kitchen table math, the sequel: South of the border

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

South of the border

In the Times today:
A few years back, I spoke with the education secretary of my home state, Nuevo León, about reading in schools. He looked at me, not understanding what I wanted. “In school, children are taught to read,” he said. “Yes,” I replied, “but they don’t read.” I explained the difference between knowing how to read and actually reading, between deciphering street signs and accessing the literary canon. He wondered what the point of the students’ reading “Don Quixote” was. He said we needed to teach them to read the newspaper.

When my daughter was 15, her literature teacher banished all fiction from her classroom. “We’re going to read history and biology textbooks,” she said, “because that way you’ll read and learn at the same time.” In our schools, children are being taught what is easy to teach rather than what they need to learn. It is for this reason that in Mexico — and many other countries — the humanities have been pushed aside.

The Country That Stopped Reading
March 5, 2013
I'm having a queasy feeling about Common Core's requirement that English teachers devote 60% to 80% of their time to shepherding students through "informational text."

Informational text.


I write informational text (see here). I read informational text. But I never, ever, call what I write and read informational text.

If I did, I wouldn't be a writer.

The Common Core Standards: What You Need to Know | June 4, 2012
Orange Public Schools


Catherine Johnson said...

Ed just read this post over my shoulder and said, "It just gets worse and worse."

Anonymous said...

"I'm having a queasy feeling about Common Core's requirement that English teachers devote 60% to 80% of their time to shepherding students through 'informational text.'"

Source, please?

I can't find this.

I *can* find references to ~80% of the total reading in high school being informational ... but this includes English, science and history (and math ...).

-Mark Roulo

Jen said...

I believe the 80% figure -- but also, remember the reading comprehension skills of educrats aren't that great either.

In all the reporting I've seen, districts are interpreting that this means less fiction, more "informative." Never mind that reading any good fiction would give rise to all sorts of valid assignments that would supplement the fiction with informative text to clarify questions from the reading.

Education as a whole never says, hey, let's find the most reasonable, efficient, and effective means of achieving our goals. It says, OMG! A SILVER BULLET! WANTWANTWANT!

Then it tells the teachers to box up all their old materials as they can't be saved and must be thrown away and buys ALL new silverbulletapproved materials.

Rinse and repeat.

It's like The Music Man, but no one in the town ever catches on, they just greet each new huckster with renewed enthusiasm.

momof4 said...

I'm sure I remember some educrat specifically mentioning government pamphlets as examples of desirable nonfiction. That's well beyond awful; they have no appreciation of the mountain of high-quality nonfiction that exists, in history, geography, the sciences, economics and even "literary" nonfiction (such as first-hand accounts of the Great Fire of London). Dumb and getting dumber, fast.

BTW; the book Eleven Blue Men is a good read; classic epidemiology stories.

Anonymous said...

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Where did the slide come from?

Anonymous said...

I teach 6th grade history. I know that the Common Core percentages seems high but they are based on the reading that students do over the course of their entire days, not just English/Reading/Literature class. Most of the 11 and 12 year olds in my classes are experienced readers of narrative texts, ie. ficitonal stories. But there are differences between reading narrative fiction and history textbooks and historic texts. It is important that I embed explicit instruction in how to read and interpret those types of materials within History class, just as it is important for Science and Math teachers to teach their students how to "read" (and write about) Science or Math. As adults we switch our reading styles fluidly depending upon the material we are reading but that change in strategy is not apparent to all students. All teachers need to be accountable for helping their students read for understanding in their subject areas. I don't belabor "strategies" but I do try to anticipate student misunderstandings and help them build the skills to conquer those difficulties in understanding written materials. My charter school expects all teachers to teach reading so that the English teachers can focus on high quality literature.

kcab said...

AFAIK, the percentages on type of text refer to reading in all classes, not solely English. That's been explicitly stated in every discussion/meeting/article on how to implement CC that I've been to or read.

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Anonymous said...

I don't understand why it is the English teachers' responsibility to have kids read "informational" text. Why can't the science teachers assign science reading and the history teachers assign history reading and so forth? And I'm not just talking about a few pages of textbook reading at night--I mean in addition to textbooks.

momof4 said...

I agree that science and history teachers should assign high-quality non-fiction in their subjects. In fact, the book I mentioned above, Eleven Blue Men, would be a good science assignment. I remember my whole US history class (all tracks) being assigned to read Is Paris Burning? and the college-prep kids had regular outside assignments in ancient and world history, as well as full-on research papers which required plenty of reading sources. English teachers shouldn't be expected to assign non-literary nonfiction, but should certainly consider including various diarists etc. Pepys' account of the Great Fire of London could go either way. Unfortunately, at least until SS and sciences are tested, the focus is likely to be on English teachers. The problem starts, of course, in ES, and hopefully better content will arrive (but I'm not holding my breath). Judy Blume et al is very firmly rooted; "it doesn't matter what you read, as long as you read" - even though it really does.

Laura in AZ said...

This is looking worse and worse... and gives me more reasons to keep homeschooling.

For the record, I've been known to use fiction for every subject under the sun, math & science included. Not all the time, but it is a nice break from the everyday textbooks.

Anonymous said...

If you want to master a language, you should be exposed to the best that is said and thought in that language. This is called literature. Any sufficiently well-expressed nonfiction text approaches literature. Literature is the foundation of fluency. There is no substitute.

If you imagine that schools are going to interpret this suggestion by assigning historic and scientific texts of literary caliber, you have another think coming. Like all standards, this will be pencil-whipped in the easiest way possible.

The latest big, crappy, expensive textbooks full of committee-drafted bosh and splashy, confusing layouts with sidebars and boxes and fifteen flavors of thin drivel will be double or triple counted to fulfill your child's reading needs. Your children will not be reading Gibbon, they won't be reading Darwin or Levi or Pinker. They'll be reading whatever crap marched up the pike from Texas this year.

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froggiemommy said...

I think ELA needs to be divided into two courses: one on the mechanics of reading and writing, which absolutely should include lots of nonfiction, and one on literary appreciation. Trying to jam both topics into one course leads to all kinds of confusion.

I teach at the college level in a STEM discipline and constantly struggle with the fact that students cannot read for content. They have spent their entire lives reading stories and don't know any strategies for reading other kinds of writing. They need a lot more exposure to reading scientific and technical material before they hit college.

I also disagree that the only kind of "good writing" is fictional. There are many wonderful books of nonfiction out there, some so good that they should even be included in a literary appreciation course. English teachers all seem to have blinders on.

SATVerbalTutor. said...

Chiming in late on this, but totally agree with Froggiemommy: kids have it drilled into them in HS that the only kind of reading is fiction reading, and consequently they have no idea how to deal with other kinds of texts (which will make up a huge portion of what they read in college). I think that the Common Core's intention, no matter how naive it may be, is to expose kids to a much broader range of texts than what they're currently encountering. I have no doubt that schools will find a way to massively distort and dumb down that exposure, but the kids I work with don't know how reading non-fiction is different from reading fiction. They don't know how to identify an argument; they think that author's are "just talking about things." They get so caught up in the details that they don't even know that there *is* a big picture. Fiction is great, but there are lots of different kinds of reading and writing, and I think the desire to expose kids to that fact is at least well-founded.

Anonymous said...

Froggiemommy: "I teach at the college level in a STEM discipline and constantly struggle with the fact that students cannot read for content. They have spent their entire lives reading stories and don't know any strategies for reading other kinds of writing."

SATVerbalTutor: " have it drilled into them in HS that the only kind of reading is fiction reading..."

How did these kids get through history and science classes in high school? Do then no longer have to read textbooks for these classes?

-Mark Roulo

Allison said...

Here in MN, hs teachers now produce extensive "study guides" that do the hard part of telling students what the important concepts, terms, and ideas were. It's the "here, i'll think for you, just please remember this." but ask them to think about a system? extend it, discuss implications? not possible. Most science teachers seem to have given upon asking their students to read the textbook--they can't.

and these kids get into the U in STEM fields and complain loudly if the teacher didn't give them a study guide..

VickyS said...

Guilty as charged! I taught high school biology the last couple of years and can confirm the incessant student demands for the teacher-prepared study guide. I found myself succumbing to the demands, much like a doctor is bullied into writing a prescription by a patient. I would be struck by the irony as I sat at the computer, late at night, paging through my notes, the textbook, my lessons, and compiling a nice, neat organized two page summary of what I had taught for that unit. Um, isn't that what I used to do as a student in college, to prepare for my tests myself? Here I do all the work, and my students can review my summary on the bus and call it a day. Shame on me!

But this is the issue I saw as a teacher. Many will absolutely not read a textbook. They will review their notes, but the don't know how to read a textbook for content, and they certainly don't know how to parse out the important stuff. So in order to get them to learn and remember something, I reluctantly gave them a study guide.

In high school and college I used to highlight and annotate extensively. That's how I interacted with my textbooks and it worked. But nowadays, the texts are owned by the school and the kids can't mark them up. Unless they go through the tedious process of taking notes from a book (how I hate that! they do too!) they do not have a good way to absorb and review the book content.

The only thing worse is an online book. The new biology teacher doesn't let the texts out of the room, and gives the students an online code instead. Reportedly, most kids have never even logged in.

By the way, even the most technologically addicted high school and college students I know hate online textbooks, yet all the high schools and colleges seem to be going that direction..whose brilliant idea is this?

lgm said...

Part of full inclusion is the maxim that assignments can only be assigned if appropriate for ALL children in the class. Appropriate meaning that all children can earn a 100 with reasonable effort.

So, in a reg ed high school class -- no, texts are not used. Occasionally they are issued and the student will be assigned to answer a few questions on a certain page. In honors, texts are issued and used.

My district has no math honors classes - therefore no texts in the high school courses. If pressed, the dept will hand out an AMSCO text. You can find these online. They appear to be written for ESL, at about a sixth grade level. The students are to take notes from the board, digest the lesson, and work problems at the board in order to learn the material. Needless to say, this practice does not work for those who are not strong auditory learners, so parents learn to order a Dolciani, a Foerster, a Lial, or a Larsen text that presents the material intelligently.

kcab said...

One reason that students don't read the textbooks in HS may be because the text is too far beyond their reading level. At least, that was one of the take-aways from a presentation I heard recently. (The point being made was that the students needed to reach a higher reading level, not that the books should be dumbed down.)

Alternatively, it might be a learned behavior arising from really awful middle school textbooks. The social studies and science textbooks my current high school student had in middle school were useless. Not only was the content weak and lacking structure, the index appeared to have no connection to the text. There was no possible way to learn anything interesting about a subject from those books. The high school textbooks that I've seen are a lot better. (But maybe that particular middle school had atypically bad textbooks.)

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