kitchen table math, the sequel: 12/14/08 - 12/21/08

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Tracy W on 21st century skills

Twenty-first century readers and writers need to

• Develop proficiency with the tools of technology

As opposed to Shakespeare, who got by just fine by eating his pen and drinking his ink.

• Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally

Ah yes, collaboration. Never noted before, except in all the examples of trading across cultures, or working together in hunter-gatherer tribes. The Allies in WWII acheived their success by fighting with each other all the time.

• Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes

Sir Issac Newton's work on calculus is being used by global communities to meet a variety of purposes.

• Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information

This is a skill necessary for that 20th century skill of flying a plane. Or the 19th century one of driving a car.

• Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts

Why do we all need to do this? And what's the difference between critiquing, analysing or evaluating a text?

I also note that science textbooks have often been multimedia dating back before the 19th century (in less fancy language, they include pictures).

• Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments

Because ethics only started to matter in the 21st century. Never mind all the debates amongst the Ancient Greeks about the good life.

On the whole I think the complexity of the literate environment we handle nowadays has reduced, because of better design of books and newspapers, cheaper printing allowing for more use of white space, typing standardising writing far more than handwriting is standardised, the rise of English as a second language not merely in Europe but in distant places like Asia and countries that were never colonised by the British, and other factors. Also, practice in solving problems cross-culturally has been making this easier - not perfect, but easier. Every case of successful cross-cultural trading makes the next step easier.

21st century skills are visual, not verbal

In my district, the visual is dominant. For the new "environmental stewardship" item on our Strategic Plan, kids were invited to --- wait for it! --- make posters.

For Honors English, students have the option of making posters.

For the new, improved, much more serious, advocated-by-the-PTSA ELA reading plan, the AP photography class is going to take pictures of teachers reading books and hang them in the hallways of the high school.

When you've reached the point where the first response to a request by the PTSA that students be assigned many more good books to read is to make posters of teachers reading books, you've missed the point.

As of this week, I think this is happening because students can't read. Schools are still using whole language repackaged as balanced literacy (whole language with phonics sprinkled in), and very large numbers of students don't read particularly well. A couple of days ago, I came across a personal account written by an attorney who couldn't read as a child -- and who, when he reached 8th grade, I believe -- had a social studies teacher who taught using lots of charts and graphs, which was unusual at the time. Suddenly, he could understand what was going on in class, his confidence rose, and he (somehow) prevailed.**He was extremely grateful to this man, whom he saw as the special teacher who saved him.

It struck me that, when their students fare better with visuals than they do with print, teachers would be positively reinforced for emphasizing charts, graphs, and images over text. If this were the case (assuming bright, barely reading students really do fare better with charts & graphs), over time teachers would gradually shift towards the visual without being aware of having done so. Slow changes for the worse go unnoticed.

Temple (Grandin) calls this phenomenon: the bad gets normal.

* Environmental stewardship falls under character education, in case you're wondering, along with "global awareness."
** I've lost the link - sorry. I found it via Wrightslaw.

visual learning

why lawyers burn out
Independent George re: foldables
your tax dollars at work part 2
my busy day
not your father's formative assessment
remembering key concepts in math with foldables
south of the border
Steve H and palisadesk on foldables
homeschooling convention: no foldables

you may have to hit refresh a couple of times to load these pages:

21st century skills in Singapore
the master plan
horselaughs are heard in Singapore
more horselaughs in Singapore

recent comments redux

I've tried various different "Recent Comments" widgets & all of them display the same year-old comments.

Any ideas?

And: how do I report this to Blogger? (I'm sure I can track it down, but I'd rather not spend time doing it if someone knows where to go.)

Thanks --

"about kitchen table math"

What text should we have under "about kitchen table math"?

We need "parents & teachers" for sure, though I believe we've got some non-parent members & a policy type or two....

I want to get writing & reading some place on the front, since we now have lots of folks posting on those subjects.

And we definitely need something about policy & politics. I didn't particularly want to use the word "reform" since I no longer believe that public schools can be reformed in the aggregate. (Some public schools will improve dramatically; some public schools are good now. But can the system be fixed? I've come to believe the answer is 'no.')


Terence Tao

has a blog

here he is on multiple choice tests in math classes

what is rent-seeking, exactly?

Five years ago I started teaching myself economics, using an older edition of The Economic Way of Thinking by Paul Heyne.


I suppose it will come as no surprise to anyone who's read Kitchen Table Math for a while to learn that I can no longer put my hands on my copy of the book.


Anyway, I started teaching myself economics, then had to drop that and start teaching myself math so I could reteach C.

Thus I've been reading the term "rent," "rents," and "rent-seeking" for years now, with only a vague idea of what it means.

So I would like to know, at long last, what it actually means, as opposed to what it vaguely means based in context.

Speaking of rents, or what I take to be rents, folks here have raised the possibility that our schools could receive money to build athletic fields from President Obama's stimulus package.

That doesn't sound too likely to me. I figure the Association of Zoos and Aquariums has got to be way ahead of us in line.

more stuff to do with pop bottles

DIY pop bottle tripods

(and don't forget: sub-irrigation planters)

stabilizing your camera without buying a tripod
sub-irrigation explained at Inside Urban Green
watering in the zone
Christmas and Chanukah presents

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mathematician weighs in on Investigations

In a December 19, 2008 letter to the editor of the Frederick News Post, Steve Wilson, a math professor from Johns Hopkins University, issues a warning "not to the newspaper or to the board or the teachers, but to the parents. If your child goes to a school that uses TERC Investigations, you should understand that it means your child's school has abdicated its responsibility to teach your child mathematics. By doing so, the responsibility now rests with the parents. Good luck."

Such a letter has long been overdue. Hats off to Dr. Wilson.

Update: Independent of his letter to Frederick News Post, Dr. Wilson has been invited to be on a panel with other mathematicians and scientists to talk at Sidwell Friends School in mid January. The topic is on the mathematical skills, background and preparation necessary for success in mathematics and related mathematics fields in college. For those who don't know, Sidwell uses Investigations as well as Everyday Math. Most everyone knows, I think, that the Obama kids will attend Sidwell. And if you haven't seen it, I wrote about this here. And yes, Dr. Wilson intends to talk about Investigations during the panel discussion. Wish I could go but I think it's open only to parents of students who attend Sidwell.

justice & revenge at Costco

Ed and C. were just at Costco, which was jam-packed in anticipation of the snowstorm. Snow began to fall while they were there, and everyone decided to get out at the same time, producing an enormous traffic jam in the basement of the parking structure, where a one-lane ramp is the only way up and out. Four lines of cars were trying to merge onto the one lane of the ramp, and everyone was honking. Which did nothing to speed things along. Ed said it was like trying to get out of Yankee Stadium at the end of a game. In the snow, with honking.

One joker jumped the queue, driving outside the lanes of cars to the front of the line, where he started nosing his way in. The drivers up front, who had just spent 45 minutes waiting (and honking) to get to the ramp, were determined to keep him out; people were so ticked-off at the guy that they were rolling down their windows and yelling at him. But he was driving an old, beat-up car and he finally pushed his way in, probably because someone driving a new, non-beat-up car didn't have the sense of conviction it takes to play chicken in the basement of the Costco parking structure.*

So now he's made it into the front part of the line -- and he won't let anyone else in. The entire huge humungous mass of cars has been lined up and merging and honking for almost an hour, and THIS ONE GUY not only cuts the line but, once he's cut the line, proceeds to violate the norm that says when you finally reach the front of the line you take turns getting onto the ramp.

Ed said people were beside themselves, yelling and gesturing and honking and just basically collectively losing their minds. But of course there was nothing they could do about it; he was where he was, at the front of the line, and he could do what he wanted to do.

Suddenly the woman in front of the guy rolled down her window, leaned out, and snapped a picture of the guy's license plate.

He went nuts! Rolled down his window, started screaming and yelling at her. He was freaking out, Ed said.

The woman rolled her down her window, leaned out, and took his picture again.

* I have it! I relish playing chicken with line-jumpers. In my car or out of my car. I speak as a person who attended World Fairs at an early age.

Recent Comments?

Any idea what has happened to "Recent Comments"?

For some reason "Recent" suddenly means "Not Recent At All."

At least it does when I bring up the blog.

more on the US News rankings: top 1942 high schools

The new rankings aren't just about the top 200 high schools, according to Standard and Poor's. The entire list is a pick of the top 1942 schools out of 21,069 evaluated:

100 gold
504 silver
1321 bronze
17 honorable mention
1942 total

We analyzed 21,069 public high schools in 48 states using data from the 2006-2007 school year. This is the total number of public high schools in each state that had grade-12 enrollment and sufficient data to analyze primarily for the 2006-2007 school year. A three-step process determined the best high schools. The first two steps ensured that the schools serve all their students well, using state proficiency standards as the measuring benchmarks. For those schools that made it past the first two steps, a third step assessed the degree to which schools prepare students for college-level work.

The first step determined whether each school's students were performing better than statistically expected for the average student in the state. We started by looking at reading and math results for all students on each state's high school test. We then factored in the percentage of economically disadvantaged students (who tend to score lower) enrolled at the school to find which schools were performing better than their statistical expectations.

For those schools that made it past this first step, the second step determined whether the school's least-advantaged students (black, Hispanic, and low income) were performing better than average for similar students in the state. We compared each school's math and reading proficiency rates for disadvantaged students with the statewide results for these disadvantaged student groups and then selected schools that were performing better than this state average.

Schools that made it through the first two steps became eligible to be judged nationally on the final step, college-readiness performance, using Advanced Placement and/or International Baccalaureate test data as the benchmarks for success. (AP is a College Board program that offers college-level courses at high schools across the country.) This third step measured which schools produced the best college-level achievement for the highest percentages of their students. This was done by computing a "college readiness index" based on the weighted average of the AP and/or IB participation rate (the number of 12th-grade students who took at least one AP and/or IB test before or during their senior year, divided by the number of 12th graders) along with how well the students did on those tests. The latter part, called quality-adjusted AP and/or IB participation, is the number of 12th-grade students who took and passed (received an AP score of 3 or higher or an IB score of 4 or higher) at least one of the tests before or during their senior year, divided by the number of 12th graders at that school. For the college readiness index, the quality-adjusted participation rate was weighted 75 percent in the calculation, and 25 percent of the weight was placed on the simple AP and/or IB participation rate. Only schools that had values greater than 20 in their college readiness index scored high enough to meet this criterion for gold and silver medal selection. The minimum of 20 was used because it represents what it would take to have a "critical mass" of students gaining access to college-level coursework.

Top 100
NY schools (110 altogether)
Westchester County

Bloomington High School
US New Ranking (ktm post)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

the sky is falling

The vote on the Fields bond took place yesterday.

Ed was in DC all day, and when he got to the school to vote, close to poll-closing time at 9, the place was mobbed. There were men in business suits, just off the train, lined up waiting to vote.

He ran into another dad we're very fond of but don't see often, who said that 20% of his firm had been laid off. He expects they'll hit 50% before this is over.

When the results came in, I was horrified. At this point, I am a 'no' vote on budgets and bonds until residents have a voice in our schools, but this.... I've never seen anything like it. I've never imagined anything like it. This is a town that has faithfully passed every budget since we've been here, more than doubling its taxes in 10 years' time. $25K per pupil spending.

And suddenly we have fathers who work all hours of the day and night making it a point to get home in time to vote 'no.'

This morning, though, I saw things less catastrophically. The defeat of the first bond two years ago was a watershed moment, and last night's 'no' has been coming for a time.

The truth is, though, that I can't tell what the vote says about how bad things are, or how much worse things are going to get.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Is your child a word guesser?

Many of us know that poor reading instruction is often disguised as “balanced literacy” (revisit When Phonics Isn't). Schools like to sell it to parents this way because it sounds safe and well, it's balanced. How bad can it be? Throw in a little phonics and it's all good, right? The balance thing appeals to that nagging danger-of-extremes fear. On some level, balanced literacy sounds reasonable.

When parent-teacher conferences are limited to fifteen minutes a couple of times a year and the school is not open to allowing you watch the teacher teach or bring home the reading materials for careful review, how do you recognize the signs of poor reading instruction? How can you tell whether your child is being or has been taught to read the whole-word way?

Jessie Wise of The Well Trained Mind suggests paying attention to how children read.
Children who read by the whole-word method often did not learn to move their eyes from left to right through words and sentences. If you notice that your child’s eyes are wandering all over the page when he is reading, he is searching for clues to guess words.
So, your child's a word guesser. What can you do about it?
The only cure for word guessing is to go back to phonics.
What can you do to break the guessing habit?
If your child persists in this habit, you may have to sit across from him at a small table where you can see his eyes. This will allow you to move your pencil or finger above the line of print, so you will not get in the way of the child’s vision. You may also want to cut a window out of heavy paper that will reveal only one line at a time. Then, have the child run his finger under each word from left to right, sounding out each word as he comes to it. If a common word is too irregular to be easily sounded out, (such as come or said) tell him that word so that the sentence makes sense.

When the child gets to the end of a line, watch his eyes and make sure they move quickly back to the left, looking for the beginning of the next line rather than searching for “words I know.” Some children may even move their eyes down to the end of the next line. Both of these are common errors used by children who have been taught whole-language techniques. Have the child read out loud to you as long as necessary to make sure he gets into the habit of moving from one line to another.
“It is a tragedy that many school-based reading programs actually encourage guessing as a learning-to-read strategy,” say Jessie Wise and Sara Buffington of The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Reading. You might be surprised to find that your child's school uses a reading program that does precisely that.

You may not even realize there's a problem until your reader hits second, third or fourth grade when books have less pictures and the vocabulary becomes more complex and difficult to guess. The sooner you work to break the guessing habit and teach your child to depend upon a well-stocked phonics toolbox instead, the better for your child.

The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading
Jessie Wise and Sarah Buffington

Well-Trained Mind

Gladwell on Selecting Successful Teachers

Teachers and Quarterbacks

My latest New Yorker piece, "Most Likely to Succeed" is now up.

A couple of additional thoughts.

In some of the responses to the piece, I've seen some resistance to the idea that choosing NFL quarterbacks and choosing public school teachers represent the same category of problem. There are only a small number of NFL quarterbacks, and we are selecting candidates from a tiny pool of highly elite athletes. By contrast, we need a vast number of public school teachers and we're recruiting from an enormous non-elite pool to fill that need. So, the response has gone, it's apples and oranges.

Precisely! But of course non-symetrical comparisons are far more interesting and thought-provoking than symetrical comparisons. If I wrote a piece about how finding good point guards in the NBA was a lot like finding good quarterbacks in the NFL, the comparison would be exact. And as a result, it would be relatively useless. What new light does the addition of a second, identical example shed on the first?

Link to the New Yorker piece:

teach your babies to spell, part 2: spelling a word helps you learn its meaning

Teaching children how to spell new vocabulary words helps them learn the meaning of the word:
In summary, the results of both experiments yield several important findings. Elementary school students learned and remembered the pronunciations and meanings of new vocabulary words better when they were exposed to written forms of the words during study periods than when they only heard and repeated the words.

note: Fluenz is based on this principle. Using Fluenz, you never hear a word without also seeing -- and practicing -- how to spell and type it.

good readers versus poor readers
Higher level readers outperformed lower level readers, and the advantage provided by seeing written words over not seeing written words was much greater among higher readers than among lower readers.

Bear this in mind: strong readers learn from print.
The present findings show the importance of students’ acquisition of strong orthographic knowledge to benefit vocabulary learning. Fifth graders with better orthographic knowledge outperformed those with weaker knowledge on the training measures as well as on the posttests. Most impressive were the increasingly large gains over trials that higher level readers made when the pronunciations of words were learned with spellings compared to the gains made with no spellings and compared to the gains made by lower level readers (see Figure 2). The fact that higher level readers showed a much steeper slope in learning the pronunciations of words with spelling aids than lower level readers suggests a Matthew effect (Stanovich, 1986), with the rich getting richer in expressive vocabulary during the course of learning as a result of superior orthographic knowledge.

If you are lucky enough to have a child who is a strong reader, this may be a problem because attention to the written word appears to be ebbing in public schools. Here in my own district, $25K per pupil funding, posters reign supreme. Posters in Spanish, posters in math, posters in Honors English at the high school. So many posters! The "kick-off" for the new Strategic Plan, which includes environmental stewardship as a character ed goal, is -- you guessed it -- a call for posters. About the environment.

So few books are assigned that the PTSA has filed an official proposal with the administration and school board asking that district schools require students to read good books and plenty of them. The administration responded at once with a plan to have the AP Photography class take staged photographs of teachers reading books, which will be posted throughout the halls of the high school. Some photos will be "authentic," meaning teachers will be captured reading books they are actually reading in real life; others will have a humorous slant, which apparently means they'll be reading books they aren't reading in real life. (Shakespeare? The Bible? The telephone directory?)

Parents are going to have to put together their own afterschool reading programs, I fear.

the NCTM on 21st century literacy
In the 1990s, the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association established national standards for English language arts learners that anticipated the more sophisticated literacy skills and abilities required for full participation in a global, 21st century community. The selected standards, listed in the appendix, served as a clarion call for changes underway today in literacy education.

Today, the NCTE definition of 21st century literacies makes it clear that further evolution of curriculum, assessment, and teaching practice itself is necessary.

Literacy has always been a collection of cultural and communicative practices shared among members of particular groups. As society and technology change, so does literacy. Because technology has increased the intensity and complexity of literate environments, the twenty-first century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies, many literacies. These literacies—from reading online newspapers to participating in virtual classrooms—are multiple, dynamic, and malleable. As in the past, they are inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities, and social trajectories of individuals and groups. Twenty-first century readers and writers need to

• Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
• Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and
• Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of
• Manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous
• Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts
• Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments

The Definition of 21st Century Literacies

These are the people calling the shots.

a comment from a reviewer of Rosenthal's & Ehri's study:
The research conducted in this study makes a significant contribution to reading theory and practice in that it ties together the orthographic/phonological system with the meaning system in ways not previously thought. The researchers show quite clearly that students who see the spellings of words actually learn the meanings of the words more easily. This is quite a remarkable finding. I know of no research on vocabulary learning or vocabulary instruction that rests on such a claim. The emphasis in the vocabulary literature is on learning the meanings of words, not on the value of seeing the words and tying together knowledge from the different systems. Because of this connection, the research makes a significant contribution to reading theory and also has specific and practical application to everyday practice in a way that few research studies do.

The Mnemonic Value of Orthography for Vocabulary Learning
Julie Rosenthal and Linnea C. Ehri
Journal of Educational Psychology
2008, Vol. 100, No. 1, 175–191

Monday, December 15, 2008

Mary Damer on masked deficits & poor spelling in high-performing students

At least 30 - 40% of readers who have learned to read with balanced literacy or whole language will learn the code for themselves through natural reading and a bit of haphazard phonics thrown in, but that doesn't always mean that those students will necessarily be fluent readers. I've been having discussions with young campaign workers in their mid to late 20's, almost all of whom have gone through whole language/balanced literacy. These days I don't mince words anymore and am blunt: "Your generation was screwed." They readily agree. One English professor at OSU told me that she no longer can teach Dickens because the sentences are too long (i.e. readability level too high). If any group of college students were immersed in whole language, it's in Ohio where sight word reading is still the predominant method of instruction and often taught as the "literacy collaborative."

The 20-year olds want to talk about their reading experiences, and those who struggled always start by saying, "I'm not stupid, but........." Basically they fall into four camps.

1. The "I can learn to read naturally" readers (among the lucky 30 - 40% of all students) who broke the code for themselves or had parents who as they read to them did some sounding out as they went along: These adults don't understand what the big deal about reading instruction is because it was so easy to learn to read (unfortunately, this is the group of people that I suspect usually become general education literacy professors.) Because these individuals had no systematic phonics, some of them never learned the more difficult phonetic spelling letter-sound associations and have had to rely on memory for spelling rather than automatically writing an e when a word has that sound as a regular spelling pattern. As an adult, having to rely on visual memory of words leads to poor spelling. Thus for a portion of these folks, their poor spelling as adults reflects the lack of adequate phonemic awareness and phonics instruction.

2. The "I can learn to read naturally" readers (among the lucky 30 - 40% of all students) who broke the code enough to be successful until they hit law school or medical school where the words were so "big." The kids I talk to made it through school often with high grades, but it was painful and remains so. They talk about having to use rulers under the sentences and sounding out loud. When I remark that reading so slowly must make it difficult to comprehend the text, they look at me as if I’m a sage. How did I know that? Everything takes twice as long for them. These were the WL/balanced literacy kids who needed the fluency and advanced word reading (advanced phonics skills) practice when they were younger.

3. Another group of readers we can refer to as the "minimal strugglers" (approx. 30 - 50% of all students) will start to struggle by the middle of first grade in reading if they do not have systematic phonics that is well taught, but their parents of means get them early phonics tutoring. Because of the tutoring, they eventually read at grade level. It's interesting that these individuals still feel like failures in reading because they had to have this additional help. We can't forget that the trauma of failure starts young. In high poverty areas, group 2 can be as large as 50% of the school population and unfortunately, those children usually don't get the outside phonics tutoring and so do not develop grade level reading skills. If they haven't had outside phonics tutoring, these readers will look more like the following group by grade 4 when their test scores start to plummet.

4. For a final 20 - 30% of readers, learning to read is the most difficult task they will ever have and only well-taught systematic and explicit phonics in the early grades (usually until the student reaches 3rd grade level reading) will get them past a fourth grade reading level as adults. These readers who are always reading way below grade level by fourth grade if they received WL or balanced literacy reading instruction didn't make it as far as the kids I was talking to. They are already filling up the prisons in disproportionate amounts; they are working menial jobs; the brightest are entrepreneurs where they can hide their lack of reading. Out of this group, only 5 - 10% have true dyslexia. The rest have dysteachia.

Thus when you give that nonsense word test to whole language readers, those in the first group and some in the second will be able to meet the test benchmarks although there will usually be some errors for a few letter-sound combinations. Group 3 may do fine with the easier nonsense words and then start to slow down and make more errors as the multi-syllable ones are introduced. Depending on age, group 4 will struggle from the first nonsense word.

Mary Damer

Mary's books:
Reading Instruction for Students Who Are At Risk or Have Disabilities
Managing Unmanageable Children: Practical Solutions for Administrators (coauthor: Elaine McEwan)

Why Johnny Doesn't Like to Read by Elizabeth Brown
Who Needs Phonics?

reading tests explained - Wrightslaw
free reading tests & instructions - Hepplewhite (scroll down)
DIBELS explanation of nonsense word fluency (all DIBELS tests are free)
On Phonics (The Phonics Page)
Phonics Page reading tests (including a test for high school reading)
Don Potter's Education Page (very rich; contains programs long out of print; phonics, reading, lessons, articles, etc.)
Computer Assisted Learning