kitchen table math, the sequel: 6/10/12 - 6/17/12

Friday, June 15, 2012

in which Glen encounters the 6th grade

As Amy P says, suitable for framing:
Chinese is the only language offered to sixth graders at the school my son will start attending in a few weeks. Many of us at middle school orientation were happy to see that Chinese would be offered to our kids. In fact, from the look of the group, it appeared as though we would have to fight each other to get our kids into the class.

Until they described the class. The kids would be "introduced" to Chinese language and culture. They would read stories about China. They would practice a few characters. They would memorize some greetings. They would even get to go on a field trip to local Chinese restaurant to witness the culture firsthand.

In a room full of Chinese parents jaws dropped. A few memorized greetings and a trip to a Chinese restaurant? WTF? (I think that stands for "What's That in French?")

We'd been afraid that competition for the Chinese class would look like Walmart on Black Friday. We were no longer afraid.

I suspect our school district will end up concluding from this that the demand for Chinese language isn't as strong as they had thought.

Explicit and implicit learning

Explicit (Declarative)
Implicit (Procedural)
facts and experiences
skills and habits, priming,
classical conditioning

knowledge can be verbalized

knowledge is inaccessible
tested by recall, recognition,
cued recall (as in school)

evidenced via altered dispositions,
preferences, judgements, behavior

one trial learning
often acquired gradually
over multiple trials

requires effort and intention.....
acquired incidentally
(without intention, attention,
or awareness)

flexible knowledge,
available to multiple
response systems

inflexible knowledge,
limited to response systems
participating in original learning

not durable


can form conjunctions
between arbitrary stimuli
(e.g., paired associate learning)

cannot learn conjunctions
“specialized to detect variance,
i.e., what is different or unique
about the events of a particular
time and place” [Eichenbaum].....

“specialized for detecting invariance, i.e., for
extracting what is common in stimulus
environment” (i.e., regularities)

medial temporal lobe

striatum (basal ganglia)
Learning and Memory

  • I always remember the meaning of "declarative knowledge" by the sentence: "I declare that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States." Or: "I declare that I was born in Springfield, IL." Declarative knowledge is facts and factoids you can (consciously) declare.
  • I think these two systems correspond to Daniel Kahneman's System 1 and System 2. (Take that with a grain of salt.)
  • It's misleading to characterize implicit learning as strictly procedural. Category learning and probabilistic learning are both handled by the basal ganglia. It's the basal ganglia that allow you to learn that where there is smoke, there is fire.
  • It's the hippocampus that allows you to learn the aphorism "Where there's smoke, there's fire."
  • The basal ganglia-frontal circuit understands language. Procedural memory processes grammar; declarative memory learns vocabulary. 
  • "One trial learning" is a bit misleading (in column one). Declarative knowledge can be acquired in one trial in a way that procedural knowledge (e.g.: how to hit a tennis ball) cannot. But retaining declarative knowledge over time requires spaced repetition and practice.
  • Not sure about 'cannot learn conjunctions [8th row].' Offhand, it doesn't jibe with scenarios like the weather prediction task. update 8/1/2012: paired-associate learning at Cambridge Brain Sciences - vocabulary learning is a case of paired-associate learning
  • Must determine the meaning of "limited to response systems participating in original learning."
  • Alzheimer's affects the hippocampus.

Seems to me constructivism mixes these two systems up.

The basal ganglia are built to look for a pattern naturally and unconsciously. You don't have to think about it, and you don't have to go to school to do it. But constructivists want students to expend a great deal of time and conscious effort figuring out the patterns and regularities in school subjects.

Meanwhile declarative knowledge has to be attended to and consciously acquired, but constructivists seem to want students to learn content knowledge more or less by osmosis. Osmosis is the basal ganglia's department. Ditto learning by doing.

Constructivists seem to want to make easy things hard and hard things easy.

'Why Chinese is hard'

Bostonian directs us to this article by David Moser:
[Chinese is] beautiful, complex, mysterious -- but ridiculous. I, like many students of Chinese, was first attracted to Chinese because of the writing system, which is surely one of the most fascinating scripts in the world. The more you learn about Chinese characters the more intriguing and addicting they become. The study of Chinese characters can become a lifelong obsession, and you soon find yourself engaged in the daily task of accumulating them, drop by drop from the vast sea of characters, in a vain attempt to hoard them in the leaky bucket of long-term memory.


Everyone has heard that Chinese is hard because of the huge number of characters one has to learn, and this is absolutely true. There are a lot of popular books and articles that downplay this difficulty, saying things like "Despite the fact that Chinese has [10,000, 25,000, 50,000, take your pick] separate characters you really only need 2,000 or so to read a newspaper". Poppycock. I couldn't comfortably read a newspaper when I had 2,000 characters under my belt. I often had to look up several characters per line, and even after that I had trouble pulling the meaning out of the article. (I take it as a given that what is meant by "read" in this context is "read and basically comprehend the text without having to look up dozens of characters"; otherwise the claim is rather empty.)


The other day one of my fellow graduate students, someone who has been studying Chinese for ten years or more, said to me "My research is really hampered by the fact that I still just can't read Chinese. It takes me hours to get through two or three pages, and I can't skim to save my life." This would be an astonishing admission for a tenth-year student of, say, French literature, yet it is a comment I hear all the time among my peers (at least in those unguarded moments when one has had a few too many Tsingtao beers and has begun to lament how slowly work on the thesis is coming).


[C]ontrary to popular myth, Chinese people are not born with the ability to memorize arbitrary squiggles. In fact, one of the most gratifying experiences a foreign student of Chinese can have is to see a native speaker come up a complete blank when called upon to write the characters for some relatively common word. You feel an enormous sense of vindication and relief to see a native speaker experience the exact same difficulty you experience every day.

This is such a gratifying experience, in fact, that I have actually kept a list of characters that I have observed Chinese people forget how to write. (A sick, obsessive activity, I know.) I have seen highly literate Chinese people forget how to write certain characters in common words like "tin can", "knee", "screwdriver", "snap" (as in "to snap one's fingers"), "elbow", "ginger", "cushion", "firecracker", and so on. And when I say "forget", I mean that they often cannot even put the first stroke down on the paper. Can you imagine a well-educated native English speaker totally forgetting how to write a word like "knee" or "tin can"? Or even a rarely-seen word like "scabbard" or "ragamuffin"? I was once at a luncheon with three Ph.D. students in the Chinese Department at Peking University, all native Chinese (one from Hong Kong). I happened to have a cold that day, and was trying to write a brief note to a friend canceling an appointment that day. I found that I couldn't remember how to write the character 嚔, as in da penti 打喷嚔 "to sneeze". I asked my three friends how to write the character, and to my surprise, all three of them simply shrugged in sheepish embarrassment. Not one of them could correctly produce the character. Now, Peking University is usually considered the "Harvard of China". Can you imagine three Ph.D. students in English at Harvard forgetting how to write the English word "sneeze"??
Then there's this:
One of the most unreasonably difficult things about learning Chinese is that merely learning how to look up a word in the dictionary is about the equivalent of an entire semester of secretarial school. When I was in Taiwan, I heard that they sometimes held dictionary look-up contests in the junior high schools. Imagine a language where simply looking a word up in the dictionary is considered a skill like debate or volleyball!

Why Chinese Is So Damn Hard
by David Moser
University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies

the list

When you boil it down this way, it's pretty hard to miss.

My district is still doing numbers 1, 2, 4, & 5.

Don't know if they've ever done 3.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

rigged, part 2

Harbin Pharmaceuticals Plant

How Chinese kleptocracy is related to education:

I am now officially off the boat for funding a Chinese language program in my district.

No that I was ever on the boat, exactly, and not that we're going to have a Chinese language program in my district -- not that we're going to have any foreign language program in the early grades at all.

But still. Parents here have lobbied and labored for years to persuade the administration and whatever school board happened to be in office at the time to bring in a serious foreign language program in the early grades, and our current and newly elected board members, all of whom support Math Trailblazers, like the idea of Chinese.

As one of them told the community, Chinese is a 21st century skill.

Why we switched from Chinese to French
Frauducation, Part 1
The Macroeconomics of Chinese kleptocracy
Harbin Pharmaceuticals at Business Insider

What ELSE Don't I Know?

My son informed me (while showing me his schedule for next year) that he thinks that two of the teachers asked for him in their class. He said that his English teacher from last year said she would do that. Is this common? Is this seniority-based? Of course it's better than asking to be kept out of their class, but... So what other things might I not know about?

For your consideration

Is it just me?

NY SPED increases -- affluent vs nonaffluent districts

following up on my previous post:

New York City per pupil
2000-01 – 2009-10
Gen ed: $6675
Gen ed: $11105
% change GenEd: 66%

2000-01 – 2009-10
SPED: $14979
SPED: $26888
% change SPED: 80%

Roosevelt per pupil
2000-01 – 2009-10
Gen ed: $6833
Gen ed: $13281
% change GenEd: %94

2000-01 – 2009-10
SPED: $27251
SPED: $44576
% change SPED: 64%

Scarsdale per pupil
2000-01 – 2009-10
Gen Ed: $10,513
Gen Ed: $17,324
% change GenEd: 65%

2000-01 – 2009-10
SPED: $18,202
SPED: $43,130
% change SPED: 137%

Great Neck
2000-01 – 2009-10
Gen Ed: $10388
Gen Ed: $15893
% change GenEd: 53%

2000-01 – 2009-10
SPED: $21509
SPED: $41955
% change SPED: 95%
at peak, in 2008-09:
SPED: $44291
% change SPED: 100%

Citizens Budget Commission

Scarsdale is one of the most affluent districts in the country. Great Neck is pretty affluent, too.

Both are predominantly white.

This data is interesting because NCLB required that special education students take the same state tests everyone else was taking. Prior to passage of NCLB, black/Hispanic* students were being put into special education, where they were exempt from state tests.

One might think that NCLB would produce a much larger spike in SPED spending in towns and cities with large black/Hispanic populations. But here we see the opposite: predominantly white districts show an enormous spike in SPED spending, far above the hike in spending on general education, and well above the hike in SPED spending by majority-white districts.

* I assume the same phenomenon was happening with Hispanic students, but I don't actually know.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

increase in special education spending in Scarsdale

Citizens Budget Commission data on increase in general education versus special education spending in NY 2000-01 through 2009-2010:

Scarsdale per pupil spending
2000-01 - 2009-10
Gen Ed: $10,513
Gen Ed: $17,324
% change: 65%

2001-10 - 2009-10
SPED: $18,202
SPED: $43,130
% change: 136%

I'm guessing this increase is related to No Child Left Behind's requirement that most students in special education pass the same state tests general education students pass.

On the other hand, most of Scarsdale's SPED students would have passed the tests without any increase in spending, same as the general education students. New York's tests were too easy.

So I don't know what to make of this.

Years ago, an education attorney told me: "No Child Left Behind is really a special education law."

No Child Left Behind and Special Education Explained
Our Children Left Behind: NCLB and Special Education

Is that a fork in your pocket, or are you ....

at Charts and Graphs

(photo thanks to Barry G; punchline thanks to Matthew T)

"stop teaching"

from the Learning Cultures Journal, a poem by teacher Emily Jarrell:
Dear Ms. X,

I watched you last week.
I sat in your classroom
and I watched
your kids
I have some things
I need to tell you

I’m not quite sure how
to say all of this,
but here I go

I know
you go home each night
and plan for hours.

I know you search
the Internet for the newest
the coolest lesson plans.
You want to help
your students grow.


I know that you look at the tests
and you think about all that you will need
to “teach”
to get your students to do well.
You make lists
genres to cover
strategies to teach.
You create practice sheets
that look like the test
so your students will be


I watched you plan a unit,
imagining that this unit would be the one
that might get your kids writing,
and loving it.

Here’s where this gets hard.
I know you.
I know you all too well.
I watch you
every day.

I was you.


What makes this hard is
that I have to tell you something
you probably don’t want to hear:

I have to tell you,
your time, your precious, precious time,
is being wasted.

You are
your time.

You have to stop teaching.

your students are never going to achieve
at the levels you dream
and hope for when
you are the one doing all the work.

You have to stop teaching.

Your students need to
start doing
and struggling
and pondering.

Stop planning
those lessons
and activities and hoping
you will lead your students to new understandings.

Just stop

Have them do it.

Have them read.
Every day.

Have them write.
Every day.

Make them talk.
To each other.

Make them share.
With each other.

Watch them.
Listen to them.

Document what you see.
Fuel the flames of their intentions,

Stop teaching
for just enough time
for them to start

Think about it, Ms. X.
I know you’re scared.
just dare.

A Teacher, Colleague, Coach, and Mother.
  1. Is the Learning Cultures Journal actually a journal? Does it have an editorial board? A peer review process? Funding?
  2. Emily Jarrell
  3. A Masters degree from NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development  costs many thousands of dollars.
  4. Has the Urban Assembly Board of Directors read this poem?
  5. Meet the parents.
  6. Stop the multiverse, I want to get off.
Has Constructivism Increased Special Education Enrollment in Public Schools? By Nakonia (Niki) Hayes
Mathematics Education: Outwitted by Stupidity by Barry Garelick
Growth of Special Education Spending and Enrollment in New York since 2000-01


Karen H sends this link

Consequences of Common Core

Nationally, there is a movement toward standards-based teaching in mathematics education.

The main idea of standards-based teaching, that every school and classroom works from a common defined set of standards, and that therefore, a curriculum will  be designed and then implemented based on those standards, certainly sounds better than the alternative of no standards. Sadly, too many of our schools don't even know what standards are, and they define what they teach by how far through the textbook they happen to got.

Standards are enforced by assessments that claim to test exactly the standards. The whole thing is then an engineering process: write standards, write assessments to match standard, tell teachers to teach exactly that, repeat until proficient.

With the standards based zeitgeist also come the ideas of data driven instruction--check the outputs! test what they know! adapt accordingly. This gives you time to see if your student will pass the assessment before the student takes it.

But most schools still don't know how to teach to these standards, so they look to textbook publishers who claim to help. Because this push was national, Common Core was adopted nationally, giving the textbook publishers one non-moving target to hit.

The good news: Spiral Math is losing its grip. It would seem that publishers couldn't figure out how to map standards onto their spiral's scope and sequence, and opted instead to order their books to match Common Core. And schools want new textbooks. Because how can you do interim data driven instruction assessments in november and checkbox which standards your kids have passed if they haven't seen the material completely until May?

The bad news: at least some of the new textbooks teach Common core standards in order. exact lexicographic order in some cases. First the operations strand, then number and operation base ten, then  number and op fractions, then the decimals, geometry strand, etc.

Why is this bad? Because while Common Core is far more coherent than most, if not all state standards to date, the authors did not seem to understand that this line-by-line method would be how schools and publishers implement the teaching of the standards.

But, at least now it will be a lot easier to afterschool your child with Singapore's Primary Math because at least the sequence is stable.

More on cargo cult education in standards based mathematics teaching in a couple days.

"unison reading": the video

around 4:09

So it’s a really powerful way to get at small group reading instruction that’s directed by the kids because they’re choosing the texts that they want to use as leaders; they’re choosing the texts that they want to be a part of for that week.

It’s an exciting opportunity for them because they get to bring their confusions to the table.

It is not by any means at all teacher-directed. It is absolutely student-directed and the teacher is sitting amongst the students acting as facilitator.

So let’s say there is something that is really confusing and they can’t figure it out, the teacher can do what we call follow-in. The teacher can follow-in to the kids and help them, you know, figure the thing out that they’re confused by.


You can use [unison readings] for science, you can use them for social studies, you can use them for math! They’re such an important format.


[Y]ou need access to texts. So maybe they’re printing out internet resources, maybe they’re choosing magazine articles, textbook entries -- whatever they need to read or whatever they’re choosing to read.


You have the unison reading record, and you keep a record of what the conversational moves are because your job is to track what the students are doing and then you use that material for your lessons or for your conferences.
It’s an exciting opportunity for them because they get to bring their confusions to the table.

More evidence that reality as we know it came to an end in 1985.

stop the multiverse, I want to get off: ALL POSTS
Learning Cultures - transcript

Has Constructivism Increased Special Education Enrollment in Public Schools? By Nakonia (Niki) Hayes
Mathematics Education: Outwitted by Stupidity by Barry Garelick
Growth of Special Education Spending and Enrollment in New York since 2000-01

Vicky on video

A couple of months ago, I exchanged emails with Vicky on the subject of Khan Academy and the flipped classroom:
We are not wired to sit down and watch [instructional videos] instead of all the other things we do at home. When you encounter a youtube video (on something that you're interested in!) that's over 6-7 minutes long, do you watch it? I usually don't, too long, maybe later, maybe never.

People just aren't wired to do the passive lecture thing at home.

And really, a lecture (in person) is NOT passive, even if the lecturer doesn't ask for feedback once. I've been to a lot of CLEs where you have your choice, live or taped. Live, you have to pay attention--everyone else is. Taped, you get up, go to the bathroom, check your mail, pull out a magazine...
What the "Learning Cultures" people have right, I think, is that learning is (often) a highly social activity.

What they have wrong is that the "social" part of the activity isn't sitting in a small group of novices trying to figure out what it is you're supposed to be learning.

The 'social' part of learning is about imitation: you do what the other people around you are doing, and learn what they are learning.

I think Albert Bandura was the person who pointed out that stimulus-response theory had its limitations.

To wit: If a baby antelope has to learn about lions through direct, stimulus-response contact with a lion, there won't be many baby antelopes.

Baby antelopes learn about lions by watching how their parents act around lions. They imitate.

Same deal with CLEs on tape versus live. If you're sitting in a room with a lot of other people who are paying attention, you pay attention, too.

With whole-class, teacher-led instruction, you have 20 peers or more to imitate and learn from.

With small group self-teaching, you have 4 other people who are just as confused as you are. In fact, confusion is a "Learning Cultures" selling point: "[unison reading] is an exciting opportunity for [students] because they get to bring their confusions to the table." [video]

If the Big Idea behind unison reading is that students 'get to bring their confusions to the table,' what are students in unison reading groups going to be imitating?

They're going to be imitating other students' confusions, not other students' learning.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


“Giving Voice to Learning” by Noreen O’Donnell
The Daily
Monday, June 11, 2012
Video by Jackson Loo and Devon Puglia

PRINCIPAL: The mentality in education right now in America is that teachers are responsible for everything. If someone is successful, it’s because of the teacher. If someone fails, it’s because of the teacher.

NARRATOR [enthusiastic]: So what if students became their own teachers? That’s what’s happening at 10 schools across New York City under a radical new pilot curriculum called Learning Cultures.

NYU EDUCATION SCHOOL ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR CYNTHIA MCCALLISTER: The core of Learning Cultures is the idea that social practices are critical to learning in human beings. Social practices and social interactions are really what make us learn.

NARRATOR: The Daily visited the High School of Language and Innovation in the Bronx, where the students are learning English as a second language.

PRINCIPAL: On the surface, it might look the same. So you might walk into a class and say “Oh look. The kids are working in groups.” Or, “Oh look. In this part, the kids are paying attention to a lesson.” This is completely different.

NARRATOR: After a 15 minute mini-lesson from the teacher, students spend most of their time doing group or independent work on the subject, with educators in a supporting role.

YAN WENG (H.S. MATH TEACHER): They definitely can learn more from their classmates than learning from me, so it’s not from top down.

PRINCIPAL: It’s a huge paradigm shift for educators, to turn over responsibility to students. Good teaching is really about what the students are doing. It’s learning through interaction.

NARRATOR: It’s learning through interaction.

[Shot of students at a table reading a book out loud together]

NARRATOR: This exercise is called unison reading. The children read aloud in synch. [students read a few words, and then a boy at the table calls halt] When they come across an unknown word or concept, they stop, discuss it, and try to determine the answer.

MCCALLISTER: They’re taught to resolve their confusions independently of the teacher.

NARRATOR: Some use iPads as translators, but most turn to each other. The method is applied across all grade levels and subjects.

YAN WENG (H.S. MATH TEACHER): Amazingly students tend to actually take feedback from their peers a lot more than taking feedback from teachers.

NARRATOR: But it doesn’t always work. This student chose a book beyond her skill level because she liked the cover. [book: The Throwaway Piece]

ENGLISH TEACHER: The summary is too difficult to understand, it means that the book is probably going to be too difficult to understand. [student nods]

NARRATOR: Traditionalists might wonder if this is just some wacky ultra-progressive teaching trend.

MCCALLISTER: It’s a pretty different way of approaching academic work, school work.

PRINCIPAL: I never really thought of it as progressive. I just thought this makes a lot of sense, and this actually helps me to accomplish all the standards and all the goals that we’re supposed to be accomplishing in this day and age.

MCCALLISTER: Schools are dysfunctional. You know they’re made for not only a different time, but I think that they were created without acknowledging the things that in our society we fundamentally value, and that is, you know, our freedoms. Until you change the nature of the curriculum so that kids have the space to own their learning—take initiative—they’re not going to learn.
What was it Reid Lyon said about education schools?

unison reading: the video

Has Constructivism Increased Special Education Enrollment in Public Schools? By Nakonia (Niki) Hayes
Mathematics Education: Outwitted by Stupidity by Barry Garelick
Growth of Special Education Spending and Enrollment in New York since 2000-01

pop quiz, part 2

re: pop quiz
Try this forced-choice exercise: if a principal wants to improve the quality of
teaching and learning in his or her school, which three of these will have the greatest
  • Observing and evaluating full lessons, preceded by a pre-conference with each teacher and followed by a detailed write-up and post-conference;
  • Systematic walkthroughs of the entire school focusing on target areas (for example, the quality of student work on bulletin boards);
  • Mini-observations of 3-5 classrooms every day (five minutes per visit) with face to face follow-up conversations with each teacher;
  • Quick “drive-by” visits to all classrooms every day to greet students and “manage by walking around”;
  • Collecting and checking over teachers’ lesson plans every week;
  • Requiring teacher teams to submit common curriculum unit plans in advance, and discussing them with each team;
  • Having teacher teams use interim assessments of student learning to improve instruction and help struggling students.
What's a Principal to Do? When You Can’t Do It All, What Are the Highest-Leverage Activities?  by Kim Marshall
Education Week September 20, 2006
Ed, who teaches at the university level, instantly got the answers:
  • Requiring teacher teams to submit common curriculum unit plans in advance, and discussing them with each team;
  • Having teacher teams use interim assessments of student learning to improve instruction and help struggling students.
  • Mini-observations of 3-5 classrooms every day (five minutes per visit) with face to face follow-up conversations with each teacher;
I missed 'unit planning,' which was the first answer Ed picked, and the most important one as far as he is concerned.

And what is unit planning?

Unit planning is curriculum, essentially. At least, of the choices above, "unit planning" is the closest to curriculum.

Marshall writes:
Unit planning – When teachers work together to plan multi-week curriculum units (e.g., the Civil War, the solar system, ratio and proportion), working backwards from state standards, “big ideas,” and unit assessments, the result is more thoughtful instruction, deeper student understanding, and, yes, better standardized-test scores. But this kind of curriculum design is rare; most teachers plan instruction forward, one day or week at a time, and write their unit tests and final exams just before students take them. Principals can counteract this natural tendency by providing the training, support, and time for teacher teams to plan units collaboratively, using peer review and robust design standards to constantly improve their work. 
Of course, I'm not keen on this model, necessarily: I (think I) prefer the Direct Instruction model, or the textbook model, where the curriculum is designed by disciplinary specialists, writers, and editors who work full-time designing the curriculum.

How is it we have full-time teachers designing and writing curriculum???'

Nevertheless, if we are going to have full-time classroom teachers writing curriculum, then focusing on unit planning as opposed to lesson planning strikes me as a very good idea.

Richard DuFour's innovation (the Professional Learning Community) is typically described as a shift from thinking about teaching (inputs) to thinking about learning (outputs).

But when you get closer to what he actually did, I think you have to argue that he also shifted focus from 'lessons' and 'lesson plans' to curriculum.

games people play

the Exo thread has comments on grade deflation, which Exo has not seen in the schools she teaches in:

In fact, I've being teaching for 6 years now. Of course, I have not being teaching in really Upscale schools - but I have not met a teacher yet who actually would want to lower the grade of a student; in fact, most of us are looking to bring the grades up... Many are afraid that students failing will result in the very least with a talk with the supervisor (and that's a no-no for a untenured teacher) or other unpleasant consequences - for the teacher, not for the student.

So, there come in poster projects in HS, HW crossword puzzles, in class time spent on making PPt presentations etc... The grades must go up - to cover for HWs never done, tests failed, quizzes missed..
We're exactly the opposite.

The scores are always high no matter what the school does (high relative to scores from urban/rural areas), and the parents are PITAs [in eyes of admin] and the school needs a way to keep students out of Honors/AP ....

Princeton, btw, has a formal policy of grade deflation.

At the end of the semester, professors have to limit the number of As they assign as final grades, even if students have been getting As all semester.

That's Princeton. Super-expensive, super-achieving students.

Grade deflation.
All too true! There's a push to cap the top grades and an easy way to do that is to demand the impossible of and/or downgrade the work of the top students, because "they could do better than this." Of course, by doing group projects (teacher chooses groups, of course), lower-achieving kids can be given top grades for work done wholly by the top kids, who don't want to risk a lower grade by letting others do the work. And the gap vanishes! There are lots of similar games...

SAT Verbal Tutor:
Wellesley now has a formal grade deflation policy as well (at least in 100- and 200-level classes; upper level seminars don't have a cap). I know that a lot of professors felt like they were backed into a corner because of it -- in the past, they would have been generous to an A-/B+ student whose grades rose throughout the semester, but after the policy was implemented (after I graduated), they had no choice but to grade down because they didn't want the administration on their case.
winner-take-all schools ALL POSTS

Jen on good administrators

Jen wrote:
I've bumped up against some excellent administrators -- at the principal level, that is. I don't know if there are really exceptional higher level administrators, though I assume they must exist at some (small) percentage of the population.

I've also run up against really horrendous principals.

Differences in principals are hard to describe -- it does feel like a "you'll know it when you see it" situation.

Good admins encourage things -- that is, they support the ideas and activities of their teachers. That's not to say that all ideas are then fully implemented. But, they are secure enough to allow innovation and change and also enough of a leader to then analyze results and reward the good and end the bad.

Going along with that -- they don't expect every teacher to look and sound and teach alike, though they do expect that all teachers will have the ability to teach and move kids toward the goals that should be set in the district/school's scope and sequence.

They are not wedded to ONE current idea about instruction/behavior/etc but are able to use the better ideas from a selection of "best practices."

Great admins are NOT loved by every employee and parent, but they do get a lot of respect and are able to deal honestly with people who disagree with them.

Bad admins are generally ONLY liked by a few employees and parents, who are thought of as their "pets" by the majority of teachers and parents.

Good admins deal directly with the people they have problems with and clearly spell out those issues and their expectations for what needs to change.

Bad admins drop hints, tell other people about the problems, do not listen to both sides of an issue before making decisions, and generally keep covering their own butts as their main goal.

I think that you could revise these attributes upwards for higher level admins -- just adding that their interactions with principals should look like a good principal's interactions with teachers and parents.

palisadesk on working with Khan videos in middle school

palisades writes:
I don't see the Khan videos as being any kind of instructional breakthrough, precisely because they are not interactive. As Catherine pointed out, with weaker or less motivated students, the demonstration moves too fast, is often poorly worded, and repetition or replaying a segment does not necessarily help. It is certainly no way for struggling students to learn new material.

Some middle school kids I worked with last year used the Khan videos to review procedures like multiplication of decimals, finding the lowest common denominator, and so on. They dutifully watched, replayed and tried to do the problem along with Salman Khan, but were easily confused and would not, I think, have been very successful without a teacher (me) being present to step in.

As for the "flipped classroom" -- I say hahahahaha. Maybe in well-to-do areas. No school I have worked in in the last 15 years has had more than 15% of students with internet access at home. So much for those "digital natives."

something new and different

The first two lines of narration in a video on "Learning Cultures" by Jackson Loo and Devon Puglia:
PRINCIPAL: The mentality in education right now in America is that teachers are responsible for everything. If someone is successful, it’s because of the teacher. If someone fails, it’s because of the teacher.

NARRATOR (with enthusiasm): So what if students became their own teachers? That’s what’s happening at 10 schools across New York City under a radical new pilot curriculum called Learning Cultures.

“Giving Voice to Learning” by Noreen O’Donnell
The Daily | Monday, June 11, 2012
You have to wonder what was going on in Loo and Puglia's unconscious minds when they chose this hook for the video: that the reason to have constructivist classrooms is to relieve teachers of responsibility.

Has Constructivism Increased Special Education Enrollment in Public Schools? By Nakonia (Niki) Hayes
Mathematics Education: Outwitted by Stupidity by Barry Garelick
Growth of Special Education Spending and Enrollment in New York since 2000-01

Update on using MathBooster in my summer class

As some of you remember, I posted that my colleague and I wrote an online homework/assessment website for my basic math class. I am piloting that website this summer and collecting data to assess its effectiveness.

My colleague and co-programmer Tim Vorce always says “We have to meet students where they are. And where they are is online.” MathBooster is a web based learning and assessment tool inside a course management shell developed specifically for remedial students. Instructors assign the skills and difficulty level. The problems are generated by mathematical algorithms. There are an infinite number of unique problems generated at each level. The homework system is designed so that students are required to complete a specified amount of problems correctly. Students receive immediate feedback and practice each skill until they have achieved mastery regardless of how many problems are required. This program was specifically designed to give extra support to those students who, while motivated and dedicated, have too many gaps in their background to pass a one semester basic math class.

The data for effectiveness assessment consists of two parts. The first is the average on Test 3. Test 3 assesses all of the fraction math skills. I chose this because fractions are very difficult for students and because this test comes just before the halfway point of the class.  The second assessment will be the score on the final exam. The final is written by the math department  and is consistent from semester to semester.
The class average (n=9) for Test 3 is 85.6% vs an average of 67.4% for previous semesters (n=68). Since the sample size is so small, any conclusions would be premature although I am encouraged by this result. The data that is really interesting is this: on average, in order for my students to complete 20 problems correctly, they must attempt 34 problems. The range is 25-65 problems. I draw two conclusions from this data, one surprising and one expected. I expected that students have not been given enough “good” problems at each skill level and that they would require more than 20 problems to master each skill. The surprising result (to me) is that students will do up to 65 problems if they are given good feedback and they feel like they are progressing. 

I welcome any feedback from the KTM community. If you are interested in trying the site yourself, the link is MathBooster link.  You can register as a student or as an instructor. If you register as an instructor, there is an instructor resource page that details what problems are generated for each skill and level.

Legal Writing Tips - Thurgood Marshall School of Law

I've only read one or two of these thus far; both were helpful.

oldies: do not press send

I had forgotten this one from 2007.....

Exo on projects

Catherine, congrats on being brave! That's unfortunately IS the middle school mentality - to do many projects (and it IS mandated from above). I was lucky - I taught MS, but I taught Regents class, so I did not follow "workshop model" and didn't do projects.

Now in HS I do not assign any projects and even in labs (if I can and have enough supplies)I try to get everyone to work individually.

But even in HS I see other teachers assign projects (even in math - oh, horror!). That tells me - either the grades need to be boosted, or the teacher is done teaching (like now, by the end of the year)
A couple of things.

First, in my student's district, it's possible projects are being used to lower grades, not raise them. That is certainly what has been happening to my student.

Second, no bravery involved! From a personal point of view, the meeting was amazing for the complete and total lack of negative emotion I felt. I felt calm, I felt friendly, I felt unfazed. Unfazed is an excellent state of mind to be in, let me tell you.

I wish I could bottle the mood because it seems to be pretty effective. A person who is calm, friendly, and unfazed --- and who believes, in a calm, friendly, and unfazed kind of way, that projects have no educational value for the student on whose behalf she is advocating --- where can school personnel go with that?

Nowhere, really.

I must say ... it is shockingly empowering to be teaching freshman English at the college level. I can simply observe that I do not assign projects in my classes, and there's an end to it. I don't have to argue the merits. I'm the person these students are seeing next, after they leave K-12.

And, since I'm married to a professor, I can further observe that my husband does not assign projects, either. New York state's new focus is "college and career readiness" (I don't know how 'career readiness' is defined); at some level everyone in the room knows they're supposed to be getting kids ready for college, not "problem solving" or the 21st century or problem solving in the 21st century. And, of course, college readiness is what they want for their own kids if they are parents.

When I told my friend R. about the meeting, she said, "You are battle hardened."

Third: Thank God for Regents exams. The school personnel in the meeting were clear that when teachers have to prepare students to pass Regents, the time available for projects is limited.

Projects do not help students pass exams, it seems.

wrong again - the case of Microsoft Word and passive voice

Elaborating on a comment I just wrote.... I have begun to feel that English teaching may be in worse shape than math.

(fyi: I frequently have students in my classes who tell me: "I love math, I hate English." Is that evidence that math is being taught better than English? I think it's possible.)

A fair amount of the content taught in English classes and covered in composition texts is misleading, confusing, or, in some cases, simply wrong. My favorite example may be the injunction against using the passive voice, which belongs to the simply wrong category.

Passive voice is essential to fulfilling the known-new contract. When you're writing with the known-new contract in mind, and you should pretty much always be writing with the known-new contract in mind,* passive voice isn't just 'OK,' it's required: passive voice is good writing when you need it. Passive voice is so useful that if it didn't exist, somebody would have to invent it.

In my classes, of course, (and this is something the composition texts don't seem to have grokked) I don't have to worry about over-use of passive voice. As far as I can tell, students today haven't done enough academic reading to have noticed that passive voice is a common feature of academic writing, so they don't try to produce imitations of academic writing that feature excessive use of p.v.

As a result, far from having to inveigh against over-use of passive voice, I more or less have to teach students what passive voice is in the context of writing. (Writing as opposed to talking & signage, where everyone knows what p.v. is and uses it all the time. e.g.: Schools will be closed tomorrow...)

But when I'm trying to teach written passive voice using a Word file projected onto a screen, Grammar Check keeps dinging me, so I have to explain to my students that, back in the day, when students did read academic books and did try to imitate academic prose via liberal use of passive voice, writing instructors used to tell their students not to use passive voice, and that's where Microsoft Word got the idea from. Microsoft Word thinks passive voice is bad because George Orwell and Strunk & White thought passive voice was bad (my students have never heard of George Orwell or Strunk & White), and college students used to use way too much passive voice, but .... passive voice is not bad, and Microsoft Word is wrong. They should think about the known-new contract and use passive voice as needed.

Speaking of Microsoft, this was the first semester I 'infused' technology into my teaching, by which I mean I figured out how to use the laptop-projector set-up so I could project sentences and paragraphs onto the screen up front. When the class talked about passive voice, Microsoft's objections actually got to be pretty funny. We'd be cruising along, writing our sentences and making them cohere, and DING! Word would put a green squiggle under a passive voice construction.

Then I'd say, "Microsoft Word doesn't want you to use passive voice."

* I say this with the proviso that all rules are made to be broken...

worse than you think

I've mentioned several times our family mottoes:

It's always worse than you think.


No common sense-y. (No common sense-y is less apropos now that Jimmy is living in a group home and Chris has graduated high school.)

Under the category of worse than you think: "I'm not writing, I'm drawing."

Monday, June 11, 2012


more fun with Terc

Be sure to read the comments.

"Confessions of an Instructional Leader"

excerpt from:
The Learning-Centered Principal by Richard DuFour
Educational Leadership - May 2002
When I entered the principalship a quarter century ago, the research on effective schools warned that without strong administrative leadership, the disparate elements of good schooling could be neither brought together nor kept together (Lezotte, 1997). I heeded the message and embraced my role as a strong leader with gusto. I was determined to rise above the mundane managerial tasks of the job and focus instead on instruction—I hoped to be an instructional leader. I asked teachers to submit their course syllabi and curriculum guides so that I could monitor what they were teaching. I collected weekly lesson plans to ensure that teachers were teaching the prescribed curriculum. I read voraciously about instructional strategies in different content areas and shared pertinent articles with staff members.

But my devotion to the clinical supervision process at the school was the single greatest illustration of my commitment to function as an instructional leader. I developed a three-part process that required me to be a student of good teaching and to help teachers become more reflective and insightful about their instruction.

During the pre-observation conference, I met with teachers individually and asked them to talk me through the lesson I would be observing in their classroom. I asked a series of questions, including What will you teach? How will you teach it? What instructional strategies will you use? What instructional materials will you use? During the classroom observation, I worked furiously to script as accurately as possible what the teacher said and did.

During the postobservation conference, the teacher and I reconstructed the lesson from my notes and his or her recollections. We looked for patterns or trends in what the teacher had said and done, and we discussed the relationship between those patterns and the lesson's objectives. Finally, I asked the teacher what he or she might change in the lesson before teaching it again. I then wrote a summary of the classroom observation and our postobservation discussion, offered recommendations for effective teaching strategies, and suggested ways in which the teacher might become more effective.

The observation process was time-consuming, but I was convinced that my focus on individual teachers and their instructional strategies was an effective use of my time. And the process was not without benefits. As a new pair of eyes in the classroom, I was able to help teachers become aware of unintended instructional or classroom management patterns. I could express my appreciation for the wonderful work that teachers were doing because I had witnessed it firsthand. I observed powerful instructional strategies and was able to share those strategies with other teachers. I learned a lot about what effective teaching looks like.

In Hot Pursuit of the Wrong Questions

Eventually, after years as a principal, I realized that even though my efforts had been well intentioned—and even though I had devoted countless hours each school year to those efforts—I had been focusing on the wrong questions. I had focused on the questions, What are the teachers teaching? and How can I help them to teach it more effectively? Instead, my efforts should have been driven by the questions, To what extent are the students learning the intended outcomes of each course? and What steps can I take to give both students and teachers the additional time and support they need to improve learning?

This shift from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning is more than semantics. When learning becomes the preoccupation of the school, when all the school's educators examine the efforts and initiatives of the school through the lens of their impact on learning, the structure and culture of the school begin to change in substantive ways. Principals foster this structural and cultural transformation when they shift their emphasis from helping individual teachers improve instruction to helping teams of teachers ensure that students achieve the intended outcomes of their schooling. More succinctly, teachers and students benefit when principals function as learning leaders rather than instructional leaders.


By concentrating on teaching, the instructional leader of the past emphasized the inputs of the learning process. By concentrating on learning, today's school leaders shift both their own focus and that of the school community from inputs to outcomes and from intentions to results. Schools need principal leadership as much as ever. But only those who understand that the essence of their job is promoting student and teacher learning will be able to provide that leadership.
Professional learning communities: ALL POSTS

ruining Lemov

pop quiz

re: ruining Lemov
Try this forced-choice exercise: if a principal wants to improve the quality of
teaching and learning in his or her school, which three of these will have the greatest
  • Observing and evaluating full lessons, preceded by a pre-conference with each teacher and followed by a detailed write-up and post-conference;
  • Systematic walkthroughs of the entire school focusing on target areas (for example, the quality of student work on bulletin boards);
  • Mini-observations of 3-5 classrooms every day (five minutes per visit) with face to face follow-up conversations with each teacher;
  • Quick “drive-by” visits to all classrooms every day to greet students and “manage by walking around”;
  • Collecting and checking over teachers’ lesson plans every week;
  • Requiring teacher teams to submit common curriculum unit plans in advance, and discussing them with each team;
  • Having teacher teams use interim assessments of student learning to improve instruction and help struggling students.
What's a Principal to Do? When You Can’t Do It All, What Are the Highest-Leverage Activities?  by Kim Marshall
Education Week September 20, 2006

Sunday, June 10, 2012


A taped lecture isn't a lecture.

ruining Lemov...

from Allison's post:
I've now seen schools ruin Lemov's Teach Like a Champion, too. They do this by using it as a micromanagement tool--lesson plans must look exactly like this, word choice must sound exactly like this, etc. to beat the teachers into submission.
Another timely observation.

I've just learned, via another ktm writer & commenter, that "professional learning communities" can be used to exactly the same end: to insure classroom-to-classroom uniformity.

Every teacher teaches the same lesson the same way.

That's fine when we're talking about a relentlessly field-tested, scripted Direct Instruction curriculum that is built to produce results.

It's not fine when we're talking Inputs instead of Outputs.

The entire point of professional learning communities, as I understand it, the reason they were revolutionary, is that Richard DuFour had the revelation that he should stop thinking about teaching and start thinking about learning. In the "PLCs" he invented, teachers didn't write lessons together. Teachers wrote tests together. They wrote tests together, and they essentially designed the curriculum together, in the sense that they decided what would be taught and when. They met on a regular basis, they worked with the state standards and/or the district's curriculum documents, and they decided which (which!) standards they would teach and when they would teach them.

Which and when, not how.

They taught as they thought best, and gave students the common assessments they had written.

Then they analyzed the results together and adjusted their teaching accordingly. As professionals might do.

As far as I can tell, and I've read a fair bit of DuFour's work, in the original PLC model there was no focus on telling the teachers how to teach. "Stop worrying about how the teachers are teaching" was pretty much DuFour's discovery (as I understand it). He had been a hard-charging "instructional leader," he was working around the clock, observing classrooms, reviewing lesson plans, meeting with teachers to provide feedback, and.... nothing. Same results.

Everything changed when he stopped focusing on how the teachers were teaching:
[DuFour] greatly reduced the time he spent trying, frenetically, to be the consummate, traditional “instructional leader.” Instead, he began to focus on the simple elements of learning communities—ensuring that teams met on a regular schedule and documented their progress on self-made formative assessments. And he honored and celebrated every success at every faculty meeting. These simple steps lightened his load, gave him focus, and led to years of dramatic, uninterrupted progress on every kind of assessment— from teacher-made tests, to state assessments, to college entrance exams. The success rate on Advanced Placement exams at his school rose by 800%.

Learning Communities at the Crossroads: Toward the Best Schools We've Ever Had by Mike Schmoker
AND SEE: Confessions of an Instructional Leader

Niki Hayes, part 1: what is constructivism?

I'm insanely late getting a stand-alone post on Niki's article up, but a number of things directly related to Niki's piece have come together in the last few days, so tonight's the night:
Has Constructivism Increased Special Education Enrollment in Public Schools?

As a teacher and administrator for 28 years, I rebelled against the disastrous fad of constructivism that began in the 1980’s. While its drumbeaters declared it was a higher form of intellectualism, it didn’t seem all that “intelligent” to me. Frankly, I thought it would help create failures among all groups of students—regular, special, and gifted.

For those who don’t know what “constructivism” is, it is an educational theory that, in practice, looks like this in America’s classrooms:

It is students from kindergarten through high school “discovering” their own answers by using manipulatives, working in groups, contriving “real world” problems through “project-based’ activities, moving and talking –a lot, and surviving in a hierarchy of those students who can lead and those who must follow according to their skills.

It is lots of colorful, jazzy pictures in books and on classroom walls that show many different ethnic groups, women, with gender-neutral stories, and with child-directed activities that only require teacher “facilitation.” Children rule the day.

It is feminized instruction that supports the goal of public education to provide egalitarianism or equity, especially to girls and minorities. That’s the priority placed over building excellence, since excellence smacks of cognitive exceptionalism. That ability is not appreciated nor encouraged where equity is to be the norm in classrooms.

It ridicules practice and repetition as “drill and kill” and believes anything that requires memorization is a waste of time that should be used for “creative” thinking.

It focuses on process, not results. “Process” is the actual “product” of learning.

It believes that if students are having fun, according to perceived “learning styles,” they will like going to school and they will learn the academics they need to prepare for the world of work.

No one will ever be able to determine how many hundreds of thousands of children, who came from dysfunctional, even chaotic, home environments and who entered the constructivist classroom with its lack of boundaries, no right or wrong answers, and the expectation to “discover” their own answers, were shuffled from the “feel-good, tolerant, and fun system” into special education programs. For some strange reason, these kids were declared “discipline” problems.
Mathematics Education: Outwitted by Stupidity by Barry Garelick
Growth of Special Education Spending and Enrollment in New York since 2000-01