Marshall Memo 860

In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“Our students are affected by – and participants in – this diverse democracy. They deserve opportunities to talk about how the election affects them.”

Cory Collins (see item #1)

“Kids have always known more about what’s going on than adults realize, even before a flood of images and information became available to anyone with access to an iPhone.”

Justin Minkel (see item #3)

“Teachers can ask students to work together on any task, but when those tasks are not intentionally designed to support collaborative learning, students do not see the point of collaborating. Genuine group tasks can help students see the relationship between diverse individual contributions and collaborative success.”

Frances Harper and Sandra Crespo in “Learning to Collaborate While Learning

Mathematics” in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, October 2020

(Vol. 113, #10, pp. 800-811); authors at francesharper@utk.edu and crespo@msu.edu.

“The appropriate goal of writing assessment is to promote the broader social good, through describing students’ performances and achievements and providing response-based information that can be used to motivate and guide students’ future rhetorical development. Many assessment programs, however, achieve the opposite by compelling educators to narrow both writing instruction and the focus of student learning to the artificial and problematic forms of literacy required by standardized exams.”

David Slomp and Bob Broad in “Monsters, Inc.: Curing Ethical Blindness in an Era of

Test-Based Accountability” in Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, September/

October 2020 (Vol. 64, #2, pp. 232-235); Broad can be reached at rlbroad@ilstu.edu.

1. Handling the 2020 Election Results the Day After

In this article in Teaching Tolerance, Cory Collins says that Wednesday, November 4th “will likely not be a routine morning anywhere in the United States… The consequences of the presidential election – or the uncertainties surrounding a contested result – will echo through our communities.” The day after the 2016 election, many educators were caught flatfooted, and that had serious consequences in many schools. “Fears went unacknowledged,” says Collins. “Questions went unaddressed. And in many cases, the opportunity for a courageous recommitment to the values of inclusion went by the wayside.”

Collins suggests four steps to creating an environment that’s safe and productive for students this time around:

• Reinforce classroom norms. “Wherever your students are, there will be a clear need to reset, reflect, and remind students of the values you share,” says Collins – discussion protocols, respect for other’s views and life experience, the importance of learning from what happened and is happening.

• Be in touch with your own feelings and positions. Teachers need to think through their personal reactions to possible election developments and prepare to enter the classroom with a balanced and professional stance – but prepared, says Collins, “to shift out of neutral, acknowledge your subjectivity with students, and draw clear ‘red lines’ that the discussion will not cross.”

• Reaffirm our responsibility to engage these issues. It’s “poor pedagogy” for educators to say that schools are apolitical and shut down discussion of such a momentous event, says Collins. “Our students are affected by – and participants in – this diverse democracy. They deserve opportunities to talk about how the election affects them.” If ever there was a time to be prepared to set aside a lesson plan, this is it. The deeper plan is modeling inclusive, respectful conversations – and interrupting or redirecting offensive and derogatory interactions.

• Have a plan if things go awry and students need support. In the aftermath of the 2016 election, there was high anxiety, decreased attendance, hateful behavior, intimidation, harassment, bullying, and vandalism. Schools need to be prepared to prevent or deal with any of these.

“Teaching the 2020 Election: What Will You Do on Wednesday?” by Cory Collins in Teaching Tolerance, October 27, 2020

2. Understanding Why Some People Believe Conspiracy Theories

In this article in Psychology Today, Jennifer Latson asks why so many people are drawn to conspiracy theories, especially in times of crisis. Nearly 30 percent of Americans believe the thoroughly debunked theory that the coronavirus was created in a lab, and some think there’s a powerful villain behind the plot – George Soros, Bill Gates, maybe the Clintons.

Researchers have found that a “conspiracy mentality” is associated with certain personality traits: low levels of self-esteem, efficacy, and trust; paranoid thinking; a need to feel unique; and heightened desire for closure. “It’s a worldview that believes nothing happens without a reason and that there are sinister forces at work behind the curtain,” says Roland Imhoff of Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany. “To say that the whole world has come to a halt because a teeny-weeny virus jumped from a bat to another animal and then to a guy in a Chinese market seems too insignificant an explanation.”

Of course almost everyone has those personality traits to some degree, and it’s not irrational to sometimes doubt the word of government officials and other authority figures. In fact, skepticism toward people in power is an important element in healthy democracies. Everyone has a desire for understanding and certainty, a desire for control and security, and a need to maintain a positive self-image.

But some people go overboard, plunging down the rabbit hole of crazy theories – and this really matters. “The consequence of believing that the earth is flat or the moon landing was staged is basically nothing,” says New York University psychologist Jay Van Bavel – “no one’s harmed by that. But in a pandemic, you could potentially have deaths on a massive scale if people believed the pandemic was a hoax.”

Modern social media outlets have been blamed for spreading dangerous theories to millions of people. But there have always been outlandish beliefs – the witch trials of the 1600s and the Illuminati panics of the early 1800s – even when the spoken word was how most ideas were communicated. Besides, trying to ban conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones from the Internet can actually backfire and create distrust: Is he being censored because he’s onto something?

The better solution is education – helping young people become more science-literate and media-literate and develop filters so they think critically and reject unfounded conspiracy theories. Schools should help students understand the psychological process at work when a person buys into a conspiracy theory.

In a sidebar to this article, Noam Shpancer (Otterbein University) lists the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon:

– The fundamental attribution error – The well-documented human tendency to attribute an event (a wallet disappeared) to intent (someone stole it).

– Confirmation bias – Becoming attached to one’s beliefs and searching for or interpreting information in ways that confirm them, while ignoring disconfirming evidence.

– Belief perseverance – Our quest to maintain what we know is true even after the information that originally gave rise to it has been refuted.

– Being uniquely knowledgeable – “Conspiracy theories supply a seductive ego boost,” says Shpancer. “Believers often consider themselves part of a select in-group that, unlike the deluded masses, has figured out what’s really going on.”

– Pattern recognition – Our brains instinctively seek order, fill in the blanks, and find patterns. “In the absence of a pattern, the brain will invent one and impose it on the world,” says Shpancer. “But life is filled with chaos, blind chance, illusory correlations, and disorder.”

“The False Believers” by Jennifer Latson, Noam Shpancer, and David Ludden in Psychology Today, November/December 2020 (Vol. 53, #6, pp. 34-41)

3. Helping Young Children Deal with an R-Rated World

(Originally titled “In a Time of Calamity, What Do Children Need from Us?”)

In this article in Educational Leadership, Arkansas teacher Justin Minkel says that parents and teachers of young children have a “tough balancing act” between shielding them from the world’s violence and mayhem, and helping them “learn, process, and prepare for that ugliness.” Harder than teaching about historical events like slavery and the Holocaust is confronting deeply disturbing events unfolding in real time – Covid-19, the death of George Floyd, acts of terror around the world. “Pretending they don’t exist isn’t an option,” says Minkel. “Kids have always known more about what’s going on than adults realize, even before a flood of images and information became available to anyone with access to an iPhone.”

What can adults do? “We need to tell our young students, through words and actions, that they are loved,” says Minkel. “To make sure they know that while they might have to face some sad and scary parts of the world, they’ll never have to face them alone.” Some specifics:

• Teach them to look for the helpers. This was Mr. Rogers’s advice. Where there is distress and suffering, there will be helpers, like first responders charging into a burning building. Focusing on the helpers is “a powerful reminder that there’s a lot of good in humanity to balance the bad,” says Minkel. It also gives children a middle ground between looking away and succumbing to despair.

• Teach kids to be helpers. Talking to his second graders via Zoom a few weeks after the pandemic began, Minkel explained that scientists all over the world were working on developing treatments and a vaccine. He told students they could be helpers as well – observing community protocols, taking special care not to spread the virus to older people, and “being nice to your brothers and sisters even when they’re driving you crazy.” He also suggested raising money for a food pantry or chalking a kind message on a neighbor’s sidewalk. Kids need to have a sense of agency.

• Listen! Minkel describes talking to his nine-year-old son after the boy accidentally broke a pane of glass and lacerated his arm. There were lots of reassuring words about the injury and the boy’s distress over racial turmoil in the U.S., but mostly, Minkel says, “I listened as he made sense of the world in his own way… What helped him find peace was the chance to process everything he was thinking and feeling with an adult who loved him – and listened to him.”

• Be there. Minkel was teaching fourth graders in New York City when 9/11 happened. At recess soon afterward, a student told him, “I feel sad and scared all the time. Whenever I see a plane, I think it’s going to crash down on my head.” After a pause, Minkel said, “Me too,” and they walked around the playground, talking and being silent together, until the bell rang and they went back inside. “We shouldn’t underestimate how reassuring it can be for a child to know that an adult cares for them,” says Minkel, “ and will continue to be there beside them every single day, whatever those days may bring.”

“In a Time of Calamity, What Do Children Need from Us?” by Justin Minkel in Educational Leadership, November 2020 (Vol. 78, #3, pp. 14-18); Minkel is at justin.i.minkel@gmail.com.

4. Promoting Mathematical Talk At Home with Young Children

In this article in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, Anastasia Betts and Ji-Won Son (Age of Learning and State University of New York/Buffalo) say that school experiences with mathematics aren’t enough to overcome “wide disparities in students’ mathematical achievement.” They suggest the Four Cs strategy – Converse, Count, Compare, Categorize – as a way to involve parents and boost the frequency and quality of family math experiences. Here are their ideas for a menu of prompts to get parents involved:

• Converse – “Children are likely to be more engaged in activities that are related to their everyday experience and get more out of them than more formal mathematics experiences such as workbooks, handouts, or flashcards,” say Betts and Son. Some entry points:

– Talk about time: How long is it until we leave for school? How long can we play in the park?

– Talk about numbers: What numbers are in front of that house? What numbers are on that license plate? What’s our phone number?

– Talk about patterns: What patterns do you notice when you are out for a walk? On a drive? Are there patterns with those address numbers? Are there patterns with the traffic lights?

– Talk about shapes: What shapes do you see around you? How do you know what shapes they are? How can you describe them? How many sides? Corners?

• Count – “Number words are tricky,” say Betts and Son, “because they are used not only in the count sequence or to label the quantity in a set but also as the labels for numerals and as labels for order of position.” The more concrete and familiar the setting, the better children will understand these distinctions.

– Sing songs with numbers and counting: Five Little Monkeys, This Old Man, Buckle My Shoe.

– Play board games; role two dice to promote counting up to and past ten.

– Play hide and seek with the seeker counting backwards from ten, then twenty.

– Count on from one group of items to another. I have five grapes; if we add your grapes to mine, how many do we have? Six, seven, eight…

• Compare – Noticing objects (and groups of objects) with distinct characteristics is a foundational concept in spatial reasoning, geometry, measurement, data, and patterns.

– What makes a rectangle a rectangle? What makes a square a square? How are squares and rectangles the same? How are they different?

– Give clues to where a hidden object can be found, using words like above, below, in front of, behind, next to, bigger than, smaller than, higher or lower than.

– Help children learn the meaning of more, less, and the same when sharing snacks – Who has more? Who has less? Line them up and compare.

– Count the money saved in a piggy bank or a jar of loose change. Are there more quarters or dimes? Are there fewer pennies or nickels? Are quarters more money than pennies? Why?

• Categorize – Soon after young children notice distinct attributes of objects, they can begin to sort them into groups.

– Loading and unloading the dishwasher presents great opportunities for sorting: Where do the forks go? Where do the spoons go?

– So does folding laundry by attributes – shirts with shirts, socks with socks, etc. – discussing the attributes that distinguish them.

– Get help organizing food in the fridge or cupboards. Where does this item go? Why?

– Sort money saved in a piggy bank or loose change jar, discussing how coins differ or are the same. How do you know a quarter is a quarter, or a penny is a penny? Sort them.

“Fostering Parent-Child Math Talk with the 4Cs” by Anastasia Betts and Ji-Won Son in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, October 2020 (Vol. 113, #10, pp. 791-799); the authors can be reached at albetts@buffalo.edu and jiwonson@buffalo.edu.

5. Real-Time Evaluation of PD Initiatives

In this article in The Learning Professional, Chase Nordengren (NWEA) and Thomas Guskey (University of Louisville and University of Kentucky) say it’s difficult to know if professional development programs in schools have been successful. That’s because of the challenge of separating the impact of the PD from a host of other factors. Let’s say researchers found that a teacher training program had failed. “Educators are left to scratch their heads,” say Nordengren and Guskey, “and wonder whether the weak link was the program itself, poor implementation, factors related to policy around the program, or other context issues that inhibited success, such as ongoing access to professional learning materials or the freedom for teachers to collaboratively implement the new instructional approaches a professional learning initiative might recommend.”

Two decades ago, Guskey suggested asking these questions when evaluating professional development:

– Did teachers enjoy the PD and feel their time was well spent?

– Did teachers actually acquire the knowledge and skills that were presented?

– Was PD implementation “back home” advocated, facilitated, and supported?

– Did teachers effectively apply the new knowledge and skills in their classrooms?

– Did students’ performance, achievement, and well-being improve as a result?

Answering these questions, especially the last one, is a long-range project; schools need more-rapid evaluative information to make timely decisions on whether to continue with a program or make a mid-course correction. Nordengren and Guskey suggest the following approach to accelerated PD evaluation. They acknowledge that it’s not psychometrically perfect, but it has the virtue of being timely and therefore much more helpful for continuous improvement:

• Develop a clear logic model. This involves working backwards from the hoped-for student outcomes, asking: What should teachers be doing in their classrooms to get those results? What district- and school-level supports are needed? Specifically what will teachers learn in PD sessions? And what will make the sessions enjoyable and productive?

• Assess assets and needs. It’s important to see what knowledge, skills, practices, beliefs, and attitudes already exist among teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders, as well as the outcomes they consider important.

• Survey participants during the PD. Twice a year, teachers self-report on their knowledge and skills as they use the program, and how they believe it’s going.

• Visit classrooms. Observers focus on specific criteria for successful implementation of the initiative. Evaluators can also get a feel for the PD’s impact on teachers’ knowledge, classroom practices, and the school’s organizational culture.

• Compile portfolios documenting student learning. Teachers and administrators present artifacts showing teaching outcomes.

Working in a number of schools and districts, Nordengren and Guskey have found this process can dovetail with existing district practices (for example, required classroom visits, needs assessments, and compliance with state policies), making it efficient as well as effective.

“Chart a Clear Course” by Chase Nordengren and Thomas Guskey in The Learning Professional, October 2020 (Vol. 41, #5, pp. 46-50); the authors can be reached at chase.nordengren@nwea.org and guskey@uky.edu.

6. Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell on the Role of the Teacher Leader

In this article in The Reading Teacher, Irene Fountas (Lesley University) and Gay Su Pinnell (The Ohio State University) say they’ve been disappointed with recent attempts to address schools’ literacy challenges. New standards, shiny curriculum packages, and rethought teacher-evaluation systems have not been effective levers for improvement, they believe, especially in raising the achievement of students with disadvantages.

Fountas and Pinnell believe school-based initiatives have real potential. If a school has common values and beliefs, an instructional leader in the principal’s office, at least one instructional coach, and a culture of shared leadership (and support from the central office), a lot can happen. That’s because “educators at the building level are in the best position to understand the causes and complexities of the problems to be solved, and to test and refine solutions based on evidence.”

Local literacy efforts are enhanced, say Fountas and Pinnell, when a few carefully selected teachers take on additional responsibilities as literacy leaders. “If you are a principal or other school leader,” they suggest, “think about the particular expertise of the teachers in your building and the potential for growing their leadership. If you are a coach, think about teachers who show interest and the ability to actively support the professional learning of their colleagues. If you are a teacher who is energized by your work, consider ways to expand your leadership skills and influence students’ literacy outcomes by contributing to the success of your team.”

Fountas and Pinnell list some qualities and dispositions that make for an effective literacy teacher leader:

– Being a reflective, continuous learner with a humble and tentative stance;

– Intellectual curiosity and openness to new perspectives;

– Strong content knowledge, particularly in language, reading, and writing development;

– A strong understanding of culturally relevant teaching;

– Evidence of effective language and literacy teaching;

– Belief in the competence of every team member;

– Interpersonal skills and the ability to help others build self-efficacy;

– The capacity to build trust, shared ownership, and teamwork;

– Strong classroom observational skills;

– Understanding why data-informed teaching is key to equitable student outcomes;

– A commitment to evidence-based decision making;

– An understanding of how school organizations work.

At their best, teacher leaders serve as researchers (working with teams as they analyze students’ reading and writing work and its implications for teaching); inquiry facilitators (looking together at videos of lessons, discussing articles and books, and planning lessons); lead learners (attending conferences, convening discussion groups, and offering workshops); mentors (supporting new teachers and other colleagues); and “improvement science” leaders (identifying problems of practice and leading inquiry groups to formulate solutions and address issues of inequity).

“Literacy Leadership from the Classroom: Learning from Teacher Leaders” by Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell in The Reading Teacher, September/October 2020 (Vol. 74, #2, pp. 223-229); the authors can be reached at ifountas@lesley.edu and gspinnell@yahoo.com.

7. Insights on the Everyday Actions of Five Different Personality Types

In this article in Psychology Today, Alexander Danvers (University of Arizona and the U.S. Army Research Labs) reports on a study that asked people to carry around a smartphone that recorded up to 90 seconds of verbal interactions at random intervals. Looking at the data from people on the high end of each of the OCEAN personality continuums, here’s what Danvers and his colleagues found:

• Open-mindedness (how complex one’s mental life is; receptiveness to new ideas) – People more frequently made analytical connections between different ideas, using words like “and,” “also,” “because,” and “think.” They used fewer verbs, perhaps because they talked more about ideas than actions, and were less likely to say “no” and “not.”

• Conscientiousness (how much a person prefers order and tries to act responsibly) – People talked more about their work, communicating thoughts, values, and ideas. They used their time efficiently, which meant spending less time with friends and acquaintances. They less often blamed others, swore, or expressed negative emotions.

• Agreeableness (how positive and helpful one is toward others) – People more frequently expressed appreciation for others and used filler words like “uh” and “um,” which were subtle ways of smoothing over awkward moments in conversation. They were less likely to swear and express anger.

• Extraversion (how sociable and energetic a person is) – People talked more and were more likely to express gratitude, affection, and anger.

• Neuroticism (how much a person tends to experience negative emotions) – People were more anxious in social situations and their conversations tended to be shorter. They more frequently got angry and frustrated, blamed others, used negative words, and swore. But they were more likely to express affection, gossiped less, and focused more on what other people said, using the word “you” more often.

“Personality in the Wild” by Alexander Danvers in Psychology Today, November/December 2020 (Vol. 53, #6, pp. 14-15); Danvers can be reached at adanvers@email.arizona.edu.

8. Do’s and Don’ts of Difficult Conversations

“It is impossible to improve apart from feedback,” says Dan Rockwell in this Leadership Freak article. “Effort apart from feedback is wasted.” One of the most common problems in difficult conversations, he says, is “wandering around” and not delivering the criticism until the end. Right off the bat, Rockwell recommends, “Declare a concern. Give an example. Address corrective measures. Set a follow-up meeting to track progress and adapt strategies.” Some additional suggestions (quoted directly):

– Never delay.

– Never address more than one concern.

– Never give corrective feedback when you’re emotional.

– Never give corrective feedback in public.

– Never attack the person.

– Never compare to others.

– Never discourage.

– Never lie.

– Never be unkind.

– Never belittle or patronize.

– Never be all negative.

– Never over-commit; never let someone over-commit.

– Never lose focus.

“17 Things to Never Do When Giving Corrective Feedback” by Dan Rockwell in Leadership Freak, October 30, 2020; Rockwell can be reached at dan@leadershipfreak.com.

9. Young Adult Books with Characters Who Have Reading Difficulties

In this Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy article, Sara Jozwik and Nancy Rice (University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee) highlight works of realistic fiction that feature positive and dynamic characters who happen to have problems reading. These books can be used in middle- and high-school classes to address misconceptions about reading problems, build empathy among all students, and help those who struggle in similar ways to see themselves represented in compelling works of literature. Here are 14 books identified by Jozwik and Rice (capsule summaries quoted verbatim):

Army Brats by Daphne Benedis-Grab (Scholastic, 2017), grade 3-8, Lexile 870 – Tom is vulnerable to the base bully but learns to work with his siblings and others on base to solve a mystery.

Bluefish by Pat Schmatz (Candlewick Press, 2011), grade 6-8, Lexile 600 – Travis connects with a new friend, Velveeta, and learns to read with help from Mr. McQueen.

Close to Famous by Joan Bauer (Viking Press, 2011), grade 6-8, Lexile 540 – Foster works toward her dream of starring on her own cooking show while getting help with learning to read.

End of the Alphabet by Fleur Beale (Random House New Zealand, 2009), grade 6-12, Lexile 600 – Ruby gets a job and tries to earn money to travel to Brazil. Her plans get thwarted, but she finds her voice and stands up for herself.

Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt (Nancy Paulsen Books, 2015), grade 6-8, Lexile 550 – Ally gains confidence and learns to push past labels as she improves her reading skill.

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany Jackson (Katherine Tegen Books, 2018), grade 6-12, Lexile 620 – Claudia is left to endure bullying and rejection while trying to convince others to investigate why her best friend, Monday, has gone missing.

One White Dolphin by Gill Lewis (Atheneum Books, 2012), grade 3-8, Lexile 620 – While working with her new friend to save a stranded dolphin, Kara finds out more about why her mother, a marine biologist, disappeared.

Schooled by Paul Langan (Townsend Press, 2008), grade 6-12, Lexile 730 – Lionel’s dream is to join the NBA, but he finds little support around him. With failing grades and friends encouraging him to drop out, he learns that his dyslexia was misdiagnosed.

Stupid by Kim Firmston (James Lorimer & Co, 2014), grade 8-12, Lexile 570 – While filming, Martin learns that the way he interprets the world has a lot in common with free running. Through filming, he learns that his dyslexia was misdiagnosed.

The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily by Laura Creedle (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017), grade 7-12, Lexile 690 – Lily decides to stop taking attention deficit hyperactivity disorder medications and ends up getting detention, where she meets and forms a relationship with Abelard, a neurodivergent teen.

The Pitcher by William Hazelgrove (Köehler Books, 2013), grade 6-8, Lexile 650 – Ricky has the gift of pitching a fastball and works toward his dream of making the high-school baseball team.

The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy by Jill MacLean (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2009), grades 5-8, Lexile 700 – Amid hardship (e.g., an alcoholic mother, bullies at school), Prinny discovers a connection to the main character, LaVaughn, in the free-verse novel Make Lemonade by Virginia Wolff.

Unscripted Joss Byrd by Lygia Day Peñaflor (Roaring Brook Press, 2016), grade 6-8, Lexile 620 – Joss, a young actress, struggles with her mother’s expectations and is challenged by her reading difficulties until she learns to go off script.

Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor (Katherine Tegen Books, 2008), grade 6-8, Lexile 570 – Addie, whose mother has bipolar disorder, learns to find her way and holds fast to her dream of finding normal.

“Analyzing the Portrayal of Characters with Reading Difficulties in Realistic Fiction” by Sara Jozwik and Nancy Rice in Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, September/October 2020 (Vol. 64, #2, pp. 232-235); the authors can be reached at jozwik@uwm.edu and nerice@uwm.edu.

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