Education Evolutions #77

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

Well, the cold is certainly descending on New England. A wet weekend storm that seems like it might want to hang around for the start of the week, is starting to feel a little like a no longer welcome houseguest. This can be a dark period for educators, as the middle of term rushes past and student assignments pile up, the weather changes and the pressure and weight of the upcoming holidays starts to come into view. In that spirit, here are a few items hopefully worth your attention and might even help a little.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. Jason Reynolds is one of those rare rock-star writers that just happens to write specifically for young audiences. This segment that comes from a PBS show, Articulate, is a profile with a pretty powerful message, “The antidote to hopelessness is young people,” Reynolds believes. And it is a message that educators cannot hear enough, in my opinion. You can read the transcript from the segment or watch the video. Take the seven minutes and watch the video.

Stay dry and warm. it makes you happy. Read the second piece for more details.

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

The lost art of concentration: being distracted in a digital world – The Guardian –  Harriet Griffey (12-minute read)

While there is a lot of information in this piece that is not exactly new, it is well-composed and more importantly includes some methods to combat concentration loss. Even more interesting to me is the reminder that so much of this is about habit and behavior. So this thought may be the most important one in the whole article for me, “The fact that we are the cause of this is, paradoxically, good news since it hands back to us the potential to change our behaviour and reclaim the brain function and cognitive health that’s been disrupted by our digitally enhanced lives.” I am not sure that we can be prompted with that enough.

There are some really good suggestions on how to wrestle back some level of concentration. In fact, I would argue that this might be one of the most powerful moments for advocating mindfulness. Sure meditation has its benefits but reconnecting to your own ability to concentrate forces a sensitivity and self-awareness that is necessary for mindfulness. Those elements of sensitivity and self-awareness seem fundamental to regaining control of our own behavior and health.

2011 : What Scientific Concept Would Improve Everybody’s Cognitive Toolkit? – Edge –  Adam Alter (3-minute read)

Sticking with a theme that includes some mindfulness, this older but short article is a fascinating discussion of stimuli that impact us without our necessarily being aware. I think simply acknowledging the complexity of the human brain is a major step in the right direction. Unfortunately, there is a lot of press with considerable oversimplification when it comes to the brain, especially in education media.

I often wonder how much things like color and symbols or imagery are considered in the construction of public buildings like schools. It seems more often than not, attention to them is conspicuously absent. It just lends a new wrinkle and even more credence to that old adage that a new coat of paint can make everything seem new. The weather seems like something that we would all be a bit more conscious of having an impact, while the temperature was an interesting commentary in the piece. Either way, increasing awareness of these smaller details can make a much bigger difference than we might otherwise consider.

The Antidote to Hopelessness – Articulate –  Jim Cotter (5-minute read | 7-minute video)

For anyone that has not read a book by Jason Reynolds, you really should take a few minutes and at least watch this video. Then consider going to the library and having a read of one of his already considerable output. He is one of the better writers for young audiences working today. I have read a few of his books. He is the real deal, not just some commercially hyped next big thing.

At a time where it is far too easy to feel overwhelmed and maybe desire to just check out, this is a pretty timely message of a way to instill some hope. And at the risk of sounding trite, working with young people is remarkably restorative when it comes to retaining hope. No matter how annoyed or frustrated we educators can become, always remember this line, “we don’t want to live in a world where young people are not irreverent.” That is a powerful truth. For anyone that works in a school, it should serve as a powerful maxim.

Education Evolutions #76

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

This week is a little late and a little bit of a mixed bag, as well. After a moment of self-congratulation at last week’s 75th edition, the recent weekend got away from me a bit. The return to full-time teaching presents some time management challenges that force me to continually keep readjusting. It is a process, I keep reminding myself.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the middle one. If you are not familiar with Watters, find a way to follow her work. She is one of the best education journalists out there. She is not always entirely impartial but she is an amazingly straight shooter and impressively smart observer. This is a short piece of hers in an what I thought was a slightly unlikely publication. Still, she pretty well nails it when it comes to the demystifying a myth that continues to move zombie-like through the world of education journalism, advanced by no less than the federal education secretary.

The cold snap has finally begun on the East Coast.

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

How Racism and Patriarchy Is Taught at School – Harper’s Bazaar –  Rachel Elizabeth Cargle (9-minute read)

This article is a good reminder that whatever is happening in our current day, things are not exactly as unprecedented as we might think. There is a natural tendency to overestimate the near term. Despite our current moment being embroiled in a culture war, it is important to recognize that the current moment is heavily influenced by those that came before it.

So many of the flawed beliefs that we find around us can be traced to perpetuating myths that encourage them. Still, what Cargle does so poignantly is to prompt the recognition that culture wars are not really new at all. They have been going on for quite some time, maybe as long as our republic. Many might contest this view but as they say, history is always written by the winners.

The History of the Future of High School – Vice –  Audrey Watters (5-minute read)

For anyone interested in the current state of education, especially regarding technology, Audrey Watters should be required reading. She is a well-researched, highly thoughtful, and a gifted writer. She is often referred to as the edtech Cassandra and for good reason. She asks precisely the kinds of questions that benefit everyone more than simply the few that have the most to gain.

In this piece, she highlights some well-trodden ground. It is hard to go a day without hearing about just how broken American schools are. It is the most common narrative about education in the media, followed only by the “factory model” myth. For anyone that has spent any time in a school for a duration of longer than a few hours, it would be impossible to suggest that schools are the same as they were 100 years ago. Yet some myths are much harder to dispell than others, particularly if it is in the interest of the people with the loudest platforms to continue peddling such nonsense. I look at the changes even in my own career of 15 years and there have been some profound changes and other things that have become more entrenched than ever. It is never quite simple.

Not Just a Buzzword – National Association of Elementary Principals –  Tim Hodges (7-minute read)

This piece focuses on the concept of engagement, which the title claims is not just a buzzword. However, for many in education, it has descended into little more than that. It need not be that way, as Hodges attempts to explain with some success. The best thing about this article is that it takes time to address the notion of teacher engagement, not just that of students.

There may be some level of superficiality in this, considering how little is offered in the way of explanation or potential ways to try and address the problem raised, but there are some interesting takeaways. The trend of students slow declining engagement after elementary school is not a surprise to anyone working at the secondary level but there is some hard data to clarify the falloff. However, the low level of self-reported teacher engagement may be the single biggest issue suggested by the data.

As teachers have come under increasing scrutiny and assault by policies and public perception, the profession has taken a beating. Yet, it is almost directly linked to students engagement, if one reads closely. Schools may be primarily about their students but they are complex institutions that actually serve a number of important members. Were schools to make a more concerted effort to support and promote the good work of their teaching staff there would be a shift in teacher engagement, which looks pretty well positioned to positively transfer to students. It is not a given but it would likely go a lot further than many of the same tired efforts that routinely get driven from the top down.

Education Evolutions #75

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

It is kind of hard to believe but this is the 75th time I have sat down to share articles in this fashion. It has extended over more than two school years now, albeit taking the summers off. I am not entirely sure that I ever envisioned doing it this long when I started. It was just kind of an experiment that I wanted to try. Eventually, it grew into an almost compulsive urge to share what I was coming regularly across in my reading. I hope people find it worthwhile. I have even tried expanding its reach by regularly post it online after sending it out via email to those most interested in following.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. It started me off on a little reading journey. It also proposes some things that can be applied directly into just about any classroom. If politics don’t scare you, read the first article. It is a really compelling read. I tend to be pretty critical of any majority leader, regardless of party, but I hold particular rancor for all policymakers that mess with democratic norms or change the rules to serve themselves rather than their constituencies. Also, this particular article has received a fair amount of buzz since it was published online. It is one of those pieces that is in the air.

We are right around the corner from peak leaf-peeping as they say in Massachusetts.

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

The Suffocation of Democracy – The New York Review of Books –  Christopher R. Browning (15-minute read)

This article might not be as connected to technology, education, or evolutions in teaching as directly as most of the stuff I curate. However, public schools are supposed to be democratic institutions, at least in theory, and are often raised up as a bulwark for preserving democracy. Thus, recognizing faultlines that seem to be emerging in our current climate seems particularly relevant, even if in a tangential way. It is definitely a political informed piece that takes a hard look at the current party in power but it should serve as a reminder of what can be corrupted and lost regardless of particular party.

Written by a historian that lived through the rise of fascism in Europe, the threats identified here can still be addressed. However, failing to recognize them or denying their existence may expedite their peril. On a broad scale, schools very possibly have faltered, not necessarily failed, in preparing students for full participation in a democratic republic. Every time, schools model, top-down authoritarian methods instead of messier democratic ones, we implicitly and sometimes explicitly send a message to our youth.

Regardless, this article has gotten a lot of play across my Internet travels in the last couple of weeks. I didn’t get a chance to read it immediately but when I finally got around to doing so, I thought it was too well-written and poignant not to share on a wider scale. Plus, it certainly could be used as a reading in a humanities-related class tomorrow to spark a spirited discussion.

Home Libraries Confer Long-Term Benefits – Pacific Standard –  Tom Jacobs (5-minute read)

As a long time book buyer and owner of a pretty substantial home library myself, I couldn’t help myself adding this piece to this issue. We have long known that books in the home heavily correlate with strong student achievement but this new study seems to prove that across nations and cultures. I wish studies like this would not always default to things like standardized tests as a unit of measure, at least this one uses an adult test rather than a poorly designed one for students.

Interesting to me was how the volume of books increased the achievement. While the increase tops off and plateaus, I was surprised how much of a spectrum of impact there was. Also, just as fascinating to me was how much it impacted numeracy too. That would not have been something that I necessarily would have connected. It even had an impact on technological skills.

I confess to living in a house that definitely holds well over 500 books. At this point, it has to be in the 1000s actually, much to my wife’s occasional consternation. My wee ones are not yet adolescents, but I think I will be using this study as further justification for keeping all the books. I may or may not share the bit about the benefits plateauing at a certain point.

When Kids Have Structure for Thinking, Better Learning Emerges – KQED’s MindShift –  Katrina Schwartz (6-minute read)

This is a short article that links to some additional fascinating stuff from Harvard’s Project Zero. I have had an informal familiarity with Project Zero for a few years. The work that they do always can hook my interest, although I have to admit that I do not follow it as closely as perhaps I should, especially since it is so close to home. Still, this idea of giving kids thinking strategies has a lot of power. While that may seem a pretty obvious thing, I am not sure how much we teachers actually do it as much as we might think.

I think the shortlist of thinking moves is a great introduction to this concept and something I have given great consideration to in various installments along my teaching career. A few of these listed moves have become sort of private obsessions in my practice over the years. For example, I spent a considerable amount of time focused on specifically helping students develop and ask their own questions with decent results before leaving the full-time classroom to be a technology integration specialist. I definitely think the subject of this article is on to something.

This was a little bit of a rabbit hole article for me too, by the way. There is plenty to explore once you click on a few links. Plus, it has some cool videos included which are worth watching