Hoel and his collaborators claim to show that new causes—things that produce effects—can emerge at macroscopic scales. They say coarse-grained macroscopic states of a physical system (such as the psychological state of a brain) can have more causal power over the system’s future than a more detailed, fine-grained description of the system possibly could. Macroscopic states, such as desires or beliefs, “are not just shorthand for the real causes,” explained Simon DeDeo, an information theorist and cognitive scientist at Carnegie Mellon University and the Santa Fe Institute who is not involved in the work, “but it’s actually a description of the real causes, and a more fine-grained description would actually miss those causes.”
Still wearing his headset, Greene opens up the floor for questions. One student, from Denmark, asks, “How does it feel to be teaching in the next step of education?” As Greene answers—about how it’s so wonderful that people from around the globe can gather and share complex ideas like this—a student flings a virtual tesseract at the teacher’s head. Next step, indeed.
How do we leverage student grouping to best promote achievement?
This is a question teachers and administrators ask themselves almost daily. Unfortunately, there are few clear or easy answers. But we can draw out a few general principles from recent research and other sources of knowledge that may help to inform our instructional practice.
It’s important to acknowledge there’s often a steady pressure on teachers to utilize group work. And for some teachers, grouping students by ability can make serving a wide disparity of different levels of students more manageable.
But there’s an often unstated assumption: group work is inherently superior to whole class or independent learning. But is group work always better than other modes of learning?
Tom Bennett, a British behavioral specialist, argues in an article in American Educator, “Group Work for the Good,” that there is little research to suggest group work is better for academic learning. Bennett cautions teachers to only “use group work when you feel it is appropriate to the task you want your students to achieve, and at no other time.”
OK, but what are the times when group work is appropriate? Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, in their book, Guided Instruction: How to Develop Confident and Successful Learners, offer some important insight. Here’s a short passage from their first chapter:
“. . . an understanding of memory systems has profound implications for instruction, which include creating systematic and intentional scaffolds of students’ understanding rather than leaving them alone to discover information independently. That’s not to say that students should not work together in collaborative learning; they should. We have argued for productive group work in which students interact with one another and generate ideas to produce individual works (Frey et al., 2009). But this work must center on the consolidation and application of content that students already know. It’s neither the time nor the place to introduce new information. Doing so would overload the working memory system and fail to ensure learning” (Bold added).
In other words, new concepts and information should not be introduced during group work. Group work should be used for reinforcing, consolidating, and applying information students have already been exposed to.
So now we’re only selectively and strategically using group work to reinforce content we’ve already introduced to our students. But how do we ensure students are productive during the times when they do work as a group? Here it can be instructive to look at some of the analysis coming out of the business sector. Fostering productive teams, after all, is critical to the success or failure of many modern businesses.
One finding from the business realm that will make immediate sense to educators is that creating a context that fosters shared identity promotes productivity. You can read more about this research in “Spaces the Signal Identity Improve Workplace Productivity,” in the Journal of Personnel Psychology. We know that giving our students a sense of belonging and recognizing who they are and what they bring is critical to fostering a positive school community. But it’s good to know that it also can improve group performance.
Another finding is that how a team communicates is what determines its effectiveness. As presented in an article, “The New Science of Building Great Teams” in Harvard Business Review, effective teams communicate more equitably and with higher engagement. And even more critically for consideration in a school context, socialization outside of formal meeting time has a huge influence on team effectiveness. What this means for educators is that fostering effective group work requires time and training. Furthermore, as described in a passage “Group Dynamics for Teams” by Daniel Levi, this training requires norming, socialization, and building cooperative skills. Educators know that many of our students struggle with social skills and working productively together. These skills must be taught and developed.
Similarly, moving into research from higher education, in “What makes a ‘good group’? Exploring the characteristics and performance of undergraduate student groups” the authors argue that if “team working skills” are “important as a learning outcome, they must be assessed directly alongside the task output.” In other words, if a teacher is going to utilize group work for a task, they must establish explicit learning objectives for the skills practiced in the group work itself, not only for the content of the task. This again reinforces the idea that when we do use group work, we must do so strategically.
This builds off of Robert Slavin’s review of educational research, as outlined in an ACSD article, “Cooperative Learning and Student Achievement,” which suggests that not only must effective group work have group goals and rewards, but also must hold each individual accountable for their contribution. Group work which incorporates only one aspect of those two critical components (group goals and individual accountability) demonstrates little benefit to learning, whereas group learning which incorporates both is far more effective.
Even adult research teams require training and practice to develop intrapersonal awareness, foster shared norms, and to understand that conflict is normal, as suggested by a paper “Creating and maintaining high-performing collaborative research teams: the importance of diversity and interpersonal skills.” The authors further suggest that fostering diverse teams is essential to productivity.
This latter insight, that diverse teams are more productive, may be one of the most useful within a classroom context. Various studies, as presented in an article on Harvard Business Review, “Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter” by David Rock and Heidi Grant, suggest that ethnic and racial diversity makes for more effective, deliberative, and innovative teams. This is an important consideration for teachers when forming groups.
However, it’s important to note that research on homogeneous vs. heterogeneous grouping is mostly unclear. Ultimately, how a teacher chooses to group students must be strategic and based on the task and learning outcomes. But the findings on diversity seem to suggest that our default should be mixing students of different backgrounds and ability.
A synthesis of findings on effective group work
Ok, so we’ve reviewed a fair amount of information on grouping. Let’s summarize what we have so far:
- Use group work only when it is necessary to achieve the task you are planning
- Use group work only to reinforce and apply content students are already familiar with
- Create a classroom and school environment that fosters a shared identity
- Provide norming, time for socialization, and training in the cooperative skills students will require to work productively as a team
- Set explicit learning targets for group work skills when engaging in a group task, while holding each individual student accountable for their work within the group
- Group students heterogeneously to promote greater critical thinking and creativity
Bennett, T. (2015). Group Work for the Good. American Educator. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/ae/spring2015/bennett
Channon, S.B. (2017). What makes a ‘good group’? Exploring the characteristics and performance of undergraduate student groups. SpringerLink. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10459-016-9680-y
Cheruvelil, K. S., Soranno, P. A., Weathers, K. C., Hanson, P. C., Goring, S. J., Filstrup, C. T. and Read, E. K. (2014), Creating and maintaining high-performing collaborative research teams: the importance of diversity and interpersonal skills. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 12: 31–38. doi:10.1890/130001. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1890/130001/abstract
Greenaway, K.H., Hannibal A. Thai, S. Haslam, A., and Murphy, S.C. (2016). Spaces That Signal Identity Improve Workplace Productivity. Journal of Personnel Psychology. 15(1), 35–43. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/301277968_Spaces_That_Signal_Identity_Improve_Workplace_Productivity
Fisher, D. & Frey, N. (2010). Scaffolds for Learning: The Key to Guided Instruction. ASCD. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/111017/chapters/Scaffolds-for-Learning@-The-Key-to-Guided-Instruction.aspx
Levi, D. (2001). Group Dynamics for Teams. Sage Publications, 322 pp. Retrieved from http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.840.9487&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Pentland, A.S. (2012). The New Science of Building Great Teams. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2012/04/the-new-science-of-building-great-teams
Rock, D. and Grant, H. (2016.). Why Diverse Teams Are Smarter. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/11/why-diverse-teams-are-smarter
Slavin, R. (1988). Cooperative Learning and Student Achievement. ASCD. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/journals/ed_lead/el_198810_slavin.pdf
Wang, Z. (2013). Effects of heterogenous and homogenous grouping on student learning. Chapel Hill. Retrieved from https://cdr.lib.unc.edu/indexablecontent/uuid:ac391807-1cca-447e-801d-d65183945ad0
Yee, V. (2013.). Grouping Students by Ability Regains Favor With Educators. NY Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/10/education/grouping-students-by-ability-regains-favor-with-educators.html
Group Work Decision Tree
Student Grouping: What is Effective? by Mark Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Based on a work at https://goo.gl/z6zDwJ
Let me be clear: I’m totally on board with the “get out into nature more” bandwagon, and I’m thrilled to see increasing research showing how much being out in nature contributes to well-being and health.
“We don’t recognize how happy nature makes us.”
I think we need some clarity around terms. If by “nature” we simply mean “green living things,” then sure, it makes us feel good. But if we mean “nature” as in the wilderness and the brutal forces therein, then happiness may be a quixotic cause.
Living in tune with nature means having humility and respect, which comes from an appreciation for the often volatile and seemingly senseless danger and risks that are inherent in living in nature. In other words, it’s not just about something we can “get” from nature, in a transactional way, but also about recognizing and assuming our proper place within the cosmos.
That’s a point, alas, I don’t expect many people will buy into, so I understand why we focus on the transactional benefits of nature.
So while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about our children. We want them to be healthy and happy, right?
As Williams points out so well in the interview, our kids are the ones suffering the most from our lack of attunement to nature (however one defines it):
“I think our institutions need to take [incorporating nature into urban infrastructure] on, especially schools. Where I live, only 10 percent of kids get the recommended recess time. Which is appalling, because we know that kids need this time to run around and have exploratory free play in order to just pay attention later in the day.
. . . If you have kids, the most important thing you can do is get your kids outside enough to develop their love for nature. You will be giving them a gift they will have their entire lives.”
And while we’re at it, let’s help them gain a requisite humility and respect for the forces beyond our ken.
People raised in different contexts think differently
Western and Eastern societies see the world differently. “If we are what we see, and we are attending to different stuff, then we are living in different worlds.” It may even come down to the difference between a historical context of growing wheat vs. growing rice. BBC: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170118-how-east-and-west-think-in-profoundly-different-ways
Rich people and poor people see the world differently. Poor people pay much more attention to other people around them. Science of Us: http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2017/02/how-rich-people-see-the-world-differently.html
Risk-taking is an adaptive strategy when raised in chaotic environments. “Given that fast life-history strategies are triggered in uncertain situations, a stable environment can work wonders.” Nautilus: http://nautil.us/issue/31/stress/when-destructive-behavior-makes-biological-sense
So you want to become rich in the United States? The best way is to become rich is to be born into the right set of parents. The second best way is to find a rich spouse. The Economist: http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2017/02/economist-explains-0?fsrc=scn/tw/te/bl/ed/howtogetrichinamerica
And the rich are more likely to become entrepreneurs. The Guardian: https://amp.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2017/feb/20/rags-riches-privileged-entrepreneurs-business-resilience-michelle-mone
How we self-classify our own race is problematic for assertions based on race. There’s a tendency for those of mixed descent to self-classify as white. American Prospect: http://prospect.org/article/latino-flight-whiteness#.WKBUbz2F_l4.facebook
And maybe instead of classifying animals into species, we’d do better to identify them by their key traits and characteristics. RealClearScience: http://www.realclearscience.com/articles/2016/11/05/scientists_suggest_doing_away_with_species_110078.html
Men’s brains are bigger than women’s. Mindhacks: https://mindhacks.com/2017/02/07/sex-differences-in-brain-size/
But there are few differences in cognitive ability between men and women. https://mindhacks.com/2017/02/14/sex-differences-in-cognition-are-small/
Men and women require different types of check-ins to keep long-distance relationships going. Men need face-to-face check-ins, while a phone call is enough for women. The Guardian: https://amp.theguardian.com/science/2017/feb/20/key-to-keeping-friendships-alive-different-for-men-and-women-scientists-say
Therefore, promoting diversity is key
Once trees in the rainforest are connected with vines, they don’t function as individual trees anymore—at least from the perspective of ant diversity. The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/02/each-tree-is-an-island/515583/?utm_source=twb
Highways may have contributed to rural and urban division in American politics, as revealed by maps. National Geographic: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/11/robert-berlo-map-collection/
School choice may lead to more segregation. CityLab: https://www.citylab.com/housing/2017/02/what-could-reverse-dcs-intense-school-segregation/516783/
As demonstrated by Denver, a much lauded exemplar of school choice. NPR Ed: http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/02/20/515359394/the-mile-high-promise-and-risk-of-school-choice
“The Waltons would have a more dramatic impact on the well-being of children by paying their workers a minimum wage of $15 an hour than they do by opening charter schools and enfeebling community public schools.” The NY Review of Books: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/12/08/when-public-goes-private-as-trump-wants-what-happens/
Though the use of vouchers may possibly reduce some racial stratification, in a convoluted sort of way. The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/02/the-voucher-paradox/516747/
But vouchers are viewed as problematic even by many of those within the “school choice” charter community. “I’ve worked in charter schools nationally for two decades, and the vast majority of people I know who work in and support charters are deeply troubled by vouchers.” Ascend Learning blog: http://www.ascendlearning.org/blog/diane-ravitch-reply/
Ben Carson could undo past efforts at housing desegregation. The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/23/upshot/how-ben-carson-at-housing-could-undo-a-desegregation-effort.html?smid=tw-upshotnyt&smtyp=cur&_r=0
A challenge to previous research that suggested that greater diversity generates distrust. The distrust may simply stem from good old prejudice. Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/does-diversity-create-distrust/?WT.mc_id=SA_TW_MB_NEWS
Unfortunately, training may not be enough to remove racial bias. “There’s no good proof that implicit bias can be permanently unlearned, and little evidence about the best way to unlearn it.” Nautilus: http://nautil.us/blog/can-training-help-people-un_learn-a-lifetime-of-racial-bias
“Having a shared sense of identity, norms, and history generally promotes trust.” The American Interest: http://www.the-american-interest.com/2016/07/10/when-and-why-nationalism-beats-globalism/
“Americans can do better. Remember: America doesn’t just have arguments; America is an argument—between Federalist and Anti-Federalist world views, strong national government and local control, liberty and equality, individual rights and collective responsibility, color-blindness and color-consciousness, Pluribus and Unum.” The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/11/post-election-reconciliation/506027/
And teach everyone well
A project-based learning critique: “if we’re designing schools and syllabus for the real word, that means teaching everyone well, not just a fraction of the lucky sperm club.” Tom Bennett’s blog: https://behaviourguru.blogspot.co.uk/2016/11/project-based-learning-id-give-it-five.html
The JUMP Math curriculum speaks to just that type of whole-class design, and is showing strong signs of success. “Our data shows that if you teach to the whole class, the whole class does better.” Quartz: https://qz.com/901125/a-mathematician-has-created-a-method-of-teaching-that-is-proving-there-is-no-such-thing-as-a-bad-math-student/
Along the same lines, I argue for a focus on an inclusive, rigorous curriculum and expectations for all students as the best way to support students with disabilities, rather than focusing on abstract, idealized models. Schools & Ecosystems: https://schoolecosystem.wordpress.com/2017/02/18/special-education-inclusion-or-specialized-intervention/
Acquiring knowledge and then thinking about how it fits into what we already know helps boost our attention. PsyBlog: http://www.spring.org.uk/2016/02/better-brain-training-oldest-technique.php
Here’s 20 observable characteristics of effective teaching. TeachThought: http://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/20-observable-characteristics-of-effective-teaching
For faster learning, interleave studying with sleep. BPS Research Digest: https://digest.bps.org.uk/2016/11/10/for-faster-learning-and-longer-retention-interleave-study-sessions-with-sleep/
Napping, after all, is just as effective as cramming. BigThink: http://bigthink.com/philip-perry/napping-just-as-good-as-cramming-before-a-final-study-claims
And if you want to grow new brain cells, go running instead of lifting weights: PsyBlog: http://www.spring.org.uk/2016/02/study-tests-whether-lifting-weights-running-grows-new-brain-cells.php
“a well-targeted tree campaign could be of the smartest investments a hot, polluted city can make.” And those plantings should be well-targeted to improve air quality for schools. Vox: http://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2016/11/4/13510352/planting-trees-pollution-heat-waves
Another smart investment? The buildings we house students in. “People know that their physician plays an important role in their health, but sometimes building managers can play a nearly equal role,” says Allen. “The janitor of a school, for example, has a big impact on the health of those kids.” National Geographic: http://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/urban-expeditions/green-buildings/surprising-ways-green-buildings-improve-health-sustainability/
I know, I’ve mostly stopped posting. A conflux of being-really-busy at work, getting-really-sick (turns out I’m allergic to a certain type of antibiotic), and being-overwhelmed-with-information (I get way too many newsletters) and needing to just kind of hit the pause button on everything. And winter.
I guess there’s some kind of game going on, but I’m not a football person, so I’m posting this instead. So here you go:
- We’re discovering that the hippocampus is the seat of our spatial awareness, generating an internal map, and hence, perhaps the locus of memory as well. Aeon: https://aeon.co/essays/how-cognitive-maps-help-animals-navigate-the-world
- Speaking of maps, we’re getting better at mapping out the rainforest. Greg Asner mapped out the Peruvian Amazon, discovering 36 distinct types of forest, which can be crucial to monitoring for strategic interventions to conserve biodiversity. Asner wants to put his mapping machine into orbit, where “we can map the changing biodiversity of the planet every month. That’s what we need to manage our extinction crisis.” The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/01/how-a-scientist-mapped-the-chemistry-of-the-entire-peruvian-amazon-by-plane/514478/
- Let’s keep going with this mapping motif. Here’s a map of what the United States would look like if we divided our states by economic geography. RealClearScience: http://www.realclearscience.com/quick_and_clear_science/2017/01/27/what_if_us_states_were_shaped_according_to_economics.html
- Former Secretary of Education John King is moving to CEO of Education Trust. But before doing so, his federal office created a great guide to increasing student diversity: Improving Outcomes for All Students: Strategies and Considerations to Increase Student Diversity. NCSD: http://school-diversity.org/pdf/improving-outcomes-diversity.pdf
- As an accompaniment to this federal guide, for New York state-specific strategies for increasing school diversity, refer to my own suggestions from my policy fellowship with America Achieves: http://educatorvoicefellowship.org/increasing-diversity-in-new-york-schools
- I’ve always felt like we have a tendency in the world of education to over-emphasize differences between kids rather than focus on what is relatively similar. Similarly, in the world of science there’s often an outsized focus on gender differences. A recent book pushes against this narrative and stresses the social, environmental, contextual impact on creating those differences: “It’s the social circumstances that the fish find themselves in that sculpt their anatomies and their behaviors.” NPR: http://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2017/01/26/511734926/the-science-of-gender-no-men-arent-from-mars-and-women-from-venus
- This accomplished scientist became a politician. Let’s hope more are inspired to do the same. “I think the public is ready for a more bottom-up, evidence-based approach to decision-making.” The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/02/the-climate-scientist-who-became-a-politician/515328/
- Think you have what it takes to be a “superforecaster”? Put yourself to the test on Good Judgement: https://www.gjopen.com
- I wonder sometimes whether I and other ELA teachers have been teaching “argumentative” writing all wrong. We teach our kids to base their arguments purely upon evidence, as if that will be convincing to a general audience. Yet recent studies seem to strongly suggest that we will most likely shift other’s thinking by speaking to their values, rather than to objective facts. The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/02/the-simple-psychological-trick-to-political-persuasion/515181/
- So if you want to truly understand what the “other side” thinks, try this exercise. (Could be really interesting to modify and apply in a classroom). FastCompany: https://www.fastcompany.com/3066609/try-this-exercise-in-radical-empathy-to-minimize-conflict
- And while it’s easy to think most of the United States is progressive-minded, the reality is that those minds are largely confined to cities. And states and rural areas will continue to wield political power over cities. The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/03/red-state-blue-city/513857/
- Charter advocates like to say that charters cut through the quagmire of bureaucracy that traditional school districts are saddled with. But recent findings from charter-full NOLA suggest au contraire, charter increases administrative costs due to the loss of “economies of scale.” In other words, the monopoly that current school districts have may actually be more efficient. Hechinger Report: http://hechingerreport.org/study-says-new-orleans-schools-spend-administration-less-teaching-charter-transformation/
- Notice I’m deliberately not sharing links explicitly about Trump? I think we’re all getting our fill of his nonsense. But here’s a few meta-level items worth reading regarding he-who-shall-not-be-named. Pacific Standard: “Executive Privilege; American Peril”. The Atlantic: “A Clarifying Moment in American History”. The Atlantic: “How to Build an Autocracy”
Because neither ‘memory banks’ nor ‘representations’ of stimuli exist in the brain, and because all that is required for us to function in the world is for the brain to change in an orderly way as a result of our experiences, there is no reason to believe that any two of us are changed the same way by the same experience. If you and I attend the same concert, the changes that occur in my brain when I listen to Beethoven’s 5th will almost certainly be completely different from the changes that occur in your brain. Those changes, whatever they are, are built on the unique neural structure that already exists, each structure having developed over a lifetime of unique experiences. (Bold added)
–Robert Epstein, “The Empty Brain” on Aeon
Epstein’s challenge to the “information processing” model is highly relevant to education and worth considering the implications of. I would pair this reading with the quantum theory of QBism: QBism challenges the notion of an “objective reality,” suggesting instead that reality lies in the eye of the beholder.
“When aspects of the school context—for example, a principal who is an ineffective instructional leader, a school that lacks a consistent disciplinary code—are partly, or largely to blame for poor performance, efforts to measure and strengthen individual teacher effectiveness are unlikely to be adequate remedies in themselves”
—Gillian Kiley, “School environment key to retaining teachers, promoting student achievement, study finds” on Phys.org
Check out the study linked to above, which uses NYC school survey data. Certainly confirms everything this blog is premised upon.
Sundry Items from the World Wide Web
Here’s a handy infographic of the 74 ways characters die in Shakespeare’s plays.
Clinical psychiatrist Daniel Siegel argues that our minds are best understood as a combination of bottom-up sensory experiences and top-down schematic models.
In Los Olivos, California, parents pay $49,000 a year for their kids to chop their own wood and grow their own food. Seems like a worthy trade-off, to me. Especially given the growing amount of research substantiating the positive effects of the outdoors on learning.
Speaking of the outdoors, if you have a view of the ocean, you probably have lower levels of psychological distress. Supposedly this applies across income or neighborhood quality, but let’s be real: most neighborhoods with an ocean view usually have a few other competitive advantages.
We all know being born well-off (financially speaking) comes with benefits. But here’s some depressing results from a new report: “even poor kids who do everything right don’t do much better than rich kids who do everything wrong.” So much for meritocracy.
And what separates champions from “almost champions” is how they respond to adversity. They put in the practice and training, and most critically, they compare themselves against past versions of themselves, rather than external comparisons against others. Implications for supporting our students in self-monitoring their progress here.
Because hey, even a ball of dough can learn to learn, with the right amount of electric shocks.
Sorry to inform you, frenetic button pushers: pushing those crosswalk and elevator close buttons are just placebo placating your sense of control.
In his new book, Messy, economist Tim Harford argues that allowing a bit of disorder and chaos into our lives can make us happier and more productive. One way, he suggests, is to force ourselves to interact with others who are different than us. (And here’s a past post on how allowing a little bit of chaos in a school can also be a good thing.)
Equity and Inclusion: Can we overcome our history?
While some may see this as merely a symbolic gesture, I think it’s a pretty big deal that a “president of America’s largest police management organization” issued a formal apology for police mistreatment of communities of color.
Knowing our history, as Politico’s Eliza Shapiro reports, is important as new battles about school zones and desegregation play out. Here’s a quote demonstrating why:
Recent meetings on the proposed rezoning have turned hostile: Lincoln Towers residents have wept and pleaded with the city not to go ahead with the rezoning, arguing that it would divide their community. Parents have shouted down Department of Education officials at meetings, accusing them of lying and intentionally concealing details about the plans. One person referred to PS 191 as a “cesspool.”
The principal of PS 191, Lauren Keville, has attended some of the public meetings, urging PS 199 parents — to apparently little effect — to visit her school before forming their judgment. PS 191 parents have been largely absent from the debate.
After the Council proposed its own plan and made explicit pleas for a more integrated district at a recent meeting, scores of parents spoke out against the plan. When one member of the council claimed he’d been “blindsided” by the plan, dozens of parents gave him a standing ovation. The PS 199 parents who support the integration plan — a constant but muted minority presence at public meetings — have been largely drowned out. (Bold added)
The parent group that is calling for integration, however, is making it’s views loud and clear.
A new report highlights what schools successful at increasing diversity are doing. Keys to increasing diversity: promote the school to diverse communities and make it welcoming to all, and change admission policies.
Democracy: Should complex decisions be made by the people, or their elected representatives?
Populist democracy is on the rise. Yet our founders envisioned the US as a representative democracy. George Thomas argues that we have lost sight of the educative function of political leadership, and that we are increasingly placing complex policy decisions in the hands of voters who may lack an understanding of the need for compromise that effective and experienced political leaders possess. Repercussions are to be found in Republican kowtowing to Trump and Tea Party supporters, Democrat kowtowing to Sanders supporters, across the pond in the Brexit referendum, and California’s ever increasing ballot measures. Some argue that voting should only be left to those who have the requisite knowledge. And there’s some evidence to back this up: education levels have a correlation to who you vote for. Just take a guess.
And the 538 explores some of these issues from another angle: a science experiment in Key West open to public vote.
Forget the presidential debates, this is more important.
I attended a PD today that featured cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham. It’s pretty rare that my employer, the NYCDOE, offers professional learning that has someone presenting from the academic research realm, so when I saw this was happening, I jumped on it.
I’ve been following Willingham’s articles in American Educator and have read Why Kids Don’t Like School, and I’ve been convinced of the importance of a strong curriculum and building knowledge for a while now, but it was nice to get a direct and clear reminder of what really matters in literacy, especially when that message is so very rare.
There were a lot of great ideas and takeaways on motivating children to read at home and on reading comprehension in general, but there were two main points that especially struck me during his presentation (the summary and phrasing is my own):
- Knowledge needs to be “in the mind” in order for reading comprehension to be effortless, rather than a problem-solving struggle to determine meaning.
- We can only build the broad, world knowledge required for literacy through a carefully sequenced and structured curriculum.
If you take these points to be accurate, then the implications are quite revolutionary in comparison to the regular practices of most schools and districts.
Let’s break down why this runs so counter to the norm.
Here’s what would need to happen:
- If knowledge must be “in the mind” (rather than on Google) than that means the knowledge considered worth studying must be reinforced and revisited, tested, interleaved, sequenced, and spaced throughout a school’s curriculum.
- That means across classrooms and across grades.
- Therefore, a school needs to have come to a consensus on the topics, texts, vocabulary, and concepts that are most essential to know within and across each academic domain.
- That means that each teacher (or at the very least, a department head or team) will have to have invested a substantial amount of time, both individually and collaboratively, into studying those texts and topics themselves in order to know how to design a learning environment, projects, activities, field trips, and interim assessments that will provide the access to and reinforce that knowledge for all students.
- This would of course be accompanied by adjusting the curriculum periodically based on an analysis and reflection on interim assessment data and student work.
Sound pretty straightforward? No. Here’s the norm in most schools:
- What most prioritizes a school’s focus are external assessments, such as state tests. ELA tests in this vein consist of random passages of text that are meant to focus on isolated reading skills devoid of knowledge. Therefore, what is taught and focused upon are the practice of skills devoid of knowledge.
- That’s what constitutes an ELA curriculum for many schools.
- A teacher is either not provided a curriculum, or is provided a curriculum but no support, or is provided a curriculum and support but the curriculum is not oriented around sequentially building knowledge.
- Even when a curriculum might be provided and might be relatively well-crafted (this is a rarity, and if you know of such a curriculum, tell me. I can name two. Maybe three), I have yet to have seen any curriculum that still does not require a teacher to revise and adjust it substantially based on the needs of their students, the circumstances of their school or classroom, or their own particular style and knowledge.
- Thus, in those rare schools where there is even a coherent curriculum “in place,” the point made above about investment of time still holds. A substantial amount of time needs to be spent in designing and continually molding the school around and in support of that knowledge embedded within the curriculum.
- Most of what is taught in different classrooms in a school has little coherency across a school.
- What is a taught in any given classroom is rarely reinforced via low stakes quizzing across an entire school year.
See the problem? From what I’ve seen in much of the professional development sessions and focus of schools and districts is a focus on individual teacher strategies and practices. But let’s get real. If a school does not come together to determine and design it’s mission around the knowledge and skills it will teach sequentially and systematically, then there will be little impact.
For ideas on how a school might begin to do this work, check out my next post on this topic: On Threshold Concepts & Experiences