“There are but two kinds of people in the district: those who teach and those who support those who teach.”
Alvin Wilbanks, Superintendent of the Gwinnett County (GA) Public Schools
“From watching and listening to the adults around them, children develop an internal theory of how society works, who has power and influence and what impact an individual can have.”
Sheldon Berman, Eugene (OR) superintendent, in “Recalling Public Schooling’s Larger
Aims,” School Administrator, November 2014 (Vol. 71, #10, p. 41-43); Berman can
be reached at [email protected]
“[W]hat is described by the ‘B’ on the report card? That a student mastered the standards, but came late every day? That the student understood half the standards, but persevered to complete every assignment and extra-credit offering? That the student aced major assessments, but was often disrespectful?”
Joe Feldman (see item #7)
“[K]ids need both the ability to compute with speed and accuracy, to understand the answer they got, and to know whether it makes sense.”
Robert Pondiscio and Kevin Mahnken (see item #8)
“How is it that some students have so much to say when talking out loud, but when a pencil is put into their hand they suddenly hesitate, struggle, and have nothing to say?”
Ali Parrish (see item #5)
In this New York Times article, David Hochman reports on the work of Harvard Business School social psychologist Amy Cuddy, whose research shows the surprising impact of body posture on self-assurance and success. Cuddy, whose phenomenally popular TED talk on this subject is available in the link below, has demonstrated that a confident, expansive, “Wonder Woman” stance is not only an outward manifestation of confidence; striking such a pose can create self-assurance that wasn’t there before.
Conversely, a number of less-confident body postures are common among those who are worried, have low self-esteem, or don’t think they really deserve to be there – for example:
These are part of a self-reinforcing cycle of low confidence and decreased efficacy. Women are particularly prone to less-confident body posture, says Cuddy.
But if a person about to walk into a high-stakes situation – an interview, a date, a stage performance, teaching a class – takes a couple of minutes alone to strike a confident pose, there’s a boost in confidence and success. Cuddy and her colleagues have measured significant increases in testosterone (a hormone associated with high efficacy) and decreases in cortisone (a stress hormone) after only a short amount of time standing up straight, shoulders back, head up, arms on hips, legs in a wide stance.
Cuddy’s own story is testament to this phenomenon. She once worked as a roller-skating waitress and while in college in Colorado, was seriously injured in a car accident and given little hope of recovering full mental capacity. She persisted, graduated from college, went through graduate school at Princeton, all the time thinking she was an impostor, and worked her way into a professorship at Harvard and finally felt she belonged. “Fake it till you become it,” is Cuddy’s rallying cry for people who struggle as she did.
“Amy Cuddy Takes a Stand” by David Hochman in The New York Times, September 19, 2014, http://nyti.ms/1sFpldD
In this Kappan article, Maurice Elias (Rutgers University) bemoans the fact that social-emotional factors are not always addressed in the current push to prepare students for college and career success. “College poses many challenges,” he says, “particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, whose dropout rates have been estimated as high as 90%. There is a tremendous emotional charge associated with many aspects of college, ranging from fears about family identity and acceptance, loss of peer groups, concerns about fitting in and managing the workload, implications of choices of courses and majors, how to establish a range of new relationships with peers and adults, and lifestyle choices about the use of leisure time, studying, eating, and sleeping.” Studies show that it’s problems in these areas, more than intellectual shortcomings, that lead to most college dropouts.
Fortunately there’s an emerging consensus on the broader skill-set that puts students on the path to college and career success:
(Originally titled “Now Presenting…”)
In this Educational Leadership article, consultant/author Erik Palmer says there are three reasons that so few schools do a good job teaching students public speaking: It’s not on state tests; we think students already know how to speak; and we don’t have good techniques – we assign speaking but don’t teach it. The result is dreary book reports, deadly explanations of science fair projects, and disappointing poetry slams. “If we expect students to learn to speak,” says Palmer (adapting Carol Jago’s dictum on writing), “we need to teach them how. This means embedding in our practice daily opportunities for students to speak, combined with deliberate instruction about the moves good speakers make as they talk.” He challenges schools to make a commitment to developing more-effective speakers by agreeing on a common language and actually teaching students.
Palmer suggests using the acronym P.V.LEGS as the basis for an effective instructional program on speaking:
• Poise – Students need to be aware of odd tics and behaviors – tugging on a sleeve, fidgeting with one’s fingers, twirling the string of a hoodie, rolling and unrolling papers. Students can be taught to observe behaviors in adults and peers that keep an audience from focusing on the message – and then practice coming across as poised themselves.
• Voice – Students need to modulate their volume so they’re loud enough – but not too loud – so that every word can be heard and contributes to the message.
• Life – Teachers can model putting passion into their voices and then have students practice saying a short sentence – I want a peanut – with great expression. Then students can take turns delivering a more substantive sentence with tremendous conviction: 800 million people are starving on this planet! or It was the greatest show I’ve ever seen!
• Eye contact – Teachers might have a student speak for two minutes on a familiar topic and then poll the class to see how many students believe the speaker made direct eye contact with them at some point – immediate feedback for the speaker! Polls after subsequent presentations will result in better and better eye contact. Students can also discuss why it’s important, model it in one-on-one conversations in school, and observe adults as they speak in person or on TV or in movies.
• Gestures – Palmer suggests playing a scene from The Princess Bride in which Vizzini and the Dread Pirate Roberts drink from poisoned goblets – with the sound muted – and noticing facial expressions, hand gestures, and body language. For homework, students might find a high-gesture scene and share it with the class.
• Speed – A teacher might give directions v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, showing how pace can affect attention and comprehension. Palmer also suggests playing the first two minutes of Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech, which is quite stately, and then the last portion, which is considerably faster, and discussing why King varied the pace and the impact it had on the audience.
“If teachers explicitly teach these skills,” Palmer concludes, “when it’s time for students to give a big presentation, the students will know what’s required and will have had the opportunity to practice good speaking along the way. They will have made steps toward becoming effective oral communicators.”
(Originally titled “Speaking Volumes”)
“Students love to talk. So do teachers,” say Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey (San Diego State University) in this Educational Leadership article. But classroom talk is not always productive, and in many classrooms, especially those with low-achieving students, teachers are talking as much as 80 percent of the time. Fisher and Frey suggest a number of ways to maximize the quality of small- and large-group classroom discussions and their impact on thinking, reading, and writing:
• Offer meaningful and complex tasks. The prompt for a discussion should be relevant, interesting, and engaging, not just completing an assignment or activity.
• Model behavioral cues. Teachers often need to explicitly teach and then carefully monitor the body language of good group work – students leaning in, gesturing, with attentive facial expressions. Videos of groups are helpful, as is a fishbowl in which students observe an effective group at work.
• Encourage argumentation, not arguing. Students need to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable – making claims, offering evidence, seeking clarification, using accountable talk, offering counterclaims, agreeing to disagree, or reaching consensus.
• Use the best format. For whole-group discussions, a circle or U-shape allows students to see each others’ faces, which makes a big difference.
• Provide language support. Some students are shy and rarely give voice to their ideas. Teachers can help students take part in discussions by providing sentence frames, language charts, word walls, audio devices, peer support, or teacher modeling.
• Find the right group size. Small groups ideally have 2-5 students, say Fisher and Frey, and don’t all have to be the same size; some students work best with one partner, while others thrive in a larger group – but not more than five. Heterogeneous groups can be formed by making a list of all students in order of achievement, cutting the list in two, and forming each group with students from the two columns.
• Listen, question, prompt, and cue. Teachers should tune in on student talk and intervene strategically, say Fisher and Frey: “In addition, teachers should be aware that their comments can build students’ sense of self – their self-esteem, agency, and identity – or damage it.” Here are some helpful prompts:
“Fostering English Language Learners’ Confidence” by Rhonda Bondie, Akane Zusho, and Laurie Gaughran in Educational Leadership, November 2014 (Vol. 72, #3, p. 42-46),
In this Education Week article, California professional development consultant Joe Feldman lists some of the possible meanings of a B on a report card: “That a student mastered the standards, but came late every day? That the student understood half the standards, but persevered to complete every assignment and extra-credit offering? That the student aced major assessments, but was often disrespectful?”
Most principals know their teachers’ grading policies are all over the map, and yet few give their teachers clear guidelines on how to count different aspects of students’ performance. “A high-school student who sees five to seven different teachers a day has to navigate five to seven different grading systems,” says Feldman. “When a course is taught by several teachers (for example, Algebra I or English 9), two students who performed equally in different classes could receive entirely different grades.” And inevitably there’s subjectivity, even when assessing what seems to be the same student behavior – participation or effort, for example.
Grades matter. They influence how students feel about different subjects (Am I “good at” math?), the need for additional support, athletic eligibility, promotion, graduation, college admission, scholarships, and employment. So why is there so little dialogue on this subject? “Discussions that ask teachers to talk about grading are hard, emotional, and confusing,” says Feldman. “To many teachers, asking them to change their grading practices suggests a challenge to their autonomy and professionalism – a reaction that reveals how tightly grades are tied psychologically, emotionally, and philosophically to their deepest thinking about their practice.”
Feldman describes how he guided a group of teachers in a Northern California district to look at research on grading, reflect on their own grading practices, pilot some new ideas in their classrooms, share how things went, refine the changes, and repeat the cycle several times. The results were remarkable:
In this Education Gadfly article, Robert Pondiscio and Kevin Mahnken respond to criticisms of Common Core’s elementary math standards made recently by Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute and New York principal Carol Burris:
• The standards confuse children and parents. Burris quoted this first-grade standard: “Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8+6 = 8+2+4 = 10+4 = 14); decom-posing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13-4 = 13-3-1 = 9)… and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6+7 by creating the known equivalent 6+6+1 = 12+1 = 13).” Pondiscio and Mahnken make three points.
First, standards are written for professional educators, not for students. “A teacher would no sooner read this kind of guidance to a seven-year-old than a waiter would recite food-handling procedures to a diner who merely wants to know what’s on the menu tonight,” say Pondiscio and Mahnken.
Second, Burris left out the first sentence of the standard: “Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10” – a clear and manageable expectation for first graders.
Third, the instructional examples quoted by Burris are preceded by the words “such as” – they are examples of many possible ways to teach this standard, all of which are in the repertoire of lots of teachers, especially in high-performing countries like Singapore and Japan.
• Some standards are too advanced for young students. Critics of elementary Common Core standards say that some are “developmentally inappropriate” – that children are simply not capable of achieving them. One example is asking kindergarten students to count to 100. Pondiscio and Mahnken say this level of knowledge is already in a number of states’ standards and is entirely appropriate for kindergarten – provided it’s interpreted as it’s written: counting to 100, not grasping all the components of fluency, conceptual understanding, and application.
Social psychologists like Daniel Willingham have shown that children don’t develop in rigid stages but rather in continuous flow and are often capable of more than we give them credit for. He and others believe the Common Core standards are manageable and appropriate – in the hands of good teachers. “How to get them there is part of the art and science of teaching and involves making sure that I know what my students know and can move them to where they need to be,” says California kindergarten teacher Robbie Torney. Pondiscio and Mahnken take the long view: “If we know where we want kids to be at the end of 13 years of schooling, delaying learning is the intellectual equivalent of a balloon payment on a mortgage. Sooner or later, it’s got to be paid up.”
• There is too much emphasis on abstract mathematical concepts. “Common Core certainly does challenge students to comprehend math at the conceptual level – the broad strokes of composing and decomposing numbers, for instance – but only in concert with, and not opposed to, mastering standard algorithms,” say Pondiscio and Mahnken. “[K]ids need both the ability to compute with speed and accuracy, to understand the answer they got, and to know whether it makes sense.” It’s up to teachers to implement the standards in a balanced way.
In this Education Week article, Liana Heitin reports on a spring 2014 talk by Michigan State University professor William Schmidt on the implementation of Common Core math standards:
(Originally titled “‘It’s In the Cards’ and Other Movement Activities”)
In this Education Update article, Linnea Lyding (Arizona Christian University) shares some fun ways to get elementary students engaged in short bursts of exercise. All the activities start with a brief reminder of the rules and creating an imaginary space around each student and end with silent, deep breaths.
• It’s in the cards – The teacher gets out a deck of cards and posts a code on the board, perhaps:
a. Airline travel graphic display – This remarkable website shows all one day’s airline flights on a world map and also has links explaining the growth of air travel in the last century: http://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2014/aviation-100-years
• Write About This http://ow.ly/CwmbT
• WordWriter http://www.boomwriter.com/wordwriter
• StoryToolz http://storytoolz.com
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About the Marshall Memo
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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.”
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
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