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4 “Hot Topics” in Education—What Educators Are Talking About Today

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4 “Hot Topics” in Education—What Educators Are Talking About Today

Taking a closer look at scaffolding up, incorporating rigor, utilizing compelling text, and supporting academic discourse in the classroom

 

It’s the time of year when swimsuits and summer plans are packed away and shopping trips to secure pencils, notebooks, and backpacks commence. As parents and students prepare for the upcoming school year, a variety of education-related topics are being discussed and debated by educators across the country.

These topics affect the instruction of children from every age, grade level, and background and have the potential to impact the individual learning experience for every student. 

So, what are the issues being discussed in district training meetings and educational conferences today? Here is our list of some “hot topics” being discussed by educators—just in time for back-to-school. 

1. Scaffolding-Up/Assets-Based Instruction

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Educators who approach instruction with an “assets-based lens” acknowledge that all students enter classrooms with powerful cognitive, linguistic, and cultural assets. Assets-based instruction builds upon each student’s individual strengths as a springboard for acceleration, rather than focusing on perceived student “deficits.” 

“All students benefit from a classroom environment that establishes high expectations, since all students share a common goal of mastering grade-level content and standards,” according to Debra Hopkins, Senior Curriculum Consultant at Imagine Learning, a leading educational technology company that provides supplementary digital educational programs to schools across the nation. “When we approach instruction with an assets-based perspective, we support all students in achieving to their highest potential.”

“When we scaffold up, we acknowledge that students may have different entry points relative to the goal and, instead of watering down or slowing down, we give them the strategic support they need to accelerate toward the goal,” explains Hopkins. “When we set high expectations and scaffold up, students absolutely rise to our expectations. We’ve seen this over and over again.” 

2. Rigor 

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There’s been a lot of talk in education over the past few years about the importance of rigor and setting high expectations for students. Rigor has even become a bit of a buzz-word, though it can have a different definition depending on who you talk to. 

“Rigor is not just working harder, longer, or requiring more,” explains Hopkins. “When students grapple with challenging grade-level content and higher standards, they should be given opportunities to interact with complex and compelling text and engage in rich academic discourse. Rigor also creates opportunities for productive struggle, key to developing resilience and a growth mindset.”

Read More: Meeting the Needs of Secondary Newcomer ELLs Through A Rigorous Curriculum

3. Complex and Compelling Text

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To engage students at all levels, it’s not enough for reading text to simply be complex. Complex reading text can be boring and dry, making it difficult for children to engage.

Compelling text, on the other hand, draws a student in and gets them excited and interested in what they’re reading about.

Teachers can incorporate all types of classroom activities to help students view text as intriguing and interesting, including sharing dramatic photos or works of art, video clips, poignant primary source quotes, or even their own personal experiences.

According to an article by Lily Wong Fillmore, Professor Emerita at The University of California Berkeley, and Charles J. Fillmore, past Professor of Linguistics at UC Berkeley,

“There is only one way to acquire the language of literacy, and that is through literacy itself…Complex texts provide school-age learners reliable access to this language, and interacting with such texts allows them to discover how academic language works.” (1)

Hopkins describes how utilizing compelling text encourages students to “lean in” and grapple with reading selections that may be a bit above their current reading level: “At Imagine Learning, we are identifying and incorporating more paired selections and ‘text sets,’ creating opportunities for multiple exposures to important vocabulary and big ideas. Students may be reading about contemporary issues like endangered species, important historic events, or ground-breaking ideas from cultures around the world; if we can create some magic around the topic and make it compelling, students will work harder and achieve higher.”

4. Academic Discourse

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When educators share complex and compelling text and set high expectations for students, they also establish a classroom environment that facilitates and values academic discourse.

Some studies reveal that children only talk for five to ten minutes in an average eight-hour school day. These are classrooms where teachers do the vast majority of the talking. 

“Research affirms that students benefit from rich student-to-student and teacher-to-student interactions as they build academic language and concepts,” shares Hopkins. “At Imagine Learning, we celebrate and support educators who encourage their students to engage in rich academic discourse around important, grade-level content and concepts. We know that students acquire academic language best when it is contextualized within big ideas, content-specific registers, and taught within phrases—as opposed to word-by-word.” 

An article by Jeff Zwiers, a senior researcher at Stanford Graduate School of Education, argues that teachers can foster opportunities for academic discourse in classrooms with purposeful planning. “Teachers should create situations that challenge students to communicate with words and conversational patterns characteristic of cognitive language,” posits Zwiers. “Urge students to take the perspective of their listeners into account, exchange ideas respectfully, and clarify their message at key points.” (2)

The challenge for teachers is to facilitate regular participation in productive academic discourse. Skilled educators foster collaborative discussions of learning between students, and between teachers and students, that can deepen understanding for all involved.

Read More: The value of mastering "academic language"

The Goal: Student Writing

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Each of these educational hot topics ultimately feeds the writing process for students. By setting high standards and fully expecting students will reach those standards, then providing complex and compelling texts and opportunities for productive discourse in the classroom, children are primed to write about meaningful concepts.

Hopkins agrees. “It makes sense: if we expose students to exciting ideas, then give them ample opportunity to read interesting texts and build knowledge together, they’ll be able to write with deeper insights and vastly more interesting details.”

It’s clear that educators who incorporate an assets orientation and high expectations into their personal theory of action are likely to see their students grow into confident and resilient learners who are college- and career-ready.

[1] Fillmore, L.W. & Fillmore, C. J. (2012) What does text complexity mean for English learners and language minority students? Understanding Language: Language, Literacy, and Learning in the Content Areas. Retrieved on Aug 23, 2018, from: http://ell.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/pdf/academic-papers/06-LWF%20CJF%20Text%20Complexity%20FINAL_0.pdf

[2] Zwiers, J. (2008) Developing the Language of Thinking. Educational Leadership, 65. Retrieved on Aug 23, 2018, from: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/summer08/vol65/…

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