kitchen table math, the sequel: onward and upward

Thursday, September 20, 2012

onward and upward

The poll...asked human resource professionals to identify the greatest “basic skills” and “applied skills” gaps between workers age 31 and younger compared with workers age 50 and older.
  • Basic skills – more than half (51 percent) of human resource managers indicated they find older workers to have stronger writing, grammar, and spelling skills in English;
  • Applied skills – more than half (52 percent) of human resource managers said older workers exhibit stronger professionalism/work ethic.
SHRM-AARP Poll Shows Organizations are Concerned about Boomer Retirements and Skills Gaps | 4/9/2012
I've been talking to a Manhattan teacher who has a late-afternoon class in the room where I teach. When she learned that I teach freshman composition, she wanted to know whether I was seeing deterioration in students' writing. She expects the next wave of students to have no writing skills at all, and she wondered whether those kids are already showing up in colleges.

The reason she expects the next wave of students to have no writing skills at all is that Manhattan schools are required to use the Lucy Calkins program. The teacher said that everyone in her school hates the curriculum so much they spend every lunch hour venting, and she herself is desperate to find a job in the suburbs because friends have told her suburban schools "let you teach grammar." There's no escaping Calkins in the city. The principal of a neighboring school tried to get rid of the program and was told to reinstate it or find another position. So the program stayed.

In my experience, suburban schools don't teach grammar, either, although I haven't seen the level of micromanaging here that Manhattan teachers are subjected to. If a teacher in my district wants to teach grammar, and knows some grammar, it's not against the rules. But Manhattan teachers are monitored.  Administrators enter their rooms unannounced to inspect the bulletin boards and observe the mini-lessons, and if teachers are found teaching grammar, they're in trouble. Such is educational reform in the big city.

I shared my Geographical Theory of school quality with her: the closer a school's location is physically to Teachers College, the worse it is.

She said, "Well, imagine how bad things are for us."

and see:
Nightmare from Teachers College
Coach Class by Barbara Feinberg


Glen said...

"X is to writing what Singapore Math is to math" : solve for X

Singapore Math and now Art of Problem Solving have given me great curricula to follow. Between them, I have the roadmap, illustrated examples, and wonderfully varied problems I need to teach deep, thorough, explicit, incremental mastery from counting to calculus.

I wish I had an equivalent for English that represented the same, basic educational philosophy of rigorous, explicit training in fundamentals and incremental mastery, building up from words (rigorous, incremental buildup of spelling and vocabulary based on phonics & roots), to sentences (explicit grammar, sentence patterns), to sentential transitions, poetic techniques, rhetorical techniques, forms of argument, outlining, lots of explicit study of literary exemplars, and so on.

Unfortunately, I have a hard time knowing how to interpret the recommendations on homeschooling forums. "It worked better for my DS12," or "my seventh grader wasn't very interested," from parents whose educational philosophies are unknown to me are hard to interpret.

If any of you who know what I'm talking about regarding SM & AoPS have found something similar on the English side, I'd love to hear your recommendations.

Catherine Johnson said...

Glen - Have you taken a look at the Hake curriculum? I MUST get that interview written up finally!

I ***think*** it's pretty good ---

My problem is that, as far as I can tell, there is no such thing as an actual curriculum for 'Basic Writing' (which is what people outside education call 'remedial writing.'

I ***think*** I'm seeing that there are 'pivotal behaviors' I should be teaching: concepts and/or skills that are 'generative,' i.e. produce rapid gains elsewhere that I don't have to teach.

But that's an impression. I suspect there are such concepts/skills, but if there are I don't know what they are.

At this point, it looks to me that starting my class out from the get-go with very short 'change the verb' exercises may have 'taught' them to write summaries of stories in present tense. (I'll see when I get the rest of the papers in, but as I went around the class checking in on everyone's progress I was seeing summaries written in ALL present tense -- something I've never seen before!)

Also: I started this class out with the 7 sentence patterns. That was way too much, so I scaled back to just SVO & SVC ---- and I'm starting to think that having students repeatedly focus on SVO & SVC from the get-go may have caused some kind of .... leap in smooth sentence writing.

I haven't put up a post about Morningside & "discrimination training" yet, but I'm wondering whether I inadvertently did some 'discrimination training' this fall.

Maybe teaching SVO & SVC, then going over it repeatedly, has caused students to 'see' the buried clauses in sentence better? (Or to be able to write them?)

Of course it's impossible to tell what is having an effect & what is not; I also started this class out with "Jumbled Sentence" exercises. (In a jumbled sentence exercise a long, complicated sentence is broken down into pieces & written in a list, and students have to put the pieces together in order.

This exercise almost instantly shows everyone that adverbs & adverbials are highly moveable...and I'm thinking there must be other gains, too --- ?

In any event, I'm ***sure*** there are high-value activities & concepts I could be focusing on for these students, but I don't know what those activities & concepts are.

TerriW said...

RE: Incremental, mastery-based, classical LA, I have -- so far -- been pretty happy with all of the Peace Hill Press products.

(Grammar, etc: First Language Lessons for the Well-Trained Mind; Writing: Writing With Ease, Writing with Skill, etc)

The only problem is that she is still in the process of writing the various series. First Language Lessons currently only goes up to 4th grade -- she was working on the follow-up Advanced Language Lessons and was sending out completed chapters to beta testers ... and then came to the realization that the first book was on track to be 1500 pages long.

Hoo boy, time to stop and regroup.

So, she is tabling that for awhile and is working on the next section of Writing With Skill.

So, you've got a group of people (like myself) who are now wondering what on Earth we're going to do when we get to the end of the FLL series. (I am currently about halfway through FLL3 with my daughter, about halfway through FLL1 with my son, so this will likely also concern me, at least for my daughter.)

The options I most see people throw out for post-FLL are:

* Hake
* Rod and Staff
* Michael Clay Thompson

As for writing, a lot of folks seem to go to IEW, Institute for Excellence in Writing.

Glen said...

Thanks for these suggestions. Yes, I've heard of all of them, but I don't know how to interpret what I've heard. Actually, I've seen bits and pieces online, too, but I might have been satisfied with Everyday Mathematics if I'd only seen excerpts and heard comments from parents who were mostly happy with how it worked out for their kids.

I'll see what I can figure out, taking a closer look at Hake and the others mentioned here. I guess I'm like Stanley Fish in the article: clearer on my teaching philosophy than on the implementation specifics.

Anne Dwyer said...

In our suburban school district, students get direct instruction in vocabulary, grammar and the five paragraph essay form in high school They are still reading all the classic books. (She's reading Lord of the Flies now)

As for older workers: I went on a job interview on Friday and I had to take the Wonderlic test. All of the math problems were the same ones I teach in my basic math class. They were all designed to give nice answers. I never even touched the calculator. That said, I only finished 47 questions. It turns out that there are 50 questions and you have 12 min. I didn't know that before the test. I went in cold. They haven't told me what my score is. I wonder if there is a statistical difference between age groups?

Catherine Johnson said...

then came to the realization that the first book was on track to be 1500 pages long.


Catherine Johnson said...

I wonder if there is a statistical difference between age groups?

I'm guessing yes, ALTHOUGH ... I don't know how much speed you lose with age when a procedure is really drilled into your brain....

Catherine Johnson said...

Anne - I think you're evidence for my Geographic Theory of school quality. (The closer a school is physically to Teachers College, the worse it is.)

Anonymous said...

"I went on a job interview on Friday and I had to take the Wonderlic test."

What job is this? For most companies, giving the Wonderlic is asking for a lawsuit that the company is almost sure to lose.

-Mark Roulo

Stuart Buck said...

This writing course looks really intriguing:

The book is here:

Anyone have any experience with it? Is it worth the $70?

Allison said...

Mark, I was wondering the same thing. The Wonderlich test is an IQ test, in common parlance, and our courts have ruled such tests discriminatory because of disparate impact. From wikipedia:

"The Supreme Court ruled that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, if such tests disparately impact ethnic minority groups, businesses must demonstrate that such tests are "reasonably related" to the job for which the test is required...As such, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment tests (when used as a decisive factor in employment decisions) that are not a "reasonable measure of job performance," regardless of the absence of actual intent to discriminate. Since the aptitude tests involved, and the high school diploma requirement, were broad-based and not directly related to the jobs performed, Duke Power's employee transfer procedure was found by the Court to be in violation of the Act."

by defn, the wonderlich is a broad based aptitude test.