kitchen table math, the sequel: 1/4/09 - 1/11/09

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Is this 21st Century Learning?

If you can get through the song, perhaps you might enjoy the "Fling the Teacher" game on his website which asks 16 questions in a Who Wants to be a Millionaire" style.

Q8 What are the three parts of an essay? one answer: "There is only one main part to an essay and that is writting it."

When you answer all 16 questions, your teacher is bound and gagged and stuck in a barrel where he is flung from a trebuchet and lands with cuts and bruises.

Makes hangman look rather humane. I'm really glad I don't teach in the U.K.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Monday, January 5, 2009

Jay Mathews on 21st century skils (again)

I am rooting for Jay Mathews, our bulwark against the wholesale infusion of 21st century skills into the schools:
Today on this page, we are ushering in the new year with the hottest trend in pedagogy, the latest program teachers are told they cannot live without. It is called 21st-century skills. Education policymakers, press agents and pundits can't get enough of it.

I am not so impressed. I have been writing cranky columns about 21st-century skills on calling the movement a pipe dream whose literature should be tossed in the trash. [ed.: I wouldn't call it a pipe dream. I would call it a boondoggle and an accountability-dodge. Not to mention anti-intellectual. An anti-intellectual, anti-accountablity 21st century boondoggle!]


[T]he marketing of the concept has not been entirely honest or wise. A sentence from a report by the Tucson-based Partnership for 21st Century Skills illustrates the problem: "Every aspect of our education system -- preK-12, postsecondary and adult education, after-school and youth development, workforce development and training, and teacher preparation programs -- must be aligned to prepare citizens with the 21st century skills they need to compete." This is the all-at-once syndrome, a common failing of reform movements. They say changes must be made all at once, or else. In this democracy, we never make changes all at once.

The Latest Doomed Pedagogical Fad: 21st-Century Skills
By Jay Mathews
Monday, January 5, 2009; Page B02

In a seventh-grade science class at Grace E. Metz Middle School in Manassas, 12-year-olds Chris Isaacson and Nathan McCallister were building a bridge out of 30 uncooked pieces of spaghetti. They had drawn several plans. After pushing down on the spaghetti from several angles, they decided that vertical struts were the best way to strengthen their bridge for the test: How many books could it hold before collapsing?

Which scientific principles were involved in their project? Nathan thought for a moment. "Gravity," he said. "It works against us." [ed.: time well spent]

It wasn't the weightiest observation, but it connected theory with the real world, which is exactly what "21st-century skills" -- this year's educational buzz phrase -- is all about, and why Manassas is trying to make it the core of its curriculum. President-elect Barack Obama (D) called for a "21st-century education system" in naming his new education secretary last month. The phrase "21st-century skills" gets 232,000 hits on Google. Problem is, not everyone is sure what the phrase means. [ed.: I am quite sure I know what it means: SMARTBoards, clickers, software, and Google. As opposed to books.]

The Web site of the Tucson-based Partnership for 21st Century Skills says the skills include creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem-solving, communication and collaboration. [ed.: You can't learn that stuff from books!]

Who Profits Most?

Tom Pamperin, an English teacher at Chippewa Falls High School in Wisconsin, has been attending meetings on 21st-century skills and doesn't like what he hears:

If the emperor isn't exactly naked, his suit of clothes is hardly new. If the meaningless hype were all I objected to, I wouldn't be so worried. But I see a far more serious threat inherent here. When you look at the list of members (Adobe, Apple, Cable in the Classroom, Microsoft, Texas Instruments . . . ) in the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, it's clear that many of the organizations involved have a vested interest in pushing for a greater emphasis on technology. There is a lot of money to be made selling software, computers and high-tech gadgets to schools.

For example, [here are] some of the specific changes proposed by a Wisconsin state task force for the discipline of English: "Increase emphasis on students' reading . . . of complex texts in order to: . . . comprehend and communicate quantitative, technical, and mathematical information." And: "Increase emphasis on students' ability to produce complex texts . . . to communicate quantitative, technical, and mathematical information."

The various disciplines each offer a different lens through which students can view the world. You learn something different from literature than you do from math or science, and you learn it in a different way. But the 21st-century skills movement seems bent on reducing a wealth of knowledge and diversity of perspectives to a simple, business-minded set of skills. This would be great, obviously, for the corporate world. But since literature, art, music -- much of what defines the human experience -- are not useful in the boardroom, they won't be given much space in our public schools.

The Rush for '21st-Century Skills'
New Buzz Phrase Draws Mixed Interpretations From Educators

Lebanon turns algebra into child's play

LEBANON -- Lori Haley and Mya Corbett hunch over a pile of yellow hexagons, trying to figure out how many hexagonal tables it would take to seat 25 guests.

The pair want to get the answer, but what they're really itching to do is to come up with a formula that will tell them how many people they could seat for any given number of tables.

Lori and Mya are "itching" to come up with a formula?

I just bet.

"x + i i i" ?

I just watched the video -- these children aren't making sense, right?

Or am I missing something?

update 8:11 pm

The boy in the Old Navy shirt -- he doesn't seem to know what 5 x 10 is, does he? At least, he doesn't know it fast.

Here's the dialogue:

Old Navy boy: "plus negative twenty, cause 5 x 10 = .... [trails off]

on the board:

(4 x 4) - 5 = 6 + 5

5 x 10 = 50 +

Teacher: "if you go plus negative twenty do you think you're going to be in the positives or the negatives?"

long pause as Old Navy boy looks for help on his desk

Old Navy boy: "Oh, take away."

Teacher: "Just take away? Take away 20?"

Old Navy Boy: "Yeah."

Teacher: "OK"

Teacher erases "+" sign & writes "- 20"

Old Navy Boy again consults papers on his desk

Old Navy boy: "Um, plus negative 14"

He sounds as if he's finished.

"They love playing with numbers. They love putting numbers together and taking numbers apart and they really understand how those numbers work."

Lebanon turns algebra into child's play

down and out in New Zealand

The present study was carried out in New Zealand, which follows a predominantly constructivist, whole language approach to reading instruction and intervention in which literacy learning is largely seen as the natural by-product of active mental engagement (Wilkinson, Freebody, & Elkins, 2000). As Stanovich (1994) noted, this instructional approach assumes ‘‘that self-discovery is the most efficacious mode of learning, that most learning can be characterized as ‘natural’ and that cognitive components should never be isolated/fractionated during the learning process’’ (p. 264).

From the assumption that the ability to read evolves naturally and spontaneously out of children’s prereading experiences with ‘‘environmental print’’ (commonly occurring environmental labels accompanied by context or logos, such as the word stop appearing on an octagonally-shaped sign), whole language theorists concluded that literacy teaching should be modelled on first-language acquisition, where the focus is on meaning construction, not the abstract structural units that provide the basis for mapping print onto spoken language. If children are immersed in a print rich environment in which the focus is on the meaning of print, they will readily acquire reading skills, according to this view. Children can be taught what they need to know to learn to read ‘‘as the need arises’’ [ed.: when the child starts school possibly?] through frequent encounters with absorbing reading materials. The focus of this approach, then, is on learning to read by reading....


Another key aspect of the constructivist approach to literacy education is the assumption that reading acquisition is primarily a process in which children learn to use multiple cues (syntactic, semantic, visual, graphophonic) to predict [ed.: guess] the next words in text (Snow & Juel, 2005; Tracey & Morrow, 2006; Tunmer & Chapman, 2002). The latest handbook for beginning reading teachers in New Zealand, Effective Literacy Practice in Years 1–4 (Ministry of Education, 2003a), recommends teaching children to identify unfamiliar words in text by encouraging them to use all sources of information (knowledge and experience, semantic sources of information, syntactic sources of information, and visual and graphophonic sources of information) simultaneously in predicting, cross-checking, confirming, and self correcting as they read text (pp. 28–31, 130). [ed.: that sounds efficient]


New Zealand has a unified national education system in which almost everything relating to literacy education is controlled centrally by the Ministry of Education, including the setting and monitoring of the national curriculum, the production of beginning reading materials and instructional guides for beginning reading teachers, and the development and implementation of nationwide professional development programs for literacy teachers. Consequently, compared with other countries like the United States, there is considerably less variation in the reading methods and instructional strategies used in New Zealand classrooms.

Explicit instruction in phonemic awareness and phonemically based decoding skills as an intervention strategy for struggling readers in whole language classrooms Janice F. Ryder1, William E. Tunmer1 and Keith T. Greaney1
Reading and Writing
Volume 21, Number 4 / June, 2008

When kids have trouble learning to read in New Zealand, they are put in Reading Recovery, a one-on one tutoring program that also uses whole language.

Reading Recovery sounds like the approach Michelle Weiner Davis says married people take to dealing with marital problems: if something isn't working, do it again & louder.

today's factoid: Reading Recovery was invented in New Zealand (pdf file).

less is more

In Reading Recovery a teacher teaches one student 30 minutes a day for approximately 12 weeks: 60 lessons in all. Reading Recovery: An Evaluation of Benefits and Costs (pdf file)

In the Ryder study, struggling readers were put in groups of 3s and taught 56 scripted lessons by a teacher's aide:

The intervention programme comprised 56 highly sequenced, semi-scripted lessons in phonemic awareness and phonemically based decoding strategies delivered to the 12 intervention group children by a teacher aide over a period of 24 weeks during the first three terms of a four-term school year. The children in the intervention group were divided into four groups of three. Each group received four lessons per week that varied between 20 and 30 min in duration, but typically lasted about 25 min.


[T]he intervention group significantly outperformed the control group on measures of phonemic awareness, pseudoword decoding, and context free word recognition ability...


The difference in mean reading age between the intervention group children and their matched controls was 9 months for the Burt Test and 14 months for Neale accuracy.


Although the intervention group children performed somewhat below average in reading, their scores were clearly within the normal range after two years following the completion of the intervention program.


Two-year follow-up data showed that the positive effects of the intervention program were not only maintained but had generalized to word recognition accuracy in text.

All this from groups of 3 taught by teacher's aides.

Of course, it probably would have been even more cost effective just to teach them phonics from the get-go.

Reading Recovery: An Evaluation of Benefits and Costs (pdf file)

bad habits are bad

Learning a habit is different from other kinds of learning: often we are not aware of developing a habit, and we develop it slowly over time. "The process doesn't seem to go in reverse, or else we don't have access to the means to reverse it," Graybiel said.

MIT researcher sheds light on why habits are hard to make and break

This is why you don't want your school using balanced literacy to teach your child to read: you don't want your child developing the habit of relying on "context cues" (i.e. pictures) or "word shapes" in order to decode text.

You want your child to learn to look at the first letter in a word and scan straight through to the final letter -- and to do it fast.


Bad habits are bad.

and see:

Habits, Rituals and the Evaluative Brain by Ann Graybiel
Annual Review of Neuroscience
Vol. 31: 359-387 (Volume publication date July 2008)
the mix-and-muck-up-the-children method of teaching reading

Temple on Fresh Air

Temple is on Fresh Air today!

Talking about our new book.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

the ripple effect

the true cause of declining SAT scores

"the author wishes to thank La Belle Litre, Carolyn J. Cole, SOFD, for her efforts at assistance"

SAT scores & the first grade reader

From Jeanne Chall's The Academic Challenge: What Really Works in the Classroom?

Changes in Textbook Difficulty

Historical analyses of textbooks show a steady decline in difficulty from the 1920s to the present. The first decline in difficulty was in the reading textbooks for the primary grades. The authors and publishers who were first to simplify the primary reading textbooks claimed that the easier books were more suitable for most children according to research on their vocabulary knowledge (Chall, 1958). The move toward ease was prompted, also, by the change in methods of teaching beginners to a whole-word, sight method from a stronger phonics emphasis. This change made it harder for the children to recognize new words. Hence, the number of new words to be learned in the reading textbooks was lowered. The easier books were soon considered the better books, and, probably because of competition among publishers, the new editions of the primary readers had fewer different words—that is, they were easier than the earlier editions.

By the late 1930s, however, most of the readers had fewer words than the research evidence indicated was optimal (Chall, 1958). Even so, the readers kept getting easier until about the 1960s when some started appearing to get somewhat harder again (Chall, 1958, 1983a).

Subject matter textbooks also became easier from about the 1940s to the 1970s. In a study commissioned by the Advisory Panel on the SAT Score Decline (Chall, Conard, & Harris, 1977), the most widely used textbooks (readers, grammars, composition and history books) published from the 1940s to the 1970s for grades 1, 6, and 11 were found to be increasingly less challenging. When the difficulty of the textbooks was compared to the SAT scores of students who had used them, compelling evidence was found that those students who had used the more difficult textbooks had the higher SAT scores. This was particularly so for the early reading textbooks. The students who had learned from the harder school readers had higher SAT scores, while those who received instruction from easier readers scored lower.

The Academic Challenge: What Really Works in the Classroom? by Jeanne Chall
p. 50-51

in a nutshell
  • textbook difficulty declined from the 1920s to 2000
  • early readers were simplified because children who've been taught to sight-read can read far fewer words than children who've been taught to decode text using sound-letter correspondences, or phonics
  • "students who had used the more difficult textbooks had the higher SAT scores. This was particularly so for the early reading textbooks. The students who had learned from the harder school readers had higher SAT scores, while those who received instruction from easier readers scored lower."

Take-home lesson: teach your children to read.

perfect 1600

Until today, I had never heard of the SAT study.

I had read Tom Fischgrund's book about kids who scored perfect 1800s, however. He found something analogous:
[S]tudents who ace the SAT read an average of fourteen hours a week. Average score students, on the other hand, read only eight hours a week—an immense drop-off. The biggest difference, however, was found in the amount of time students spent reading for school. Average score students spent four hours a week reading literature, textbooks, and other assigned reading for school. Perfect score students put in nine hours a week for school-assigned reading, more than double the amount of time.


What do 1600 students read for fun?...The book most frequently mentioned—by a total of 6 percent of perfect score students—was Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

The Perfect 1600 Score: The 7 Secrets of Acing the SAT
Tom Fischgrund

I'm thinking the 21st century re-definition of "literacy" does not bode well for the SAT scores of today's Kindergarten.

The NCTE Definition of 21st Century Literacies (approved by the board!)
Some sound reading advice
Schoolbook Simplification and Its Relation to the Decline in SAT-Verbal Scores (pdf file)
Summer homework
SAT I score equivalents