Professional Development: Blog

The Science of Learning

June 24, 2020
Stopping and Slowing the COVID Slide: Part 2

In part one of this blog series, I reviewed four principles from the science of learning that can boost academic gains through both conventional and remote instruction. Here, I will discuss four more brain-based educational guidelines that educators can implement while simultaneously fostering social-emotional learning support.

May 28, 2020
Slowing and Stopping the COVID Slide: Part 1

Educators are concerned that the current restrictions on in-person instruction necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic will significantly decrease academic gains among a large swath of children in the United States. Given that current U.S. government data indicate only one-third of fourth-graders have the reading skills considered proficient, the "COVID slide" could result in a further decline in literacy skills, especially among our most vulnerable students. Why will the COVID slide occur and what can educators do to combat it?

April 16, 2020
Six Research-Backed Strategies for Remote Teaching

As remote learning continues during COVID-19 school closures, educators have shared a plethora of creative and useful ideas for effective distance learning. In addition to these resources, educators might also be interested in what researchers have learned through systematic studies. In an EdWeek article, Brown University professor Suzanne Loeb briefly summarizes research on K-12 online learning. The bad news is that there aren’t very many studies that use the scientific “gold standard” of randomized control methods to learn what works and what doesn’t. The good news is that there are plenty of studies about online learning that can still inform best practices for the hundreds of thousands of teachers across the country who find themselves in emergency remote teaching mode. So, in the spirit of the science of learning, here are six research-backed strategies for elementary, middle, and high school teachers who are teaching remotely. Involve Parents, Especially by Strengthening Academic Expectations One of the best ways to ensure students stay on track during periods of remote learning is to increase parents’ or guardians’ involvement. For decades, research has shown that when parents are involved in their children’s education, students achieve at higher levels, regardless of racial background, socio-economic status (SES), or their parents’ level of education. However, recent research suggests that specific types of parental involvement have a greater impact on children’s academic achievement, varying by SES. One meta-analysis (Tan, 2019) on peer-reviewed articles published between 2000 and 2017 found that, while students from all SES backgrounds benefit from many aspects of parental involvement, such as parent-child academic discussions and parent-child reading, parental academic expectations had the largest impact on the academic achievement of children from lower-SES families. Teachers, especially those who are mindful of their students from low-SES homes, should encourage parental involvement by helping them set high […]

April 8, 2020
The Science of Reading: The Basics and Beyond

What should educators and parents know about the science of reading? Here is a basic summary, plus two important beyond-basic facts to inform educators’ choices of reading programs.

March 19, 2020
Remote Unity: Building a Sense of Community during School Closures

As schools transition to remote learning, or at-home learning, educators might consider ways to foster a sense of school community, even when social distancing means that “school” is spread out across individual homes. Teachers and those familiar with social-emotional learning already know: strong relationships are a key component of successful learning. So how can teachers build a strong sense of community during this period when “distance” has become necessary?

February 14, 2020
Disrupting the Myth about “Mediocre” Students

How one teacher turned an underachiever into an overachiever by teaching executive function. In early elementary school, Louise (all names in this story have been changed) was a sweet child who never caused trouble. She was also an average student who was rarely chosen for special duties or called on in class. Louise’s parents were concerned about her progress in school, given that her siblings were exceptional students. The school principal assured them that she was a bright little girl, but she would never get an ulcer worrying about school achievement. Children like Louise are often described as underachievers. But this description of Louise began to change in third grade under Mr. Stevens. He was a stickler for neatness, organization, planning, paying attention, and punctuality. He referred to himself as “Hurricane Stevens” because, without warning, he would check students’ desks for disarray or confiscate potentially distracting items. One day, Louise was admiring a yo-yo she had won during recess when the yo-yo suddenly became part of Mr.  Stevens’ “cyclone stash” of toys and comic books. These items were all returned each Friday with a wry smile and gentle warning that sometimes objects get lost in cyclones. “Class time is your job,” Mr. Stevens extolled her, “you can think about recess during recess. During class, you need to focus on learning.” "Fun Facts" Mr. Stevens also had a memory game he called “fun facts.” He started each day with a list of new history or science facts, vocabulary words, or current events details that would end up relating to class, and more information about the fun facts would be part of the daily lessons. Students were told to pay close attention, but they were not permitted to write anything down. Mr. Stevens would later quiz the class on the fun facts and how […]

January 31, 2020
How to Foster Executive Function in Every Grade

What does executive function look like? When I taught English to middle school students, I learned what executive function looked like firsthand. Sasha was the model student. She followed instructions after hearing them once. She concentrated on her work without being distracted by the girls giggling next to her or the occasional chatter leaking in from the hall. I could always count on her to remember every step of a class activity or homework assignment. When chaos reigned in the classroom and I, a young teacher, questioned my own abilities, Sasha was my rock. Brendan, on the other hand—well, he was what you might call easily distracted. Somehow, he didn’t get started on a class assignment until 5 minutes after everyone else was settled in, and then he would lean over to a neighbor to ask what to do. In group discussions, he would steer the conversion off-topic or be unable to help himself from pulling up a funny video on his phone. He made teaching eventful, to say the least. If you are a teacher, I’m sure you’ve also had versions of Sasha and Brendan in your classes. These aren’t their real names, of course, but their behavioral differences are plenty real—and common. It’s not that Sasha was inherently a good student, and Brendan was a bad one. They just had different levels of executive function. There’s a lot at stake when it comes to executive function skills. Executive function determines a student’s academic achievement throughout their time in school, and it even affects success in the workplace and life more generally. But some students, like Brendan, need extra support to reach their full executive function potential. Fortunately, executive function is a skill set that can be developed, and educators can do a lot to help students along the […]

December 3, 2019
The Overlooked Third Domain of Social-Emotional Learning: Cognitive Skills

SEL Goes Viral A few months ago, a Facebook post by an Oklahoma middle school teacher went viral. It was a simple photo of a plastic bag full of crumpled paper, but its accompanying caption moved hundreds of thousands of strangers. Karen Loewe described an “emotional baggage” activity, in which students wrote down sources of their pain that they literally left at the door in a bag. “I have never been so moved to tears as what these kids opened up about and shared with the class,” Ms. Loewe wrote. While this story surprised and delighted the public, educators across the country already knew that such classroom practices that foster social-emotional learning (SEL) have become increasingly common in K-12 schools. In fact, NewSchools goes so far to say, “Enthusiasm for social emotional learning has reached a fever pitch” in their 2019 report on SEL. The widespread acceptance of SEL is also indicated by the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act’s (ESSA) federal funding provision for schools’ SEL programs. The RAND Corporation, one of the foremost nonprofit research organizations, even published a 2019 research brief on the state of SEL in schools. As this new dimension of learning continues to be shaped and defined by educators and education researchers alike, one important component of SEL is too often overlooked: cognitive skills. The invisible third prong of SEL, cognitive skill development should take on a bigger role in SEL models in schools. Here is what educators should know about why and how to target cognitive skills in their SEL practices. What is SEL, really? If someone asked you what SEL was, you would likely describe social and emotional learning—they’re right there in the name, after all. You might give classroom examples like the emotional baggage activity from the viral Facebook post. Or you […]

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