Marshall Memo 867

In This Issue:

Quotes of the Week

“School will probably never be the same, and that is a good thing.”

Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey (see item #6)

“With this school year like no other in full swing – and no guarantee of when the pandemic will abate – it is our responsibility to make sure that the classrooms of 2020 and beyond aren’t simply new theaters in which to restage the same old inequities.”

Eve Colavito and Kalila Hoggard (see item #5)

“Although many educators are physically farther from our students, our lens into their daily lives and the challenges they face has never been clearer.”

Eve Colavito and Kalila Hoggard (ibid.)

“When a student who feels like they aren’t a math person hears another student being praised for being ‘so smart,’ it only reinforces the negative attitude that they have toward math class and themselves.”

Rachel Fuhrman (see item #2)

“Unfortunately, most of the core values schools claim are not alive in the halls and classrooms.”

Robyn Jackson (see item #4)

“When leaders simplify teachers’ job to core responsibilities, minimize extraneous meetings, and encourage boundary-setting, teachers can better manage their day-to-day work. When leaders model vulnerability, create open forums for teachers and student-driven conversations, and elevate and celebrate accomplishments (no matter how small), they create psychological safety and build community.”

Global Online Academy staff (see item #7)

1. A 30-Minute Intervention That Produced Significant Improvements

In this Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness article, Jaymes Pyne (Stanford University) and Geoffrey Borman (Arizona State University) report on their replication of a 2019 intervention with students entering middle school. A major issue for students starting a new school (or college) is anxiety about belonging – making friends, being socially accepted, fitting in, and feeling academically competent in a new setting. The transition from elementary to middle school is especially fraught because of the increased emphasis on grades, academic competition, and being sorted into advanced and less-advanced classes. One study found that on average, the transition to middle school may depress students’ achievement by 3.5 – 7 months of expected learning over the course of a 10-month school year.

“Social acceptance by peers is of particular importance to adolescents’ positive development,” say Pyne and Borman, “yet the physical transition to middle school can disrupt students’ prior school-based peer networks. Teacher-student relationships often become more distant, and potentially negative, as greater emphasis is placed on teacher control and discipline.” These anxieties, and a reduction of emotional support in larger and less-personal middle schools, are particularly acute for African-American and Latinx students.

The intervention Pyne and Borman replicated took place in two 15-minute sittings during the regular school day, one in September, the second in November. In the first, incoming middle-school students read first-person descriptions of students’ academic uncertainties entering a new school – worries that, over time, were resolved in a positive way. Study participants were then asked to reflect in writing on how they might address their own difficulties fitting in, and how things might become less difficult over time. In the second, students read first-person vignettes of students’ worries about fitting in socially – again, resolved positively – and were then asked to write about their own social worries and how those might turn out.

Pyne and Borman describe the theory of change behind this intervention – why it might have a positive effect on students’ school performance:

– Academic achievement is shaped by students’ sense of academic and social belonging in school.

– Adolescents feel less threatened when they realize that worry and anxiety about belonging is common, temporary, and malleable.

– Adolescents are more receptive when they read the experiences of students like them, versus being “talked at” by adults.

– They are also receptive when they are given space to reflect on their own experiences entering a new school; they can reappraise while feeling heard and validated.

– This helps students redirect their focus and cognitive energy from stress management and anxiety over fitting in to engaging positively in social interactions and schoolwork.

– Because of that, they are less likely to miss class and act out, and more likely to align their actions with the school’s academic and social expectations.

– This results in success in the classroom, which creates a “cascade of effects” in the academic and social realm, leading to improved academic performance.

In the original study, and in the replication, students who were assigned to the intervention did better than those who were not in grade-point averages, attendance, trusting adults in the school, social belonging among peers, and identification with the school’s goals.

Pyne and Borman replicated this study in a slightly different context: there were more white students and fewer Latinx and African-American students in the district, and the elementary-to-middle-school transition took place from sixth to seventh grade, versus fifth to sixth grade in the original study. The results? Very similar positive impact on students’ social and academic confidence and performance, with no significant differences by race and ethnicity.

“On the face of it, it may seem unlikely that a 30-minute intervention has such effects on student achievement,” say Pyne and Borman. But the effects of interventions like this make sense, and they’re not magic. “Their power lies in enabling small yet precise changes in individuals’ beliefs and perceptions at critical junctures in life, allowing for recursive processes to shape these small gains into bigger ones… The structural transition to middle school is nearly universal and brimming with developmental and social challenges. This intervention helps alleviate anxiety around those challenges by allowing students a space to hear from their peers about feelings that are similar to their own and for participants to share their own apprehensions about entering middle school. Those feelings of uncertainty participants express may otherwise resolve negatively due to the mismatch they experience between the new middle-school environment and their own developmental needs…

“Similar to growth mindset interventions, which highlight the malleability of intelligence and a belief that the brain can grow, the belonging intervention reminds students that their social and academic belonging are also malleable. Rather than attributing concerns about fitting in to perceived personality flaws or a lack of intelligence, the exercises help remind students that they can overcome social and academic worries with support from teachers and peers and that, like most every student, they will also find that they can ‘fit in’ at their new school. This awareness allows participants to navigate their first year of middle school with better attitudes about school, which leads to improved school attachment and, eventually, greater academic achievement.”

Pyne and Borman conclude that this intervention is scalable to any school district, requiring no more than 30 minutes of class time, teachers receiving a quick briefing and administering the prompts, and the minimal expense of photocopying the vignettes. “Given the adverse academic consequences related to the move to middle and junior high school,” they say, “and that this transition affects more than 90% of students in the United States, this intervention is likely to be a cost-effective and desirable strategy for widespread implementation.”

[See Marshall Memo 389 for a study of four similar interventions, with an intriguing analogy about academic “lift” – airplane wings – and Memo 629 for an additional study of a slightly different intervention with equally positive results.]

“Replicating a Scalable Intervention That Helps Students Reappraise Academic and Social Adversity During the Transition to Middle School” by Jaymes Pyne and Geoffrey Borman in Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, October-December 2020 (Vol. 13, #4, pp. 652-678); the authors can be reached at pyne@stanford.eduand

2. Avoiding Three Unfortunate Statements in Math Classes

In this Edutopia article, math teacher Rachel Fuhrman says her New Orleans students are surprised when she tells them she hated math when she was in middle school. “I explain to them that the main thing I didn’t like about the subject was that my teacher made me feel like I was bad at it.” Fortunately Fuhrman had lots of other teachers who sparked an abiding love for the subject. But since becoming a teacher and visiting other classrooms, she’s heard statements like those that almost turned her off math. Three examples:

• This is so easy. When students who don’t think they are good at math hear a teacher say this, the message is unmistakable. “By calling something ‘easy,’” says Fuhrman, “we devalue the experience of those students who find it difficult, and create a space that does not welcome their struggle or their questions.” Those who lack confidence will be hesitant to raise their hand and ask for help.

• You’re so smart. Praise is important, but it needs to target specific student actions: hard work, courageous risk-taking, determination, attention to detail, use of academic language – not pat students on the head for mathematical intelligence. “When a student who feels like they aren’t a math person hears another student being praised for being ‘so smart,’” says Fuhrman, “it only reinforces the negative attitude that they have toward math class and themselves.”

• You should already know this. Math is sequential and cumulative, and it’s challenging for teachers when they (frequently) work with students who have gaps in their knowledge and skills. Making this statement to a class not only reinforces I’m-not-a-math-student thinking, says Fuhrman; it “places blame on students for something that may not be their fault” – another teacher didn’t cover it, or failed to teach it to the point of mastery.

“The way we speak to our students has an immense impact,” she concludes, “and small changes to what we say can make that impact a positive one.”

“3 Phrases That Can Demotivate Students in Math Class” by Rachel Fuhrman in Edutopia, December 15, 2020

3. Getting the Right People to Step Up for Leadership Positions

In this Harvard Business Review article, Chen Zhang (Tsinghua University), Jennifer Nahrgang (University of Iowa), and Susan Ashford and Scott DeRue (University of Michigan) say most organizations “desperately need” skilled leaders. Many people claim to be interested in a leadership role, but those with potential often fail to apply when opportunities open up, even holding back from taking “leaderly” actions in team meetings. Why? Zhang, Nahrgang, Ashford, and DeRue studied hundreds of leaders and potential leaders and a number of organizations, and have identified three perceived risks:

• Relationships – Going for a leadership role might disrupt positive relationships with colleagues, stir up resentment, ruin friendships, and lead to negative talk behind their backs. This fear is most pronounced in organizations where disagreements get nasty, becoming entangled with personality conflicts involving values, styles, and personalities.

• Self-image – “Despite the fact that both organizations and employees generally claim to admire leadership,” say the authors, “people worry that actually engaging in leadership acts might make them look bad in the eyes of their peers.” Becoming a leader might result in colleagues thinking they are a know-it-all or too aggressive.

• Blame – Employees with leadership potential might worry that if they take on a major responsibility and things go wrong, they will be blamed, alienating important mentors and jeopardizing future opportunities. “People are more risk-averse when major career consequences are at stake,” say the authors.

Can these perceived risks be mitigated? Zhang, Nahrgang, Ashford, and DeRue describe three proactive steps managers can take to make sure those with the most leadership potential step up:

• Go the extra mile to support risk-sensitive colleagues. Relatively junior employees tend to be more skittish about applying for leadership positions, and because of historical and existing discrimination, the same is true of women and people of color. To counter these forces, leaders need to publicly praise promising employees for their leadership contributions, explicitly ask for their ideas in meetings and on projects, and encourage them to apply for positions for which they have potential.

• Manage conflict and how people interpret it. Disagreements inevitably arise and leaders need to keep everyone focused on the issues. “When people see conflict as a search for the best idea rather than a fight between people,” say the authors, “they are less likely to shy away from leading those people.”

• Find low-stakes opportunities for people to try out leadership. Managers can suggest that high-potential colleagues take on a routine project with less visibility, or an exploratory initiative with smaller consequences, encouraging them to exercise their leadership muscles in a safer environment. “This approach also enables people to try out different approaches to leading,” say Zhang, Nahrgang, Ashford, and DeRue, “reflect on what works for them, see how others react to their leadership efforts, and adjust accordingly – without worrying that their career is on the line. Then, as they build confidence and hone their leadership skills, they will be more prepared to take on higher-risk opportunities without fear of failure.”

“Why Capable People Are Reluctant to Lead” by Chen Zhang, Jennifer Nahrgang, Susan Ashford, and Scott DeRue in Harvard Business Review, December 17, 2020

4. How a Faculty Can Crystalize Its Fundamental Beliefs

(Originally titled “Co-Creating Your School’s Core Values”)

“Unfortunately,” says Robyn Jackson (Mindsteps) in Education Update, “most of the core values schools claim are not alive in the halls and classrooms.” A principal recited his school’s values to Jackson – Respect. Grit. Pride. – but his colleagues had several definitions of respect:

– Students are respectful of teachers.

– People respect themselves.

– Students don’t yell out during class or roughhouse in the halls.

“If your core values are open to interpretation,” says Jackson, “– if everyone gets to define them based on their own perspective, beliefs, and experiences – what’s the point of having them at all?”

Ideally, core values are practical reminders of how daily actions reflect the school’s aspirations. Reframing Respect, Grit, and Pride:

– We treat others the way that we want to be treated.

– We keep working until we’re successful.

– We leave everything better than we found it.

“These core values,” says Jackson, “clarify for teachers – and for students, too – what they’re expected to do.”

The key is a bottom-up process. A leader might prompt colleagues with questions like these:

– Imagine your retirement ceremony. What would you want your students to say about you and their time in your classroom?

– Imagine that your current students return for their 20th reunion. What do you want them to remember about our school?”

The themes that emerge from this process – a respectful environment, passion for learning –allow a faculty to narrow down and refine 3-5 core values. “It may take time and the process may feel messy,” says Jackson, “but trust me, it’s worth it.”

“Co-Creating Your School’s Core Values” by Robyn Jackson in Education Update, December 2020 (Vol. 62, #12, p. 1-2)

5. Keeping Social-Emotional Learning on Track During the Pandemic

“With this school year like no other in full swing – and no guarantee of when the pandemic will abate – it is our responsibility to make sure that the classrooms of 2020 and beyond aren’t simply new theaters in which to restage the same old inequities,” say Eve Colavito and Kalila Hoggard (DREAM school network) in this article in Education Week. “Although many educators are physically farther from our students, our lens into their daily lives and the challenges they face has never been clearer.”

Colavito and Hoggard’s immediate concern is that policing student behavior is sometimes masquerading as social-emotional learning. They agree with the goals of SEL – teaching students to understand and respond to their own emotions and those of the people around them, use their voices, and exercise agency. “But when SEL is pitched to schools as a trendy way to regulate student behavior,” they say, “we’re missing the point… using it to regulate rather than empower.” No-excuses discipline policies can focus on compliance, order for order’s sake, and sometimes dole out overly harsh consequences. Struggling to achieve some semblance of “normal school” during the pandemic, some teachers are demanding that computer cameras be turned on and insisting on restrictive dress codes in students’ bedrooms.

Now more than ever, say Colavito and Hoggard, it’s important to think about SEL with an equity lens, asking what kinds of support families need and how students’ social and emotional health can be nourished. In their New York City charter schools, they are striving to:

– Recognize that students won’t succeed in school until they are fed, sheltered, and safe – and also known, seen, and loved.

– Create classroom norms that every student contributes and commits to;

– Create a space where children establish their own vision of success;

– Get students to turn on their cameras because they feel safe and comfortable;

– Extend the same options and practices to all students, no matter what they look like and how they learn;

– Develop “critical thinkers and lifelong learners who leave school ready to live in the world, to be a citizen, and to do equity work of their own.”

“When Social-Emotional Learning Is Misused” by Eve Colavito and Kalila Hoggard in Education Week, December 9, 2020 (Vol. 40, #16, p. 20); the authors can be reached at and

6. Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey on Effective Remote Instruction

In this article in The Reading Teacher, Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey (San Diego State University) say they’ve noticed an increased focus on content in the classrooms they’ve visited during the pandemic – more social studies, science, and the arts. “Students had questions about the biological, physical, and social worlds,” they say, “and teachers responded. We lost count of the number of read-alouds we witnessed focused on informational texts, the inquiry projects based on content area learning, and the curation of websites focused on information related to grade-level science and social studies.” Fisher and Frey believe this is a healthy correction from the previous test-driven focus on reading and math, and they hope it will continue.

Based on their observations in schools, Fisher and Frey have five suggestions for remote and hybrid instruction in months ahead:

• Tune in to what students need. A big takeaway from previous interruptions in schooling – Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Enschede fireworks disaster in the Netherlands in 2000 – is the importance of finding out where students are academically and emotionally and tailoring instruction accordingly. “Teachers all over the world put down their planned curricula, focused on where their students were right now in their learning, and taught from there,” say Fisher and Frey. New tech tools make this easier than it was just a few years ago: students making video recordings of their responses on Flipgrid; using Tell About This to record young students’ responses to visual images; using PlayPosit to embed questions into videos; using Pear Deck and other polling apps to check for understanding in real time; using Google Forms to collect end-of-lesson feedback; and using voice feedback to give students appreciation and suggestions on their writing.

• Pay attention to areas where parents are likely to struggle. “Families have a limited capacity to support their children when school is at home,” say Fisher and Frey. Many find themselves running multi-age classrooms, and may be tempted to do children’s work for them. Homework and high-quality worksheets may be helpful in the upper grades, but not for younger students. At the elementary level, it’s better to ask family members to read with children, or suggest questions students can ask their parents. With challenging science topics, a good approach is having students asynchronously watch videos with embedded questions. Some apps take students (and their parents) back to the relevant portion of the video if students get a question wrong. With math topics that are likely to be unfamiliar to parents, synchronous lessons are better, with the teacher explaining skills and procedures in ways that will help parents get up to speed.

• Help students feel connected. “Feelings of connectedness to school come from positive interactions – lots of them – with classmates and the teacher,” say Fisher and Frey. This means starting live sessions with emotional check-ins: “How are you doing?” “Who is your favorite person to talk to?” “What would you ask people about their jobs?” “What would you choose for an entrance song to be played whenever you enter a room?” Classroom norms for synchronous sessions need to be created and continuously refreshed, including:

– “Eye contact” with the person who is speaking;

– How students signal agreement (thumbs-up) and uncertainty (the American Sign Language gesture for “I have a question”);

– Appropriate use of the chat function;

– Treating classmates with the care they deserve.

Breakout rooms need to be structured, with the teacher frequently popping in, say Fisher and Frey. Fishbowl discussions are also helpful, with a small group diving into a thought-provoking question while others watch, take notes, and post their thoughts in a collaborative space like Padlet for further discussion.

• Avoid do-it-yourself school. One lesson learned in the early days of remote learning was that independent tasks were often not completed, stalling learning for many students. “Now that we have had a chance to take a breath and assess,” say Fisher and Frey, “it is apparent that instructional design is crucial.” Specifically:

– Well-crafted Tier 1 instruction;

– Scaffolded learning experiences;

– Interaction with the teacher and peers;

– Checking for understanding;

– Responsive feedback;

– Meaningful summative assessments.

In short, successful learning of grade-level curriculum happens when nothing is left to chance.

• New challenges reinvigorate teaching. “Although the initial shift to pandemic teaching created a mental whiplash effect for most of it, with time, we are all getting the hang of it,” say Fisher and Frey. Teachers are discovering new methods, reaching out to their colleagues, and stretching themselves via book clubs, social media, and professional learning opportunities. “School will probably never be the same,” they conclude, “and that is a good thing.”

“Lessons from Pandemic Teaching for Content Area Learning” by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey in The Reading Teacher, November/December 2020 (Vol. 74, #3, pp. 341-345); the authors can be reached at dfisher@mail.sdsu.eduand

7. New Horizons for Teacher Professional Growth

“The twin pandemics of Covid-19 and racial injustice coalesced to create an inflection point for schools to reevaluate their priorities and clarify their purpose,” says this Global Online Academy year-in-review. The GOA staff authors list what they believe are 2020’s five big ideas in professional learning:

• Equity must be prioritized. “Distance learning has revealed, reinforced, or magnified preexisting differences in how learners access or engage with learning,” say the authors. “Schools are rethinking ways in which structures, systems, and routines can be designed to equitably support and enhance learning for all students.”

• Anytime, anywhere learning is for teachers as well as students. Educators have discovered abundant options for personalized professional learning, both short- and long-term.

• Share high-quality professional work. “Teachers do not have longitudinal studies and well-established reference guides for navigating this new landscape,” say the authors. “What they do have is each other” – hence the importance of sharing effective classroom practices and products via social media and online networks.

• School leaders shape teachers’ professional working conditions. “Helping them be well, helping them manage the rapid transformation of their jobs, and helping them learn with and for their students,” say the authors. “When leaders simplify teachers’ job to core responsibilities, minimize extraneous meetings, and encourage boundary-setting, teachers can better manage their day-to-day work. When leaders model vulnerability, create open forums for teachers and student-driven conversations, and elevate and celebrate accomplishments (no matter how small), they create psychological safety and build community.”

• Online teaching skills are indispensable. Even when schools return to in-person instruction, online learning will play an important role. “Now more than ever, people will be learning at school, at home, and everywhere in between,” say the authors. “Schools will be looking for teachers who have this skillset.”

“2020 Year-in-Review: Five Big Ideas in Professional Learning” by GOA Staff in Global Online Academy, December 15, 2020

8. Recommended Children’s Nonfiction Books

In this Language Arts feature, Denise Dávila (University of Texas/Austin) and six colleagues showcase the 2020 Orbis Pictus Awards for Outstanding Nonfiction. The criteria:

– Accurate presentation of textual and visual information;

– Clear and accessible organization;

– Engaging and distinctive writing style;

– The text complemented by inviting and informative images;

– Developmentally appropriate approaches to the content;

– Contributions to the K-8 curriculum.

Here are the winner, honor books, and recommended books (cover images and capsule reviews at the link below):

The winner:

• A Place to Land: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Speech That Inspired a Nation by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney (Neal Porter 2019)

Honor books:

• 1919: The Year That Changed America by Martin Sandler (Bloomsbury, 2019)

• Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island by Jennifer Thermes (Abrams, 2019)

• Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré by Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrated by Paola Escobar (HarperCollins, 2019)

• The Poison Eaters: Fighting Danger and Fraud in Our Food and Drugs by Gail Jarrow (Calkins Creek, 2019)

• Soldier for Equality: José de la Luz Saénz and the Great War by Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams, 2019)

Recommended books:

• Beware the Crocodile by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura (Candlewick, 2019)

• Crossing on Time: Steam Engines, Fast Ships, and a Journey to the New World by David Macaulay (Roaring Brook, 2019)

• The First Dinosaur: How Science Solved the Greatest Mystery on Earth by Ian Lendler, illustrated by C.M. Butzer (Margaret K. McElderry, 2019)

• Humanimal: Incredible Ways Animals Are Just Like Us! by Christopher Lloyd, illustrated by Mark Ruffle (What on Earth Books, 2019)

• It Began with a Page: How Gyo Fujikawa Drew the Way by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad (HarperCollins, 2019)

• Let ’Er Buck! George Fletcher, the People’s Champion by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illustrated by Gordon James (Carolrhoda, 2019)

• Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom by Teresa Robeson, illustrated by Rebecca Huang (Sterling Children’s, 2019)

• Todos Iguales/All Equal: Un Corrido De Lemon Grove/A Ballad of Lemon Grove by Christy Hale (Lee & Low, 2019)

“2020 Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction” by Denise Dávila, Seemi Aziz-Raina, Amina Chaudhri, Suzanne Costner, Daryl Grabarek, Sanjuana Rodriguez, and Julie Waugh in Language Arts, November 2020 (Vol. 98, #2, pp. 100-108); Dávila can be reached at

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