Education Evolutions #109

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It remains a slight mystery to me how we have managed to get to mid-October in the school year seemingly so quickly. The fall semester always takes some time to get going, despite feeling a bit like a sprint. Yet, it can often feel more like a mile run, which pretty much is a long sprint, despite plenty of non-runners thinking of it more as a distance event.

This week’s selections include three short reads once again. They are a mix of current events, related issues, and some quality reminders for teachers. It is a mix of some old and very recent material. A few of the items have some pretty interesting links worth clicking too.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is a bit of toss-up. The first one is probably the one I found the most interesting, personally. Yet, the last one probably has some lasting impact for anyone still working in a classroom. They are all short reads so consider giving them all a look.

I hope you too were able to enjoy the day.

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

This Map Exhibit Draws A Darker U.S. History — Of Expansion Into Native Lands – WBUR Artery – Frank Redner (4-minute read)

This post is all about an exhibit currently running at the Boston Public Library. The map center has a series of maps on display that are accompanied by some distinctively different points of view. There is the traditional historical perspective, like that which we have all seen for years. Then there is a Native American perspective that reveals a very different and darker point of view.

It might not be obvious to everyone just how much maps are a vehicle for perpetuating a point of view. There is a notion that maps are simply representing the land, a way to orient ourselves. They may be that but that orientation may not be quite as direct or straightforward as we might have believed. Adding native voices to this exhibit makes is a great way to force a reconsideration that requires confronting some much more uncomfortable realities. The United States as an entity has essentially broken every promise ever made to Native Peoples. It is not an admirable legacy.

By paying attention to that fact and giving voice to those marginalized and worse in an exhibit like this is not only a great way to reconsider maps as a representation of reality but to interrogate the very reality being represented. It strikes me as a remarkably insightful and culturally sensitive approach to artifacts that may seem far more simple than they actually are. I love exhibits that force a reassessment of things we might take for granted, like this. I hope I get a chance to go see it.

California becomes first state in the country to push back school start times – Los Angelos Times – Taryn Luna (4-minute read)

This story is fascinating for a whole host of reasons. For one, the fact that California becomes the first state to mandate schools start later is an interesting development by itself. The reasons and justifications as to why are even more interesting and revealing. While there seems to be some flexibility for schools to work within this new mandate, it remains a pretty bold move on the part of the state government.

There is a lot of compelling research about adolescent sleep schedules being not only different from adults but at odds with the way we schedule schools with high schools generally being the earliest start times. California has now addressed this legacy issue. Why everything has to be couched in terms of outcomes is symptomatic of just how wrong-headed we can be about education. The fact that it is simply better and considerably more healthy for adolescents ought to be enough of a reason to make a change like this.

It is fascinating that the teacher’s union seemed to not be in favor of this change. While I understand their point, I just do not agree with it. If we have overwhelming evidence that this would be good for kids, there is not much more to defend. There is no question that any change in schedule could potentially impact families adversely in the near term. However, many of these should be able to get sorted in the long term. Continuing to ignore the evidence about this issue is not entirely unlike saying, “The school building is making your kids sick but it is really difficult to do anything about it, so we won’t.” Wait, that happens too sometimes.

A veteran teacher turned coach shadows 2 students for 2 days – a sobering lesson learned – Granted, and… ~ thoughts on education by Grant Wiggins – Grant Wiggins (9-minute read)

I stumbled upon this recently when, Alfie Kohn reposted this account from a post by the late Grant Wiggins about five years ago. It is about a teacher turned coach shadowing a student for a couple of days, what they observed and their reflection on the experience. I may have read this before, I cannot remember but it that makes it no less valuable today.

Part of my interest is that I am going to be shadowing a student in a high school different from the one where I teach in the next month or so for some research as part of a fellowship I am currently doing. There was an outside chance that there wasn’t going to be time to schedule the student shadow but I pushed for it. While I have observed a lot of classes, especially in my past role as a technology specialist, my focus was always more on the teacher. I am kind of eager to shift focus and limit my view to that of a student only. Not only do I suspect it will inform my work in the fellowship, I am interested to reflect on it as a teacher too.

I think some of the points here are strong and I must admit that I regularly forget about some of these things too. Simply finding ways to get students out of their chairs and moving a bit more is something I could definitely do more. Yet, one thing that often creates challenges to this is not just the time but the students. I am always amazed by how much students can fight the idea of moving around the room when asked. There are plenty of times where moans and groans greet the request.

Education Evolutions #107

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If you are in New England, this past week may have been the autumnal turn. The temperature started to drop, then there were a couple days of proper rain before the sun returned with temps much lower than earlier in the week. It should only be a matter of time before the leaves really start to change colors now.

This week’s selections are kind of entangled in a way. The first item, a blogpost from PL Thomas serves as a kind of precursor of sorts for the other two items. While you do not necessarily have to read each in order, it would provide a fuller more interesting picture even though the topics seemingly are disconnected. I always advocate reading all three items but also know that people are busy. Reading in order this time might be more preferable than other weeks.

As a result, this week’s “If you read only one article…” is the first one. While it is about reading instruction, it is just as much about education journalism which I have a love-hate relationship with. Clearly, I read a fair amount of it but part of my reason for starting this newsletter was how annoyed I would get with some of the reporting I read. I needed a place to voice some of that disappointment, as well as highlight things I thought more of my colleagues should give a look or think more deeply about.

So hope these articles find you well. I may have just about beaten my cold, finally.

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

Checklist: Media Coverage of the “Science of Reading” – radical eyes for equity – PL Thomas (8-minute read)

As a former high school teacher turned university professor, PL Thomas is an English educator that routinely offers up some of the most insightful commentary in the discipline. In this post, once you get past his introduction regarding Peter DeWitt is an exceptional categorical look at educational journalism and its work on reading instruction.

His overall explanation of how educational journalism often fails in their efforts to cover the “science of reading” is as good as any I have seen and probably has a longer reach than this particular issue. Yet, it is the item-by-item list of errors in the mainstream media that is impressive in both its scale and scope. Thomas covers the gamut with loads of resources as evidence to strengthen his case.

I think my favorite in the list is “Emphasizing voices of cognitive scientists over literacy professionals,” toward the end of the list. This is one of the unfortunate reasons why someone like University of Virginia psychology professor Daniel Willingham gets so much time in the media on reading issues. I have definitely mentioned in the past how tired of seeing him quoted in nearly every article about reading.

What Fan Fiction Teaches That the Classroom Doesn’t – The Atlantic – Julie Beck (7-minute read)

While I am not the greatest fan of the title of this article, it was successful in piquing my curiosity. It definitely offers some quality points about writing instruction as well as a potential window into the benefits of fan fiction for those unaware of its presence or potential power. Just as PL Thomas mentioned in the previous title about journalism being trapped in a “presentism,” this article is missing a bit of context.

One obvious reason for the article is the publishing of the new book Writers in the Secret Garden by two University of Washington professors. Having spent months researching fan fiction communities, the two present interesting findings, even if they may not be entirely new. Henry Jenkins’ work of participatory culture is deeply rooted in fandom. This white paper which became the precursor for a longer book is also pretty good. Still, one major issue I have is there does not seem to be any recognition that many benefits are due to the self-selected environment where writers want to be. That is a major difference between a compulsory classroom.

As good as points like mostly positive feedback, communal tutoring, and benefits of peer workshopping are it is the writing for real audiences that has the most power for me. How much more time could we spend asking students to do just that if it were not for the testing regime that all but requires that we English teachers spend the majority of our writing instructional time focused on an extremely narrow set of essay genres? Oh and almost all of the essays we assign will be assessed (evaluated or, as a lot of students see it, judged). Then we wonder why so many students do not like or even want to write all that much.

How to Bring Authenticity to Learning that Happens in School – MindShift – Greg Toppo (10-minute read)

Continuing on the topic of authentic audiences, this piece uses a project run at a mainstream media favorite to praise, one of the High Tech High Schools in California. The charter school system, which operates almost like its own district, does some cool work to be sure, but they also get a lot of media attention (See Most Likely to Succeed as a case in point).

This article has a lot of major players from the field that have some significant expertise in the whole project-based and deeper learning movements. One of the coolest things about the High Tech High School system is that it has an embedded graduate school of education. Thus,  teaming up with other higher education institutions can lead to some beneficial outcomes. Asking students to engage in projects that have public audiences beyond a teacher or classroom is incredibly powerful. High Tech High School students regularly publish their own books, in fact (How cool is that?).

This article also suffers from the kind of “both sides” coverage (another thing PL Thomas mentions in the first article of this issue), where Toppo opts for someone from another media favorite, the Brookings Institute think-tank. The offerings from Brookings’ Tom Loveless are not particularly insightful or interesting beyond basic skepticism. Well, he also manages to slip in a wee dose of classism, suggesting that it might be riskier unless done with wealthier or private school students.

If I smarted a little about Loveless’ dismissal, it is because very much reminded me of a mentor teacher of mine that was fond of saying, “What’s good enough for students at Andover, is good enough for students at [insert another school community]. In his case, it happened to be Worcester, MA. It is a phrase that repeats in my head all the time like a refrain.

Education Evolutions #105

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Well, I am definitely in the swing of things as the first wave of real assignments started flowing in. With a lot of short practices to start the year, the real work has begun. All of the student emails explaining misunderstandings or missed deadlines offers plenty of evidence.

It is hard to believe that October is already right around the corner. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly a school year can ramp up and get running. Even though it has only been a few weeks, things are already starting to move at a clip. I have always felt that fall is the more demanding of the two semesters. Spring involves a lot more breaks and restarts and then the testing season severely truncates any real instructional time. Like a cyclist shifting gears, I feel ready to open things up on the big wheel and start moving.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the last one, as is so often the case. The title alone should be enough to hook any reader of this newsletter. While the article focuses on writing specifically do not be fooled into thinking that it is only the province of English teachers. It isn’t and that mentality may very well be a symptom of the broader disease, although it is a whole lot more complicated than that. It is short and more than worth the few minutes read. It should linger a lot longer. I hope it does and maybe even inspires some rethinking.

This weekend in New England probably offered the last gasps of summer temperatures before the true turn toward autumn, but it was glorious.

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

Silicon Valley is terrified of California’s privacy law. Good. – Tech Crunch – Zack Whittaker (3-minute read)

California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) has the potential to be one of the most important pieces of legislation in recent memory. The law may not be perfect but it has changed the conversation. I can only hope that Massachusetts enact a similar law, as well as other states. I have mentioned multiple times how much further along the Europeans are on this front. It is long past due that America catches up.

What this piece does really nicely is shine a light on the new tactic of tech companies appealing for a federal law as a way to weaken the whole effort to protect consumer’s privacy. Often large corporations favor state regulation because states are a lot easier to push around with money than the federal government is. In this case, they see a watered-down federal law, where they can fully exercise their concentrated lobbying efforts and money, especially with an administration that has negative interest in protecting consumers.

Cue all big companies spewing a new version of the old line of rhetoric about how regulation stifles innovation and hurts the economy. As Whittaker suggests any time tech and telcos are in league with one another everyone should be not just suspicious but worried.

Why Some People Become Lifelong Readers – The Atlantic – Joe Pinsker (7-minute read)

As an educator reading is such a major component of what I do and what I demand of students. As a parent, I possessed even more awareness of the benefits for my kids being strong readers. Being an avid reader, reading to my kids was one of the things I looked forward to most as my wife and I began a family. I still read to them, although not with the frequency I once did, where for years I read to them every day. Intuitively I started raising readers but I also made deliberate decisions, like taking them to the library every week, to make reading more like an adventure and less like a chore. Anecdotally, there are a lot of things that ring true to me from this article.

I have to admit that I am not always the biggest fan of Steven Pinker being the go-to source on literacy-related material in the media. I do sometimes take issue with some of his ideas, but mainly I find him significantly played out. Here, however, it bothered me a little less probably because I have less issue with what he has to say and he was sandwiched between some others with interesting contributions too. Still, I absolutely back his second point on background and contextual knowledge.

More than anything, I wish more people would read this article to note that being an avid reader is beneficial but not necessary to raising good readers, as ironic as that might seem. Even writing that sentence proved an ironic experience. Yet, I really kind of love the ending of this piece, which drove most of my efforts with my children. The message I tried to share is that reading is its own reward, enjoyable and fun.

Let’s Stop Killing Students’ Spirits – Inside Higher Education – John Warner (5-minute read)

First, John Warner’s Why They Can’t Write is an excellent book. It reaches far beyond writing pedagogy, an are where it also excels and presents a cogent interrogation of the kind of ill-conceived edreforms that have dominated American schools for more than the past two decades. It is ground he routinely covers in his regular columns as well, like this one. Here a series of student testimonies make a powerful case for just how wrong-headed we can be in education if we just accept the way things are instead of the way they could be.

Of course, the pressure associated with high performance is pervasive, even in places where student performance far excels most. Caustic market-think policies or unquestioned directives continue to feed the myth of competition as a necessary path to learning. Better scores beget more pressure to maintain levels of performance, perpetuating a horse race mentality. All the while, students are whipped along the way to reach a finish line that keeps getting moved. The student voices in this piece reveal the cost.

Warner’s question “When are we going to listen?” carries a resonance that looks as though it will not be receding any time soon. Amazingly, the student that uses the cookie metaphor to describe their gutting experience writes with a level of voice and eloquence that is remarkable in spite of years of being force-fed formulaic approaches. Every educator has a stake in reading and writing, no matter the subject matter or discipline. Fighting the extermination of all joy in those two activities is the responsibility of all educators, on that needs to be taken with far greater urgency and seriousness.