Critical Perspectives

William Wilen

William Wilen

Wait Time

Entry, Middle, and Closing Questions

Convergent and Divergent Questions

Questioning Techniques

Posted by Jessica Willhide in Critical Perspectives
William Raspberry

William Raspberry

A Critical Perspective from William Raspberry on Borders and Barriers


The best teachers — I don’t mean the most highly trained teachers — but the best teachers are able to look at examples of collaboration in everything from a business office to a symphony orchestra, and figure out from that, pick from that, some things that they could apply in their own academic collaborations. I think the exchange may be about as unstructured and indirect as that.


Some parents (and we’ve all encountered them) are very much into expanding their horizons — becoming men and women of the world and moving away from their provincial attitudes. But some parents are quite frightened of their children’s efforts to reach out and become a little worldlier citizens, and they keep issuing cautions — especially if it’s across racial lines. And it’s not just the white people who do it, by the way. Any number of black parents are quite nervous about their children falling into relationships that are genuine and successful across racial lines. But they fear that once you are out of this little cocoon, you’re going to be expecting people to deal with you fairly as just another human being, and somebody will smack you with a cold towel. We want to protect our kids. We want our kids to know how to deal with all kinds of human beings. And we spend half our time protecting them from meeting any such people.


I’m not sure that it’s the teachers role to lead the demonstration and to do the kind of protests and so on. I’ll give you an example of both a teachable moment and also of a collaboration of something we talked about a minute ago. We had quite a ruckus on our campus a year ago when David Horowitz ran an ad in our school paper “Ten Reason Why Reparations are a Bad Idea and Racist” and the piece was pretty raw. It had the earmarks of a racist attitude, and the students went a little nuts on campus — the minority students did (the African-American students in particular). And we wound up having some forums to talk about it, because they thought (it wasn’t about Horowitz) but they thought their paper should not poison their community with this stuff. Well, we let that one play out, but another professor and I — we took the moment, because a large part of what was going on was a sense that, uh, not that Horowitz was much of a part of it, but it exposed the sense on campus that a lot of the black kids didn’t really feel welcomed and embraced on campus. Nobody was saying nasty stuff to them, but they just didn’t feel a complete part. So, Zoe Brown and I took this as a point of departure, and divided our classes into teams to explore what might we do on this campus to help knit the campus into a community. What had been happening on that campus and in campuses across America is that each subgroup of the campus gets busy working on its own grievances with the unstated expectation that if every subgroup works on its grievances and gets some resolve the result will be some kind of community on campus. It’s quite the opposite. It has the effect — it’s likely to have the effect — of pulling the campus apart in a hundred different directions, unless somebody is working on knitting the campus into a community. So we’ve had our students look at their own community and see what they might do, and some really terrific papers came out of it.


It’s so easy to slop over from the knowledge that some children come from reduced circumstances. Well, you know, they’re here. One can’t expect much more than that they should be here, and not make trouble and occasionally do some decent work. And it’s very hard if you’re not an experienced teacher and haven’t had some kind of help to figure out how to encourage kids to try their level best and to make them believe that they can succeed at a high level. Feeling sorry for kids is really not educating them.


Clever teachers (and there are a lot of them) can find ways to let the test be what it ought to be — that is to say a proxy for the course work. You can ask a few items about a Shakespeare play, and if you get those right, the assumption is that you read the play and know the play, but it’s also possible to learn the answers to those three questions without ever having cracked the book, and it’s that second thing that kind of scares me, but I must say if you put a sort of life and death choice on a teacher between having great and improving test scores on the one hand, and having kids have a thorough and general knowledge of the subject matter, but maybe not doing quite so well on the test, most teachers will have to go for the first.


You can’t let them get off the hook! You can praise them to the skies for “the terrific work you did on the rest of it.” If he were a basketball coach instead of a teacher, and Jamal learned to do just one terrific job of dribbling, but banged (bricked) off the backboard every time he shot, he’d have to say, “Hey son, great ball handling. Let’s work on the shot. You have to do both things.” And Jamal needed to learn that, and he needed to learn it at a time when he could be receptive to it because he was being praised for having done outstanding work.


Well, you know, I’m for affirmative action, but then so’s everybody depending on how you define it, and I don’t think we have time to do that tonight. It’s one of those ideas that everybody, I think, virtually everybody is for and everybody’s against depending on how you define it. I think we’re still at a point in our society where it’s important to be sensitive to racial discrepancy. Not every racial discrepancy is a result of racism, and one ought to be aware of that. But one oughtn’t be too casual about what may be discrimination. One ought to be fairly assertive about making sure that our major institutions (for instance) care about being representative. It should be very distressing to anybody now if we had a Supreme Court that consisted of 9 white guys. Frankly, I don’t think it’ll ever happen again. We’ve become that sensitive. Does that mean that suppose the nine white guys are the best Supreme Court candidates — well, there’s no such animal. And that’s the truth in most things. We keep making analogies to athletics. You know, the one who runs the hundred yard dash the fastest gets the trophy. That’s true. But most of life isn’t like a foot race. It really isn’t.


I think we have insufficiently owned up to the huge power of what happens to children at home long before they ever get near a school. And we, because we are reluctant to criticize homes (except those of us who come at it so harshly that criticism has a reverse effect), we wind up putting a burden on schools to do things that perhaps schools are not able to do. Whether this speaks directly to that person’s question or not, I think we need to spend some time working with homes, working with parents, especially parents of young children (young pre-schoolers), getting them ready for school learning. The kids mostly come to school eager to learn. They have not, in many cases, developed the habits that facilitate learning, and these are not really difficult to teach. You don’t need to be a college graduate, or even a high school graduate to do them. But they have to be taught. Most of us, who as parents do these things well, had to have parents who did them well. If you have a parent who wasn’t very good at this ‘getting kids ready to learn’ thing, the chances are the kid’s not going to be any good at it, either, so we have to step in.


Typically, in H.B.C.U.’s, we’re talking about kids who have had a less adequate preparation pre-college, and if that’s so — and we keep arguing that it is so — this lack of preparation or this lesser preparation has consequences. Some schools used to try to correct for it by in effect inserting another year between high school graduation and college freshmanhood. But then the other principle kicks in. You’re saying it’s going to take this kid five years, and this kid’s mother and father five years of tuition payments to get out of school, when everyone else does it in four — that’s not fair. If the kid comes in and does what the teacher requires, why shouldn’t he move on in four? Well, of course that’s precisely what happens. But the teacher’s teach generally to the middle and if lots of kids are in that freshman class who are not fully prepared to be full-fledged college students, the teaching will reflect that. It’s a wonderful thought to think that everywhere in America — from Harvard University to Delta State — that every student of freshman English will get the same thing and at the same level of intensity. Ain’t gonna happen, and it probably shouldn’t happen.


Students should be encouraged to mingle, but mingling for the sake of mingling kind of reminds me of the old days when they used to say “Take one to lunch week.” Mingling has — self-segregation has some interesting permutations. I’m certainly not the first to point this out. Nobody ever goes to the school cafeteria and says, “Why are all those white kids sitting at that table?.” If they ask about self-segregation, it’s always about minority kids being at the table. White kids sitting at the table (if the entire table is white) are not thought to be self-segregating. Now the kids may have any number of reasons for sitting together at the table — I mean minority kids. Not least of which is the comfort level. There are always kids who — white and black — who are quite comfortable mingling, and I think the modeling of that is important. The one thing I must say in response to that question that I strongly, strongly object to, and it’s not that rare still is that sometimes minority kids put pressure on other minority kids not to mingle. Not a few times have I heard some version of, “You gonna hang with them, or you gonna hang with us?,” as though it’s a choice that must be made, and it’s a permanent choice. I would say the first step is the permissive one — that everybody ought to feel free to deal with people with whom he or she feels they have something in common.


It is right, and it plays out in some interesting ways. When you and I were kids, and I mean grown-up kids, a couple of things used to happen. When we were grown-ups, we’d go to parties, and if I saw two other black people at this integrated party, we’d all acknowledge each other, but we made a point of not clinging. Mingle, Dammit! When I was in school, a few years before that, there were only about a dozen or so of us black kids at this little school I attended, but if three were sitting together at a table in the snack bar, when a fourth one came up, the fourth one was obligated to go and start a new table somewhere. Now kids absolutely don’t care about the mingling on that level. They like to be free to hang with who they’d like to hang with. But those were the days when we were quite self-consciously working at racial integration. I’ve got mixed feeling about our abandonment of that as a goal. It had some sort of silly manifestations in the old days, but at least we thought of it. We thought about it, and we spent some time working at it. I think more time than we do now.


I’m not sure that there are significant numbers of black kids who think college is not for them because of their skin color. There is an enormous pool of kids out there who think college is not for them because they think they’re not smart enough for college. And we need to do what we can, and not just at college, but well before that, to help kids understand what the real deal is. It’s the thing that middle class people know — that poor people often don’t figure out — that you don’t have to be terrifically smart to make it in this world — to make it solidly into the middle class. If you are reasonably bright, and willing to work, you can probably do pretty well. Some kids have the notion that college is for geniuses or, you know, people who sort of test off the charts. It ain’t so. People who want to pursue careers that require college almost always have the ability to absorb. They probably oughtn’t be at the Ivys, but there are colleges, maybe even with the interim stint of a community college, where they can get their game together, just as people do in athletics. You need a chance to get your game together.


I’m very leery of asking people as a matter of routine to try to do really delicate stuff that they have no training and perhaps no aptitude for. If I’m hearing the question correctly, you’re talking about work that therapists, and counselors, and psychologists and psychiatrists work at all the time — sometimes with exemplary results. I think that what most of us can do is to show kids that we care about them, that we really do care about them. We care what happens to them, we’re available to them, and if there’s something that’s hurting that we can help stop hurting, we’re willing and able to do that. And that’s about all. I think we need to keep our mitts off their little psyches. We don’t know what we’re doing.

Posted by Jessica Willhide in Critical Perspectives
William H. Schmidt

William H. Schmidt

The Rationale for Focusing on Mathematical Coherence

Developing a Deeper Understanding of Mathematical Topics

Issues of Coherence in K-12 Mathematics

Additional Issues of Coherence in High School Mathematics

The Importance of Algebra in the High School Mathematics Curriculum

Detriments to Micro and Macro Coherence

The Role of Coherence in Equitable Instruction

The Need for Coherent Standards

Lack of Coherence in Textbooks

Posted by Jessica Willhide in Critical Perspectives
William Blanton

William Blanton

William E. Blanton came to the University of Miami in 2000 from Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, where he was professor of curriculum and instruction, and chairperson of the Department of Reading Education. Prior to joining the faculty at Appalachian, Blanton was a faculty member at Indiana University, as well as associate director of the ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Coordinator of the Office for Reading and Language Studies. He earned his Ed.D. at the University of Georgia. Blanton has written extensively in the area of reading, edited professional journals and co-authored basic reading programs. His publications cover reading tests for the secondary grades, preschool reading instruction, measuring reading performance, “power reading,” and similar topics.

Dr. Blanton provides Teaching Reading in the Content Areas issues.

Dr. Blanton discusses exceptional students.

Dr. Blanton covers differences and similarities between on-campus and off-campus courses.

Dr. Blanton examines the use of on line journals.

Posted by Jessica Willhide in Critical Perspectives
Susan Allan

Susan Allan

Dr. Susan Allan

On the Administrator’s Role in Differentiation

It’s really frustrating for a teacher, if they’re trying to implement differentiation and particularly if there’s some accountability, and the administrator themselves is unfamiliar with the concept or is unfamiliar with the principles. So I would say that the minimum for the school administrator is that they themselves should have developed a basic understanding of what differentiation should look like in the classroom.

In terms of what they need to be able to do is, in essence, they need to be able to support differentiation and they need to be able to support their teachers’ efforts toward differentiation. And that means that they also have to have learned some administrative techniques, some administrative tactics that might actually make it more likely to happen within the building. Almost all of the research about grouping would support flexible grouping, and particularly differentiation. One of the problems that’s existed in education is that there is a real misunderstanding of the research on tracking. The research on tracking makes it clear that most groups of students, the exception being gifted students, but most groups of students, don’t benefit from tracking. That is very different from research on targeted grouping. The research, when students are grouped by the actual area of academic need — in other words, a student who is advanced in language arts is grouped for language arts, not necessarily for everything, shows very very positive results. And so part of the problem has been, I think, a real misunderstanding, and some of the popular educational literature has unfortunately contributed to that. They use the words grouping and tracking as if they were interchangeable and they are not interchangeable.

Grouping and Differentiation

I also think, though, that we do want to make extensive use of heterogeneity in a great many classes. And the point of differentiation is that is shows you how you can do that effectively. If you’ve developed a heterogeneous classroom and then proceed to teach it as if it is a homogeneous classroom, that’s the point at which some of the middle school instruction goes off the track. And so, I think that the acknowledgement that if we are going to have heterogeneous classrooms in many content areas, and I, incidentally, think a mix is very reasonable, I think having advanced and accelerated classes in math or, potentially, in language arts, are very well supported by the research. But if there’s going to be heterogeneity in some of them, then indeed you have to plan for , and that planning is the really key piece. We have a new teacher orientation and a new teacher academy for our new teachers, and one of the things I tell them is, there aren’t very many things I can promise you are going to remain stable in education. The financing is certainly changing, the testing is changing, and the accountability is changing, the politics about it are changing, and the curriculum is changing. The one thing I can promise you every year, is that there is going to be a range of learner needs in your classroom. And that, I can promise you, is going to be the same every year. The irony, is that, in education, every year, we act like that’s a surprise. It’s the one constant, and yet we act surprised by it.

Selling Differentiation

I find most parents are delighted when you say, “I’m going to try to modify instruction or modify curriculum in order to most appropriately meet your child’s needs.” The only two areas where I see parent concern: one has to do with, if they feel that the groupings are arbitrary. I think we always have to be prepared in terms of pre-assessment with parents and being ready to show them, “here’s how I assess your child’s needs right now, but I’m ready to change that on a dime if your child’s needs change.” And that’s the flexible part of the grouping. So, I think that, as long as we can explain to the parent, “here’s the need, and here’s the connection in how I’m doing your child’s instruction,” that works very smoothly.

Instructional Leadership

I think sometimes as administrators, we need to understand how important our recognition of the teacher is, how important our encouragement is. Some of the teachers, even when they first learn about differentiation, are very nervous about losing control in the classroom, and the administrator making it clear that they feel supportive of that going on, that they’re not going to be upset if sometimes something doesn’t work because sometimes something won’t. Everything we do isn’t a success. I think it’s very important to make it clear that they feel tolerant of that, and more than tolerant, that they’re really encouraging the teacher to take that risk. Most of the teachers in my district know what my philosophy is, and yet I know sometimes when I’ve shown up at their door, and they have multiple things going on, they’ll start to say, “Dr. Allan, this is really OK. That one’s working on that, and this one’s working on this�” And I say, “I’m fine with it. That’s great. I don’t expect to walk into your room and seem them all in their little desks, facing front.” And they’ll say, “Oh, well I know that.” But they still need that kind of encouragement, to know that it’s OK to have multiple things going on in their room. It’s OK for the teacher not to be the center of attention. It’s more than OK for students to be working on different things that are suitable. And as administrators, we have to try and remember to take the time in order to provide the ed. leadership and to support them in it.

And I think we also sometimes forget to take the time for our own learning. You get very absorbed in other people’s. And yet again, it’s really, really important that the administrator understands the fundamental concepts and goals of differentiation. Otherwise it won’t be possible to give appropriate feedback, because you won’t know what’s quality and what isn’t.

Posted by Jessica Willhide in Critical Perspectives
Sandra Kaplan

Sandra Kaplan

Dr. Sandra Kaplan

Effective Differentiation

I think that characteristics of effectively differentiated curriculum for gifted students probably depends on who you’re talking to, in some ways. Which is probably one of the really important things to consider. Because there is a body of knowledge that talks about what is effective that generalizes over peoples’ particular proclivities for curriculum or peoples’ particular expertise in curriculum. But it seems to me, if you were to analyze the body of knowledge, one of the things that you would start to realize is that it can be divided into four areas. One area is the area that relates to thinking skills and the development of those thinking skills that enable one to be a better problem solver and critical thinker and creative producer.

The second area would be the area relating to content, or subject matter acquisition. And you would see within that body things that relate to understanding the natures of disciplines, understanding how to develop an awareness of things in a more in-depth and complex manner, understanding what we call “big ideas” or generalizations, principles, and theories, understanding universal concepts such as change and systems and their application to content, and understanding interdisciplinary connections–how they’re forged, what we mean by those connections. And, I think, a third area, that’s kind of, for me, starting to emanate that might be a real effective concern in the content area would be to really understand how you can see areas that connect within disciplines not just between disciplines. So when I talk about interdisciplinary, I don’t want to miss the opportunity of intradisciplinary kinds of connections.

And I think the third area is the area that has to do with research–being able to be an investigator, to be able to use multiple and varied references to access material, to look at its authenticity and so forth.

And the last one is product development. That students at this point in their gifted development should be able to do the work of a true disciplinarian. So a lot of the gimmicky things, like making dioramas, unless they can be related to the work of the disciplinarian, will kind of fall by the wayside.

Gifted Education and the Core Curriculum

I can certainly remember when I was a young teacher of the gifted, one of the things that was discussed was, “don’t worry about the regular curriculum, that’s too paltry, it’s not significant enough, it doesn’t really have any bearing on what we want to do for gifted children.” That’s terribly different than what we know now, because of the standards movement and, I think, the real thorough examination of what is important for kids to be able to understand and do, etc., has really helped us understand that anything we do for gifted children should be based on an assessment of where they are in their relationship to the core curriculum.

Essential Aspects of Differentiated Curricula

What we absolutely, positively have to have is some sort of philosophical orientation to what is differentiation. In the contemporary sense, people talk about differentiation as an organizational structure, there are those of us who talk about differentiation as a curricular structure, there are those of us who talk about differentiation as an instructional structure, and basically, we really need to clarify our nomenclature so that differentiation has at least a common base. Otherwise, in the name of gifted children, we’re doing all kinds of different things. Some people think that if you’ve rearranged the classroom and have small groups, you’ve differentiated. It’s what’s inside that rearrangement, that organizational pattern, the content, the thinking skills, etc., that are really important. So, a common understanding and a philosophical base that drives that understanding is really important.

Secondly, I think it’s time for scope and sequence. If think as we look at gifted children and we look at their matriculation in gifted programs over the years, it seems to me that there’s a tremendous amount of redundancy on the part of what they have to experience and what the teachers are teaching, obviously. And so we need to think about, well, if we want to create students who are able to be researchers, what are the expectations for research at primary, upper elementary, middle school, and high school, and be much more definitive about this sojourn for gifted kids.

And I think the third thing that would be terribly essential would be the idea that we understand that there are times when gifted students have to be part of the regular curriculum, times when they have to be part of this differentiated curriculum, times when they have to work alone, times when they work with a group, times when they are teacher-directed, and times when they are inquiry-based. And that we don’t slant the experiences of gifted children in a way that can disable them from having this full range of experiences based on need, interest, and ability and not teacher whim, or the idea of the latest fad that is moving by.

Preparing Teachers for Differentiation

It seems to me that there are some practices that we have worked with that really work well. So I’d like to share what I think might be some things to really consider. One is that we need to get away from kind of just coming and sitting and listening. And leaving all of us who have presented keeping our fingers crossed that it’s all going to work. I think that we have to have many more opportunities to follow people into classrooms and do more on-site, consultative kind of work. And so one of the things that we’ve done, in some of the programs in Los Angeles, is to actually say, OK, you have three different levels at which you can participate. One level you can participate in learning about differentiated curriculum is to come and sit and bring your books and we’ll help you within the context of this professional development session to really do some kind of transfer from what we’ve talked about to what you might be able to do with the teacher’s manual in your own curricular units.

The second group that we’re kind of looking for and we’re asking teachers to select into, is to come, listen, participate, and then take exemplars of good curriculum and try it. So you’re really walking through what a quality differentiation might be, and record some of the responses of students and so forth, and videotape for us what it is that you’ve done, so that we can sit together at another point in time and really look at dissecting. Not your teaching, per se, but the effects of differentiation. So that you can start to internalize it and see what you can make your own.

And the last is to really develop teachers this kind of, we’ll come to your classroom and demonstrate what it looks like with your children. And then you demonstrate what it looks like with your children. And then to sit there and really do the kind of collegial interaction that allows them to see what happens when you differentiate, what they look like when they differentiate from the feedback, and to try to then set them up as demonstration teachers, so that we have places throughout the school district where people can actually go and see what we’re talking about and not just listen to what we’re talking about. So that’s one way.

The other way is to keep in contact. And we really try to think about–and it’s certainly easy in this technological age–to do online chatting. So that we have networks. And if you’ve gone to a conference and you’ve listened to what it is we’re talking about in terms of differentiation, then you have feedback and you can chit-chat with people and say “this is what happened, this is how it worked.” And we can then respond to it. But I think unless we do some kind of means by which we can establish the relationship–the curricular relationship and make sure that we’re translating theory into practice we’re not going to get any further in this whole thing about differentiation than just having a nice attendance at a conference.

Meeting the Needs of Various Gifted Learners

I think that one of the things in a first class gifted education that might be important–and this is a bias of mine–is to really understand that the context, the contemporary life conditions of gifted children shape who they are. So the traditional concepts of looking at curiosity or looking at things like a wide variety of interests or being empathetic or whatever that delineation of characteristics might be changes. It certainly changes if you have children in your class who are new immigrants. It certainly changes if you have children who are living in poverty. And I don’t see people kind of readjusting the definitions. I think kids are curious now, regardless of the diversity which they come from, or the kind of setting in which they live, are very different because of the technological advances that they’ve had and their experiences give them very different kinds of curiosities than the students I started to teach many years ago. And I don’t think that you can really differentiate curriculum if your mindset is based on a 1950 definition of who gifted children are.

So how do we keep updating our perceptions of who gifted kids are, so that we can hold constant the ends. We still want them to be able to develop their critical thinking, their investigative research skills, but what are the means? How do those means change to this end as you’re looking at this contemporary definition of who a gifted child is?

Posted by Jessica Willhide in Critical Perspectives
Ron Sofo

Ron Sofo

Rigor and Relevance in the classroom

Supporting the transition to block scheduling

Improving student motivation through grades

Building a culture of success

Improving test scores 

Reflection: the fourth “R”

Posted by Jessica Willhide in Critical Perspectives
Peter Noonan

Peter Noonan

Noonan describes the rationale behind the development of Young Scholars.

Noonan discusses the flexibility and adaptability of the Young Scholars philosophy.

Noonan describes three ways Fairfax County Public Schools is tacking the achievement gap: content, pedagogy, and relationships.

Posted by Jessica Willhide in Critical Perspectives
Peggy Cuevas

Peggy Cuevas

Peggy D. Cuevas joined the University of Miami as a research associate in 2003. Her work, with Principal Investigator Dr. Okhee Lee, is focused on a NSF/US-DOE/NIH funded research grant investigating science learning and literacy development with linguistically diverse elementary students. Cuevas teaches for the Department of Teaching and Learning focusing on assessment and remediation of reading problems. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Miami. She is a former classroom teacher and school administrator.

Dr. Cuevas discusses fluency. 

Dr. Cuevas explores one definition of culture.

Dr. Cuevas explains readers’ theatre.

Posted by Jessica Willhide in Critical Perspectives