COVID19 at Mark’s Text Terminal

May 28 2020–But Revised Regularly

We’re now eleven weeks into the global disruption the coronavirus has caused. According to UNESCO, 91 percent of students worldwide currently are out of school because of various social-distancing and and shelter-in-place mandates. Governor Phil Scott of Vermont, whence I write, closed schools for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. 31 states have closed schools for the remainder of this academic year. As I write this, some schools, and a number of colleges, have suggested that they may not reopen in the fall, or at least not reopen for face-to-face classes.

As a one-year contract employee who had already announced his attention not to return to the school district in which I was employed, I lost my job when the schools in Vermont closed in mid-March. I plan to continue to work in education. But for now, like everyone else, I await the outcome and possible conclusion of the public health catastrophe we currently endure. It happens, therefore, that I suddenly have some free time on my hands. As a teacher, I sought to be of some use to the communities I served. Now as a blogger with some free time, I hope to be of some use to those parents who have students at home.

Mark’s Text Terminal will ramp up production. I plan to use my free time to publish material already in my data warehouse, but also to develop some new documents, especially on English usage, some short literacy exercises based on Barbara Ann Kipfer’s great book The Order of Things, and cross-disciplinary worksheets based on Judith Hochman and Natalie Wexler’s excellent framework from The Writing Revolution.

I taught under my special education license in New York City for 16 years, so you will find that the material offered on this blog contains a lot of language about that city, and even particular places in the Five Boroughs, the better to call up and build upon prior knowledge I could be relatively confident my students possessed. For more about using worksheets from Mark’s Text Terminal, see the “About Posts & Texts” page just above the banner photograph. Here are a set of users’ manuals for the most commonly posted materials on this blog. As below, you may email me with any questions you might have about the material posted on this website. Nota bene, please, that most of what I post here is in Microsoft Word: that means it is easily exportable to other word processing programs, as well as adaptable to your students, children, and circumstances. I wrote most of the material found on this blog for struggling high school students. Most of it can  be easily modified for a wide range of abilities in students.

I’ve opened a Twitter account in an attempt to make material–especially new material–more readily available. I try to remember to tag everything I post on Twitter with #freeopensourcecurriculum, which I contrived for a simple form or organizing my material there. I’ll be revising posts to make them more easily searchable, and I’ll add more extensive, and new, explanations to the “About Posts & Texts” page.

To help your students and children understand the president’s response to this crisis, here is a lesson plan on personality disorders. To understand the biology of COVID19, here are a reading and comprehension worksheet on viruses. Here is a short Cultural Literacy worksheet on the concept of a pandemic (and don’t forget to tell your children or students–or both, in these circumstances–that the Greek word root pan means all and everything–though in Latin, I must point out, the same root means bread). Since our current circumstances are regularly likened to it, here is a reading and comprehension worksheet on the influenza epidemic of 1918. Here is a lesson plan on using the 2020 United States census as a teachable moment.

You will notice that the basic structure of this blog alternates posts between a set of documents and a quote of some kind. Over time, I have begun to develop these quotes–especially those tagged as readings and research–as assignments themselves. Many of these passages are linked to readings outside of Mark’s Text Terminal. If you want to use these posts for learning, here is a worksheet template with an extensive list of questions to drive inquiry in them. For more on this, see the About Posts & Texts and Taxonomies pages.

As this crisis deepens, and I read accounts of parents struggling to sustain their children’s education, it becomes clear to me that I should post some material on teaching practice. For now, keep this in mind: all teaching and learning starts with a question. So, here, to begin, is a a taxonomy of questions from Roland C. Christensen, David A. Garvin, and Ann Sweet’s (eds.) Education for Judgment: The Artistry of Discussion Leadership. (Cambridge: Harvard Business School Press, 1991). Here is a list of question stems to start discussion and essays. I don’t remember where I got this list of 17 Teaching Tips, but it is solid stuff and easy enough to use with whatever you’re doing at home with your kids. I’m starting work on a review essay on the contents of my planning book that I hope will provide parents with some basic grounding in pedagogical theory.  For my money, the best framework for instructional planning out there (because it is based firmly upon the principles in the National Research Council’s book How People Learn) is Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe’s concise yet exhaustive Understanding by Design. I’ve used it to guide my own planning since I discovered it. Here is a trove of documents from the pages of that book, as well as a couple of assessments from the pages of Integrating Differentiated Instruction and Understanding by Design: Connecting Content and Kids by Mr. McTighe and Carol Ann Tomlinson. I used the Understanding by Design framework to write this list of adapted essential questions for the struggling students I have served in social studies and English language arts classes in New York City. This table of structured activities from Janet L Kolodner’s article “Case Based Reasoning” in The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), might help to focus home learning for the best retention. Finally, to get a sense of your child’s cognitive style, you might find useful this cognitive styles table from Daniel Willingham’s book Why Don’t Students Like School?  (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009). I look to Professor Willingham’s work when I need guidance on the best instructional design for any learner, but particularly the struggling learners whom I have served throughout my career. If you want more on this, I wrote this review essay with all these documents embedded in a few paragraphs about teaching and learning.

One organization worth following is TeachRock, which has developed, in a very short time, a great deal of  high-interest material. TeachRock is on Twitter , and you can sign up for its mailing list at its homepage. Highly recommended. Recently, the author of The Historical Diaries blog left her approval here in the form of liking some of my posts. Her own blog is literate and stylish, and mines history for obscure but compelling facts. It is definitely worth a look; I’ll soon publish a worksheet template here that could be used with posts on The Historical Diaries, as well as my own posts tagged with readings and research.

Your kids, especially if they are younger, would all but certainly benefit from listening to Vermont Public Radio’s (I’ve listened to public radio stations across the country, and VPR is the best of them, I think) podcast “But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids.”

If you have any questions, or if there is something you and your students need, please leave a comment on any post with your email address. I vet all comments before they appear on the site, so you won’t be exposing your email address to the open internet. I’ll take your address, delete your comment, and get back to you. If you need something I don’t already have (I have volumes of material to publish), I can probably write something for you.

Finally, and I hope not crassly, I started a Go Fund Me campaign last fall, long before COVID19 disrupted our lives. Please rest assured that the material I publish here has been, is, and always will be free of charge; moreover, I will continue, if I am able, to pay the WordPress premium fee that keeps this site free of the clutter of advertisements. However, I am, in fact, unemployed. I need to be smart about keeping myself in food, shelter, and medicine. I am demonstrably bad about selling myself or asking for assistance. Nonetheless, I do ask now.

I offer tutoring, writing, and editing services. Please contact me at the email address above for services, rates, and procedures.

That’s it. I wish you safety and good health.

Mark

Term of Art: Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: A concept introduced into sociology by Robert Merton (see his Social Theory and Social Structure, 1957), and allied to William Isaac Thomas’s earlier and famous theorem that ‘when people define situations as real, they become real in their consequences.’ Merton suggests the self-fulfilling prophecy is an important and basic process in society, arguing that ‘in the beginning, a false definition of the situation evokes a new behavior which makes the original false conception come true. [It] perpetuates a reign of error.’

Excerpted from: Marshall, Gordon, ed. Oxford Dictionary of Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Lend-Lease Act

If ever this country needed creative, innovative thinking to solve complex problems, it is now. Unfortunately (I was going to say arguably, and perhaps it is arguable, though I personally don’t see how), our nation has devolved into an Idiocracy, so the feature film of that name, once a comedy, is now a documentary.

However, if you’d like your students to learn to think flexibly and imaginatively, perhaps this reading on the Lend-Lease Act will serve as an example of such cognition. Here is the vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet that accompanies it.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Rotten Rejections: Theodore Dreiser

Rotten Rejections, Theodore Dreiser I: Sister Carrie

“…I cannot conceive of the book arousing the interest or inviting the attention…of the feminine readers who control the destinies of so many novels.”

“…immoral and badly written…the choice of our characters has been unfortunate….not the best kind of book for a young author to make his first book.”

Rotten Rejections, Theodore Dreiser II: The Titan

“If it is too strong for Harper then it would surely be too rich for us.”

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Crime and Puzzlement: Foxy Grandpa

I notice I haven’t posted one in some time, so here is a lesson plan on the Crime and Puzzlement case “Foxy Grandpa.”

To open this lesson and get students settled after a class change, I used this Cultural Literacy worksheet on the concept of the taboo. To conduct your investigation of the Foxy Grandpa, you will need this scan of the illustration and questions that drive the case. Finally, to get to the bottom of this crime and bring the offenders to justice, here is the typescript of the answer key.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Interrogative

“Interrogative: Indicating a question, e.g., ‘What’s the word for that?’”

Excerpted from: Grambs, David. The Random House Dictionary for Writers and Readers. New York: Random House, 1990.

Synopsis (n), Synopsize (vt)

On an unseasonably cool June morning (34 degrees in Bennington at 6:30 in the morning), here is a pair of context clues worksheets on the noun synopsis and the verb synopsize. The verb is only used transitively, so don’t forget your direct object: what are you synopsizing?

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Review Essay: An Educational Planning Book for Parents

As the COVID19 pandemic drags on, I’ve followed with great interest the reported experiences of parents as they work at sustaining their children’s educations while simultaneously dealing with the realities this crisis foists upon us. It’s clear that parents–particularly parents who themselves must work from home–have struggled with figuring out how to contrive a home school, as Diane Ravitch has noted here and here (and by the time I publish this, no doubt, elsewhere as well) on her excellent policy blog.

Extensive reporting on the challenges of distance learning, remote learning, or whatever it is we want to call communicating via screen technology over the internet has, in my view, exposed it as a failure. A friend and colleague in New York reports to me that one of his classes meets for two twenty-five-minute (!) periods a week, and that he assigns one piece of work (again: !) for this class. Under these circumstances, there is richly justified concern that students will fall behind. In fact, from what I hear and see, this has already occurred. All of this results from our schools’ fixation on training students to pass tests rather than to learn to think, imagine, and apply knowledge in real situations.

Ideally, learning, becoming educated, is something a person does every day across the span of his or her life. Every time we read instructions, ask a friend of family member for help with or an explanation of something, or–especially–use prior knowledge to understand something new, we are learning. There is in fact a rich literature on the learning we do outside of our educational institutions. My own teaching practice (by which I aim, among other things, to produce disciplined, skilled autodidacts, and thereby render myself superfluous) has been heavily influenced by Ivan Illich’s book Deschooling SocietyWhile some people might object to the obvious influence of Marxism in its pages, I have also found Paulo Freire’s great book Pedagogy of the Oppressed serves as an explanatory manual for the importance of relevance and application when teaching; Freire’s successes in educating illiterate Brazilian peasants is well documented, and he was amply honored for it. The late Theodore “Ted” Sizer had much to say about learning and school–particularly the frequent and tragic disjunction of theory and practice. I highly recommend his Horace trilogy, which brilliantly exposes the way that our schools have essentially subverted authentic learning in favor of a test-and-punish regime.

To no small extent, the problems in our public schools are the problems of commodification of education and, more specifically, the credentials that education produces. I know, as I hope most parents do, that contractual teacher salaries are often based on credentials. That makes a master’s degree a commodity, another thing for sale in the marketplace. David Labaree of Stanford analyzes the commodification of credentials in his book How to Succeed in School Without Really Learning: The Credentials Race in American Education (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997). As the title indicates, this is a book which describes the manner in which the quest for a credential, a marketable commodity, has replaced actual learning–and actual love of learning that compels learners to pursue knowledge for its own sake and for their own edification. The commodification of education and credentials is intimately connected with the adoption of curriculum produced by large corporate publishers. Again, we teach kids to assume possession of a body of bland, decontextualized facts that they must and will repeat on tests–produced by the same corporations–in order to earn their credential. Through all of this, students really don’t learn to think as much as memorize, they don’t learn to analyze and question so much as repeat and parrot. It is an intellectually deadening process. We should not be surprised that students resent and resist teaching and learning as presently constituted, and that we have such shocking dropout rates in our schools.

Despite the constant fascination with gimmicky pedagogy and electronic gadgets in our schools (an example of which I wrote about here and here, which so offended the administrators under whom I served when I wrote it that I think it may have cost me a job), teaching and learning are well-researched, well-understood, and stable procedures. We can start, as we should, with history’s first teacher, Socrates, that master ironist of feigned ignorance. Socrates asked the big conceptual questions, and he remains relevant to teachers today. Put another way, teachers should understand that in terms of the way people learn, and therefore the way people should be taught, they really must understand underlying concepts and big ideas; we know that little has changed in these procedures since Socrates held forth in the Agora.

In fact, a number of studies in the past generation or so have affirmed this. Most important among them is the National Research Council’s magisterial and definitive book How People Learn (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000). Martha Stone Wiske’s (she edited) Teaching for Understanding (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997) predates the publication of How People Learn but demonstrates its principles in action through the related experiences of classroom teachers. Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins’ book Understanding by Design (Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2005) and its ancillary titles (including the excellent Integrating Differentiated Instruction + Understanding by Design by Mr. McTighe and Carol Ann Tomlinson) are the teacher’s user’s manual for applying the principles of teaching and learning outlined in How People Learn. Over the years, I have relied heavily upon Understanding by Design to create and adapt instructional materials for my students. Indeed, my planning book is rife with typescripts of material from these books.

What all these studies and their subsequent books share is one relatively simple certainty: rather than running students through tedious, decontextualized rosters of facts (then supplying anxiety-producing tests to “assess understanding”), we must teach students concepts that enable them to find the connecting tissue between the facts that serve as manifestations of concepts. Put another way, we must help students gain understanding and knowledge that transfers both within domain-specific curricula, but also across the entire common branch curriculum, by moving back and forth between general (conceptual) understanding and specific (factual) knowledge. Put yet another way, rather than teaching students to pass tests, a rather narrow piece of procedural knowledge, we must teach them an understanding of how to use prior knowledge to understand new material; put yet one more, and final, way, our schools must teach kids to learn how to learn.

For parents at home with their children, particularly parents who in some degree now serve as surrogate teachers, the good news is this: teaching and learning in their essence are fairly simple procedures. To learn, one uses prior knowledge to understand something new, which is then integrated in and with prior knowledge. When we talk in casual conversation about the “learning curve,” this is the process we’re discussing. In an effective learning environment, the teacher’s first task is obviously to locate prior knowledge and establish it as the basis for understanding new things. This is where teaching complicates learning: assessing prior knowledge is a subtle exercise. If it is not done accurately or correctly, learning can falter or even fail. There are a number of ways for teachers to pin down and exploit prior knowledge for learning. Good old Socratic questioning is still one of the most effective ways to proceed. The student’s role in this is to both answer the question and (or) ask the teacher to refine or vary the question in a way that will yield potential results. In the ideal classroom, as students receive and consolidate new knowledge, they themselves begin to ask the kinds of Socratic questions that arouse further curiosity, stimulate inquiry, and activate the will to learn and understand. These Socratic questions become teachable moments and vice-versa. This creates a productive cycle of inquiry and understanding. Thing of Socratic questions as productive questions in the sense that they are likely to produce discourses, not pat answers–i.e. the way understanding is arrived at in scholarly communities.

Which is not to say that every learning opportunity, every teachable moment, occurs in the kind of structure a Socratic dialogue prescribes. I very highly recommend this post on the acquisition and cultivation of soft skills from David Berliner and published on Diane Ravitch’s Blog.

How can parents use the procedures in the previous paragraph to engage the young minds at home because of the COVID19 crisis? First, let’s stipulate that everyday life, especially where and when curious young people are present, offers a plethora of teachable moments. Any time a child observes something, there is an opportunity to ask questions about the thing observed–and any time a child asks a question, there is a teachable moment in play. A couple of fairly simple questions, which can then deepen as a discourse ensues, can keep kids thinking, learning, and therefore in the process of acquiring an education. Fortunately, my planning book contains a set of documents that I’ve accumulated over 17 years of planning instruction for struggling learners and teaching them. All of this material is relevant across a range of abilities.

And now that I’ve bloviated beyond the limits of most the reasonable person’s patience, let’s run through the contents of my planning book in an attempt to help you learn what they are and how to use them. With this material I hope to aid you, gentle parent, in keeping your children learning during this crisis. All of this material has been, I think I should mention, previously posted elsewhere (including the top pinned post during the COVID19 pandemic) on Mark’s Text Terminal.

First, here is a list of ten laws of and three keys to simplicity that is actually on the cover of my planning book. I took this from John Maeda’s book The Laws of Simplicity (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006). I use these simple rules to remind me that no matter how grand an act of synthetic thinking, learning, and writing I aspire for my students to do, I must keep their needs in mind–and sometimes, for their needs, simpler is better. These 17 Teaching Tips are of a piece, I think, with Mr. Maeda’s imperatives to simplicity of design, so I keep them together to remind me that no matter the complexity of a topic, no matter how much sophisticated the thinking a topic or issue in the curriculum requires, teaching and learning are at bottom fairly simple and straightforward endeavors.

All teaching begins with a question. The type of question one asks tends to be domain specific in some respects, and universal in others. For the latter, here is a taxonomy of questions from Education for Judgment: The Artistry of Discussion Leadership (Roland C. Christensen, David A. Garvin, and Ann Sweet, eds., Cambridge: Harvard Business School Press, 1991). Just as the document’s title indicates, it taxonomizes questions and gives examples of how to apply the taxonomy to structure questions. I use this document all the time. To complement this taxonomy, here is a list of question stems for structuring the kinds of questions that stimulate thinking–and therefore learning.

As above, I think the best planning framework out there, and the best explained by its authors, is Understanding by Design. So, here are 16 pages of planning materials to help identify big ideas and essential questions from the pages of Understanding by Design. In the time I worked in classrooms, I compiled this list of essential questions I contrived for my social studies and English language arts classes. Essential questions are Socratic questions, and vice versa.

Now that you have some questions to ask, you might want to know how to structure the kinds of activities that will yield results. I have a couple of things that I grabbed from articles in The Cambridge Companion to the Learning Sciences (R. Keith Sawyer, ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006) that might be helpful here. First is this table of activity structures from Janet L. Kolodner’s article “Cased Based Reasoning” which is apparently one of her areas of expertise. From Allan Collins in the same Cambridge volume, this outline of the principles of cognitive apprenticeship explains how that method of pedagogy operates. Cognitive apprenticeship is just what it sounds like–students are schooled by participating in the kinds of scholarly work professionals in a field do. Put another way, cognitive apprenticeship gives both teachers and students a shortcut to the big concepts that inform and connect knowledge within and across domains.

To pull this all together for the children in front of you on any given day, I find this table of cognitive styles from Daniel Willingham’s book Why Don’t Kids Like School (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009) helps me gain insight and understanding on how kids are thinking, and therefore how I can make learning more accessible to them. Also from Dr. Willingham, from his book The Reading Mind (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2017), is this table of conclusions with practical implications for reading instruction.

Finally, if you have emergent or struggling readers on your hands, you might find this short glossary of linguistic terms from Denise Eide’s excellent Uncovering the Logic of English: A Common-Sense Approach to Reading, Spelling, and Literacy (Minneapolis: Pedia Learning, Inc., 2011) useful when thinking about how to explain the parts of words to kids.

That’s it. Remember: there are a plethora of situations every day that can be turned into teachable moments by dropping a simple but essential (or Socratic, or productive–you choose your modifier) question into it and thereby beginning a discourse.

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.