Research Matters: Elegant simplicity in brain science

The May 2020 issue of ASCD’s Educational Leadership is all about learning and the brain, a topic that’s near and dear to McREL. Our Bryan Goodwin and Darienne Day contributed a Research Matters column that encourages educators to consider knowledge about how learning happens as they design lessons—knowledge that, they say, has been “hidden in plain view” for decades.

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The power of journaling for professional growth

I’m Pete, and I’m a journaler. I actually started as a storyteller, back in the day, when I kept a dozen sketchbooks full of tales of teddy bears, game summaries of make-believe baseball teams, and lyrics to various rap songs (some jotted painstakingly from the radio, others I made up). I wrote while hunkered down under my bed, I wrote sitting on the deck, I wrote at the kitchen table. The point is, I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I keep doing it (witness this blog: yeah, I wrote it). And I feel there are tons of benefits to writing in a journal.

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Communities of practice in this social distancing moment

Whether a teacher team is called a Professional Learning Community (PLC) or a Community of Practice (CoP) or simply a grade-level team or subject-area department team, most educators are accustomed to maintaining a consistent team meeting schedule during the school year. Often, this team time is used to examine student work or assessment results, compare notes about lesson plans, share strategies about different instructional moves, or seek advice about engaging students in a tough unit of study. Depending on district and school resources and directives, educators may also find themselves discussing shared team leadership, collaboration, or identifying “people who need to be at the table.” Again, these meetings have been the routine “normal” for just about all of us for our entire teaching careers. But now that COVID-19 has closed schools and shifted us all to online teaching and learning, these routine meeting schedules have in many cases been temporarily suspended while educators try to normalize the virtual classroom environment.

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Lose the cape! Five tips for leading in uncertain times

For the past few weeks, as we’ve connected with school and district leaders from all over the nation (and world), we’ve been inspired by the thoughtful, earnest efforts of many school systems to address in real-time the immense challenge of supporting learning while students are at home. We also hear the heavy burden leaders are shouldering right now as they make dozens of critical decisions each day while attempting to sound a confident and reassuring tone for anxious teachers and families.

Yet we know that behind the brave face they put on for others, many leaders are privately wrestling with their own anxieties, feelings of inadequacy, and worries they’re not doing enough to help students, families, and teachers navigate this crisis.

If that sounds like you, rest assured you’re not alone. We know the stress you’re feeling. So, the last thing we want to do is add to your anxieties by serving up a new checklist to do (or feel inadequate about not doing). Instead, we’ve gleaned few tips from leaders like you, our own experiences, and research, and we offer them here simply as coping strategies (and words of encouragement) to help you manage your stress and navigate these uncertain waters.

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The power (and limits) of student-led discussions

Hollywood often presents teachers as swashbucklers, swooping in to right wrongs and save the day with powerful speeches delivered to the class. When it comes to actual classroom discussions, however, the truth is a little less dramatic and a lot more complicated, according to the latest research column by McREL’s Bryan Goodwin and Max Altman in ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine. When it comes to effective student learning, some of the best discussion happens among students themselves. But leading students to have productive conversations with their peers is quite a bit different than playing the leading role in a fictitious classroom.

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Students can help improve schools . . . if we’ll listen

School leaders often overlook an obvious source of information on how they could serve students better: students. The “student voice” movement seeks to remedy this by showing administrators productive ways to solicit student input on such matters as school climate, graduation rates, and even teacher turnover. And researchers have identified methods that are particularly effective, McREL’s Bryan Goodwin and Samantha E. Holquist write in the March 2020 edition of ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine.

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Cracking the reading code

In his latest contribution to Educational Leadership magazine, McREL CEO Bryan Goodwin calls for an end to the “Reading Wars.” If we’d all just heed the research, he argues, it would become clear that children don’t learn to read by being surrounded by books and encouraged to love them, but by learning to decode symbols and by practicing relentlessly. Crucially, it is time to set aside the notion that decoding and comprehension are somehow in competition, he writes. Rather, they are part and parcel of the same process, one that simply does not come naturally and must be taught by teachers who are, themselves, educated in the science of reading.

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An engaging consultant describes an engaged classroom

For thousands of educators and school leaders around the world, the cheery presence of instructional expert Cheryl Abla ensures that McREL professional learning is engaging as well as rich in content. That’s fitting, since student engagement is one of Cheryl’s professional passions. Cheryl is a former classroom teacher and education program director, and a co-author of the influential Tools for Classroom Instruction That Works. Now she’s co-authored a new white paper about student engagement (with researcher Brittney R. Fraumeni—available now on the McREL website) so we thought we’d ask what she looks for in an engaged classroom.

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Peer coaching can make professional learning stick

The researcher who identified a now-common instructional strategy—wait time—also made a secondary discovery that has had an equally profound influence on teaching and learning. Whether it’s wait time or any other new technique, teachers are liable to set that new practice aside before giving it a fair chance—unless they have a peer supporting them in their experimentation. In the November edition of ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine, McREL’s Bryan Goodwin and Meagan Taylor explain how this insight led to a particular form of support that can close the “knowing-doing gap” in professional learning: peer coaching.

Multiple studies have found that teachers who learn new teaching strategies and then return to the classroom to implement them on their own retain much less of what they’ve learned than those who also get a peer coach.

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