Can’t learn or don’t care?

David Rose founded CAST (Center for Applied Technology) to help learning disabled students understand their lessons. The most pervasive learning disability is emotional, the neuropsychologist tells Hechinger’s Chris Berdik. “We’ve seen that technology can do a lot of stuff to support students, but the real driver is do they actually want to learn something,” says Rose.

CAST has developed Udio, an online reading curriculum aimed at middle-school students who read poorly — and hate doing it.

Rather than the usual “See Spot run” fare of remedial reading, Udio starts by finding kids something they really want to read. Students choose from tons of online articles donated by Sports Illustrated for Kids, NASA, and Yahoo News, among many others, organized by topic. Some articles simply inform, such as a story on bat research or a profile of an extreme athlete, while others cover controversial issues, such as genetically modified food or doctor-assisted suicide. Every article is presented with supports that students can use if they need them, including text-to-speech that will read the article out loud (the kids wear headphones) while highlighting each word, and audible, one-click word translations for English-language learners.

. . . The program prompts students to display what they felt about each article by clicking words like annoying, calming, sad or curious, and then it shows them what their classmates thought about the same articles. Students also make Web-based presentations about the topics that most interest them, using a mix of writing, recorded speech, images and design elements to summarize, draw inferences and make arguments supported by evidence from the reading. They can visit each other’s projects to comment and debate, which they eagerly do.

The goal is to persuade students that reading is something they might want to do, something that is meaningful to them.

In pilots, remedial readers panicked at multiple-choice quizzes to test comprehension.  “These kids have had trouble with tests all through school,” Rose says. “It made the reading feel more like, ‘Oh, this is something I have to do. The teacher gave me this test that, once again, will show that I couldn’t learn anything.’ ”

So Udio tests comprehension by asking readers to solve a puzzle. “Passages from the text appear with blanks and a choice of key words students can choose to make the passage whole again.”

Public school teacher, private school parent

A veteran public school teacher, Michael Godsey explains why his daughter will attend private school. He wants her to go to school with classmates who think learning is cool.

History Day at San Luis Obispo Classical Academy

History Day at San Luis Obispo Classical Academy

San Luis Obispo Classical Academy (SLOCA) is a small private school in California that promotes “personal character” and “love of learning,” he writes in The Atlantic.

In 90 minutes of observing a class at SLOCA, he saw “zero interruptions, zero yawns, and zero cell phones.” All 15 students, ranging from sophomores to seniors, were ready, willing and able to learn.

That the teacher was fluent in that day’s topic, the Holy Roman Empire, was clear in at least two ways: One, she answered every question thoroughly, without hesitation; two, I could actually hear every word she said, in the tone and volume she intended. She didn’t have to yell to be heard, and she didn’t speak quickly in fear of interruption. She could subtly emphasize certain words, and her jokes landed.

He also observed a class at the public high school where he teaches English.

The educator’s passion is evident, and his typed lesson plans are immaculate and thoughtful. It’s not completely clear how fluent he is in the subject matter, however, because he has been interrupted or distracted by 20 things in 20 minutes: a pencil being sharpened, a paper bag being crumpled and tossed, a few irrelevant jokes that ignite several side conversations, a tardy student sauntering in with a smirk, a student feeding yogurt to a friend, a random class clown outside the window, and the subsequent need to lower the blinds, to name a few. The teacher is probably distracted by a disconcerting suspicion that he’s talking primarily to himself.

In public school, where “everything is both free and compulsory,” there is a “culture of coolness, the norm of disengagement,” writes Godsey. He’s willing to pay for his child to be immersed in a community that supports enthusiastic learners.

A principal who matters

Vidal Chastenet

Vidal Chastanet on Humans of New York

Asked about the most influential person in his life by the Humans of New York photo blog, eighth-grader Vidal Chastanet named Nadia Lopez, his middle-school principal. “When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us,” he said. “She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.” The post went viral.

Lopez, who’d founded Mott Hall Bridges Academy in 2010, had been thinking about quitting, reports The Atlantic in Why Principals Matter. She worried her work wasn’t making a difference. Then came the wave of publicity, $1.2 million in donations and a visit with President Obama for the principal and her student.

Lopez told The Atlantic how she’s made Mott Hall a safe haven in Brownsville, Brooklyn, the city’s poorest neighborhood. “In this building, my kids are going to feel like they’re successful,” she said.

‘Better job’ is #1 for college students


Source: The Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A., 2014 Freshman Survey. Responses refer to incoming college freshmen.

Why do Americans go to college? asks a UCLA survey of first-year students. First and foremost, they want better jobs, observes Catherine Rampell in the Washington Post.

The survey has been given every year since 1971. Students today are more likely to rate every objective as “very important,” Rampell writes. “Entitled millennials just expect colleges to do everything for them!”

But the biggest jumps, in percentage-point terms, were for the share saying they went to college to “make more money” (44.5 percent in 1971, versus 72.8 percent in 2014; an increase of 28.3 percentage points that was mostly gained in the earlier years of the survey) . . .

Women are more likely than men to cite intellectual curiosity, notes Rampell.

Free high schoolers to choose their education

By high school, attendance in class should be optional, argues Blake Boles, author of The Art of Self-Directed Learning. High school students should have the freedom — and responsibility — of college students, he writes.

Don’t want to show up to class? Think you can learn it on your own? Fine. Problem sets are due each Friday, the midterm is in six weeks, the final exam is in 12 weeks, and here’s a list of what each exam will test. Good luck.

Sitting in class but not participating? Fiddling around on your computer? Not taking notes? . . . Your loss.

Bored? Getting nothing out of this class? Then why are you here? Drop it and find something you love.

What would happen if students could vote with their feet and learn by consent? Boles asks.

Attendance would drop in the worst classes, he predicts. Demand would rise for electives. “Learning and engagement would “skyrocket.”

The school would adapt to offer extensive new training and support in the realm of meta-learning (i.e., learning how to learn): independent study skills, work habits, personal organization, research, and self-reflection on which courses to choose.

What if students only wanted to take “fun” classes, and not the “hard” or “important” ones? We’d have to create more engaging classes and scale down our vision of a required curriculum.

To engage the students who don’t want to study anything, schools would have to “develop new courses and programs that engage young people of vastly differing learning styles, backgrounds, and inclinations.”

Learners have rights too

Charter schools with strict discipline policies provide learning opportunities for motivated students, wrote Mike Petrilli in a New York Times debate on school discipline. That’s why parents are choosing charters, he argued.

Accused of abandoning troubled students — and worse — he concedes that “pushing kids out of school and giving up on them too soon” is a problem.

There are too many schools with weak cultures, weaker leaders, ineffective discipline policies, and poorly trained staff that resort to punitive actions when other approaches would work better. And this has serious consequences for the kids who are suspended or expelled. Helping schools learn how to create positive school climates and develop alternative approaches is definitely worth doing.

But — you knew there’d be a but — eliminating suspensions and expulsions is “the educational equivalent of . . .  letting windows stay broken,”  argues Petrilli. “It elevates the rights of the disruptive students” above the needs of their classmates.

In high-poverty urban schools, the serious learners are low-income black or brown kids. Their parents can’t afford to move to the suburbs or pay private-school tuition.

Strong public schools have long had tools to deal with these moral dilemmas, including detentions, suspension, expulsion, and “alternative schools” for the most troubled students. Yet some on the left, including in Arne Duncan’s Office of Civil Rights, have been fighting to take these tools away.

“If you want traditional public schools to thrive, allow them to employ reasonable discipline policies that will create environments conducive to learning—including the responsible use of suspension, expulsion, and alternative schools,” writes Petrilli. Otherwise, competent parents will choose charter schools that are safe and orderly.

Critics say there are better ways to create safe, orderly schools, such as “restorative justice” approaches that try to mediate conflicts.

Here’s a video on a conflict-resolution program at an Oakland (California) middle school.

A new research paper from the Discipline Disparities Research-to-Practice Collaborative calls for educators to analyze discipline rates by race and ethnicity and look for alternatives to suspension. These include improving the “cultural responsiveness of instruction,” better classroom management, programs to build supportive relationships between teachers and students and high-quality instruction. “Efforts to increase academic rigor and to increase safe, predictable environments for young people” reduce conflict, the paper concludes.

That last bit seems chicken-and-eggish to me. If you create a safe, predictable environment, you’ll have a safer environment.

How to get students to work harder

High standards mean nothing — except another chance to fail — unless students believe they can learn, write Thomas Toch and Susan Headden, both of the Carnegie Foundation, in The Atlantic.

“Students who doubt their academic abilities, or question whether students with their particular backgrounds belong at their schools, frequently fall behind or fail at school — regardless of their innate intelligence or the quality of the teaching they receive,” they write.

However, it’s possible to raise students’ confidence — and their effort.

In a recent study, 7th-graders at a middle-class, racially diverse New England public middle school were told to write an essay on a personal hero.

The teachers graded the essays the way they typically would, adding routine critical comments like “unclear,” “give examples,” and “wrong word.”

Then the researchers randomly attached one of two sticky notes to each essay. . . Half of them received a bland message saying, “I’m giving you these comments so that you’ll have feedback on your paper.” The other half received a note saying, “I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know you can reach them”—a comment intended to signal teachers’ investment in their students’ success.

. . . Among white students, 87 percent of those who received the encouraging teacher message turned in new essays, compared to 62 percent of those who got the bland note. Among African American students, the effect was even greater, with 72 percent in the encouraged group doing the revision, compared to only 17 percent of those randomly chosen to get the bland message. And the revised essays received higher scores from both the students’ teachers and outside graders hired for the study.

The encouraging note had the largest effect on black students who’d previously trusted teachers the least, concluded researchers. They believed the critical feedback was a sign the teacher cared.

Praising students regardless of their performance is counter-productive, says psychologist Carol Dweck. It suggests effort doesn’t matter.  Students who develop a “growth mindset,” the belief that hard work leads to improvement, are more likely to succeed, she argues.

Latino, African American, and first-generation students often fear they “don’t belong” in college. At the University of Texas in Austin and an elite private university, these students earned more credits and earned higher grades if they received messages encouraging a growth mindset and a sense of belonging.

Overprotective parents raise ‘lazy’ teens

Overinvolved parents are raising “lazy,” unmotivated teen-age boys, writes therapist Adam Price in the Wall Street Journal.

Parents complain their children — especially their sons — aren’t achieving their “potential.” His practice is seeing more “college students, home for a year because when the parents, tutors, coaches and, yes, therapists were no longer around, they failed.”

It’s hard to be motivated by someone else’s goals. Teens crave autonomy, Price writes. Many parents won’t let their children make their own decisions and live with the consequences.

. . . the lack of motivation is not the root problem: For many children, it is the lack of accountability. Parents remove that when they try to protect their children from suffering in the future by doing everything possible to make them successful today

He suggests parents stop telling their kids they’re smart or too “special” to take out the garbage. Set limits. Don’t “saddle children with unrealistic expectations.”

They don’t know and they don’t care

Are Tests Biased Against Students Who Don’t Give A Shit? asks The Onion.

High school grades predict earnings

High school grades matter — not just for college success but also for adult earnings — concludes a University of Miami study published in the Eastern Economic Journal. A person’s grade-point average in high school predicts the odds of starting and finishing college and graduate school, the study found. It also predicts earnings 10 years after high school.

one-point increase in GPA predicts a 12 percent jump in earnings for men, 14 percent for women, reports the Washington Post. It also doubles the likelihood of completing college, the study found.

Average earnings in adulthood vs. high school GPAAfrican-Americans were more likely to go to college and graduate school than whites with similar GPAs and background characteristics, said Michael T. French, professor of health economics, who led the research team. It’s possible “African-Americans with relatively high GPAs are more motivated and determined,” he speculated.

However higher high school grades didn’t lead to higher earnings for black adults, the Post reported. Limited opportunities for minorities or a choice to go into lower-paying fields could explain that, French said.

Too few engineering majors?

A former colleague thinks the Washington Post‘s graph is too neat to be real. Here’s the University of Miami researchers’ graph, which seems to have the same data arranged horizontally.

 

Dhara Patel will graduate from a rural Florida high school with a 10.03 GPA, due to weighted grades for AP and community college courses. (I’ve never heard of a weighted “A” being worth more than 5 points.) She’s already earned an associate degree. Patel is active in student government and high school clubs and volunteers at a local hospital, reports TakePart. And, yes, she’s the valedictorian.