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Stories by Leah Shafer

By Leah Shafer 06/20/2017 5:03 PM EDT
a photograph of an 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 social-emotional learning (SEL) programs, outlining and comparing their curricula and programmatic features. System leaders can use the report to select from among...
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 04/19/2017 1:38 PM EDT
Smarter Tech to Smooth the Path to College
After college acceptance letters arrive, the complexity and sheer number of tasks required to actually enroll — complete FAFSA, submit a final transcript, pay a housing deposit, obtain immunizations, among many other things — thwart the plans of many high school grads to matriculate. Between 10 and 40 percent of intended students fall into this “summer melt” pattern, and aspiring first-generation students, who are more likely to lack the prior knowledge and support to complete these steps, are particularly susceptible. Guidance counselors and admissions officers can provide valuable...
By Leah Shafer 04/18/2017 1:37 PM EDT
photo illustration of a municipal building or state capital
Following the 2012 enactment of a landmark bullying prevention law, Washington, D.C., has taken a more comprehensive approach to youth bullying than many other cities — an approach that sees prevention as not solely the responsibility of teachers or parents, but as a citywide mandate with shared responsibilities. In fact, every city agency in D.C. that provides services to children is required to implement a bullying prevention policy. We spoke to Suzanne Greenfield, the director of the Citywide Youth Bullying Prevention Program, about what’s made D.C.’s program effective. The city has a...
By Leah Shafer 04/17/2017 4:28 PM EDT
The Other Achievement Gap
On average, Asian American students obtain higher grades, perform better on standardized tests, and are more likely to finish high school and attend elite colleges than their peers of all other racial backgrounds, regardless of socioeconomic status. It’s a success rate stemming from powerful family commitment to education, behavioral psychologist Todd Pittinsky says in a recent Phi Delta Kappan article, reflecting the view of many scholars who have looked at this trend. Individual students and families vary, of course, but what can we learn from success — while taking care to avoid...