student work, and make sure all students’ needs were met.

• An equal partnership – “I like to think of it as a psychologist and a sociologist working together,” says Johnson. “One is focused more on how an individual is functioning; the other needs to be focused on the good of the group… As a learning specialist, I am not an island in knowing what’s best for students, even students with learning differences. It works best when there is shared ownership; when we can see their growth as ‘our’ shared goal.” One way to accomplish this is the two teachers rotating groups, so each works with the full range of student abilities and the special education teacher is not pigeon-holed in one role. It’s also important for the learning specialist to take part in class competitions, field trips, and celebrations.

• Reading student work together – This gives both members of the team insights on how to respond to “the good, the bad, and the ugly of students’ writing,” says Johnson, and cuts in half the workload of giving written feedback.

• Practicing ‘less is more’ – “When it comes to feedback,” she says, “many students are overwhelmed by too many comments, just as they used to be with too much red ink.” It’s best to focus on “one chunk, one scene, one paragraph at a time,” giving strategic suggestions and specific praise, some in writing, some face to face.

• Using models – Students can learn a lot from exemplars of good writing – opening paragraphs, building suspense, descriptions of a setting, a fight scene, explaining an expert’s quotation. Teachers should be constantly on the prowl for first-rate prose and poetry, including from other students (de-identified).

• Scanning word lists – Finding more-vivid synonyms for overused words like walked, blue, big, and sad helps students improve their writing – even feel like poets. It’s especially important for students with special needs to be exposed to new ways of expressing thoughts and understand the nuanced differences among words.

• Staying together – Johnson believes in keeping students with disabilities in regular classes as much as possible, especially for writing instruction. “Students who struggle learn more than you think from their peers,” she says, “even if their writing skill is not comparable.”

• Letting ELA work guide intervention – Johnson loved it when one of her students said, Wait a minute, we just talked about this in a writing workshop today! “There is magic,” she says, “in teachers working together to reinforce the same knowledge and skills.”

• Showing progress – Students and teachers can track and celebrate growth toward IEP and SMART goals via a sequence of writing samples. Seeing a record of incremental improvement is highly motivating to students.

• Taking revising and editing one step at a time – Students might start by re-reading a draft, then checking the spelling, then revisiting the whole piece. Johnson sometimes has students read a composition backwards; after doing this, one student said, “Oh yeah, this is definitely too long to be one sentence!”

• Combatting anxiety and perfectionism – “Some students struggle with writing because, subconsciously, the fact that they cannot write on the level of the books they love to read frustrates them,” says Johnson. Bridging this gap is a constant challenge for teacher teams as they instill in students an ethos of continuous improvement and an appreciation of the work they create each day.

“How ELA and Special Ed Collaboration Can Produce Great Student Writing” by Sarah Riggs Johnson in Cult of Pedagogy, July 25, 2021

7. Recommended Readaloud Books for the Primary Grades

In this School Library Journal article, Rachel Mulligan (Rutgers University) says that with most schools back for in-person instruction, readalouds can be even more dramatic and engaging, “letting listeners interact with the book, its elements, and fellow audience members, and opening communal space for queries, laughter, observations, and discussions…” Mulligan recommends ten picture books that blend “complexity, diversity, and artistry” (click the link below for brief summaries and cover images):

– Scribble Stones by Diane Alber (2019), grade K-2

– The Paper Bird by Lisa Anchin, (2021), grade K-2

– I Dream of Popo by Livia Blackburne, illustrated by Julia Kuo (2021), grade K-2

– Three Ways to Be Brave by Karla Clark, illustrated by Jeff Ostberg (2021), grade P-K

– A Life Made by Hand: The Story of Ruth Asawa by Andrea D’Aquino (2019), grade 2-5

– Little Red Writing Book by Joan Holub, illustrated by Melissa Sweet (2013), grade 2-5

– The Smile Shop by Satoshi Kitamura (2020), grade K-2

– Goodnight, Ganesha by Nadia Salomon, illustrated by Poonan Mistry (2021), grade P-1

– Diner Dogs by Eric Seltzer, illustrated by Tom Disbury (2021), grade P-K

– Untitled by Timothy Young, (2021), grade K-3

“Great Books, Live and in Person” by Rachel Mulligan in School Library Journal, August 2021 (Vol. 67, #8, pp. 40-42)

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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 899

In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat the 11th grade.”

James Loewen, who died last week at 79, in his 1995 book Lies My Teacher

Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

“History is neither in the business of self-congratulation nor self-flagellation. History is in the truth business.”

Simon Schama in “America’s History Wars, Race, and the Flag” in The Financial

Times, July 7, 2021

“If we accept the learning-loss narrative, we’re more likely to focus on remediation, which would mean slowing down and focusing on isolated skills. This makes students feel punished, embarrassed, and inferior. Often, they are bored in remediation efforts and pay little attention to the experience. Instead, we should focus on acceleration.”

Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher in “Five Strategies for Implementing AcceleratedLearning” in Education Week, August 16, 2021

“The lack of positive, people-focused stories for boys has consequences both for them and girls. In the narratives they consume, as well as the broader cultural landscape in which they operate, girls get a huge head start on relational skills, in the day-to-day thorniness and complexity of emotional life. Story by story, girls are getting the message that other people’s feelings are their concern and their responsibility. Boys are learning that these things have nothing to do with them.”

Ruth Whippman in “Let’s Teach Boys the Art of Emotional Labor” in The New York

Times, August 9, 2021

“Just as shouting doesn’t enable a deaf person to hear, or better lighting a blind person to see, feeding facts and figures to youngsters with untreated health problems is unlikely to help them learn.”

Jane Brody in “When School Nurses Are Not Enough” in The New York Times,

August 10, 2021

“What did you long for when we couldn’t physically meet? What did you not miss and are ready to discard? What forms of meeting did you invent during the pandemic out of necessity that, surprisingly, worked? What might we experiment with now?”

Priya Parker in “How Should We Meet? And Who Decides?” in The New York Times,

August 20, 2021

1. Deciding Between Virtual and In-Person Meetings

In this Harvard Business Review article, executive coach Rae Ringel (Georgetown University, the Ringel Group) suggests six questions to help decide when meetings should be face to face and when they should be remote:

• Should this even be a meeting? “Now that serendipitous in-person interactions are possible,” says Ringel, “and now that we know how to do virtual work well, let’s think very carefully about whether time spent meeting might be better spent thinking, writing, or engaging in other projects.” If the purpose of the meeting is sharing information, that can probably be done more efficiently in writing. But if the purpose is to brainstorm and build off one another’s ideas, in person makes sense.

• Are my meeting goals relationship-based or task-based? Tasks like updates and planning events are best handled in virtual meetings (or via e-mail). If the goal is strengthening or repairing connections among team members and conveying difficult feedback, in person is usually best. “Challenging group conversations should also take place in person,” says Ringel, “where destructive and distracting parallel side chats can’t overshadow the central discussion.” That said, she’s found during the pandemic that for some people, “the screen creates a sense of psychological safety, and with it the freedom to share views and take risks.”

• How complex are my objectives? In-person meetings are almost always better when goals are complex – for example, conflict mediation, leadership development, team building, group forming, performance reviews, and group coaching. More straightforward goals like updates and skills training can be done virtually.

• Could my meeting take an entirely different form? For example, key information might be shared via a prerecorded video that colleagues can watch while they exercise or prepare dinner, with an optional follow-up Q&A. Asynchronous videos have the added advantage that they can be watched more than once. “This approach honors different types of learners,” says Ringel; “some of us actually retain information better when we’re able to multitask.” She’s also experimented with using breakout rooms during meetings with a scribe in each “room” taking notes in a Google doc, and then having the whole group take a “gallery walk” to review the notes from other groups. This avoids what she calls “death by report back,” in which everyone has to sit through one group summary after another while at the same time figuring out what they’re going to say.

• What kind of meeting will be most inclusive? During the pandemic, Ringel has been surprised by the way virtual meetings have opened participation in key meetings to people in other time zones – and working parents – who were previously unable to take part. Going forward, her group at Georgetown University will conduct half of its international meetings virtually, half in person.

• Does my facilitator have the skills and tech setup to pull off a hybrid gathering? The skillset and technology involved in running hybrid meetings (some people in person, some remote) is formidable, says Ringel. She suggests that if everybody can’t be there in person, have all-remote meetings until fully in-person meetings are possible. The only exception is if the leader is truly adept at handling hybrid meetings.

“When Do We Actually Need to Meet in Person?” by Rae Ringel in Harvard Business Review, July 26, 2021

2. Putting a Positive Spin on Wearing Masks in School

In this New York Times article, Judith Danovitch (University of Louisville) acknowledges parents’ and educators’ concern that masks in school may compromise children’s ability to learn language and socialize. It’s certainly true that masks have been “inconvenient, uncomfortable, and bothersome,” she says, but cites five reasons not to worry.

• “Children in cultures where caregivers and educators wear head coverings that obscure their mouths and noses develop skills just as children in other cultures,” says Danovitch. “Even congenitally blind children – who cannot see faces at all – still learn to speak, read, and get along with other people.”

• There’s evidence that wearing a mask in school can improve some social-emotional and cognitive skills, including self-control and paying attention. When they can’t see people’s mouths, students need to pay more attention to their eyes (already an important source of cues), as well as prosody, gestures, and context to understand what’s being said. “A classroom full of people wearing masks,” says Danovitch, “is a great opportunity for children to practice paying attention to those cues, such as a peer’s tone of voice or a teacher’s body language.”

• Wearing a mask all day teaches self-control and self-regulation. Younger children have to resist the urge to pull the mask off, and everyone needs to monitor the position of their masks and know when it’s okay to take it off. “For children who habitually bite their nails or pick their nose,” says Danovitch, “a mask could also be precisely what they need to kick the habit.”

• Mask wearing gives students important insights on how germs spread from person to person. The counterintuitive notion that invisible particles coming out of a person’s mouth can transmit a disease is being driven home to everyone during the pandemic.

• Wearing masks can make children feel part of a community effort to bring the coronavirus under control. “Stressing that the discomfort and inconvenience of mask wearing are forms of generosity and public service,” says Danovitch, “might motivate children to address other social problems in their lives – like bullying.”

“Masks Can In Fact Help Kids Learn” by Judith Danovitch in The New York Times, August 19, 2021; Danovitch can be reached at

3. U.S. History: What Should Be Taught, and Who Decides?

In this Education Week article, Sarah Schwartz summarizes the complicated question of who gets to decide what history content is taught in U.S. schools. This is especially relevant to educators because a number of states are passing laws limiting what’s taught about racism, slavery, and other contentious chapters of the nation’s history. A recurring theme in these laws is forbidding lessons that might make students feel ashamed of their racial group.

Actually, says Schwartz, battles over the history curriculum are nothing new; for decades, competing interest groups have argued over what should be included – and excluded. Some key background on current curriculum decisions:

– There is no national history/civics curriculum; each state decides what will be taught.

– States make decisions based on recommendations by committees of educators, state education agency specialists, scholars, and community members.

– State standards are revised periodically, usually every 7-10 years.

– There have been impassioned debates over a variety of hot topics and how they should be taught.

– The Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently released a critical review of state standards, giving high marks to only a few.

– In 1992, a major attempt at a national history curriculum involving almost 200 contributors sparked intense opposition and was condemned by the U.S. Senate by a vote of 99-1.

– A more-recent attempt at national guidelines – the C3 Framework from the National Council for the Social Studies – is quite broad in scope, with four overarching skills.

– Advanced Placement U.S. history is the one course with a uniform set of history standards; AP history has had its share of debates and revisions, the most recent on how “American exceptionalism” should be treated.

– Earlier in 2021, a panel of academics, educators, and civic nonprofit leaders released a history/civics framework, Roadmap to Educating for American Democracy, touting a theme of “reflective patriotism” – a commitment to ideals with an awareness of flaws.

– This summer, Johns Hopkins University produced a series of “knowledge maps” of what’s covered and omitted in various curriculum materials, working backward from college-level proficiency.

– In terms of teaching materials, about half of the states develop lists of approved textbooks, workbooks, videos, etc.; some of these states have waiver clauses.

– Given the variety of standards, publishers customize editions for different states, and other groups create standalone materials – for example, Facing History and Ourselves.

– Districts and states also develop or purchase specific curriculum materials – for example, Chicago’s unit on the history of police brutality in the city.

– In addition, teachers acquire materials through portals like Teachers Pay Teachers and create their own units and lessons.

– Compared to other core subjects, there’s little vetting of the available history materials; from time to time, there is a fuss about a particularly horrible lesson – for example, a “slave auction” in which students are asked to play-act the sale of enslaved people.

– “Because there are so many different resources available,” says Schwartz, “and because the landscape is so fragmented, it’s very difficult to say definitively what materials teachers are actually using in classrooms – despite the existence of state-approved adoption lists.”

– The most important thing that’s missing, Schwartz concludes, is a national consensus on what should be taught at each grade level, including guidance for educators and communities on how to handle the hot topics that are sparking so much debate.

“Who Decides What History We Teach? An Explainer” by Sarah Schwartz in Education Week, August 11, 2021

4. Teaching an Untracked 10th-Grade English Class

In this article in English Journal, Idaho teacher Paula Uriarte says that four years ago, her principal asked her to teach an unleveled sophomore English course. This was a departure from the “accelerated” and “regular” approach the school had been using for years. Some teachers pushed back, arguing that teaching heterogeneous groups would result in fewer students being prepared to take AP English as juniors and seniors.

Uriarte took on the challenge, spending the summer researching untracked classes, consulting with a university colleague, and hosting planning meetings with other sophomore English teachers. She’d had concerns about tracking, remembering how the least experienced teachers often worked with the lower-track classes and people “are surprised when they burn out or get overwhelmed or don’t want to teach those classes.” As Uriarte planned for the year ahead, she resisted the strategy that some of her colleagues were discussing: a two-tiered curriculum with “high” and “low” lesson plans. Instead she adopted a metaphor suggested by her husband: mac and cheese.

As the school year began, Uriarte focused on creating a classroom culture of high expectations. Students read articles on the importance of literacy (which connected to reading Steinbeck’s The Pearl and Orwell’s Animal Farmlater in the year), and she promoted the idea of everyone taking AP English down the road. Everyone drafted and shared commitments for the year, and some students expressed surprise that a teacher was making promises about her work. One suggested, “Can you add something about making assignment expectations clear?” Others wanted Uriarte to add language about inspiring and motivating them. She made revisions and posted her commitments beside those of the students.

Then Uriarte introduced the metaphor. She got out boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and asked students what was needed to prepare the meal. They listed the basic steps: go to the store, buy the ingredients, boil water, etc. This, she said, represented the basic level of procedural knowledge that would be required for each assignment. Uriarte then showed more-elaborate mac and cheese recipes that called for “folding,” “browning,” and more. This represented the next level: mastery of the English 10 standards. Finally she had students read blog posts in which serious mac and cheese aficionados debated whether to start with a roux, made connections between childhood experiences with choices of ingredients, and experimented with different cheeses and other permutations. This level represented higher-level mastery and application of standards.

Uriarte explained that all students must show proficiency at the “Kraft” level, and would then have the choice of pursuing challenges that pushed them to the two higher conceptual levels. “Any student could take the challenge at any time,” she says. “I explained that my job was to prepare them to take AP classes during their junior and senior years if they chose to. We celebrated with bowls of Costco mac and cheese.”

How did this differentiated, tiered curriculum work out? Many students went beyond the minimum requirements, including some who started the year with the “regular” designation. Some “accelerated” students chose not to go beyond the basic assignments. Looking at the number of missed assignments that year, Uriarte says they were spread more or less equally among “regular” and “accelerated” students. One student who was frequently in trouble in the school excelled in the English course, winning plaudits from her external partners and earning a trip to Washington, D.C. There were some speed bumps that year: a student from Myanmar and another from Iraq started the year knowing little English; another had a stroke that left him unable to speak; another was sent to in-school suspension every time the class had a substitute teacher.

But the most important metric was a marked increase in Uriarte’s students who enrolled in AP English the next year (or English 101 for concurrent credit). And at the end of their senior year, 85 percent of the original sophomore class graduated – and the student from Myanmar not only mastered English but won the Mayor’s Award for Youth and is now studying to be an elementary teacher.

When Uriarte asked seniors about the mac and cheese lesson, they remembered the metaphor and said the untracked class had prepared them for challenges they took on afterward. “Armed with their stories,” she concludes, “I also feel more prepared to argue for how to give all students access to challenging curriculum.”

“On the Mac-and-Cheese Continuum” by Paula Uriarte in English Journal, July 2021 (Vol. 110, #6, pp. 13-15); Uriarte can be reached at

5. Helping Students Do Better with Mathematics Word Problems

In this article in Teaching Mathematics: Learning & Teaching PK-12, Melissa Gallagher and Travis Weiland (University of Houston) and math teacher Laura Ellis say that on math standardized tests, many students are proficient with the computation items but do less well with word problems. The authors believe this happens because:

– Students dive into word problems without understanding the situation presented.

– Students are taught to rely on key words to decide which operations to use.

– Students plug in the numbers and solve without making sense of the problem.

Another issue is that the word problems in tests tend to have low cognitive demand and don’t engage students in lively mathematical thinking.

Gallagher, Ellis, and Weiland believe students learn reading comprehension strategies in their ELA classes and should be explicitly encouraged to apply those strategies to math problems: visualizing, retelling, making connections, and asking questions. One difference: the authors suggest initially presenting word problems without numbers and without the solve-the-problem question at the end, then having students work in pairs, introducing the full problems, and finally having a whole-class discussion of effective strategies. Here’s how the reading strategies are applied:

• Visualizing – Students create a mental image as they read the problem – a picture of what’s going on, and a schematic representation of the math involved. “When teaching students to use visualization in mathematics,” say the authors, “teachers should encourage students to make a movie in their minds and to draw either pictorial or schematic representations of the situation.”

• Retelling – Students recap the main ideas of the problem with a partner, in their own words, including as many details as possible (but not the numbers or the final question).

• Making connections – As they retell the word problem, students make personal and mathematical connections. An example of each: “My mom and I feed the ducks at the lake!” and “There are two types of ducks, but they’re both part of the whole group of ducks.” Making connections may be challenging if students lack personal connections to the math problem.

• Asking questions – Students use questions to clarify what’s going on and make connections before they start to do the math. “Inviting students to ask their own questions about the problem,” say Gallagher, Ellis, and Weiland, “positions them as problem posers and provides them more agency to solve the problem once the question is posed.”

The goal of all this, they conclude, is “to get students talking about word problems and thinking about them deeply.” The authors don’t recommend having students memorize and recapitulate the steps; research has shown this to be an ineffective strategy. Rather, the process of visualizing, retelling, making connections, and asking questions should become part of the classroom culture, so students can tackle new word problems without the need for prompts.

“Making Word Problems Meaningful” by Melissa Gallagher, Laura Ellis, and Travis Weiland in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, August 2021 (Vol. 114, #8, pp. 580-590); the authors can be reached at,, and

6. Parental Advice on Getting Smartphones for Kids

In this Wall Street Journal article, Julie Jargon has words of wisdom for parents on smartphones for children:

• The right age – According to a 2019 survey, about 53 percent of U.S. kids have a smartphone by the time they are 11. Sixth grade, the beginning of middle school, seems to be the age when many parents say yes to a smartphone. More important than age, says Jargon, is maturity – for example, a track record of getting homework done on time, taking care of possessions, keeping a tablet or laptop charged, and being able to defer gratification (will they be able to resist texting in class?). Another consideration is whether a child needs to be in touch while taking public transportation, or depends on reminders about medications. There’s a trade-off between being constantly in touch and learning how to cope independently.

• Social pressure – In elementary school, some classmates have smartphones, which creates a desire among peers to be part of online interactions – texting, TikTok, and other social media. Some parents have joined Wait Until 8th to counter peer pressure and say no to smartphones until eighth grade. To create a critical mass, this organization requires that at least ten families from a child’s grade and school take the pledge.

• Choosing a phone – An important strategy, says Jargon, is getting a phone with the same operating system (iOS or Android) as the parents’ phones. This makes it easier for family members to message one another – and for adults to set up parental controls and screen-time limits. It’s also important to buy a protection plan – or at least a durable case. For younger children who aren’t ready for a smartphone, there are smart watches like Gabb’s version and the GizmoWatch2 that can keep kids in touch without giving them Internet access.

• Responsible use – Ground rules are essential from the start, says Jargon, along with clear consequences for breaking the rules, damage, and loss. There’s a strong consensus on having phones at a charging station outside kids’ bedrooms at night, and parents need to set other limits on social media and when and where phones can be used. Common Sense Media has a model agreement template for this.

“Your Child’s First Smartphone: A Guide to the Proper Age, Phone Type, and Parental Controls” by Julie Jargon in The Wall Street Journal, August 14, 2021; Jargon can be reached at

7. Words of Wisdom for Rookie Teachers

In this Education Week article, Hayley Hardison reports the responses to her outreach via Twitter for advice for beginning teachers in five words or less. A selection:

– Start smiling on day one.

– Relationships matter more than anything.

– Enjoy your students, be yourself.

– Make them believe they can.

– Find teammates that inspire you.

– Find a mentor to trust.

– Always ask for help.

– Classroom procedures are top priority!

– Don’t reinvent the wheel.

– Direct, explicit instruction works best.

– Monitor and adjust.

– Protect your mental health/wellbeing.

– Get the vaccine!

– Have an identity beyond work.

– Leave no later than 6pm.

– It is all about balance!

– Give yourself grace every day.

– Embrace the chaos. Enjoy it.

– The first version isn’t perfect.

– Embrace not knowing everything.

– Teachers are still students.

– You’ll get better.

– Never forget why you began.

“The Best Advice for New Teachers, in 5 Words or Less” by Hayley Hardison in Education Week, August 18, 2021

8. Curiosity As a Key to Good Leadership

In this Leadership Freak article, Dan Rockwell says being curious is an important professional trait, and suggests questions leaders should ask of themselves and their colleagues. Some of his suggestions:

– What do I love doing? What am I best at? What contributions most energize me?

– I notice you’re good at —. How did you get good at that?

– What issues keep coming up in our organization?

– What conversations do we keep having?

– What’s frustrating? What do repeated frustrations tell us?

– What’s making things hard?

– What’s distracting us from doing what’s important?

– What have we tried?

– What do we need to stop doing?

“The Five Faces of Curiosity” by Dan Rockwell in Leadership Freak, August 20, 2021

9. Recommended Franco-Belgian Comics

In this School Library Journal article, Brigid Alverson recommends a number of translated Franco-Belgian comics. She says the combination of humor, fantasy, and slice-of-life stories (with a lot more gender and racial/ethnic diversity than the Tintin, Asterix, and Lucky Luke books of an earlier generation) makes them ideal for American upper-elementary and middle-school students. Her picks:

– Akissi by Marguerite Abouet, illustrated by Mathieu Sapin, grade 2-5

– The Ballad of Yaya by Jean-Marie Omont and others, illustrated by Golo Zhao, grade 4-6

– Bigby Bear by Philipe Coudray, grade K-6

– Billy and Buddy by Jean Roba, grade 4-7

– Castle in the Stars by Alex Alice, grade 5-9

– Catherine’s War by Julia Billet, illustrated by Claire Fauvel, grade 3-7

– Chef Yasmina and the Potato Panic by Wauter Mannaert, grade 4-7

– Chloe by Greg Tessier, illustrated by Amandine, grade 4-7

– Cici’s Journal: Lost and Found by Joris Chamblain, illustrated by Aurélie Neyet, grade 3-7

– The Fly by Lewis Trondheim, grade 2 and up

– The Sisters by Christophe Cazenove, illustrated by William Maury, grade 4-6

– Where are You Leopold? by Michel-Yves Schmitt, illustrated by Vincent Caut, grade 3-6

– The Wolf in Underpants by Wilfrid Lupano, illustrated by Mayana Itoïz and Paul Cauuet, grade 2-5

– Young Leonardo by William Augel, grade 3-7

“Beyond Tintin: Franco-Belgian Comics for American Kids” by Brigid Alverson in School Library Journal, August 2021 (Vol. 67, #8, pp. 36-39)

10. Short Items:

a. Fielding Questions on Critical Race Theory – In this Leadership 2.0 article, Jay McTighe suggests how to respectfully and effectively respond to three types of constituent questions on what is being taught about racism in the U.S.

“Receiving Questions About CRT? Consider the Source” by Jay McTighe in School Leadership 2.0, August 16, 2021

b. History videos – These short streaming videos from Learning for Justice address key concepts in the enslavement of Native Americans and Africans.

“Teaching Hard History: American Slavery, Classroom Videos” from Learning for Justice, August 2021

c. The Best Young-Adult Books of All Time – Time Magazine asked seven authors to decide on the 100 best young-adult books over the years, and here’s their consensus list, with a cover image and short description for each one.

“The 100 Best Young-Adult Books of All Time” chosen by Elizabeth Acevedo, Karen Callender, Jenny Han, Jason Reynolds, Adam Silvera, Angie Thomas, and Nicola Yoon, Time, August 23/30, 2021 (Vol. 198, #7-8, pp. 104-110)

d. Beginning-of-the-Year Surveys – Panorama Education is offering surveys for students, educators, and families that can produce helpful information on perceptions of learning and challenges as the new year begins. They are available (with free registration) at:

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Marshall Memo 898

In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“Have I been too slow? Should I have pushed harder, and jammed people more to produce more quickly? If you push people too hard, you can shut them down. It’s getting that balance right.”

Thomas Payzant, Boston superintendent 1995-2006, in a Boston Globe

interview at the end of his tenure. Payzant died last week at 80.

“If your third grader can’t read, that’s a problem. If your algebra student doesn’t have automaticity with multiplication, that’s a problem. If your physics student doesn’t know algebra, that’s a problem. If your high-school graduate isn’t prepared for college or work, that’s a problem. Schools and districts and states and other professionals in the education sector should be figuring out how to fix this problem, not arguing about what to call it (or worse, pretending that it isn’t one).”

Dale Chu in “Can Changing Our Eduspeak Help with Post-Pandemic Schooling?” in

Education Gadfly, August 18, 2021

“What do you wish you could spend less time on?”

A suggested question for a “stay interview” to surface workplace problems, in

“We’re in a Bold New Era at Work” by Kevin Delaney in Time, July 23, 2021

“Even if we don’t want them to, children do notice differences in race and skin color. And that means that attempts to suppress discussions about race and racism are misguided. Those efforts won’t eliminate prejudice. They may, in fact, make it worse.”

Melinda Wenner Moyer in “Really, Talk to Your Kids About Race” in The New York

Times, July 18, 2021

1. Ideas for the “New Normal”

“The past year we learned that everything in schools that looks fixed and hardened is actually contingent and flexible,” say Justin Reich (Massachusetts Institute of Technology Learning Systems Lab) and Jal Mehta (Harvard Graduate School of Education) in this Teaching Systems Lab update of their earlier report (July 27, 2020, summarized in Memo 847). “Grades, curriculum, seat time, schedules, settings, groupings – all of these features can be changed. For all the suffering and hardship of the past year, some of the changes we made really were for the better, paving the way toward reinventing more humane school communities.”

Those insights notwithstanding, say Reich and Mehta, there are three possible scenarios as schools begin the 2021-22 year:

– Returning to the status quo before the pandemic;

– Focusing on remediation of learning loss;

– Using the events of the last 19 months to reflect and reinvent.

To help map the way forward, Reich and Mehta interviewed 50 teachers, asked 200 teachers to interview their students (about 4,000 in all), and facilitated ten design meetings with groups of educators, students, and parents. What emerged was a clear preference for the third scenario, with an emphasis on healing, community, and “humane reinvention” in schools.

“Students and teachers,” say the authors, “told us that the best things about the pandemic year were when it created opportunities to slow down and build real relationships between teacher and students and their families, and when students were given more independence to be in charge of their learning, their bodies, and their development… Overall, we were struck by how different students’ accounts were from prevailing narratives. Young people talked about loss in profound ways, but in their telling, what had been lost was a year of childhood or adolescence, not particular content standards from algebra or social studies.”

Based on the interviews and focus groups, Reich and Mehta suggest three guiding principles:

– Don’t define the coming year as a return to normal. “For too many students,” they say, “normal schooling wasn’t meeting their needs.”

– Start the school year with some noticeable changes: amplify key ideas from the pandemic year, and eliminate or scale back practices that were proved to be ineffective.

– Engage in reflection that allows for celebration of the successes of the pandemic year, grieving for losses, and harnessing the energy from the emergency to build better experiences for students, educators, and families.

Here are some of their specific recommendations.

• First, Reich and Mehta suggest five questions to ask students about the year from which they’ve emerged:

– What are the aspects of remote learning that you’ve appreciated the most, and would like to see carried back into in-person schooling?

– What was really hard about remote learning that you hope you never have to manage again as a student?

– After this pandemic, what do you hope adults will do to make in-person school better for this year? What do you hope they don’t do in the coming year?

– What do you feel like you missed out on or lost in school because of the pandemic?

– What are you most proud of from the past school year?

• Second, Reich and Mehta list things that should be amplified in the key areas of relationships and trust, school schedules, the curriculum, student agency, mastery-based learning, assessments, social and emotional learning, equity, and humane treatment of students. Some specifics:

– Home visits that build relationships between families and school;

– Advisors, advisories, and office hour check-ins;

– Zoom-style chats to give introverted students more opportunities to thrive;

– Virtual meetings;

– A quarterly schedule with three classes at a time (versus rushed seven-period days);

– Teachers’ loads limited to 65-80 students;

– Longer breaks between classes;

– Marie-Kondo-ing the curriculum – narrowing down to a smaller set of priority standards;

– Curriculum relevance and choice to keep students engaged;

– Regular examination of student work;

– No more averaging grades and zeroes;

– Mindfulness practices and emphasizing the mental health of adults as well as students;

– Meeting students’ basic needs, including nutritious and tasty meals;

– Meeting students where they are academically and emotionally;

– Listening more to students and involving them in co-designing antiracist practices;

– Less behavioral policing of students’ dress and other choices;

– More student choice on when to eat and use the bathroom;

– More outdoor learning;

– Later school start times for adolescents.

(See the full report for ideas on areas that need less emphasis and things to create.)

• Finally, the report suggests several metaphors for the work going forward:

– School as church and temple;

– Schools as a place of healing;

– Schools as family reunion.

“Healing, Community, and Humanity: How Students and Teachers Want to Reinvent Schools Post-Covid” by Justin Reich and Jal Mehta, Teaching Systems Lab, July 21, 2021; the authors can be reached at and

2. Parent Support for Social and Emotional Learning

In this paper from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Adam Tyner reports the results of a survey of a nationally representative sample of 2,000 parents on schools’ role in teaching social and emotional skills (it was conducted by YouGov, a global public-opinion company). Here are the key findings:

– The vast majority of parents support teaching SEL skills in schools.

– The term “social and emotional learning” is quite unpopular, perhaps because parents worry that it will undermine the basics – or might be code for “liberal indoctrination.”

– Parents who identify as Democrats are more comfortable with the term and committing resources to SEL; those who identify as Republicans are a little less willing to commit resources – and they hate the term.

– Across the political spectrum, parents believe the family is the most important place to cultivate SEL, but there are partisan differences on how and where to emphasize it.

– Conservative parents are somewhat more wary than liberals that SEL might divert schools away from academics or conflict with their values.

– In contrast to these partisan disagreements, there are few differences among parents by race, class, and religion.

Tyner concludes with several recommendations for educators: Use plain, concrete language (versus nebulous and jargony) to discuss specifically what schools are doing with social and emotional learning; honor the role of families and community members in this area; avoid pitting SEL against academics; consider ways of teaching social skills indirectly – including teachers modeling common decency and common sense; and use a politically neutral term like “life skills.”

“How to Sell SEL: Parents and the Politics of Social-Emotional Learning” by Adam Tyner, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, August 2021

3. Unappreciated Benefits of the Daily Commute

In this article in The Atlantic, Jerry Useem says that before the pandemic, lots of people complained about their commutes – traffic jams, crowded subways, dirty trains, a tedious and time-consuming hole in each working day. And then for more than a year, the commute went away. Essential workers continued the daily trek, often at great risk, but millions worked from home.

Here’s the strange part, says Useem: “Many people liberated from the commute have experienced a void they can’t quite name. In it, all theaters of life collapse into one. There are no beginnings and endings. The hero’s journey never happens. The threshold goes uncrossed. The sack of Troy blurs with Telemachus’s math homework.” What was the commute providing that we didn’t appreciate before?

Historically, the amount of time people have been willing to spend getting to and from work has been remarkably consistent: about a half hour each way. Ancient cities like Rome were never more than about three miles in diameter, allowing their outermost citizens to stay within that walking or horseback commute time. The advent of streetcars, trains, buses, subways, and cars stretched the distance people could travel to work, but the time remained constant; the average one-way commute in the U.S. is 27 minutes.

In a 2001 study, researchers asked people for their ideal commute time, and the average was 16 minutes. Interestingly, it wasn’t zero, and some wanted a longer trip to and from work than their current half hour. Why? The feeling of control in one’s own car; time to plan; time to zone out and decompress; time to listen to audiobooks. This desire for a buffer might explain the failure of WeLive, which aspired to offer “everything you need to live, work, and play in a single location.”

Another idea on the hidden benefits of the commute is boundary theory. However much we might want to bring our “authentic selves” to our jobs, says Useem, “we have multiple selves, all of them authentic. Crossing between one role and another isn’t easy; it’s called boundary work.” It turns out that the commute is quite an efficient way to effect the physical and psychological shift from one role to another. On the way to work, we gradually deactivate the emotions and thoughts of home and get our heads into our jobs. Vice-versa on the way home. If this doesn’t happen (as was true for many during the pandemic), people get what researchers call role spillover. “If you respond like a manager at home,” says Jon Jachimowicz (Harvard Business School), “you might be sleeping on the couch that night. And if you respond like a parent at work…” He and his colleagues have found that people who use the commute to engage in “role-clarifying prospection” report greater satisfaction at work and at home. Without this, more effort is required, productivity drops, and there’s more burnout.

“Admit It, You Miss Your Commute” by Jerry Useem in The Atlantic, July/August 2021

4. Tweaking Rubrics to Provide “Wise” Feedback on Students’ Writing

In this article in English Journal, Christina Dobbs and Christine Montecillo Leider (Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University) recall the reason given by a high-school student for not being willing to revise his essay: “I’ll still just be ‘Below Basic,’ no matter what” (he was referring to the lowest rating on the rubric being used by his teacher).

Dobbs and Leider believe struggling students often see rubrics as a judgment on their potential as writers because of negative language in rubrics’ lowest scoring levels – for example:

– Little or no skill in writing an argumentative essay

– The use of language fails to demonstrate skill in responding to the task.

– The use of language is inconsistent and often unclear.

– There is little grouping of ideas.

– When present, transitional devices fail to connect ideas.

– Attempts at analysis are unclear or irrelevant.

– Transitions between and within paragraphs are misleading or poorly formed.

The impact of rubric phrases like these, say Dobbs and Leider, may be especially discouraging for English language learners and students with non-standard dialects. One student recalled feeling ashamed of her black English when a teacher said it was never going to get her anywhere. Many adolescents, especially those who aren’t doing well in school, are sensitive to their teachers’ and peers’ judgments and the way negative stereotypes are conveyed, causing them to internalize negative ideas about their language resources and see themselves as nonwriters.

“Though we cannot change writing rubrics in high-stakes assessments,” say the authors, “as teachers we can reflect and take action in our use of writing rubrics in our classrooms… Our goal is to help teachers create rubrics that encourage students’ writing self-efficacy, provide effective and careful feedback, and value linguistic diversity.” Specifically, Dobbs and Leider want rubrics to provide “wise” feedback, which they say has three components:

– Critical feedback is linked to the teacher’s high standards.

– The student’s ability to meet those high standards is affirmed.

– Students get specific and actionable guidance on how to improve.

Feedback with these characteristics builds trust and motivates students to edit, revise, and polish their writing.

Dobbs and Leider suggest that teachers tweak their rubrics’ lower descriptors to emphasize what needs to grow, the purpose of the writing, connections to the audience, and student agency in choosing which of their language resources to use. Instead of the usual summative evaluative ratings – Advanced, Proficient, Needs Improvement, Unsatisfactory – they suggest:

– This piece of writing is highly effective.

– This piece of writing is effective.

– This piece of writing is somewhat effective.

– This piece of writing has room to grow.

In place of the kinds of negative language listed above, here are a few of the alternatives they suggest:

– The connections between various pieces of information could be made clearer to the reader.

– The main idea is somewhat clear, but there is a need to add more supporting information.

– Relationships between ideas in sentences are unclear, so they do not communicate clearly with the reader.

– The grammar in the piece is unusual and unexpected, making it challenging for the reader to understand.

– It is difficult to understand why the writer would like the reader to care about this topic.

“A Framework for Writing Rubrics to Support Linguistically Diverse Students” by Christina Dobbs and Christine Montecillo Leider in English Journal, July 2021 (Vol. 110, #6, pp. 60-68); the authors can be reached at and

5. Helping Elementary Students As They Use Digital Writing Prompts

In this article in Language Arts, Holly Marich (a Nevada professional development coordinator) and Troy Hicks (Central Michigan University) suggest ways that elementary teachers can help students make the best use of word processing tools like spell check, autocorrect, predictive text, automatic grammar feedback, and voice dictation. “Many educators bemoan digital technology as an unnecessary distraction or even a sophisticated form of cheating,” say Marich and Hicks. “But it’s important to recognize that the choices these tools force writers to face matter, both for writers and for writing instructors.”

Marich spent time in a second-grade class in which the teacher regularly gave students the opportunity to write two sentences in the class’s Twitter account on what they were learning, why they were learning it, how they would use the information, and questions they wanted to ask. The teacher checked students’ tweets before they were posted and conducted individual mini-lessons on usage and content as she circulated. Marich observed a number of “micro-moments” when students got digital feedback on their tweets. Four examples:

– A student started to write This and the predictive feature inserted The. The boy deleted the whole word and took a few moments correctly typing This and completing his sentence. He needed help dealing more quickly with the predictive text suggestion.

– A student decided to use the iPad’s speech recognition feature (he’d learned about it on his grandmother’s computer) and quickly found the correct spelling of the word giraffe. Some students may bring sophisticated knowledge to the classroom and teachers need to teach when it’s allowed and appropriate.

– A student misspelled a word in her tweet, got the correct spelling from Marich, then chose to ignore at least one incorrect predictive-text prompt – peas for piece. This student needed more teacher guidance on spotting words incorrectly suggested by the predictive feature.

– A student spelled lizard incorrectly – first listed, then liserd – and spent several minutes brainstorming about possible words, ultimately finding the correct one. In the process she thought creatively about her reptile project.

Marich and Hicks acknowledge that it’s impossible for a teacher to be looking over every student’s shoulder and providing everyone with just-in-time suggestions. But teachers can give some general words of wisdom for students as digital tools pop up during their writing, encouraging them to ask themselves:

– What do I know about the sound or letter that’s being suggested?

– Do I like this word choice?

– Do I agree with this suggestion?

– What do I as a writer plan to do with this information?

“These are genuine dialogues with students that help them think deeply about their work as digital writers and the relationships they have with their devices,” say Marich and Hicks. “Before simply clicking without a thought on automated suggestions or corrections, we need to help our students pause to question the algorithms that are influencing them. In this way, we teach them to be critical, creative, and persistent writers and problem solvers, one micro-moment at a time.”

“Writerly Decisions in Micro-Moments of Composition: Digital Tools and Instructional Opportunities for Elementary Writers” by Holly Marich and Troy Hicks in Language Arts, July 2021 (Vol. 98, #6, pp. 330-339); the authors can be reached at and

6. Reading Job Applicants’ Letters of Support with a Critical Eye

In this Chronicle of Higher Education article, David Perlmutter (Texas Tech University) says that evaluating recommendation letters is challenging for a number of reasons. “As a hiring administrator,” he says, “your job is to get the most you can out of any recommendation letter by sussing out its limitations, both human and technical.” He suggests reading with four questions in mind:

• Is the letter writer well positioned to recommend the candidate? More important than recommenders’ prestige and position is how well they know candidates’ work – and their ability to judge their “fit” with the position for which they’re applying.

• Is the recommendation tailored or generic? “Quantitative specifics, unique traits, and qualitative examples are telltale signs of a customized letter,” says Perlmutter. Anecdotes about the candidate’s work are particularly helpful.

• Does the letter praise too much? No candidate is superior in every area, and recommendations lose credibility when they’re laudatory across the board. “In reading these letters,” says Perlmutter, “you have to look for details that show the praise is warranted.”

• Are important details missing? Recommenders tend to accentuate the positive, and a critical reader needs to look for what’s left out, which may be more significant than what’s included.

“How to Interpret Reference Letters” by David Perlmutter in The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 6, 2021 (Vol. 67, #24, pp. 42-44); Perlmutter can be reached at

7. More Data on Merit Pay for Teachers

In this article in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Andrew Hill (Montana State University) and Daniel Jones (University of Pittsburgh) report on their six-year study of the effect of teacher merit pay on the black-white test-score gap in North Carolina public high schools. Their conclusion: merit pay seemed to bring about small improvements in student achievement, but white students gained significantly more than black students; in some cases, black students performed less well. The bottom line: the black-white test-score gap widened.

Why this disappointing result? Hill and Jones speculate that teachers’ different expectations of students may have led them to focus on students they believed had more potential to improve. “If teachers respond to incentives by targeting their attention toward students who they expect to achieve higher levels of growth,” say the authors, “gaps may emerge between groups of students, potentially by race… When average achievement is incentivized (as is common in the United States and in the programs we study), teachers may – and, in this article seem to – target students perceived to be high ability…” The authors believe that if the achievement of lower-performing students were incentivized, the results might be different.

“Paying for Whose Performance? Teacher Incentive Pay and the Black-White Test Score Gap” by Andrew Hill and Daniel Jones in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, September 2021 (Vol. 43, #3, pp. 445-471); the authors can be reached at and

8. Fixing What’s Wrong with the Dewey Decimal System

In this School Library Journal article, Christina Joseph reports that a growing number of librarians, scholars, educators, and students are drawing attention to flaws in the Dewey Decimal system. Devised by Melvil Dewey in 1873 and published in 1876, this system is used in libraries around the world. Among the problems:

– The section on U.S. history doesn’t include African-American history.

– Books by African-American authors are in 325 – International Migration and Colonization.

– British and African poets are in different places, as are male and female poets.

– There isn’t a section for bilingual books.

– The section on Careers and Jobs doesn’t include domestic work.

– Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter are in the Holiday section (390), but non-Christian religious holidays are listed under Mythology and Religion (290s).

– LGBTQ+ books were once under Perversion or Neurological Disorders and eventually moved to Sexual Orientation.

“Dewey’s #TimesUp moment has been a long time in the making,” says Joseph. In 2019, the American Library Association stripped Dewey from its list of honorees because the resort that he and his wife owned barred Jews and people of color, and he sexually harassed four women in the ALA.

Many librarians have been revising their Dewey numbers one category at a time. School librarian Linda Hoiseth has reorganized libraries in several schools, fixing and adding to Dewey classifications. “We are trying to make it more intuitive for students,” she says, “so they can browse better and they can find relatable things they might not have found otherwise. My personal motto is: If I can’t put a label on a shelf that will tell the students what’s on that shelf, then it’s not organized very well.”

“Move Over, Melvil!” by Christina Joseph in School Library Journal, August 2021 (Vol. 67, #8, pp. 28-31)

9. Recommended Children’s Poetry Books

In this feature in Language Arts, Grace Enriquez (Lesley University), Gilberto Lara (University of Texas/San Antonio), Summer Clark (Lesley University), Katie Egan Cunningham (Manhattanville College), and Erika Thulin Dawes (Lesley University) list their favorite books of children’s poetry from 2020 (click the link below for cover images and short reviews):

– And the People Stayed Home by Kitty O’Meara, illustrated by Stefano Di Cristofaro and Paul Pereda

– A Place for Me: A Poem to Heal the Heart by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Noa Denmon

– Natsumi’s Song of Summer by Robert Paul Weston, illustrated by Misa Saburi

– In the Woods by David Elliott, illustrated by Rob Dunlavey

– BOX: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weathersford, illustrated by Michele Wood

– Ice! Poems About Polar Life by Douglas Florian

– I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott, illustrated by Sydney Smith

– Construction People selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Ellen Shi

– No Voice Too Small: Fourteen Young Americans Making History edited by Lindsay Metcalf, Keila Dawson, and Jeanette Bradley, illustrated by Jeanette Bradley

– The Best Worst Poet Ever by Lauren Stohler

– Amphibian Acrobats by Leslie Bulion, illustrated by Robert Meganck

– Arenas y Trinos: Abecedario del Rio/Sand and Song: The ABCs of the River by Alma Flor Ada and Rosalma Zubizaretta-Ada, illustrated by Gabhor Utomo

– Cast Away: Poems for Our Time by Naomi Shihab Nye

– Voices of Justice: Poems About People Working for a Better World by George Ella Lyon, illustrated by Jennifer Potter

– Say Her Name: Poems to Empower by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Loveis Wise

“2020 Notable Poetry Books for Children” by Grace Enriquez, Gilberto Lara, Summer Clark, Katie Egan Cunningham, and Erika Thulin Dawes in Language Arts, July 2021 (Vol. 98, #6, pp. 360-369); Enriquez can be reached at

10. Short Items:

a. Videos on African-American History – Clint Smith narrates this series of short videos on African-American history; there are 14 in the series so far, including the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Phillis Wheatley, The Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, The Louisiana Rebellion of 1811, and The Rise of Cotton (there will eventually be 50 episodes).

“Crash Course Black American History” on YouTube, hosted by Clint Smith, 2021

b. A New Women’s History Curriculum – This curriculum on women in the U.S. has units on Early Encounters and Settler Colonialism and the Revolution. There will eventually be ten units.

“Women and the American Story” New York Historical Society, 2021

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