In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“Trust me on this: There’s a good chance that, years from now, you will feel a bit sentimental for these weeks spent in social isolation. We’re built for challenging times. We are writing the stories we will tell our children and grandchildren. Driving down a suburban street waving to elementary school children may not have the historical gravity of landing on Omaha Beach or working on a wartime assembly line. But when the children of the pandemic are old and gray, they will reminisce about the time their teachers paraded past their house because all the schools were closed. It will be a warm memory, even though so many people got sick, lost their jobs, and were afraid. They don’t have the vocabulary today to describe it, but the lessons will stick and become clearer in the retelling. It’s about social cohesion, love and loyalty, and how good people step up when we need them to.”
Robert Pondiscio in “The Lessons That Last in the Time of Pandemic” in Education
Gadfly, April 8, 2020, https://bit.ly/2V20dX8
“Sending home worksheet after worksheet is unlikely to result in fruitful learning that will stick.”
Paul France (see item #1)
“Being colorblind disregards the circumstances of that person and prevents one from being inquisitive about another’s life, culture, and story.”
Massachusetts superintendent Dan Gutekanst in “Uncomfortable Conversations” by
Glenn Cook in American School Board Journal, April 2020 (Vol. 202, #2, p. 58-59)
“There is nothing more delightful and illuminating than talking about big ideas with little people.”
Wendy Ostroff in “Empower Children Through Dialogue and Discussion” in
Educational Leadership, April 2020 (Vol. 77, #7, pp. 14-20), https://bit.ly/2RzpmGN
1. Making Remote Learning Human
“In an era of social distancing, we’re all searching for some form of social closeness right now,” says elementary teacher Paul France in this Edutopia article. When he previously worked with an ed tech company and a network of micro-schools, France learned that “many digital tools have dehumanizing effects: they chip away at human connection, limit opportunities for heterogeneous groupings and cross-ability collaboration, and have kids turning toward screens instead of their teachers and fellow learners.”
Now that he and most other teachers have no choice but to use digital pedagogy, he has three suggestions for overcoming some of its disadvantages:
• Embrace authentic tasks. The temptation now is to take advantage of the convenience of commercial curriculum products, says France. But he believes this is an excellent time “to leverage open-ended tasks, complex instruction, and journaling, allowing students to post pictures of their journal entries through Seesaw or Google Drive.” How about providing a math task with multiple solutions and challenging students to journal about their solutions, or respond to prompts in a reader’s notebook? After students have had time to work on their own, the teacher might host an online class for sharing and discussion.
• Create opportunities for dialogue and discourse. “True, deep learning happens not on a worksheet or through a series of decontextualized videos and closed-ended questions,” says France. “Learning is a conversation; it requires connection and interaction.” He urges regular video class meetings for this reason, as well as for social interaction and connection.
• Build in opportunities for self-reflection. “Sending home worksheet after worksheet is unlikely to result in fruitful learning that will stick,” says France. “The current crisis is allowing all of us – educators and parents included – to reflect on what it truly means to learn.” He’s asking his students to think about their learning, and sends them videos of him thinking aloud as he solves math problems and responds to readings. He asks students to make a video of their responses to questions like:
– What went well for you with that task?
– What will you do differently next time?
– How has your thinking changed?
“All of these remind students that learning neither starts nor ends with the activity they’ve completed,” he says. “It can – and will – be connected to future activities, and by taking them through the process of reflecting on the task, I create the expectation that they will need to apply new learnings to future tasks.”
“3 Tips for Humanizing Digital Pedagogy” by Paul France in Edutopia, April 1, 2020,
2. Teaching Social-Emotional Skills At a Distance
In this article in Education Week, Arianna Prothero says homebound students “now more than ever need strong coping skills to adjust to this new reality that will likely, for many, extend through the end of the school year and beyond.” The uncertainty and lack of control over the future makes social-emotional learning especially important – but how can educators accomplish that at a distance? Prothero interviewed several SEL experts for their ideas:
• Psychological distancing – Ask students to think about helping another young person: “Well, what would I do to support my best friend who was telling me they were really worried about the coronavirus? What would I say to them?” suggests Marc Bracket (Yale University). This gets students out of their own heads, being empathetic and compassionate with another person – which might surface ideas they could apply to themselves. Students could also be asked to examine their own self-talk and think about whether it’s helpful.
• Literature – For younger students, reading stories aloud (synchronously or asynchronously) and discussing the feelings and motivations of characters can be helpful.
• Current events – Older students might be asked to reflect on the social-emotional attributes on display among political leaders – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision-making – and discussing how and whether these are helping the U.S. through this crisis.
• Rituals – It’s a good idea to maintain cherished traditions like spirit week – for example, having students wear crazy socks and sending in photos of them. Journaling is another ritual, with teachers sending prompts to get students reflecting and writing about their feelings. For students without Internet access, cell phones can be the medium.
• Setting limits – It’s important to talk about what’s going on in the world, but teachers and families need to avoid overwhelming young people with too much about the pandemic. One step: suggesting to parents that they not have cable news on all the time.
“Teaching SEL When Students Are Home” by Arianna Prothero in Education Week, April 8, 2020 (Vol. 39, #29, pp. 14-15), https://bit.ly/34xNkXX
3. Lessons from a Hong Kong School That’s Been Closed Since February
In this Education Week article, Mark Lieberman interviews Connie Kim, the middle-school principal of a K-12 school in Hong Kong that has a little more perspective on remote learning than U.S. schools: it’s been closed for in-person instruction for more than two months. Here are Kim’s thoughts from the long haul she and her colleagues have been through:
• Forget about replicating the regular school day. The school tried to run a regular seven-period schedule at first, but quickly found it was way too intense for a remote environment. The school day now consists of four hour-long periods, with the first 15-20 minutes of each reserved for live videoconferencing between teachers and students.
• Build in no-screen time for students. Kim’s school tries to avoid overdoing it each day, and has implemented a “wellness day” that’s a reprieve from the regular pace of teaching and learning. They’ve also blocked out time for reading, outdoor play, and doing things that don’t involve screens.
• Don’t skimp on professional learning. After having too little collaborative time at first, the school now has a regular schedule of staff sessions via Zoom so teachers can calibrate their teaching and share tips, insights, and resources.
• Make it easier for students and parents. At first, individual teachers in the middle school used different platforms for their learning plans, resulting in a chaotic environment for kids and families to navigate. Teachers now use common procedures posted on Schoology, the school’s learning management system.
• Don’t assume something can’t be done until you’ve tried it. Initially, Kim and her colleagues thought that offering personalized instruction and support would be impractical. But using breakout rooms, video chats, and teacher “office hours” solved the problem, and all this has been especially helpful for students with special needs.
• Pace yourself. After eight weeks of remote instruction, Kim says they’re seeing a loss of enthusiasm and engagement among students. Teachers are now slowing down the pace of instruction and building in more checks for understanding and review. “The novelty of being on Zoom and working from home is wearing out now,” she says. “It’s a constant cycle of us having to regroup, recharge, having to be the cheerleaders for our students and our parents.”
“6 Tips for Teaching Remotely Over the Long Haul of the Coronavirus” by Mark Lieberman in Education Week, April 10, 2020, https://bit.ly/2Rz8qzQ
4. Classroom Management When Students Are in Their PJs
In this article in Education Week Teacher, Madeline Will reports on how some teachers are dealing with limit-setting in a remote learning environment. “It’s a situation where we need to extend grace,” said Merisha Leak, a North Carolina educator. “I don’t think it’s a school’s right or a teacher’s right to enforce school rules in someone’s home.”
But many teachers in a survey said it was challenging to keep students focused online. One approach is to lay down the law. “Remember,” stated one teacher’s Zoom rules, “this is a class, so treat it as such. Find a quiet place, free from distraction (sibling, pets, parents, television). Video needs to remain ON to promote focus. Eye contact should be maintained. Refrain from chewing gum, eating, or drinking in front of the camera.” Another teacher said that students who didn’t abide by the rules would be removed from the virtual classroom and given a zero.
Somewhere in the middle is Leah Smith, a Connecticut middle-school teacher who believes “the last thing they need is to have somebody be super strict with them.” Her guidelines for students: mute your microphone while others are talking, don’t purposely distract classmates (no TikTok dance moves on video), and above all be kind and respectful. Smith is tolerant of students munching during classes and being on their beds, as long as they’re sitting up. She had students show off their pets in an early class, and when a cat walked across the screen during a class, she said, “Oh, cute cat,” and moved on. “To not accept some of those funny moments is not really conducive to teaching middle school,” said Smith, “but at the same time, it needs to be harnessed so you can get things done.”
Teachers’ morale is also taking a hit, and many need some bucking up. “I think we really should remind teachers that they’re doing a great job, this is uncharted territory, and we’re all figuring this out,” said Ryann Fapohunda, a Washington, DC educator. “I would really encourage them to adopt a less-is-more approach. What success may have looked like when they’re physically in school will look different now… If students are adhering to guidelines in class – participating and showing up – I’m inclined to not call them out for wearing a hoodie or being in pajama pants.”
“Expectations for Online Student Behavior During Coronavirus School Closures” by Madeline Will in Education Week Teacher, April 8, 2020, https://bit.ly/2KeqZWl
5. A Student Ponders Cheating on an Honor-Code Final Exam
In this New York Times column on ethical dilemmas, Kwame Anthony Appiah responds to a college student who’s about to take an online final exam. The student is considering breaking the rules and consulting notes, friends, and the Internet because many classmates seem to be doing just that. Appiah disapproves of cheating, even when “everyone else is doing it,” but says the best solution is for the professor to give an open-book exam. “Doing this might require changing the test,” he says. “But given the circumstances you describe, it may be the only responsible option. If the professor insists on ignoring these realities, however, you should still do the honest thing. Ethics is always, in part, about what kind of person you ought to be.”
“The Ethicist: If My Classmates Are Going to Cheat on an Online Exam, Why Can’t I?” by Kwame Anthony Appiah in The New York Times, April 12, 2020, https://nyti.ms/39ZFqb6
6. Free Daily Online Drawing/Cartooning Lessons
This School Library Journal article lets us know that author Jarrett (JJ) Krosoczka, creator of Hey, Kiddo and other popular titles, is doing a YouTube drawing/cartooning lesson every weekday at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time at https://www.youtube.com/studiojjk. All previous lessons are available here: http://www.studiojjk.com/draweveryday.html
“Authors and Illustrators Lend a Hand” by K.Y. in School Library Journal, April 2020 (Vol. 66, #4, p. 18)
7. Thomas Guskey on What Changes Teachers’ Attitudes and Beliefs
In this article in The Learning Professional, Thomas Guskey (University of Louisville) tackles the tricky issue of whether teachers believe they can effectively reach all children. Citing a recent study, Guskey says that even when teacher teams roll up their sleeves and look at students’ work – seemingly the best time to reflect on what’s not working and how to improve instruction – teachers mostly attribute results to students’ behavior, effort, and family background. Why, asks Guskey, do teachers have such modest expectations for their impact on many students, and how can this self-fulfilling dynamic be changed?
A widely used logic model goes like this: If PD change teachers’ attitudes and beliefs, their classroom practices will improve, and that will lead to more-equitable student outcomes. Proponents of this approach have used three strategies: (a) presenting evidence that effective teaching can overcome students’ entering disadvantages; (b) confronting teachers with the illogic of their assumptions and inappropriateness of their beliefs; and (c) guilt-tripping teachers with emotional appeals for the need to rescue children from the hardships they are born into. Guskey says all three have been tried and generally fail to budge teachers’ beliefs, which are driven by what they have previously known and experienced.
So what does work? Guskey says the key is flipping the sequence of the logic model. Start by changing teachers’ classroom practices (for example, training them in a proven practice like Benjamin Bloom’s mastery learning); they see clear evidence of improved student learning; and this produces changes in teachers’ beliefs and attitudes. The film Remember the Titans is an example – a high school football coach changes the experiences of his young athletes, which transforms their attitudes and beliefs.
Of course this process is not easy, says Guskey. It requires extra work at first, can produce anxiety and stress, and needs to be adapted to each school’s unique circumstances. The most important thing is teachers getting prompt, continuous feedback on the effect of instructional changes on students’ classroom assessment results, engagement, and confidence in themselves as learners. Feedback within a matter of weeks is crucial, says Guskey, because teachers’ “primary psychological rewards come from feeling certain about their capacity to affect student growth and development.”
Guskey says this is not a one-shot process; there needs to be support, follow-up, and pressure to sustain improvement – pressure being key to moving teachers who continue to be resistant. “Of all aspects of professional learning, follow-up is perhaps the most neglected,” he says. “Yet to be successful, professional learning must be seen as a process, not an event.”
“Flip the Script on Change: Experience Shapes Teachers’ Attitudes and Beliefs” by Thomas Guskey in The Learning Professional, April 2020 (Vol. 41, #2, pp. 18-22),
https://bit.ly/2Vngm8x; Guskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
8. Psychological Safety as an Essential Foundation for Professional Learning
In this article in The Learning Professional, Utah instructional coach James Martin describes a school where a teacher is reluctant to make suggestions for schoolwide change because she’s afraid of being labeled “difficult” and incurring the displeasure of colleagues who are satisfied with the status quo. This teacher, who has good ideas and could make a valuable contribution, is considering transferring out of the school or even leaving the profession.
What this school lacks, says Martin, is psychological safety, and that deficit “compromises professional learning and the success of teachers and students.” Here’s what people experience in a psychologically safe organizational culture:
– Feeling cared about personally and professionally;
– Feeling able to speak freely and candidly;
– Believing that one’s ideas will be listened to and taken seriously;
– Feeling free to admit one doesn’t know something;
– Being unafraid to make mistakes;
– Feeling able to give honest and direct feedback, critical if necessary;
– Being able to engage in productive conflict.
“Psychological safety does not mean that we are simply nice to one another,” says Martin. “Being nice, which is valued heavily in education (for example, we often tell our students to be nice to one another), can obstruct opportunities for important conflict to occur… Failing to challenge directly inadvertently communicates to colleagues that we don’t care enough about them to be honest when their work is not meeting students’ needs.”
How can psychological safety be developed in a school where it’s not present? Martin has these suggestions:
• Articulate it as a core value. In addition, it’s important for leaders to model openness to feedback, perhaps conducting anonymous surveys of staff and encouraging teacher teams to do the same. If leaders bristle when they’re criticized, it sends a clear message.
• Conduct a listening tour. Leaders leave their offices and talk one-on-one or in small groups with colleagues and stakeholders, actively seeking and listening to input and feedback.
• Appointing a devil’s advocate. “This sends the message that we are not expected to always agree,” says Martin, “and that disagreement actually pushes us to make better decisions.”
• Normalize failure. We preach growth mindset to students, says Martin, but many educators are afraid to make mistakes. There needs to be an explicit message that missteps are okay if they are followed by fast learning and innovation.
• Bring our whole selves to the work. Martin is saddened when he sees a teacher with a personal passion – theater, for example – who doesn’t bring that into the classroom. Similarly, he worries about teachers feeling pressured to implement commercial curriculum packages “with fidelity,” without personal flair. “Teachers should be empowered to bring the things that make them most human to their planning and instruction,” he says. “After all, how successful can teachers be in honoring student backgrounds if their own are disregarded?”
“Teaching Without Fear: Psychological Safety Can Alter the Professional Learning Landscape” by James Martin in The Learning Professional, April 2020 (Vol. 41, #2, pp. 36-38), https://bit.ly/2y7igT1; Martin can be reached at email@example.com.
9. Helping Students Discuss Difficult Issues
(Originally titled “A Better Way to Assess Discussions”)
(Originally titled “Courageous Conversations for Equity and Agency”)
In this article in Educational Leadership, Anne Vilen and Ron Berger (EL Education) say that although oral communication isn’t assessed in high-stakes tests, it’s essential to college, career, and life success. Here’s how high schools in their network develop students’ skills at discussing substantive issues with courage and civility:
• Daily “crew” meetings – Every day students have an advisory period in which students circle up with 10-15 peers and support each other for the day ahead (crews often stay together for 2-4 years).
• Schoolwide topics – Crews often engage in discussions of challenging topics that have been suggested for the whole school – for example, gender identity, racism, poverty, mental health, and inclusion of all students.
• Larger group discussions – Students gather periodically for community meetings to discuss, debate, celebrate, and affirm shared values. At one school in Maine, students discussed a hate assault on a student and organized a march to protest racism and support their peers.
• Classroom connections – Teachers frequently invite students to talk about how subject-area learning connects to their life experiences.
• Discussion protocols – Shared structures and norms are taught to keep discussions civil, on track, and with all students participating. Norms are generated by students in response to prompts like, What would someone look like if they were listening to you respectfully? and What words would you use to show that you really want to hear their perspective without judging them?
• Modeling – Teachers work to demonstrate key values, including apologizing for mistakes, being vulnerable about weaknesses, and acknowledging discomfort on difficult issues. Students are prompted to use phrases like I acknowledge… From my perspective… What I hear you saying is… and I was upset when you…
• Guardrails on hot topics – Preparing for a discussion on a controversial subject, students read or view material beforehand and prepare by using a protocol. One that’s been helpful is 4A’s: writing down one assumption they have, one thing they agree with, one thing they want to argue with, and one question they want to ask. Students then discuss all the evidence on the topic, including their own experiences, acknowledging that every piece of evidence contains some level of bias.
“The sum of those structures and the million everyday actions of people in those structures,” says the principal of a Maine EL school, “are what lead to kids having the convictions and courage to bring their full voice to the world.”
“Courageous Conversations for Equity and Agency” by Anne Vilen and Ron Berger in Educational Leadership, April 2020 (Vol. 77, #7, pp. 39-44), available to ASCD members or for purchase at https://bit.ly/2yXOpwF; the authors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
10. Getting All Students to Think, Talk, and Listen in Classroom Discussions
(Originally titled “The Power of Protocols for Equity”)
In this Educational Leadership article, author/consultant Zaretta Hammond says that under ideal conditions, classroom discussions, debates, conversations, and dialogues increase students’ brainpower “so that they are able to take on more rigorous work and engage in deeper learning down the road.” But for that to happen, classroom talk has to be high-quality, and that’s not always the case. Too often, says Hammond, the same students talk in class – “those who are comfortable conversing in English, have mainstream background knowledge, or are more extroverted.” Turn and talk and think, pair, share are useful, but they’re “not sturdy enough” for high-level discussions and what Hammond calls “cognitive chewing.”
Hence the need for well-thought-out structures, protocols, and skillful facilitation by teachers so that all students have time to think, talk, and listen. High-quality discussions:
– Give marginalized students access to the substance;
– Honor the knowledge each student brings to the table;
– Give students more agency in directing the conversation;
– Give students a robust cognitive workout by leveraging the way they talk every day.
The structured nature of protocols strikes some educators as too rigid for a free-flowing discussion that welcomes all students. But just the opposite is true, says Hammond. Here are her suggestions for making protocols work:
• Offer structures and time for small talk. Helping students chat and get to know each other paves the way for deeper discussions; there are several protocols for this, including dyads, the tea party, and diversity rounds.
• Shake up inequitable participation. Rounds is a small-group protocol in which one person has 2-3 minutes to talk, then the other members take turns around the circle, each with a set amount of time to respond, then a second person is the presenter, and the process is repeated. The tuning protocol is best for collectively revising and improving a piece of student work in preparation for discussion with a larger group.
• Use the elements of hip-hop culture to modify protocols. Some possibilities, which include an element of just plain fun (see details in the full article linked below):
– Remix the fishbowl protocol as a cipher.
– Use a cipher-like protocol like the kiva to help students focus on “cognitive stitching” as they build on each other’s ideas.
– Reconfigure the chalk talk protocol as a graffiti tag billboard.
“The idea,” says Hammond, “is to leverage students’ comfort with multimodal expression as a way into dialogue, discussion, or debate.”
• Invoke performance elements of spoken word poetry. The idea is to use lyrical expression to draw out metaphors and deepen understanding.
• Give students the power to facilitate. Students can learn how to hand off discussions to classmates (rather than always going through the teacher), channeling their inner “MC” to become skillful facilitators of discussions.
• Provide enough time. High-quality discussions take longer than turn and talk, says Hammond. She recommends carving out enough time two or three days a week.
• Be patient. “Recognize that, like the first pancake, deep discussions are going to be a bit messy in the beginning,” she says. But students quickly get used to using protocols to take their discussions to a deeper level.
• Don’t over-police language. Students shouldn’t be stigmatized or scolded in their use of dialects and the vernacular (within reason), says Hammond. She recommends explicit instruction in code-switching – moving seamlessly from one register to another, as appropriate.
“The Power of Protocols for Equity” by Zaretta Hammond in Educational Leadership, April 2020 (Vol. 77, #7, pp. 45-50), https://bit.ly/2Vr492Q; Hammond can be reached at
11. The Role of Debate in Developing Self-Confidence – and Humility
(Originally titled “Schooled in Debate”)
In this Educational Leadership article, teacher/author Matthew Kay remembers the rigorous practice his father gave him as they debated all kinds of issues. “If I was talking nonsense, he told me,” says Kay. “If there was historical context that made my point moot, he told me. I left debates with my dad thinking, I need to read a book.” As a young adolescent, Kay finally began to hold his own in these debates, and he attributes his success dealing with middle-school bullies, standardized tests, and administrators who wanted to suspend him to the self-confidence he’d gained. In college, he wasn’t cowed by classmates who’d gone to “better” schools: “I just needed to read a book.”
As a teacher in Philadelphia, Kay has made debate a centerpiece of his classes, with the goal of giving his students the kind of confidence he himself acquired. “This is why verbal sparring is encouraged,” he says, “why I teach students to recognize and call out logical fallacies, and to test the soundness of classmates’ ideas.” He also teaches the importance of another lesson he learned from his father: “humbly respect a strong point, regardless of its origin.” His students learn how to muster a good argument, back it up with evidence, and express it well, but they also learn “to recognize and appreciate objectively ‘better’ ideas – those that ultimately make more sense, are backed up by better science, or are kinder or more humane… This idea applies to us as teachers as well, with all of our advanced degrees and professional experience.”
“Schooled in Debate” by Matthew Kay in Educational Leadership, April 2020 (Vol. 77, #7, pp. 86-87), https://bit.ly/2Vjfhys; Kay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
12. Notable Children’s Novels
In this Language Arts feature, Cynthia Alaniz, Jane Bean-Folkes, Elizabeth Bemiss, Sue Corbin, Jeanne Fain, Rebecca Leigh, and Jennifer Summerlin share the Notable Children’s Books chosen from among 500 published in 2018. The selection criteria included appealing format, enduring quality, unique use of language, and inviting kids’ participation.
– After Zero by Christina Collins (Sourcebooks)
– The Button War by Avi (Candlewick)
– Ebb and Flow by Heather Smith (Kids Can Press)
– Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome (Holiday House)
– Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick)
– Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring by Angela Cervantes (Scholastic)
– Merci Suárez Changes Gears by Meg Medina (Candlewick)
– Sunny by Jason Reynolds (Atheneum)
– Winterhouse by Ben Guterson, illustrated by Chloe Bristol (Henry Holt)
(Nonfiction and poetry selections next week)
“The 2019 Notable Children’s Books in the English Language Arts” by Cynthia Alaniz, Jane Bean-Folkes, Elizabeth Bemiss, Sue Corbin, Jeanne Fain, Rebecca Leigh, and Jennifer Summerlin in Language Arts, March 2020 (Vol. 97, #4, pp. 259-273), no e-link available
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