In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“The more that teachers – even the best among them – keep to themselves, the more the content and quality of instruction varies from classroom to classroom. As students move from class to class and grade to grade in the egg-crate school, they are very likely to get an uneven and incoherent education.”
Susan Moore Johnson (see item #1)
“Unless the principal is absolutely committed to protecting teachers’ team time, it will be whittled away.”
Susan Moore Johnson (ibid.)
“Without a belief that they can improve teaching, principals are unlikely to use [evaluation and tenure] policies in systematic ways to either shift the composition of their teacher workforce or promote the development of their existing teachers.”
Julie Cohen, Susanna Loeb, Luke Miller, and James Wyckoff (see item #3)
“If we want people to hear what we’re saying and potentially change their behavior, we have to think about things that will not immediately make them defensive.”
Diane Goodman (see item #5)
“Boys understand themselves – good, bad, and ugly – a little more than we give them credit for, and that knowledge concerns them. It should not only concern us – the adults around them – it should impel an immediate change in our actions and attitudes.”
Daniel Maloney, an English teacher at an all-boys private school outside Baltimore,
responding to Peggy Orenstein’s “The Miseducation of the American Boy” in The
Atlantic, January/February 2020 (Vol. 325, #1, pp. 62-74), https://bit.ly/30ixChf
1. Susan Moore Johnson on the Difference That Working Conditions Make
In this interview with editor Rafael Heller in Phi Delta Kappan, Susan Moore Johnson (Harvard Graduate School of Education) speaks about what happens when teachers work in isolation in “egg-crate” schools: “The more that teachers – even the best among them – keep to themselves, the more the content and quality of instruction varies from classroom to classroom. As students move from class to class and grade to grade in the egg-crate school, they are very likely to get an uneven and incoherent education.”
In her latest book, Where Teachers Thrive (Harvard Education Press, 2019), Johnson describes the professional working conditions that attract and hold teachers and enable them to continuously improve their craft: “In well-organized schools, teachers constantly work with and learn from each other. Those schools are designed to build the collective capacity of all teachers to ensure that students receive consistently good or great instruction.”
Johnson summarizes three major findings from the highly successful Massachusetts schools she and her colleagues studied:
• Principals saw teachers as “genuine partners in defining and addressing the challenges their schools faced… Maybe it’s no surprise, but all of the principals in successful schools had themselves been successful teachers, and they understood how valuable it is for colleagues to work together to plan instruction, review student work, decide which teaching applicants to consider…”
• Teachers worked with administrators to create their own systems to address the school’s challenges – recruiting and hiring teachers, how teams would work together, handling student behavior. “In short,” says Johnson, “the adults in these schools were personally invested in developing ‘the way we do things here.’”
• Principals established positive working conditions – most important, orchestrating meetings of same-grade/same-subject teacher teams at least once a week. “One of the things that struck me most was that team time in successful schools was absolutely inviolable,” says Johnson. “And because they could count on it, they would prepare for it and use the time productively… Unless the principal is absolutely committed to protecting teachers’ team time, it will be whittled away.”
“Organizing Schools So Teachers Can Succeed: A Conversation with Susan Moore Johnson” by Rafael Heller in Phi Delta Kappan, March 2020 (Vol. 101, #6, pp. 35-39). https://bit.ly/33n23EF; Johnson can be reached at email@example.com; a user’s guide to Johnson’s book is available at http://bit.ly/374QuTy.
2. Mike Schmoker on Lesson Planning 101
In this article in Education Week Teacher, author/consultant Mike Schmoker lays out what he says are the rock-solid, research-based components of a well-structured lesson. Citing research by Robert Marzano, Dylan Wiliam, Doug Lemov, James Popham, and John Hattie, Schmoker says these elements “are at or near the top of the list of the most effective known instructional practices” and apply to all types of lessons, “no matter how creative or ‘constructivist’ we wish to be.” Here they are:
– A carefully-formulated, clearly-stated purpose for the lesson;
– A brief explanation of why that objective is worth learning;
– A preview of how it will be assessed;
– Modeling or demonstrating that shows students exactly how to do the thinking and work necessary to succeed in the day’s assessment;
– Guided practice, with students applying or practicing each step;
– Checking for understanding – using assessments that reveal the learning of all students, not just a few eager volunteers;
– If not enough students are succeeding (which is often the case), bringing the class back together and clarifying or reteaching, or enlisting students’ expertise by having them work in pairs to help each other;
– This recursive cycle continues until all (or almost all) students are ready to complete the day’s assignment, project, or assessment by themselves.
– The teacher helps or tutors those who need additional assistance.
“Unfortunately, for decades, the elements of a well-structured lesson have been marginalized or ignored in most schools,” says Schmoker, “forced to compete for time and attention with unending, successive waves of (mostly) unproven innovations and policy requirements. This prevents the kind of sustained practice educators need to master these elements well enough to enjoy the profound impact they would have on student learning… Our highest-achieving teachers know that these elements reduce boredom, increase student engagement, and guarantee significantly higher rates of student success on assessments of everything from content mastery to critical and creative thinking, to close reading, writing, and problem-solving.”
“The Lost Art of Teaching Soundly Structured Lessons” by Mike Schmoker in Education Week Teacher, June 3, 2013, https://bit.ly/2wd3ut1; Schmoker is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. A Key Variable as Principals Evaluate Teachers and Decide on Tenure
In this article in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Julie Cohen, Luke Miller, and James Wyckoff (University of Virginia) and Susanna Loeb (Brown University) report on their study of teacher evaluation in New York City. The researchers’ main focus was principals’ attitudes and beliefs as they implemented district policies on teacher evaluation and granting tenure. The researchers chose New York City because of two initiatives that generated lots of data: (a) teachers were evaluated during each year on a 4-3-2-1 scale using a subset of the Danielson framework; and (b) the district adopted more stringent criteria for granting teachers tenure after three years, including the ability to extend the tenure decision for marginal teachers. As a result of the latter policy, the percent of teachers granted tenure fell from 94 percent in 2009 to 58 percent in 2011.
Cohen, Miller, Wyckoff, and Loeb examined the district’s data and conducted surveys and interviews with middle-school principals focusing particularly on leaders’ expectations of impact on instruction. “Principals’ beliefs in their ability to influence teachers, their comfort with providing negative but constructive feedback, and their perceptions of teacher capabilities all feed into how they implement teacher evaluation policies,” say the researchers. “We focus on the extent to which principals believe they can improve teaching effectiveness, which we term ‘principal perceived agency’ and which we hypothesize is crucial to how they engage with policy… Without a belief that they canimprove teaching, principals are unlikely to use the policies in systematic ways to either shift the composition of their teacher workforce or promote the development of their existing teachers.” The researchers also considered another variable: principals’ confidence that they could recruit teachers to fill vacancies. Although New York City did not have a teacher shortage at the time of the study, some schools had difficulty attracting good teachers for a variety of reasons.
Not surprisingly, principals believed they had more leverage with teachers who had not yet been granted tenure, seeing them as more “open” and “impressionable,” especially as the decision on tenure approached. But teachers who had passed the tenure threshold made up 75 percent of the workforce, and principals were fatalistic about improving or dismissing underperforming veteran teachers. There were some exceptions: the researchers found principals who believed strongly in showing appreciation for the work of effective tenured teachers and holding accountable tenured educators who were not doing the job. Another crucial variable with tenure decisions was support – or lack of support – from the district superintendent, who had the ultimate say.
On classroom observations, high-efficacy principals got into classrooms much more frequently than required (often with short, unannounced visits) and were more systematic about making time for face-to-face follow-up conversations with teachers and providing useful, honest, and concrete feedback. While critical of the district’s teacher-evaluation system (not enough visits, too low a bar for proficiency), they used it or worked around it to provide frequent coaching and tough-love feedback for their teachers. Low-efficacy principals, on the other hand, complied with the required number of classroom observations (“I am in classrooms a lot”) but did not follow up effectively, often shying away from face-to-face conversations and negative feedback for fear of undermining relationships.
On tenure decisions, principals with high agency were confident they had enough data on teachers’ performance, more frequently counseled out underperforming teachers (“This is not a career for you”), were more decisive in not granting tenure (“The children shouldn’t have a third year of this”), and when they extended tenure, used that leverage to coach and improve teachers who were marginal but showed potential (“Let’s figure out the specific things you need to improve and make sure we help you get there”). By contrast, low-efficacy principals were more passive, gathered less data, and sometimes passed off the decision to their boss (“The superintendent was in your room and said this…”).
One other finding: principals’ level of self-efficacy was not related to any obvious factors – for example, principal background, race, experience, and school location. Cohen, Miller, Wyckoff, and Loeb believe that beliefs about one’s ability to improve teaching are malleable, “influenced by a range of school and district policies and interventions.” School-level nudges (from teachers, students, parents, and staff) can develop principals’ self-efficacy, they say, as can well-formulated district policies and superintendents’ coaching, support, and prodding. But they believe the precise methods for developing this critical set of beliefs warrant further research.
“Policy Implementation, Principal Agency, and Strategic Action Improving Teaching Effectiveness in New York City Middle Schools” by Julie Cohen, Susanna Loeb, Luke Miller, and James Wyckoff in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, March 2020 (Vol. 42, #1, pp. 134-160), https://bit.ly/2UedEBG; the authors can be reached at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Microinterventions on Microaggressions
“For many of us, microaggressions are so commonplace that it seems impossible to tackle them one at a time,” says Hahna Yoon in this New York Times article. Should I respond? Is it worth it? Am I over-reacting? Do I just need to grow a thicker skin? And yet each incident bothers her, whether it was her fourth-grade teacher assigning her the part of a “slant-eyed child” in a school play or a stranger in the online dating world saying he “loves Asian women.” The constant drip-drip of these everyday slights affects people’s mental and physical health, says Yoon, making them feel like outsiders in their own land and even, in combination with other issues, leading to suicidal thoughts.
What are microaggressions? Yoon did some research and learned that the term was coined in the 1970s by Harvard psychiatrist Chester Pierce, and more recently updated in several books by Derald Wing Sue, a professor of counseling psychology at Columbia. His definition: everyday slights, indignities, put-downs, and insults that members of marginalized groups experience in their day-to-day interactions with individuals who are often unaware that they have engaged in an offensive or demeaning way. The first step, says Yoon, “is to recognize that one has occurred and dissect what message it may be sending.” If the person is in your everyday life, it’s probably a good idea to address it. But it’s important to think it through.
For starters, says Kevin Nadal, a psychology professor at John Jay College, there are five questions to ask oneself (quoted directly):
– If I respond, could my physical safety be in danger?
– If I respond, will the person become defensive, and will this lead to an argument?
– If I respond, how will this affect my relationship with this person (e.g., co-worker, family member, etc.)?
– If I don’t respond, will I regret not saying something?
– If I don’t respond, does that convey that I accept the behavior or statement?
Having considered these questions and decided to go ahead and speak up, it’s important to think about goals. “Do you simply want to be heard?” asks Yoon. “Or are you more interested in educating the other person and letting them know they did something wrong?”
Microaggressions can happen so quickly that there isn’t time to formulate the ideal response. Diane Goodman, a social justice and diversity consultant, recommends committing to memory three alternative approaches so they’re readily available:
– Asking for clarification, for example, Could you say more about what you mean by that?” or “How have you come to think that?
– Separating intent from impact, for example, I know you didn’t realize this, but when you — (comment, behavior), it was hurtful/offensive because —. Instead, you could — (different language or behavior).
– Share your own process, for example, I noticed that you — (comment/behavior). I used to do/say that too, but then I learned —-.
Underlying these approaches is the idea of helping microaggressors see that they’re not being attacked. “If we want people to hear what we’re saying and potentially change their behavior,” says Goodman, “we have to think about things that will not immediately make them defensive.”
How about microaggressions in the digital space? On Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms, the damage can spread more widely, but there are also more opportunities for people to push back from the safe distance of cyberspace. One approach is pasting in a link that speaks to a particular kind of insensitive comment or image. However, if it’s an impersonal message or meme from a stranger, the best thing is probably to ignore it and move on.
Yoon concludes by emphasizing the importance of drawing boundaries and finding support among allies. Discussing common experiences with a few friends can facilitate the coping process, as well as “developing pride in your community, sharing stories with people from it and taking action to make changes on a local and political level, reflecting on the challenges of your ancestors and practicing self-care and staying healthy – physically and spiritually.”
“How to Respond to Microaggressions” by Hahna Yoon in The New York Times, March 3, 2020, https://nyti.ms/2wWNJGN
5. Developing Political Empowerment in High-School Students
(Originally titled “Raise Their Voices”)
In this article in Educational Leadership, Scott Seider (Boston College) and Daren Graves (Simmons University) report on their five-year study in U.S. high schools of “political agency” – students’ belief that they can effect social or political change. A feeling of empowerment is important because it predicts a young person’s political interest, awareness of current events, and civic engagement. Seider and Graves profiled what a Rhode Island high school does to develop students’ critical consciousness:
• Issue assemblies – One Wednesday afternoon each month, all 350 students convene to learn about a selected topic, led by rotating groups of students. Topics have included bullying, feminism, microaggressions, autism, and Islamophobia. In the assembly on the last topic, a student explained to her peers that “terrorists are nowhere close to being Muslim. If you are a terrorist, you are not Muslim because Allah has nothing to do with violence.” This was news to many students.
• Service learning – Two days a week, academic classes end early and students spend the last two hours working with teachers on community improvement projects, among them environment, housing, health and well-being for teens, and poverty alleviation. At least four semester-long service learning projects are required for graduation.
• School improvement – In 11th-grade civics classes, students identify a policy in the student handbook with which they disagree (for example, no smartphones, tablets, and headphones during the school day) and advocate for change. On the technology issue, students were successful in persuading the faculty to support an experiment allowing technology use at certain points in the school day.
• A yearlong social action project for seniors – This involves writing a research paper, interviewing people in the community, and carrying out the project. One student who studied the challenges of English learners ended up testifying before a Rhode Island legislative committee on protecting funding for English learners in the state education budget.
[In a personal communication, Scott Seider said the study he and his colleagues conducted in five states looked at these components of critical consciousness and how well schools did at inculcating each one:
– Political agency – the Rhode Island school described above did well at this;
– Social analysis – the Paulo Freire/Inspired Problem-Posing Schools did this best;
– Social action – the Expeditionary Learning and action civics schools in the study excelled at this.]
“Raise Their Voices” by Scott Seider and Daren Graves in Educational Leadership, March 2020 (Vol. 77, #6, pp. 36-40), available to ASCD members and for purchase at https://bit.ly/2Uai5O7; the authors are at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org; their book is Schooling for Critical Consciousness: Engaging Black and Latinx Youth in Analyzing, Challenging, and Navigating Racial Injustice (Harvard Education Press, 2020).
6. Essential Questions for Habits of Mind
(Originally titled “Dispositions by Design”)
In this article in Educational Leadership, Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick (Institute for Habits of Mind) and author/consultants Jay McTighe and Allison Zmuda suggest ways to apply the Wiggins/McTighe Understanding by Design framework to Costa and Kallick’s 16 Habits of Mind. Here is a selection of Essential Questions for each of the Habits of Mind (see the full article link below for the Understandings):
– Why should I keep trying?
• Managing impulsivity
– What do I do when I am driven by emotions?
• Listening with understanding and empathy
– How might it feel to be…?
• Thinking flexibly
– In what other ways might I think about this?
• Thinking about thinking (metacognition)
– What kind of thinking is called for in this situation?
• Striving for accuracy
– How can I continue to perfect my craft?
• Questioning and posing questions
– What questions do we need to ask?
• Applying past knowledge to new situations
– What do I already know, and how does it apply here?
• Thinking and communicating with clarity and precision
– What are the consequences of imprecision?
• Gathering data through all senses
– What sources of data should I consider?
• Creating, imagining, and innovating
– What is another way of seeing or doing this?
• Responding with wonderment and awe
– Why is this so amazing, interesting, or mysterious to me?
• Taking responsible risks
– What might be the effects of taking this risk – or of not trying?
• Finding humor
– Am I taking myself too seriously?
• Thinking interdependently
– How can we work best together? How can we avoid “group think”?
• Remaining open to continuous learning
– What do I still wonder about?
Costa, Kallick, McTighe, and Zmuda suggest several ways the questions might be used:
– Posting some of them in classrooms or common areas;
– Drawing attention to a relevant question during a class;
– Looking for an opportunity to highlight a Habit being used by a student;
– Teachers thinking aloud about how they are using a Habit;
– Having a Habits of Mind “show and tell;”
– Students writing journal entries about using the Habits;
– Before embarking on a project, having students reflect on the Habits they might use.
“By visiting and revisiting the essential questions across the grades,” say the authors, “students will come to better understand and internalize these productive mental dispositions. Ultimately, we want students to be asking these questions of themselves, without prompting. The long-range goal is for students to develop an internal compass to help them recognize the need for, and appropriately invoke, the appropriate habit(s) when confronting new challenges and opportunities, within school and throughout their lives.”
“Dispositions by Design” by Arthur Costa, Bena Kallick, Jay McTighe, and Allison Zmuda in Educational Leadership, March 2020 (Vol. 77, #6, pp. 54-59), available to ASCD members and for purchase at https://bit.ly/2x0RmeO; the authors can be reached at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org.
7. Getting Books to Children Who Live in “Book Deserts”
In this article in Urban Education, Susan Neuman and Jillian Knapczyk (New York University) describe a summer program that dispensed free children’s books in four high-poverty neighborhoods where access to books was extremely limited. Working with a corporate partner and a publisher, the researchers set up vending devices (they looked like snack machines) in heavily trafficked areas displaying about 20 books organized by age, from toddler to teen. Parents and children could choose a book, press a button, and it popped out of the machine, free of charge. The fiction and nonfiction books in each machine were changed every two weeks to encourage people to come back for more. A total of 87 titles were displayed over the summer (11 in Spanish, 24 with a main character of color). The book dispensers were located in busy areas; in two neighborhoods, these were churches, in the other two, community centers. Fliers were sent to parents in each area informing them of this new service.
During the two summer months that the machines were available, researchers gathered information in a number of ways. They posted a graduate student by each dispenser eight hours a day writing down who used them, when, and how many books they walked away with. The graduate students also asked passers-by to fill out a questionnaire about books they were familiar with, and did brief interviews with those who took books to get insights on how they were going to use them. The researchers also interviewed parents in the community centers and gave a quick before-and-after literacy assessment to age 3-6 children who were in child care.
What did the researchers find? Over the summer, more than 64,000 books were distributed, 26,200 to unique, one-time users, 38,235 to return users. Books geared to different ages (0-3, 4-5, 6-9, 10-14) were selected about the same number of times. Fiction books accounted for 71 percent of selections, nonfiction about 25 percent, games and puzzles 5 percent. The most popular titles were fiction books linked to movies or TV shows (e.g., Maze Runner, I Love My Mami!); nonfiction books were about Barack Obama, Jackie Robinson, Harriet Tubman, and historical topics. Although the books selected were not often of the highest literary quality, the researchers believe that more reading builds confidence, fluency, and a “thirst” for additional reading and improves achievement in school.
About 180 people walked by the machines each hour, with 40 percent browsing and not choosing a book and 60 percent getting books. “Parents and grandparents were highly influential in encouraging their children to select books,” say Neuman and Knapczyk; “on average, at least two or three books were selected at each visit.” In interviews, adults talked about the value of broadening children’s horizons and bonding with youngsters as they read with them.
The researchers were struck by the fact that public libraries in these neighborhoods, one right across the street from the book dispenser, were not being used by people who were taking advantage of the machines. This seemed to be because the libraries were not physically attractive and welcoming (dirty windows, security grates) and were attracting people for their computers, not their books.
The researchers also found that the vending machines were most heavily used by families that already enjoyed reading. Those who didn’t (“Reading’s not my thing,” “I fall asleep while reading because it’s boring”) passed the machines by. In other words, the ready availability of high-quality, free books was not enough to convert nonreaders to readers. But for those who used the machines, there was no sign of “intervention fatigue;” on the contrary, many kept returning for more books throughout the summer. Before-and-after literacy assessments in the two community centers showed no evidence of summer slide, and children whose parents actively read with them made some gains.
The researchers’ biggest takeaway: ready availability of books is very helpful, but it’s also important that children have support from family members and teachers to build literacy skills and enjoyment. “In addition,” conclude Neuman and Knapczyk, “our study provides a vivid counterpoint to the view that low-income parents are less inclined and less interested in their children’s early education. This study challenges that ‘accepted view,’ and provides an alternative scenario, recognizing that providing access to resources – reaching families where they are – and encouraging adult support may be a key enabler toward enhancing parent engagement and children’s early literacy development.”
“Reaching Families Where They Are: Examining an Innovative Book Distribution Program” by Susan Neuman and Jillian Knapczyk in Urban Education, April 2020 (Vol. 55, #4, pp. 542-569), https://journals.sagepub.com/eprint/hWhkIUpHuzUc5DTCcSj7/full; Neuman can be reached at email@example.com.
8. Books for Students to Read After Watching the Movie
In this School Library Journal article, Indiana librarian Abby Johnson recommends books for follow-up reading after viewing these films:
To All the Boys 2: P.S. I Still Love You (Netflix):
– I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017), grade 7 and up
– The Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart (Delacorte, 2005), grade 7 and up
– It’s Not Like It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura (HarperTeen, 2017), grade 9 and up
The Call of the Wild (in theaters):
– Time Dogs: Balto and the Race Against Time by Helen Moss (Henry Holt, 2019), grades 2-5
– Ice Dogs by Terry Lynn Johnson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013), grades 5-9
– Call of the Klondike: A True Gold Rush Adventure by David Meissner (Boyds Mills, 2013), grade 7 and up
Mulan (in theaters March 27):
– Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (Little, Brown, 2009), grades 3-6
– Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ships Boy by L.A. Meyer (Harcourt, 2002), grades 6-8
Peter Rabbit 2 (in theaters April 3):
– Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! by Candace Fleming, illustrated by Brian Karas (Atheneum, 2020), PreK-3
– Mercy Watson to the Rescue by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen (Candlewick, 2005), K-3
– The Bad Guys by Aaron Blabey (Scholastic, 206), grades 2-5
“Keep Them Reading After Screening” by Abby Johnson in School Library Journal, March 2020 (Vol. 66, #3, p. 22)
9. Online Teaching Resources for the Coronavirus Crisis
As educators wrestle with the current crisis, here are several resources with suggestions for online instruction:
• “10 Strategies for Leading Online When School Is Closed” by Reshan Richards and Stephen Valentine on Global Online Academy, March 4, 2020 – https://bit.ly/3a7yuK1
• “Five Tips for Designing Excellent Video Calls” by Emily Hamlin on Global Online Academy, March 13, 2020 – https://bit.ly/2Wir8iz
• “Coronavirus Has Led to a Rush of Online Teaching. Here’s Some Advice for Newly Remote Instructors” by Jeffrey Young on EdSurge, March 11, 2020 – https://bit.ly/2WjrVQ8
• “Best Practices: Online Pedagogy” from Harvard University, https://teachremotely.harvard.edu/best-practices
• Resources compiled by Jennifer Gonzalez – https://bit.ly/3d3x8lh
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