5. Short item: The origins and wanderings of the English language
“Lemov is wary of big ideas and educational philosophies… But he does have a philosophy, even if he wouldn’t call it that. One of its tenets is that teachers need to maximize the amount of thinking and learning going on in their classroom at any one time, and to ensure that this effort is widely distributed.”
“Here’s what the Common Core is designed to communicate: If your children are meeting the standards, it means they are believed to be on track for college and career readiness by the end of high school – real readiness, the kind that doesn’t require remediation on campus. If they aren’t meeting the standards, it means that they are off track. That doesn’t mean they are ‘failing,’ or even ‘below average.’ But it does mean they need to accelerate their progress if they are likely to be able to take bona fide college courses upon entry or have the best possible shot at a well-paying job.”
Michael Petrilli in “Not Meeting Standards: A Warning Light, Not a Death Sentence”
in The Education Gadfly, March 25, 2015 (Vol. 15, #12), http://bit.ly/1CoIici
“Using the present day as a standard, students initially judge historical actors as stupid or morally deficient, and they impute motivations without regard for contextual circumstances.”
Abby Reisman (see item #3)
“Our approach is not to roll out a lot of technology, then figure out how to use it. Our teachers use a variety of approaches, and we support them like crazy when they head in a particular direction.”
John Palfrey, head of Andover Academy, in “Elite Private Schools Tackle Ed
Tech” by Benjamin Herold in Education Week, March 25, 2015 (Vol. 34, #25, p. 1, 14-
“Will VAMs Reinforce the Walls of the Egg-Crate School?” by Susan Moore Johnson in Educational Researcher, March 2015 (Vol. 44, #2, p. 117-126), http://bit.ly/19BeJtK; Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The conventional wisdom is that teachers are on a steep learning curve in their first 3-5 years in the classroom and then plateau and stop growing, reports Stephen Sawchuk in this Education Week article. “For some reason, you hear this all the time, from all sorts of people, Bill Gates on down,” says John Papay of Brown University. But in several recent studies, Papay and other researchers have found that teachers continue to improve their ability to boost student achievement for at least the first ten years of their careers, and likely longer. Teachers’ deepening experience has other benefits as well, including improved student motivation, attendance, diligence with homework, reading habits, and behavior.
“My policy conclusion from this,” says Helen Ladd of Duke University, a co-author of one of the studies, “is that we have to help teachers grow. They have the potential. You want to get high-quality teachers in the first place and then you want to stick with them.”
“Experience Seen As a Boost for Teachers” by Stephen Sawchuk in Education Week, March 25, 2015 (Vol. 34, #25, p. 1, 10), www.edweek.org
In this article in Teachers College Record, Abby Reisman (University of Pennsylvania) reports on her study of text-based discussions in 11th-grade history classrooms. With an eye on Common Core and college-ready expectations, Reisman observed teachers as they presented meaty historical documents, got students analyzing the texts in small groups, and then led whole-class discussions in which students were asked to back up claims in response to a central historical question. Here were some of the questions that students considered:
After six months of classroom observations and careful analysis of videotapes of 100 lessons, Reisman concluded that, despite the fact the teachers were experienced and enthusiastic and were working with authentic documents on engaging topics, “disciplinary discussion was surprisingly rare, and discussion that promoted historical understanding even rarer.” In the 7,000 minutes of discussions she videotaped, Reisman found only 132 minutes that met her basic criteria:
Again and again, teachers missed opportunities to get students engaged in thoughtful, extended
discussions. All too often, the classes reverted to the time-honored pattern of recitation, lecture, and IRE (initiate, respond, evaluate).
Reisman believes that what she observed is quite common in American high schools. Why is teaching with historical documents so difficult? Adolescents, after years of textbook-driven instruction, tend to view texts as “receptacles for decontextualized historical information” and, as they get older, “as pieces of testimony that should either be accepted as truth or discarded.” The teacher’s challenge is getting students into what she calls the “historical problem space” where they can look skeptically at several texts, appreciate why people in the past acted as they did, and truly understand historical events.
When studying history, says Reisman, “the strangeness of the past butts up against the human desire to render it familiar. When the desire for familiarity pulls too strongly, one runs the risk of presentism, or the application of anachronistic, present-day standards, values, or worldviews to the past… Using the present day as a standard, students initially judge historical actors as stupid or morally deficient, and they impute motivations without regard for contextual circumstances. Limited subject matter knowledge and a political (and classroom) culture of intransigent debate also militate against student entry into the historical problem space.” Discussions are of little value when texts become “a trampoline for one’s own creative leaps or political demands” (LaCapra, 1980).
Of course students shouldn’t entirely lose historical perspective. As Sam Wineburg put it, “Trying to shed what we know in order to glimpse the ‘real’ past is like trying to examine microbes with the naked eye: The instruments we abandon are the ones that enable us to see” (2001). The middle ground, which students reach only when they are guided through close reading of well-chosen documents, is contextual historical empathy (Ashby & Lee, 1987) – they begin to understand what shaped the behaviors and worldviews of those who lived in another era. When a classroom discussion reaches this level, says Reisman, students strain “to understand the foreignness and complexity of the past.” There’s “puzzlement, wonder, and a reluctance to rush to judgment” and students’ claims “reflect the tentative nature of historical knowledge.”
In this Edutopia article, consultant Maia Heyck-Merlin (author of The Together Teacher, Jossey-Bass, 2012) suggests seven steps to help teachers organize their lives for success – and keep their sanity:
• Select a tool to plan the week. Whatever worksheet you use – a handwritten template, a typed-in template, or a digital platform – the key is putting all time commitments and to-dos in one place so they can be viewed together.
• Plan the next week before the weekend. On Thursday or Friday, spend 30-45 minutes sorting the week’s accumulated sticky notes, student work, office memos, and other stuff into piles – short-term to-dos, long-term items, meeting follow-ups, etc. – and fill out your planning template for the following week. The goal is to have next week’s worksheet totally ready by Friday afternoon so as to maximize weekend R&R.
• Set priorities for the week. These should include big-picture classroom and personal goals – boosting student attendance, improving class culture, getting students reinvested in Big Goals for math, finalizing plans for the big field trip, planning a baby shower.
• List out all your meetings and appointments. Heyck-Merlin recommends keeping one master calendar for your personal and professional lives to avoid “collisions” – items like grade-level meetings, report card nights, staff retreats, doctor’s appointments, your brother’s birthday.
• Decide how you will use discretionary time. Your sanity is definitely improved by getting the most out of prep periods, lunch, before- and after-school time, etc. – and that requires deliberate planning.
• Allow flexibility for the “hallway ambush.” There will always be unexpected requests and crises, and Heyck-Merlin recommends carrying your master calendar/list at all times (on a clipboard, in your pocket, or in a device) to make instant revisions when the unexpected happens.
• Review and adjust daily. “Things change,” she concludes. “Life happens. At the end of every school day, sit down for five minutes and cross off what you’ve accomplished, roll over what didn’t happen to another time slot, or decide to delete something you had intended to do.”
The origins and wanderings of the English language – This Vox website by Libby Nelson http://www.vox.com/2015/3/3/8053521/25-maps-that-explain-english traces the origins and spread of English with diagrams and maps. Be sure to check out the video in #22 in which Siobhan Thompson hilariously imitates all the regional accents of the British Isles.
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