In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“Life without school is much more boring than I thought it would be.”
Una, 14 years old (see item #1)
“Treasure the fact that some kids are escaping from hours of test preparation each day.”
Andy Hargreaves in “A Complete List of What to Do – and Not to Do – for Everyone
Teaching Kids at Home During the Coronavirus Crisis” in the Washington Post, April
7, 2020, https://wapo.st/3bK9zNg
“If sitting is the new smoking, some are up to three packs a day.”
Dan Rockwell in “7 Ways to Fuel Energy During a Pandemic” in Leadership Freak,
April 24, 2020, https://bit.ly/2ySmG07
“If you don’t trust yourself, why should anybody else trust you?”
Frances Frei and Anne Morriss (see item #5)
“For a math problem to truly be a problem, it must expose a lack of knowledge and promote productive struggle.”
Joel Amidon, Ann Monroe, David Rock, and Candies Cook (see item #6)
“I didn’t want to count on my fingers in 10th-grade math. I declined all my accommodations, so that no one would need to know that I was Kara with two disabilities, something that I should have been upfront and honest about with people.”
Quoted in item #7
1. Kids Comment on Doing School at Home
In this New York Times feature, Henry Dodd compiles statements from a number of U.S. schoolchildren about the Covid-19 situation. Some excerpts:
“Life without school is much more boring than I thought it would be. Without the summerlike feeling of no work and being able to see friends, it’s actually very depressing.”
Una, age 14, Beacon, NY
“It’s really easy to get distracted at home. I like going to school and using the time at school to do schoolwork. Now all schoolwork is done at home, so my brain thinks there’s more homework because my brain hasn’t adjusted to staying home the whole day. Learning is difficult because before you were jogging and now you are crawling.”
Juny, age 14, San Francisco, CA
“It’s hell. My teachers think that a responsible amount of work to be assigning is 40 minutes (about a class period) plus half an hour plus of homework. This is from EVERY teacher, so it adds up real fast. Over the last few days, I’ve had more work than I would usually have if schools weren’t closed – and I have to do it sitting in the same spot for hours.”
Jasper, age 17, Brooklyn, NY
“I’m doing online learning through Google Classroom, and sometimes it’s difficult. My math problems won’t attach, the file didn’t save properly. But we have to work through that, and it’s necessary to help others.”
Eleanor, age 14, Wales, MA
“I like our video morning meeting every day with my teachers and friends. It makes me feel like I’m still in school. My baby sister won’t leave me alone, so I decided to let her join.”
Ella, age 6, Manhattan, NY
“It’s harder to focus at home as there’s no one to discipline you for playing on your phone or talking to a friend. It’s harder to grasp certain concepts, specifically those that are more hands-on. It’s harder to ask questions since there’s no way to virtually raise your hand. And it’s harder to keep a smile on my face, because I don’t know if or when I’ll see my teachers and classmates in person again.”
Josephine, age 18, Woodstock, CT
“My phone is right next to me, so it’s so easy to pick up my phone and text my friend, who I see on the screen, or check the newest post on Instagram and TikTok.”
Daniella, age 17, Burlington, NJ
“There are days where I don’t want to do any work, and it’s really easy to just not do it. Learning at school definitely helps motivate me to get my work done, because I’m in the environment to do work and there’s really nothing else I can do. At home I have the liberty to literally do anything other than schoolwork.”
Valeria, age 16, Riverdale Park, MD
“Every day I take a walk around my neighborhood with my parents and when I see my friends, I’m told I have to stay six feet away. I get really sad I can’t be with them. I’m also scared they’ll never find a cure and I’ll never get to play close with my friends again. I’m hoping that things will be back to normal someday.”
Sasha, age 9, Los Angeles, CA
“I’m in my last year of middle school, and I will probably have to finish it from home. I wonder about the students next year, students who I’ll spend the next four years with, whose family died because of this, whose parents died because of this. I wonder about my family. Are they going to get sick? I wonder about the children who’ll die. I wonder if I’ll be one of them. If my family will be the one this virus reaches next. I start high school next year, and I wonder how.”
Louisa, age 13, Jacksonville, FL
“My little brother asks every morning if the germs went away yet – he really misses school like me.”
Tessa, age 7, Montclair, NJ
“Online school is the equivalent of no school. The one-on-one time, the accountability, the schedule and routine are all gone. No parent is perfect, and no parent can effectively replace seven to eight teachers, all with different subjects. The issue is the loss of many factors for success. Isolation, no routine, even just the lack of repercussions for not doing work. All of this leads to a decline.”
Pres, age 17, Fayetteville, AR
“Thousands of juniors (including myself) have selected rigorous courses for our last full year before our apps are due. Many of us are taking five or six A.P. classes and finally getting leadership positions for the clubs and activities we dedicated so much time to. As I sit at home, I feel that the edge that I have been working so long for is slipping away. I was ready to make this last full semester count.”
Fahad, age 17, Northborough, MA
“Most schools in America have senior prom, Senior Ditch Day, senior prank, senior banquets, and most important, graduation. No one signed a contract giving me the right to any of that, but then again, I feel entitled to my senior year. When I walked out of school on March 11, I didn’t expect that to be the last time I would see the people and the places that helped me mature into the person that I am today. Now when people ask what high school taught me, I can honestly say that I learned something outside of math and science. Nothing in life is promised.”
Rachel, age 18, San Jose, CA
“Polling Our Littlest: ‘I Can’t Believe I Am Going to Say This, but I Would Rather Be in School’” by Henry Dodd in The New York Times, April 15, 2020, https://nyti.ms/35lmT8B
2. Synchronous versus Asynchronous Instruction
In this article in Education Week, Mark Lieberman says teachers across the U.S. are facing a novel question: When and how often during the school day do my students need to see me? In other words, how much of daily instruction should be synchronous and how much asynchronous? Lieberman gathered ideas from several experts:
• Don’t waste students’ time. “It doesn’t make a lot of sense to do a 15-minute lecture live,” says Susan Patrick (Aurora Institute). Asynchronous communication (e-mails, text messages, videos) is efficient for basic instruction, launching a discussion, and setting deadlines. Synchronous communication (a videoconference) works best for discussions, sharing ideas, brainstorming, and spontaneous conversations. A big advantage of asynchronous lectures is that students can watch at their own pace, rewinding if necessary or watching more than once to fully grasp the content.
• Don’t go overboard with synchronous teaching. Overly long live classes can be overstimulating for students and maddening for teachers. “Expecting students to be glued to their computers all day is especially unrealistic in households with more children than devices,” says Lieberman. “So relying too much on this approach could contribute to equity gaps, with students who have easy access to technology getting an edge over those who don’t.”
• Asynchronous learning allows flexible pacing. Teachers can use a variety of approaches: an interactive game, a practice quiz, a supplementary video. Students can feel a kind of ownership of their learning that’s not possible in classroom settings, feeling less rushed by their classmates and able to go over material at their own speed.
• Give parents clear direction. There are big differences in how parents should be working with elementary students (lots of structure) and what’s appropriate for high-school students who might, for example, choose to do all their English work on Sunday and all their math on Monday.
• Synchronous learning can be informal. Teachers might conduct virtual office hours, inviting students to join them between certain times, or arrange for an optional lunch chat. Real-time class meetings or kick-offs for the day are especially helpful for younger students.
• Choose the best modality for different subjects and lessons. English might be best taught asynchronously when students are doing a lot of thinking and writing on their own. Math, on the other hand, might lend itself more to synchronous instruction, when students need to ask questions and get real-time help.
• Asynchronous doesn’t mean absent. Because some students won’t take the initiative to get in touch, teachers need to be systematic about setting up individual video or phone check-ins, perhaps several times a month for each student.
• Teaching is different for the time being. Effective synchronous teaching can be powerful, but it’s often difficult to engage students at the level of in-person classes, and this frustrates teachers. For many, online teaching is more facilitative. “You’re not leading through the learning process,” says Illinois curriculum director Jennifer Kolar Burden, “you’re guiding them, you’re pointing them in the right direction, you’re letting them explore on their own.”
“Virtual Education Dilemma: Scheduled Classroom Instruction vs. Anytime Learning” by Mark Lieberman in Education Week, March 30, 2020, https://bit.ly/2VKeJn0
3. Douglas Reeves Pushes Back on Pass/Fail Grading in High Schools
(Originally titled “A Dissent on Pass/Fail Grading in Remote Learning”)
In this ASCD Inservice article, author/consultant Douglas Reeves agrees with much of Joe Feldman’s recent article on how to handle grading during the coronavirus crisis: stop averaging grades, grading homework, and using the zero-to-100 scale. Reeves also agrees on using pass/fail grading for students in grades K-8, where feedback is more important than letter grades. But he disagrees with pass/fail for high-school students. Here’s why:
• Equity – It’s been argued that until everyone has access to technology and supports, students should all get the same grade or be graded pass/fail. But Reeves fears that this approach disadvantages students who have achieved academic distinction and are competing for scholarships and college admission. “The students who are hurt worst in this scenario,” he says, “are those for whom academic distinction is the only way out of poverty.”
• Resources – Given the financial straits in which colleges now find themselves, says Reeves, scholarships will be more competitive than ever. Pass/fail grading makes it impossible for higher education officials to distinguish between A work and D work. He advocates a full-court press to deliver instructional material to all students through online learning, public television, e-mail, phone calls, and mailing books, supplies, and other materials. For students who can’t be reached, Reeves suggests giving them credit for the latest and best evidence of their work up to the time schools closed.
• Engagement – “Grades are surely not the only motivator for students,” says Reeves. “Students can be motivated by feedback, learning, and personal relationships with teachers.” This can come through sophisticated online learning platforms or good old-fashioned phone calls. But grades remain meaningful goalposts for students.
“A Dissent on Pass/Fail Grading in Remote Learning” by Douglas Reeves in ASCD Inservice, April 22, 2020, https://bit.ly/2VGaJUe; Reeves is at email@example.com.
4. Angela Duckworth on Minimizing Screen Time
“It’s mind-boggling to imagine how many hours our students are spending on screens,” says Angela Duckworth (University of Pennsylvania) in this article in Education Week. “The scientific consensus is that more rigorous research is needed to pinpoint the effects of screen time on physical and emotional health. However, we know enough to say with certainty that staring at screens all day and night can strain the eyes and disrupt circadian rhythms, too. And certainly, sitting constantly – as opposed to moving our bodies – is unhealthy for kids and adults alike.” Duckworth has three suggestions:
– Consider having students listen to audio versus watching videos, perhaps while taking a safe walk in the neighborhood.
– Encourage notetaking by hand rather than on a computer.
– During an online class, periodically ask students to look away from the screen – for example, “Now, from memory, redraw the figure we discussed last week.”
“How to Decrease Screen Time for Students” by Angela Duckworth in Education Week, April 24, 2020, https://bit.ly/2Y51kYa; Duckworth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. Leadership and Trust
In this Harvard Business Review article, Frances Frei (Harvard Business School) and Anne Morriss (The Leadership Consortium) say that building trust is the essential first step to becoming a genuinely empowering leader – that is, someone who creates “the conditions for your people to fully realize their own capacity and power.” Frei and Morriss believe trust has three core drivers:
– Authenticity – People believe they are interacting with the real you.
– Logic – Colleagues have faith in your judgment and competence.
– Empathy – People believe you truly care about them and their success.
Everyone, say Frei and Morriss, has a weak area, what they call a “trust wobble,” and building trust as a leader depends on finding and addressing that weakness. They invite us to identify a recent failure or disappointment, consider it from the other person’s point of view, and ask which trust driver might have been wobbly: were we misrepresenting some part of ourselves or our story? Did the person question our ability to execute competently? Might we have put our own interests first? “When you take responsibility for a wobble,” say Frei and Morriss, “you reveal your humanity (authenticity) and analytical chops (logic) while communicating your commitment to the relationship (empathy).” Here are their suggestions in each area:
• Empathy – “If people think you care more about yourself than about others,” they say, “they won’t trust you enough to lead them.” Analytical, learning-driven leaders are often impatient with colleagues who aren’t like them. In addition, buzzing cellphones and computers “constantly assert our self-importance, sometimes smack in the middle of interactions with the very people we’re working to empower and lead.” Frei and Morriss advise leaders to pay close attention to their behavior in one-on-one interactions and meetings, put their phones away (really away), and focus on what others are saying.
• Logic – If people don’t trust your judgment and competence, why would they want you in command? If this is the problem area, Frei and Morriss advise going back to the data and being clear about your strong and weak areas. “One reason Larry Bird was such an extraordinary basketball player,” they say, “was that he only took shots he knew he could reliably make. That choice made him different from other great players who let ego and adrenaline cloud their shooting judgment.” Humbly know your strengths, they say, then begin to expand your zone of competence, primarily by observing others.
• Authenticity – The key question here is whether there’s a marked difference between your professional persona and how you are with family and friends. “When people sense that you’re concealing the truth or being less than authentic,” say Frei and Morriss, “they’re far less willing to make themselves vulnerable to you in the ways that leadership demands.” This is especially important in teams with gender and cultural diversity.
“There’s one last thing you need to know,” conclude the authors. “The path to empowerment leadership doesn’t begin when other people start to trust you. It begins when you start to trust yourself. To be a truly empowering leader, you need to take stock of where you wobble, not only in your relationships with others, but also in your relationship with yourself… If you don’t trust yourself, why should anybody else trust you?”
“Begin with Trust” by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss in Harvard Business Review, May-June 2020 (Vol. 98, #3, pp. 112-121), https://hbr.org/2020/05/begin-with-trust
6. Helping Students See Productive Struggle in Math as a Good Thing
“For a math problem to truly be a problem, it must expose a lack of knowledge and promote productive struggle,” say Joel Amidon, Ann Monroe, and David Rock (University of Mississippi) and Candies Cook (Oxford Intermediate School) in this article in Kappa Delta Pi Record. But too many students think that if they struggle with a math problem, they’re deficient, even incompetent, and that can produce shame and result in them hating math. Interestingly, few adults feel shame for not being good at math (I’m just not a math person), while they’d be ashamed if they weren’t good readers. That’s because the assumption in the adult world is that math ability is innate, and math is something that’s done by people who are “smart” at it – scientists, engineers, mathematicians.
But in school, struggling in math classes does produce shame, and students cope in four ways: withdrawal, avoidance, attacking themselves, or attacking others. How can math teachers make productive struggle into a positive experience, minimize the possibility of shame, and help students see themselves as “doers of mathematics”? Amidon, Monroe, Rock, and Cook suggest the following:
• Expand what it means to be a doer of math. One study described students using high-level, accurate math selling fruit outside a school, but struggling with the same math operations in class. Teachers need to bridge the gap by helping students see how math is used in everyday life and building their confidence as practical mathematicians.
• Use authentic, developmentally appropriate tasks. The authors mention two websites that have good problems: Illustrative Mathematics https://www.illustrativemathematics.org (click Free Resources) and NCTM’s Illuminations https://illuminations.nctm.org.
• Use cooperative learning. This can foster positive interdependence, with success and failure as things that groups experience together. It’s important, say the authors, that teachers give cooperative groups “specific, public, and academic praise for students’ work with mathematics, specifically when a student productively struggles in making sense of a problem and perseveres in solving it.”
• See where students are on learning trajectories. Struggle is a factor of the appropriateness of the problems students are asked to solve and where students are on a learning continuum. The authors suggest the Common Core’s Coherence Map at Achieve the Core https://bit.ly/2VEbMnI and the progression outlined at the University of Arizona’s Institute for Mathematics and Education https://www.math.arizona.edu/~ime/progressions/.
• Redefine homework. The authors suggest two approaches: (a) framing homework as practice time (analogous to practice in sports, music, and theater), with the emphasis on trying things out, making mistakes, and not having to get everything right; (b) encouraging students to tackle “challenge problems” for homework in collaboration with classmates, putting the premium on how well they describe the mathematics in each problem and communicate with peers, versus getting the right answer.
“Shame, Shame Go Away: Fostering Productive Struggle with Mathematics” by Joel Amidon, Ann Monroe, David Rock, and Candies Cook in Kappa Delta Pi Record, April-June 2020 (Vol. 56, #2, pp. 64-69), available to members or for purchase at https://bit.ly/2yQxTi4; the authors can be reached at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org.
7. Supporting Students with Dyscalculia
(Originally titled “The Invisible Math Obstacle”)
In this article in Education Update, Kate Stoltzfus says that dyscalculia, a mathematical learning challenge, affects 5-7 percent of students. These students struggle with:
– Doing simple math;
– Grasping and processing numbers;
– Mathematical reasoning, calculation, and number sense;
– Differentiating between quantities;
– Word problems;
– Measuring, estimating, working with money, and telling time;
– Counting, mental math, and remembering sequences;
– Spatial reasoning and gauging distance;
– Math tests.
Teachers sometimes attribute difficulties like these to math anxiety, suggesting remediation and tutoring. But these don’t work. The key is early diagnosis and providing students tools they can use throughout their lives.
Dyscalculia sometimes accompanies ADHD and dyslexia, but it has distinct issues that require different supports. Kara Ball, now a Baltimore teacher, remembers being diagnosed with dyslexia in third grade and dyscalculia in sixth. “I didn’t want to count on my fingers in 10th-grade math,” she says. “I declined all my accommodations, so that no one would need to know that I was Kara with two disabilities, something that I should have been upfront and honest about with people. That’s what I work with my students on. It’s part of who you are.” Ball describes the coping strategies she still uses as an adult: she carries scrap paper to write down numbers, takes photos of hotel room numbers, uses a calculator to make change, and counts laps and mileage in her school’s running club with a small string of beads.
There’s growing recognition of dyscalculia, including https://www.dyscalculia.org, and the Netflix movie Amateur. There’s also a two-minute activity, www.numeracyscreener.org that can help with diagnosis, as can Nancy Jordan’s Number Sense Screener. Once diagnosed, students with dyscalculia need:
– Explicit, repetitive instruction;
– More time to understand how symbols represent quantity;
– Alternative teaching strategies – videos, manipulatives, and games;
– Playful activities to reduce math anxiety;
– Replacing tests with low-stakes checks for understanding and authentic assessments;
– Suggestions for finger counting in more sophisticated ways;
– Giving a choice of tools – multiplication table, rounding table;
– Using concrete objects or representations (doodles, dots, tallies).
“The Invisible Math Obstacle” by Kate Stoltzfus in Education Update, April 2020 (Vol. 62, #4, pp. 1, 4), https://bit.ly/3eWHeFy
8. A Primer on Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
In this article in Kappa Delta Pi Record, Barbara Meier and Kirstin Rossi (University of Wisconsin/Eau Claire) restate the purpose of UDL: to proactively address barriers to learning and orchestrate success for all students. UDL represents a paradigm shift, say Meier and Rossi: “Students are no longer thought of as disabled or unable to learn, but rather the curriculum is understood to inhibit some students from accessing and learning content.” Given that much of the variability in each class is predictable, the teacher’s challenge is anticipating possible barriers to student learning and planning in ways that eliminate or minimize those barriers. Here’s how the authors deconstruct UDL:
• Goals, methods, materials, and assessments – Meier and Rossi say goals should not limit the way students will be asked to show proficiency. For example,
– Traditional: Students will write five facts about the moon.
– UDL: Students will express their knowledge by sharing five facts about the moon.
With UDL goals, the ways knowledge is expressed remain flexible.
Methods are the instructional decisions, approaches, procedures, and routines used to convey curriculum, including making on-the-spot decisions based on monitoring students’ learning. Students often need scaffolding for skill and knowledge deficits, and as students get up to speed, the extra supports are gradually reduced.
Materials encompass teachers’ choices of texts, videos, podcasts, hands-on activities, and more to engage students in the content.
Assessments check for understanding and must be frequent and flexible so teachers can monitor learning in real time and students can demonstrate mastery in a variety of ways.
• Multiple means of engagement – Using UDL, teachers choose goals, methods, materials, and assessments in ways that attract and motivate all students and foster effort, persistence, and self-regulation. The more choices students have, the more likely they are to be engaged.
• Multiple means of representation – A variety of visuals, manipulatives, videos, discussions, audio, and peer instruction increases curriculum accessibility.
• Multiple means of action and expression – When students can demonstrate learning via essays, oral presentations, videos, and other means, more students can be successful.
• Instructional barrier matrix – Meier and Rossi suggest that teachers create a grid with possible areas of difficulty (e.g., decoding, comprehension, fluency, spelling, handwriting, grammar, organization, computation, problem-solving, inattention, impulsivity) and think through strategies for dealing with each (e.g., text-to-speech reader, speech recognition program, calculator, graphic organizer, movement breaks) and when each would be implemented.
“Removing Instructional Barriers with UDL” by Barbara Meier and Kirstin Rossi in Kappa Delta Pi Record, April-June 2020 (Vol. 56, #2, pp. 82-88), available to members or for purchase at https://bit.ly/2W1tq3U; the authors can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
9. Seven Questions on Climate Change
This New York Times feature contains short essays answering these questions about climate change:
– How bad is climate change now?
– How do we stop fossil fuel emissions?
– Do environmental rules matter?
– How do scientists know what they know?
– Who is influencing key decisions?
– Can insurance protect us from climate change?
– Is what I do important?
“A Crash Course on Climate Change, 50 Years After the First Earth Day” by Brad Plumer, Henry Fountain, Lisa Friedman, Kendra Pierre-Louis, Hiroko Tabuchi, Christopher Flavelle, and Somini Sengupta in The New York Times, April 21, 2020
10. Short Items:
a. Khan Academy Breakthrough Junior Challenge – This competition, launched on April 1, deadline June 25, 2020, challenges young people 13-18 to explain a big idea in physics, life sciences, mathematics, or the science of the COVID-19 pandemic in a 3-minute video. Competition and $$$ prize details are at https://breakthroughjuniorchallenge.org.
b. Updated Media Bias Chart – The Ad Fontes chart analyzes numerous media sources by reliability and political leaning: https://www.adfontesmedia.com/?v=402f03a963ba; more important now than ever for students.
c. A Virtual Kid Lit Party – With children’s literature festivals and gatherings cancelled this spring and summer, several authors went to social media and very quickly put together the Everywhere Book Fest https://everywherebookfest.com, scheduled to open its virtual doors on May 1 and 2, 2020.
d. Educational Leadership Special Report– ASCD’s flagship magazine has produced a free online issue focused on ideas and resources for the coronavirus crisis. It’s available at
“A New Reality: Getting Remote Learning Right,” April 2020 (Vol. 77)
“Virtual Kid Lit Party” by K.Y. in School Library Journal, April 2020 (Vol. 66, #4, p. 19)
10. Short Items:
a. Surveys on distance learning and well-being – Panorama Education is making several surveys available free at https://www.panoramaed.com/distance-learning-surveys. Panorama is also offering a free principal’s toolkit, with a variety of resources for leading while schools are closed https://www.panoramaed.com/principal-toolkit-spring-2020.
b. Free webcomics – This School Library Journal feature by Mahnaz Dar provides links to 19 webcomics for middle-grade and young adult audiences: https://bit.ly/3bKeOfR
“19 Webcomics to Keep Kids and Teens Engaged” by Mahnaz Dar in School Library Journal, April 6, 2020
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