Saturday, May 26, 2007
Acceleration is souping up the engine.
One looks good, one performs better.
Ideally you would have enough money and time to do both, but if not... it depends on whether you want to win a race or just look good cruising down the street.
I have now discovered the correct term for the form of grouping I support: "flexible ability grouping."
I assume flexible ability grouping is what Engelmann practices - though he's a touchy guy; he may not wish to use the same term Robert Slavin uses (I probably don't blame him ...)
The goal of flexible ability grouping is accelerated learning for all of the kids in all of the groups. That is the point: the fastest learners learn faster, the medium learners learn faster, and the slowest learners learn faster.
The other goal of flexible ability grouping is (I gather) to get rid of the lowest track - which appears to be entirely possible. I'm not sure how many groups you'd end up with in an ideal situation - I'm guessing you'd end up with 2 core groups once everyone has acquired a schema for the subject being studied. (And see: Engelmann on mastery as a leveler of individual differences, and Gentile on fast and slow learners). But I'm not sure. (I wonder if Ken knows.)
Then you'd have outliers: gifted kids on one end, developmentally disabled kids on the other.
So.... flexibile ability grouping. A good thing.
I'm just finishing Cheri Pierson Yecke's book The War on Excellence, and had been assuming that her account of the middle school movement's campaign against tracking & grouping summed up the standard objections. The arguments of Slavin & c. have been mostly focused on social equity, equality of outcomes, and so forth.
Turns out the constructivist take on tracking is even worse.
When was the last time Tom Loveless worked in a public high school? His protracking bias in "Will Tracking Reform Promote Social Equity?" (April 1999) was all too evident. He just doesn't get it. Tracking simply doesn't belong in the school reform movement.
First, students in tracked classes are not necessarily the best and the brightest. Often, they are the "good" students who have exemplary behavior, text study and memorization skills, and parental involvement.
Second, data assembled in the early 1980s to support Loveless's tracking sympathies hardly reflect today's volatile, technology-savvy, and multicultural student populations. When teachers believe that all students can learn and be successful, challenges abound in every classroom.
Third, once the "good" students are removed from the untracked classes, their test scores may remain constant or rise slightly. But the remaining students, having lost the role models, standard-bearers, and high achievers, show declining scores. The schoolwide effect is a significant drop in test scores.
Fourth, what does it say about a school if its value and reputation rest on the high achievements of a select few students? I certainly wouldn't want to teach there.
Detracking is not a mistake, as Loveless claims. Rather, it is an imperative. Further, there is no point in conducting rigorous research on tracking in schools that are not employing authentic teaching and assessment practices that meet the needs and talents of all students. Tracking is a self-indulgent cop-out that caters to the convenience of a few at the expense of the inconvenience of the many. I hope that the schools of the future will have neither the time nor the inclination to track. They will be too busy focusing on high achievement for all students.
—Judith A. Gray, Science teacher, Henry M. Jackson High School, Everett, Washington
1. the smart kids aren't smart
This passage speaks to the issue of whether constructivism "positions" the ur-student as not very bright - an idea one of Paula's comments made me wonder about. Assuming I'm getting Paula's situation right, her kids (or at least one of her kids) tests gifted and is being perceived by the school as having learning problems. (If that's wrong, let me know. I'll revise.)
Here we have a constructivist position statement on tracking directly asserting that students in the top track aren't the brightest students. So.... there it is. This author isn't talking about a particular student she's encountered, but rather making a global assertion that kids who do well in school aren't the smartest kids.
You have to sit with that for a moment to realize how radical it is.
It's certainly true that placement in the top track has always left out a subset of the smartest kids. I suspect that a certain number of Asperger's kids probably get missed, for instance. Black and Hispanic kids with the ability to be in the top track probably get mulched -- or self-mulched -- all the time.
But I don't think it's ever been true that the top track in a school systematically includes kids who don't belong there while systematically excluding kids who do.
I don't think it's even possible.
2. chaos means challenge for all
4. gotta keep those scores up
5. on the other hand ...
On the other hand, standardized test scores tell us nothing, so forget the research.
What a mess.
Nevertheless, I am now wondering whether there is an aggressive strain in constructivism, a wish to take these little memorizers down a peg or two or three.
After all, as this science teacher (science teacher!) points out, who are the kids typically considered the brightest in any school setting?
They are the fast learners, which means the fast rememberers.
The memorizers with the good behavior and the parental involvement. Don't like 'em.
We've heard quite a lot of this rhetoric around here. A lot. That was one of the reasons given for de-tracking math in K-5. The kids who were tracked into Phase 4 were "just" good at memorizing. Then when they got to 4th grade and had to understand math (apparently understanding math used to begin in 4th grade) they couldn't do it. So they and their parents were terribly disappointed because here everyone thought they were good at math but they really weren't.
I've had a bad feeling about constructivists and constructivism for a long time -- bad beyond the dread that we won't manage to escape K-12 before it is completely submerged in the constructivist tsunami that is bearing down upon us. I always get the feeling that I'm looking at masked aggression -- a feeling I never get with Engelmann, to pull a random non-constructivist name out of a hat. Engelmann is a wild man with a horrible mouth on him, but reading his stuff I feel, always, that what you see is what you get.
You don't get a lot of masked aggression with Siegfried Engelmann. Let me put it that way.
With constructivists, often enough, you do.
constructivism as masked aggression
the 80% rule
Now Here Is That Authority on Mathematics Reform, Dr. Constructivist!
By Michael G. Mikusa and Hester Lewellen
The Mathematics Teacher
Vol. 92, No. 2, February 1999
(no link available)
There are several basic aspects to the transmission-vs.-constructivist contrast. The basic difference, already introduced, is in terms of the theory of student learning that undergirds instructional practice-i.e., the difference between learning through reception of facts and repetitive practice of discrete skills versus learning through effortful integration of new ideas with those previously believed.
Constructivist-Compatible Beliefs and Practices among U.S. Teachers
Jason L. Ravitz
Henry Jay Becker
Yan Tien Wong
Knowledge is constructed in an active, effortful way by learners who are engaged in experiences, which result in reflection and assimilation with existing knowledge.
ISD Knowledge Base
...letting students struggle with the problems they choose and helping only when they ask *
I'm collecting constructivist lines about "effortful" learning and "struggle" to construct meaning, etc.
So if you've got some, please share.
* this one is especially interesting in light of the fact that our superintendent is constantly talking about students needing to "seek help" - and of course there is the issue, here, of boys not being especially interested in seeking help
make them struggle
education professors: students must struggle
KUMON: "work that can be easily completed"
handing it to the student
Dolciani vs. Saxon: A Comparison of Two Algebra I Textbooks With High School Students.
Oklahoma City Public Schools, OK. Dept. of Planning, Research, and Evaluation.
This study examined achievement differences between algebra students taught with the non-traditional textbook developed by Saxon and those taught with a "traditional" textbook by Dolciani. Student absences, rate of turning in homework, and ability level were considered, as well as teachers' comments. One Algebra I section in each of seven schools used the Saxon text, while a second section in each school used the Dolciani text, with the same teacher teaching both sections. In an eighth school, the texts were used with two sections of Elementary Algebra students. (However, data from these two classes and from one of the seven Algebra I teachers were not used in the analysis.) An analysis-of-covariance design accounted for students' initial achievement level differences prior to entering Algebra I. The Spring, 1981, California Achievement Test total math score was used as a covariate. The locally-constructed Algebra I Comprehensive Exam assessed course achievement. The mean score of the 98 students using the Saxon text was significantly higher than the mean score of the 67 students using the Dolciani text. The Saxon classes had slightly more absences and turned in homework slightly less frequently than the Dolciani classes. Most teachers preferred the Saxon text. An addendum discusses inter-test correlation and data from the California Achievement Test. (MNS)
I have both books. Dolciani looks fantastic, but I use Saxon for myself entirely because the book is built on the principle of distributed practice.
Saxon isn't a "traditional" math book.
It is a cog-sci math book. Something new under the sun.
also: WMD has been keeping a record of districts that use fuzzy math, so you might want to email in your district.
Friday, May 25, 2007
This is great!
It looks like the entire New Yorker article on the Pirahã tribe is posted online.
Now I won't have to keep losing and finding and re-losing and re-finding my copy of the April 16 issue.
“Crooked head” is the tribe’s term for any language that is not Pirahã, and it is a clear pejorative. The Pirahã consider all forms of human discourse other than their own to be laughably inferior, and they are unique among Amazonian peoples in remaining monolingual. They playfully tossed my name back and forth among themselves, altering it slightly with each reiteration, until it became an unrecognizable syllable. They never uttered it again, but instead gave me a lilting Pirahã name: Kaaxáoi, that of a Pirahã man, from a village downriver, whom they thought I resembled. “That’s completely consistent with my main thesis about the tribe,” Everett told me later. “They reject everything from outside their world. They just don’t want it, and it’s been that way since the day the Brazilians first found them in this jungle in the seventeen-hundreds.”
Temple Grandin has always said that the language of animals is music, and I think the Pirahã language may support her case.
Also, the Pirahã and their language, assuming Dan Everett is right, pull the rug out from under Chomsky, who has it coming. I say this because I view his paper on recursive language to be an egregious instance of moving the goalposts where animal cognition is concerned.
Researchers debate origin of language Harvard Gazette
The Return of Hauser, Chomsky, and Fitch
JP VERSUS FHC+CHF VERSUS PJ VERSUS HCF (Language Log)
By Charles Fadel, Margaret Honey, & Shelley Pasnik
Published in Print: May 23, 2007
Within the past 50 years, we’ve seen our country move from an industrial economy to an information-based economy. Now, early in the 21st century, it appears we are shifting to an innovation-based economy, [ed.: evidence, please] one that requires what the psychologist Robert J. Sternberg calls “successful intelligence,”*(pdf file) a three-point foundation of analytical, practical, and creative skills. In other words, the measure of success in today’s economy is not just what you know, but how you use that to imagine new ways to get work done, solve problems, or create new knowledge. This innovation-based environment calls for substantially new forms of assessment, and therein lies a major hurdle for schools, especially American schools, trying to prepare students for this new century.
American students today are largely evaluated based on their factual knowledge. A recent study by Robert C. Pianta and his colleagues at the University of Virginia’s Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning found that the average 5th grader received five times as much instruction in basic skills as instruction focused on problem-solving or reasoning. ....
So there's hope.
wrong about the rim
* Naturally Robert Sternberg's "What Is an Expert Student?" appears to have been the sole article handed out to our curriculum committee a couple of years back: This article suggests that conventional methods of teaching may, at best, create pseudo-experts—students whose expertise, to the extent they have it, does not mirror the expertise needed for realworld thinking inside or outside of the academic disciplines schools normally teach. It is suggested that teaching for “successful intelligence” may help in the creation of future experts. It is further suggested that we may wish to start teaching students to think wisely, not just well..... [ed: yes, good idea, Bob. Staff the schools with 25 year old novice teachers and tell them to teach wisely, not just well. see where that gets you.]
I'm definitely at #2 on the list. If I am spending my money on Kumon and educational workbooks and programs, why am I sending my children to public school?
I don't think I have the willpower to wait for two years to change my school. For instance, last night my third grader was reviewing for the science section of the SOL. We are going over some questions and he stopped and looked at me and asked, "What does it mean to ask an inappropriate question?"
He went on to tell me that at the beginning of the year his class was having a science discussion and the topic was life cycles. He asked his teacher a question about an egg. What was the white part of an egg? Where did the egg come from? She told him it was an inappropriate question and to go home and ask his parents. He said he was so embarrassed because all the kids stared at him.
He also mentioned that once the topic was electricity and Ben Franklin. His question was why did a kite conduct electricity and not a balloon? Again, inappropriate question.
I told him perhaps it was his timing and honestly perhaps she really just didn't know the answers to his questions.
He said she doesn't call on him anymore in class. He figures it is because he asks the wrong questions.
He said the teacher's aide told him it wasn't nice to trick the teacher.
Now, this is a kid who scored in the 95th percentile in science on the ITBS.
He is told his questions are inappropriate and he shouldn't trick the teacher.
If this continues for the next two years, what will be the outcome? My nine year old has become cynical about school.
He asked, "These people went to college?"
The only good thing about this story (there's nothing good about this story, but bear with me).... the only good thing about this story is that it allows me to say something good about my own school which is that I can't imagine any child here being told that a question about eggs or electricity was inappropriate.
Also, I suspect that most of our teachers would be able to answer these questions -- or if not would know how to find the answer and would do so.
We basically have to grit our teeth and get through one more year of middle school. The high school is going to be drastically better.
BUT I'm worried about the high school for two reasons:
a) opaque Honors selection process (we're going to be lobbying for reform)
b) district-wide belief that learning is the responsibility of the student, and district-wide practice of making tutoring referrals to Irvington teachers
I'm hearing that kids need tutoring in Earth science, in chemistry; I'm hearing that "Honors Physics is a nightmare" ..... and it's not as if I have a wide network of sources inside the high school.
I'm also hearing about Honors (or AP?) ELA teachers who don't hand back papers until midway through the year, at which point kids discover they're getting B- s in a college transcript course.
I'm hearing about Honors ELA courses where students read 1 or 2 books because "we don't have enough copies" to read more books....
The high school is going to be radically superior to the middle school. When I talk to parents who are finally out of the middle school they say things like, "The middle school is a horror."
But I'm not going to be able to tutor C. in science, and I don't even want to think about how the writing assessment is going to strike me.
The school needs to set up a system for second opinions on writing assessment. It's time for all schools to do so. (I'll post the various studies soon.)
1. Denial - I'm just not up to date on the latest education research. They're professionals - they must know what they're doing.
2. Anger - My kid just finished sixth grade and can't add without using his fingers - WTF?!!!
3. Bargaining - Please, I'll stop bugging you if you would just teach my kid some arithmetic. [ed.: yes! yes! yes! God, how long did I live in Stage 3??? (read to end for relevant punchline)]
4. Depression - He's already four years behind. He'll never catch up.
5. Acceptance - Honey, I think we can safely empty out that college fund. Let's go to Hawaii.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
1) Identify what sort of answer the problem needs. (If the question is of the form "What percentage of the students are blond", an answer of "7 students" cannot be correct.)
2) Identify the units in which a correct answer will be expressed.
3) Write down the equations that you know from the stated problem.
4) Compare what you now have with other problems you have done and work the problem.
5) Make sure the form of the answer you got matches what you identified about the form of a correct answer in steps 1 and 2.
6) Think about whether the answer makes sense. (If you've calculated that the sales tax on a $10,000 car is $6.5 million, you might have made a mistake somewhere.)
7) Recheck your answer by working the problem backwards.
Sent: Wednesday, May 23, 2007 4:17 PM
Cc: Edward Berenson
Subject: Christopher's CTBS science score
What did Christopher score on his CTBS science scale?
I checked with Mr. W and he said that we will be able to share scores once the science letters go out next week to parents. Would you mind emailing me towards the end of next week so I can give you the information?
Hi G —
This isn’t a question of “sharing.”
Under FERPA regulation parents are entitled to “inspect and review” their children’s school records.
The school has a legal obligation to “provide a parent with an opportunity to inspect and review his or her child's education records.”
I have made a formal request; the law requires you to comply. So, no, I will not email a second request “at the end of next week.”
I will, however, extend my request from a request merely to be apprised of Christopher’s CTBS scores to a request to review all of his educational records, Kindergarten through the present.
I am formally requesting that the school comply with federal regulation and provide me with an opportunity to inspect and review all of my child’s educational records.
Thank you for your ongoing support and cooperation.
news from nowhere part 14
news from nowhere part 16
news from nowhere part 17
news from nowhere part 20
Earth Science at the Irvington Parents Forum
tracking in "high-performing" schools
Earth Science reform
email to the guidance counselor, 2007 edition
email from the guidance counselor
Remember, this is math class. 5th Grade Math Class.
Top Ten List of Problem Solving Strategies:
1. Act out or use objects
2. Make a picture or diagram
3. Use or make a table
4. Make an organized list
5. Guess and Check
6. Use or look for a pattern
7. Work backwards
8. Use logical reasoning
9. Make it simpler
Kids use these "strategies" to solve word problems.
I don't even know where to begin with this. This is a Top Ten List? My first thought is, what strategy is left that is so lame brained it couldn't make this list?
Act it out? Presumably, this will help when you have to solve the question on 1/3 of a football team wears glasses, 1/2 of the glasses wearers are blond, if 4 kids are blond glasses wearers, how many kids are on the football team? Or something like that. Get all your blond classmates together and line them up.
No mention of using an algorithm. How about, decide if you are using multiplication/division/addition/or subtraction? That seems like a good starting point.
Brainstorm? guess and check?
This is not from EM. I have no idea where the teacher found this gem.
Catherine here, parachuting into Lynn's post.
I thought that list looked familiar. (hit refresh a couple of times if necessary)
This sequence is pretty close to what I've gone through:
1. "I can help my child learn math (spelling, writing, Earth Science, etc.)"
2. "Why is it up to me to teach math (spelling, writing, etc.) to my child?"
3. "The school needs to justify its educational practices to parents and the wider community."
4. "The school has abused its authority. The district needs an academic oversight committee composed of parents and disciplinary specialists."
I think it took me 2 years to go through this sequence.
My sense is that the administration does not, quite, grasp the fact that it has now lost nearly all legitimacy in the eyes of a large segment of parents.
At this point it appears that our new Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Technology is going to refuse to send answers home with students on grounds that to do so would be "unusual" and that, furthermore, the district "can't purchase teacher's editions for parents."
Once again, a decision is handed down from on high with no educational rationale given, no hint of interest in whether children are or are not learning math on display.
This is SOP.
It is deeply corrosive.
all the answers are belong to us
email to the math chair
it would be unusual
more stuff only teachers can buy
2 weeks off
the return of Ms. K
Study Link 10.3
What's My Rule?
Rule: Subtract 6 from the "in" box.
What's my rule? Well, they tell you: "subtract 6 from the 'in' box"
This is at the end of 5th grade and my son's class has to skip lots of material to get to the end. In a letter to parents, the teacher claims that they have made great progress on their critical thinking skills at all levels. OK, but can they add 2/11 + 3/4?
This is not about understanding or discovery. It's about low expectations and less practice.
It also leads to the excuse that the problem is not the curriculum, but the teacher or school. This is only partially correct, but it is used to avoid comparing the details of curricula side-by-side. The school curriculum advisor seems to be looking for any justifications to keep EM. She is very nice and wanted to borrow my copies of Singapore Math, but there is a strong educational bias against curricula that don't talk the talk. I think the underlying theme is that they really think that curricula like Saxon and Singapore Math are too difficult or rigorous for kids. This is covered up with explanations like: "Many kids learn differently." and "We want to focus on understanding and problem solving." They are forced to break the link between mastery and understanding. They think they have found a magic way to remove the math filter without requiring a lot of hard work. They are in dreamland.
My son is in a private school that only offers a weak algebra course in 8th grade. The justification is that many of the kids go off to good prep schools and do quite well. All schools do this, and it covers up lots of problems.
"Our kids hold their own." is a complete cop-out and is not indicative of any sort of critical thinking skills, but some of them really think this is enough.
So, my son is going back to our public school. Things aren't perfect, but there have been some changes in philosophy. They no longer keep everyone together through 8th grade and there is a new 8th grade algebra course. (The new principal has taught with the Dolciani algebra textbook in the past.) They are willing to work with parents, and are more flexible. I could go on about our experiences with public and private schools, if there is any interest.
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Catherine: Right, except the cool thing is it doesn't have to be "communal." One person with a Yahoo list can do it.
Myrtle: Or one yahoo with a person list.
He started the year with a B, mostly because he already knew the material from the year before and from work over the summer.
Then I dropped the ball and he went down to a C 2nd quarter, a C+ in the third. Those Cs would have been Ds if Ms. K hadn't given lots of credit for homework.
Now he's up to a B and heading towards an A and it's easy. He's out sick again today, so in a little while I'm going to be teaching him FOIL. He'll pick it up quickly.
These two years in the middle school have been a marathon. Two winters in a row I've had Ed bugging me about what a bad idea all of this was, and I can't say I disagreed. Of course when push came to shove Ed wasn't willing to move him down to Phase 3 and neither was I, but it's cost me thousands in lost work time and possibly a functioning thyroid gland to boot; plus I'm still going to have to figure out what the gaps are in his knowledge and fill those.
Why did we hang in there. Maybe 6 parts sheer stubborness and 6 parts refusal to have C. learn massively less math than he would have if we'd been able to shell out $26,000 for private school. He's got the ability to learn algebra in 8th grade, so he's going to learn algebra in 8th grade.
He's learning it now, in 7th, and he started learning it in 6th, thanks to the IMS math spiral. Teach 'em algebra in 6th grade, teach 'em algebra again in 7th (and tell them "you saw it last year" when they flunk the test), teach 'em algebra again in 8th.
If the district cared about students mastering math they'd start gradually accelerating all of the kids in 4th grade (or earlier), instead of cramming everything into 6th, a difficult year under any circumstances.
The "accelerated" course has been designed to put maximum pressure on the child; it's make or break. A killer course. It's always been that way. In the old days the middle school routinely washed 20 kids out of the course between the 6th and the 8th grades. Lots of tears and distress and parents telling their friends the toll on their child wasn't worth it; not too many kids learning algebra in the 8th grade.
I guess that's what you call administrative progressivism.
Ed and I both suspect unauthorized use of an email list or two.
Here's the text:
please take particular note of the Police Budget on pages 12-15 as it is getting the most amount of press
> I am sending this out as a citizen of Irvington--not as my role as a member of the CBC
my intent is not to advocate a viewpoint--but to disseminate this report --I know how busy people are and many will not access the link to retrieve
As far as the content--I believe the report speaks volumes and it is up to you THE TAXPAYERS OF IRVINGTON TO SEND A MESSAGE TO YOUR MAYOR AND BOARD OF TRUSTEES --IF YOU HAVE AN INTEREST IN YOUR TAXES AND HOW THEY CAN AFFECT YOUR QUALITY OF LIFE IN OUR VILLAGE
YOU NOW HAVE THE INFORMATION AND I HOPE THE INCLINATION TO COMMUNICATE YOUR VIEWS TO THE BOARD
HERE ARE THE EMAIL ADDRESSES TO VOICE YOUR OPINION to the mayor and board of trustees-I know many people cannot make the budget meetings in the evenings--
I haven't looked at the report (train wreck! train wreck!) but Ed did. Irvington, a village of roughly 6500 has, I believe, 77 full-time employees. Something like that. We have 27 policemen & women. Our crossing guards are policemen paid $80,000/yr; same deal with the people handing out parking tickets. The town is losing money on parking tickets, as a matter of fact, because we pay a policeman $80,000 to distribute them.
Village employees shovel snow and rake leaves, collecting overtime as needed. Which is particularly annoying to Ed and me, seeing as how we live on a "private road," meaning a road so private no one knows who owns it. Our road isn't maintained by the Village; it is called "the bumpy road" as a direct result. We pay for our own snowploughing & we rake our own leaves, etc. Sort of the same way parents in the school system pay for their own teachers.
There are a lot of private roads in Irvington, as it turns out -- and all of the folks who live on them are paying for town services privately.
People have been talking about the possibility of a tax revolt in Irvington.
After reading the budget report last night, Ed came upstairs and said, "It's already begun."
First the fields emails; now this one.
letter to the editor:
The local paper published this letter from me a day or two before the school board election & budget vote:
To the editor:
The Irvington school district has the right mission statement – to create a challenging and supportive learning environment in which each student attains his or her highest potential for academic achievement – but too little sense of mission.
In math, the international standard for all students is algebra in the 8th grade. Yet here in Irvington, only 30% of students take algebra in 8th grade, and many of these students are being tutored or taught at home by parents.
Or compare IUFSD to the KIPP Academy, a charter school in the Bronx serving disadvantaged black and Hispanic children. Eighty percent of KIPP’s 8th graders take algebra and pass Regents Math A.
Per pupil spending at KIPP: roughly $10,000 per student
Per pupil spending at IUFSD: $21,000
One fourth of our eighth graders are invited to take Earth Science in the 8th grade; Pelham teaches Earth Science to all of its 8th grade students, including students in special ed.
The 7th grade ELA curriculum assigns books with measured reading levels of 5th and 6th grades; the social studies curriculum calls for students to make PowerPoint presentations; the Spanish class requires students to spend their weekends cutting out pictures of clothing from magazines and pasting them onto a piece of paper with labels in Spanish.
In K-5, Math TRAILBLAZERS takes more time to teach less content, and the district has deliberately slowed the progress of mathematically gifted children over the strenuous objections of their parents. Gifted children are to be “enriched,” not accelerated.
Enrichment means asking children to solve simple algebra problems without teaching them algebra.
Last but not least, I am still waiting for an explanation of last year’s bell curve exercise at the middle school. (Some) sixth grade teachers drew bell curves on their whiteboards, explained to students that they were average, and told them they should consider the Cs they would be receiving a good grade.
After the vote on May 15, Irvington’s school board will need to direct its immediate energies to getting a compromise fields project underway.
But I believe that, as work on “Plan B” proceeds, our elected representatives can also begin the process of holding administrators accountable for making our school mission statement a reality.
From what I can see, the whole town - school & village - is a slide and glide operation.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
We first heard the expression years ago when Ed asked a UCLA psychologist how people learn. "Spaced repetition" was the answer. The fundamental principle of all learning in all creatures, she said, was spaced repetition.
I figured spaced repetition had to apply to persuasion, too, because I'd seen it work on I Love Lucy. Lucy's tactic was to just kept repeating the same thing over and over again until Ricky started to think it was his idea.
Actually, I don't remember if Lucy ever did that, but I do remember this was a concept known to 1950s housewives.
"Just keep bringing it up until he thinks it's his idea." That was a wife thing.
I've been using spaced repetition for years. For the past couple of years I've been saying algebra in the 8th grade about as often as parrots used to say Polly wanna cracker. At some point I'm going to have said algebra in the 8th grade so many times my district will start teaching algebra in the 8th grade just to shut me up.
So guess what?
Science has proved me right!
How to make your personal opinion seem "popular"
A fascinating study has just found that hearing one person's opinion repeated is almost as effective as hearing several different people's opinions.
Repeated exposure to one person's viewpoint can have almost as much influence as exposure to shared opinions from multiple people. This finding shows that hearing an opinion multiple times increases the recipient's sense of familiarity and in some cases gives a listener a false sense that an opinion is more widespread then it actually is.
I could have told them that.
"This study conveys an important message about how people construct estimates of group opinion based on subjective experiences of familiarity," states lead author Kimberlee Weaver, (Ph.D), of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. "The repetition effect observed in this research can help us to understand how our own impressions are influenced by what we perceive to be the reality of others. For example, a congressman may get multiple phone calls from a small number of constituents requesting a certain policy be implemented or changed, and from those requests must decide how voters in their state feel about the issue."
I was telling Tex, I think, in one of the threads, that the big mistake parents make dealing with their school districts is taking no for an answer.
When you take no for an answer you stop repeating yourself. That's practically the definition of taking no for an answer, actually. You stop asking.
clarification: When it comes to the details, we take no for an answer all the time. No you can't move C. back up to Phase 4 if you move him down to Phase 3, no you can't have an answer key for the test prep book, no you can't visit the math class (scroll down), no you can't use the Top Secret district email list, no you can't have an open enrollment committee on character ed, no you can't distribute unauthorized handouts at the Board meeting, no you can't speak without raising your hand and stating your name for the record, no, no, NO!
But on the big stuff I just keep repeating myself.
APA press release
Inferring the Popularity of an Opinion From Its Familiarity: A Repetitive Voice Can Sound Like a Chorus (pdf file)
Over the last few months, we have asked readers to tell us about the best middle schools they have encountered. Having heard so many horror stories, it was a surprise to read e-mails and letters from more than 500 parents, students, educators and community members pointing out great teachers and wise principals making real progress with children at that itchy age. [ed.: I'm surprised] The results are the following snapshots, in alphabetical order, of 30 area middle schools that are doing things right.
We have provided some basic information on each school, including how long each principal has been at the school and the most telling and universal measure of a middle school's level of challenge: what percentage of eighth-graders complete Algebra I.
Unstuck in the Middle
Sunday, April 15, 2007; Page W12
I count at least 5 affluent middle schools in the bunch. There may be more, but I don't feel like looking them all up on School Matters.
Here are the 5:
Capitol Hill Day School
D.C., 225 students, pre-kindergarten to 8; principal Catherine Peterson (22 years); tuition $20,590; 62 percent white, 38 percent other; 100 percent completed algebra.
Rachel Carson Middle School
Herndon, Fairfax County, 1,149 students, grades 7 and 8; principal August "Augie" Fratalli (four years); 6 percent low income, 59 percent white, 6 percent black, 4 percent Hispanic, 28 percent Asian; 64 percent completed algebra.
Cooper Middle School
McLean, Fairfax County, 931 students, grades 7 and 8; principal Arlene Randall (10 years); 1 percent low income, 76 percent white, 1 percent black, 4 percent Hispanic, 14 percent Asian; 59 percent completed algebra.
Kilmer Middle School
Vienna, Fairfax County, 1,070 students, grades 7 to 8; principal Deborah Hernandez (two years); 12 percent low income, 59 percent white, 4 percent black, 10 percent Hispanic, 21 percent Asian; 54 percent completed algebra.
Piccowaxen Middle School
Newburg, Charles County, 492 students, grades 6 to 8; principal Kenneth Schroeck (1 year); 14.2 percent low income, 81 percent white, 16 percent black, 2 percent Hispanic, 0.4 percent Asian; 44 percent completed algebra.
compare and contrast
Irvington Middle School: approximately 30% complete algebra
$21,000 per pupil spending
Autism: A Window Onto the Development of the Social and the Analytic Brain (pdf file)
Simon Baron-Cohen and Matthew K. Belmonte
Annual Review of Neuroscience
Do we know?
I've got it
communication and problem-solving
from Teacher 2.0: Developing the 21st Century Workforce:
re: laptops in the schools
Are any of us surprised? Laptops programs do not yield improved results on standard testing. Furthermore, students are distracted by video games, YouTube, blogs and IM.
Before we distribute laptops to every student we need to build organizational capacity to ensure that our investment in technology really pays off:
- Move all rote curriculum to the web for immediate student review and to free teachers from the tedium of delivery and assessment chores of this kind of content
- Design more motivating and rigorous assignments
- Redefine literacy to include web literacy and global communication literacy
- Shift the balance of control between learners and the organization of school
- Redefine education from the child to the whole family
- Redefine the job description of students to be content producers as well as consumers
- Redefine the job description of teachers as building learning communities instead of teaching 20 individuals in a classroom
- We need to redefine leaders to be innovators and team leaders instead of managers
I'm pretty sure I'm against this.
All of it.
Especially "Redefine education from the child to the whole family."
That one gives me the willies.
The article is Thinking Of Mathematics—An Essay On Eyes-free Computing.
I especially liked this quote.
"But to do higher-level mathematics, one first needs to do elementary mathematics, and I believe that it is even more important to find the right kind of help when one is beginning to learn. ...The challenge of gaining access to higher-level mathematics might appear to be the more complex ... [as compared with finding a good teacher]; however I believe that proper access at the introductory level is far more critical, since good access at this stage ensures that a student with the necessary mathematical aptitude remains within the field to go on and solve the challenges that lie beyond. "
I have forwarded your request to the District’s central office.
This is a good development.
The new assistant superintendent has been consistently following the principle that academic decisions should be made on the basis of academics, not scheduling, not copyright law, not AYP status, and on and on. I would be surprised if she doesn't figure out a way to get the answers to students and their parents.
The history of this request, which I haven't mentioned, is that a friend of mine, last winter, requested that answers be sent home or posted on edline so she could assign her child extra problems from the textbook. At the time her son really needed this help; he had hit a rough patch in the class. (He's in a different class, not the class C. is in).
The answer was a simple 'no,' which is the standard answer to parent requests at the middle school. The only justification offered was that the math chair didn't feel 'comfortable' providing a copy of the answer key. No one expressed interest in what was going on with my friend's son, or why his grades were sliding. When his grades picked back up again, no one expressed satisfaction to my knowledge.
That is the middle school in a nutshell.
So it fell to me to track down a copy of the teacher's manual, which I did. It wasn't easy. The Amsco books aren't sold in many states; it's not like tracking down the Teacher's Edition to Prentice Hall. It's difficult even getting the proper ISBN numbers for the books. That required a couple of phone calls to "Math Dad," who uses the books in his school and had to remember to look up the number inside the Teacher's Manual at his school, write it down, report them back to me, etc. Then I had to Google around for a used book source. Then I had to place an order, receive the wrong book, be told Alibris wouldn't refund.....
So I'm out $35 bucks on the deal, but my friend has the Teacher's Manual.
In short: it was a time consuming project and I lost thirty-five dollars.
I'm paying the highest property taxes in the country so my school district can outsource the task of providing answer keys to (temporarily) struggling students to me.
None of this works; none of it even remotely makes sense.
The school should be focused like a laser on the academic achievement of its students.
Instead we hear about character and scheduling. But mostly character. FOCUS, honesty, DIVERSITY!!! (the word "diversity" on the L.E.D. display sign* at the front of the high school lights up and flashes), S.A.D.D., drinkin,' druggin' celebrity parents, and on and on and on.
The fact is, I can get a copy of the manual on my own. I can Xerox my friend's copy.
I refuse to do that.
The school needs to teach algebra in 8th grade to as many students as possible, and that means rounding up the answer key so students can correct their work at night.
We've reached the point of diminishing returns with our afterschooling project. As long as I run around like a crazy person tracking down Teacher's Manuals, teaching myself algebra, preteaching and reteaching math to my kid, the school has no incentive to improve.
* Inforad: Your Window to a Wireless World
all the answers are belong to us
email to the math chair
it would be unusual
more stuff only teachers can buy
2 weeks off
the return of Ms. K
Turns out she's a middle school teacher!
I've just skimmed the front page; it's terrific.
First of all, a 4-star teacher joke.
Second, this passage tells you a lot about what my own district does wrong:
This is exactly the way a school in a small town should work. (Don't know about larger schools.... )
I had to call home on a student about a week ago due to behaviors that she has been exhibiting in my classroom. I used to teach her older brother, so I know the family. I also knew that the sassiness and disrespect that she was displaying was not something that her mom tolerates. When I called home, mom was very supportive and upset with her daughter. I felt bad about calling home on this student, but no matter what I said to her or what consequence I gave, it wasn't having an impact. Sometimes just knowing who the family is can go a long way towards having the support you need in the classroom. Since that phone call, this student's behavior has drastically improved.
Because the teacher has a relationship with the family, this problem gets resolved instantly.
Our middle school is, for many parents, the polar opposite of ms_teacher's school. A friend told me that when the assistant principal called to tell her about a pretty nasty prank her son had been involved in, she instantly defended her son and argued with the principal.
Then she felt bad about it.
I know what she's talking about. (And in fact, I was happy to hear she'd "stood up for" her child.) There is so little trust between parents and the middle school administration that my protective instincts are always in play, and I know this is true of others, too. I can see it.
Last fall the new middle school principal told Ed and me he was going to bring parents into the school. When parents are kept at arm's length, he said, trust erodes and suspicion grows.
He was right, but he followed up by doing exactly nothing. Parents aren't allowed into the school, collective punishments are imposed on the kids as a matter of course, very young unsupervised teachers yell at the kids during every lunch hour and have continued to do so in the wake of repeated parent complaints ---- the list goes on.
Ms_teacher's post is a terrific, real-life example of social capital, it seems to me:
The central premise of social capital is that social networks have value. Social capital refers to the collective value of all "social networks" [who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other ["norms of reciprocity"].The term social capital emphasizes not just warm and cuddly feelings, but a wide variety of quite specific benefits that flow from the trust, reciprocity, information, and cooperation associated with social networks. Social capital creates value for the people who are connected and - at least sometimes - for bystanders as well.
Catholic schools have social capital in spades. As I understand it, this is one of the reasons they're so effective.
I've just noticed I wrote an Amazon review of a book I haven't read, and in fact hadn't even ordered when I posted the review.
So.... why don't I just quote myself?
I'm ordering this book on the strength of comments made by Dr. Sally Kilgore, President and CEO of Modern Red SchoolHouse:
Q. What have you read lately that has influenced you?
The book in education that I have been mulling over is called Trust in Schools. It is authored by Barbara Schneider and Tony Bryk at the University of Chicago, who have been engaged in helping Chicago schools for over a decade. Their research led them to ask, "What conditions were most predictive of substantial change in student achievement?" And, as it turned out, trust relationships that exist between educators and the parents of the children served, among teachers, and then between the principal and his or her staff. What they found was that the ability to improve practices that require trust among all the relevant actors-parents, administrators, and teachers.
Many schools have very troubling relations between parents and educators. Educators still, and probably understandably, say, "We're great teachers, but the students just aren't motivated." We have to confront the question: How can one be a great teacher when they fail to have impact on those with whom they are working? That is the kind of challenge that I think Trust in Schools, to some extent, addresses.
I'm going to read all of ms._teacher's blog.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Peter Rivera is not well known to many New Yorkers, despite a decade and a half in the Assembly. He is familiar to the mental health industry because he chairs that committee. In his Bronx district, his major efforts seem to be towards directing "member item" funds into questionable projects.
Mr. Rivera is making a stab at wider recognition with the introduction of a dangerous piece of legislation, one that has grave implications for our schools, our children, and our society.
Mr. Rivera proposes that all students in middle and high school be required to watch the Mr. Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth." In fact, by the end of his press release, he expands the mandate right down to the first grade. It is never too early to proselytize.
"This documentary," Mr. Rivera says, "captures the science along with social issues that undoubtedly have relevance to the lives of all of our young people. It is a must showing to our future generations if only to have them serve as our daily reminders to the adults who govern this planet that we must change or cease to exist."
Mr. Rivera, who up until now never seemed to be particularly interested in the education issues of his community, where test scores rise a lot slower than the temperature of the earth, seems to have found a new cause.
" Al Gore has suggested that every science class in America watch this film," Mr. Rivera says. "My legislation will mandate the showing to all students in grades 1 through 12 because the message of this documentary must be seen by every member of the next generation. They are the ones most likely to listen. The Environmental Revolution we need to confront global warming, if there is one, will come from the youth, as most uprisings do, not from their parents, who are mostly too entrenched in old behavior and lifestyles to be willing to make real change."
An Inconvenient Assemblyman
by Andrew Wolf
New York Sun ($)
Start the revolution without me.
fun in Canada
A lot of my professional expertise is state-specific. Except for the Constitutional stuff, most school law is state law and state regulation driven. I do have a lot of incidental knowledge about school administrators, and, bless their little hearts, how their minds work. I also a great deal of insight into school culture for someone who has never, ever been an educator.
I can vouch for that. I've already learned a lot from Thinking Out Loud.
The reason he's in the chorus is that a bunch of kids joined chorus this year in order to get out of whatever else it was they would have had to take (hit refresh if necesssary).
As it turns out, this was a good move. The teacher, who was briefly on my Seriously Annoyed With Irvington Middle School List last year,* is amazing. Amazing in the sense that he is superbly trained (Eastman School of Music) and knows his stuff. He radiates commitment and expertise, if not the ability to control a class filled with slacker middle school boys. That will come.
Some of the members on Linda Moran's Beyond TERC list have talked about this phenomenon: in public schools today only the "specials" are serious. The music and art teachers at our school are pure content people. They don't talk about process, they aren't interdisciplinary, they probably can't tell you the name of the school's character-development-through- continual-obsessing- about-drugs program.
The spring concert was the sole serious school event we're going to experience this year or possibly any other year to come.
The astonishing thing about the concert was the degree to which the kids had improved in the months since the winter concert. I was moved by what this very young teacher has been able to do with his very young charges.
They'd learned so much that I was thinking, "Maybe I've been too hard on this place."
When the last number ended the principal took the stage.
"This concludes our program," he said. "Thank you for staying through the whole thing."
* resulting in an especially mortifying email exchange
Where are we on the Teacher’s Manual for Mathematics A?
TEACHER’S MANUAL W/ANSWER MATHEMATICS COURSE A
As I mentioned, I’d like to order a copy so I can begin preteaching next year’s Math A content to Christopher over the summer. I discovered recently that when I briefly preteach material his mastery shoots up. It’s amazing. He is now finding math “easy” and his grades are moving towards the A range.
I own a copy of the Teacher’s Manual for Dressler’s Integrated Mathematics, which I’ve used to check Christopher’s homework and have him re-do problems he’s missed. But there are no copies of the Teacher’s Manual for Mathematics A available online, so I need the school’s help.
Ms. Urban sent Xeroxed copies of the answer key home with students, and all contemporary math textbooks contain answers to half the problems in the back of the book. Carol Gambill, winner of the Edith Mae Sliffe Award from the NCTM and one of the best 8th grade algebra teachers in the country, assigns only problems that have the answers in the book. Here’s what she has to say about this practice:
“Twenty to thirty problems are assigned for homework every evening, ranging from the easiest to the most difficult of a given section of the text. I always assign the odd problems because their answers are in the back of the book. The answers provide the students with road maps to mastery. If they don't get the correct answer it means they turn back, take a detour, change a flat tire, or find a service station.”
Providing an answer key to students is standard practice.
I’d be thrilled to have a Xeroxed copy of the answer key, but if copyright laws are a problem, I’m happy to pay for a copy of the Manual itself. I’m sure other parents would feel the same way.
So let me know.
all the answers are belong to us
email to the math chair
it would be unusual
more stuff only teachers can buy
2 weeks off
the return of Ms. K
Making Curriculum Meaningful
21st Century Collaborative
The term "crayola curriculum" appears to have originated with Mike Schmoker.
More on the crayola curriculum from Donna Harrington-Lueker:
Talk to teachers, review messages posted on e-mail groups and browse professional journals, and you'll find high school assignments that are long on fun and remarkably short on actual writing.
For example, someone who teaches an honors class for high school freshmen posts a short-story project that allows students 13 options, only a handful of which involve actual writing. Among the choices students are offered: create a map to illustrate the story's setting, make a game to show the story's theme, put together a collage from magazine photographs, or assemble a scrapbook or photograph album for the character.
Teaching Arthurian literature? Have your students design a coat of arms. Need an alternative to a book report? Have students draw the design for a book jacket.
While such activities may be more entertaining for students, and less work for the teachers in terms of grading the projects, kids are often showing up at college unable to write.[snip]
Nor are English teachers the only ones at fault. Students don't appear to be writing substantively in other classes either, says Will Fitzhugh, editor of The Concord Review, a journal of academic writing for high school history students.
Fitzhugh's evidence is anecdotal: Too often, he says, high school writing is creative and "entirely self-referential" (involves students' writing about themselves). And with all of the anxiety about plagiarism on the Internet, teachers appear to be assigning few if any research papers — at least not the rigorous 20-page analyses that Fitzhugh's journal publishes. Recent papers selected for publication include such serious titles as "The Outcome of that Discontent: Oscar Micheaux, Motion Pictures and the Race for Dignity" and "The Treason Debate: Ezra Pound and His Rome Radio Broadcasts."
Still another culprit is the fascination with PowerPoint presentations, Fitzhugh says, which typically involve spiffy graphics and soundtracks paired with a single sentence, perhaps a paragraph or a bulleted list of items rather than sustained analysis.
If high schools are really serious about turning out students who can write well, they have to do more than supply their teachers with red pens. They have to think seriously about class sizes and workloads. If an average English teacher sees 150 students a week, assigning even a 10-page research paper means having to read and critique 1,500 pages. A 20-page paper — the kind Fitzhugh is accustomed to printing — is nearly impossible.
Under such circumstances, maps, collages and posters make sense: They're easier to grade, and they don't raise nearly the fuss a research paper would.
Sunday, May 20, 2007
.... my friend was concerned that her son didn't know his times tables and even less (obviously) his division facts by the end of 5th grade. This boy made straight A's in math (2 years of Trailblazers). She asked me if I would work with him and see what was going on. I was going to give him the Saxon Placement test, but I decide just to see what would happen with Mad Minute. Well, he got around 50% of the times tables and he struggled with the 50% that he got right. The division facts were a disaster.
I asked him about fractions and while he told me that he was comfortable with some of the operations, he turned out to be very shaky on pretty much everything to do with fractions and had no knowledge of division of fractions or what a reciprocal was. I didn't even look into adding and subtracting with uncommon denominators since the multiplication and division facts weren't there. How would he quickly get equivalent fractions?
Then, I decided to do a Saxon trick and asked him to write three ways to write a division problem. He looked a little freaked out, but figured out what I was getting at. He did the division box and then a horizontal one. I asked him if he could think of another way to write it and he said no. I wrote a fraction and asked him if he realized that he could divide a fraction. He said no and that he had never seen that before (Thank God Trailblazers covers all of that conceptual knowledge.)
I took a little time and showed him some easy long division, but it was difficult because he just didn't have enough math facts learned even for the easy ones. It was a struggle from the time I came through the door so I cut the session much shorter than I had planned.
If this had been a C/D student, I probably wouldn't have been surprised, but remember, this was a top student who did all of his homework (Mom is a checker) and received all A's, according to Mom.
If that's what the "A" student looks like at the end of 5th grade, what does the "C" student look like?
So.... here in Irvington our first wave of Math TRAILBLAZERS kids will be hitting the middle school next fall.
These kids were the guinea pigs.* Each year that they had TRAILBLAZERS was the first year the teacher was teaching it, because the curriculum was "implemented" (how I loathe that word!) in stages.
The middle school principal tried to get rid of the Phase 4 class, and would have gotten rid of it but for a particularly determined parent who managed to stave off the move. There may have been more than one parent working on this, but one that I know of for certain.
I wasn't involved, though I was lobbing lots of Yahoo op eds from the sidelines, obviously.
Actually, our discovery that there is a teeming horde of enraged K-5 grade parents heading middle school way was a turning point in our own political relationship with the district. I had been thinking, Boy. I'm out on a limb here, writing all this stuff about the district.
Once I realized how widespread -- and how frequently voiced -- the dissatisfaction is in K-5, I stopped worrying.
Not that I was spending a lot of time worrying.
* Guinea pigs was the expression used by one of their moms.
If we're going to kvetch for awhile about inane projects, how about the high school health teacher assigning a ten line poem on inhalants!
The health teacher is about as unqualified to teach poetry as anyone I know.
And don't get me started on the subject matter. . .okay, INHALANTS? Give me a freaking break. This is how my son is supposed to take ownership of his learning, right?
My spouse, the physician, asked if his study of drugs and inhalants included any mention of how the blood/brain barrier is effected by drugs? My son answers, what is a blood/brain barrier?
This is high school folks. Write a poem on inhalants. See how multi-disciplinary we are?
My 5th grader is doing another paper bag book report (decorate a paper bag on the theme of some book you've read). She did the exact same book report project in 2nd grade.
We've written skits on the evils of smoking, we've done coloring books on allergies (again in the high school), we are now making a poster for spanish on global warming and constructing a car powered by rubber bands.
This needs to stop.
Christopher (7th grade) has done his last arts and crafts project.
Of course, I haven't told the Spanish Department yet.