Teacher Talk

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”.

More Thoughts on Collaboration

posted Sep 2, 2017, 12:10 AM by HSD Principal

Let's not wait for a situation like a double block week to be intentional at helping each other to get better at teaching - and helping our students become better learners. Here are some more resources on making the most of collaborating, and some simple ideas about making it more a part of our regular practice.

Matching Complementary Strengths: This article gives the process two teachers went through when they were required to collaborate. But it also includes some ideas for teachers on how to get started working with others, including asking questions as you being your planning:

It's OK to come in and say, 'What are you doing on journal prompts? I need to know right now and take it.' Or, 'What are you doing in the afternoon for math? I know that we're working in fractions, but do you have anything that you're going to do besides what's being asked inside the curriculum?' Or, 'Hey, I know we're reading this novel. Are you starting to introduce the characters? Are you having them look at it before we read, or are you looking at it when you're reading?'

Here is a cute PDF poster giving six Benefits of Teacher Collaboration based on a study done in Pennsylvania schools. One of their primary findings:

100 % of the study participants said their teaching improved.

This article on The Power of Teacher Collaboration is one among many that stresses the importance of finding intentional time to work at collaborating.

And for those of you who like more data: here are the results of a wide survey conducted by the Teachers Network. They also address the second hurdle I mentioned in our staff meeting last week:

Collaboration – sharing knowledge and ideas – implies risk. Both survey and interview data gathered by CTQ in various urban districts drives home the point that collaboration is difficult to execute without a sense of trust among teachers... “If you…don’t mesh well, then it becomes very difficult to feel successful in a model where you must rely on someone else and their judgment.” Teachers who work in trusting environments have a basis for inquiry and reflection into their own practice, allowing them to take risks, challenge and critique each other, and collectively solve tough problems.

Getting Ready for Double Doubles

posted Aug 10, 2017, 5:17 PM by HSD Principal

As we try having more extended class times during the week, I want to make sure you all have some resources to plan for and use the time well, as well as giving you some time to actually prepare for the week. We will spend intentional time doing both those things during our 29 August divisional meeting, but below is a collection of sources to help you get started:

Designing Long Classes: a resource developed for RIT college professors who are stepping into teaching for longer class periods that has some good tips on planning and running a longer class session. One quick tip from them:

Review the agenda with class at the beginning of class so students know what to expect and know that your lecture won’t be going on “forever.”

Here is one social studies teacher's advice on using extended class time, along with a few unexpected surprises that came with making the change. Here's an example of his advice:

The planning process for extended classes should be approached in the spirit of a fresh beginning rather than with the intention of adjusting old lesson plans. The critical thinking goals of the extended classes are attainable only if they are the primary objective.

Math has been one of the subjects for which the concept of more double blocks can seem especially daunting. To help alleviate some of that, here is one math teacher's experience at moving to extended class time, with some specific ideas on using the time well. One of his insights:

Long periods do not work well if they are just like short periods, except longer. You cannot lecture at teenagers for 70 minutes and expect them to be able to maintain an appearance of engagement, something they can barely manage in a 50-minute period. Thus, a teacher who believes that giving whole-period lectures is the only way to teach their subject legitimately would consider the long period a threat. However, for a teacher who has been eager to broaden their pedagogical repertoire, the long period is wonderful. (And it certainly does not exclude the use of lectures, which remain a very important tool under any schedule.)

Getting Students Ready to Do College Reading

posted Aug 17, 2016, 1:20 AM by HSD Principal

In this article in Education Update, Laura Varlas says all too many students do well on the ACT and SAT, but when they get to college, they can’t do the work. Why? The main problem is reading. A recent NAEP assessment found that only 37 percent of high-school seniors scored at the college-ready level in reading and math. “Having to complete remedial work [in college] is discouraging, expensive, and puts students off track for the careers they hope to have,” says Elizabeth Gonsalves, an English department head in Massachusetts. In her school, what galvanized teachers was seeing a college syllabus and tasks and prompts from a typical professor. “When my department saw what those were, we knew we had to make changes…” Here’s what students need to learn:

            • Reading for understanding – In literature classes, students must be able to analyze why characters did something and the reasoning behind it, not just do a summary and identify characters and details. In history classes, they need to get the big picture, not just memorize facts.

            • Working with multiple texts – In college, students will be asked to compare texts and use multiple sources to support a claim. The texts might be as different as a novel, podcast, and infographic.

            • Mastering broader, Tier 3 vocabulary – For example, students need to know terms like the political left and the political right, and that can come only from reading a variety of contemporary texts such as New York Times articles and commentaries.

            • Going beyond narrative – Many high-school students are comfortable with texts where the narrative takes control and reading is logical and sequential. They need to do more analytical reading and be exposed to narratives that are not straightforward – for example, William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. Teaching students how to take Cornell notes helps them get into a back-and-forth conversation with a text, and marking up a text with colored pens and sticky notes is also helpful.

            • Using close reading – College students are sometimes overwhelmed by the amount of reading they’re being assigned, but skimming is not the solution. They need to slow down, re-read, and focus on beginnings, endings, and key passages, asking themselves questions like, “Why did this person take this position?” and “What do you think is going to happen next?”

            Of course, preparing students for college-level reading is not just the job of high-school English teachers. “We need to get all grade levels scaffolded toward a college reading level,” says Donna Pasternak of the University of Wisconsin. “If we’re all invested in what college reading is, we have a better opportunity to support and scaffold it.” High-school students should be reading journal articles in science and working with source documents in history. This Modern Language Association website https://k16alliances.commons.mla.org is designed to get K-12 educators sharing writing prompts, syllabi, and strategies for working with complex texts.

“Syllabus-ted: Preparing Students for the Rigors of College Reading” by Laura Varlas in Education Update, July 2016 (Vol. 58, #7, p. 1, 4-5), available for purchase at


With a grateful heart

posted May 28, 2016, 8:10 PM by HSD Principal

Dear friends,

The past three years have passed by in a blur it seems. But one thing remains very clear to me as my time at Faith Academy comes to an end: journeying with you all has been a privilege. 

Thank you for three very memorable years. I have been enriched, inspired and challenged (in good ways;-) by you all and by life in HSD. Yes, there were ups and downs, but that is what has made the experience rich and real. For all this, I am very grateful. Thank you for being a part of that.


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