June 2016

Originally posted on Getting Smart, June 17, 2016.

Happy to share this new infographic which I helped to create on this important topic, for client organization ProExam and its new assessment system, Tessera.


Transitioning to a Digital Curriculum – Think Through MathThink Through Math just published an e-book they commissioned me to research and write this spring.

Learn the key decisions and the practical steps required for ensuring your school makes the most of the digital cornucopia from which your students can nourish their hunger for knowledge.

Sections of this “playbook” include: Tactical Moves, Strategic Moves,Teacher Moves, Overcoming Obstacles, and Measuring Success

I want to offer my thanks for their input to this playbook to Sarah Hanawald, head honcho of ATLIS, the Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools, and Alex Inman, top dog at the edtech consulting firm Educational Collaborators.

Click here or on the image to grab a copy; hope you enjoy.



Once again, I’m delighted to share here my summer reading recommendations for educators.  As with previous years, I present these as a top ten list: these are my favorite ten educational titles I’ve read in the past school-year, 2015-16.

As you scroll down, you’ll also find below the top ten additional suggestions for the best free educational reports and e-books of the past year or so, and a smaller set of reading for  pleasure suggestions.

For the past years’ recommendations/top ten lists, you can click the following for

Note: Asterisks attached to book titles indicates the book would be a worthy selection for a faculty summer reading list; asterisks by author names indicate (for full disclosure) that the author is someone I count as a friend—(though whether or not he or she views me the same way I cannot say).

Top Ten List

9780544935280_custom-ccc18fd6f3031c13860f037d26da4c5b9005da3c-s300-c851/ Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why*. (2016) (21k12 2016 Book of the Year)

Paul Tough, a journalist affiliated with NYTimes Magazine, has very recently published a new companion volume to his bestselling and much celebrated 2012 title, How Children Succeed. In that book, he vividly demonstrated through observation, anecdote, and research-review the importance to school success of noncognitive skills such as grit and curiosity.   This new title has been prepared to help provide a better answer to what he’s been asked in every public presentation about his former book: How do we teach children to develop these critically important qualities and attributes?    

It’s not altogether easy to explain why I think this book is so very valuable, and worthy of my annual book of the year nod. It’s not long, just over 100 pages, and it’s not particularly original: it’s largely a rehashing of other people’s research and findings. And I should add, as someone who pays close attention to this topic, I don’t think every assertion made here is entirely accurate; I disagree, partially, with some of his conclusions, including one of his most central claims, that noncognitive skills cannot be taught directly.

But concision has its value: Tough’s beautifully written work carefully reviews the field and then surfaces just a very select, curated we might say, set of activities and initiatives we can do, both our society on the whole and our educational community in particular, to bolster students noncognitive skills in ways which will make a world of difference.   Each of the critical findings or reforms is illustrated or exemplified with succinct descriptions of important actors in this arena, including some of my own favorite (and most admired) educators such as Camille Farrington, Bob Lenz, and Ron Berger.

Tough concludes with a message all educators would benefit from careful reflection: “Helping children in adversity to transcend their difficulties is hard and often painful work. It can be depressing, discouraging, even infuriating. But what the research shows is that it can also make a tremendous difference, not only in the lives of individual children and their families, but in our communities and nations as a whole. It is work we can all do, whether or not it is the profession we have chosen. The first step is to simply embrace the idea, as those researchers did, that we can do better.”

51ca7cbc35L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_2/ Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. (2015) Robert Putnam. This book, of national and political import far beyond education, pairs well with Paul Tough’s new book. Both books unpack how deeply affected children are by the swiftly growing economic gulf of our society, showing the lasting, enormously detrimental effects of growing up in the instability and neglect poverty sometimes (not always) produces in the lives of children.   They also both work to identify and suggest how we might change policy and practice to close the gap and greatly enhance the lives of children.  And,  both highlight the importance of developing children’s noncognitive skills to enhance their success. Putnam, unlike Tough, views the situation through lens both sociological and historical, and conveys how radically changed economic and social dynamics have become such that children of poverty are far more deeply disadvantaged than they were half a century ago.

One lasting message from Putnam is the power of extracurricular activities in supporting student social and emotional growth, and how devastating it has been to see public ed cut funding and demand fees for these programs. “When fees were introduced, one in every three sports-playing kids from homes with annual incomes of $60,000 or less dropped out because of the increased cost, as compared to one in ten kids from families with incomes over $60,000. Within a few decades America’s public schools have thrust the burden of extracurricular activity, and the resulting soft skills benefits, onto the family, reversing nearly a century of settled educational policy, with predicable results in terms of equality of access.”   As someone who spends a lot of time in and around private and independent schools, schools which often ask how they might better serve all, not just a select set, of children in their community, I wonder whether by using their campus resources and coaching they might be able to step in to reduce this extracurricular opportunity gap in public education.

Putnam’s book is haunting, one which should be read by every educator and policymaker. After all, “for America’s poor kids do belong to us and we to them. They are our kids.” (more…)


reposted from Getting Smart, May 31, 2016

But what would you do with it?

In sharing a series of posts over the past several weeks about the rising demand for social emotional learning (SEL) measurement and noncognitive skills assessment, we noted that new methods are emerging for doing it effectively.

Still, some are wondering what a typical (or atypical) school or district would do with the data and reports they received after administering such an assessment to their students?

Because noncognitive assessment is still so new to schools, one answer to this question is we don’t yet know. We anticipate that five years from now we may be astounded by the diverse and innovative ways in which educators wield what we believe will be a powerful and creative tool.

Nevertheless, we can speculate about how measuring and assessing noncognitive skills and character strengths might valuably assist educators, both in bolstering students’ social and emotional skills and elevating their academic skills and traditional test scores.

Top 10 Ways to Use SEL Measurement and Assessment of Noncognitive Skills

1. Affirming strengths of schools and districts. Many schools and districts have made substantial investments in supporting their students’ social and emotional learning. They’ve shown strong leadership, established core values, signaled different priorities, allocated previous resources, maintained student counseling in the face of budget shortfalls, trained teachers and implemented new curricular and instructional strategies.

Wouldn’t it nice if these leaders could collect evidence of the impact of their actions and better demonstrate the effects of their efforts? Affirmation matters: it confirms to these schools, districts and their funders that they are on the right track, and better allows them to take their rightful place in the vanguard of SEL educational programming.

2. Determining greatest opportunities for improvement. Whether we’re preparing a school improvement plan, planning for re-accreditation, selecting a new administrator or undertaking strategic planning, we are often looking for the greatest opportunity for improvement. Often this opportunity lies in SEL–but where, exactly? Measuring your students’ noncognitive skills and studying the results can illuminate what should top your agenda in the next phase of your institution’s evolution. (more…)