In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“We have no choice but to get better, faster, and fairer at remote learning for the sake of the ‘Covid Generation.’”
Michael Petrilli (see item #2)
“Now’s the time to finally face the reality that not every academic standard is equal.” Douglas Reeves (see item #4)
“Experience is a hard teacher. She gives the test first, the lesson afterward.”
Vernon Law (quoted in item #2)
“Most of the white students wind up going through the five stages of grief. It’s denial, anger, sadness, depression, then mad again because they should have known this stuff.”
Hasan Jeffries (see item #5)
“If you often ask, ‘Does that make sense?’, switch to asking, ‘Can you rephrase what I have said?’ If you do this often enough, students will become more conscious of their listening because they know you are going to ask them to rephrase what you have said instead of just nodding yes or no.”
Katie Alford in “Explicitly Teaching Listening in the ELA Curriculum: Why and How”
in English Journal, July 2020 (Vol. 109, #6, pp. 22-29); Alford can be reached at
1. Will We Ever Get Out of the Woods with This Pandemic?
In a Boston Globe article (originally published in STAT), Helen Branswell reports on what she learned from interviews with experts on infectious diseases. Here are their educated guesses as to how the coronavirus pandemic will ultimately play out:
• Sterilizing immunity – Measles is a “once-and-done” disease; if you’ve had it, you’re virtually assured of not getting it again. But Covid-19 doesn’t appear to act that way.
• Functional immunity – The evidence so far is that once people have had Covid-19, or been vaccinated, they develop antibody defenses. A second infection may occur, but it’s likely to be milder and not land them in an ICU. Researchers think this is the most likely scenario. Of course people who have never had Covid-19 and aren’t vaccinated could get a serious case of the disease. And billions of people around the world who haven’t been exposed will need to be vaccinated, which may take years.
• Waning immunity – This is a variation on functional immunity, with the body’s defenses getting weaker over time. But reinfections are likely to be less severe, perhaps with no symptoms. This has been the pathway of the four coronaviruses that cause about 15 percent of common colds.
• Lost immunity – Under this scenario, people who have had Covid-19 lose immunity after a period of time. None of the experts Branswell interviewed thought this would happen. If they are correct, the threat of the coronavirus will wane over time. “Our immune systems will know how to deal with it,” she says. “It could become the fifth human coronavirus to cause common colds.”
“Four Scenarios for Covid-19 Immunity” by Helen Branswell in The Boston Globe, August 30, 2020
2. Lessons Learned During the Spring on Effective Remote Instruction
“We have no choice but to get better, faster, and fairer at remote learning for the sake of the ‘Covid Generation,’” says Michael Petrilli in his introduction to this Thomas B. Fordham Institute white paper. Gregg Vanourek summarizes key action steps from eight high-performing charter networks:
• Meet students’ social, emotional, and nutritional needs. “How are you doing?” was the starting point for every conversation in one network. Another did daily individual check-ins with teachers and students, while a third orchestrated a weekly touch-point with advisors. A network in Washington, D.C. modified Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as follows:
– Are students safe and fed?
– Do they know they are loved and missed?
– Do they have the coping skills to deal with this crisis?
– Do they have access to materials and tech?
– Are they learning?
One network lightened things up by sharing funny cooking videos and bedtime stories with students.
• Quickly place technology in the hands of every student and educator. The pandemic spotlighted a “festering problem of digital inequality,” says Vanourek, with many students having to share devices at home and lacking Internet access (or robust-enough access to do their schoolwork). Surveying families and filling gaps was an immediate priority, as was adopting effective platforms and ensuring data security and privacy.
• Re-create the structure of the regular school day and regular grading. Some of the key design principles were: simple, consistent routines and schedules; a blend of structure and flexibility; attendance monitoring; clear learning expectations geared to next-grade success; high-quality materials and instructional videos; a grade-appropriate blend of synchronous and asynchronous instruction; monitoring student engagement and learning; educator availability; communicating with families; special attention for students who were struggling; and clear roles for educators and parents on teaching versus support. All but one of the charter networks continued to grade student work.
• Reach out to individual students and families on a regular basis. This involved reducing the number of students each educator was responsible for (usually 12-15) and being systematic about connecting on a regular schedule on emotional and academic dimensions, especially for students with IEPs. Communication took place in one-on-one chats, advisory groups, e-mails, texts, social media, newsletters, and larger “town hall” meetings.
• Embrace a team approach to teaching, with a common curriculum at the center.
“A key challenge during the crisis,” says Vanourek, “was clarifying roles and expectations, not just for students and parents but also for teachers.” Teacher teams created common lessons, videos, and assessments to reduce the prep load on individual teachers. There were also cross-functional teams to deal with operations, technology, culture, social media, teacher training, and crises. Some additional recommendations on teaching and learning:
– Take what worked in regular school and use it as the foundation for remote learning.
– Focus on fundamentals – for example, reading as a gateway to learning in all subjects.
– Make sure that lessons get students interacting with materials, instructors, and peers.
– Leverage peer learning and collaboration tools.
– Provide frequent feedback to students.
– Assess frequently, monitor progress, and intervene strategically.
– Encourage educators to maintain a growth and innovation mindset.
“Schooling Covid-19: Lessons from Leading Charter Networks from Their Transition to Remote Learning” by Gregg Vanourek, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, August 2020
3. Maximizing Student Engagement in Remote Classes
In this Edutopia article, Emelina Minero reports on her interviews with educators on how they have been enhancing student participation in a virtual environment.
• Spider web discussions – Before class, students independently answered questions, then shared their responses at the start of a live Google Meet discussion. While students talked, the teacher listened and drew lines on a diagram of the class, tracking student-to-student interactions. At the end of the discussion, the teacher showed the resulting “spider web” via video and asked students to reflect on the experience: who talked, who listened, who built on others’ ideas.
• Using Chat to check for understanding – One third-grade teacher had students use emojis in Google Chat to show whether they understood what was being presented (one emoji at a time!). A kindergarten teacher had students type T for true and F for false in the Zoom Chat area as she posed questions, which gave her feedback on learning and provided basic keyboarding practice.
• Flipping – A high-school math teacher had students listen to a recorded video before class and engage in a couple of online activities. At the start of the live class, students briefly summarized the concepts they had learned, then divided into breakout rooms to solve related problems. This format allowed the teacher to spend less time on formal instruction and tune in when students were struggling.
• Think-pair-share to Zoom – Middle-grade students were given a prompt, broke into small groups, and recorded their answers in a shared Google Doc, which kept students accountable. Returning to the whole class, a volunteer from each group shared their answers.
• Think-write-share – A secondary teacher had students find an image that showed intergenerational connections and respond independently to the following questions before joining an all-class discussion: What are we looking at? What makes you say that? What do you notice/see/feel/know? What more can we uncover? What do you wonder?
• Online forums – A high-school English teacher used Google Classroom’s question feature to get her classes responding to readings and discussion prompts during remote learning time. As students responded, she replied with clarifying questions, creating a back-and-forth dialogue. Students were also asked to respond to at least two of their peers’ comments. A fifth-grade teacher used Nearpod Collaborate, a virtual collaboration board, to get students sharing images and writing responses to show what they learned from an article. She added another feature: students used Flipgrid so they could hear their peers’ voices, even though they were asynchronous.
• Virtual gallery walks – A high-school social studies teacher asked students to present five-minute screencasts on their projects. Classmates toggled through them and provided feedback on at least two using Google Sheets, with these prompts: What is something new you learned about this topic? What is something that surprised you? What is something you liked about this presentation?
• Moving station brainstorming – A high-school social studies teacher divided students into groups online and created shared Google docs for his prompts and questions. Each group left their thoughts by the deadline and followed up by commenting on the other groups’ responses the following day.
“8 Strategies to Improve Participation in Your Virtual Classroom” by Emelina Minero in Edutopia, August 21, 2020
4. Joe Feldman and Douglas Reeves on Grading During Covid-Time
(Originally titled “Grading During the Pandemic: A Conversation”)
In this Educational Leadership feature, assessment experts Joe Feldman and Douglas Reeves discuss student grading during the pandemic. Some highlights:
• For starters, says Reeves, “The pandemic should teach us what we already should have known: many grading systems are broken… Now is the time to learn these lessons and make changes.”
• Because of the wide disparities in students’ schooling this spring, says Feldman, “We’ll need to be more focused on essential content, more explicit about what it takes to earn specific grades, more responsive and strategic with supports, and more expansive about how and when students can demonstrate what they know.” This might include report card Incompletes, with opportunities to catch up.
• Given learning losses caused by the shutdown, and the fact that many students were behind before the pandemic, says Reeves, “Now’s the time to finally face the reality that not every academic standard is equal.” That means deciding on power standards: essential to the next level, enduring through several grades, and providing leverage (e.g., writing).
• Grades must be accurate, says Feldman, reflecting student understanding, and equitable, not advantaging students fortunate with resources. Most important, grades should be used for diagnosis and prescription.
• Some students have tougher home challenges, says Reeves, but “providing students sympathy or diminished expectations doesn’t answer the challenges of inequity. Providing them engagement, rigorous work, and supports during the school day does.” Effective, fair grading policies are part of that – evaluating students’ “latest and best evidence” of learning, not averaging work over time.
• It’s also important that grades are based on academic proficiency, says Reeves, not behavior, compliance, or attendance, and that teachers are explicit about what needs to be learned or produced to improve a grade. Feldman agrees, adding that extra-credit work and homework should not count for grades, since those give a leg up to students with home advantages.
• Feldman believes it was fine to shift to Pass/Fail/Incomplete during the spring, but disagreed with letting students choose between Pass/Fail and letter grades; that option was likely used by more-fortunate students, creating two-tiered grading data. For the fall, he supports a return to letter grades “if we’re confident that we can be accurate and equitable.”
• Reeves believes that going forward, Pass/Fail/Incomplete is okay for elementary students, but says it “can lead to devastating inequalities for secondary-school students… [F]or economically disadvantaged students who depend on high grades to qualify for scholarships for postsecondary education, Pass/Fail grades deprive them of the chance to compete for scarce scholarship dollars, and dramatically reduce the probability that they will have access to college or technical school. That is a path to inequity with lifelong consequences.”
“Grading During the Pandemic: A Conversation” with Joe Feldman and Douglas Reeves in Educational Leadership, September 2020 (Vol. 78, #1, pp. 22-27); the authors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
5. Suggestions for Teaching About Racism
In this article in The Boston Globe, author/researcher Linda K. Wertheimer synthesizes insights from scholars and teachers on teaching about racism in secondary schools (these come from the article with only minor changes):
Things to do:
– Before teaching about race, explore and recognize your own racial and ethnic identity.
– Cast a wide net to develop instructional materials, including resources from Facing History and Ourselves (see link below), Colorful Pages (geared to elementary schools), and university schools of education.
– Help foster a schoolwide culture that supports conversations about race and racism.
– Create a classroom community where students feel comfortable having difficult conversations.
– Set parameters for conversations on race, including a reminder that students should speak only for themselves and not for their entire race or ethnicity.
Things not to do:
– Don’t share personal opinions. Focus instead on guiding students, using history and facts, to reach their own conclusions about what constitutes racism.
– Don’t use simulations, such as slave auctions, as a teaching tool. They can be traumatic for students of color.
– Don’t ask students of color to share their experiences with racism unless they choose to do so.
– Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but be sure to own them if they happen.
– Don’t think of race and racism as a topic only for history classes. It can be taught as a part of literature, science, and other subjects.
Wertheimer quotes Hasan Jeffries, an Ohio State University history professor who hosts the Teaching Hard Historypodcast for Teaching Tolerance, on teaching about racism in mixed-race classrooms: “Most of the white students wind up going through the five stages of grief. It’s denial, anger, sadness, depression, then mad again because they should have known this stuff.” Jeffries suggests that teachers take care that students who are stuck in one of these stages don’t dominate a discussion.
6. Problems with Show-Me-What-You-Know Assessments
In this AMLE Magazine article, author/educator Lauren Porosoff says that asking students, Show me what you know is a problematic (although appealing) way to check for understanding. Here’s why:
• It might not elicit specific knowledge. To see whether students have a thorough grasp of what’s been taught, they need a more specific prompt. Porosoff gives a personal example: Learning that her husband-to-be spoke German, she asked him to say something in that language. “What do you want me to say?” he replied. “If I’d asked him to say, ‘I love how the light catches you as you sit on the couch reading,’” says Porosoff, “he could have done it.”
• Such an open-ended prompt privileges already-proficient students. For example, students may have made videos to demonstrate knowledge several times and have all the equipment and expertise ready to go, so they have an unfair advantage over classmates. Porosoff says it’s better to have a detailed rubric for a student product and carefully build the skills so all students can excel.
• It says that knowledge is static. “‘Show me what you know’ suggests that students have an existing body of knowledge that they will now put on display,” says Porosoff. “But students also build their knowledge in the process of doing tasks – including assessment tasks.”
• The show-me-what-you-know approach is teacher-centric. The unspoken message is that what students know doesn’t count until they show it to the teacher (it says show me). Of course this is true of all assessments, but Porosoff believes we can check for mastery in ways that give students more voice when we design tasks that matter to them personally – and to the world outside. She suggests asking these questions as we design an assessment task:
– What kinds of learning would this reveal?
– What learning opportunities would it create?
– How would this be a worthwhile use of your students’ time?
“Four Problems with ‘Show Me What You Know’” by Lauren Porosoff in AMLE Magazine, August 2020 (Vol. 8, #3, pp. 32-35); Porosoff is at firstname.lastname@example.org.
7. Driving School Improvement in 100-Day Cycles
In this English Journal article, Elizabeth Brockman (Central Michigan University) says that secondary-school writing prompts often train students to write one-sided essays. For example:
– Was Congress right to enact Title IX?
– Are teens addicted to their digital devices?
– Is the American Dream still possible?
“Students are typically rewarded for taking a firm yes-or-no stand,” says Brockman, “… and then supporting it with credible evidence, along with a respectful nod to the opposing view.” One middle-school teacher told students, “No fence-sitting!”
Brockman believes this approach does students a disservice because it teaches them to think in slanted, all-or-nothing terms, reinforcing negative societal norms. She quotes writing expert Joseph Harris: “We live in a culture prone to naming winners and losers, rights and wrongs. You’re in or out, hot or not, on the bus or off it.” Being trained in this mindset, says Brockman, is not the best preparation for living in a complex, diverse, conflict-ridden world.
The solution, she believes, is steering students toward writing argumentative essays that are convincing and defensible but also nuanced. This can be done by adding just three words – To what extent… – to writing prompts:
– To what extent was Congress right to enact Title IX?
– To what extent are teens addicted to their digital devices?
– To what extent is the American Dream still possible?
“This small, but robust, editorial change,” says Brockman, citing several classroom examples, “has the potential to change the outcome of students’ writing. Why? Because the phrase is an articulation that the topic at hand is not only debatable and defensible but also complex and multifaceted and, therefore, worthy of nuance. In so doing, ELA teachers have the power to guide all students – no matter their ability and confidence level – to take intellectual risks and to participate in more fully informed civil discourse.”
“Reframing Writing Prompts to Foster Nuanced Arguments: To What Extent?” by Elizabeth Brockman in English Journal, July 2020 (Vol. 109, #6, pp. 37-44); Brockman can be reached at email@example.com.
8. Life-Changing Insights for Young People with Autism
In this article in Psychology Today, Erin Bulluss and Abby Sesterka (Flinders University, Australia), share that they both were diagnosed with autism in their mid-30s. Growing up, they felt “alien and isolated, knowing they didn’t fit in but without understanding why.” An authoritative diagnosis shifted them “from a place of confusion, frustration, and obfuscation to one of understanding, self-acceptance, and radical authenticity.” Here’s what Bulluss and Sesterka wished they’d known when they were younger:
• Some things will never make sense to you. “For many people with autism,” they say, “rituals and customs remain as confusing in adulthood as they were in childhood.” Why hug an aunt you see only once a year? Why is it important to open the card before the gift? Nevertheless, conforming may keep the peace and maintain relationships.
• Follow your own lead. This might be moving your body in certain ways, making sounds to regulate emotions, or preferring to communicate by texting, writing, or drawing. “Suppressing such needs will only exacerbate your discomfort,” say Bulluss and Sesterka. “Sometimes you’ll find subtle ways to meet these needs so as to be discreet.”
• Pursue your passions. “Where some people seek solace in the social world,” they say, “we autistic people often find a similar sense of comfort in our passions, which can be a source of strength during difficult times.”
• Gravitate to those who understand. “Some people find a sense of belonging and connectedness in the autistic community,” say Bulluss and Sesterka; “other people find deep and genuine connections elsewhere.”
• You are autistic. “You see the world through an autistic lens,” they conclude, “which means you will see details that others miss, you will make connections that others can’t fathom, and you will experience intensity in ways that only an autistic mind can… You are not broken, or damaged, or wrong; you are superbly, supremely, splendidly autistic.”
“Five Messages for My Younger Autistic Self” by Erin Bulluss and Abby Sesterka in Psychology Today, September/October 2020 (Vol. 53, #5, pp. 30-31); the authors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com.
9. Supporting Students Who Stutter
In this Education Week article, Corey Mitchell reports that stuttering made national news during the Democratic National Convention when 13-year-old Brayden Harrington described how a certain presidential candidate had helped and encouraged him. Studies show that between five and ten percent of children stutter, sometimes for only a few weeks, sometimes for several years; boys are two to three times more likely to stutter than girls.
“The biggest challenge,” says Diane Paul of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, “is that people don’t understand that the stuttering itself doesn’t mean that what [people who stutter] have to say is less important.” Her organization has developed a toolkit on treatment options, widely held misconceptions, and support ideas. Here are some classroom suggestions from the toolkit:
– Be patient. Students who stutter need time to get their thoughts and words out. It’s not helpful when adults try to finish their sentences. A simple request for clarification works better.
– Monitor body language. Steady eye contact communicates that you’re interested and not frustrated with the stutterer’s communication delays.
– Build understanding. Students who stutter can take part in class discussions; it may clear the air for the stutterer to explain their condition to classmates, if they’re comfortable doing so.
– In Zoom classes, it’s important to use the “raise hand” feature, as well as having a “pause rule” between speakers so students don’t interrupt or talk over classmates who stutter.
“How to Support Students Who Stutter in Class” by Corey Mitchell in Education Week, August 28, 2020
10. Does Accelerating Students Harm Their Midlife Prospects?
In this Education Gadfly article, Jeff Murray reports on a Vanderbilt University study about whether double promotions or being given advanced coursework is detrimental to students’ long-term social-emotional development. Following up when academically accelerated students were 50 years old, researchers found these adults were at or above average in general well-being and life satisfaction and had no apparent ill effects. This was equally true of men and women.
These findings are reassuring for those who might be worried about acceleration. In fact, says Murray, “parents and educators should consider the potential harm of not providing robust academic challenges for these students at the earliest possible opportunity.” But he adds that there’s a lot we don’t know about this area, so the research should be taken “with a grain of salt.”
“The Gifted Kids Are All Right” by Jeff Murray in Education Gadfly, August 26, 2020
11. Which Colleges Have the Biggest Long-Term Payoff?
This Chronicle of Higher Education article ranks two- and four-year colleges on their 40-year “return on investment,” weighing the cost of college against what graduates can earn down the road. The top ten might surprise you:
– Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
– St. Louis College of Pharmacy
– Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
– Massachusetts Institute of Technology
– Stanford University
– Maine Maritime Academy
– Babson College
– Harvard University
– Georgetown University
– U.S. Merchant Marine Academy
“Return on Investment – 40 Years After Enrollment” by Audrey Williams June in The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 21, 2020 (Vol. 66, #36, p. 7)
12. Short Items:
a. Online Teaching Resources – Andrew van Zyl, a school librarian in Cape Town, South Africa, has been compiling “Scoops” (collections of digital curriculum resources in different subject areas) for his colleagues for eight years, and has recently started making them available free online. You can check out his evolving collection here.
“Scoop.It!” by Andrew van Zyl, 2020
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