In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“Consider teaching in a post-Covid world the most massive project-in-Beta ever. It’s going to be messy, but that’s how humans learn and grow and adapt. Continue to experiment, fall apart on the days when it’s your turn (because everyone seems to need a turn every now and then), ask students and parents for feedback, observe other teachers when you can, and most importantly, keep giving yourself and your students grace. We’re getting through this.”
Jennifer Gonzalez (see item #1)
“Make your voice more expressive, your eyes more expressive, your gestures more expressive. I would slow down my speech as a teacher, particularly when interacting with younger ones, so kids can pick up more from the auditory channel.”
Kang Lee (quoted in item #2)
“Relating science to social and personal issues is important because all students – not just those who will go on to attend college – will eventually use science to help them make decisions, be it about their health or how to vote in an election.”
Andrew Zucker and Pendred Noyce (see item #5)
“Being an educator is about imparting knowledge and information, but it’s also about guidance and mentorship… The educational environment is a place where kids can get that nurturing care on a daily basis.”
Nadine Burke Harris in “Responding to Student Trauma” in Educational Leadership,
October 2020 (Vol. 78, #2, pp. 12-13)
“The best practices for increasing faculty diversity are neither mysterious nor terrifically expensive.”
Gracie Lawson-Borders and David Perlmutter (see item #7)
1. Jennifer Gonzalez on Managing Hybrid and Remote Instruction
In this Cult of Pedagogy article, Jennifer Gonzalez reports on her Twitter outreach to hundreds of teachers around the U.S. who are dealing with a variety of Covid-related changes in their instruction. “Depending on who’s running your school,” says Gonzalez, “you may be expected to do any number of instructional gymnastics to keep all of these students engaged and on track.” Here’s her curation of good ideas:
• Create student cohorts. These groups might be students who are remote, those who are face to face, those who are on the A or B schedule, or some mixture of different groups. This makes it easier for students who are in the same boat to ask each other questions and support their classmates when the teacher isn’t available. It’s also possible to bridge students who are physically separated by assigning tasks or projects to pairs, one at home and the other in school. Get-to-know-you activities are helpful as cohorts are formed.
• Limit synchronous instruction. Times when all students are plugged in and participating in real time need to be “very limited and used intentionally,” says Gonzalez. Specific suggestions:
– Make synchronous time special – readalouds, readers’ theater, Shakespeare with parts for at-home and in-school students.
– Use synchronous time to briefly introduce an activity and then debrief at the end.
– Start a class with a short pre-recorded video that gives everyone a task and reviews that day’s agenda.
– Put everyone on Zoom, including students who are in the classroom.
– Check for understanding with apps like Pear Deck, Nearpod, Poll Everywhere, Mentimeter, and YoTeach!
– Have a backup plan for when technology fails, perhaps via choice boards.
– Differentiate synchronous instruction. For starters, does everyone need the same amount?
Many teachers are putting their lectures and direct instruction on videos that students watch (and re-watch) on their own schedule.
• Chunk the time. It’s “tremendously helpful,” says Gonzalez, “to break up the class period into designated chunks, where some students are learning directly from the teacher, others are working in groups, and others are working independently.” Ideally the structure should be visible and predictable. See the full article link below for Caitlin Tucker’s and Beth Alexander’s approaches to chunking.
• Intentionally build community. Here are some teachers’ strategies to nurture this very important element:
– Reserve time to get to know each other.
– Make using names a classroom norm.
– Create communal spaces online with apps like Slack, Teams, Padlet, and Parlay.
– Use lunch and recess for socializing.
– Use video, with students sharing brief recordings via Flipgrid.
– Play games with Kahoot, Quizizz, GimKit, Minecraft, and Crumple & Shoot.
Time spent on community building will be repaid instructionally.
• Experiment with more than one camera and screen. This might be two Zooms, with one camera on the board (or document camera), the other on the shared screen. In a hybrid situation, this gives at-home students more of a feel for what’s happening in the classroom. Some teachers communicate with those at home via Bluetooth earbuds and a microphone, so as not to disrupt in-person instruction. And Swivl cameras can track the teacher or follow group interactions for at-home students to watch.
• Optimize discussions. If these are synchronous and include at-home and in-school students, Gonzalez suggests:
– Establish norms – How students indicate they have something to say, time limits on participation, what’s best for Chat, muting, and more.
– Enable the Chat, because some students will feel more comfortable participating there.
– Have someone else monitor the Chat, with the class pausing occasionally for a report on what chatters are saying.
– Share questions ahead of time. Some teachers get students’ comments in advance and then call on them in the live discussion.
– Repeat students’ questions so everyone can hear and consider them.
– Deal with crickets. If awkward silences are a problem, it’s important to figure out the underlying reason. For example, more structure may be needed.
Gonzalez concludes: “Consider teaching in a post-Covid world the most massive project-in-Beta ever. It’s going to be messy, but that’s how humans learn and grow and adapt. Continue to experiment, fall apart on the days when it’s your turn (because everyone seems to need a turn every now and then), ask students and parents for feedback, observe other teachers when you can, and most importantly, keep giving yourself and your students grace. We’re getting through this.”
“How to Teach When Everyone Is Scattered” by Jennifer Gonzalez in Cult of Pedagogy, September 29, 2020
2. Adapting to Mask-Wearing
In this New York Times article, pediatrician/author Perri Klass asks whether adults wearing masks will interfere with children’s development in the crucial areas of speech, language, and social interactions. Klass interviewed Kang Lee (University of Toronto), who studies the development of facial recognition skills in children. Lee said there are three areas of concern with masks:
– Children under 12 focus on individual features and may have difficulty recognizing people.
– Masks cover some facial musculature, and that’s where a significant amount of emotional information is conveyed.
– Children may have problems recognizing speech because a good deal of verbal information is conveyed visually. Studies show that from the time they are babies, people look to speakers’ mouths to pick up cues about what’s being said.
Given that mask-wearing is essential to mitigating infection during the pandemic, how can parents and educators communicate effectively with children – and children with adults? Klass interviewed several other experts. Some insights:
• We need to give children credit for adaptability. “Being covered for a few hours every day isn’t going to make them less able to recognize social expressions,” says Eva Chen of Hong Kong University. Watching other people’s mouths is “by far not the only cue children have to communicate and to learn.”
• Children will adapt, says Sarah Gaither of Duke University. They’ll get better at reading people’s eyes and tone of voice.
• At the same time, says Gaither, adults should be more explicitly verbal when expressing emotions, and frequently check in on what young people are feeling.
• At home, when masks are not worn, families should maximize face-to-face verbal interaction so children get continued practice at picking up visual cues. Kids should also be encouraged to use more gestures when they talk.
• In school, consistency helps with students quickly recognizing people and tuning in to their individual style. Each educator might consider wearing the same eyeglasses, the same hairstyle, and the same personalized mask every day.
• Kang Lee adds this advice: “Make your voice more expressive, your eyes more expressive, your gestures more expressive. I would slow down my speech as a teacher, particularly when interacting with younger ones, so kids can pick up more from the auditory channel.”
• Children with neurodevelopmental issues (e.g., autism) will need special consideration.
“Class, Can You Hear Me Through This Mask?” by Perri Klass in The New York Times, September 14, 2020
3. Trauma-Informed Schooling – Done Right
(Originally titled “How Trauma-Informed Are We, Really?”)
In this article in Educational Leadership, educator/author Paul Gorski (Early Literacy Institute) says that when he was in elementary school, he was sexually abused repeatedly by an older boy in his neighborhood. “I carried that trauma everywhere,” says Gorski: “soccer practice, the dinner table, school. And I behaved in perfectly reasonable ways for a sexually abused child to behave. I was restless. I passionately resisted being in confined spaces with adults.” He was punished for “acting up” in school, and then punished again when his parents were told about his misbehavior. “I don’t recall anyone being curious about why I behaved the way I did,” he says. “There was no root cause behavior analysis, just reactive rule-flinging.”
When Gorski told this story to an elementary principal a few years ago, the principal asked how his teachers could have known what he was going through if he didn’t tell them. Gorski’s silent retort: “Does he really believe it was my responsibility to report something I didn’t understand to adults I didn’t trust? This principal’s ideological blockage caused him to retraumatize me during a conversation about trauma.” Ironically, the principal’s school was in the process of implementing trauma-informed practices, which Gorski believes wouldn’t be successful until the school’s leader resolved his own issues.
Gorski’s childhood experiences made him an advocate for trauma-informed education. But after hearing from students who are experiencing trauma in school, he believes that three commitments are necessary to having truly effective programs:
• Attend to the practices, policies, and aspects of institutional culture that traumatize students at school. These are sometimes egregious, such as a principal’s refusal to take a sexual assault survivor’s story seriously. But more commonly they are microaggressions that make school unbearable for some students – for example, for a transgender student who is the constant object of cruel remarks. “When we skip this step,” says Gorski, “we render the entire trauma-informed effort a hypocrisy.”.
• Infuse trauma-informed education with a robust understanding of, and responsiveness to, the trauma of systemic oppression. Schools need to tune in to societal prejudices that affect some students every day: racism, put-downs of economically disadvantaged students, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia.
• Dislodge hyper-punitive cultures and ideologies. Thinking of his own experience, Gorski recognizes that it’s difficult for schools to ascertain what’s really going on and stop reflexively punishing every violation of the rules. When a high-school student is ten seconds late for the same class every day, it may mean having the curiosity and persistence to figure out what’s really going on: he’s a closeted gay person, terrified his parents will discover the truth and kick him out of the house, who is being tormented by older students on an isolated corridor on the way to that class every afternoon, so he hides out until they’ve passed. Ironically, this story took place in a school that had implemented an impressive-sounding trauma-informed program.
“How Trauma-Informed Are We, Really?” by Paul Gorski in Educational Leadership, October 2020 (Vol. 78, #2, pp. 14-19)
4. Teaching Elementary Students to be Discerning with Evidence
“Typically, and for too many years, elementary social studies lessons have consisted of a single story,” say Muffet Trout (University of St. Thomas) and Jeff Sambs (St. Paul, Minnesota teacher) in this article in Social Studies for the Young Learner. They describe the very different depictions of Christopher Columbus that Sambs encountered as a student. His fifth-grade teacher portrayed Columbus as a hero (In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…), but a decade later a college professor said Columbus was a villain who stole and subjugated. Both instructors, say Trout and Sambs, “had missed the opportunity to help their students think with more complexity,” leaving them unskilled in the key social studies competency of being able to “read, reconstruct, and interpret the past” (National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies). It also left them unprepared for the key civic duty of deliberation – being able to discuss, listen, and come to a fair (not purely self-interested) resolution.
As a rookie elementary teacher, Sambs was determined to do better. He asked his fifth graders to look at the events of 1492 and 1493 through the lens of the European explorers and then from the point of view of the Indigenous people of the Caribbean. His students were able to do this quite well, and over the next 18 years, Sambs developed what he calls the Evidence on the U approach. The goal has been to support deep and complex student thinking and gradually place much of the responsibility for learning on students.
Here’s how it works. Groups of students examine a wide variety of paintings, original source documents, texts, and artifacts and debate where to place them on a U-shaped graphic, with evidence tending toward one point of view (for example, Columbus as hero) on one side, evidence supporting the opposite viewpoint somewhere on the other, evidence that’s more complex at the bottom. “We have found that the highest quality of conversation happens in that in-between spot,” say Trout and Sambs, “when resources do not reflect an extreme position. Students begin to focus on their justification, causing them to examine closely and think analytically, requisite skills for engaging in complex deliberation.” Using a U-shaped continuum rather than a straight line emphasizes the complexity of evidence and pushes back on the idea that the middle is where the truth always lies. For the final assessment, students are presented with new documents or artifacts and asked where they belong on the U-graphic, with grades based on how well they justify their decisions.
As a follow-up, Sambs sets up student chairs in his classroom in a large U and has students think through a provocative issue (for example, whether students should be required to wear uniforms), develop an argument somewhere on the continuum, and then sit in the location in the U corresponding to their argument. Students are then asked to shift to a new location and make the argument from that vantage point.
Sambs has found he can use the U graphic in several other curriculum areas, including when students write persuasive essays, explore current events, and present inquiry findings. He’s also found it helpful for discussing issues where there’s a continuum from one extreme to the other – for example:
– From colonizer to colonized – Guiding question: How does the process of colonization influence specific populations?
– From us to other – Guiding questions: How do we view people who are different from ourselves? In what ways are they different? How do we behave toward someone we see as “different”?
– From aggressive to passive response to a conflict – Guiding question: What are the costs and benefits to being aggressive, assertive, or passive when handling a conflict?
– From individual to community – Guiding question: How do you balance your rights as an individual with your responsibility to others?
– From private to public – Guiding question: What are some examples of personal freedoms (e.g., saying what you want) that are limited by public needs (e.g., safety, privacy, personal respect)?
“A Teaching Strategy to Strengthen Habits of Deliberation: The ‘Evidence on the U’ Graphic” by Muffet Trout and Jeff Sambs in Social Studies for the Young Learner, September/October 2020 (Vol. 33, #1, pp. 17-21); the authors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
5. Making Science More Relevant and Interesting for All Students
In this article in Education Week, science researcher Andrew Zucker and author Pendred Noyce point out that the 2013 Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) don’t say it’s important for students to learn about viruses and antibodies, immunization and vaccines, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. These topics are a matter of great urgency right now, say the authors, and should have been in place before the pandemic.
The coronavirus dominates this year’s news, but there are plenty of scientific and political questions that students should be pondering at appropriate points in the K-12 curriculum:
– Should certain vaccinations be required by law? If so, why?
– Who decides which medications are effective, and by what methods?
– How do we deal with and regulate pollution in our air and water, and contamination in the food supply?
– How can individuals and governments respond to climate change?
– Should laws allow humans to be cloned?
– How can we tell real science from questionable claims and junk science?
“Questions like these require knowing some science, but they also involve ethics, government, and values,” say Zucker and Noyce. “Relating science to social and personal issues is important because all students – not just those who will go on to attend college – will eventually use science to help them make decisions, be it about their health or how to vote in an election.”
The authors also call for better integration of NGSS and Common Core ELA standards, specifically by increasing the amount of reading, writing, listening, and speaking in science classes. A 2015 study found that 40 percent of eighth-graders weren’t asked to read a book or magazine about science, and 54 percent of high-school seniors said they weren’t using library resources in science classes. This is especially unfortunate, say Zucker and Noyce, because “this seems to be a golden age for science-related trade books for children of all ages.” They suggest that schools ask themselves these questions:
– How much reading or writing is required in our science classes?
– Do science teachers assign articles from newspapers or magazines and ask students to discuss or write about them?
– How often are students asked to investigate a science-related topic, using articles online or in print, and then synthesize information from several sources?
“How to Make Science Education Relevant” by Andrew Zucker and Pendred Noyce in Education Week, September 30, 2020 (Vol. 40, #7, p. 19)
6. A Young White Teacher Implements Culturally Relevant Pedagogy
In this article in Urban Education, Brittany Aronson (Miami University) reports on her close observation of a teacher she instructed in her university’s urban education program and then observed and mentored during her first two years in a high-poverty elementary school. A third-generation teacher originally from the South, determined to work for social justice, this teacher implemented culturally responsive pedagogy via four key elements:
– Creating a caring community;
– Holding and maintaining high expectations;
– Culturally relevant curriculum;
– Her own sociopolitical consciousness as a teacher.
Teaching with this orientation was challenging in the teacher’s district, given the scripted curriculum she was required to implement, curtailed time for social studies and science, and the high-stakes standardized tests that drove a lot of instruction. Aronson, who had been a teacher in the Atlanta Public Schools during the cheating scandal a decade ago, was uncomfortable with standardized testing and scripted curriculum. However, she understood that her mentee would lose her job if she pushed back too strenuously, and was proud of the way she worked within her constraints and implemented culturally relevant pedagogy.
“From Teacher Education to Practicing Teacher: What Does Culturally Relevant Praxis Look Like?” by Brittany Aronson in Urban Education, October/November 2020 (Vol. 55, #8-9, pp. 1115-1141); Aronson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
7. Hiring for Diversity
“The best practices for increasing faculty diversity are neither mysterious nor terrifically expensive,” say Gracie Lawson-Borders (Howard University) and David Perlmutter (Texas Tech University) in this Chronicle of Higher Education article. Here are their suggestions for recruiting, hiring, and retaining university faculty of color, which apply equally in K-12 schools:
• Identify prospects and build your inclusive brand ahead of time. “Long, enduring marriages don’t start with the ceremony,” say Lawson-Borders and Perlmutter. “One of the most common mistakes is treating diversity in hiring as an afterthought – rather than as a long-term relationship, complete with courtship and mutual commitment.” That means building a culture that welcomes and supports educators of color.
• Know what’s appealing about your institution, program, and place. “Assume nothing about where candidates of color prefer to work and live,” say Lawson-Borders and Perlmutter. “So ask, show, and tell… Diversity is a state of mind, not Noah’s ark counting two by two.”
• Encourage hiring committees to recruit – not just “open and advertise.” Passive recruiting and calling a few contacts (“Let me know if any names come to mind”) will not do the trick. Schools need to engage in active, strategic recruiting that includes cold-calling, repeated attempts, studied persuasion, and in-depth conversations.
• Widen your assumptions about the meaning of “qualified.” Your definition may be too narrow, excluding people who will be highly successful.
• Redefine the notion of “fit.” This can be “a pernicious and prejudicial variable, lazily applied,” say Lawson-Borders and Perlmutter, excluding people “who are not like us.”
• Enlist allies to promote your search. Well-matched colleagues can tell candidates about the school’s culture and community resources – houses of worship, family life, dating, “giving back” opportunities.
• Lay out the path to long-term success, not just the start-up package. Candidates’ big question is whether they will be supported over time – and that includes mentoring, professional development, not being overburdened with obligations specific to their status as colleagues of color.
“8 Steps to a Diverse Faculty” by Gracie Lawson-Borders and David Perlmutter in The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 2, 2020 (Vol. 67, #3, pp. 39-41); the authors can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
8. Using Children’s Books to Teach About the World’s Religions
In this article in Social Studies for the Young Learner, AnnMarie Alberton Gunn, Susan Bennett, and Kaya van Beynen (University of South Florida) say the increasing racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity in U.S. schools makes it more important than ever for teachers to be knowledgeable and sensitive on the issue of religion. “Learning about world religions (as opposed to teaching religious beliefs) as part of social studies,” say Gunn, Bennett, and van Beynen, “can provide a space for students and teachers to have conversations about religious diversity in a respectful, balanced manner.”
But many elementary teachers steer clear of talking about religion with students, for several reasons:
– Concern that discussing religion violates the separation of church and state;
– Fear of offending a child, parent, care-provider, or colleagues;
– Gaps in the teacher’s knowledge;
– Emotional discomfort talking about religion.
The default is celebrating Christmas and Easter, reflecting the majority religion of the U.S., and taking a “taco and egg roll” approach to other religions, mentioning their holidays and food traditions.
“Instead, we need to take a deeper look at the contributions and achievements of different cultural groups” say Gunn, Bennett, and van Beynen. “When teachers and children learn about religious diversity, they can further develop empathy and global understanding beyond their own experiences. Without general knowledge of diverse religions, our misconceptions can prevail, and minority students may feel excluded and be reluctant to speak out.”
Well-chosen children’s books are a good way for teachers to build knowledge and understanding of the diversity and commonalities of the world’s religions and affirm students and families’ various spiritualities. The authors suggest these criteria for choosing books:
– Culturally pluralistic themes – The book goes beyond mere tolerance and celebrates differences.
– Positively portrayed characters – They are empowered, accurately showing real struggles for justice, avoiding stereotypes and misunderstandings about the group.
– Strong plot and setting – The narrative is captivating, the setting described in some detail.
– Authentic illustrations – The art or photos do justice to the text and characters.
– Children’s cultural consciousness – The story is enjoyable, relevant to students’ own lives, and likely to contribute to their understanding of diversity.
Gunn, Bennett, and van Beynen recommend a sampling of high-quality children’s literature:
• Zen Shorts by Jon Muth (Scholastic, 2010) – Buddhism, Lexile 540
• Preaching with Chickens by Jabari Asim, illustrated by E.B. Lewis (Penguin Random House, 2016) – Christianity, Lexile 670
• Chachaji’s Cup by Uma Krishnaswami, illustrated by Sourmya Sitaraman (Children’s Book Press, 2004) – Hinduism, grade 3-4
• Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Lea Lyon (Tilbury House, 2015) – Islam, Lexile 700
• Mrs. Katz and Tush by Patricia Polacco (Penguin Random House, 1993) – Judaism, Lexile 530
• For a Girl Becoming by Joy Harjo, illustrated by Mercedes McDonald (University of Arizona Press, 2009) – Native American/Mvskoke Nation, Lexile 500
“Teaching About Religion with Conversations and Multicultural Literature in K-6 Classrooms” by AnnMarie Alberton Gunn, Susan Bennett, and Kaya van Beynen in Social Studies for the Young Learner, September/October 2020 (Vol. 33, #1, pp. 10-16); the authors can be reached at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com.
9. Research on Teacher Study Groups
In this Review of Educational Research article, Allison Firestone (University of California/Berkeley), Rebecca Cruz (San Jose State University), and Janelle Rodl (San Francisco State University) report on their synthesis of research on whether teacher study groups have a positive impact on teachers and students. Distinct from lesson study and PLCs, this approach to professional development involves a group of teachers deciding on a topic, drawing on empirical research and outside expertise (e.g., a master teacher, consultant, university expert), and carrying on a focused discussion over a period of time.
The researchers’ conclusion? Compared to other models of professional development, teacher study groups have a positive impact on teachers’ knowledge and daily practice – and on student learning. Why? Because they have:
– Specific focus;
– Active learning;
– Collective participation;
– Expert input;
– Tight connection to day-to-day practice.
“Teacher Study Groups: An Integrative Literature Synthesis” by Allison Firestone, Rebecca Cruz, and Janelle Rodl in Review of Educational Research, October 2020 (Vol. 90, #5, pp. 675-709); Cruz can be reached at Rebecca.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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