In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“I want to send a message to parents, and in particular to working moms, who will inevitably take on most of this home labor along with working remotely: This is going to be messy and that is OK.”
Jennie Weiner (University of Connecticut) in “I Refuse to Run a Home School” in
The New York Times, March 20, 2020, https://nyti.ms/33U1mmq
“The fictional Lone Ranger was known for rescuing people facing powerful adversaries in the American Old West. He typically solved their problems but, unfortunately, he never helped people to develop the skills needed so they could fix the same problem in the future without his intervention.”
Leslie Paige in “We Are Leaders” in Communiqué, March/April 2020 (Vol. 48, #6, p.
2), no e-link available
“Youth sport should be about having fun while learning to work hard for a common goal, to prioritize developing skills over winning, to persist in the face of adversity, to be a good sport, and to be competitive.”
Jennifer Etnier (see item #6)
“A culture can’t change and an organization can’t function unless they can make use of time in a way that sustains their life, like oxygen to the blood. Somehow we need to find a way to provide teachers with the time they need to make productive use of their collective energy. A basic requirement for all schools is that the full staff meet for at least three days before the start of school to set the agenda and the calendar for the year, to organize teams, and to elect leaders. Nearly as vital is a full staff meeting for a couple of days at the end of the school year to assess results, to set preliminary objectives for the next year, and to designate staff members who will do those things that need to be done over the summer, such as compiling research or receiving training.”
Tom Donahoe in “Finding the Way: Structure, Time, and Culture in School
Improvement” in Phi Delta Kappan, December 1993, https://bit.ly/2UL4yNg
1. More Ideas and Resources for Remote Learning
a. Jennifer Gonzalez – This link https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/distance-learning/ provides access to an amazing array of materials and suggestions for online learning in these categories:
– Start with your head and your heart
– Nuts and bolts of online learning: Connecting and communicating with students, keeping everything organized, lesson design, content delivery, and options for demonstrating learning
– General tips and advice for teachers
– Troubleshooting, including helping students who don’t yet have Internet access
b. Video Showing How a Virus Can Spread in a Classroom – This video makes virus spread visible: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5-dI74zxPg&feature=youtu.be
“How to See Germs Spread” by Mark Rober, March 18, 2020, spotted in The Educator’s Notebook, March 29, 2020
c. Phi Delta Kappan Survey, Resources – This link https://bit.ly/3auw9J9 has the results of a PDK survey and other resources for the coronavirus crisis.
“Distance Learning: A Gently Curated Collection of Resources for Teachers” by Jennifer Gonzalez in Cult of Pedagogy, March 30, 2020
d. Permission from Publishers to Read Books Online – This link from School Library Journalhttps://bit.ly/2JrvKLO includes a constantly updated list of publishers who have granted special permission for teachers to read their books aloud online while schools are closed. The current list includes Abrams, Candlewick, Children’s Books, Chronicle Kids, Crabtree Publishing, Disney Publishing, HarperCollins, Holiday House, Houghton Mifflin/Harcourt, Lee and Low, Lerner, Little Brown Young Readers, Peachtree, Penguin, Random House, Scholastic, and Simon & Schuster.
“Publishers Adapt Policies to Help Educators” in School Library Journal, March 18, 2020
2. Is Now the Time to Bring Back “Current Events”?
In this Education Gadfly article, Robert Pondiscio says that the taken-for-granted body of general knowledge and key vocabulary necessary for literate discourse is constantly evolving. For example, a few months ago, the terms coronavirus and social distancing would have been unfamiliar even to the well-educated, but now they’re on everyone’s lips. That demonstrates the importance of keeping abreast of current events in school. “But at a time when it’s never been more important to be well-informed and literate,” says Pondiscio, “children have never been less likely to pay close attention.” A recent report found that only 48 percent of children follow the news, current events are not a regular part of classroom discussions, and when civics knowledge is tested, the performance of U.S. students is worse than it is for any other subject.
Pondiscio remembers that almost every day in his working-class school on Long Island, a different student would have the job of reporting the day’s news. There would be an international, national, and local story, then sports and the weather. “Not the most sophisticated pedagogical approach, perhaps,” he says, “but it normalized the idea of paying attention to what’s going on in the world.” This was reinforced at home, where a morning and afternoon newspaper was delivered every day and his parents gave him a subscription to Time when he was in seventh grade. “Being informed was just a basic part of everyday life.”
In the midst of the current crisis, with many parents “dragooned into service as ad hoc teachers,” says Pondiscio, “the juiciest bit of low-hanging educational fruit might be cultivating children’s interest in news and reviving current events… And it’s a habit, once formed, that can continue as a significant value-add once life and school resume their normal shape, contributing to literacy and language proficiency, as well as cultivating a disposition of civic-mindedness.”
But shouldn’t the young be shielded from disturbing news? Appropriate filtering, yes, says Pondiscio, but he notes that his generation came of age in a divided, violent nation with airline hijackings, assassinations, riots, domestic bombings, and a disturbing body count from several wars. “The idea that children should be shielded from the news might seem odder still to our parents,” he says, “who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II.” Common Sense Media suggests that seven-year-olds are old enough to watch and make sense of the news. Pondiscio suggests ABC, CBS, and NBC network newscasts rather than “the fire hose of social media and cable news.” And there are news outlets created specifically for young people, including Time for Kids, The Week for Kids, and Newsela.
“Keep Kids Learning While School Is Out: Bring Back ‘Current Events’” by Robert Pondiscio in The Education Gadfly, March 25, 2020, https://bit.ly/3bDUKLL
3. Social Media in a Florida High School
In this article in Teachers College Record, Stacey Rutledge, Vanesa Dennen, and Lauren Bagdy (Florida State University) report on their study of social media use in a diverse high school in the Sunshine State. Based on classroom observations and interviews with students and adults in 2016 and 2017, here’s what they found:
• Students were heavily into social media, constantly toggling from one app to another to build relationships, shape their identity, gather information, and engage in drama. Some went online to learn how to play the guitar, clean farm equipment, code, design anime, resell clothes, make fidget spinners, and market a dog daycare. Others sought fashion and hair advice, worked on their video game strategies, tried to understand the political world, investigated college options, and explored whether to be a dermatologist or a surgeon, a chemical or a mechanical engineer.
• Administrators tried to limit online activity during school hours by forbidding smartphone use in classrooms, blocking popular social networking sites from the school’s network, and discouraging adults in the school from having other-than-professional social media contact with students. The school supported the Google Educational Suite and apps like Quizlet and Remind, but didn’t tap into students’ intrinsic motivation to use online tools for learning. The researchers saw only one instance of social media being used for instruction – a biology teacher assigned students to different organelles and had them use Twitter to argue about which was the best.
• Students, of course, were adept at working around the school’s restrictions, furtively exchanging messages and photos during classes and constantly on their devices the rest of the time. But there was virtually no connection between students’ use of social media and the school’s educational program.
• Teachers and administrators were moderate to heavy users, but most didn’t realize that until they were interviewed by the researchers. Adults’ use spanned multiple platforms, skewing more professionally than students’.
• The researchers found that the commonly used kid vs. adult metaphors – Digital Natives vs. Immigrants and Digital Residents vs. Visitors – didn’t fit in this school. “Across both populations,” they say, “we encountered individuals who were highly networked and able to use social media in sophisticated ways, and individuals who were poorly networked and who had limited use of social media.” Some of the teachers who were closest in age to students used social media very little, and vice-versa.
• “The adults in their school did not understand students’ social media use,” say Rutledge, Dennen, and Bagdy. Teachers and administrators were mostly dismissive, putting down kids’ online activities: silly photos, empty chitchat, and cyberbullying. Adults in the school were largely unaware of the wide and often thoughtful ways students used social media. “It is for entertainment, it is totally for enjoyment,” said one teacher. Others bemoaned the fact that students weren’t taking advantage of the vast amounts of information at their fingertips. Administrators mostly saw the negative side – bullying and sharing inappropriate photos.
• The researchers acknowledge the positive side of adolescents having their own space away from direct adult supervision: “Our study suggests that students are learning valuable skills and knowledge online without the support of teachers and that they intentionally avoid context collapse between their peer social networks and family and adult members of their networks.”
• At the same time, say the researchers, there’s plenty of space for educators to increase students’ awareness of the power and impact of social media and deepen students’ use of it. “Adolescent users are new to the medium,” say Rutledge, Dennen, and Bagdy, “and they should be educated regarding the positives and the dangers of social media” – among them, elections being skewed, untruthful information being circulated, selling personal data. And there’s lots of room for effective use of social media in classroom pedagogy and as a tool to build schoolwide community.
“Our study,” conclude Rutledge, Dennen, and Bagdy, “suggests that the kids are doing just fine. Adults’ perspective on teenagers’ social media use might be more balanced if they knew that students are doing more than just taking selfies and sharing memes. Additionally, they might be respectful of the extensive social media resources used by many students and understand that students could be helpful as a resource for supporting peer and teacher learning. Having a greater respect for the social media lives of their students would go a long way in helping teachers have stronger relationships with their students – not relationships based on a traditional teacher-student hierarchy, but one based on greater respect.”
“Exploring Adolescent Social Media Use in a High School: Tweeting Teens in a Bell Schedule World” by Stacey Rutledge, Vanesa Dennen, and Lauren Bagdy in Teachers College Record, March 2020 (Vol. 121, pp. 1-30), https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3328529.3328561; Rutledge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, Dennen at email@example.com.
4. Administrative Constraints on Instructional Coaches
In this article in Elementary School Journal, Evthokia Stephanie Saclarides (University of Alabama/Tuscaloosa) and Sarah Theule Lubienski (Indiana University/Bloomington) say instructional coaches can potentially “provide teachers with rich and unique learning experiences,” including by teaching model lessons and co-teaching with their coachees. However, in the study they conducted, Saclarides and Lubienski found that coaches were spending most of their time talking with teachers about “surface-level topics, such as materials, scheduling, and other logistics,” with only seven percent of their time together talking about curriculum content or pedagogical approaches to enhance student learning.
Why? The authors conducted interviews and classroom observations in a district that had assigned a full-time instructional coach to each school and pinpointed three administrative policies and expectations that shaped one-on-one teacher-coach interactions:
• Competing demands made by administrators – In addition to being expected to work one-on-one with teachers, coaches had to lead district-level PD, substitute for teachers and administrators, support district literacy initiatives, and attend school and district meetings. As a result, coaches were spread quite thin, which disrupted the “continuity and coherence” of their work with teachers, making it more difficult to take their coaching conversations to a deeper level.
• Voluntary coaching – District leaders didn’t want to force coaching on teachers who weren’t receptive, leaving it up to teachers to approach coaches. But this policy made it difficult for coaches to gain access to a significant number of classrooms. Many teachers saw their instructional coaches as administrators and evaluators, even though they weren’t, and didn’t request their services. Another result of the voluntary dynamic was that coaches tried to build trust by positioning themselves as trustworthy peers, downplaying their extensive pedagogical and content expertise and avoiding difficult conversations.
• The evaluation process – As described in a Phi Delta Kappan article by Saclarides and Lubienski summarized in last week’s Memo (#829), the district held teachers and their coaches accountable for student learning on periodic assessments, thus creating perverse incentives for coaches. This led coaches to do too much of the work for teachers and engage in direct teaching of students to make themselves look good – without contributing to teachers’ long-range development.
“The Influence of Administrative Policies and Expectations on Coach-Teacher Interactions” by Evthokia Stephanie Saclarides and Sarah Theule Lubienski in Elementary School Journal, March 2020 (Vol. 120, #3, pp. 528-554), https://bit.ly/2Us4XVK; the authors can be reached at
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
5. Interleaving – the Key to Students Retaining Skills and Concepts
In this article in American Educator, cognitive scientist Pooja Agarwal and Chicago middle-school math teacher Anne Agostinelli examine the all-too-common phenomenon of students seeming to master math concepts in classroom quizzes and unit tests – and then forgetting them months later.
The problem begins with most math textbooks, say Agarwal and Agostinelli: they use blocked practice, with problem sets focusing only on the skill that was introduced – for example, twelve problems on ratios. “If an entire problem set requires the same procedure or strategy,” they say, “students can safely ‘plug and chug’ without thinking about what they need to do.” Spiral review is also suggested to help students retain what’s been taught, but it can be time-consuming for teachers under pressure to cover the demanding, Common Core-aligned curriculum.
There’s a simpler and more-effective strategy: interleaving – mixing up practice problems so students have to deal with a variety of problems. Studies show it has a remarkable impact, sometimes doubling long-term retention – and it doesn’t take any more classroom time than blocked practice; teachers can assign problems from different blocked sets in textbooks.
Here’s an analogy from batting practice: if a player is pitched ten fastballs, then ten changeups, then ten curveballs, performance will be much less impressive than batting practice with an unpredictable mix of all three pitches. Instead of AAA BBB CCC, it’s ABC ACB BAC. Again, no more time spent, but much greater impact on the ultimate goal: being able to react quickly to each type of pitch in a game. Interleaving has been shown to be effective at all levels of math instruction and in a variety of other contexts, including learning vocabulary in another language, remembering song lyrics, and identifying types of birds. In history classes, this might involve asking students to answer questions on the French and Russian revolutions, in science, mixing questions on mitosis, meiosis, and fission.
Agostinelli uses interleaving with her eighth graders’ homework assignments. There are always five problems: the first two are on the current topic, the rest on skills learned months or years earlier (see the article link below for examples). One of her students commented, “I liked weekly homework because it reminded me of stuff I knew really well before but had kind of forgotten. When I remembered it, it made learning the new stuff easier and it made more sense.”
Why does a simple process like interleaving have such a big impact on long-range retention? Researchers say it’s because it introduces “desirable difficulty” because students need to retrieve what they learned earlier. When retrieval is challenging, it strengthens what was learned and the memory has a much greater chance of becoming permanent.
In a recent survey, teachers around the world who are using interleaving noted other reasons for its power;
– Blocked practice becomes repetitive and predictable; with interleaving, students must constantly switch gears.
– Interleaving forces students to recognize the type of question and what to do with it.
– Interleaving prepares students to deal with each kind of problem down the road.
– Interleaving encourages greater effort and deeper processing during each practice set and more accurate monitoring of learning progress.
– Interleaving punctures the illusion of mastery that comes with blocked practice.
A caveat, say Agarwal and Agostinelli: “Because of these desirable difficulties, interleaving may lead to lower initial performance on practice problems, giving the impression that interleaving is ineffective.” But long-term achievement is much better than with blocked practice.
Another caveat: interleaved problems need to be in the same domain and look similar, but require subtly different strategies. This challenges students to spot differences and learn to look carefully for the skill or concept that each problem contains. It would not be helpful, for example, to interleave chemistry and history questions.
Agostinelli reflects on the impact of interleaving on her teaching: “The changes I saw in our classroom culture and the shifts students made in long-term learning and the ability to demonstrate that learning were amazing, and it took remarkably little effort on my or their part. By organizing information in more meaningful ways, and applying power tools that are supported by cognitive science research, we can lessen the pressure and strengthen the confidence, joy, and performance in our classrooms.”
“Interleaving in Math: A Research-Based Strategy to Boost Learning” by Pooja Agarwal and Anne Agostinelli in American Educator, Spring 2020 (Vol. 44, #1, pp. 24-29, 40),
https://www.aft.org/ae/spring2020/agarwal_agostinelli; the authors can be reached at
firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com; for more resources on interleaving, check out this link: https://www.retrievalpractice.org/interleaving.
6. Why Do Many Kids Hate the Sports They Once Played with Enjoyment?
In this New York Times article, Jennifer Etnier says that 45 million U.S. children get involved in youth sports, which the CDC says is good for their academic achievement, mental health, weight control, and reduces the risk of diabetes and heart problems. But 70 percent of kids drop out of sports by their early teens. Why? Recent studies show it’s because for too many kids, playing sports has ceased to be fun – and that stems from negative coach behaviors and an overemphasis on winning.
Youth sports depend on volunteer coaches; parents and teachers make up a little over half of the coaching roster. “While these coaches may have wonderful intentions and enthusiasm for the game,” says Etnier, “that doesn’t mean they have the skills to provide useful instruction… I have seen my sons’ coach make the players run wind sprints after losing their second game during a three-game weekend tournament and walk off without a single word of encouragement after a loss. I have watched coaches scream at their team of 10-year-olds that they weren’t aggressive enough.” Practices can be like intense military drills with no time for humor or fun.
“A good youth coach is one who can reinforce the things that were done right during a competition,” says Etnier, “regardless of the outcome, and help better prepare the athletes for the next event. A good youth coach ensures that every practice, every competition, every communication is focused on all of the athletes having a positive and enjoyable experience… Youth sport should be about having fun while learning to work hard for a common goal, to prioritize developing skills over winning, to persist in the face of adversity, to be a good sport, and to be competitive.” If all coaches got the proper training and supervision, many more kids would continue playing sports throughout their teens.
“Our Kids’ Coaches Are Doing It Wrong” by Jennifer Etnier in The New York Times, March 12, 2020, https://nyti.ms/2JC85Zb; Etnier’s book is Coaching for the Love of the Game: A Practical Guide for Working with Young Athletes (University of North Carolina Press, 2020)
7. Things to Stop Doing for Greater Happiness
“I’m a happy man not only for the things I do, but also for the things I don’t do,” says Danny Forest in this article in Forge. Last year he set out to say No more frequently so he could focus on the things that really mattered. Here are his suggestions for 31 things to stop doing to lead a happier life (these are direct quotes; see the link below for more detail and suggested resources):
– Procrastination – Stop thinking, start doing. Seek your “why.” Find the need and the joy in the things you do.
– Negative self-talk – Don’t seek loathing, seek improvement. Observe and notice your feelings; don’t judge them. Be intentional, not habitual, with your self-criticism.
– Perfection – Share your work with others before you consider it “done.”
– Excuses – Accept challenges and overcome your fears. Replace I can’t with How can I…?
– Comparing oneself to others – Build your own self-awareness. Journal. Track your personal wins.
– The snooze button – Set your alarm to a time where waking up is necessary.
– Partying every night – Don’t hang out with people who neglect their goals and responsibilities… Find other hobbies.
– Stimulants before bed – That includes electronic devices and coffee.
– Food with no quality nutrients – Don’t buy junky snacks. Cook your own meals.
– Reading things you don’t enjoy – Recognize that if the book can’t hook you in the first 30 to 60 minutes, chances are it never will.
– Completing useless things – Reflect regularly on your priorities. Know what is useless.
– Tap-on-the-shoulder interruptions – With your colleagues, set rules for when it is okay to interrupt you.
– Responding to messages ad-hoc – Set blocks of time to answer messages.
– Doing things you can delegate – Consider this question: What would you be doing if your time was worth $1,000 an hour?
– Overly long meetings – Assign a timekeeper who’s not afraid to bring people to order.
– Takers – Set ground rules and confront them (in a nice way).
– Social media – Uninstall the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram apps from your phone. Schedule a block of time when it’s okay for you to use social media.
– Listening to complaints about others – Detect it and make clear to others you don’t want any part of it.
– Naysayers – Surround yourself with positive people.
• Work-life balance:
– Bad routines – Spend time each month to design a routine that works for you.
– Bad clients – Recognize your values.
– Doing life stuff at work – Give your full attention to your work. It won’t go unnoticed.
– Doing work stuff at home – Plan smarter.
– A bad business partner – Communication is key. Work things out or walk away.
– Clutter – Have a clean workspace, both physically, mentally, and on your computer.
– Toxic people – Be truthful and let someone know you’re ready to move on.
– Spending most of your time with the wrong people – Choose wisely. Find people who share your values and purpose.
– Poor sleeping conditions – Sleep is the most important thing for your body. Don’t neglect it.
– Waiting needlessly – Have a book ready. Meditate. Journal. You can’t recycle wasted time.
– Comparing apples to oranges – Recognize key differences. Focus on self-improvement over fascination.
– Your cellphone – The most productive people set their phones on airplane mode for most of the day.
“31 Important Things You Should Say ‘No’ to for a Happier Life” by Danny Forest in Forge, February 19, 2020, https://bit.ly/33UhULh
8. What Leaders Can Say When They’re Put on the Spot
In this Leadership Freak article, Dan Rockwell suggests ways to handle spontaneous conversations in which colleagues raise uncomfortable issues and one’s immediate reaction is to say, “I’ve got so much going on that I can’t deal with that right now.” Rockwell suggests ways to buy time while staying authentic and connected:
– Your concern is important to me. I wish I had an easy answer.
– Wow, that’s an important issue. That’s on my to-do list.
– Great suggestion. I’m going to need some time to think about it.
– Thanks for bringing that up. What are your thoughts?
– This issue affects lots of people. I can’t shoot from the hip. Do you have ideas?
“How No-Nonsense Leaders Succeed with Conversations” by Dan Rockwell in Leadership Freak, March 23, 2020, https://bit.ly/2X24T0R; Rockwell is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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