Perusing the periodicals – The new year pile

The holidays ended and the New Year began, and all the while, our pile of professional magazines grew and grew. Here’s some of what grabbed our attention in the December-February issues of tree-guzzling education publications. Hang in — this may take awhile.

TECHNOLOGY & LEARNING (February)
TLN member Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach sees “no limits” on the potential for new ways to teach using digital technologies in this cover story forTechnology & Learning. You’ll find sound theory and imaginative thinking, supported by real-world examples of classrooms where new learning is taking place. Best of all, Sheryl’s fascination is with helping kids learn more, not with software and 21st Century gimcracks. For much of the past three decades, educators “just tried to keep up, with new technologies often simply bolted onto traditional curriculum practices. However, today, with three decades of digital experience under our belt, the time is ripe to begin instituting true change.” In describing some innovative digital integration at an inner-city school in Mobile AL, she writes: “But like many educators involved in remaking struggling high-needs schools into high-performing learning communities, (the principal) and her faculty also want their kids to have the same chance to compete in an innovation-based economy as children from the most privileged public schools in Alabama have.”

PHI DELTA KAPPAN (February)
Anne C. Lewis writes the Washington column for Phi Delta Kappan (and has for many years). She’s also covered education reform as a freelance writer for nearly four decades. She is, in fact, the Empress of Education Writing, and she knows what she’s talking about. In her latest KAPPAN column, Lewis begins: “Those who say that schools cannot improve student learning on their own run the risk of being called disbelievers, or charged with overlooking the many schools that do make a difference, or, worst of all, accused of being racist. I’m willing to take that risk. Until school reformers acknowledge the importance of nonschool influences, they will keep on imposing policies that are unfair to teachers and principals and ignoring policies that could make a difference.” Lewis goes on to cite commentary and research on the effects of environment and social identity on learning. Ultimately, she says, it is American culture that opens achievement gaps — which we then demand that our schools close, while we place our attention and resources on “more important” things.

INDEPENDENT SCHOOL (Winter 2008)
We learned an interesting thing or two about veteran PBS education reporter John Merrow in this personal essay penned for Independent School— including that he taught high school English for two years shortly after college graduation. The hook: he returns to that same upstate New York high school for a 40th class reunion. “Throughout the evening, I met former students, found their pictures in the yearbook, and asked, after a while, ‘What’s your story?’ Wow, the things they told me, and the valleys and hills they described — but even the sad stuff was bathed in survivor’s light. As I listened, I learned a lot about myself as a teacher.” Merrow reflects on the freedom he had to innovate in his English classroom and how much that has changed in the last half-dozen years. When he feels despair about the future, Merrow says, “I go to a school and feed off the energy and youthful optimism of students and the dedication of the best teachers. I regain my balance and optimism and leave rejuvenated.” Funny, that’s what we do, too.

JOURNAL OF STAFF DEVELOPMENT (Winter 2008)
In a themed issue about English Language Learners, two consultants from the Midcontinent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) group describe how teachers can learn to build students’ English language skills by asking the right questions. Jane D. Hill and Kathleen Flynn write: “In this article…we propose a professional development activity that will cement this strategy in teachers’ minds. The beauty of this strategy, which focuses on questions in the classroom, is that it helps teachers specifically address the needs of ELLs while also meeting the needs of every student in the classroom. It allows teachers to integrate learning for ELLs in mainstream classrooms and to help these students achieve academic success at the same levels as their native English-speaking peers. Finally, it shows teachers one direction for creating a supportive environment for English language learners.” Sounds like a win-win-win to us. (Article available for a limited time)

SCHOOL ADMINISTRATOR (February)
The flagship publication of the American Association of School Administrators landed two big fish (flounders?) in this interview about the “flat world.” Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind joins Thomas Friedman, of The World Is Flat fame, in a conversation about the implications of the global marketplace for K-12 education. The pair of future-thinkers also probe the relationship between education politics and the progress (or lack of progress) in reshaping curriculum around content integration and 21st Century skills. Pink actually visits Friedman in his office to produce this interview. His first question is: “Tom, in the newest editions of The World Is Flat, most of the additions have to do with education. Why is that?” Friedman replies: “That’s the question I was asked the most. ‘Okay, Tom. I’ll buy that the world is flat. What do I tell my kids?’” Read this fascinating exchange between two of the most talked-about authors in education circles today.

EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP (February)
Educational Leadership’s theme for the second month of 2008 is “Teaching Students to Think,” a pretty hot topic as controversy continues to swirl around the question of whether NCLB has inadvertently “dumbed down” the curriculum.EL’s editors have made more than a half-dozen articles available to non-ASCD members, so we’ve linked you to the table of contents. Among the interesting topics there: “All Our Students Thinking” by Nel Noddings (Any subject promotes critical thinking if it is taught in intellectually challenging ways); “Energizing Learning” by Robert Schwartz (How to lead students to tackle large questions); “Disciplining the Mind” byVeronica Boix Mansilla and Howard Gardner (let students in on how experts, scholars, and artists interpret the world.); and “Cover the Material or Teach Students to Think?” by Marion Brady (The case for teaching the kind of knowledge that isn’t in textbooks). And there’s lots more, including a research summary on project-based learning, by Jane L. David, the first in a new EL research series. She writes: “These studies suggest that project-based learning, when fully realized, can improve student learning. However, the research also underscores how difficult it is to implement project-based learning well.”

EDUTOPIA (February/March 2008)
Marc Prensky argues that programming is the new literacy in the latest issue of Edutopia, the Lucas Foundation magazine. “Power will soon belong to those who can master a variety of powerful and expressive human-machine interactions,” says Prensky, best known for his work in developing digital gaming for education purposes (and for coining the expression “digital natives” and its paired opposite “digital immigrants”). Prensky proposes that “the single skill that will, above all others, distinguish a literate person is programming literacy, the ability to make digital technology do whatever, within the possible, one wants it to do — to bend digital technology to one’s needs, purposes, and will, just as in the present we bend words and images.” He writes, with not a little glee: “Our machines are expected, thirty years from now, to be a billion times more powerful than they are today. Literacy will belong to those who can master not words, or even multimedia, but a variety of powerful, expressive human-machine interactions. If you are from the old school, you may not enjoy hearing this, but I doubt there is anything anyone can do to stop it.”