Marshall Memo 640
A Weekly Round-up of Important Ideas and Research in K-12 Education
June 6, 2016
1. What Silicon Valley can teach school leaders
2. Is elementary school departmentalization effective?
3. Teachers making home visits
4. Whole-class, low-stakes assessments that involve all students
5. Broadening the appeal of high-school physics
6. Another way to beef up content knowledge in elementary schools
7. The impact of close-age mentors on high-school students of color
8. Short items: (a) The graduation speech that went viral; (b) Wealth and achievement;
(c) A hands-on physics project
“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my bedroom and was in bed before the room was dark.”
Muhammad Ali, who died last week at 74
“School architecture is often placed on the altar of efficiency. While efficiency is an important consideration in an environment of scarcity, schools do not exist to save money. We build schools to educate and inspire children – and we need the architecture to support our end goals.”
Daniel Allen (see item #1)
“Whether specialization can increase productivity in schools is an important open question in the design of primary and secondary schooling.”
Roland Fryer (see item #2)
“Despite many accountability policies and resulting interventions focusing on schools… the majority of variability in student scores is between students within schools.”
Jill Adelson, Emily Dickinson, and Brittany Cunningham in “A Multigrade, Multiyear
Statewide Examination of Reading Achievement: Examining Variability Between
Districts, Schools, and Students” in Educational Researcher, May 2016 (Vol. 45, #4, p.
Steven Klees (University of Maryland/College Park) in “VAMs Are Never
‘Accurate, Reliable, and Valid’” in Educational Researcher, May 2016 (Vol. 45, #4, p.
In this Edutopia article, Daniel Allen describes what he learned from Silicon Valley during his four years as a San Francisco high-school principal:
• Design thinking – In the high-tech industry, says Allen, “There is a pervasive faith in the power of data analysis and informed experimentation to iterate our way toward improvement. The entire process depends on a wide aperture for ideas, and a big appetite for learning from failure.” Instead of the typical K-12 paradigm of “rolling out” initiatives and “getting buy-in” for ideas originating outside the school, design thinking “assumes that the most important data live at the classroom level, and it’s not just quantitative data we want.” School leaders need to pay attention to what teachers and students are thinking, feeling, and doing every day in their classrooms. The leadership skillset required nowadays includes being able to empathize, facilitate, be the lead researcher, and humbly acknowledge not having all the answers.
• Physical space – “School architecture is often placed on the altar of efficiency,” says Allen. “While efficiency is an important consideration in an environment of scarcity, schools do not exist to save money. We build schools to educate and inspire children – and we need the architecture to support our end goals. School leaders should see themselves as designers, curating powerful learning spaces and showcasing student work that reinforces aspirational learning outcomes.” Silicon Valley office spaces are a good model, aligning work spaces and physical landmarks to shape organizational culture and making horizontal and vertical collaboration – within and across skill specialties – easier and more natural.
• Connections – Networking is more than just a way to get a job, says Allen. “In the connection economy, networking is our job. While our students may be digital natives, they do not have access to the tools that facilitate meaningful connections, nor are they necessarily strategic in the development of their online presence. We need to build student skills and social capital.” At the high school that he led, students were required to complete a workplace internship to graduate, and the social benefits of their expanded professional networks were huge.
In this National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, Roland Fryer (Harvard University) describes his two-year study of the efficacy of Houston Public Schools elementary teachers specializing in particular subjects. Twenty-five schools formed the control group and continued with traditional self-contained classes. Another 25 schools departmentalized using two different configurations for the 2-4 teachers at each grade level: (a) one teacher teaching reading/social studies, another teaching math/science; or (b) three teachers splitting up reading, math, and science/social studies. Principals decided which subject(s) teachers taught based on their sense of their strongest area(s). Students remained with the same classmates for all subjects.
As an economist, Fryer is familiar with the history of specialization in industry, including Henry Ford’s 1913 introduction of the assembly line to produce the Model T, which reduced the time it took to produce one car from 750 minutes to 93 minutes. In his classic economic treatise, The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith looked at pin factories in 18th-century England and found dramatic increases in productivity when individual workers were organized to specialize in discrete tasks.
“The basic economics is intuitive,” says Fryer. “Specializing in the production of a subset of the tasks necessary to produce a final output allows workers to gain efficiency in that task.” Adam Smith believed there were three reasons for this:
In this article in Education Next, former Wall Street Journal reporter June Kronholz describes home-visit programs in several districts. Research says that engaging parents in their children’s education is key, but the standard strategies – back-to-school nights, parent-teacher conferences, potlucks, helping with homework – are not reaching parents who are alienated from their children’s schools. In addition, there are many barriers to the conventional avenues – schools that are miles from students’ homes, transportation difficulties, security precautions – locked doors, sign-ins, ID badges.
“I had expectations of what the parents were supposed to do,” said Washington, D.C. math teacher Melissa Bryant. “I had never heard what they wanted me to do.”
Kronholz accompanied a team of D.C. educators on a visit to the home of a particularly troubled and unsuccessful second grader. Sitting at the dining room table with the boy’s mother, who was deeply worried about him, they learned how he idolized his older brother, that he loved helping with classroom chores, that he was keenly aware that he was older than his classmates, that he felt good at math, and that he loved when his teachers texted pictures of him to his mother. Asked about her aspirations for her child, the mother said, “I want so much for my son. Him trying to succeed. Maybe not succeeding, but just trying.” She agreed to visit the school to see a class project, and also consented to have her son tested for learning disabilities.
Debriefing after the visit, the teachers said the most important thing was establishing a relationship with the mother. “A lot of our families have lost trust in our system,” said one teacher, “but being in her house, that was her zone.” Perhaps it would turn the tide with this troubled student. Discussing another home visit, a teacher said, “The kids see the parents and the teacher interacting. They see our relationship. They see we’re working together.”
The Flamboyan Foundation – following in the footsteps of Montessori schools, KIPP, and other educators who routinely make home visits – trains and pays teachers to visit students’ homes. Kristin Ehrgood, who launched Flamboyan in 2008, says, “Teachers are the experts in pedagogy but families are one hundred percent the experts in their children. We need one another.” Flamboyan is the D.C. partner of the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project, a Sacramento-based nonprofit established in 2002 that now has 432 participating schools in 17 states and the District of Columbia. The organization’s protocol goes like this:
“To be successfully included in general education settings, students with learning disabilities must have a sense of belonging,” say Sarah Nagro (George Mason University), Sara Hooks (Towson University), Dawn Fraser (Kennedy Krieger Institute), and Kyena Cornelius (Minnesota State University/Mankato) in this article in Teaching Exceptional Children. Because of these students’ challenges with organizational skills, higher-order thinking, working memory retention, and making connections, inclusion teachers need to make an extra effort to help them stay engaged and get better at self-assessing their level of comprehension. What’s guaranteed not to work during whole-class instruction is the teacher asking a question and then calling on one (usually high-performing) student for the answer. Better to use strategies that elicit responses from all students and use the responses to make wise in-the-moment instructional decisions and monitor the learning of students with special needs. The authors recommend several approaches:
• Hand-signals to check for comprehension – Students can hold up four fingers to signify “I got it and can explain it to the class,” three fingers for “I got it,” two fingers for “I think I got it,” and one finger for “I did not get it.” This kind of whole-class check-in on a four-point scale is vastly superior to the frequent teacher question, “Does that make sense?” or “Do you understand?” If every student knows that he or she be will be asked to signal a specific level of comprehension, students are more likely to stay tuned in, feel accountable, and improve their ability to self-monitor. Teachers can also track 4-3-2-1 response data to help modify lessons and/or work with a special-education co-teacher and zero in on particular students who are having difficulty.
• Hand signals to structure a discussion – An alternative signaling strategy is for students to hold up one finger if they want to share a new idea or two fingers to add to the current idea. By calling on students strategically, the teacher can keep the discussion from veering off to another topic, call on students who will take the conversation deeper in one area, or allow it to branch off into other areas. It’s also a way to scaffold a discussion by helping students think about not only what they want to share but how their ideas fit into the topic.
• Response cards – Asking for choral responses to a question gets every student involved, but it’s difficult for the teacher to know who really understands. In addition, students with learning issues can “hide in the crowd” and become passive learners. A better system is having students hold up response cards after a question or prompt. The cards can be True/False, colored for multiple-choice answers, or content-specific – for example, phoneme components, vocabulary words, parts of speech, story elements, or (for a math lesson) coins. “The purpose,” say the authors, “is to create a positive learning community so all students, including students who would otherwise not participate, have frequent opportunities to respond and actively learn. Some students may require additional wait time or prompting to generate a correct response.” The teacher might also ask students to think-pair-share to allow time to interact with peers.
• Dry-erase boards, open-ended poll questions, surveys, and exit tickets – These work best when the teacher wants to capture and make judgments about specific details of student learning. Questions can probe content knowledge, prompt students to take a stance on a topic, or have them explain their thinking, show their work, or reflect. Wait-time is always an issue when students are writing. “When asking for written responses beyond one sentence,” suggest the authors, “consider including sentence starters or a mnemonic device such as POW (pick my ideas, organize my notes, write and say more), because students with learning disabilities require planning time and a way to organize their thoughts before writing.” Again, the teacher can collect data on students’ responses over time to track how well they are doing, intervene with individual students or small groups, and continuously improve instruction.
In this article in The Physics Teacher, Seattle high-school science teacher Moses Rifkin bemoans the fact that many female and minority-group students are not taking or persisting in physics courses. “This is a missed opportunity in our discipline,” says Rifkin, “because demographic diversity strengthens science.” He identifies three causes: first, stereotype threat – the tendency of students in stigmatized groups to internalize negative beliefs (for example, girls aren’t good at science) and underperform. Second, implicit biases among teachers – “connections that our subconscious brains make between members of groups and stereotypical characteristics,” says Rifkin, “even if our conscious minds do not endorse these relationships.” (The Implicit Association Test has revealed widespread beliefs about the academic potential of African Americans and the ability of females to excel in math and science.) And third, the fact that when physics teachers introduce key figures in the field, they usually talk about Newton, Maxwell, Lenz, and Einstein – all white European men.
Rifkin says he was “stunned” when he first heard about stereotype threat, and has taken several steps in his classroom to address the broader problem:
• Stereotype threat – Simply learning about the phenomenon can help students understand the subtle dynamic that prevents some from doing their best work in physics classes. In addition, a brief values clarification exercise can reduce racial and gender achievement gaps by offering students some defenses against stereotype threat.
• Implicit bias – Teachers and students learning about the prevalence of negative beliefs in the majority population can foster self-awareness and be a first step toward reducing biases in the classroom.
• Monochromatic role models – While it’s true that the majority of major contributors to the field are from a particular demographic, the history of physics is more diverse than most of us know. For example, Newton’s first law comes from Ibn Sina, a Persian scholar, and t online resources highlight other contributors:
In this article in Journal of Education for Students Placed At Risk, Chenoa Woods (Florida State University) and Mariana Preciado (CollegeSpring) report on their study of a mentoring program for low-income high-school students of color whose parents had not attended a four-year college. The mentors were current college students and spent 20 hours with their mentees, who were enrolled in an SAT prep program. The findings:
a. The graduation speech that went viral – This link will allow you to watch remarks by masters graduate Donovan Livingston at the May 25, 2016 convocation at the Harvard Graduate School of Education: http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/16/05/lift. The speech has been viewed almost 12 million times.
b. Wealth and achievement – The interactive graphic in this New York Times article by Motoko Rich, Amanda Cox, and Matthew Bloch shows the relationship between the wealth of school districts and student achievement: http://nyti.ms/1TAf96b.
c. A hands-on physics project – This video shows two girls building a balloon that they sent to near-space: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QCP5jZXoOhI
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About the Marshall Memo
Mission and focus:
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 44 years’ experience as a teacher, principal, central office administrator, and writer, lightens the load of busy educators by serving as their “designated reader.”
To produce the Marshall Memo, Kim subscribes to 64 carefully-chosen publications (see list to the right), sifts through more than a hundred articles each week, and selects 5-10 that have the greatest potential to improve teaching, leadership, and learning. He then writes a brief summary of each article, pulls out several striking quotes, provides e-links to full articles when available, and e-mails the Memo to subscribers every Monday evening (with occasional breaks; there are 50 issues a year).
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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
Better: Evidence-Based Education
Center for Performance Assessment Newsletter
Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis
Elementary School Journal
Harvard Business Review
Harvard Educational Review
Journal of Education for Students Placed At Risk (JESPAR)
Journal of Staff Development
Kappa Delta Pi Record
Middle School Journal
Peabody Journal of Education
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