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Ta-Nehisi Coates: The Genius of Stretching Boundaries

By Yoni Appelbaum, The Atlantic, 9/29/15

As a MacArthur Fellow, Coates’ true genius is his hunger for knowledge.

[Ta-Nehisi Coates has] never stopped asking questions….

The MacArthur Foundation says it gives the grants to those who display “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits.” There is no question of Ta-Nehisi’s merit as a writer—his latest book proved an instant bestseller and sparked ongoing public debate…. He’s stitched together a remarkable résumé as a journalist, punctuated by his stories for The Atlantic on Obama, reparations, and incarceration.

But perhaps his real genius lies in indulging his hunger for knowledge. At first, I chalked this up to remarkable humility. If there was a book he hadn’t read or a concept he hadn’t mastered, he simply said so—and then asked to have it explained. That’s rare in life, and rarer still among writers with public profiles, who more often assume a pose of studied omniscience.

In time, I came to understand it less as self-denial than as a kind of intellectual greed. He wanted to know. And if that meant rendering himself vulnerable, confessing ignorance, opening himself to abuse, listening more than talking, or even wading through his own blog’s comments section—well, it was not too high a price to pay for knowledge.

And he’s insisted that his readers be similarly open to considering insights, whatever their origins. He plucked the term at the center of his latest cover story from Dungeons & Dragons, titles posts with quotes from Megatron and Wu-Tang, and for his next act, will give us a year in the life of T’Challa.

As this mixing of high and low suggests, he has never listened when told what he cannot do. He paid no heed to critics crying that reparations are impossible and mass incarceration irreversible, or that comics and hip-hop shouldn’t be taken seriously. Once, told by some readers that “conversate” isn’t a word, he went and found the editor at large of the Oxford English Dictionary. “Of course it’s a word,” the editor said. “The question is, is it acceptable.”

Stretching the boundaries of the acceptable—there’s a kind of genius in that.

Yoni Appelbaum is a senior editor at The Atlantic.

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2015/09/tanehisi-coates-macarthur/407566/

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Students Expect Feedback

By Annie Murphy Paul, The Brilliant Report, 9/18/15

“Frequent, low-stakes grading” builds confidence, motivation, and learning.

In general, I’m skeptical of generational arguments in education: that common line of reasoning that goes, “Millennials [or Generation Y or digital natives or . . . ] have grown up doing X, so we in education need to do X, too, to maintain their attention and engagement.”

If X isn’t supported by research on how people actually learn, then doing more of it isn’t a good idea, no matter how comfortable it makes young people feel….

But sometimes the young people are onto something. That’s the argument of Scott Warnock, English professor and director of the Writing Center at Drexel University, and I think he’s right. In a post on the blog Faculty Focus, Warnock describes the lived reality of our students:

“After going out for tacos, our students can review the restaurant on a website. They watch audiences reach a verdict on talent each season on American Idol. When they play video games—and they play them a lot—their screens are filled with status and reward metrics. And after (and sometimes while) taking our classes, they can go online to http://www.ratemyprofessors.com. It may surprise us to think of it like this, but today’s students grew up in a culture of routine assessment and feedback. Yet when they click (or walk) into our courses, the experience is often quite different….”

Our students have grown up in a culture of continual feedback—and more important, they’re right to feel that such continual feedback is essential to improvement and progress. Too often, our current testing regime offers little or no feedback all semester long, then inflicts a high-stakes assessment at the end of the year—and even then doesn’t offer much feedback beyond a rather uninformative numerical score, delivered weeks or months later….

Warnock advises instructors to implement what he calls frequent, low-stakes (FLS) grading—“simple course evaluation methods that allow you to provide students with many grades so that an individual grade doesn’t mean much.” The benefits:

“FLS creates dialogue. Frequent grades can establish a productive student-teacher conversation, and students have an ongoing answer to the question, ‘How am I doing?’

FLS builds confidence. Students have many opportunities to succeed, and there is a consistent, predictable, open evaluation structure.

FLS increases motivation. FLS grading fits into students’ conceptions—and, perhaps, expectations—of assessment and evaluation: This is the culture they grew up in!”…

Annie Murphy Paul is an author, journalist, consultant, and speaker who helps people understand how we can learn better. Her latest book, How to Be Brilliant, is forthcoming. See more at http://anniemurphypaul.com.

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Why Students Still Prefer Printed Word

by Michael Rosenwald, The Washington Post, 2/22/15

 Greater comprehension with fewer distractions.

Frank Schembari loves books — printed books. He loves how they smell. He loves scribbling in the margins, underlining interesting sentences, folding a page corner to mark his place.

Schembari is not a retiree who sips tea at [a] bookstore. He is 20, a junior at American University, and paging through a thick history of Israel between classes, he is evidence of a peculiar irony of the Internet age: Digital natives prefer reading in print.

“I like the feeling of it,” Schembari said…. “I like holding it. It’s not going off. It’s not making sounds.”…

A University of Washington pilot study of digital textbooks found that a quarter of students still bought print versions of e-textbooks that they were given for free.

Earlier this month, Naomi S. Baron [an American University linguist who studies digital communication], published Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World (hardcover and electronic). It examines university students’ preferences for print and explains the science of why dead-tree versions are often superior to digital. Readers tend to skim on screens, distraction is inevitable, and comprehension suffers.

In years of surveys, Baron asked students what they liked least about reading in print. Her favorite response: “It takes me longer because I read more carefully.”…

On college campuses…students still lug backpacks stuffed with books, even as they increasingly take notes (or check Facebook) on laptops during class. At American, Cooper Nordquist, a junior studying political science, is even willing to schlep around Alexis de Tocqueville’s 900-plus-page Democracy in America.

Without having read Baron’s book, [Nordquist] offered reasons for his print preference that squared with her findings.

The most important one to him is “building a physical map in my mind of where things are.” Researchers say readers remember the location of information simply by page and text layout — that, say, the key piece of dialogue was on that page early in the book with that one long paragraph and a smudge on the corner. Researchers think this plays a key role in comprehension.

But that is more difficult on screens, primarily because the time we devote to reading online is usually spent scanning and skimming, with few places (or little time) for mental markers. Baron cites research showing readers spend a little more than one minute on Web pages, and only 16% of people read word-by-word. That behavior can bleed into reading patterns when trying to tackle even lengthier texts on-screen.

“I don’t absorb as much,” one student told Baron. Another said, “It’s harder to keep your place online.” Another significant problem…is distraction…. In her surveys, Baron writes that she found “jaw-dropping” results to the question of whether students were more likely to multitask in hard copy (1%) vs. reading on-screen (90%)….

When do students prefer digital?

For science and math classes, whose electronic textbooks often include access to online portals that help walk them through study problems and monitor their learning. Textbook makers are pushing these “digital learning environments” to make screen learning more attractive.

They prefer them for classes in which locating information quickly is key — there is no control-F in a printed book to quickly find key words.

And they prefer them for cost — particularly when the price is free…. If price weren’t a factor, Baron’s research shows that students overwhelmingly prefer print. Other studies show similar results.

The problem, Baron writes, is that there has been “pedagogical reboot” where faculty and textbook makers are increasingly pushing their students to digital to help defray costs “with little thought for educational consequences.”

“We need to think more carefully about students’ mounting rejection of long-form reading,” Baron writes.

And that thinking shouldn’t be limited to millennials, Baron said. Around the country, school systems are buying millions of tablets and laptops for classroom use, promising easier textbook updates, lower costs, less back strain from heavy book bags, and more interactivity. But the potential downsides aren’t being considered, she said.

“What’s happening in American education today?” she said. “That’s what I’m concerned about. What’s happening to the American mind?”…

Michael Rosenwald writes about the intersection of technology, business and culture.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/why-digital-natives-prefer-reading-in-print-yes-you-read-that-right/2015/02/22/8596ca86-b871-11e4-9423-f3d0a1ec335c_story.html?hpid=z8

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“Becoming” Is More Important Than “Learning”

“The Goal of Education Is Becoming,” by Marc Prensky, Education Week, 5/6/14 Learning is only a means of accomplishing the larger goal of becoming a good person—a more creative thinker, communicator, and doer. Pretty much everything you hear and read about education these days assumes that “learning” is the goal for our students. But it’s not. […]
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What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades

By Maria Konnikova, The New York Times, 6/2/14 Does handwriting matter? Not very much, according to many educators. The Common Core standards, which have been adopted in many states, call for teaching legible writing, but only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard. But psychologists and […]
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Learning That Lasts

By Bryan Goodwin, Educational Leadership, October 2014 Different teaching strategies support different stages of learning—so when it comes to delivering instruction that sticks, the question isn’t so much what to do, but when and why to do it. Answering that question starts with a clear understanding of how the brain translates new information into long-term […]
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Gestures Aid Learning

“The Secret Code of Learning,” by Annie Murphy Paul, Time Magazine, 11/9/11 Frederic Mishkin, who’s been a professor at Columbia Business School for almost 30 years, is good at solving problems and expressing ideas. Whether he’s standing in front of a lecture hall or engaged in a casual conversation,…his hands [are] waving, pointing, jabbing the […]
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Learning: Make It Stick

By James M. Lang, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 4/23/14 Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning [is the story of an airplane pilot navigating his way through a midflight emergency]. It describes his range of options, the implications of his choices, and how his training helped him manage the crisis successfully. The book’s […]
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Learning Styles FAQ

By Daniel Willingham, from his “Science & Education” blog There is no scientific evidence supporting “learning styles.” When I was first getting into education research (about 2005) I was surprised to find how many people–teachers and others–assumed that there was scientific evidence supporting learning styles. In 2009 I made a 7 minute video arguing that […]
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