kitchen table math, the sequel: news to me

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

news to me

from Michael Maloney's Teach Your Children Well, published in 1998:
Various states and provinces are now requiring more practice as part of the outcomes for reforming their schools. New York State, for example, now demands that students in elementary schools practice their reading by completing twenty-five books per year. They are expected to write 1000 words of prose per month and do an assigned amount of math.
We moved here 14 years ago, here being New York state. Never heard tell of a 1000-word-a-month writing requirement. As to books, I remember C. reading 1 or at most 2 books a year in middle school. The kids were assigned The Outsiders -- reading level 5.1 -- in 7th grade. C. had read it two years earlier.

These days middle school kids are all supposed to read 25 books a year.


Anonymous said...

I don't know if there is a specific word count, but I know my elementary age nieces are told they can't pass every year without completing a book log proving they read a large number of books (they do read quite a bit, but we just bullshit those) and they have to do an awful lot of writing. I don't remember having to do so much writing at their age.

The older niece has it bad. School rule is that every kid has to write in their journal every day. Trouble is, the topic is assigned for them, and it is the same every day - "what did you do in school today?" Well, every day, nothing new happens! It's elementary school! There is not a single parent, student, or teacher that likes this requirement, but the principal is obsessed, so they all have to suffer.

VickyS said...

My kids had the requirement of 25 books a year all through elementary school. Reading became a chore, and we all became tangled up in the white lies required to comply--not the kind of thing I wanted my kids to learn! The writing, too--ugh, excessive. My poor kids were totally turned off both reading and writing by this quota and quantity approach. Does it actually work for any kids?

Anonymous said...

The writing requirement (no matter what the required amount is) is only useful if the writing is corrected, which doesn't always happen.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. My kids finished school before most/the worst of the current crap hit, but they did have to do journals, which were never corrected, and neither were many other assignments. I used at least 10 times more red pencil than all of their teachers combined - and they were kids in the "top group"/honors. If someone anointed me king and emperor, I'd ban journaling. If kids want to keep a journal, aka diary, they can do it on their own time. Every piece of schoolwork should be corrected, so that errors don't become habits. Quantity is necessary, but not sufficient in the absence of quality.

froggiemama said...

My first grade daughter has to do 3 book reports each month. Granted, they are pretty simple reports - she has to write a few sentences (this month, she has to write about the setting of each book) and draw a picture. But it is still pretty hard for her.

lgm said...

My now high schoolers were strongly encouraged to read and take the associated Accelerated Reader quiz on 25 books per year in elementary school. Books could be fiction or nonfiction.

The middle school became serious about reading in 2009. Everyone who wasn't on grade level was put into double period Reading. Those who were on or above read a minimum of a novel a month (quality lit) in sixth and had weekly responses to prompts required. After that they seem to give up. Honors students read one literature work every other month in English. AP reads about one a month. I suspect there isn't enough funding to supply the material to do more.

Jen said...

Our district requires 25 books per year, but the current elementary school we're in aims for 50.

They've had different forms each year -- as long as he doesn't have to write answers to the same foolish questions, he's happy enough. Last year, they were supposed to write how long they read each day, as well as page numbers.

Suddenly my likes-to-read son was asking "how long has it been?" and shutting the book on the dot of the required amount.

I wrote a note to the teacher explaining it was having a reverse effect and asking if we could just keep reporting page numbers and completed books. (Yes was the answer.)

They also have a "page equivalent" for each grade -- so 5th graders can't read short early readers and get full credit for a book and also so that kids reading 600 page behemoths don't get dinged for only reading two of them in a month.

My older kids didn't have these (well one year there was a reading contest), but they did have to do more book reports. They were fairly age appropriate in length/requirements though.

Done right (with some flexibility) and with kids who have access to a lot of books at their reading level, this does help kids to figure out they don't hate reading. It also promotes kids talking about and recommending books to their friends.

Jen said...

I wonder though, if there isn't some move toward this in general -- that is, that the "real work" is done at home -- practice work, reading full books, etc. That way school time is left for all that discovering and share-pairing and jigsaw-ing and other group delights.

I've heard more and more middle school parents in my district moaning about the hours of homework that kids have now. I know that wasn't true 6-10 years ago -- there was regular homework, but not daily several hour long slogs.

I'm sure that's one part of a rigid curriculum that the teachers mind less -- if they're forced to include group work every single day, every period (they are in my district at middle school and up)-- well then, let the parents do the hard work of making them write individually or read individually or learn math for themselves. :-p

Auntie Ann said...

I have a friend in New York city (at a selective public school--he had to test into it,) and his mom says he's doing 7 hours of homework a night and going to bed at midnight.

He's 9.

She says parents at other schools are complaining too.

Jeff Boulier said...

Wait -- "Three Cups of Tea" was on the list? I thought it was pretty clear by mid-2011 that Mortenson made up a lot of it, and that his foundation funneled quite a bit of money into his pocket.

momof4 said...

Jen: Steve H has been saying this for years. Schools do the fun and easy stuff and outsource real teaching and learning to the parents, tutors and Kumon. Schools refuse to know this.

Jen said...

It's not necessarily coming from the teachers though -- in our district, teachers will lose their jobs if they don't get with the group work and no grades lower than 50% law handed down from on high. Also handed down from on high are the unit assessments (and in some subjects weekly or biweekly tests too).

VickyS said...

Schools do the fun and easy stuff and outsource real teaching and learning to the parents, tutors and Kumon.

Absolutely. And is it any wonder that the achievement gap is so persistent?

Anonymous said...

Too right. "School reform" is an exasperating study in unintended consequences.

One of the things that brought me to homeschooling was the realization that most of the things my boy was learning at school he was actually learning at home.

The school gave him TERC Investigations, but I taught him to do arithmetic at home. The school gave him limited-language graded readers about little animals overcoming obstacles. I gave him graphic novels and YA science fiction he wanted to curl up with for hours. The school taught him to play hot cross buns on a recorder. I played violin with him for an hour a day.

So we decided to skip the part where he got bullied and berated for six hours in the middle. School wasn't doing him any damn good, and it interfered with his education.

Many of the detractors of homeschooling say it isn't fair because poor kids don't get a PhD to stay at home with them all day and teach them about programming and breadboards and whatnot. But if my son were wasting six hours a day in public school they still wouldn't get that.

Two kids in the same classroom don't get at all the same education, because it happens more and more outside of school, and once you hit fourth grade in my city they never see each other again as tracking begins.

SteveH said...

My son had some number of books to read a year (even in the summer) and so much reading a night in middle school. I wish I could remember the details. My reaction was that it was a statistical approach or a one-size fits all approach. The school didn't care (almost) what they read, and my son also started to watch the clock. They had this opinion that reading solved everything; vocabulary, grammar, spelling, writing, understanding, and content.

I think that they like this because it doesn't require them to specifically teach anything. That may be an extreme judgment, but everything seems to be geared to putting the onus completely on the child. Teachers want to be judged only on how they lead the horses to water (the process), even if it's just a stack of books. Everyday Math tells teachers to just keep going and to "trust the spiral". This is one more idea where the onus is placed on the child. So many times I was told that "kids will learn when they are ready". Teachers don't want to be held responsible for results. They only want to follow a process that supposedly guarantees success. Kids who read a lot of books are typically good in so many other area, so, getting kids to read books is all they have to do.

Our K-8 schools are all about differentiated instruction, but it's really all about differentiated learning. The teachers want to follow one process and then assume that all kids will learn at their own level naturally. Kids will read a lot, but each one may be reading books at his or her own level. Voila! Differentiated "instruction". Since (supposedly) all other skills flow from reading, that's all they really have to do.

With Everyday Math, they are told to just go through the motions. The spiral process guarantees that all kids will learn when they are ready. If kids don't learn math, or if they don't learn grammar, spelling, and everything else, then it must be the child's fault - by definition. They just point to all of the successful kids - and they don't ask what goes on at home.

momof4 said...

Reading is not a magical solution for anything, although reading the appropriate level of high-quality fiction and non-fiction is valuable. The number of books in the home/amount of reading done, like SES and parental education, is a proxy for a whole array of good parenting behaviors; importance of education, the kind of verbal interactions, library visits, visits to local educational sites, talking about current events, doing map puzzles, learning math facts, state capitals etc. Kids who "read a lot" typically have lots of these other learning opportunities. Just having the books isn't enough, so giving each family X books isn't a magical solution if they only use the books to hold the videogame console. Schools are all about chasing the newest magical solution and ignoring the traditional, explicit instruction and practice that DOES work, but requires effort from both teacher and student. As I've said before, it's the little-girls-playing-school approach; lots of arts/crafts, lots of happy talk and feelings and little to no academics.

Anonymous said...

You can chase causation down the correlation rabbithole for paragraphs.

High student achievement is correlated with parents who have a lot of books.

Giving parents a lot of books will not, however, cause higher student achievement.

Nor will taking the books away cause lower student achievement.

Parents have a lot of books if they are the sort of people who read a lot of books. Children of such parents are likely also to become the sort of people who read a lot of books, no matter how they are raised.

If the children of people who read a lot of books were swapped at birth with the children of people whose only books even out table legs, the former would be more likely to grow up into the sort of people who read a lot of books than would the latter.

Reading a lot is a great way to learn about all sorts of things. People who learn about a wide variety of things and develop excellent language skills usually read a lot. That is correlation rather than causation: reading doesn't make them who they are so much as who they are makes them read.

momof4 said...

Steve, the "free reading in designated amounts" leads to differentiated learning on two different levels; the kids at the top (or their parents) are more likely to choose challenging, high-quality fiction and non-fiction and the kids at the bottom are more likely to read material of lower quality because they/their parents are more likely to be unaware of better choices and their importance. One fourth-grader reads David MacAulay's Roman City, an account of the discovery/nature of Herculaneum and Rosemary Sutcliff's historical novels about Roman Britain while another reads junk; thus widening the original gap. Even the teachers are likely to deny the importance of what is read. The idea that "it doesn't matter what you read, as long as you read" has been around since my late FIL started teaching in the 1930s. It was still alive and well in the 90s; I remember having to fight my younger kids' teachers to get permission for them to read Bright Candles and Rosemary Sutcliff's works instead of the teacher's favorites (all chick lit,with the substance and cloying nature of cotton candy).

palisadesk said...

Schools do the fun and easy stuff and outsource real teaching and learning to the parents, tutors and Kumon.

This seems to vary a lot by social class and income level. I know from colleagues in affluent areas that this is EXACTLY what happens, and the schools there are very upfront about it – telling the parents that THEY are responsible for the kids’ learning proper penmanship, math facts, phonics, spelling and so on, so that the school can do a lot of “higher level thinking,” integrated learning, media studies, whatever.

A member of my dog club teaches in an affluent area (homes valued at 1.5 million and up), and told me every one of her fourth graders has a tutor; some even have the equivalent of the ancient Greek “pedagogue” – an employee who picks up the child at school, takes him or her to music lessons, Kaplan, martial arts or whatever, home for supper and supervised homework, until the parents get home late in the evening.

I saw a bit of this offloading to parents when I was in a mixed-income neighborhood school about 15 years ago, but since then I’ve worked only in very low-SES schools and the difference is startling. Very, very few kids come from families that can afford any tutoring, even relatively inexpensive services like Kumon; fewer than half have computers at home, and even fewer have internet access, so the “flipped” classroom is a non-starter.

It’s been many years since I’ve seen the artsy, group work, project oriented stuff happening in school. I’m in a fairly high-performing low-SES school right now, and I have to say the quality of the teaching is very high, and making effective use of learning time is a top priority. Many teachers are actively, directly TEACHING practically 100% of the time (I get tired just watching them). Our district has moved away from the “spiral” curriculum and now emphasizes sequential and explicit teaching in skill-based areas like language and math.
Even though we provide before and after-school free tutoring (by teachers) and the like, there is insufficient time for most of the weaker students to get enough time on task to consolidate their skills. This is a systemic problem, I think.

We cannot, and don’t, expect parents to teach their kids the basic skills. Many do their best to support their children but lack the education themselves, or the knowledge of English, or the resources to do what middle-class families do.

My conclusion is we need a longer and enriched school day for students like this, but that is a hard sell in economically straitened times.

Auntie Ann said...

Our girl's 6th grade curriculum required them to read books from around the world. They had a requirement to find books from each continent--not a bad idea in theory, but it was awful in practice. Finding *good* books from each continent was really hard. I had to go hunting to find a copy of "Whale Rider," and even good children's book stores were stumped when you asked them for something from Africa or South America.

She was in to fantasy and things like Redwall, but those weren't allowed, nor were science fiction, non-fiction, or almost any other genre. She wasn't allowed to read the kind of books she actually wanted to read--so reading became a chore, painful, and a drudgery.

Whatever they thought they were gaining by the requirement, they lost a lot more by forcing kids to read books they didn't want to read.

palisadesk said...

They had a requirement to find books from each continent

Just wondering, what did they suggest reading from Antarctica? ;-0

Auntie Ann said...

Even though it's 6th grade, there's always Magic Tree House's Emperor Penguin book.

Actually, they didn't require Antarctica--just the fully-inhabited continents.

If you want Antarctica reading, though, this one's the one to read! (Our boy used to be obsessed with penguins, so he read almost anything with a penguin on the cover.)

It's a book of poetry with such memorable lines as:

I'm so hungry, I can't wait
Cough it up, Dad, regurgitate!


Antarctica, Antarctica
Where winter days are darktica.
You better wear your parktica!
It's grander than New Yorktica!