Of Note: Election and Ever After

    Talking Across Divides: 10 Ways to Encourage Civil Classroom Conversations
    by Katherine Schulten 
    The New York Times, September 28, 2016

    In her excellent article, “Talking Across Divides: 10 Ways to Encourage Civil Classroom Conversations,” Katherine Schulten compiles a rich and informative set of practical resources and ideas for teachers to use in their classrooms as they seek to engage students in difficult conversations about politics, diversity and our divided country. Teachers can, for example, find help in setting classroom norms collaboratively with students and in pushing students to empathize with alternate points of view, focus on civility as a democratic value and pose genuine questions to advance understanding. Of particular note are some of the authentic tasks suggested; for example, a teacher could help students consider the commenting standards used by The New York Times and then ask them to make their own determinations about whether comments meet the standards set by the paper. Additionally, because American consumption of social media often leads to our hearing mostly points of view with which we already agree, Shulten offers ideas for student reflection on how and where they get their news and whether they are inviting a diversity of opinion into their feeds. Teachers will find both inspiration and actual lesson plans in this compelling and useful piece. Though the article is topical, given the imminence of November 8th, 2016, teachers may find the resources here even more necessary in the months after election day.

    Submitted By Stephanie Lipkowitz, Albuquerque Academy, Albuquerque, NM


    Sharing Isn’t Enough

    Beyond Integration: How Teachers Can Encourage Cross-Racial Friendships
    by Kendra Yoshinaga, July 12, 2016

    Teachers play a crucial role in helping students forge, develop and retain cross-racial friendships, especially during adolescence, which tends to be a time when children increase same-race friendships and decrease cross-racial ones. Overviewing a recent Early Adolescent Development Study (EADS) led by Elise Cappella at NYU, Yoshinaga highlights the positive effects of cross-racial friendships on students’ academic ambitions, social adjustment and constructive interactions. With mindfulness that racial identities affect students’ experiences in the classroom, teachers should be intentional about groupings and partnerships, cultivating a warm and responsive atmosphere of respect and trust. Sharing the classroom isn’t enough, Yoshinaga emphasizes; the key is in having students collaborate – not compete – with one another. This article is a helpful reminder of the impact classroom learning has on our world, along with the teacher’s role in developing students’ abilities to know and work with different people. Yoshinaga offers practical tips for fostering the cross-cultural contact – in and beyond the classroom – that is essential to both human development and global citizenry.

    Submitted By Meghan Tally, Windward School, Los Angeles, CA


    Ruling Over Rules

    Our Need to Make and Enforce Rules Starts Very Young
    by Alison Gopnik
    The Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2016

    Alison Gopnik's article, "Our Need to Make and Enforce Rules Starts Very Young," highlights how very young children interpret adult actions as rules by which to live. She cites a study (by psychologists Hannes Rakoczy, Felix Warneken, and Michael Tomasello) that examines the extent to which three-year-olds are sensitive to rules. The psychologists found that the children were apt to see social rules and conventions even when they were not really there. The children came to believe a specific action was the "right" way simply because an adult was highlighting the action in a positive light. Gopnik says that rules become culture which then becomes our nature. Much like these three-year-olds, educators and students come to understand school by the social conventions of school culture. As we think about what attitudes and behaviors we want to instill, we should also consider how social conventions influence the nature of our students. Gopnik's article offers a lens with which to resee, and rethink, how we impose and enforce rules.

    Submitted By Jessica Soodek, The Berkeley Carroll School, Brooklyn, NY


    Grades Below Average

    On Your Mark: Challenging the Conventions of Grading and Reporting
    by Thomas R. Gruskey, PhD 
    Solution Tree Press, July 2014

    Many educators learned in environments where their work was graded and grades were formally communicated, and those educators continue a tradition of measuring and reporting student success based on points earned for content and skill mastery. Grading and reporting methods vary, yet educators and schools do not commonly discuss or agree upon the purpose and rationale behind either. Thomas R. Gruskey’s highly readable book is a call-to-action and challenges educators to not simply rely on five letters of the alphabet. With clear, quantitative examples, the book highlights limitations and negative outcomes for common grading and reporting practices including plus/minus letter grades, grade distribution curves, class rank and single grades for all coursework. The author attempts to stop educators in their tracks and stir motivation to devise a better way. While part of the book provides opportunity to tally a current practice checklist, the author then provides a roadmap for revision that suggests clarifying the purpose of grades, aligning all school practices with that purpose and grounding change in research-based evidence. This book will spark reflection, discussion, and at best, fair and authentic grading and reporting practices that will support the children we teach.

    Submitted By Carla Jantos MacMullen, Hopkins School, New Haven, CT


    Quality Claims, Bayesian Statistics, and Information Literacy

    A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age
    by Daniel J. Levitin
    Dutton, September 2016

    Levitin’s book explores information literacy, providing many examples, both real and imaginary, to help explain the concepts in an interesting way. For example, Levitin states a claim that "90% of home robberies are solved with video provided by the home owner." He then asks if we should purchase the system and about the information required to make an appropriate decision. Should we get chemotherapy? Should we add a specific technology in the classroom?  What skills are necessary to answer such important questions? The book provides a useful “guide” on how to be critical, as Levitin explores two categories of misleading information: numerical (facts and figures) and verbal (faulty arguments). He steps through ways to increase our ability to recognize faulty arguments, developing the skill to question as well as place appropriate trust in a hierarchy of authority (e.g., well-respected journals). A section covering how to verify the quality of claims on a website would make a wonderful guide for students; likewise, a section explaining Bayesian statistics would be useful to teachers. Levitin asks not only what is relevant data for you to consume, but also what is the best way to obtain, analyze and then present data? The book is useful for teachers and administrators, but it will also be accessible for high school students grappling with information literacy.

    Submitted By Matthew Troutman, Ed.M. Candidate, The Klingenstein Center, New York, NY


    You May Already Be a Design Thinker

    Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life
    by Bill Burnet & Dave Evans
    Alfred A. Knopf, September 2016

    Curious? Like to try things out? Do you try to reframe questions to get at different answers? Do you enjoy working with others? If so – and probably so if you are involved in education – according to Bill Burnet and Dave Evans of Stanford’s Design School, you are already a design thinker. In Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, Burnet and Evans offer educators, as well as professionals outside of education, some key frameworks for some elusive but desired outcomes: innovation, and its possible subsidiary, happiness. A well-designed life, they argue, is one that accurately assesses where we are, how we feel, where we’re stuck and how to move forward. To that end, Burnet and Evans provide useful concepts such as the dashboard, the compass and the Odyssey plan to invite readers to step into a design process geared toward elegant and innovative ideation, prototyping, and problem solving. While the book is specific in places to help the reader identify and pursue the most fulfilling work/life balance, every piece of wisdom is applicable to teaching and learning in a school settings where constituents, from students to administrators, can get stuck. By applying the design thinking process to perennial issues that seem intractable, Burnet and Evans suggest that schools and the people within them can forge ahead with optimism and confidence.

    Submitted By Jessica Flaxman, Charlotte Country Day School, Charlotte, NC


    Efficiency is not the Answer

    Education and the Commercial Mindset
    by Samuel Abrams
    Harvard University Press,  April 2016

    Abrams’ book analyzes the varying effects of privatization in education, both in America and abroad. He explores how an increasing focus on efficiency has contributed to the emergence of educational management organizations (EMOs) and charter management organizations (CMOs). Abrams highlights how the primary objectives of educational efficiency and results, which are generally measured in standardized test scores, often obscure long-term production outputs and quality, or in Abram’s terms, the student experience. Abrams argues that the excessive emphasis on testing overlooks the psychological, sociological and economic considerations that contribute to student success, and he also examines the ways that commercial mindsets abroad have impacted educational models, especially in Chile, Sweden, and Finland. He warns that a significant amount of educational reform has been predicated on the assumption that efficiency is more valuable than quality, and he highlights the use of sample-based standardized testing in Finland as a cheaper and less time-intensive approach to gauging student progress without limiting an educational approach focused on the overall student experience.

    Submitted By Lauren Rogers, Salem Academy, Winston-Salem, NC

    Intellectual Empathy Book Cover

    A Neverending Curriculum

    Intellectual Empathy: Critical Thinking for Social Justice
    by Maureen Linker
    University of Michigan Press, December 2014

    How does one overcome implicit bias and stereotyping when engaging in conversations with others? As educators, how do we help our students examine their own stereotypes, beliefs and assumptions and help them develop their capacity for empathy? For many students, and adults alike, engaging with issues of race, class and privilege can be emotional, difficult and transformational. In her book, Intellectual Empathy: Critical Thinking for Social Justice, Maureen Linker seeks to educate readers about exploring their own social identities and beliefs in ways that build empathy for the social identities and beliefs of others. The author concentrates on five key skills for building intellectual empathy and uses real-world examples to illustrate effective application of those skills. Each chapter contains review questions that provide the reader with engaging opportunities to self-reflect and practice the five key skills. It is a compelling read and would be of interest to educators interested in exploring their own social identities and assumptions and those who wish to help their students do the same.

    Submitted By Michael Coppola, The Chestnut Hill School, Chestnut Hill, MA

    Blueprint for Revolution Cover

    Laughtivism 101

    Blueprint for Revolution: How to Use Rice Pudding, Lego Men, and Other Nonviolent Techniques to Galvanize Communities, Overthrow Dictators, or Simply Change the World
    by Srdja Popovic
    Spiegel & Grau, January 2015

    In an educational landscape craving constant and effective change, this book is a breath of fresh air. Popovic authentically recounts the successful Otpor! revolution in Serbia that contributed to the decline of Milosevic, whose repressive dictatorship had led to cultural and economic ruin. As the founder of the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), Popovic has helped motivate, design and implement peaceful revolutions globally using tools like cottage cheese, turkeys and music; he even receives some credit for training the architects of the Arab Spring, though at times Popovic probably overstates his own influence. Importantly, he does not intend for this book to be for political activists alone. Fascinating, funny, and truly inspiring, Blueprint for Revolution encourages all members of society to take ownership of the change they want to see in their communities. The effective tools Popovic provides temper his predilection for strategic absurdity. Successful and unsuccessful movements are referenced, thus highlighting advocacy techniques with the most utility and chance of victory; for example, he presents “laughtivism,” the unification of supporters, the creation of a brand that has value to stakeholders and the selection of battles “big enough to matter but small enough to win.” This relevant and readable text equips school leaders with practical and personally enlightening skills and frameworks to help them execute both significant change and ongoing reform.

    Submitted By Sarah Shepherd, Ed.M. Candidate, The Klingenstein Center, New York, NY

KlingensteinCenter Teachers College Columbia University

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