Tag Archives: child study

Language, Learning, and Social Integration

“Verbal communication is the basis for everything that occurs in classrooms, whether this is the delivery of new information or the regulation of behavior. Although language skills are biologically primary, their development in children of the same age can be highly uneven, Further, a significant proportion of children in any class may have developmental language disorders, which may or may not have been formally diagnosed. Such disorders typically impact a student’s success with written or spoken language.”

Ashman, Greg, and Pamela Snow. “Oral Language Competence: How it Relates to Classroom Behavior.” American Educator Vol. 43, No. 2 (Summer 2019): 37-41.

The Current Number of The American Educator

Elsewhere on this blog, I have sung the praises of The American Educator, the quarterly published by my union, The American Federation of Teachers. Let me belabor my point a tad further here by saying that I think this is a first-rate journal of educational theory and practice; it’s where I first encountered Daniel Willingham, who really is doing as much as anyone out there (with his “Ask the Cognitive Scientist” column in The American Educator as well as his excellent books) to assist classroom teachers in applying research to practice.

The current number of the magazine addresses the issue of teaching traumatized students. I started my career working with traumatized adolescents in one of New England’s “ivy league” psychiatric hospitals, and I have continued to work with these kids as a teacher.

A discussion of this population’s needs is long, long, overdue. I cannot sufficiently or strongly encourage teachers to read this issue of The American Educator from cover to cover. This is vital stuff every teacher should know.

Professor Daniel Willingham’s First Demonstration of Memory

[Nota bene, please, that I originally posted much of this material in a Weekly Text from August 28, 2015, which would have made it one of the earliest publications on this blog. This lesson continues to evolve, so I have decided to publish it once more with a couple of supplementary materials. If you have used this in your classroom, and plan to use it again, you may want to check back here every so often to see if I’ve added documents. I’ve also given this post a new title so that it is easy to search and locate on Mark’s Text Terminal.]

Is there a way we can assist our students in remembering what we teach them in the classroom? More broadly, can we help students become stronger, more effective, and therefore more satisfied learners, particularly in terms of retention (de rigeur now for hyper-tested students), by showing them how memory actually functions? The answer, or part of the answer at least, thanks to Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, is yes. Professor Willingham writes a column called “Ask the Cognitive Scientist” for The American Educator, which is an excellent quarterly journal of research into pedagogical practice and educational policy issues published by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). I’m amazed at the consistently cogent and useful scholarly research the AFT presents in this first-rate publication.

Anyway, in the winter 2008-2009 issue, Professor Willingham published his column under the title–clicking on this hyperlink will download of PDF of the article–“What Will Improve a Student’s Memory?” This is a cognitive science experiment in three parts that demonstrates the role of thought and memory in the learning process. So far, I’ve developed for use in teaching a lesson adapted from Professor Willingham’s First Demonstration of Memory, will help you and your students conduct the first of these three experiments, then sort out its immediate results. Through this clever and concrete demonstration, students will learn that thinking is the parent of memory–as Professor Willingham emphasizes.  I like to start the year with this lesson; in fact, I teach it on the first day of school, before discussing classroom norms and expectations, as a way of setting the tone (i.e. your learning comes first) for the year.

To get to the instructional material in the PDF, you’ll need download the article by clicking on the link above, then scroll down through the document to page 26, “Demonstration of the Three Principles.” You’ll use Demonstration 1: once you’ve read through the procedure for the demonstration. Nonetheless, here is the unit plan for all three lessons that rationalize the use of these three demonstrations of memory with students. Eventually, I’ll write the other two lessons for demonstrations two and three, and post those here as well.

To the documents for this lesson: here is the lesson plan for demonstration one. Although the PDF posted above includes the procedures for all three demonstrations, here is a typescript of the procedure for the first demonstration in Microsoft Word, should should need or see fit to alter or adapt this material for your class. This structured and numbered worksheet might hasten the process of delivering this lesson, particularly for struggling students. Over time, working with a large and homogenous group or students, I developed two supports for concluding the work on this lesson. Students will need to determine, as part of this exercise, which kinds of words they remembered. This first version of the support give students the words in the order in which they were read, and asks them to find the words they remembered by searching the list. That requires focus and the ability to sort out information; some students I have served over the years struggled with this part of the activity. So I designed a second version of the support with the words read arranged by type in columns in a table, and therefore a bit less challenging to interpret and process.

I find this lesson, taught to a well-focused class generally takes less than the 44 minutes my school has deemed adequate for conveying new information and providing students with an opportunity to use it. After finishing the procedural work, and sorting out the results of that work to assess its meaning (it’s part of the procedure in the article), I like to ask students a few questions. The big question is, of course, Why did you remember the words you rated for pleasantness? Another query I use is What can students and teachers do to work together to study words in a way helps students remember their meaning and use them in their future discourses? (Do your students understand the concept of discourse? It seems to me it’s a word and concept high school students really ought to know.) I also ask questions that prepare students for some of the work we’ll do that is animated by Professor Willingham’s first demonstration: Is there something common to words that can help us understand them as families? which helps to rationalize the use of word root worksheets. Is there a way to learn words by thinking about what they might mean?  justifies the use of do now focus on one word worksheets.

In any case, through this clever and concrete demonstration, students will learn that thinking is the parent of memory–as Professor Willingham emphasizes. I like to start the year with this lesson; in fact, I teach it on the first day of school, before discussing classroom norms and expectations, as a way of setting the tone (i.e. your learning and the means by which it is accomplished are of paramount importance in this classroom) for the year.

Most  of the vocabulary building work I’ll publish on Mark’s Text Terminal derives directly from my understanding of the cognitive mechanisms Professor Willingham’s first demonstration exposes. This lesson, if nothing else, may help you persuade resistant students that this is a useful way to learn and master new words and the concepts or things they define.

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.

Research and Practice


“The scope of what researchers can accomplish is limited in many ways…. Though ideally researchers would assess the learning and cognition of a representative sample of people, meaning one that best captures the breadth and diversity of humanity, in practice this is hardly ever the case. Furthermore, most if not all brain and cognitive researchers conduct their analyses in laboratory settings, where as many variables are identified and controlled as possible. Compared to the control of a laboratory, a classroom is filthy with variables of many types.

Why should the distinction between the control of variables and other factors in laboratories and classrooms matter? Put simply, it matters because ‘evidence-based’ is often mistakenly interpreted as meaning the same thing as ‘field-tested.’ To say that a particular teaching strategy or curricular initiative is ‘evidence-based’ can indicate many things. It certainly may mean, as most assume, that the phenomenon has been studied in classroom settings by educational researchers and teachers and has been found to work. And it this latter situation is the case, great! However, more often than not this label means that a particular educational strategy or initiative is based on evidence that has emerged from research studies conducted in laboratories, or it is based in evidence.

There is certainly nothing wrong with this other definition and I also do not believe that it is intentionally used to deceive. Indeed, many of the strategies proposed in this text represent exactly this type of research-based practice, namely those that have yet to be tested in classroom settings. However, any time you come across something that is research-based rather than research-validated (or field-tested), remember that the minimum threshold for this label is that the strategy is based on a review of the existing literature. Thus it is ‘field-tested’ or ‘research-validated’ and not ‘evidence-based” that should be seen as the educational equivalent of the ‘Good Housekeeping’ stamp of approval.”

Excerpted from: Rekart, Jerome L. The Cognitive Classroom: Using Brain and Cognitive Science to Optimize Student Success. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2013.

Cultural Literacy: Spanish Civil War

Because I seek a teaching license in Massachusetts, I had to start my home computer this afternoon to get out an email to the licensing office up there. As long as I’m sitting here, I might as well post this Cultural Literacy worksheet on the Spanish-American War.

Now it’s time to eat spinach burek from Dukagjini. Yum!

If you find typos in this document, 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.

One Problem with Homework, and a Solution

I’ve been working my way slowly through Ross Greene’s  books, If you teach struggling learners, I encourage you to take a look at his work. At the moment I’m reading The Explosive Child (New York: HarperCollins, 1998), in which Dr. Greene has this to say about homework (I prefer to use the term “independent practice”) and the inflexible child:

“Many parents, teachers, and school administrators believe that homework is an essential component of a child’s education. Which is fine, except that many inflexible-explosive children find homework to be incredibly frustrating because they don’t have any brain energy left after a long day at school, their medication has worn off, they have learning problems that make completing homework an agonizing task, or because homework–especially long-term assignments–requires a lot of organization and planning. Thus, it’s no accident that these children often exhibit some of their most extreme inflexibility and explosiveness when they are trying to do homework.

Do these difficulties render some children incapable of completing the same homework assignments as their classmates? Yes. Is it always possible to address these difficulties effectively? No. Does having a child melt down routinely over homework help him feel more successful about doing homework? No. Are these difficulties a good reason to alter or adjust homework assignments? Yes. I’ve yet to be convinced that the best way to instill a good work ethic in a child–or to help his parents become actively or productively involved in his education–is by inducing and enduring five hours of meltdowns every school night. The best way to instill a good work ethic is to assign homework that is both sufficiently challenging and doable in terms of quantity and content. Achieving this goal, of course, takes a little extra effort by the adults who are overseeing the assigning and completing of homework.”

The Weekly Text, July 1, 2016

Are you done with the 2015-2016 school year? I gather that our school year here in New York City goes much later than other districts in the United States. Our last day was Tuesday the 28th.

So it’s summer break! I always schedule my share of fun for these months, but I also work some–because I want to. You can continue to look for the Weekly Text at Mark’s Text Terminal, because I only plan to miss three Fridays during the summer.

Over the years, as an employee of the New York City Department of Education, I’ve experienced a mixed bag of professional development sessions. A few years ago, at least in the school in which I presently serve, teachers were responsible for performing professional inquiry groups, which selected its own topic for, well, inquiry, and analysis, germane to the work we do, but obviously for improving pedagogy. For this week, then, here are–in three separate links–the raw materials for a professional development presentation on executive skills and function I wrote for the group I joined in the 2011-2012 school year.

First up are the the proposal for this inquiry group, and a learning support for teachers, which are the teacher’s materials for this presentation; first up is the proposal for this inquiry group, and a learning support for teachers; second, here are four student surveys to assess executive skills; third, and finally, here is a letter explaining these surveys to students. I adapted the student surveys from Ellen Galinsky’s excellent book Mind in the Making.

I hope these documents are in some way useful to you. I’d like to hear how, if you are so inclined.

Until next week….

Addendum, July 27, 2016: Here is the scoring criteria for the surveys that this professional development asks students to complete.