→ "A veteran teacher turned coach shadows 2 students for 2 days"

In this classic, the late Grant Wiggins shares the experience of a teacher who shadowed two students for two days.

The whole thing is worth reading, but her three (related) takeaways:

Students sit all day, and sitting is exhausting.

High School students are sitting passively and listening during approximately 90% of their classes.

You feel a little bit like a nuisance all day long. I lost count of how many times we were told be quiet and pay attention. It’s normal to do so – teachers have a set amount of time and we need to use it wisely. But in shadowing, throughout the day, you start to feel sorry for the students who are told over and over again to pay attention because you understand part of what they are reacting to is sitting and listening all day.

Considering how much teachers complain when they spend a day sitting in professional development, it's unfortunate that we forget what our students endure all day every day.

We spend a lot of time in schools observing teachers, trying to quantify good teaching. But much could be learned by focusing on students and their experiences. I wonder what a student shadowing program would look like at my school, and what insights it might provide.

Teachers work hard, but I now think that conscientious students work harder. I worry about the messages we send them as they go to our classes and home to do our assigned work, and my hope is that more teachers who are able will try this shadowing and share their findings with each other and their administrations.

→ "Do schools kill creativity?"

In this old TED talk, Sir Ken Robinson discusses the impact it has on children that schools still value very narrowly defined academic skills:

And the second is academic ability, which has really come to dominate our view of intelligence, because the universities designed the system in their image. If you think of it, the whole system of public education around the world is a protracted process of university entrance. And the consequence is that many highly-talented, brilliant, creative people think they're not, because the thing they were good at at school wasn't valued, or was actually stigmatized. And I think we can't afford to go on that way...

I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth: for a particular commodity. And for the future, it won't serve us. We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we're educating our children.

How can schools adjust to value all the skills our students possess, not just those that will get them into college?

→ "Why Flunking Exams Is Actually a Good Thing"

Giving "pretests" has never been a big part of my teaching (and with Latin, there's really not much point when students are such novices). But there's research that suggests I may want to give it a try in my World History courses.

But the emerging study of pretesting flips that logic on its head. “Teaching to the test” becomes “learning to understand the pretest,” whichever one the teacher chooses to devise. The test, that is, becomes an introduction to what students should learn, rather than a final judgment on what they did not.

→ "What’s the job of teacher? The crying need for a genuine job description."

I like the late Grant Wiggin's attempt to write a genuine, outcomes-based job description for teachers:

An educator must arguably cause four things in learners:

  1. greater interest in the subject and in learning than was there before, as determined by observations, surveys, and client feedback

  2. successful learning related to key course goals, as reflected in mutually agreed-upon evidence

  3. greater confidence and feelings of efficacy as revealed by student behavior and reports (and as eventually reflected in improved results)

  4. a passion and intellectual direction in each learner

This is a great starting point, and one could add a few more points specific to teaching at a Jesuit school like mine. Importantly, Wiggins also makes clear what is not the job of the teacher.

With a genuine job description we can finally tackle a great problem in education, the common view that the job is to cover the content. No: marching page by page through a textbook (or the written curriculum) can never be your job as a teacher – ever. The textbook or curriculum is written completely independently of your goals and students; it is a generic resource that merely pulls together a comprehensive body of information and lessons in a package for use by thousands of people with varying needs all over the United States.

→ "Instead of Framing ‘Failure’ As a Positive, Why Not Just Use Positive Words?"

From KQED's Mind/Shift blog:

Failure, in education as well as general society, is a negative word. To fail means there is finality in being unable to meet standards or objectives for a task. Whereas in general society there is a dichotomy between success and failure, in education there is a spectrum. To not meet all expectations in business (except perhaps in the “fail fast” tech industry model) may be deemed a failure, and one from which to reconvene and try again, whereas in education the endeavor is not a failure but a space between full success and failure, one from which to reconvene and try again, in the spirit of effort. Failure is a foundational element of assessment in education, the letter F as important to the spectrum as the letter A.

As I'm (finally) reading Mindset, I've been thinking a lot about how to help my students be more resilient. The language used, especially around effort and what constitutes "success", is a big part of that.

→ "A good bucket brigade"

From Cory Doctorow (via Seth Godin):

A good bucket brigade allows everyone to contribute at their own pace, and the more contributors you get, the better it works.

I think I am fortunate to work with teachers who understand this. It's also important school leaders feel this way, and see themselves as part of that same bucket brigade.

→ "Teaching Kids 'Grit' is All the Rage. Here's What's Wrong With It."

Good counterpoint at New Republic to those advocating more formal "character education."

There are three major problems with the new character education. The first is that we do not know how to teach character. The second is that character-based education is untethered from any conception of morality. And lastly, this mode of education drastically constricts the overall purpose of education.

"Grit" may be important, but there's still a lot of work to be done researching how (and if) these traits can be taught.

→ "Multitask Masters"

When I call out my students for being distracted in class, the most common response is, "I'm multitasking!" I generally point out that multitasking is a myth. This article from Maria Konikova at The New Yorker gives me the science to back that up.

Strayer believes that there is a tiny but persistent subset of the population—about two per cent—whose performance does not deteriorate, and can even improve, when multiple demands are placed on their attention. The supertaskers are true outliers. According to Strayer, multitasking isn’t part of a normal distribution akin to birth weight, where even the lightest and heaviest babies fall within a relatively tight range around an average size. Instead, it is more like I.Q.: most people cluster in an average range, but there is a long tail where only a tiny fraction—single digits among thousands—will ever find themselves.

I taught about 80 students this year, so according to this study 1.6 of my students are actually capable of multitasking.

→ "The 11 Defining Features of the Summer Blockbuster"

FiveThirtyEight took my "Summer Movies" post and added actual data. Interesting read, full of pretty charts (though some charts are more enlightening than others).

On a related note, I am again running two Summer Movie Drafts, and the consensus among all involved is that this summer will be a terrible one for movies, both critically and (potentially) financially. It will be interesting to see if that ends up being true or if there are a number of surprise hits. Early returns for Amazing Spider-Man 2 aren't particularly promising...