Provocative Pieces

PERSPECTIVES + OPINIONS Doing the Right Thing An approach to educational decision making that is both ethical and data-driven

Four steps of sound educational decision-making, according to the authors of “Educational Goods: Values, Evidence and Decision-Making”
  1. Identify the main values at play. What are you trying to achieve?
  2. Identify the key decisions related to those values. What are the possible courses of action that can help you achieve those values?
  3. Assess how well actions identified in Step 2 promote the values you identified in Step 1. Look at data and social science evidence. What intel does it offer on your proposed courses of action?
  4. Identify policy that brings greatest return regarding the values identified in Step 1. What are the trade-offs to each proposal, and which trade-off is worth it?

What Giving Students Choice Looks Like in the Classroom

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Keeping in mind the prior research that proves there is such a thing as too much choice, it’s important to just look at all the possible options that teachers have who are looking to incorporate more choice in their classrooms.

Options to offer choice:

1. People to Work With. 

2. Resources to Use.

3. Driving Questions. 

4. Ways to Show Their Knowledge. 

5. Which Rubric to Be Scored On. 

6. What They Need to Work on to Improve/Learning Goals.

7. Ways to View and Record Assignments for Time Management. 

8. Scaffolds. 

9. Text Structures.

10. Choice of opinion/prompts, etc. 

11. Seating. 

12. Deadlines. 

To Learn, Students Need to DO Something

In between the direct instruction step and the assessment step of your planning, start adding in some of these activities:

1. SORTING

Organize the material by similarities and differences, categorize it, label it, do something that requires students to activate schema and create connections. An inductive learning lesson would be great for this.

2. KINESTHETIC WORK

Doing short role-plays and simulations can really help students visualize relationships and processes. This can also be done by creating models with Play-Doh or cardboard, or doing some kind of a maker project that connects to your standard.

3. DISCUSSION

Even giving students a few minutes to discuss a topic—especially if they are taking some kind of a stance on the content and backing it up with evidence—can do so much to help them process and learn the content. But make sure all students are participating! Check out this big list of discussion strategies for tons of ideas.

4. GRAPHIC REPRESENTATIONS

Having students put the material into any kind of visual form will help them remember it better and understand how concepts are related. Graphic organizers and sketchnotes are two ways to accomplish this. Students can do these on their own or they can be constructed as a class with your support—for especially challenging concepts, this may be most effective.

5. WRITE TO LEARN

When students process ideas in writing, they are forced to synthesize the information that has only entered their brains passively, so stopping instruction every now and then to have students write short summaries or give their opinions on the things they’re learning is a really effective, efficient way to cement their learning. This video from the Teaching Channel shows just how simple this can be to implement.

6. MINI-PROJECTS

For learning to be active, it doesn’t have to be a super complicated, long-term project. Students can do mini-projects that take just a day or two. This poster project, where students have to rank leaders of early America, then back up their choices with evidence, is a perfect example of a project that could be done in a short period of time.

7. ANTICIPATION GUIDES

Anticipation guides are simple forms where students state their opinions on key statements before a learning activity. This primes them for the learning that is about to come. Once the direct instruction is done, they revisit the guides to see if their opinions have changed. This would be a really simple way to boost engagement and give students a bigger stake in a lesson.

8. QUALITY NOTE-TAKING

Although students seem to be taking a lot of “notes” in class, it’s not clear that this is being done in a way that results in high-quality learning. If your classroom practices are aligned with the research on note-taking, this activity can be a powerful processing tool.

9. RETRIEVAL PRACTICE

Asking students to recall information is a great way to help them learn it better, but I’m not exactly talking about the kind of recall they do on worksheets. Whether it’s stuff that just needs to be memorized or concepts that require more complex processing, building periods of retrieval practice into your instruction will boost learning.

BONUS: COLLABORATION

Most of these activities would be enhanced by some kind of collaboration: Have students share their write-to-learn responses with a partner. Do sorting tasks with small groups. Any time they work together, they’re engaging with the content in a different way, which introduces more novelty and more opportunities to process it differently.

 

This is not an exact science, and no teacher designs instruction perfectly all the time. But if you’re not getting the results you want, try to do more of this: When planning your lessons, ask yourself if students are doing anything with the material, or if you’re just setting things up so it’s information in, information out. If it’s the latter, start adding in ways to have students engage with the stuff they’re learning. There are a lot of different ways to do it. Even though it adds a little bit more time, you’re going to see such big benefits. Not only are your students going to learn better, you will all—both your students and you—like coming to school a whole lot more. ♦

Getting People Talking When Working in Rural Africa

  1. Use appreciative inquiry. In every community some things have worked well. It is therefore important for facilitators to appreciate and build on what is already working. In this way people are encouraged and feel ownership of the new initiative. People will talk about what is working and feel pride in it – start there. Resistance will be minimized, and next steps may be relatively easy to imagine.

 

To Raise Confident, Independent Kids, Some Parents Are Trying To ‘Let Grow’

 

Koerner says with Let Grow, kids discover skills and abilities they didn’t know they had. And they also discover what it’s like to fail. While on the surface might not sound all that appealing, failure is how kids learn how to overcome obstacles, try out new ideas, and become resilient. It’s also how adults learn as well — ask any CEO.)

“If we don’t offer them these opportunities to communicate, to collaborate, to problem-solve, then how can they be successful in a global society?” Koerner asks.

According to psychologists, that’s an important question. Dr. Peter Gray, research professor at Boston College who focuses on child play, says that erring on the side of caution isn’t helping children. By trying to give kids a leg up, scheduling every free minute with karate or Little League or music lessons, parents are in fact doing them enormous harm.

Gray says that over the past 50 years, as we’ve seen a decline in children’s freedom, we’ve seen an increase in responses on standardized questionnaires that indicate both depression and anxiety disorders. Specifically, an eight-fold increase on depression, and five-to-ten-fold increase on generalized anxiety disorder. Gray notes that this is just a correlation, and he’s looked at many possible explanations.

“It doesn’t correlate with economic cycles, wars, or divorce rates. But it correlates very well with the decline of children’s freedom to play.”

 

Why Stepping Back Can Empower Kids In An Anxious World

Rates of anxiety and depression among teens in the U.S. have been rising for years. According to one study, nearly one in three adolescents (ages 13-18) now meets the criteria for an anxiety disorder, and in the latest results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 32 percent of teens reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness.

And there’s more bad news, grown-ups: The authors of two new parenting books believe you’re part of the problem.

“Kids are play-deprived nowadays,” says Katherine Reynolds Lewis, a journalist, parent, parent-educator and the author of one of those two new books, The Good News About Bad Behavior. And by “play” she means play without screens or adults keeping watch.

 

What Makes a Good School Culture?

 

At a recent session of the National Institute for Urban School Leaders at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Bridwell-Mitchell took a deep dive into “culture,” describing the building blocks of an organization’s character and fundamentally how it feels to work there.

Culture Is Connections

A culture will be strong or weak depending on the interactions between the people in the organization, she said. In a strong culture, there are many, overlapping, and cohesive interactions among all members of the organization.  As a result, knowledge about the organization’s distinctive character — and what it takes to thrive in it — is widely spread and reinforced. In a weak culture, sparse interactions make it difficult for people to learn the organization’s culture, so its character is barely noticeable and the commitment to it is scarce or sporadic.

  • Beliefs, values, and actions will spread the farthest and be tightly reinforced when everyone is communicating with everyone else. In a strong school culture, leaders communicate directly with teachers, administrators, counselors, and families, who also all communicate directly with each other.
  • A culture is weaker when communications are limited and there are fewer connections. For example, if certain teachers never hear directly from their principal, an administrator is continually excluded from communications, or any groups of staff members are operating in isolation from others, it will be difficult for messages about shared beliefs and commitments to spread.

Culture Is Core Beliefs and Behaviors

Within that weak or strong structure, what exactly people believe and how they act depends on the messages — both direct and indirect — that the leaders and others in the organization send. A good culture arises from messages that promote traits like collaboration, honesty and hard work.

Culture is shaped by five interwoven elements, each of which principals have the power to influence: 

  1. Fundamental beliefs and assumptions, or the things that people at your school consider to be true. For example: “All students have the potential to succeed,” or “Teaching is a team sport.”
  2. Shared values, or the judgments people at your school make about those belief and assumptions — whether they are right or wrong, good or bad, just or unjust. For example: “It’s wrong that some of our kindergarteners may not receive the same opportunity to graduate from a four-year college,” or “The right thing is for our teachers to be collaborating with colleagues every step of the way.”
  3. Norms, or how members believe they should act and behave, or what they think is expected of them. For example: “We should talk often and early to parents of young students about what it will take for their children to attend college.” “We all should be present and engaged at our weekly grade-level meetings.”
  4. Patterns and behaviors, or the way people actually act and behave in your school. For example: There are regularly-scheduled parent engagement nights around college; there is active participation at weekly team curriculum meetings. (But in a weak culture, these patterns and behaviors can be different than the norms.)
  5. Tangible evidence, or the physical, visual, auditory, or other sensory signs that demonstrate the behaviors of the people in your school. For example: Prominently displayed posters showcasing the district’s college enrollment, or a full parking lot an hour before school begins on the mornings when curriculum teams meet.

Each of these components influences and drives the others, forming a circle of reinforcing beliefs and actions, Bridwell-Mitchell says; strong connections among every member of the school community reinforce the circle at every point.

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