Smorgasbord: A National Lack of Knowledge

“’Tempus omnia manifestat’: Allegory of Art and Knowledge” by Johann Melchior Füssli (Swiss, Zurich 1677–1736 Zurich) via The Metropolitan Museum of Art

E.D. Hirsch, Jr on how a lack of shared values and culture relates to poor literacy

“I believe that our current schools have not understood how great a quantity of specific knowledge is needed to gain mastery of the written and spoken national language.”

A Sense of Belonging – Democracy Journal

A nation that barely reads has elected a president that barely reads

“When President Trump began receiving his intelligence briefings in January, his team made a request: The president, they said, was a visual and auditory learner. Would the briefers please cut down on the number of words in the daily briefing book and instead use more graphics and pictures?”

This deficit in knowledge and reliance upon shallow sources of visual information means that many people are easily manipulated by propaganda—whether from Russia or marketers.

‘Horrible’ pictures of suffering moved Trump to action on Syria – Washington Post

Speaking of a deficit in knowledge

Chester Finn highlights the difficulty in reforming curriculum

“Curriculum, therefore, is generally left to districts, which frequently leave it to individual schools and often to individual teachers or departments within them.”

“In other words, however much importance an education reformer or public official may place on curriculum, in America it’s hard to find and grasp any levers that enable one to do anything about it.”

Curriculum becomes a reform strategy – Flypaper

Middlebury professor who was attacked for interviewing Charles Murray speaks out about the need for civil discourse

Professor Stanger’s NY Times piece on the “Middlebury affair” is worth reading. I wonder what, exactly, student protestors at Middlebury found so extremely frightening about Murray’s work that they couldn’t even bear to read, let alone rebut, his actual research and arguments. Perhaps they are afraid of their own racism and prejudice, and attack him to make themselves feel righteous and morally upright.

As Stanger suggests, the real enemy here is “ignorance empowered.”

Middlebury, My Divided Campus – NY Times

High school muckrakers out their principal’s lack of credentials

“[The principal] declined to comment directly on students’ questions about her credentials, ‘because their concerns are not based on facts,’ she said.

In an emergency faculty meeting Tuesday, the superintendent said Robertson was unable to produce a transcript confirming her undergraduate degree from the University of Tulsa, Smith said.”

There is still hope for our future.

These high school journalists investigated a new principal’s credentials. Days later, she resigned. – Washington Post

The New York Times mistakenly equates absolute test scores with school quality

“To attribute test scores solely to ‘school quality’ ignores the powerful role that family background plays in shaping opportunity,” Reardon writes in his comment on the Times story. Research has found that although schools are important, out-of-school factors, including poverty, have an even greater influence on student achievement levels.”

New York Times Misuses Their Data When Linking School Quality to Home Prices, Researchers Say – the74

Personalized learning platforms ≠ school-based autonomy

I’m not at all opposed to efforts to marry individual student performance data with automated feedback mechanisms. There’s plentiful space for innovation and advancement there. But I also believe we need to be clear-eyed about what such systems may entail.

A Providence superintendent reveals what may be a common fallacy around what a “personalized learning” platform really means:

” ‘Providence is committed to school-based autonomy, with each school involved in choosing its own technology and instructional methods to support personalized learning,’ says Christopher N. Maher, the district’s superintendent. ‘By owning these choices, school leaders and teachers truly buy into personalized-learning concepts and practices.’ “

A “personalized learning” platform developed by Facebook does not equate with greater “school-based autonomy” beyond the ability of a school to “choose” that platform (and curriculum). But the platform itself necessitates reliance upon a non-public system, which dictates the content that students are exposed to and which collects and houses that student data. So put the stress there on “buy,” rather than on “autonomy.”

If a school truly wants to be “autonomous”, they would not cede their content and instruction to a non-public platform. Just saying.

Will Personalized Learning Become the New Normal? Inside Rhode Island’s Statewide Tech Initiative – the74

Seattle shows us how to battle privileged NIMBYism

“By emphasizing outreach to underserved groups such as renters, immigrants and refugees, Nyland is shaking up traditional notions of community engagement and redefining community as something based not on geographic proximity, but on personal and cultural affinity.”

…”For the first time since its inception in the late ’80s, the city’s neighborhoods department would spend as much time engaging with underrepresented communities as it did listening to the concerns of white property owners.”

How Seattle is Dismantling a NIMBY Power Structure – Next City

How segregation affects the affluent

“In many ways, students in Lexington are the byproduct of the self-segregation that Enrico Moretti writes about in his book “The New Geography of Jobs,” which addresses the way well-educated, tech-minded adults cluster in brain hubs. For their children, that means ending up in schools in which everyone is super bright and hypercompetitive. It’s hard to feel special.”

It Takes A Suburb: A Town Struggles to Ease Student Stress – NY Times

NY State is making moves to battle segregated schools

Finally.

New York state plans to use new federal education law to help integrate schools – Chalkbeat NY

Rick Hess points to the potential horror of federal involvement in education

“what happens ‘when you get a Democratic administration, an Elizabeth Warren administration, and they decide that eligible schools … need to have anti-bullying programs and other accommodations? ‘“

Yes. Truly frightful.

Conservatives to DeVos: Be careful what you wish for on school choice – USA Today

A reminder from David Kirp: The real work of education is incremental

“The truth is that school systems improve not through flash and dazzle but by linking talented teachers, a challenging curriculum and engaged students.”

Who Needs Charters When You Have Public Schools Like These? – NY Times

A Writing Method That Deepens Knowledge: The Hochman Method

paper

What if there was a method that could not only explicitly teach students core writing skills, but simultaneously deepen their domain-specific knowledge?

Turns out there is: it’s called the Hochman method.

I’d heard about Judith Hochman’s writing method for some time, but only finally got the opportunity to attend a workshop last month. In case you haven’t heard about the Hochman writing method, you can read more about it’s impact in Peg Tyre’s 2012 article in the Atlantic, and get an overview of the method on it’s website.

In a nutshell, Hochman’s method is a systematic, explicit approach to equipping students with the ability to recognize and construct clear and complex sentences, only then moving on to constructing paragraphs, and from there to composition. The vast majority of teachers (such as myself) go straight to composition, then use generalized rubrics that provide little specific guidance on revising for grammar and mechanics.

Students are thus passed on from grade to grade with little instruction on constructing well-written, fluent, grammatically accurate sentences beyond vague comments such as, “Make sure to reread your sentences out loud to check for grammar.”

But there’s even a deeper potential impact of Hochman’s method: it reinforces content knowledge in tandem to building writing knowledge and ability.

In a former post on ideas from cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham, we explored just how critical–yet how very rare–it is to have a school-wide, systematic curriculum that reinforces knowledge coherently and sequentially across classrooms.

Furthermore, we know from research that one of the most powerful levers for building and reinforcing knowledge is “low-stakes quizzing.” When used to interleave and distribute practice across time, this is a highly effective form of transferring information into long-term memory.

Like many of the findings from the realm of cognitive science, this all sounds great in isolation, but when you try to translate it to a school and a classroom, it gets significantly more sticky, especially in a subject like ELA. Many things we cover don’t fit neatly into a multiple choice quiz.

And many teachers are highly allergic to anything that smells like a standardized test. And even when they aren’t, developing a well-designed and valid multiple choice question is surprisingly intensive.

Here’s where Hochman’s method comes in. Her method provides explicit and clear sentence construction activities that can be applied to any content and that can be used to assess comprehension of texts or topics. This sentence-level work serves the same function, in other words, that low-stakes quizzing would, while also explicitly teaching writing skills.

So imagine this: a school creates an initiative, after being trained in Hochman’s methods, to embed sentence-level activities into every text that is read in social studies, science, and ELA. These activities would serve as formative assessments of content. And once those activities for each text are developed, a resource packet is made that can be used again and again in the future, whether or not a teacher leaves the building. That’s an endeavor that could not only be high impact but furthermore sustainable.

For an example of one of Hochman’s sentence-level activities (Because, But, So), check out Doug Lemov’s post, Hochman’s ‘But, Because, So’ Sentence Expansion Activity. He also highlights Hochman’s distinction between editing and revision here.

Have you used or seen the Hochman method? Do share.

How we go about stitching the country back together

So how do you think we go about stitching the country back together?

Well, the most important thing that I’m focused on is how we create a common set of facts. That sounds kind of abstract. Another way of saying it is, how do we create a common story about where we are.

. . . It requires better civics education among our kids so that we can sort through what’s true and what’s not.

–President Barack Obama, in an interview with Rolling Stone the day after the election

Smörgåsbord: The Chaos Begins. The Work of Education Continues

What is there to say about the rude awakening that shook cosmopolitan, progressive minded Americans and the world?

Well, here’s a few positive spins on it:

  1. Trump is a chaos monkey that will assist us in building a better democracy by forcing us to re-establish the original balance of power our founders intended. (This would require the Republican party to pull up their Big Boy pants and actually govern.)
  2. The one thing that united Clinton and Trump campaigns was a commitment to investing in infrastructure — and it is the one thing Democrats are already reaching across the aisle to work on.

What does it mean for education politics and policy?

  1. Rick Hess: Who the heck knows?
  2. Chad Aldeman: NCLB will suddenly look really good to Democrats, on hindsight. And you can kiss any education related investment goodbye.
  3. Elizabeth Green: Education reformers will pivot their attention to long-neglected rural and rust-belt communities.
  4. Neerav Kingsland: Charter proponents need to recognize the populist appeal of local, traditional public schools and thus address fears that public schools will be harmed by charter expansion.
  5. Matt Barnum: If Trump actually wants to follow through on his anti-Common Core rhetoric, he’d paradoxically have to wield federal power.

What relation does this election have to knowledge or the lack thereof?

  1. Rick Kahlenberg: Civics and democratic values need to be explicitly taught. (But Andrew Rotherham and Doug Lemov are angry about the anti-choice aspect of his piece)
  2. Problems with our democracy are due to lack of knowledge. For that, we can blame schools.
  3. George Thomas: In our shift to populism, we’ve lost the educative purpose of a representative democracy as envisioned by Madison.
  4. “Trump was not elected on a platform of decency, fairness, moderation, compromise, and the rule of law; he was elected, in the main, on a platform of resentment.”
  5. An additional bonus of a knowledge-rich curriculum is that it can help kids do better on tests.
  6. Some are blaming Facebook and social media for the segregation of our attention from those who could challenge our “crony beliefs”.
  7. Three reasons to teach a knowledge-rich curriculum: cognitive, socio-cultural, and economic.

On Knowledge and Curriculum

500px-power_of_knowledge-svg

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):

  1. Knowledge needs to be “in the mind” in order for reading comprehension to be effortless, rather than a problem-solving struggle to determine meaning.
  2. 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