What is on your classroom walls? Why?

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A few weeks ago, a middle school in the Bronx that I work with had a visit from their superintendent. She blasted them for their disorganized learning environments, and for good reason: classrooms were cluttered with charts serving little purpose aside from demonstrating the residue of what was once taught.

I also happened to speak recently with a pre-K teacher of children with autism who emphasized the importance of a calm, uncluttered environment for her students. She kept her walls mostly bare. She said that the idea that classroom walls need to have something on them is “old-fashioned thinking”; such educators think that “if I have a lot on the walls, then kids are learning a lot. But it’s more about the teacher than the kids.”

This teacher thinks deeply about what her students need, and she has realized that having very little up on the walls is critical to creating an environment for learning for students sensitive to visual stimulus.

I think at some level most teachers recognize this, when they are asked. At that middle school I mentioned, the leadership and then staff discussed what an effective classroom environment looked like, and the importance of a lack of clutter was raised.

Yet in all too many classrooms, especially in struggling schools, walls are strewn with the bricolage of lessons past. How many of those charts are actively referred to by students?

A small study in 2014 by Carnegie Mellon, as reported by NBC News, backs up the idea that clutter on classroom walls can have a detrimental effect on learning. They found that:

In the sparse classroom, the kindergartners got distracted by other students or even themselves. But in the decorated one, children were more likely to be distracted by the visual environment and spent far more time “off task.”

In other words, young children are easily distractable. So putting a bunch of stuff up on the walls will distract them even more. In heavens name, why would we deliberately make it harder for our kids to focus and learn?

And yet in too many classrooms and schools, we do exactly that. We create environments that make it harder for students to focus, rather than easier.

And why do we do that? Because all too often, we put things up for other adults, rather than for our students.

Look at all we are learning!, our classroom walls scream.

The irony: all those artifacts make it harder for students to learn.

Teachers, take an honest look at your classroom walls, and ask yourself: What is on my classroom walls? Why? Who is it for? How often (if at all) do my students refer to what’s there?

Here’s a rule of thumb to combat distraction: If what is up on your wall will not be referred to by your students in the next week or two, then take it down.

Take a picture of it if you want a record of it, or do like one great teacher I worked with did and tape it to a wire hanger and hang it in a closet or on a clothes rack for past anchor charts that you can bring back out as needed.

 

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Smorgasbord: The politics of Ed

Chalkbeat takes a look at De Blasio’s campaign promises on education and how they’ve played out

Overall, seems to me De Blasio & Farina have rolled out some pretty solid stuff when you look at it as a whole, minus the politics. I think the district restructuring is a mixed bag and the top-down management is problematic, but the smooth roll-out of pre-K services, and Single Shepherd and AP and College Access programs will be gamechangers for kids in the long run.

Where we need to keep pushing De Blasio and Farina: autonomy and accountability for school leaders, reducing partisanship over charters and choice, and fighting segregation.

There’s always plenty to criticize in any Mayor or Chancellor’s reign. I’ve gotten into frequent arguments with my colleagues about Bloomberg and Klein’s administration because I’m unwilling to paint their leadership and policies with one broad stroke of good/bad. Let’s talk about what is working and criticize what’s not.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has made many education promises. Here’s what he’s delivered so far — and what he hasn’t, Chalkbeat NY

Speaking of critique–here’s the problem with the way we talk about improvement in ed

David Cantor at the 74 has insightful analysis of NY politics and how it’s affecting the Mayoral Control debate–and the way we talk about education.

“Preschools don’t yield the hard, annual data markers that reputations and public support are built on. The measurable impact of the program likely won’t reveal itself to researchers until this mayor is no longer in office.”

He’s right. This is one of the fundamental problems with how we look at education. If we are only focused on the short-term, then all we will get is short-term effects, which may ultimately be detrimental.

Here’s a case in point. Due to the outsized focus on test scores in elementary schools, many principals place their most effective teachers in the 3rd grade or higher, because that’s the grades that are tested. But a far better strategy, in the long-term, would be to place your hard-hitters in the earliest grades, because that investment will better build the foundations for learning that many kids desperately need.

Similarly, principals talk about focusing all their attention and resources on their “pushables”–the kids who are at the upper borders of a 1 or 2 or 3 on the state test. So what’s going to happen to the students that aren’t so labeled? And what’s going to happen to the coherence in your instruction across your school?

Interestingly, some reform pundit focus in response to Cantor’s cogent article is to highlight his criticism of De Blasio’s renewal school bloatware and his antipathy to the media. But here’s what Cantor says right after that:

There may be something more: apathy. Not his; ours. Fixing schools is difficult work; it’s slow; you lose people’s attention. “People are more concerned about the subways,” said Weisberg.

Holding attention is essential to warding off politicians and being able to do “the hard work that has to happen inside schools,” as Henig says.”

Indeed. The real work of education is incremental, it’s hard, and it won’t grab many headlines.

Analysis: The Fierce Fight Over Mayoral Control Reflects De Blasio’s Weakness on Education, the 74

Speaking of surface level judgments . . . college teachers grade attractive students higher

This result, they add, was “driven mainly by courses taught by male instructors.”

ATTRACTIVE STUDENTS GET HIGHER GRADES, Pacific Standard

All charters can’t be painted with the same brush–just like public schools

Sara Mead argues that “it’s hard to make any single statement that accurately characterizes the national charter school landscape as a whole.”

Indeed. It’s hard to make any single statement that accurately characterizes schools period. This is one of the core issues about how we talk about schools, whether public, charter, or private.

Look Beyond the Acela Corridor, US News

Lessons on desegregation from Dallas

1) Open up admissions (a lottery system, rather than selective admissions)

2) Set aside a certain percentage for low-income students

Dallas Schools, Long Segregated, Charge Forward on Diversity, NY Times

A new study says that diverse classrooms increase student well-being

In the more diverse schools, “kids have more opportunity to have cross-race friendships and then they become protective,” Graham said. “So if you’re in a diverse school and you’ve made friends with people from different racial and ethnic groups then they help protect you, they help introduce you to kids in their ethnic, racial group, there’s more opportunities to find your niche and fit in.”

New research: student well-being higher in diverse schools, KPCC

EdBuild releases a report on the secession of white parents from school districts that deepens segregation

“Alabama makes it particularly easy for small towns to secede from a larger school district, but 30 states have processes codified in state law that allow for secession, some more permissive than others. Procedures range from only a majority vote in a small, breakaway neighborhood in some states to a multistep process involving a state agency or legislative approval in others.”

Fractured: The Breakdown of America’s School Districts, EdBuild

Privatizing (aka “optimizing”) public services

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the administration was focusing on technology this week. He said there was “a lot of room for optimization in the federal government.”

What does “optimizing” our public institutions and services mean?

“Cook, the Apple CEO, requested that computer coding be taught in every public school. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said workers need more skills for a technology-based economy. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos encouraged the government to use commercial technology to save money and develop artificial intelligence to improve government services.

Venture capitalist John Doerr asked for the government to open up its databases to private firms, saying it would transform health care.”

In other words, use public institutions to serve private interests. Hmm. What does serving public interests mean again now?

Tech CEOs visit White House to talk modernizing government, AP

The ecosystem metaphor is used to argue for an ed reform focus on two-parent families

“The education reform community has a unique responsibility as keepers of perhaps the remaining civic institution—public schools—that interacts with almost every child for prolonged periods almost every week (or at least the thirty-six weeks of the school year). That is why two-generation solutions such as a parent-home-visiting program or the Success Sequence should be explored as part of a core curriculum, given the data that show it’s nearly impossible for a poor person to remain poor if that person makes a series of life choices—finish high school, secure a job, and get married before having a child, in that order.”

If not us, who will make humans human? If not now, a new generation of fragile families looms., Flypaper

Chester Finn slams book promoting free-for-all marketplace from charter school advocates

Finn uses some choice words against a recent book from charter school advocates that promotes reduced accountability to increase parental choice:

This is idiocy. It’s also entirely unrealistic in the ESSA era. It arises from the view—long since dismissed by every respectable economist—that education is a private good and the public has no interest in an educated citizenry. Once you conclude that education is also a public good—one whose results bear powerfully on our prosperity, our safety, our culture, our governance, and our civic life—you have to recognize that voters and taxpayers have a compelling interest in whether kids are learning what they should, at least in schools that call themselves “public.”

I wish more folks understood that education is a public good.

New book from charter school advocates offers lots of bad advice, Flypaper

A “historic” literacy effort in Napa Valley may be less about iPads and “engagement” and more about carefully sequenced, structured learning

the74 breathlessly reports on a digital early learning initiative in California wine-making country, but I’m not sure the lessons promoted therein should be taken at face value.

“The first message is, digital works,” Nemko [the Superintendent and promoter of this effort] says. “Digital is engaging, and the one thing we know is that student engagement is the biggest measure of achievement. If you are engaged more — and this has a breadth and depth because of all the additional games and letter recognition — you are going to learn more.”

But that’s not the message I receive when I read this article. What I see is what happens when a concerted effort is made to provide a systematic and structured effort to address literacy development in young learners. I’m sure all the bells and whistles of an iPad are lovely. But adding animations and interactivity to a text alone are not what promotes literacy growth. What I view as the most powerful levers here are that the initiative is getting parents involved, and they are structuring vocabulary, phonemic awareness, phonics, and comprehension activities around a core body of texts.

So kudos is certainly due to the efforts being made, in public-private partnerships, to promote the literacy development of Napa Valley children. But let’s not turn this into another mistaken boosterist heralding of iPads and personalized digital learning.

A Historic Literacy Effort in California Brings Personalized Learning to English Language Learners, the74

A Pigeon Tale and a Growth Mindset

“I asked Cher what had made her think that the Pigeon story could be a kids’ book. She paused, then said, of her work at the time, ‘There were two classrooms, the same size, the same kinds of kids in terms of age, background. Every day with their lunch, the children got a cookie that came in a cellophane wrapper. In one of the classrooms, the teacher would come around with scissors and snip the cellophane off each cookie wrapper. In the other classroom, the teacher said, ‘Absolutely do not touch those wrappers, do not help the children open them. These kids are motivated, they can open these cookies themselves.’ Sometimes there was a lot of struggle. The cookies might be pulverized by the time they were opened. But they were opened, each one of them. I knew kids could desire, fail, be angry, thrive. I knew that this was territory that made sense for them. Those Pigeon emotions made sense to them—that told me something.’ ”

—Rivka Galchen, “Fail Funnier” on children’s book author Mo Willems in The New Yorker

Your Environment Prevails

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In short, the researchers found that environment prevails. For children who were raised by their biological parents, the correlation between parents’ wealth and a child’s eventual wealth was strong—calculated to be 0.33. (A correlation of 0 would mean parents’ wealth has no bearing on children’s wealth, and a correlation of 1 would mean they are identical.) For children who were adopted, the correlations were much different: Between adopted children and their birth parents, it was weaker (only about 0.13), while between children and their adoptive parents, it was in the middle (about 0.23). These numbers suggest that children who are raised wealthy owe their future financial success more to the household they grew up in than any inherent ability they possess. [Bold added]

—Joe Pinsker, “Rich People Raise Rich Kids