Hawk Herald

News and Notes for Teachers- October 17th

Dear Staff

We just finished our midterm and we have over 250 students with Ds and Fs. Let's think of ways to help students improve those grades. I have talked to teachers that diligently track down assignments, provide many opportunities to make up work, grade more on-going assessments that show understanding etc. Some teachers have students turn in whatever they have done on an assignment at the due date and then work with them from there. We can't let kids think that we have given up on them. Advisory can be a time to have students come and get help or make up a test or assignment. We can start looking at ways to structure our school to make these interventions possible. Have a good week.

Mary

Wednesday Academic Seminar in the Library 7:50

Thursday Leadership Meeting in the Library 7:30

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Data

How much time are students engaged in instruction?

From a rough calculation based on random classroom sweeps at the beginning and end of each period we saw the following:


  • instruction had started and students(at least 75%) were ready to learn right after the bell rang or up to 6 minutes after the bell.
  • At the end of the period, students were still working on a task or getting instruction(at least 75% of students) right up to the bell for some classrooms while in other classrooms students were not receiving instruction or were participating in a non-academic task as much as 15 minutes before the bell rang.



If you are consistently starting late and/or finishing early, that can add up to a lot of lost instructional time over the course of the term.

Pacing and timing lessons is one of the most difficult things to estimate especially with new material or students. It is helpful to have extension activities, or a menu of tasks built in to your lessons for times when a group of students finishes the task you have given them early. This will also provide an opportunity for you to pull a group of students to work with who are struggling with a task. Make sure at the end of your lesson you have time for students to reflect on their learning and determine if the learning target was accomplished and if not what they still need to learn.

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Working Memory

“What is the most important lesson that the brain sciences have for schools?” ask Andrew Watson (Translate the Brain) and Michael Wirtz and Lynette Sumpter (St. Mark’s School) in this article in Independent School. “The answer: Teachers must understand and actively manage their students’ working memory.” This facet of memory is distinct from declarative memory (factual information) and procedural memory (how to do things); working memory is what allows us to hold onto a few pieces of information for several seconds and reorganize them into a new system or structure. “Schools are, in effect, shrines built to honor successful working memory functioning,” say Watson, Wirtz, and Sumpter. “Students simply can’t think and learn without using working memory all the time.”

The problem is that working memory is surprisingly small – most people can hold only 5-7 items in mind at the same time. If we ask students to remember verbal instructions, that information takes up working memory capacity and reduces students’ ability to think and learn. As classroom teachers, the authors confess, “we paid little attention to a cognitive capacity that is essential for our students’ learning. For this reason, we probably overwhelmed our students’ working memory without ever realizing we had done so.”

Here are some classroom activities that often risk swamping students’ working memory capacity:

  • Too much new information at once;

  • Too many new combinations of information at once;

  • Verbal instructions, especially if they’re long or complex;

  • Work combining cognitive and creative effort;

  • Work early in the morning or late at night.

Here is how students often react when their working memory is on overload:

  • Difficulty remembering some information while processing other information – for example, long multiplication;

  • Atypical difficulties with attention;

  • “Catastrophic failure” – difficulty adding just one simple step to several previous steps.

And here are the authors’ suggestions for addressing problems with working memory:

  • Make information visual. “Humans have much more brain real estate devoted to visual processing than to all our other senses combined,” they say. “Visual depiction reduces working memory demands.” This means maximizing the use of photos and videos, flowcharts and diagrams, or simply writing down complicated instructions.

  • Manage note-taking. “If students are trying to understand an idea at the same time they’re writing notes, those two processes compete with each other in working memory,” say Watson, Wirtz, and Sumpter. “As a result, they’re likely not to do either very well.” One strategy is to ask students to put their pencils or pens down (or stop typing) when you’re explaining new, complex, or important ideas, then have students write notes in silence (with the teacher circulating to monitor what’s being written).

  • Chunk” material – organize it into an already-familiar pattern.

  • Explicitly teach strategies – note taking for example.

  • Reduce stress, especially using mindfulness.

  • Regularly emphasize that struggle is normal.

  • Reduce attention distractions in the classroom.

  • Promote attention by reinforcing conceptual frameworks.

A teacher at St. Mark’s School wrote the following after being exposed to the research on working memory: “I used to think that pushing the bounds of memory was helpful, much like how lifting weights makes you stronger in the long run. I learned it is quite the opposite with working memory, and that overtaxing it can cause our students to shut down. As a result, I have tried to provide more visual cues, word banks, fewer choices, etc., so that students focus on the most important task at hand, instead of trying to juggle too many pieces of information in their working memories.” Another teacher wrote, “I’ve learned how small and essential working memory is. When planning my lessons, I’m much more intentional about looking for areas where I risk overwhelming working memory. I know what to look for during a lesson to see if students are reaching the point of overload and how to change things up to get them back on track.”


Happy Birthday

October 13-Helen Gutierrez

October 14-Cheryl McClure