Recently a friend of mine started a podcast that challenges how we think about South Asia in world history. Typically, I would simply subscribe to a new podcast, listen to it during my commute, and go on with my day. However, this podcast is especially significant to me so I wanted to share it with you.
It’s inspiring to see successive generations of Indian-Americans branch out from fields traditionally seen as lucrative—business, engineering, medicine, or law—to pursue more creative endeavors.
The podcast provides a more nuanced narrative of South Asia than most American students internalize through media and K-12 curricula. The first episode, for instance, explores how the British Raj exerted power over Indian “princes” such as Maharaja Gaekwad of Baroda. My family is originally from Baroda, so my parents have shared tidbits about his legacy, but I never learned about the progressive contributions of Indian leaders in school. Discussing a podcast like this when I was in high school would have meant the world to me compared to the tired tropes of India as the land of castes, poverty, and many Gods.
Kaahani and the Misrepresented podcast make history exciting. While you or I might not agree with every perspective presented in the podcast; the debate about the past is what brings history to life. For example, the first episode discusses why eyewitness accounts, video footage, newspapers, and biographies provided differing narratives of the same Durbar incident. As a student, I wish I had more opportunities to experience history as messy, debatable, and ever changing instead of a collection of names, dates, and events to be memorized. The podcast and Kaahani’s impressive collection of primary and secondary sources can help educators take the former approach to teaching history. The sources will be especially invalabue to world history, human geography, and other social studies teachers.because they cover a wide range of topics in South Asian history and are searchable by time period, theme, and unit of study
You made it through the first month of school…there’s much to celebrate!
You’ve memorized and practiced how to pronounce a long list of names, learned a bit of each student’s life story (or at least their interests and hobbies), and you’ve started to make note of individual strengths and challenges.
It’s the perfect time to reach out to students’ families to share your observations and elicit parent/guardian support for the learning you begin in the classroom. In case our intuition and experience weren’t reason enough, one 2012 Harvard study found that regular teacher-family communication:
“…immediately increased student engagement as measured by homework completion rates, on-task behavior, and class participation. On average, teacher-family communication increased the odds that students completed their homework by 40%, decreased instances in which teachers had to redirect students’ attention to the task at hand by 25%, and increased class participation rates by 15%.”
Kraft, M. A., & Dougherty, S. M. (2013).
While the benefits of regular parent contact are clear, with some teachers having upwards of 125 students every year, it can be tough to communicate with each student’s family consistently.
So, inspired by Catlin Tucker’s idea of having students email parents about missing work, I periodically ask my students to update their parents & guardians about their progress in class via email. While I regularly contact parents to share successes and areas for improvement, partnering with students to help me more consistently reach out to families has several benefits.
Allowing students to reflect on what they have learned, what they’re proud of, and what they want to keep working on helps them develop their self-reflection and goal-setting skills. Also, asking students to share their reflections with their parents/guardians can increase their support at home towards their growth as students and responsible young adults.
Below are the general instructions & template I provide students. I hope they can help you partner with your students to increase communication quality and consistency with families.
Your email should be a few short paragraphs addressing all of the following prompts:
What is one topic we have discussed this year that you have found most interesting or memorable? Then, briefly explain what insight you gained from that activity or assignment.
What are someacademic skills you’ve developed or improved upon during this class? Give specific examples of a particular assignment or activity that demonstrated that skill. For example, consider discussion, argumentative writing, annotation, note-taking, analyzing pictures/maps/charts, debating, moral/ethical/philosophical reasoning.
What is one academic skill you would like to focus on improving? How might you go about doing so?
What is one aspect of your habits as a student that you are proud of? Give an example from a specific activity or assignment that demonstrates that habit. Consider: attentiveness, asking questions, helping classmates, completing assignments, facilitating discussions?
What is one aspect of your behavior as a student that you would like to continue improving? How might you go about doing so? If you are missing any assignments please list them here and share what you will do to complete them and by when.
Share one fun fact about you, your friends, or one thing you are grateful for.
Dear (mom, dad, uncle, aunt),
I want to share what I have been learning in World Cultures with you.
One topic we’ve discussed recently that I found especially interesting was….I found it interesting because it made me realize….
Also, two skills I’ve gained in this class are….For example,….. Also,…A skill I want to get better at is….I’ll work on it by….
One habit that I’m proud of and that has helped me be successful is….For instance,…An area I want to improve on is….I’ll improve by…
I wanted you to know….about……Overall, I’m grateful for….
From debating whether I used the right approach while dealing with a challenging student earlier in the day or mentally crafting an email I plan on sending a parent after school, the stressors of everyday teacher life lead me to constantly think about what happened in the past or what I will do in the future.
It’s extremely difficult for me to be present. The same is true for our students.
To begin to remedy this, with inspiration from my colleagues Gina Gagliano & Robyn Corelitz, this year I’ve tried to practice mindfulness daily with my students. The “mindful minute” that we start most classes with has helped my students and me be calmer and more attentive to the present moment.
I wanted to share the activities I’ve used in case they’re helpful to you. Feel free to add the Slides below to your bookmark bar and use them with your students. I found that if I could easily access the Slides I was more likely to take out 1-2 minutes from class to make it a daily habit.
As more schools go 1:1, students and parents are demanding a central hub for organizing the rapidly growing number of digital materials teachers are creating. Google Classroom, Schoology, Canvas, Edmodo and other Learning Management Systems (LMS) have helped many schools tame this digital information explosion; however, as with any remedy, there are side-effects you should be aware of before taking the LMS plunge.
When schools see neighboring districts go 1:1 or adopt an LMS they feel they must do the same to keep pace with “innovative” practices of “21st century education.”
This chart from Gartner Research explains the adoption process of digital marketing tools but parallels my experience with education technology as well.
After a school implements 1:1 technology or an LMS the results too often follow a predictable pattern:
While there is some initial trepidation about having iPads or laptops in the classroom, teachers become excited and develop inflated expectations about the new, easier ways to assign & collect essays, facilitate discussions, grade quizzes, etc.
A few years after the 1:1 rollout, teachers often realize that computers merely allowed them to deliver their traditional curriculum more efficiently. Many also become disillusioned by the limitations of technology.
Therefore, a critical examination of the opportunities & limitations of 1:1 technology broadly, and an LMS in particular, is necessary to have more informed expectations, avoid disillusionment, and create a long-term plan for meaningful educational innovation.
Too often the structure of the technology dictates the curriculum & pedagogy when the reverse should be true.
3 Potential Promises of an LMS
Helps students & parents organize the multitude of different digital resources teachers use. I’ve heard of nightmares of parents of middle school and high school students having to bookmark dozens of different websites so that they can help their child stay on top of their schoolwork.
More immediate feedback on student work with features like a speed grader or peer review. Teachers can use integrated rubrics, voice comments, automated comments on objective assessments, etc to provide more timely feedback that hopefully improves student learning.
Access key dates & resources in one place which is invaluable to students that are absent for extended periods of time or need extra helping keeping track of their work.
5 Possible Pitfalls of an LMS
1. Limiting Students to the Walled Garden: Requiring students to submit all of their work in the LMS helps teachers track work completion and provide more timely feedback. However, it generally restricts students not enrolled in the class, parents and the world from seeing student work. Research shows that students produce better work when it’s for an audience beyond the teacher.
When adopting an LMS, don’t stop having students post their work to blogs, websites, public spaces, etc. Leverage the best of both worlds by having students publish some of their work online or in other public spaces while also submitting it in the LMS.
2. Narrowing of curriculum to teach what can easily practiced & assessed via an LMS. Most modern LMS offer robust tools to teach concrete skills: clicking hotspots on a political cartoon or graph; dynamic feedback on physics problem sets, categorizing a list of key terms by literary themes, etc.
It is relatively easy to create a series of learning activities to prepare students for objective assessments which can also easily be delivered and graded via the LMS. In fact, teachers could carefully tailor learning activities and assessments to show tremendous student growth—a key component of many teacher evaluation systems these days.
While creating curriculum that will be housed in an LMS, be careful not to simply do more of what can easily be taught & measured at the expense of what’s truly important and meaningful.
Often, the messiest learning activities that are the most difficult to assess—student-led experiments, simulations, debates, controversial discussions—-are the most memorable and transformative experiences.
3. Ignoring self-management: A LMS can be valuable tools for students who struggle organizing their homework and remembering long-term deadlines. Many platforms even auto-create to do lists for students to remind them what work they need to complete each day. However, a useful tool can also be a crutch if teachers & parents begin to not teach time management & long term planning.
While planning assignments for an LMS, be sure you’re not just creating a playlist of activities to complete. Instead, make a conscious effort to create a dynamic space where students are continuously monitoring their own learning and seeking out the materials they need to help them achieve the content & skill goals. This might happen through open-ended assignments, research projects, regular journaling, reflection forms, etc.
4. Teacher Centered: When creating a course for an LMS teachers are firmly in the pilot’s seat while selecting and assigning activities and assessing students. However, this reduces student agency and excuses them from monitoring their own learning and identify materials that will help them achieve their goals—-skills that are increasingly important to becoming “lifelong learners” in the information explosion of the 21st century.
Be sure to leverage more open ended activities such as discussion boards and wikis to charge students with asking questions, finding resources and charting their own learning progression.
5. Replacing in-person interaction with digital ones. An online discussion board can help ensure all students participate in a discussion especially more introverted students who may be reluctant to share their views in class. Similarly, an online video (i.e. flipped learning) with embedded questions can ensure all students understood core concepts and provide teachers with valuable data on which topics they need to re-teach. Migrating learning materials to a digital format is a slippery slope that could lead you to one day come to class and realize you have unwittingly stripped much of the serendipity, fun and humanity from your course.
Be sure not to fall into the LMS trap.
There’s a reason why it’s called a Learning Management System —too often it’s a tool for teachers to more easily manage students.
Deliberately seek opportunities to empower students to manage their own learning via ongoing portfolios, self-assessments, and self-directed research questions.