kitchen table math, the sequel: 11/16/08 - 11/23/08

Saturday, November 22, 2008

one child at a time

from a teacher:
Sometimes, in spite of all the , life is good in a problem-ridden, low-SES urban school.

We have had so many changes of administration in the last 22 months I have lost count. Are we on Principal #7, or 8? I forget. And how many assistant principals -- 4? 5? I think 5. Anyway, all chaos all the time is what it feels like at the grass roots.

But sometimes chaos can work to one's advantage, and this is such a story.

In June of 2007 I was testing children in the primary grades (reading, spelling and math levels for reporting on a project the school was engaged in). One student, finishing third grade, really concerned me. She had never been flagged for intervention, referred to the school support team, or even gotten failing report card grades. She was a nice kid, well-spoken, positive attitude. But -- she could NOT read. She had almost no understanding of the alphabetic principle: a few consonant sounds, no vowels, not even much of a "guessing" strategy. My hypothesis is that she got by on superior verbal and listening skills, good copying (nice writing and printing), and being the kind of kid all teachers like.

I made a mental note to do something about her the following school year.

So LAST fall (2007), I tried to work her into one of my reading groups. I ran into opposition from her classroom teacher, who didn't think she "needed" it and who was worried she was "missing class." (I always laugh at the though that a student who is finally learning to read is missing valuable "silent reading" time in class, but I kept my sardonic remarks to myself). I only got consent to let her work on a computerized program, Academy of Reading for 15 minutes every morning. Frankly, I think a knowledgeable teacher can do a lot more than that particular program, but I figured it was better than nothing. The student was not LD, would never meet criteria (no processing problems although the discrepancy between ability and achievement certainly could be documented), and decoding was definitely the issue.

She diligently worked on Academy of Reading three or four days a week for most of the school year (we had a computer upgrade that meant all the computers were offline for a few weeks, so that was an interruption). At the end of the school year though, I tested the child again. She had mastered CVC words using the computer program, but her overall decoding skills were at a beginning 2nd grade level, at best (she was finishing fourth grade). Her oral language was 70th percentile for her age (PPVT). Still a HUGE discrepancy.

All summer I brooded and schemed. I decided to take advantage of the fact that we had yet another change of administrators -- a complete one this time -- and probably no one knew who authorized what when. I called the child's mom the first week of school and outlined my plan. She said go, go, go! (She knew the child couldn't read). Next, I tackled the fifth grade teacher -- fortunately, a laid back sort (great teacher, just not hung up on minutiae) who wasn't at all worried the student would be damaged for life by missing a half hour of class every day. Woo hoo!

S. comes with a group of fifth graders, all working on decoding skills, and I could see that she is making excellent progress, but I didn't know exactly HOW much until yesterday. The other fifth grade was on a field trip, and S. came up by herself. I took advantage of the opportunity to give her the Word Attack part of the Woodcock . Up from 2.0 to 5.8!!! Holding my breath, I pulled out 3 Oral Reading Fluency passages at a fifth grade level. She averaged 90 WCPM (median was 92), on cold reads, with nice prosody, expression etc. She needs work on multisyllable word decoding -- fine. I know just what to do there. Her rate of 90 WPM is not fast enough (needs to be closer to 150-200), but for less than 3 months I thought it was awesome, and promptly wrote a jubilant note to her mom. By the end of the year our goal should be to have her at a seventh-eighth grade level and work on her writing as well.

One of our paraprofessionals was in the room while this was going on. She said to me (after S. left), "You can tell she knows she is successful --her whole body language, demeanor and personality have changed this year. She's so much more outgoing and confident." I had noticed it, but hadn't put two and two together. She's a smart little girl, and she knew she couldn't read before....that HAD to have affected her sense of self-worth. She was a hard worker, too, so why was she not learning? She probably blamed herself.

Not now. We high-fived each other, and I promised to keep "picking on" her (I make them correct every error, in true DI fashion) , and get her to the level she should be at.

Oh, and we can do that WITHOUT the parents. It's nice if parents have time and energy to do extra work with the children, but it is NOT necessary. I know I can count on parents to celebrate success -- and they do.

Like I say, sometimes the cr** is worth it.

Superintendent: Teaching Doesn't Matter, Curricula Trumps All?

The blogger known as MS_Teacher teaches in a financially-strapped district in Northern California. The other day she wrote,
One of the teachers in my school district was told by our superintendent yesterday that it shouldn't matter who is in the classroom that it all came down to good curriculum.
One of the commenters wrote:
I would ask him where he gets his research. Citation please! Much of the research supports the exact opposite of his claim.

Do you have the sense that this notion that "curriculum trumps all" is prevalent in your district?

I'm rummaging through the literature to find good studies to prove the opposite. Difficult, since most research on K-12 education is so bad.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The 80% Commandment

The relationship between students’ accuracy with schoolwork and their subsequent behavior is described by the 80% Commandment: “Thou shall not expect a student to do a learning task when he or she does not have the skills to complete the task with 80% success. Otherwise, that student will either act out or tune out.” Today’s frustrated students who lack basic skills most often respond by acting out.

Managing Unmanageable Students
Elaine McEwan-Adkins & Mary Damer

Tattoo that to your forehead.

constructivism as masked aggression
the 80% rule

Teaching in a Catholic school

I have been silent for quite a long time - I am terribly overwhelmed. I used to teach in public middle school in Brooklyn. Now, because my license for NJ is still not ready (oh, DOE!), I had to get a job in private catholic high school for girls where nobody cares if you are licenced.
Here, I thought, my life is going to be heaven (the heck with the miserable pay!)- my students and parents will care and work hard with me, and instead of disciplining students I will teach them... and I can use direct instruction methods without closing my door!
Well... The life often brings you surprises - the one for me: my son will not attend a private religious or non-religious school.
So here are my commentaries to share:
a) classes are smaller so the kids should be able to receive more personal attention. Hmm, yes, the classes are small (in NY my classes were 30-34, here - 22 maximum). However, when I teach 6 classes a day (4 different subjects) I am overburdened with amount of preparation and less effective as a teacher. Grading of the works still amounts for 120 students...
b)parents pay tuition so they are investing in their daughters' education and would be interested to learn about the progress. Hmm, during parent-teacher night I saw 8 parents. None of the 20 parents I have sent personal invitation to call me, e-mail me, or see me regarding their daughters who do nothing in my class responded in any way... When I call homes that the child does not do any HW, comes for help sessions or misbehaves, the response is either "ugh-ha" or "can't be".
c)Students slack homeworks, do not come to tutoring, and generally do not care in the same ways they do in public schools.
d)A lot of teachers teach by assigning reading from textbook in class and then going over the questions at the end of the chapter without getting up from the chair.
e)Teachers in my school were not observed by a supervisor for at least 3 years. The new principal decided to start observations this year and caused quite a havoc. Teachers from 3 other schools that belong to our archdiocese (we met at convent) said they were not observed for even longer time.
d)Teachers do not cooperate, teaching is not aligned, and many "cultural" and "fun" events still take away from learning time
e)I have no intentions to continue teaching in this school...

My additional frustration comes from working with freshman group this year. They have NO math skills. Linear equations? Forget it... Positive -negative numbers? What is it? Order of operations is not clear either. How am I supposed to teach them Physical Science that includes basic chemistry and physics without touching math? (when I spoke to the math teachers of these kids, their answer was "oh, it's a very low level group. We can't teach them anything either.")
I know why curriculum continues to get dumbed down and it's impossible to find a decent physical science textbook with problems involving math published after 1970... Because of frustration! I can't teach them science because the math is not there... Grrr....

helicopter parents of the world

I am behind.

I am horribly behind.

I am so behind that, for me, it isn't today, it's still yesterday, or possibly the day before.*


For the time being, here's something fun:

A 1983 study conducted by McClelland and Pilon backs up the link between achievement drive and performance. These researchers conducted achievement tests on thirty-one year old adults whose mothers had been extensively interviewed twenty-five years earlier by Sears, Maccoby and Lewin (1957) regarding their child rearing practices. This study reveals that the highest correlate to achievement drive is clearly the mother’s belief that it is very important for her child to perform well in school. This was true across all socio-economic strata, with the highest effect among the children of white collar workers.

How to Increase Your Child’s Verbal Intelligence by Carmen McGuinness & Geoffrey McGuinness, pp. 5-6

I'm going to have to finally get around to writing my Richard Elmore posts on the subject of wealthy suburban schools.

* comma splice intentional

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Via Whitney Tilson's education reform blog, a Democrats for Education Reform petition.

On my infinite to-do list, get some things up on the subject of the split within the Democratic Party on education.

Actually, that link to Kaus along with this David Brooks column is probably sufficient. Given that Linda Darling-Hammond is apparently overseeing his education transition team, it's not looking good for the DFER faction.

Joe Williams has said that when civil rights groups split off from teachers' unions the Democratic Party would be free to support charter schools.

That split appears to have happened, or to be in the process of happening.

And yet we've got Darling-Hammond.

Comments sought by Obama Administration

If you go over here you will be at an electronic form that allows you to submit suggestions for President-Elect Obama's education agenda.

Catherine Johnson has come up with three very succinct and cogent goals for education which she has submitted to her local school board (Irvington). You may wish to submit these as a suggestion--modifying as you see fit, of course. (Catherine has given permission to use these as a template for anyone in communicating with various authorities.)

I have changed Catherine's goals slightly, by substituting "U.S." for "Irvington". I also added a parenthetical about NAEP, which you may wish not to include. It is my particular beef. If you do include it, note that I use the word "test" rather than "assess". I urge you to do the same.

Here are the goals:

Goal number 1: Increase steadily the number of U.S. students whose academic achievement is on par with that of their peers in Europe and Asia.

Goal number 2: Increase steadily the number of U.S. students prepared to succeed in college work, with "Evidence of Attainment" being a steady increase in SAT scores. (NAEP scores should be disregarded until such time as the NAEP is revised to actually test age-appropriate content that students should be expected to master.)

Goal number 3: Reduce systematically the need for parents to reteach content and hire tutors.

Much thanks and appreciation to Catherine for coming up with these.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

comments I have known and loved

Parents should have an outside assessment of their children. This should be voluntary for all parents to have their child independently tested. They would find out that the state assessments are often times flawed and their child is not proficient. This would help parents see the truth and in turn put pressure on the school to improve.

Anne Marie

I'm for national standards but only if they are standards based on Core Knowledge, Singapore Math and Direct Instruction. [ed.: hear! hear!]

Ari Haviv

We need national mathematics standards focused on CONTENT, not any specific program.

The abundance of mediocre programs, along with all of the time and money wasted on implementation, has crippled our elementary and middle school math instruction.

Investing more money on "professional development" will yield nothing. We must focus on the content first. It doesn't matter how wonderful the teaching methodology if content nonexistent.

Read the National Mathematics Panel Report.

First things first :D

concerned [ed.: I think I know this person!]

I noted that the representatives of neither candidate had anything to say about whether individual public schools should be autonomous. The empirical evidence clearly indicates that children acquire more academic skills and knowledge when such schools are self-directed.

Patrick Groff

Americans should be concerned that neither party has a serious policy with regard to education. When candidates discuss school reform, they forget about fiscal accountability. If the concern is with standards they won't respond to questions about curriculum.

Americans are sadly misinformed. The Singapore Ministry of Education developed standards and a created a curriculum that did what was promised. It was a curriculum written in English for children who's primary language was not English. Comparisons between Singapore and the US are striking. If the United States adopted Singapore standards there would be no need for standardized testing.

With a strong academic curriculum, more students would graduate from high school and be prepared for college and work. It costs Americans about $6 billion per year for every 10,000 high school dropouts. The past 10 years have been especially devastating for children as I've seen communities become increasingly resegregated. In this inflationary economy, our government is trading our children's futures by making school less efficient.

Nothing is lost by adopting the world’s best curriculum. Our great leaders should at least give communities a choice by putting Singapore on the state's list of adoptable curriculum. Eventually, the pain of not taking that risk will be greater than the reward for accepting it. We are running out of time.

Al Rode

The Singapore project is interesting and effective in a centrally-controlled educational system. The US is a long ways from agreeing that central control is a good idea. With others on this topic, I'd hope that Sens. McCain and Obama can come up with a serious solution for the conflict between federal and state/local governance of education that was started by Goals 2000 and really made worse by NCLB. [ed.: is this the case? What do people think? I haven't been able to form a solid opinion, although I tend to think this Commenter is right....] If educational content is truly a national issue, and if current NGO-type resources (like ASCD) are not up to the task of guaranteeing the content base for (e.g.) a high school diploma, then the whole US plan needs a shakeup and that will take leadership in the White House.


Monday, November 17, 2008

it's a plot

Drop everything and watch this now:

Learning in the 21st Century

(a Barry G find)

Nice to know that Digital Natives "prefer graphics before their text." I suppose preferring graphics before text would have nothing to do with the fact that today's Digital Native was taught to read using balanced literacy and sight words.


What means enduring understandings? [slide #37] My district's new 20-page Strategic Plan is chock-ful of Enduring Understandings, so I'd like to know.

speaking of 21st century skills

The New Basics. (pdf file)

1. Digital Age Literacy—Today’s Basics

Basic, Scientific, and Technological Literacies
As society changes, the skills that citizens need to negotiate the complexities of life also change. In the early 1900s, a person who had acquired simple reading, writing, and calculating skills was considered literate. It has only been in recent years that the public education system has expected all students to learn to read critically, write persuasively, think and reason logically, and solve complex problems in mathematics and science.[i]

Visual and Information Literacy
The graphic user interface of the World Wide Web and the convergence of voice, video, and data into a common digital format have increased the use of visual imagery dramatically. Advances such as digital cameras, graphics packages, streaming video, and common imagery standards,allow for the use visual imagery to communicate ideas. Students need good visualization skills to be able to decipher, interpret, detect patterns, and communicate using imagery. Information Literacy includes accessing information efficiently and effectively, evaluating information critically and competently, and using information accurately and creatively. [ii]

Cultural Literacy and Global Awareness
The world is rapidly becoming wired and the resulting globalization of commerce and trade has increased the need for cultural literacy. In such a global economy, with the U.S. concerned about interactions, partnerships and competition from around the world, there is a greater necessity for knowing, understanding and appreciating other cultures, including cultural formations established as norms in a technological society, such as virtual realities. [iii]

The Metiri Group: another vendor hard at work on behalf of America's children. Along with the Partnership, which has added the state of Arizona to its list, joining Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Dakota, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

Let the infusing begin!

in case you've got anything that needs containing

what to do when your kids get taller than you

The Professional Chef's Clogs at Hammacher Schlemmer

in case you've got anything that needs containing

Container Store coupon: 20% off (pdf file)

good thru Wednesday

If think tanks keep emailing me stuff about 21st century skills, I'm going to need a whole lot more containers around here, that's for sure.

bonus points:

They've got great stocking stuffers.

aim high

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.


book party

tomorrow (pdf file)

Is there an award for Best Book Nobody On the Planet Understood and/or Listened To?

Or, alternatively, Best Book Used to Justify Doing Stuff the Book Has Nothing to Do With?

Because if not, we need one.

a person without a party, part 2

excuse me while I bang my head against the wall

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

While we're on the subject of things that cause head-banging, here is Margaret Spellings evoking The Race Between Technology and Education to flog Clayton Christensen's technology will save us argument. Goldin and Katz are Harvard economists who've spent 20 years studying the economics of education; Clayton Christensen is a b-school professor who has applied a Big Idea to education.

My point: these two works are not on a level, and technology will not save us.

Bonus points:
Over the past 18 months, Kevin and I have held a series of conversations on educational technology with educators, executives, and students.

Why is it "executives" rate attention from the Secretary of Education while parents, college professors, and taxpayers do not?

Lawrence Katz: publications
Claudia Goldin: publications
Clayton Christensen: publications

Steve Levitt summarizes The Race in 2 sentences
Jimmy graduates

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mary Damer asks Barack Obama a question

One of my heroes. I finally ordered her book last week. (Was holding off only because of cost.)

French spelling

Ed's translation of Part 4 of Comment en est-on arrivé là?

4. Une orthographe ardue

Pas de chance pour les écoliers français. Notre orthographe est l’une des plus difficiles au monde. Pour une raison bête comme chou. Ce n’est pas parce qu’on entend un son qu’on saura l’écrire (« saint » se prononce comme « ceint », « sein » ou « sain », etc.) Les linguistes parlent de régularité entre les sons et les lettres. D’un pays a l’autre, elle varie du simple au double. Elle est de 97%, par exemple, pour l’espagnol ou l’italien, de 98-99% pour le finlandais ou le danois, mais seulement de 55% pour le français. Sans parler des problèmes d’accord, de lettres qui ne sont pas prononcées. De quoi s’arracher les cheveux. Là où un petit Espagnol mettra quelques mois à maîtriser les bases orthographiques, il faudra des années pour un Français. C’est que, dans beaucoup de pays, l’orthographe s’est simplifiée, « phonetisée », au fil des siècles. En France, non. « Notre langue est très conservatrice », reconnaît le linguiste Alain Bentolila, qui vient de publier « Urgence école : le droit d’apprendre, le devoir de transmettre » (Odile Jacob). Centralisme linguistique, institutionnalisation…Dès le XVII siècle, avec la naissance de l’Académie française, s’instaure le pouvoir du dictionnaire, référence de la langue. « Le français a été crée par des professionnels de l’écrit qui ont voulu faire une orthographe pour l’œil », indique Jean-Pierre Jaffre, linguiste au CNRS. Avec ses rigidités et ses absurdités. Pour la troisième édition du dictionnaire de l’Académie, en 1738, les imprimeurs n’avaient plus assez d’accents, ils ont mélangé les aigus, les graves et les circonflexes, quand ils n’en ont pas tout simplement oublié. Et les écoliers, trois siècles plus tard, continuent d’apprendre consciencieusement la liste des exceptions. D’où le débat, récurrent, sur une simplification de l’orthographe française. Les tentatives sont pour l’instant restées lettre morte. L’ »arrêté de tolérances orthographiques », en 1901, qui nettoyait notamment les règles des accords, n’a jamais été applique. Pas plus que le toilettage de 1990, qui a modifié la graphie d’environ 2 000 mots.Vous ne le savez sans doute pas, mais vous avez le droit d’écrire portemonnaie, naitre, évènement, nénufar et ognon…

No luck for French school children. Our spelling is one of the most difficult in the world. For one simple reason: just because we hear a sound doesn’t mean we know how to write it (“saint” is pronounced as “ceint,” “sein” the same as “sain.”). Linguists refer to “transparency” between sounds and letters. From one country to another that transparency varies by a factor of two. For Spanish and Italian, the transparency of sounds and letters is 97%; for Finish and Danish it’s 98-99%. But for French, it’s only 55%. And that’s without taking account of agreement problems [e.g. noun-adjective], with so many letters not pronounced. It’s enough to make you yank out your hair. While it takes a young Spanish student a few months to master the basics of spelling, it takes his French counterpart several years. In many countries, spelling has been simplified, “phoneticized” over the centuries. But not in France. “Our language is very conservative,” explains the linguist Alain Bentolila, who has just published, School Emergency: the Right to Learn, the Duty to Transmit (Odile Jacob). Linguistic centralism, institutionalization: With the birth of the Academic Francaise in the 17th century, we see the beginning of dictionary’s reign as the supreme arbiter of the language. “The French language was created by professionals of the written word who devised a spelling system to please the eye,” says Jean-Pierre Jaffre, a linguist at the CNRS. It’s rigid and absurd. For the 3rd edition of the Academie Francaise’s dictionary, in 1738, the printers didn’t have enough accents, so they mixed up the aigu accents with the grave accents and both with circonflexes—and that’s when they didn’t just forget accents altogether. Three centuries later, school kids continue to conscientiously learn the messy list of exceptions these early printers created. Thus the recurrent debate over simplifying French spelling, though all efforts to do so have remained a dead letter. The 1901 “decree on orthographic tolerance,” designed to cleanse the rules of agreement, was never applied. Just like the language sprucing effort of 1990 that did nonetheless modify the spelling of 2000 words. You doubtless didn’t know it, but you’re allowed to write “portemonnaie,” “naitre” “évènement,” “nénufar” and “ognon”…

Le scandale de l'illetrrisme (nouvel obs: the scandal of illiteracy)
dyslexie, vraiment? ) (nouvel obs: true dyslexia? - whole language in France)
Comment en est-on arrivé là? (nouvel obs: How did we get here?)
French spelling

4 year olds learning to read in 10 to 12 weeks
Why English speaking children can't read

Lucy Calkins on teaching children to write
Becky C on starting at the top

instructional casualties in America
curriculum casualties: figures
forcing hearing children to learn as deaf children must
decline at the top: hidden reading deficits in good students
Rory: I frickin' hate whole language!

thank you, whole language

Have you "sporcled" today?

My children and I recently discovered Sporcle. It's a fun (and free) site with 603 trivia games to date. The thing is, many of the games aren't so trivial at all.

Just today, the kids and I attempted to list the names of as many Countries of the World that we could think of before the timer ran out. We also have enjoyed U.S. State Capitals and the Periodic Table. Greek and Roman gods are fun too.

There's a category for history and one for language and my son's favorite, gaming. Just about anything you can imagine. So many of the categories really are a great review of important content knowledge: grammar, geography, science, and other important "stuff". And yes, some of it is just plain silly.

I'm not doing a very good job of describing what Sporcle is, but if you sporcle you'll know what I mean.

Not a Book Club, But an Article Club? Shall we All Read and Discuss?

One of the good parts of graduate work is group discussions of scholarly articles.

Anyone interested in reading and discussing this article? (I haven't read the whole article yet -- just the abstract). I think I can get a PDF of the whole article, which I'd share with anyone interested in participating. The discussion would be in the form of comments on a blog post.

If this idea appeals, it can be a regular feature here.

Annu Rev Psychol. 2008;59:451-75.

The education of dyslexic children from childhood to young adulthood.
Shaywitz SE, Morris R, Shaywitz BA.

Department of Pediatrics, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, Connecticut 06510, USA.


The past two decades have witnessed an explosion in our understanding of dyslexia (or specific reading disability), the most common and most carefully studied of the learning disabilities. We first review the core concepts of dyslexia: its definition, prevalence, and developmental course. Next we examine the cognitive model of dyslexia, especially the phonological theory, and review empiric data suggesting genetic and neurobiological influences on the development of dyslexia. With the scientific underpinnings of dyslexia serving as a foundation, we turn our attention to evidence-based approaches to diagnosis and treatment, including interventions and accommodations. Teaching reading represents a major focus. We first review those reading interventions effective in early grades, and then review interventions for older students. To date the preponderance of intervention studies have focused on word-level reading; newer studies are beginning to examine reading interventions that have gone beyond word reading to affect reading fluency and reading comprehension. The article concludes with a discussion of the critical role of accommodations for dyslexic students and the recent neurobiological evidence supporting the need for such accommodations.

PMID: 18154503 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]