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Stories by Leah Shafer

By Leah Shafer 07/27/2017 2:26 PM EDT
Contextualizing Eating Disorders
Just as 13 Reasons Why faced criticism for sensationalizing of suicide, Netflix’s new film To the Bone is stirring fears about how young viewers might perceive its depiction of eating disorders. The film follows a 20-year-old woman’s battle with anorexia as she enters an inpatient facility, meets residents struggling with similar addictions, and recognizes the strain her disease has on her family. To the Bone has been praised by some for its portrayal of anorexia as an illness, rather than simply a desire to be thin, and for its hopeful-but-uncertain ending for Eli, the protagonist. But other...
By Leah Shafer 07/13/2017 8:26 AM EDT
Photo of woman teacher with her arm around a young girl, helping her with an art project
When a preschooler repeatedly acts out — ignoring directions, throwing, hitting —  teachers may reach a breaking point, where bonds with that child weaken or don’t get established at all. Teachers may encourage less, berate more, or ignore the child, even though this is the very student who often needs the most support. Finding ways to reduce teacher stress in these situations is a vital part of ensuring better outcomes for individual children — and more equitable school experiences for all. That’s because teacher support has a lasting influence on kids’ readiness to learn. When teachers...
By Leah Shafer 06/20/2017 5:03 PM EDT
Photo of elementary school circle time
As the benefits of social-emotional learning (SEL) have become clear, schools have seen a blossoming of programs that aim to equip students with fundamental executive function, emotional, and interpersonal skills. But with so many areas of focus under the SEL umbrella, how can system leaders choose which program will be effective in their specific settings? For the first time, a new guide takes a deep dive into 25 evidence-based SEL programs, outlining and comparing their curricula and programmatic features. System leaders can use the report to select from among the top SEL programs and find...
By Leah Shafer 06/13/2017 3:25 PM EDT
Summer Learning Happens at Home
Where’s the best place for summer learning? (Hint: Don’t look far.) As the achievement gap has widened over the past quarter century, educators have increasingly focused on summer pastimes as both a key factor and a solution. Higher-income children are more likely to fill their days with outdoorsy camps, music and coding classes, and travel. Making those experiences more accessible to and commonplace for all children, the theory goes, can help ensure that low-income kids keep learning at the same rate. But time spent at home, reading independently or talking about books and stories with...
By Leah Shafer 06/01/2017 10:28 AM EDT
One and All
With its emphasis on perspective-taking, public speaking, and exploring difficult themes, theater is a valuable medium for teaching kids about social justice. After working with students for more than a decade on pieces related to bullying and human rights, performing arts teacher Ruthie Pincus founded the New York–based nonprofit Stage the Change in 2012 to empower students and schools to take a stand against discrimination. We spoke with Pincus about how theater programs can transform school communities. Theater can “break students out of their bubbles.” When students write a monologue from...
By Leah Shafer 05/25/2017 3:20 PM EDT
  The spring rain couldn’t dampen the thousands of smiles on Radcliffe Yard today as Dean James Ryan remarked on a core characteristic of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s graduating class: heart. This was a year “full of genuine surprises,” he said. “In the face of the deep divisions the election highlighted, you responded with concern but also with care, compassion, empathy, and, most importantly, with love.” He continued, “I think each class at HGSE has a defining quality, and I have come to think of your class as exceptionally big-hearted, in large part because of what I...
By Leah Shafer 05/17/2017 4:11 PM EDT
When Reading Gets Harder
For years, we’ve thought that the answer to boosting adolescent reading comprehension lay in building students’ vocabulary. Teens often struggle with the jargon and advanced terminology they encounter as they move into middle and high school, so educators have designed curricula and interventions that explicitly teach these complex words. But these strategies aren’t always fully effective, according to literacy researcher Paola Uccelli. As she writes, many of these interventions have yielded “significant growth in vocabulary knowledge yet only modest gains in reading comprehension.” Too many...
By Leah Shafer 05/10/2017 2:39 PM EDT
Parents as Allies in Reducing Absences
Chronic absenteeism, defined as missing more than 10 percent of school days in a year, is one of biggest barriers to school success — one that a variety of states are targeting in their accountability plans under ESSA (the Every Student Succeeds Act). It’s an issue for children as young as kindergarten and first grade, whose poor attendance can hurt academic performance and set a pattern for years to come. Parents can be powerful allies in preventing the problem and creating solutions. New research supports that idea, finding that simple, low-cost strategies to target parental beliefs about...
By Leah Shafer 05/04/2017 10:43 AM EDT
Insights for Innovation
[View the story "Insights for Innovation" on Storify]
By Leah Shafer 04/20/2017 3:32 PM EDT
Talking About Race in Mostly White Schools
In past articles (here and here, for example), Usable Knowledge has explored the dynamics of talking about race in schools, especially in the aftermath of incidents of bias or trauma. The assumption has been that race is a pressing and relevant topic, one that educators and students are, or should be, actively seeking to confront. But in segregated schools where most people are white or majority-identified, are those conversations happening? We wanted to take a look at how to give young people in those schools a point of entry. When racially charged controversies dominate the news cycle, some...


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