Around the Web: New Year, New Semester

Happy New Year!

With the start of a new semester comes the opportunity to tweak your teaching persona and to try a couple of new approaches. Faculty Focus reports the results of a survey in which students were asked to describe their ideal professor and their typical professor, and suggests one way to bridge the gap: tips for improving out-of-class communication with students. Tomorrow’s Professor posts a chapter from John C. Bean’s Engaging Ideas: The Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom that anatomizes the stumbling blocks students encounter on their way to “deep” reading. At Lingua Franca, Geoffrey Pullum explains the difference between Normal English and Formal English, a distinction worth considering when designing writing assignments.

The self-esteem backlash: D.C.-area public schools are adopting new vocabulary to praise students. Gone are token accolades; in their place, a more rigorous vocabulary of skill level (“novice” to “expert”), “persistence,” “risk-taking,” and neural development. The New York Times reports on the neuroscience underlying the new emphasis, in particular the impact of brain development on middle and late life. For example, earning a college degree seems to slow the brain’s aging process by 10 years. At the university level, the shift from empty praise to rigor translates into professors who model intellectual struggle for their students: rather than present themselves as infallible experts, they tackle new problems while their students watch. Saturday Night Live parodies the unfortunate results of empty praise.

Other innovations to keep an eye on: Time Magazine named 12 education activists to watch in 2012. Also in Time, Annie Murphy Paul reflects on a study of the Socratic method. Using one of Plato’s dialogues as a script, Brazilian researchers asked participants the same questions Socrates asked Meno’s slave. Their surprising findings: study participants gave almost the same answers as their Ancient Greek counterpart did, but they rarely learned the lesson the questions were supposed to teach. Plato predicted with remarkable accuracy the human brain’s reasoning process, but he grossly overestimated the teaching power of the Socratic method. Faculty Focus explains the teaching power of “transformative learning,” and the four steps crucial to making it happen. Finland’s outstanding educational system, which many have been touting as a model for the U.S. to follow, has been getting a ton of attention recently. Larry Ferlazzo tracks the conversation with a list he updates as new reports and articles appear. A bit closer to home, NPR News reports on the controversy over Arizona’s recently suspended Mexican-American studies program, interviewing state superintendent John Huppenthal and Tuscon School Board member Adelita Grijalva.

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