In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“Let’s look at this year as a welcome jolt to find the soul of what education should be for our students and families.”
Jay McClain (see item #3)
“Whatever we do when we return will be historic by definition. If all we come up with is passing out diagnostic tests to quantify learning loss and then track kids into groups for remediation, it will be a terrible failure of imagination.”
Stephen Merrill in “Too Much Focus on ‘Learning Loss’ Will be a Historic Mistake” in Edutopia, April 16, 2021
“Good teaching involves offering students opportunities to grapple with problems that stretch but do not overwhelm their reasoning; asking good questions; providing spaces for students to discuss their ideas with others; and offering them the right kinds of encouragement, support, and challenges.”
Susan Ahrendt, Debra Monson, and Kathleen Cramer (see item #5)
“Leaders need to make compromises, be flexible in tweaking their approach, and go one step back to be able to move two steps forward.”
Paul Leinwand, Mahadeva Matt Mani, and Blair Sheppard (see item #2)
1. A Tribute to Robert Slavin
Robert Slavin of Johns Hopkins University and Success for All fame died on April 24th. We’ve lost a powerful advocate for improving classroom instruction, especially in the elementary grades. Most recently, Slavin has been a leading advocate for high-quality tutoring as the most effective intervention to support student learning in the wake of the pandemic. Yesterday this work came to fruition with the launch of https://proventutoring.org.
Over the years, the Memo has summarized no fewer than 23 articles by Slavin. Here are a few memorable quotes from those articles:
“No one ever built a cathedral by waving a wand. Instead, magnificent cathedrals are built one stone at a time. In the same way, we can build a solid structure of learning using proven programs every year.”
“The middle school years offer the last chance for many struggling students to build the literacy skills they need to succeed in demanding high-school courses.”
“There are many problems in education that we don’t know how to solve, but reading failure in elementary school isn’t one of them.”
“Technology may be fun, and may be individualized, but it usually separates students from the personal attention of caring adults.”
“Benchmark assessments fall into the enormous category of educational solutions that are simple, compelling, and wrong. Yes, teachers need to know what students are learning and what is needed to improve it, but they have available many more tools that are far more sensitive, useful, timely, and tied to actions teachers can take.”
“The ability to express ideas in writing is one of the most important of all skills. Good writing is a mark of an educated person and perhaps for that reason it is one of the most important skills sought by employers and higher education institutions.”
“Perhaps more than any other subject, writing demands a supportive environment, in which students want to become better writers because they love the opportunity to express themselves, and to interact in writing with valued peers and teachers… Motivation is particularly important. If students love to write, because their peers as well as their teachers are eager to see what they have to say, then they will write with energy and pleasure.”
“There is a reason that homeschooling is rare.”
“All sorts of solutions have been proposed, but only one, tutoring, has both a solid and substantial research base and a significant number of proven, practical, cost-effective solutions.”
2. Complementary Facets of Effective Leadership
In this Harvard Business Review article, Paul Leinwand, Mahadeva Matt Mani, and Blair Sheppard (PwC) say that to succeed in the post-pandemic world, leaders need to straddle six paradoxical sets of leadership characteristics:
• Strategic executor – Leaders need to clear about what the new world looks like and be able to step back from the day-to-day and see where their ship is headed. “Being a good strategist, however, is not enough,” say Leinwand, Mani, and Sheppard. “Leaders need to be equally skilled at execution… They need to be able to make rapid operational decisions that help deliver the path to the future.”
• Humble hero – Leaders need to be willing to make bold decisions in times of uncertainty, but they also need to acknowledge what they don’t know and depend on and learn from colleagues with different skills, capabilities, and backgrounds. “They need to be highly inclusive and great listeners,” say the authors, “to understand not only new technologies, but also new ways of doing things that are different from how they did it before.”
• Tech-savvy humanist – With technology playing such a central role, leaders need to understand and be proficient in different modes of communication. “At the same time,” say Leinwand, Mani, and Sheppard, “they also need to understand and care about people… This means engaging people with a huge degree of empathy and authenticity – helping them to embrace the changes and co-own the transformation.”
• Traditioned innovator – In the midst of tumult and uncertainty, leaders need to embody the time-honored purpose and values of their organization. At the same time, they need to try out new things and have the courage to fail – and allow others to fail.
• High-integrity politician – It’s more vital than ever for leaders to be able to “gather support, negotiate, form coalitions and partnerships, and overcome resistance,” say Leinwand, Mani, and Sheppard. “Leaders need to make compromises, be flexible in tweaking their approach, and go one step back to be able to move two steps forward.” But being a politician will be effective only if there is a foundation of trust and integrity with colleagues.
• Globally-minded localist – “Technology has erased many boundaries and distances,” say the authors, and leaders need to draw insights and be open to new thinking from around the world. At the same time, they should be “deeply aware of and responsive to… the local communities and ecosystems in which they operate.”
“6 Leadership Paradoxes for the Post-Pandemic Era” by Paul Leinwand, Mahadeva Matt Mani, and Blair Sheppard in Harvard Business Review, April 23, 2021
3. Reinventing Schools for the “New Normal”
In this article in High Tech High Unboxed, Virginia school administrator Jay McClain says that many believe this has been a lost year. “It certainly has been a year of great loss,” he says. “Loss of an incomprehensible number of lives. Loss of the basic human connections and interactions that we crave and take for granted. But a ‘year of loss’ and a ‘lost year’ is not the same thing. When we say ‘lost year,’ the loss we are describing is ‘normal school.’”
But was the old normal so terrific? Fundamentally unchanged over the last century, our pre-pandemic schools failed to engage more than half of students by the time they reached high school, and didn’t come close to producing equitable results for students of color. The coronavirus has compounded these long-standing deficiencies, widening health and achievement gaps. “Can we really respond to these two crises by just returning to ‘normal’?” asks McClain. “Let’s look at this year as a welcome jolt to find the soul of what education should be for our students and families.” He suggests four “persistent elements” in education – time, place, group, and curriculum – that we should now rethink:
• Time – During the pandemic, following the traditional bell schedule was not sustainable, and schools experimented with a mix of synchronous and asynchronous activities with more choice for students, more sleep for adolescents, and more deference to the needs of working parents. As regular schooling resumes, McClain believes we should open up choices for when older students are in school – morning, afternoon, or evening. “Think of the impact that this could have,” he says, “for high-school students who need to have a job, watch their siblings, or whose parents work a late shift. We are due for a mindset shift in which the time of school gives students and families the best options for success.”
• Place – With schools closed by the virus, learning was no longer linked to classrooms, a school building, or even an attendance zone. As “normal” returns, many families will exercise choice on a sliding scale from full-time in a building to full-time remote, sometimes crossing geographic boundaries. “All of this depends on ensuring that we have the WiFi infrastructure and accessibility to technology across communities that has been so lacking,” says McClain. “Access to the Internet is understood now, more than ever, as not only essential to commerce and the operation of government in a pandemic, but also to the learning of students.”
• Group – Over the last year, most schools didn’t change how they grouped students; third-grade classes still functioned as such, as did algebra groups. But there was some loosening up – students grouped by needs, teachers specializing in areas of strength, students from different schools being taught together. Returning to “normal,” says McClain, “the potential to rethink learning/class groups goes far beyond this.” With time and place more flexible, there’s potential for a variety of groupings in synchronous and asynchronous settings, from lectures to lessons on topics chosen by students to small-group activities to individual teacher-student check-ins. In addition, teachers can work across boundaries with colleagues and students and have much more flexibility regrouping students during the year.
• Curriculum – “A fundamental shift that has long been needed,” says McClain, “is with the balance between a common curriculum and the context of each child – [their] needs, interests, styles, and passions.” He believes that now is the time to pare each grade’s curriculum standards down to a smaller set of high-leverage standards in reading, writing, math, science, and social studies, and give students more choice in how they master them while pursuing their passions. “In this way,” he says, “we can be more culturally responsive to our students and cause our students to feel a sense of belonging and purpose and not just be taught how to conform.”
In short, McClain concludes, we have the opportunity to build a great deal more choice and customization into time, place, groupings, and the curriculum. “Choice does not mean we need to take away the elements of our current system that work for some families,” he says. “Rather, it means we provide a variety of pathways that will work for all families… The needs of families, the passions of our students, and our own humanity demand that we meet students and families where they are and give them choice so that we wrap around them, not the other way around.”
“A Found Year” by Jay McClain in High Tech High Unboxed, April 9, 2021; McClain can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
4. Priorities for Dealing with Unfinished Learning in Math and ELA
With an eye to closing significant learning gaps in the wake of school closures and hybrid instruction, this paper by Harold Asturias, Phil Daro, Judy Elliott, and Lily Wong Filmore from the Council of the Great City Schools, has specific suggestions on the most important mathematics concepts and skills for these key transitions:
– To grade 3 (page 11-12 in the link below)
– To grade 6 (page 13-14)
– To algebra I (page 15-17)
– From algebra I to geometry (page 17-19)
The authors also have suggestions for priorities in English language arts for these transitions:
– To grade 3 (page 21-27)
– To grade 6 (page 27-32)
– To grade 9 (page 33-38)
In addition, Asturias, Daro, Elliott, and Filmore make strong recommendations on how educators should handle unfinished learning as schools emerge from the pandemic:
• Stick to grade-level content and instructional rigor. There will be a tendency to immediately identify deficits and reteach/remediate. “According to research,” say the authors, “both are largely ineffective practices, resulting in student disengagement with school and greater inequities in access to grade-level instruction and educational opportunity.” Instead, teachers should move ahead with the grade’s curriculum, scaffolding and addressing learning gaps as needed. “This daily reengagement of prior knowledge in the context of grade-level assignments will add up over time,” they say, “resulting in more-functional learning than if we resort to watered down instruction or try to reteach topics out of context.”
• Focus on the depth of instruction, not on the pace. Similarly, there will be a tendency to rush to cover all the gaps in learning from the 2020-21 school year. But that will mean “rushing ahead of many students, leaving them abandoned and discouraged,” say the authors. “It will also feed students a steady diet of curricular junk food: shallow engagement with the content, low standards for understanding, and low cognitive load – all bad learning habits to acquire.” This will be especially inappropriate at a time when schools need to attend to students’ social and emotional wellbeing. The authors say that “taking the time to provide patient, in-depth instruction allows for issues related to unfinished learning to arise naturally when dealing with new content, allowing for just in time instruction and reengagement of students in the context of grade-level work.”
• Prioritize content and learning. Teachers need guidance on “where to invest their time and effort, what areas can be cut, and where they should teach only to awareness level to save time for priorities,” say the authors. This will allow teachers to slow down and take the time to fill gaps – in context – and allow for the kind of “constructive struggle” that will build students’ confidence and understanding. Curriculum leaders should not be asking what needs to be covered at each grade level, but rather, What is the importance and purpose of this topic? See the full text below for specific suggestions at several strategic points in the math and ELA curriculum.
• Ensure inclusion of ELLs and students with disabilities. The authors caution against excessive pullout of these students for remediation, advocating instead for including them in Tier 1 instruction and having them present in regular classes at least 80 percent of the day. They advocate building unit and lesson plans guided by an asset-based approach and universal design for learning (UDL). Now more than ever, they say, “it is essential to ensure that each and every student has equitable access to engaging grade-level content and instructional rigor.” To support this, families need to be informed of the curriculum expectations and how they can support learning at home.
• Identify and address gaps in learning through instruction, avoiding the misuse of standardized testing. “The first instinct of many districts will be to immediately test students upon their return to school in order to gauge their academic levels and needs,” say the authors. “This would be a mistake for many reasons” – especially if it results in achievement grouping and lower expectations for students who have fallen behind. The authors say the priority in the opening weeks should be on helping students reacclimate to school, rebuild relationships and trust, and gain a level of self-confidence. From the beginning, the priority needs to be “strong, attentive instruction, with embedded formative assessment,” responding to students’ needs in real time in the context of grade-level instruction. Several weeks along, diagnostic assessments can serve as “temperature checks” to identify key areas that will need attention.
• Capitalize on people’s shared experience during the crisis. Some students will reenter school with significant trauma as well as unfinished learning, say the authors. But they contend that educators should focus on the commonalities of the pandemic. “The virus, school closures, social distancing, and nationwide protests have created new common experiences that can serve as the basis for work across subjects in the first weeks of school,” they say. “This will allow schools and teachers to reengage students, directly address student and adult hardship, stress, or trauma, and resume instruction in a way that feels contextualized and responsive, helping students comprehend the world around them.” Every subject area – science, ELA, math, social studies, and more – can be part of this effort.
“Addressing Unfinished Learning After Covid-19 School Closures” by Harold Asturias, Phil Daro, Judy Elliott, and Lily Wong Filmore, Council of the Great City Schools, Council of the Great City Schools, June 2020, spotted in “Using Feedback to Support Students’ Critical Learning” by Cathy Martin in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, April 2021 (Vol. 114, #4, pp. 266-268)
5. Orchestrating “Productive Discussions” in Math Classes
“Good teaching involves offering students opportunities to grapple with problems that stretch but do not overwhelm their reasoning; asking good questions; providing spaces for students to discuss their ideas with others; and offering them the right kinds of encouragement, support, and challenges,” say Susan Ahrendt (Metropolitan State University), Debra Monson (University of St. Thomas), and Kathleen Cramer (the Rational Number Project) in this article in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12. In that vein, they ask us to consider this fourth-grade fractions problem:
_|__________________|_______________ Where is 1 on this number line? Where is ½?
“This task,” say the authors, “has been particularly fruitful in generating a discussion among students to apply prior fraction knowledge, reveal common misunderstandings about the unit on the number line, and challenge students to reconsider the unit on this model.” Students need to think about how to partition the length between 0 and 4/3 into equal parts to show thirds. If they partition the length into four equal parts, is each part ¼ or 1/3? When they locate ½, is it halfway between 0 and 1 or 0 and 4/3?
Ahrendt, Monson, and Cramer believe problems like this, if handled well, can produce much deeper student understanding than standard math lessons – provided these steps are followed:
• Choosing a meaty task – Having identified a learning goal, teachers find a high-level task that will support students in meeting that goal. In the case of the problem above, the concept is identifying the unit, and a number line with missing information is a good way to get students grappling with the concept.
• Anticipating students’ thinking – From previous instruction or one-on-one interviews, teachers get insights on what is likely to happen when students work with the problem. For example, a student makes a mark to the left of 4/3 for where 1 should be, but doesn’t have a clear idea of where it should go. Another student successfully divides the space from 0 to 4/3 into four thirds, but guesses at where ½ should be on the number line.
• Monitoring student work – The teacher circulates, observing the strategies students are using, watching for misconceptions, and asking probing questions. “The biggest challenge,” say Ahrendt, Monson, and Cramer, “may come from trusting students to find unique solution strategies that will support a larger discussion to promote deeper understanding.”
• Selecting students to share their work and sequencing the share-outs – When it’s time to discuss solutions, the teacher needs to be strategic in the order in which they are presented. The right sequence, say the authors, “will motivate and guide discussion to scaffold students’ thinking about unit, partitioning, order, and fraction as a point and distance.” A teacher might start with a student who understood that 1 needs to be placed to the left of 4/3 on the number line, closer to 4/3 than 0. The teacher follows up by calling on students who had insights on how to be more precise. Students’ responses show different strategies for dividing up the space between 0 and 1. The teacher asks one student, “Why did you name the points in thirds and not fourths?” Finally, the teacher calls on students who solved this conundrum and labeled 1/3, 2/3, 3/3, 4/3.
• Building connections – The last step in the problem – finding the location of ½ on the number line – has students scratching their heads. It’s tempting, say the authors, for the teacher to just tell students the answer, but “we are suggesting the kinds of understandings that students build through grappling with this type of discourse are more resilient.” By persevering in making sense of the problem, trying out different arguments, and critiquing the reasoning of others, students build a deeper understanding of the core concept. There’s a reason that ½ falls halfway between 1/3 and 2/3.
“Promoting Discourse: Fractions on Number Lines” by Susan Ahrendt, Debra Monson, and Kathleen Cramer in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, April 2021 (Vol. 114, #4, pp. 284-289); the authors can be reached at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com.
6. Five Habits of Mind Students Need to Unlearn
In this History Tech article, teacher/consultant and self-described social studies nerd Glenn Wiebe has recently spent time looking over the soon-to-be-required Kansas social studies assessments. The best way to prepare students to be successful? “Have kids practice critical and historical thinking skills,” he says. “Done.” That’s because the assessment will ask students to solve a problem using evidence and communicate their solution.
But while Wiebe sees that students need to get better at this kind of thinking, he also believes they need to stopthinking in other ways. Inspired by a Global Digital Citizen article by Lee Watanabe-Crockett, Wiebe lists the following thought processes that are unproductive:
• Accepting false and inaccurate information – Because of the amount of intentional and unintentional fake news and propaganda out there, says Wiebe, “our kids need specific skills to make sense of what they see and read, not just online but wherever they find evidence.” They need to learn how to ask better questions and hone their skills at identifying false and misleading information.
• Jumping to conclusions – “This is often the first thing our kids will do when we ask them to look at a particular problem or issue,” says Wiebe. “Before looking at any evidence at all, the brains of many students will automatically decide that he or she already knows the answer.” Students need to understand that their brains are wired to look for patterns where they may not exist, especially when emotions are involved – anger, sadness, anxiety. Kids also need to know what they don’t know, and proceed with some humility to fill in the gaps of their “unknowing.”
• Being close-minded – “Battling this is at the core of what we do every day,” says Wiebe. A single point of view can get wrapped up in students’ identity and prevent them from hearing others’ views. Presenting facts on the other side usually doesn’t work. Telling and reading stories does, building bridge of empathy to the lives of others.
• Negative thinking – It’s easy for students to conclude that they’re not capable of doing the heavy intellectual lifting that’s being asked of them in rigorous curriculum standards. Teachers need to “do more formative and ungraded assessments and fewer graded, larger summative assessments,” says Wiebe. “Build failure into your instruction and assessment. Learning happens when we screw it up. Provide a place for kids to fail without penalty.”
• Losing track of purpose – “Distractions are everywhere,” says Wiebe. “Phones. Mobile apps. Homecoming. Sports. Friends.” Teachers need to be crystal clear about what’s expected, have students paraphrase it back in digital or written form, provide a step-by-step checklist, and build in checkpoints. Students also need to be schooled on how distracting it is to have a cellphone in the vicinity, and put it away when they’re working.
“Your Kids Are Screwing Up Their Summative Assessments. 5 Ways to Fix It” by Glenn Wiebe in History Tech, April 25, 2021
7. Locating High-Quality Lesson Ideas Online
In this article in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, Stefanie Livers (Missouri State University) and Victoria Miller Bennett (The Collaborative for Teaching and Learning, Louisville) worry that a lot of teachers are searching the Internet for lesson plans and all too often choosing material that is “superficial and cute” and lacks “substance, equity considerations, and sometimes mathematics.” Livers and Bennett suggest the following desiderata for high-quality mathematics tasks (adapted from Margaret Schwan Smith and Mary Kay Stein, 1998):
– Sets the stage for complex, high-order thinking;
– Provides the opportunity for exploration of concepts, processes, or relationships;
– Requires students to self-regulate and monitor their reasoning;
– Provides multiple entry points for engagement;
– Allows for students to build on their funds of knowledge;
– Requires substantial cognitive effort;
– Often requires students to make decisions and choices.
To zero in on material with these qualities, online and elsewhere, Livers and Bennett developed the Mathematics Lesson Planning Protocol (MLP2):
– Is the website’s material vetted? If not, the steps below are especially important.
– What is the mathematics? Perhaps it’s just a fun activity.
– Is it aligned with standards? If not, can it be modified so it’s on target?
– What is the understanding being developed? Or is it just a following-directions task?
– Is it high-quality, promoting reasoning and problem solving? If not, keep searching.
– Does it offer accessible, equitable opportunity for all students? If not, keep looking.
– Does it meet the criteria listed above? If not, keep trying.
– Does it ask students to demonstrate evidence of their thinking? If not, ditto.
– Can I manage it? If not, find a better lesson.
“Planning Pitfalls: Considerations for Decision-Making” by Stefanie Livers and Victoria Miller Bennett in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, April 2021 (Vol. 114, #4, pp. 306-311 the authors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
8. Children’s Books to Combat Anti-Asian-American Prejudice and Hatred
In this New York Times feature, Michelle Lee recommends books that help young people understand and work against prejudice and hatred directed at AAIP people. (Click the link below for the cover image and a brief description of each book.)
– My Footprints by Bao Phi, illustrated by Basia Tran, age 4-7
– My Name is Bilal by Asma Mobin-Uddin, illustrated by Barbara Kiwak, age 6-9
– Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, age 9-12
– Count Me In by Versha Bajaj, age 9-12
– Fred Korematsu Speaks Up by Laura Atkins and Stan Yogi, illustrated by Yutaka Houlette, age 9-12
Teenage nonfiction books:
– They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott, illustrated by Harmony Becker, age 12 and up
– From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry: The Killing of Vincent Chin and the Trial That Galvanized the Asian-American Movement by Paula Yoo, age 13 and up
Teenage graphic novels:
– Displacement by Kiko Hughes, age 12 and up
– Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang, art by Gurihiru, age 12 and up
– Flamer by Mike Curato, age 14 and up
“Help Your Kids Understand Asian-American Hate” by Michelle Lee in The New York Times, April 25, 2021
9. Short Items:
a. Teaching the Economics of the Pandemic – In this article in Social Education, Kim Holder (University of West Georgia) and Scott Niederjohn (Lakeland University) include a series of graphs and infographics to describe the economic impact of Covid-19. In a sidebar, they include the URLs of ten online teaching resources.
“Pandemic 101: A Roadmap to Help Students Grasp an Economic Shock” by Kim Holder and Scott Niederjohn in Social Education, March/April 2021 (Vol. 85, #2, pp. 64-71); the authors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
b. Online Primary-Source U.S. History Materials – This free history website (supported by the Library of Congress) has teaching resources and educator guides on these key periods: American Revolution and early republic (1760s-1800s); Civil War (1860s); mental health (1840s-1890s); women’s suffrage (1840s-1920); muckrakers (1890s-1920s); exploitation: labor and immigration (early to mid-1900s); World War II (1939-1945); Vietnam (1954-1975); Watergate (1972-1974); and gender equality (1850s-present).
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