In This Issue:
1. Can deadlines spur better work?
2. Helping students feel valued and respected in the classroom
3. What to say when students shine
4. The role of gossip among students – and adults
5. A different structure for Socratic seminars
6. Fair, effective group work
7. Texting preschool parents: what is the Goldilocks frequency?
8. Reflections on teaching U.S. history
9. Recommended children’s books related to the Tokyo Olympics
10. Brief videos on civics
11. Short item: Media bias chart
Quotes of the Week
“My relationship to deadlines, like that of almost everyone I know, is full of contradictions. I crave them and avoid them, depend on them and resent them.”
Rachel Syme (see item #1)
“This is a fight over how to explain American history, society, and culture to all our children, whom we are counting on to be morally committed to protecting, defending, and perfecting it as adults.”
Robert Pondiscio in “No, School Choice Is Not the Answer to Critical Race Theory”
in American Enterprise Institute Ideas, July 2, 2021 and Education Gadfly, July 8, 2021
“In middle school I learned how to solve for the hypotenuse and identify properties of an atom, but the most enduring skill I picked up was how to gossip.”
Kristen Radtke (see item #2)
“Social media platforms reward our meanest, least empathetic selves and push us toward extreme positions.”
Kristen Radtke (ibid.)
“One giant step to building esteem in our learning spaces would be to reduce the emphasis we place on right answers. When students feel they should know the answers from the onset of a lesson, they engage in efforts that do not promote building their knowledge (an esteem booster) but rather, reinforce a feeling of incompetence (an esteem buster).”
Connie Hamilton (see item #2)
1. Can Deadlines Spur Better Work?
In this New Yorker article, Rachel Syme says that action-forcing deadlines “add both structure and suspense to our lives” – things like bills, tooth cleanings, tax returns. “My relationship to deadlines,” she says, “like that of almost everyone I know, is full of contradictions. I crave them and avoid them, depend on them and resent them.” Syme confesses that she’s a chronic procrastinator, waiting until the last minute and counting on adrenaline and caffeine to get things done on time.
Experts disagree on whether looming deadlines lead to better work; those who wait until the last minute may not leave enough time to produce a high-quality product. One magazine editor tried giving writers a fierce, non-negotiable deadline that was in fact a week before articles were actually needed. This worked quite well, with writers getting serious a few days earlier than usual and articles coming in by the real deadline. The trick was getting people to work like it was the last minute before the last minute.
“If you’re the kind of person who sets the kitchen clock ten minutes fast and still shows up late for dinner reservations, you may doubt the efficacy of this approach,” says Syme. One way to deal with that is to make a group of people responsible for finishing something on time, motivating everyone to do their best work and not let the team down. “In this all-for-one-and-one-for-all scenario,” says Syme, “deadlines aren’t just tools for individual achievement – they’re levers of collective accountability.” An analogy in restaurants and stores is the “soft opening” – launching (or restarting) for friends and family to make sure everything is working smoothly a few days before welcoming the public. Soft deadlines can engender focus, urgency, and collegiality – versus rashness, desperation, and sloppy work.
One danger of deadlines, Syme concludes, is being so focused on finishing a task on time that we don’t look up and see the bigger picture. “Life is one long soft opening,” she says. “We might as well experiment, stumble, fail, and sometimes not even finish… Maybe the thing we’re trying not to look at is the ultimate deadline – the only one that matters, the one that’s coming for us all.”
“Clock’s Ticking” by Rachel Syme in The New Yorker, July 5, 2021, reviewing The Deadline Effect by Christopher Cox.
2. Helping Students Feel Valued and Respected in the Classroom
In this Cult of Pedagogy article, instructional coach/author Connie Hamilton says that early in her teaching career, she had an “amateur diagnosis” of her students’ attention-seeking behaviors. She was correct that students’ ridiculous, disruptive actions showed a need for affirmation and prestige with peers. “However,” she says, “what I missed completely is how and why esteem needs cause students to act in ways that defy what they know is right, to ignore their own strengths and accomplishments, and to restrict their success as a learner.” In the fourth level of Maslow’s hierarchy – esteem – she’s found what she was missing. “If we can better understand how this tier works,” says Hamilton, “we can help our students satisfy their esteem needs in healthy and beneficial ways.”
Esteem is in the first four tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy – physiological, safety, love/belonging, and esteem – all of which are deficiency needs: that is, when people are deprived of them, they can’t concentrate or function at higher levels.
Tier 5, self-actualization, is a growth need: the energy that is presented as anxiety when seeking to meet the four lower levels converts to actions to improve oneself at the top level.
- Tier 1 – Physiological: food, water, shelter, warmth, sleep, clothing; students lacking these basics are not open to learning.
- Tier 2 – Safety: personal security, freedom from fear, health, stability, order; the pandemic deprived many families of these key elements; the return of regular school routines will be helpful.
- Tier 3 – Love and belonging: beyond their families, students can get these needs met at school: the homeroom, friendship groups, clubs, sports teams, and a climate of caring and compassion.
- Tier 4 – Esteem: there are two types: self-esteem – dignity, achievement, mastery, success, positive self-regard; and esteem from others – status, prestige, popularity, reputation, respect from others.
“The need to be respected by others plays a direct role in students’ willingness to take risks in the classroom,” says Hamilton. “If students’ status is vulnerable, they are less likely to engage in activities that will prevent their esteem needs from being met.” Telling students not to worry about what others think of them is ineffective; kids can’t respect themselves if they don’t feel respected by others.
Trying to meet students’ esteem needs with phony praise and participation trophies doesn’t work, says Hamilton. Educators must orchestrate “authentic experiences of knowledge, competence, independence, recognition, and confidence.” Challenge and rigor are essential, as is supporting students through failures and frustrations to genuine accomplishments. That’s how real esteem is built. “One giant step to building esteem in our learning spaces would be to reduce the emphasis we place on right answers,” she says. “When students feel they should know the answers from the onset of a lesson, they engage in efforts that do not promote building their knowledge (an esteem booster) but rather, reinforce a feeling of incompetence (an esteem buster).”
Hamilton suggests three esteem-building strategies that she believes are effective at heading off a lot of disruptive, attention-seeking behavior:
• Give students an “out” up front. Encouraging students to be tentative as they answer challenging questions actually builds confidence. Students might use lines like these:
• Watch for opportunities to elevate a student’s status. Call attention to contributions students make in class, narrating the positive. Some examples:
- I might change my mind later, but right now here’s what I’m thinking…
- I know it’s not --- because ---
- It’s either ---, ---, or ---
- I’m 80% sure.
- I’m only 20% certain.
And here are some ways to solicit peer esteem-builders:
- Look at how many people are nodding their heads in agreement.
- It seems your classmates appreciate that you asked that question.
- I noticed Skyler took Alexandra’s idea and built on it.
• Support positive peer interactions. Classroom culture is a key to individual students’ esteem, says Hamilton. Some teacher moves:
- How did Jordan’s explanation help you understand?
- Who do you want to honor today?
- Take a moment to show gratitude to Stella for…
- How many of you had the same thought as Jay?
- Establish a compliment board.
- Promote affirmations.
- Praise publicly and encourage students to do so as well.
- Set expectations for acceptance and compassion.
- Provide prompts for students to give credit to their classmates.
- Choose partners and groups based on a variety of strengths so everyone can shine.
“The Importance of Maslow’s Fourth Tier” by Connie Hamilton in Cult of Pedagogy, July 11, 2021; Hamilton’s book is Hacking Questions (Times 10, 2019).
3. What to Say When Students Shine
In this Edutopia article, teacher/author Tarn Wilson says she began having second thoughts about saying “I’m proud of you” when her high-school students shared a personal triumph – making a team, doing well on a test, getting their driver’s license. Why not express pride? Because it shifts attention from what the student did to the teacher’s approval – and also tends to truncate the interaction. “I wanted my students to spend more time basking in their accomplishments and taking ownership for their successes,” says Wilson. Over time, she developed these different reactions:
• I’m so happy for you. Tell me more. “This strategy allows students to relive the moment and magnify their happiness through sharing,” says Wilson. It also lets them decide which details to share.
• Wow, you must feel so proud. “Although naming students’ emotions sounds as if it might shut down conversations, it generally has the opposite effect,” says Wilson. “…Offering them some language can be a powerful opening.” Then it’s important to pause and give the student time to confirm, elaborate, modify, or correct the teacher’s surmise.
• Fantastic! What did you do to make that happen? This prompts students to articulate the choices and behaviors that led to a success. Students who are not self-aware may need some prompting to name the study habits, collaboration with peers, and other factors that worked for them.
• I appreciate… I admire… Following this lead-off phrase with specific actions the student has taken is different from saying I’m proud of you; it conveys the message that pleasing the teacher is not the name of the game; it’s all about the student’s growth and development.
Wilson says there are moments when she can’t resist saying she’s proud of what a class has achieved, and there are students whose self-esteem is so low that hearing teachers express pride can make them feel “seen, valued, and supported.” But most of the time, she believes the teacher should not become the center of attention – the one bestowing approval. “Instead,” she concludes, “our feedback should be used as a tool to cultivate in our students a healthy self-awareness and self-trust.”
“What to Say Instead of ‘I’m Proud of You’” by Tarn Wilson in Edutopia, June 22, 2021
4. The Role of Gossip Among Students – and Adults
In this New York Times Magazine article, author Kristen Radtke says that in her Catholic middle school, “I learned how to solve for the hypotenuse and identify properties of an atom, but the most enduring skill I picked up was how to gossip.” One of her eighth-grade teachers had no tolerance for the chit-chat and quoted Proverbs: “A whisperer separates close friends.” As a result, Radtke “burned with shame over my recess gossip, fearing that eternal flames awaited me if I didn’t stop.”
Nevertheless, she and her friends continued, and looking back, she understands why: “We were trying to understand things about ourselves, and the tiny world we inhabited, the only way we knew how: by observing one another and making sense of those observations together.” Students found another passage in Proverbs that seemed more relevant: “The words of a whisperer are delicious morsels.”
Radtke has concluded that gossip is simultaneously petty, enjoyable, and an important bond among friends. During her adolescence, it was about “currying favor, remaining on the inside of a group as a pimply teen terrified of being pushed outside.” As a young professional in New York City, there was a similar dynamic. She and her best friend texted each other with tidbits about their colleagues. Her friend felt guilty, saying, “It’s like candy. If you eat too much, you feel a little gross.” But they continued to be fascinated with details of other people’s lives, rationalizing that their chatter wasn’t the same as indiscriminately passing along important secrets. “That doesn’t mean gossip is ever moral or fair or even true,” says Radtke; “it’s just that it can also be an enormous amount of fun.”
The Internet has complicated things, she continues, making it easy to communicate to a wider audience with fewer filters. “Social media platforms reward our meanest, least empathetic selves and push us toward extreme positions,” says Radtke. “In this context, the benign exaggerations of gossip can morph into catastrophic untruths. The Internet also obliterates the privacy of a personal network, undermining in-person gossip’s primary pleasure: in disclosing something to someone one on one, you’re also saying that you trust them.”
“Gossip” by Kristen Radtke in The New York Times Magazine, July 4, 2021
5. A Different Structure for Socratic Seminars
(Originally titled “Socratics, Remixed”)
In this article in Educational Leadership, veteran high-school teacher Henry Seton says that Socratic seminars “frequently fall flat.” Among the reasons: students don’t prepare; discussions lack rigor, go off on tangents, or end in awkward silences; teachers do too much talking; and complex protocols over-manage discussions or don’t provide enough scaffolding. Seton has developed a “remix” of the Socratic seminar that he believes provides the right balance of structure, rigor, skill-building, and joy. He usually uses it in the second half of the year, after students have been schooled in close reading and discussion skills. He departs from it if students are “infectiously and insatiably engaged by a text.” Here’s Seton’s revised Socratic model for a one-hour class:
• Pre-work – Students read an assigned text, perhaps a chapter in a novel or a selection of poems (an example: Act 2, scene 1 of August Wilson’s play, Gem of the Ocean).
• Warm-up (10 minutes) – Students silently read a student’s exit ticket from the previous day and write about what was on target and what needs improvement. The teacher then cold-calls students to share their thoughts, zeroing in on the most important skill. Later in the school year, the teacher might ask students to compare two students’ exit tickets and work on rewriting the weaker of the two.
• Discussion (30 minutes) – Students sit in one, two, or three circles, decide within each group on the most important passages in the homework text, read them closely, and connect them to larger themes. The teacher sits on the outside, taking notes and intervening only to get a group back on track. At the end of this segment, students debrief, guided by the teacher at first, highlighting the most effective discussion skills. (When this version of the Socratic seminar is first launched, the teacher explains the format, reviews key discussion skills, and introduces students to the important skill of identifying the passages most worthy of discussion, one of which will be the focus of that day’s exit ticket.)
• Exit ticket (20 minutes) – The teacher chooses one passage from the homework text and students write a page in which they identify, contextualize, and analyze it, making connections to larger themes. The teacher circulates and coaches writing skills and content, looking for students to identify who is talking to whom, what is happening in the passage, and how this passage sheds light on the text as a whole.
• Assessing and grading – Seton recommends an occasional reading quiz, daily in-class homework checks, keeping track of how much each student participates for a “small classroom grade” every few days, bonus points for guessing that day’s exit ticket passage (his students find this a delightful game), a quick grade or comment on exit tickets (perhaps only once a week), and a multi-day paper as the culminating unit assessment, using a longer passage-identification challenge.
“This revised lesson structure is simple,” says Seton, “but its elements work together powerfully,” integrating what he calls the “holy trinity of literacy skills: reading, writing, and discussing.” Not knowing which passage will be picked for the exit ticket, students are engaged in a high-level guessing game for most of the class period. When they work on their exit ticket, students use notes they took in the earlier segments and draw on what they learned from the discussion.
“While students are initially intimidated by the pop quiz awaiting them at the end of each lesson,” says Seton, “most quickly become fans.” In interviews with several former 10th grade students, he found they remembered this kind of Socratic seminar fondly; they appreciated the “themed potluck” contributions that classmates made during discussions, feeling more independent (like a college student), and the “treasure hunt” for meaning.
“Socratics, Remixed” by Henry Seton in Educational Leadership, July 2021 (Vol. 78, #9, pp. 50-54); Seton can be reached at email@example.com.
6. Fair, Effective Group Work
(Originally titled “Planning for Fair Group Work”)
In this article in Educational Leadership, Amir Rasooli (Queen’s University, Canada) and Susan Brookhart (Duquesne University) say that getting students working in groups can be a positive classroom strategy, but it’s often implemented in unproductive ways. To avoid this, Rasooli and Brookhart suggest the following principles:
• Be clear about why students are working in groups. There are four ways that collaborative work can contribute to positive academic and social-emotional outcomes:
These can be assessed at the individual and group level (more on that below).
- Each student learns the intended content and skills;
- Each student learns how to work effectively with groupmates;
- Each group’s work product meets standards for quality work;
- Students learn to function well as a group.
• Group students heterogeneously, with choice if possible. Rasooli and Brookhart say it’s important for collaborative student groups to have a mix of achievement levels and backgrounds. But there’s something to be said for students having input on which group they join and the role they’ll play in the group’s work; these increase student ownership and may result in better group dynamics and learning results.
• Establish norms to ensure equitable participation. If some group members are slacking off, others will bear an unfair burden and might refuse to apply themselves. Rasooli and Brookhart suggest establishing several understandings up front.
Expectations like these should get all members contributing to their fullest.
- Respect all group members.
- Include everyone in the group’s work.
- Recognize and appreciate that different ways of thinking, working, and behaving can support successful group work.
- Ask that everyone contribute as much as they would like others to contribute.
• Maximize students’ contributions via seating formats and artfully designed tasks. Having each group sit in a circle helps elicit equitable contributions (four students seems to be the best size), and tasks should be orchestrated to get everyone working hard (not too simple and not too complex). Positive interdependence is the goal.
• Separately assess individual learning and group collaboration. Rasooli and Brookhart say the research is clear that group grading is not a good idea: it encourages free-loading, unfairly boosts the grades of students who are not contributing, and lowers the grades of the high achievers who are doing a disproportionate share of the work. The best approach is holding students individually accountable for learning outcomes, with “softer” assessments of group dynamics. It’s definitely important to gather data and give feedback on how well students are working together (from teacher observation and student self-reports), but those assessments are separate from students’ academic grades.
Rasooli and Brookhart give an example of a high-school group project that meets these criteria. It’s on the impact of World War I on the social, cultural, and economic conditions of one region of North America:
- Each group of four students decides which region to investigate and how the work will be divvied up.
- Students draw on multiple sources and collaborate to integrate their findings.
- The teacher shares a rubric that will be used to grade what students produce.
- Each group presents its conclusions in a poster.
- Posters are displayed in a gallery walk, and classmates and the teacher provide feedback on each one.
- Students self-assess how well their group worked together.
- Students write individual essays on the impact of World War I on the social, cultural, and economic conditions of a region of their choice in North America.
- The teacher gives feedback on each essay and assigns grades.
“Planning for Fair Group Work” by Amir Rasooli and Susan Brookhart in Educational Leadership, July 2021 (Vol. 78, #9, pp. 44-49); the authors can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
7. Texting Preschool Parents: What Is the Goldilocks Frequency?
In this Education Gadfly article, Jeremy Smith reports on a paper published in Education Finance and Policy investigating the efficacy of texting preschool parents with reminders and literacy suggestions. The researchers studied three different models (delivered in English and Spanish):
The texts included letter recognition, letter sound awareness, beginning sound awareness, rhymes, children writing their names, story comprehension, vocabulary development, and parent-child book reading routines.. The complexity of the texts increased during the school year, with some topics reintroduced for reinforcement. The suggested activities were geared to family routines such as mealtimes.
- A text message sent every Wednesday.
- Three texts a week.
- Five texts a week, one for each school day.
The researchers used three measures to find the best frequency: assessments of students’ literacy levels, parent surveys, and the rate at which parents opted out of the texting program. Three times a week came through as the strongest model, striking the right balance between too much and not enough information. It may also have done best because it had a balance of actionable tips, general information, and encouragement.
“Texting Parents Helps Improve Student Literacy. But How Much Is Too Much?” by Jeremy Smith in Education Gadfly, July 8, 2021; the full study is “Too Little or Too Much? Actionable Advice in an Early-Childhood Text Messaging Experiment” by Kalena Cortes, Hans Fricke, Susanna Loeb, David Song, and Benjamin York in Education Finance and Policy, April 2021 (Vol. 16, #2, pp. 209-232); Cortes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
8. Reflections on Teaching U.S. History
In this Education Gadfly article, Georgia teacher José Gregory (who participated in the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s analysis of state standards for U.S. history) shares his takeaways from almost two decades teaching high-school history:
• Students need more time on task. Gregory advocates a foundational survey year at the elementary level, followed by a high-school course more focused on conceptual understandings and sophisticated historical thinking.
• Chronological reasoning and thematic connections can co-exist. Students must know the sequence of events and basic cause-and-effect relationships, but teachers should also make connections across and within periods – for example, the changing role of government in society.
• Breadth and depth aren’t mutually exclusive. In too many classrooms the curriculum is a mile wide and an inch deep. Solid content standards are important, and Gregory suggests going deeper on a few well-chosen turning points – for example, the Civil War.
• Content and thinking skills are two sides of the coin. “In fact,” says Gregory, “I’m not sure it’s possible to have a good lesson plan if both of these things aren’t included.”
• Students need to be exposed to diverse perspectives, but… “By definition, the past is what happened,” says Gregory, “while history is our interpretation.” The standard for inclusion in the curriculum is solid historical evidence.
“5 Things I’ve Learned from Teaching U.S. History to High Schoolers” by José Gregory in Education Gadfly, July 2, 2021; Gregory can be reached at email@example.com.
9. Recommended Children’s Books Related to the Tokyo Olympics
This School Library Journal feature suggests books for students who will be following the Summer Olympics:
- She Persisted in Sports: American Olympians Who Changed the Game by Chelsea Clinton, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger, PreK-Grade 3
- Sakamoto’s Swim Club: How a Teacher Led an Unlikely Team to Victory by Julie Abery, illustrated by Chris Sasaki, K-Grade 3
- Simone Biles: Making the Case for the Greatest of All Time by Susan Blackaby, Grade 4-7
- Proud: Living My American Dream by Ibtihaj Muhammad, Grade 6 and up
- Black Power Salute: How a Photograph Captured a Political Protest by Danielle Smith-Llera, Grade 5-8
- The Mystery of the Masked Medalist by Maia Shibutani, Alex Shibutani, and Michelle Schusterman, illustrated by Yaoyao Ma Van As, Grade 3-6
- Every Reason We Shouldn’t by Sara Fujimura, Grade 7 and up
- Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean, Grade 8 and up
- Dive! by Eto Mori, illustrated by Ruzuru Akashiba, Grade 8 and up
“Fun and Games: Capitalize on Olympics Enthusiasm with These Titles” in School Library Journal, July 2021 (Vol. 67, #7, p. 13)
10. Brief Videos on Civics
This series of ten 4-5-minute videos from We the People by Chris Nee, Kenya Burns, Barack Obama, and Michelle Obama covers these topics:
Here’s a trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3IRW4zH18A
- Active Citizenship
- Bill of Rights
- Three Branches of Government
- First Amendment
- Federal and State Power
- The Courts
- We the People
- The Miracle of Morning
“We the People” on Netflix by Chris Nee, Kenya Burns, Barack Obama, and Michelle Obama, Netflix, 2021
11. Short Items:
Media Bias Chart – In this article in School Library Journal, Texas educator Maggie Knapp gives a very positive review of the Ad Fontes Media Bias Chart, highlighting the features of the free and professional versions. The SUMMA curriculum allows teachers to adjust lessons on media sources to students’ levels and the time available, focusing on news sources’ language, political position, headlines, and graphics.
“Media Bias Chart” by Maggie Knapp in School Library Journal, July 2021 (Vol. 67, #7, p. 37)
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