kitchen table math, the sequel: 11/20/11 - 11/27/11

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Latest installment on Kerrigan 'Writing to the Point' project - using CONCRETE words

Use words that are not abstract; that can be seen, touched, smelled, tasted, felt, weighed, measured, lifted, dropped, moved, etc.
Examples:  child, chair, pencil are concrete; freedom, justice, bravery are not
Read more at Cost of College:  Step 4 of the Kerrigan method of ‘Writing to the Point’ –being CONCRETE

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

reading kcab and the SAT

re: answering SAT reading questions without reading the passage

kcab has just provided a terrific example of real-world multiple-choice.

On the original thread, where people were offering their answers to the 1983 SAT question, "The author’s attitude toward children appears to be one of," kcab wrote:
LOL, what the heck, I pick E.
Seeing this, my immediate reaction was: Really?


kcab picks E?

I have no idea why I was surprised that kcab picked E. I don't 'know' kcab; we've never emailed off-list, and because I've been somewhat AWOL reading comments for a while now, my conscious perception is that I haven't read enough of kcab's comments to have formed an 'image' of kcab.

Nevertheless, I was surprised. I was surprised, and I felt slightly.... uncertain. I wasn't sure I understood.

My second reaction, which occurred seconds later, was: It's a joke.

"LOL"..."What the heck"...


Tonight I find kcab's followup:
While I'm commenting, I'm feeling defensive about the answer I gave to the earlier post. I saw that post as a game, one that wasn't quite right. Since I could see that everyone else had picked A, I thought I'd pick anything other than A in the interest of answer diversity. Probably just as well for me that I've never had information about other students' answers on tests.
I was tickled to see this because I wasn't sure I picked the right answer. Was kcab joking or not? I had made my bet and bubbled my bubble; now I wanted to know.

And there you have it. A satisfying case of multiple choice in real life: a distinctly SAT-like case in which two conflicting choices both strike you as being possible, and only the author (kcab, in this case) knows for sure.

That is what reading is all about.

At least, I think that's what reading is all about. I've spent essentially zero time reading about reading, so I don't know what reading scientists think reading is all about. I may see things differently once I do.

For now, my sense is that texts often present us with more than one possible interpretation -- and that in deciding which interpretation fits best, readers likely use cues I haven't thought about since graduate school. That is to say, readers don't just read the literal meaning of the text; readers also perceive or construct an 'author' -- an implied author -- who is part of the text but not the text, or not the whole text:
"[I]t is a curious fact that we have no terms either for this created 'second self' or our relationship with him. None of our terms for various aspects of the narrator is quite accurate. 'Persona,' 'mask,' and 'narrator' are sometimes used, but they more commonly refer to the speaker in the work who is after all only one of the elements created by the implied author and who may be separated from him by large ironies. 'Narrator' is usually taken to mean the 'I' of the work, but the 'I' is seldom if ever identical with the implied image of the artist."
(Wayne Booth, The Rhetoric of Fiction. Univ. of Chicago Press, 1961) - quoted by Richard Nordquis
I don't know what made me read kcab correctly (or incorrectly), but it strikes me that it may have to do with this second self.

There are other possibilities as well.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Wayne Booth and a different way to prepare for critical reading

First of all, the correct answer to yesterday's SAT reading comprehension question, the question we're asked to answer without reading the passage the question is about, is A: The author's attitude toward children appears to be one of concern for the development of their moral integrity.

C. and Ed read the question two minutes ago and both chose A. (Debbie and I chose A, too.) Ed is sitting here now basically running through Glen's entire line of reasoning, all 5 points. I'm cracking up!

Of course, getting this answer right is no great feat: according to the research summary I found, 83% of subjects in the Katz and Lautenschlager et al study got it right, too, with no more than 7% of subjects choosing B, C, D, or E. 

Glen and Ed didn't have to get as fancy schmancy as they did, either. (I say that with love!) According to Katz and Lautenschalger as quoted by Iri-Noda-San, all any of us had to do to answer this question was to note that:
“[t]he item just discussed is flawed because not a single incorrect choice characterizes a socially appropriate attitude toward children, whereas the correct choice does (p. 304)”.
Wayne C. Booth (or: I wish kids could be English majors again)

I have never actually read Wayne Booth, I am sorry to say. I intend to.

Back in graduate school I knew just enough about Wayne Booth's work to have been deeply intrigued by his notion of the implied author, and to have spent quite a bit of time thinking about what exactly an implied author might consist of inside a movie as opposed to a book.

Last night, after Debbie arrived fresh from her tutoring adventures bearing news of the Katz and Lautenschlager study, I had a eureka moment: the SAT has an implied author.

The SAT has an implied author, and you need to read the implied author as well as the passages to get the answers right. That's what good readers do.

I have been naturally reading the implied author in SAT reading sections, and so has C. I say "naturally" because I do it without thinking about it, and if I do think about it, I don't take it seriously. When C. and I joke about the "grammatically correct" minority questions in the writing section, we're joking.  We don't see ourselves as having (correctly) interpreted a text.

In fact, I rely upon my understanding of the implied author to such a degree that the single most useful piece of advice anyone ever gave me about SAT reading was LexAequita's observation that SAT reading questions are "picayune in the sense that you'd better start thinking like a 13-year old with Asperger's syndrome." On one level, Lex's advice is about the logic of SAT reading questions, but on another level Lex's advice is about the implied author. The implied author is picayune!

(There's an implied author in the math sections, too.)

These days, of course, no one has heard of implied authors and the like; the formal analysis of literature seems to have disappeared from English departments across the land. I search high and low for close readings of the folk tales and fairy tales I'm teaching, and all I find are Marxist analyses and multiple references to menstruation. I am not going to discuss menstruation with a class full of 18 year old boys (and girls) taking developmental composition. Nor with a class full of 18 year old boys and girls taking non-developmental composition, for that matter.

If I knew how to do a close reading of texts, if I knew more than just a smidgeon about functional linguistics, I bet I could crack the test, as opposed to consistently get the answers right without knowing why I consistently get the answers right.

And I wish I had been able to take a class with Wayne Booth. His students obviously loved him.

test prep

Who teaches kids to read the implied author in a text?

Does anyone?

If you're lucky, an English teacher will show your child how to locate main and supporting ideas in nonfiction texts. And there is a strong focus in many precincts upon identifying an author's "biases." David Mulroy writes about the contemporary preoccupation with argument in The War Against Grammar.

But I think that's about it.

I know a student in a neighboring town, who I worked with briefly on SAT reading. He put a great deal of time and energy into preparing for the test, and his writing and math scores both were in the mid 700s by October, but he could not get his reading score above the low 600s.

That never made sense to me. He and I had read together. He was a good reader, and he was smart.

You see kids like him time and again, and people remark on it. The reading test is the one that can't be tutored; that's the rule.

Now I'm wondering if kids are failing to read the implied author.

I'm also wondering whether it would be a good idea to have students purposely take some critical reading sections without reading the passages. Offhand, such an exercise seems like a good way to reveal the SAT's implied author.

The researchers who've looked into this issue seem to take the view that if a test-taker can answer the questions on a reading passage without reading the passage, the test is invalid.

That strikes me as the wrong way to look at it, although I haven't read the papers. In the studies, students who did best answering questions without reading the passage also scored highest on the test itself, and I think it's at least possible that this research reveals more about the nature of strong readers than it does about the SAT. I am now wondering how many questions I answer not on the basis of the passages but on the basis of the tone, style, grammar, and content in the question sections per se.

I don't know the answer to that, but I'd like to.

the question:
The author’s attitude toward children appears to be one of:
(A) concern for the development of their moral integrity
(B) idealization of their inexperience and vulnerability
(C) contempt for their inability to accept unpleasant facts
(D) exaggerated sympathy for their problems in daily life
(E) envy of their willingness to learn about morality

Katz, S., Blackburn, A. B., & Lautenschlager, G. (1991). Answering reading comprehension items without passages on the SAT when items are quasirandomized. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 51, 747-754.
Katz, S., Johnson, C, & Pohl, E. (1999). Answering reading comprehension items without the passages on the SAT-I. Psychological Reports, 85, 1157-1163.
Katz, S., & Lautenschlager, G. (1994). Answering reading comprehension questions without passages on the SAT-I, ACT, and GRE. Educational Assessment, 2, 295-308.
Katz, S., Lautenschlager, G., Blackburn, A. B., & Harris, F. (1990). Answering reading comprehension items without passages on the SAT. Psychological Science, 1, 122—127.
Millman, J., Bishop, C. H., & Ebel, R. (1965). An analysis of testwiseness. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 5, 707-727.
Powers, D. E., & Leung, S. W. (1995). Answering the new SAT reading comprehension questions without the passages. Journal of Educational Measurement, 32, 105-129.
Pyrczak, F. (1972). Objective evaluation of the quality of multiple-choice items designed to measure comprehension of reading passages. Reading Research Quarterly, 8, 62-72.
Tuinman, J. (1973-74). Determining the passage dependency of comprehension questions in five major tests. Reading Research Quarterly, 9, 206-223.


Exactly what I would have predicted:
Given the widespread use and high-stakes nature of educational standardized assessments, understanding factors that affect test-taking ability in young adults is vital. Although scholarly attention has often focused on demographic factors (e.g., gender and race), sufficiently prevalent acquired characteristics may also help explain widespread individual differences on standardized tests. In particular, this article focuses on the role that posttraumatic stress symptoms (PSS) potentially play in standardized academic assessments. Using a military sample measured before and after exposure to war-zone stressors, the authors sought to explain test-taking ability differences with respect to symptoms of PTSD on two cognitive tasks that closely match standardized test constructs. The primary method for this analysis is based on an item response theory with covariates approach. Findings suggest that the effect for PSS is significant on both tasks, particularly for those who experience the highest levels of PSS following war-zone exposure. Findings provide potentially valuable information regarding the nature of the relationship between PSS and verbal and logical reasoning test performance.
Previous research on college-age groups suggests that educa- tional attainment is negatively impacted by anxiety disorders (Kessler, Foster, Saunders, & Stang, 1995); however, less is known about the specific effects of anxiety disorders on test-taking ability, particularly from a prospective approach. The current study sheds light on this issue and suggests that after controlling for predeployment PSS and a number of possibly confounding factors, PTSD symptoms adversely affect test-taking ability in study par- ticipants, and that there is a dosing effect in which more severe symptoms are associated with poorer test taking.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Standardized Test-Taking Ability - Leslie Rutkowski et al - Journal of Educational Psychology - 2010, Vol. 102, No. 1, 223–233.

Monday, November 21, 2011

SAT reading question for all you ktm brainiacs

The author’s attitude toward children appears to be one of:

(A) concern for the development of their moral integrity
(B) idealization of their inexperience and vulnerability
(C) contempt for their inability to accept unpleasant facts
(D) exaggerated sympathy for their problems in daily life
(E) envy of their willingness to learn about morality
What's the answer?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

bubble this, part 2


I just checked my October SAT scores and discovered that, as Debbie predicted, I apparently failed to answer an entire chunk of questions without knowing it:

Moreover, as Debbie also predicted, the questions I didn't answer were (C. says) on the 2nd Writing Section, which is the last section of the entire 11-Section test.*

Debbie really has become the expert on the actual, real-world SAT: what it's like to study for it, what it's like to take it, and even what your score means before the College Board tells you what your score means. (I didn't believe her! Every time the subject of my Writing score came up, Debbie would say: "Section 10. You didn't answer all the questions." I thought that was nuts! Of course I answered all the questions! I obsessively checked and double-checked to make sure I answered all the questions! Wrong.)

For the record: omitting four questions while checking and double-checking to make sure you haven't omitted any questions is not a "careless" error.

Omitting four questions while checking and double-checking to make sure you haven't omitted any questions is a maxed-out biology error. Omitting 4 questions in the final section of the test is the same phenomenon as a runner losing her stride at the end of a real marathon going out way too fast from the gate and falling apart at the end of a real marathon, which Ed says happened to the front-runner in the women's field this year.

By the way, in the run-up to the test, it occurred to me that I needed to start running again. I'm thinking aerobic conditioning would have to help. But I didn't do it.

For parents whose kids will be taking the SAT soon, the bubbling issue is major: it's the reason kids need effective test prep. The SAT is too long and has too many problems jammed into too little time and space** to be considered a test of content knowledge. The SAT tests test prep as well as content knowledge.

High school students need effective test prep for the same reason runners need effective coaching: they need to learn strategy and pacing, especially on the math sections.

I'm a 10
May 4, 2010: mandatory bubbling session
March 8, 2011: bubble this
April 13, 2011: progress report, part 2
May 7, 2011: the return of bubbling errors

* 10 sections that count towards your score plus 1 experimental section that does not count
** Too little space: test font size is too small, white space is too small, desktops in testing centers are too small... I may have left something out.

SAT story & apologies for the disappearing act

Wanted to say quickly that I've got at least 4 meaty emails waiting for me, which I'm not getting to because they're vying for attention with a stack of student papers and so far the student papers are winning.

Hoping to get to emails later today!

I shouldn't be writing posts, either, but I had to pass this along.

C. just came into the kitchen and told me this story.

One of the math kids in his class, a kid so good at math that the calculus teacher (this would be the calculus teacher whose class C. has dropped) told him he could "sleep through every class" and get an A, got a 650 on SAT math.


I say that's a benchmark. A gifted math student who takes the SAT cold gets 650.

C. said, "He doesn't care about the SAT. He's going to X University no matter what."

His folks have free tuition at X U.

update: The last two lines above are ironic.