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Articles by cognitive scientists Daniel Willingham

Articles by cognitive scientists Daniel Willingham

Cognitive Processes

Evaluation of Theories


Close Reading Strategies

Intro – what are close reading strategies all about?


Close Reading Strategies: www.sausd.us


The Art of Close Reading (Part One) Foundation for Critical Thinking

Slow Reading Makes You Smarter, James Kennedy


Examples of close reading strategies in physics

Literacy in Physics: Reading a Primary Source


Close Reading Selections with Text-Dependent Questions: Boston Public Schools Science Dept

Close Reading and Text Dependent Questions in Science Hot Technology (Physics– HS)



Model close reading for the students: annotating, making notes in the margins, and explain the thought process (think-aloud)


But first understand why you are reading the passage. Are we looking for information? Are we trying to understand how different lines of evidence come together to support a claim? Are we learning how some process works? Are we trying to discover the author’s beliefs, opinions or values? Annotation options:

  • highlight in different colors
  • circle words/phrases
  • put question marks by things you don’t understand.

Write in the margins

James Kennedy Annotated notebook

An annotated textbook, by James Kennedy . https://jameskennedymonash.wordpress.com/2014/10/18/how-to-use-a-textbook-6-rules-to-follow/

notes about what the author is saying, text connections they make, and questions they have.

  • What is the author telling me here?
  • Are there any hard or important words?
  • What does the author want me to understand?
  • How does the author play with language to add to meaning?
Close Reading Technique 1

from Educational Leadership, Dec. 2012, Vol 70 #4. Common Core: Now What? Closing in on Close Reading, Nancy Boyles


Common Core ELA Skills addressed

Common Core English Language Arts and Literacy: Anchor Standards for Reading http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/CCRA/R/


Reading Informational Text: Grade 8, Grade 9-10

Language: Grade 8, Grade 9-10

Standard 10: Range, Quality and Complexity – check various topics within


Expeditionary Learning: Trip to a classic bookstore

Seaport Academy Logo 2

Addressing standards from the American Association of School Librarians:

MBTA Water Shuttle from Flagship Wharf to Long Wharf

Walk to Commonwealth Books, Downtown Crossing, 9 Spring Lane

40,000+ titles. Medieval manuscript, modern fiction, non-fiction, history, science, philosophy, art monographs, poetry, literature.

Walk to The Brattle Book Shop, Downtown Crossing, 9 West Street

250,000+ titles. Founded 1825. Outdoor section plus 3 stories indoors. Americana, Boston, History, politics, religion, philosophy, fiction, non-fiction, rare books and collectibles.

Walk to Faneuil Hall & Quincy Market.

Marketplace and a meeting hall since 1743. Site of speeches by Samuel Adams, James Otis, and others encouraging independence from Great Britain. Part of Boston National Historical Park and the Freedom Trail.

Visitor Center 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.  The Great Hall is open 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Learning Goals

American Association of School Librarians: Standards for the 21st-Century Learner


4.1.1 Read, view, and listen for pleasure and personal growth.
4.1.2 Read widely and fluently to make connections with self, the world, and previous reading.
4.1.4 Seek information for personal learning in a variety of formats and genres.
4.1.5 Connect ideas to own interests and previous knowledge and experience.
4.2.1 Display curiosity by pursuing interests through multiple resources. 4.2.2 Demonstrate motivation by seeking information to answer personal questions and interests, trying a variety of formats and genres, and displaying a willingness to go beyond academic requirements.
4.2.4 Show an appreciation for literature by electing to read for pleasure and expressing an interest in various literary genres.
4.3.3 Seek opportunities for pursuing personal and aesthetic growth.


Tier I, II and III vocabulary

Tier Vocabulary

Tier One – everyday words usually learned in the early grades.

Tier Two – High frequency words, used across content areas, key to understanding directions, relationships, and for making inferences.

Tier II Words list

Academic language from resources.successforall.org

Tier Three – Domain-specific words

Tier III Words list



Declining Student Resilience

Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges
By Peter Gray, Psychology Researcher at Boston College, Author of Free to Learn (Basic Books, 2013) and Psychology (Worth Publishers, a college textbook now in its 7th edition)
Psychology Today, September 22, 2015

Psychology Today: Declining student resilience, by Peter Gray

A year ago I received an invitation from the head of Counseling Services at a major university to join faculty and administrators for discussions about how to deal with the decline in resilience among students. At the first meeting, we learned that emergency calls to Counseling had more than doubled over the past five years. Students are increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life. Recent examples mentioned included a student who felt traumatized because her roommate had called her a [bad name] and two students who had sought counseling because they had seen a mouse in their off-campus apartment. The latter two also called the police, who kindly arrived and set a mousetrap for them.

Faculty at the meetings noted that students’ emotional fragility has become a serious problem when it comes to grading. Some said they had grown afraid to give low grades for poor performance, because of the subsequent emotional crises they would have to deal with in their offices. Many students, they said, now view a C, or sometimes even a B, as failure, and they interpret such “failure” as the end of the world.

Faculty also noted an increased tendency for students to blame them (the faculty) for low grades—they weren’t explicit enough in telling the students just what the test would cover or just what would distinguish a good paper from a bad one. They described an increased tendency to see a poor grade as reason to complain rather than as reason to study more, or more effectively.

Much of the discussions had to do with the amount of handholding faculty should do versus the degree to which the response should be something like, “Buck up, this is college.” Does the first response simply play into and perpetuate students’ neediness and unwillingness to take responsibility? Does the second response create the possibility of serious emotional breakdown, or, who knows, maybe even suicide?

Two weeks ago, that head of Counseling sent us all a follow-up email, announcing a new set of meetings. His email included this sobering paragraph:

“I have done a considerable amount of reading and research in recent months on the topic of resilience in college students. Our students are no different from what is being reported across the country on the state of late adolescence/early adulthood. There has been an increase in diagnosable mental health problems, but there has also been a decrease in the ability of many young people to manage the everyday bumps in the road of life. Whether we want it or not, these students are bringing their struggles to their teachers and others on campus who deal with students on a day-today basis. The lack of resilience is interfering with the academic mission of the University and is thwarting the emotional and personal development of students.”

The full article is available here Psychology Today: Declining student resilience, by Peter Gray



Internal reflection

Physics is a deeply conceptual class. Its not like English class, where everyone already knows what English is. People enter an English classroom already knowing what a story is, what characters are, what a theme is, and what a moral is. In stark contrast, students generally start physics from scratch.

The human themes discussed by Shakespeare or Homer are universal, and intuitively understood by even the least prepared of readers. Students may not know much about Elizabethan England, or ancient Greece, but they know what it means to be happy, sad, angry, jealous. This is not so, however, with concepts in physics. Student entering a physics class often have no meaningful understanding of conservation laws, or Newton’s laws of motion. Outside of AP Physics we usually are teaching from the ground level upwards.

No teaching method, homework assignment, or pedagogical technique has much effect on student performance – unless that student takes time to engage in internal mental reflection.

When students review at home what we learned in class,

When students think about what happened, and why it happened,

When students compare their preconceptions to what they have observed

only they are engaging in internal mental reflection.

If a student chooses not do this, then there is little a teacher can add. We can explain it for you, but we can’t understand it for you.

This is one reason why some students struggle. Doing classwork has only limited usefulness, unless one internally reflects on the subject.

Chapter 12. Learning Through Reflection, by Arthur L. Costa and Bena Kallick

Learning Through Reflection


The Thirty Million Word Gap

AFT American Educator

The full article is available here: The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million word gap by age 3. and at http://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/spring-2003

Betty Hart and Todd Risley entered the homes of 42 families from various socio-economic backgrounds to assess the ways in which daily exchanges between a parent and child shape language and vocabulary development. Their findings showed marked disparities between the sheer number of words spoken as well as the types of messages conveyed.

After four years these differences in parent-child interactions produced significant discrepancies in not only children’s knowledge, but also their skills and experiences with children from high-income families being exposed to 30 million more words than children from families on welfare.

Children's vocabulary differs greatly

Follow-up studies showed that these differences in language and interaction experiences have lasting effects on a child’s performance later in life.

The Early Catastrophe
Betty Hart & Todd R. Risley


Betty Hart and Todd Risley were at the forefront of educational research during the 1960’s War on Poverty. Frustrated after seeing the effects of their high quality early intervention program aimed at language skill expansion prove unsuccessful in the long-term, they decided to shift their focus. If the proper measures were being taken in the classroom, the only logical conclusion was to take a deeper look at the home.

What difference does home-life make in a child’s ability to communicate? Why are the alarming vocabulary gaps between high school students from low and high income environments seemingly foreshadowed by their performance in preschool? Hart and Risley believed that the home housed some of these answers.

Experimental Method:

Hart and Risley recruited 42 families to participate in the study including 13 high-income families, 10 families of middle socio-economic status, 13 of low socio-economic status, and 6 families who were on welfare. Monthly hour-long observations of each family were conducted from the time the child was seven months until age three. Gender and race were also balanced within the sample.


The results of the study were more severe than the researchers anticipated. Observers found that 86 percent to 98 percent of the words used by each child by the age of three were derived from their parents’ vocabularies.

Furthermore, not only were the words they used nearly identical, but also the average number of words utilized, the duration of their conversations, and the speech patterns were all strikingly similar to those of their caregivers.

number of words addressed to children

After establishing these patterns of learning through imitation, the researchers next analyzed the content of each conversation to garner a better understanding of each child’s experience. They found that the sheer number of words heard varied greatly along socio-economic lines. On average, children from families on welfare were provided half as much experience as children from working class families, and less than a third of the experience given to children from high-income families.

Families's language and use differ

In other words, children from families on welfare heard about 616 words per hour, while those from working class families heard around 1,251 words per hour, and those from professional families heard roughly 2,153 words per hour. Thus, children being raised in middle to high income class homes had far more language exposure to draw from.

In addition to looking at the number of words exchanged, the researchers also looked at what was being said within these conversations. What they found was that higher-income families provided their children with far more words of praise compared to children from low-income families. Conversely, children from low-income families were found to endure far more instances of negative reinforcement compared to their peers from higher-income families.

Children from families with professional backgrounds experienced a ratio of six encouragements for every discouragement. For children from working-class families this ratio was two encouragements to one discouragement. Finally, children from families on welfare received on average two discouragements for every encouragement. Therefore, children from families on welfare seemed to experience more negative vocabulary than children from professional and working-class families.

The authors conclude:

We learned from the longitudinal data that the problem of skill differences among children at the time of school entry is bigger. more intractable. and more important than we had thought. So much is happening to children during their first three years at home, at a time when they are especially malleable and uniquely dependent on the family for virtually all their experience. that by age 3, an intervention must address not just a lack of knowledge or skill, but an entire general approach to experience…

…Estimating, as we did, the magnitude of the differences in children’s cumulative experience before the age of 3 gives an indication of how big the problem is. Estimating the hours of intervention needed to equalize children’s early experience makes clear the enormity of the effort that would be required to change children’s lives. And the longer the effort is put off, the less possible the change becomes. We see why our brief, intense efforts during the War on Poverty did not succeed. But we also see the risk to our nation and its children that makes intervention more urgent than ever.


A summary from “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3” by University of Kansas researchers Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley. (2003). American Educator. Spring: 4-9, which was excerpted with permission from B. Hart and T.R. Risley (1995). Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.