All posts by Michael Bromley

Founder and President of School4Schools.com LLC & The A+ Club, Bromley taught Social Studies for seven years at Archbishop Carroll High School in NE Washington, DC. Bromley is a historian, published author, entrepreneur, and dedicated teacher. School4Schools.com LLC and The + Club are Bromley's expression of enthusiasm and love for students.

Five tips on how to “study better” for an exam: extending memorization for brain memory and recall

memoryWhen students say they don’t “test well” or that they “don’t know how to study,” parents and teachers often respond with suggestions — and criticism — to, well, just “study harder.” Great. But what does “study harder” actually mean?

We can see how “studying harder” might actually work if we divide learning into the two distinct parts of:

  • Factual Knowledge
  • Application of Knowledge

The first is straight memory, while the second requires its application, by which we mean extension through comparison, analysis, evaluation, and so on. Thereby “studying harder” requires development of first, factual knowledge, and, second, using it. Continue reading

Laptop, Tablet, or Desktop? Google Docs or Office 365? Which technology is best for high school and college?

What’s best for school, a laptop, tablet, or PC?

Heading back to school always feels like a fresh start. And like a new set of clothes, getting a new device just makes you feel good.

But for high school and college students, freshmen especially, the choice of technology can really impact academic performance. The wrong choice can make school difficult or, worse, become an excuse not to do well.

Into the start of the 2016-17 school year, I thought it’s time for an update from previous posts here on the topic. The technologies haven’t changed much, but there are more options — and most importantly, more affordable ones.


Here for previous posts on the best technology for school:
College bound: desktop, laptop or tablet? PC or Mac?
The Best Computers for College: desktop, laptop or tablet? PC or Mac pt 2


What has changed significantly, though, is the “cloud.” Continue reading

Student web searches on why I have to do homework & how a misguided SEO program taught us a lot about students

essay revision and draftingSearch engine results reveal much about ourselves, something worth reminding both teens and their parents. Not only can a search history flag a teen’s behavioral choices, such as being frustrated over grades and homework, it tells us what’s going on in general.

And web searches can even predict the future, such as a Bing analysis of web searches that accurately predicted the onset of pancreatic cancer before diagnosis (see article here).

With teenage students, their web searches certainly tell us what’s on their mind, usually something tied to popular culture, music, sports, movies, etc. When it comes to academics and school work, which are our concerns, here at the Student Success Blog, we have accidently discovered an interesting little indicator of student standing and cries for help in some of the search engine requests that have led to clicks on our site. Continue reading

Dan Bozzuto on Effective Teaching, Learning & Standardized Tests: Student Success Podcast no. 27

Dan Bozzuto explores the difficulties to replicate great teachers, the inherent problems with standardized testing, and some great ideas on how to address both.

Part 1/2, featuring Dan Bozzuto, award winning educator and inspired classroom teacher. Dan considers my question, “are good teachers replicable?” which takes him to standardized tests and other obstacles to student learning, including to question the very purpose of modern education.

This podcast is just a start to the essential questions of modern education, which Dan and Michael will carry forward in an upcoming Part 2 interview with Dan Bozzuto.

Student Success Podcast No. 27, published July 19, 2016 (recorded on Aug 9, 2015).

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ADD: a reminder for parents what “Attention Deficit” really means

Parents of a student who has been diagnosed with “Attention Deficit,” commonly known as “ADD” and “ADHD,” get a reminder every hour of every day that by, “attention deficit,” ADD is more than some inability to focus.

Wikipedia defines “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder” (ADHD) as:

characterized by problems paying attention, excessive activity, or difficulty controlling behavior which is not appropriate for a person’s age.

The key words here are, “paying attention,” something that I am reminded of as I jumped up from my living room chair at the smell of my burning breakfast. My wife would remind me that I always burn the roast. I remind her that she should remind me when I put something on the stove.

A wise, wonderful person, my Belgian host-mother during my student exchange year to Tournai, Belgium, told me (in French), “Michael, you try to do too much at once.”

My own mother wouldn’t disagree, especially during those numerous emergency visits for another round of stitches needed because I wasn’t “paying attention” again. Continue reading

Sleepers Awake: a celebration of J. Reilly Lewis, master organist, conductor & educator

J. Reilly Lewis, world-renowned conductor, organist, and expert on the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and our dear friend, died unexpectedly last week.

A Friend to All

We called him our friend because, for Reilly, if you were a friend of Bach, you were a friend of Reilly’s — and if you were a friend of Reilly’s you could not help but be a friend of Johann Sebastian Bach.

We were both. We were both because Reilly was a true teacher who was passionate about his craft, welcoming and enthusiastic for his learners, and compassionate and patient for those who didn’t know it — like the best teacher, a friend to all.

Reilly welcomed his friends several Sundays each year at the National Presbyterian Church, whose organ he called one of the best in the world, and on occasional Tuesdays at the Church of Epiphany on 13th Street, for “Noontime Cantatas.” Reilly’s Washington Bach Consort is a premier musical organization in Washington DC whose performances are part of the permanent collection at the Library of Congress.

Reluctant Learners

A few years ago, the musical director at my high school and I brought a rather unwilling group of about a dozen or her Music Theory 9th graders  to a “Noontime Cantata.” Reilly loved nothing more than for students to attend his concerts.

The value in it for the kids was the trip itself, hanging out with their friends and missing their other classes. The cost in it was to have to sit through a classical music concert. These were Catholic school students, so they knew how to endure a mass. Still, classical music? Yikes!

I sat behind them in the upper level pews and shared a box of Altoids to help them stay awake. There weren’t enough Altoids in the world to hold up their nodding heads. If the violins didn’t push their eyes to the back of their heads, the chorus closed the gap between their chins and chests. Most of them were fast asleep by the end.

They were good sports, they were brave, and they had behaved.

We awaited for the audience to depart, then relocated to the main pews while the school bus returned. I did my best to give them a little history lesson of the church, why the stained glass, why the design, how this church held community in DC during times of distress such as the Civil War.  Poor kids, they bravely sat through my attempts to engage them in some learning while we were sitting there waiting for the bus.

A Private Lesson from Reilly

Then a little man in a tuxedo walked up to the group, and with the brightest, happiest voice, loudly welcomed them and thanked them for coming to see his concert. The kids turned to him and smiled back gently, reluctant to engage, but curious.

Reilly asked them a few questions about their school, if they’d seen a concert like this before, and one or two bravely, if quietly, answered.

Then, with that wisp of mischievousness that made him so compelling as a person, performer, and teacher, Reilly said, “Do you want to see the organ?”

Again, the kids were hesitant but polite. Reilly said, “Come on!” and led them up the isle and onto the alter, where a beautiful organ sat with all it’s confusing keys, knobs and pedals. Reilly sat at the bench and ushered us to come around him.  The kids were now well past curiosity and jostled for the best view. My father and I stood back and smiled at each other, not fully aware yet of the magnificent treat before us.

Reilly turned to the kids,  “Do you want to see how it works?” He had them by now, of course, deliberately teasing them with a couple keys and different sounds from the pipes.

Suddenly, he launched into a full blown performance, with his hands and feet racing about the keys, magical, like nothing they had seen before, not CGI from the movies, not beats and rhymes from their friends and music videos. This was special, and their eyes lit ablaze.

I looked over at my father who had seen countless performances – but never from just over the master’s shoulder! He was as mesmerized as the kids, and more for knowing for what a special moment it was.

After a bit of pure showmanship, Reilly wrapped up, not having shown off, but having shared the fun.

We thanked the maestro who with genuine enthusiasm thanked the students for being there. The kids returned the thanks with equal enthusiasm.

The bus had arrived, and these 9th graders climbed into it not with the shared pain of sleeping through a classical concert but with the joy of a unique and wonderful experience that they talked about the ride back to school.

RIP J. Reilly Lewis

We will miss you, J Reilly Lewis, and we will think of you often as we aspire to love our work as you did yours and, more importantly, love sharing it with all — all of whom we will call our friends.

– Michael

 

Deconstructing Graduation Day: Administrators, “The Road Not Taken” Speeches & Other Regrets

graduation_msclipart_450pxIt’s hokey, trite, and boring:  long live the great American high school graduation ceremony & hopes and dreams for students and parents!

As a teacher I grew cynical about graduation ceremonies. At my school the faculty blessedly sat well behind the podium, mostly out of view. When one of our kind ever “went to the dark side” and joined the administration, we’d always riddle them with texts during the ceremony about having to behave and offering to pass along some Hot Tamales, the faculty currency during these tedious events.  We ran bingo contests with student names, competed as to who could eat the most Hot Tamales at a time, bet on the length of the speeches, and otherwise fooled around worse than the children had done in our own classrooms.

I no longer go to graduation ceremonies for a living, but the other day my wife and I sat through a ceremony for a family member. Since we were in the audience, I had to behave. At least, I thought, the faculty of this school had to behave, too, as they were seated on the main floor by the students in full view of everyone. Ha!

Then I had to figure out how to survive it myself. My wife had banned all thoughts of listening to a podcast, so I put the phone on airplane mode and, unlike half the people around us, sat isolated from the outer world with only a graduation before me. So I begged my wife for a pen. She sighed, reached into that magic bag she calls a purse, and produced one. I spent the rest of the ceremony employing the advice I give students on how to survive a boring class by jotting notes on the program, deconstructing the events.

Grade Inflation!

My first notes regard how many times the principal bragged about grade inflation. Well, he didn’t put it quite like that, but he bragged over and over that 103 kids, about a third of the class, graduated with honors. I pondered how the rest possibly managed to get below a 3.5.

The clue was “Weighted GPA,” which is education-speak for honors-classes bonus where a C is a B, a B is an A and an A is a 5.0 on your 4.0 scale GPA. There were certainly kids taking honors courses (AP/ IB, etc.) that did not make a 3.5, but for those kids not taking honors, a 3.5 is truly a 3.5, whereas for the honors kids that’s just a C.

Administrative Bloat

My next notation reads, “7 or 8 Vice Principals!!” and is underlined three times. I was already shocked by the number of faculty — they streamed in like the Persian army of old.

Then the principal got to introducing the administrators. What should have been a quick, “Here’s Ben, our Vice Principal of Student Affairs” and “Meet Lucy, our Academic Vice Principal,” turned into a directory of all the administrative positions you never heard of. I attempted a quick mental calculation of the administrators times their bloated salaries divided by the county residents, but then I just got angry.

Next came introductions to the County Superintendent of Schools, a Director of Curriculum (was the County Director of Honors Programs unavailable?) and a couple Board of Education members. My notes read, “Memo to self: NEVER RUN FOR BOARD OF EDCUATION!”

The Superintendent took the easy route and had the kids write her speech. She just read off a list of quotations on the meaning of high school that the school had students send her. Our family graduate made the list with one I felt was rather apropos to my own take on the ceremony about not letting the haters get you down.

A Board of Education member then gave a speech she had to have pilfered from a web search on “trite graduation speeches,” featuring Robert Frost, of course, and his “The Road Not Taken.” I can’t remember if she got the title right, as it’s usually called “The Road Less Traveled” by most graduation speakers. And, of course, she read the poem.

Really? You read the poem? Okay, it’s only four stanzas, but make that four incomprehensible stanzas coming over a basketball stadium loudspeaker to an audience most of whose last breath of poetry came precisely at their own high school or college graduation ceremony, likely hearing this same poem.

She next delivered the standard tripe about daring to take the road “less traveled,” even though the poem states that both roads are equally traveled:

“…the passing there  / Had worn them really about the same.”

Worst of all, and here I take offense on behalf of Robert Frost and all thinking English teachers, she assured the kids, heh, don’t worry, even if your road is the wrong one it’ll be alright because, “you can always turn around and go back the other way later.”

What’s horribly wrong with that misreading of the poem itself is precisely what’s wrong with an education system so full of backstops and “safety nets” that magically protects students from their own bad choices.

It starts with turning zeroes into 60% Fs, dumbed-down summer school and no-competition sports, and ends with the absurdities that we’re all winners no matter what we do – and one third of the graduating class receiving honors.

Nobody Better Than Anyone Else

But even those students are all equal among themselves, as the word “Valedictorian” didn’t make it into the program. The student speakers were the class president and another student whose title or honors went unmentioned. My notes here read: Memo to school: VALEDICTORIAN IS THE PERSON WHO DELIVERS THE VALEDICTORY.”

Usually, that’s the kid with the highest GPA but not always. I learned afterwards that the selection was based upon a speech contest, which is fine. Nevertheless, the word “valedictorian” did not appear in the program or the event, and no mention was made of who was no. 1 in the class. I guess we can distinguish a third from the rest, but not the one-percenter from even that top third.

Good & Bad Choices

“The Road Not Taken” ends with a “sigh” as the narrator considers that he may, in the future, look back upon the choice he is making today with regret:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,*
And that has made all the difference.

The job of educators is to guide children into making positive choices. By dumbing down both negative consequence and positive rewards, we are developing fragility in our children, not robustness.

There’s much pedagogical discussion about the benefits of failure, but clearly it’s not being implemented here. This school has a multitude of administrators whose job is to make sure as many kids as possible “earn” a 3.5 and as few as possible don’t somehow manage to fail out. With one-third the class earning honors, largely due to the grade inflation of the GPA “honors bump,” what’s the other two-thirds to do but ponder why they bothered at all?

The problem is that the failure is too easy and too little sanctioned. There is no pain in failure if summer school is easy and all stigma is removed. Worse, in offering no positive alternatives to academic failure, we merely make anything possible and that will too often be seriously bad choices. Our Board of Education speaker is only creating more future sighs of regret.

And let’s clarify here and now that a very few, if any, of the kids will be a trail blazer. I wish a normal life upon them all, one that, when they get to be my age, they don’t look back upon and sigh, as Robert Frost’s narrator knows he will one day, and wonder what might have been on that other road. The lie our speaker told is that each of us is unique and special and, by the way, we won’t be held accountable for our screw-ups. Maybe you’re the one. Good luck. But for the rest of us, let’s just see what we can do to make our paths — which are never really just a straight choice between this and that, and are instead a series of turns and cross steps — as safe and happy as possible.

A sigh for who didn’t make it – and applause for those who barely did

I know there were kids who didn’t make it through to their senior year and were not there that day. I also know there were kids who walked that stage but have not yet earned their diploma. For the ones who have fully graduated and who earned every bit of it — and not just the one-third of the class who benefited from grade inflation, I congratulate you, and I trust your road will be a well-planned, well-traveled, and safe route to happiness.

I rather love the kids who struggled, who got screwed by a teacher or two, possibly deservedly but mostly not, who dug a few holes, and who can’t remember what’s due when, but who fought back and graduated. God bless the 103 honors students, but the others are my heroes.

Yet, it’s the kids NOT on that stage who need to learn the meaning of the Frost poem. Those who weren’t there, dear Board of Education speaker, are your audience, and you might do a better job of helping them avoid the lesser roads they unfortunately took — and can now very little work back from.

Congratulations Graduates!

Honest, I’m not a buzz kill, and I congratulate the students and their families on this graduation. That’s wonderful and it’s an important rite of passage in our country. My cynicism is for the hordes of Principals and Vice Principals and Superintendents and Boards of Education who could use a refresher on the meaning of “The Road Not Taken.”

– Michael


* The “one less traveled by” isn’t a unique, different path, rather, it’s the narrator’s future rationalization for a regretted choice of today — and it couldn’t be a more inappropriate sentiment for a graduation ceremony. 

 

Mike Cahir on Why Shakespeare Matters & How Parents Can Help Their Child Learn & Enjoy Shakespeare: Student Success Podcast no. 26

Oh, no, Shakespeare? English teacher Mike Cahir explains why learning Shakespeare matters and how parents can encourage their child to engage in the enormous benefits of learning from the Bard.

Featuring Mike Cahir, high school English teacher and Department Chair.

This podcast began when I asked Mike for his advice to one of our A+ Club students on why he should care about “Othello.” As usual, Mike goes well beyond the obvious and delivers a powerful lesson for students, parents, and teachers on the power and benefits of learning Shakespeare.

Mike reviews the skill sets required for comprehending Shakespeare and how to develop them, including his use in the classroom of “active reading,” “front loading,” and “visualization.” Mike builds student engagement by teaching them how to break down difficult text into component parts, how to make sense of the text through imagery and other clues that Shakespeare uses extensively and how he uses Yoda to teach kids old English.

Mike’s advice is great for students and teachers, but we especially offer it here for parents to empower them to engage their own child with these difficult but magnificent and rewarding texts – and to get a better grade in English class!

Student Success Podcast No. 26, published Jun 6, 2016 (recorded on Feb 2. 2016).

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Procrastination, values, and connecting long term goals to short term choices

student goal setting, values and procrastinationParents and teachers think that if only students would connect their short term decisions to long term goals, such as college and jobs, they would quit procrastinating and do their homework.

That’s why we’re always telling them about how important their future is.

Experience tells us that it’s not a reasonable connection. Kids won’t suddenly start doing their homework because they decided one day to be an astronaut or a sports agent. They do their homework because they think the homework is important unto itself.  Or not.

Every Child Wants Success

Students of all levels have high-standards and long term goals for themselves. But just wanting to go to a good college doesn’t get the homework done.

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How can I improve my essay grades? Students, writing is drafting

student writing an essayWith academic writing or other research projects, student improvement has a single source: drafting. Students will always score a better grade if they don’t hand in a “first draft” to the teacher.

Think of handing in an unrevised paper as “going in blind.” That means that no one else, including the author, has looked it over. A fully revised paper or project is one that has been looked over — and over again, hopefully also by a second pair of eyes – revised, sat upon, and revised again.

The great writer and critic, Evelyn Waugh, advised* : Continue reading