Education Evolutions #37


IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

Well, another week with a delayed delivery. Despite the best of my hopes of getting this out on Saturday morning, my children’s soccer schedule again conspired against me. Add a visitor for the holiday weekend and time moved a bit more fluidly than normal

No real theme for the week, more a smattering of different items that build on broader themes that I have returned to often in the newsletter. The importance of art, our propensity to favor profits over people, and going gradeless are all areas that have gotten play here in previous issues.

The first item is long but well worth the click. Filled with exceptional multimedia elements and fascinating content, I suspect it will be in the mix for awards later in the year even. It is an impressive piece of digital journalism. Take the time to dig into it. You will not be disappointed. Pius, it came to me from one of you which makes it an even cooler inclusion.

So hopefully, this collection will give you some thoughtful enjoyment over the holiday. Enjoy the extended weekend, if you have it.


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

This is Your Brain on ArtThe Washington Post – Sarah L. Kaufman (12-minute read)
This one comes courtesy of a reader of this newsletter and everyone should look at if for no other reason than to see an exquisite example of the kind of online publishing that the best newspapers, like The Washington Post, New York Times, and The Guardian can create. It is beautiful and a first class digital reading experience.

From a content experience, this piece highlights a host of things that we might have intuitively known but begins to introduce the scientific explanation and backing. The phenomenological investigation of the arts is nothing new but this article provides a window into some of the latest discoveries.

Perhaps most clever is how Swan Lake is used as a leitmotif through the whole feature, demonstrating the very neural turn-ons being highlighted. The whole work is as impressive as it is informative. If you only look at one article from this newsletter this week, this is the one.

Platforms Over PeopleA Long View on Education blog – Benjamin Doxtdator (7-minute read)
I have featured blogposts by Doxtador before in this newsletter because he often writes the kind of posts I wish that I had written. This is one of those posts. In a response to reading an article in MIT Technology Review, he keys in on one of the biggest challenges associated with artificial intelligence, the political one. It is the one that may get steamrolled in the rush for leverage and profits.

Looking at Accenture, Doxtador asks precisely the kinds of questions that we should always be asking, including “What returns will flow back to [citizens] instead of benefitting the corporation?” It would make a lot more sense to me if politicians began asking that rather than seemingly starting with how taxpayers can give the company a sweetheart deal. Companies will almost always leave if they think that they can get a better deal.

I am certainly more aligned with the idea that we should be mounting a resistance to surveillance capitalism which is a horse that has already left the barn and put in some distance before the chase. I have my doubts that it is even remotely likely to happen and the idea of nationalizing anything is definitely anathema to our current cultural climate. Still, referencing some spot-on observations by Noam Chomsky always catches my eye too.

The Gradeless Garden: Why natural, neutral, and nothing is not enough Identity, Education, and Power on Medium – Arthur Chiaravalli (7-minute read)
I have been highlighting some gradeless articles this year. The whole movement is interesting to me for a host of reasons. Yet, this post is one of the most honest and thoughtful examinations on the topic. Chiaravelli’s garden analogy is an apt one but it is the recognition that destroying-one-system-allows-another-one-to-emerge that is rarely addressed, if ever, by those advocating going gradeless.

Despite the best of intentions, academic spaces are never neutral spaces. They cannot be. As Chiaravelli understands, “our classrooms, our schools, our students, ourselves” are all contested ground, whether we like it or not. Furthermore, that ground is being increasingly contested with greater frequency and insidiousness.

What I like most of all about this is the interrogation at the heart of the discussion and realization that inclusion, like most of what we do in teaching is a process of constant construction. The work is so rarely ever done. The results cannot ultimately be controlled but the process and the building effort can continue, reach, grow, and improve.

Education Evolutions #36


IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age
Apologies for the delayed delivery this week. A combination other deadlines, more youth soccer than usual, and feeling a little under the weather all conspired to delay me a day.

Similar to last week’s mindfulness theme, this week must be more explicitly about race and class. Perhaps I am just responding to the popular zeitgeist or maybe I am just more ready to think and discuss those issues more lately. Neither issue ever gets enough attention, in my opinion.

Unfortunately, many of us conveniently brush away those elements of our society that may reveal its greatest ugliness. They are often too unpleasant to discuss in polite company. Yet they are far too real to deny, even if we have found ways, by and large, to insulate ourselves from them, both consciously or unconsciously.

So, this trio of articles show bravery and dig into some discomfort. The only way to have any chance of dealing with any challenge is by facing it directly and reflecting. I suppose that whole “unexamined life” tip from the ancient Greeks has been turning over in mind as well.

I have been repeating this part but I hope people like the new format and delivery. Also, I love the feedback and exchange of comments. That makes the effort even more worthwhile. If anyone comes across an article or even has a topic or theme they’d like to see shared let me know.


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

James Baldwin’s Lesson for Teachers in a Time of Turmoil – The New Yorker – Clint Smith (10-minute read)
Over the summer I finally got the chance to watch to watch the James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro, which I highly recommend. It rekindled my interest in Baldwin’s work. There is a reason why he is resurfacing as a cultural agent at the minute. His courage and eloquence are unmistakable but his penetrating insights make him a formidable American intellectual that should be more widely read.

In this piece, Smith shares the poignancy of his annual experience of rereading Baldwin’s essay “A Talk to Teachers,” an additional item more than worth a look. Smith’s personal wrestling with introducing political discourse into his lessons is interesting enough. More interesting is how doing so is presented as a kind of subversive act which is telling.

It would be naive to ignore that at least a part of the standards movement reinforces an order, also keeping people in their place. While not entirely explicit, Smith’s recognition and reading of Baldwin “that the world was molded by people who came before, and that it can be remolded into something new” strikes a recognition of this consequence. Plus, I could not agree more that a teacher must help students confront not only the problems shaping the world but also challenge them to examine their own place in it.

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

The Very Seriously Humorless Education of Students – radical eyes for equity blog – PL Thomas (4-minute read)
I am a frequent reader of PL Thomas and have featured him in previous issues of this newsletter. In this blogpost, his personal confession highlights something that is perhaps more common than we teachers can sometimes realize, a whole lot of students, and a fair number of adults, completely miss humor when reading. Part of this is humor can be difficult to identify on the page. However, a much bigger factor is the lack of preparation and even exposure to humor in text form.

Exposing students to a wide range of authors and texts is an absolute necessity to preparing readers of any sophistication. Yet, one of the well-known consequences of the standards reform is a narrowing of curriculum to serve the demands of accountability. Again, accountability regimes are excellent mechanisms establishing or preserving a social order.

Sadly, any student that struggles with reading is typically served up a heaping dose of humorless, text-prep texts. As if the remedy is more drill-and-kill readings that commit readicide against students, instead of embracing the struggle and guiding them through the hardest yards any reader sometimes face. It does not have to be that way but it often is. “Oh, but we do a satire unit, so we are all set.”

Second Guessing My Kids of Color? – The Tempered Radical blog – Bill Ferriter (8-minute read)
Another teacher brave enough to expose themselves a little in critical reflection, Ferriter’s admission is both heartfelt and instructive. His challenge in the opening note is probably even more so. Taking a hard look at himself and the subtle aspects of his interactions with students of color is an examination I hope would be a cause for pause and heightened awareness.

It is far too easy to put on blinders or even become defensive when confronted with the kind of uncomfortable situations presented by Ferriter. That is what is refreshing and brave about his admission. No one is perfect and conversations that involve race or even class need not be a zero-sum game. We are all human and make mistakes. Yet we can all benefit from remembering that being a good kind person is never a fixed state. It is a practice, in the truest sense of the word.

Ferriter’s willingness to throw caution to the wind and take a step forward in an effort to be better is admirable. His razor-sharp recognition, “imagine the impact that being doubted over and over again, day after day, year after year has on our kids of color” is enough to make this post worth the read. If you are interested in exploring conversations about race a little more, give this Jay Smooth TedTalk a look. It is one of the best takes on the topic I have ever encountered.

Education Evolutions Newsletter #27


sas-ipad flickr photo by zandwacht shared under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

Here is a fresh batch of reading for all of you. It has a little bit of testing and assessment flair but ’tis the season. I know the last item might seem intimidating and may even take a little more effort to finish but it there is a whole lot there to have a think on and we really do need more minds thinking on these kinds of issues.

Education Evolutions:
Select Readings on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

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

  • To Ease The Student Debt Crisis, Hold Colleges ResponsibleFiveThirtyEightDoug Webber  (8 minute watch)
    Considering how much pressure K12 teachers are under to prepare students for college, it is interesting to consider what that potentially means for so many students. For all the nonsense about failing schools, more students than ever in the history of mankind attend higher education. Yet, the graduation rate has not really changed all that much over the decades in which attendance has surged. More concerning than ever is the rising costs and debt associated with this imbalance. Here, a Temple University economics professor highlights how colleges and universities bear none of the associated risks, suggesting maybe they should. Something tells me that there might be more potential consequences than he mentions, but it is a problem that is not going away, and one that needs to be solved lest it beget something very much like the mortgage crisis seen in 2007-08.

  • Bribing children to take our testsDangerously Irrelevant – Scott McLeod  (5 minute read)
    This blogpost might be the most succinct undermining argument for standardized testing I have seen. As education departments and schools around the nation continue to double-down on standardized tests the consequences continue to grow too. Thus, schools are often encouraged to play games that are merely symptomatic of a much more malignant disease. I am not sure that most attempts to motivate students to do well on exams are all that awful, although any form of punishment related to test performance is indefensible for too many reasons to count. Yet, what McLeod hammers home better than most is that all of this testing foolishness essentially has nothing but negative value for the students. It is all about adults. One more education practice done to students and not for them. Meanwhile, how often do we hear the refrain, “We have to do what’s best for the children.”

  • Author Interview: ‘The Perfect Assessment System’EdWeek: Classroom Q&A – Larry Ferlazzo  (10 minute read)
    While promoting his book, Rick Siggins offers some interesting insights into assessment and how it can benefit and motivate learning. The simple Q&A format makes for a relatively quick read. There is a little bit of edspeak that has to be sifted but there is definitely some value in Stiggins’ responses. Among them is a criticism of standardized testing’s value, which is interesting since the Assessment Training Institute (ATI), founded by Stiggins, is owned by Pearson, purveyor of all manner of tests and assessments. Nevertheless, involving students in ongoing self-assessment, devaluation of ranking and sorting, promoting the belief that learning success is within reach, and the need for a newer, better vision of assessment for learning are all worthy ideas to read. Far and away the best line of the piece, “We have been stuck for decades in a 1950s vision of excellence in assessment that never was excellent.” The piece successfully made me keen on the book.

  • Maybe we’re not afraid: on Edtech’s inability to imagine the futureA Long View on Education blog – Benjamin Doxtdator  (25 minute read)
    Of this week’s selections, this is definitely the deep dive. Full of all kinds of wonderful wonky references and research, Doxtador interrogates the educational trope of the technophobe teacher. While I am not saying that those educators do not exist, it has always struck me as a far too simplistic assessment. Similarly, not all hard-charging, techno-evangelist teachers are models of innovation or even good teaching. The post has sweep and ambition, as it critically examines some of the dominant narratives of at the intersection of education, technology, and mercantilism. There are so many great references packed into this piece and the list of issues edtech should be addressing is excellent. It may not be for everybody but it is certainly one of the more thought-provoking things I have read in recent weeks. It cuts through a lot of propagandist noise.

As always thanks for supporting this newsletter.

Education Evolutions Newsletter #26


sas-ipad flickr photo by zandwacht shared under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

This is a short eclectic mix of articles that may even have a slightly contradictory flavor. For me, that might be all the more reason why you might want to give them each a look. Plus, they are short. So don’t let the poetry article scare you off.

Education Evolutions:

Select Readings on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

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

  • Tech Bigwigs Know How Addictive Their Products Are. Why Don’t the Rest of Us?Wired – Adam Alter  (13 minute watch)
    There was a time when stories like this were really making the rounds in the media. While this piece is an excerpt with a definite effort to sell a book by the article’s author, it does take a broader and more in-depth look at some aspects of life with devices and youth that probably should get a little more attention. Nevermind, youth adults need to be a whole lot more aware of behavioral addictions to devices too. Yet, youth have far fewer tools deal with these kinds of problems. The need for an “emergency brake” mentioned here is becoming an increasingly important phenomenon that we have culturally not been entirely ready to wrestle. There are no easy answers and I do not want to overly stoke fear but it is about time that we start thinking more deeply about putting them to use.

  • Why Teaching Poetry Is So ImportantThe Atlantic – Andrew Simmons  (7 minute read)
    As an English teacher, I could not really pass on including this article. Written by a high school English teacher, this is a strong argument for not only teaching poetry but even better about why it gets such short shrift. There are a lot of points where I am in absolute agreement, although I wish that Simmons would have went even further. There is no question that poetry has an image problem and can also be terribly intimidating for a lot of people but there may be no better literature with the breadth and depth of reach and relevance as poetry. It even has vastly greater connection to academic disciplines beyond literature or English study. That may be why the dearth of poetry in any modern curriculum is so tragic to me. That which we cannot easily measure has quickly fallen out of fashion, much to our collective loss. I will admit that I rarely feel as in command when teaching poetry but its power has never been lost on me. I wish more teachers across the disciplines recognized its importance and could overcome any fears about using it in their classes too. There is a reason why most of the human writing we have from previous centuries is poetic.

  • Five Ideas to Go Beyond SAMRTech & Learning’s K-12 Blueprint – Michael Gorman  (6 minute read)
    I think the SAMR model is a great first step in advancing not just teaching with technology but teaching practice in general. However, like all first steps they should not be the last. Having spent a fair amount  of time this past year watching teachers operate in their classes, I use the SAMR model as a lens for feedback but it is just one lens. Still, I really like Gorman’s broader approach and interrogation of the the model. There definitely are better Substitution examples than others, as he highlights. Moreover, I love his point on the letter placement being more about the lesson than the teacher. Using SAMR as a lens can provide some excellent anchors to discuss a particular lesson and potentially some more innovative pedagogical practices. It has genuine benefits and my hope is to use it to as way to start conversations but hope it never provides the end of them. Teaching and learning requires a lot of diversification and differentiation after all.

As always, thanks for supporting this newsletter.

Education Evolutions Newsletter #25


sas-ipad flickr photo by zandwacht shared under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

Hard to believe that this is the 25th newsletter. Nearly half a year has passed since I began this little pet project. It has been a fun endeavor. I hope it has been as worthwhile for those reading as it has been to collect and comment.

Education Evolutions:
Select Readings on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

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

  • Not all heroes wear capes – but some carry tubes (Pi Day 2017) – MIT Admissions – MIT Bloggers  (3 minute watch)
    This would have been better had it made into the newsletter last week, seeing as it was in connection with Pi Day. The day happened to correspond with regular action admissions to the institution. Still, this is a super cool project made by a bunch of students. They riff off of Iron Man, even going full-on nerdy with its references to the recent comic reboot that involves a young black woman taking over for the famous Tony Stark. This is MIT after all. It is definitely worth a watch, just for the fun of it. It even inspired a “making of” blogpost.

  • Lack of Oxford Comma Could Cost Maine Company Millions in Overtime DisputeNew York Times – Daniel Victor  (6 minute read)
    This story made the rounds a bit in the last week. I even saw a television news story about it. Perhaps it is the English teacher in me but I am not even a nutter about these kinds of things. I definitely believe in the Oxford comma and this certainly brought out all the wonks. Still, I love stories like this about how language precision can prove costly, in real financial terms. We do not necessarily expect students to be perfect but they should definitely know that some mistakes matter a whole lot. A goal of writing is clarity and precision of expression, regarding comma use or not. Fortunately, lack of clarity does not involve the loss of $10 million.

  • For Online Class Discussions, Instructors Move From Text to VideoEdSurge – Jeffrey R. Young  (5 minute read)
    Having taught online for some time now, I have administered a whole lot of online discussions. Often, they are more like compulsory blog posts than actual discussions. It can be difficult to facilitate genuine conversations. It certainly can be done but I using video does change things. While I do not make it a requirement, whenever students opt to use video in discussions it can be transformative. I definitely support Joyce Valenza’s comment, “Literacy comes in a variety of exciting flavors.” Plus, it is becoming easier to post video in discussions, using outside tools or course software. Canvas, among others, have a built-in tool that allows for recording and posting audio or video directly to discussions.

  • The Guilty Secret of Distracted ParentingNew York Times – Perri Klass, M.d.  (6 minute read)
    This is an issue that seems to rarely get as much attention as kids and screen time. However, the amount of time adults, with or without children, spend with their faces staring at their phones is pretty stunning. I am not by any means guiltless, and I have definitely brought a book to the playground, but I sincerely make an attempt not to be that parent who reaches for their phone every chance I get, all but ignoring my kids. I spend a lot of time on various devices but I do try to put them aside when I am with my kids. We adults need to be better models for all kids. We are not meant to be always on and always connected. It definitely is not easy but it is worth it.

  • The Big List of Class Discussion Strategiescultofpedagogy.com – Jennifer Gonzalez  (12 minute read)
    This is a blogpost and podcast episode. Even if you do not listen to the audio, reading the post is worthwhile for the list of alternative strategies for approaching discussions in class. Whole class discussions remain a goto activity for a lot of teachers, especially in the humanities. They can be effective, engaging, and make a classroom far more interactive. Discussion is a valuable tool in a teacher’s stock and trade. Yet, a lot of class discussions look remarkably the same from classroom to classroom. What is great about this post is that the different approaches are divided into categories based on preparation. There are higher prep, lower prep, and ongoing strategies that can add a bit more variety to the well-worn activity. Some of these easily port online too.

As always, thanks for supporting this newsletter.