kitchen table math, the sequel: 11/13/11 - 11/20/11

Friday, November 18, 2011

on fracking.

Remarkably good journalism; remarkably scary stuff.
The money would help to pay the taxes on their farms. The land man who came to the Haney home to sell the lease showed pictures of a farm and pasture with a well cap “the size of a garbage can,” Haney said, which she found reassuring. And it didn’t seem as if the drilling would affect their lives much.

Learning more about 'Writing to the Point' - Kerrigan's approach to writing instruction

I first learned about the William J. Kerrigan's Writing to the Point from Catherine.  She had high praise for this book on writing instruction, calling it "brilliant" and attracting my attention with this.
I'm pretty sure a parent can use Kerrigan's book to turn any writing assignment into an OK assignment or even good one.
After years of letting the book collect dust on a shelf, I finally decided to read it and learn the Kerrigan method in detail.  I'm almost halfway through this project, becoming more convinced with each assignment that this approach would work for many students who struggle with writing.  The precision and clarity of the Kerrigan method is refreshing, especially after observing so many different variations on writing instruction that often appeared confusing and distracting.  (Venn diagrams, cloud-charts, math journals and three-page rubrics - I'm looking at you.)

I'm blogging about my journey through Writing to the Point over at Cost of College, and here are the first three installments.

The Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’
Step 3 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’

Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ – being SPECIFIC

I welcome any feedback from KTM readers as I stumble along in my project, hoping to learn more about effective writing instruction and to improve my own writing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lesson Study Open House @ Greenwich Japanese School

My deepest apologies for such a late post.

The Greenwich Japanese School (GJS), in Greenwich, CT, is hosting a lesson study open house on Friday, 18 November 2011, in case there are folks in this group in the CT area.

There are a few spaces left. Please visit: for the program and information.

If you are interested in attending, please email me ( and Makoto Yoshida (

Again, sorry for the late notice.

Patsy Wang-Iverson

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Statue of Liberty turns 125

Ed's on CNN!

He has a book coming out on the statue in April.

In the meantime, here's Heroes of Empire: Five Charismatic Men and the Conquest of Africa.

Another reason to distrust the spiral

We've discussed often how Everyday Math doesn't build to mastery, but spirals through the same topics year after year at a shallow level so students never get enough practice. Teachers and parents are told to "trust the spiral"--if the student doesn't learn the concept this time, they'll learn it next time.

But no one tells the students that.

I hear stories now of children in tears of frustration in first and second grade because they are being asked to "learn" concepts without enough background. These children aren't able to blithely say "oh well". They are crushed at their obvious failure. They feel stupid. They feel miserable. They are learning to hate math and their inability to do it. The assignments aren't meant to be mastered yet, according to the adults. But the spiral won't stop their students' feelings of awfulness.

We can't teach children that math is coherent, reasonable, and learnable with effort this way. Students need to be given concepts of slowly-increasing difficulty, designed so hard work leads to success. It's not just we've robbed them by giving too little chance to build up to complexity. Giving "tastes" of concepts they aren't ready for undermines the "effort is good" message and reinforces you're math-smart or math-dumb, and there's nothing you can do about it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why we switched from Chinese to French

Before I started home schooling my 10-year-old daughter last year, she attended the one child-oriented foreign language program our neighborhood has to offer: a once-a-week Mandarin program at the local art center. It's a largely art and play-based program, and, after about three years of it, she'd learned perhaps a couple of dozen words and phrases and a few characters (many of which she'd forget each summer).

When I started homeschooling her, I figured we'd intensify the Chinese instruction one way or another. My Mandarin is quite rusty, but I'd had an intensive year in grad school (following an intensive year with Cantonese in Hong Kong), and I thought learning it with my daughter would be a great opportunity to polish things up and make some new headway, especially with the written language.

A few months later I found myself abandoning this and switching over to French. As a linguist, I do love the idea of exposing myself and others to non-Indoeuropean languages. But the more time we spent on Chinese, the more aware I became of various practical challenges that aren't such an issue with French.

One has to do with available resources (and, of course, my familiarity with what's out there). I've had a long history with French and have long known about French in Action, which is the best available, child-accessible, audio-visual language curriculum I'm aware of for any language. In particular, try as I might, I haven't been able to find anything comparable for young English speakers learning Mandarin. There are a number of software programs out there that purport to teach all sorts of languages (most notoriously, Rosetta Stone), but these, imho, are so highly deficient they they aren't worth bothering with--even if they didn't cost hundreds of dollars.

Then there's the issue of retention. In comparison with French and other Indoeuropean languages, Chinese presents two disadvantages. One is its writing system. Mastering the thousands of Chinese characters required for basic literacy demands hours of daily practice. I've seen first hand how a short hiatus can result in massive forgetting. One simply cannot learn to read anything of substance in Chinese without a long-term commitement to significant daily practice. Another is its vocabulary. Chinese words are especially challenging for English speakers to remember because they bear no resemblance to English words.

So here's how I ended up viewing my options. If my goal is for my daughter to learn a language spoken by billions that may someday become a job-opportunity-expanding lingua franca, or a language whose pronunciation, vocabulary, and written form (though not so much its morpho-syntax) differs greatly from English, and I can commit both her and myself to the hours, days, and years of instruction (or if I don't care about her learning the written form of the language), Chinese is just the ticket. But if my goal is fast mastery and easy retention of a spoken and written language, my daughter is better off with one that uses an alphabet and whose words bear some resemblance to English words.

Which brings me back the original lingua franca. Like other Indoeuropean languages, French shares not only our basic writing system, but also tons of cognates (glace-glacier; sympathique-sympathetic; regarder-regard; to name just a few my daughter has recently observed). This means that English-speaking French learners are immersed in mnemonic devises. The effect of these cognates goes in the other direction as well: learning a Romance language like French enhances one's acquisition of many of the more sophisticated elements of English vocabulary. Cognates aside, French difers from English along the more linguistically interesting dimension of morpho-syntax, arguably at least as much as Chinese does. It therefore presents a nice combination of (1) mutual reinforcement with English vocabulary and an easily-mastered writing system, and (2) morpho-syntactic challenge and a window into some of the morpho-syntactic variability of the world's languages.

Other Romance languages--Spanish, Italian, and, of course, Latin--offer a similar combo. But today's world offers few opportunities for aural/oral practice, and zero real-life conversational opportunities, in Latin. And, much as I'd love to relearn Spanish or learn Italian, I haven't come across anything like a Spanish in Action or Italian in Action. Meanwhile, I'm seeing the tremendous efficacy of Pierre Capretz and his French in Acttion play out daily in the huge progress my daughter has made since last February, which I estimate to be already well over the equivalent of a year of 7th grade French.

perfect score

at Princeton, parked on campus