books

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…)

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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…)

kegley100910stg1821Are you Prepared for the coming Personalized Learning Revolution?

You know it’s coming; surely I’m not the only one hearing the phrase and observing the initiatives happening everywhere across the breadth of all school systems and types.   As just one example, consider the extraordinary attention (and venture capital investment) that’s been devoted to the Alt School model, including a recent feature in the New Yorker.

As your school’s Director of Technology, Website, SIS, Curriculum, Studies, or Communications, or as its Registrar you already, or soon will, have a role to play in supporting and advancing this movement for your students.   Here are five questions to ask yourself to lay the groundwork and prepare for a smooth(er) transition.

  1. Have you Defined Its Meaning to Your School?

The term personalized learning entails and implies a lot of different things, and it’s never too soon to take the lead in clarifying and establishing what it means for your school. One source you could consider examining is the Gates Foundation which has created what they call personalized learning’s four pillars:

  • learners’ strengths and weaknesses are profiled;
  • students are encouraged along a personal learning path;
  • students progress by acquiring competencies;
  • and school environments support the learning goals.

Another resource is the 2010 National Ed Tech Plan, which carefully compares and differentiates the terms personalization, differentiation, and individualization of learning, and defines personalization as a term effectively encompassing all three approaches, saying it is

Instruction paced to learning needs, tailored to learning preferences, and adapted to the specific interests of different learners.   In an environment that is fully personalized, the learning objectives and content as well as the method and pace may all vary.    

  1. How thoroughly do you know your students and their learning needs and preferences?

As it is explained in a Center for Digital Education report on Personalized Learning (Creating a Relevant Learning Culture for the Next Generation), “Teachers will be guiding learners to learn and use the skills they need to select the path for learning based on their interests, talents and aspirations, and to choose the appropriate tools to meet their learning goals.”

51b7PE7MbrL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_To do so effectively, educators need more information than they have now about students’ strengths, needs, interests, and opportunities for growth.   A simple once-a-year standardized test of math and ELA isn’t going to provide enough information.   Schools will have to think about whether to do more formative and interim testing and benchmarking (as is provided by the NWEA MAP test), add in noncognitive skills and SEL assessments to ensure those areas area also being attended to, and do more interviews and surveys of students to help identify their passions and preferences for instructional modality.

 

All this information, which can be labeled a Personal Learning Profile (Bray and McClaskey, Make Learning Personal), will require a vehicle or platform for organization, storage, and ready access; another thing which technology directors are doubtless already thinking about and working on. (more…)

I had the honor and pleasure of addressing the graduating class of City High School  (AZ) last night, as a member of its Board of its Directors.

Poet, math whiz, kind and compassionate friend, science enthusiast, rapper, headed to engineering-college, record company intern, someone extremely patient and generous with others.

Perhaps you think that with these labels I’m describing many different individuals in this graduating class, but some of you have probably already realized I’m not: all of those descriptors are for just a single graduate sitting here today. And he’s not an exception. Here’s another single student: Artist, farmer, social activist, coffee connoisseur, techie geek, foodie.

I could continue in this vein for each member of the class, and I wish I had the time to do so. Because of the kind of education these graduates have experienced at City High, and because of the kind of young person City attracts, every graduate sitting here today could be described this way, as utterly and uniquely diverse in the breadth and depth of his or her interests, activities, and strengths.

And yet—problematically, for far too long far too many have had the wrong view of our human individuality.   There’s a famous story from 1945, for instance, when a Cleveland doctor, after collecting data about nine physical dimensions from 15,000 women, created a statue of what he called the “ideal girl,” with every part of the statue made to match the exact average of each dimension —“Norma” he named the statue, to represent her “perfect” normalcy.

downloadNorma went viral, in our terms (though not in the language of 1945) . She was the “perfect woman”—the standard all others should aspire to and be judged by, it was said in magazines nationally.   They then conducted a search for the actual human woman who most perfectly matched Norma’s dimensions, a contest 4000 women participated in.   Although the judges expected the contest to come down to a few millimeters difference in just one of the nine dimensions, they were proven deeply mistaken.   None of the 4000 were even near average in all nine, or even eight of the dimensions, and just a handful in six or seven. What would you guess: how many of these 4000 women was at or near the average in even five of those nine dimensions? 40, just 40 out of 4000 were average in even five!  There is no average person, we’ve learned—there is no such thing– —and there is no reason whatsoever to view the mythical idea of an average as an ideal.

Because we are all creatures representing an enormous number of different dimensions: not just physical but intellectual, social, emotional, and many many more, and because there are very little correlations between these many different dimensions—which is to say each dimension is unrelated to each other, that to be very tall has nothing to do with whether you are very thin; that to be very perceptive about other people’s feelings has nothing to do with whether you are very good at solving math problems— none of are Normas, none of us are normal or regular, clean and square in all our many dimensions. Instead, we are all, we might say, “jagged” in our shape, outlying the norm is so many ways. (more…)

Reposted from a piece I wrote for Getting Smart, May 23, 2016

51aje84UleL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Can we grow grit in ourselves and others? And if so, how best might we do so?

Since grit grew to great heights of public awareness in the early 2010s thanks to a combination of magazine articles, best-selling books and TED talks, its significance has preoccupied many educators. Dr. Angela Duckworth’s research struck a nerve, secured her a MacArthur genius grant and launched a million conversations across the nation.

Many educators have appreciated seeing their common-sense beliefs being ratified by scientific research; many also have appreciated that the attention given to grit has led to an expanded recognition of the significance of character strengths and noncognitive skills in general.

On the other hand, some thoughtful educators believe we might be blaming students for their own lack of grit, trading in stereotypes of race and class, and/or perpetuating a Horatio Alger myth. Accordingly, it is essential we carefully weigh this counter-narrative in our judgments and actions when promoting grit.

But for some, the buzz about grit was only appetite whetting—drawing us in but not filling us up. OK, so grit is great—what do we do about that fact? Knowing its importance is barely half the battle: what we really need to know is how to grow it in ourselves and others.

Grow Your Grit From Within

Understandably then, readers are flocking to the recent publication of Dr. Duckworth’s first book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. At the time of this writing, it is the eleventh bestselling book overall on Amazon and second on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list.

Dr. Duckworth is to be congratulated: her historical review and scientific research about this somewhat complex psychosocial construct is rendered in extremely accessible language and colored by warm personal stories. Convincingly she articulates the value of grit for success, provides illustrative examples and— most importantly— points the way for educators and others to understand how grit can indeed be grown in children and adults alike. (more…)

Download your free eBookJust out is a new e-book I prepared for client organization ProExam; it can be found and downloaded for free at this link (registration required).

It’s about 20 pages, and provides big picture guidance for leaders and administrators on communicating the urgency of Social and Emotional Learning, defining your terms in your school or district, considering two approaches to embedding whole child education in the curriculum, and exploring the role of formative assessment and standardized measurement for this work.

Enjoy, and please let me know any feedback you might have.

 

 

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I wrote this  piece for my client organization,ProExam with Jeremy Burrus, Ph.D.; it was originally published at the Getting Smart website, and is reposted here. 

The headlines shout that it can’t be done: that there aren’t effective, evidence-based methods for measuring noncognitive skills.

Our response: Yes it can and yes there are.

A front page news article in The New York Times, Testing for Joy and Grit? Schools Nationwide Push to Measure Students’ Emotional Skills, prompted several swift follow-up pieces around the web.

It is excellent to see the effort and attention being dedicated to this subject. We now know that social and emotional skills–which overlap with what many call character strengths, and others label noncognitive attributes–are as or more important than intellectual ability and cognitive aptitude for student and adult success in school, college, careers and life.

Social Emotional Learning Efforts

Developing noncognitive strengths is something nearly every teacher addresses daily. Increasingly schools, districts, networks and states are upping the ante for social-emotional learning (SEL), investing more time, energy and expense into these programs. Accompanying this stepping up is a greater attention to evaluating what’s working and for whom by collecting evidence and assessing needs, opportunities and impact.

Regarding SEL measurement, The New York Times quotes California CORE districts Chief Accountability Officer Noah Bookman: “This work is so phenomenally important to the success of our kids in school and life.” Were it only so simple. Angela Duckworth, Ph.D.‚ a University of Pennsylvania professor who has become widely known for popularizing the term “grit,” is quoted in the piece with what will be for many readers the most salient takeaway: “I do not think we should be doing this; it is a bad idea.”

Their concerns are reasonable: the specific measurement methods cited in the article do have limitations. We concur with reporter Kate Zernike in her statement that relying on “surveys asking students to evaluate recent behaviors or mind-sets, like how many days they remembered their homework, or if they consider themselves hard workers . . . makes the testing highly susceptible to fakery and subjectivity.”

We get it. Our colleague Rich Roberts, Ph.D., chief scientist at ProExam, who is a former principal research scientist at ETS and senior lecturer at University of Sydney, literally wrote the book on the issue of faking and other problems in self-report and survey.

We are familiar with the concerns about what Zernike refers to as subjectivity, also known as reference bias. When you’re evaluating your own proficiency, or evaluating your growth over time, to what peer groups and standards are you comparing yourself?

Overcoming the Issues

Overcoming these obstacles is the task to which Dr. Roberts and his many colleagues and co-authors have devoted most of their careers. His team at ProExam’s Center for Innovative Assessments is currently building a multifaceted assessment solution that gives K-12 students and schools comprehensive reports of noncognitive skills and character strengths named Tessera. (more…)