In This Issue:
Quotes of the Week
“Schools can be a force for the good.”
Michael Rutter, who died last week at 88, co-author with Barbara Maughan, Peter
Mortimore, and Janet Ouston of Fifteen Thousand Hours (Harvard University Press,
1979), which pinpointed the factors that made some London secondary schools more
effective than others – among them, the principal as instructional leader, interactive
teaching methods, and school “ethos”
“It’s certainly not fair to students if coaches have a clear path to help a teacher improve but allow a teacher to take the longest way to get there.”
Rashaida Melvin and Lauren Vargas (see item #2)
“You cannot simply tell a student to understand.”
Gina Kling and Jennifer Bay-Williams (see item #4)
“Centuries of fairy tales, novels, and films have conditioned us to expect that the beautiful, downtrodden young woman will be saved – revealed as a secret princess, plucked from obscurity, rescued by a prince… It’s still the ancient Cinderella narrative baked into virtually all of women’s popular culture.”
Rhonda Garelick in “The Cinderella Myth We Can’t Quit” in The New York Times,
November 11, 2021
“Overwhelmingly, both Democrats and Republicans want history to be taught warts and all. More than three-quarters of Republicans and almost all Democrats agree that ‘we should acknowledge the terrible things that have happened in our nation’s history regarding race so students can learn from them and make the future better.’ Three-quarters of all voters also support ‘adding more books in English classes by authors who are black, indigenous, or people of color.’”
Michael Petrilli in “Now It’s the GOP’s Turn to Mess up the Critical Race Theory Issue” in Education Gadfly, November 11, 2021
1. Thomas Guskey on What Drives a Teacher’s Sense of Efficacy
(Originally titled “The Past and Future of Teacher Efficacy”)
In this Educational Leadership article, Thomas Guskey (University of Kentucky) sums up the big idea in the research on attribution theory and locus of control: “the degree to which people believe they can affect and are responsible for different aspects of their lives.” A teacher’s sense of efficacy is shaped by the permutations of four variables: internal, external, fixed, and alterable:
– Internal and fixed – I don’t have the ability to teach these concepts very well.
– Internal and alterable – I didn’t spend enough time planning lessons for this unit.
– External and fixed – The state test was too hard for my students.
– External and alterable – It was just my luck that students had a bad day.
Teachers are most successful when they focus on internal factors within their control, versus blaming external factors over which they have no control.
Researchers in the 1970s measured teachers’ sense of efficacy through their responses to two statements:
– When it comes right down to it, a teacher really can’t do much because most of a student’s motivation and performance depends on their home environment.
– If I try really hard, I can get through to even the most difficult or unmotivated students.
Studies found that a strong sense of efficacy was closely associated with K-12 student achievement and successful school programs. Carol Dweck’s work on fixed and growth mindsets confirmed and extended the idea of internal locus of control and personal agency.
What’s the best way to boost a teacher’s sense of efficacy? Guskey says it’s mastery experiences – seeing actual improvement in students’ learning as a result of specific classroom practices. He describes a study showing that teachers who had the biggest gains in efficacy were those who gave frequent formative assessments, immediately followed up with students below mastery (80%), and saw positive results. “Change in teacher efficacy was primarily a result – rather than a cause – of measurable increases in student learning,” says Guskey.
His conclusion: “Instead of trying to change teachers’ attitudes and beliefs directly, we must change the experiences that shape those attitudes and beliefs. Specifically, we must provide teachers with mastery experiences.” This is best done by:
– Focusing PD on evidence-based curriculum and classroom practices (versus “celebrity consultants or the topics trending on Twitter”);
– Establishing procedures through which teachers get regular and specific feedback on how their actions are affecting students.
“Teachers must see explicit evidence from their students in their classrooms that the changes make a difference,” concludes Guskey. “That evidence must come quickly, and it must be evidence that teachers trust.”
“The Past and Future of Teacher Efficacy” by Thomas Guskey in Educational Leadership, November 2021 (Vol. 79, #3, pp. 20-25); Guskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. Accelerating Teacher Growth Through Directive Coaching
(Originally titled “Four Myths on Coaching and Efficacy”)
In this Educational Leadership article, coaching consultants Rashaida Melvin and Lauren Vargas describe working with a veteran teacher who was persuaded to shift from highly teacher-centered instruction to having her students do 80 percent of the cognitive work. She then engaged in an honest dialogue with her coach on her implicit biases toward students. Unfortunately, say Melvin and Vargas, most coaching and professional development is not this successful; in far too many classrooms, teachers do 90 percent of the talking, only a few students are actively engaged, and students who enter classrooms with disadvantages languish. The reason for unsuccessful coaching, they believe, lies in common four myths:
• Myth #1: DEI training makes schools more equitable. Workshops and lectures on diversity, equity, and inclusion are not the best way to promote those values in classrooms, say Melvin and Vargas. Far better is a skilled coach observing classroom dynamics, discussing specific practices one teacher at a time, and creating accountability for change.
• Myth #2: Beliefs precede actions. Coaching is often based on the theory that teachers must be persuaded to change their beliefs about students before making meaningful changes in their pedagogy. That’s not true, say Melvin and Vargas; it’s better to start with small changes in pedagogy that reveal student potential, and then address attitudes and beliefs.
• Myth #3: Teachers need to figure things out for themselves. A typical coaching question: “What do you think you could have done differently?” assumes that teacher buy-in is necessary for practices to change. “The problem with this stance,” say Melvin and Vargas, “is that it values teachers taking a journey of self-discovery over their actual effectiveness in the classroom.” A better strategy, they believe, is for the coach to present important data (for example, the teacher calling on only a few high-achieving students) and talk directly about the results. “It’s certainly not fair to students,” they say, “if coaches have a clear path to help a teacher improve but allow a teacher to take the longest way to get there.”
• Myth #4: Teacher growth takes a long time. Improving teaching practices, especially for disadvantaged students, is a matter of urgency, say Melvin and Vargas. The second half of every coaching session (after frank discussion of data and more-effective approaches) should be role-playing new practices and co-planning effective lessons in a trusting, low-stakes environment. “This kind of practice,” they say, “builds new habits, not just new ideas.” Once teachers have tried them out with students, there’s follow-up and fine tuning with their coach.
“Four Myths on Coaching and Efficacy” by Rashaida Melvin and Lauren Vargas in Educational Leadership, November 2021 (Vol. 79, #3, pp. 46-50); the authors can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Habits of Mind to Guide a School Community
(Originally titled “Building a Culture of Efficacy with Habits of Mind”)
“Now more than ever,” say author/consultants Arthur Costa, Bena Kallick, and Allison Zmuda in this article in Educational Leadership, “schools need to create cultures of belonging in which every member of the school community is valued – where their voice can be heard, where they are invited to the table for problem solving and innovative thinking, where their differences are seen as strengths, and where there is a dedication to their overall well-being.”
They suggest sixteen Habits of Mind – “thinking dispositions” derived from research on how people from all walks of life successfully respond to problems, conflicts, and uncertainties:
– Persisting – Stick to a task through completion.
– Managing impulsivity – Take your time, think before acting, remain deliberative.
– Listening with empathy – Devote mental energy to another’s thoughts and ideas.
– Thinking flexibly – Look at it another way, shift perspective, generate alternatives.
– Think about thinking – Be aware of your thoughts, strategies, feelings, and actions.
– Striving for accuracy – Always do your best, finding ways to constantly improve.
– Questioning and posing problems – How do you know? Find problems to solve.
– Applying past knowledge to new situations – Use what you’ve learned!
– Thinking and communicating clearly and precisely – Speak and write with clarity.
– Gathering data through all senses – Pay attention and use your natural pathways.
– Creating, imagining, and innovating – Try a different way.
– Responding with wonderment and awe – Be intrigued with the world.
– Taking responsible risks – Try new things, live at the edge of your competence.
– Finding humor – Laugh a little; find the whimsical, incongruous, and unexpected.
– Thinking interdependently – Work and learn with others in reciprocal situations.
– Remaining open to continuous learning – Resist complacency, stay humble.
Each of these is a possible answer to the question, “What is the most intelligent thing I can do right now?”
Costa, Kallick, and Zmuda believe that embracing these habits helps a school develop a culture of problem-solving and efficacy. Here’s why:
• A common language – “Whether in talk between students, parents, administrators, members of the community, or each other,” they say, “this vocabulary provides descriptions and recognition of the challenges, aspirations, celebrations, and ideas that pervade daily work in schools.”
• Social norms – In a demanding situation – for example, a school rethinking its report card in response to complaints from parents – a principal might ask which Habits of Mind will be most helpful.
• De-privatizing practice – Because they share common goals and vocabulary, educators and students are more likely to make their work public.
• Shared indicators of growth – Some schools systematically track how the habits manifest themselves day to day. A student who complained as a third grader that the habits were everywhere in his school found as a sixth grader the importance of listening with empathy when he visited a homeless shelter.
• Parents and community as partners – When families know about the habits, students get constant reminders. A parent told her son that he would have to wait till after dinner to enjoy some cookies she’d made. “I am managing my impulsivity, for sure!” he said.
• A shared vision of graduates – “When school staff and parents agree on the dispositions desired for graduates,” say Costa, Kallick, and Zmuda, “– and for teachers and administrators – they know what they’re striving to, collectively, instill.”
• Well-focused leadership – If a principal’s emphasis is on test scores, implementing the latest educational fad, and compliance with procedures, that’s what students see as the school’s purpose. A narrative focused on the 16 habits engenders a very different attitude toward schooling.
“Building a Culture of Efficacy with Habits of Mind” by Arthur Costa, Bena Kallick, and Allison Zmuda in Educational Leadership, November 2021 (Vol. 79, #3, pp. 57-62); Zmuda can be reached at email@example.com.
4. Better Ways for Elementary Students to Learn Their Math Facts
“Long-standing methods for teaching basic facts have not been effective for far too many students,” say Gina Kling (Western Michigan University) and Jennifer Bay-Williams (University of Louisville) in this article in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12. How can elementary students master essential facts – often seen as drudgery – in ways that emphasize curiosity, flexibility, and wonder? Kling and Bay-Williams list eight ineffective practices, and for each, suggest a better approach:
• Unproductive method #1 – Relying on memory tricks – for example, teaching students to use finger patterns to recall their 9s facts. “When basic facts are learned through tricks or rote practice and memorization,” say the authors, “students do not develop flexibility or efficiency; hence, they do not develop basic fact fluency.” Instead, students should learn reasoning strategies – for example, solving 9 x 7 by multiplying 7 by 10 and subtracting 7.
• Unproductive method #2 – Just telling a strategy – for example, with 8 + 7, take 2 from the 7 and give it to the 8 to make 10, then add the leftover 5 to get 15. “You cannot simply tell a student to understand,” say Kling and Bay-Williams. “Students need time and experiences to see number relationships and develop understanding, exploring representations and connecting them to abstract reasoning.” Teachers need to be explicit about how strategies work and then use visuals and other methods so students are the ones discovering and explaining to each other how strategies work and why they work.
• Unproductive method #3 – Teaching facts in order of addend or factor size – for example, using a mastery chart with columns from zero to 10. “The traditional order treats facts as isolated objects,” say Kling and Bay-Williams, “does not build on students’ strengths and prior knowledge, and can result in lower achievement.” A better approach to multiplication facts is to start with fact groups that are most familiar to students (2s and 10s), then move to 5s, then introduce squares and near squares, then address the toughest facts (like 7 x 8 and 6 x 7).
• Unproductive method #4 – Using different approaches in different grades – for example, a first-grade teacher implements one strategy, a third-grade teacher another. “This approach does not work!” say Kling and Bay-Williams. By the time students reach fifth grade, many are still using tally marks or finger tricks to recall basic facts. Instead, teachers need to come up with a K-5 plan, with automaticity goals for each grade level and backwards planning to get there – for example, if multiplication facts are a third-grade goal, second graders need to work on basic multiplication word problems.
• Unproductive method #5 – Teaching only the think-addition strategy for subtraction facts – for example, 15 – 9 = ? is changed to 9 + ? = 15 and the teacher asks students to recall the addition fact. “There is no question that the inverse relationship between addition and subtraction is a powerful tool to use when developing computational fluency,” say Kling and Bay-Williams. But teachers should go beyond this approach. With the example above, students could use compensation, break apart the subtrahend to go down under 10, or break apart the minuend and subtract from 10.
• Unproductive method #6 – Using single-fact practice – for example, a memorization sheet or flash cards that focus only on multiplying by 6. This kind of drill is boring and distasteful, and students get the message that memorization of isolated facts is the goal, versus developing, discussing, and applying strategies. Instead, students should integrate fact practice with games and interactive activities with classmates and family members.
• Unproductive method #7 – Emphasizing speed – for example, conducting a board race with rewards for quick recall. “Fluency does not equal speed,” say Kling and Bay-Williams. Emphasizing quick recall “has a tendency to drive fluency development in the opposite direction.” Instead, teachers should reduce stress and introduce fun with games like Go Fish, with students taking turns as they solve different problems.
• Unproductive method #8 – Using timed tests – for example, asking third graders to solve 100 multiplication problems in three minutes. This practice “must be eradicated,” say Kling and Bay-Williams, for three reasons: (a) high-pressure timed tests don’t assess students’ ability to think flexibly and strategically; (b) they don’t provide a good measure of efficiency and accuracy; and (c) students’ anxiety in such tests leads some to underperform. “A growing body of research,” say the authors, “suggests that mathematics anxiety starts as early as first grade and can have permanent impacts, including mathematics avoidance in adults.” A better way to check fact fluency is through observations, interviews, writing samples, strategy sorts, and self-assessments. Interviews can be especially effective – for example, asking a student what is 8 x 7, inquiring how they figured it out, and noting if they got the answer within three seconds, which is considered the threshold of automaticity.
“Eight Unproductive Practices in Developing Fact Fluency” by Gina Kling and Jennifer Bay-Williams in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, November 2021 (Vol. 114, #11, pp. 830-838); the authors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and j.baywilliams@Louisville.edu.
5. Growing as a Math Educator
In this article in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, Michigan teacher Kevin Dykema (president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) says he never wanted to be a middle-school teacher, but settled for an eighth-grade position because it was the most realistic option as he launched his career. He’s been happily teaching eighth grade math ever since. “As I reflect on my growth as a practitioner,” says Dykema; “I realize how much I have learned about teaching and learning and how much more learning I have to do!” Here are four “shifts” he’s made:
• From teacher centered to student centered – As a novice teacher, Dykema reacted to mediocre and failing student work by saying, “I taught it – they should have paid better attention, or they should have asked more questions or asked for help.” He’s come to understand that a brilliant lesson isn’t brilliant if students didn’t learn. He now includes in-the-moment assessments, follows up during the lesson when he spots errors and misconceptions, and works with individual students and small groups afterward.
• From content focused to student focused – Dykema still cares passionately about his subject, but he’s learned to pay more attention to building relationships with students. “Asking about weekend plans, siblings, and after-school activities has become a regular part of my conversations with students,” he says. “The smile on their faces when I ask how their game was or how their recital went is priceless.”
• From “struggle is bad” to “struggle is necessary” – As a beginning teacher, Dykema provided students with detailed step-by-step directions, worked examples, and multiple explanations. Over time, he realized that he was doing most of the heavy lifting and his students weren’t generating any mental sweat. “I also found myself becoming frustrated that they quickly forgot what I had ‘taught’ them,” he says. Graduate classes in math education made clear that students must wrestle with the content in the same way we do when learning to swim, ride a bike, or play a musical instrument. With some difficulty, Dykema built struggle into his lessons and made the transition from “math by memorizing” to “math by understanding.”
• From “my district is responsible for my professional development” to “I am responsible.” Despite some useful PD, Dykema found that he grew as a math educator only when he worked with math colleagues, read books that his district didn’t pay for, and got involved in mathematics organizations. Every year he sets goals and shares them with students so they’ll hold him accountable. He’s currently working on doing a better job with lesson closure and being more vocal around the issue of equity.
“Teaching Is a Journey from Then to Now” by Kevin Dykema in Mathematics Teacher: Learning & Teaching PK-12, November 2021 (Vol. 114, #11, pp. 894-896); Dykema can be reached at email@example.com.
6. In the Struggle for Social Justice, Finding the Right Words
In this New York Times article, Amy Harmon catalogues the constantly evolving vocabulary around race, equity, and gender, which has generated social pressure in some circles to be “with it” and backlash in other circles for acting “woke.” What can seem like “virtue signaling” to some is, for others, a sincere effort to reorient one’s worldview to disturbing realities.
“Americans have always wrestled with language when it comes to describing race,” says Harmon, “with phrases and vocabulary changing to meet the struggles and values of the moment. But especially in the wake of last summer’s protests for social justice, there is a heightened attention to language… as some on the left try to advance changes in the culture through words.” A minister of a Unitarian Universalist congregation put it this way: “It’s this deep-seated anxiety about failing, so they’re reaching, we are reaching, reaching, reaching for the perfect language.” Some examples of evolving terms:
– Latinx to describe people of Latin American descent in gender-neutral way;
– A.A.P.I. for Asian American and Pacific Islander;
– “Land acknowledgements” in which officials mention that the site of a meeting was formerly occupied by indigenous people.
– Equity for equality (because equal treatment isn’t sufficient for fair outcomes);
– BIPOC for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color;
– Systemic or structural racism, critical race theory;
– White privilege, white supremacy;
– Enslaved person replacing slave to capture the violence of the institution;
– Capitalizing Black, Brown, Indigenous, and People of Color;
– Shifting the sentence, “Black people are less likely to get a loan from a bank” to “Banks are less likely to give loans to black people.”
– Complicit bias for implicit bias, indicating a more-active stance;
– Cancel culture
– Unhoused in place of homeless;
– LGBTQ for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer or Questioning;
– Adding I for Intersex, A for Asexual, and + to show the term isn’t comprehensive;
– Queer, formerly pejorative for gay, reclaimed as a self-affirming term;
– They/them pronouns for nonbinary and gender-nonconforming;
– He/him, she/her, they/them, her/them, them/him;
There’s been a range of reactions to the evolving lexicon. “You can’t change what you can’t name,” said one activist. Others are disappointed that there hasn’t been more-substantive change. “I really believed America was having a reckoning when it came to race,” said an African-American health care researcher. “So far, it’s been a lot of words.” A white Chicago resident said, “I’m exhausted by the constant need to be wary or you’ll instantly be labeled racist or anti-trans.” A California immigration lawyer said, “You can say ‘Latinx’ all day, but if you’re not doing the work, I don’t care.” A member of the Cherokee Nation said land acknowledgements are “empty and alienating,” taking the focus away from policies that support indigenous people.
Some terms have been actively promoted by progressive activists but not adopted by the groups they describe – especially Latinx and BIPOC. Harmon reports that the latter is sometimes misunderstood to mean “Bisexual People of Color” and that Latino and Asian Americans “are often left to wonder whether they are covered by the ‘POC’ part of the acronym.” Reacting to LGBTQIA+, a bisexual woman in Nashville said, “I’m trying to think why it makes me so angry that they keep adding letters. It’s like, ‘We’re trying to understand, but you’re making it too complicated!’” But the same woman pushed back on the way the word “woke” is being used in a disparaging way. “It’s mean,” she said. “Being woke is about realizing that you’ve been hurting someone for a long time.”
“Some of these terms will endure, and some will not,” said a California professor. “But in the period when the terms are new, we are still undergoing a political struggle whose resolution is not yet determined, so the words themselves become a site of conflict.” A Southwestern law professor had the final word in Harmon’s article: “Symbolic progress placates people who are pushing for change, and it also invites backlash from those who want to maintain the status quo. So you might end up worse off than where you started.”
“On the Left, a New Scramble Over the Right Words to Say” by Amy Harmon in The New York Times, November 1, 2021
7. Another Nail in the Coffin of High-Stakes VAM Teacher Evaluation
In this article in Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, Marianne Bitler (University of California/Davis), Sean Corcoran (Vanderbilt University), Thurston Domina (University of North Carolina), and Emily Penner (University of California/Irvine) report on their study comparing New York City teachers’ value-added measurement (VAM) scores with “an outcome they cannot plausibly affect: student height.” The researchers found the measures of value added in students’ height by teacher showed nearly as much variation as VAMs of reading and math.
Because it’s not plausible that teachers affect students’ height, Bitler, Corcoran, Domina, and Penner believe this correlation stems from other factors, including non-random assignment of students to classes. They join other researchers in calling into question the ability to determine an individual teacher’s value added based on VAM analysis.
Interestingly, when a comprehensive 3-factor VAM analysis was implemented (the kind used by researchers with data from several years), the correlation with students’ height disappeared. But VAM scores school districts implement for teacher evaluation use short-term data that are open to a number of distortions, including those revealed in this study.
As of the 2015-16 school year, 36 of 46 states implementing new teacher-evaluation plans used some version of VAM or student growth measures, largely because of their convenience and seemingly scientific basis. This study, along with others, casts doubt on the accuracy and fairness of using students’ test scores as part of individual teachers’ evaluations.
“Teacher Effects on Student Achievement and Height: A Cautionary Tale” by Marianne Bitler, Sean Corcoran, Thurston Domina, and Emily Penner in Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, October-December 2021 (Vol. 14, #4, pp. 900-924); Bitler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
8. Short Items:
a. A Report on Teacher Diversity – This special Kappan Report has 12 articles on building a more-diverse teaching force.
“Building a More Ethnoracially Diverse Teaching Force: New Directions in Research, Policy, and Practice” from Phi Delta Kappan, October 2021, edited by Conra Gist and Travis Bristol
b. Following Up on the 1619 Project – In this New York Times Magazine article, Jake Silverstein puts the magazine’s August 2019 article in the context of a century of attempts to tell the nation’s racial history. A book expanding on and updating the 1619 Project was published earlier this month.
“The 1619 Project and the Long Battle Over U.S. History” by Jake Silverstein in The New York Times Magazine, November 14, 2021
c. Gerrymandering 101 – This detailed New York Times feature uses history, maps, and graphics to answer 25 questions on how redistricting and gerrymandering are used for political advantage.
“How Maps Reshape American Politics – We Answer Your Most Pressing Questions About Redistricting and Gerrymandering” by Nick Corasaniti, Reid Epstein, Taylor Johnston, Rebecca Lieberman, and Eden Weingart in The New York Times, November 7, 2021
d. Surveys on Educators’ Sense of Efficacy – This website, created by veteran educator Megan Tschannen-Moran (William and Mary School of Education) has a number of surveys that can be used to measure teachers’ and other educators’ sense of efficacy.
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