Barnes & Noble Book Fair
March 17, 2011 (During Parent/Teacher Conferences)
9:00 am - 7:00 pm
Location: 1st Floor
A portion of the profits will be given to the library to buy more books.
Please get a copy to Mr. Link by Friday, March 4th.
A Little Shame Goes a Long Way
In this Chronicle of Higher Education article, New York University professor Jonathan Zimmerman comments on a recent study showing that 45 percent of college students don’t improve their reasoning and writing skills in their freshman and sophomore years – and 36 percent don’t improve in these areas by graduation.
The study (Academically Adrift by University of Virginia researchers Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa) used the Collegiate Learning Assessment, an essay-only test that measures higher-level thinking and expression. Here are two sample items:
- Students are given a set of documents on an airplane that recently crashed and asked to advise an executive on whether his company should buy this kind of plane.
- Students are presented with data about a city’s crime-reduction program and asked to advise the mayor on how to respond to criticisms of the program.
The study tracked more than 2,300 students in 24 colleges, including selective liberal-arts institutions, big land-grant universities, and historically African-American and Hispanic institutions.
Why did so few students get better at writing and reasoning? “The reason isn’t hard to find,” says Zimmerman. “Most students don’t read and write very much. And the reason for that isn’t a mystery, either: We don’t ask them to.” More than half of the students in the study had not been asked to do more than 20 pages of writing in the previous semester. Seventeen percent of students hadn’t met with a faculty member outside of class during the first year of college, and nine percent had never talked to a professor outside of class. “Most students simply ignore us,” says Zimmerman, “and we return the favor. It’s mutual.”
The study did contain some good news: students whose professors asked them to do more than 40 pages of reading each week and more than 20 pages of writing each semester did markedly better on the Collegiate Learning Assessment. “If we want them to learn more,” says Zimmerman, we’ll have to ask more of them – and of ourselves.”
Zimmerman then turns to the question of how, in the loosely-coupled, herding-cats culture of a university, professors could be held accountable for asking more of their students. Zimmerman concedes that most accountability systems could be gamed by resourceful academics, but he thinks there’s a way to get to the laggards – a way that’s been pioneered in the medical field. Since the late 1990s, doctors at Vanderbilt University who are the subject of complaints from patients about rude behavior are invited to have a cup of coffee with a colleague. Here’s how these conversations go:
“Bob, for whatever reason, you seem to be associated with more complaints than the vast majority of your colleagues. I’m not here to find out why. I’m not here to tell you what to do. I just want to suggest that you review the material I am sharing with you and reflect on what families are saying about your practice.” The “peer messengers” receive training on how to approach their colleagues and not make it feel like they’re being taken to the woodshed. It’s more like a gentle wake-up call.
This approach has been remarkably effective. About 60 percent of problem doctors received fewer complaints from patients after a single coffee conversation. Many were unaware of how they were perceived by patients; others knew but had never been told about it by a peer and confronted with hard data.
What about the 40 percent of doctors who didn’t change their behavior after a low-key chat? About half eventually left the medical practice for another one. The other half received an “authority intervention” from a dean or other administrator, including an improvement and evaluation plan.
Zimmerman imagines what a cup-of-coffee conversation might sound like with a professor who isn’t demanding enough of students. “Joe, the average course in our college requires 50 pages of reading per week and three 10-page papers. Your course is in the bottom 10 percent on that metric. And only 20 percent of your students report meeting with you outside of class, compared with 60 percent in the university. The evidence is that if you assign more, students will learn more.” Zimmerman thinks that many professors would respond to this approach. At heart, they care about learning, and they also care about what their peers think of them.
Would this work in the world of K-12 schools? Something to ponder.
“A Little Shame Goes a Long Way” by Jonathan Zimmerman in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Feb. 18, 2011 (Vol. LVII, #24, p. A72), no e-link available.
Improving Secondary Students' Use of Academic Vocabulary
In this Principal Leadership article, San Diego State University professors Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey emphasize the importance of academic vocabulary for secondary-school students – not just memorizing lists of words, but students reading, writing, speaking, and listening to key vocabulary in different contexts in all subject areas.
For example, a world history teacher might ask students to use the word pogroms in a sentence at least eight words long, with pogroms in the fourth position. Students might produce sentences like these:
- Russian czarists used pogroms to frighten Jewish activists.
- Some people escaped pogroms by immigrating to other countries, such as the United States.
- It’s easy for pogroms to turn into genocides.
The teacher might then have students read their sentences aloud and discuss the content and grammar. Every few days, students might look back in their history notebooks and choose one of their previous sentences to use as a topic sentence for a class summary they write on an exit ticket, allowing the teacher to gauge comprehension and zero in on students who need additional help.
Another technique for getting students to learn academic vocabulary is language frames – partially-constructed sentences into which students insert their original ideas to get practice using formal language to explain, defend, and persuade. For example, an English teacher might have students flesh out language frames like these:
- The evidence shows that -----.
- I believe this because -----.
- Ultimately, what I believe is ------.
- I reached this conclusion because ------.
- I would even add that --------.
A teacher could introduce language frames by modeling a sentence she might write after reading a mystery novel, and then have students read an article and complete their own sentences. When students get the hang of simple language frames, they can graduate to something more sophisticated, like this one:
- I agree that ---, a point that needs emphasizing because so many people believe that ----. Using this frame, a student wrote, “I agree that happiness can be bought, a point that needs emphasizing because so many people believe that it is internal. Does the ease of transportation make you happy? What about the iPod you listen to?”
NASSP members can view a video of a teacher using language frames at