In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“You are going to have to make some tough decisions in this business, but it’s all about how you treat people. I can bring you in and give you a reprimand, but it’s how I give you the reprimand.”
Kevin Armstrong in “Advice for New Principals,” interviews with Denisa Superville
in Education Week, July 17, 2019 (Vol. 38, #37, p. 7), https://bit.ly/2SNkQDP
“Getting students to explain, argue with one another, critique, and build on ideas is a long game that requires a willingness for teachers to experiment pedagogically and, in the process, set aside familiar classroom tasks that have no real purpose other than to do school.”
Mark Windschitl (see item #4)
“As a group, consumers [of news] are terrible editors. Many are poorly informed, inaccurate, biased, manipulable, sloppy, impulsive, or self-serving. And even though some are not, the bad can quickly drive away the good.”
Jonathan Rauch (see item #1)
“What if the best way to boost reading comprehension is not to drill kids on discrete skills but to teach them, as early as possible, the very things we’ve marginalized – including history, science, and other content that could build the knowledge and vocabulary they need to understand both written texts and the world around them?”
Natalie Wexler (see item #3)
1. Introducing “Friction” Into Digital Communication
In this article in The Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch says that communication on the Internet thrives on “instanticity” – the ability to get and send information with zero delay. At first, this seemed like a good thing: faster was better, “slowness was a vestige of a bygone age, a technological hurdle to be overcome,” says Rauch. However, he adds, “Slowness is a social technology in its own right, one that protects humans from themselves.” While instanticity has enabled disinformation and other unintended consequences, there’s something to be said for introducing more “friction” into our electronic interactions, designing in features that require deliberation, especially in the heat of the moment.
Take the news. It seemed that we were moving away from traditional newspapers and magazines toward real-time, on-the-scene reporting streaming straight to personal devices, with citizens curating their news feeds and experts weighing in without being filtered by journalists and editors. “But the old media’s premises turned out to be anything but obsolete,” says Rauch. “As a group, consumers are terrible editors. Many are poorly informed, inaccurate, biased, manipulable, sloppy, impulsive, or self-serving. And even though some are not, the bad can quickly drive away the good.”
So how can all this be slowed down? Rauch suggests building in pauses before electronic communications go out. With a tweet or a YouTube video, for example, there could be a ten-minute pause before transmission, during which time the sender might have second thoughts, an artificial intelligence fact-check might arrive, or there might be a prompt like, Are you sure you’re ready to share this with the world? Remember, it will be out there forever. Even if there were no checking or vetting, says Rauch, “the waiting period itself would offer an important advantage. It would allow thought.”
As Daniel Kahneman wrote in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, humans have two cognitive systems: System 1 makes snap judgments about dangers and opportunities and works without conscious thought, sometimes saving our lives. But it’s often wrong, biased, and emotional; it underreacts and overreacts. System 2 is slower, gathering facts, consulting evidence, weighing arguments, and making reasoned judgments. “It protects us from the errors and impulsivity of System 1,” says Rauch. The more-deliberate pace of System 2 is the way we often live our offline lives: waiting our turn to speak in a classroom, sitting in rush-hour traffic, going through the steps required to get married or divorced.
“[B]ack in the day, before instanticity, technology itself slowed us down,” Rauch continues. “Printing and distributing words required several distinct stages and often multiple people; even a trip to the mailbox or a wait for the mail carrier afforded time for second thoughts… On social media, no publisher or postal worker forces a pause.”
Rauch concedes that social media companies might resist building in pauses, and customers might abandon platforms with such limits. But he thinks many people would welcome the idea. “Slowing ourselves down gives time for System 2 to kick in… Rethinking instanticity would help us put our better selves forward, perhaps often enough to make social media more sociable.”
“Wait a Minute” by Jonathan Rauch in The Atlantic, August 2019 (Vol. 324, #2, pp. 18-19),
2. Thoughts on Giving Feedback
In this Harvard Business Review article, Craig Chappelow and Cindy McCauley (Center for Creative Leadership) take issue with some of the points made in a recent HBR article on feedback (“The Feedback Fallacy” by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, summarized in Memo 776). Chappelow and McCauley agree that:
– Harsh feedback doesn’t help people thrive and excel.
– Positive feedback is critical for learning.
– Telling someone how to fix a problem is often the wrong approach.
But they disagree in other areas and make the following points:
- Hearing the truth in other’s comments– “Feedback is never purely objective since it is delivered from a human being with a unique perspective,” say Chappelow and McCauley. Even so, it’s important to tune in on feedback that others are giving you. After all, they’re making decisions about whom to listen to, cooperate with, trust, and support based on their perceptions of you.
- Feedback about weaknesses– Potentially devastating events – having a horrible boss, making a serious mistake, being demoted, firing an employee – can be key drivers for improvement.
- Understanding weaknesses– “Our work has shown that ignoring one’s weaknesses is one of the greatest contributors to individual derailment in organizations,” say Chappelow and McCauley. One unacknowledged and unaddressed flaw – for example, arrogance, inability to build a team, or difficulty adapting to a new environment – can lead to failure.
- Getting better at the right things– One researcher found that otherwise competent leaders have often not developed in these areas: inspiring commitment, leading colleagues, strategic planning, and change management. “When you focus only on strengths,” say Chappelow and McCauley, “you lull people into believing there are no areas in which they need to improve.”
- Giving critical feedback– The authors espouse the Situation-Behavior-Impact approach to address both strengths and weaknesses in a clear, specific, professional, and caring way:
– The time and place where a behavior occurred;
– Specifically what the behavior was: what was seen and heard;
– The impact the behavior had on the feedback provider: thoughts, feelings, actions.
Here’s an example: “In our staff meeting this morning when we were discussing strategies for funding a new initiative, you interrupted Jessica while she was talking and said, ‘That idea will never work,’ before she had a chance to finish. This left me feeling disappointed I didn’t get to hear more from her, and I was intimidated about sharing my ideas with the group.” Note how it wasn’t judgmental (“You were wrong to interrupt”), not generalized (“You are always interrupting people”), and didn’t infer reasons (“Do you have no respect for other people’s ideas?”). All this makes it more likely that the person will hear and act on the feedback.
“What Good Feedback Really Looks Like” by Craig Chappelow and Cindy McCauley in Harvard Business Review, May 13, 2019, https://bit.ly/2Jisowx
3. Background Knowledge as the Key to Reading Proficiency
In this article in The Atlantic, Natalie Wexler describes looking over a first grader’s shoulder in a Washington, D.C. classroom and noticing that the girl was drawing a row of human figures on a piece of paper and coloring them yellow. “What are you drawing?” asked Wexler. “Clowns,” the girl replied. “Why are you drawing clowns?” “Because it says right here, ‘Draw clowns,’” said the girl and pointed to the place on her worksheet of reading comprehension skills where it said Draw conclusions. Wexler picked up the worksheet and saw that it asked students to make inferences and draw conclusions about an article on Brazil – but when asked, the girl said she hadn’t read the text and had never heard of Brazil.
This was an admittedly “egregious” example of a failed pedagogical approach to reading comprehension, says Wexler. The theory of action goes like this: “Use simple texts to teach children how to find the main idea, make inferences, draw conclusions, and so on, and eventually they’ll be able to apply those skills to grasp the meaning of anything put in front of them.” Therefore, what children read about doesn’t matter; the reading skills they acquire will enable them to pick up history, science, literary, and other content knowledge down the road.
This approach is dominant in U.S. classrooms, reports Wexler. Most teachers cover a “skill of the week” in their 90-minute daily reading blocks. They use textbooks adopted by their districts or gather their own books and forage for resources on the Internet. (According to a recent Rand study, 95 percent of elementary teachers use Google for materials and lesson plans, 86 percent use Pinterest.) Following the prevailing philosophy, the curriculum doesn’t systematically introduce content knowledge, focusing instead on a lot of fiction geared to students’ current reading levels, which are often below grade level. Again, the assumption is that by reading a lot and honing specific skills, students will eventually be able to handle more-complex texts.
Perversely, says Wexler, Common Core literacy standards have made “a bad situation worse.” The authors had the right idea: expand elementary children’s content knowledge by exposing them to more-complex texts and a higher percent of nonfiction texts. But in the absence of a curriculum that systematically introduces content knowledge in science, social studies, and other areas, the result has been many students struggling to read challenging, decontextualized texts without the background knowledge and vocabulary to make sense of them.
Wexler believes the skills-first approach is ineffective, as evidenced by the fact that U.S. students’ reading achievement has hardly budged since No Child Left Behind. That legislation’s heavy emphasis on reading and math test scores led many schools to double down on the skills-first approach, cutting back the time spent on science and social studies (and in some cases recess) to beef up reading. And there’s more bad news: economic and racial achievement gaps have widened. Why? Because children from economically disadvantaged homes enter school with less background knowledge, and when schools don’t teach it, students fall further and further behind. One more thing: the U.S.’s international academic standing has declined relative to high-performing countries.
“All of which raises a disturbing question,” says Wexler: “What if the medicine we have been prescribing is only making matters worse, particularly for poor children? What if the best way to boost reading comprehension is not to drill kids on discrete skills but to teach them, as early as possible, the very things we’ve marginalized – including history, science, and other content that could build the knowledge and vocabulary they need to understand both written texts and the world around them?” Studies going back to the late 1980s have shown that content knowledge trumps reading skills. For example, lower-skill students who know a lot about baseball do better with a reading passage about baseball than higher-skills students who know very little.
The good news is that some districts (including Baltimore and Detroit) and charter schools have adopted a knowledge-first approach, and the anecdotal evidence is encouraging. Teachers interviewed by Wexler reported much greater enthusiasm among students for knowledge-based books and texts, especially students who had been struggling readers. But since knowledge builds slowly as students move up through the grades, it will be years before there is gold-standard research proof of the concept.
E.D. Hirsch Jr., the leader of one of these curriculum efforts (Core Knowledge), cites an intriguing natural experiment in France. For many years, French schools had a heavy emphasis on knowledge acquisition, but in 1989, the central education ministry adopted the American approach, with an emphasis on critical thinking skills and “learning to learn.” The results have been dramatic, says Wexler. “Over the next 20 years, achievement levels decreased sharply for all students – and the drop was greatest among the neediest.”
“The Radical Case for Teaching Kids Stuff” by Natalie Wexler in The Atlantic, August 2019 (Vol. 324, #2, pp. 20-23), https://bit.ly/2LKqmps; see Marshall Memo 130 for an early article by E.D. Hirsch Jr. on the importance of content knowledge.
4. Elevating the Quality of Discourse in High-School Classrooms
In this Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy article, Mark Windschitl (University of Washington) suggests strategies for getting away from the dreary script of “doing school” – teacher-controlled classes in which students perfunctorily cover the curriculum, respond to right-answer questions, copy lecture notes, daydream, and passively watch a few students engage in a discussion with the teacher. “This frame and its routines do not vary much across the educational landscape,” says Windschitl, “yet they remain largely invisible to the teachers and students who reinforce them daily.” The unspoken expectation is on the “consumption of knowledge… students acquiring ideas and information generated by others at the expense of learning how to use these resources, along with one’s own ideas and experiences, to produce knowledge…” Doing school “treats learning as a process that happens only between the ears of students who think and wonder in relative isolation from peers.”
How can teachers break free of this dynamic, support academically productive discussions, and prepare all students to think independently and creatively? Working with high-school science teachers for more than a decade, Windschitl and his colleagues have concluded that there are four ways to improve what they call the “conversational infrastructure”:
- Goal-oriented talk routines – recurring activities that elevate the level of discourse (for example, an entry task that gets students doing quick research with classmates);
- Norms for intellectual risk-taking and equity – respecting others, equitable participation, and accountability to the scientific knowledge base (see examples below);
- Strategic scaffolding – students can engage in intellectual work just beyond their current level of proficiency;
- “Talk moves” – shared by teacher and students, these help deepen and extend conversations, for example, wait time, “Tell me more,” “What is your evidence?” “Do you agree with that?” “What if…?”
Here is a set of classroom talk norms, based on ideas presented by Chapin, O’Connor, and Anderson (2012) (quoted directly):
– Preparation – We will come prepared for discussion by doing the readings and bringing notes, examples, and stories.
– Responsible learners – We are responsible for our own learning. This means we speak, request clarification from others, ask others to repeat what they said, or signal agreement or confusion.
– Pushing ourselves – We help one another think beyond the obvious, disagree with ideas, and draw out comments from classmates, and we are open to changing our minds.
– Focus – Our comments and stories will stay on topic, and we have the right to explain how our contribution connects with the science.
– Hearing from all – Everyone has the right to be heard.
– Air time – Don’t dominate the conversation.
– Time to think – The teacher will give think time before asking for our ideas.
– Impulse control – Don’t interrupt or talk over classmates when they have the floor.
– Fair critique – We, the students and teacher, can critique ideas of others, but personal attacks are out of bounds.
“The teachers we have worked with,” reports Windschitl, “have found that a well-coordinated repertoire of routines, scaffolds, norms, and talk moves will, at the very least, increase the chances that a wider range of students will feel more comfortable with participating in more relevant and rigorous talk more frequently.” Such classrooms have the following characteristics:
– Students having authority to interpret texts and make and justify claims;
– A focus on sense-making;
– The production, use, and critique of knowledge by students;
– A balance between attention to individual and collective learning.
Windschitl wraps up: “Getting students to explain, argue with one another, critique, and build on ideas is a long game that requires a willingness for teachers to experiment pedagogically and, in the process, set aside familiar classroom tasks that have no real purpose other than to do school.”
“Disciplinary Literacy Versus Doing School” by Mark Windschitl in Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, July/August 2019 (Vol. 63, #1, pp. 7-13),https://bit.ly/2YwkZ3R; Windschitl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. Increasing the Amount of “Mental Sweat” in Group Projects
(Originally titled No More Assembly-Line Projects”)
In this article in Education Update, Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, Diane Lapp, and Javier Vaca say that when students do group projects, one person often ends up doing most of the work, and some students are left out as the group rushes to finish. The best way to prevent this, say the authors, is to design collaboration into the assignment up front and set up checkpoints so assessing quality isn’t all on the teacher’s shoulders at the end. Their suggestions:
– Design tasks that address big-picture learning goals. A better question than “What is space junk?” would be, “How can we avoid creating more space junk?”
– Have students tackle and get feedback on small tasks before launching a big project.
– Establish timelines for individual and group completion of each phase.
– Set up interim times for meeting with individuals and groups to monitor progress and provide feedback.
– When the project is finished, have each group report on what individual students contributed. When students are polled on a public spreadsheet, say the authors, “It’s amazing how honest they are about what they did and did not do.”
– When grading the final product, factor in individual and group assessments, and give each student two grades: on individual contributions and on the group product.
“No More Assembly-Line Projects” by Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey, Diane Lapp, and Javier Vaca in Education Update, July 2019 (Vol. 61, #7, pp. 1), https://bit.ly/2OAHDEC
6. What Would Be “Moonshot” Goals for U.S. Schools?
In this Education Gadflyarticle, Michael Goldstein reflects on educational equivalents of the audacious goal set by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 (putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade and bringing him back safely). Some possibilities: Cutting in half the number of fourth-graders reading Below Basic; doubling the number of eighth-graders who can write an effective persuasive essay; shrinking by 30 percent the average time a student spends in English-language learner status; doubling the number of students from low-income families and students of color who graduate from high school and don’t need to take remedial courses in college.
Goldstein ends up considering some “developmental” moonshots – aspirational yet low-tech processes that teachers might be able to implement in their classrooms, with major benefits for educators and students. Some examples:
– If the baseline “joy factor” in a class is three out of ten, doubling that to six out of ten without harming achievement.
– Reducing a teacher’s 60-hour week to 50 hours without harming achievement or student ratings.
– Finding ways to “flip” a disenchanted third grader into the most helpful, thriving student in the class.
– Developing the skill to have a brutally honest conversation with a parent about an academically weak student (similar to a doctor’s talk with an ailing patient) that results in spurring improvements in the child’s short-, medium-, and long-term outcomes.
“Musings on the Moonshots” by Michael Goldstein in The Education Gadfly, July 17, 2019 (Vol. 19, #28), https://bit.ly/332gGfV
7. Can Speech-Recognition Apps Improve Struggling Students’ Writing?
In this article in Language Arts, Betsy Baker (University of Missouri/Columbia) says that as a second-grade teacher, she was a big fan of the language experience approach; she took dictation of students’ stories and this motivated them to express themselves and share their personal experiences and linguistic and cultural heritage. As speech-recognition apps became more accurate, Baker wondered if they might take the place of the teacher transcribing students’ writing, saving time and motivating students.
In this article, she describes serving as a teacher’s aide in charge of the writing center in a first-grade classroom of 22 students in a diverse Title I school. From January to May, Baker experimented with using speech-recognition apps (Siri and Dragon on students’ iPads) to develop students’ writing skills, spending the most time with students who were having difficulty. She launched the initiative using the following steps:
– Baker recited a poem with which students were familiar, Mary Had a Little Lamb, and they chimed in.
– Baker said the poem aloud as she wrote it on chart paper.
– She modeled launching a speech-recognition app on an iPad and reading the poem aloud, with students looking over her shoulder to see if the app correctly transcribed her words (it did).
– Baker invited each small group of students at the writing center to analyze the poem’s syncopation (they bobbed their heads) and the fact that snow rhymed with go.
– She then asked students to write a similar poem about a different animal and owner, and worked with them to come up with a poem about Gary who had a little toad whose skin was green with slime, and everywhere that Gary went the toad would jump behind.
– She spoke the new poem into the speech-recognition app, and students watched as the words magically appeared on the iPad; she then copied the new poem on chart paper.
– Baker then invited students to orally brainstorm their own versions of Mary Had a Little Lamb, and they wrote stories about Victoria and her little dog, Jada and a small turtle, Sponge Bob and a monster bike, etc. Students worked with pencil and paper and then spoke their poems using the speech-recognition app.
– In the months that followed, students composed variations of Five Little Monkeys; Row, Row, Row Your Boat; Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Did You See?; It Looked Like Spilt Milk; and narratives in which students chose their own topics, settings, and characters.
Baker found that this approach was highly motivating for students, and they used words like limousine, dandelion, and unicorn. Interestingly, on days when the school’s Wi-Fi was down and the speech-recognition app wasn’t accessible, students reverted to less-ambitious words like car, flower, and horse. “Speech recognition apps,” says Baker, “appeared to allow students to use their rich personal oral lexicons and cultural funds of knowledge to express themselves.” An end-of-year inventory revealed that students had greatly increased their sight vocabularies, and half of the words they knew were not in standard first-grade vocabulary lists.
In the course of this project, says Baker, students had to deal with inaccurate transcriptions by the app. There were also times when the app would come up with inappropriate words – for example, hell instead of hill and worse (there wasn’t a child-safety feature). Baker worried at first that this would undermine the process, but found that errors actually got students reading the transcriptions of their writing more carefully, frequently engaging in word analysis and talking with classmates and their teachers about whether words made sense and were spelled correctly.
Another glitch was that students would think up elaborate stories, launch the speech-recognition app, and forget the story – and by the time they’d recalled it, the app had timed out. The app was also not very clever at dealing with students’ false starts, repetitions, side comments, long pauses, and laughter. It turns out that planning and dictating a story is a specialized literacy skill that students needed to master – including rehearsing stories before activating the app, speaking slowly and clearly, and doing the editing on a hard copy. Students found it difficult to handle the app features allowing users to italicize, boldface, underline, and indent, and sometimes accidentally deleted entire compositions. It was difficult for students to access a separate rhyming dictionary, and the speech-recognition app didn’t accommodate students’ illustrations or make it easy to import stock illustrations from the Internet.
On balance, though, Baker endorses the use of speech-recognition apps as one tool for young writers because of the way the app can stretch their written vocabularies and get them composing more creatively and fluently. With the proper teacher support and instruction, the limitations and glitches of the app can actually enhance students’ sense-making and critical reading skills.
“Talk to Read and Write: Using Speech-Recognition Apps in a First-Grade Writing Center” by Betsy Baker in Language Arts, July 2019 (Vol. 96, #6, pp. 358-369), https://bit.ly/2SOiSTC; Baker can be reached at email@example.com.
8. Recommended Books of Poetry for Children
In this article in Language Arts, Grace Enriquez, Erika Thulin Dawes, and Mary Ann Cappiello (Lesley University), Katie Egan Cunningham (Manhattanville College/Purchase), and Gilberto Lara (University of Texas/San Antonio) list their favorite books of poetry for children published in 2018. All the books, they say, have “a palpable sense of wonder, comfort, hope, and awe regarding the world in which we live.”
- I Am Loved by Nikki Giovanni, illustrated by Ashley Bryan (Atheneum)
- A Bunch of Punctuation selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins, illustrated by Serge Bloch (WordSong)
- Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko (Carolrhoda)
- Vivid: Poems & Notes About Color written and illustrated by Julie Paschkis (Henry Holt)
- Hidden City: Poems of Urban Wildlife by Sarah Grace Tuttle, illustrated by Amy Schimler-Safford (Eerdmans)
- Seeing Into Tomorrow, Haiku by Richard Wright, biography and illustrations by Nina Crews (Millbrook)
- Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (Candlewick)
- Jabbberwalking written and illustrated by Juan Felipe Herrera (Candlewick)
- World Make Way: New Poems Inspired by Art from the Metropolitan Museum of Art edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins (Abrams)
- The Stuff of Star sby Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (Candlewick)
- The Poetry of US: More Than 200 Poems That Celebrate the People, Places, and Passions of the United States edited by Patrick Lewis (National Geographic)
- Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners by Naomi Shihab Nye (Greenwillow)
“2018 Notable Poetry Books for Children” by Grace Enriquez, Erika Thulin Dawes, Mary Ann Cappiello, Katie Egan Cunningham, and Gilberto Lara in Language Arts, July 2019 (Vol. 96, #6, pp. 390-399), https://bit.ly/2K4vPpH
9. Short Item: Women in African History
Women in African History website – This online resource from UNESCO
https://en.unesco.org/womeninafricahas interactive lessons and materials on prominent women across the African continent. Tabs include Spotlight on Women, General History of Africa, Open Educational Resources, Artists, and Experts.
“Women in African History” from UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization), 2019
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