“In profound ways, literacy is destiny. It is the single most important goal of schooling and the key to academic and career success.”
Mike Schmoker (see item #1)
“Without a solid foundation of core knowledge stored in one’s own memory, a student cannot move nimbly through the world of ideas, building on some and rejecting others. Additionally, students require background knowledge to decipher texts and understand references.”
Kyle Redford in “For Reading Comprehension, Knowledge is Power” in Educational
Leadership, February 2020 (Vol. 77, #5, pp. 52-56), available for ASCD members and
“Do not assume students have already been taught how to collaborate or that they should know better.”
Jennifer Gonzalez (see item #5)
“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”
James Baldwin, quoted in “Errare Humanum Est: A Teaching Odyssey” by Yekaterina
McKenney in English Journal, January 2020 (Vol. 109, #3, pp. 17-19), no e-link
available; McKenney can be reached at [email protected].
“Remember, it’s all about relationships.”
Words of wisdom from a principal to a rookie middle-school teacher working late
into the evening before the first day of school, in “Revitalizing English Language
Arts Through Social and Emotional Learning” by Rick Marlatt in English Journal,
January 2020 (Vol. 109, #3, pp. 44-49); Marlatt is at [email protected].
“…teachers pretending to teach and students pretending to learn.”
Quoted in item #4
(Originally titled “Radical Reset: The Case for Minimalist Standards”)
“In profound ways, literacy is destiny,” says author/speaker/consultant Mike Schmoker in this Educational Leadership article. “It is the single most important goal of schooling and the key to academic and career success.” The Common Core standards were a well-intentioned effort to pare down ELA standards and support effective literacy instruction, says Schmoker, but he believes the standards went off the rails – an important reason that American students’ achievement over the last decade has flatlined.
What went wrong? “In the heady development phase, there was plenty to like about the ELA Common Core,” says Schmoker. “They called for vastly more content-rich, grade-level reading, discussion, writing – and writing instruction – across subject areas.” The Common Core ELA’s introduction and appendices are “inspiring and largely on-target.” However, says Schmoker, the detailed standards created by committees are “an impossible profusion of grade-by-grade minutiae.” The result is that many teachers have been spending far too much class time on strategies, skill drills, and worksheets, and students aren’t doing much real reading, discussing, and writing grounded in literature and subject-area knowledge. Hence the lack of progress at a national level.
How can we return to the fundamentals that Common Core got right and “reset” literacy instruction in classrooms? Schmoker recommends that school leaders issue explicit public statements describing what went wrong so teachers and parents understand what isn’t working and why. Then schools and districts should go about reducing the literacy curriculum to the essentials. For starters, this means intensive, explicit phonics instruction so every student is able to decode text by the end of first grade. But this shouldn’t distract from the core of literacy, which Schmoker believes is “frequent, abundant amounts of reading, discussion, and writing” from the very beginning. He agrees with Richard Allington’s 2006 goal of students doing at least 60 minutes of reading and 40 minutes of writing (across the curriculum) every day.
Following this general injunction, what do simple, high-leverage standards look like? Schmoker suggests that teacher teams spell out “the approximate number, amount, length, and frequency” of reading, writing, and discussion for each grade level – specifically:
(Originally titled “Freedom for Literacy”)
In this Educational Leadership article, Kimberly Parker (Shady Hill Teacher Training Center) describes being raised by her grandparents on a Kentucky farm with plenty of books and magazines – and the Bible – to peruse. “I was free to read as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted,” says Parker, “grounded in the literary traditions of black folks.”
Later, as a high-school teacher, she found that many of her students weren’t as lucky: “Consistently, what emerged was that the young people with whom I shared a classroom were not reading, mainly because their past literacy struggles resulted in a general dislike of reading.” At first Parker thought her own love of books would ignite a similar passion in students, but she saw that was naive. Here are the strategies she developed:
• Acceleration – For students reading below level, she taught foundational strategies and built “an intentional literacy community that helped connect them with their reading identities.” Students realized they deserved to be literate and that being literate was extraordinarily liberating. At least 20 minutes of class time a day was spent reading.
• Introspection – As a student, Parker studied mostly white authors, and as a novice teacher, she covered the traditional canon. Sensing the problem, she worked to make her personal reading more inclusive, including works about indigenous and LGBTQ+ people. “This critical excavation of my own reading life,” she says, “enabled me to think about how books have influenced me and the decisions I make about text selection and implementation.”
• Listening to students – Parker questioned students about previous literacy experiences, and found that those in remedial tracks often had the least choice in what they read. One sophomore described a teacher pushing her class through a novel that was too hard and “old and boring.” Required to complete nightly reading logs made her hate reading and believe she wasn’t good at it. Parker began giving students choices and talked often about her own reading journey (which fascinated students). “The only hard and fast rule I have,” she says, “is that not reading anything is impermissible.”
• Historical perspective – For African-American students, it’s important to know about people for whom literacy was life-changing – Malcolm X, Jacqueline Woodson, Jason Reynolds, Darnell Moore. As author Theresa Perry put it, “Education was how you claimed your humanity, struck a blow for freedom, worked for racial uplift, and prepared yourself for leadership.”
• Mirrors, windows, and doors – Students must see themselves in the literature they read in school; also, what they read should open their minds to cultures and experiences they haven’t yet imagined. “Once young people have a text they want to read, a regular time to read it, and a teacher to assist and guide their growth,” says Parker, “they are able to develop their reading identities.”
• One-on-one reading conferences – “These regular, informal conversations during daily independent reading time,” says Parker, “allow me to determine what reading experience a young person is having, what supports they need (which vary from a new book recommendation to affirming their reader identity), and what steps we both need to take next.”
• Book talks – Parker gives quick daily presentations that provide “just enough information about a text to entice readers,” she says; “an overview of the plot, juicy moments, characters that share traits with students, and a culminating cliffhanger.” Soon students begin doing books talks as well.
In this paper from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Seth Gershenson reports on his study of how the grading practices of eighth- and ninth-grade North Carolina math teachers affected their students’ content mastery and downstream math success. Gershenson looked at Algebra I data in North Carolina from 2006 to 2016 because during those years, high-school students were required to take Algebra I and sit for a statewide end-of-course exam. This made it possible to compare students’ scores on a common assessment with teachers’ grades. For example, if students were given good grades by their teachers but scored poorly on the statewide test, that was an indication of low teacher standards and expectations and/or a watered-down curriculum. The huge data set made it possible for Gershenson to look at grades and test results for the same course across the state, and zero in on teachers and students in the same school in the same year.
Gershenson’s focus was on teachers’ standards and expectations. “One way that teachers convey their expectations,” he says, “sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, is through the grades they assign. Students can respond to this information by recalibrating their own expectations and beliefs about what’s possible, reengaging with school, and putting forth greater effort… When students who have not mastered the material receive passing marks anyway, they can become complacent and fail to reach their full potential. Lax grading is a pernicious practice that provides students and parents with a false sense of security and accomplishment that might prevent them from trying harder, learning more, and maximizing their own future prospects in the ‘real world.’”
Across the state, comparing teachers’ grades with end-of-course results revealed widespread grade inflation: more than one-third of students who earned a B in Algebra I from their teachers failed to score proficient on the state Algebra I exam, and more than half of B students fell short of the state’s “college-and-career-ready” standard. Gershenson interviewed teachers and found a variety of opinions on what grades meant:
In this English Journal article, Jeraldine Kraver (University of Northern Colorado) juxtaposes every English teachers’ dream – students deeply appreciating great literature – with the hard reality that many students use SparkNotesand other sites to avoid reading assigned books, or peek at the notes of the student sitting next to them in class and fake engagement in discussions. The latter scenarios can create a dynamic once described as “teachers pretending to teach and students pretending to learn.”
What is to be done? Kraver believes teachers have to meet students where they are and convince them that “getting over” in English class is not in their long-term interest. “To do so,” she says, “we must bring SparkNotes from the shadows of ‘getting away with it’ into the harsh fluorescent light of the classroom.”
The underlying issue in students’ avoidance of “great books” is the question familiar to every middle- and high-school English teacher: Why do we have to read this? Kraver’s answer (which doesn’t convince many students at first) is that literature “challenges us by raising complex, difficult, and essential questions that matter at every point in our lives…
“Challenging Spark, Cliffs, and The-Kid-Who-Sits-Next-to-Me’s Notes” by Jeraldine Kraver
in English Journal, January 2020 (Vol. 109, #3, pp. 60-66); e-link for subscribers only; Kraver can be reached at [email protected].
In this Cult of Pedagogy article, Jennifer Gonzalez recalls that when she was a middle-school English teacher, she often had students work in groups – sometimes to brainstorm ideas, sometimes as a break from the whole-class routine, and, she confesses, sometimes to lighten her grading load (30 final products versus 120).
But cooperative work was not without its problems. Some groups didn’t stay on task, there were personality clashes, absences complicated things, and certain students ended up doing most of the work in their groups. Gonzalez began to question whether cooperative learning was adding value. Recently, she took a careful look at the research and reached out to colleagues to answer some basic questions.
First, is cooperative learning worth it? Researchers say that it is. “In general,” summarizes Gonzalez, “when students work together, they make greater academic and social gains than when they compete against one another or when they work individually.” But cooperative learning produces these gains only when teachers orchestrate group activities to include these key elements:
Having established the value of cooperative work in classrooms, Gonzalez reached out for solutions to four common challenges:
• Problem #1: Uneven student contributions in groups – Quite frequently, academically stronger students do most of the work while others freeload. Or everyone works, but in “parallel play” mode, without truly collaborating. Teachers can address this problem by:
- Explicitly teaching the skills required to work well in a group. This means doing role-plays, modeling desired behaviors, and demonstrating what not to do. “Do not assume students have already been taught how to collaborate or that they should know better,” says Gonzalez. She advises starting with simple group tasks and debriefing with students. The links in her full article below include a breakdown of skills and rubrics to evaluate group work.
- Structuring the learning task so it lends itself to collaboration. Gonzalez provides links to resources for these approaches:
This piece in School Library Journal has resources for the upcoming August 18, 2020 centennial of the Constitutional amendment through which women won the right to vote:
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About the Marshall Memo
Mission and focus:
This weekly memo is designed to keep principals, teachers, superintendents, and other educators very well-informed on current research and effective practices in K-12 education. Kim Marshall, drawing on 50 years’ experience as a teacher, principal, central office administrator, writer, and consultant lightens the load of busy educators by serving as their “designated reader.”
To produce the Marshall Memo, Kim subscribes to 60 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). Every week there’s a podcast and HTML version as well.
Individual subscriptions are $50 for a year. Rates decline steeply for multiple readers within the same organization. See the website for these rates and how to pay by check, credit card, or purchase order.
If you go to http://www.marshallmemo.com you will find detailed information on:
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Core list of publications covered
Those read this week are underlined.
All Things PLC
American Educational Research Journal
American Journal of Education
ASCA School Counselor
District Management Journal
Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis
Elementary School Journal
Harvard Business Review
Harvard Educational Review
Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy
Journal of Education for Students Placed At Risk (JESPAR)
Kappa Delta Pi Record
Literacy Today (formerly Reading Today)
Middle School Journal
Peabody Journal of Education
Phi Delta Kappan
Reading Research Quarterly
Responsive Classroom Newsletter
Review of Educational Research
School Library Journal
Social Studies and the Young Learner
Teaching Children Mathematics
Teaching Exceptional Children
The Chronicle of Higher Education
The Journal of the Learning Sciences
The Language Educator
The Learning Professional (formerly Journal of Staff Development)
The Reading Teacher
Theory Into Practice