Education Evolutions #87

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

Well, the first term is now officially over and the new one has begun. For me, that means I have a whole lot more new students than those that return. Some of that is the nature of the classes I teach and some of that is the machinations of the schedule. Still, it is a nice midpoint of renewal in a lot of cases.

Seeing that this is Super Bowl Sunday and I am getting this out a little later than I had hoped I have kept the items a bit shorter this week. Hopefully, there is a little something in here for everyone. They are all pretty quick reads regardless.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. Sent to me by a reader, it definitely deserved some wider circulation. Forwarding it on here is a kind of meta act of kindness, in fact. It is an excellent reminder of that we all benefit from being a bit more aware and conscientious in dealing with one another. Plus, it offers some pretty savvy tips to keep in mind, especially when your patience is fraying or you have a chance to prepare for a difficult situation.

Hope everyone enjoys the Super Bowl in whatever way you choose.

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

Student evaluations of teaching are not only unreliable, they are significantly biased against female instructors – The London School of Economics and Social Science Impact Blog – Anne Boring, Kellie Ottoboni and Philip B. Stark (6-minute read)

This is a couple of years old but still came across my digital reading radar, no doubt because of the end of the first semester in much of the academic world, a time of student evaluations. I must admit that I have always found student evaluations to be somewhat dubious. While this article studies student evaluations of teaching at the university level, I suspect that the findings would correlate pretty highly at the high school level.

With the last wave of teacher accountability measures that were rolled out, there was a definite uptick in encouragement of teachers to survey students. For me, the thinking that who knows better about teachers than students is seriously flawed on a number of accounts. First, the relationship between teachers and students is not exclusively transactional. Students are not consumers or customers. Second, students rarely have any actual awareness of what teachers actually do to prepare or execute lessons. Even when students are asked to perform as teachers it is usually in highly controlled and narrow circumstances. Third, I have seen first-hand on multiple occasions how closely student comments correlate with grades. Students often perceive that teachers simply give grades rather than students earning them or any efforts at an objective assessment.

The most interesting aspect of what this study finds is just how much gender plays a role in the evaluations. While I am not necessarily surprised by their findings, I am not sure that I would have hypothesized what they found. Still, the findings only strengthened my suspicion of student evaluations. I would not say that they have no value or that they should never be used. Under certain conditions, a teacher might be able to use them to assist in decision-making within the context of a class. Yet, any suggestion that student evaluations of teaching should be part of a teacher’s overall evaluation is a dreadful idea that is even potentially harmful, not to mention erroneous.

How Helping Students to Ask Better Questions Can Transform Classrooms – KQED’s MindShift – Katrina Schwartz (7-minute read)

Anyone not familiar with the Right Question Institute’s work ought to take a little bit of time to investigate it. Founded by a couple of Boston-area teachers, developing the capacity to craft and answer good questions is a powerful practice. While they do not have all the answers by any means, they definitely have some valuable strategies to offer regarding fostering questions creation with students. The book written by the founders, Make Just One Change, is pretty good too.

This article almost serves as a primer on methods advanced by the Right Question Institute. There are plenty of links to check out and a couple of examples in action. One thing I can attest to is using these kinds of strategies foster considerably more student choice without much additional effort.

Incorporating student composed questions can serve a lot of purposes, as this article highlights. Student questions can leverage their natural curiosity and agency but they can even serve as a kind of formative assessment. As former teacher-turned-trainer Kim Sergent explains, “You’ll know what they don’t know by the questions they ask. And you’ll know who got it by the questions they ask.” It is not the only question generating method around but it is a pretty good one.

Kindness Is a Skill – The New York Times – David Brooks (4-minute read)

This is an entry that came to me by way of a reader of this newsletter. So many thanks to them because it is definitely one of those lists of things to consider that would be helpful to anyone but especially educators. Even approaching kindness as a skill that needs to be acquired and practiced has an appeal that is potentially way more powerful than thinking of it as a quality or characteristic.

I have to admit that I often do not find myself agreeing with David Brooks all that much. I probably hear him a lot more on NPR or PBS than I read his column in the Times, which usually involves me shaking my head in dispute. However, I actually find listening to what he has to say beneficial, even if I often disagree.

In this article, Brooks synthesizes a list of techniques that can be practiced in a conscious effort to be kind. There are some excellent ones at that. Some may seem a bit more obvious than others, while a few have a genuine appeal of novelty. I especially like “the best ice-breaker” that asks everyone to tell the story of how they got their name. What a great way to encourage sharing, storytelling, and open almost any kind of meeting. I suspect I will be using that one. I also quite like “your narrative never wins.” The truth of that one grows stronger to me the longer I live.