Friday, February 26, 2021

The Best and Worst Parenting Advice

This week's article summary is The Best and Worst Parenting Advice.

Whether we’re parents, teachers, or both, we all struggle about how best to raise our kids and/or teach our students.

Parents/teachers want the same outcomes for their kids/students: to be kind, empathetic, confident, independent, empowered (but not entitled), humble, appreciative, selfless, socially aware, intrinsically motivated, etc.

Where we differ is the methodology we use to try to shape and influence our kids: some of us are more lax and permissive, others more strict and even authoritarian. Often our parenting and teaching style is influenced by how we were taught and parented. 

The child psychologist in the article recommends parenting/teaching strategies that help a child develop personal empowerment, understand the cause and effect of their actions, and, maybe most important, see that others lean and rely on the child for help and support.

As humans, our genetic make-up combines both selfishness and selflessness. We do want what’s best for us but we need the help and support of others to achieve it. Unlike other animals that operate on instinct, humans have a sense of fairness; hence, if I help you, it’s only fair that you help me.  Getting kids to not only see why their behavior was wrong but in what ways it affected others is, to me, the provocative takeaway from the article.

The toughest aspect of being a parent or teacher is when our frustration level escalates to the point where we dictatorially impose our will and punishments on our kids. When we begin to lose our cool for whatever reason, we sacrifice providing our children/students with true learning lessons that can foster reflection and the development of intrinsic motivation/decision-making for the more expedient extrinsic consequence that research consistently says doesn’t work and even has a negative effect on the child.

We were imperfect and so are as parents and teachers. Sometimes the pressures of life can get in the way of good parenting and teaching. Still, it’s always important for us to keep the ultimate outcomes for our kids in mind and strive for the ideal even if we fall short a lot of the time.



Adam Grant, a child psychologist, author and professor at Wharton, took time to talk to us about his insights on parenting, having sparked global debate with columns on raising a moral child and changing the way we talk to kids about work.

What's the worst parenting advice you've heard?

The worst parenting advice that I've ever heard is that when kids do something wrong, they need to be punished. There's a classic study of rescuers during the Holocaust who put their own lives on the line in order to save, in some cases, complete strangers. The question was: what made them different from their peers, living in the same towns, who never stepped up and became heroes? And the answer was that in part, their parents responded very differently when they misbehaved. The ordinary citizens were constantly punished when they did something wrong and they learned to try to avoid negative consequences, whereas the Holocaust rescuers, instead of being punished, were actually given explanations. So when they broke a rule, they were told this is a rule that might seem silly, but here's the value or principle behind it, or here's how your behavior hurt other people. And then they were much more likely to reflect on the ultimate impact of their behavior on others. Now, of course, we don't know whether this parenting strategy ultimately caused them to engage in these extraordinary acts of heroism and sacrifice and courage. What we do know, though, is that they learn to engage in a different kind of moral reasoning and that instead of being just told that your behavior is wrong, or being penalized, if you actually understand why it has negative impacts, what it does to harm other people, you're much more likely to form your own moral principles around trying to do right by others. And that ultimately is something that more parents can encourage their kids to do.

On the flip side, can you share the best advice?

I think the best parenting advice I've ever received is to show kids that they matter, and that other people rely on them. We all need to feel that other people rely on us. I think parents often miss that with children. We feel that it's our job to teach them, to protect them, to care for them. And we don't ever give them the chance then to build their own resilience by helping us solve problems. One of the ways we can we can put this advice into action is to ask our kids for guidance every once in a while.  When I'm nervous about a big speech, for example, I've asked them how I should manage that anxiety, which shows I have a lot of confidence in them. It also gives them a chance when they find themselves in a similar situation to think back on their guidance. And that makes them feel like they're active, that they have something to contribute and offer as opposed to just being dependent on other people. Every child needs to feel that they matter; even as young as six, seven, eight years old, they need to feel that other people are counting on them, that they can make a difference in the lives of others. It's an important way to make them feel that they matter and to build their strength.

Friday, February 19, 2021

Anxiety in Children

This week's article summary is Kids Are More Anxious Than They've Ever Been, The article is a few years old but its recommendations are even more appropriate for the present.

Even before the impact of Covid-19, anxiety in children of all ages had increased exponentially over the past 20 years.

While there are many reasons large and small, the article specifically highlights parental overprotection of their children. While over the past year there have been ample health and safety reasons to be over-protective, as we incrementally begin to revert to pre-pandemic normalcy, adults (parents and educators) need to remember how important it is to let kids be the primary guides and determinants of their lives, including opportunities to make their own decisions, which will lead to missteps, accidents, and errors.

In an attempt to ensure their children’s emotional and physical safety, parents often aren’t giving them the freedom and flexibility to develop the confidence to handle the challenges they will encounter. The article recommends that parents take a step back and let their kids experience a little more risk and danger in their lives. While, yes, there will be more scrapes, cuts, and bruises, the article states that “the long-term benefits greatly outweigh the risks.”

I’m not sure that modern parents will embrace books like 50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kid Do let alone practice free-range parenting, yet both parents and teachers need to realize that for children to build the self-confidence, independence, and resilience, they need opportunities to make and learn from their mistakes and to take some risks. 



Anxiety has become an epidemic, now eclipsing depression as the most common health disorder, particularly among younger people.

While several hypotheses exist which try to point blame for the increasingly common condition, researchers have found that the overprotection of children may have something to do with it.

Think back to when you were a kid and things were different. Remember teeter totters bigger kids could use to make lighter ones go flying, or merry-go-rounds that spun at dizzying speeds, and swings that went so high you could lose your stomach? Well, those things largely don't exist anymore. Instead, many playgrounds feature soft rubber mulch and slides and climbers so low to the ground anyone would be hard-pressed to get a scratch or broken bone.

Yet according to a study published in Evolutionary Psychology, risky play — the kind where someone actually could get hurt—is good for kids. Researchers suggest that the fear kids experience when climbing at great heights, being near a cliff or handling a knife keeps them alert and careful and teaches them how to cope with potentially dangerous situations. And over time, mastering such scary situations has an "anti-phobic" effect which results in lower levels of anxiety overall.

The study outlines six categories of risky play:

  • Great heights, which could result in falling and includes climbing, jumping from still or flexible surfaces, balancing on high objects and hanging or swinging high off the ground
  • High speed, which could result in collision and includes doing things like swinging, sliding, running, biking, skating or skiing at an uncontrolled pace
  • Dangerous tools, including things like cutting tools or ropes which could strangle
  • Dangerous elements including cliffs, deep or icy water or fire
  • Rough-and-tumble activities including wrestling, play fighting or fencing with sticks
  • Disappearance/getting lost, which could result from exploring or playing alone
So, does allowing kids to participate in some of these kinds of risky play increase their chances of getting hurt? Yes, although typically injuries are minor. Essentially, researchers believe that the long-term benefits greatly outweigh the risks.

Citing this research, The Atlantic published a fascinating story about a parcel of land in North Wales which is designated as a place for kids to play, although it's more like a muddy junkyard and less like a playground. Adult supervision is conducted in the background and kids do things like light fires, knock over pallets and attempt to use a frayed rope swing to transverse a creek.

Sounds like the kind of place a kid could gain some confidence, doesn't it?

The next time you slice the carrots (so as to keep your seven-year-old from cutting off a finger), or disallow the poking of sticks into the fire pit (because ember-tipped wands can burn someone), recall what it felt like to be a kid left alone. Remember pulling yourself up into a tree and the feeling of your hands and feet clinging to branches so as to keep yourself from falling?

That's the stuff of self-assurance.

Friday, February 12, 2021

 This week's article summary is Black History is Not American History: Towards a Framework of Black Historical Consciousness.

As a former history teacher, I related to the author’s comments about how black history is typically covered within the larger context of an American History class: students usually learn about slavery, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s. Often these topics are presented in a sanitized, single-dimensional manner so as not to create controversy.

Similar superficial presentations often occur during Black History Month.

There are a number of reasons we continue to teach black history in this shallow manner: the vast majority (about 85%) of American teachers are white and often don’t know enough about the complexities of the black experience in America and the ways in which institutional racial prejudice continues to impact the present. We also envision the history of America as a progressive narrative where we overcome challenges and then live in a better life. We also avoid difficult conversations, especially around race.

The article below provides a framework (with six core concepts) on how we as teachers and schools can begin to more authentically include black history within the study of American history, within our classrooms, and during Black History month. Increased awareness and understanding begin with educators learning more about black history and being open about confronting the uglier aspects of racism in America’s past and present.

Our summer reading options this year will focus around the theme of racism. One book I highly recommend is Caste, an impactful historic tour-de-force of racism in America. They’ll be other provocative options as well, but, as the article below attests, the key is we all, myself included, have much more to learn.



Black History is American History, but the integrated model has so far provided only the illusion of inclusion. African Americans might be present in the narrative, but the curriculum remains Eurocentric, with largely cosmetic diversity. 

Guided by textbooks, most history teachers’ narratives include three major segments:

  • Enslavement, in which black people are seen as passive and powerless
  • The post-Civil War and Reconstruction era, featuring a few heroic black leaders
  • The 1960s civil rights movement, emphasizing MLK’s credo of nonviolence
These themes are largely predicated on how white people wish to see or imagine black people to be through history education. They represent an effort to sanitize the ugliness, diminish achievements and contributions, ignore the diversity of blackness, and pigeonhole black people as monolithic in an effort to not to offend white people about America’s legacy. 

We need to implement “black historical consciousness” in classrooms, stemming from a robust, well-rounded curriculum that conveys black histories (versus the singular black history) in a way that recognizes the humanity, perspectives, and voices of African Americans. 

Yes, the desired destination is for black history to be American history but right now the curriculum simply does not take black history or people seriously.

Accurate history instruction has six concepts at its core:

Power, Oppression, and Racism: These have to be understood as systemic and institutional, not individual or cosmetic. Without that perspective, we begin to believe that black people are naturally deficient compared to white people because we do not understand the systemic oppression that has limited and, in some cases, controlled black life histories. Here are some guiding questions:

  • How did enslavement undermine democratic principles?
  • How did racism divide the country?
  • How did slave owners use the government to their advantage?
  • Why did the United States abandon Reconstruction?
Key topics: Slavery in North and South America; the development and sustainability of chattel slavery; the emergence of Jim Crow segregation and political disenfranchisement; redlining; the impact of Reagonomics and the war on drugs; mass incarceration

Black Agency, Resistance, and Perseverance: Countering the paternalistic “black suffering” narrative, the key point is that although black people have been victimized, they were not helpless victims. They have the capacity to act independently, have made their own decisions based on their interests, and have fought back against oppressive structures. Some guiding questions:

  •  How do African Americans make social change?
  • What makes movements successful?
  • Was the civil rights movement successful?
  • Should black people be considered founders of the United States of America?
  • What was great about the great migration?
Key topics: African resistance to slavery; the abolitionist movement; the narratives of free black people; black military experiences; black reconstruction; the development of black social institutions; two great migrations; the long civil rights movement; NAACP and the courts; the Black Power movement; and inventions by African Americans

Africa and the African Diaspora: This segment is important because it reminds us that black history did not begin with European contact and enslavement, putting it in the context of human origins and the rich history of the African continent. Some guiding questions:

  • What are the legacies of Black Diaspora movements?
  • Are we all Africans?
  • How did trans-Saharan trade lead to West African wealth and success?
  • How did the Haitian Revolution influence American enslavement?
  • How have black people drawn on their African heritage in civil rights struggles?
Key topics: African origins of humans; African civilization, kingdoms, and dynasties; African explorers and pre-colonial presence; the anticolonial movement in Africa; African presence in New Spain, France, and English colonies; the impact of the Haitian Revolution; slavery in Africa versus race-based slavery.

Black Joy: This is an extension of agency, resistance, and perseverance. Black joy is a liberation and radical project that defied oppressive structures of the time. These histories focus on times of happiness, togetherness, and the perennial fight for freedom. Some guiding questions:

  • Were the 1920s a time of cultural change?
  • How does African-American cultural expression define society?
  • How did sports provide a source of pride?
  • What is the lasting legacy of African Americans in sports?
  • Is black joy agency or resistance?

Key topics: African and African-American family dynamics; black music, dance, and other cultural expressions; the arts, literature, and popular culture; African-American cuisine; the Harlem renaissance; African Americans in sports; the making of African and African-American holidays and traditions; and the Black Arts movement of the 1960s

Black Identities: Black history should not only be about black men who are middle class, Christian, heterosexual, and able-bodied. We need to expand those narratives because black people are not monolithic. Some guiding questions:

  • Who is black?
  • Why do we ignore black women in black history?
  • Who wins and loses through black liberation movements?
  • How did the Stonewall riots influence the black LGBTQ+ community?
Key topics: Black and Tribal experiences; black conservationism; black identities and the Diaspora; black HERstories; black LGBTQ+ history; black class conflict; black political thought; black feminists; the anti-apartheid movement; the Caribbean Black Power movement; Black Lives Matter; Afro-Latin cultural movements in South America and the Caribbean; black nationalism; and the Combahee River Collective

Historical Contention: Black histories have been problematic and susceptible to the evils of sexism, capitalism, and black ethnic subjugation. The point here is not to proclaim a ‘See, you do it too’ attitude, but to recognize that black people have complex dimensions. Some guiding questions:

  • Are Africans to blame for the transatlantic slave trade?
  • How did African indigenous populations fight against 1800s colonization efforts?
  • Do black ethnic groups in the U.S. deserve reparations?
  • How does sexism diminish the way we remember women’s leadership roles during the civil rights movement?

Key topics: Colonizing Africa; black socio-political-cultural global movements, including Pan-Africanism, the Garvey Movement (UNIA), Black Marxism, black separatism, the reparations movement, Rastafarianism, and Black Consciousness

Friday, February 5, 2021

Cultivating Emotional Resilience

 This week's article summary is 4 Practical Facts About The Human Brain That Can Help Cultivate Emotional Resilience.

At every admissions open house, I talk about how the academic and character foundation we shape in our students helps them, as our Program Pillars state, “adapt to new situations and an ever-changing world.”

While most prospective parents think of the literal, physical change of moving to a new school for middle school, this article highlights the importance of emotional resilience to deal with any kinds of change. 

One ‘a-ha’ for me from this article was that our physical body impacts our brain more than our brain controls our bodies. Often we ask misbehaving children to think before they act, but as this article attests we need to help them understand that their body typically tells them something and then sends that information to the brain: sensation precedes thought. I really liked the recommendation to have students be more aware of “What is your body trying to tell you?”

To me, one of the strengths of Trinity is we empower kids as students, by developing their self-awareness and self-advocacy. Helping them see how their body and its feelings, senses, and instincts impact their thoughts and reactions will help them develop the emotional resilience needed for middle school and life in general.



Emotional resilience is a powerful tool in life. It can help you stay present under challenging circumstances and remain positive during stressful days.

But to cultivate it, we need to understand how our brain works. Below are a few facts from the latest neuroscience research that can help us become more resilient. 

80% OF YOUR BODY’S SIGNALS ARE SENT TO THE BRAIN FROM THE BODY, AND ONLY 20% THE OTHER WAY AROUND: Many of us see the brain as a central command center. But really it’s more of a logistics warehouse. In our bodies, the largest nerve that we have is called the vagus nerve. It goes from our gut (sometimes called the “gut brain”) into our brain. Any time you feel any feelings or sensations in your body, chances are it’s the vagus nerve–whether it’s a broken heart, anger, or happiness. You know that you feel like this because your body has sent signals to your brain. So instead of asking, “How can I control my body?” you could experiment with saying, “What is my body trying to tell me with that tight stomach, sunken heart, clenched shoulders?” and then hold space for that experience.

WHEN YOUR AMYGDALA IS ACTIVE, YOU CAN’T HAVE EMPATHY FOR OTHERS: You might have learned about the amygdala, an almond-sized part of your limbic system, sometimes called the emotion center of our brains. When anger, hurt, fear, and anxiety reach a certain threshold, the amygdala often “takes over” your brain activity. This means it disconnects from your neocortex saying, “I’m in charge now.” There’s now very little possibility for you to be compassionate to others until you’ve found a way to calm your amygdala and for your thinking brain to reconnect. Dr. Dan Siegel calls this “flipping your lid.” Your “lid,” being the neocortex is no longer keeping the amygdala–your “boiling pot”–connected. It’s bubbling and spewing about. Many of our most unfortunate experiences happen when we do things with a “flipped lid.”

THE EMOTIONAL CONTENT OF OUR VOICES IS AN IMPORTANT SIGNAL OF SAFETY TO OUR BRAINS: You might have heard the common saying, “Only 7% of our words are what matters, the rest is how we say it and body language.” That insight initially derived from a limited social sciences study from the 1970s. Many of those popularized findings don’t seem to hold up to our current standards of scientific knowledge. Despite that, there is some strong evidence today that the brain does rely mostly on the emotional content of the words we say. When we were living in the wild thousands of years ago, without language, the way we communicated to each other was not with words, but with sounds. A high-pitched sound in our voice signaled fear, threat, and danger to others. A low-pitched sound did the same. The safety signal was a medium to slightly high frequency pitched voice. This is often the voice we make when talking to babies, where we naturally raise our voices and speak making cooing sounds. It calms and soothes them, as it does for us.

ELEVATED STRESS CHANGES OUR BRAIN CHEMISTRY AND SHRINKS THE AREA CONNECTED TO MAKING GOALS: You might have heard before that stress is “bad” for you. And you might have felt depleted and exhausted after a stressful day and noticed how hard it is on you. From a brain perspective, there’s evidence that being in a prolonged stressful environment changes the chemistry of your brain. And by doing so, it shifts the brain’s resources. To keep the body running, the brain removes and even shrinks areas of your mind that you used for goal setting, being creative, and making decisions. 

Cultivating emotional resilience doesn’t come overnight, but you can get there if you start by understanding your brain. Next time you feel stressed, anxious, or worried, think about it in the context of these four facts. You might find that it helps you deal with it better.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Do Kids Need to Fail to Succeed?

This week's article summary is Why Have So Many Accepted the Idea That Kids Need to Fail More.

The article focuses on the different impact the words ‘failure’ versus ‘mistake’ can have on student attitudes about the process of learning 

As I read the article, I found myself in the camp that prefers to use the word ‘mistake’ as I think kids too easily may consider the word ‘failure’ from a Fixed Mindset finite and hopeless manner, rather than a step toward progress and eventual success. To me, the word ‘mistake’ implies I can fix it, will try again and will get better through effort and practice—hence, the Growth Mindset attitude teachers try to instill in our students.

Whether teachers use ‘mistake’ or ‘failure’ with students, we all need to create and sustain a classroom culture where experimentation is the norm and where students understand that growth and progress rarely occur in a smooth trajectory and are more often fraught with fits, starts, and regressions. Because we have experience in the classroom and in our lives, we are the wise sages of our classrooms.

Telling our students about the struggles we have with learning something new will help them maintain their confidence and build their resilience as they inevitably encounter obstacles.



Is it important to allow students to fail in class — or not to fail? 

How much should teachers allow kids to struggle before helping them solve a problem or understand a concept? 

These may seem like simple questions, but the answers are complex.

A Texas high school teacher wrote in her blog that she has a large quote on the wall above the whiteboard that says, “In this class, failure is not an option. It’s a requirement.” As she blogged,  "As my students started to learn that first day, I have this quote hanging in my classroom, not because I have a desire to see any of my students fail the class, but as a constant reminder of the powerful learning that occurs when people have to (or are given the opportunity to) struggle through challenging material and fail a few times along the way."

A California teacher has a different take, writing that there is a big difference between failing and making mistakes and that it is important for teachers to help students understand the difference. He wrote: "Failure for a student, I would suggest, is the experience of not making progress towards their key hopes and dreams. One of the many jobs we teachers have, then, is to help them see that challenges they might face are just mistakes, which the dictionary defines as 'an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc.' Mistakes are things that students can fix — with support — in a reasonable amount of time and without an unreasonable amount of effort."

Friday, January 22, 2021

How Can Teachers Nurture Meaningful Student Agency

This week's article summary is How Can Teachers Nurture Meaningful Student Agency, which, to me, is an apt topic as we settle into the second half of the school year.

At every Admissions Open House, I talk about how Trinity helps shape every child’s character foundation. I tell parents that character at Trinity comes down to a confident sense of self and sincere care and concern for others.

Sense of self is fostered by allowing our students to develop agency, confidence in their abilities and their influence in who they are and what they do.

I really liked the 7 aspects of student agency the author lists: 

  • Genuine decision making
  • Knowing my strengths and stretches as a learner
  • Exploring my wonderings, curiosities, and passions in school
  • Having my questions shape my learning
  • Having a genuine voice in the assessment of my learning
  • Showing and explaining my learning in different ways
  • Deciding how I want to share my learning
  • Growing into the person I want to be
While the article is written by a teacher of older students, I see the aspects above as an inspirational guide for all of us as we teach and mold young minds, habits, and attitudes.

Keeping these components of student agency at the forefront of our planning and classroom activities will help our students become more confident and self-assured in their abilities.



The term “student agency” continues to be at the forefront of the educational discourse around the world. By encouraging children to have more control over their learning, educators hope students will leave our classrooms and schools with a range of skills that will support them in being lifelong learners, engaged humanitarian, and empathetic people.

In my work with schools to create more student-agency-rich environments, I fear we may be missing the mark on what “student agency” truly is. Teachers frequently talk about student agency as a choice over assignments, like a list of items on a menu: essay, PowerPoint presentation, poster project or some form of digital literacy, such as a video, Padlet or Prezi. Although it’s important we ask our students how they would like to demonstrate their learning, student agency is about so much more. It requires educators to hold ourselves accountable to values that we must embody and intentionally work towards. 

Let’s have a look at these values in more detail in order to clarify what we mean when we talk about student agency.

Genuine decision making: Student agency is about having students take on some of the heavy lifting of learning. When students can have a genuine role in the decision-making process, this will create a classroom culture that values learning as an action. When I teach, I often ask myself, "Am I doing something my students could be doing themselves?" If the answer is yes, I de-center myself so students can take on these responsibilities. The more I do this, the more comfortable and confident they become in taking on this agency over their learning. Learning becomes a partnership between the teacher and the student as we co-design and co-construct the learning experiences together in the classroom.

Knowing my strengths and stretches as a learner: I often ask myself if my students know where they are at in their learning, where they need to go next, and if they can identify the steps they need to take to get there. Teachers can often answer these questions about each of our students, but can our students answer these questions for themselves? To help get these conversations started in class, I ask a series of guiding questions to help students reflect and begin to get to know themselves better as learners. For example, "Do you learn best alone, in a small group, or in a large class setting? Do you prefer to write, talk about or draw your learning for others to see? What is your focus threshold, as in, how long can you remain focused on something before you feel you need a change of pace, setting or action?" These questions all help students begin to take on more ownership over their learning.

Exploring my wonderings, curiosities and passions in school: All students enter their schooling as curious and inquisitive beings. They are full of questions and wonder as they explore and discover the world around them. However, somewhere in their schooling, many become complacent, disengaged, and uninterested in their learning and in school. What does our teaching do to support and honor the innate curiosity of all students? How do we lean into student wonderings to make rich connections to our curriculum? How can we make our curriculum come alive so students see it as something we explore rather than something we merely cover? These questions help honor the wonderings, curiosities, and passions of all of our students so that they can see themselves as important stakeholders in their learning.

Having my questions shape my learning: Questions are an invitation to learning. They call for us to be engaged, to be inquisitive and to research and problem-solve. In order to utilize this opportunity to create student agency, I often pose big questions to frame our units of study in class that draw students in and will act as our overarching big idea for our learning. I make this question highly visible in class. I compose this question to be compelling, relevant, and interesting with a hope that this one big question will spark wonder and curiosity in students to ask their own connected questions. We discuss the questions that students generate and begin to sort them into categories and themes before we post them in class under the larger question. They have a genuine voice in the design of the unit in that we will explore the questions they posed in our research and exploration together. Students begin to see how their questions shape their learning.

Having a genuine voice in assessment of my learning: If we are talking about student agency in the classroom, we must ensure there is student voice in the assessment of learning as well. Students have a genuine voice in the assessment of their learning when they can confidently give accurate feedback to peers, take and apply feedback without worry of ridicule or embarrassment, and embark into learning through the lens of taking risks in order to grow, rather than for a grade, mark or percentage score. Students need to feel psychologically safe if we are to ask them to take on a more active and meaningful role in their learning, which is why as we nurture student agency in our classrooms, it’s important that we also nurture relationships, trust and risk taking.

Showing and exploring my learning in different ways: Whatever the big idea or content we are learning about, I often begin the school year with a new group of students by providing a choice board through which kids can explore content. A choice board is a digital slide that I have embedded resources into that allows students some options to select information in a means that they feel best supports their learning. I often introduce the exploratory nature of a choice board by asking students, "Do you enjoy taking in information by reading text, looking at images, infographics or charts, watching a short video, exploring a website, or listening to a podcast or someone talking about the information?" Once students have reflected on this prompt, they have a clearer understanding of what best supports their learning. When facing the options on a choice board, they make a decision based on their better understanding of their learning needs and strengths. Further, I encourage students to document their learning–"evidencing," as we refer to it–in a manner that they decide. I always provide a few options in the form of thinking maps, thinking routines or templates to help anchor and organize their learning. After exploring these options and considering if any of them would support their learning, I encourage students to take ownership over this decision and select an evidencing method that works best for them. The power of this choice over showing and exploring their learning in different ways is seen in their success and engagement as well as the greater understanding of how I can best support each individual student that I gain. I observe and document their choices and pathways and then reflect on how I can help them with this agency and have them be continuously successful throughout the process.

Deciding how I want to share my learning: I often ask my students, "If you could show me your learning in any way, how would you show me what you know?" My hope is to honor the diverse learners in the room whilst simultaneously leaning into student’s strengths when it comes to agency. I often observe that students don’t reflect on this prompt with the depth, individuality or creativity I would hope the opportunity offers. That’s why it’s so important that I share with students any artifacts I have curated from other classes and previous years to help paint the picture of what is possible in their learning. I have these artifacts posted on my walls, on display on my shelves or saved as digital files so I can do a bit of a show-and-share and speak to how other students have shown their learning before them. The result is that students begin to see that in our classroom, they will have some voice and choice in how they show their learning and that they can really lean into their strengths and interests. Kids will choose things that they’re good at, interested in exploring more meaningfully and are more genuinely engaged in. 

Growing into the person I want to be: What are the enduring skills, lasting values and habits of mind that will be the legacy of our time with children in our classrooms? How are we cultivating the conditions in today’s classrooms that will nurture the empathy and equity we hope students embody as citizens of tomorrow’s world? How do we view each and every one of our students as unique individuals with strengths, talents, characteristics and perspectives that we need to honor and help flourish during their time in school? It is within our active exploration of these questions and our validation of them in our interactions with students that will give space and support for them to grow in our classrooms. Student agency is not about pushing all kids down the same pathway or having all kids choose the same goal. Student agency is about empowering students to know themselves better, determine who they want to be and identifying steps we can take together to have this goal become a reality.


Friday, January 15, 2021

The 10 Most Significant Educational Studies of 2020

This week's article summary is The 10 Most Significant Educational Studies of 2020

I only included 7 of the studies—you can click the link above for the other three that don’t apply greatly to Trinity or early childhood/elementary educational practices.

To me, what’s particularly gratifying is the studies affirm the ongoing programmatic and pedagogical work we do at Trinity. While there is art to great teaching, Trinity utilizes teaching practices whose evidence is demonstration of student learning and understanding.

Our school mantra is to cherish childhood as we simultaneously prepare our students for the future by shaping a strong academic and character foundation (the four Cs of Cognition, Character, Continued Curiosity, and Cultivating Confidence).

You’ll see proof below of what we’ve been focusing on:

  • Importance of stimulating multimodalities (including handwriting) to reinforce content in long-term memory and ease of retrieval
  • The very limited connection of standardized testing results with student success in the classroom
  • The benefits (for both teacher and students) of proactive clarity about what is going to be learned and then assessed
  • How student engagement aids in learning
  • Why Lucy Calkins’ three cueing is not sound pedagogy
  • Why deep, rich content is so important (the subject of some earlier article summaries).
Obviously, we’ve all been consumed by the black hole of Covid-19 for the past 10 months, yet this week’s article is a reminder of the bigger aspects of education and, more importantly, that Trinity, as always, remains in sync with current educational research!



TO TEACH VOCABULARY, LET KIDS BE THESPIANS: When students are learning a new language, ask them to act out vocabulary words. It’s fun to unleash a child’s inner thespian, of course, but a 2020 study concluded that it also nearly doubles their ability to remember the words months later. It’s a simple reminder that if you want students to remember something, encourage them to learn it in a variety of ways—by drawing it, acting it out, or pairing it with relevant images, for example.

NEUROSCIENTISTS DEFEND THE VALUE OF TEACHING HANDWRITING—AGAIN: For most kids, typing just doesn’t cut it. In 2012, brain scans of preliterate children revealed crucial reading circuitry flickering to life when kids hand-printed letters and then tried to read them. Also, a team of researchers studied seventh graders while they handwrote, drew, and typed words, and concluded that handwriting and drawing produced telltale neural tracings indicative of deeper learning. Whenever self-generated movements are included as a learning strategy, more of the brain gets stimulated. It also appears that the movements related to keyboard typing do not activate these networks the same way that drawing and handwriting do.

All kids still need to develop digital skills, and there’s evidence that technology helps children with dyslexia to overcome obstacles like note-taking or illegible handwriting.

THE ACT TEST JUST GOT A NEGATIVE SCORE (FACE PALM): A 2020 study found that ACT test scores, which are often a key factor in college admissions, showed a weak—or even negative—relationship when it came to predicting how successful students would be in college. Often students with very high ACT scores—but indifferent high school grades—flame out in college, overmatched by the rigors of a university’s academic schedule. In a similar study about SAT scores, researchers found that high school grades were stronger predictors of four-year-college graduation than SAT scores. The reason? Four-year high school grades, the researchers asserted, are a better indicator of crucial skills like perseverance, time management, and the ability to avoid distractions.

A RUBRIC REDUCES RACIAL GRADING BIAS: A simple step might help undercut the pernicious effect of grading bias: Articulate your standards clearly before you begin grading, and refer to the standards regularly during the assessment process. When grading criteria are vague, implicit stereotypes can insidiously “fill in the blanks.” But when teachers have an explicit set of criteria to evaluate the writing—asking whether the student “provides a well-elaborated recount of an event,” for example—the difference in grades is nearly eliminated.

STUDENTS WHO GENERATE GOOD QUESTIONS ARE BETTER LEARNERS: Some of the most popular study strategies—highlighting passages, rereading notes, and underlining key sentences—are also among the least effective. A 2020 study highlighted a powerful alternative: Get students to generate questions about their learning, and gradually press them to ask more probing questions. In the study, students who studied a topic and then generated their own questions scored higher on a test than students who used passive strategies like studying their notes and rereading classroom material. Creating questions, the researchers found, not only encouraged students to think more deeply about the topic but also strengthened their ability to remember what they were studying.

DID A 2020 STUDY JUST END THE ‘READING WARS’?: Lucy Calkins Unit of Study was dealt a severe blow when a panel of reading experts concluded that it “would be unlikely to lead to literacy success for all of America’s public schoolchildren.” The study found that the program failed to explicitly and systematically teach young readers how to decode and encode written words, and was thus “in direct opposition to an enormous body of settled research.” The study sounded the death knell for practices that de-emphasize phonics in favor of having children use multiple sources of information—like story events or illustrations—to predict the meaning of unfamiliar words, an approach often associated with “balanced literacy.” Calkins seemed to concede the point, writing that “aspects of balanced literacy need some ‘rebalancing.’”

RESEARCHERS CAST DOUBT ON READING TASKS LIKE ‘FINDING THE MAIN IDEA’: “Content is comprehension,” declared a 2020 Fordham Institute study, sounding a note of defiance as it staked out a position in the ongoing debate over the teaching of intrinsic reading skills versus the teaching of content knowledge. Exposing kids to rich content in civics, history, and social studies appeared to teach reading more effectively than our current methods of teaching reading. According to Natalie Wexler, the author of the well-received 2019 book The Knowledge Gap, content knowledge and reading are intertwined. “Students with more background knowledge have a better chance of understanding whatever text they encounter. They’re able to retrieve more information about the topic from long-term memory, leaving more space in working memory for comprehension,” she recently told Edutopia.