kitchen table math, the sequel: 5/6/07 - 5/13/07

Saturday, May 12, 2007

how to order copies of the history national standards

The national standards Gary Nash, Charlotte Crabtree (and Ed) wrote are available on Amazon:

National Standards for World History: Exploring Paths to the Present (National History Standards Project Series)

National Standards for History: Basic Edition

National Standards for History for Grades K-4

National Standards for United States History: Exploring the American Experience

This is probably the whole list.


Gary's account of the culture wars: History on Trial

I have to say... Lynne Cheney's been great on math, but she seriously blew it on the history standards.

She ambushed the standards - she really did just kill them. I'm forgetting details of the story now, so I shouldn't work from memory, but the one part I do remember clearly is that the only two parts of the standards she openly cited as being anti-American were social studies-type lessons history teachers had written. I think they were included in an appendix.

Those lessons were easily removable, and were there, as I recall, in order to get the document through. (They had massive conflict with the social studies people, as you can probably imagine.)

And: the lessons weren't standards.

They were lessons.

The whole things was trumped up.

After having commissioned the standards, and having been in the loop and involved throughout the entire long drawn-out process of getting them written and vetted, Cheney had not made any criticisms.

Everyone on Ed's side of the affair assumes her motivations had to do with political opportunism, but no one knows. (I think Gingrich was ascendant at that point ? .... Clinton may already have been in office ..... I'll have to read the book.)

These standards, along with New York's science standards, are the one thing standing between me and the abyss.

The only reason any schools are teaching any content now, in the wake of 20 years of constructivist teaching in the ed schools, is decent state standards.

Ed's standards

I didn't realize this.

I've mentioned the national history standards a few times, the ones commissioned and, subsequently, killed by Lynne Cheney back in the administration of Bush 1.

Turns out Ed wrote some of the standards!

Along with two other historians, he wrote the standards for 19th and 20th world history.

I love it.

I think I've got them sitting on my bookshelf .... but I have to find out if New York state is actually using history standards written by my husband.

Some of you will remember the school board meeting at which Ed managed to fend off the middle school model for another year. Afterwards he told one of our principals that he's been a disciplinary specialist for 25 years.

She said, "Have you ever wondered if that's your problem?"

Wish I'd known at the time she was talking to one of the guys who WROTE THE STATE HISTORY STANDARDS.

Or, ummmm, might have written the state history standards.

This particular principal, btw, taught social studies before going into administration.

OK, I have to go figure out if New York's standards are the same ones Ed wrote. (Cheney didn't attack the world standards; those never attracted criticism. The action all surrounded the American history standards.)

ordering DI textbooks

dickey45 left a terrific URL:

Direct Instruction Reading Textbooks

I've just ordered a used copy of Understanding U.S. History Through 1914 from Amazon Marketplace (ISBN: 0964189275)

I'm going to see if I can find a copy of the second volume.

Here's d45:

I love the Understanding US History 1 & 2 textbooks. I took a class with Crawford (one of the authors) and they have a wonderful way of putting information in "containers" so that you can understand the information and you even learn to write comprehensive/application essays. Highly, highly, highly recommend.

constructivist beliefs amongst teachers

Vignettes describing contrasting instructional styles

Ms. Hill was leading her class in an animated way, asking questions that the students could answer quickly; based on the reading they had done the day before. After this review, Ms. Hill taught the class new material, again using simple questions to keep students attentive and listening to what she said.


Mr. Jones’ class was also having a discussion, but many of the questions came from the students themselves. Though Mr. Jones could clarify students’ questions and suggest where the students could find relevant information, he couldn’t really answer most of the questions himself.

Overall, more teachers felt comfortable with (64%) and thought students preferred (53%) the traditional style of Ms. Hill, with fewer selecting Mr. Jones. (The middle or “undecided” position was chosen by many teachers as well; see Table 1.) Moving quickly over content may pose fewer problems for teachers and students and therefore seem easier. However, in terms of the consequences for students, teachers were more likely to believe that Mr. Jones’ approach was better. Concerning students gaining more knowledge from Hill or Jones, teachers were evenly split — with more than 40% favoring each approach. Concerning the acquisition of useful skills many more teachers favored Mr. Jones' approach (57% favoring Jones, 29% favoring Hill).

Constructivist-Compatible Beliefs and Practices among U.S. Teachers
(pdf file)

I find it extraordinary that anyone would find Mr. Hill's "instructional style" acceptable in any way.

It's not the issue of who's asking the questions. It's good for students to ask questions. Obviously.

It's the fact that Mr. Hill is presented as not knowing the answers.

How can this possibly be a good thing in a teacher?

And how can a person who doesn't know the answers to student questions do much in the way of clarifying the questions beyond cleaning up simple errors in logic?

The edu-world really is a parallel universe.

there's more

constructivist perspective:
“I mainly see my role as a facilitator. I try to provide opportunities and resources for my students to discover or construct concepts for themselves."

traditional transmission perspective:
"That's all nice, but students really won't learn the subject unless you go over the material in a structured way. It's my job to explain, to show students how to do the work, and to assign specific practice.


constructivist perspective:
"It is a good idea to have all sorts of activities going on in the classroom. Some students might produce a scene from a play they read. Others might create a miniature version of the set. It's hard to get the logistics right, but the successes are so much more important than the failures."

traditional transmission perspective:
"It's more practical to give the whole class the same assignment, one that has clear directions, and one that can be done in short intervals that match students' attention spans and the daily class schedule."


constructivist perspective:
"The most important part of instruction is that it encourage “sense-making” or thinking among students. Content is secondary."

traditional transmission perspective:
The most important part of instruction is the content of the curriculum. That content is the community’s judgment about what children need to be able to know and do."


constructivist perspective:
"It is critical for students to become interested in doing academic work—interest and effort are more important than the particular subject-matter they are working on."

traditional transmission perspective:
"While student motivation is certainly useful, it should not drive what students study. It is more important that students learn the history, science, math and language skills in their textbooks."

Overall, teachers are substantially more constructivist than traditional in their responses to each of these items. Twice as many teachers agreed that there should be multiple project-oriented activities going on as favored short-duration whole-class assignments instead. Even more teachers believed that their instructional planning should focus on constructing meaning and on student interest than on coverage of curriculum and textbook content (by margins of 2.5 to 1 and 3 to 1 respectively; see Table 2).

students muddling around

This is my favorite:

A huge majority of teachers (85%) rejected the idea that because teachers know more than students, they “shouldn’t let students muddle around when they can just explain the answers directly.” Even more teachers (91%) rejected the idea that student projects aren’t useful because they “often result in students learning all sorts of wrong ‘knowledge.’” More than three-fifths of the teachers (62%) rejected the idea that “instruction should be built around problems with clear, correct answers, and around ideas that most students can grasp quickly”—a clear statement of rejection of the principles of direct instruction formulated two decades ago and around which most traditional instruction is based.

So.... I'm thinking value-added assessment is going to come as a shock to these folks.

Wonder just how much "academic growth" you see in one year of muddling around and students learning the wrong knowledge via projects?

help desk

If some of you can find time to take a look at this report (pdf file) on standards for success in college, I'd appreciate it.

Here is a stand-alone section on their recommendations for math knowledge.

I have Conley's book College Knowledge, which seems pretty good.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Off Topic -- Corpse Flower Blooming At UConn

For all you botany enthusiasts -- the Titan Arum, aka Corpse Flower, is beginning to bloom tonight at the UConn Storrs greenhouse. This is a really cool event -- after growing the plant from seed for 10 years, it first bloomed in 2004. The bloom last about 2 days. It will probably be years before we see another. These are the largest known flower-like structure in the plant world. They also have an incredibly nasty smell.

I've been watching this unfold for the past two weeks, ever since I happened to chat with the manager of the UConn greenhouse at a children's science expo.

The greenhouse website is updating frequently as the bloom slowly opens. I'm hoping to get the kids in the car very early tomorrow as there can be long lines to see this thing happen.

The manager told me that there have been 3 blooms in all of New England (ever). All 3 have been grown from seed from the plant at UConn.

The greenhouse will be open all night tonight if anyone just can't sleep and wants to get an early peak (sniff) at this magnificent beast. To see more, the Greenhouse Website has lots of information.

Diane Ravitch on history's struggle

Ed gets this magazine, but the articles aren't posted online. So I was thrilled to find that the Fordham Foundation has posted a pdf file of Ravitch's recent piece, History's Struggle to Survive in the Schools.

From 1900 to 1925, the most common pattern of historical studies in the high school consisted of a sequence of ancient history, medieval and modern history, American history, and civics. However, in the second decade of the century, critics of history began to demand that history be replaced by social studies. And their criticism was effective. By the mid-1920s, English history had almost disappeared, and enrollments in ancient, medieval, and modern history began to decline as well. A new course appeared called world history, which combined in a single year what had previously been a three-year sequence.

From that time until the present, U.S. history has been the only course that was almost universally required of high school students (3). After 1925, high school history entered a period of decline. At the same time, the teaching of history in elementary and junior high school began shrinking and in many districts nearly vanished.

To understand the sudden contraction of the history curriculum, it is necessary to recognize the intellectual transformation of the universe of professional pedagogy just before and after World War I. The ideal of democratizing culture, of giving all students access to the ideas and historical events of other cultures, took a back seat to a fervent belief in the goal of social efficiency. Critics of the academic curriculum were outspoken in their attacks on teaching not only history, but algebra, literature, and almost everything else that did not prepare students for their future lives. Some of these critics thought of themselves as progressive educators, but they relied on a narrow and distorted version of John Dewey’s ideas about democracy and the social role of the schools. Dewey’s writings, however, provided inspiration for the anti-intellectual movements (both the social efficiency experts who wanted everything to be geared toward utility and the romantic child-centered progressives who wanted to abandon curriculum and the dead hand of the past altogether)(4).

As the high school population grew by leaps and bounds, it became conventional among professional educationists to speak of schools as places to sort the population in preparation for their roles in society. And enrollments did soar: public high school enrollment more than


Educators who considered themselves modern and progressive espoused the gospel of industrial education and curricular differentiation. [ed.: differentiation!] Efficiency experts John Franklin Bobbitt of the University of Chicago, David Snedden of Teachers College, and W.W. Charters of the Carnegie Institute of Technology complained that too much time was wasted on scholastic studies. All considered disciplinary subjects like history to be useless. Bobbitt lavished praise only on vocational subjects. Snedden (who was also commissioner of education in Massachusetts) ridiculed the study of history; he told the New England History Teachers’ Association that the only reason to teach history was to train students for good citizenship, which he defined as “submission to established political order [and] cooperative maintenance of same” (6) Charters argued that the goal of education must be “usefulness,” not “comprehensive knowledge,” and that what children learn should be based on what they need to know to function as adults. In this climate, proponents of history and other academic subjects found themselves on the defensive, struggling against anti-intellectualism that pretended to be progressivism. [ed.: not sure I would say "anti-intellectualism" has to "pretend" to be progressivism...]


Once the AHA abdicated its commitment to improving the teaching of history in the schools in the late 1920s, the subject had no advocates. Many state curricula were revised in the 1930s to emphasize social studies themes (like transportation, housing, and commerce) instead of chronological history. From the 1930s through the early 1950s, social studies courses incorporated studies of current events, and problems of social living for teens. U.S. history survived in the high schools, and some states and districts continued to offer or require a Europe-centered world history course. But no state established a coherent, sequential history curriculum. In many states, one could become a social studies teacher without having taken any college courses in history.

In most elementary schools, history was quietly shelved in the 1930s. Gone were the biographies of pioneers and heroes that had once been standard fare in the early grades. In their place was installed a curriculum from K-5 called “expanding environments” or “expanding horizons.” From kindergarten through fifth grades, children studied a curriculum consisting of “me, my family, my neighborhood, my community, my town, my state, and my nation.” The National Council for the Social Studies believed that this approach was appropriate to the needs of young children. States, districts, and textbook publishers accepted it. Typically, social studies textbooks for the elementary grades consisted of little more than stories about shopping in a generic supermarket, meeting a generic police officer, and learning how families eat dinner together. Not until the 1980s was there sustained criticism about the content-free, vapid, trivial nature of this curriculum and its accompanying textbooks (15).

It would require an article even longer than this one to describe the events in the 1980s and 1990s that led to a revival of support for history in the schools. The 1980s were a period of scathing complaint about curriculum and standards, including the national report A Nation at Risk (1983) and the jeremiads of Secretary of Education William Bennett. In 1985, Bill Honig, the elected state superintendent of schools in California, assembled a group of teachers, administrators, and historians (I was among them) to revise the state social studies curriculum. The new history-social science curriculum established a sequence of history courses, restored historical studies in the elementary grades, and added three years of world history. The new state curriculum was approved by the State Board of Education in 1987.

Ed was part of that effort; he ran the California History Social Science Project, under Bill Honig.

Gary Nash, who wrote the National History Standards was a UCLA colleague and a good friend.

The only good news about the history standards is that after Lynne Cheney pulled the rug out from under them they were adopted by a handful of states, including New York.

KIPP report card

Fordham reports that --

Because most KIPP schools are still quite young, long-term longitudinal data are available for just 27 of them, but students in those institutions have on average gained 24 percentile points in reading and 39 percentile points in math over three years.

Now I need to know the comparison figures.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

RPS Tactics

Nowthatshockey has posted a video on YouTube that shows typical school board behavior with respect to math programs that they want installed despite parent protests.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

let's differentiate!

I love the worldwide web!

Q: Yes! I agree differentiating curriculum is my biggest challenge. I have only taught for 2 years so any words of wisdom or activities would be greatly appreciated.

A: I teach 3rd grade at a "low performing school." Currently, I use various independent research projects for the advanced students and use cooperative hetergenous groups for the students that are struggling within a certain area. A majority of my students are English Language Learners, so incorporating art into all subjects has proven to be a successful way to differentiate the material/information.


from the Beyond TERC

Anonymous said...

That TERC-I-Am
That TERC-I-Am
I do not like that TERC-I-Am

Do you like reform in math?

I do not like it, TERC-I-Am
I do not like reform in math.

Would you like it here or there?

I would not like it here or there.
I would not like it anywhere.
I do not like reform in math.
I do not like it, TERC-I-am.

Would you like it in your class?
Would you like it for your lass?

I do not like it in any class.
I do not like it for my lass.
I do not like it here or there.
I do not like it anywhere.
I do not like reform in math.
I do not like it, TERC-I-Am.

Would you like to do the fad?
Would you like to do math bad?

Not with the fad.
Not do math bad.
Not in the class.
Not for my lass.

I would not do TERC here or there.
I would not do TERC anywhere.
I do not like reform in math.
I do not like it, TERC-I-Am.

Would you? Could you? At the store?
Draw it. Draw it.
Draw it some more.

I would not, could not at the store.
Draw it, draw it.

You may like it, you will see.
You may like to draw number three.

I would not, will not, draw number three.
Not at the store. TERC, let me be.

These drawings are silly, dont you see.
I understand, what is three
Now let me go, I must insist
I have real math to learn, you I can resist

I like real math, TERC I Am
I like it,
I un-der-stand it

These silly games must go
I have place value I must know

I use it to subtract and add
Those terms, I know, you find bad

So TERC-I-Am, please let me be
I am MATH, I am more than counting to three

I multiply and divide
I have algorithms I can derive

TERC you must go
This I really do know

I am math and you will see
Because in the end, I will be set free

somewhere far from here: "La Salle High School" part 2

… a prominent feature of La Salle’s day-to-day reality is the community mandate to strive for and to achieve academic excellence….

In fact, La Salle may be seen as having built its institutional life around the legitimacy of academic excellence, but, practically speaking, in order for that definition of excellence to be maintained, mechanisms had to be created to ensure that all or almost all of the school’s students would be able to find success as the school’s staff and community define it.


The heart of La Salle’s formal structure is an emphasis on careful diagnosis of academic problems, an extensive system of support for students encountering academic difficulty, and an especially close monitoring of student progress. A rather complex network of support for a defined standard of excellence keeps the system working and prevents a great many students from “falling through the cracks,” as one administrator put it. The formal structure includes the following:

1. Students are tested upon entry into the district to determine their levels of academic skills. These tests include “both cognitive abilities and a writing sample which indicates writing skills.” Students then are tentatively placed in classes for the purpose of further diagnosis. This tentative placement allows La Salle’s professional staff to evaluate further student capabilities by observing their actual levels of performance.

2. Students then are assigned by subject to one of four academic levels, Honors, A, B, and C. Level B is the most common placement and incorporates about 50% of the student population. In some cases, students may be placed in a high academic track for several subjects but a lower academic track in other academic areas according to their performance. The administrators interviewed stressed the idea that placement is “based on performance rather than ability.” They stated that the criteria used for placement include: (a) achievement testing; (b) motivation as perceived by the classroom teacher; and (c) the grades that students are receiving. Each academic department, primarily through the department head, does its own placement, and there is a re-sorting at the end of each semester based on the student’s semester performance. Parents, however, may intervene in this process by requesting either a higher or lower placement for students and, most often, parent requests are granted “with a note inserted in the student record indicating that the placement is not the recommendation of the department.”

3. The La Salle staff periodically tests student development and retention; for example, at one point, a mathematics test given to juniors indicated that approximately 25% of the school’s juniors could not achieve an eighth-grade level of performance in arithmetic with 80% proficiency. Accordingly, those students were given remedial instruction. This incident led to the establishment of a school-wide mathematics maintenance program in order to ensure that students obtained and retained basic mathematics skills.

4. In their freshman year, all students are required to attend study halls during the hour or two when they are not in class. The study halls are also resource centers, which contain many of the books and references needed by freshmen in their courses. In such study centers, emphasis is placed on assisting students with their work. The teacher aide who runs the center is familiar with the assignments that freshmen receive. (This stands in contrast to study halls in other schools, which provide only custodial care during study periods.) Some freshmen who are deemed to be academically deficient are required to attend a separate study skills center adjacent to the freshman study hall. There, the intention is to provide more intense help than is available in the freshman study hall. Together, the freshman study hall and the study skills center serve to initiate freshmen into the academic culture of the school.

5. During their sophomore, junior, and senior years students who are experiencing academic or truancy problems are assigned to study halls during times when they are not in class. Again, emphasis is on providing academic assistance.

6. A few students exhibiting extraordinary behavioral problems are assigned to “supervised study.” In this room, custodial care is supplemented with a strong emphasis on interaction between the aide and the students. The room has only 12 desks, indicating that supervised study is necessary for only a tiny portion of the student population.

7. The school places a premium on student attendance in classes and has designed an effective monitoring system whereby parents are notified by the classroom teacher of class cuts on the same day that they take place.

Changing Course: American Curriculum Reform in the 20th Century
by Herbert M. Kliebard
(Teachers College: 2002)
Chapter 8: One Kind of Excellence: Ensuring Academic Achievement at La Salle High School
Co-authored with Calvin R. Stone

  • grouping by performance & place in curriculum
  • grouping criteria appear to be reasonably objective and understandable by parents
  • grouping decisions revisited at end of each semester, not each year
  • math "maintenance" program
  • study hall monitors know the assignments and have most of the textbooks
  • parents have an override on grouping decisions

a school board in an excellent school
"La Salle High School" - tracking, placement, accountability

Competition Turns Out To Be Good For Schools

The May 3rd issue of The Economist ran an interesting article on the effects of voucher programs on public schools. (Free to Choose, and Learn)

The article looks at a number of voucher programs around the world, with a particular focus on those systems where students are picked on a lottery system.

The lottery is preferred (by economists) as it randomizes kids in the program and those left behind.

Students in the voucher programs do much better than those not in.

This seems to conflict with what the Freakonomics guys report in their book, where they found vouchers seem to have no impact on student performance.

At the end, there is this:
"More evidence that choice can raise standards for all comes from Caroline Hoxby, an economist at Harvard University, who has shown that when American public schools must compete for their students with schools that accept vouchers, their performance improves. Swedish researchers say the same. It seems that those who work in state schools are just like everybody else: they do better when confronted by a bit of competition."
What was Caroline Hoxby's study? Does anyone have a link?

I find myself leaning more and more toward introducing competition in American public schools.
The Swedish reference is intriguing. The article says that in 1999 Sweden gave parents the right to choose any school -- public, private, religious, etc. The only restriction was a "first-come-first-serve" admission criteria. This would certain limit the ability of a school to "cherry-pick" only the best students.

Does anyone have more information on how the Swedish school choice system is working out? It sounds really too good to be true. But maybe improving schools is really much simpler than educrats believe. Less money, better performance, let the market work.

Could it really be that easy?

shrouded in mystery

A friend of mine said, last Xmas, "Here in Irvington, everything is shrouded in mystery."

It's true!

I'd like to know how true the shrouded-in-mystery observation is in schools across the country. Kathy Iggy's comment describes my district exactly:

My boss and I were talking about all the secrecy in our district. Her kids are in high school and do very well. But at the end of middle school, the guidance counselor noticed boss' daughter was not being recommended for Honors Science despite the fact she had an A+ in 8th grade science. When the counselor asked the teacher whether this was a mistake, teacher said she was not recommending her because "she did work hard enough in my class." The counselor recommended my boss request her kids be put in honors classes anyway. A similar thing happened with boss' son because of typical boy not doing homework issues, despite he had a 99% on his standardized tests. Boss pushed for kids to be put in honors and they are doing fine. Of course, I think that middle school counselor who told boss that parents can request classes despite the lack of teacher recommends is retiring.

the good news

The good news around here is that we've had one major reform.

The new head of the science department, a middle school science teacher with a sterling reputation, has reformed the selection process for the 8th grade Earth Science course.

Parents now know, and are directly told:

  • precisely what the selection criteria are
  • selection criteria are heavily objective -- i.e. scores on the CTBS science scale
  • published rubric outlining exactly what combination of study skills and test scores kids need to do well in the course
  • all students are sent a letter informing them whether they've been chosen to take the course (previously only the selected kids received letters; those kids then had to tell their friends they hadn't gotten in)
This is an enormous reform.

Very, very important.

news from nowhere part 14
news from nowhere part 16
news from nowhere part 17
news from nowhere part 20
tracking in "high-performing" schools
Earth Science reform
email to the guidance counselor, 2007 edition
email from the guidance counselor

a crow

from the Science publication:

We report here an experiment inspired by the observation that a captive female spontaneously bent a piece of straight wire into a hook and successfully used it to lift a bucket containing food from a vertical pipe (Fig. 1A). This occurred on the fifth trial of an experiment in which the crows had to choose between a hooked and a straight wire and only after the hooked wire had been removed by the other subject (a male). [ed.: that is, he stole it!] The animals had prior experience with the apparatus, but their only previous experience with pliant material was 1 hour of free manipulation with flexible pipe-cleaners a year before this experiment, and they were notfamiliar with wire (6).

I've mentioned before that I came out of Animals in Translation feeling that birds are:

a) the smartest animals (smartest I know of, at any rate)
b) probably as smart as we are
c) possibly smarter than we are

No idea whether that's true.

But that's what I came out of the book feeling.

A bird's eye view of cognition
Shaping of hooks in New Caledonian Crows (pdf file)

Barry on guided discovery

from Barry:

"Many of the instructions, and even basic discipline, seem to be a carried out like a full-scale Socratic dialogue with the goal being that the child discovers the all-mysterious point the teacher is trying to make."

Many teachers think that the above is an example of "guided discovery". It isn't. Guided discovery means providing direct information and then asking leading questions based on this information and providing scaffolding as necessary to get students to the next level. Information is given all along, but students are kept actively engaged through questions that 1)allow them to apply the information they have just been given, and 2) to make cognitive leaps to the next level, ala the "spark gap" analogy that Instructivist described some time back. Singapore does this in their textbooks.

I'm going to bug Barry until he writes up an explanation of scaffolding.

I've developed a sense of what scaffolding is in the abstract, but I need more!

ktm-2 on discovery, time, and attention


Starting in first grade, I kept telling the school that my daughter was exhibiting typical APD behaviors and was told that diagnostic testing is not advisable until age 7 or 8, which is also what I have read. I kept bringing it up, and last year in third grade the school agreed to recommend testing.

It’s funny, but I would never have researched learning disorders and pressed for testing except for the fact that she was struggling so much with math. If the school had been using a more traditional curriculum, maybe it would not have become an issue and she would not have been diagnosed.

It makes me wonder how teaching practices and diagnosed learning issues are related. For instance, is sitting students at tables facing each other a good thing for kids with ADD?



Thanks for the information. I have two sons, one in kindergarten and one in third grade. At the beginning of third grade, I was told he had trouble following multi-step directions and he was not fluent in basic math facts.

Not one word from the school about a possible learning disability. However, he was placed in a special ed class without an IEP. I mean, most of the children either had IEPs or were under a child study.

I took him to Kumon and his pretest indicated he was a year behind. My husband and I were stunned.

He obviously learned nothing in second grade.

His math fluency has definitely improved since attending Kumon. He seems to be doing better with following directions. There hasn't been any comments from his teacher. I keep in close contact with her.

Second scenario: I have a kindergartner at the same school. On my son's report card, it states, "He continues to not follow through when directions are given and gives the same reasons as he always does." The reasons are he forgot or he didn't hear them.

I volunteer in both my sons classes and I can tell you the directions that are given are vague. The children must infer a lot. All the children sit in groups facing each other.

So is it possible that both my children have an auditory processing disorder or is it the school's methods of teaching?
Frankly, I tend to believe it is the school curriculum and the appalling lack of direct instruction.
In any case, my kindergartener has an appointment with an ENT on Monday. I do not trust the school to administer any sort of test on my child.


"It makes me wonder how teaching practices and diagnosed learning issues are related. For instance, is sitting students at tables facing each other a good thing for kids with ADD?"

That's a good question, Tex.

My husband's grandmother (47 years of teaching in Ukraine) that there WAS NO students with learning disabilities in Soviet school up until 5 years from now when the schools stated to use group work models in earlier grades. Yes, teachers studied psychology and abnormal psycology, they were taught to recognize such things as autism, but she says there were no students with learning problems that couldn't be corrected with proper discipline. Jumpy and inattenite, shy and slow - direct instruction and common discipline probably did their job. All kids by the second marking period of grade 1 were able to sit straight for 45 minutes and follow teacher's directions without speaking up.

As from my personal experience in middle school, I violate my principle's order of having kids in groups, and I refused tables in my classroom. I like desks in rows, all facing forward. I would love individual desks even more, but well... At least I have desks) And they pay much more attention to the lesson (again, I compared the results of tests and oral testing after group works and workshop model and close to direct instruction model lessons) if they don't face each other.


I volunteer in both my sons classes and I can tell you the directions that are given are vague. The children must infer a lot. All the children sit in groups facing each other.

I'm in a lot of grade school classes and I have to agree with you.

I think, again, some of this is coming from the idea that teachers are supposed to be teaching "thinking."

The techniques I'm seeing are what you describe and seriously slow down the classroom. You can see a good number of the children are completely checked out just by their facial expressions, but the teachers just keep on going.

Many of the instructions, and even basic discipline, seem to be a carried out like a full-scale Socratic dialogue with the goal being that the child discovers the all-mysterious point the teacher is trying to make.


"Many of the instructions, and even basic discipline, seem to be a carried out like a full-scale Socratic dialogue with the goal being that the child discovers the all-mysterious point the teacher is trying to make."

Yes, yes! LOL!

My third grader has complained about how his teacher goes on and on and really he has absolutely no idea what she is discussing or why. He asked me, "Why can't she just get to the point and let us do our work?"


LOL! I hadn’t considered the time wasted in “discovery discipline”.

Discovery discipline:
Teacher: “Now, Susie, why do you think Mary cried when you said she sounded like a cat when she sings?”
Susie: “Uh, because she likes dogs better than cats?”
“No, maybe it’s another reason. How would you feel if someone said that to you?”
“I love my kitty, her name is Fluffy. She purrs when I pet her.”
“Uh, but maybe some children don’t want to sound like a cat, they want to sound like a songbird?”
“What’s a songbird?”
“A bird that sounds beautiful when it sings. Wouldn’t you like to sound like a songbird?”
“I like parrots because they can talk. Mary sounds like a parrot when she talks. Is that a nice thing to say?”
Etc., etc, etc.

Direct discipline:
Teacher: “Susie had her feelings hurt because she thought you meant her singing sounded like a cat screeching. She misunderstood.”
Susie: “That’s not what I meant, cats sound so cute to me.”
“Would you apologize to Mary?”

I find direct usually works better with my kids. One child gets distracted and goes off on tangent easily, and the other one says, “Mom, get to the point, please.” Come to think of it, that’s probably how they behave in class.



Lol! That is perfect, and much funnier than what I would have come up with.

This usually happens several times before the teacher actually gets to the instructions or book to be read.

Little Mary and little Johnnie have now reached the end of their ability to sit perfectly still and quiet due to waiting for the non-answer of little Susie who has long since forgotten why she was called out in the first place.

Next will be the multi-step discovery instructions for the multi-step discovery project where there are no wrong ways to do it, unless, of course, you miss one of those very important steps.

Along the way to learning about the upcoming project are questions concerning why the children might do such a step. Followed by more long-winded misunderstandings of the all-important steps.

Thus, requiring the teacher to guide the confused children back to the point of the step in question.

Dinosaurs trying to escape tarpits had it easier.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

preteaching wonders of the world

from Ms. K:

A quick update on Chris – he has been doing well in class. He has begun asking questions in class as well as looks for clarification or a re-explanation. I’ve gone over his homeworks and made corrections. It’s great to see the improvement he’s been making.

This is almost bizarre.

Yes, of course, preteaching is an old and honored technique.....but who would have thought???

Not me.

Rory says...

I am not surprised about pre-teaching working better for you.

I imagine that your brief tutoring gives him enough insight into the subject that when it is presented in class, he can keep up with it.

Before, I imagine that he couldn't quite keep up with the pace of presentation, got frustrated and tuned out. Then when you tried to catch him up, he was mentally discouraged.

Now, you can initially present the concept at a pace that suits him. Now when he sees the teacher present the material, he is saying to himself... "I got this!"

Obviously, Rory is right.

The class presentation is probably just moving too fast for C.; it may be that simple.

And the tuning out part -- is that a boy thing ??

Speaking as a person who has never been a boy, I think it may be. I've talked to at least 2 or 3 moms whose daughters are getting through the Phase 4 class by dint of staying up 'til midnight sweating over the homework. One mom told me her daughter tends to be anxious and is "perfectionistic." She doesn't quit.

That's not what we see around here. Nor have I heard tell of it in my many conversations with moms of boys.

If C. can't do the homework, he closes the book and we don't hear about it. That's why I have to stay on top of things; I have to watch. Every time I forget I have to watch, I end up sorry.


Maybe, when C. goes to class having worked through the material once, he's already faster.

Or, if not faster, just able to keep up. As Rory says. He's got the jist.

This whole experience is.... I'm afraid I'm going to have to resort to the word "bizarre" again.

The school must see a completely different student from the one we see. Some of you will recall the finds subject matter difficult comment from the Comment Bank that appeared on C's final report card last year re: math.

I'm sure the school considers us the ultimate exemplars of pushy parents who refuse to look reality in the face. (Your child. Not the little genius you thought he was, eh? IMS motto)

But the fact is, C. doesn't find subject matter difficult.

When I'm teaching him math -- and I'm not skilled at teaching math yet, though I hope to become so -- he finds subject matter easy.

When he's teaching himself math, which he's done, he finds subject matter easy.

He's not mathematically gifted; he's not going to be a mathematician when he grows up.

But that has no bearing on whether or not a bright 12 year old can learn beginning algebra.

A bright 12 year old can easily learn beginning algebra.

At some point C is going to "hit the wall," as Carolyn used to say ----- but that point is not beginning algebra.

Nor is it pre-algebra.

I'm having a distinctly unpleasant Big Picture moment.

Our entire country is filled with teachers, administrators, parents, and students who have no clue what material is or is not "hard" -- or, rather, what material is hard no matter how well it's taught.


regular ed = special ed

In special ed, you spend most of your life telling people your kid can do more than they think.

Learn more, do more, be more, etc.

That's your job.

Same thing in regular ed.

You tell me my kid finds subject matter difficult.

I tell you he can do it.

Same difference.


I don't know why people keep betting against parents.

Usually, when I've thought my kid could do something everyone else thought he couldn't, I've been right.

Parents aren't crazy -- at least, not the way educators think we're crazy.

We aren't crazy and we aren't deluded -- how can we be? We live with these kids.

When you live with a 12 year old boy you don't spend a lot of time thinking he's a genius.

In fact, you don't spend any time thinking he's a genius.


The dominant emotions run to anxiety, horror, and chronic low-grade stress (just got word today: thyroid gland kaput!) --- it's not that easy to see how the 12 year old middle schooler becomes the 18 year old college student.

If the mother of a 12-year old boy thinks he can learn algebra in 8th grade and the 25 year old teacher thinks he finds subject matter difficult..... go with the mom.

update: from Rudbeckia

I can assure you that "tuning out" is an equal-opportunity behavior.

preteaching, not reteaching
success, part 2
more preteaching results in the offing
preteaching saves the world
preteaching wonders of the world

speaking of SMART Boards

Synchronicity strikes again.

Does this presentation makes sense?

Or is this math teacher just demonstrating ways in which one can use a SMART Board -- ?

I don't follow the math well enough to know what he's up to, sad to say.

I did finish Lesson 78 in Saxon Algebra 2 today, however. of these days.

Monday, May 7, 2007

preteaching saves the world

Two tests after I began my new preteaching-not-reteaching regimen, Christopher has an average grade of 87.7 in his math class.

This is up from a C second quarter, a C+ 3rd quarter.

All from preteaching.

Ed says that with preteaching C. is getting "a second look."

The improvement we're seeing is almost bizarre.

I'm kicking myself for not thinking of this sooner, but otoh I wouldn't have predicted that simply having the second look occur in class instead of at home would have an effect of this (seeming) magnitude.

Plus I'm spending very little time on this -- maybe 10 or 15 minutes at most? I spend only a few minutes demonstrating and explaining the procedure; then C. does 2 or 3 problems, which take another 10 minutes.

That's about it.

I also have him do some practice equations from workbooks. That's part two: I'm having him try to gain speed at the foundational skills he's using in the class problems.

tutors and teachers

It's probably time for me to sit down and study Ericsson's "The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance," (easily found on Google) seeing as how it contains this passage:

Research in education reviewed by Bloom (1984) shows that when students are randomly assigned to instruction by a tutor or to conventional teaching, tutoring yields better performance by two standard deviations—the average tutored student performed at the 98th percentile of students taught with the conventional method. Interestingly, the correlation between prior achievement and achievement on the current course was reduced and corresponded to only about 6% of the variance for the tutored subjects as compared with around 36% for students taught with conventional methods.

Apparently we've moved from tutoring to tutorial.

We'll see.

preteaching, not reteaching
success, part 2
more preteaching results in the offing
preteaching saves the world
preteaching wonders of the world

trigonometry for the masses

Is this site good?

Dave's short course in trigonometry.

more preteaching results in the offing

C. took another test this week, and came home saying it was "easy."

"Easy," on the last test, translated to a score of 80, which is only 4 points above the 76 he received on the reteaching test prior. Four points is four points; I'll take it. But it's not as large a gain as I'd like to see.

However, that was the test he forgot about and took cold. There's never been a time, in the entire two years he's been in this class, that he could have taken a math test cold and scored an 80.

He studied for the test he just took. Unfortunately, he had to study almost entirely on his own because we went to the candidate's forum.

It'll be interesting to see how he does.

Regardless of his grades, it's obvious that preteaching is absolutely the way to go. I can tell by working with C. that he's getting the material, not struggling horribly with it, not lost at sea -- none of that stuff.

short attention span theater

One of the gigantic advantages of preteaching is that attention lapses in class aren't fatal.

If C. misses a point, or spaces out for a minute, or gets distracted by the other kids (apparently the class is rowdy) he can get back on track because he's already learned and practiced the material once.

My neighbor told me that next year's teacher gives reading assignments in the book.

The kids read the text (in theory), and come to class knowing a little something about the material that's going to be taught.

That sounds like heaven.

With C.'s class, every day can bring a fresh surprise!

preteaching, not reteaching
success, part 2
more preteaching results in the offing
preteaching saves the world
preteaching wonders of the world

if the TIMES says so, it must be true!

The Wisdom Scorecard

Sunday, May 6, 2007

today's quiz

How much does one light bulb for the SMART Board projector cost?

the answer
budget vote
more and ever more SMART Boards

Smartest Tractor on SMART Boards

from Smartest Tractor (teaches middle grades in Canada):

Most of the "lessons" on a SmartBoard are hide-and-reveal. One can create some interesting material with Geometer's Sketchpad. In fact, after attending a sales pitch session at a "cutting edge" SmartBoard classroom, the presenter could not find any way her lesson could not have been done on an overhead project.

The SmartBoard is usualy centred on the wall, monopolizing the space. Since only one person can writing on it at a time, unless you are creative with other laptops and Bluetooth, the process of taking up math questions is exceptionally slow.

Primary teachers tend to use the SmartBoard as a centre. It is a costly spot in the classroom in my opinion.

Reviews of the usefulness of SmartBoard usually focus on student engagement, not student achievement. How exciting!

RH is absolutely correct in her note saving comment. In the year and a bit that one has graced my wall, I have printed off less than five items for students looking for missed information. Once again, the overhead had a scroll on it so all our notes were saved.

As for posting the information, I love the idea. I have thought about doing it myself to complement all the other material I post. If there was a payoff, people actually using it online, then I think I would do it. Since the net traffic on the Parent Communication Calendar is zero, I haven't taken the time to transfer the documents to pdf.

PLAN B (also from Smartest Tractor)

1. PC Tablet
2. Beamer, or projector

Better features, like handwriting recognition, and exceptionally portable.

To add student participation, you buy a Bluetooth Wacom Graphire3 tablet.

This is a big help.

One of the administration's selling points is that eventually every student will be equipped with his own individual response technology so answers can be wirelessly beamed to the Mother Ship up front just like on Jeopardy (that's how Ed put it in his notes).

More later -

more and ever more SMART Boards

from Lynn G --

We are getting 6 new SMART boards in the MS and 12 in the HS.

We will have a SMART board in every single classroom (except kindergarten and 1st grade). That will probably be in the following year's budget.

We even have SMART boards in empty classrooms.

3 years ago we embarked on an ambitious project to stay ahead of enrollment increases by doubling the size of two of the three elementary schools.

In the past three years, enrollment has dropped. Now we have beautiful empty classrooms.

how much does a light bulb for the SMART Board cost?
replacement light bulbs for the SMART Board
budget vote
more and ever more SMART Boards

how to spot a red flag, part 2

Ed informs me that in the preamble to this year's budget the superintendent says, "This is not a frivolous budget."

George Miller "top contributors"

from Susan S, who went to

This is the guy smearing Reading First, Direct Instruction, and phonics, and using Congress to do it.

I keep mentioning the dad who told Ed that in politics your enemies:

  • threaten to sue you
  • investigate you

He said the way you deal with these things is:

don't break stride

I love it!

How often can you sum up a big wide swathe of real life in two bullet points?!

Well, at least no one here has tried to investigate complaining parents as yet, possibly because one of the few powers our public schools do not possess is the power to subpoena witnesses.

I intend to keep Ken's discussion of the Reading First hearings bookmarked.