Teaching grit

Teachers can help students develop “non-cognitive” abilities such as adaptability, self-control and motivation, argues Northwestern’s C. Kirabo Jackson in a working paper, Non-Cognitive Ability, Test Scores, and Teacher Quality.

Using 2005-10 North Carolina data on absenteeism, suspensions and grades as a proxy, Jackson finds non-cognitive factors predict college enrollment and lifetime earnings more strongly than cognitive ability, notes Education Gadfly.  Evaluating teachers on their affect on student test scores doesn’t capture their full contributions to student outcomes, Jackson concludes, suggesting evaluations should include teachers’ affect on student suspensions and absences.

I fore see problems. Student suspensions would be a less accurate way to measure students’ self-control if teachers knew they’d earn a higher rating — and perhaps more money — for a lower suspension rate. High school grades are a good way to predict college and career success since they measure work ethic and motivation as well as academic learning. But grade inflation would go wild if teachers were evaluated based on their students’ grades.

True Grit: Can Perseverance Be Taught? is the title of University of Pennsylvania Psychology Professor Angela Duckworth’s 2009 TED talk.

“Non-cognitive abilities” are ways of thinking, writes David Conley, a University of Oregon education professor, in an Ed Week commentary.

Are we not observing a higher form of thinking when we see students persist with difficult tasks, such as overcoming frustration; setting and achieving goals; seeking help; working with others; and developing, managing, and perceiving their sense of self-efficacy?

Executive functioning — the brain “monitors and adjusts to circumstances to accomplish specific aims and objectives” — is a critical part of the learning process, writes Conley.

Gallup: As students age, they disengage

The longer students stay in school, the less engaged they become, reports Gallup.

Seventy-six percent of fifth graders who participated in a student poll said they’re engaged with school. By middle school that fell to 61 percent of students. Only 44 percent of high school students were engaged.


Explanations for the burn out range from “our overzealous focus on standardized testing and curricula to our lack of experiential and project-based learning pathways for students — not to mention the lack of pathways for students who will not and do not want to go on to college,” Gallup concludes.

Khan: Free learning, cheap credentials

Khan Academy founder Salman Khan talks about his new book, The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined, in an interview with MIT Technology Review. Instead of the Prussian model — students march in lockstep through the curriculum — Khan believes technology will make “mastery learning” practical.

Everyone advances at his or her own pace. Don’t try algebra until you know your arithmetic. Spend less time in lectures and more in hands-on problem solving.

Most students can be motivated to learn, if they can go at their own pace, Khan says. “The core reason for students disengaging is that they are frustrated. They’re in algebra class but don’t have a good foundation in pre-algebra or arithmetic.”

Khan Academy is “investing heavily” in analytics, says Khan. “What does a student know? What does a student not know? How effective is the tutorial?” In elementary and middle schools using Khan in the classroom, teachers are very enthusiastic about the real-time learning assessments — more so than the videos.

Online learning will revolutionize higher education and liberate students from ever-rising college costs, Khan says.

Here’s what I think it could look like in five years: the learning side will be free, but if and when you want to prove what you know, and get a credential, you would go to a proctoring center [for an exam]. And that would cost something. Let’s say it costs $100 to administer that exam. I could see charging $150 for it. And then you have a $50 margin that you can reinvest on the free-learning side.

If students can earn credible credits by taking free online classes, the college cartel will be broken, writes Jeff Selingto at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Now universities often reject transfer credits, claiming the quality of instruction doesn’t match their own, he writes.

. . . what happens when students arrive at the registrars’ office with credit-bearing courses from professors at Stanford, Penn, and Princeton? What will the excuse be then to reject the credits—that the courses were free? Such an excuse might finally expose the true reason many colleges refuse to accept transfer credits: They want students to pay them tuition for a class . . .

It all depends on assessment. If there’s a credible, cost-effective way to measure learning, then everything changes.

Teacher lets kids mark faces of slow readers

An Idaho teacher let fourth-graders scribble with markers on the faces of classmates who didn’t meet reading goals, reports the Times-News.

The Declo teacher had let the class pick a reward for those who met Accelerated Reader goals. Instead, the class picked a punishment — no recess or a marked face — for those who fell short.

When Cindy Hurst’s 10-year-old son arrived home from school Nov. 5, his entire face, hairline to chin, was scribbled on in red marker — including his eyelids. He also had green, red and purple scribble marks over the red, and his face was scratched by a marker that had a rough edge.

“He was humiliated, he hung his head and wanted to go wash his face,” said Hurst. “He knows he’s a slow reader. Now he thinks he should be punished for it.”

Nine of 21 students didn’t meet their goals. Three chose to go without recess and six chose to have their faces marked.

Karla Christensen, whose daughter met her reading goal, defended teacher Summer Larsen.

Christensen said if her daughter had come home with similar marks, she would have felt it was a reflection on her own parenting for not making sure her daughter reached her goal.

“I think (Larsen)is just a very creative teacher who was trying to do something to motivate the students and it went astray,” Christensen said.

LeRoy Robinson, a grandfather of two of the marked-up students, said Larsen made a “poor choice and basically, it was bullying.” Children had to wear the marker all day and then found it wouldn’t wash off,  he said.

The teacher missed several days of school after the incident, but it’s not clear whether she was suspended.  A complaint has been filed with the professional ethics board.

The joy of testing

Rigorous exams motivate students and show who needs more help, said Michael Gove, Britain’s secretary of state for education, in an erudite speech that starts by praising the teaching of “French lesbian poetry.”

Now some people will say that if I believe in the adventure of learning and the joy of discovery,  how can I possibly be a fan of testing and examining? It’s like professing a love of cookery – hymning the beauty of perfectly baked souffles or rhapsodising over richly unguent risottos – and then saying the most important thing about food is checking the calorie count in every mouthful. Isn’t an obsession with measurement the enemy of enjoyment, the desire to assess and examine the death of learning for its own sake?

Gove says he understands the argument. Then he refutes it.

. . . Firstly, exams matter because motivation matters. Humans are hard-wired to seek out challenges. . . . If we know tests are rigorous, and they require application to pass, then the experience of clearing a hurdle we once considered too high spurs us on to further endeavours and deeper learning.

. . . Exams show those who have not mastered certain skills or absorbed specific knowledge what more they need to practice and which areas they need to work on.

For all these reasons exams pitched at a level which all can easily pass are worse than no exams at all. Unless there is stretch in the specification, and application is required to succeed, there will be no motivation, no satisfaction and no support for those who need it.

The fourth reason exams matter is that they ensure there is a solid understanding of foundations before further learning starts.

Gove cited research by cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham, who says Gove got the science right, but not necessarily the policy.

People “enjoy mental activity that is successful,” such as solving puzzles, Willingham writes. However, it’s not clear students will be motivated to work hard enough to pass challenging exams. They could conclude it’s hopeless and give up.

Gove is right about the need for background knowledge, but went astray by using “memorisation,” Willingham writes. That inspired the Guardian to declare Gove is advocating rote learning.

(Gove) emphasized that exam preparation should not mean a dull drilling of facts, but rather should happen through “entertaining narratives in history, striking practical work in science and unveiling hidden patterns in maths.”

But whatever Gove may say about rich content and critical thinking, the teachers who most need to improve probably won’t listen, Willingham warns. In the U.S., many teachers felt pressured by No Child Left Behind to teach to the test and cram in facts.

Teachers believed it was necessary because (1) they were uncertain that their old lesson plans would leave kids with the factual knowledge base to pass the test; or (2) they thought that their students entered the class so far behind that extreme measures were necessary to get them to the point of passing; or (3) they thought that the test was narrow or poorly designed and would not capture the learning that their old set of lesson plans brought to kids; or (4) some combination of these factors.

So pointing out that exam prep and memorization of facts is bad practice will probably not be enough.

Testing is unfair to most students, writes Peter DeWitt on Ed Week.  Gove’s call for exams that can’t be passed easily is “not very sporting.”

College readiness starts in preschool

If colleges and universities want well-prepared students, they’ll need to work with local schools and community partners to help children develop academic skills and motivation, starting in preschool, concludes a new report.

Young, gifted and neglected

Very smart kids don’t have enough opportunities to soar, argues Checker Finn in a New York Times op-ed. Low achievers are the priority.

First, we’re weak at identifying “gifted and talented” children early, particularly if they’re poor or members of minority groups or don’t have savvy, pushy parents.

Second, at the primary and middle-school levels, we don’t have enough gifted-education classrooms (with suitable teachers and curriculums) to serve even the existing demand.

. .  .Third, many high schools have just a smattering of honors or Advanced Placement classes, sometimes populated by kids who are bright but not truly prepared to succeed in them.

With Jessica A. Hockett, Finn wrote Exam Schools, a look at public high schools for very bright, very motivated students. Only 1 percent of students attends an exam school, they found. Almost all turn away many qualified applicants.

Why do we provide high-quality learning opportunities only to high-IQ students, asks Sara Mead. She agrees with Finn that our schools don’t maximize the potential of talented low-income and minority students. She believes in “differentiating in schooling to meet the needs of students with differing aptitudes and interests. ”

But the grim reality is that in practice the gifted and talented label–and special programs for youngsters who wear it–often has less to do with meeting specific and unique needs of especially bright youngsters than with rationing access to a limited supply of quality educational options. That’s why parents in places like New York City (where “gifted” children may gain access to specialized placements as early as in kindergarten) are spending exorbitant effort and money to get their kids identified as gifted.

Implicit in many of Finn’s arguments seems to be the assumption that we can’t possibly provide academically demanding, safe, high-quality schools staffed by excellent teachers for all of our kids, so we’d best focus on those who are likely to amount to something some day.

It’s excellent students — not excellent teachers — that make exam schools so good. It should be possible to create good schools for motivated, not-gifted students.  But can it be done for everyone?

Career-tech ed boosts reading

Career tech motivates students to improve their reading skills, writes Randall Garton on Shanker Blog.

It seems commonsensical that kids who are not academically oriented (not a crime, by the way) could be motivated to learn if they see and understand the relationship of that learning to their real world aspirations.  This is one of the reasons that kids in CTE programs tend to complete high school and enjoy post-secondary success in occupations, training, and education at greater rates than their comparable peers.

CTE students will need strong reading skills to “read and absorb technical manuals, understand and program computers, write and respond to memos on technical and professional matters, and interpret tables of instructions,” Garton writes.

. . . the learning of CTE students is “contextualized” – students who are interested in a subject are taught about it, and the more they learn the more complex the text the are able to read about it.

CTE is incorporating literacy and training teachers, but research on what works is in the early stages, Garton writes.

Instead of “the failed mantra of  college for all,” education reformers should promote  ”multiple pathways to success,” he writes. The literacy strategies being field tested in CTE “will extend to the broader population of struggling students who need them desperately.”

 

Gates funds game-based learning

Kids’ enthusiasm for video games could be harnessed by the classroom of the future, Bill Gates told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The Gates Foundation is investing $20 million in teacher tools, including learning games.

Students are grouped according to skill set. One cluster huddles around a computer terminal, playing an educational game or working on a simulator. Another works with a human teacher getting direct instruction, while another gets a digital lesson delivered from their teacher’s avatar.

Gates envisions games as “an adjunct to a serious curriculum.” His foundation is working with the Center for Game Science at the University of Washington to develop learning games, said Vicki Phillips, education director for the Gates Foundation.

 The idea is that in coming years, there could be a digital mall full of low-cost or free online games teachers could download to use with the entire class or individual students.

“Part of what we’re trying to do is make more robust the array of things teachers have access to at their fingertips that are aligned to standards, that are high quality, that engage kids though technology and let [teachers] be the orchestra leader,” Phillips said.

“Motivation is such a huge part in what ends up differentiating student outcomes,” Gates said. And games are motivating.

Do our schools support innovation?, asks Aran Levasseur, a middle school teacher turned technology coordinator, on Mind/Shift.

Technology widens the spectrum of how individuals and teams can access, construct and communicate knowledge. Education, for the most part, isn’t creating learners along these lines. Meanwhile, computers are challenging the legitimacy of expert-driven knowledge, i.e., of the teacher at the front of the classroom being the authority. All computing devices — from laptops to tablets to smartphones — are dismantling knowledge silos and are therefore transforming the role of a teacher into something that is more of a facilitator and coach.

. . . Great teachers are needed now more than ever. But what it means to be a teacher and student is changing . . .

In the comments, Barry Garelick argues the “content of the future” will look a lot like the content of the past, at least in math. “The 21st century will require mastery of the same math skills needed in the 20th century,” he writes.

The Serious Play Conference next month in Seattle will look at measuring the effectiveness of educational games.

Better bribing

Giving students $20 or a trophy before a test — with the threat of taking it away if they do poorly — raises scores more than promising a future reward, concludes a study at low-performing Chicago schools by Steven Levitt (the Freakonomics guy) and others.  Derek Thompson writes in the Atlantic:

First, they found that money works, and the amount of money really matters. Students were reportedly willing to exert significantly more energy at $80-an-hour, but not at $40-an-hour.

. . . Second, they learned that the rewards were most powerful when they were framed as losses rather than gains  (i.e.: “Here is $20. If you fail, I’m taking it away.”) The technical term for this is loss aversion and it’s endemic. We’re more protective of money we have — or think we have — than we are aggressive about seeking money we don’t have. Third, they learned that “non-financial incentives,” like trophies, worked best with young people. Fourth, they learned that rewards provided with a delay — “we’ll get you that check in a month!” — did very little to improve performance.

Unfortunately, education’s rewards usually aren’t immediate. Telling students to study now so they’ll be ready for college or earn more in 10 years may not be effective.