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

Education Evolutions #74

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

Here is hoping that people enjoy the holiday weekend, even if it is a questionable commemoration. This week has been a pretty eventful one news-wise to be sure. In fact, nothing really could match the drama in the capital. However, I still managed to follow some education-related stories that are interesting and perhaps offer a little reprieve from the news fatigue of the last few weeks.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is a toss up between the first and the last. The first one is certainly a lot shorter than the last. So if you are pinched for time, the choice is made. However, the last one might offer a much deeper dive into how the world is changing when it comes to media. For many people, a major change like the one featured in that article may even pass a whole lot of people by without much notice.

Autumn is upon us and the leaves are definitely a changing.

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

How I Know You Wrote Your Kid’s College Essay – The New York Times –  JM Farkas (8-minute read)

There is so much about this piece that I love and a small part not so much, which surprised me given how short it actually is. I could do without the less clever bit about “hidden spaces,” which is a decent attempt at metaphor that falls flat and potentially undermines the message, for me. Still, having spent a fair amount of time with students and assisting them in writing of college essays, there is no question a lot of what is claimed here is inarguable truth. In fact, working with students on this task has often revealed some of my favorite moments as an educator. However, the idea that the college essay is the “purest form of the process” is a bit of a push, I think. It is, no doubt, the part hoping to be the purest form. Yet, it remains part of what is generally considered a sales job.

As much as I like a lot of this, I am not sure that Farkas goes far enough. The college essay is supposed to be about the student revealing some authentic self, agreed. At least it aspires to offer that opportunity. Therein is the actual paradox. To me, it happens to be a bit grander and more insidious than the one that Farkas suggests. Colleges and universities pride themselves on being “selective,” cultivating a notion that the application process is a whole lot of individual marketing on the student’s part, which is exactly what tempts some parents to move in and help.

Consequently, the message parents send is actually much worse than “it’s O.K. to be unethical and possibly a plagiarist,” as horrible as that prospect is. The real message is “Sorry kid, your authentic self probably isn’t really good enough.” Honestly, convincing any student that who they truly are is good enough, while honestly acknowledging the sales aspect, is half the challenge when coaching them in writing their college essay. The rest is helping them get out of their own way as a writer, having spent most of their schooling being told what writing decisions to make by well-meaning teachers and parents. Being brave enough to reveal an authentic self and committing it in writing is not something we ask of young people all that often either.

Problems with Evidence-based Education: Side Effects in Education – Zhao Learning blog –  Yong Zhao (5-minute read)

The idea of riffing on the maxim “first do no harm” approach has been on my mind a lot as I prepared to re-enter the classroom full-time. An act or effort to teach anything involves a certain degree of risk. It is difficult to know exactly what students enter the room knowing, have been told, or misconceive. Plus, there is no shortage of pressure to prepare students for multiple high-stakes tests. Here, Yong Zhao highlights just how wrongheaded a lot of American edreform has been in avoiding harm in the first place.

Zhao’s explanation of how term “evidence-based” has been co-opted and twisted a narrow notion of only proving the effectiveness of interventions without considering the “secondary adverse effects” should serve as an introduction to anyone considering these issues. While I have not read the book from which this post comes, I now want to. Considering that the post comes from the introduction, I am hoping he addresses even more than what he outlines. I would argue that part of the obsession with the use of “evidence-based” has to do with sales, which yields numbers that are pretty easy to track and hold up as “evidence.” It is at the core of an ethos that chases “education solutions that scale” and almost every edtech product on the market. Yet, data used for sales tends to be a lot more selective and self-serving than science or medicine for that matter.

Raised by YouTube – The Atlantic –  Alexis C. Madrigal (16-minute read)

This is a long but absolutely fascinating look into YouTube’s impact on children and children’s media consumption. It is really well written and provides some genuine depth. Even if you are not someone that has small children the kinds of questions and issues raised in this piece should be considered by everyone. In fact, something tells me that the work conducted in writing this piece may well produce a book in the not too distant future.

What is great is the look at the history of children’s television, even though it is limited mainly to America. Anyone between the ages of 40 and 55, likely benefitted enormously from the period that created the PBS hallmarks of children’s television, like Sesame Street and Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood. From the late 1960s to the early 1980s children’s shows inhabited a space that emphasized educational aspirations more than the commercial ones that arrived with Star Wars toys and every toyline with a cartoon thereafter.

In the new media landscape, all bets are off and any rules that we once thought existed, even a little, are nowhere to be seen. The colonization of children’s media by commercial enterprises is long completed, but it now is morphing into a landscape shaped by even more commercial forces than ever. It is hard to see how ruleless, globalization in children’s media yields terribly different results than it has in any of the other areas where far less vulnerable populations have benefitted so much. At least the people running Chu Chu, based on this article, don’t seem half bad.

Education Evolutions #73

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

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

Well, this may be a day late but hopefully, it finds everyone well and not too disappointed. The grind of reviewing considerably more student work this year than I have been doing the last few left me with a little less time than I expected this weekend.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is probably the last one. The whole student stress issue can inspire a lot of groans amongst teachers. Yet, this short piece presents a pretty balanced look at the issues involving stress and teens. Best of all it doesn’t exactly take a real position on how to address it as much as it provides some context.

Welcome to October and the autumnal season.

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

How Google Co-opts Our Schools to Collect Kids’ Data – The National Review –  Michelle Malkin (8-minute read)

While this is certainly not the first article I have included here that is critical of Google, this one comes from a very conservative source. Michelle Malkin has a television show on Conservative Review Television (CRTV), which I admit I have never watched. However, what is fascinating is how conservatives are taking aim at technology companies, especially considering how much money is spent lobbying corporate-friendly conservative candidates.

While this may not be the most informative or even impartial reporting, by any stretch, it is not without some salient points. There has been very little consent or disclosure regarding Google’s massive edtech initiatives. I too once embraced the idea of Google tools in the classroom and certainly continue to use them extensively. However, Google has long since lost its cool for me and my suspicion has only grown in recent years.

I would argue that the very nature of software licensing is at the core of the problem, not to mention our woefully inadequate privacy policies in the United States. In nearly every software agreement is some clause that explains the company can alter the terms of the agreement at any time, often without notification. If that is the case what’s the point of having an agreement at all?

Google admits it lets hundreds of other companies access your Gmail inbox – The Telegraph –  Laurence Dodds and Margi Murphy (5-minute read)

Sometimes it seems like when it comes to Google the hits just keep coming. Amazingly, I spotted this article not long after the above one came across my radar. The widening web of third-party apps that can access your data has ballooned in recent years, especially with the proliferation of the Google Suite. It is so easy to add an additional app to your Gmail, Drive, etc. Plus, I question the Deloitte study that found 91% do not read the user agreement. That number seems too low.

The third-party and beyond companies can be a problem even with education accounts since the user is the one that opts to allow the sharing when confirming the Add-on. Some schools have stepped up the limitations on Add-ons if they allow them at all. Using the included link from this article is a good way to start surveying exactly what apps are accessing which Google services. Still, the notion that any of this is entirely transparent is a bit of a push. Even this article explains that Google is not exactly forthcoming when questioned by Congress or the media.

How to Help Teenagers Embrace Stress – The New York Times –  Lisa Damour (8-minute read)

Every fall when school begins there seems to a requisite spate of stress articles. This one certainly falls in that genre but it does have a slightly different take from the calls for stress reduction in teens. At least this one highlights the fact that not all stress is bad and that it is even essential to the learning process. Even more interesting is the notion that it is not the stress of a particular school situation as much as it is the recovery period that can make things more or less manageable.

I have often thought that schools do not approach this topic in the best or most productive way. A lot of learning requires discomfort and an increase in stress, as this article suggests. I think too often, once schools decide to address challenges associated with stress, they run with the more pathological perspective. Instead, I believe a much more productive approach would be explaining the privilege of pressure. Students that opt for particularly intense academic loads benefit from great privilege. It is an option they are given because of their ability and desire, and that fact should always be made clear. It is not a requirement. That strikes me as a much more stress-enhancing point of view.

Yet, I think what is seriously missing is just how many outside activities parents and students schedule beyond the school day. Of course, students should have a life outside the classroom and there probably needs to be considerably less homework but overscheduling does not exactly encourage recovery either.