Teacher Talk

Training Students Away From Plagiarism

posted Feb 18, 2018, 5:44 AM by HSD Principal

Michelle Navarre Cleary wrote an awesomely helpful article in the Phi Delta Kappan: Top 10 reasons students plagiarize & what teachers can do about it. It's lengthy, but worth the read. To entice you to read on, here are the ten reasons she addresses:
  1. They are lazy
  2. They panic
  3. They lack confidence
  4. They think they are supposed to reproduce what the experts have said
  5. They have difficulty integrating source material into their own exposition or argument
  6. They do not understand why people make such a fuss about sources
  7. They are sloppy
  8. They do not understand that they need to cite facts, figures, and ideas, not just quotations
  9. They are learning
  10. They are used to a collaborative model of knowledge production
Each of the above reasons gets helpful advice on what we as teachers can do to help students correct for those reasons. And in case students don't fully grasp what plagiarism is...

The poster below, created by Curtis Newbold of Westminster College, can be used to help students understand all the practices that are encompassed by the term plagiarism. I like how comprehensive the initial set of questions is.

Metacognition Isn't Intimidating

posted Jan 28, 2018, 3:44 AM by HSD Principal

Metacognition, as a big and misunderstood word, can prevent teachers from understanding the power behind the practice. In short, it is "thinking about thinking." In his article "How Metacognition Boosts Learning", Youki Terada gives teachers some simple tools to help the practice increase student learning and success. Much of it boils down to training students to ask themselves questions about their learning:

During instruction, students should ask themselves:

    • What are the main ideas of this lesson?
    • Is anything confusing or difficult?
    • If something isn’t making sense, what questions should I ask the teacher?
    • Am I taking good notes?
    • What can I do if I get stuck?

Preparing for tests, students should ask themselves:

    • What will be on the test?
    • What areas do I struggle with or feel confused about?
    • How much time should I set aside to prepare for this test?
    • Do I have the necessary books, supplies, technology, online access, and a quiet place to study
    • What study strategies will I use?
    • How can I test myself to be sure of what I know and fix what I don’t know?
    • Should I study with a friend? Use note cards?
    • What grade would I get if I took the test right now?

After a test, students should be required to answer these questions:

    • Which questions did I get wrong? Why?
    • Were there any surprises?
    • Was I well-prepared?
    • If not, what could I have done differently?
    • Am I receiving useful, specific feedback from my teacher to help me progress?

Building Literacy in Your Classroom

posted Jan 21, 2018, 5:45 PM by HSD Principal

We all ask for examples of what specific teaching practices look like in our own disciplines. If you have been asking how developing literacy fits in with your subject area, the article "But What Does it Look Like?" is for you. The authors share the 4-Es theory of what content-area literacy should accomplish:
  • Engaging and apprenticing students in the problem- and text-based work of the discipline in question;
  • Engineering classroom experiences so students understand and use the discipline’s cognitive strategies;
  • Examining how words, language, and other representations are used in the discipline;
  • Evaluating the ever-evolving cultural practices of the discipline and connections with students’ own cultural practices.
The article then gives examples from a history class and a physics class of what literacy looks like in those two contexts.

Another article lists the four key variables in adolescents’ reading development as:
  • The volume of material they read (ideally 2-4 hours of literacy content learning a day);
  • Text difficulty (ideally students read a variety of levels, including some challenging texts, with support, to stretch proficiency);
  • Background knowledge (a crucial element in comprehension); and
  • Motivation (hooking students’ interest is helpful, as is experiencing success).

They conclude that one way to enhance all four and accelerate adolescents’ reading proficiency and confidence is the use of text sets – carefully chosen groups of material that complement each other, provide different perspectives and reading levels, build students’ interest and confidence, and deepen the reading experience. What text sets have in common, say the authors, “is their focus on providing students the chance to look across texts and build both general and disciplinary knowledge.”

Technology Weening & Differentiation

posted Nov 26, 2017, 6:06 PM by HSD Principal

“Due to the constant temptation to check their smartphones, today’s students are spending less time on their schoolwork, taking longer to complete assignments, and feeling more stressed in the process,” 

says Larry Rosen in a Kappan article. The full article is behind a paywall (sorry), but some cited research includes:
  • Teens are constantly multitasking, even though they know it’s not efficient.
  • When teens have their phones taken away, they become highly anxious.
  • Phone-related anxiety is closely linked to poor academic performance and sleep deprivation.
  • About 80 percent of teens say they rarely if ever sleep well, usually because they have a smartphone at their bedside and check it before going to sleep and during the night.
  • The average adolescent finds it difficult to study for 15 minutes at a time.
  • During a 15-minute stint of studying, teens spend at least five minutes in a state of distraction.
  • 80 percent of high-school teachers and 63 percent of elementary teachers say technology is making students less able to sustain attention.
One of the ways he says teachers can help is to build stamina for studying without technology
Treat this like any kind of strength training, says Rosen: start off easy and gradually increase the amount of time without a tech break. He suggests 15 minutes at first, turning off all websites and apps that aren’t relevant to the study topic, setting an alarm, and placing the phone within sight, face down. When the alarm goes off, the student can check for messages and notifications for a minute, then set another 15-minute alarm. When the student can tolerate 15 minutes, perhaps finishing a paragraph when the alarm goes off rather than immediately grabbing the phone, push the time to 20 minutes, then 25, and so on.
We can help students by being intentional about doing this in class. When you disallow technology use, explain to students why you are doing it and how the practice is helpful. Students need to understand that not being allowed to look at their cellphone constantly isn't a punitive practice, it's a developmental one.

If you want to take a deep dive into differentiation in your classroom, here is a whole issue of HaYidion (a publication for Jewish day schools) based on that topic. It's a challenging read, but includes articles such as "Differentiation in an Inclusive Classroom" and "Differentiated Instruction and the Fairness Challenge" as well as the awesomely titled: "Differentiation: The Key to Unlocking the Joy of Torah Study for All Students."

Fake News & Real Disagreements

posted Nov 19, 2017, 12:34 AM by HSD Principal

Educational Leadership published this article on how to help students distinguish real news from fake news. There are several pieces of advice you can give students and some skills you can teach them to help determine the truth of something they find online.

And for the fun part, there is a list of five online articles at the end you can share with students to have them put their new skills into practice.

Kids, Would You Please Start Fighting: The NY Times published this article on the importance of knowing how to disagree well. The premise is that productive argument is hidden from students and they can end up not knowing how to disagree with someone without getting mad.

While the focus of the article is on younger children, the concept would be helpful to our high school students as well. As we send them out, we should make sure they know how to interact with people with whom they do not agree. Here is a bit of the author's summary:

Instead of trying to prevent arguments, we should be modeling courteous conflict and teaching kids how to have healthy disagreements. We can start with four rules:

• Frame it as a debate, rather than a conflict.

• Argue as if you’re right but listen as if you’re wrong.

• Make the most respectful interpretation of the other person’s perspective.

• Acknowledge where you agree with your critics and what you’ve learned from them.

Small Changes: Little Things Add Up

posted Nov 5, 2017, 1:57 AM by HSD Principal

The Chronicle for Higher Education has published a series on small changes that teachers can make to increase student learning. While the Chronicle is intended for university audiences, most of the ideas in these articles can apply directly to high school learning.

My favorite idea from the article on what you can do in the minutes before class begins: create wonder.

Drawing inspiration from the "Astronomy Picture of the Day" — a NASA website that posts a new and fascinating image from the cosmos every day — he suggests that instructors post an image on the screen at the front of the room and ask two questions about it: "What do you notice? What do you wonder?" Before class starts, let the image direct the informal conversations, Newbury argues, and then use it to guide a brief discussion during the opening minutes of class.

One of the ideas from the article on using the first five minutes of class time: get them writing. The author suggests having a question, prompt, or other discussion starter (possibly connected to the idea above) posted before class that students will begin to write answers to as they enter. Those prompts get the students' minds in the right place to take on the content for the day. He has found that:

Frequent, low-stakes writing assignments constitute one of the best methods you can use to solicit engagement and thinking in class.

And finally, on using the last five minutes of class well, one idea is to have students make connections between the content learned and life outside school. The question they often ask, "When will we ever use this or need to know this?" can be given back to them to answer individually or in pairs.

Finish the last class of the week five minutes early, and tell students that they can leave when they have identified five ways in which the day’s material appears in contexts outside of the classroom. You’ll be amazed at how quickly they can come up with examples when this activity stands between them and the dining hall.

The whole series of articles is worth the read; there are other articles on helping students make connections, allowing students to give input on instruction and assessment, and more.

Phone Use in Class & Being One Among Many

posted Oct 22, 2017, 6:01 PM by HSD Principal

Here's an Edutopia article about phone use in class. There are three ideas for managing use, but the common thread in them all is:

If you take the time in the first week of school to establish a management system and a social contract and to open up dialogue about student cell phone use, expectations are clear.

You have discretion in how and how often students use devices in your classroom, so just make sure students know what is expected and allowed.

- - - 

The chart below - linked from this article - is an approximation of a student's K-12 school experience, broken down into how much time he or she will spend with each teacher.


When a student reaches the end of that timeline, there is a set of skills and knowledge that we hope he has. My big takeaway from the article and the chart was the importance of

curriculum coherence or the challenge of ensuring that as students move from one classroom to another, they learn the right stuff from all those teachers. Several commentators have quipped that schools are really a bunch of independent contractors loosely connected by corridors and stairways. Indeed, the autonomy and “academic freedom” that many teachers have are what makes teaching an attractive profession for independent-minded folks. That’s good for creativity and experimentation in classrooms, but if teachers are allowed to decide what they teach as well as how they teach it, students are going to emerge from high school with Swiss cheese holes in their knowledge and skills, and they’ll pay the price later on.

Self-Directed Learning Through Uncertainty

posted Oct 15, 2017, 12:56 AM by HSD Principal   [ updated Oct 15, 2017, 12:57 AM ]

Ronald Beghetto writes about why inviting uncertainty into your classroom might be beneficial to your students. Some of his ideas are especially relevant to helping our students become Self-Directed Learners since when you don't have all the answers, students need to come up with some on their own.

Many... good things may come from welcoming uncertainty into our classrooms. But we will never realize these benefits unless we're willing to take the beautiful risk of allowing students to unleash their problem solving on complex challenges—inside and outside the classroom.

His five big ideas are:

1. View Good Uncertainty as Opportunity

Good uncertainty, however, provides students opportunities to engage with the unknowns of a challenge in an otherwise supportive, well-structured environment. For example, when students are trying to come up with their own ways of solving a problem, teachers can let them know in advance about key constraints (such as time and materials), what's required for success, and how they can get additional assistance if they get stuck.

2. Try Lesson Unplanning

[Teachers can make] slight adjustments to pre-existing lessons—what I call lesson unplanning. This refers to replacing some predetermined element (such as the problem or process) with a to-be-determined (by the students) component. Doing so transforms a routine exercise into a more complex one.

3. Assign Complex Challenges

If we want to prepare students to respond productively to uncertainty, we need to have them tackle a full range of challenges, including those addressing ill-defined problems and big issues—such as developing an inexpensive, accurate way to detect the Ebola virus or designing a robot that can clean trash from New York's subways (Stone, 2016). Such work invites students to engage in tasks, situations, or experiences that are filled with uncertainty. There are no sure-fire formulas or predetermined steps to solve a problem like how to address under-the-radar bullying. And the nature of such problems can change during the process of solving them.

4. Explore the Backstory of Famous Solutions

One way to help students learn to tackle complex challenges is to let them learn from models of successfully solved problems and accomplished problem solvers. Doing so requires students to go beyond the "what" of solved problems and learn about the why, who, how, when, and where of getting to that solution.

5. Launch Never-Ending Projects

What if instead of limiting projects to the classroom and viewing them as coming to an end, we engaged students in projects that address authentic complex challenges and that make a lasting contribution beyond classroom walls, what I call legacy challenges? A legacy challenge represents an issue, problem, or situation that requires us to develop an ongoing solution and pass that solution on from one group of young people to the next.

Making Sure all Students Participate

posted Oct 6, 2017, 9:41 PM by HSD Principal

Watching your class have an animated discussion is satisfying and makes us feel accomplished as teachers. But sometimes we can be so happy that some students are participating that we miss the fact that many others are not. In an article describing what she calls the 'Fisheye Syndrome', Jennifer Gonzalez gives some advice on how to make sure all students are engaged in class activities. Including:

Make your intentions transparent. Talk to your students about this issue, and ask them to help change the current dynamic. This will prepare your quiet students, so they won’t be startled by the sudden shift in attention.
Increase wait time. We should be waiting at least three seconds between posing a question and calling on a student to answer... Want to go even further? Add a “no hands” time, where no one gets to raise their hands at first: You ask the question, EVERYONE thinks for a moment about their answer with their hands down, then give them the go-ahead to raise their hands, then you call on someone.
Pre-load discussions. Give shy students a head start by slipping them the discussion questions ahead of time. Actually, go ahead and give them to everyone. The talkative students could also benefit from some more thinking time.

The full article with more advice and much more information is here.

Do we get more than spirit out of Spirit Week?

posted Sep 10, 2017, 3:08 AM by HSD Principal

Spirit Week takes a lot of students' - and teachers' - focus off academic matters and takes time away from learning, but we continue to value it and schedule it every year. It turns out there are some good reasons for that, even though we may not have been able to articulate them.

Several studies, including this one by Harris Poll, have found a positive correlation between students having an affinity for their school ("school spirit") and academic success.

Just how Google is known for its culture in the business world, achievement is linked to spirit in the educational realm.

Full disclosure since we want to model proper evaluation of sources: this study was conducted by an independent polling company, but was commissioned by a conglomerate that sells athletic wear, class rings, yearbooks, and sporting equipment to schools.

And this study (conducted in New Zealand!) also found positive correlations between school spirit and academic success, but in this instance the results were connected with how these types of activities make students feel:

[School spirit activities are] a vehicle for conveying the values and the ethos of the school... In addition to the collective values which are part of the school identity, school spirit played a role in reinforcing individual worth. “School spirit says this school is a place where I am valued and wanted”.


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