In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“I think my role shifts completely into this symbolic keeper of hope. My role in this family is to make sure that we know that we are trying to get them whatever they need, having staff members feeling like we care about them as humans and as families, and all of the details of their professional lives will get resolved.”
Paul Kelly, principal of Elk Grove High School in Illinois, quoted in “‘There Is No
Guidebook’: Being the Principal in the Age of Coronavirus” by Denisa Superville in
Education Week, March 18, 2020, https://bit.ly/33FCVZT
“We’re not medical experts, we’re not city planners. This is a time for simplicity and being careful not to throw in too many bells and whistles.”
New York City educator Eva Moskowitz (see item #1k)
“The overall body of high-quality research in the teaching of early reading counsels us to make sure that our teachers have a complete toolbox, and are professionally prepared to use that full toolbox, because different students have different needs.”
Kevin Welner (see item #4)
“When administrators try to make school decisions alone, without the benefit of teachers’ perspectives, it is as though they are working with one hand tied behind their backs. This is a disservice to students.”
Jill Harrison Berg and Jordan Weymer in “A Balance of Power” in Educational
Leadership, March 2020 (Vol. 77. #6, pp. 86-87), https://bit.ly/39dtLVu
“Principals need to learn when to step up and when to step back.”
Jill Harrison Berg and Jordan Weymer (ibid.)
“A school’s performance over time is shaped by its ability to retain strong teachers.”
Jason Miller, Peter Youngs, Frank Perrone, and Erin Grogan (see item #7)
1. More Ideas and Links During the Coronavirus Crisis
a. The Best Graphic on Virus Transmission – This New York Times graphic by Jonathan Corumhttps://nyti.ms/33Epzgo does an excellent job showing how one fewer human-to-human contact drastically reduces the exponential spread of the coronavirus.
“You Can Help Break the Chain of Transmission” by Siobhan Roberts in The New York Times, March 19, 2020
b. Zoom Breakout Rooms – Here are instructions on how you can randomly assign a group of up to 150 students to breakout rooms of 3 (or more):
c. Zoom Polling – Another powerful feature of Zoom is the ability to conduct a live poll of participants. Here are the instructions:
d. A Free Community-Needs Survey – Panorama Education is offering these survey questions on students’ needs, as well as free tabulation of results:
e. YouTube Channels for the Secondary Level – Emma Finn compiled these high-quality video links for middle and high-school students: https://bit.ly/3djZhVr
“Great YouTube Channels for Middle Schoolers and High Schoolers for Learning from Home During COVID-19 Closures” by Emma Finn in Education Gadfly, March 19, 2020
f. Great Minds Videos – These “Knowledge on the Go” materials and daily videos cover math, ELA, and science topics for grades K-8, as well as some high-school topics:
g. Tips (with Graphics) for Online Learning – Paviter Singh has curated 18 brief tips for working with students remotely, each accompanied by a graphic symbol:
h. Five Suggestions for SEL in Distance Learning – Janice Toben of the Institute for Social and Emotional Learning shares tips for distance learning under these headings: Rituals, Energize, Appreciation, Lighten, and Mindful: https://www.instituteforsel.net/posts/realm
“A New REALM: IFSEL’s Tips for Distance Learning” by Janice Toben, March 16, 2020
i. One State’s Resources – The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has compiled extensive resources for teachers and parents: http://www.doe.mass.edu/covid19/ed-resources.html
j. Resources for Homebound Preschoolers – Victoria McDougald compiled this list of 32 activities for the youngest students: https://bit.ly/2QFuMPY
“Smiling Through: Thirty-Two Resources for Entertaining Energetic Preschoolers During Daycare and Preschool Closures” by Victoria McDougald in Education Gadfly, March 19, 2020
k. Advice from a New York City Charter School Leader – Robert Pondiscio interviews Success Academy founder and leader Eva Moskowitz on her schools’ policies during the crisis:
“Remote Learning Advice from Eva Moskowitz: ‘Keep It Simple’” by Robert Pondiscio in Education Gadfly, March 18, 2020
l. PreK-12 Learning Resources – PBS/WGBH in Massachusetts offers math, ELA, social studies, and science resources for grades PreK-12: https://bit.ly/2UeooBf
m. Learning-at-Home Activities – Scholastic offers these resources for PreK-12:
n. Teaching with Zines – This website has numerous suggestions for getting students creating “zines” – short magazine articles published as booklets:
Spotted in “Zines in the Classroom: Finding an Audience of One – or 100” by Trisha Collopy in Council Chronicle, March 2020 (Vol. 29, #3, pp. 26-29)
o. Ideas and Links from Memo 828 – In case you missed the cover e-mail to last week’s Memo, the materials and links shared are now at this link: https://bit.ly/2UeefEM
2. Use It Or Lose It: The Value of Retrieval Practice in the Classroom
(Originally titled “Powerful Learning Is All About Retrieval”)
In this article in Education Update, Pooja Agarwal (Berklee College of Music) says that at the beginning of her classes, students have their heads down, writing furiously. Why? “Typically, educators focus on getting information intoour students’ heads,” says Agarwal. “But in my classroom, and in line with my research as a cognitive scientist, I focus on getting information out of my students’ heads… Too often we teach, students learn, they take a test, and we move on.” Frequent retrieval of learned information is a highly effective way to improve retention and foster higher-level thinking. She suggests these quick, low-prep, low-stakes ways to apply the concept:
• Start classes with retrieval. Instead of saying, “Here’s what we did last week” at the beginning of a class, ask, “What did we do last week?” and have students jot down what they remember, followed by a quick discussion. The prompt could also be on the board.
• Try retrieve-pair-share. Instead of the time-honored think-pair-share routine (the thinking part is usually given short shrift), have students silently retrieve what they know about the question just posed and write it down, then talk with a partner, then engage in whole-class discussion. “This works particularly well for English language learners and students who are less comfortable speaking up in class,” says Agarwal.
• Swap note-taking for retrieve-taking. Teach students a more-effective way to take notes: after reading a textbook passage, listening to a lecture, or watching an instructional video without note-taking, students close the book or pause the video or lecture and write down the key points. Retrieving what was just heard consolidates and strengthens the learning – and reveals what students thought they would remember and didn’t.
“Powerful Learning Is All About Retrieval” by Pooja Agarwal in Education Update, March 2020 (Vol. 62, #3, pp. 1,4), https://bit.ly/2WK61po; Agarwal is at email@example.com.
3. When Does Learning Transfer from One Situation to Another?
In this article in American Educator, Pedro DeBruyckere (Artevelde University, Belgium), Paul Kirschner (Open University of the Netherlands), and Casper Hulshof (Utrecht University, Netherlands) explore transfer of learning: can we use knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes acquired in one situation in a different situation? An important concept is the continuum from near transfer to far transfer. At one end is a fairly easy transfer – for example, being able to get into a rental car and quickly figure out the controls, even though the controls may be different from those in our own car. What distinguishes near from far transfer is the number of similarities between what we’ve just learned and the new situation. In the rental car, the basics are almost identical – accelerator, brake, steering wheel, speedometer – and differences in the directional signals, light switch, radio, heat, etc. are close enough.
DeBruyckere, Kirschner, and Hulshof focus on four examples of far transfer and analyze the research on each one:
• Does learning chess improve problem-solving and creativity? In 2011, Armenian authorities required the country’s schools to teach chess to all students. The thinking behind this mandate was that learning chess would improve students’ performance and life chances, including creativity and character. There is research showing a link between chess mastery and improved cognitive skills and work performance, but this may be more correlation than causation, say DeBruyckere, Kirschner, and Hulshof. As for creativity, it’s possible that a chess instructor who creates conditions of psychological safety – mistakes are okay, they’re opportunities to learn – can teach students to make more-creative chess moves. But the baseline condition is mastery of chess skills, tactics, and strategies, and beyond that, everything depends on the teacher. The authors are skeptical that creativity per se can be taught, even more so that teaching chess to every child in Armenia will move the needle. In fact, there’s little evidence that chess mastery has any impact beyond short-term improvements in school mathematics. And it could be that self-selection is what’s at work in studies that show a link between chess and success in other areas: people with higher I.Q.s tend to spend a lot of time learning chess, hence the correlation between chess mastery and performance in other domains.
• Does learning how to program a computer encourage problem-solving? Steve Jobs once said that everyone should learn computer programming because it teaches them how to think. DeBruyckere, Kirschner, and Hulshof pour cold water on the idea, citing numerous studies showing that we have not yet figured out a way – including programming instruction – to teach students to think in a problem-solving manner.
• Does music help students perform better in school? There is some evidence that music instruction improves executive functioning and higher cognitive processes that are necessary to plan and direct activities. Students in one study of music instruction were better at impulse suppression, planning, and verbal intelligence, which rippled into other school subjects. “But is it actually a good thing to search for far transfer in relation to music?” ask DeBruyckere, Kirschner, and Hulshof – or with art, for that matter? Doesn’t that devalue the intrinsic worth of learning music and art? And what if subsequent studies disprove that transfer occurs? Would that mean art and music should be eliminated from the curriculum? Certainly not, say the authors.
• Does learning Latin help students learn other languages? DeBruyckere, Kirschner, and Hulshof note that J.K. Rowling and Mark Zuckerberg have one thing in common (besides their wealth): they both learned Latin in school. For centuries, Latin was the language of knowledge and erudition, the gateway to universities, the language of the elite. And it’s been argued that learning Latin improves thinking skills and, at the very least, helps with learning French, Spanish, and Italian. But is any of that true? So far, report DeBruyckere, Kirschner, and Hulshof, researchers have been unable to find strong links between learning Latin and better thinking skills. With the cognitive improvement, the biggest problem is defining what we mean by “thinking” to everyone’s satisfaction. But does learning Latin have intrinsic value, giving young people access to the literary tradition that forms the basis of Western culture? Does it lead to greater self-confidence and understanding of other cultures? Do the mental gymnastics have value? Perhaps on all counts – but could the same arguments be made for learning Chinese?
DeBruyckere, Kirschner, and Hulshof conclude by returning to the key difference between near and far transfer – how many elements are the same between what’s learned and a new situation. Their conclusion is that far transfer rarely happens.
“If You Learn A, Will You Be Better Able to Learn B? Understanding Transfer of Learning” by Pedro DeBruyckere, Paul Kirschner, & Casper Hulshof in American Educator, Spring 2020 (Vol. 44, #1, pp. 30-34), https://www.aft.org/ae/spring2020/debruyckere_kirschner_hulshof; Kirschner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, Hulshof at email@example.com; the authors’ new book is More Urban Myths About Learning and Education: Challenging Eduquacks’ Extraordinary Claims, and Alternative Facts (Routledge, 2020)
4. Another Voice in the Ongoing Debate on Early Reading
This policy statement by Kevin Welner, William Mathis, and Alex Molnar (from the National Education Policy Center and the Education Deans for Justice and Equity) starts by putting the current debate on phonics versus balanced literacy in historical context. The “whole language” approach of the 1980s was a reaction to what was seen by some educators as an overemphasis on decoding words. Then in 2001, the Reading First initiative reasserted the importance of phonemic awareness and phonics instruction and referred frequently to “scientifically based reading research.”
From this debate a compromise emerged – “balanced literacy” – stressing the importance of phonics andauthentic reading. Things seemed calm for a while, but then toward the end of 2018, balanced literacy came under fire for underemphasizing systematic phonics instruction for beginning readers. Under the banner of “the science of reading,” there’s been criticism of classroom teachers and schools of education for not doing right by students who need phonics instruction to become proficient readers.
The NEPC/EDJE policy statement pushes back on this thinking, especially the assertion that scientific research supports one side of the debate. “The overall body of high-quality research in the teaching of early reading,” says NEPC co-author Kevin Welner in an interview with Education Week, “counsels us to make sure that our teachers have a complete toolbox, and are professionally prepared to use that full toolbox, because different students have different needs.”
The NEPC/EDJE authors agree that there are valid concerns about educational equity and access to high-quality reading instruction, especially for students of color in underresourced communities and students with dyslexia. But they believe schools and districts:
– Should not fund or endorse unproven private-vendor reading programs and materials.
– Should not try to teacher-proof reading instruction.
– Should not overemphasize short-term test score gains.
– Should not prescribe a narrow definition of “scientific” research “that elevates one part of the research base while ignoring contradictory high-quality research.”
– Should not prescribe a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching diverse students.
Rather, the policy paper authors believe that schools and districts:
– Should guarantee that all students’ identified needs are met with the highest quality of teaching and learning conditions (including teacher training, PD, class size, materials).
– Should adopt a complex and robust definition of “scientific” and “evidence-based.”
– Should acknowledge that the reading needs of struggling readers, emergent bilinguals, and students with special needs are varied and complex.
– Should adopt a wide range of types of evidence of student learning.
– With standardized test scores, should prioritize longitudinal data.
– Should support maximum access to books and other reading materials in homes, schools, and libraries.
“Policy Statement on ‘The Science of Reading’” by Kevin Welner, William Mathis, and Alex Molnar from the National Education Policy Center and Education Deans for Justice and Equity, March 2020, https://nepc.colorado.edu, and a Sarah Schwartz Education Week article (March 19, 2020) on this policy statement, https://bit.ly/3dmTNZS; Daniel Willingham has critical comments on this paper at https://bit.ly/2J9tkB5; his take on the current debate is in Marshall Memo 825, first article.
5. Are Decodable Texts Appropriate in the Primary Grades?
In this Education Week article, Sarah Schwartz reports on the debate about decodable texts for early literacy instruction. Here is the back and forth and a possible middle ground:
• Pro – Decodable texts are written with a high proportion of words that are phonetically regular – they follow common sound-spelling rules. When beginning readers are learning phonics – linking letters on the page to the spoken sounds people hear – the learning clicks and sticks when they practice reading in decodable texts.
• Con – Almost two-thirds of teachers recently surveyed by Education Week preferred to use authentic texts with beginning readers – books with good story lines, high-frequency words, predictable sentence structures, and pictures linked to the content. These books are organized by level of difficulty, and teachers try to get students working with books at their current level so they build confidence and skill and gradually move to more-difficult texts.
• Pro – Advocates of decodable texts cite research showing that predictable texts are important “training wheels” as children learn to read, helping them build the skill of sounding out words in a controlled environment. With a decodable text, students are more likely to look carefully at letters, make the link to the phonics they’ve learned, and read accurately. All this builds important strategies they can use in more-difficult texts. If students start with authentic texts, the argument goes, they’re likely to develop the bad habits of immediately looking at patterns, context, and pictures, and memorizing words, rather than using their phonics skills to sound out unfamiliar words.
• Con – Advocates of authentic texts argue that decodable texts are contrived, stilted, and boring, lacking coherent story lines and new knowledge (Let Lin dab a lip), because the authors can use only certain words. In some texts, authors even try to eliminate the word the because it’s irregular. Children should be reading authentic texts that are engaging and fun; even if some of the words aren’t phonetically regular, kids can figure them out by context and pictures.
• Middle ground I – Some studies show that it doesn’t matter what kind of texts students read as long as they’re getting good phonics instruction and learning how to sound out words. Textbook publishers have competed to produce decodable texts, but researchers haven’t found a magic percent of phonetically regular words that makes a text more helpful to students. For some students, decodable books are important, in the same way that some children need training wheels to develop the balance and confidence to ride a bike without them.
• Middle ground II – Sparks cites several reading experts who believe primary-grade classrooms should use leveled texts strategically, especially with students who show that they need these training wheels. But teachers should also expose students to high-interest authentic books, get students reading books of their own choosing, have all students hear and discuss good read-alouds, get them writing about what they are reading and hearing, and practice spelling words. When can the training wheels come off? When students can apply the skills they’ve learned in phonics lessons, segmenting and blending words as they read. This may happen by the spring of first grade, by which time all students should be ready for authentic texts and continue the rich literacy diet they’ve been experiencing all along.
“‘Decodable’ Books: Boring, Useful, or Both?” by Sarah Schwartz in Education Week, March 18, 2020 (Vol. 39, #16, pp. 1, 15), https://bit.ly/2QFkMGf
6. How Should Instructional Coaches Be Evaluated?
In this article in Phi Delta Kappan, Evthokia Stephanie Saclarides (University of Alabama/Tuscaloosa) and Sarah Theule Lubienski (Indiana University/Bloomington) report on their study of a midsize urban district that had a full-time instructional coach in each school. Coaches modeled effective classroom techniques for teachers, co-taught lessons, facilitated grade-level team meetings, and led schoolwide PD sessions.
During the 2016-17 school year, this district implemented a new educator evaluation process. Teachers and coaches were required to work with a group of students for 4-9 weeks, decide on an area of instructional focus, and gather pre- and post-assessment data. The idea was to encourage teachers and coaches to use data to inform classroom decisions and be accountable for student growth. Teachers and coaches were evaluated on a four-point scale (Excellent, Proficient, Needs Improvement, Unsatisfactory) based on the amount of growth students made.
Saclarides and Lubienski observed classes and meetings and gathered other data as the new evaluation process unfolded and noticed several unintended consequences:
• Coaches usually spent longer than appropriate on each coaching cycle. Before the new evaluation policy, coaching cycles typically lasted four weeks, but coaches worked longer with their teachers to be more in synch with the data cycles. For some coaches, this reduced the number of teachers they coached.
• Coaches did too much for teachers. The pressure to demonstrate impressive student growth led some coaches to do lots of demonstration lessons and direct teaching of students, not letting teachers try what was being demonstrated on their own. Some teachers expressed concern that they wouldn’t be able to carry out new practices at the end of a coaching cycle.
• Perversely, the evaluation system rewarded coaches for enhancing student growth rather than teacher growth. “The evaluation system,” say Saclarides and Lubienski, “made it possible for the coaches to receive a very positive evaluation without having made much, if any, impact on the teachers.”
The researchers conclude with several recommendations on better ways to evaluate instructional coaches – methods that would incentivize the real work of coaching:
– Principals regularly observe coaches as they work with teachers, teacher teams, and the whole faculty.
– As they observe coaches, principals apply a set of research-based principles of effective professional learning.
– Anonymous surveys of teachers provide candid insights on coaches’ work.
– Student growth data are used as one indicator of improved classroom practices.
– Coaches are asked to study their own impact by surveying teachers and making an honest before-and-after assessment of whether teachers improve their classroom practices.
“Perverse Incentives? A Cautionary Tale About Coaching Evaluation” by Evthokia Stephanie Saclarides and Sarah Theule Lubienski in Phi Delta Kappan, March 2020 (Vol. 101, #6, pp. 47-51), https://bit.ly/2WCdYNx; the authors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
7. Reducing Attrition Among New Teachers
“A school’s performance over time is shaped by its ability to retain strong teachers,” say Jason Miller (Vanderbilt University), Peter Youngs (University of Virginia), Frank Perrone (University of New Mexico), and Erin Grogan (College Advising Corps) in this article in Elementary School Journal. Beginning teachers in the U.S. switch schools or leave the profession at very high rates: about 10 percent in any given year, about 50 percent within five years. Miller, Youngs, Perrone, and Grogan report on a little-studied factor in retention: newly hired teachers’ belief that there is a good professional fit with the goals, values, and characteristics of the school and their colleagues. The researchers found this to be an important factor in teacher retention, suggesting that it’s something schools should watch for during the hiring process – and when new teachers join the faculty. Some specific actions:
• Aspiring teachers should be aware of their professional goals and ideals and scope out prospective schools to see if there is a good fit.
• Schools should give teacher candidates a clear, detailed, and accurate description of the mission, instructional expectations, and climate of the school.
• Prior to the start of each year, school leaders should involve educators in team-building activities that get educators professionally acquainted with, engaged with, and relying on each other, and these activities should continue during the year.
• Principals should orchestrate activities that help educators to know the professional interests and goals of their colleagues. Two activities:
– During faculty meetings, teachers write down three professional interests, swap their answers with a teacher from a different grade level or department, and discuss commonalities.
– New teachers are paired with veteran colleagues on a weekly basis to discuss mutual professional interests.
“Using Measures of Fit to Predict Beginning Teacher Retention” by Jason Miller, Peter Youngs, Frank Perrone, and Erin Grogan in Elementary School Journal, March 2020 (Vol. 120, #3, pp. 399-421), https://bit.ly/33MuUTa; Miller is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
8. Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Graphic Novels About Social Justice
In this article in School Library Journal, Oregon librarian Taylor Worley recommends fifteen books for middle-grade students that address inequity, equality, and organizing (see fuller descriptions and grade level recommendations at the link below):
– Revenge of the Red Club by Kim Harrington (S&S/Aladdin, 2019)
– A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, 2019)
– Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown, 2018)
– Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books, 2018)
– Front Desk by Kelly Yang (Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books, 2018)
– Greta’s Story: The Schoolgirl Who Went on Strike to Save the Planet by Valentina Camerini (S&S/Aladdin, 2019)
– Dark Sky Rising: Reconstruction and the Dawn of Jim Crow by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. with Tonya Bolden (Scholastic Focus, 2019)
– This Book Is Anti-Racist: 20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action, and Do the Work by Tiffany Jewell, illustrated by Aurelia Durand (Quarto/Frances Lincoln, 2020)
– Girls Resist! A Guide to Activism, Leadership, and Starting a Revolution by KaeLyn Rich, illustrated by Giulia Sagramola (Quirk, 2018)
– Malala: My Story of Standing Up for Girls’ Rights by Malala Yousafzai with Patricia McCormick (Little, Brown, 2018)
– Woke: A Young Poet’s Call to Justice by Mahogany Browne with others, illustrated by Theodore Taylor III (Roaring Brook, 2020)
– We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices edited by Wade Hudson and Cheryl Willis Hudson (Crown, 2018)
– Dictionary for a Better World by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini (Carolrhoda, 2020)
– Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, illustrated by Giovanni Rigano (Sourcebooks, 2018)
– Go with the Flow by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann, illustrated by Lily Williams (First Second, 2020)
“Social Justice” by Taylor Worley in School Library Journal, March 2020 (Vol. 66, #3, pp. 56-58), https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=great-books-social-justice-middle-grade
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