In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“The fact that students can do something successfully at the end of a lesson does not mean that they will be able to do it in two weeks’ time. But if they can’t do it at the end of the lesson, it is highly unlikely they will be able to do it in two weeks’ time.”
Dylan Wiliam (personal communication, October 27, 2019)
“There’s broad consensus that principals need deep knowledge in three broad areas: curriculum and pedagogy; assessments for student learning; and classroom environment and culture.”
Denisa Superville in “What Knowledge Do Principals Need?” in Education Week,
October 15, 2019, https://bit.ly/2paksVJ
“Sometimes when we procrastinate on having a difficult conversation, we end up not having the talk at all, which is what actually causes irreparable damage to the relationship.”
Anna Goldfarb (see item #2)
“Obesity isn’t a disease of willpower, it’s a biological problem. Genes load the gun, and environment pulls the trigger.”
George Bray in “The Obesity Epidemic” in The Week, October 18, 2019, no e-link
“Most important, to minimize traumatic reactions, an active-assailant drill should never be unannounced. The drill should never be a surprise, and participants should not be confused or wonder if a drill is the real thing.”
Cathy Kennedy-Paine in “Best Practices for Preparing for an Armed School Intruder”
in Communiqué, November 2019 (Vol. 48, #3, pp. 30-31), no e-link available; a related article is at https://bit.ly/31P4vkR.
1. Getting Better at Dealing with Microaggressions
In this article in English Journal, Texas high-school teacher Joel Garza says that over the years he’s heard thoughtful reflections on literature and profound arguments about moral and cultural values, but he’s also heard comments like these:
– Are you a US citizen?
– How did your family get here?
– Wow! You don’t speak with an accent.
“Even when I laugh it off,” says Garza, “even when I ignore it, or, in rare cases, even when I have some disarming response, these comments sting. And I’m a grown man with a comfortable job and dynamite colleagues and also a family that loves me. If these comments sting me, how much more will they sting when a young person hears something similar?”
The sad fact is that microaggressions happen in classrooms, all-school assemblies, lunch lines, faculty meetings, field trips, and elsewhere:
– A middle-school boy makes a comment about a girl’s body;
– A teacher repeatedly mixes up the names of African-American students.
– A family member challenges a young person’s faith or beliefs;
– A girl on a plane looks at a fellow first-class passenger and says to her mother, “This is not what I expected.”
Garza decided to lead a discussion on microaggressions with his students, using Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014) as a text. Students opened up about hurtful comments they’d experienced based on race, ethnicity, gender, identities, religious beliefs, disability, body image, mental health, and more.
It became clear that their in-the-moment response to a hurtful comment was often stunned silence, which can be seen as acceptance. Students discussed possible “scripts” to push back, including this one: “Dang. [dramatic pause and thoughtful head-scratching] I’m not sure what you meant by that. Wanna hear how it sounded to me?” This upstander response to verbal aggression avoids accusations or name-calling, engaging the other person in a conversation (“Wanna hear?”) and providing an opening for an apology or at least a realization that the comment was not okay. The goal is not to win the argument or put the other person down, but to call out hurtful comments in a way that leads to better understanding and increased sensitivity. It’s also a good idea to refer to shared values; Garza’s school embraces Honor, Respect, and Compassion.
For more options, he recommends a Teaching Tolerance free handbook, Speak Up in School: How to Respond to Everyday Prejudice, Bias, and Stereotypes, https://bit.ly/2BLtCuq, which includes four ways to engage a colleague, student, family member, or stranger:
– I don’t like words like that.
– Can you explain what you mean by that?
– Do you know the history of that word?
– (Echoing an upstander who has spoken up) I agree with you, Allison; that word is offensive.
“This Is Not a Drill: The Forecast Calls for Microaggressions” by Joel Garza in English Journal, September 2019 (Vol. 109, #1, pp. 18-21), https://bit.ly/2JuzFrz; Garza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. What to Do When You Really Blow It With Someone
In this New York Times article, Anna Goldfarb describes a major faux-pas: asking a person who was recently fired how his job is going. “The words left your lips before you could scoop them back in,” says Goldfarb. “When you make an inappropriate comment or insensitive joke, the wound is internal, which can make patching things up more fraught.” This kind of thing happens all too frequently, and therapists and counselors have ideas on next steps:
Before you apologize:
• Assess the harm. You might think a quick apology will do the trick, but the other person may be angrier than you think because your verbal slip-up is part of a bigger pattern of thoughtlessness. Rather than saying, “Tell me why you’re mad,” ask, “Please tell me what I did that harmed you.”
• Don’t catastrophize. There’s a tendency to think, I’m a terrible person. A better internal dialogue starts with, I’m feeling ashamed, but I can make this better. Everyone makes mistakes.
• Don’t let it fester. “Sometimes when we procrastinate on having a difficult conversation, we end up not having the talk at all,” says Goldfarb, “which is what actually causes irreparable damage to the relationship.”
Don’t get defensive:
• Take responsibility. Resist the tendency to get defensive (It was just a joke) or make yourself the victim; own what happened, don’t take it lightly, and let the other person have their feelings.
• Validate the pain. You might say, “My comment was inappropriate and I understand why you’re upset.” It’s not productive to litigate whose version of events is more correct. “Memory isn’t a digital recording; it’s an emotional encoding of an event,” says Goldfarb, paraphrasing marriage and family therapist Don Cole.
• Be genuine. A face-to-face apology is ideal, she says, provided it comes from the heart: “Body language, facial signals, and vocal pitch are all lost in written communication, which makes e-mail and text messages less than ideal…” And don’t say, “I’m sorry if you were hurt,” which distances you from your actions and can feel hollow to the other person.
• Explain how it won’t happen again. Showing what you learned and how you will correct your future behavior shows good faith, says Goldfarb. If you’ve been mispronouncing a colleague’s name, don’t say, “Well, it’s a really tricky name and I’ve never heard it before.” Better to say, “Hey, I’m really sorry I did that. I’m glad you told me and I will work on getting it right.”
• Reset. “It can be especially important to have an uneventful interaction after a blunder in case the other person is wondering what the relationship will look like moving forward,” says Goldfarb. Talk about normal stuff.
• Let it go. Sometimes just a few words can do irreparable harm. It’s possible the other person is too hurt to accept your apology, at which point you should disengage, says Goldfarb: “Nobody owes you a relationship… Still, try to embrace the opportunity to understand the other person’s lived experience and identify with their pain, even if you played a part in causing it.”
“When You’ve Said the Wrong Thing” by Anna Goldfarb in The New York Times, August 12, 2019, https://nyti.ms/2Pn0wtn
3. Teaching History with Feeling
“Engaging emotion is essential to effective history instruction,” says David Neumann (California State Polytechnic University) in this article in Social Education. But getting students engaged at an emotional level has not been emphasized in recent decades’ focus on historical thinking and content. Neumann believes a shift is needed, quoting Mary Helen Immordino-Yang: “It is literally neurobiologically impossible to build memories, engage complex thoughts, or make meaningful decisions without emotions.” Neumann suggests five ways history teachers can improve teaching and learning by getting students more emotionally involved:
• First, the opening lesson of a curriculum unit is a golden opportunity to connect the content with students’ real-life experiences. Well-framed essential questions and provocative “hooks” can “convey a sense of drama, intrigue, or weightiness,” says Neumann, “– all appeals to the emotions – to heighten students’ sense of the topic’s significance.” For example, at the beginning of a unit on the colonial period in U.S. history, the teacher might play the two-minute introduction to the documentary Africans in America to get students wrestling with the central role of slavery in the character and future of the nation.
• Second, teachers can point to the role of emotion in historical topics that are usually treated with dry analysis. Bhakti Hinduism, for example, is characterized by “unmotivated, spontaneous, and ecstatic love of God.” Industrialization resulted in smaller families for many, accompanied by a dramatic increase of parental affection toward children. Modernity also prompted “a strong, visceral revulsion toward animal and human smells that people had found completely unobjectionable in the past.”
• Third, teachers can choose texts in which emotions play a central part and pose discussion questions that surface these components. For example, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is usually analyzed for its use of rhetoric, but students can also discuss its emotional appeal on the urgency to engage in immediate, direct action to address racial injustice.
• Fourth, students need guidance reading primary source documents in which historical figures don’t clearly state their emotions. “Presentism” is often an issue when students study a time or place distant from their own and project their own emotions onto a text. Neumann suggests using short secondary excerpts to alert students to “the historically situated nature of many emotions.”
• Finally, teachers should not be shy about showing their own curiosity, enthusiasm, outrage, or grief about pivotal historical events, which increases the chance that their students will get emotionally involved. Teachers can also help students understand unexpected reactions; for example, it’s not uncommon for documentaries on the Holocaust to be greeted with inappropriate giggles because students aren’t ready to handle such troubling material. Explaining and talking through such moments is a vital part of good teaching.
“Wading into emotions in history may draw teachers and their students into uncharted waters,” Neumann concludes. “Despite some legitimate concerns, it still seems clear that, as one historian of emotions put it, to ‘strive to know how history felt to those who lived through it’ remains a profound learning experience worth cultivating… Most important, exercised properly, empathy can help students understand people very different from themselves.”
“A Feeling for the Past: The Role of Emotion in History Education” by David Neumann in Social Education, October 2019 (Vol. 83, #5, pp. 276-279), e-link for members only; Neumann can be reached at email@example.com.
4. Two English Professors Debate the Literary Canon
In this article in Kappa Delta Pi Record, Katherine Landau Wright (Boise State University) and Matthew Thomas (University of Central Missouri) discuss whether students should be required to read “classic” books, versus choosing among more-contemporary books. At the beginning of their dialogue, Wright described a moment when she was in tenth grade: students were reading The Grapes of Wrath and she raised her hand and confidently answered a question the teacher had posed. “The teacher said no, I was wrong, and provided the correct answer,” says Wright. “Then I stopped reading.” She never did finish The Grapes of Wrath, and despite teaching middle-school English, earning a PhD in reading education, and being a university professor, she hasn’t read a number of classics and is against requiring students to read such books.
When Wright shared this view with Thomas, who has had a similar teaching career, he was “gobsmacked” and they began a lively debate about how to help students become lifelong readers while also exposing them to a variety of literature and building their knowledge and understanding of a diverse world. Some excerpts:
Thomas – Clearly not all books that have been written are of equal value to K-12 students. “Life is too short for bad books,” he says. “Let’s not throw out great books because they can be challenging to read and difficult to teach… Don’t let choice be more powerful than a good teacher.”
Wright – Sure, some books are more important than others and teachers should steer students toward better literature, but in many middle- and high-school classrooms, there’s zero choice. Even with a few recent additions, the canon is decidedly Eurocentric, mostly books by white authors about white characters.
Thomas – True, students need to see themselves in what they read, but we also need to stretch students beyond their current horizons. “Nobody alive today in our schools can lay claim to completely identifying with Julius Caesaror Othello,” he says. “However, the themes and wisdom in these two works are nearly universally applicable to all of us, no matter who we are, what language we speak, what nationality we are.”
Wright – Maybe what’s needed is first, providing students with more-diverse authors and characters, and second, supporting teachers to help their students “identify the global themes in literature that allow them to connect to any character, regardless of who wrote the story.”
Thomas – Agreed! But there’s something to be said for reading the original classic. “Is teaching Macbeth-like themes through student reading choice an acceptable substitution whereby students never study Macbeth itself?… Students should not miss out on those powerful and poignant whole-class discussions that come when wrestling through important literature together. It becomes a shared, and often high-impact, experience.”
Wright – She’s skeptical about the value of discussing Macbeth for many of the students she’s taught. Yes, it’s possible to make connections between The Grapes of Wrath and immigrant students’ experiences, but a more-contemporary novel might work better with increasingly diverse students. Surely the canon needs to be mixed with newer works.
Thomas – “Maybe we need a kind of canon-review rubric,” he says, “with the realization that some works need to drop out; there are only so many books that can be read.”
Wright – The question is why students need to read certain books. How many students really understand and appreciate Shakespeare’s deeper themes – or are they just getting the plot-lines from the Spark Notes? Wouldn’t it be better to choose “more accessible, relatable texts that can hit those same targets?”
Thomas – Isn’t the problem the varied quality of teaching? “Before I substitute Twilight (Meyer, 2005) for Hamlet,” he says, “let’s figure out whether the teacher or the text is the problem.”
Wright – Good point: “The text itself is neutral; it’s how you use the text that is problematic. I do not think The Grapes of Wrath is inherently evil, but requiring students to read it without considering why is misguided and can have long-term consequences… We want kids to read many genres to become truly mature readers; however, if our classroom practices turn them off to reading, we have done more harm than good.”
Thomas – True, but let’s focus on teacher preparation and PD rather than losing Shakespeare and Steinbeck “from our shared knowledge base and our cultural treasure box.”
Wright – Yes to teacher training and support, but “until that point, I would rather err on the side of developing and preserving their love of reading.”
Thomas – “I am more and more convinced that we need both,” he says. “We need very rich choices that go beyond the canon; you have made this clearer to me. We should also simultaneously adore, defend, prune, revise, and find good ways to teach our literary canon. We need times for the whole-class novel, and it needs to be very carefully chosen and very well-taught. And, I will admit that in some settings, The Grapes of Wrath might not make the cut. But it needs to be looked at long and hard.”
Wright – She began this debate opposed to assigning “so-called classic novels,” and now sees that the way books are presented is critical. A good mix of contemporary books matters, but classics are sometimes “the right book for the right situation.”
Thomas – He concedes that the debate “has exposed several of my blind spots… To insensitively foist Great Books on today’s students smacks of being stodgy, narrow, and tone deaf, and perhaps even bigoted. But to dismiss the Great Books as only ‘dead white male’ tools of oppression is too simplistic and, I believe, is a mistake; these issues deserve deeper analyses than that.” After all, To Kill a Mockingbird was once regarded as pop culture and is now part of the canon – and part of building cultural literacy in all students.
In this debate, Wright and Thomas clearly influenced each other’s thinking, and they ended up agreeing on several suggestions for classroom practice:
• Students should be offered a choice from a wide array of books tailored to different interests and achievement levels. Teachers should have well-stocked classroom libraries, and should provide the support students need to experience success.
• All students need to be exposed to great literature that makes up the “DNA of our culture,” say the authors, with an eye to including social-justice themes that touch on diverse students’ voices and values.
• “We must provide opportunities for deep discussions about the global human themes presented in both classic and modern literature,” they say. Perhaps The Grapes of Wrath could be paired with A Long Walk to Water (Park, 2010), a contemporary story of refugees and displacement.
• “Any time difficult books are taught,” say Wright and Thomas, “they need to be well-taught” – which means better training and support for teachers to explore with their students each book’s underlying themes and engage in “deep conversations about power and injustice.”
• The Reading Workshop model should be used in secondary as well as elementary classrooms, giving students the chance to choose some of what they read and engage in frequent small- and large-group discussions about texts.
“Who Cares About The Grapes of Wrath? Arguments for Balancing Choice and Classical Literature” by Katherine Landau Wright and Matthew Thomas in Kappa Delta Pi Record, October-December 2019 (Vol. 55, #4, pp. 148-153), https://bit.ly/2JvpRNM; the authors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
5. Fine-Tuning a Credit Recovery Course in High-School Biology
In this article in Urban Education, Kimberley Gomez, Louis Gomez, Benjamin Cooper, Maritza Lozano, and Nicole Mancevice (UCLA) say that in Los Angeles public high schools, 48 percent of students fail introductory biology, which can be the first step to not graduating. “The language demands of biology are large, and science teachers are often unprepared to support students’ language needs,” say the authors. “By some estimates, biology course language demands are like the language load presented when learning a new foreign language… Text complexity can further hamper students’ understanding. For example, in science texts, definitions are often obfuscated by complex, multi-clausal sentences and transitional words and phrases, unfamiliar to students’ everyday, out-of-school discourse.” The demands of high-school biology are even more overwhelming for English learners, who have had little successful experience in the earlier grades with science reading, discourse, and writing. Students tend to read complex high-school biology material as if they are reading simpler material, not slowing down to comprehend the much more difficult vocabulary.
But language challenges are only part of the story. Working with teachers in Los Angeles high schools, the researchers pinpointed two other barriers to student success: very low engagement in biology courses, and a mindset among many students that they were not “good at” science. Because of this, when students encounter difficulty and frustration, they quickly conclude that they just aren’t “science people” and don’t apply themselves when it comes to completing homework and studying for tests.
The researchers also noticed that teachers weren’t using pedagogy and assessments that would counter these psychological and vocabulary barriers, creating a “perfect storm” for low achievement. For struggling students, say the authors, “introductory biology never unfolds into a coherent body of knowledge for learners, and students essentially skim across the surface of classroom learning, unable to communicate and really participate in biology learning in class.”
In the summer of 2012, Gomez, Gomez, Cooper, Lozano, and Mancevice were invited by an LA high school to design and implement a four-week, four-hours-a-day summer credit recovery course in biology. Two of the school’s science teachers did the actual teaching, supported by ideas, materials, and feedback from the research team. These were some key features of the course:
– Each lesson began with a guiding question – for example, What are the differences between plant cells and animal cells?
– Beginning on Day 1, students learned to use annotation to support their textbook and independent reading.
– Each day, teachers gave students copies of their lecture slides with space for annotation and note-taking.
– Teachers frequently checked for understanding and built in time for students to engage in turn-and-talk interactions.
– Students used a biology textbook and annotated as each lesson proceeded, identifying important information in the text.
– Students wrote summaries of their learning as each lesson unfolded.
– Students sometimes used DEJs – double-entry journals – an analytic-reflective tool to monitor their understanding; they made explicit claims and identified evidence, sketched pictorial representations, and wrote vocabulary and definitions in their own words.
– Students completed end-of-lesson exit slips and quick-writes to gauge their learning and self-confidence, providing teachers with daily feedback for instruction.
– Students took a weekly cumulative assessment, designed to parallel the final exam; these included short-answer questions so students got practice writing about science.
– After each class, the teachers and researchers (who observed instruction) had a one-hour debriefing session to check in on the day’s lesson and discuss needed changes.
How did students in this credit recovery course do? On the final exam, 28 of the 29 students passed with a C or better. A big piece of this success was the attention to the language of biology, slowing students down and using several study and comprehension techniques to dramatically improve comprehension. Another key was improving students’ engagement in the material and metacognitive awareness of what was going on in the credit recovery course. “Students recognized that they were learning science differently,” say the authors, “and although they did not like all the pedagogical techniques, they clearly were able to express value in this new form of learning science. They told us which pedagogical techniques seemed to have value for them and why… They recognized that the language support tools both slowed down their reading and, to their eye, increased their comprehension.”
“Redressing Science Learning Through Supporting Language: The Biology Credit Recovery Course” by Kimberley Gomez, Louis Gomez, Benjamin Cooper, Maritza Lozano, and Nicole Mancevice in Urban Education, December 2019 (Vol. 54, #10, pp. 1489-1519), available for purchase at https://bit.ly/2qKrY9Z; Kimberley Gomez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
6. Risk and Protection Factors for LGBTQ Youth
In this article in Communiqué, Janelle Taylor gives us the bottom line from several recent studies: “LGBTQ youth report higher rates of emotional distress, symptoms of anxiety and depression, hopelessness, self-harm, alcohol/substance abuse, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior compared to heterosexual youth.” Although there’s been progress on attitudes toward same-sex orientation, there is still significant stigma, and adolescents feel it most acutely. This is especially true for LGBTQ youth of color. Taylor lists the major risk factors:
– Victimization – Bullying, verbal and physical harassment, and physical assault all produce insecurity and vulnerability and a number of negative outcomes.
– Perceived discrimination – A heightened sensitivity to bad treatment affects everyday interactions.
– Family rejection – This is the most powerful stressor for LGBTQ youth.
– Maladaptive coping strategies – Victimization, perceived discrimination, and family rejection can lead to depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts, illegal drug use, and sexual risk-taking.
Taylor then lists the most important protective factors:
– Family acceptance – Support from kin is the most important countervailing force against the negative consequences listed above.
– Social support – LGBTQ youth who maintain friendships after coming out have higher levels of self-esteem and fewer symptoms of depression and suicidal thoughts.
– Affirming and protective school environments – Four examples: a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) club, anti-bullying laws that specify protection for LGBTQ youth, inclusive curriculum content, and professional development heightening educators’ awareness of these issues and encouraging intervention when they observe hurtful words and actions.
“Mental Health in LGBTQ Youth: Review of Research and Outcomes” by Janelle Taylor in Communiqué, November 2019 (Vol. 48, #3, pp. 4-8), no e-link available
7. Common Misperceptions of Facts and Beliefs
In this Psychology Today article, Matt Huston reports three findings from Bobby Duffy’s new book on human misunderstanding:
• What percentage of females age 15 to 19 give birth each year?
– Average guess: 24%
– Actual statistic from 2017: 2.1%
• Is the murder rate higher, lower, or about the same as in 2000?
– Guesses: 52% say it’s higher, 26% say it’s the same, 13% say it’s lower
– Actual statistic: It’s lower
• What percentage of people believe homosexuality is morally unacceptable?
– Average guess: 42%
– Actual statistic from 2016: 37%
“Guess Again: Answers to Major Social Questions Are Often Wrong in the Same Way” by Matt Huston in Psychology Today, November/December 2019, no e-link available; Duffy’s book is Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding (Basic Books, 2019)
8. Award-Winning Young Adult Books
In this English Journal article, Brian Gillis (Kennesaw State University) nominates six “must-read” young adult books from 2018 awards lists:
– Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (Holt), grade 9 and up – A fantasy novel about an oppressed tribe in Africa and a 17-year-old heroine’s efforts to restore its magic and power.
– Damsel by Elana Arnold (Balzer + Bray), grade 10 and up – A young prince slays a dragon and rescues a damsel, but she has no memory of who she was before this drama, and tries to piece together her identity as she’s prepared to be the queen.
– Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (HarperCollins), grade 7 and up – The U.S. Civil War ends with the battlefield dead rising up and eating everyone in sight. The North and South unite to fight the zombies, and Jane, a strong-willed biracial teen is involved in a series of adventures.
– A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti (Simon Pulse), grade 8 and up – Eighteen-year-old Annabelle embarks on a cross-country run to escape the memory of a traumatic event that remains a mystery until the very end of the book.
– Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett Krosoczka (Graphix), grade 6 and up – The true story of the author’s struggles growing up in a dysfunctional family and how drawing comics helps him make sense of his life.
– The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (HarperTeen), grade 8 and up – Xiomara Batista is the high-school sophomore daughter of Dominican immigrants living in Harlem. Her mother makes her go to Mass every day and tries to protect her from other girls’ insults and boys’ unwanted advances. Xiomara discovers herself by writing poetry.
“The Honor List of 2018 Prize-Winning Young Adult Books: Following Your Heart and Speaking Your Truth” by Bryan Gillis in English Journal, September 2019 (Vol. 109, #1, pp. 97-102), https://bit.ly/349VrZr; Gillis can be reached at email@example.com.
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