Monday, November 28, 2016

Asking Instead of Knowing

The modern idea of Democracy is rooted in the 18th century European Enlightenment and its belief in reason, rationality, and empirical evidence. The founders believed that if sound arguments were placed in front of people, people could figure out the right course of action. We would read or hear the opposing arguments, laid out cleanly and clearly. We would debate and discuss them, like civilized people, and then we would decide. The arguments for and against the Constitution, laid out in the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers, followed this recipe pretty well. Arguments were made, supporting evidence and precedents were cited, respect was given to opposing viewpoints. Up and down the new states, people read, discussed, and argued—passionately, but more-or-less rationally.
And then, almost immediately, the founders threw reason to the wind and started arguing with emotion, hysteria, and outright lies, just like we do today.

Human nature being what it is, we can’t rely on our better angels to win out when it comes to political discourse. We need to be on our guard, all the time, to separate facts from opinions, and reasonable arguments from nonsense. Not just in what we’re reading and seeing, but also in what we, ourselves, are saying. We have to approach everyone—including ourselves—with a healthy dose of skepticism. The survival of the republic depends upon it.

Screaming matches are no way to settle important problems. When we come at every disagreement with emotion, hunger, and bias, we care more about winning than being correct, and that’s a very dangerous thing when you’re dealing with issues of public policy. If I’m wrong about the best way to provide for the poor and the sick—if my ideas are not, in fact, the best and most effective ones, then I should want to lose the argument—because people’s lives are at stake, and their lives are more important than my ego.

We’ve lost sight of that perspective in our public discourse. We simply assume that our ideas are correct because they’re ours—and that being right in the moment is more important than being effective in the long term. We don’t feel the need to double-check or confirm our arguments or those of our allies, because our allegiance is all the proof we require. We don’t feel the need to inquire into the arguments of our foes, because they are already, definitionally, on the wrong side, regardless of what they say or think.

We don’t do this because we’re awful people. We do this because we are taught from an early age to see the world as black vs. white, inside vs. outside, us vs. them. It informs and infects our worldview and our mindset, and it makes it very difficult to deal with diversity or ambiguity.

If your religion sees the world as divided between the forces of light and darkness, where one side must win and the other must be vanquished, if your culture tells you that your group is civilized and other people are barbarians, then it never occurs to you to ask if your group might, perhaps, be wrong. It can’t be. If your thirteen years of primary schooling tell you that in all things there are only right answers and wrong answers, and that the role of Authority is to give you those right answers, and the role of the Follower is to accept them, then it never occurs to you to question Authority—because it is, by definition, correct.

Everything you see and touch becomes a mirror of your mindset. Physical activity limits itself to a series of competitions—because nothing else is worth doing (and people not interested in competing are weak and useless); storytelling focuses on battles between good guys bad guys (and stories where it’s not certain who’s right and who’s wrong are seen as signs of moral decay); art takes as its single purpose the elevation of the Good and the Beautiful (and anything not fitting the culture’s definition of those things is seen as corrupt and disgusting). Everything becomes a zero-sum game where only one side can win or be right, and other side must be destroyed or dismissed. It’s like the old saying: if the only tool you have is a hammer, then the whole world looks like a nail.

Compromise in such a world is a sign of weakness—surrendering some of your light to the power of darkness. Why would you ever do that? Dialogue with people who disagree with you is foolish unless it’s used to persuade, manipulate, or fool your opponent. Why else would you even engage in discussion with them?

What does this kind of dualistic, Manichean way of seeing the world do to democracy? It limits it to a series of votes that drive people into and out of power. Each side remains hermetically sealed and self-contained—never listening to or learning from the other. One side gets a moment in power, and then it is voted out and its policies erased until the next go-round.

The only way to escape this cycle is to allow the thought to enter your brain that you might be wrong—that the other guy might actually have a better way of doing things—that your Authority Figure might be in error, every once in a while—that’s it’s up to you, not them, to decide what’s best—that’s it up to facts, not feelings, to determine what’s true.

An authentically democratic culture requires humility—the acceptance that you might not know everything. An authentically democratic culture requires empathy—the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes and understand the pain, fear, and joy of someone different from you. We have unwittingly allowed ourselves to create a culture that works against humility and empathy—telling us that no one is more important than Glorious Us, and that our needs, our fears, our desires, and our opinions, are all that matter. And little by little, we’ve defined that “us” down, from humanity to race, from race to country, from country to region, from region to family, from family to individual. We live in 300 million Republics of Me—and the president (and sole resident) of every republic is 100% right, 100% of the time.

How do we break down the walls and re-establish some kind of common space for rational argument and discussion? How do we stop bullying each other with shouted opinions and start listening to each other instead? I think the first step is DOUBT. Science and rationality all start with doubt—with the question, “what if I’m wrong?” We don’t ask in order to give up; we ask in order to find out.
We have to start doubting ourselves and our allies, even if only for a moment. We should doubt ourselves to verify and reinforce ourselves. Doubt ourselves so that we can come back from doubt even stronger. Instead of saying “I know it’s true because it feels right,” let’s put in ourselves in a place where we can say, “I know it’s true because I checked.”

I’ve tried to think of a few steps we can share with students, children, and friends—or to use, ourselves, when we’re not sure what stories to trust.  It’s not comprehensive or all-inclusive, by any means. But maybe it gives people a place to start.

Questions to Ask When We Read News on the Web

·        Should I trust the author?
o   What do I know about the author? What else have they written?
§  RED FLAG: If the author’s other work reveals a bias or agenda (always writing about the same topic; always taking the same position), find a second author who supports what this author is saying…even if you’re in agreement with that bias.
·        Should I trust the publisher?
§  RED FLAG: If the website seems to have a bias or agenda, find a second publication that supports the article’s main positions…even if you’re in agreement.
·        Should I trust the argument?
o   Are there links to supporting resources in the article—or in a bibliography at the end?
§  If so, what websites do those links lead to? Are those sites connected to or allied with the site publishing the first article?
·        RED FLAG: If the author is only citing friends or colleagues, search elsewhere for supporting information.
·        RED FLAG: If the article cites experts but doesn’t link to their work, look up the experts and find out who they are and what biases or agendas they might have, and where they have been published.
·        Am I being played?
o   Is the author laying out a rational argument, or am I being manipulated and coerced?
§  RED FLAGS: Be on the lookout for these logical fallacies (and check the link for many more!). Authors who rely on techniques like these are trying to keep you from thinking rationally and clearly about the facts and their meaning.
·        Ad hominem—a personal slur or attack on the opponent, unrelated to the topic.
·        Slippery Slope—assuming the most extreme result and attacking that instead of the more probably result
·        Bandwagon—appealing to a position’s popularity and the power of the group-mind.
·        Straw Man—misrepresenting an opponent’s argument and then attacking that instead of the actual argument.
·        Tu Quoque—avoiding criticism by turning it around on the accuser and saying “You, too.”
·        Who else is talking about it?
o   Is the story bouncing around the “echo chamber,” or is it being written about and discussed across a wide spectrum of sources and opinions?
·        RED FLAG: If everyone is talking about a story, but they’re all using the same source for their information…approach with caution.

·        RED FLAG: If the story is only being told “in-house,” within a partisan echo chamber, be cautious. There may be a good reason no one else is talking about it.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

How Do You Know?

Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny; and it is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large.
Thomas Jefferson, 1778

Our nation was founded on the idea that power is vested in the people and ceded, judiciously and with severe limits, to government, in order to provide leadership and management effectively. It was clear to the Founders that the right to self-governance came with the responsibility to be knowledgeable about the issues of the day. Ignorance left people susceptible to superstition, prejudice, and the charisma of charlatans. Ignorance would steer the people straight back into tyranny. But the founders argued about whether the “people at large” could really be trusted to be sufficiently knowledgeable; some wanted to limit the right to vote to the literate and/or the people who owned property; most were happy to limit it to Caucasians; all of them agreed to limit it to men.

Where are we, 238 years after Jefferson wrote the words above? We are a nation that provides universal, compulsory education to the age of 17 or 18—unheard of in Jefferson’s time. We are a nation that is trying, in fits and starts, to provide an equitable education to all children, regardless of race, class, or religion—also unheard of. Literacy is not a luxury for the leisure class; in fact, we are awash in reading material, from chick-lit and thrillers sold in airports to blogposts and news articles and emails and text messages read on tablets and Smart Phones. We can access the news of the day at any hour of the day, from our handheld devices, in our cars, and on multiple television channels available on multiple kinds of screens. We are, in fact, drowning in information.

But are we knowledgeable? Can all the information available to us protect us from tyranny? I think it can, but I’m not sure it does.

The Transcendentalists, authors like Thoreau, Emerson, and Whitman, were firm believers in discarding the masterpieces of old and creating new works of art, new ways of seeing and thinking that were uniquely American and did not rely on ancient authority. They demanded that we think for ourselves, rely on ourselves, and break old patters of thought. I think they would have applauded the ways in which we’ve challenged the gatekeepers of old, who filtered what could or couldn’t be published and seen by the public. Everyone has a voice now; everyone can be heard. But I have a feeling they would have been horrified by the end result, because what we’re saying to each other is often vile and ignorant. When you get rid of the gatekeeper and the filter, a lot of garbage gets through.

This has been written about quite a lot, in books like True Enough and How Do We Know What Isn’t So? It’s been talked about for almost two decades, even spawning the word “truthiness” back in 2005. Everyone has an opinion and everyone has a set of facts and figures, drawn from…somewhere…to back them up. All points of view seem equally true and valid; all points of view are argued equally passionately. All that matters is which side you’re on, which point of view you decide to listen to.

If we’re going to make important decisions, then it’s up to us to assess the validity of the information we hear. If we just select our favorite TV authority and believe everything they say, we’re not really self-reliant or self-governing. In fact, we run the risk of being slaves or stooges, without ever quite realizing it. We have to pay attention to the fact that each of us lives in an information bubble and echo-chamber, and we have to take steps to force ourselves out of those bubbles to hear new information and opinions, and figure out what’s real and true.

The first step is relatively easy; it’s just a matter of will. We have to make the decision to seek out alternative or contrary points of view. But the assessment and evaluation is trickier, and this is where education becomes important. We have to make sure our schools are doing more than delivering information to children. We don’t need schools solely or primarily for that anymore. Kids can learn about Topic X in any place and at any time. But is that something worth knowing? Is it true? We need schools to teach the skills of analysis, assessment, and evaluation—and we can’t wait until high school or college.

Let’s start here: in a world where everyone has an opinion and voices it loudly, how do we know whether the opinion or point of view we’re starting with is even right? How do we know whether our deeply held beliefs are true, or if they’re based on misconceptions and biases? This step, all by itself, is intensely difficult, and something people tend not to do if they don’t have to. It can be deeply troubling and upsetting. So I ask you: when was the last time you deliberately and consciously challenged your beliefs (political, cultural, religious, economic, aesthetic) to see if they were valid and worthy? How did you go about it? What was your process? What different information or perspectives did you bring into your life? How did you make sure you weren’t’ simply dismissing those points of view, but were, in fact, allowing yourself to engage with them with an open mind?

Don’t forget, everything we now understand to be nonsense was once thought to be true: the world is the center of the universe; bad luck can be prevented by throwing spilled salt over your shoulder; the king derives his authority directly from God; illness is caused by imbalances of “humours;” take your pick. We believe what we believe fiercely, and we don’t give it up easily or willingly.
This is one of the main reasons for the partisanship and divisiveness in our country. We can’t see past the borders of our own mini-nations of like-mindedness, and we think—we decide—that anyone who lives beyond those borders is evil or insane. Like the old magazine cover showing how New Yorkers view the world, we focus only on what is close to us.

So: are we raising our children with the intellectual curiosity and confidence to question everything, including their own assumptions? Are we letting them cast their minds far from the comforts of home to see how other people live, and love, and think? Do we have the confidence, as parents and teachers, to allow them to question and test the opinions they’ve inherited from us? Are we secure enough in what we believe (having tested and confirmed it) to know that, after questioning and testing those things, our children and students will arrive at the same conclusions we have?  And if they don’t…is that okay?

If we invite our children and students to undertake that journey of questioning, are we giving them the skills they need to navigate those waters and plot a safe course? Ask your children—ask your students: “How do you know whether something you’ve read is true?” Go on—ask them. Let’s see if they have an answer, beyond, “my teacher gave it to me,” or “my parents told me.”

I once taught a unit on the Cold War to some high school students, during which, I gave them an old, 1960s-era textbook chapter (theme: the USSR is actively trying to conquer the world) and a more recent essay by Noam Chomsky (theme: the USA is using the pretext of the Cold War to solidify and extend its power worldwide). The two pieces disagreed on pretty much everything, and it left my students perplexed…and angry. They didn’t find it fascinating; they found it annoying. They demanded that I tell them which point of view was “right.” I’m not being cute, here. They actually demanded. They didn’t find the intellectual exercise of compare-and-contrast interesting. They wanted an answer, and they wanted it right away.

People who demand an answer will almost always get one. There are plenty of teachers, parents, and political leaders more than willing to provide simple, clear answers to whatever problem is in front of them. Sometimes, the answer will be something positive and helpful like, “we all must make sacrifices and work hard,” but sometimes, the answer will be something like, “it’s all because of the ____.” (fill in the blank with any minority group.)

Self-rule requires that we not settle for other people’s answers. We have to do the work, ourselves. Raising a citizenry capable of self-rule requires that we not provide answers so quickly and easily. Socrates taught us, many centuries ago, the power of teaching-through-questioning. Instead of giving our children or students easy answers, let’s drive them crazy—and make them think—by responding with questions of our own: What do you think? Why do you think that? How do you know you’re right? If you don’t know whether you’re right, how might you find out?

We shouldn’t be replacing yesterday’s gatekeepers and guardians of information with newer, even less-trustworthy authorities. We should be able to trust ourselves, as Emerson suggested. But, in the words of the Russian proverb that Ronald Reagan loved to quote, to tease Mikhail Gorbachev, “Trust, but verify.”

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Most Important Things

The most important things to teach children are critical thinking and problem solving skills, so that children can learn how to think.

No—the most important thing to teach children is academic content across the subject areas, so that children can have something concrete to think about.

No—the most important thing to teach children is how to take tests strategically and effectively, because, in the end, that’s how they’re going to be judged by the educational gatekeepers who hold children’s futures in their hands.

You would think, after teaching generations of children, we’d know which things were most important to focus on. But you’d be wrong. In fact, if I’ve learned anything in my years working in education (a debatable proposition), it’s that any sentence starting with “you would think,” is a sentence that’s going to end in tears.

So allow me to complicate the issue even further. I’m all for teaching skills and teaching content and even approaching tests strategically, but I’d like to offer another candidate for your consideration: the ordinary and often-overlooked skills of note-taking and studying.


Yes, seriously. The more I think about it, the more amazed I am that we obsess over what to teach, but spend so little time focusing on what students should do with what we teach them. I mean, obviously, we focus on “doing” when it comes to activities, assignments, and tests. We focus on final, summative products. But are we focusing enough on what students do in the earliest moments of learning? When we teach, through lecture or demonstration, what should they be doing? When they read, in groups or alone, what should they be doing? When they go home and reflect (we hope) on their day, what should they be doing? And when they are preparing to engage with upcoming activities, assignments, or tests, what should they be doing to ensure that their demonstrations will be successful? How should students receive the information and ideas we provide them with?

I have very clear memories of being taught, in 6th grade, how to take notes in outline form. We were learning about ancient Greek mythology, and our teacher showed us how to organize information by listing things in sequences of increasingly indented numbers and letters or bullet points. It worked perfectly for something as linear as the pantheon of Greek gods. It helped us capture the important information in an easy-to-read format, and more: it helped us see how some details related to and supported the main ideas, and how other details supported or illustrated those first details. 
I’m not saying that traditional outline note-taking is the only method, or the best method; I’m just saying that it was a method. It taught me that the catch was just as important as the pitch, and that where I put information in my notebook was as important as where I put my house-keys when I came home from school. In both cases, if I just threw stuff down randomly, it would create anxiety down the road, when I needed stuff and had no idea where it was.

And it did much more than that: learning how to take down information schematically helped me see how information worked, right from the start; it taught me that information had a structure and organization and purpose to it, and it taught me how to listen for that structure and organization. The way I wrote down notes actually helped me think about what the information meant.
And yet, so few of the teachers I know teach these skills explicitly. They have a variety of reasons for not touching note-taking or study skills, including:

  • They assume these things were taught in an earlier grade
  • They assume they’re just “picked up” in life, somehow
  • They feel like they don’t have time in their pacing plans
  • They don’t know an effective method for note-taking, themselves
  • It simply doesn’t occur to them that explicit teaching of note-taking is needed

These are all valid and understandable excuses, but think about the unfortunate results. We spend all our time preparing engaging and rigorous lessons, honing our instructional practice to a fine point—but the people on the receiving end have no tools with which to catch what we’re pitching. Day after day, we see students writing down nothing or trying to write down every word we say, verbatim, and we don’t do anything about it. Or, at best, we type up and photocopy some notes to help them prepare for an exam. But the exam isn’t the problem here—it’s the day-to-day, moment-to-moment understanding that we are failing to facilitate and support by helping students organize and visualize the information they’re trying to process. We assume they’re just “getting it,” and perhaps processing it later. We need to start looking at note-taking as a vital part of the learning process.

What’s Changing

The good news is that note-taking is starting to get a little more love, thanks to the Common Core State Standards and the focus, even in non-CCSS states, on close reading. Close reading is a technique used to help students read complex texts more deeply and analytically, instead of focusing solely on the usual, what-happens-next kinds of questions that can make class so deadly. In the close reading process, the teacher sets a clear purpose for reading, has students engage in multiple readings of the text, and then leads one or more rigorous, text-based discussions, perhaps culminating in a writing activity.

Critical to close reading—and to the instructional shifts inherent in the new standards—is the ability for students to cite evidence to support their claims when discussing or writing about text. I don’t know how students can even hope to do this if they haven’t taken some notes while reading, either marking up the text itself, making use of a graphic organizer, or having a note-taking method that allows them to identify selections of text that they think will come in handy in the upcoming discussion.

If students learn a clear and concrete method for taking notes on their reading, they should be able to participate in any text-based discussion in class—even if they’ve had trouble understanding a section of the text. Everyone should be able to come to the discussion ready to either answer a question or ask a question. No students should be penalized for being confused, if they have grappled with the text as best they can, and have come to class with something. Students who think note-taking is boring or unnecessary may change their minds after the first text-based discussion at which they find themselves unprepared to contribute.

What Could Be

If note-taking is as integral to learning as I suspect it is, it needs to be taken more seriously—not simply just at a classroom level, but across the entire school. Especially as students get older and deal with multiple teachers, it’s crazy-making to have to do things in completely different, often arbitrary ways. Why does your first-period teacher require your name to go in the upper left, followed by the date, when your second-period teacher requires your name to go in the upper right, after the date? Why does your science teacher post assignments on Blackboard, but your English teacher posts somewhere else that she likes better?  So much of what we do in school meets the individual needs and desires of the adults, and makes the world incoherent for students and their parents. Some of the individualization may be important to the way the content is taught, but a lot of it is probably personal preference.

Think how powerful it would be if schools did more than simply hand out a planner at the beginning of the year. Imagine if at an opening assembly, the principal taught all students how the school expected them to use the planner (after some collaborative decision-making among staff).  Here’s where you should write down your homework for each subject; here’s how we’d like to see you write it down, so that it’s the same across classes—easy for you to check (and easy for your parents to check).  And then: here’s our school-wide, recommended method of note-taking.  There are some basics we like to see across all subjects and grades. Your subject teachers may have tweaks and additions related to their subjects, and that’s fine: science teachers may need something extra, social studies teachers may, as well. But the core of note-taking is something we’d like to be consistent across grades and subjects.

Imagine how much easier it would be for teachers to check notes in class—and for mentors and coaches to see how students are doing during observations. Imagine how much easier it would be parents to help their children at home. Imagine how much easier it would be for students to use their notes.

Students don’t have a union representing their interests, but they definitely have a vote in how school is run. If they find a class boring or confusing, they can zone out, check out, or act up in protest. We often treat those things as student character flaws rather than pointed and deliberate commentaries on what we’re doing.

We need to pay attention to what the school day looks like and feels like to the student. We need to do whatever we can to decrease fragmentation and incoherence, to make school feel like a thoughtfully constructed community, where the parts reflect and comment on each other and on the whole. If we want students to be active participants in and shapers of their learning, not docile spectators, we need to care about—and think carefully about—how we want them to engage with that learning, minute by minute and day by day.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Teach the Tension

Two recent topics of discussion around my house have been the presidential election (obviously) and the challenges of teaching critical thinking (just as obviously, if you know my family). You will perhaps not be shocked to learn that I think the two topics are related.

There used to be a saying in politics that if you tried to fly a plane with only one wing, all you’d do is go in circles. And yet, we no longer seem to value having a left wing and a right wing in our country, to balance our flight and help us move forward. Discourse and compromise are seen as weakness at best, capitulation at worst. Only one side can be right. And it has to be 100% right, 100% of the time.

Part of this is just power politics. But part of it has to do with a dualistic view of the world. There are two (and only two) sides to every issue, and if one of those sides is Good, the other must be Evil. If you’re on the side of Good, why would you want to compromise with Evil? You wouldn’t.  And since no one thinks their own opinion or viewpoint is evil, everyone feels justified in building walls and fighting against what they see as the Army of Darkness. It is a medieval, even Manichaean, way of thinking, and it makes democracy, from town halls up to the halls of Congress, very challenging.

Our education system can fall victim to the same kind of thinking, in its own way. Within any subject, there are Basic Facts that have to be learned. They are true, and correct, which is why they’ve been written down in textbooks for students to learn. Some things are simply correct, and some things are simply incorrect. Students need to learn the difference between the two. That’s why we have tests. We grow up seeing each school day as a series of right and wrong answers, and it’s hard not to impose that view on the rest of the world. Even in English classes, where literature is supposed to be open to interpretation, students quickly learn that there are right interpretations (the textbook and the teacher’s) and wrong interpretations (theirs).

There are neurological reasons why we think this way—and end up teaching this way--and reasons why it’s difficult to stop thinking this way. Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, does a great job of explaining how our lazy brains fight against critical, analytical thinking whenever possible, replacing genuine thought with reflexive reaction. It’s not that we’re incapable of reason; it’s just that it’s hard work that our brains would rather not do. When faced with an array of political policy ideas from two or more candidates, our brains will defer to simpler, more visceral decision-making options, like a candidate’s party, or height, or hair, or smile, or the strength of his or her chin. If those characteristics have correlated (even somewhat) with strong leadership skills over the years, our brains will substitute the knee-jerk reaction to the hard work of reasoning. We “know” that one candidate is better than another, but how do we know that we know? What makes us so sure we’re right, and the other side is wrong?

It’s easy to say things like, “Question everything,” in response to the knee-jerk reaction, but how can we teach ourselves—and our children—how to question things effectively, in order to challenge our confirmation bias and think more critically about the issues in front of us?

I believe the first step is to remind ourselves that in most cases, the two sides of an issue are not separate from each other, at war with each other, and utterly irreconcilable. In fact, in most cases, the two sides of an issue live in dynamic tension with each other in a constant push-pull on our affections and desires. We believe strongly in equality, but we know that mandated, enforced equality, whether in school or in political systems, can kill initiative and creativity, and create a world of drab sameness. We believe strongly in freedom, but we know that unregulated, unrestricted freedom can lead to chaos and a world where physical or economic might makes right. Equality and freedom are both important aspects of American political thought and life. Their demands push and pull at us all the time. Sometimes we move more in the direction of equality at the expense of freedom; sometimes we do the opposite. We are always in search of the best middle-ground. The middle-ground isn’t capitulation to an enemy; it’s the attainment of balance.

You could have the same discussion about freedom versus security—whether it’s my freedom of speech versus your right to be safe from insult and offense, or my freedom to carry a gun versus your right to live without being afraid of me. Which is more important—freedom or security? It’s a false question; they’re both important. The question is how we balance our rights and needs.

What I’m saying is that, instead of spending all of our time teaching discrete things—things which, in themselves, are simply right or wrong—we should make sure kids have time to explore the tensions among things—because critical thinking is all about assessing how things interact, play off each other, and affect us. And when you understand that you are eternally caught in a tug-of-war between competing needs, you will stop seeing one side as God’s and other side as Satan’s—or, in school—one side as The Right Answer and one side as The Wrong Answer.

It’s not an easy thing to do. I’ve tried. When students are used to reading history textbooks, it’s very challenging to bring competing first-person accounts of an event to them. They don’t find the diversity of perspective and agenda fascinating; they find it annoying. They don’t relish the idea of evaluating resources, synthesizing arguments, and reaching their own conclusions. They slam their books shut, glare up and me, and say, “So, which is it? Which one is right?” Remember: we have lazy brains.
Reason is an amazing gift, but it’s not a gift we like to use. We think we like it—we fool ourselves into believing that we’re rational, reasoning creatures. But we’re not. Not if we can avoid it. If Position A is published in a glossy-looking, professional published book, and Position B is published as a third-generation photocopy, we will want to believe Position A.  If Position A is presented first, we will want to believe Position A—or, at the very least, our deference to it will color the way we read and think about Position B.

How do you know what you know? What makes you so sure what you know is true? What makes you so sure that what you don’t believe in is not true? What if you’re wrong?

Our history of thought goes back to Socrates, who badgered and annoyed people with questions that came at them from every angle, undermining every conclusion and assumption they had, so that people had to stop assuming and start reasoning. Who can provide that annoying but necessary service for us today, if not our teachers?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Show Your Work

When I was in high school, there was nothing I hated more than math. And in math class, there was nothing I hated more than showing my work. It felt like a tedious chore with for no real purpose—a hoop somebody wanted me to jump through. Math was not open to poetic interpretation; the answer was either right or wrong. And no one ever offered me partial credit for getting an answer partially correct, or for demonstrating an interesting, if flawed, process. As far as I could tell, nobody even looked at my work. So why did I have to show it?

Today, if my high-school aged son is to be believed, the situation doesn’t seem much improved. And that’s a shame. The Common Core State Standards in mathematics--and the new math standards in many non-CCSS states—make clear that reasoning, arguing, and critiquing are vital skills within mathematics, and that teachers should be instilling in students a devotion to precision and perseverance. None of those mathematical habits of mind reveal themselves in the calculation sitting to the right of an equal sign and a question mark. They reveal themselves in the process—in the work a student does along the way to an answer. There are real and strong reasons to show your work. But if a teacher doesn’t understand those reasons and make use of them, the practice can easily remain an exercise in hoop-jumping.

As Elizabeth Green explains in her excellent book, Building a Better Teacher, the right answer is often the least interesting piece of data available in a classroom. It is the wrong answers that give teachers real information about how students are thinking and where they may be going astray. And while a seasoned veteran may be able to intuit a problem from nothing more than a final answer, most of us will have an easier time understanding what’s going on by making the student’s thought process visible. In written assignments, that’s precisely where have students show their work is important.  

What about in the heat of a class discussion? Students can show their work here, as well, by talking about their process. Asking “what did you do?” is far more valuable (and interesting) than asking “what did you get?”  It allows the class to explore multiple problem-solving strategies and assess what works and what doesn’t. It helps students become comfortable and fluent in “talking math.” And it can make error an interesting topic of conversation rather than something to be embarrassed about and try to hide from.

There’s a lot of talk about Growth Mindset in the education world. Well, a vital component of Growth Mindset is the willingness to fail, and try, and fail again—the understanding that failure is a natural part of the process of learning, a necessary step on the way to success. Athletes understand this perfectly well. A baseball player with a batting average of .300 is considered pretty good; a player who bats .400 is considered outstanding. Outstanding—with a 40% success rate! In basketball, perhaps the greatest player of my lifetime, Michael Jordan, said this:  “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot, and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” He doesn’t say that he succeeded in spite of his failures; he says he succeeded because of them. Because he was willing to put himself out there, and make a mistake, and learn from the mistake, and press on.

We need to find ways to model this more positive view of failure for our students. Instead of focusing solely on end-results, we need to show students the long road it took to reach that goal. How many drafts did it take for an author to reach the final manuscript? How many publishers rejected the book before it was accepted? How many experiments did the inventor go through before hitting on the right combination of ingredients? What challenges and setbacks did a historical figure endure before doing the great work for which they are remembered?

And what about us? Are we willing to model failure personally in front of our students? Can we admit to them when we’re wrong, or when we don’t know the answer, or when an activity we planned didn’t go as well as we had hoped? Can we show them that there’s no shame in falling down, as long as we get back up again, brush the dust off ourselves, and push on?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Cultivating Student Curiosity

I performed a magic trick at a recent workshop. I was working with a set of elementary-school teachers in Indianapolis: two workshops per day, over two days. With each of the four groups, I asked the teachers to show me what their students would draw if they were asked to picture a house, with a family and tree out front and the sun up in the sky. When they were finished, I said, “Now here’s my magic trick. I haven’t been anywhere near my computer while you’ve been drawing, but now I will reveal the picture that every one of you drew.” And I showed them this picture:

Sure enough, it was exactly what every one of them had drawn. And they were right—it’s exactly what all of their students would have drawn.


Un-boxing the Student Brain

Think about it for a moment. Why is every house a square with a triangle on top? Is that really an approximation of what their houses look like? And why are they all the same, when every house on the block looks a little different? Where are the two-story houses, the split-level houses, the apartment buildings? And why do the mothers all have long hair and the triangle that symbolizes dresses or skirts? Is that really what their mothers look like today? Who told them that a triangle symbolized Woman? Why does the tree look like a lollipop? Why is the sun a yellow circle with straight lines coming out of it—and, often, a smiley face?

The teachers offered up a wide range of interesting answers, including the following:

  • It’s what they’ve seen in books and magazines over the years
  • It’s what they’ve seen their peers do over the years
  • When they see their peers doing it, they change their picture to match what looks “right”
  • They get corrected by their teachers, who unwittingly get kids to conform to what looks “right”
  • They get preemptive instruction from teachers, who suggest using simple shapes (squares, triangles, circles) to keep kids from becoming frustrated

When any of these things happen—and especially when they all happen in the classroom—the result will be conformity—and, in this case, conformity to something that doesn’t even resemble reality. A student who enjoys science and knows what the sun really looks like will be encouraged (on purpose or unwittingly) to stop trying to draw a reddish-orange ball of burning gas and will draw a yellow, smiley circle. A child whose mother has short hair and wears jeans will draw a mother who looks nothing like her actual mother. Little by little, they will learn to substitute an approved, common vision for their own, singular vision. And then, suddenly, sometime in middle school, we’ll start asking what happened to their creativity.

According to research by the Right Question Institute, as children become verbal, the number of questions they ask in school each day shoots through the roof, but then begins a slow decline starting at around age three. By age 18, they are hardly asking any questions at all. Now, one could argue (as their research shows) that because this decline happens at about the same rate as their reading and writing skills develop, they have a decreasing need to ask questions in school, because there are finding their own answers.  But anyone who has ever taught middle or high school would snort with amused disbelief at that argument. In fact, far too many of our students become increasingly un-curious as they make their way through school. They learn not to ask questions, because they learn that their questions are not considered important. The adults mandate what will be studied, and the adults decide what questions matter. The job of students is to answer questions, not ask them. The job of students is to be compliant and responsive and well-behaved. There is no room for curiosity in the lesson plan.

In recent years, however, room has been made for curiosity in our learning standards. The Common Core State Standards, as well as other new state standards, ask students to form and write personal opinions (through grade 5) and evidence-based arguments (starting in grade 6) about a wide variety of texts. Informational writing is still important, but far less important than developing the skill of argument. You can’t make an argument if you don’t take a position—and you can’t make an interesting argument if you aren’t curious enough about what you’re studying to develop a point of view. The standards of mathematical practice likewise talk about the importance of argument. The first standard asks students (at all ages) to “reason abstractly and quantitatively,” and the second standard asks students to “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.”

If that’s what we expect students to do, how can we make sure that we’re not inadvertently steering them away from those goals as they grow up with us?

Changing What We Ask For

An easy first step is to change the way we phrase our learning expectations. Every teacher learns, as part of her training, that lesson objectives must be clear, concrete, and measurable. And most of us learned to write our objectives using SWBAT language: “Students will be able to…” followed by that clear, concrete, measurable goal. For example:

Students will be able to support a topic sentence with evidence.

There’s nothing wrong with that objective…except that it tells students what they will do, rather than inviting or challenging them to do something. And that’s not an insignificant difference. If we want students to be curious, not just compliant, than we need to give them something to be curious about.  Imagine if we phrased that learning objective as a question instead of a command:

How can you convince readers that your argument is valid?

Think about how differently those two sentences register and resonate in your head, when you hear them. The statement is impersonal and commanding, where the question is personal and inviting. The question connects the academic content to the student’s own world. The question challenges them and poses them a problem to be solved. The statement simply tells them to do stuff.
Now imagine what you could do if that lesson objective was part of a larger unit—maybe even an interdisciplinary unit—that looked at all the different ways we have of figuring things out, as humans. What if we used a question to frame the entire unit—something like this?

How can we know what’s true?

You can still keep the SWBAT language in your lesson planner, to remind you what the concrete goals are. But why not invite the students to be curious and interested in what you’re teaching? After all, what you’re teaching is interesting and important!  If it wasn’t, we wouldn’t keep teaching it, generation after generation. Let’s try to remind ourselves—and show our students—why the stuff of school actually matters. And who knows? Maybe they’ll ask a question that no one has ever asked before—or find a solution to a problem that no one has been able to solve before. 

NAEP Results: Less “Bang for Our Buck” (But Plenty of Whimpers)

“Between the idea and the reality . . . falls the shadow.”      —T.S. Eliot

A new report from our friends at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” provides data on student performance in reading and mathematics across multiple grade levels across the country. This latest report shows us how well American twelfth graders performed in 2015 as compared with the last test administration in 2013.

Those were two years of contentious Common Core adoption in many states, or resistance to Common Core and reliance on existing standards in other states—two years of hard work at educational reform and improvement, wherever you lived, whether you were changing course or staying the course; two years of teaching, reaching, explaining, begging, and maybe even bribing students to achieve.

So, what’s the result of our efforts over the past two years? Well, according to NAEP:

In comparison to 2013, the national average mathematics score in 2015 for twelfth-grade students was lower and the average reading score was not significantly different.
In comparison to the first year of the current trendline, 2005, the average mathematics score in 2015 did not significantly differ. In comparison to the initial reading assessment year, 1992, the 2015 average reading score was lower.

Not what we wanted to hear, is it? Either nothing changed, or things got a little worse – hence the quote at the top of the page. Between our aspirations and our actuality, there always seems to be a little shadow—a little gap—a little, “Sorry, not quite.”

Why? What went wrong? Or, more accurately, what’s going wrong, day after day, week after week? Why is that shadow falling between what we’re trying to do and what we’re getting?


Part of the performance gap comes from an implementation gap—the shadow that falls between our plans and the way we put those plans into effect. New standards or textbooks or pieces of whiz-bang software may be brilliant and revolutionary in theory, but if they’re rolled out to schools ineffectively, or haphazardly, or without real buy-in and understanding from teachers. Eventually they wind up on the trash heap and reinforce our feeling that nothing ever works.

Were all of those abandoned programs and initiatives really terrible? Probably not. In fact, most of them were probably fine—maybe even better than fine…in theory. We just didn’t use them properly, or hold onto them long enough to see a result. Anything new requires a little patience, a little persistence. You would never buy a packet of apple seeds on Monday, plant them on Tuesday, and expect a glorious, fruit-laden tree by Friday. But that’s pretty much what we do in our schools, year after year. If the new thing doesn’t work in its first year of implementation, we give up on it and go back to whatever it was we were doing before. Our “flavor of the month” approach to reforms and resources may be one of our problems.

Another problem is that we aim for real thought from our students, but too often settle for mere response. If we’re not aware of that gap, it can cast a lethal shadow over all of our “college and career readiness” initiatives. Here are a few recent examples I came across in my travels:


I visited with a high school teacher several weeks ago—a bright and capable young man who teaches Japanese in an excellent private school. He has been successfully teaching Japanese for a number of years already; his kids get good grades and their parents have been happy. He usually teaches in a fairly traditional style—a lot of lecture, a lot of worksheets, a lot of rote memorization. Pretty standard stuff.

But after a PD session at his school, he decided, as an experiment, to change how he assessed vocabulary. Instead of giving his students a traditional quiz on the words they had been given to learn (here’s the word; choose the correct definition from among four choices), he asked his students to use each word in a couple of sentences. The result was disastrous. They could identify the meaning of the words, but they couldn’t use them. They couldn’t do anything with what they knew.


In an elementary classroom at another school, I saw a teacher leading an activity in which students generated lists of nouns, adjectives, and verbs, which the teacher placed up on a large, color-coded chart. The students were asked to create sentences by choosing a couple of the nouns, one of the adjectives, and one of the verbs. When I arrived in the classroom, the students were almost done; most of them were drawing pictures to illustrate their sentences. All the kids looked happy and successful.

But when I leaned over and asked one of the girls which word was the verb, she had no idea…even though it was colored blue on her paper, just as it was colored blue on the chart, under the title, “Verbs.” When I asked her what a verb did a sentence, she didn’t know. When I told her what a verb did in a sentence and then asked her which word in her sentence was doing that, she didn’t know. And she wasn’t the only one who was having this problem. For many of the students, the sentences looked fine. Their sentences were, in fact, correct. They were able to respond successfully to the instructions and complete the activity to the teacher’s satisfaction. But they couldn’t talk about what they were doing, and they seemed not to understand what it is they had done.


When I came home from my most recent travels, I saw my sixth grader hard at work on a science assignment. I asked him what he was doing, and he showed me a worksheet about the carbon cycle. The question he had just completed read, “How does deforestation affect the carbon cycle?” His answer was, “Trees are carbon sinks.” He was very happy with his answer, because it was factually correct. He could even show me, in his textbook, where that factual detail lived. But his answer, while true, didn’t respond to the question he had been asked. It took several minutes of (gentle) browbeating and asking “so what?” to get him to connect his fact to the idea of deforestation. He had a lot of facts ready at hand—in his brain and in his notes—but he wasn’t sure what to do with them.
It’s an easy miss on a homework assignment, but it’s exactly the kind of thing we need our teachers to tease out with students. Are our teachers taking the time to help students connect thought to thought, and idea to action, in a way that helps them make the things they’re learning useful?


Every test is a transfer task—you have to take what you learned in the classroom and apply it somewhere else. But no test prep can prepare you for every question or question type you may encounter in the world. You have to be able to come at any challenge with a deep understanding of the relevant content and an ability to be flexible in the way you use it. You have to be ready to improvise at a moment’s notice. You have to be able to think about what you know.
This is why athletes need more than drills. They need scrimmages—practice games—to get the experience of making decisions and using their skills in the crazy, unpredictable, changeable context of a game.

The question for us is: are we deficient in our skills drills, or in our scrimmages?

I don’t believe that a stagnation or slight downturn in NAEP scores means that our teaching is deteriorating, or that a particular class of students isn’t as bright as the class that came before it. We’ve been at the lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy—teaching, questioning, and testing at the levels of basic knowledge—and we’re still pretty good at that level. But we’re less effective at getting kids to think about what we’re teaching them so that they can use what they learn confidently and in a variety of new ways.

The more our assessments move away from basic question-and-response—the more they try to present students with authentic thinking and reasoning tasks, the more we are liable to see a shadow fall between what we’ve taught them and what they can do with what they know.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The View from SXSW: Finding Innovation, Optimism, and Passion in Education

“I had been my whole life a bell, and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck.”
Annie Dillard

The South by Southwest Education conference just wrapped up, and I thought I’d take a moment to share some notes and thoughts for anyone who might be interested. Before registering, I hadn’t even been aware that SXSW had an education conference. What did I know?

Education conferences are usually hit-or-miss affairs: some sessions are interesting; some are dull and ordinary. Some addresses bring new information and insight; some rehash things you’ve heard a million times before. This one was no different, although the things that hit, hit hard and rang out loud and clear.
A theme that resonated throughout the event was personalization. It started with Temple Grandin discussing the Autism spectrum and the importance of honoring different minds and the different ways in which those minds see and work in the world. The theme was picked up later in the week by futurist and game designer, Jane McGonigal, who challenged us to see signals of possible futures all around us—and then grab the signals we like and build a new world. She imagined for us a world in which every act of learning we participated in, whether as children or adults, in school or out, earned credits like Bitcoins and contributed to a dynamic, endlessly expanding transcript and résumé viewable by employers and colleagues all around the world. We heard from an author challenging the entire idea of “average” as a way of measuring or describing people—people being far too jagged and variable to be able to be contained or defined by a single value. We saw how the distribution of scores along a traditional bell curve disappeared when students were allowed to work at their own pace and take assessments when they were ready for them, instead of when a teacher assigned them.

Some speakers acknowledged that a measure of standardization and structure still had value and importance to us; some didn’t. All of them wondered: can we de-standardize and de-institutionalize the way we teach and learn, while still holding to some set of goals and standards for knowledge and performance?  If we personalize everything, do we lose all sense of common knowledge, core understandings, shared culture?  Can we still be an “us” if we allow every individual, “I” to design their own pathway and ecosystem of learning?

Obviously, the conference raised more questions than answers—as it should have. But the one answer I did find was that there is an abundance of passion in American education, and an abundance of innovation.  That much was obvious—and it was refreshing and invigorating to see. You know how it is: the day-to-day dramas and traumas of teaching and leading in schools can wear you down and rob you of hope; from the ground-level, it can look as though change is hopeless. But it’s important to remember that ground-level is not the only perspective—and, in this case, it’s not the most useful one.

One of the last sessions I attended was about a group of poor and disadvantaged students from Washington, DC, who had participated, 25 years ago, in an intensive program to help them succeed in school and get into college. Film clips of the students, then and now, were shown (part of a new documentary, called Southeast 67). Some of the students had gone on to college right after high school; many had not. The teacher who ran the program, who now leads efforts on college access at the College Board, told us that at the time, he and his colleagues were saddened by what they perceived to be their failure. All of the support and services they had provided were meant to get those kids into college, and it hadn’t worked. And yet, now, years later, they could see that many of the kids had made it to college—eventually. Some were still in school today. And even if they hadn’t gone to college, all of them had made it, firmly and successfully, into the middle class. Most of them had happy families and children. And all of the children—all of the children—had gone to and graduated from four-year colleges. Many had gone on to graduate school. The investment these adults had made in a group of children had not only changed their lives for the better; it had changed the history and the trajectory of their families. And that wasn’t due to some high-tech innovation or radical restructuring of the school. It was because they had decided, as the president of Franklin and Marshall College put it, that their job was to know those students, love those students, believe in them, invest in them, and never let them go.

Every once in a while it’s really important to be in the room when a story like that gets told. It makes a difference when you can feel the passion and the resolution of the people sharing their story. It makes a difference when you can feel the hope and optimism beaming out into the room. It’s a physical sensation, humming through you the way live music does. They play their music, and the air carries it into your bones—a sympathetic vibration. They ring the bell inside their souls, and the sound waves reach out and ring yours.

Every once in a while it’s nice to be reminded that you, too, are a bell, just waiting to be struck.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Academic Intervention: What Does it Really Mean?

Outside the classroom, the word “intervention” has pretty clear associations. Think of the literal meaning of the word—a coming between—and how it manifests itself in our culture. We all know of instances where people have had to place themselves in someone else’s pathway and make them travel in a different direction, usually because their current pathway is leading to danger or illness (we’re here because we love you, and we need to talk). Sometimes it’s simply behavioral; sometimes it’s medical, requiring the identification of a problem and the prescription of a treatment (you have an addiction; we’re sending you to 28 days of rehab). These associations are so much a part of our culture that movies and TV shows can make quick, easy reference to the word, confident that we’ll all understand what it means. The sit-com, How I Met Your Mother, even made the concept of intervention into a running joke, as the friends intervened with each other to stop a whole range of annoying behaviors (to the point where they had to stage an intervention to step each other from having interventions).

In our world of education, the word is used pretty frequently. But when we implement an academic intervention, it’s often just a repetition of what was already taught. We send kids to summer school to learn the same content they learned from September to June, often taught by the same teachers using the same materials. Or we send them to a separate room during the school day in a pullout program, to learn the same material with a different teacher. What we don’t do—nearly enough—is stand in a child’s pathway and help him take a different direction. Instead, we walk him back to the beginning of the journey and ask him to retrace the steps he’s already taken. It’s not a new show; it’s just a re-run.

I’m not saying repetition is a bad thing. Some students definitely benefit from repeated exposure to material. For some students, that second time through is when things finally stick. But what about the students who need more than a re-play? What about the most challenged students, for whom the material or the instructional approach simply don’t click—don’t make sense—don’t help?  These students don’t need to have the material served up again, faster and louder. They need a real intervention; they need someone to stop them from going along the road of error, and re-direct them on the pathway of learning so that they can reach success. Stop doing it this way; try doing it that way instead. Stop thinking about it this way; think about it that way instead.

Being Diagnostic: Stop Doing That

There’s an old joke:  A guy walks into a doctor’s office, swings his arm around, and says, “Hey Doc, it hurts when I do this.” The doctor says, “Well, stop doing that.”

This is the job of the doctor: to figure out what ails you and then make it better. The first part can be very tricky (as fan’s of the old TV show, “House,” may recall).  When you walk into a check-up feeling healthy, a good doctor will poke and prod to make sure you really are healthy. When you walk into an appointment because something is wrong (perhaps with your arm), the doctor will poke and prod to figure out what the problem is.  You may think you know (“It’s carpal tunnel, Doc. I know it!”), or you may just be in pain. The good doctor takes nothing at face value—he assesses the situation to figure out what the problem is. Sometimes that means running tests; sometimes that means asking a lot of questions beyond the test.

In academic intervention programs, we often talk about being “diagnostic and prescriptive,” but our diagnostic process is often woefully inadequate. We certainly have our tests. We have instruments designed to find out what our students know and can do. If students miss a question or two, we can identify areas of weakness or concern. But our test instruments, whether standardized or teacher-made, rarely go deeper than that. They barely tell us what; they almost never tell us why.

Imagine a doctor who can establish that a patient’s arm hurts, but has no tools or skills to tell him why. What use is he to the patient?  “Well, sir, it looks like your arm hurts.” “Thanks, Doc. That much, I already knew.” Imagine the doctor who reads the results of a blood test but doesn’t bother to talk to the patient about her family history, her diet, her lifestyle, to find out what lies behind the data. We would all probably agree this was not a great doctor.

I mentioned during a recent presentation that teacher questioning shouldn’t be aimed solely at the correct answer, but should also drive students towards revealing mistakes and misconceptions. When I said that, I got some horrified looks in response. But it’s true; the correct answer is the least interesting piece of information in the room. We already know what the correct answer is. Figuring out who else knows it is lovely, and important, but it’s simply a confirmation that everything’s great. What if everything isn’t great?  What if someone is sitting there, hopelessly confused—the patient who is in pain but refuses to acknowledge it?  What we need to do is poke and prod until somebody says, “Ouch!” Until that happens, we can’t find out where it hurts—and if we don’t know where it hurts, we can’t help.

This is especially tricky in the classroom, because in many cases, students can identify a correct answer or solve a problem without having any idea why that answer is correct or why they did whatever they did to solve the problem. They follow a process that they don’t really understand, and it seems to work. Or they repeat something their neighbor said. These tactics leave them extremely vulnerable and open to future error—and lead to bewildered teachers saying, “But he knew it when I taught it.”

If we don’t take time to ask, “Why?” or “How?” or “How did you know?” we miss our chance to peek inside the child’s head and see what’s going on in there. And if we don’t take time to structure our questions and examples correctly, we miss our chance to diagnose the problems we find there.

Elizabeth Green, in her book, Building a Better Teacher, provides fascinating examples of teachers who know how to ask probing, diagnostic questions that reveal misconceptions and mistakes. It’s a time-consuming practice, to be sure. It means resisting the easy path of Xeroxing worksheets from a textbook or downloading activities from the Internet. It means really thinking through the thought-process behind the skill or concept we’ve taught—how it works, why it works, and how it can go wrong. And that’s tricky, because we’re experts at what we teach, and we may never really think about what we’re doing. The skills are automatic and the concepts are deeply engrained. We take them for granted, and that makes it easy to teach them as if they’re self-evident. If they’re obvious, all you need are some confirming questions to make sure everyone “got it.” 

We need to slow our brains down and think about what those brains are really doing when we find a lowest common denominator, or interpret a poetic image. We need to see the material the way the child sees it, so that we can catch and make sense of the errors they’re making. Maybe not all the time—maybe the way we teach and test and question works perfectly well for 60% of our kids—maybe even 75%. But for those students who get lost in the weeds or the woods—the students who get left behind and end up wandering down a dark and confusing pathway—we need to be ready to intervene.