Education Evolutions #95


The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

While this is a bit later than normal, I wanted to get it out no matter what. With next Sunday being Easter, there will be no newsletter next week. Plus, I missed a week recently, so I felt a bit more compelled to get this out on the normal day.

This week is a bit more of a mixed bag, which is more often the case than not. This is a collection of short to long reads that covers a lot of ground. It is an eclectic array of articles that have generated a lot of thinking this week. I know I am not alone on that front either.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. It is long but powerful. Of all the articles this week it is the one that has lingered the longest, and I suspect it will stay in my mind for some time to come. It is worth the time and effort to finish.

For those in New England, enjoy the break.


Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

How Deep Listening Can Help You Be More Creative – Adobe 99u – The 99U Team (4-minute read)

While the framing of this idea as “deep listening” has a whiff of pretentiousness there is some genuine value, if you can get past that initial response. At least, that was how I read it and decided to include it here. Teaching journalism has made me even more keenly aware of the importance of listening than I may have been previously.

Reading this piece reminded me of thought from Baltimore NPR reporter Aaron Henkin, one of the hosts of the WYPR show Out of the Blocks, where he explained “When you listen to people you’re giving them a very rare and special gift.” Orkin’s idea of deep listening extends beyond just listening to a single person but the idea reminded me of giving someone a gift.

Probably the best aspect of this article is the list Orkin provides at the end about getting better at deep listening. All six pointers are pretty strong independently, regardless of their connection to this idea. The first two, in particular, I find particularly useful in almost all endeavors. Pursuing curiosity and leading with questions are pretty good practices in almost any pursuit. They are good ways to avoid the feeling of boredom too.

margin of error in data-driven decisions – actualham – Robin DeRosa (6-minute read)

This blogpost is a fascinating response to some strong claims made by a proponent of direct instruction. The very notion that an educational psychologist seems bent on discrediting an entire educational approach seems slightly suspect to me from the jump. While theories do get disproven from time to time with justification The claims of Kirschner makes strike me as overly simplistic conclusions, something DeRosa takes on with great thought.

Keying on defining what learning is, first, quickly pulls on a thread that unravels a sleeve. While memory is certainly important in learning, it is not the only facet. To suggest otherwise strikes me as highly reductionist. This seems to be a point on which I agree with DeRosa, although that is not entirely surprising. However, it is her point that science and the humanities are “epistemelogically distinct” is where I agree most.

Also, like DeRosa, I would not reject direct instruction. It has been working more or less for a few thousand years, but it is not the only way to teach. It is a method I certainly use but not exclusively. In the Kirschner interview cited, he clarifies a definition of direct instruction that is not as narrow as simply lecturing, which is an important qualification. However, he does invoke the word efficiency, which where he loses me. Learning is not about efficiency, almost ever. There is a lot to be said for “increased questioning rather than solving a problem or stating a singular conclusion.” Although, Derosa might be at her most elegant when she writes, “Literature is not an alternative to science. It’s a different lens on the world.” What a magnificent take that is. There is room for both and more.

The ethics of education – What is Education? – R. Graham Oliver (21-minute read)

This is one of those long but well-worth reading pieces that tackles a core aspect of our field. I am with Oliver. Education is at its core an ethical enterprise. In fact, I think the word is always value-laden, not “almost always.” I would add both the words teaching and learning to the same list as well, always value-laden and involving ethics too.

I tend to appreciate manifesto-type documents like this for their scope and scale. I appreciate the depth of thinking and philosophical approach in the primary premise Oliver shares. Drawing a distinction between education and schooling is also of vital importance in a discussion like this. They are not the same no matter how much anyone conflates them. As Oliver eloquently states, education “goes to the heart of what a person is worth, among us,” yet “each of us is of equal value.”

Education, when undertaken ethically, endeavors to makes us all better with the recognition that every life is as important as the rest. We all need reminders of this from time to time. It is a reminder of humility and endeavor, as is this post. I think number five in the outline may just be the one that resonates the most for me. It certainly has given me a lot to ponder.

Education Evolutions #94


The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

In one of those rare instances, I missed last week’s issue. Under a digital pile of grading that I have not seen in years, having reentered the classroom fulltime again, it had not even occurred to me until about Tuesday. While I thought about trying to put a late issue together, the week evaporated before I had a chance.

So this week is kind of a makeup with a lot of extra links baked into the mix. A theme also kind of emerged this week, revolving around surveillance and privacy. Both issues may be building toward a much-needed reckoning, but it seems to still be a lot further off in the future than I might like.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the first one. It is a good introduction of primer on issues of privacy, especially in regards to data. It also opens the door to a much bigger conversation that does not seem to be happening enough. Meanwhile, the reality depicted in the third article continues to run rampant.

This weekend offered New Englanders the sweetest preview of spring yet. Still, the new week looks like it will be starting with a sleety rain that might look a lot like snow.


Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Privacy’s not an abstraction – Fast Company – Chris Gilliard (6-minute read)

Chris Gilliard is one of the best people online writing and commenting about privacy issues that I have ever come across in my Internet reading. He is thoughtful, thought-provoking, and has a command of the subject that he can relate in very plain and human terms. This article is an example of all those qualities. In fact, this article is almost too brief but still well worth the read.

My main takeaway is this idea we are living at a moment in time where surveillance is simply the norm. I am reminded of tales told about the former Soviet Union and its Eastern Block of countries. Surveillance was a given. In many stories, it was a constant spectre, everpresent and suffocating. As Americans, we shared and repeated those stories. We still do (See Oscar-nominated Best Foreign Language Film Cold War), because the Soviet Union was the enemy and we didn’t do things like them. There is a cloying irony to all that now. As Gilliard points out, “the privileged will continue to pay for luxury surveillance…while marginalized populations will pay another price.”

As surveillance capitalism increasingly becomes the norm, the very idea that there are alternatives drifts further from memory. Perhaps even worse, we educators may well be indoctrinating an entire generation to this norm, inoculating them from the very idea that it might not actually be all that normal. For an even deeper more dramatic sense of how this might be the case, take a look at this presentation by Audrey Watters. I am pretty sure I have linked to it before but it provides some definitive food for thought. Her thesis, “All along the way, or perhaps somewhere along the way, we have confused surveillance for care,” is one all caregiving professions, like education, would do well to consider.

More States Opting To ‘Robo-Grade’ Student Essays By Computer – National Public Radio – Tovia Smith (10-minute read)

This is article is a little older but resurfaced because its MCAS season in Massachusetts, one of the tests referenced in the piece. Of course, the MCAS garnered all kinds of press on its own this week. Still, robo-grading writing has to be one of the dumbest ideas in education. Beyond falling under the just-because-we-can-doesn’t-mean-we-should category (although this one really is more that we-think-we-can, anyway), robo-grading a student’s writing is antithetical to the point of writing at all.

We already diminish the act of writing for students by making nearly every instance of it an assessment. Rarely are students asked to write for any other purpose other than to be graded. Better still, their writing is most commonly predicated on whether they have read something, where the writing serves as a kind of test. Then educators regularly wonder why so many kids hate reading and writing beyond a certain point in their schooling. Of course, it is a significantly complex issue beyond that. However, every time I see the robo-grading issue, I have to keep raising questions like – What message are we sending students when we essentially say what you have written values so little that a human is not even going to be bothered to read it?

The question above doesn’t even get to some of the foolishness that is perpetuated by standardized testing, generally. Yet, this article denotes how Massachusetts is now intrigued by the prospects. One of the blessings and curses of routinely being education’s highest-ranking state is that a Massachusetts endorsement becomes a de facto endorsement nearly nation-wide. This is an issue that needs to constantly needs reframing for its ridiculousness. Plus, for all the talk about how it is cheaper, cheaper for who? Last time I checked, standardized testing costs only seem to increase.

Your digital identity has three layers, and you can only protect one of them – Quartz – Katarzyna Szymielewicz (8-minute read)

Sticking with the surveillance theme, here is another piece that explores just how difficult it is to resist or control. As Szymielewicz, explains quite early in the piece, “the data you choose to share is just the tip of an iceberg.” We pretty well surrender any data that we opt to put into the digital public as part of the user agreements for all these online spaces that maintain the artifice of seeming public but are anything but. Plus, who actually reads the user agreements anyway? If you decline, you cannot use the service. If you agree, explicit in just about every agreement of this kind is the provision that the company can change the terms at any point, often without consent or even informing you. Any of those emails that you receive from a tech company about their user agreement are from the few that actually do provide notice, which is not all that common.

Again, we see another situation where it is easy to say look at what those people over there do, we’re not like them (now it’s China). Increased reliance on algorithms, AI, and all the other vaporware or even believing in any of the broken techno-utopian promises makes any distinctions seem awfully flimsy. The most truthful statement in this piece is “Market players do not care about you—they care about numbers,” which has been proven so often as to be undeniable, but that is true about all the digital devices we surround ourselves with too. It is baked into the very nature of what digital is.

I think this article goes a little soft towards the end when it gets into what Europe has begun doing with regard to data and privacy. While the Europeans seem to have a head start on some of these issues, their system is better than what is offered in America, which is tantamount to nothing, it is far from perfect. The EU also just approved the highly controversial Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive. The call for building trust sounds like a reasonable position but even the call “to treat users as active players, not passive participants” seems self-defeating at its core. It is the continued framing of humans as “users” that seems flawed from the jump.

Education Evolutions #93


The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

It seems as though the email version of this newsletter got held up last week and many may have missed it. Apologies. I am not sure the exact reason for it, something to do with the service that I use to distribute it. Anyone can easily subscribe through this site by filling out the field on the right.

This week is a mix of short reads that keys more specifically on students. From complications in learning to strategies to building stronger relationships, there is a little something for everyone. Each is interesting in its own way and sharpens the focus on students and their experiences. They are good reminders of not just things that might work but remembering a student’s point of view in the process too.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. Even if you do not fancy yourself a writing teacher, writing is the coin of the academic realm. More than that, it is a highly underrated means of connecting with students that probably is not leveraged enough outside of the English classroom. My advice is to try some of these ideas out when you can, no matter what you teach.

I thought spring was here and then awoke to the thinnest blanket of snow one day this weekend. It may have been wishful thinking but I think we can will it so.


Here are three curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

You probably won’t remember this, but the “forgetting curve” theory explains why learning is hard – Quartz – Nikhil Sonnad (4-minute read)

I am kind of surprised that I had never come across the idea of the forgetting curve before. While Ebbinghaus used himself as the subject of his own experiments, chastens the validity of the work a little, it is no less fascinating. Of all the discoveries he made, the forgetting curve seems to be one of the most important and relevant. There is no question memory certainly plays a major role in learning, one that sometimes gets too easily dismissed in the always-connected-online-world that we now find ourselves living. It is awfully hard to make meaningful connections without strengthening the memory, although that is a different kind of memory altogether.

I have been hoovering up quite of bit of material linked to memory of late, so there must be something in the ether. Either that or it may just be symptomatic of the algorithmic contagion of my web reading. Still, the idea of how to better leverage spaced repetition or distributed practice has been on my mind a lot recently. I have been reconsidering how to weave that into my classes with greater regularity for certain material that seems to cause students greater consternation.

On another note, Ebbinghaus seems to be responsible for the notion of the “learning curve” too, making this discovery a little more novel. Plus, the Star Wars references were far from lost on me, as I appreciated their humor quite a bit.

Brain – Book – Buddy: A Strategy for Assessment – The Effortful Educator blog – Blake Harvard (4-minute read)

As I mentioned, there might be something algorithmically sending memory my way. This post presents a clever strategy for anyone that makes use of a lot of multiple choice item tests or exams. It is definitely memory related in its approach too. Broken into three stages, as the name suggests, students answer the same set of if items by themselves, using a book or notes, and then discuss with a peer. While this seems like it might take three times as long, it is hard not to see how there might be some value.

This approach looks like a great formative assessment technique or preparatory one for major summative assessment. As long as students take each step seriously, which may not always be true, this could be really helpful as a means of self-assessing content knowledge. Given that this comes from an AP teacher, I can absolutely see this as being a pretty effective technique for preparing for that kind of test.

Interestingly, I like this approach and see a second beneficial element, which is the need to generate a series of items about the same content, which has other advantages too. I must admit that I am not a major fan of multiple choice items, which this seems completely tailored for, and I don’t use them a whole lot. My reasoning for that is that they rarely show what a student knows but more acutely identifies what they do not know. This technique undermines that criticism a bit since it is focused on helping students identify where they are the fuzziest for themselves with some greater validity. I could see this being useful for anyone that regularly uses multiple choice.

Four Quick and Easy Ways to Build Relationships with Students Through Their Writing – Matthew M. Johnson blog – Matthew M. Johnson (6-minute read)

In spite of the almost immediate use of John Hattie as a warrant for the main idea here, I really like what is on offer here. The handful of techniques are all good suggestions about ways to easily build up relationships with students. Best of all, as Johnson explains, they are little opportunities that do not take a lot of time but can have strong impacts. I can even see how used strategically to strengthen the connection, some of these ideas could work on a whole array of levels for any teacher in any subject area.

One of the benefits of being an English teacher is that students often feel a stronger connection, particularly so if they are asked to do any kind of personal writing as part of your class. I am not always sure if that is the most valid claim, but it certainly is a common one. On some level, simply asking a student to write something personal or even just responding to them in a personal way can strengthen or deepen a relationship between student and teacher. This is one of the inherent benefits of asking students to write, especially in low-stakes or non-assessment contexts, that rarely gets enough recognition.

Of the suggestions, make genuine connections is the one that I find routinely the most valuable. Simply responding to work like a reader, not a grader, is one of the most powerful moves that can be made with a young writer. It is something that any teacher can do, no matter their comfort level in teaching writing, by the way. I quite like the wisdom of letting students speak first in conferencing too. I am not a big smile person, at least as it is posed in this piece, but I know colleagues who regularly employ that technique. I am not sure about the results but they have been doing it for a while.