Marshall Memo 835

In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“There is a reason that homeschooling is rare.”

Robert Slavin (see item #1)

“Some students are not connecting because they felt invisible while they were in the physical classroom, so they feel that they will not be missed in the virtual one.”

Peter DeWitt (see item #2)

“Distance learning requires us to be humans in an inhuman situation. We can’t simply provide lessons and assessments; we have to bridge this digital gap and carry some sense of humor and goodwill and community through the cold wiring. If we’ve succeeded in even a modicum of that task, we owe that to the success in the months prior when we created something special. A school family. A community that could rely on itself, that could flourish even in isolation.”

Daniel Parsons in “I See Education and Humanity in ‘Full Bloom’ in My Covid-19

Classroom” in Education Gadfly, April 24, 2020, https://bit.ly/3aZe7Or

“Use goals to define to-dos. Goals are accomplishments. The question isn’t, ‘What do you need to do?’ The question is, ‘What do you need to accomplish?’ The goal of exercise is health, for example.”

Dan Rockwell in “The Secret of Getting Things Done” in Leadership Freak, May 4,

2020, https://leadershipfreak.blog/2020/05/04/the-secret-to-getting-things-done/

“Start any training by telling a group of people that they’re the problem and they’ll get defensive. Once that happens they’re much less likely to want to be part of the solution; instead, they’ll resist.”

Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev (see item #8)

1. Robert Slavin on an Ambitious Post-Pandemic Plan

In these back-to-back online articles, Robert Slavin (Johns Hopkins University) says that our current situation calls for something akin to the Marshall Plan, which committed billions of U.S. dollars to rebuild Western Europe after World War II. That war was awful, says Slavin, but schools and universities remained open. The coronavirus pandemic is different, profoundly interrupting the education of students at every level. “This is a particular problem, of course, for disadvantaged students,” says Slavin, “whose parents are more likely to get the virus, who are less likely to have technology at home, and who are more often already having difficulties in school.”

Even for students who have robust Internet access, technology, and home support, “distance learning is not going to be enough,” he says. “There will be happy exceptions, but there is a reason that homeschooling is rare.” When schools reopen, there will be a massive challenge repairing the damage done and addressing a widening achievement gap. The work will be made more difficult because there’s likely to be an economic recession in the fall, with many young people entering the labor market at the worst possible time.

Slavin has a plan to address both problems: “Schools should hire, train, and deploy large numbers of recent (and not so recent) college graduates as tutors, and in other essential roles in schools,” he proposes. “Imagine that every school could receive up to five well-trained, well-supported teaching assistant tutors, with the number of tutors determined by each school’s needs.” These young men and women would focus on students who had fallen furthest behind, and could also work as health aides, helping students get eyeglasses and medications for asthma and other chronic illnesses that affect school success, as well as working with families on attendance, social-emotional development, and mental health.

Slavin cites research showing that one-on-one and small-group tutoring can have a powerful effect, up to 0.40 effect size (five months of schooling), provided tutors use proven methods, have expert professional development, and work with proven curriculum materials. He estimates the cost at $600 per student – which compares favorably to the $12,000 per capita cost of having students repeat the grade when schools reopen, something that’s been proposed as a post-Covid-19 intervention.

“A Marshall Plan for the Post-Covid-19 Recovery,” April 23, 2020, and “Marshall Plan II: Heal the Damage, but Build for the Future,” April 30, 2020, by Robert Slavin on Slavin’s website, https://robertslavinsblog.wordpress.com/2020/04/

2. Teachers’ Concerns About Online Instruction

In this article in Education Week, Peter DeWitt reports what he’s found combing through scores of Facebook pages created by teachers during the pandemic. He’s struck by heroic efforts to make teaching work in a new environment, along with humor and mutual support. There’s also a lot of venting about how hard this is: many teachers have their own children to contend with, live in studio apartments, have to work in their bedrooms because of roommates, have spotty Internet access, and are new to videoconferencing tools and the whole business of teaching online.

Among the top concerns on the Facebook pages are students not handing in assignments, parents not returning calls, and how to hold students accountable when districts have nixed grading. There’s also uncertainty about the required work day, faculty meetings, and supervision by administrators. Teachers clearly miss the accountability tools that go with in-person classrooms, among them physical proximity, the promise of good grades, and the leverage of privileges and other incentives. “There is a lot less ‘control’ on the part of the teacher right now,” says DeWitt, “and that can make us uncomfortable – especially when teachers are being held accountable as teachers.”

One of the most frequently mentioned concerns is worry about students who are not signing in and participating in online instruction. DeWitt believes there are at least six reasons:

– No Internet access and/or computer at home;

– No quiet space to work;

– No grade incentives;

– Taking care of siblings while parents work;

– Full-time jobs providing vital income to their families;

– A weak teacher-student relationship: “Some students are not connecting because they felt invisible while they were in the physical classroom, so they feel that they will not be missed in the virtual one,” says DeWitt.

The most interesting question he found in the Facebook pages: Knowing what you know now, would you have done anything differently when the students were in front of you? This question prompted ideas on how schools might be run differently when they reopen.

“6 Reasons Students Aren’t Showing Up for Virtual Learning” by Peter DeWitt in Education Week, April 26, 2020, https://bit.ly/3dcM13W

3. Why Teaching in a Virtual Space is Draining

In this National Geographic article, Julia Sklar reports that many K-12 and university teachers are finding remote instruction more exhausting than in-person teaching. Cognitive scientists say that virtual interactions are more taxing on the brain – because we’re trying to make up for the copious information we get, without knowing it, during face-to-face interactions.

When we’re physically with others, we’re listening to the words, but also picking up dozens of non-verbal cues – facial expressions, whether the person’s body is facing us or slightly turned away, their fidgeting, perhaps a quick inhalation as a prelude to an interruption. “These cues help paint a holistic picture of what is being conveyed and what’s expected in response from the listener,” says Sklar. “Since humans evolved as social animals, perceiving these cues comes naturally to most of us, takes little conscious effort to parse, and can lay the groundwork for emotional intimacy.”

During a video call, seeing people from the shoulders up, very few of these cues can be perceived, which puts much more cognitive load on listening to what’s being said. We search for non-verbal cues that can’t be seen, and eye contact on the screen can be disconcerting if held too long, which would seldom be the case in a face-to-face conversation.

“Multi-person screens magnify this exhausting problem,” says Sklar. “Gallery view – where all meeting participants appear Brady Bunch-style – challenges the brain’s central vision, forcing it to decode so many people at once that no one comes through meaningfully, not even the speaker.” One psychologist called this attempt to multitask “continuous partial attention,” like trying to cook and read at the same time. A regular telephone conversation is much less taxing because we’re only expecting the voice and we’re not looking for visual cues.

Interestingly, says Sklar, video calls can be a boon for people for whom in-person conversations are challenging – for example, many with autism. However, for others on the spectrum, video calls can be disconcerting because of sensory triggers such as loud noises and bright lights.

It’s possible, concludes Sklar, that “Zoom fatigue will abate once people learn to navigate the mental tangle video chatting can cause.” In the meantime, one trick is turning off your camera and concentrating just on the words, saving video images for when they’re really necessary – or when we want warm fuzzies from a loved one. Another idea is using a phone for a chat and walking around. There’s evidence that meetings on the move can improve creativity.

“‘Zoom Fatigue’ Is Taxing the Brain. Here’s Why That Happens” by Julia Sklar in National Geographic, April 24, 2020, https://on.natgeo.com/2Wxl0BI

4. Better Ways of Starting Online Conversations

In this Quartz article, Elizabeth Weingarten says that in the early days of the pandemic, she would ask friends and colleagues, “How are you doing right now?” It was an assumption-free way of showing she cared, but people began to respond in predictable ways: I’m hanging in there… I’ve got it better than those heroic first responders…“When we keep asking the same question,” says Weingarten, “or no question at all, we lose out on a chance for deeper connections with our conversation partners, who also happen to be the people we care most about. We are tricked into believing we know how they’re feeling or what they’re thinking, when we haven’t even scratched the surface.” Here’s a selection of her suggested alternatives:

– How are you taking care of yourself today?

– What’s the best thing that happened to you today?

– What’s the most generous act you’ve seen recently?

– What’s giving you hope right now?

– What’s a story – from a book, movie, article, conversation – that you’ve been gripped by recently? Why did it capture you?

– What habit have you started, or broken, during the quarantine?

– Which specific place in your neighborhood are you most looking forward to visiting when this is all over?

– What are some things you’ve realized you don’t really need?

– What’s something you miss that surprises you? What’s something you don’t miss that surprises you?

– What’s the latest thing you experienced that made you laugh, or cry?

– How do you want this experience to change you? How do you think it will?

– What do you hope we all learn or take away from this experience?

“20 Questions to Ask Instead of ‘How Are You Doing Right Now?’” by Elizabeth Weingarten in Quartz, April 10, 2020, https://bit.ly/2YzXpmu

5. Dealing with a Child’s Meltdown

In this article in Psychology Today, psychotherapist/author Erin Leyba describes her 5-year-old son’s extreme anxiety when a doctor needed to draw his blood. Nothing the adults in the room said was effective: You’ll be fine. It’ll be over in five minutes. Calm down. Stop crying. Try to be brave. Neither were incentives, bribes, or threats of punishment.

When children are this anxious, a fight-or-flight response kicks in, producing higher heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure along with clinging, shaking, hiding, screaming, acting out, running away, sometimes nausea. “It’s extremely difficult – if not impossible – for kids to think logically or control their behavior until the fight-or-flight response has dissipated,” says Leyba – and that can take up to an hour. She suggests the following strategies to help children calm down, regain a sense of safety, and come to terms with their feelings:

• Take deep breaths. Anxiety is often accompanied by rapid, shallow chest breathing. Inhaling for three seconds from the abdomen, holding it for three seconds, and exhaling through pursed lips for three seconds can lower heart rate and induce relaxation.

• Get active. Physically demanding tasks like wall pushups, pushing a vacuum, walking up stairs, or climbing a jungle gym can help calm and center a child.

• Make a plan. Taking specific actions can help kids understand and tolerate stress. A boy who was feeling anxious after joining a baseball team decided to chew gum and take a short walk.

• Use rituals. These can be “stability anchors” that relieve stress if they’re rolled out before, during, or after anxiety-producing events – for example, always taking a child out for ice cream after a doctor’s appointment.

• Name it to tame it. Kids can be asked to tell a story about what they’re worried or upset about and why.

• Narrow the focus. Meditating, coloring, or focusing on a specific feeling, activity, sight, or conversation can produce relaxation.

• Laugh. “Humor can distract, reframe, relax muscles, and release endorphins,” says Leyba. Try playing a goofy game, watching a cartoon, or telling family jokes.

• Reflect. After dealing successfully with a fraught episode, walk the child through what worked: On a scale of 1 to 10, how hard was it? What is one thing that helped you get through it?

“8 Simple Ways to Soothe an Anxious Child” by Erin Leyba in Psychology Today, May/June 2020 (Vol. 53, #3, pp. 32-33), no e-link available

6. A Different Way to Teach Romeo and Juliet

In this article in English Journal, Arkansas teacher Kathryn Hill says that when she tells her ninth graders they’ll be reading Romeo and Juliet, there are groans and heads on desks. At this grade level, students know Shakespeare at a distance, and some believe his work is for people who are smarter, more mature, more cultured. “Why do we have to read those dry, dusty stories that have nothing to do with us?” asked one student.

“This is why there is an urgent need to rethink how we approach teaching Shakespeare,” says Hill, “and, perhaps more importantly, if we teach Shakespeare at all.” She had her own epiphany watching a production of Richard III in a small theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon in England, seeing for the first time “the power of language and character.” When she began teaching, Hill was determined that her students would make a similar connection between Shakespeare and their lives. In Romeo and Juliet, she wanted students to see in Romeo “the same fiery passion, pensiveness, and rebellion that many of them [experience] as adolescents,” and in Juliet she hoped they would see “the bonds of antiquated, nonsensical traditions, and the destructive cycles of violence and greed – and explore productive ways of fighting against these powers that be.”

Over the years, Hill hit upon choral reading as a way to bring Shakespeare alive for students and get them to a level of fluency where they truly understood his meaning. Here’s how it works.

• Introducing the play – Hill’s students read Act I of Romeo and Juliet together and analyze how several movie adaptations of key scenes use the film medium to enhance what Shakespeare wrote.

• Setting the stage – Students have a choice of studying one of four soliloquies from Act 2: Romeo’s under Juliet’s balcony; Romeo and Juliet’s on the balcony; Friar Laurence’s; and Juliet’s in scene 5. Having introduced the assignment, Hill divides students into heterogeneous groups of 4-5 and groups select which soliloquy they want to study and perform. Students then spend 20-30 minutes working individually with their soliloquy:

– annotating the text;

– paraphrasing the speech sentence by sentence;

– identifying the main point that the speaker is making;

– circling or highlighting motifs (dream versus reality, blindness, poison, light versus dark imagery);

– circling key words or phrases indicating the speaker’s tone;

– marking any shifts in tone, topic, or meaning;

– noting what we learn about the character who is speaking.

After finishing their individual analyses, groups discuss how they will handle reading their soliloquy out loud. They watch brief video reflections by actors and directors from the Royal Shakespeare Company to model artistic thought and consider their character’s tone, meaning, internal and external conflicts, and key words, phrases, and motifs.

• Perform and reflect – Each group choral-reads its soliloquy, following each other in the sequence of Act 2, with Hill or a student narrating the events in between. After each performance, classmates ask why the group chose to speak or move in the way they did, and each performer explains elements of their choral read.

“After all the collective laughter and tears, joy and thoughtfulness, and understanding and questioning evoked by the performances,” says Hill, students individually reflect on their soliloquy and write answers to these prompts:

– Analyze the tone of the speaker – diction, motif, imagery.

– How does the speech connect with one of the major themes of the play?

– What do we learn about the character?

– Explain the artistic choices your group made to emphasize certain words, phrases, or motifs, the speaker’s tone, and internal or external conflicts.

– How would you revise your performance and why?

“Some of my favorite moments in my classroom occur while students are planning, practicing, performing, and reflecting on their choral reads,” says Hill. “The room buzzes with convivial laughter and kinetic dialogue as students ponder beautiful and curious lines and characters.” She took particular delight when one group of boys practiced reading the line, “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks!” at first giggling at how they had read the words, then realizing how the motif of light seemed especially important to Romeo. “As the boys brought Romeo and Juliet to life with their own voices,” says Hill, “they felt joy because they had fun while wrestling with a complex text.”

Hill has found the choral reading strategy especially helpful for involving reluctant students and those for whom Shakespeare’s language is challenging. Working with their groupmates preparing for a performance, these students rise to the occasion and contribute thoughtfully to the nuances of tone, drama, and meaning.

Looking back at the end of the semester, Hill’s students often mention the choral reading as a high point. One student wrote, “I liked how we got to be more creative with this activity. That made it super fun, but I also feel like I learned more about how to read closely. I finally feel like I get the themes and characters.” A particularly shy student wrote, “I personally think that I have grown a huge amount throughout the choral reading process and I think I kind of found a voice with speaking.”

Hill has several recommendations for teachers considering implementing the choral reading strategy:

– Allow two periods for performances so there’s room for artistic decision-making and reflective discussions.

– Instead of asking students to analyze and represent multiple elements of their soliloquy, it may be better to focus on one literary element – for example, figurative language.

– This choral reading strategy can work with a variety of texts; Hill has used it with John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, Brent Staples’s “Black Men in Public Space,” and the speech before the United Nations by Malala Yousafzai, as well as excerpts from novels like The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.

“Transforming any text can lead to a transformative learning experience for all of our students,” concludes Hill, “because it promotes strong transactions between reader and text, leading to better comprehension, closer reading, symbolic thinking, and deeper learning… Through the lightness and laughter of an activity such as choral reading, students’ hearts and minds are transformed as the power of Shakespeare – once perceived as ephemeral and possibly esoteric – becomes something real and lasting and life-changing. As their perspective transforms, so do they.”

“‘Did My Heart Love Till Now?’: Transforming Romeo and Juliet and Readers Through Choral Reading” by Kathryn Hill in English Journal, March 2020 (Vol. 109, #4, pp. 31-37),

https://bit.ly/2zRnGSK; Hill can be reached at khill@bentonvillek12.org.

7. Addressing Resistance to the Teaching of Evolution

In this article in Phi Delta Kappan, Glenn Branch (National Center for Science Education) reviews the long history of arguments against teaching evolution. These include “creation science,” “intelligent design,” belittling evolution as “just a theory,” and urging schools to “teach the controversy.” In spite of the energy and persistence of anti-evolution activists, there’s been progress in recent decades, with several court decisions supporting the teaching of evolution, and a gradual shift of opinion among the general public and science educators. About 82 percent of high-school biology teachers said that Darwin’s theory is an essential component of their courses (a 2007 survey), and today’s biology textbooks are forthright on the subject; one of the most popular proclaims, “Evolutionary theory provides the best scientific explanation for the unity and diversity of life.”

But that is far from being universally accepted. Only 65 percent of the U.S. public accepts evolution, and teens are only slightly more accommodating: 66 percent say that evolution is “at least possible” (a 2005 survey). The courts have yet to issue a definitive rebuke to anti-evolution cases, and legal challenges continue, with renewed prospects of success as conservative judges are appointed to key jurisdictions. That’s why, Branch argues, the long-range work of persuasion and education must continue. There are three main arguments against teaching evolution, and he describes the strategies that have been used by front-line educators to answer them:

• Evolution is speculative and not worth learning. In fact, evolution has great practical utility; it’s indispensable to the study and practice of agriculture, medicine, public health, environmental health, natural resource management, and human history.

• Evolution is dogma taught by acolytes of an elitist scientific priesthood. The best way to counter this anti-intellectual argument is to use an inquiry-based teaching approach, helping students deduce and see the truth of evolution and think for themselves.

• Evolution conflicts with students’ religious beliefs. Teachers can make students and their families aware that many scientific and religious leaders see no conflict between deep religious faith and accepting the science of evolution – for example, Pope Francis is on the record saying it’s part of God’s plan. “Merely making students and parents aware of such possible models,” says Branch, “is helpful in diminishing the perceived threat.”

“Anti-Intellectualism and Anti-Evolutionism Lessons from Hofstadter” by Glenn Branch in Phi Delta Kappan, April 2020 (Vol. 101, #7, pp. 22-27), https://bit.ly/3dftHaf; Branch can be reached at branch@ncse.ngo.

8. Successfully Squelching Workplace Harassment

In this Harvard Business Review article, Frank Dobbin (Harvard University) and Alexandra Kalev (Tel Aviv University) report that after a 1986 Supreme Court decision on sexual harassment, and the televised 1991 hearings on Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, most organizations instituted mandatory training programs and grievance procedures. Alas, this approach hasn’t worked: “Today some 40% of women (and 16% of men) say they’ve been sexually harassed at work,” say Dobbin and Kalev, “– a number that, remarkably, has not changed since the 1980s.”

The researchers studied 800 companies and found that it wasn’t a question of women starting to use the term “harasser” rather than “cad.” In fact, they found, mandatory training and formal channels for complaints simply don’t work. They concluded that these initiatives are “managerial snake oil” and have done more harm than good. Dobbin and Kalev believe there are two reasons for this counterintuitive outcome:

– Anti-harassment training is mandatory, which sends the message that men have to be forced to pay attention to the issue.

– It focuses on hidden behaviors, which suggests that men need fixing because they don’t know where the line is.

“Start any training by telling a group of people that they’re the problem,” say Dobbin and Kalev, “and they’ll get defensive. Once that happens they’re much less likely to want to be part of the solution; instead, they’ll resist.” And indeed, studies show that men who’ve been through harassment training are more likely to joke about the subject, blame victims, and say women are making things up – and women say it’s hard to get their reports taken seriously.

Grievance procedures exist in almost all organizations, but Dobbin and Kalev report that they are ineffective. First, they create time-consuming bureaucratic barriers that discourage people from reporting. Second, there is often retaliation. Despite confidentiality rules, word often gets out and friends of the accused may take revenge. “Women who file harassment complaints end up, on average, in worse jobs and poorer physical and mental health then do women who keep quiet,” say Dobbin and Kalev. The result is often the victim leaving the organization.

The good news is that there are several much more effective methods for combatting this persistent workplace problem:

• Bystander-intervention training – This approach, which takes several hours, has been surprisingly successful on college campuses and the U.S. military. It starts with the assumption that people are allies working to address harassment and assault, not potential perpetrators. “Everybody’s job is to nip misbehavior in the bud,” say Dobbin and Kalev. “Properly trained bystanders interrupt the sexual joke. They call out the catcallers. They distract the drunk pair who have just met but are set to leave the party together.”

• Manager training – Focusing exclusively on leaders is similar to bystander training in that it focuses on what others might do, showing how to recognize early signs of harassment and intervene swiftly and effectively. Men pay attention during this kind of training, say Dobbin and Kalev: “Why? In part because they feel they’re being given new tools that will help them solve problems they haven’t known how to handle in the past – and in part because they’re assumed to be potential heroes rather than villains. Everybody’s in it together, learning how to recognize and curb dubious behaviors in ways that will improve the overall work environment.”

• An ombuds office – Distinct from a formal grievance procedure, this informal, neutral, confidential entity is outside the organizational chain of command, working independently to resolve sexual harassment complaints. The ombuds office helps accusers decide whether to make their complaints known to the accused and avoids legalistic hearings. M.I.T. has used this approach successfully since 1973.

• Voluntary dispute resolution – Non-adversarial mediation aims to find a solution that is satisfactory to both sides. Often all the accuser wants is for the harassment to stop, and mediation can often accomplish that. The U.S. Postal Service uses this approach, and at least 60 percent of accusers say they are okay with the resolutions.

• Changing the culture – Dobbin and Kalev say three strategies have proven effective in making the fight against harassment part of the mission:

– Train-the-trainer – Volunteers are taught how to bring their colleagues up to speed; the U.S. Air Force has adopted this model.

– A harassment task force – A committee looks at data and makes recommendations. “The best way to convert people to your cause is to get them to help you with it,” say Dobbin and Kalev.

– Publishing data – Simply sharing the number and type of complaints galvanizes action.

“Why Sexual Harassment Programs Backfire, and What to Do About It” by Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev in Harvard Business Review, May/June 2020 (Vol. 98, #3, pp. 44-52, no e-link available; the authors are at frank_dobbin@harvard.edu and akalev@post.tau.ac.il.

9. Short Items:

a. UbD Units on Covid-19 – Newsela has just published two Understanding by Design curriculum unit plans on the pandemic developed by Jay McTighe and colleagues. Available (with a free account) at: Understanding the Covid-19 Pandemic and
Covid-19: Human Disease and Epidemics, A Study of Interacting Systems

You can learn more about the units in this recorded webinar by Jay McTighe:

https://go.newsela.com/Jay-McTighe-ODC.html

10. Short Items:

a. UbD Units on Covid-19 – Newsela has just published two Understanding by Design curriculum unit plans on the pandemic developed by Jay McTighe and colleagues. Available (with a free account) at: Understanding the Covid-19 Pandemic and
Covid-19: Human Disease and Epidemics, A Study of Interacting Systems

You can learn more about the units in this recorded webinar by Jay McTighe:

https://go.newsela.com/Jay-McTighe-ODC.html

b. Two Student-Created Musical Performances – These online performances might put a smile on your face. The first is by students in EL Education schools:

• Make the World Better by EL Education students – https://vimeo.com/413100268

• All Day Long (The Coronavirus Song) by Chloe Langford – https://youtu.be/SJM-u6IABGQ

c. Online News Created by Elementary Students – The Little News Ears website for students age 4 to 9 covers the news with a light touch: https://littlenewsears.com. The site, whose content is free during the Covid-19 pandemic, was created at Tessa International School. Dan Buck is the head of school.

d. Tips for Making a Screencast – In this Cult of Pedagogy feature, Jennifer Gonzalez interviews Kareem Farah on the art of making a classroom video. One key takeaway: teachers’ videos shouldn’t be longer than six minutes!

“Everything You Need to Know About Building a Great Screencast Video” by Kareem Farah in Cult of Pedagogy, April 26, 2020, https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/screencast-videos/, interviewed by Jennifer Gonzalez

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