‘I don’t know this word’… Why student knowledge and context matter

My friend Mary, a bookseller in Chicago, told me I need to read Educated, a memoir by Tara Westover. Westover was was raised by American survivalists, and her story explains how she broke with her family’s extremist ideology and left home to seek her education, culminating in a Ph.D. from Cambridge. The part that stuck…

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Grit offers good – but not great – insights

I just finished reading Grit, and I have to say I’m disappointed. I know Angela Duckworth’s argument that passion and perseverance can overcome obstacles and lead to success has met with mixed reviews — especially from those who believe the focus on grit discounts the impact of poverty — and I have to say I…

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Relationships: Necessary but NOT sufficient for student learning

“They don’t care what you know until they know you care.” “No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” “Great teachers focus not on compliance but on connections and relationships.” “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” It’s that time of year when the teacher-web is heating up with inspirational reminders that we have…

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Why a brand-new master schedule isn’t the solution

Note to readers: I try to post every week, but a summer full of PD workshops has turned out to be busier than the school year! I hope you’re having a restful July.  In the past few weeks leading AP summer institutes for Macro/Micro teachers, I’ve had a lot of discussions about the “school day.”…

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Moving to PBL is a challenging (but worthy) task for teachers

Changing the way we teach is hard. At times, almost overwhelmingly hard. I was reminded of this yesterday, when I was invited to sit in with a terrific group of New Richmond, Wisconsin, teachers who are using my book (Beat Boredom) for a book study. The 20 teachers in the book study are meeting for…

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Let’s stop teaching like it’s 1899

Have you seen the picture? You know, the sepia-toned one with all of the kids sitting in desks in straight rows, representing American public schools 100 years ago? Or the newer version, the stock photo that got many of us riled up at Education Secretary Betsy DeVos? Because no, of course we don’t teach like…

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Girls need grit, too

I’ve noticed a small but disturbing trend in my AP Macroeconomics classes: Girls are more likely to give up. Although very few students drop my class — only a handful in the past five years — so far it’s only been girls. When I hear from their parents, I often hear things like: She’s so…

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Teamwork: Annoying AND essential

Should high school students work in teams — or solo? When I was a student, we did about 90 percent of our work alone. With the exception of lab work in science and the occasional English group project, we were expected to learn independently, so we would be prepared for individual success later. Back then,…

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Not giving up on homework yet

When I first started teaching in 1994, assigning homework was a no-brainer. It was part of the Madeline Hunter model — “independent practice” — and part of preparing high school students for independent learning in college. It’s also how I was taught. In high school in the ’80s, I spent hours each night doing math…

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Forgetting is part of our nature

You didn’t tell us to read that chapter. I didn’t know there was a test today! I was supposed to take out the garbage? How often do we share an important piece of information with our students — or children or colleagues or friends, for that matter — and find the next day, they’ve completely…

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