In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“Deep learning is hard work. The effort involved in active learning can be misinterpreted as a sign of poor learning. On the other hand, a superstar lecturer can explain things in such a way as to make students feel like they are learning more than they actually are.”
Louis Deslauriers (quoted in item #1)
“History. Clarity. Candor. Kindness. Humor. No finger-pointing or self-righteousness.”
Tim Tyson, on how to get through to students when covering fraught issues in
America’s racial history, interviewed by Will Jarvis in “Ignorance of the Past Will Not
Save Us” in Chronicle of Higher Education, September 6, 2019 (Vol. LXVI, #1, p. A7)
“To improve as writers, students need to write frequently, for meaningful reasons, to readers who respond as actual readers do – with interest in ideas, puzzlement over lack of clarity or logic, and feedback about how to think more deeply and write more clearly to accomplish the writer’s purpose. There are no shortcuts.”
Elizabeth Wardle (see item #2)
“I’m jealous of my childhood self now when I remember that every fall we got to start over, as if our lives were getting a routine software upgrade. I cleaned out my bookbag, tossed old notebooks, lined up fresh pencils, got my feet measured for new shoes, and showed up to school ready to learn. I bemoaned the end of summer, but I also loved the sense of possibility a new grade held.”
Mary Laura Philpott in “I’m So Excited for 40th Grade” in The New York Times,
September 7, 2019, https://nyti.ms/2krwacb
1. Why the Lecture Method Endures, Despite the Evidence
In this Harvard Gazette article, Peter Reuell reports on a 2019 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Louis Deslauriers et al. The researchers had college students listen to well-delivered lectures for a segment of the course. In another segment, they engaged in discussion-based active learning experiences. An example of the latter: to launch a new topic, students were asked to gather in small groups and solve several problems. The instructor walked around observing them and answering questions, then convened the whole class for a brief talk on the misconceptions and struggles observed during the problem-solving activity.
The researchers asked students how much they believed they learned from the lectures and from the active-learning experiences, and then tested their actual learning with 12 multiple-choice questions. The main findings:
– Students believed they learned more from the lectures.
– The test results showed that students learned more from active-learning strategies.
– When shown the evidence of superior learning outcomes with active learning, students were quick to embrace that approach.
“Deep learning is hard work,” says Deslauriers. “The effort involved in active learning can be misinterpreted as a sign of poor learning. On the other hand, a superstar lecturer can explain things in such a way as to make students feel like they are learning more than they actually are.” But when courses shift to active learning strategies, student evaluations are more positive than with traditional lectures.
Eric Mazur, a Harvard physics professor who has embraced discussion-based learning in his own classes, commented on the study: “This work unambiguously debunks the illusion of learning from lectures. It also explains why instructors and students cling to the belief that listening to lectures constitutes learning.”
“Lessons in Learning” by Peter Reuell in The Harvard Gazette, September 4, 2019,
2. Is Student Writing Really Worse Than It Was in the Past?
In this Chronicle of Higher Education article, Elizabeth Wardle (Miami University of Ohio) says there are frequent complaints about the miserable state of students’ writing from teachers, college professors, journalists, and authors. What’s really going on here?
First, says Wardle, people have been complaining about kids’ writing since the late 1800s, when schools moved from teaching Latin, Greek, math, and rhetoric to asking students to write original prose. “There is no evidence that student writing overall is any better or worse than it has ever been,” she says. “…Students are what they have always been: learners.”
Second, the key issue is practice with feedback. “To improve as writers,” says Wardle, “students need to write frequently, for meaningful reasons, to readers who respond as actual readers do – with interest in ideas, puzzlement over lack of clarity or logic, and feedback about how to think more deeply and write more clearly to accomplish the writer’s purpose.” Research shows that grammar worksheets, skill-and-drill exercises, and line editing don’t produce good writers. Students need to write and revise in as many classes, internships, and extracurricular venues as possible, making lots of errors and getting correction along the way. “There are no shortcuts,” she says.
Third, each teacher needs to help students write to the specific requirements of their subject. “Once we’ve learned scribal skills such as letters and basic grammatical constructions and conventions,” says Wardle, “everything else is quite particular: the genre, the audience, the purpose, whether there should be main claims and if so where, what counts as evidence, what ‘succinct’ looks like… The characteristics of ‘good’ writing differ dramatically for history essays, grocery lists, fan fiction, text messages, poetry, grant proposals, lab reports, ethnographies, and opinion columns. We can help our students improve by being explicit and specific about what we mean by ‘good writing.’”
Finally, says Wardle, “Teaching writing is everyone’s responsibility, but it’s not any one person’s responsibility to teach all kinds of writing. We are each responsible for helping students understand the written practices that we use in our fields and professions.” That means instructors must understand the imperative of specialization and be involved in professional development to support effective practices.
“What Critics of Student Writing Get Wrong” by Elizabeth Wardle in The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 6, 2019 (Vol. LXVI, #1, p. A84), no e-link available; Wardle can be reached at wardleea@MiamiOH.edu.
3. Jennifer Gonzalez on Improving Classroom Slide Presentations
In this Cult of Pedagogy article, Jennifer Gonzalez says that in her visits to classrooms around the country, she sees some “very fixable problems” with the way PowerPoints and other slideshow presentations are being used. Her suggestions:
• Use presentation mode. Surprisingly, some teachers scroll through slides while still in the editing mode, which means students see much smaller slides and a lot of clutter around the edges. Hit the button for presentations, Gonzalez exhorts: “Doing this gives the audience a rich, full-screen experience with each slide, one at a time, which is much more pleasing than looking at the back end of it all.”
• Cut way back on your text. “Slides are meant to supplement and enhance your presentation,” she says, “to provide visual interest and add new dimensions to your message. If your presentation is going to be memorable, the audience should get something from both you AND the slides.” If you just read the slides, students’ minds will be far away. What this means: (a) limit yourself to short bullet points on each slide, with detailed information in the notes panel or a paper cheat sheet; (b) spread out information over more slides, with less on each one; and (c) create a handout with just the main points.
• Update artwork and fonts. “The clip art that so many of us used in the past is really starting to look out of date,” says Gonzalez. There’s lots of free material online that’s much better – see https://pixabay.com,https://unsplash.com, or the clip library in PowerPoint and Google Slides. And there are plenty of appealing fonts available.
• Create previews and signposts. It’s very helpful for students (or colleagues) to know the organization of a presentation, the main points, and about how long it will last. An outline slide that you return to as the presentation unfolds accomplishes all these goals.
• Don’t overdo animations. The various gimmicks (zooming in, checkboard fade, exploding bullets) get old pretty fast, says Gonzalez. You want people focused on the content, not the jazzy way it’s presented. It’s helpful, however, to “build” slides with several elements, discussing and revealing them one at a time.
• Keep things consistent. Presentations look more professional and keep viewers better focused if you use the same font, layout, color scheme, and other design elements throughout. Click the link below and go to page 15 to see numerous slide templates.
• Proofread – out loud. Gonzalez has found that she’s much more likely to find typos, spelling mistakes, and incorrect punctuation if she reads a presentation aloud. This is not the same as rehearsing for a presentation, when the focus is on content and transitions.
“Let’s Make Better Slideshows” by Jennifer Gonzalez in The Cult of Pedagogy, September 3, 2019, https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/slideshows/
4. Helping New Teachers Avoid Some Common Traps
(Originally titled “Avoiding the Siren Calls”)
In this Educational Leadership article, Mark Wise and Beth Pandolpho (West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District, New Jersey) list several “Siren calls” that lure novice teachers away from a successful first year. Here are five not-so-effective practices that newbies may carry forward from student teaching, misguided PD workshops, or their own years as students.
•Siren call #1: Stay on top of the details and everything else will fall into place. Following this advice can make teachers look like bureaucrats and distract them from what matters most: getting to know their students. “Teachers who ask students about their lives and share theirs in return,” say Wise and Pandolpho, “can bridge the divide between adults who seem to have all the answers and students who are still figuring things out. These meaningful relationships can also support and inform a new teacher’s classroom practices and policies.”
•Siren call #2: The most important thing is preparing lesson activities. This runs the risk of students being busy with things that aren’t part of a well-planned unit focused on key knowledge and skills, big ideas, essential questions, and transfer goals. It also lulls the teacher into believing that when students complete the activities, it means the lesson was successful – which might not be the case. Framing solid lesson objectives is not just a compliance exercise; it’s at the heart of moving students toward important learning outcomes.
•Siren call #3: When students are working in groups, the lesson is student-centered. Not necessarily, say Wise and Pandolpho: “New teachers may earnestly, but mistakenly, assign ‘group’ work that consists of routine tasks that could just as easily be completed independently… A group-worthy task challenges students to generate new ideas and revise their collective thinking in their quest to solve a problem, answer a question, or create an original product. It requires the unique talents and abilities of all members as they work independently and together to create a final product.”
•Siren call #4: Quick-hit checks for understanding do the job. Asking “Does anyone have any questions?” or asking students to give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down signal does not give a teacher a good sense of student mastery. Neither does calling on a few confident students who have the right answer and taking the quiet compliance of the rest of the class as evidence of learning. “The importance of checking for understanding in a thorough way cannot be overstated,” say Wise and Pandolpho. The key is getting information on all students’ learning and fixing misconceptions and errors in real time.
•Siren call #5: Exit tickets are the best way to get a handle on student mastery. The problem with this kind of end-of-lesson check-in, say Wise and Pandolpho, is that there will be at least a 24-hour delay in following up on students’ errors and misconceptions. “Imagine a football team down by 20 points at halftime with a coach who doesn’t offer any new ideas,” they say, “or a violin tutor who does not provide feedback when a measure is played sharply out of tune… Timely feedback can be just as powerful a tool for classroom educators as it is for coaches and music instructors.” New teachers must have a sense of urgency about during-lesson, on-the-spot checks for understanding, followed immediately by appropriate praise and correctives.
“Avoiding the Siren Calls” by Mark Wise and Beth Pandolpho in Educational Leadership, September 2019 (Vol. 77, #1, pp. 22-29), https://bit.ly/2m9rLet; the authors can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. Who Decides the What and How-To of Curriculum?
In this Education Week article, Jared Myracle (Jackson-Madison County, Tennessee chief academic officer) says some teachers plan lessons without the bigger picture of the year’s curriculum in mind, and without making connections to the previous year’s learning or the content students will encounter in the next grade. “If teachers are working independently in silos,” he says, “they can hardly achieve the type of vertical coherence across grades needed to develop mathematical concepts, for example. The same is most likely true for the knowledge building required to bridge reading comprehension gaps… When you consider this at scale, across districts and states, it is no longer a surprise that our national achievement rates are relatively stagnant.”
This isn’t teachers’ fault, says Myracle. It’s most often the result of districts not putting into place clear grade-by-grade learning expectations and assessments, which makes teachers responsible for deciding what to teach as well as how to teach it. The best dynamic, he believes, is for districts to promulgate a thoughtful, coherent K-12 curriculum sequence and charge teachers with putting their creativity and energy to choosing the best methods and materials, fine-tuning the content to their students’ unique needs, and continuously building their capacity as educators.
6. New Insights on Summer Learning Loss
In this article in Education Next, Paul von Hippel (University of Texas/Austin) reports that recent research casts doubt on earlier findings that less-advantaged students lose ground over the summer compared to their more-fortunate peers. The tests most schools are now using to measure student progress don’t show widening gaps over the summer. Socioeconomic and racial achievement gaps definitely exist, says von Hippel, but they trace back to the learning differences with which students enter kindergarten; the gaps change very little as students move through the grades.
However, summer is an important part of every child’s learning trajectory, he continues: “Nearly all children, no matter how advantaged, learn much more slowly during summer vacations than they do during the school year. That means that every summer offers children who are behind a chance to catch up. In other words, even if gaps don’t grow much during summer vacations, summer vacations still offer a chance to shrink them.” Well-run programs in July and August, or extending the school year to more than 200 days, as some schools are doing, can have a real impact – not by preventing achievement gaps from widening over the summer; but by shrinking gaps that were there from the first day of kindergarten.
“Is Summer Learning Loss Real?” by Paul von Hippel in Education Next, Fall 2019 (Vol. 19, #4, pp. 8-14), https://bit.ly/2KC09Zz; von Hippel is at email@example.com.
7. Technology Links for Teachers and School Librarians
In this article in Knowledge Quest, Nancy Flanagan Knapp (University of Georgia/ Athens) suggests five areas in which teachers and school librarians can make effective use of technology, with free links in each:
• Making basic literacy skills practice effective and fun:
– PBS KidsReading Games: http://pbskids.org/games/reading
– Education World’s The Reading Machine: www.educationworld.com/a_tech/archives/readingmachine.shtml
– Scholastic’s Student Activities website: http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/clf/tguidesitemap.htm
– The Learning Company’s games: https://classicreload.com
• Increasing the number and variety of texts available for readers at all levels:
– The International Children’s Digital Library: http://en.childrenslibrary.org
– Unite for Literacy: http://uniteforliteracy.com
– Project Gutenberg: https://www.gutenberg.org
– Amazon and Barnes and Noble: search “free Kindle books” at www.amazon.comor “free Ebooks” at www.barnesandnoble.com.
• Scaffolding texts for struggling readers and writers of all ages:
– Tech for Teachers: Supporting Struggling Readers with Speech-to-Text: https://youtu.be/zBLXkAVyJWU
• Personalizing and differentiating instruction for diverse readers:
– Newsela: current non-fiction articles at multiple Lexile levels: https://newsela.com
– Simple English Wikipedia: https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
– Storyline Online: read-aloud, mostly for younger children: www.storylineonline.net
– Fact Monster: fun facts, trivia games, and homework help for elementary students: https://factmonster.com
– Khan Academy: short online tutorials for all ages: https://khanacademy.org
• Bringing out the “social” in reading:
– Goodreads for students 13 and up; librarians can create private groups with restricted membership: https://www.goodreads.com
– Biblionasium, which allows users to share their reading preferences; for students age 6-13: https://www.biblionasium.com
– Library Thing: lets students create a private but shareable personal “bookshelf,” for kids 13 and up: https://librarything.com
– Poetry-Free-for-All: for poets of all ages – www.everypoet.org
– Teen Ink: http://www.teenink.com
– Book Crossing: a forum for sharing actual print books in a unique way: www.bookcrossing.com
– Epals: A reputable global pen pal site that can encourage reading and writing: https://www.epals.com/#/connections
“Using Technology to Foster ‘Real Reading’ in the School Library and Beyond” by Nancy Flanagan Knapp in Knowledge Quest, September/October 2019 (Vol. 48, #1, pp. 54-60), no free e-link available; Knapp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
8. A Librarian Changes His Attitude About Lost Books
In this School Library Journal article, New York City high-school librarian Ciro Scardina says he used to lose sleep fretting about books that students didn’t return. “I have an anxiety disorder that carries over into my professional life more than I care to admit,” says Scardina. “Knowing this, I am proactive in differentiating between small and big stuff and removing or minimizing those stress inducers as much as I can. I can thankfully say that I finally removed from my life the stress, anxiety, and worry over lost library books.”
Here’s his new philosophy: “I imagine books have a life cycle. Not all of their lives will end in my library. I don’t ponder where they eventually end up. I just trust, in some cosmic way, that a book will find its way to the person who needs to hear its story.” He likes this quote from a 1969 book by Henry Miller: “A book lying idle on a shelf is wasted ammunition. Like money, books must be kept in constant circulation… A book is not only a friend, it makes friends for you.”
“A Philosophy of Lost Books” by Ciro Scardina in School Library Journal, September 2019 (Vol. 65, #8, p. 17), https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=A-philosophy-of-lost-books-school-libraries
9. Is Dewey the Best Way to Organize a School Library?
In this School Library Journal article, Oregon librarian April Witteveen reports on many schools’ and public libraries’ dissatisfaction with using the Dewey decimal system to organize their collections; for starters, many children find it difficult to locate books. In a sidebar, Elisabeth Gattullo Marrocolla lists some objections to the Dewey system, which she calls “an outdated mess”: classifying ‘women’s work’ separately from jobs; African-American culture separately from American culture; putting ‘working animals,’ such as cows, sheep, and horses, in an entirely separate category from lions and tigers; diseases organized separately from cures; boats cataloged apart from the sinking of the Titanic; and difficulty finding graphic novels.
Dewey “is still the dominant system in the country,” says Marrocolla, “and our patrons need to know how to use it.” But she describes how her library has “hacked” Dewey to get rid of its anomalies and create genre-specific categories that make it easier for patrons to find what they’re looking for. Witteveen suggests these genres, among others: adventure, fantasy, historical fiction, humor, mystery, realistic fiction, science fiction, scary, and sports fiction.
“Flipping for Genrefication” by April Witteveen, and “The Trouble with Dewey” by Elisabeth Gattullo Marrocolla in School Library Journal, September 2019 (Vol. 65, #8, pp. 40-44), no e-link available
10. Books About Female Athletes
In this School Library Journal article, Cicely Lewis recommends six books on successful female athletes:
• Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by James Ransome (S&S, 2018), preschool-grade 3 – Dual picture book biographies about these remarkable athletes.
• Strong Is the New Pretty: A Celebration of Girls Being Themselves by Kate Parker (Workman, 2017), grade 3-6 – A photographic celebration of girls defying preconceived notions about what it is to be beautiful.
• Auma’s Long Run by Eucabeth Odhiambo (Carolrhoda, 2017), grade 3-6 – A young Kenyan girl who is a talented runner and student is conflicted between competing in a race and taking care of her family.
• Proud: Living My American Dream by Ibtihaj Muhammad (Little, Brown, 2018), grade 6 and up – Muhammad describes her journey as a black Muslim fencer and Olympic medalist.
• Gravity by Sarah Deming (Make Me a World, 2019), grade 9 and up – A Dominican Jewish girl in Brooklyn channels her frustration into boxing and dreams of going to the Olympics
• Throw Like a Girl by Sarah Henning (Little, Brown, forthcoming in 2020), grade 9 and up – A talented athlete loses her private school scholarship after punching another student and must prove herself in her new public school.
“These Girl Athletes Rule: Sports-Themed Titles to Empower All Young Readers” by Cicely Lewis in School Library Journal, September 2019 (Vol. 65, #8, p. 25), no e-link available
11. Short Items:
a. New state rankings– This annual Quality Counts Grading the States report in Education Week https://bit.ly/2k1N6pd shows the ranking of all fifty states, with New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, and New Hampshire earning B+ and B grades, and most-improved mention going to Nevada, District of Columbia, California, Oregon, and Washington. The rankings are based on three equally weighted criteria: Chance of Success, School Finance, and K-12 Achievement.
“State Grades on K-12 Achievement: Map and Rankings” in Education Week, September 4, 2019 (Vol. 39, #3, pp. 8-11)
b. Cognitive science made accessible – This free website aims to make insights from research on how people learn understandable to PreK-12 educators: https://www.learningscientists.org/downloadable-materials. The main page focuses on six proven classroom strategies: spaced practice, retrieval practice, elaboration, interleaving, concrete examples, and dual coding – with posters, PowerPoint slides, and bookmarks for each.
“The Learning Scientists” by Megan Sumeracki, Cindy Nebel, Carolina Kuepper-Tetzel, and Althea Need Kaminski, in collaboration with Samuel Sumeracki and Oliver Caviglioni
c. Open-source science materials – In this Education Week article, Sarah Schwartz reports on the availability of free science materials aligned with Next Generation standards. OpenSciEd https://www.openscied.org is rolling out highly-rated, inquiry-based units, starting with sixth-grade thermal energy, seventh-grade metabolic reactions, and eight grade sound waves. Subsequent groups of three units are being released every six months.
“Teachers Nationwide Now Have Access to Open-Source Science Curriculum” by Sarah Schwartz in Education Week, August 28, 2019, https://bit.ly/2MODNpl
d. The critical role of background knowledge– In this study in Psychological Science, Tenaha O’Reilly, Zuowei Wang, and John Sabatini report on their study demonstrating that when high-school students don’t know a few key academic terms (for example, ecosystem and habitat in a passage on ecology), their reading comprehension is much worse. The researchers recommend that teachers do a quick inventory of students’ background knowledge in each unit to help distinguish knowledge gaps from decoding and other reading problems.
“How Much Knowledge Is Too Little? When a Lack of Knowledge Becomes a Barrier to Comprehension” by Tenaha O’Reilly, Zuowei Wang, and John Sabatini in Psychological Science, July 25, 2019, available for purchase at https://bit.ly/2k3INd0, spotted in “Concept Words Key to Comprehension” by Sarah Sparks in Education Week, September 4, 2019
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