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Professional Development Opinion

Response: So Many Articles, So Little Time...

By Larry Ferlazzo — May 15, 2018 11 min read
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(This is the last post in a two-part series. You can see Part One here.)

The new “question-of-the-week” is:

What is an important article or blog post, that is still freely available online, that you read and has had a big impact on your teaching?

In Part One, Jessica Torres, Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski, Robert Ward, Lisa Eickholdt and Kathy Dyer contributed their suggestions. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Jessica, Kathleen and Robert on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here. By the way, you can also now listen to the show on Google Play and Stitcher, in addition to iTunes.

Today, Jenny Edwards, Andrew Miller, Dr. Cynthia “Mama J” Johnson, Megan M. Allen, and readers share their choices for articles.

Response From Jenny Edwards

Jenny Edwards, PhD has taught at the elementary and middle school levels. She is presently serving as Co-Lead for the Infant and Early Childhood Development PhD program at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, CA. She is the author of Inviting Students to Learn: 100 tips for talking effectively with your students (ASCD, 2010) and Time to Teach: How do I get organized and work smarter? (ASCD, 2014). She served as co-editor for Invitational education and practice in higher education: An international perspective (Lexington, 2016):

I can remember where I was sitting where I read the article, “Synthesis of research on grade retention” (Shepard & Smith, 1990). I was teaching kindergarten at the time, and I was getting ready to recommend to a mother that her child be retained. I had never retained a student before, and I had given a lot of thought to what might be best for her. I believed that her child would benefit from spending another year in kindergarten. Then I read the article.

Shepard and Smith (1990) synthesized the research on grade retention and suggested that it does not work. They said that approximately 2 children out of every classroom are held back in a grade each year. When taken together, they found that more than 50% of all children are retained in a grade at least one time in their lives.

Shepard and Smith (1990) cited a study by Holmes (1989) that included 63 controlled studies on retention. They found that 54 of the studies “showed overall negative effects from retention, even on measures of academic achievement. This means that when retained children went on to the next grade they actually performed more poorly on average than if they had gone on without repeating” (p. 84).

In addition, Shepard and Smith (1990) cited studies that showed that students who were retained in a grade were more likely to drop out of school. They cited research by the Association of California Urban School Districts (1985) that indicated that, “dropouts are five times more likely to have repeated a grade than are high school graduates. Students who repeat two grades have a probability of dropping out of nearly 100 percent” (p. 85).

Grade retention can also result in emotional difficulties for children. Shepard and Smith (1990) cited research by Yamamoto (1980) in which children who were going to be retained in a grade indicated that being retained in a grade was more stressful than wetting themselves in the classroom. According to Yamamoto’s study, “Going blind or losing a parent were the only two life events that children said would be more stressful than being retained” (p. 85).

Shepard and Smith (1990) also talked about the amount of money school districts spend to retain students. “U.S. school districts spend nearly $10 billion a year to pay for the extra year of schooling necessitated by retaining 2.4 million students” (p. 88). They suggested that teachers provide students with summer school and additional help during the next year rather than retaining them.

After reading the article, I never again even considered retaining a student in a grade. I sent the student on the next grade, and she did just fine.


Association of California Urban School Districts (ACUSD). (1985). Dropouts from California’s urban school districts: Who are they? How do we count them? How can we hold them (or at least educate them)? Los Angeles, CA: ACUSD.

Holmes, C. T. (1989). Grade-level retention effects: A meta-analysis of research studies. In L. A. Shepard and M. L. Smith (Eds.), Flunking grades: Research and policies on retention. London, England: The Falmer Press.

Shepard, L. A. & Smith, M. L. (1990). Synthesis of research on grade retention.Educational Leadership, 47, 84-88.

Yamamoto, K. (1980). Children under stress: The causes and cures. Family Weekly, Ogden Standard Examiner, 6-8.

Response From Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller started his teaching career at a traditional high school in the areas of English and Social studies. He then transferred to be founding faculty member at a new school focused on Project Based Learning and STEAM education. After successfully implementing numerous projects across grades 6-12 he took the opportunity to become a full-time faculty member of the Buck Institute for Education, where we he traveled internationally to work with teachers to implement PBL across all grade levels. He has been with the Institute since 2010. He is also a consultant with ASCD and writes regularly for Edutopia. Currently, Andrew is back in the day-to-day work of education at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China where he serves as an instructional coach:

One of my favorite articles is called “Making Time for Feedback” by Fisher and Frey. It really helped me to reflect on when and how we need to give feedback to students. Often, we spend hours providing feedback to students, but find it not used by students or ignored.

The article advocates to focus on errors and not mistakes. Mistakes imply that there is knowledge, but lack of attention. This doesn’t require extensive feedback. Errors, on the other hand, mean students have gaps and learning, and we should focus our feedback there.

The article also says to know what kind of errors are occurring, from targeted to global, and then teach or give feedback accordingly. If there is a global error, with the class not understanding a concept, then I shouldn’t waste my time giving individual feedback. I can use my time more efficiently instead by re-teaching in a new and different way. Another takeaway I took from the article was not to do the thinking for students in our feedback, but make students do the thinking through prompts, cues and questions. Instead of correcting all capitalization on a paper, for example, I might give the feedback to “review paragraphs 1 and 2 for capitalization mistakes or errors.” If I did all the corrections, I did the thinking for students. I can bet that a student would say “thank you” and then move on without having learned from my feedback. If I instead point to the issue and make the student do the thinking, he/she is more likely to learn and hopefully not repeat that problem in the future. A pitfall here is that feedback might hinder learning instead of helping.

Response From Dr. Cynthia “Mama J” Johnson

Dr. Cynthia “Mama J” Johnson is an educator with over 30 years of experience in the classroom and as an administrator. Currently, she serves as an educational consultant facilitating presentations throughout the nation regarding children who live in poverty, diverse student populations, equity and social justice, school connectedness, and social/emotional learning:

Unmasking the Truth: Teaching Diverse Student Populations” is an article that I wrote over a decade ago that still resonates and influences my teaching practices. The focus of this article is ensuring educators use proper strategies to help all their students succeed, especially those from diverse populations and who live in poverty.

First, many students from minority groups come to school with fewer skills and larger gaps in learning. Understanding the students who walk within the hallways matters. It matters a lot. The importance of “reaching” a student before “teaching” is emphasized. Reaching students involves developing strong interpersonal relationships.

Second, caring v. believing in a student is another theme discussed within this article. Caring alone is no longer enough to connect with students who live in poverty or who represent diverse student populations. Believing in a student exceeds caring alone. The article states, “To effectively reach diverse student populations, educators must move from caring to believing, a concept that is rarely mentioned or considered when discussing effectively educating minority adolescents. Caring about minority adolescents and believing these same students can perform at high levels are two different things. Caring is nurturing; believing is strengthening. Caring is validating; believing is promising. Caring is responding; believing is empowering.”

Last, facilitating learning for minority students, making instruction culturally responsive, and tearing down barriers to instruction are also topics discussed in this article. Orchestrating education includes accepting students for who they are and not ignoring color or minimizing ethnic differences. Effective educators build a bridge to learning by incorporating the diversity of the students in their lessons daily. Barriers to instruction are torn down by identifying and addressing ineffective practices that limit or interfere with student achievement for minority youths.

The article concludes by encouraging educators to accept the truth about unmasking personal, instructional, and institutional practices that are keeping minority and poor students from being successful in today’s school. By accepting this truth and making improvements, educators can build a bridge from despair to hope for students who represent diverse populations.

Response From Megan M. Allen

Megan M. Allen, NBCT, EdD, is the Director of Partnerships for the National Network of State Teachers of the Year and the founding director and developer of the Mount Holyoke College Master of Arts in Teacher Leadership. She likes to nerd out on education topics on her Ed Week blog at An Edugeek’s Guide to Practice and Policy and @redhdteacher:

My best advice for teachers lately regarding reading: Read something for enjoyment!

I found myself in a place recently where I realized that I hadn’t read a book for enjoyment in over several years. Several years! All my reading was related to social science, brain research, education, or leadership development. All great and enjoyable, but never really giving myself a day off. Never giving my brain a break from thinking about transforming education and never give my creativity a boost from taking a brain break. Can you relate? (My guess is that since you are reading this blog now, you might be in the same boat!).

Not that reading for professional growth isn’t great, but I think it can take over our reading lists if we let it. I wrote about the idea of “professional creep,” where your work gradually takes over more and more of your life. And I think it’s crazily unhealthy. We must attend to all parts of our lives-both the personal and the professional. In order to be well-rounded, productive adults who are high functioning in our professional lives, we must fan the flames of our personal lives. We must not let our work creep into family dinners, vacations, and time refilling our energy buckets as humans.

So the best read that has the biggest impact on my teaching?

Something that has nothing to do with teaching. It’s good for the brain, heart, and soul.

Now back to Big Little Lies. And unless these protagonists are talking about leadership strengths in their kindergarten PTA meeting before they tackle solving a murder, it has nothing to do with my career.

Responses From Readers

Thanks to Jenny, Andrew, Cynthia, and Megan, and to readers, for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

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