During a recent professional development training, I was talking with some teachers from neighboring schools, and the topic of our current contentious presidential race came up. One teacher said his school had decided to ban any sort of political campaigning or sign posting. He said the administration was concerned about inappropriate discussions and aggressive disagreements, so the decision was made to simply avoid the whole thing. I was flabbergasted. If we as educators can’t provide frameworks and processes for students to have intelligent and respectful conversations about the leadership of our country, where are our young people going to learn to be active citizens? In my mind, learning the art and practice of civil discourse is an integral responsibility of public education in the United States.
People who have read any of my work know I’m an expert at misappropriating titles, expressions, and other text. The title of this piece is a perfect example of a poorly executed mash up of talk the talk, walk the walk.
In this case, the point I’m making is that talking yourself through complex tasks (the walk) really works. We should be using this process when we teach and also encourage students to do it themselves when they are facing academic and other challenges.
When I was a third-year teacher, I was asked to mentor a new teacher in our building. I wasn’t exactly asked; it was more like I was informed of this new opportunity for which I would receive a $150 stipend.
This new teacher was brand new to the profession, and she taught in a totally different discipline. Her prep period was in the morning and mine was at the end of the day. She was upstairs, and I was downstairs. We met sporadically and commiserated a bit. I was nearly new myself and had no training for this responsibility. I did my best. I observed her classes and congratulated her on what went well. I often baked brownies for her when she was feeling particularly overwhelmed. Yet, even at the time, I realized what I offered did little to help her develop skills for teaching. The money would have been better spent buying her a few Post-it®notes and some very strong coffee. Recently, I was again offered the opportunity to mentor some new teachers, and this time, with a bit more experience and training, I hope to do a better job. Mentoring fellow teachers is important work and can be mutually rewarding, but a mentor has to be more than just a paid buddy.
How do we think? It depends.
As you undoubtedly know, thinking about some things is easier than others. Here’s an example based on two related questions.
Question 1: How many days are in a year?
Question 2: How many days are in 80 years?
To answer Question 1, you engage brain System 1. This is a relatively automatic set of responses that require little effort, at least for most people. Once you learn there are 365 days in a typical year, you can retrieve that information effortlessly.
To answer Question 2, you engage brain System 2. Using this system requires more effort and concentration. You might call it higher-level thinking, and it can get complicated.
Formative assessment is an important tool to take full advantage of, especially in this transitional era of implementing more rigorous standards.
When correctly incorporated into classroom practice, the formative assessment process provides information needed to adjust teaching and learning while they are happening. The process serves as practice for the student and a check for understanding during the learning process. The formative assessment process guides teachers in making decisions about future instruction.
The week before school ended last spring, one of my students asked what I planned to do with my summer vacation. I told him I was taking classes at the local university, and he blanched. He paused a moment and then asked, “But why?” I smiled and told him that I like learning. He shook his head and then gave me a look of disbelief mixed, I think, with pity. We were on the cusp of summer vacation, so I can easily understand his reaction, but I do strive to be a lifelong learner. I think most teachers are addicted to learning. You have to love learning to choose an occupation that keeps you in school for most of your life. We know that lifelong learning is an attitude that can enrich our lives, but I believe it’s important to share this knowledge with our students.
Here’s the most excellent example of stating the obvious in the history of educational research. When an intervention is implemented with high fidelity, it is more effective than when it is implemented with low fidelity. Really, it’s that simple … and obvious.
So, what is this fidelity of implementation thing? Simply put, fidelity of implementation describes the extent to which delivery of an instructional practice adheres to the protocol on which it was developed or field tested. Or as my father liked to say when I was fiddling with assembling models as a kid, “Do it the way the instructions say.”
The overwhelming feelings of fear and insecurity rise into my throat as I stare into my plan book, pencil tapping away at the empty space where my first week of instruction should be. When do I start with my content areas? When are the materials arriving? Will we have test scores by then to begin grouping? I’m getting ahead of myself.
After several long, deep breaths, I begin to remember what these first weeks are really about. I won’t be overwhelming my students with an explicit lesson on narrative writing during day one. I won’t be diving into comprehension quizzes on day two. I must go slow to go fast. Establish norms. Build my classroom community.
In his book “Thinking Fast and Slow” (Kahneman, 2011), Daniel Kahneman tells us many critical things about how our minds work, and how those processes affect the manner in which we make decisions. He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his life’s work, and presents to us simple rules that can guide how we make decisions about our own lives, including what we purchase and how we get along with our partners, friends, and family. He also illustrates the importance of observing longer term patterns to make decisions, and not allowing single events to lead us to believe that something is “true.”
The essence of learning is change. For learning to take place, there must be a change in behavior, cognition, or emotion. In all cases, learning is change. It's not just a good idea, it's the law. If there is no change, there is no learning.
No, this is not an example of the “appeal to extremes” logical fallacy, also known as reductio ad absurdum. Nor is it evidence that I was raised in a Skinner Box. (The row house in South Philadelphia where I spent my first five years was home to three generations, including a grandmother who was born in Ireland.) Learning equals change.