In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“The first step toward becoming culturally competent is realizing you probably aren’t.”
Monica Bryant (see item #1)
“Keep it simple. Discard what’s non-essential. Find ways to cultivate joy.”
Naomi Martin, channeling Marie Kondo, in “Advice for Fall: Keep In-Person Classes
Simple, Fun” in The Boston Globe, July 16, 2020
“In the United States, mathematics achievement is often viewed as a proxy for ‘smartness,’
which can have detrimental effects on students’ identities.”
Patrice Waller and Alison Marzocchi (see item #3)
“When engaging in timed activities, only the fastest students are able to practice the concepts.
This deprives other students of learning opportunities.”
Patrice Waller and Alison Marzocchi (ibid.)
“Seek advice from someone who seeks your best interest and is willing to hurt your feelings.”
Dan Rockwell (see item #8)
“People who aren’t climbing the hill underestimate the difficulty of climbing the hill.”
Dan Rockwell (ibid.)
1. Cultural Competence 101
“The first step toward becoming culturally competent is realizing you probably aren’t,”
says educator Monica Bryant in this article in ASCA School Counselor. “To become culturally
competent one must value diversity, have capacity for cultural self-assessment, be conscious of
the dynamics that occur when cultures interact, and have knowledge of different cultural
practices and world views.” Bryant believes schools need to be intentional about developing
cultural competence, including: an inventory of classroom practices and curriculum; a task
force to develop a schoolwide philosophy and strategy; workshops, guest speakers, and book
studies; consultation; and individual and small-group interventions. She identifies three
especially important areas:
• Stereotypes – Assumptions about group characteristics (for example, goths wear
black, are depressed, and hate society) cause endless problems in schools. Bryant suggests
ways educators can combat stereotypes:
– Intentionally acknowledge and value every student’s identity.
– Foster growth mindsets to counter messages about fixed characteristics.
– Hold all students to high standards and assure them that they’re capable of success.
– Provide timely, specific feedback that steers students toward success and instills
confidence that they can meet standards.
Counteracting glib, thoughtless stereotyping is continuous, day-by-day work in schools.
• Implicit bias – Educators’ unconscious beliefs about students’ abilities and behavior
can produce disproportionate disciplinary consequences, distort referrals to special education
and gifted classes, and lead to hurtful comments – for example, as one of the only students of
color in her high-school classes, Bryant sometimes received compliments for how well she
knew a topic – compliments that weren’t given to white students. She suggests several ways to
combat implicit bias:
– Self-assess and acknowledge the unconscious biases we all have.
– Cultivate an inclusive classroom and school climate that mitigates potential biases.
– Expose students to counter-stereotypical speakers and images.
– Gather feedback from students in surveys and small-group discussions.
– Collect data on discipline referrals and enrollments in different programs.
Bringing hidden biases into the light of day often leads to positive change.
• Microaggressions – Educators and students are often unaware of everyday slights,
snubs, comments, or insults directed toward colleagues or classmates. Some examples:
continuing to mispronounce someone’s name after being corrected; scheduling tests and
project due dates on religious or cultural holidays; expecting students to “represent” the
perspectives of their race, gender, or religion in class discussions; assigning curriculum
projects with high financial costs; and complimenting a non-white student for “good English.”
Bryant suggests these ways of combatting microaggressions:
– Focus on impact. Many microaggressions are unintentional, but they still hurt.
– Understand how being “colorblind” minimizes a student’s cultural background and
– Don’t assume all students have a good command of U.S. culture and the English
– When expressing political opinions, understand the risk of silencing students who don’t
– Make sure guest speakers are clear about lesson objectives.
– Speak from your own experience without comparing your oppression to that of others.
“A Lifelong Process” by Monica Bryant in ASCA School Counselor, July-August 2020 (Vol.
57, #6, pp. 38-41); Bryant can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Jennifer Gonzalez on Blogs Students Can Write
In this Cult of Pedagogy article, Jennifer Gonzalez says blogs have great potential for
classroom assignments. “It’s not only a highly relevant form of writing,” she says, “but
because it’s done entirely online and worked on over time, it would also lend itself beautifully
to remote or hybrid learning… Regardless of what line of work our students go into later in
life, there’s a high probability that they will be reading or writing blog posts as part of that
Gonzalez suggests six types of blogs students can create, all residing on a website that
serves as a platform for their work:
• A single-project blog – This documents a project from beginning to end – how the
idea was conceived, research and planning, different stages, the final product, and its impact or
outcome. Some examples: a community service project, a learning blog to develop a particular
skill, a description of a trip or journey, and a performance such as a talent show, play,
ceremony, or celebration.
• A special-interest blog – This might be a topic in a science or social studies class, for
example, a cause like environmentalism, a historical period, a country or culture, a skill area, a
health-related topic like nutrition or mental health, a musical performer, or a hobby.
• A portfolio blog – This showcases a collection of a student’s work, containing an
artifact, an introduction or reflection on how it came about, and insights on the process by
which it was created. Some examples: short stories, poetry, chapters of a novel or memoir,
photographs, paintings, sculptures, comic strips, videos, music, and mixed media.
• A journalistic blog – This tells the story of something happening now, perhaps
including photos or videos – for example, school-related, community, or family news.
• A review blog – The writer (or a group of writers) reviews new or established
offerings – music, movies, TV shows, books, restaurants, video games, websites, TikTok,
YouTube, and other platforms.
• An advice or how-to blog – This type gives advice or instructions on a specific topic,
for example relationships, academics, hobbies, sports, or technology.
When students begin a blog, as when they prepare for a research paper or presentation,
they need to choose a focus. Gonzalez lists some key considerations:
– The six types of blog listed above can help students choose; some could be combined.
– The target audience is a good starting point.
– A personal angle can enhance students’ engagement.
– Students might have more than one blog going at a time.
Students may want to go beyond school with add-ons like these:
– Linking to social media accounts;
– Defining a “brand” via the blog’s title and tagline;
– Figuring out a way to monetize the blog (this requires permission);
– Deciding on a regular schedule and sticking to it.
Finally, here are Gonzalez’s suggestions for assigning and assessing student blogs, which are
ideally long-range projects with lots of feedback along the way:
– Define assessment criteria up front; she recommends a simple rubric, ideally developed
– Criteria might include: purpose, audience, development, organization, style and tone,
effective and ethical use of multimedia, writing mechanics, and technical functionality.
“A Few Creative Ways to Use Student Blogs” by Jennifer Gonzalez in Cult of Pedagogy, July
3. Language in Math Classes That Can Subtly Discourage Students
In this article in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, Patrice Waller
and Alison Marzocchi (California State University/Fullerton) say that teachers’ choice of
words can sometimes undermine the goal of inclusive, effective instruction. The language
teachers use is especially important for students who believe they don’t have the “math gene.”
“In the United States,” say Waller and Marzocchi, “mathematics achievement is often viewed
as a proxy for ‘smartness,’ which can have detrimental effects on students’ identities.
Moreover, well-documented gaps in mathematics opportunities exist along racial, ethnic,
gender, and linguistic lines. Thus, teachers must make deliberate attempts to present
mathematics in an inclusive, accessible, and interesting way for every student.”
Waller and Marzocchi have identified three categories of math classroom language they
believe teachers need to be especially sensitive to as they work to create inclusive and effective
• Teacher/expert-centered classroom language – “When using language that indicates a
higher power in mathematics,” say the authors, “students may see themselves as outsiders from
this elite community of mathematicians.” Some examples:
– The teacher says, “I like to do it by…” This privileges one way of solving a problem
(that teacher’s preference), short-circuiting student agency and creativity. A better
approach: “Let’s take a look at this solution and see if we can make sense of it.”
– The mysterious “they” – for example, “They might give it to us in this form.” “This
makes it seem as though there is a secret controlling inner circle of mathematicians,”
say Waller and Marzocchi. “Students may feel far below the ranks of this privileged
elite, making mathematics seem inaccessible and unattainable.” A better approach:
“Let’s see what happens when we use a different form.”
– Test prep… “Mathematics is presented as hoops to jump through,” say the authors,
“with the hoops being placed by powers outside of their control.” This prevents
students from exploring math “for enjoyment, curiosity, or for the sake of learning.” A
better approach: “Turn to your partner and discuss new curiosities you have. What
would you like to explore next?”
– The teacher verifying correctness when solutions are shared – All eyes are on the
teacher to see what is right and what is wrong. A better approach: “Thank you for
sharing your solution. What do others think?”
The key is moving away from a teacher/authority-centered dynamic and empowering students.
• Product-over-process language – “Overemphasizing speed, correctness, or certain
processes over others could disadvantage students who are slower workers, who are still trying
to build understanding, or who have unique strategies for solving problems,” say Waller and
Marzocchi. Some examples:
– The “right way” to do something – The standard procedure for solving a problem is
usually one of many possibilities. A better approach: “Let’s compare the different
strategies we’ve discovered throughout the week. Discuss in your groups which
strategies you think are more or less efficient and why.”
– Follow the steps/What’s the next step? – “Mathematics is not about following steps like
a robot!” say Waller and Marzocchi. A better approach: “What is the problem asking?”
and students provide multiple solution strategies.
– “We” are really understanding this – “When the majority of the class seems to be
understanding a concept,” say Waller and Marzocchi, “teachers may get excited and
think the whole class understands… But, it is unlikely that 100 percent of our students
have full understanding in the moment.” A better approach: “I love how we are
working through this together and trying to make connections between what we did
yesterday and what we are learning today. Let’s summarize where we are right now.”
– Clearly… Obviously… It’s easy… Of course… A concept or answer may seem self-evident to the teacher (for example, a number divided by one is itself), but it may not be
to some students. A better approach: “Hmmm, this looks familiar. 5 divided by 1. Turn
to your partner and see if you can remember the result of 5 divided by 1 and why.”
– Focusing on speed – “When engaging in timed activities,” say the authors, “only the
fastest students are able to practice the concepts. This deprives other students of
learning opportunities.” A better approach: Give students time, and choose problems
that can’t be solved quickly by any students.
In the alternative, say Waller and Marzocchi, the key is allowing students “to see value in
multiple solutions, justification, and productive struggle.”
• Language that can damage students’ identities – “To diversify our field,” say the
authors, “every student must be invited into the mathematics community regardless of
perceived talent, race, gender, ability status, or language… Myths and stereotypes about who is
or is not invited to do mathematics can be debunked by avoiding language that can damage
student agency.” Some examples:
– The myth of innate math ability – for example, an adult saying, “I was never good at
math either” or “Don’t worry, not everyone gets this.” A better approach: “Please take
out your journals and write something new you learned today and what you did to learn
– Labeling students “high” or “low” – “Mathematics is a discipline with a tarnished
history of labeling students,” say Waller and Marzocchi, which includes “ability”
groups within a class. A better approach: “We are learning so much from the variety of
solutions around the room. We should be proud of our hard work to explain our own
thinking and to understand the thinking of others. We learn better together.”
– Using gendered examples – for example, women baking cookies and men playing
catch. A better approach: use binary constructs only when they apply – for example,
people who own dogs and people who don’t.
– Making mathematics male – for example, a teacher says, “To solve this equation, we
need to divide by this guy.” This kind of language can subtly tell female students that
they don’t belong in the world of mathematics. A better approach: use non-gendered
“From Rules That Expire to Language That Inspires” by Patrice Waller and Alison Marzocchi
in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, July 2020 (Vol. 113, #7, pp. 544-550);
the authors can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. To Group or Not to Group, That Is the Question
In this Elementary School Journal article, Susan Kemper Patrick (Vanderbilt
University) reports on her study of within-class grouping of students in K-2 classrooms. Her
question: are homogeneous reading groups an effective way to differentiate, or do they stratify
a classroom, providing different levels of instruction and status to students based on their
reading levels? What did Patrick find? First, on average, students benefited from homogeneous
reading groups compared to whole-class reading instruction. But second, that effect depended
on which group students were in. Students in the middle or upper achievement groups made
more progress than those in the bottom group. “These results,” concludes Patrick, “support the hypothesis that homogeneous
grouping increases inequalities between students within the same class. Teachers and school
leaders deciding whether and how to group their students for reading instruction should think
carefully about the instructional experiences of students within different groups and consider
ways to ensure that students within the lowest reading groups receive equal access to rigorous
instruction and materials.”
“Homogenous Grouping in Early Elementary Reading Instruction” by Susan Kemper Patrick in
Elementary School Journal, June 2020 (Vol. 120, #4, pp. 611-635); Patrick can be reached at
5. A Study of High-School Start Times in Texas
In this article in AASA Journal of Scholarship and Practice, Holly Keown (Crandall
ISD, Texas) and Antonio Corrales, Michelle Peters, and Amy Orange (University of Houston/
Clear Lake) describe their study of 256 Texas high schools. The 15 superintendents they
interviewed were well aware of research recommending an 8:30 a.m. start time for high
schools (American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American
Academy of Sleep Medicine, and the National Sleep Foundation), but were frank about the
resistance they would encounter (or had encountered) trying to shift to opening high schools
later: athletics, after-school activities, students’ jobs, students caring for younger siblings,
family routines, and transportation schedules and costs. Most schools opened around 7:30, with
the latest start times around 7:50.
Several superintendents were skeptical about opening later, saying it was all about
parental supervision, good teaching, and students’ interest in school: parents who cared would
get their kids in bed earlier, effective teachers would find ways to engage students even if they
were sleep-deprived, and kids who cared would figure out a way to graduate whatever time
their school opened.
Looking at the data, the researchers did not find a strong correlation between start times
and student attendance, test-scores, and graduation rates – but that may have had something to
do with the narrow range of start times in these Texas high schools. Keown, Corrales, Peters,
and Orange are strongly persuaded by the research on opening later, and believe district leaders
should have teachers spend more classroom time on the effects of adolescent sleep deprivation,
and leaders should educate their communities on the benefits of starting high schools later –
including parents not having to battle every morning to get teenagers out of bed.
“Does Start Time at High School Really Matter? Studying the Impact of High-School StartTime on Achievement, Attendance, and Graduation Rates of High-School Students” by Holly
Keown, Antonio Corrales, Michelle Peters, and Amy Orange in AASA Journal of Scholarship
and Practice, Summer 2020 (Vol. 17, #2, pp. 16-33); the authors can be reached at
email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, PetersM@UHCL.edu, and Orange@UHCL.edu.
6. A Telling Court Decision on Value-Added Measures
In this Educational Researcher article, Mark Paige (University of Massachusetts/
Dartmouth) and Audrey Amrein-Beardsley (Arizona State University/Tempe) discuss a 2017
federal court decision that went against the Houston Independent School District’s use of
Value-Added Measures (VAM) to terminate teachers. Houston launched its value-added
system (EVAAS) in 2007, and several years later began non-renewing teachers and awarding
merit pay based on VAM data. Teachers pushed back, citing studies that showed significant
inaccuracies with VAM data and advised against using them for high-stakes employment
decisions. Teachers took the district to court, and in the 2017 decision, the judge ruled against
Houston, saying that its refusal to disclose the value-added formula and computer codes used
for terminations violated teachers’ procedural due process rights under the U.S. Constitution.
The case was ultimately settled, with Houston agreeing to stop using EVAAS and any
other VAM system as part of teacher evaluation. The district also paid teachers’ attorneys’ fees
and costs associated with bringing the lawsuit. Houston is now using a low-stakes, homegrown model to measure comparative student growth; its purpose is “to identify areas of
strength or concern” among teachers.
“State and school district lawmakers, policymakers, leaders, administrators, and
teachers,” say Paige and Amrein-Beardsley, “should recognize the significance of Houston.”
This is important since what they call “policy inertia” has led more than half of states to
continue using VAM data as part of their teacher-evaluation systems.
“‘Houston, We Have a Lawsuit’: A Cautionary Tale for the Implementation of Value-AddedModels for High-Stakes Employment Decisions” by Mark Paige and Audrey Amrein-Beardsley in Educational Researcher, June/July 2020 (Vol. 49, #5, pp. 335-359); the authors
can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
7. Another Nail in the Coffin of VAM Evaluation of Teachers
In this article in Educational Researcher, Allison Atteberry and Daniel Mangan
(University of Colorado/Boulder) report on their study of the sensitivity of value-added
measures (VAM) of teachers’ performance. Atteberry and Mangan explain that there are three
possible ways that scores on standardized tests, which are usually given in the fall or spring,
can be used to measure an individual teacher’s contribution to student learning for a given
– Spring to spring – Compare students’ test-score gains from the previous spring to their
scores in the spring of the teacher’s current year of instruction (this is almost always
what is used).
– Fall to fall – Compare students’ test-score gains from the fall, as the teacher begins the
school year, to the following fall (this approach is rarely used).
– Fall to spring – Compare students’ test-score gains from the fall to the spring of the
same school year (this almost never happens since students take state tests only once a
year). Note that the first two of these approaches accidentally absorb some student summer gains and
losses. In the first model, the test-score gain starting point comes from the end of the prior
school year, and so the summer before the teacher starts working with students is included as
part of their students’ gains. In the second model, the test-score gain endpoint comes from the
start of the subsequent school year, and so the summer after the teacher has stopped working
with students is included. In both cases, say Atteberry and Mangan, this could be unfair to
teachers, since what happens (or doesn’t happen) over the summer is not within their control.
These accidentally-included summer learning gains (or losses), say the researchers, may
explain why teachers could be ranked entirely differently based on VAMs from the first and
The only model that doesn’t have a summer mixed into students’ gains is the third –
test-score gains from fall to spring of the same school year. This model would be ideal, since it
conflates neither the summer before nor the summer after with the teacher’s effect. But this
model is almost never used because schools give standardized tests only once a year.
This study, like others of value-added measures, raises major concerns about using
VAM for high-stakes evaluation of teachers – especially using the less-than-ideal first model.
Why does this matter? As of 2019, 26 states require that teacher evaluations use student growth
data based on standardized tests – this despite the fact that the 2017 federal ESSA law no
longer requires that student test scores be part of states’ teacher-evaluation process.
“The Sensitivity of Teacher Value-Added Scores to the Use of Fall and Spring Test Scores” by
Allison Atteberry and Daniel Mangan in Educational Researcher, June/July 2020 (Vol. 49, #5,
pp. 335-349); the authors can be reached at Allison.Atteberry@Colorado.edu and
8. Being Decisive without Being Obnoxious
In this Leadership Freak article, Dan Rockwell suggests how a leader can be decisive
without offending colleagues:
• Stick with your expertise. “You’d better know what you’re doing if you’re decisive,”
says Rockwell. “Remember that an expert in one area is ignorant in many others.”
• Respect the horses in the barn. Play to colleagues’ strengths.
• Force yourself to reach out. “Seek advice from someone who seeks your best
interest,” says Rockwell, “and is willing to hurt your feelings.”
• Practice timely optimism. “You need realism when choosing goals and optimism
when implementing,” he says. “People who aren’t climbing the hill underestimate the difficulty
of climbing the hill.”
• Focus on what, not how. It’s best if the leader decides what to do, with competent
colleagues figuring out how to do it.
• Take responsibility for disappointing results. Blaming others for failures will lead to
disengaged team members.
• Learn to develop people. This might mean slowing down a little and bringing others
into the decision-making process.
“7 Ways to Be Decisive Without Being a Jerk” by Dan Rockwell in Leadership Freak, July 13,
9. Recommended Books of Poetry for Children
In this article in Language Arts, Grace Enriquez and Erika Thulin Dawes (Lesley
University), Gilberto Lara (University of Texas/San Antonio), and Mollie Welsh Kruger (Bank
Street College of Education) list their favorite books of poetry from 2019 (click the link below
for cover images and short reviews):
• I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage, compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins,
illustrated by various artists (Lee and Low)
• The Proper Way to Meet a Hedgehog and Other How-To Poems, edited by Paul
Janeczko, illustrated by Richard Jones (Candlewick)
• Thanku: Poems of Gratitude, edited by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Marlena Miles
• Snowman – Cold = Puddle: Spring Equations by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by
Micha Archer (Charlesbridge)
• The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson (Versify)
• Lion of the Sky: Haiku for All Seasons by Laura Purdie Salas, illustrated by Mercè
• Predator and Prey: A Conversation in Verse by Susannah Buhrman-Deever,
illustrated by Bert Kitchen (Candlewick)
• The Women Who Caught the Babies: A Story of African-American Midwives by Eloise
Greenfield, illustrated by Daniel Minter (Alazar)
• The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper, illustrated by Carson Ellis (Candlewick)
• The Day the Universe Exploded My Head: Poems to Take You into Space and Back
Again by Allan Wolf, illustrated by Anna Raff (Candlewick)
• Wild in the Streets: 20 Poems of City Animals by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Gordy
Wright (Words and Pictures)
• The Taco Magician and Other Poems for Kids/El Mago de los Tacos y Otros Poemas
Para Niños by Diane Gonzales Bertrand (Piñata)
• Ink Knows No Borders: Poems of the Immigrant and Refugee Experience, edited by
Patrice Vecchione and Alyssa Raymond (Seven Stories)
“2019 Notable Poetry Books for Children” by Grace Enriquez, Erika Thulin Dawes, Gilberto
Lara, and Mollie Welsh Kruger in Language Arts, July 2020 (Vol. 97, #6, pp. 391-399)
10. Culturally Relevant Books for a Boys’ Book Club
In this article in Language Arts, school administrators Jennifer Turner and Alan Bailey
describe the “Brilliant Boys’ Book Club” they ran for fifth graders in a Washington, D.C.
school. One feature of the club was putting culturally relevant books in boys’ hands. Here’s
– All the Right Stuff by Walter Dean Myers
– As Brave As You by Jason Reynolds
– Bad Boys: A Memoir by Walter Dean Myers
– For Every One by Jason Reynolds
– Game by Walter Dean Myers
– Ghost by Jason Reynolds
– Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia
– Hoops by Walter Dean Myers
– Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
– Just Write: Here’s How by Walter Dean Myers
– Slugg: A Boy’s Life in the Ages of Mass Incarceration by Tony Lewis Jr.
– Miles Morales: Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds
– Monster by Walter Dean Myers
– Patina by Jason Reynolds
– Slam by Walter Dean Myers
– The Black Panther by Ta-Nehisi Coates
– The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds
– The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
– The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
– The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
– The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life by Kwame
“Beyond ‘Broken Tests’: Supporting Powerful Reading for Urban Boys Through the BrilliantBoys’ Book Club” by Jennifer Turner and Alan Bailey in Language Arts, July 2020 (Vol. 97,
#6, pp. 376-383)
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