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.

Education Evolutions #92

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

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all and may the luck of the Irish be with you on this day and every day. There are definitely glimmers of spring in New England as the snow is melting by the day. Hopefully, the temperature has turned a corner and the bitter cold is behind us.

This week is one of those mixed bags that runs across a number of topics. While I like it when there are themes that might run through the week, most weeks do not quite work like that. So from the college scandal to taking our reading public to the invasion of smart devices into everyday life, this issue runs the gamut.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one. Do not be put off by the reading time. If you have not seen or read this piece, you are missing some penetrating analysis about the rise of smart devices and the surveillance state that rides in their wake. Legal efforts to protect privacy cannot catch up quickly enough but informed consumers must begin to martial some kind of defense. What we often forget is just how much collective actions can inspire change with regards to companies, laws, culture, and more.

Spring seems just around the corner now in New England. After all the snow, we may well be in the soup before we know it.

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

What I want high school seniors to hear loud and clear… – Chicago Tribune – Heidi Stevens (4-minute read)

It would be nigh impossible to write this newsletter and not address the college admissions scandal story that broke this week. While there was no shortage of interesting articles on the subject. Some were better than others, providing a bit more insight or criticism. However, this one was probably the one with the most impact. At least, it was the one that stayed with me the longest.

There is no question that Stevens and I are of the same mind when it comes to this topic. For all those fortunate enough to have gone to college or university, and especially those that finished, there are elements of this should have great resonance. Surely, anyone with a college-age child who comes home during their first year has to take a breath and remember what a feast college truly is, as their kid lectures them on all the new topics, subjects, and discoveries that they are sure you were unaware of.

Also, as someone who took a slightly different path, spending years at a large community college before transferring to small liberal arts university, prestige and name-brand nonsense never meant a whole lot to me. I knew I couldn’t afford that game anyway. What I did know, courtesy of a lot of really great teachers along the way, is that the key ingredient was always going to be me, as Stevens highlights. When it comes to learning at any level, it is never really about anyone else.

For the Love of Reading: Developing a Teacher Reader Identity – NCTE Blog – Shelby M. Boehm (3-minute read)

I saw this post a few weeks back and nearly added it at the time. While I know that I am an English teacher reading and writing are central to all academia. What’s more, all teachers are reading and writing teachers whether they like it or not. Given that fact, even if it creates a little discomfort in some of us developing a reading identity that we can publicly share with our students is the kind of thing that can have resonance far beyond what we might recognize.

For me, it is about sharing something about yourself with your students. It reveals your interests, curiosities, and taste. That kind of information is what helps build relationships. Above and beyond that, it models that reading is important and a regular practice. If we expect our students to be interested, even excited, about learning, we had best show them the way. Certainly, reading is one of the simplest and easiest ways to continue learning independently. Then there is pleasure reading, which might need even more representation if we have any hope of encouraging it in students.

This post also reminded me of so many of my colleagues that I know who are readers. It is the French teacher that I always see with a book. Novels, non-fiction, it doesn’t matter, her reading is wide and deep and inspires some fantastic conversations. It is the math teacher I know who has a distinct love of young adult literature. She too reads widely and deeply with all sorts of other fascinating books on her hand or on her desk. There are others too. I am not sure if their students recognize this about them but it is no secret. Even a fellow English teacher recently encouraged our department to post what we are reading and what is up next outside our doors. It has been great.

The House That Spied on Me – Gizmodo – Kashmir Hill and Surya Mattu (20-minute read)

Even if you think, “This article seems too long,” at least watch the embedded video for the gist of the story in a quarter the time. The video is good but the read is decidedly better but it does include some really insightful commentary from a cybersecurity expert. Even the construction of this article is great, the way that incorporates the two writers and weaves together a monitor and the monitored. I’ll just say this is not the Jetsons home we may have envisioned.

I am not even sure how anyone that reads this would not have a moment of pause. The degree of intimacy in our personal lives that is being violated here should be illegal if you ask me. I know that a major selling point of “smart” devices is this faux ease and convenience that is promised but this article certainly pokes holes in that premise. For one, there are very few standards in this space that companies even abide. Consequently, as is highlighted in this article, just getting the various items to work with another immediately eliminates any convenience.

All of those headaches are what the convinced have to deal with but what about those that want no part of any of this. It is getting harder and harder to avoid this level or kind of surveillance. We are rapidly normalizing it. Products that don’t come with a chip that connects to the Internet are becoming increasingly hard to find in certain spaces. Televisions are mentioned specifically in this piece but it by no means stops there. As Ian Bogost put it so clearly in a piece that made it in past issue of this newsletter, “You Are Already Living Inside a Computer.

The most telling line is “When you buy a smart device, it doesn’t just belong to you; you share custody with the company that made it.” Even worse, people are readily paying to have companies spy on them, whether they fully appreciate it or not, and the prospects of opting out are diminishing without disengaging from mainstream modern life completely. Perhaps worst of all, even if you are able to stave off this slouching toward total surveillance in your own life, you may not be able to avoid it in the public sphere or when entering someone else’s home.

Education Evolutions #91

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

Well, apologies for the delayed distribution. the weekend just got away from me. Honestly, the snow did not help, despite it being a rather milder accumulation.

This week I included a couple of pieces from The Atlantic. Normally, I try to mix it up a bit more source-wise but both of these articles caught my eye for different reasons. Each sheds valuable insight into our culture and some of the less laudable aspects.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is sort of a reader’s choice, although I am partial to the last one. Study strategies can be rich terrain. The article and the links that are included are chock-full of the kind of put-into-practice-tomorrow practices that teachers tend to love.

Spring seems just around the corner now in New England. After all the snow, we may well be in the soup before we know it.

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

Could Artificial Intelligence Automate Student Note-Taking? – Education Week – Benjamin Herold (5-minute read)

As if Artificial Intelligence cannot get enough play in the mainstream media, now education is going to be next. What always confounds me about articles like this is how infrequently the question “Is this even a good idea?” gets asked. Just because some tech company has some “innovative”  idea that works in the workplace, read with caution, why is the next obvious place the classroom? Fortunately, Herold eventually does ask the right kinds of questions and even answering them thoroughly.

Are there some specific contexts where automated notetaking might have some benefit, sure – maybe. However, the part of the point of taking notes is that it is a practice of engaged listening and aid to memory, among other benefits. So, having a macing that takes notes for you has all the allure of shiny buttons but possibly undermines the enterprise, as Dr. Linlin Luo explains in more detail.

Obviously, students with disabilities might benefit in certain situations. Even teachers might find something like this useful during conferences with students. Yet there are a host of additional problems and concerns that arise with this idea, not to mention the interface issues that are mentioned at the end. Plus, there are automated transcription tools appearing, like Google’s Live Transcribe (only available for Android) that are free. Still, transcribing is not notetaking anyway.

Deconstructing “Scaffolding” – – Alfie Kohn (6-minute read)

This is a recent post from Alfie Kohn. Kohn is one of those education writers that I was skeptical about when I was a newer teacher. Yet the longer I have been a teacher the more I find I like him. My appreciation of his work often reminds me of something my father was once fond of saying, “Funny, how the older you get the smarter I look.” Kohn continues to look a whole lot smarter to me as my experience as a teacher has deepened.

What I love about Kohn and this piece is the iconoclasm. He asks important penetrating questions about education issues and is really thoughtful in attempts to answer them. This post is no exception. I think he is right that far too often scaffolding is a means to students adopting a teacher’s meaning, methodology, or even thinking. Reduced to that application, it makes accounting easier but does it necessarily facilitate any learning? So often, something like scaffolding gets reduced in service of accountability or pace, whether a teacher even realizes it. “There is just so much to cover. There is no way they will be able to get this all themselves…” so thinking goes and before anyone realizes scaffolds are everywhere with little thought to how they will be removed.

This also brings me back to something that I have been thinking a lot about again, recently, which is issues of curriculum. The more curriculum is thought of as content, something that can be captured in a document or database, the more misguided the idea becomes. Curriculum always includes the students too. They are just as much the curriculum as any content. It is never content alone. The more that fails to be acknowledged the more scaffolding needs to be erected, by the way. Yet, using scaffolding in service of a collaborative learner-centered question-based approach, as Kohn references toward the end, reclaims the idea and puts to much better use.

Why Teachers Should Help Students Learn Effective Study Strategies – KQED’s MindShift – Katrina Schwartz (10-minute read)

I am not sure that there is a whole lot of new information in this article but it is put together nicely and packed with some quality links to additional resources. I have long had a fascination with specific strategies that can help students. This article highlights some pretty sound ones that have some research backing and are easily usable.

One of the first links alone could have been the subject of its own entry into this newsletter. Professor John Dunlosky’s article “Strengthening the Student Toolbox: Study Strategies that boost Student learning” is well worth time to read on its own. However, this MindShift piece broadens the topic a bit and includes some other voices with solid contributions. It has a little something for just about everyone.

Also, it should not come as a terrible surprise that left to their own devices students struggle to employ strategies that give them the best chance to be successful. Students do not opt for sophisticated methods, even from their own reports. The unfortunate consequence is that poor results can make preparation and learning seem problematic or more fixed when some of the strategies here might garner better results. I quite like the retrieval practice for some concepts or information that, in fact, need to be applied more flexibly. It is something I plan on employing as soon as I can.