Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 part 2

Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, trainers in emotional competence as measured by your EQ (emotional quotient) wrote Emotional Intelligence 2.0. I wrote about the beginning in part 1. The second half of their book covers strategies for developing the four components of EQ self-awareness, self management, social awareness and social management. I have read many books about developing leadership skills, executive function skills, and social skills. The strategies the authors present are simplistic listings of things found elsewhere.

Keeping a journal of your feelings may be good for recognizing them and how you respond, but the strategy itself, like most of the ones in the book, is poorly developed. Although the text might be a start for self improvement, more explicit training is likely necessary for people with struggling skill sets. The authors propose that months are required to advance skills. Such progress could be narrowed to simple awareness as much as any particular approach that is recommended. This book seems more like a money grab than an honest program for helping people.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

juvenile crime and the four day week

Years ago some mostly rural districts in the Midwest moved to a four day school week. The rationale was it would save on costs, primarily transportation, lunch room and utilities. There is mixed results on academic impact. Some studies show no impact and some show a decrease. When Hawaii furloughed teachers the military bases opened a fifth day educational program to mitigate the lost educational time.

There exists, however, a more hidden effect- social emotional. When my children were younger I consistently argued against half days for my kids. Yes, I had one for whom, even as he entered high school I dared not leave alone with his sister, but challenges for others also exist. Parents often have a hard time taking a half day, especially when they need to be home by 10:30am so they are left with painful choices: find day care they can often ill-afford, take a full day of vacation time, or leave the kids home alone. The last one is especially troublesome. We know that small children should not be left home alone, but when they enter middle school, we often let them be by themselves, even if it means caring for younger siblings. When these older kids are left alone they often get up to mischief of one sort or another: drinking, drugs, vandalism, and sex just to name a few. If you think back to your youth, you probably remember when you engaged in behavior that was not appropriate- if you were anything like me, it was on weekends and during vacation.

A new study related to those 4 day weeks confirmed my argument. Juvenile crime increases, especially on Thursday night, when school districts move to short work weeks. Chalkbeat reported on a study of those short weeks in their article by Matt Barnum, "Four-day School Weeks, a Nationwide symptom of Tight Budgets, Lead to More Youth Crime, Study Finds." Why this is a surprise confounds me. Youth crime always increases when youth are less structured and supervised. Unfortunately, our children do not always make wise choices. The question is what is our better choice: teen trouble and crime or increased taxes to pay for those extra days. Wrestling with that one will give some ulcers. I would argue that in light of the increased tendency for inappropriate behavior and questionable academic results, perhaps finding ways to get that extra day of school in is worth it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Emotional Intelligence 2.0 part 1

In 1995 Daniel Goleman published his book Emotional Intelligence, sending shock waves through the community. Not only was intelligence a factor of cognition but there was a critical element of emotional understanding that led to success as well. Research demonstrated that while IQ, intelligence quotient was relatively stable, EQ, emotional quotient, was highly trainable. Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, trainers in emotional competence as measured by your EQ wrote Emotional Intelligence 2.0 as a follow up to their first book and an element of their training protocol.

The first thing of note is that they describe IQ as stable from birth. Current research in cognition shows this to be misleading. There are many things we can do to impact cognitive capacity. While they indicate brain injury can have negative impact on IQ, other things can as well: neglect, lack of exposure to speech and environmental enrichment, poor diet (especially low protein), exposure to environmental toxins like lead and drugs, and housing and food insecurity. Other things can maximize cognitive potential. These include things like: exposure to a rich environment (play outside, novelty presented in a safe way, opportunities to travel and be exposed to age appropriate cultural activities like sports games, concerts, and plays, and opportunities to take safe age appropriate risks), a well-balanced diet with adequate protein (think myelination of nerve cells), security in housing, food and caregivers, and exposure to rich language and human interactions. It seems that IQ is more of a window of potential that our environment impacts. As a parent and teacher, I know that we can impact IQ and I fear for our newest generation that are screen addicts from infancy- they are not receiving the attention and enrichment that will develop their brains.

The authors state that "emotional awareness and understanding are not taught in schools" (p.13-14). In part this is true. Especially in this era of testing, we are focused on the academic aspects of education. An increasing number of schools are looking at whole child initiatives, character education and social-emotional learning (SEL) programs to enhance and improve their efforts. Students on the autism spectrum particularly are in need of this type of education and good programs provide it.

The authors point out that most people are limited in their understanding of emotions and include a chart from Julia West showcasing five primary feelings (happy, sad, angry, afraid, ashamed) with three levels of intensity (high, medium, low) A number of face charts are available to showcase feelings and their intensity. One is below:
Free Printable Feelings Faces Chart

I have used such ideas in classrooms. Collecting paint chip samples from the hardware store we classified emotions by intensity. This was a great lesson for children who struggle with seeing shades of gray.

Once you can label your emotions the next part is to address them. You cannot control having the emotion, but you can control "the thoughts that follow and emotion, and you have a great deal of say in how you react to an emotion" (p.16-17). Schools accept this as true even if they don't teach it- students are responsible for their behaviors regardless of what prompts it. The key that the authors want to do is grow EQ and help people identify their triggers and "practice productive ways of responding" (p.17). This then is premise of the text: identify emotions, understand personal reactions to them and develop more thoughtful, positive responses to them both in yourself and others.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Comprehension Connections

Delving into a colleague's bookshelf before break, I came across TannyMcGregor's book, Comprehension Connections: Bridges to Strategic Reading. This book captured my interest since I am currently working with a group that has poor comprehension skills. Her premise is two fold: one, reading strategies, like other skills should be taught from a concrete model to an abstract one and two, reading is thinking. She subtitles her book bridges to show how to teach an abstract concept by starting with an object.

The thinking strategies she identifies are:
  • use schema
  • inferring
  • questioning
  • determining importance
  • visualizing 
  • synthesizing.
A chapter is dedicated to each concept. Many of her launching lessons, ideas that are used to introduce a thinking strategy, could be used for more than one strategy with minor tweaking. I would  not try to teach two new ones at once. After the first has been taught, however, new ones should be introduced in tandem with reinforcing the old ones. While the target audience is the elementary market, with minor adjustments, I can see these easily being adapted to middle and high school students.

 One key idea that she suggests is teaching that Text + Thinking = Real Reading. Too many of our students think that reading is merely identifying a group of words and perhaps getting a surface level understanding. What we want them to realize is that reading is more than that. It requires, utilizing background knowledge, making inferences, questioning the author, identifying importance  and more.

I really liked one of her suggestions for showcasing schema. Make a T-chart. Give the students 30s to list everything they know about a topic they know about- a local amusement park, common video game or pop star, or a common experience- and record on the left side of the chart. They should be able to generate quite a list in the short period of time. Then give them something few, if any are familiar with- Tivoli (an amusement park in Copenhagen), Centipede game, or Mansa Musa (an African leader who single-handedly reduced the worldwide value of gold on his pilgrimage to Mecca). Record their thoughts on the right. This chart represents their schema. It will be easier to read about and learn about things for which they know about than those they do not.

Another important item the author mentions is developing listening comprehension. In special education we often use tests may be read as a test modification and audiobooks as a compensatory reading strategy. These are important activities that help our kids move forward, but listening comprehension is different from reading comprehension and needs to be taught. We want students to follow along while they are being read to, perhaps annotating important parts with symbols we have taught. We also need to develop their listening skills. She suggests using songs and poetry as ways to develop these skills. You can, and should, teach all the thinking skills with listening as well.

My biggest area of concern is around visualizing. I do not visualize anything. I think in words and charts. About 10% of the population struggles with this skill as well. Our strong visualizers can be reminded to visual while the read and the impact will be dramatic. (Many people on the autism spectrum are great visualizers. Some, like Temple Grandin, are such extreme visualizers they think only in pictures and need pictures to help them think.) Our mediocre ones need practice making a movie in their head of the story or draw a picture or create a storyboard of the story to show what is important. Weak to non-visualizers need support to understand that many people do this routinely and need alternate strategies. I paint pictures with words. Every thought I have is laden with lots of words. We can teach them constructs like graphic organizers that can be used to help with maintaining order and flow.

I like how she talks about using nesting dolls to begin to discuss synthesizing. There is a surface level or biggest doll, but nested within are many ideas that require deeper thought, and sometimes exploration. Synthesizing means taking all those levels and developing meaning or a complete set of dolls. The analogy works well for showing multiple meanings of text.

This book is not a set of scripts, but a series of jumping points to begin discussions. A list of ways to start teaching about thinking from concrete examples and expand to the abstract. A quick and easy read with major implications.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Lincoln on Leadership

Donald T. Phillips is a leadership consultant with a hobby in Abraham Lincoln. He decided to write a book about Lincoln's leadership when he realized that none existed. In our current times, Lincoln has received increased interest. Our current President has quoted him and held him up as a paragon of Presidential virture. The volume of books and movies about him have dramatically increased. The book, Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times, details Lincoln's approach to leading the country and draws comparisons to current leadership advice.

The book is broken into four parts: People, Character, Endeavor and Communication. Through these parts Phillips artfully weaves a tale of a man of the people who refused to have airs. He walked among the people and soldiers and talked to them. He did not have a perimeter of security personnel at all times.  He had an open door policy in the White House. He travel extensively to monitor the war that he desperately worked to win. He was a genius at persuasion, using plain language and anecdotes to connect with the common people of his nation.

As I was reading the section about his storytelling, it had me thinking about other master texts that promote using stories to make a point. Many ancient communities included a rich history of oral mythology to stress ideas about how to get along with others. In the Bible, Jesus famously used parables to get his message to people. Folk tales were stories of caution to children, showcasing rules to maintain appropriate behavior. Fables teach morals. The book highlights carefully chosen tales, mostly about farmers and small businessmen, Lincoln used to prove points. Being able to tell a story to demonstrate a point paints a picture the listeners will remember far longer than any lecture they likely tune out.

Another point that Phillips emphasized was the consistency of Lincoln's message and vision. Throughout his time running for federal office and as President, his message remained on point: our nation is something special because it provides a fair chance for all and attempts to elevate all. Every speech included this. When we think about the vision statements of most places today we look at paragraphs of sentences chopped full of ideas. Refining them to their essence is not done. No longer is "Beat Pepsi" an adequate vision. Coke's current mission is:
  • To refresh the world in mind, body and spirit
  • To inspire moments of optimism and happiness through our brands and actions
  • To create value and make a difference.
This is succinct and short compared with many school missions and visions. I concluded early on that a mission and vision should be simple enough to be articulated quickly by every member of an organization. A prior department I worked in spent months developing a mission statement that was three sentences taking up 5 lines of text. No one had memorized it. We spent two department meetings unpacking the mission. Schools need mission statements that can be articulated by all. Statements like:
Help every child reach their potential.
Working to create model members of society.
showcase what we all want our schools to do and they can be learned quickly by all. Statements utilizing phrases like "environment of educational excellence," "working collaboratively as professionals," and "partner with our community," tell us how they will achieve their mission- not what their mission is. They muddy the water. Lincoln knew that laser focus on mission was critical. In schools we should emulate the simplicity. Our mission is about teaching children. Perhaps we muddy the mission because this like working as professionals and partnering with our community are easier than helping every child reach their potential so adding these other things makes it easier to say we are doing ok.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Does Pre-Assessment Work?

The February edition of Educational Leadership includes an article by Thomas R. Guskey entitled "Does Pre-Assessment Work?" which made me think about the practices I have seen and used in the classroom. Guskey first admits to the lack of research on the value of pre-assessment. This makes it a hard sell in many cases.

Next he discusses the purposes of pre-assessment.
  1. Identify exceptional learners: the gifted community embraces this purpose to enable clustering for differentiated instruction and curricular compacting toward acceleration. For example,
    Brulles, D., Cohn, S. & Saunders, R. document research on the effectiveness of clustering and differentiating instruction in their article here. While pre-assessment might be used for placement decisions, especially in math, there is no universal acceptance or practice in this area.
  2. establish a baseline for performance to measure growth: in sports programs we often see coaches record times, number of baskets made, distances thrown or jumped, number of balls hit, etc and then use that to measure progress. We see teachers measure score on a spelling list or math facts and then ask students to complete instruction and various assignments that will, hopefully increase the score.
The second type of pre-assessment lends itself to misuse when students are graded on improvement (I can score a 0 on the pre-assessment and then not do well on the post-assessment and still ace the class) or teachers are evaluated on student gains (the pre-assessment doesn't matter kids, don't worry about it verses this is very important and will be graded). Other confounding factors include:
  • natural growth and maturity- a six year old will hold a pencil better and have more writing stamina than a 5 year old, a student who grows five inches in a year should be able to jump farther and sprint faster, a student in the concrete stage of development will see the world differently than one at an abstract stage.
  • life circumstances- a trauma like a family divorce, accident or death, or exposure to violence will likely influence student performance. Getting adequate sleep and a good diet will help student perform better. Students on medication for focus, anxiety, depression or other mental health concerns will do better if they do not forget to take their meds.
  • instructional practices around the testing- "This one does not matter," versus "This one is a major grade in the book." My son was exposed to many of these pre-assessments. He made it one of his missions to come up with the craziest responses imaginable (too much Calvin and Hobbes) on pre-tests. 
Then Guskey talks about measuring different types of learning goals. Cognitive tests assess academic goals (what causes the seasons, how many regular figures can you name, What is a simile), affective ones assess attitudes, beliefs and interests (do a project on snakes, sharks or flowers or how and what do they read); behavioral ones assess skills (athletic or musical performance, ability to cut on a line or use a protractor). Often these goals might appear on the same pretest- for example I want to know if you can identify various angles, use a protactor and how you feel about geometry.

Then he gets to the nitty gritty of the forms of pretests. Again there are overlaps.
  • prerequisite- What do you need to be able to do before you start this unit? Dribble before you play a game of basketball. Have good reading decoding before you read a chapter book. Use a ruler before we measure volume of prisms. Have you ever cared for a pet? before learning about personal responsibility.
  • present- measure current knowledge. What do you know about Shakespeare? Can you multiply by fives? What do you know about adding fractions? Tell me what you know about glaciers. Tell me about a book you read that you enjoyed.
  • Preview- comparisons of student growth come from this category. If you know how to add fractions, I do not need to cover that in my instruction. If you have no idea about the i before e spelling rule, I should probably teach it before I assess your spelling of words like conceive, weigh and thief. If most kids think that the seasons are based on closeness to the sun rather than tilt of the planet, I do not need to waste time to pre-assess it.

Guskey then presents one high quality study of pretests from 1983. Leyton-Soto randomly divided students into four groups: pretest with traditional instruction, pretest with instruction in prerequisite skills, pretest with mastery learning instruction, pretest with both prerequisite skill instruction and mastery learning. He worked in Algebra 2 and second year foreign language classes with clear prerequisites, assisted in the development of pretests and provide support in the instructional phase to ensure design integrity. Students in the prerequisite skill instruction groups received two weeks per semester of mastery learning on missing skills. Results indicated that all three interventions significantly outperformed the traditional approach. The combination of mastery learning and prerequisite instruction resulted in students performing at mastery level on a comprehensive final exam with almost eight times the frequency of students in the traditional group. Yes, this was two subject areas with clearly defined prerequisites with students who probably did not have lots of learning problems or issues with success- using upper level classes tends to weed out poor performers. That being said, a two week intervention in teaching prerequisites seems really doable if it results in a three x increase in success. Using mastery learning seems like a good choice of instructional techniques if it results in a 5 x increase in results.

Providing effective pre-assessments, intervening with instruction in prerequisites and using mastery learning techniques appears to be a highly successful plan to increase performance of our students. Since that is the name of the game it makes sense to use them for instructional purposes. If we grade based on growth or hold teachers accountable based on student gains, however, we pollute the data and invite misuse. We might as well just ignore the pretest all together. If you will not use the pretest information to inform instruction skip it and use the time a different way.

When my daughter scored an 83 on the Earth Science pretest in September and then had to sit through ten months of instruction with the whole class in order to achieve a 98 on the final I was disappointed. Her teacher did not offer her much in that time. Although she made some growth, for most kids a 13 point increase would be a devastating failure. (The class average on the pretest was under 50.) The entire course was really a waste of her time. We suggested letting her use a college level text and assignments rather than the ninth grade one- it did not happen. The pretest merely made me angry because there was no benefit to her- the teacher was required to administer it for his professional rating and her score as a significant outlier was eliminated from the data set of even that activity. It is time to get serious about using our data in a smart way rather than a poor formulaic manner.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Total literacy tools

Having read Total Participation Techniques (TPT) by Persida and William Himmele, I was familiar with their focus on increasing student response rates within the classroom. This website has some great summaries of the techniques. I delayed  reading their new book, Total Literacy Techniques: Tools to Help Students Analyze Literature and Informational Texts, coauthored with Keeley Potter. Adapting the TPT to literacy activities did not seem that big a leap so as to need a new book. This book is not a recap of their old one.

One of the early concepts they discuss is the difference between academic vocabulary and academic language. On page 9 they quote a student, "Books carry truth, whether truth be light or dark; and by reading these books, we build our hearts out of words." This sentence contains only tier 1, common vocabulary. It is not a sentence whose language is tier 1. This sentence has a complex deep meaning that, if read quickly by an unsophisticated reader, loses its depth. It highlights an aspect of level of meaning that all our reading level measures miss. The language is put together in a way that is beautiful and complex. Lexiles would not recognize it as challenging as it is. When I look at leveled books I often think that the people who assessed the challenge level missed something. We cannot assume that students can read something because of its Lexile number. Part of literacy instruction is to examine the language and understand the author's meaning, not merely the literal meaning of the words. To be able to understand the multiple connotations and denotations of a word in its application.

Another of the big ideas of this text is that free choice reading is critical to literacy development. Our spoken language reveals a fragment of our vocabulary and verbal complexity. When we read we are exposed to new words, different sentence structures and purposes, and topics of interest. This winter a student looked at me and said, "I hate to read and so do all students." Yes, other students protested that reading was not the evil empire, but she was merely expressing a feeling shared by many of her classmates. Years ago I worked with a student on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He shared that he did not know why the author used the language he did because, "No one talks like that." Students need to be read interesting stories, poems and articles, not for analysis, but simply to be exposed to vocabulary and language outside of their norm- this is academic language and vocabulary. Don't get me wrong- I believe that students need to dig into literature they would not personally pick up and learn to analyze the human condition and universal truths, to understand rhetoric and how it impacts meaning, and to develop cultural norms, but they also need to read "easy" books that are at their level that interest them. Graphic novel, joke book, identification book, biography, fashion magazine, poetry anthology, novel, whatever- they all share the virtue of being reading. This is part of the balance of reading essential to student development.

One tool from their chapter that I like is collecting words bookmarks (p. 31). Students read and collect new words. Later look up their meaning and share them. This reminds me of a strategy- words in a jar- where students were asked to record interesting words and put them in a jar. Periodically they would be shared with the group. Whether it is the sound or meaning, it expands exposure to words that hold personal meaning to students.

Another great tool the authors shared were prompts for analyzing literature and informational texts. They suggest posting and/or sharing with students the list of general prompts so that during discussions or quick writes or reading responses students can learn to use the questions to guide deeper thinking. Questions like How does the author use metaphors to develop the story? or What specific words does the author use to make a case for, and against, certain characters? lead to deep thought (p. 48). They also introduced a relevance wheel. An example is below.

One thing that I was expecting was some discussion of total participation techniques. They discuss bounce cards which I have read about elsewhere. These are sentence starters that require students listen to what is said and then move the conversation forward. Some examples of bounce cards are here, here and here and a video math lesson using them is here. One TPT they suggest is that on a smooth top desk you can write with a dry erase marker. Students can use their desk rather than a  white board to write responses. One example of a type of response would be a fill in the blank idea such as complete the analogy:
  • white is to black as (concept under discussion) is to ___________________.
  • three is to four as (concept under discussion) is to ___________________.
These could become:
  • white is to black as Eliza's external appearance at the beginning of Pygmalion  is to Eliza at the end of Pygmalion.
  • white is to black as Northern pre-Civil War industry is to that of the South.
  • three is to four as glacier is to sediment.
  • three is to four as parenthesis is to multiplication. (Order of operations)
Students could quickly record their ideas and erase them.

The chapter on informational texts contains one of the best descriptors of concept mapping I have encountered. Concept mapping allows students to explore the connectedness of various concepts. Students could be given a set of cards, sticky notes, or a sheet with the cards ready to be cut out and be asked to arrange them by category and relationship. Once that was done they secure them to another sheet and write explanations of how they are connected or related. Portions that might be used are shown below:

                        w/ all parallel sides                                      w/ all equal sides                    
Quadrilateral---------------------------> parallelogram --------------------------------> square

                    is splitting                                  and can be a form of
Mitosis -------------------------------> cells -----------------------------------------> asexual reproduction

The words between the arrows would be the ones students were given to use and those above the arrows were added to show connections. Students might arrange them differently, but if their description of relationships is correct, then they should be accepted. Teachers can look for deeper connections with probing questions.

This book was an unexpected read with some great ideas. It provides some nice examples of their ideas and shows how literacy techniques can be used in classes other than ELA. Their focus on vocabulary is a boon to English language learners and students with disabilities alike.