Marshall Memo 562
A Weekly Round-up of Important Ideas and Research in K-12 Education
November 24, 2014
1. How to avoid some common problems in group decision-making
2. Using Socratic seminars in a high-school English class
3. Orchestrating authentic classroom conversations
4. Twelve secrets of highly productive writers
5. A birth-to-third-grade strategy for closing the achievement gap
6. Making homework meaningful for students and efficient for teachers
7. Effective inquiry-based science programs
8. High-school counselor caseloads and student college enrollment
9. Teacher preparation – does it matter?
10. A report on The Good Behavior Game
11. Short items: (a) Math resources; (b) A bank of Fred Jones PAT fun instructional games;
“The human brain may be wired from birth to synchronize with and imitate other people. It is no exaggeration to say that herding is a fundamental behavior of human groups.”
Cass Sunstein and Reid Hastie (see item #1)
“Fight the urge to tell them the answers.”
Casey Cuny on conducting Socratic seminars (see item #2)
“To engage students in real talk, we must be thoughtful and responsive, trust in students’ abilities, and support them in problem solving instead of controlling the process ourselves.”
Maria Nichols (see item #3)
“Knowing that silence on the outside does not equal silence on the inside, are we watching for evidence of engagement on students’ faces or in their body language, and then responding?”
Maria Nichols (ibid.)
“Productive writers don’t allow themselves the indulgence of easy excuses. When they start to have feelings of self-doubt – I can’t do this, it’s too hard, I’ll never write another good sentence – they tell themselves to stop feeling sorry for themselves and just do the work.”
Rachel Toor (see item #4)
“The best writing is a conversation between author and reader.”
Rachel Toor (ibid.)
In this Harvard Business Review article, Cass Sunstein (Harvard Law School) and Reid Hastie (University of Chicago School of Business) analyze why, despite the old adage that two heads are better than one, groups often make bad decisions. Groups go wrong when: (a) people
receive incorrect information or signals from other members; and (b) group members change their views or silence themselves to avoid disapproval or penalties from others. Some common results:
(Originally titled “What Is the Value of Life? and Other Socratic Questions”)
In this Educational Leadership article, California English teacher/PD coach/ELA coordinator Casey Cuny says that for years, the student essays at the end of her carefully crafted unit on the meaning of life were “horrible.” Then she began using Socratic seminars and students’ participation, enthusiasm, and learning improved dramatically. “Socratic seminars are essentially scaffolded critical thinking sessions that enable the entire class to engage in critical thinking at their own level,” says Cuny. “The seminar provides an environment for addressing the essential question with real depth.” Here are her implementation suggestions:
• Create a list of prior questions. Backtracking from her unit’s essential question – “What is the value of life?” – Cuny created these provocations:
“Real Talk, Real Teaching” by Maria Nichols in Educational Leadership, November 2014 (Vol. 72, #3, p. 73-77), http://bit.ly/1HDEDKP; Nichols is at [email protected].
“The Habits of Highly Productive Writers” by Rachel Toor in The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 21, 2014 (Vol. LXI, #12, p. A24-25),
“Gaps between low-income and middle-class children appear early and increase over time,” says Massachusetts-based early learning expert David Jacobson in this Kappan article. “Addressing large gaps requires improving the quality of services for children at each level of development and integrating and aligning these services in order to have the most effect.” He makes the case for a comprehensive program that integrates services from birth through third grade and points to two districts, Montgomery County, Maryland, and Union City, New Jersey, that have pioneered this approach and seen marked improvements in student achievement and reductions of racial/economic disparities. The strategy has three phases:
• Age 5-9 – The primary grades sometimes suffer from relative neglect because there isn’t state testing at this level, says Jacobson: “School and district leaders may have less knowledge about early childhood education, and, in many districts, early childhood does not have as much internal political power as other departments. Often low-performing teachers are moved from tested grades to kindergarten, 2nd-grade, and even 1st-grade classes.” What’s needed is careful K-3 curriculum alignment, clear expectations for all subject areas – especially oral language, vocabulary development, and social-emotional skills – and improved teacher training in developmentally appropriate classroom strategies and the effective use of classroom assessments.
• Age 3-5 – In many communities, preschool education is a hodge-podge of family day care, community-based preschool centers, Head Start, and district programs, says Jacobson. While K-12 educators have a lot on their plates, it’s very much in their interests to join with state and other agencies to ensure that children enter kindergarten and first grade ready for school success. This means monitoring and improving the quality of existing preschool programs, promoting training in best practices (including joint professional development with district teachers and leaders), articulating curriculum expectations aligned with primary-grade Common Core standards, and establishing a climate of mutual respect and two-way collaboration.
• Birth to age 3 – Services at this level include home visiting, parenting classes and supports, and quality infant-toddler care. Leaders need to advocate for cross-sector partnerships, full-service schools, and early childhood centers. Support services for needy families should continue through the preschool years and elementary grades.
In this Edutopia article, Ben Johnson bemoans the fact that most students see homework as busywork unconnected to any important academic purpose. “This is why on the day the homework is due a group of students can typically be seen frantically huddled over the ‘smart girl’ copying her answers,” he says.
In theory, homework extends classroom learning time, gives students the chance to practice skills learned during the day, and builds self-discipline and self-monitoring vital to college success. But in reality, standard operating procedures work against those goals:
In this Teachers College Record article, Chenoa Woods and Thurston Domina (University of California/Irvine) report on their study of students’ access to high-school counselors and subsequent enrollment in four-year colleges. Their conclusion: high-school counselors with manageable caseloads play an important role in college planning, information-gathering, and college-preparatory behavior among juniors and seniors (including taking SAT or ACT) – and the rate at which students enroll in four-year colleges. Perversely, students who have the greatest need for college counseling and support tend to attend schools with the least favorable student-to-counselor ratios. “Even after controlling for student and school background characteristics,” conclude the authors, “we find that students in schools with high counselor caseloads are less likely to speak to their counselors, less likely to formulate and act on college plans, and less likely to attend four-year colleges.”
In this article in Review of Educational Research, Andrea Flower, Rommel Bunuan, Colin Muething, and Ramon Vega Jr. (University of Texas/Austin) and John McKenna (St. John’s University) report on their review of 22 studies of The Good Behavior Game, a classroom management strategy that has been around for four decades. The authors conclude that this approach, when properly implemented, has immediate, positive results on challenging behavior – for example, students off task, talking out of turn, swearing, putting down classmates, being out of their seats, and being aggressive toward others.
Here’s how The Good Behavior Game works: the teacher identifies problematic behaviors, posts rules, describes rewards, and divides the class into two equal teams. When a student misbehaves, the teacher says what the infraction is and debits the student’s team. (The teacher also adds points for prosocial behavior.) The team with the fewest infractions and the most positive points gets daily and weekly rewards.
“Effects of the Good Behavior Game on Challenging Behaviors in School Settings” by Andrea Flower, Rommel Bunuan, Colin Muething, Ramon Vega Jr., and John McKenna in Review of Educational Research, December 2014 (Vol. 84, #4, p. 546-571), http://bit.ly/1xU2Mtj
a. Math resources – This website http://pleacher.com/mp/mlessons/mlessons.html by retired math teacher David Pleacher has a rich array of free lesson plans, ideas, puzzles, games, and videos.
b. A bank of Fred Jones PATs fun instructional games – This link from the Fred Jones Tools for Teaching website http://www.fredjones.com/#!pat-bank/c5h has a large collection of free PAT (Preferred Activity Time) activities to use as curriculum-aligned group incentives in the classroom. Teachers can submit additional PAT activities to the website.
c. Eric Mazur master class – This link http://bit.ly/1v2TybQ will give you access to a delightful talk, “Confessions of a Converted Lecturer,” by Harvard physics professor Eric Mazur. In it, he explains why he developed his peer instruction model, describes its impact on student learning and attitudes, and conducts a quick simulation with his audience.
(Mazur’s book, Peer Instruction, is summarized in Marshall Memo 241.)
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This weekly memo is designed to keep principals, teachers, superintendents, and others very well-informed on current research and effective practices in K-12 education. Kim Marshall, drawing on 43 years’ experience as a teacher, principal, central office administrator, and writer, lightens the load of busy educators by serving as their “designated reader.”
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Core list of publications covered
Those read this week are underlined.
American Educational Research Journal
American Journal of Education
ASCA School Counselor
ASCD SmartBrief/Public Education NewsBlast
Better: Evidence-Based Education
Center for Performance Assessment Newsletter
Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis
Elementary School Journal
Harvard Business Review
Harvard Education Letter
Harvard Educational Review
Journal of Education for Students Placed At Risk (JESPAR)
Journal of Staff Development
Kappa Delta Pi Record
Middle School Journal
Phi Delta Kappan
Principal’s Research Review
Reading Research Quarterly
Responsive Classroom Newsletter
Review of Educational Research
School Library Journal
Teaching Children Mathematics
Teaching Exceptional Children/Exceptional Children
The Chronicle of Higher Education
The District Management Journal
The Journal of the Learning Sciences
The Language Educator
The Learning Principal/Learning System/Tools for Schools
The Reading Teacher
Theory Into Practice
Wharton Leadership Digest