In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“If you can smell what I had for lunch, you’re getting my air, and you can be getting virus particles as well.”
Julian Tang, respiratory sciences professor, University of Leicester, United Kingdom,
in “Study Finds Evidence Virus Can Float in Air for Minutes Longer” by Benedict
Carey and James Glanz in The New York Times, July 31, 2020
“Children will need a trusted adult with whom to share their troubles. Research on previous disasters shows that a teacher is most likely that trusted adult, but whether that teacher’s response is supportive determines whether students’ well-being improves.”
Micere Keels in “Preparing Educators for the Challenge Ahead” in Education Update,
August 2020 (Vol. 62, #8, pp. 1, 4)
“Conversations about technology tend to get at the how and where of instruction, but what is taught remains paramount.”
Eric Hirsch and Courtney Allison in “Do Your Materials Measure Up?” in The
Learning Professional, August 2020 (Vol. 41, #4, pp. 28-31)
“When leaders try to do too many things – even with the best of intentions – little gets done.”
Robert Eaker and Douglas Reeves (see item #7)
“In the high school classroom you are a drill sergeant, a rabbi, a shoulder to cry on, a disciplinarian, a singer, a low-level scholar, a clerk, a referee, a clown, a counsellor, a dress-code enforcer, a conductor, an apologist, a philosopher, a collaborator, a tap dancer, a politician, a therapist, a fool, a traffic cop, a priest, a mother-father-brother-sister-uncle-aunt, a bookkeeper, a critic, a psychologist, the last straw.”
Frank McCourt in Teacher Man (2005), p. 19
1. With Remote Instruction, Should Teachers Work at Home or in School?
In this Education Week article, Mark Lieberman weighs the pros and cons of schools starting with remote instruction, with teachers working from their empty classrooms:
• Advantages – In school, teachers have ready access to teaching tools, classroom objects, technology, and a robust Internet connection (no more teaching from the school parking lot or Starbucks). Going to school every day also creates a boundary between work and personal life. Being in the classroom gives teachers a chance to plan how desks and other furniture will be arranged and how instruction will work when in-person schooling resumes. During live video lessons, students will get a sense of normal classroom life versus their teachers’ dining rooms. Seeing the classroom every day may be especially helpful for students with disabilities. Finally, having educators in school makes in-person professional meetings possible.
• Concerns – Working with other adults in a school building, even with social distancing and meticulous disinfecting, poses a risk of infection; this is especially worrisome for educators who are more vulnerable to Covid-19. One teacher in Arizona died after contracting the coronavirus while teaching in a summer school classroom with two colleagues. Then there’s the question of who will take care of teachers’ own children if they are learning from home. The Richmond, Virginia schools decided against having teachers work from school and supplied them with a home teaching kit that included a document camera, magnetic whiteboard easel, office supplies, and a virtual background to use in their homes. For teachers whose apartments were too cramped for teaching, the district offered alternative workspaces.
“Teaching in an Empty Classroom During Covid-19: Benefits and Drawbacks” by Mark Lieberman in Education Week, August 4, 2020
2. Starting the Year with an Assessment of Students’ Literacy Skills
In this Edutopia article, North Carolina eighth-grade teacher Kasey Short describes how she plans to get a handle on the skills, knowledge, and social-emotional status of her incoming students (either remotely or in person):
• Information from sending teachers – Short has reached out to seventh-grade colleagues for information on the concepts and skills that weren’t fully covered in the spring, as well as areas her colleagues believe were a challenge for students during remote instruction. She has also asked for the last piece of formal writing students did before the summer; she’ll look at how students did with grammatical concepts, transitions to connect ideas, supporting a thesis with examples, and logical organization.
• Grammar – Short will give a preassessment (using Socrative) to see where students are with subject-verb agreement, punctuation with commas, and distinguishing between types of clauses. Students will see their results immediately and set individual goals so they can measure progress when the same test is given at the end of the school year.
• Sprint writing assignment – After Short models the process, students will have seven minutes to write as continuously as possible on a list of topics, which will include their experience with remote learning, goals for the year, and extracurricular activities. They’ll write in Google Classroom, and Short will use the comments area of the platform to give feedback.
• Short story preassessment – The curriculum will begin with a short story unit, introducing two yearlong essential questions:
– What can we learn about humanity from literature?
– How does contemporary society impact individuals?
After reading the story, students will answer questions and participate in a discussion of the essential questions using a digital thread and a live discussion. Short will gather information on students’ reading comprehension, writing, grammar, and analytic skills, use of text details to support ideas, and ability to apply concepts from the text to the student’s world.
“Starting the Year with Adaptable Literacy Preassessments” by Kasey Short in Edutopia, August 7, 2020; Short can be reached at email@example.com.
3. Six Principles for Making Good Instructional Videos
In this article in The Effortful Educator, teacher/writer Blake Harvard shares what research has taught him about making instructional videos. This will be an important part of remote instruction with his Alabama high-school students this fall.
• Dynamic drawing – It’s better to draw graphics in real time than present them already drawn. “The ability of the student to be able to see the person (or at least the hand) leading the instruction provides powerful social cues and can assist with guiding learners’ attention,” says Harvard. He’s planning on getting the tools to record his whiteboard while he’s talking through lessons.
• Gaze guidance – It turns out that people learn better from a video lecture when the teacher alternates looking at the board and at students. This makes a lesson more natural (and more like face-to-face instruction) than looking only at the board or only at the camera.
• Generative activity – Students get more from an instructional video when they take summary notes, write an explanation, or physically imitate the teacher’s demonstration. Doing one of these activities (or being engaged in other ways) primes three cognitive processes:
– Focusing on and selecting important information;
– Organizing and mentally building a coherent structure;
– Integrating new information with relevant prior knowledge.
“Engaging in these processes during learning supports later performance on transfer tests,” says Harvard, “and promotes deeper learning.”
• Perspective – Students learn better from a narrated demonstration (for example, a lab in a science class) when it’s filmed from a student’s-eye view. This makes the demonstration more like what students would experience themselves.
• Subtitles – In a video, there are three channels for communicating content: images, spoken words, and printed words. Teachers need to be careful not to overload students’ working memory, which usually means using only two modes at once. This is especially important with students working in their second language.
• Distractions – Learning can suffer when interesting but irrelevant words or graphics are added to a multimedia lesson to make it more entertaining. “This may cause a learner to engage in extraneous cognitive processing, permitting less working memory capacity available to commit to the processing of relevant information,” says Harvard. He admits that he loves to insert jokes or stories into videos, but realizes that this may detract from what he’s trying to accomplish.
“Principles to Improve the Effectiveness of Instructional Videos” by Blake Harvard in The Effortful Educator, August 3, 2020
4. Improving Racial Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Workplace
“Intractable as it seems, the problem of racism in the workplace can be effectively addressed with the right information, incentives, and investment,” says Robert Livingston (Harvard University’s Kennedy School) in this Harvard Business Review article. “Organizations are relatively small, autonomous entities that afford leaders a high level of control over cultural norms and procedural rules, making them ideal places to develop policies and practices that promote racial equity.” Here is Livingston’s five-step process, which he’s used successfully with a variety of organizations:
• Problem awareness – Studies show that as a group, white Americans believe anti-black racism has decreased over the last 50 years, and most believe anti-white discrimination is as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other people of color; 57 percent of all whites and 66 percent of working-class whites held this belief in studies before the murder of George Floyd. (Surveys taken since then show a shift toward greater awareness of systemic racism, but Livingston says it’s too early to tell if this is a permanent shift.)
Recognizing racial discrimination in the workplace is hampered by the fact that most businesses and schools have anti-discrimination policies and believe they’re already doing a lot. There’s also a belief that racism is the result of malicious intent – a few bad apples. The fact is that in almost all organizations, unconscious bias is operating to the detriment of people of color – in hiring, evaluation, promotion, and other more-subtle aspects of the culture. Recognizing this is essential. “Beliefs, not reality, are what determine how employees respond to efforts taken to increase equity,” says Livingston. “So the first step is getting everyone on the same page as to what the reality is and why it is a problem for the organization.” This really matters because in most organizations, cooperation among people from different racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds is key to success.
• Root-cause analysis – Sometimes discrimination comes from individuals’ cognitive biases, personality quirks, worldviews, insecurities, perceived threats, or ego. But most racial disparities stem from structural factors – laws, policies, and cultural norms. Understanding the underlying sources of racial issues is crucial to deciding on strategies. Livingston likens systemic racism to a river flowing downstream, exerting the same force on everything swimming in it. “Workplace discrimination often comes from well-educated, well-intentioned, open-minded, kindhearted people who are just floating along, severely underestimating the tug of the prevailing current on their actions, positions, and outcomes,” he says. “Anti-racism requires swimming against that current, like a salmon making its way upstream. It demands much more effort, courage, and determination than simply going with the flow.”
• Empathy – Livingston distinguishes between sympathy – which many whites feel about the effects of racism – and empathy – experiencing the hurt and anger felt by victims of mistreatment. He believes there are four possible responses to racism:
– Join in and add to the injury;
– Ignore it, mind one’s own business
– Feel sympathy and bake cookies for victims;
– Experience empathy and take effective action.
“People of color want solidarity – and social justice,” he says, “– not sympathy, which simply quiets the symptoms while perpetuating the disease.” Empathy can be fostered by well-planned educational experiences, a visit to a well-constructed exhibit or museum, first-person accounts from colleagues about racism and discrimination, and vicarious experiences like watching the video of George Floyd under the police officer’s knee, “which exposed people to the ugly reality of racism in a visceral, protracted, and undeniable way,” says Livingston.
• Strategies – He believes leaders must develop a plan that simultaneously addresses colleagues’ personal attitudes, informal cultural norms, and institutional practices. Dealing with only one of these (for example, instituting an equitable hiring process) risks backlash and resentment. “Just as there is no shortage of effective strategies for losing weight or promoting environmental sustainability,” says Livingston, “there are ample strategies for reducing racial bias at the individual, cultural, and institutional levels. The hard part is getting people to actually adopt them. Even the best strategies are worthless without implementation.”
• Sacrifice – Leaders have to orchestrate a willingness to invest the time, energy, and resources necessary, which means addressing three misconceptions. The first is the idea that equal treatment will result in fair outcomes. Actually, he says, treating people equally can result in perpetuating inequality. Equitable treatment may entail treating people differently in a way that promotes fairness. He gives the classic example of three people of different heights standing on crates to look over a fence; fairness dictates that the shortest person has the highest crate. He asks: “Does it make sense for someone with a physical disability to have a parking space closer to a building? Is it fair for new parents to have six weeks of paid leave to be able to care for their baby? Is it right to allow active-duty military personnel to board an airplane early to express gratitude for their service?” Livingston says yes to all three, but not everyone would agree – which demonstrates the challenge of getting consensus and seeing solutions as equitable, not “special” treatment or favoritism.
The second misconception is that increasing workplace diversity means letting quality and standards slide. But human potential is maximized when organizations take account of people’s different strengths and potential contributions to the organization and provide experiences that level the playing field.
The third misconception is that we know how to measure human performance. Not true, says Livingston, pointing to the fact that half of NFL first-draft picks are seriously disappointing – this despite expert scouts, extensive tryouts, and hours of video evidence. It’s better to think of performance in statistical bands rather than strict rank ordering. There won’t be any significant difference between a candidate who scored first out of 50 people and the candidate who scored eighth. If the eighth candidate was hired to improve diversity, quality has not been sacrificed. “Managers should abandon the notion that a ‘best candidate’ must be found,” says Livingston. “That kind of search amounts to chasing unicorns. Instead, they should focus on hiring well-qualified people who show good promise, and then should invest time, effort, and resources into helping them reach their potential.”
“How to Promote Racial Equity in the Workplace: A Five-Step Plan” by Robert Livingston in Harvard Business Review, September-October 2020 (Vol. 98, #5, pp. 64-72); Livingston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. One Way to Mitigate Bias When Grading Students’ Work
In this article in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, David Quinn (University of Southern California) reports on his study of how the grading scales teachers use to evaluate students’ writing can affect outcomes. Teachers read a second grader’s personal narrative, including either identifiably black names (Dashawn) or identifiably white names (Connor). The student’s hand-written essay contained errors, and teachers were asked to score it on two different scales, first a broad, holistic scale:
– Far below grade level
– Below grade level
– Slightly below grade level
– At grade level
– Slightly above grade level
– Above grade level
– Far above grade level
Teachers then scored the writing on a rubric with more clearly defined performance criteria. The instructions read: “Overall, where would you place this student’s writing on the following rubric for a personal narrative?”
– Provides a well-elaborated recount of an event.
– Recounts an event with some detail.
– Attempts to recount the event.
– Fails to recount an event
After teachers scored the writing, they answered online questions to gather data on their backgrounds and identify explicit and implicit racial bias.
When teachers evaluated the same piece of student writing using the first, holistic scale, there was clear bias favoring white students. When teachers scored the student writing using the detailed rubric, there was no racial bias: across the board, white and black students were scored similarly.
Quinn’s conclusion: “Teachers’ stereotypes may have more influence on their evaluations when they are not given clear, specific criteria on which to rate student work. In contrast, teachers may be less likely to draw on their stereotypes when they have less discretion over the criteria for evaluating students.”
The implication: while it may be worthwhile to provide teachers with professional development that identifies and mitigates racial bias, a more immediate and effective strategy is to require the use of clear and explicit grading criteria. This is urgent, Quinn says, because, “Teachers’ biased evaluation of student work may lead to a vicious cycle in which initial racially biased evaluations from a teacher cause lower future performance from students, which reinforces stereotypes held by teachers, which in turn leads to future bias in evaluations. This is a cycle over which teachers, school leaders, and district policies may be able to exert some influence in bias-minimizing ways.”
“Experimental Evidence on Teachers’ Racial Bias in Student Evaluation: The Role of Grading Scales” by David Quinn in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, September 2020 (Vol. 42, #3, pp. 375-392); Quinn can be reached at email@example.com.
6. Should Schools Be Color-Blind?
In this School Administrator article, Massachusetts superintendent Daniel Gutekanst says a white parent recently expressed concern about a curriculum program that taught students about racial differences and skin color. The parent said he was “color-blind,” treated all people equally, and thought the focus on race in classrooms would exacerbate racial tensions. Gutekanst disagreed. “Being color-blind whitewashes the circumstances of students of color and prevents me from being inquisitive about their lives, culture, and story,” he writes. “Color blindness makes white people assume students of color share similar experiences and opportunities in a predominantly white school district and community.”
While his school district strives to be inclusive and free of bias, Gutekanst acknowledges that “many students and families feel invisible or marginalized in our classrooms and community… Our students and staff of color experience the sting and pain of racism routinely, and educators must acknowledge this. We must ‘see’ them… Our intent is to embrace rather than dodge the awkward and difficult discussion about race in an effort to break down barriers, celebrate diversity, and share unique perspectives.”
In truth, says Gutekanst, young people have less difficulty than adults with these discussions.
“No, I Am Not Color Blind” by Daniel Gutekanst in School Administrator, August 2020 (Vol. 77, #7, pp. 12-13); Gutekanst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
7. Driving School Improvement in 100-Day Cycles
In this All Things PLC article, Robert Eaker (Middle Tennessee State University) and Douglas Reeves (Creative Leadership Solutions) push back on the widely held belief that it takes 3-7 years for reform efforts to produce results. They believe that by using a series of 100-day change cycles, big improvements can happen within one or two years. Here are the key steps:
• Clearly articulate core values. These communicate what educators will plan and allocate time for, promote, protect, model, defend, monitor, and celebrate. Significantly, value statements also tell what people will not do.
• Take an initiative inventory. “When leaders try to do too many things,” say Eaker and Reeves, “– even with the best of intentions – little gets done.” It’s essential to list every program and intervention and its implementation status – training, materials, rollout, data on impact – right down to the classroom level.
• Make a not-to-do list. Based on the inventory, leaders list the tasks, initiatives, projects, meetings, and e-mails that need to be stopped. This frees up time and energy to focus on what’s most important.
• Identify 100-day challenges. Leaders work with colleagues to decide on a few initiatives that will produce measurable results within 100 days. This builds confidence and credibility among students, adults, and the community, leading to long-term results.
• Use and monitor high-leverage practices. Examples include increased use of nonfiction writing in classrooms and implementation of effective data-driven teacher teams.
• Specify results. What’s measured should go beyond standardized test scores, say Eaker and Reeves, and include attendance, engagement, behavior, and teaching and leadership practices. Data from the first 100-day cycle will inform and drive choices for the next 100 days.
“Building Professional Learning Communities at Work Through 100-Day Cycles” by Robert Eaker and Douglas Reeves in All Things PLC, Summer 2020; their book is 100-Day Leaders: Turning Short-Term Wins Into Long-Term Success in Schools (Solution Tree, 2019). Reeves can be reached at email@example.com.
8. Preparing Students for College Reading, Writing, and Research
In this Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy article, Juliet Michelsen Wahleithner (California State University/Fresno) reports on her interviews with 18 first-generation college students who were demonstrably unprepared for the literacy demands of their freshman year courses. The students, who came from a number of communities in central California, reported that they were able to get honors grades in their high schools without putting in much effort. They were shocked by the kinds of reading, writing, and research they were expected to do in college.
Wahleithner believes most high schools were doing a commendable job promoting a college-going culture and encouraging students to pursue post-secondary education, but the level of rigor did not prepare students for college success. Part of the blame, she says, is high schools’ focus on preparing students for high-stakes state tests that ask students to do very little writing and higher-level thinking. Her observations and recommendations:
• Reading – Students’ high-school English teachers mostly assigned short stories, novels, and textbook passages, asking students to write short summaries. To be prepared for college, students need to read longer passages and books with complex disciplinary content and be asked to analyze them in greater depth, compare multiple texts, and analyze the credibility of what they are reading.
• Writing – Students reported that the only high-school writing they did was in class, and it consisted of one or two five-paragraph essays a year. This did not prepare them for their college’s content-focused, non-formulaic expectations for writing, and students felt they had to start from scratch learning how to write analytic essays, synthesize ideas from different sources, form their own opinions, and back them up with evidence.
• Research – Students’ high schools focused mainly on persuasive essays, giving students little experience with reading and analyzing research – perhaps one research paper in four years of high school. Wahleithner believes students should be doing mini-research projects across the curriculum throughout high school, gearing up to several serious projects in the upper grades.
“The High School-College Disconnect: Examining First-Generation College Students’ Perceptions of Their Literacy Preparation” by Juliet Michelsen Wahleithner in Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, July/August 2020 (Vol. 64, #1, pp 19-26); Wahleithner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
9. Recommended Books on Women’s Suffrage
In this article in School Library Journal, high-school librarian Alicia Abdul recommends books about the 19th Amendment and the limits of women’s suffrage (see the link below for cover images and short descriptions):
– Votes for Women!: American Suffragists and the Battle for the Ballot by Winifred Conkling (Algonquin, 2018), grade 6-12
– Lifting as We Climb: Black Women’s Battle for the Ballot Box by Evette Dionne (Viking, 2020), grade 5-7
– Vote!: Women’s Fight for Access to the Ballot Box by Coral Celeste Frazer (Lerner/Twenty-First Century, 2019), grade 6 and up
– March of the Suffragists: Rosalie Gardiner Jones and the March for Voting Rights by Zachary Michael Jack (Lerner/Zest, 2016), grade 7 and up
– Susan B. Anthony by Teri Kanefield (Abrams, 2019), grade 6-10
– Women Win the Vote!: 19 for the 19th Amendment by Nancy Kennedy, illustrated by Katy Dockrill (Norton, 2020), grade 5-8
– Thank You for Voting: The Past, Present, and Future of Voting by Erin Geiger Smith (Harper/Collins, 2020), grade 8 and up
– Roses and Radicals: The Epic Story of How American Women Won the Right to Vote by Susan and Todd Hasak-Lowy Zimet (Viking, 2018), grade 6 -8
– Yes No Maybe So by Becky and Aisha Saeed Albertalli (Harper/Collins/Balzer + Bray, 2020), grade 7 and up
– The Voting Booth by Brandy Colbert (Disney-Hyperion, 2020), grade 7-10
– Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights by Mikki Kendall, illustrated by A. D’Amico (Ten Speed, 2019), grade 10 and up
– The Life of Frederick Douglass: A Graphic Narrative of a Slave’s Journey from Bondage to Freedom by David Walker, illustrated by Damon Smyth and Marissa Louise (Ten Speed, 2019), grade 10 and up
“An Uncomfortable Truth: The 19th Amendment and the Limits of Women’s Suffrage” by Alicia Abdul in School Library Journal, August 2020 (Vol. 66, #8, pp. 42-44)
10. Short Items:
a. Video on the Racial Wealth Gap – This 30-minute documentary vividly explains how the gap in wealth by racial groups in the U.S. has grown since World War II.
“How the Racial Wealth Gap Was Created” from California Newsreel, 2005. This is one segment of a three-part documentary series, “Race – The Power of an Illusion.” For more information, and access to the full series, click here.
b. Selecting High-quality Curriculum Materials – EdReports has compiled free guidance on selecting first-rate classroom materials, especially suitable for use during the pandemic: https://www.edreports.org/resources/covid-19
“Do Your Materials Measure Up?” by Eric Hirsch and Courtney Allison in The Learning Professional, August 2020 (Vol. 41, #4, pp. 28-31)
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