In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“The logistical gymnastics necessary to balance work and school when all the crucial resources – time, physical space, Internet bandwidth, emotional reserves – are limited have pushed many to the point of despair.”
Erika Christakis in “School Wasn’t So Great Before Covid, Either” in The Atlantic,
December 2020 (Vol. 326, #5, pp. 17-22)
“I have to become better at forgiving myself. As a perfectionist, the unknown nature of the school year scares me, but I have to find ways to allow myself to feel okay about not being the one in control. I am going to make a concerted effort to keep things in perspective. There are simply greater forces at work here, and as long as I am doing my best, my best will have to be good enough.”
Wendy Price in “Self-Care as a Priority” in Communiqué, Dec. 2020 (Vol. 49, #4, p. 2)
“Despite the popularity of promoting a growth mindset in students, too many schools continue ignoring the power of ‘yet.’ Instead of judging a student’s performance at a discrete moment in time, we should offer students the chance to improve their skills until their proficiency matches their true ability. Few of us perform at our highest level the first time we demonstrate a skill, and our students are no different.”
Matthew Campbell in “Better Ways to Measure Student Progress” in Edutopia,
November 23, 2020
“Gifts for teachers are problematic.”
Lillie Marshall (see item #8)
1. Jennifer Gonzalez on Building Student Connections in Remote Classes
In this Cult of Pedagogy article, Jennifer Gonzalez says that her own children, whose Kentucky middle and high schools are hybrid, don’t want to go to school on the two in-person days each week. “They talk about the drudgery of sitting still all day,” says Gonzalez, “the feeling of not knowing anyone in any of their classes, and the anxiety around speaking up or getting things wrong in front of peers.” Despite educators’ hard work in these schools, relationship-building among students has been hampered by safety protocols, masks, and social distancing. Gonzalez shares her own thoughts, and those gathered from her online contacts, on what schools can do in the critically important social-emotional domain, whether in-person or remote.
• Maximize fun and interaction. Students can play games (Pictionary with whiteboards), interview each other and report on what they’ve learned, replace physical movement with manipulating avatars in a virtual space, and hold class discussions on high-interest topics. Some schools are setting aside time for virtual lunch or recess, performances, special events, video postcards, and for students to play interactive social games like Among Us, Minecraft, and Roblox. Kahoot, Quizizz, and Gimkit can be used for non-academic purposes. “No, it won’t be exactly the same,” says Gonzalez, “and not being able to see the bottom half of anyone’s face limits our ability to communicate, but again, something is better than nothing.”
• Make good use of breakout rooms. Through trial and error, teachers have learned that small-group virtual interactions flounder without structure and purpose:
– Roles – It’s best for the teacher to assign the job each person will be responsible for and explain it up front: a group leader to kick off the discussion and keep everyone on task; a timekeeper; someone to share their screen to view materials; and a spokesperson to report for the group when the full class reconvenes. It’s also helpful to set up a quick, fun conversation in breakout rooms by assigning the role of leader (for example) to the student with the smallest shoe size.
– Grouping – Three or four is the number most frequently considered ideal for breakout rooms – small enough for good interactions, but not too small that it’s impossible for the teacher to visit multiple rooms. Gonzalez suggests keeping the groups consistent for a while so students can reach a comfort level. Teachers might also consider student requests when forming groups, as things go more smoothly when students know their groupmates. Icebreaker activities are helpful when groups are first formed.
– Technology – Breakouts get off to a quicker start if all students turn on their cameras and unmute themselves before leaving the main meeting room. They should know that using the “Ask for help” button will quickly get the teacher’s attention. Teachers might use two devices: one to monitor the main meeting room, the other for the breakout rooms.
– Tasks – Clear and specific instructions are essential, as is making them accessible to students once they’re in their rooms. Groups are more productive when they are asked to work on a meaningful collaborative project and know they’ll be reporting on it to the full class.
– Show an exemplar – Students benefit from viewing a video in which the teacher models the behaviors and practices expected in breakout rooms.
– Time limits – Gonzalez suggests keeping breakouts short at first, then gradually increasing the time as students become more proficient at sustaining discussions.
– Monitoring – When a class is first using breakout rooms, the teacher might recruit one or two additional adults to visit groups so students get the support and prodding they need. A great way to monitor the work of all groups is to have a single Google Slides presentation with a different slide assigned for each group to record its work. “Doing this allows the teacher to just scroll through the slides to monitor work in all groups at once,” says Gonzalez, “rather than toggling between files.” The teacher can get a bird’s-eye view, seeing thumbnails of all slides at once, by choosing Grid View in the View menu. Classkick, Formative, and Pear Deck also make it possible to see more than one screen of student work at a time.
– Selective share-out calling – Not every room needs to report out when the class reconvenes. Pick a few, keep track, and call on the others in a future class.
– Breakout rooms for individual work – This allows the teacher to circulate and give individual feedback and support.
• Increase participation in whole-group discussions. If you’re hearing crickets, or only a few students participate in all-class virtual discussions, it may be because students are intimidated by the format or unclear about what’s expected. Some ideas:
– Specify the type of response you want. For example, “In a minute, I’m going to ask a question. What I want you to do first is think quietly about your answer. Then I’m going to ask for three volunteers to share their answer with the class.”
– Establish a response protocol. Do students just unmute and start talking? Raise their hands? Type something in the chat first?
– Ask for an all-class response first. Rather than, “How was everyone’s weekend?” ask, “How many people watched a sporting event this weekend?”
– Call on individual students. This works better than posing a question to the whole class and asking for volunteers.
– Allow time for processing. When a teacher’s all-class question is followed by silence, it’s hard to know whether students are confused, pondering, or shy about speaking up. “But one thing that’s certain,” says Gonzalez, “is that many people need a bit of time to think before responding to a question.” You might tell the class they’ll have 30 seconds to reflect and jot an answer, and then you’ll call on someone.
– It’s not a good idea to spend a lot of time correcting and punishing students for behaviors like not looking at the camera or doing distracting things. Gonzalez asks for input from readers on dealing with these issues.
• Use the best collaboration and discussion apps. Microsoft Teams allows students to send individual or group messages and create topic-specific subgroups. Slack and Discord offer similar spaces but don’t have as many structures for student use. Voxer is a good tool for asynchronous voice communication. Trello, Kanbanchi, and Basecamp give users a place to assign tasks, plan timelines, write discussion ideas, and keep track of important documents. And Kialo and Parlay offer frameworks for written discussions, including suggestions for all-class topics.
“Connecting Students in a Disconnected World” by Jennifer Gonzalez in Cult of Pedagogy, November 23, 2020
2. Salman Khan on Effective Hybrid Instruction
In this interview in The Verge, Nilay Patel and Sophie Erickson speak with Salman Khan, the founder and chief content provider of Khan Academy. This free online learning platform https://www.khanacademy.org, running on a philanthropy-provided budget similar to that of a U.S. high school, is used by almost 100 million students a year in more than 190 countries and 46 languages. Predictably, the traffic for its lessons has increased this year as the demand for online content skyrocketed. Here are some excerpts from the interview.
Khan says his short online video lessons are “suboptimal” – suitable for practice, feedback, and learning on students’ own time as a supplement in-person instruction. “I make it very clear,” he says, “if I had to pick between an amazing teacher or amazing technology for myself or my own kids or anyone’s kids, I’d pick the amazing teacher, in person, any day.” Once the pandemic hit, schools had to scramble, and many are doing their best – but at best it’s 80-90 percent of regular instruction.
“When you and I were in school,” says Khan, “it was kind of like, ‘Teacher, what do I do next? All right. Now, what do I do? Is that going to be on the test?’… which is a very passive mentality. You’re really not taking ownership. You’re letting stuff happen to you.” This doesn’t prepare students for a job and other realms of life (like marriage) where they’re going to have to figure things out for themselves. Khan founded a school (which his three children attend) shaped by a philosophy of student agency, with students at the center of their own learning and the curriculum not bounded by time or space. In the Khan Lab School, students decide on things they passionately want to learn and work with teachers to set goals and timelines.
“I am a capitalist at heart,” says Khan. “I believe the free market innovates. It allocates resources effectively, as long as there aren’t distortions in it.” But he says there are two sectors where this doesn’t work as well: health care and education. That’s where government and the not-for-profit sector can achieve the mission of first-class health care and education for all – and in schools, make sure all students have access to devices and the Internet.
Asked about his lessons on U.S. history, Khan says he learned a lot from the 1619 Project and is aware of the danger in trying to provide “balance” when one side is simply not true. He wants Khan lessons to cover standards, add material that might not be covered by standards, and provide an honest account of the good and the bad in history. “You can serve the truth,” he says, “ but that doesn’t mean that you have to not still take pride in aspects of your country’s history. There should be shame and guilt in some aspects, but there should be pride in others.” He believes online humanities lessons can bring students up to speed on the “fact base” and open up synchronous classes (remote or in-person) to robust discussion and interaction.
Khan says that 100-300-student college classes are inherently dehumanizing; at the end of a semester, you might know only 20-30 people. But electronic polling can provide instant data, allowing the instructor to orchestrate breakout rooms that facilitate powerful small-group interactions, allowing students to form relationships with a much broader segment of a large class. “And we’re just learning,” he says. “Everyone’s still getting their sea legs on this. Who knows, there might be a world where, classrooms of the future, you’re there in person, but then you’re actually hybrid while you’re there in person because it might even be too much time to walk across the other side of the lecture hall. You go into your laptop and you start talking, but then you get the benefit when you leave, you met each other, and then when you leave the lecture hall, you’re like, ‘Hey, that was a really cool point, you want to go grab lunch?’ Stuff like that.”
On content mastery and credentialing, Khan believes performance tasks are the ultimate test of learning: “You film yourself and then a peer community validates that, yeah, you ran that lab or you wrote that piece of code the way you said you would, and you would be able to explain it and it’s peer-reviewed. And then the ultimate performance task is, can you teach it?… If you’re a highly rated tutor of calculus, you know your calculus, more than any test score could ever prove. And not only do you know that, but you can communicate, you have empathy; that’s the kid I want to hire.”
“Those of us who have been fortunate to go to a school that has a quad and people are throwing Frisbees, that’s not the norm for most kids,” says Khan. “Most kids are going to commuter college. They ideally would be able to support their families in some way, shape, or form. They’re not having this kind of high-minded debate about philosophy, and [the] ivy-covered dorm rooms type of thing. They’re just trying to get through their college algebra so they can get their associate’s degree and hopefully get a job. And so, I think there need to be new pathways.”
“Remote Learning Is Here to Stay – Can We Make It Better? An Interview with Sal Khan, Founder of Khan Academy” by Nilay Paten and Sophie Erickson in The Verge, November 17, 2020; Patel can be reached at email@example.com.
3. Successfully Blending Face-to-Face with Online Learning Experiences
(Originally titled “5 Components of Face-to-Face and Online Learning Experiences”)
In Education Update, Kristina Doubet and Eric Carbaugh (James Madison University) suggest ideas for five stages of a curriculum unit:
• Launch/hook – Possibilities: puzzles, challenges, connection, essential questions.
In synchronous classes, students make a prediction from a partial data set. In asynchronous, students comment on video clips, memes, comics, or optical illusions.
• New content and skills – The teacher’s presentation models skills and chunks content, with time for students to process. In synchronous, students answer questions, share examples, or use response cards. In remote, there are pause-and-post opportunities.
• Formative assessments – Frequently check on confusion, misconceptions, and what’s making sense. In synchronous classes, use whiteboards, discussions, and exit slips. In remote, GoFormative or Padlet.
• Processing with peers – Students must collaboratively practice and apply skills. In synchronous, student groups chat or use Google Docs or Slides, then present to the whole class. Asynchronously, students post thoughts on the learning management system or Flipgrid and comment on classmates’ posts.
• Authentic experiences – Ideally, students investigate real-world issues with personal connections. In synchronous, maximize opportunities for questions and help students master tools like Piktochart, Canva, and Anchor. Online, keep students in touch with peers through Google Docs or chats, provide a place to post questions and works-in-progress, and schedule time to interact with mentors in the community and beyond.
“5 Components of Face-to-Face and Online Learning Experiences” by Kristina Doubet and Eric Carbaugh in Education Update, November 2020 (Vol. 62, #11, p. 4), from their Principles and Practices for Effective Blended Learning Quick Reference Guide (ASCD, 2020); the authors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
4. Making Good Decisions on Educational Technology
In this Edutopia article, instructional coach Shveta Miller draws on her 15 years as a teacher and another four years as a literacy specialist with edtech companies to suggest criteria for evaluating the plethora of technology tools and resources that are vying for teachers’ attention:
• Efficacy – Few front-line educators have the time to check out the research claims made by vendors. “To quickly gauge the impact that a tool can have on your students’ learning,” Miller recommends, “examine testimonials from students and teachers who have used it… Check to see that there are testimonials where a student enthusiastically describes a new concept they learned, elaborating on how their perspective on an issue changed, or even mentioning what they are reading about or what interesting problems they are learning to solve.”
• The student experience – See if you can demo the product as a student. If so, check it out from the perspective of an English language learner, an advanced reader, and a student with ADHD. Are there audio or captioning options? Is the audio voice robotic and unengaging? Is the program accessible to visually impaired students? To students who cannot use a mouse?
• Intrinsic motivation – Does the program use extrinsic motivators like points, badges, or competition? Or does it activate intrinsic motivation by having students set measurable, achievable goals and see status updates? Most important, is the content relevant and intellectually stimulating?
• Zone of proximal development – Edtech companies often claim that their product will be in students’ sweet spot – not too hard and not too easy – and will engage them in productive struggle. “It’s important to know,” says Miller, “if a program is actually serving as a skilled guide for students working in their true ZPD or simply providing general scaffolds or assisted instruction. If it is offering the latter, then teachers can proceed to provide the former.”
• The teacher experience – Does the program alert the student and teacher about students’ current level of mastery, and when they’re ready to move up? Miller says this is a weak area in many programs she’s analyzed.
“What Matters Most When You’re Evaluating Edtech Tools” by Shveta Miller in Edutopia, November 12, 2020
5. School Leadership During Covid-Time
In this EdSurge article, former principal Simon Rodberg says that with remote instruction, it’s more difficult for school leaders to project the kind of confidence and presence they did before the pandemic – looking their best, stopping by a classroom, having chance encounters with teachers and parents around the campus. Rodberg has several suggestions from his interviews with principals around the U.S.:
• Be intentional. Adapting to the new realities, one Washington, D.C. principal is scheduling 10-minute wellness check-ins with teachers throughout the week. A Colorado principal hosts an office hour every Thursday where teachers can come with concerns, feedback, or questions.
• Model your expectations. The D.C. principal teaches virtual classes, opening himself to his good and bad moments, and reflecting on them with teachers. A Kansas principal says “My whole approach is servant leadership and being right there, side by side,” creating instructional maps and modeling how to break down lesson timing. The Colorado principal does informal drop-ins to lessons and breakout rooms.
• Communicate to connect. Being upbeat and energetic is important in both in-person and remote schooling, but Rodberg believes humility is also key. Colleagues should know that you make mistakes and learn from them, just the way they do. One principal has colleagues do breathing exercises in staff meetings. Another picks up the phone more often, realizing that people are Zoomed and e-mailed out. Yet another drives to a few students’ homes, calls from the car, and says, “Hey, I know this is crazy, and we’ve still got your back,” and then listens for concerns and gathers important information.
• Tell your truths. “Nobody is going to read the inspirational quotations in the stairways,” says Rodberg. “In remote schooling, you need other ways to communicate the core values of your school. And you need to do it more explicitly, more frequently, and more creatively than you ever have before.” One principal starts Monday meetings with stories and successes about students and shout-outs for colleagues. Another reviews the school’s mission, vision, and goal statements in staff and parent council meetings. A middle-school principal in New York City joined the sourdough challenge and shared a video of her unsuccessful, misshapen first effort with staff, students, and families. “We’re all being asked to do so many things that we really don’t know how to do,” she said. “We’re not always getting it right. It’s messy and confusing. It’s not what we hoped it might have been. But going through it is a way to learn from it.”
This principal eventually made some successful sourdough, but sharing her interim step showed real leadership, says Rodberg. “You can build connections among people, even when they can’t be together, so that they can work and build the future side by side.”
“What Highly Effective School Leadership Really Looks like in a Pandemic” by Simon Rodberg in EdSurge, November 16, 2020
6. Does Anti-Bias Training Work?
In this Education Week article, Sarah Sparks reports that researchers are finding that implicit-bias and anti-racist trainings seldom have a lasting effect in schools. “Several specific common strategies,” says Sparks, “– such as thinking positive thoughts about stereotyped groups, meditating or making decisions more ‘slowly’ to avoid stereotypes, or simply being aware of the possibility of implicit biases while making decisions – have all so far failed to show benefits that last even a day or two. In some cases, diversity and anti-bias training can paradoxically lead to more stereotyping, if participants come to think of biases as common and uncontrollable, and can lead white participants to feel threatened without yielding benefits for participants of color.”
Nancy Gutiérrez, head of the New York City Leadership Academy, says, “There’s a lot of will, a lot of desire out there right now to do something… but I think that sometimes we overestimate our skill to facilitate this work. When you’re talking about race and identity, you’d have to be at the intersections of who we are as people, and that takes a lot of planning and careful facilitation to truly engage in ways that will open up and deepen the conversation rather than shut it down.”
There’s no question that most people have unconscious racial, class, and gender biases that have developed over years of personal and cultural experiences. Studies show that teachers are as likely to have these biases as other U.S. adults. To be effective, researchers find, educator training needs to be part of a comprehensive strategy that identifies specific problems and addresses structures that perpetuate bias. Long-term goals include more diverse staff recruitment and retention and more racially proportionate student discipline. Short-term interventions include self-regulation, since under stress or anger, biased actions are more likely to occur, as well as learning to react with empathy to students in academic and disciplinary situations. Another strategy is having teachers grade student papers with names removed, and looking at descriptions of behavior problems without students’ identities.
Involving teachers in analyzing school data and being part of fixing school problems can also be effective. Gutiérrez says it’s important for reform teams to represent the diversity of a faculty. An added benefit of such teams is that individual teachers of color aren’t called on to represent their racial or ethnic group.
“Training Bias Out of Teachers: Research Shows Little Promise So Far” by Sarah Sparks in Education Week, November 18, 2020
7. A Teacher’s Epiphany from a Dated Math Problem
In this article in Mathematics Teacher: Learning and Teaching PK-12, former teacher Brandie Waid (Drew University) remembers an eighth grader calling her over with a question about one of the problems the class was working on:
At a school dance, there are X boys and Z girls, and there are more boys than girls. How many different possible couples for dancing are there?
“Ms. Waid, how would you define a couple?” asked the student. The student’s question “hit me like a brick,” says Waid. “When selecting the problem, my recognition of the required mathematics led me to overlook the possibility of anything other than a heterosexual coupling.”
Waid, who had recently come out to many of her colleagues, friends, and family, but not to her students, managed to reply, “How would you define a couple?” A student sitting nearby snapped, “A couple is any two people, male or female. That’s the only way anyone should define a couple.” The first student asked, “But isn’t the problem easier if I say a couple is a boy and a girl?”
“I would like to say that I used this opportunity to engage the class in a conversation about how not all couples are heterosexual,” says Waid, “to talk about the social construction of gender, and to work toward building a culture of acceptance and support for LGBTQ+ students and families. I would like to say that I used this opportunity to talk about how the assumptions we make (influenced by implicit bias) can change the mathematics required by a problem. However, I did none of these things. I vaguely remember asking students to record assumptions they made, but otherwise this became a missed opportunity.”
“As a result of this interaction,” she continues, “I began to reflect on my own identity and the ways in which my K-12 education had deemed my queer identity irrelevant to my mathematical identity. This set me on a journey to better understand how I could support LGBTQ+ students in my mathematics classes.” Her article describes specific steps for making math classes more inclusive and screening the content of commercial and online curriculum materials, and those that teachers create themselves. “It is every teacher’s responsibility,” Waid concludes, “to prevent students from developing the belief that their LGBTQ+ identities have no place in mathematics, as I was led to believe in my own K-12 education.”
“Supporting LGBTQ+ Students in K-12 Mathematics” by Brandie Waid in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, November 2020 (Vol. 113, #11, pp. 874-886); Waid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
8. The Six Habits of Highly Effective School Librarians
Earlier this year, the American Association of School Librarians issued a statement on the instructional and collaborative roles that school librarians can play with students, teachers, and administrators (published in Knowledge Quest). Librarians are “uniquely positioned,” said the AASL, “to teach every student and the school community through traditional, blended, and distance learning.” Some key areas:
• Inquiring – Librarians orchestrate engaging learning experiences that fill knowledge gaps and get students displaying initiative and curiosity, developing skills, thinking critically, identifying problems, and honing strategies to solve problems and share their products.
• Including – Librarians select reading materials and resources in a wide variety of formats – print, textual, visual, media, news, and digital – that reflect diverse and inclusive points of view and develop students’ ability to read for information and personal enjoyment. Content is reading-level-free and includes assistive technology that makes it accessible to all students.
• Collaborating – Librarians are instructional partners with colleagues – planning, co-teaching, and co-evaluating – as the school deepens learning, boosts academic achievement, broadens perspectives, and empowers students to work with others and assess their own work.
• Curating – Librarians select a wide range of resources that complement the school’s curriculum and students’ interests, and empower colleagues and students to do their own selecting, organizing, and sharing of helpful information.
• Exploring – Librarians work with their colleagues to guide students as they explore, discover, reflect, enjoy, create, innovate, and build stamina – all with a growth mindset.
• Engaging – Librarians develop and maintain an environment that is fun, inviting, safe, flexible, collaborative, inclusive – in short, conducive to learning. This includes teaching and modeling digital citizenship, adhering to copyright and fair use, and providing guidelines for anytime/anywhere access to the online library catalog, digital and audio books, and a variety of information resources, devices, and tools.
“The Instructional Role of the School Librarian” by the American Association of School Librarians Board of Directors in Knowledge Quest, November-December 2020 (Vol. 49, #2, pp. 8-9)
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