Tag Archives: executive function and organizational skills

Blog Post 2000!

I started this blog in 2015, mostly because I found serious discourse about students, teaching, learning, and curriculum in the school in which I served at the time left a great deal to be desired. In the first three years I maintained this site, in other words up to July of 2018, I published 1,000 posts. Since last July, I have published 1,000 more. I’m not sure how I did it, but here we are.

What I do know is this: when I feel dissatisfied with the professional environment in which I am working, I tend to use these pages as an outlet for my professional curiosity and, yes, I suppose, ambition. If I am to be honest, I also turn to this blog, as I once did to personal journals, when I am anxious.

Last November, I made the grievous mistake of accepting the position of “literacy interventionist” (I don’t speak or read bureaucratese; if I did, that position title would have been a dead giveaway for what came next) in an utter disaster of a school, the High School of Commerce, in Springfield, Massachusetts. Starting from my first day of work, when the principal who hired me was absent, and had left no word with her subordinates–or anyone, really–that I would arrive, I have been both professionally dissatisfied and anxious: the former because this school is a place where professionalism and engagement are pretty much subordinated to mindless personal ambition; the latter because I am concerned, as I have been similarly concerned in the past when working in troubled schools led by less than competent principals who can destroy a teacher’s career with their own incompetence, that I had inadvertently put my career at risk.

So, you can see why I produced 1,000 posts this year. I am in the last part of my working life, and at this point I just want to work in a school whose administration and faculty doesn’t see children as abstractions, as data points on a graph, to advance their own careers. I became a teacher to help kids, not play power games and office politics.

In any case, here we are at Blog Post 2000. I have a number of documents to post, all from the first third of my career, when I was just figuring out how to assess students’ abilities and design instruction that challenged them, but didn’t frustrate them.

So, for starters, here is a learning support on the kinds of questions that drive research projects.

Next, here is a learning support on writing notecards for research papers. I don’t know if teachers still require students to keep analog note-cards in the real world, but the social studies teacher with whom I taught sophomore global studies in Manhattan at the beginning of this (2018-2019) school year still–to his credit–required them. Whatever you do in your classroom, perhaps this structured note-card blank will help students learn and master this task essential to the craft of research.

This sample outline learning support and this style sheet on using structured outlining blanks, you will notice, are basically the same material. The style sheet accompanies these structured outlining blanks.

Finally, here is a document I call the research paper in miniature. I use this document to show students, in essence, what a research paper is, why the authors of these kinds of papers must cite sources, and even ask them to infer the argument (i.e. the origins of rock and roll are in the blues and other African musical forms) from the paragraph they read. As I write this, I realize that I have a lesson plan to rationalize the research paper in miniature, so I’ll post that as a Weekly Text sometime over the summer when I have a chance to revise it.

That’s it. I emptied out the folder for Blog Post 2000. Now to start working on my next thousand posts.

Learning Support: English Language Arts Posters Text

For a variety of reasons, I have always found the kinds of classroom decorations available for purchase in “teachers’ stores” (what the heck is a teachers store, anyway?) to be insincerely cheerful and annoyingly inauthentic. For that reason, I developed a short unit on making classroom posters. One component of this exercise is this raw text for making classroom posters on English Language Arts topics.

Observing students as they work on creating posters helps me assess a wide range of student abilities, including organizing and executing a task as well as persisting to finish that task, following directions, reading, writing, and spelling, and understanding the basic concepts the text outlines.

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.

The Weekly Text, May 12, 2017

In my classroom, I rely almost exclusively on the Socratic method in my teaching for a variety of reasons, the most salient of them is simply that students who are talking in class–i.e. answering questions–are also thinking. As Daniel Willingham, the cognitive scientist at the University of Virginia (with whose work all teachers ought to familiarize themselves) succinctly puts it, “memory is the residue of thought.” If you want your students to retain what you teach them, ask questions that compel–or, one hopes, impel– them to think about the matter at hand in your classroom.

A couple of years ago I read Education for Judgement: The Art of Discussion Leadership by C. Roland Christenson, David A. Garvin, and Ann Sweet and published at the Harvard Business School Press. It’s one of the better books I’ve read for my own professional development, and I highly recommend it. To give you a sense of the riches this book contains for those interested in developing their skills in leading class discussion, I offer as this week’s Text this taxonomy of questions from its pages.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. Since this isn’t my work, I seek no peer review of it (and in any case, it seems like a safe bet that this material has been peer-reviewed by some of the best people in education).

Poverty and Cognition

Elsewhere on this blog, I have written and commented on the issue of poverty and cognition. Friends and colleagues of mine across the country have complained that this is a forbidden issue in professional development sessions in their schools; administrators don’t want to hear about the struggles of poor kids in the classroom, preferring instead to flog the issue of educators’ “accountability.” If you been subjected to this (it happens, alas, in the institution in which I currently serve, as it has in others in this city where I’ve had the misfortune to work), you probably agree that the best thing that can be said about this discourse-ending trope is that it is tiresome.

It is also ignorant.

In any case, reading NEA Today, the magazine of the National Education Association over the past couple of days, I came across the union’s offer of this handbook on teaching children living in poverty or surviving trauma. I haven’t had a chance to look at it in depth, but it’s something I want to get out to readers of this blog. If you are working with struggling learners, there is a strong possibility, if not a strong probability, that they have been subjected to these social pathologies. We owe it to our students and ourselves to understand these challenges, and to use that understanding to improve practice.

Children and Screen Technologies

Now that screen technologies have achieved ubiquity, it is surely time (actually, that time has long since passed in my estimation) to take a critical look at the way they are shaping our lives. My fascination with gizmos has never extended beyond their utility to help me manage my complicated workload. My smartphone is off a significant portion of the week; besides basic productivity applications, I only have word games on it, and I only reach for those in moments of ennui, or when I am stuck on a train.

Perhaps the most important place to apply critical analysis of these devices is in their use by children and adolescents. I don’t think these devices exactly do wonders for kids who already have short attention spans. Late last week, to my relief, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued its guidelines for appropriate use of digital devices for children. I recommend a look; it’s long been clear to me that kids are spending too much time with this technology and not enough in parks, and in their own imaginations.

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.”

Selection Control

Today is the first day of classes in New York City. While I await my second period class, I’ll take a moment to post something interesting I gleaned while reading my first professional development book of the year, Dr. Mel Levine’s excellent and humane One Mind at a Time (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002). If you work with special education students, and particularly students with limited attention spans, your will recognize the cognitive phenomena Dr. Levine describes.

Selection control, in Mel Levine’s words, is a cognitive process in which “…attention rapidly inspects candidates for admission to the thinking brain, filters out and discards what it deems irrelevant, welcomes a chosen few stimuli into consciousness, and then invites the most timely and informative of these selections to penetrate deeply enough to be understood and/or remembered or else used right away.” In the following paragraph, Dr. Levine spells out the challenges that teachers working with students with attentional difficulties face: “Selection control disposes of worthless stimuli, such as the quiet hum of a fluorescent bulb or the mauve hue of your teacher’s panty hose or totally irrelevant memories that may be competing for attention. Selection control does not actually interpret or put to use what we hear or see; it just picks out the very best items, the most important and currently relevant data. Selection control that works well is especially valuable in view of the fact that a mind has very little capacity from moment to moment for brand-new information. The entryway that leads to conscious awareness is narrow; space is limited. So selection control is obliged to be highly refined.” 

Dr Levine continues, with this idea for a lesson plan: “To tighten selection control among his entire class, one teacher I work with, John Reilly, gave students an article to read and asked them to summarize it in one hundred words or less. After they submitted their summaries, he returned these and asked the kids to write a fifty-word summary of their summary. The following week they were asked to write a twenty-five-word summary of their fifty-word summary. All the while he emphasized the critical importance of determining relative degrees of importance in globs of information, a great academic lesson.”

At some point this year, I’ll develop a lesson plan for this form of writing assignment, which looks like a good way to assist students in developing their own methods and habits of selection control.