In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“Every student has something to teach me.”
A teacher in a conversation with Carol Dweck, quoted in “Turn and Talk,” an
interview with Sarah McKibben in Educational Leadership, September 2019
(Vol. 77, #1, pp. 12-13), https://bit.ly/2zm1L2M
“Few people like to see themselves on video, but there’s much to be learned from self-observation.”
Alexis Wiggins (see item #2)
“Suspicion of authority, rejection of expertise, a fracturing of factual consensus, the old question of individual liberty versus the common good, the checkered history of medical experimentation (see: Tuskegee, Henrietta Lacks, Mengele), the cynicism of the pharmaceutical industry, the periodic laxity of its regulators, the overriding power of parental love, the worry and suggestibility it engenders, and the media, both old and new, that feed on it – there are a host of factors and trends that have encouraged the spread of anti-vaccination sentiment.”
Nick Paumgarten in “The Message of Measles: The Largest Outbreak in Decades Tells
Us How Diseases and Ideas Spread” inThe New Yorker, September 2, 2019,
“The fact is, most people don’t like statistics. Or more accurately, people don’t like statistics except when the statistical findings agree with their prejudices.”
Robert Slavin in “Superman and Statistics,” August 29, 2019 on his website, https://robertslavinsblog.wordpress.com
“Sometimes meeting together is the most efficient way to get things done.”
Hollie Pettersson and Kerri Briggs (see item #7)
1. How to Get Off to a Strong Start with Students, Part 2
In the second half of this Chronicle of Higher Education article, James Lang (Assumption College) suggests ways to start with real substance on Day One in English composition, history, mathematics, and psychology:
• English composition (these come from Lang’s own courses):
– He arrives ten minutes early and walks around the room, roster in hand, introducing himself and chatting with students about where they’re from and their previous writing instruction.
– Lang briefly introduces the “grounding principles” of the course: writing has the power to change students’ lives for the better, academically and in life.
– Students spend 15 minutes writing to this prompt: When has a piece of writing, something you either wrote or read, had a significant impact on your life? What qualities or context made it so significant?
– Lang asks students to introduce themselves to two or three people sitting near them and work with them to generate a list of the qualities of powerful writing.
– The whole class works together to collect and categorize the qualities students have generated and put them on the board or screen.
– Lang concludes by reviewing the syllabus, including any outside-the-classroom activities students will engage in.
– He saves the list of the qualities of writing with the intention of showing it to students on the last day of the course and leading a discussion on how their perspectives might have changed.
• History (these come from Cate Denial of Knox College):
– She introduces herself and gives students the chance to ask follow-up questions (these might cover pets, binge-watching preferences, and the course itself).
– Students get a packet of source documents on a single historical event that will not be covered in the course. Each packet is a little different, with some documents common for all students.
– Students get into random groups (chosen in advance by the instructor) and spend 15-20 minutes putting the documents into the order that makes the most sense to them and telling the story implicit in them.
– Each group shares its conclusions with the whole class. No two stories are alike, and the instructor then leads a discussion about that, which leads to a core theme of the class: “History changes as more sources are found, old ones are re-examined, and new theories suggest new interpretive frameworks. For the rest of the course, every student will be a working historian, putting sources together to understand one part of our collective past.”
– Denial distributes the syllabus and assigns the first homework task: annotate the syllabus with comments and questions. The class discusses students’ annotations in the second class meeting.
• Mathematics (these come from Derek Bruff, Vanderbilt University):
– In the first class, he gives students a multiple-choice math problem they should be able to solve.
– Students work in small groups to solve the problem and then enter their responses with anonymous clickers.
– Bruff displays their responses, discusses them, and guides them to the correct answer. This models the kind of instruction students will experience in the course – very little “chalk and talk.”
– He then poses a second problem, this one more complex than they’re prepared to solve.
– He tells the class that the course is designed to fill the gap between what they are capable of doing on the first day and what they have not yet mastered, providing the mathematical modeling tools needed to analyze a challenging problem accurately and make valid predictions.
– Bruff hands out the syllabus at the end of the class and asks students to read it and bring questions to the next class.
• Psychology (these come from Rose Cavanagh, Assumption College):
– She introduces herself, including academic background and some personal (dog-related) information.
– She poses some philosophical puzzles, including, What does it mean that we’re using the organ we’re studying in order to study the organ we’re studying? She shares remarkable cases of brain injury and recovery, and shows a trailer for a popular movie on how people could become cognitively limitless through neuroenhancement.
– Students work in small groups answering questions on their knowledge of the brain – labeling parts and functions, the parts of a neuron, and other foundational concepts (responses are anonymous).
– Students write their name on a sheet and answer two questions: What one topic do you hope you will learn about this semester? and What is one weird thing that your brain does?
– Cavanaugh poses a question (for example: True or False: You use only 10 percent of your brain, or Star Wars or Star Trek?) and asks students to get up and go to a corner of the room with others who answered as they did and share why they made that choice.
– She concludes with slides highlighting the syllabus and upcoming course content.
Lang suggests touching on the information gathered in the first class throughout the semester, and then in the very last class, visually displaying first-day information to make clear how much students have expanded their knowledge and ideas in this subject area.
“How to Teach a Good First Day of Class: Advice Guide” by James Lang in The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 24, 2019, https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/advice-firstday; (the first part is in Memo 800); Lang can be reached at email@example.com.
2. A Veteran Teacher Shares Some Key Insights
(Originally titled “Four Practices I Wish I’d Known As a New Teacher”)
In this Educational Leadership article, Texas high-school English teacher and department chair Alexis Wiggins says her first five years of teaching were “especially difficult.” Now in her eighteenth year, she says she’s enjoying the work more than ever, and compares her rookie mistakes to what she’s learned about good teaching
•Start the year with a thorough assessment of students’ skills. Wiggins used to dive right into the content and do a big assessment a month or two later. Now she spends the opening weeks assessing students’ writing, presentation, and speaking skills. On Day Two, students write an essay (a recent prompt: What issue matters most to you and why should it matter to your community or the world at large? Use personal experience, summer reading texts, and any prior learning to answer the prompt succinctly and persuasively). They get a “doesn’t-count” formative grade, comments, and detailed rubric scoring, all of which serve as a baseline for the work that lies ahead. In addition, Wiggins’s grade-level team assigns an essay that’s used to assess students’ persuasive and oral presentation skills.
These two tasks start the year with a no-nonsense tone. “Students are alert, busy, and engaged from the beginning,” she says, “and they understand that the class will focus on complex, open-ended questions and on developing a variety of skills.”
• Start portfolios on the first day of school. Wiggins used to hand work back to students and was never sure what happened to it. Now she gives manila folders to all students on Day One (a different color for each class); these portfolios hold every assessed piece of work and stay in the classroom. “The goal here is not secrecy but safekeeping,” she says. Even the most organized students can misplace folders that travel between home and school. Wiggins has found there are four advantages to this system:
– Portfolios of work are very useful at grading and reporting time, especially when writing narrative comments.
– Twice a year, students do a comprehensive portfolio self-evaluation, which gets them focused on their progress and remaining challenges.
– Portfolios are invaluable for parent conferences, especially showing side-by-side examples of proficient and inadequate work.
– College admissions officers are increasingly asking for graded student essays. To accommodate this request, Wiggins’s school now keeps students’ junior year portfolios through senior year.
Students and parents can always access the folders during the year, and smartphone photos can be taken of a piece of work for reference.
• Make the kids do the heavy lifting. As a rookie teacher, Wiggins used to do minute-by-minute lesson planning, guiding her students to make sense of the books they were reading. Over time she realized that kids could (and should) do without such spoon-feeding. “The secret to optimal learning and smooth lessons,” she says, “is an efficient design in which the teacher facilitates more than lectures.” Using Kagan Structures, Harvard Project Zero Visible Thinking Routines, and Spider Web Discussion (her own invention), she’s now more like a “coach on the sidelines, seeing the big picture and providing feedback to students while they work hard wrestling with the topic, concepts, and texts… I might jump in with a provocative question or redirect them to a passage I think they need to examine. I always leave time at the end of the discussion for feedback, a key role of the teacher in a discussion-based classroom.”
• Get frequent feedback from a variety of sources. The end-of-year student surveys Wiggins was asked to administer in her early years of teaching were basically autopsy reports, way too late to be helpful. Now she does an anonymous Survey Monkey or Google Forms questionnaire every quarter with questions on the books students are reading and how she’s doing as a teacher (questions include whether she cares about them, wants them to succeed, and plays favorites). Most of the feedback is affirming and constructive, but occasionally there are harsh comments. Wiggins shows these (along with the rest of the data) to students, and often there’s a strong reaction (Who would say that?), giving pause to the student who wrote the vitriol. “Sunlight is often the best disinfectant,” she says.
Wiggins also asks a trusted colleague to observe a class and give her informal feedback once or twice a year, and makes a video that she herself views. “Few people like to see themselves on video,” she says, “but there’s much to be learned from self-observation.”
“Four Practices I Wish I’d Known As a New Teacher” by Alexis Wiggins in Educational Leadership, September 2019 (Vol 77, #1), https://bit.ly/2kqjgea; Wiggins can be reached at
3. Advice for Teachers Just Getting Started
(Originally titled “A Letter to New Teachers”)
In this Educational Leadership article, teacher/speaker/author Chase Mielke offers some pointers for thriving in the rough-and-tumble world of schools:
•Find a positive tribe. “Why is it that in every single school, there are both teachers who love their work and teachers who have grown bitter?” asks Mielke. “These teachers often work with the same students, in the same conditions, for the same number of days each year. One of the best things you can do as a new teacher is to look for the colleagues in your building who still love what they do.”
•Curate the good and don’t hoard the bad. Effective teachers “don’t spend the scarce seconds of our days ruminating about past wrongs and rambling about current frustrations,” he says. Speak up against injustice, but focus most energy on teaching and learning, and treasure moments of wonder and laughter.
•Forgive. Mielke confesses that he’s spent too much time ruminating about students who were mean to him and to others, parents who made irrational demands, and colleagues who put him down. Finally he saw “that the only person suffering from my resentment was me” and started practicing meditation and forgiveness. And he forgave himself for his own mistakes.
•Own your present and future. Mielke urges new teachers to develop a sense of efficacy – to see that they are the ones most responsible for their own success and well-being. Colleagues helped him make three mental shifts: (a) to a sense of autonomy, focusing on what was under his control – for example, how he greeted students at the door each day, versus what happened to them outside of school; (b) to cognitive flexibility, brainstorming multiple options to challenging situations versus self-victimizing; and (c) to ownership, deciding what actions to take right now. “We do rather than stew,” says Mielke.
•Craft your calling. Go with your strengths and find ways to shore up your weaknesses, he advises – for example, he enlisted a student to help straighten out his own disorganized desk. Spend more time with the people who build you up and make teaching worthwhile and minimize unhelpful interactions. Be explicit about your teaching philosophy – the why of your work. And pursue passion projects; Mielke says that among the most important things that have kept him from burning out are volunteering to run after-school fitness and music clubs at his high school, building a positive psychology program, and leading PD workshops in the summer. “At the same time,” he adds, “I say no to committees and tasks that drain me.”
“Be proud that you are in a meaningful profession,” Mielke concludes. “But be prepared to fight every year – and every day – to keep your passion alive.”
“A Letter to New Teachers” by Chase Mielke in Educational Leadership, September 2019 (Vol. 77, #1, pp. 14-20), https://bit.ly/2jVu3Nj
4. Pushing Back on Ten Myths About the Brain and Behavior
“It’s high time we put the most enduring myths about human behavior to bed, and see the mind – and the world – as it is,” says associate editor Matt Huston in this article in Psychology Today. Here’s his debunking list:
• Myth #1: Ten thousand hours of deliberate practice will produce mastery. “One hour of practice is not necessarily going to result in the same amount of gain for two different athletes or musicians,” says Huston. Just as important as the quantityof practice are other factors, including the age when a person starts, the type of practice, coaching, working memory capacity, intelligence, and motivation.
• Myth #2: The brain’s right hemisphere is intuitive, the left analytical. “The right and left hemispheres do specialize in different mental functions,” says Huston. “But the notion that individuals rely more heavily on one or the other glosses over the complexity of the left-right relationship.” Brain imaging shows a complex interaction between the two sides with language, perception, and other capabilities. In addition, there’s variation among individuals.
• Myth #3: People have visual, auditory, or kinesthetic learning styles. “The idea that educators should match their instruction to students’ individual learning styles… has been around for decades,” says Huston. “But scientific reviews have found scant justification for this practice… Unsubstantiated ideas about what differentiates students could distract from what boosts all of them.”
• Myth #4: There are multiple intelligences. Huston says that Howard Gardner’s theory of eight distinct intelligences – linguistic, mathematical, spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, kinesthetic, musical, naturalistic – has not been proven experimentally, and its usefulness to educators is unclear. There’s no getting away from the importance of general intelligence (sometimes called g) as an important factor (along with conscientiousness and other personal factors) in life outcomes, says Huston.
• Myth #5: Male and female brains are basically the same. Although there is more overlap than difference, says Huston, some differences are significant, probably stemming from evolutionary pressures:
– Women tend to engage in more altruistic behavior and rate higher on certain measures of empathy than men.
– Men on average do better at spatially rotating an object, while women are better at remembering the location of objects.
– Males are much more likely to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
– Rates of mood disorders and Alzheimer’s disease are higher among women.
– Exposed to traumatic events, boys are more likely to exhibit externalizing, disruptive behaviors while girls have internalizing symptoms, including self-blame.
– There’s evidence that medications have different effects on males and females.
• Myth #6: Birth order shapes personality. The idea that one’s position in the family pecking order determines how assertive, agreeable, imaginative, conscientious, experimental, conformist, conventional, and risk-taking one is has been disproven by recent studies. There is some evidence that firstborns have a slight I.Q. advantage (1.5 points in a German study), but this finding has not been widely replicated.
• Myth #7: People’s attachment style is set early in life. It used to be thought that adults’ ease forming close relationships, versus being anxious or avoidant, is shaped by how they related to parents and caregivers in infancy and early childhood. But insecurity as an infant can be overcome by warm and loving parenting, attentive and supportive teachers, and positive experiences as an adult – and vice-versa.
• Myth #8: There’s a depression gene. “Scientists have failed to turn up reliable evidence that any single, common genetic variant matters much when it comes to mental illness,” reports Huston. “…The connection between one’s genetic profile and vulnerability is highly complex.”
• Myth #9: Grieving people move through denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who first posited the five sequential stages, later said that not everyone goes through the same order. “In reality,” says Huston, “grief is not so regimented… Grieving people take many different paths; some clearly recover from loss more easily than do others.” About ten percent take much longer, and they may need treatment.
• Myth #10: Compulsive, problematic sexual activity is an addiction. Psychologists have specific criteria for what constitutes addictive behavior, and this kind of sexual activity doesn’t qualify. People caught in affairs and other self-destructive and hurtful actions may be trying to deflect blame by labeling their bad behavior as a mental disorder.
Huston concludes with five psychological findings that havestood the test of time and replication:
– Adults’ personalities as measured by the Big Five “OCEAN” traits – openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism – mostly stay the same.
– We are swayed by what we believe others think. For example, if prejudiced comments seem acceptable to the group, it’s more likely a person will make them.
– We seek to confirm existing beliefs and overestimate how predictable an event is. Confirmation bias and hindsight bias (having observed an event, we think we knew it all along) are very common.
– Choices are affected by how options are framed. For example, saying that meat is 90 percent fat-free is more enticing than saying it contains 10 percent fat.
– We may recall seeing something we didn’t actually see. “Memory is far from perfect,” says Huston, “and there is evidence that people can be induced to recall invented details of past experiences.”
“Ten Myths About the Mind” by Matt Huston in Psychology Today, September/October 2019 (Vol. 52, #5, pp. 52-61, 88), no e-link available
5. Can You Turn Off All Technology for a Full Day Every Week?
“There are many people who need to work seven days a week,” says filmmaker and author Tiffany Shlain in this Boston Globearticle. “But many others choose to.” For years she was in the latter category: “Weekends were a chaotic mix of recreation and work, sending e-mails and ticking things off my never-ending to-do list. Not only could I pat myself on the back for my work ethic, I believed I was making more time for myself in the upcoming week. I’d be ahead of the game.” Then her father died and her daughter was born, and she decided to take a look at how she was spending time – and the history of the workweek.
The concept of a weekly day of rest goes back to the ancient Hebrews, and it helped create a weekly opportunity for big-picture thinking that acted as a positive cultural force. Most religions have a day of repose similar to the Jewish Sabbath: the Christian Sunday, the Muslim communal day of prayer on Friday, the Buddhist period of reflection known as Uposatha, the Cherokee tradition of “un-time” days of rest. One historian believes the Pilgrims came to America partly to observe a stricter Sabbath.
Then in the 1800s, the industrial revolution intruded, with factories that could run around the clock. Only a robust labor movement established the 8-hour day and 40-hour workweek, and Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894. The passage of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act made two-day weekends the norm across the nation.
But smartphones and the Internet turned all this upside down. “The digital revolution has blurred the lines between time on and time off,” says Shlain, “and time off is disappearing… It’s time to reconsider what Labor Day actually means to us – what we define as work and as rest in our 24/7 always-on, always-available culture. We need to take a hard look at the boundaries we have let slide and some boundaries we might need to bring back.”
Shlain’s family decided to completely unplug from devices and screens from Friday night to Saturday night – a technology Shabbat. “This did exactly what I hoped,” she says, “creating a work/life border and slowing the pace, at least for a day. I think of Einstein’s theory that time is relative to the motion of things. When that smartphone is on, everything is sped up. When you turn it off, time seems to slow down. When you make a ritual of turning it off each week for a full day, you can actually rest, truly, deeply, and in a restorative way we rarely get…” She’s found that her family is happier and calmer, and in her workplace (a film studio), where the practice has been adopted, productivity has significantly improved even though people are working fewer hours.
“I found the solution in an ancient practice, remade for the modern era,” Shlain concludes. “I invite you to join me.”
“A Labor Call to Action: Take a Tech Shabbat” by Tiffany Shlain in The Boston Globe, September 1, 2019 (pp. K1, K4), https://bit.ly/2MOFL9g; Shlain’s book is 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week(Gallery Books, 2019)
6. Troubling Findings on the Post-#MeToo Workplace
This Harvard Business Review article summarizes a forthcoming Organizational Dynamics study of workplace attitudes on sexual harassment. In separate surveys conducted in 2018, researchers asked men and women whether they thought 19 specific behaviors constituted harassment (for example, continuing to ask a female subordinate out after she has said no, e-mailing sexual jokes to a female subordinate, and commenting on a female subordinate’s looks). Men and women agreed on almost everything on the list, the only exceptions being three where men were more likely than women to consider them out of bounds. “Most men know what sexual harassment is,” says lead researcher Leanne Atwater (University of Houston), “and most women know what it is. The idea that men don’t know their behavior is bad and that women are making a mountain out of a molehill is largely untrue. If anything, women are more lenient in defining harassment.” Other findings:
– 74% of women said they would be more willing to speak out against harassment.
– 77% of men anticipated being more careful about potentially inappropriate behavior.
– 56% of women said they expected that men would continue to harass but would take more precautions against getting caught.
– 58% of men predicted that men would have greater fears of being unfairly accused.
– 22% of men and 44% of women predicted that men would be more apt to exclude women from social interactions such as after-work drinks.
– 63% of women reported having been harassed, 33% more than once.
– 5% of men admitted having harassed a colleague; another 20% said “maybe” they had.
– Being harassed was not linked to the woman’s age, the supervisor’s gender, blue-collar or white-color roles, or whether the woman was married.
– Only 20% of women who had been harassed reported it, the main deterrents being fear of negative employment consequences and of being labeled a troublemaker.
A follow-up study in 2019 (with different people) found the following:
– 19% of men said they would be less willing than previously to hire attractive women.
– 21% said they would be reluctant to hire women for jobs involving close interpersonal interactions with men (e.g., involving travel).
– 27% said they avoided one-on-one meetings with female colleagues.
“I’m not sure we were surprised by the numbers,” says study member Rachel Sturm (Wright State University), “but we were disappointed. When men say, ‘I’m not going to hire you, I’m not going to send you traveling, I’m going to exclude you from outings’ – those are steps backward.”
The researchers believe traditional sexual harassment training that focuses on helping people understand what constitutes sexual harassment is ineffective – men and women already know what it is. Instead, they believe training should educate people about sexism and character. That’s because people who display high levels of sexism are more likely to exhibit negative behaviors, and people of high character, especially courage, are less likely to harass and more likely to intervene when others cross the line.
“The #MeToo Backlash” in Harvard Business Review, September/October 2019 (Vol. 97, #5, pp. 19-23), https://hbr.org/2019/09/the-metoo-backlash; this forthcoming Organizational Dynamics study is “Looking Ahead: How What We Know About Sexual Harassment Now Informs Us of the Future” by Leanne Atwater, Allison Tringale, Rachel Sturm, Scott Taylor, and Phillip Braddy; Atwater can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
7. What Makes a Worthwhile Meeting
In this Education Gadfly article, Hollie Pettersson and Kerri Briggs (Ed Direction) say that meetings are often a waste of time, fostering cynicism and resentment. But that sad fact shouldn’t lead us to conduct almost all business by e-mail and text messages, frantically checking our devices every few minutes and rarely speaking face to face: “Sometimes meeting together is the most efficient way to get things done,” they say. “Indeed, an effective meeting is a core element to collaborative school improvement.” Pettersson and Briggs believe productive and efficient meetings are:
•Intentional– Colleagues make commitments on how they will work together, clearly defining roles, responsibilities, and protocols. Every meeting has a clear purpose and an agenda.
•Data-driven– Teachers and administrators look at student work, assessment results, and other relevant information and use meetings to discuss what’s working for students and what needs to be improved – or dropped.
•Action-oriented– Face-to-face meetings address topics that must be dealt with during the meeting or right afterward. E-mail is used for sharing updates and other information.
•Reflective– “Opportunities to learn and grow as individuals and a team are discussed at every meeting,” say Pettersson and Briggs.
“The Meeting Is Dead, Long Live the Meeting” by Hollie Pettersson and Kerri Briggs in The Education Gadfly, August 28, 2019 (Vol. 19, #34),
8. Short Item:
Online student surveys – This free survey from Panorama gives quick information on studentshttps://www.panoramaed.com/panorama-student-surveyat the beginning of the year. There’s also a free social-emotional learning survey that takes a broader look at SEL in a classroom and school: https://www.panoramaed.com/social-emotional-learning-sel
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