Thursday, March 5, 2020

Monitor Student Learning with Kidwatching

In this overview, you'll learn how to use kidwatching to track and support student learning. Teachers observe and take notes on students' understanding of skills and concepts and then use the observations to determine effective strategies for future instruction.


Yetta Goodman popularized the term kidwatching, the practice of “watching kids with a knowledgeable head” (9). In kidwatching, teachers observe students’ activities, noticing how they learn and what they do to explore their ideas. Teachers then examine anecdotal notes and other evidence to see how and when students engage in learning. After this review, teachers use their observations to differentiate activities to meet the needs of individual students. The strategy is based on “a seek-to-understand stance by attempting to look at life, literacy, and learning through the children’s eyes” (Mills 2). By discovering how students learn, teachers are able to choose the most effective strategies for each pupil.
Goodman, Y. M. (1985). Kidwatching: Observing Children in the Classroom. In A. Jagger and M. T. Smith-Burke (Eds.), Observing the Language Learner (pp. 9-18). Urbana: NCTE and IRA.
Mills, H. (2005). “It’s All about Looking Closely and Listening Carefully.” School Talk 11(1), 1–2.


In the simplest explanation, kidwatching is exactly what it sounds like: watching kids as they read, write, collaborate, and participate in class. It is not formal assessment, but a series of anecdotes of student development that you share with families and administrators to provide concrete evidence of the kinds of student learning that traditional testing and reporting can have difficulty capturing. Try these strategies to use kidwatching in your classroom:

·       Take advantage of a variety of ways to observe students. Do not limit your kidwatching to what you see and can write down during a class session. Look at all the artifacts you have access to. Class documents, reading and writing samples, K-W-L ChartsExit Slips, and even video or audio recordings can help you identify how students are learning. 

·       Think carefully about who you observe when. You do not need to observe every student at length every day. Simply find a method that will fit within the structures of what you're doing in the class and make it a habit.

·       Choose a simple notetaking system. You can make a seating chart or a two-column list with students’ names on one side and space to record notes on the other. Some teachers arrange sticky notes on a clipboard, with one note for each student. After recording their observations, they sort the sticky notes into student folders. Simple rubrics and check sheets, like this Editing Checklist for Self- and Peer Editing, can also be part of your notetaking system. Recognize that the best format may change depending upon the activities that you’re observing. Keep your system simple and flexible.

·       Record basic information for every kidwatching episode so that you can notice students’ cognitive development over time. At a minimum, record student name, the date, the time of day, and, if relevant, the kind of activity students are working on. These details will allow you to arrange observations sequentially so that you can look for signs of growth.

·       Choose guiding questions to move beyond simply being aware of whether students are “on task” to paying attention to how they are accomplishing the task. If students are taking a test, for instance, your guiding question might be “Does student performance demonstrate rote knowledge, a guess based on the available information, a random choice, or knowledge found through testing and exploring?” This guiding question would lead you to note who is quickly speeding through the questions and who is just staring at the test. You would notice who was looking at the word wall, who scribbles notes on scratch paper, and who seems to be daydreaming. Your guiding question should help you identify what to look for as you observe students at work.

·       Use your kidwatching observations to plan activities. Examine your notes and other artifacts to see how students engage in learning then apply your findings to future class sessions and units. Observations alone can be useful; but what makes kidwatching a particularly strong tool is the step that teachers take to move beyond observations to analysis and curriculum building based on those observations.

Rather than tracking what students know or can do, kidwatching is a valuable assessment tool because it focuses on how students make meaning and learn new skills. By paying attention to how students learn, kidwatching gives teachers the information to differentiate instruction and plan classroom activities that fit the specific needs of their students.

ReadWriteThink NCTE 2020

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

How Much Should Teachers Talk in the Classroom? Much Less, Some Say...

If you carried a stopwatch into your district's schools and sat quietly in various classrooms for a week, timing how much teachers talk and how much students talk, what would you find?
Are lessons dominated by teachers talking? Do students have a robust role in discussing what they're learning? Or are they mostly answering procedural or factual questions? Are teachers consciously monitoring how much they talk? Should they be?
Research and front-line teacher experience suggest they should be. And some teachers are using new tools like apps on their phones to help them reflect on their classroom talk habits.
Most educators agree that it's important for teachers to get students talking about what they're learning. Doing so can get students more involved and interested in what they're studying and help them understand it better. It can also yield valuable insight into what students need, and improve achievement.
"If you're talking all the time, how can you hear the impact of your teaching?" asked John Hattie, a laureate professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia who has analyzed research on "teacher talk." He's concluded that teachers should talk less and think more carefully about when they're talking and the kinds of questions they're asking.
Teachers who have experimented with changing the balance of student and teacher talk in their classrooms, and researchers who study it, say that simply shifting the ratio isn't enough. The real goal is finding ways to spark productive classroom discussions.

'Surface' and 'Deep' Stages
There are many ways to do that. Getting students to talk more about their learning means teachers must carefully plan lessons that include more open-ended questions. But before teachers can consistently do that planning, they must navigate a deeper shift. Educators who have revamped their classroom talk habits say they've had to reinvent their roles as tellers and become askers and listeners.
"It's more than a collection of strategies. It's a mind shift," said Rosie Reid, an English teacher at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek, Calif.
Therese Arahill, an instructional coach in New Zealand, described that mind shift.
"I join their discussion, … answering their questions," Arahill said via Facebook. "It's an attitude. Moving away from teacher ego, toward student voice, student agency."
Research documents the dominance of teacher voices in classrooms. Hattie's synthesis of studies on the topic, detailed in his 2012 book, Visible Learning for Teachers, found that teachers talk for 70 percent to 80 percent of class time on average. His own research produced an even higher average: 89 percent.
All that talking doesn't necessarily produce good learning. One study tracked middle and high school students and found their engagement flagged the most when their teachers were talking. Others show that most of teachers' questions seek lower-order responses like factual recall.
On the flip side, researchers have found that students' comprehension, engagement, and test scores improve when they get to discuss what they're learning. But research hasn't elucidated many details that could guide teachers, Hattie said, such as the right ratio of monologue to dialogue and how talk patterns might need to shift to suit students' grade level or the topic being taught.
Hattie's own studies, in classroom "labs" at his university, suggest that teachers should talk more as students are acquiring information and shift into a questioning mode as they're deepening their understanding, he said. He encourages teachers to split their lessons into "surface" and "deep" stages and plan distinct strategies for each.

Measuring and Analyzing
Many teachers start with the simplest piece: paying attention to how much they talk. Some are using a new app, TeachFX, on their phones or laptops to measure it. They click it open as class begins, and afterward, the app emails them an analysis of talk patterns, such as how much the teacher talked and whether he asked open-ended questions. Another app, Visible Learning, designed by Hattie, offers similar tools.
Reid, who is California's 2019 teacher of the year, said TeachFX helped her spot a pattern she needed to change.
"I was talking at them too much at the beginning of class, when my students are at their freshest," she said. "I realized I need to use that time to do engaging warm-ups instead."
Jamie Poskin, a former English and math teacher who developed TeachFX as a Stanford University graduate student, said he's been surprised that teachers find the app so useful by itself, even without professional learning linked to it.
"They're telling us that just seeing the data profoundly affected their perspectives," he said. "They're shocked by how much they talk and how little their kids talk."
Once they see that feedback, Poskin said, they "unlock knowledge they already had" and start using it, such as deliberately including more open-ended questions in their lesson planning and making sure they extend the "wait times" between asked and answered questions.
One strategy Reid uses is to get students to reflect regularly on their own talking. She distributes what she calls "metacognitive cards" that the teenagers keep on their desks during class discussions. They make notes about things like whether they built on classmates' ideas or cited textual evidence and how much they talked. They evaluate their participation and set goals for improvement.

Finding New 'Moves'
An instructional coach from Hampden, Maine, Susan O'Brien, encourages teachers to do what she did with her 5th grade students when she was in the classroom. O'Brien used nine "talk moves" designed by two Massachusetts researchers to promote "academically productive" discussion.
To facilitate conversation, O'Brien rearranged her classroom so students sat in groups at tables. She taught them things to say in discussions to help them speak, listen, and build on one another's ideas, such as, "Let me see if I understand what you're saying" and "Can you say more about that?"
And she had to make another big change: She had to talk less and listen more. She started walking around the tables, eavesdropping on students' discussions.
"What I saw was that students started leading their own learning instead of having me up front doing sit-and-get," O'Brien said. "They were challenging each other and stretching their own thinking."
Cris Tovani, a literacy consultant and instructional coach whose 2017 book with researcher Elizabeth Birr Moje, No More Teaching as Telling, explores ways to reduce teacher talk, said that one of her favorite strategies for promoting good classroom discussion is using a simple chart she developed to record her observations as students discuss what they're reading, in small groups or as a whole class. She calls it "the discussion catcher."
In one section of the chart, teachers can jot down quotes or interactions they see that reflect good discussion, like one classmate helping another understand something, and share them later with students. Teachers can also use the chart for their own planning, noting areas of misunderstanding that could use a follow-up mini-lesson.
Revising the kinds of questions she asked, and waiting longer before providing answers, were important changes Tovani made in her classroom as she tried to get more students talking, she said. When students made comments, she'd "toss the ball back to them" with responses like, "Why do you think that?" or "Tell me more."
"Teachers hate wait time, but kids hate it more," she said. Talking about ideas together, rather than quickly resolving a question with a "right answer," produced more complex, interesting discussions, she said.
A Colorado high school history teacher, Lucas Richardson, came up with six strategies to build meaningful student talk in his class. A big one, he said, is asking questions that aren't designed to get a predetermined answer but instead aim to offer insight into students' thinking.

Whose Voice?
Richardson likes to start class with students' voices, staging 90-second "micro debates" about controversial topics. He restricts himself to no more than 10 minutes of talk at a time in his 70-minute class periods. He also has students do more ungraded writing in class, he said. That allows them time to think about what they want to say and is especially helpful with quieter students, he said.
A 2017 project called "Who's Doing The Work?," inspired by the book of the same name by teachers-turned-consultants Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris, explored a variety of strategies designed to get students talking more and got strong, positive results: After only six weeks of using those strategies, 90 percent of the teachers who participated reported that they talked less and their students were more engaged.

Led by Student Achievement Partners, which provides instructional coaching, several small groups of elementary teachers tried to expand students' own leadership in their learning. Instead of pre-teaching before children read a text, they'd let them read—or they'd read aloud to them if they were young children—and then ask questions like, "How did you figure that out?" Before correcting wrong answers, they tried using open questions like, "Is that right? How do you know?"
Teachers in the project also worked to downplay their own talk and facilitate discussion among students. They used such prompts as, "What do you think? Agree, disagree, or add on," and "Let's hear from three more people and decide if we agree." Instead of calling only on students who raised their hands, they tried asking everyone to write their responses down before a discussion began.
Responding to the survey after the project, one teacher said that "students are doing more of the thinking" with the new strategies. Another videotaped herself teaching before and after the project, and the second video showed "more students were contributing, thinking, and tracking" what their classmates said.

By Catherine Gewertz, EdWeek 2019
Education Week Librarian Maya Riser-Kositsky contributed to this report.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Why Are We Doing Silent Sustained Reading Anyway?

It's called lots of different things: Drop Everything and Read (DEAR), Sustained Silent Reading (SSR), Silent Reading (SR) and Million Minutes to name a few. Regardless of the different names, the intent is the same — to develop fluent readers by providing time during the school day for students to select a book and read quietly. Nearly every classroom provides some time during the instructional day for this independent silent reading. Despite its widespread use in classrooms, silent reading hasn't enjoyed much support in the research literature.

The influential 2000 National Reading Panel report Teaching Children to Read examined 14 experimental studies that sought to determine whether encouraging reading had an impact on improving reading achievement. Following their analysis, the panel concluded that the collective results did not provide clear evidence that encouraging students to read more actually led to improved reading achievement. Of the few studies that did find gains in student reading, "the gains were so small as to be of questionable educational value." (p. 3-26). In short, the panel concluded that the research has yet to prove that sustained silent reading efforts lead to improved reading achievement. In addition, the panel suggested that their findings didn't mean that encouraging students to read more could not be made to work, rather that the way it has been done (and studied) in the past has failed to produce changes in reading achievement.
Revisiting Silent Reading (Hiebert & Reutzel, 2010) encourages us to rethink silent reading, to consider some advice about it, and to think about how to make it work in your classroom. Chapter 8 provides teachers with information about four conditions that improve the practice of silent reading in classrooms. These include:

1.     Student self-selection of reading materials: Teachers should guide students to choose good texts to read during silent reading time. The books should be of interest, should draw from a variety of genre and topics, and should be at an appropriate level — not too easy, not too hard. This is particularly important for struggling readers who often select books they cannot read. It should not be used for Accelerated Reader (AR) time. 
2.     Student engagement and time on task during silent reading time: Teachers should keep a pulse on students during SR time. Emphasize that SR time is reading practice time. It's not indoor recess, but rather it has an important purpose: to provide time to practice reading skills. 
3.     Accountability: Related to the above, accountability of what has been read helps build reading stamina and proficiency. Several methods of accountability are suggested, including logs with reflection, reader response to general questions, and student discussion of recount of reading.  Levels of accountability has proven to lead to improved reading achievement. 
4.     Interactions among teachers and students: It's important to foster teacher-student and student-student conversations about books. Rather than using your SR time to read yourself, engage your students in conversations about what they're reading.
Reutzel, Jones and Newman (2010) developed Scaffolded Silent Reading (ScSR) as an approach to silent reading that addresses many of the four conditions. ScSR includes thoughtful classroom library arrangements, color coded levels, a reading genre wheel, and student-teacher conferences. Preliminary research on ScSR suggests that silent reading programs can be improved if the teacher makes several proactive decisions, including structuring, guiding, teaching, interacting with, monitoring, and holding students accountable for time spent reading independently and silently.
If your instructional day includes time for silent reading, it's important that the time be spent as wisely as possible- especially if you want students to demonstrate improved reading achievement. Following the guidelines presented here is a good first step.

Thanks to Reading Rockets for the information in this post. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Instructional Leaders

The golden rule in any leadership position is to develop and nurture positive relationships. Perhaps Ghandi said it best, "I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles, but today it means getting along with people." People do not want to collaborate with someone who is negative, confrontational, or critical, and successful ILs quickly learn that principle. First and foremost, they work to establish positive relationships with colleagues so learning and growth are possible.
Instructional Leaders also provide clarity, support, and resources for teachers to identify "the point" in our instruction and in our students' learning, thereby increasing effective teaching.
Since I have had the privilege of working with many skilled ILs, I know there are several habits they have in common that cultivate an environment that is conducive to learning, reflection, and growth for both students and teachers.

Habit #1—Instructional Leaders Understand Neuroscience
The young brain is very different from the mature brain and we see examples of it all the time in the learning environment. When Jeremiah makes a bad choice and we ask him why he made that choice, he almost always responds with a shoulder shrug and an, "I don't know."
The brain develops from the stem forward, with the last area of the brain to activate called the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC). The PFC, otherwise known as the Executive Functioning Center, is in charge of processing cause and effect, impulse control, attention span, organizational skills, and emotional stability.
Experts believe the PFC fully activates in the female around 20 years old. The male PFC often takes a little longer, fully activating in the mid-twenties. This has serious implications for educators as we sometimes place the same expectations on the young brain that we have for the mature brain, which sets our students up for failure.
The good news is that we can accelerate healthy brain development and help students develop the skills they need for success. When we provide students explicit instruction in literacy, communication and critical thinking strategies, reflection, social-emotional learning, and growth mindset, the neural connections in the PFC increase.
Instructional Leaders are knowledgeable in neuroscience and they provide professional development opportunities and resources to ensure routines, expectations, learning experiences, and assignments are developmentally appropriate, while simultaneously fostering healthy brain development.

Habit #2—Instructional Leaders Are Connected Lead Learners
As society changes, student and teacher needs change. From Standards Based Report Cards to PBL to 1:1 deployment, education is an evolving entity. It is imperative that educators evolve as well. To remain current, effective ILs model and demonstrate the importance of continued learning.
Instructional Leaders are often involved in one or more professional education organizations, such as AMLE, and are also connected to other educators via social media, such as Twitter. They may also facilitate staff book studies, Tech Tuesdays, webinars, and collaborative analysis of student work. These opportunities provide continued growth, collaboration, and networking with others in and outside our districts and maximize our resources and learning capacity.

Habit #3—Instructional Leaders Support Content AND Comprehension Instruction
Instructional Leaders know that effective teaching is not rocket science … it is far more complicated.
Making school relevant to our students requires that we teach students both content AND comprehension. Many educators have heard a teacher lament, "I don't have time to teach comprehension because I'm too busy covering math standards." If a teacher believes his only role is to cover content, the teacher is doing a disservice to his students because authentic learning requires comprehension.
An IL's expertise and instructional resources are invaluable in helping others develop the knowledge and skills needed to increase student achievement and independence.
For example, an IL may provide training and resources in how to teach note-taking, analysis, or supporting a claim with evidence. A few strategies that I am often asked to share are PDP Cornell Notes, Somebody Wanted But So, Close Reading, Episodic Notes and Exit Tickets. All of these strategies work well across the content areas and with all skill levels. More importantly, when students are explicitly taught how to use strategies, they develop competence and confidence and retain the comprehension strategies, resulting in more self-reliance and less teacher dependence.
Effective teaching and learning requires competence, confidence, and comprehension. Instructional leaders provide the support in which to meet those goals.

Habit #4—Instructional Leaders STOP, Collaborate and Listen
Instructional leader develop instructional leadership capacity in others by investing the time and effort to meet with novices and veterans to clarify what is needed for success to occur. They also provide the resources and support in order to encourage continual growth.

Habit #5—Instructional Leaders Promote Peer Coaching & Observation Opportunities
An effective way to evaluate and develop our skill sets is to participate in peer coaching. Unlike evaluative observations performed by administration, peer coaching focuses on colleagues observing each other a few times per year and analyzing data to encourage reflection and growth.
Peer coaches do not act as evaluators; they simply observe a lesson and collect data based on what the observed teacher requests. For example, Mrs. Smith has an instructional goal of incorporating more multi-leveled questions and 50-50 teacher/student talk time in class. She asks her colleague to serve as a peer coach to observe her class and collect data on levels of questioning used and the percentage of time both she and her students spend discussing the content. The peer coach will observe and collect that data and then give it to the observed teacher so she can reflect and make adjustments in order to meet her goals.
This peer coaching structure is not a formal observation that is evaluative or punitive; it is a collegial way to collect classroom data to determine if an instructional goal is being met. Instructional leaders provide the support to facilitate this learning opportunity.

Habit #6—Instructional Leaders Encourage Growth Mindset through Reflection
In her book Mindset, Carol Dweck shares the importance of developing a growth mindset in our students by reflecting on mistakes and persevering to make adjustments to increase success.
Instructional Leaders foster a growth mindset in colleagues by modeling and practicing reflection. Some valuable reflection questions include:
  1. What was the content objective of the lesson?
  2. What was the critical thinking objective for the lesson?
  3. Were the objectives met? If so, what did students do throughout the lesson to meet those objectives?
  4. What changes would you make to the lesson? Why these changes? 
  5. What are your teaching strengths and what would you like to improve?
  6. How do you differentiate to meet the needs of both struggling and advanced students?
  7. How do you promote positive relationships with students and colleagues?
  8. How do you encourage students to learn from mistakes?
Instructional Leaders encourage the development of a growth mindset by helping colleagues to reflect on what works and what does not and then use that data to guide their thinking and instruction.

Habit #7—Instructional Leaders Adjust Support Based on Need
In her book, The Instructional Leader's Guide to Strategic Conversations with Teachers, author Robyn Jackson categorizes the four types of teachers as:
 high will/high skill
high will/low skill
low will/high skill
low will/low skill
Just as we wouldn't use the same approach for each student, based on a teacher's will/skill level, an IL coaches a teacher to develop goals and provide the proper support based on the educator's needs.
For example, a high will/low skill teacher is often a new(er) teacher who has the desire to increase student proficiency yet may lack the knowledge or skills to do so at such an early stage in his/her career.
An IL crafts a personalized plan that includes learning experiences, training, and mentoring to help this teacher move into the high will/high skill range. Realizing the need to differentiate, an IL adjusts support based on a teacher's will and skill levels to increase teacher effectiveness.
After working with skilled Instructional Leaders, I better understand what my role is as a teacher. I am not a gatekeeper of information but a conduit who promotes content comprehension through critical thinking, debate, analysis, role-playing, synthesis, and reflection.
Upon reflection, I would teach my Civil War lesson from 20 years ago differently, and I would also answer Brian's question differently. Instead of lecturing about the causes of the war, I would have students read, write, act out, listen, draw, view, and speak about it and then provide them assessment choices to demonstrate their knowledge. I would begin by clarifying both the content and critical thinking objectives so that students understood "the point" of the learning experience. Most important, I would involve them in the experience itself and not relegate them to being passive bystanders to my "sage on the stage" delivery.
Instructional Leaders use many (or all) of these 7 Habits to provide resources, promote collaboration, encourage reflection, and support opportunities that cultivate instructional expertise, which positively influences student and teacher learning and effectiveness.

How many of these habits do you have?

By Julie Adams
Julie Adams is an NBCT and Educator of the Year who specializes in neuroscience, content area literacy, critical thinking, instructional leadership, and digital literacy trainings. Her most recent book is titled, Game Changers7 Instructional Practices that Catapult Student Achievement.

Friday, July 12, 2019

They say what gets measured gets improved, so let's start to measure opportunity.

The Deficit Lens of the 'Achievement Gap' Needs to Be Flipped. Here's How

By Dave Paunesku
July 9, 2019

Like many well-meaning researchers, teachers, administrators, and philanthropists, I used to talk a lot about achievement gaps. I wanted to help close the persistent attainment disparities between white students and students of color and between rich and poor students. I wanted to improve the outcomes of those who have historically been left behind. As a researcher, I thought I could help do that by identifying the deficits in students' skills and competencies that need to be improved.
However, three years of participating in the Building Equitable Learning Environments Network has convinced me that we need to turn this thinking on its head. In the BELE Network, I worked hand-in-hand with a coalition of educators, researchers, philanthropists, and nonprofit leaders to create more equitable opportunity in America's schools—to adapt systems and enable all students to thrive. 
This work reinforced my prior belief that quantifiable metrics can help us identify the deficits that need to be improved. More importantly, though, it also helped me realize that I had been looking for deficits in the wrong places. The attainment metrics I had been using registered the deficits in the students. But the deficits are not in the students. They're in the systems that are supposed to serve them.

For too long, American schools have had a default orientation toward measuring students' abilities and achievement, rather than focusing on the resources—such as engaging learning environments and high-quality, culturally responsive teaching practices—that empower students to learn new concepts and skills.
Focusing solely on achievement rather than opportunity can reinforce a deficit-oriented discourse that blames underserved students, families, and communities for disparities between their educational outcomes and those of their more privileged peers. It reveals the symptoms, but not the causes of inequitable attainment.
When data reveal students' shortcomings without revealing the shortcomings of the systems intended to serve them, it becomes easier to treat students as deficient and harder to recognize how those systems must be changed to create more equitable opportunities. I have seen this play out firsthand as concepts from social psychology, like growth mindset and belonging, have started to enter the education mainstream.
My fellow social psychologists and I spent years documenting the conditions that students need to thrive and develop, like the need to belong, to see work as relevant, and to understand that academic abilities can improve. But as those concepts have been popularized in education in recent years, I have watched in terror as those insights about the conditions students need to thrive have transformed into yet another set of "competencies" in which students can be labeled deficient.
Some of my colleagues have objected to treating social psychological constructs as student competencies on narrow, technical grounds, arguing that the currently available measures of those constructs are demonstrably unfit for such use. However, even if we were to overcome those technical hurdles, more fundamental problems would remain with treating social psychological concepts like student competencies.
First, this plays into the deficit discourse. When a teacher believes a student has a fixed mindset as opposed to a growth mindset, that teacher is more likely to label that student as deficient. 
"I can't teach those students because they have a fixed mindset," one might say. Some teachers have even forced students to recite "I belong here" at the start of class each day, as if a sense of belonging were developed the same way a multiplication table is memorized. That's deeply troubling. 
We should be very cautious of measures and practices that can influence educators to perceive students, or groups of students, as deficient, unless we accompany those measures and practices with the training educators would need to implement them effectively and equitably.
Second, measuring social psychological constructs as if they were the competencies of individual students belies their social nature. This line of thinking conflates the deficits of learning environments with the deficits of students. Educators then have a harder time thinking innovatively about how to build equitable learning environments that support healthy social, emotional, and academic development for all students.
A teacher who wants students to feel they belong in class should focus on building strong relationships with and between students, on giving students a platform to contribute to the classroom in meaningful ways, and on honoring their cultures and communities. Those practices are both more concrete and more psychologically sound than building belonging by "intervening" with a specific student who was "diagnosed" as having low belonging.
Approaches that diagnose and intervene with individual students might work for supporting students who need extra academic help. But if students don't feel like they belong in a class, it's not the individual students who need extra support and attention so that they can "do better"—it's the educator creating the social environment in which those students are learning.
As social psychologists, our work implicitly recognizes that students' mindsets, feelings, and attitudes about school arise from the social contexts in which they learn and grow. However, in reflecting on the training most teachers receive and on the messages we send as a research community, it's clear we haven't always equipped educators to understand new findings and act on them in a productive way.
This realization has profoundly affected the way my team and I talk about student motivation, and the kinds of measures we help educators utilize. Rather than concentrating on the mindsets of individual students, we've started to measure the learning conditions that foster equitable development and on giving educators formative feedback about the learning environments they're creating for students. For example, do students feel respected and valued by their teachers? Do they understand that the critical feedback they're receiving from their teachers is intended to help them grow as thinkers? The results of these measures leave less opportunity to blame students, and they help educators focus on creating environments that foster equitable learning and achievement.

They say what gets measured gets improved, so let's start to measure opportunity.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Complaining About Students Is Toxic. Here Are 4 Ways to Stop

By Lauren Vargas
June 11, 2019

As a teacher, I spent many mornings waiting in line to make copies for my lessons that day. Coffee in hand, I competed with my fellow waiting colleagues in the Misery Olympics of Teaching: We’d banter back and forth about whose teaching life was more miserable. 
Some of those complaints were about our own lives, like this: “I was in grad class until 10 p.m. last night and then I had to grade 30 essays.” But invariably, part of our griping was about our students. For years, I’d say things like this: “My third period class is driving me crazy!” or “When will Ben ever stop talking?” or “Why won’t my students turn homework in?!” 
Sound familiar? Complaining about students happens in teachers’ lounges and copy rooms all over the country. Teaching is hard work. But complaining about students is not only toxic for teachers’ feelings about their work (and therefore their longevity in their jobs). It’s detrimental to students.
Now my job is to support instructional coaches in their work with teachers, and I get to hear to what pre-K through high school teachers say when they are meeting with their coaches. I am caught off guard more often than I would expect by negative comments about students from even the most otherwise positive teachers. Here’s a sample of the comments I’ve heard recently: 
·       “I have two kids who are really big babies. They always need my attention. I don’t think they can do it on their own.”
·       “I just don’t think this will work with Daniel; he’s one of my older kids.”
·       “You know this is a Title I school, right?”
·       “These kids just aren’t motivated.”
How educators talk about students matters. No matter how much planning time we put into lessons or how much we say we believe all kids can achieve, when we make comments like these it impacts how well we can help all students reach their highest potential.
Why is complaining about students detrimental?
·       It reinforces low expectations. By complaining about students, we reinforce the idea that they’re not capable of meeting high expectations. And complaining with other teachers can create a space where low expectations are validated within the school community. 
·       It absolves teachers of responsibility to reach all students, and blames students instead. As the instructional leaders of our classrooms, we need to be reflective about what changes we can make that will help all students engage and learn better. By blaming students, teachers fail to grow; instead, they are defensive when given feedback. Dr. Haim Ginott wrote in Teacher and Child: A Book for Parents and Teachers, “I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous.”
·       It creates distance between students and teachers. Complaining about students with other teachers can create an us versus them mentality. I was a young, white, middle-class teacher who taught mostly low-income students of color. By participating with other (mostly) young, white, middle-class teachers in complaining about students, I unintentionally reinforced racist and classist norms that schooling should look like me and my culture and students just needed to get on board. 
·       It creates a toxic work culture. Complaining breeds negative feelings about our work. When I’m repeating a message that students aren’t motivated and there’s nothing I can do about it, I start to feel less motivated myself to teach my best lessons every day. Ultimately, feeling frustrated about students regularly can contribute to teacher burnout, instead of a lifelong career of meeting students where they are and joyfully engaging with them there. 
4 Strategies to Counter a Culture of Complaining 
#1 - Consider your vocabulary. 
This isn’t about political correctness. It’s about simply treating students the way we would want to be treated. Here are a few words and phrases to eliminate that reflect low expectations of students: 
·       They are babies
·       They aren’t motivated
·       They have an IEP
·       They are low-flyers
·       This generation
·       Their parents aren’t engaged
#2 - Take the one-week complaint-free challenge. 
Try not to say anything negative about a student for a week. Take time to notice the moments when you want to complain, and how you feel when you cut out the complaining. 
#3 - Call out your colleagues when they complain. 
I often felt that complaining was the norm at my school, and I now regret not taking a more active role to confront that culture directly. When you hear educators complaining about students, make an active choice to sit it out. Even better, find a direct but kind way to call it out. Try, “I know we all love our students. Instead of focusing on the negative, what’s something you’re thankful for about your students today?” And this shouldn’t fall only on teachers—school leaders can play a key role here by setting clear expectations for how teachers and staff should talk about students. 
#4 - Replace complaining with joy and thankfulness. 
Find something positive to talk about. Consider what conversations will bring about more equitable outcomes for students, more joy for you and your colleagues, and closer relationships within the school community. Talk about what you are thankful for, how you’ve seen students grow or challenge themselves, or even ask questions to get you know your colleagues better. 
Mental health counselor and author Kristin Souers said in a presentation about her book, Relationship, Responsibility and Regulation: Trauma-Invested Practices for Fostering Resilient Learners, “We need to remember to speak kindly about our students and kindly about each other.” When kindness replaces complaining about kids, it can transform our expectations of our students as well as our workplace culture.