In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“If a child is a poor reader by the end of first grade, there’s a good likelihood that child will remain a poor reader at the end of third grade, creating a devastating downward spiral.”
Dale Chu (see item #3)
“Perhaps more now than ever, elementary schools need the pedagogical, content, and facilitative expertise of literacy coaches in order to lead schoolwide literacy efforts effectively. Coaches are well positioned to advise principals on the strength and direction of the school’s literacy program. They can support teachers during times of rapid changes in teaching modalities. Coaches are perfect sounding boards for teachers wondering how to provide students with authentic literacy learning experiences while also shoring up foundational word recognition and language comprehension skills.”
Jacy Ippolito, Allison Swan Dagen, and Rita Bean (see item #2)
“Check-ins at the beginning of class honor experiences that students bring into the room before we ask them to think about something else.”
Lauren Porosoff (see item #4)
“Decades of research say it’s not your GPA or your SAT scores or the school you go to, but the quality of your relationships that will determine the quality of your life.”
Shafia Zaloom (see item #5)
“I don’t know any parent who isn’t trying to raise a kid who is a good person.”
Shafia Zaloom (ibid.)
“The first [core math concept] is the most humble, but it’s powerful: arithmetic – the command of the four operations: subtraction, multiplication, division, and addition – but crucially, fractions. The next area of math that’s hugely predictive of your future success is what I would call data analysis and problem-solving, including rates, ratio, proportion, designing quantities that interact with one another in that way, and watching their growth over time in development. The third area of math that’s extremely widely used is what I would call the heart of algebra, which is linear equations. That portion of algebra is then very widely used in other disciplines to open up many other problems.”
David Coleman, interviewed in “America’s Math Curriculum Doesn’t Add Up” by
Steven Levitt in Freakonomics Radio, Oct. 2. 2021 (see Memo 897 for more on this)
1. The Academic Potential of Student Friendships
In this Mind/Shift article, Gail Cornwall says recent research has confirmed what many teachers have known for a long time: (a) social-emotional and academic factors are closely linked; and (b) friendships in elementary schools can be harnessed to drive academic growth. Barbara Stengel (Vanderbilt University) cites Aristotle on three categories of friendship:
– Utility and mutual benefit;
– Pleasure and shared interests;
– Virtue and mutual appreciation.
All three can make children feel “seen and encouraged” in school, producing academic benefits. Other researchers have found that having friends nearby can make mundane tasks more fun, insulate kids from social and academic missteps, buffer negative feelings, lower cortisol, and boost resilience, intellectual stretching, and a sense of self-worth.
Without friends, the opposite is true. “There is a massive gap between being friended and friendless,” says Brett Laursen, editor of the International Journal of Behavioral Development. Not having a friend in school is linked to a decline in mental health, truancy, susceptibility to peer pressure, inability to focus, deficits in working memory, low classroom participation, and poor grades.
How can schools help foster friendships and maximize their potential? The starting point is knowing four impediments to friendships in classrooms: lack of contact, competition, unequal status, and surface-level homophily (birds of a feather flock together). “Each of these can prevent relationships from blossoming,” says Cornwall, “particularly across gender, racial, and other divides.” Here’s how teachers and administrators can counteract them:
• Encouraging contact – When making classroom assignments, schools can intentionally keep friends together, and stable year-to-year cohorts increase friendship opportunities. Within classes, seating arrangements are important; even when students say they don’t like each other, sitting close together for several weeks can change the negative dynamic. “Perhaps they formed Aristotle’s friendship of pleasure,” says Cornwall, “because they were made aware of common interests (comic books!), or maybe the students formed friendships of utility, since whisperings and wisecracks require a set of ears.”
Peer-assisted learning (pairing higher- and lower-achieving students) is helpful for shy students and those with learning disabilities. When teachers create dyads, researchers say, it’s a good idea to pair students who are already friends or have common interests. However, with children whose negative reputation is deeply entrenched, peer learning isn’t enough to improve social integration.
• Fostering cooperative learning – Establishing positive interdependence within groups working on a common problem or project (kids can succeed if, and only if, others in the group reach their goals) boosts learning and cuts down on problematic behavior. Teachers can structure cooperative learning groups in several ways: set up the activity so students need to share materials (resource interdependence); have each group come up with its own name (identity interdependence); have students take different jobs or play different parts (task or role interdependence); have them come up with a single finished product (goal interdependence); reward groups if every member achieves a certain threshold (reward interdependence). Any of these can produce friendships, even if a group isn’t highly successful with the task. “The more students work cooperatively to learn, the more they will tend to like each other,” says Cary Roseth and his Michigan State University team, “and the more they like each other, the harder they will work to help each other learn” (Aristotle’s utility friendship).
• Equalizing status – Even when students are rubbing shoulders and working together, “budding connections can easily be nipped by social status asymmetry,” says Cornwall. Kids who are different from others in behavior, ability, gender identity, or body size can be shunned. A cooperative learning environment is the first step in “redefining ‘smart’ and ‘good’ in children’s minds,” she says, “but teachers can further decrease status gaps by drawing attention to hidden strengths.” This might be publicly commenting on the energy of a student with ADHD or a shy student’s creative idea. In social media parlance, the teacher is acting as an influencer or thought leader. It’s important, of course, for teachers to be tuned in to what students think of each other, which may be different from how an adult sees them.
• Leveraging homophily – “Like tends to stick with like in terms of attitudes and beliefs,” says Cornwall, “but also ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and gender, even in an integrated classroom.” Boy-girl friendships drop off sharply after age seven. Counteracting the flock-together tendency is important because cross-group friendships have been shown to have affective and academic benefits. Teachers and administrators need to disrupt existing social dynamics and avoid practices that highlight differences. This can be as basic as not saying, “Good morning, boys and girls,” and extend to using inclusive books and curriculum materials.
But the most effective strategy, says Cornwall, is to discover and highlight hidden interests that students share – “You two and your Minecraft obsession!” Extracurricular activities like sports and robotics competitions are an ideal context for these common bonds to create unexpected friendships among students. School administrators play an important role by making sure that transportation and safety aren’t barriers to students taking part, and that there’s support for students with disabilities to participate. How classroom groups are formed is also important: sorting students by skills and achievement, tracking, pullout resource rooms, and second-language programs separates students and highlights their differences.
A caveat: when atypical students make up only a small minority of a class, spreading them out in groups with other students may not result in social integration. “There is a critical minimal mass required for groups of vulnerable students to be socially integrated,” says Jaana Juvonen (UCLA) – about one-third of a class.
With race, things get more complicated in middle and high schools, says Cornwall. In racially mixed settings, African-American students are exploring their identity and becoming more aware of racism. White students, unprepared to respond in supportive ways, may stumble into microaggressions. “A teacher with a class of 25 students that includes five black students may be tempted to create diverse pods by placing one of the underrepresented students in each group,” says Cornwall, “but doing so can actually set intergroup relations back. Once kids are old enough to grapple with race, numerical insignificance and stereotype threat… can silence and alienate black children, reduce their status, and thwart friendship formation. When small groups involve peer critique, preventing critical mass can also leave black students emotionally unprepared to receive feedback. As counterintuitive as it may seem, allowing black students ‘the psychological safety of their own group’ can actually increase the likelihood that they form friendships outside it.” The same applies when there is a small number of English learners in a class.
“At the end of the day,” concludes Cornwall, “teachers will have to make judgment calls when it comes to friendship.” Buddies can chatter and not get their work done, and they might refrain from giving each other honest feedback on a project; there clearly are times when students need to work by themselves. But if a friendless student forms a connection with a classmate, goofing off with that peer may be a net plus. Research shows that having at least one friend makes a student less likely to be bullied and harmed by bullying. Seating an isolated student next to a popular student might increase acceptance with other peers and improve academic performance. If a student is having a behavior problem, it might be a good idea to give them five minutes with a friend to cool down, or allow an ally to be present for each student in a restorative justice meeting.
“What the Research Says About the Academic Power of Friendship” by Gail Cornwall in Mind/Shift, November 18, 2020
2. Is Elementary Literacy Coaching Worth It?
In this article in The Reading Teacher, Jacy Ippolito (Salem State University), Allison Swan Dagen (West Virginia University), and Rita Bean (University of Pittsburgh) say the role of elementary literacy coaches “remains underspecified, variable, and often misunderstood.” They believe that now, as schools emerge from the disruptions of the pandemic, is a good time to examine how coaching has been implemented and take a critical look at its impact on teaching and learning.
Studies have generally supported the efficacy of this job-imbedded form of professional development, but there are caveats. Ippolito, Dagen, and Bean report on the research in several key areas and list their “wonderings” with each:
• Scale – Coaching seems to have the most positive impact on teaching and learning when implemented in a manageable number of schools, with coaches able to maintain authentic relationships with teachers. When coaching is scaled up, impact diminishes. Questions:
– What is the optimal number of teachers, classrooms, and schools for a coach?
– Can virtual coaching increase the number of teachers coaches partner with and avoid sacrificing impact?
– What systems and structures do districts need to maximize coaches’ impact?
• Coach-teacher relationships – These matter a great deal, and the research consensus seems to be that coaches and teachers should “co-construct” knowledge and expertise in a relatively egalitarian partnership. Questions:
– Does online coaching detract from teacher-coach relationships?
– How do coaches’ relationships with principals affect impact?
– How do reading specialists, literacy directors, and coaches interact most productively?
• Roles and responsibilities – Instructional coaching is an informal leadership position that’s relatively new in schools, and it’s been used in a variety of ways: focusing on teachers, students, and assessment data; providing individual support and leveraging systemic change; and over the last 18 months, providing training on new technology tools, supporting the social and emotional needs of teachers and students, and engaging in equity and social justice work. Questions:
– Will additional responsibilities dilute the effectiveness of literacy coaches or enhance their impact through a new synergy?
– Will technology, SEL, and equity work remain with literacy coaches or be handed off to specialists?
– Who in schools is best positioned to lead equity and social justice work?
• How coaches spend their time – Studies have found that when they work directly with teachers – conferring, modeling, observing, co-teaching, analyzing assessment data – coaches have the greatest impact. There’s also great value in working with teacher teams as they look at student work, engage with curriculum content, view classroom videos, and rehearse high-leverage teaching practices. Questions:
– How does a school’s culture influence the work coaches do with individual teachers and teacher teams?
– How important is the coach’s understanding of the change process for individuals and systems?
– What preparation and inservice support do coaches need to become systems thinkers, thought leaders, and change agents?
• Virtual coaching – During the pandemic, coaches had to shift to supporting teachers online, observing virtual lessons, reviewing digital tools, and helping colleagues master Google Classroom, Pear Deck, and other online platforms, often conferring after school hours. Questions:
– Is virtual coaching as effective as in-person work?
– What new and unanticipated challenges come with online coaching?
– Which online coaching practices will continue and which will be discarded as schools resume in-person instruction?
– Can teachers be persuaded to make their teaching more public by sharing it virtually with coaches and peers?
• Coaching done by other educators – Some districts have used reading specialists, assistant principals, generic instructional coaches, outside consultants, and university personnel to do literacy coaching. In lean budget times, coaches may be laid off, depriving teachers of the support they’d been receiving. Questions:
– Should districts train reading/literacy specialists and informal teacher leaders in key skills so they can take on coaching?
– Will that help develop teacher leaders who can collaborate with their peers and build a sense of collective efficacy?
– What research is needed on various coaching roles and the common elements of successful coaching?
• Preparation for literacy support – An International Literacy Association 2017 standards document clarified the distinction between literacy specialists (focused primarily on students), literacy coaches (working mostly with teachers), and literacy coordinators/directors (spending most of their time on systems). It also broadened the scope of literacy work to reading, writing, language, and communication and spelled out the skills and knowledge needed for each role. Questions remain about university and state education department training and certification:
– How are the 2017 standards influencing training programs for coaches, including in the post-pandemic world?
– Which districts and other entities are providing the best training and ongoing professional learning, and what are they doing?
– Do we need a streamlined national coach endorsement and certification process?
Is coaching worth it, given the expense? ask Ippolito, Dagen, and Bean. Yes, but… they say: “Perhaps more now than ever, elementary schools need the pedagogical, content, and facilitative expertise of literacy coaches in order to lead schoolwide literacy efforts effectively. Coaches are well positioned to advise principals on the strength and direction of the school’s literacy program. They can support teachers during times of rapid changes in teaching modalities. Coaches are perfect sounding boards for teachers wondering how to provide students with authentic literacy learning experiences while also shoring up foundational word recognition and language comprehension skills.”
The “but…” is important, conclude the authors. “To be successful, coaches need regular consultations with and support from principals; clear role descriptions that guide their work; schedules that allow for ample time with teachers in large and small groups as well as one-on-one; and ongoing professional learning and coaching colleagues (near or far) with whom to collaborate. Coaching programs are only as successful as the degree to which they are supported. The myth of the hero coach working single-handedly to shift teaching and learning in a school is just that – a myth… Remember also, coaching is only one part of each school’s vision for literacy teaching, learning, and continual improvement.”
“Elementary Literacy Coaching in 2021: What We Know and What We Wonder” by Jacy Ippolito, Allison Swan Dagen, and Rita Bean in The Reading Teacher, September/October 2021 (Vol. 75, #2, pp. 179-187); the authors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, Allison.Swan@mail.wvu.edu, and email@example.com.
3. Early Assessment in Literacy
“If a child is a poor reader by the end of first grade, there’s a good likelihood that child will remain a poor reader at the end of third grade, creating a devastating downward spiral,” says Dale Chu in this Education Gadfly article. Starting accountability testing in third grade is too late, he says. That amounts to judging schools by students’ growth in fourth and fifth grades, creating perverse incentives for schools to place the most effective teachers in the middle grades rather than with the youngest students, where they can have the biggest long-range impact.
We need a “check engine” light as early as kindergarten to prompt interventions that will prevent problems down the road, says Chu: “Another benefit of testing kids earlier is avoiding the poor instructional decisions that come from assessing them later” – including the over-enrollment of African-American boys in special education.
Primary-grade literacy assessments are in place in many schools, but one-on-one testing is notoriously time-consuming. Chu suggests using voice recognition and other new assessment tools to quickly and efficiently gauge the oral reading fluency and reading proficiency of primary-grade students. As is the case now in some schools, the data should set in motion the best pedagogy and content to build skills and confidence from the very beginning.
“The Case for K-2 Testing” by Dale Chu in Education Gadfly, October 28, 2021
4. Effective SEL Protocols in Middle and High Schools
“Check-ins at the beginning of class honor experiences that students bring into the room before we ask them to think about something else,” says Lauren Porosoff in this Edutopia article. End-of-class check-outs can be a good way to bring closure and get information on how things went. Porosoff suggests ways to get the most out of these routines:
• Ask about more than one emotion. “Students might feel angry about something their sibling did, excited about that afternoon’s basketball game, and worried about tomorrow’s math test,” says Porosoff. “When students notice and name multiple emotions, all emotions become a healthy, expected, and respected part of their everyday experience.” A teacher might prompt students to say which three emojis tell the story of their day so far, or when in the last week they experienced each of several emotions.
• Vary the tone. Questions can range from “Do school subjects have colors?” or “If a tomato is a fruit, is ketchup a smoothie?” to “What was your proudest moment this week?” and “Who in this class has inspired you recently?”
• Make it culturally responsive. A check-in might ask about family and seasonal traditions at various points in the year and include non-dominant religions, cultures, and groups.
• Get students involved. A student who says very little during regular check-ins might be the one who comes up with creative ideas if given the opportunity. (Naturally, students’ suggestions would be vetted by the teacher.)
• Build emotion-noticing into academic routines. Emotions are in play during lessons as well as at the beginning and end, says Porosoff, and teachers need to extend the check-in spirit: “Students need opportunities to observe their own psychological experiences of the content, connect with one another through the content, and develop the willingness to struggle with challenging content in the service of their larger goals.”
• Connect emotions to values – and values to actions. “Classrooms are ideal spaces for students to discover their values and to bring those values to their learning, work, and relationships,” says Porosoff. When students are encouraged to share their emotions during class, teachers need to point to the values embodied in those feelings: sadness over something that’s lost, anger at something taken away, fear about something that’s threatened.
• Use a pedagogy of belonging. Porosoff urges teachers to make check-ins “part of a larger culture in which students feel seen, heard, respected, and supported.”
“Building a Better Check-In” by Lauren Porosoff in Edutopia, October 20, 2021
5. Fostering Healthy Relationships Among Teenagers
In this feature in Independent School, Rebecca Scherr interviews Shafia Zaloom (a San Francisco health educator and author) and Peggy Orenstein (who’s written two books about teens and sex). Some excerpts:
Orenstein: “As an educator, you have the opportunity to talk with them in a way that a parent sometimes doesn’t because all kinds of things get in the way. As a parent of a teenager myself, I know it’s very hard…”
Zaloom: “American culture too often pushes young people to disconnect, evade vulnerability, and prioritize performance… So kids try to avoid vulnerability at every cost, which then pushes them away from the very thing they long for and need the most, which is that connection.”
Orenstein: “I always say that my girl book [Girls and Sex] was about the systematic disconnection of girls from their bodies and their experience. And I realized that the boy book [Boys and Sex] was about the systematic disconnection of boys from their heart and what that means for themselves and their partners.”
Zaloom: “I think the biggest thing that’s changed is social media and the digital space. I think that changed everything in how kids connect and communicate.”
Orenstein: “It did. I think social media, easy access to pornography, the impact of that on the mainstream media, and the increasing understanding of the depth and breadth of sexual assault have combined to make us recognize that we can’t look away anymore. We can’t not educate our kids around this anymore.”
Zaloom: “Fundamentally, consent is about how we treat each other and how that matters. I don’t know any parent who isn’t trying to raise a kid who is a good person. Ultimately that’s the foundation of what consent is.”
Orenstein [after observing Zaloom’s class on gender socialization]: “Girls understood that there’s something telling them how they’re supposed to be girls… And the boys didn’t always. They don’t see themselves as having a gender in quite the same way, and yet they’re growing up in the same media stew. If we don’t make their socialization visible to them, then they’re not empowered to have choices around it.”
Zaloom: “Decades of research say it’s not your GPA or your SAT scores or the school you go to, but the quality of your relationships that will determine the quality of your life. So if we’re really interested in the development of young people and setting them up for success in life, this is a part of that education.”
Orenstein: “We have to start having conversations about caring, connection, and nonsexual forms of consent with very little kids in an age-appropriate way. It’s not ideal to start these conversations at 15 or 16, or 17.”
Zaloom: “I think schools need a program and a full-time teacher who will oversee how healthy sexuality and relationship education is taught across the developmental stages, that is integrated into the overall curricula and not an add-on. We need to give kids the opportunity to practice and process the complexities of interpersonal dynamics and human relationships.”
“The Conversation: Talking About Healthy Sexuality and Relationships” by Rebecca Scherr, interviewing Shafia Zaloom and Peggy Orenstein in Independent School, Fall 2020 (Vol. 80, #1, pp. 110-112)
6. How to Avoid Common Classroom Management Problems
In this article in Edutopia, Youki Terada says that when Steve Jobs was in elementary school, he was bored in school and became (in his own words) “a little terror,” constantly playing pranks in class. Punishments made him defiant and even more disruptive, and the school ended up expelling him. This dynamic is the first of seven that Terada describes, with research-based strategies for avoiding them:
• Mistake #1: Responding to surface-level behavior and not the underlying cause – In the case of the young Steve Jobs, the lack of challenging work was the problem. With another student, it might be trauma at home, for another a learning disability that makes classroom assignments extremely challenging. “If teachers can figure out what a student’s goals are,” says Terada, “they can address the misbehavior in a more-productive way.”
• Mistake #2: Assuming it’s not an academic issue – One study found that 20 percent of classroom misbehavior stemmed from students not understanding the assignment or finding it too difficult.
• Mistake #3: Verbally confronting every minor infraction – The injunction to “sweat the small stuff” can be taken too far, says Terada. Constantly reprimanding students who aren’t paying attention or who are having side conversations can create a “negative reinforcement pattern,” sparking defiance and making the problem worse. Nonverbal tactics such as “the look” or an agreed-upon hand signal can be much more effective.
• Mistake #4: Using time-out corners – Sending students away from the group as a punishment “can cause feelings of shame or embarrassment,” says Terada, “undermining your relationship with them and jeopardizing the trust you’ll need for productive learning.” An alternative is a time-out “peace corner” that’s explained as a space where students can calm down, reflect on their emotions, and practice self-regulation. The key is taking the stigma away from the time-out area and encouraging students to sit there anytime they feel the need to pull themselves together.
• Mistake #5: Writing names on the board and other public shaming – Some schools post the names of students who’ve had detentions and low test scores in the halls, and a common classroom practice is tracking behavior with color-coded stickers – red for bad behavior, blue for good. Practices like these, say researchers, fail to deter misbehavior and may make things worse. Far better is dealing with misbehavior in private conversations, after determining the root causes.
• Mistake #6: Demanding obedience – “It’s a losing battle to expect compliance from students without putting in the emotional work,” says Terada. “Demand it and many students will simply rebel, test boundaries, or engage in power struggles.” The alternative is building relationships, warmly greeting students at the door, co-creating classroom norms, and working continuously to develop social and emotional skills.
• Mistake #7: Not checking the biases we all have – Study after study has shown how implicit bias can lead teachers to give African-American students fewer disciplinary warnings before imposing consequences, as well as expecting less of them academically. “Such perceived unfairness can contribute to a ‘trust gap’ among students of color,” says Terada. Teachers and schools need to track data, he says, looking for patterns, raising educators’ consciousness, and working toward an equitable environment for all students.
“7 Classroom Management Mistakes – and the Research on How to Fix Them” by Youki Terada in Edutopia, August 7, 2020
7. Recommended Children’s Books About Race
In this article in Language Arts, Clare Landrigan and Aeriale Johnson recommend books that can be used to spark thinking and discussion about race in elementary classrooms. Here’s a selection:
– Antiracist Baby by Ibram X. Kendi, illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky
– If Dominican Were a Color by Sili Rocio, illustrated by Brianna McCarthy
– Intersection Allies: We Make Room for All by Chelsea Johnson, LaToya Council, and Carolyn Choi, illustrated by Ashley Seil Smith
– We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade
– Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, illustrated by Dung Ho
– Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship by Irene Latham and Charles Waters, illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko
– The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
“‘Raised to Make Society Transform’: Using Antiracist Baby and Antiracist Text Sets with Young Children” by Clare Landrigan and Aeriale Johnson in Language Arts, September 2021 (Vol. 99, #1, pp. 72-78)
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