Tag Archives: professional development

Black History Month 2019: Coda

Earlier this week, NBC News ran this surprisingly frank and cogent piece on Black History Month. Under any circumstances, and particularly those in which I’ve spent the past 16 years working, I’ve never found satisfying the idea of a single month for Black History; as this feature rightly observes, in the not particularly humble opinion of Mark’s Text Terminal, Black History is United States History.

Term of Art: Executive Functions

“Mental activities associated with self-control, attention, focus, or concentration that allow an individual to achieve specific goals. Problems in executive function are associated with dysfunction at the frontal part of the brain. Mild or nonspecific deficits of executive functions are common in the general population. Executive functions also may be impaired by injury to the brain, fatigue, depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, and various psychological disorders, including learning disability, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Problems with attention, self-regulation, planning, and impulse control may be connected to differences in the processing of neurotransmitters, especially dopamine, in the brain.

Executive functions control four kinds of mental activities. Working memory is essential to the problem-solving process. Information must be held in mind and internalized while a task is being completed. Internalized or private speech allows people to use complex sets of rules in problem solving. These include rules for using sets of rules. Third is the control of emotions and impulses, which allows and individual to remain focused and to continually return to a path of progress toward a desired goal. This allows an individual to set aside the attraction of immediate gratification. The achievement of deferred greater gratification is the product of this kind of self-regulation. Fourth is reconstitution, a process of observing behaviors and then synthesizing components into new combinations. This function is essential to problem solving and survival in a complicated world.

Individuals with ADHD and learning disabilities may have problems in reading long assignments or completing writing projects, since these tasks require executive functions. These difficulties may be connected to differences in the way certain brain chemicals are processed in the prefrontal lobes.

Some individuals with executive function difficulties are also very impulsive, having a hard time considering alternatives and consequences before they act. In solving problems, they are likely to select the first alternative without weighing other possibilities. They often speak without thinking of the consequences of their statements. Some students with these problems get so fidgety that it is hard for them to sit through a 50- or 90-minute class session.

Many individuals with executive function difficulties experience problems with time. Understanding the passage of time and planning for the future or the completion of a task by a particular point in time can be challenge. These individuals may frequently arrive late to appointments or classes. Long-term academic projects are among the greatest challenges for students who have executive function difficulties.”

Excerpted from: Turkington, Carol, and Joseph R. Harris, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Learning Disabilities. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

Professor Willingham on Sound and Meaning

“Writing is a code for what you say, not what you think. All known writing systems code the sound of spoken language.

So, on the first day of school, before any reading instruction has begun, every child in the class has bicameral mental representations of words: the know the sound of a word (which scientists called phonology), and its meaning (which scientists call semantics).”

Excerpted from: Willingham, Daniel T. The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2017.

Term of Art: Extrinsic Phonics

“Phonics taught as a supplemental learning aid rather than as an integral part of the program of reading instruction, often in separate workshops during special time periods.”

Excerpted from: Turkington, Carol, and Joseph R. Harris, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Learning Disabilities. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

Term of Art: Discovery Learning

“An approach to learning based on the principle of ‘learning by doing’ in which new ideas develop. Discovery learning activities are designed so that students discover facts and principles themselves, through personal experience, rather than having them authoritatively explained by a textbook or a teacher. Discovery learning in prized by progressive and constructivist educators. Some of the principles of discovery learning have long been part of the repertoire of traditional teachers as well, especially in science classes, where, for example, students can directly observe the results of experiments. Critics claim that discovery learning is extremely time-consuming, difficult to manage, and inefficient because so much time is wasted waiting for students to ‘discover’ what is already known by their teachers.”

Excerpted from: Ravitch, Diane. EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2007.

Cultural Difference and Learning

It bears mentioning that cultural differences have nothing to do with intelligence and aptitude. It is hoped that the cognitively savvy educator will appreciate the unique perspectives—literally—that students from various backgrounds may have and exploit those differences to optimize and expand the learning opportunities for all students in a classroom.”

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

Aristotle on Rhetoric

Over the years I have been intermittently interested in the Trivium as a way of helping students to think in a linear manner. Anyone dealing with this medieval division and taxonomy of knowledge will quickly come into contact with Scholasticism, and, working backward chronologically, Aristotle. I still haven’t decided if a teacher could or should return to medieval categories of knowledge, but I do think there is a case to be made for teaching rhetoric in high school English Language Arts class.

Because I have some old-fashioned ideas about the equality of opportunity in society, I have made working in struggling, inner-city schools my office for my entire career. Last November, I made the move from one of these schools in New York City to one in Springfield, Massachusetts. One of the first documents to cross my purview in the service of a student was a writing assignment for a work of fiction in an English Language Arts class. My talented colleague, and I thank her for this, asked her students to use one of three rhetorical strategies in this assignment. It was a treat to see.

Anyway, along the way in trying to develop instructional materials related to rhetoric, I transcribed the gravamen of Aristotle’s analysis of rhetoric (from this edition of his treatise) for use in planning a unit on the it. If you can use it, there is a several-page Word document under that hyperlink

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.