Must-Reads, Recent + Research-Based

Reflections on My Edutopia Binge (Part 1)


Anyone else been following Edutopia’s “How Learning Happens” video series? I just tuned in this week and have been binge-watching the series.

I’m hooked.

What’s the deal?

In Edutopia’s own words:

“More than a year in the making, the series explores teaching practices grounded in the science of learning and human development. The videos highlight the importance of a safe, nurturing school environment and positive relationships with peers and adults. Get an inside look at practices that build students’ academic confidence and foundational skills such as problem-solving and self-regulation.”

In my own words:

This series tackles the question of how holistic learning actually happens. Rather than remove all of the variables of a student’s experience (social dynamics, past trauma, and so on), these videos embrace them. They provide tangible strategies on how to leverage social-emotional learning across all subjects, grade levels, and classrooms.

Tell me more!

The series contains 5 major topics, which follow a robust introduction:

  • Cultivating a Belonging Mindset
  • Fostering Positive Relationships
  • Building Academic Confidence
  • Developing Foundational Skills
  • Establishing Positive Conditions for Learning

Within each of these topics is a series of videos that share background information, highlight successful strategies in action from real schools (read: real teachers and students). The videos are quickly digestable, relatively short, and provide small steps that can be taken in individual classrooms.

From the perspective of an educator, the strategies pack a punch. They are simple enough to use in your classroom without the pomp and circumstance required for a overhaul (a la flipping the classroom), yet powerful enough to make a remarkable difference in the classroom.

Talk Moves, a strategy fostering safe participation practice, speaks to this. In theory, small group discussions are a great idea, but unless each student is given the same set of expectations and opportunities, it’s no different than any other squeaky-wheel conundrum (one student does all the talking because they perceive no one else will; everyone else is afraid or indifferent to talk because they perceive the talker to have established the vocal territory in the class as theirs).

Talk Moves is a strategy that puts all students on the same playing field, whether they are gregarious or more reserved in sharing their opinion. It gives students shared vocabulary- and more importantly, shared strategy- on how to engage in dialogue. As educators, we can make the error of assuming all of our students know the rule of dialogue– that participation is the goal and however you insert yourself is the strategy. But, what about the students that come from an entirely different set of cultural norms and thus, conversational rules? Perhaps it’s impolite to offer your opinion before being asked. Perhaps it’s uncomfortable and uncouth to debate at all. Or perhaps a student identifies as an analyst– one who prefers to hear all opinions and facts before they decide.

Not convinced? See for yourself:

In short, this is one strategy that allows students to bring their own experiences, ideas, opinions, and backgrounds into a discussion. It serves as the map to help students dive deeper together, (mostly) eliminates competition and judgement, and creates pathways to community. (Side note: interested? Use the free template in your own classroom!)

What’s the point?

If the whole series was just Talk Moves, it wouldn’t be particularly compelling as a series, and the video series encompass a broad range of strategies and approaches, all primarily rooted in social-emotional learning and it’s unequivocal connection to the science of learning.

Check it:

My main takeaways are:

  • A child’s brain is exceptionally responsive to experiences and relationships
  • Relationships and experiences affect brain development
  • Adversity can lead to uneven development of foundational skills (think self-regulation), which will in turn affect more advanced skills required in contexts of learning; in contrast, belonging and safety can help flourish these skills
  • Intentional skill-building aids in developing both foundational and advanced academic skills, creating whole learners
  • Classrooms with manipulatives, tools, and collaborative tasks build foundational skills and encourage social-emotional learning

The video is introduced by Dr Pamela Cantor, the founder and Senior Science Advisor for Turnaround for Children. In her words:

“The 20th-century education system was never designed with the knowledge of the developing brain. So when we think about the fact that learning is a brain function and we have an education system that didn’t have access to this critical knowledge, the question becomes: Do we have the will to create an education system that’s informed by it?”

Well, that’s a hard-hitter, isn’t it? Cantor is also part of an expert cross-disciplinary team studying the science of learning and development, and has dove deep into the role nurturing plays in educational settings…and how this actually affects the very nature of a child.

Cantor is also the founder of Turnaround for Children, an organization that began following 9/11 attacks “to address the impact of trauma on New York City public school students,” per the website. Indeed, trauma-informed practices are a central tenet in the series.

Trauma-informed teaching strikes me as equal parts essential, relevant, heartbreaking, and uplifting. We see growing acts of abuse, violence, and cruelty around the world, but especially so in the USA with 288 school shootings and no efforts to stop them. It’s true also that trauma, social-emotional learning, and a holistic perspective of a child’s experience inside and outside of school are finally recognized as critical pieces to the learning puzzle and that these types of initiatives are truly tying it all together and creating effective and powerful strategies teachers can use in their classrooms everyday, regardless of the subject or grades they teach.

What’s Next?

I can’t possibly recap the entire science of learning initiative into one post, so a series of my Edutopia Binge is forthcoming.


  • Have you binged on this series?
  • What strikes you as most relevant in your classroom or setting?
  • What did the series nail, and what did it leave out?


[Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash]

Educational Theory, Recent + Research-Based

Gardner-ing Multiple Intelligences

This week, I’m inspired by Howard Gardner, and in my pursuit of all things multiple intelligences, I listened to his TEDTalk from 2015 “Beyond Wit and Grit: Rethinking the Keys to Success.” Working in expeditionary schools, I’ve heard quite a bit about grit as a desired character trait, and wit, which Gardner uses in this talk to refer to multiple intelligences.
The overall theme of his talk was to look beyond possessing traits (a particular intelligence style or propensity, or a character trait like grit, in this case) to the application of these. Gardner makes some compelling observations, such as that Hitler had a lot of grit, as did Nelson Mandela. Fair point. Likewise, with multiple intelligences, he states that his research never indicated a hierarchy of intelligence– rather that a rainbow of intelligences exist, and we ought to use this diversity to guide our interactions accordingly.
Gardner’s talk brings up some thoughts for me, particularly now that “community curriculum” is gaining some traction:

  • What is our responsibility as educators when it comes to helping students identify themselves (whether through multiple intelligences, character traits, leadership styles, etc.)?
  • Is it merely enough to simply have students identify these? Or might we even be causing some shallow or deep psychological damage by not following through with a more cohesive way in which students can leverage their learning style?
  • How do we teach application of learning styles?

Ultimately, I agree that, like most things, it is not enough merely to introduce students to a concept– there must be substantial follow-through. I’m curious to hear from schools who have adopted a community curriculum what the teacher training or coaching may look like, as well as what the student guidance looks like following.

[Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash]

Instructional Tools, Must-Reads, Recent + Research-Based

BOMish: September 2018

book-of-the-month (1)

This month’s BOMish (Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning by John Hattie) was another book used in one of my graduate courses, and it was the first textbook that stopped me in my tracks. I mean, really– how many textbooks do we find arresting ever? This was the first researched-based text that allowed me to see what works and why when it comes to actually fostering learning. Not memorizing, not meeting standards, not testing– but good ol’ fashioned learning

Let’s get to the good stuff.

Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning (John Hattie)


  • The Stats: 296 Pages, published March 2012 (but online resources are consistently updated)
  • Who Should Read It: Teachers, school administrators, educational program designers
  • My Rating (out of 5 ♥): ♥♥♥♥.5
  • My Thoughts: As educators, we’re constantly trying new things with the goal of helping our students learn. We want things to stick, but not for the sake of memorizing, but for internalizing concepts, ideas, patterns so students can draw meaningful connections and learn from a wide. But trying new things can be maddening and brings up more doubt and questions than just coasting with the status quo. Where should you start? Do you flip your classroom just because it seems like that’s the “in” thing right now? Do you try all the things, and see what works best? Do you just try one thing and stick with it for the year? What research should I trust? What works best? How do I know if what I’m doing is actually working?

Hattie’s book (hailed as “teaching’s Holy Grail”) takes out the guesswork and provides a no-nonsense meta-analysis of over 50,000 studies and 80 million students and offers 200+ instructional strategies and their relative effectiveness as related to student achievement. In other words, he tells us what helps and what hinders learning and helps us get into the minds of our students. With so much data analyzed, the results are at first a bit overwhelming.

Check it: 


…wait, w h a a a t ?

The chart takes a minute or six to digest.

What you’re looking at is a ranked list of the factors that affect student learning. The ones on the top? Those are the goodies. They have the most evidence that using them will increase student learning. Moving towards the middle, Hattie found that the “hinge point” was at 0.40. In other words– go for the strategies that are above 0.40(ish). And, finally, at the bottom, we’ve got what hinders learning: ADHD, deafness, boredom, depression, moving, corporal punishment (how is this still relevant enough to have studies…? #shudder), etc. 

As you read the list, you might be struck by the vastness of the categories (breastfeeding? chess instruction? modifying school calendars?) and wonder how and why Hattie selected the factors he did. The original list was a scant (sarcasm) 138 categories, and was developed by analyzing data of studies spanning 6 major areas, including  students, schools, home, curricula, teaching strategies, and the classroom. The list continued to take shape and grow after incorporating a holistic picture of students backgrounds, culturally, physiologically, emotionally, financially, and more. Personally, I don’t need all of the categories of the updated analysis and find the first iteration to be sufficient. Overall, the list hasn’t changed too much, though more categories have been added towards the top and bottom.

So, is the book all numbers? Ah, thank heavens, no, and in fact, you’re supplied with ample examples on how to leverage effective teaching strategies with examples, hands-on activities, and ideas. There are checklists, facilitation tips, as well as rich resources to use in nearly any classroom. The book was updated in 2012 and Hattie’s online resource bank is updated constantly. 

If you’re a new teacher struggling to keep your head above water, a veteran teacher looking to mix it up, an administrator wondering what initiatives to promote, or an educational program designer… I can’t recommend this book enough. While, of course, each student group is different, and ultimately your students’ achievements may not fall exactly in the order laid out on this grand meta-analysis, Hattie’s book directs you to the starting line and points you in the direction of success.

Side-note: Since this was an assigned text, I admit it may not elegantly catalogue into taking charge of my own professional development. I take full ownership of this decision 🙂