In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“There is sort of this superhero mentality that you’re supposed to do it all. And you can’t. You won’t be able to sustain yourself at all. You need to have some coping strategies, some ways of managing your emotions, particularly stress, in order to do the important interpersonal work you need to do as a school leader.”
Rick Rogers, quoted in “SEL for Principals: How a PD Program Addresses Their High-Stress Needs” by Denisa Superville in Education Week, September 29, 2021 (Vol. 41,
#7, pp. 8-9)
“Tell me about a time this person did something really well. Tell me about a time this person really screwed up something… In the time they did something poorly, what did they learn? Did they improve after that? Did they handle the same situation and similar ones better?… And what’s the general reputation that this person has created in their position?”
Daniel Goleman on suggested questions to ask when calling a reference for a job
candidate, “The Emotions of Leadership”, an interview with Julie Vitale in School
Administrator, October 2021 (Vol. 78, #9, pp. 18-23)
“Moving past reading words on the page or screen to being able to comprehend at appropriate levels of sophistication – the whole point of reading – requires the foundational skills and much more. Successful reading programs must also include language development (vocabulary, syntax, discourse), strategies that help students comprehend what they read, making sure students acquire specific and general knowledge, and providing students with motivating reading material and instruction that is engaging, organized, purposeful, and effective.”
Claude Goldenberg in “Science of Reading Advocates Have a Messaging Problem” in
Education Week, May 3, 2021; Goldenberg can be reached at email@example.com.
1. Lorrie Shepard on Integrating Assessments with High-Quality Teaching
In this article in American Educator, Lorrie Shepard (University of Colorado/Boulder) traces the arc of assessment in U.S schools over the last 50 years:
– Minimum competency tests in the 1970s;
– Basic skills tests in the 1980s;
– Tests geared to world-class standards (“worth teaching to”) in the 1990s;
– Frequent high-stakes accountability tests in the 2000s;
– The addition of commercial interim tests in the 2010s;
– Most recently, assessments of social-emotional development.
What we have now, says Shepard, is a “multi-layered testing system that is limited in its ability to document progress toward deep learning goals, much less cultivate deeper learning. State tests must be curriculum-neutral to allow for local control, interim tests purchased by districts have to be generic enough to sell to national markets, and costs preclude portfolios or performance tasks.”
All this has resulted in minimal gains in student achievement, says Shepard – roughly 3-4 percentile points – along with huge expenditures, a loss of instructional time, test score inflation, low-level test prep, and bending the curriculum away from social studies, science, art, music, and physical education.
“Inequities are systemic in American society,” she continues. Advocates believed high-stakes accountability testing would further the cause of equity, but that hasn’t worked out. We can’t “incentivize our way to equity and excellence.”
Shepard believes two recent developments open the door to better policies: Covid-19 highlighted socioeconomic and racial inequalities, and significant ESSER funding is available to schools. “As we emerge from the pandemic and take stock of our values,” she says, “I hope we will fundamentally rethink how we approach teaching, assessment, learning, and youth development.”
To make progress on deep learning for all students, says Shepard, we need “rigorous, authentic learning goals and instructional supports that ensure a sense of safety and belonging.” Integral to those aspirational goals are ambitious teaching practices geared to who students are – academically, emotionally, socially, and culturally – and equitable assessment practices implemented “for the sole purpose of supporting learning – not ranking students, teachers, or schools… Some teachers already exemplify ambitious teaching and equitable assessment.” Shepard hopes to build on their work.
Assessments that make a positive difference are entirely formative, she says; they are grounded in the classroom curriculum and fully integrated with instructional practice. “Often, students do not know they are being assessed – they are simply sharing their thoughts and participating in activities as a normal part of the learning process,” says Shepard. “In addition, because the teacher is engaging with the student, the results are more meaningful; problems like bad days, issues at home, or simply misunderstanding a question do not skew the teacher’s understanding of the student’s progress.” To reach that goal, these are the steps Shepard believes schools need to take:
• Develop a shared understanding of ambitious learning goals and the features of quality student work. “Learning goals direct effort and shape thinking,” she says. “Goals help to explain context and purpose and create a vision for what mature or expert practice looks like. To serve equity, goals must be challenging for all students…” It’s essential that students are involved in shaping goals and monitoring their own progress.
• Provide rich and authentic instructional and assessment tasks. This means plenty of “open-ended, high-cognitive-demand tasks,” says Shepard. In social studies, for example, “If a goal is for students to be able to develop and evaluate historical claims and arguments, then instructional activities must involve this kind of experience, including reading across texts, examining primary documents, presenting and critiquing arguments, and the like.” The teacher should do whole-class checks for understanding during each lesson and hold students individually accountable, perhaps with an exit ticket.
• Make connections to students’ interests and funds of knowledge. Kids’ experiences from home and the community are highly relevant to school learning, says Shepard – “cooking, budgets, first aid, and automobile repair and …core cultural values regarding morals and ethics… Drawing connections and providing scaffolds from everyday knowledge to academic knowledge also support intellectual development while contributing emotionally to a student’s feeling of belonging.”
• Develop disciplinary discourse practices. This means getting students to explain their reasoning and nurture language and inquiry skills in lively verbal interactions, such as posing challenging questions, analyzing and interpreting data, argumentation, poster presentations, and more.
• Elicit students’ thinking and help them learn to build on each other’s ideas. “Engaging in challenging intellectual work requires emotional support,” says Shepard, “respecting who students are…” Prompts and tasks must be challenging and interesting, students’ thinking needs to be made visible, and the classroom culture must make students feel safe about offering inaccurate or incomplete thoughts.
• Engage students in self- and peer assessment. This helps students better understand learning goals, understand the features of quality work, retrieve knowledge and skills on a regular basis, and take advantage of opportunities to re-do and improve their work.
• Ensure equitable participation. This includes sentence starters and other pedagogical “talk moves” that get all students actively engaged – for example, “Can you give an example?” and “What evidence supports that idea?”
• Present tasks in multiple modes and use artifacts to help students demonstrate their learning. This deepens students’ conceptual understanding by making connections and helping them see more than one way to think about a new idea.
• Foster student agency and self-regulation. These are “closely overlapping constructs,” says Shepard, “having to do with both cognitive and affective aspects of learning.” They are all about self-awareness, self-confidence, motivation, persistence, and taking responsibility for one’s own learning. None of this should involve external rewards like stickers, prizes, or pizza parties.
• Provide improvement-focused feedback. Saying that a student’s work is “below basic” or “55th percentile,” or comparing them to other students, undermines learning, says Shepard, citing research findings that students who get this kind of feedback do worse than students who receive none. The best feedback is timely, focused on the learning task, and delivered in a way that supports the learner.
• Develop classroom norms of respect, responsibility, and improvement. Students should feel safe to make mistakes and offer critiques of one another’s reasoning “without meanness or injured feelings,” says Shepard. “Explicit work to jointly establish such norms is imperative…”
• Establish a healthy relationship between formative and summative assessment. Making posters, using Google Docs to report learning, and peer assessment help a class learn together, says Shepard. But there must be “clear conceptual linkages to culminating summative assessments.” Low-stakes checks for understanding must be seen as supporting improvement toward, and clearly aligned with, higher-stakes assessments of learning. Shepard is not a fan of frequent tests with grades recorded in grade-book management systems, which externalize students’ progress, signal that learning is “done,” and don’t enlist students in self-improvement.
• Avoid grading practices that undermine interest, demean students, and distort learning goals. Grades should be based on mastery of specific learning goals, says Shepard, not on other factors like effort, ability, improvement, work habits, attention, or participation. Shepard confesses that she’s found it very difficult to convince educators to give up on the idea that grades are motivators. People mistakenly believe that extrinsic rewards work – that “students are more likely to turn in assignments and turn off their phones if you make things ‘count’ toward their grades.” Research is convincing on the negative impact of extrinsic rewards.
Unfortunately, concludes Shepard, school districts frequently are part of the problem. This happens when they apply intense pressure to raise scores on high-stakes tests, invest in multiple-choice interim assessments, and use data management systems that emphasize “data” rather than substantively describing students’ progress. But Shepard believes that, “even under the current, highly counterproductive federal and state testing regimes,” districts can take constructive action:
– Understand and communicate how better assessment practices are essential to equitable outcomes.
– Implement coherent policies that integrate curriculum, instruction, and assessment – and eliminate initiatives that aren’t part of that effort.
– Get curriculum and assessment departments collaborating to inform the design and implementation of those coherent policies.
– Provide professional development and coaching to support the new things teachers will be asked to do (and affirm what some are already doing).
– Develop or adopt district-level assessments that embody the full range of desired learning goals.
– Establish grading practices with clear success criteria and steer teachers away from using grades as motivators.
“Ambitious Teaching and Equitable Assessment: A Vision for Prioritizing Learning, Not Testing” by Lorrie Shepard in American Educator, Fall 2021 (Vol. 45, #3, pp. 28-37); Shepard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Preventing the College Gender Disparity in the Early Grades
In this Education Gadfly article, Michael Petrilli reports that at the end of the 2020-21 school year, women made up 59.5 percent of college students, men 40.5 percent. Looking at all Americans age 25-29, 44 percent of women and 35 percent of men have earned at least a four-year degree. Doing the math, 56 percent of college completers are female.
Why the male-female gap? Petrilli doesn’t buy the argument that young men are giving up on college. “Virtually all American students who are academically well-prepared for college continue to matriculate into college and then go on to graduate,” he says. The problem is that fewer young men come out of high school prepared for college: “In other words,” says Petrilli, “the college readiness gap is perfectly predictive of the college completion gap.” (Interestingly, the percentages of students ready for college and completing college are very similar among white, black, and Latino students.)
So what are the origins of the college gender gap? Petrilli traces the class of 2013 back through the grades and finds a remarkably similar male-female disparity at each level:
– 56 percent of college-ready high-school students (as defined by NAEP reading levels) were female.
– 57 percent of NAEP-proficient eighth graders were female.
– 54 percent of NAEP-proficient fourth graders were female.
Petrilli’s time machine couldn’t go earlier than fourth grade, but looking at data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS), it appears that boys and girls enter kindergarten with almost identical achievement – girls were only one percentage point ahead of boys.
The gender gap begins to open up right away: girls make significantly more progress in kindergarten and first grade, and somewhat more in second and third; entering fourth grade, girls are four percentage points ahead. Boys close the gap a little in the upper elementary grades, but then fall behind again in early adolescence, always playing catch-up on their deficit from the primary grades.
Why are boys falling behind girls in the early grades? One theory is that primary-grade boys’ slower-developing brains put them at a disadvantage with the more-rigorous elementary literacy curriculum implemented in recent years. Maybe that’s the case, says Petrilli, but he is more convinced by a study by Joseph Paul Robinson and Sarah Theule Lubienski, which found that teachers systematically underestimate boys’ reading abilities as they enter kindergarten and navigate the early grades. Teachers’ perceptions may be influenced by the fact that girls are generally better behaved. The fact that elementary teachers are 89 percent female may also play a part. In addition, it appears that single-parent households have a greater negative impact on boys. Whatever the reasons, the bottom line is that boys are more often assigned to lower reading groups and handed less-challenging books to read.
What steps can educators take to get boys off to a better start, especially in reading? Elementary schools definitely need to focus on the foundational skills with high-quality curriculum materials, says Petrilli. He also believes teachers must address any “anti-little-boy biases they might harbor.” Effective use of formative assessments, he says, can provide data on students’ actual reading achievement that “might contradict teachers’ own perceptions, perhaps in a good way,” leading to higher expectations and getting boys reading higher-level books.
“There’s good reason to believe,” Petrilli concludes, “that if we keep the reading gender gap from opening up in grades K-3, we could eventually close the college gender gap, as well.”
“The College Gender Gap Begins in Kindergarten” by Michael Petrilli in Education Gadfly, October 7, 2021; Petrilli can be reached at email@example.com.
3. Does Flipped Teaching Work?
In this Brookings Brown Center Chalkboard article, Patricia Roehling and Carrie Bredow report on their meta-analysis of 317 published studies of flipped learning, a classroom strategy whose popularity surged during the pandemic, especially in colleges and secondary schools. Here’s what is involved in a flipped class:
– Students view an online lecture or presentation to prepare for class.
– In-person time is devoted to discussions, peer teaching, presentations, projects, problem solving, computations, and group activities.
– Thus the traditional sequence is flipped, with passive learning experiences happening at home, conducted at students’ convenience and repeated as often as necessary, and class time devoted to active learning experiences.
– Flipped learning is based on constructivist theory, with classroom time helping students build on pre-existing cognitive frameworks and construct their own knowledge.
– Flipping aims to lighten students’ cognitive load during class, helping them to shift knowledge and skills to long-term memory and develop their interpersonal skills.
The meta-analysis focused on college classes, comparing flipped learning with traditional lecture-based instruction on several dimensions. The major findings:
• Students in flipped classrooms performed better in most subject areas. Outcomes were best with foundational knowledge, professional and academic skills, and (to a lesser degree) higher-order thinking.
• Students in flipped classes did better in all non-cognitive areas, including interpersonal skills, engaging with the content, and developing metacognitive abilities such as time management and learning strategies.
• Flipped learning was most effective in skill-based courses, including technology, health-science, and languages. This seemed to be because class time could be spent practicing and mastering skills with peers and the instructor. Mathematics and engineering classes showed the smallest gains with flipped learning.
• Flipped learning had the widest advantage over traditional teaching in countries in the Middle East and Asia where teachers implementing the new practices were making the most radical departure from the way most teaching was being conducted.
• Instructors who gave pre-class quizzes to make sure students were doing their homework registered lower academic gains than those who didn’t. Roehling and Bredow speculate that this was because students focused on doing well on the quizzes rather than understanding the material. This points to the wisdom of giving in-class rather than before-class quizzes, say the researchers.
• Instructors who combined flipped and traditional classes tended to get better results than those who were fully flipped. This was probably because a mixed approach lightened the workload (designing a flipped class takes extra time) and reserved traditional lecture classes for where they were most appropriate: introducing new, complex, and foundational knowledge and skills.
• Student satisfaction with flipped courses was slightly higher than for traditional teaching.
“Flipped Learning: What Is It, and When Is It Effective?” by Patricia Roehling and Carrie Bredow in Brookings Brown Center Chalkboard, September 28, 2021
4. 4. Research on Restorative Justice
In this Educational Leadership article, Bryan Goodwin (McREL) reports on the status of restorative justice, which has origins in Indigenous cultures and is being adopted in some schools to reduce punitive discipline and address racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. The key elements:
– Shared values are established, along with character building and a sense of community.
– When an infraction occurs, punishment is not the immediate reaction.
– Rather, wrongdoers meet with a trained mediator and those they harmed.
– They are shown the results of their actions and taught how to ask for forgiveness.
– If there is resolution, wrongdoers are invited to return to the community.
There is anecdotal evidence of positive results in some schools, including declines in exclusionary discipline and improvements in academic achievement.
However, says Goodwin, studies using scientific methodology have not documented that restorative programs work. Implementation is the biggest challenge, he reports; it’s not “a simple plug-and-play program that leaders can set and forget after a few workshops.” Successful implementation requires intensive PD, consistent leadership, modeling, ongoing coaching, and regular meetings to win educator understanding and buy-in.
Goodwin describes what happened at Algonquin High School in Virginia. They started with just a few volunteers, developed teachers’ expertise, saw results, and gradually expanded the program, with increasingly positive outcomes. “That’s as it should be,” Goodwin concludes. “After all, the only research that really matters is whether something works in your school and for your students.”
“Does Restorative Justice Work?” by Bryan Goodwin in Educational Leadership, October 2021 (Vol. 79, #2, pp. 82-83, 85); Goodwin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
5. A Trauma-Informed Response to an Out-of-Control Student
In this Educational Leadership article, Andrea Gutmann and Christie Badry (educators in Camrose, Canada) say that when a young student is screaming, threatening, or hiding, asking them to choose a calm-down strategy or presenting consequences won’t work. They suggest these steps:
– Size up the situation. Is the student unsafe? Overwhelmed? Can the student’s dignity be preserved?
– Stay calm. “If your words say you’re safe but your tone and breathing project stress, your message will be lost,” say Gutmann and Badry. The student is “hurt, not bad.”
– Talk very little. “The desire to communicate is often to ease our anxiety,” they say, “not the students’.”
– Offer food. A juice box, a lollipop, an apple or carrot can help; acceptance signals de-escalation.
– Give the kid something to tinker with. Legos, playdough, markers, a sand table; it’s not a reward but a tool to help self-regulation.
– Don’t rush. It might be minutes or hours.
“6 Steps to Help a Distressed Student Get to the ‘Upstairs’ Brain” by Andrea Gutmann and Christie Badry in Educational Leadership, October 2021 (Vol. 79, #2, pp. 10-11)
6. Can a Simple Intervention Narrow the Black-White Suspension Gap?
In this Education Gadfly article, Jeff Murray reports on an experiment conducted with more than 2,000 seventh graders in Wisconsin’s Madison Metropolitan School District (classes were 53% white, 19% African American, 17% Latino, 11% Asian):
– Students were asked to complete a writing exercise during class at three points during the school year, about an hour each time.
– Teachers and students were not told the purpose of the exercise.
– Students in a randomly selected control group were given a list of values, items, and attributes (for example, being a family member, enjoying sports, being creative, having a sense of humor) and asked to choose three that were most important to them.
– Treatment students were then asked to write about why those items were important; there was no time or word limit, and students were assured that they wouldn’t be graded on content, length, spelling, or grammar.
– The purpose, say the researchers, was to “help students access positive aspects of their identities less associated with troublemaking in school.”
– Control group students were given the same list and asked to choose three items that were not important to them personally, and then wrote about how those items might be important to others.
– Students who were not part of the study were given an unrelated but similarly structured writing task.
– Researchers got data on students’ suspensions in sixth, seventh, and eighth grades.
– Students with a very high number of suspensions were excluded from the study.
What were the results?
– Black students in the treatment group had a 50 percent reduction in suspensions.
– Other racial/ethnic groups in the treatment and control populations showed no change in suspension rates.
– Thus the black-white suspension gap was reduced by about two-thirds.
– There was also a gap-closing effect on being sent to the principal’s office for moderately serious discipline infractions.
– Positive effects were even stronger among black seventh graders who had a higher than average suspension rate as sixth graders.
– The year after the intervention, results were similar.
– The study did not find any changes in students’ academic achievement.
Murray notes three caveats with the study: (a) the researchers didn’t pinpoint the mechanism of the positive changes in behavior; (b) we don’t know if teachers had access to what students wrote, which might have helped build relationships, reduce race-based stereotyping, and contributed to the positive impact; and (c) students with the most serious discipline problems were not part of the study, leaving unanswered the question of whether it would have worked for them. Clearly there’s more research to be done.
But meanwhile, asks Murray, “Why wouldn’t schools want to jump on this, even while the mechanisms at work here are being evaluated?” It takes very little time, virtually no resources (paper and writing implements), and might produce positive results.
“Researchers Test a Simple Method to Reduce Suspensions for Black Students” by Jeff Murray in Education Gadfly, October 4, 2021; the original study is “A Replicable Identity-Based Intervention Reduces Black-White Suspension Gap at Scale” by Geoffrey Borman, James Pyne, Christopher Rozek, and Alex Schmidt in American Educational Research Journal, September 2021.
7. Reflective Questions for Antiracist Leaders
In this article in Independent School, NAIS president Donna Orem suggests generative questions that school leaders might ask as they address issues of race and equity (these come from the work of Mica Pollock, University of California/San Diego):
– Am I seeing, understanding, and addressing the ways the world treats me and my students as members of racial groups?
– Am I seeing, understanding, and addressing communities and individuals in their full complexity?
– Am I seeing, understanding, and addressing the ways that opportunities to learn or thrive are unequally distributed to racial groups?
– What actions offer necessary opportunities to students in such a world?
– With a specific action or initiative, is it moving students closer to educational opportunity or farther away from it? Why? What is our evidence?
“The Work to Be Done” by Donna Orem in Independent School, Winter 2021 (Vol. 80, #2, pp. 8-11)
8. Problems with Impromptu Discussions of Hot-Button Topics
In this Educational Leadership article, Philadelphia teacher Matthew Kay says he can relate to the desire to take advantage of a teachable moment – perhaps a dramatic development in the news – to jump into a classroom discussion. He says this often “reflects our commitment to equity, our care for our students, and especially nowadays, our respect for the truth. If we move forward with our carefully planned lessons, we are, in many people’s estimation, a fraud.” But here’s what can happen:
– Without careful preparation, things can very quickly get out of hand. “Kids who are unprepared for difficult discussions often embarrass themselves and say things they regret or don’t mean,” says Kay. “They are more likely to weaponize stereotypes.”
– In the heat of the moment, the teacher might step out of bounds, revealing biases and damaging their role as a trusted pedagogue and authority figure.
– Such discussions can open teachers to attack from irate parents or community members who learn about the discussion through a misleading social media post. “We make it really hard for good administrators to have our back,” says Kay, “when we fly blind.”
Better to take the time to plan a discussion carefully, anticipate the reactions different students might have, consult with colleagues, find links to the curriculum, even design a free-standing unit. “If we want to teach about an issue,” Kay concludes, “we should actually teach about it – giving ourselves the time to be our best selves and apply our best training. And we might even do this with a little bit of swagger, knowing that while it takes nothing for folks who don’t know our students to rush us to discuss some issue, it takes wisdom for us to discern the best moment to get after it.”
“The Problem with ‘Pop-up’ Discussions” by Matthew Kay in Educational Leadership, October 2021 (Vol. 79, #2, pp. 80-81); Kay can be reached at email@example.com.
9. Getting the Most Out of Primary Sources
In this article in History Tech, Glenn Wiebe celebrates the increasing availability of online historical documents and the fact that more and more social studies teachers are using them. He summarizes five suggestions from Joe Sangillo of Discovery Ed:
– Consider multiple formats of primary sources, including speeches, photos, maps, graphs, charts, political cartoons, and video clips.
– Use primary sources to inquire more deeply into a secondary source like a textbook chapter, documentary film, or newspaper article.
– Create a dialogue with historical figures based on reading primary sources – for example, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson arguing about economic theories.
– Have students go beyond summarizing the main idea of a historical document; a close reading for evidence will take them deeper.
– Find sources that allow students to hear from a range of historical figures, not just politicians and famous people.
Click the link below for Wiebe’s curation of online sources.
“5 Powerful Things to Think About When Using Primary Sources” by Glenn Wiebe in History Tech, October 7, 2021; Wiebe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
10. Coming-of-Age Movies for Students in Middle School
In this Edutopia article, Jennifer Fisher recommends four films that teachers can use to help young adolescents understand themselves and deal with relationships and the tumultuous world around them:
– Wonder (2017, PG) is the story of a boy with facial differences as he enters fifth grade. Resources for using this film in the classroom are available here.
– Akeelah and the Bee (2006, PG) tells about an 11-year-old girl who falls in love with words and, amidst family challenges, enters a local spelling bee.
– Whale Rider (2002, PG-13) is about a 12-year-old Maori girl learning the ways of her ancestors, including gender roles, with her grandmother’s help.
– Children of Heaven (1997, PG) is an Iranian story of siblings forced to share one pair of shoes, and how the boy enters a running competition to win a coveted pair of new shoes for his sister.
“These films,” says Fisher, “can support students and offer them insight into and understanding
of their own ability to cope with change and to navigate the external challenges they face. Through the stories of others, we come to understand ourselves more fully.”
“4 Coming-of-Age Films That Help Students Cope with Change” by Jennifer Fischer in Edutopia, October 4, 2021
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