Category Archives: Teaching & Learning

Education Evolutions #83


The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

A quick note about the next few weeks. I will be putting this newsletter on a brief hiatus until after the new year. So this will be the last one until we are into January. I am halting things a little sooner than I thought but already know next weekend will present some problems preventing me from assembling this thing.

This week is a bit of a smorgasbord of stuff. The reading and exam articles deal with some common issues that proved pretty timely for me personally, while the other one is about Finland. Like a lot of educators, Finland fascinates me. Essentially, they have been a leader in education my entire career. My fascination has led me to read a lot about their schools, probably more than most people. The Scandinavian nation’s education system has become one of my pet research interests, which usually means there are definitely some books about Finnish education on my shelves.

That means this week’s “If you read only one article…” is the middle one about Finland. One of the most fascinating things about Finnish education is the more I learn about it the more I realize we do almost the diametrically opposite things in the United States. Then the press and policymakers wring their hands and wonder why our system fails to measure as high as theirs on tests. Yet, the Finns routinely comment on how inspired they were by our system – our system long ago, however.

Enjoy all of the various holidays you celebrate as we close out the year with the festive season.


Here are three curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Is Listening to a Book the Same Thing as Reading It? – The New York Times –  Daniel T. Willingham (4-minute read)

I must admit, I read Willingham with a critical eye but I do often read things he has to say. As a psychology professor, he has a lot to say about issues of literacy. In their op-ed piece from the Times, he discusses the difference between traditional print reading and audiobooks. Given that I was just discussing this issue with my students, it proved a timely article for me at least.

Relaying the results of a handful of studies about reading, his conclusion is not exactly unexpected. Comprehension results may vary between audio and print but not always as much as we might expect. The primary difference is revealed by the purpose of reading. The more demanding the purpose of reading the more the advantages of print begin to show.

With more difficult texts read for different purposes, say academic ones, the differences become more pronounced. Overall, I definitely agree with the notion that listening to a book certainly is not cheating. Yet, as I told my students it is awfully hard to talk about an author’s style if you only ever hear it and never see how the words are sequenced on the page.

Educator: In Finland, I realized how ‘mean-spirited’ the U.S. education system really is – The Washington Post –  Mary Tedrow (5-minute read)

This is a guest post in Valerie Strauss’ education column, highlighting even more differences between Finland and the United States. This time is from the director of the Shenandoah Valley Writing Project Director. As a Writing Project person myself, I was immediately curious what Tedrow had to offer. Her conclusions are quite revealing.

Presented with detached clarity, Tedrow is right. The American education system is mean-spirited for all the reasons she shares but perhaps even more. America has long celebrated the cult of the individual. We tend to eschew community benefits for the rights of individuals, so much so that we even view the collective of corporations as legal persons. This concern with individuals has a dark side, allowing us to blame individuals too while avoiding systemic inequities that privilege some individuals over others.

In education, we see this kind of myopia on full display. If a student struggles, it is usually their fault. If they fail for any reason, there are not a lot of safeguards to help them turn from the difficulties that can quickly drag them even further down. Penalties compound. Contrast that with Finland where another chance is always available. Yet, we ratified a law called No Child Left Behind – no short of ironies there.

What Is the Purpose of Final Exams, Anyway? – The Chronicle of Higher Education –  Kevin Gannon (5-minute read)

I came across this piece and thought to myself, I certainly have asked this question more than once. So, seeing it being wrestled with at the collegiate level made it even more interesting. I will confess that I have grown to think that final exams have far less value than I did earlier in my career. Like the writer, I began thinking that it was what was done. Also, like the writer, I would not suggest that they have no longer have any value. In certain circumstances they make sense but they certainly should no longer be a requirement for any course at the high school level or beyond.

For one, final exams only serve to further feed the high-stakes nonsense that is already replete across the field of education. Even if the potential value of the exam is reduced the purpose should be questioned. The idea of a single comprehensive exam does seem pretty antiquated. Yet, exams remain a part of life even beyond schooling. There are loads of tests that need to be taken for licensure, certifications, affiliations, and a range of other professional credentialing.

A course exam that serves as preparation for another required exam makes sense to me on some level but it also seems like a self-perpetuating death spiral. At least outside of education, most tests can be taken as many times as desired, until a person passes it or simply gives up. Sadly, in places where learning is supposedly the chief concern, that option is not typically available.

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Education Evolutions #82


The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Apologies for the delayed delivery. After feeling a bit under the weather and then feeling the full force of a grading bottleneck since re-entering the classroom full-time, my normal Sunday deadline slipped past me. Fortunately, it is not a regular occurrence, but I still feel bad about it.

This week is a handful of quicker reads, especially given the reduced time to have a look at them. Hopefully, there is something worth a longer look for everyone. No real theme this week. It is a wide assortment.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the first one. With greater interest in things like mindfulness and other similar efforts, it is easy to turn focus inward. This article questions that impulse toward the individual over the collective. Together we educators are always far more powerful.

Hav a good week, what’s left of it.


Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Getting Stuck on Self-Care: Why Community Care is Important for Educators – Teachers Going Gradeless –  Benjamin Doxdator (5-minute read)

Over the last couple of years, I have become quite a fan of Benjamin Doxtador’s writing. The Canadian teaching in Belgium is one of the most erudite writers working at the K12 level. Here he aims his shrewd eye at one of the trends rippling through education, self-care. Careful not to dismiss the need for teachers to care for themselves, he highlights how that effort can also become a way to add yet another responsibility to those already performing in a caring profession.

While not his original idea, as he is always quick to credit others, he cites Yashna Padamsee’s notion of communities of care and suggests it is an idea that we educators consider. The idea of moving from an outlook rooted in independence toward interdependence is one that we ought to give a whole lot more consideration. As public education faces continued attacks, one need only look to Wisconsin’s latest democratic debacle for an egregious example, teachers could do worse than to create communities of care.

Why science and engineering need to remind students of forgotten lessons from history – The Conversation –  Muhammad H. Zaman (4-minute read)

While I admit that I have begun to grow a bit weary of the incessant STEM focus in schools lately, I do not dismiss its importance or anything. Still, I am a humanities guy, however, after all. That is why I liked this piece so much. Nearly all of my favorite memories of math and science as a student involved engaging teachers that were chock full of enthusiasm and great stories associated with their subject. In fact, I still remember quite a few historical stories from those classes that made the work come far more vividly to life.

We know that stories are great aids to learning. So incorporating more historical stories that provide context for the material being studied would unquestionably benefit. Yet, Zaman’s focus on the benefits associated with highlighting the failures involved in science might be the most interesting and compelling reason for anyone still skeptical. In fact, I think highlighting failures in all disciplines would likely benefit students.

Education Rebranders – Gary Rubinstein’s Blog –  Gary Rubinstein (5-minute read)

This was kind of timely post about a current trend afoot in the edreform community. The forces taking aim at public education remain as insidious as ever. So rebranding is one way that they can co-opt more education terms or coin new spins on existing political ones, case in point the recent lessons learned by Boston Public Schools about school closing from Chicago’s historic efforts. BPS has decided “renovation” is not nearly as threatening.

The important thing is that these new rebranding efforts at reform will require closer attention to the new euphemisms that begin to bloom. That is what a rebranding usually is anyway, just new packaging and pitches for the same product. More choice, poor performing schools, bad teachers, rigorous standards, and accountability are not going to fade from those powerful forces with public education in their crosshairs, no matter how they decide to rename it.

Education Evolutions #81


The future of books flickr photo by Johan Larsson shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Thanksgiving may well be my favorite of all holidays. I love the even longer weekend, as well as all the food. Plus, it is a holiday for everyone nationwide, regardless of religious affiliation. Just taking some moments to reflect and remind ourselves of some of the good things also seems like a good thing to do too.

I wasn’t sure I was going to pull this off this weekend. I spent a lot more time just trying to enjoy the weekend without giving a lot of thought to other responsibilities. It was really a weekend of rest. I even thought I would do some work but ended up putting it off. Perhaps, I will take a look at some things this afternoon.

This week’s “If you read only one article…” is the first one. Yes, it is about the holiday that just past but it is a fascinating story with twists and turns that make for a great yarn. It is also short enough to get through in a few minutes while winding the weekend down.

Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving holiday.


Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

The Thanksgiving Story You’ve Probably Never Heard – The New York Times –  Joseph Kelly (5-minute read)

While there are a lot of stories that crop up during the runup to Thanksgiving, like this one also from the Times, this one seemed equally as important beyond the holiday. Plus, I love the kinds of fresh looks at history that this story provides. The idea that a character like Stephen Hopkins links Jamestown, Bermuda, and Massachusetts is a glorious one. What’s more, the fact that he was a “troublesome stranger” makes it even better.

The idea that the Stephen Hopkins mentioned in all of these documents is one in the same person is really too wonderful to dismiss. At risk of raising up another single genius, what a great yarn to think that a wayward, quick-thinking, and shrewd individual would have persuaded his peers to form a democracy in the New World due to a corporation’s failures is almost too good to be true. In fact, it may still be but the historian Kelly seems to suggest that is worthy of note. It is even sweeter that he was criminalized for advancing such mutinous ideas as natural rights, democracy, and liberty. That strikes me almost as quintessentially American in the best sense of the word.

The act of drawing something has a “massive” benefit for memory compared with writing it down – The British Psychological Society Research Digest –  Emma Young (3-minute read)

Score one for the sketch-noters out there. This is a remarkable but not altogether surprising discovery. Given all the studies that keep suggesting that handwriting over typing contributes to greater retention, this seems like it would be related, albeit not necessarily the same. Even more, it seems like this is one of those kinds of things that should be already known, on some level. It seems logical that anyone drawing a word or concept has to use more cognitive ability to execute that action.

What is more fascinating is the fact that the quality of the drawing has almost no bearing, making me believe even more that it has more to do with all the thinking involved. Better still, that any of this might be helpful in addressing dementia or other memory disorders makes it possibly more important. Until then this is one more good reason to suggest drawing to students, even when they say that they can’t draw. It doesn’t matter and it is good for you.

Historians: What kids should be learning in school right now – The Washington Post –  Valerie Strauss (10-minute read)

I must confess the main reason that I was drawn to this article is that it included thoughts from UMass Lowell education historian Jack Schneider. He is one part of the podcasting duo on the show Have You Heard, which is well worth a listen if you if you are into that kind of thing. It is good. Schneider is an insightful academic with a lot to say about the privatization attacks waged on our public education system.

While Schnieder’s thoughts are excellent, the others are well worth a read. Being all historians, there is a definite slant toward that domain. Regardless, it is not without its merits. James Grossman’s suggestion that we should concern ourselves with the simple but imminently effective question “How do you know that?” warrants a whole lot of consideration.

However, the most interesting thoughts to me came from Sophia Rosenfeld. Her suggestion that “Evidence collection, interpretation, verification: these are all vital skills (more so than ever in the age of the internet and social media) that students can only learn from doing themselves,” only reinforces my belief that teaching journalism is now more important than ever. It is supposed to be the first draft of history anyway, right? As a journalism teacher, it is one of the challenges I find myself always chasing.