kitchen table math, the sequel: Liz Ditz on how to organize summer reading assignments

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Liz Ditz on how to organize summer reading assignments

1. Take the total # of pages required to be read by the start of school.

2. Take the total # of days left in summer vacation.

3. Multiply the total # of days by [0.75 for a compliant kid] or [0.50 for a less compliant kid]

4. Divide #1 by #2

5. Make a chart showing desired progress vs. actual progress

6. Require kid to note actual progress

7. Declare "reading catch-up days" when desired vs. actual lags some unit behind.

8. Reward above-average progress

9. In the case of children who are expected to read more than 2 books, reward completion of each book

10. It is very helpful if one or both parents read the books at the same time as the kid, and invest in discussing plot points, character development, response to the books, etc.

11. Novels with difficult textural features (dialect instead of standard spelling, complex narrative structures) may require extra parental input, such as listening to the book in recorded format, story-board mapping, etc.

Great advice.

I was already doing 1, 2, 3, 4, and 10 -- but I completely forgot the importance of 5 & 6.

Charting your own progress is a long-established principle in behaviorism. Years ago, after I'd gained weight from taking a particular medication I read everything I could find on dieting & discovered that the sole approach to dieting that actually worked was: recording everything you ate. I don't think these studies included charting your progress, but there's no question self-charting is important.

C. is ahead of the game thus far. He has 2,525 to read with 10 weeks to accomplish this feat, and he's read 617 pages with 8 weeks left to go. That's good, because he's reading the easy stuff now. Guns, Germs & Steel, The Odyssey, and the Book of Genesis are going to be a lot more difficult.

A friend of Ed's gave us a great idea. She drove to Ithaca from Washington D.C. and listened to Ian McKellan's reading of The Odyssey along the way. We got the CDs & Chris & I will listen to McKellan while reading along in the book. (He couldn't follow McKellan without the text in front of him.)

We also have to finish Megawords 5 (can't believe we got through an entire school year without finishing the book), and get going on Analyze, Organize, Write by Whimbey and Linden -- a fantastic book. (Amazon has used copies on sale for as low as five bucks at the moment.)

I've also told him he has to spend some time doing ALEKS this summer...

That chart thingie is starting to get complicated.


Anonymous said...

Pay homage to Kitchen Table Math and do the chart thingie as a graph thingie. Pages per day is a slope, your goal.

As he progresses you can track varying slopes above and below the desired slope. If he gets behind he can compute the slope needed to catch up. If he gets ahead he can compute a relaxed slope to get back on track.

Ben Calvin said...

Guns, Germs & Steel should be a pretty easy read -- at least compared to the Odyssey, and the Book of Genesis.

It's a "popular" science book. And not a bad one. More in the mode of discussing the results rather than assembling the evidence.

Allison said...

Why do any of you think Genesis is hard to read?

It's one of the easiest books. Lots of drama--people, bad things, murder, lust, lying, kidnapping, floods, famine. The whole thing is a soap opera. It's not like reading Deuteronomy or Revelations.

Anonymous said...

Genesis is a bit hard to read when you read it in Hebrew, which is what I had to do when I was in 1st grade...


Catherine Johnson said...



I can't even manage KJV.

Which I think is in English...

Catherine Johnson said...

Ed thinks GGS is way over a 13 year old's head. I think he said he would hesitate to assign it to his college freshman (I may have that wrong -- so take it with a grain of salt).

Another professor friend of his said the same thing -- way too hard for a h.s. freshman.

I started reading the intro and thought it was very we'll see.

C. has read 670 pages!

Catherine Johnson said...

I think Allison's right about Genesis (although there's an awful lot of genealogy).

Still, C's memory is better than mine I fear (good for him, bad for me) -- I keep forgetting the characters.

Of course, I was reading Genesis in KJV spread out over days, weeks, and months (I've gotten NOWHERE in my read the Bible project)

It will be interesting to see how I fare with the NAB translation.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm also going to be interested to see whether The Odyssey gets easier to read as I go along.

Will I "learn to read" The Odyssey?

I'm assuming yes, but I know nothing about poetry, literature, etc...I'm a completely untrained, naive reader.

Catherine Johnson said...

When I started reading it, just to see what it's like, I was a Comma Hound.

Where are the commas??

What does that phrase modify?

Catherine Johnson said...


Great idea!

I spent hours trying to put something together, and came up with pages of "day charts" - they're ridiculous.

They don't "work," either, because you need to see progress in one picture or representation.

The head of the autism school Andrew & Jimmy went to told me a great story about that. She said it doesn't work just to write down what you've eaten every day, or how much you wrote. You need a graph; you need to see a line showing progress.

DUMB QUESTION: What am I putting on the axes??

I don't understand the idea of computing different slopes in this context...

I'm probably going to be embarrassed I said that.

Ben Calvin said...

I started reading the intro (GGS) and thought it was very we'll see.

I'm with you. I would think it would be comprehensible to anyone capable of taking high school anthropology. Am I that out of touch?

On the subject of writing.....

Fish to Profs: Stick to Teaching

Stanley Fish is very clear about what college professors should do in the classroom.

They “can (legitimately) do two things: (1) introduce students to bodies of knowledge and traditions of inquiry that had not previously been part of their experience; and (2) equip those same students with the analytical skills — of argument, statistical modeling, laboratory procedure — that will enable them to move confidently within those traditions and to engage in independent research after a course is over.”

And what should they not do? Everything else.

In a new book to be published this month by Oxford University Press, Fish, the Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Humanities and Law at Florida International University, argues that instructors need to approach their jobs narrowly — and to, as the title implies, Save the World on Your Own Time.


Q: But even aside from political implications, you argue, especially in the teaching of writing, that such agendas can actually have a negative effect on learning.

A: Whether anyone notices it or not or comments on it or not, the teaching of writing in universities is a disaster. [There is] the conviction on the part of many composition teachers that what they are really teaching is some form of social justice, and that the teaching of writing ... takes a back seat. And in fact in many classrooms the teaching of writing as a craft as something that has rules with appropriate decorums ... is in fact demonized as an indication of the hegemony of the powers that be. This happens over and over again in classrooms and it’s an absolute disaster.

Catherine Johnson said...

Did you read that amazing piece on composition theory??? (It's posted here on the blog somewhere...)

Stanley Fish's book sounds great, but I'm annoyed with him for his foursquare defense of William Ayers on the TIMES blog he writes. If you're going to write an entire book arguing that teachers should not proselytize students, you shouldn't be publicly vouching for William Ayers, a man whose approach to education is entirely about critical pedagogy & social justice.

Ben Calvin said...

Good point.

I do find it interesting when someone like Stanley Fish (who I have many basic disagreements with) calls for a return to teaching writing in writing class.

In a political sense I think it's more effective coming from his corner rather than from someone I'm more in sympathy with.

Anonymous said...


re graphs I would say make a graph for a book and plot days on x-axis, total pages read on Y-axis. The slope is then pages per day. I'd plot a line which is your goal as a baseline, then plot his actual progress on the same graph. He'll see it wiggling around the baseline.

You could do something similar with books and plot books per week with books on the y and weeks on the x.

Another neat picture is to plot his daily pages read as a histogram with categories on the x like 100-130, 130-160, 160-190, etc (pages read) and his frequency of falling in a category on the Y. This will give you a chance to talk about frequency distributions, mean, median, standard deviation. Don't go there unless he's had some serious data curriculum under his belt.