kitchen table math, the sequel: 12/11/11 - 12/18/11

Friday, December 16, 2011


from Don Stewart: Preface to the Third Edition - Notes Toward a New Rhetoric by Francis Christensen and Bonniejean Christensen:
I first asked [Bonniejean] to tell me about the research that her husband, a professor at the University of Southern California, had done that led him to discover the secrets of the world's great authors. She first had me conjure up in my mind an image of the classic English professor's study, lined from floor to ceiling with book shelves containing volumes of all sorts of writing, both fiction and nonfiction. In the middle of the room was a large mahogany table, and on that table stood dozens of glass canning jars, each with a label taped to it displaying the name of a particular grammatical construction and its placement in the sentence: participial phrase in initial position, adverb clause in medial position, absolute phrase in final position. In front of those soldier-like jars was a pile of coffee beans. Whenever he could capture a moment between classes or late at night, Francis would pull a book from the shelf, open to his bookmark, and read -- very carefully. Sentence by sentence. If the sentence began with an adverb clause, he picked up a coffee bean and dropped it into the jar labeled "Adverb Clause in Initial Position." He watched the jars as they filled up with beans, and at the end of each week he would pour out each jar's contents and count. He recorded the results and made charts that showed what types of grammatical elements these authors used, where they placed them, and how often each grammatical unit occurred. And from this most primitive of bean counting he discovered the answer to that most mysterious of questions, How do writers write?
Reading this passage, I recalled a Grade 5 data-collection project from Math Trailblazers:

So I'm thinking ... if you want 5th grade students to collect data, which apparently you do, why not have them collect data on number of participial phrases, adverb clauses, and absolute phrases and their positions in the sentences of professional writers? That would be interdisciplinary

First we'd have to tell them what participial phrases, adverb clauses, and absolute phrases are, of course.

Someone would have to tell the teachers, too. I myself had never heard of these things until two years ago, when I started teaching composition at my local college. 

Today I have a reasonably firm grasp of participial phrases and adverb clauses. (Reasonably). 

Still working on absolutes.

No idea what contemporary linguistics thinks of these entities. It appears I have to acquire the old, outdated knowledge along with the new, updated knowledge in order to know what I'm doing inside the classroom.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

'Writing, writing, writing' - a skill lacking among too many college graduates

Jeff Selingo wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Ed about what he learned from employers who are having a difficult time finding qualified employees to hire among recent college graduates.  This was just one problem he found.
Writing, writing, writing. We keep throwing around the word “skills,” but it seems the one skill that almost every job requires is the ability to write well, and too many graduates are lacking in that area. That’s where many of the recruiters were quick to let colleges off the hook, for the most part. Students are supposed to learn to write in elementary and secondary school. They’re not forgetting how to write in college. It’s clear they’re not learning basic grammar, usage, and style in K-12.
Why are students not learning to write before they get to college?  Maybe a different type of writing instruction is needed?

(Cross-posted at Cost of College)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Absent Teachers

This is getting to be a real big issue with me. What are typical contract rules about this? My son has soooooo many substitute teachers. Nothing happens in those classes. His teachers talk of dire consequences for students who miss school without following protocol and keeping up to date. Some of the rules are draconian. You even have to come after school to make up gym or you will get a zero for that day.

I just got an email from my son (he got it out during advisory) saying that his English teacher is not in today. This is the teacher who doesn't put any explanation on homework or exams and expects students to come in after school to get any sort of feedback or explanation. You have to sign up for this meeting, and if you fail to come, he will add a zero into your grades. I'm not making this up. My son was emailing me because I had to pick him up from school after one of these scheduled meetings. The teacher and school don't care that getting normal feedback on tests requires special transportation. I don't know what they expect from parents who work far away.

And in precalc, they are on their third teacher while the regular teacher is on long-term leave. The latest teacher was complaining that her stay was longer than anticipated and that, in effect, she was not prepared and had no lesson plans. This was in response to students' questions that she couldn't answer or had answered wrong. That was her excuse to the students.

Monday, December 12, 2011

SAT - For those still interested

This is something I meant to post before. It's the relationship between the raw score and the SAT score for the May 2011 SAT. It demonstrates how much your SAT score will drop with each error.

54 - 800 No errors or skipped problems.
53 - 790 One strike (error).
52 - 760 Two strikes.
51 - 740 You can’t get here for most cases. You round down.
50 - 720 Three strikes - this error drops you 40 points.
49 - 710
48 - 700
47 - 680

For the Student-Produced Response section, you don't get the extra quarter point penalty for a wrong answer and the rounding jump is delayed. Skipped problems will also cause a delay in the rounding jump. However, at some points the roundings kick in. It's a real killer in the 700 range.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

More posts up on Kerrigan 'Writing to the Point'

I've completed two more assignments in my project to work my way through the Kerrigan Writing to the Point method of writing instruction.
I continue to appreciate how the Kerrigan method teaches writing by systematically moving through a hierarchy of skills.

Here's my original post in this series.