Author Archive

Laura Varlas

Are You Ready to Go Digital?

How many kids are going to check out a whole set of encyclopedias? With digital, they do it every day, without a second thought. But digital curriculum is not just about a bigger backpack or cramming more content into a smaller container, explained education innovator Hall Davidson in his 2014 ASCD Annual Conference session, "The New Book as the Old Backpack: The Unintended Consequences of Digital."

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Laura Varlas

Core Criteria for Collaborative Conversations

The Common Core Speaking and Listening Standards have drawn new attention to how these skills are developed across curriculum and across grade bands. In their 2014 ASCD Annual Conference session, "Collaborative Conversations: Meeting Anchor Standard 1 in Speaking and Listening," authors Nancy Frey and Doug Fisher were enthusiastic about the potential within these curricular shifts. "Our world will be different when adolescents are prepared for and participating in collaborative discussions with diverse partners, building on others' ideas, and expressing their own clearly and persuasively," noted Fisher.

Consider how your classroom has changed since 2010, asked Frey. She related that, in her own practice, the word "evidence" never appeared on a language chart used in her classroom. "It just wasn't on our radar." Now, kids are supporting their opinions with evidence in classroom discussions.

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Laura Varlas

Turning Around the Teen Brain by Building Effort

Neuroplasticity means humans have the ability to change their brains through repeated, adaptive practice. Buy-in, however, can be a huge hurdle in getting students to invest effort in the actions that will grow their brains.

"If the brain's not buying in, then it's not changing," author Eric Jensen noted in his 2014 ASCD Annual Conference session, "Turnaround Tools for the Teenage Brain."

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Laura Varlas

Daniel Pink: Perfecting Your Power to Move Others

Daniel Pink - 2014 ASCD Annual ConferenceEducators teach, lead, and are learners, themselves. But there's a big piece of every profession that often gets overlooked. In his 2014 ASCD Annual Conference opening general session, author Daniel Pink argued that, in a significant way, educators are also persuaders.

"A big part of what you do is try to move people," said Pink.

Pink surveyed 7,000 full-time, adult workers and found that American professionals spend 41 percent of the work day, or 24 minutes of every hour, persuading people to give up something they value for something you can offer.

As educators, this may mean trying to make a convincing appeal for certain state or district policies, persuasively leading your teachers to adopt a new curriculum or instructional approach, or motivating your students to practice close reading.

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Laura Varlas

Improving Motivation and Achievement Through a Growth Mindset

What turns kids off to learning? Carol Dweck, Stanford researcher and author of the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, says how students think of themselves as learners creates mental environments that nurture or stifle effort when approaching different tasks. These psychological environments, or mindsets, are shaped by messages students receive from adults, peers, and themselves. Through her research, Dweck has uncovered two types of mindsets—fixed and growth—and three rules about how fixed and growth mindsets cue motivation, effort, and response to setbacks.

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Laura Varlas

Heart in the Clouds: Maya Angelou Calls on Educators To Be Somebody’s Rainbow

Maya Angelou

In March, Maya Angelou greeted 10,000 ASCD Annual Conference attendees in Chicago, Ill., with a song of hope and gratitude:

"When it looked like the sun wouldn’t shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the cloud."

It's not just that we have rainbows in the sky, but in the clouds themselves, she explained. So that even when it seems like the rain won't let up, we have something there to encourage us.

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Laura Varlas

2012 ASCD Outstanding Young Educator Award Winners

2012 OYEA Winners

Ten years ago, ASCD created the Outstanding Young Educator Award (OYEA) program to recognize creative and committed teachers and administrators under the age of 40 who are making a difference in children's lives. Since 2002, the OYEA program has combed through thousands of applications to identify young educators who embody a whole child approach to education and are leaders in the classroom as well as in their communities.

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Laura Varlas

The #1 Reason Girls Drop Out (and What You Can Do About It)

The United States has the highest teen birthrate in the industrialized world, and teen pregnancy and parenting is the number one reason girls drop out of school. (See the infographic below for the far-reaching effects of teen pregnancy.)

This is an avoidable crisis—teen parents don't have to be left behind. Not only can access to comprehensive sex education (including information about both abstinence and birth control) help drive down those numbers, but measures to keep pregnant and parenting students in school actually reduce the incidence of repeat teen pregnancies, and lead to improved outcomes for teen parents and their children.

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Laura Varlas

For Roma Children, Schools Still Separate and Unequal

"You can't say this is segregation. It's natural selection; some students will get left behind." That's the school director speaking in Our School, a new documentary that follows the attempted integration of Roma people into a mainstream Romanian school.

The film is a frank look at separate and unequal education opportunities for Roma children throughout Eastern Europe, and it will no doubt draw comparisons to Brown v. the Board of Education and the legacy of racism still felt in U.S. schools. (In fact, one of the lawyers who argued Brown v. Board has a recent article in the Columbia Law Review, "Report on Roma Education Today: From Slavery To Segregation and Beyond," that connects these dots.)

Roma were enslaved for centuries until the mid-1800s, were subject to massive abuse and ethnic cleansing, and continue to live on the margins of mainstream society in many countries. In 2006, the European Union stepped in with "Together in School and Life," a project to integrate Roma children into mainstream schools. Our School exposes the deep cultural values that prevail over policy initiatives.

We follow Alin (pictured), Beni, and Dana—elementary, middle, and high school-aged Roma children—from the initial news that they'll be attending school in town, to their placement, and eventual shuffling to the special needs school where they practice coloring inside the lines and other crucial life skills.

Watching Our School, you get a sense of the gaps in planning for integration: How will students get to school from their neighborhoods on the outskirts of town? How will the mismatch between student age and grade level be accommodated? What will instruction in mixed-ability classrooms look like? How will social integration match academic aims? (In one scene, Roma children are shown cleaning up recess fields as their peers file back into class.)

In most cases, the integrated school fails Roma children on these issues. A couple of standout teachers give us glimpses of what the Roma children are capable of under caring, committed, and unbiased educators—but there's no continuity in their efforts. And it's clear, there's no institutional support. EU funds are channeled toward renovating the Roma-only school, in preparation for purging the Roma children from the mainstream school.

Again, outside intervention attempts to make things right. In 2007, the European Human Rights Court declares that school segregation violates human rights, and that's where school officials profiled in Our School get really crafty. They send their "problem kids"—not surprisingly, all Roma—to the "School for Deficiencies." Since the school already serves developmentally delayed Romanian children, it's technically not a segregated school.

"In many places, Eastern Europe is like the U.S. in the 1920s—there's a sense of historical lag," explained filmmaker Mona Nicoura at Our School's screening at the SilverDocs Film Festival. We're waiting for leadership on this issue, she told attendees.

"It's not just about policy, it's culture. We have not processed our own racism," she added.

In Our School, the system wins. But not before introducing us to astute and hard-working Beni and Dana, artfully mischievous Alin, parents who desperately want a way out of poverty for their children, and a couple of teachers Beni says "want us to learn."

To learn more about the movement to bring educational equity to Roma children, like Our School on Facebook and get involved at

Nicoura says there are 2011 school-year plans to screen Our School in several high schools in Slovenia, Romania, and the Czech Republic, as well as to launch associated teacher training materials in 2012.

Laura Varlas

"Tell Me How to Fix This"


The Bully Project, a new documentary from filmmaker Lee Hirsch, is a heartbreaking look at the ongoing violence and harassment that plagues school communities. Over the course of the film we meet

  • Alex (pictured), whose daily abuse from peers stymies school officials who can't seem to offer much beyond shake-and-make-up solutions.
  • Kelby, shunned by her community for coming out as gay; adults and students alike make school unsafe for her.
  • Ja'meya, a 14-year-old behind bars for pulling a gun on her tormentors.

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