kitchen table math, the sequel: High-Level Policy Guru Interviewed

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

High-Level Policy Guru Interviewed

Dave Marain posted Part One of an interview with Lynn Arthur Steen today at MathNotations. Vlorbik sez check it out.


SteveH said...

"That in our stampede for higher standards we are trampling on the enthusiasms, aspirations, and potential contributions of many students for whom mathematics is best approached indirectly."

This is as far as I got. I have a splitting headache. To see how onerous these standards are, check out the sample fourth grade tests in a recent thread.

"indirectly" = low expectations

Catherine Johnson said...

There is no dispute that knowing arithmetic facts is more desirable than not knowing them, and being quick ("automatic") is better than being slow. The issue is: how important is this difference in relation to other goals of education? It is a bit like spelling: being good at spelling is more desirable than its opposite, but there are plenty of high-performing adults—including college professors, deans, and presidents—who are bad spellers. They learn to cope, as do adults who don't instantly know whether 7 x 8 is larger or smaller than 6 x 9.


This is incorrect.

I've spent my life amongst, on the one hand, college professors and deans, and, on the other, writers & editors.

All of them can spell.

Catherine Johnson said...

I asked Barry Seaman about this, as a matter of fact.

This was back when I was in the spelling bee here in Irvington. My team, called the "Writer's Bloc," was 3 writers:

* Barry Seaman (former editor of Time/Life)
* Bob Massie (Pulitzer Prizewinner)
* me (writer)

The spelling bee was interesting, because I'd always thought I was a "savant" speller.

Turns out I'm not. There are all kinds of words I can't spell.

Nevertheless, our team easily tied for second (15 teams altogether, i think...)

I asked Barry whether writers are ever bad spellers.

As I recall, the answer was basically 'no.'

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm quite interested in the relationship between spelling and reading.

My sense of Louisa Moats' thinking is that people who research spelling suspect they're going to find that good spelling improves reading.

I believe I saw that with C.

C. was an extremely poor speller, and the school did not have a spelling curriculum.

He was also an extremely good reader.

And yet, precisely at the beginning of 4th grade, he stopped reading, just as the books say.

In 4th grade, kids who have been big readers suddenly stop reading.

Why would that be?

That was the moment I found Megawords and started Christopher using the book.

Within a couple of months he was back to reading.

I believe there was a causal connection. In 4th grade, students begin to read polysyllabic words, which is what Megawords teaches. ("Megawords" is used to mean words with more than one syllable.)

You can't sound out megawords with phonics; the words are too long. You have to sound them out via syllable.

The syllables are the chunks.

We are now finishing the 4th Megawords book, and Christopher's spelling has significantly improved. His reading is good.

No one knows what the relationship between arithmetic and other mathematical subjects is.

I don't want the school to gamble that you can be bad at arithmetic and good at calculus, as this person implies.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm still sick.

I'm going to go lie down now.

SteveH said...

"I asked Barry whether writers are ever bad spellers. As I recall, the answer was basically 'no.' "

One could make the argument that spelling skill could be the indirect result of reading a lot and learning to write. This is not the case for basic math skills. One does not master math top-down or indirectly. All of the problems in math education can be traced to foundational gaps in mastery.

Me said...

How can you compare spelling with number facts?

The minimum I've ever seen for the number of common words you read and write every day is something like 5000.

Whereas there are only 45 different pairs of one-digit numbers (not counting zero) for which you need to memorize the addition and the multiplication facts.

Is 5000 bigger than 90?