kitchen table math, the sequel: 9/2/12 - 9/9/12

Saturday, September 8, 2012

people talking

A sample stretch of talk

...speakers are sitting at the dinner table talking about a car accident that happened to the father of one of the speakers

< speaker 1 >  I’ll just take that off. Take that off.
< speaker 2 >  All looks great.
< speaker 3 >  [laughs]
< speaker 2 >  Mm.
< speaker 3 >  Mm.
< speaker 2 >  I think your dad was amazed wasn’t he at the damage.
< speaker 4 >  Mm.
< speaker 2 >  It’s not so much the parts. It’s the labour charges for
< speaker 4 >  Oh that. For a car.
< speaker 2 >  Have you got hold of it?
< speaker 1 >  Yeah.
< speaker 2 >  It was a bit erm.
< speaker 1 >  Mm.
< speaker 3 >  Mm.
< speaker 2 >  A bit.
< speaker 3 >  That’s right.
< speaker 2 >  I mean they said they’d have to take his car in for two days. And he says All it is is s straightening a panel. And they’re like, Oh no. It’s all new panel. You can’t do this.
< speaker 3 >  Any erm problem.
< speaker 2 >  As soon as they hear insurance claim. Oh. Let’s get it right.
< speaker 3 >  Yeah. Yeah. Anything to do with
< speaker 1 >  Wow.
< speaker 3 >  coach work is er
< speaker 1 >  Right.
< speaker 3 >  fatal isn’t it.
< speaker 1 >  Now.
Teaching about talk – what do pupils need to know about spoken language and the important ways in which talk differs from writing?
in: Spoken English and the question of grammar: the role of the functional model
I've been digging into some of the literature on talking vs writing.

re: the conversation above, I am struck by the fact that everyone knows what everyone else is talking about.


Student writers have to achieve the same effect with readers they can't see, a tall order. Professional writers have to produce a steady stream of sensible-seeming thoughts and images inside the minds of readers they can't see, don't know, and will never meet.

How does that happen?

The answer is: via cohesion devices.

But how do cohesion devices work? Are the cohesion devices used in writing direct analogues to the cohesion devices used in speaking? (And what are the cohesion devices in speaking, anyway? I'm not sure, exactly.)

What are the best devices; when do you use which ones; and how do you teach them to students?

I'd like to know.

I'm reading Vande Kopple next. Then Halliday and HasanKolln, and Dillon.

* ESP?

tornado watch

Not quite the drama of Hurricane Irene, but still.

summer re-boot

After declaring Summer over, I'm declaring it back on again. Chris is home for the weekend, and Ed has scored some reasonably-priced tickets to the Open final.

So summer's end happens Monday.

We're lolling on sofas in the family room, watching World's Worst Tenants.


pop quiz

So....two hours into my first Blackboard sojourn, I am stymied.

I cheered up when I finally located a document titled Help for Instructors, which I have now downloaded.

QUESTION: How many pages does the Blackboard manual contain?

No peeking.

I wonder how long the Smartboard manual is.

Being Tough on Tough

Though I haven't read it, I honestly don't get what the big deal is about Paul Tough's new book, How Children Succeed. From what I gather from various reviews and interviews, Tough's Big Idea is that persistence and curiosity matter more than IQ does for success. But was there ever a time or place when this statement wasn't obvious? Of course IQ means little if you don't apply yourself; of course intelligence leads nowhere interesting if you lack curiosity. Does anyone--especially in this Emotional Intelligence-obsessed world of ours--really think that the successful people out there--even the genuises--achieved what they did primarily because of their IQ scores? Didn't Malcolm Gladwell already write a book back in 2008 on the findings that what makes an expert is 10,0000 hours of practice? What is it about Tough's book that's garnering so much attention?

A slightly different take on Tough's Big Idea is voiced by Joe Nocera in today's New York Times:
Tough argues that simply teaching math and reading--the so-called cognitive skills--isn't nearly enough, especially for children who have grown up enduring the stresses of poverty. In fact, it might not even be the most important thing.
Notice how quickly Nocera slips from the obvious--that teaching teach math and reading isn't nearly enough--to the ridiculous. To say that learning to read and do math might not be the most important elements of success is like saying that adequate food and shelter might not be the most important elements of staying alive (after all one must also breathe oxygen). When it come to essential elements, it's pointless to quibble over what's most important.

In interviews Tough is careful to admit that, while schools need to do more to encourage persistence and curiosity, there are no clear studies on how to do this. Refreshing though this caveat is, it, too, raises the question of what this book has to offer that's new and plausible, or at least useful.

There is one disturbing answer to that last question. To the careless reader who approaches the book from the perspective of the dominant educational paradigm, it offers yet another reason to water down academics in favor of "the whole child." The connections between grit and academic rigor, and between curiosity and well-taught academic subjects, should be as obvious as the inherent importance of grit is. Indeed, I'm guessing these connections are obvious to most people. But they clearly aren't obvious to many of those wielding the greatest power over whether or not our children succeed.

Friday, September 7, 2012

desperately seeking anaphora

At Morningside Academy I learned that many students have difficulty understanding anaphora, which I am (presently) defining as any expression in a text that:
  • refers back to something earlier in the text (the antecedent)
  • often possesses a meaning that can't be found out by looking the word or words up in a dictionary
But shortly afterwards both Androcles and the Lion were captured, and the slave was sentenced to be thrown to the Lion, after the latter had been kept without food for several days.
source: Tales of Wonder From Many Lands: A Reader for Composition by Howard Canaan and Joel N. Feimer
"Latter" refers to the Lion, and a dictionary can't tell you that.

Yesterday, in class, I found that most of my students were thrown by this passage. I assume the same has been true of students in all of my previous classes, but I never picked up on it. (aaarggh)

This sentence was a problem, too:
Some holidays are greatly overrated, Valentine's Day is one of them.
source: Hunter College Reading/Writing Center Grammar and Mechnics
Nearly all of the class thought this sentence was correctly punctuated, and not because they had no idea what a complete sentence (or clause) is. (I was pleasantly surprised on the 'what is a complete sentence?' front.)

My students easily pegged "Some holidays are greatly overrated" as a complete sentence, but they vehemently denied that "Valentine's Day is one of them" could be complete because it doesn't make sense on its own. I do mean vehement. I had the same reaction from the rising 8th grader I worked with last week.

From the get-go, two falls ago, when I returned to the classroom, I've been trying to teach my students how to write cohesive prose. Writing cohesive prose means connecting sentences to one another, and connecting sentences to one another means using anaphora.

But now I'm going to be paying close attention to anaphora in reading comprehension, too.

Meanwhile, turns out Erica M. has been dealing with this issue forever:
Catherine, that is EXACTLY the kind of sentence my students have trouble with. That's why I do so many "is it a sentence or not?" drills with my students. They can't tell. Even kids at $40,000/year Manhattan private schools (especially kids at $40,000/year Manhattan private schools!) just can't figure it out. They can't separate grammar from context. That's why they write endless comma splices. I have one student right now, a very bright rising senior at a notoriously progressive Manhattan private school, whom I recently spent an entire session just doing "is it a sentence or not?/punctuate the comma splices" with, and the next practice SAT she took, she still got loads of them wrong! I'm going to keep having to write her drills. I bet that in her entire education, no one has ever made her do this. What disturbs me, though, is that her teachers have apparently looked past the problem for years.
and see:
All good writing consists of good sentences properly joined.

Can you spell 'hegemony'?

from the Times:
Catholic schools have been bleeding enrollment and money for years, and many have been forced to close. But some, like St. Stephen of Hungary, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, have found a way to thrive — attracting a more affluent clientele by offering services and classes more commonly found in expensive private schools.

Selling points include small class sizes and extracurricular activities beginning in the youngest grades. And by often charging far less, these schools have been able to stabilize themselves and even grow.

“Our competition or our standard isn’t another good Catholic school,” said the Rev. Angelo Gambatese, the pastor at St. Stephen of Hungary church, which shares a building with the school. “It’s the best independent schools in Manhattan, and we intend to achieve the same level of performance that they do, academically, developmentally.”


While 70 percent of the students are Catholic, a figure that has not changed, it has a more Franciscan focus on kindness and respect rather than papal edicts, which makes it more palatable to families not traditionally in the Catholic school market.

“I don’t feel like it’s holy rollers over there,” said Richard Sher, a parent of two at the school who is half Jewish, half Protestant.

Mass is every other week; the homily is more of a discussion than a lesson. When Father Gambatese talked in May to the youngest students at Mass about Adam, he wondered why Adam asked God for more humans. “He wanted people to talk to and play with,” Sabrina Vidal, 8, said. “Yes!” Father Gambatese said. “Don’t you get tired of hugging a lion?”

St. Stephen offers the kind of extras found at far more expensive schools, like French for 3-year-olds, violin for fourth and fifth graders, and iPads for sixth to eighth graders. But some parents, Catholic and non-Catholic, said they were also drawn to the discipline and values-based approach at St. Stephen, elements that have fallen out of fashion at most nonreligious schools.

“We were looking for structure, and that’s what we got,” said Deirdre O’Connell, a parent who works in banking.

In Katherine Peck, the entrepreneurial 33-year-old at the heart of St. Stephen’s revitalization, the parents also got a principal schooled in progressive teaching. Classrooms are no longer teacher-focused, with students at desks, but student-centered, with children at tables. Students have publishing parties every month to showcase their writing, textbooks have been de-emphasized in favor of hands-on learning and every classroom has an interactive projection system.

Mrs. Peck, who is Catholic and attended Teachers College of Columbia University, said Catholic schools gave her more flexibility than the public schools where she had taught. (She also taught at the Epiphany School before coming to St. Stephen.) “Everything I was doing at Teachers College, I could do in the classroom,” she said, compared with the public school where she said everyone had to teach from the same page.

To Survive, a Catholic School Retools for a Wealthier MarketBy JENNY ANDERSON | New York Times | Published: August 19, 2012
I need to start a Catholic school. A real one. A real Catholic school, only with precision teaching.

Of course, I'm not Catholic. So I wouldn't be anyone's first choice to start a Catholic school. Also, the Catholic Church isn't starting new schools, not here in Westchester County anyway. The church is closing them.

Yesterday I taught my first class (freshman composition) in Victory Hall, a building that up until two or three years ago housed a Catholic girls high school. I love teaching in Victory Hall, and I was happy to be assigned a room there again. The place has an aura.

Jimmy's group home, originally built to serve as a convent, has an aura, too.

But when I arrived at Victory Hall, I discovered that I wasn't teaching in the building itself; I was teaching in one of the ancient modulars out back. I didn't even know the modulars were there, and now I'm teaching in one.

Catholic schools used to have so many students they had to buy trailers to expand the plant.

Now they're all going or gone.

Ed has often asked how much longer Chris's Jesuit high school can hold out. It's housed on the same campus with a major education school, and major education schools have no truck with the Jesuit tradition.

and see:
cultural hegemony

Thursday, September 6, 2012

good writing

All good writing consists of good sentences properly joined.

- Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellogg in Higher Lessons in English. A work on English grammar and composition, in which the science of the Language is made tributary to the art of expression. Revised edition, 1896.
I've been talking to Katharine Beals about writing instruction, grammar, and the sentence. (Here's Katharine's post on the erasure of the sentence).

At least since the 1980s (the 1980s again!) writing instruction has been about process, not sentences: process, voice, and the production of personal narratives and opinion pieces. Pick up nearly any college composition textbook and you will find in its pages a slew of sample student essays all written in the first person, with discussion of the sentence pushed to the back of the book. There you will find "sentence fragments" and "run ons" and "misplaced modifiers" bundled together in a chunk of pages devoted to grammar and punctuation. The sentence, in today's writing class, is mostly a source of error.

Of course, "process writing" seemed wrong to me from the get-go. I myself never, ever 'free-write,' and since I actually am a writer, I feel I'm on solid ground drawing the conclusion that 'free-writing' is a waste of instructional time.

But I became more convinced that the process approach is misguided after working with Kerrigan's X-1-2-3 method, which gives novice writers a method of building an essay on a stack of sentences with identical subjects and identical sentence structure (Subject-Verb-Object or Subject-Verb-Complement). e.g.:
X Power corrupts.
1 It corrupts the weak.
2 It corrupts the strong.
3 It corrupts all the relations between the two.
By the time I returned to the classroom to teach freshman writing, I had begun to feel that the sentence is key. Not just because sentences -- not words -- are the raw material of writing, but because the sentence is the essay in some sense. The essay makes an argument, and a sentence is an argument.

The sentence is an essay in miniature.

and see:
Cost of College on William J. Kerrigan's X-1-2-3 method

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

today's factoid

All but five states no longer require the teaching of cursive handwriting in public elementary schools.
With Pen in Hand, He Battles On
By GENA FEITH | September 3, 2012, 4:38 p.m. ET
Another executive decision from central administration.

Oh well. It's not as if handwriting matters, or anything.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

what paradox?


Chinese classrooms present an intriguing paradox to the claim of self-determination theory that autonomy facilitates learning. Chinese teachers appear to be controlling, but Chinese students do not have poor academic performance in international comparisons. The present study addressed this paradox by examining the cultural differences in students' interpretation of teacher controlling behaviors. Affective meanings of teacher controlling behaviors were solicited from 158 Chinese 5th graders and 115 American 5th graders. It was found that the same controlling behaviors of teachers had different affective meanings for different cultural groups (Chinese vs. American) and for groups with different levels of social-emotional relatedness with teachers (high vs. low). Chinese children perceived the behaviors as less controlling than American children and, in turn, reported that they were more motivated in their teachers' class than American children. Regardless of culture, children with high social-emotional relatedness with teachers perceived the behaviors as less controlling than children with low social-emotional relatedness with teachers. It was also found that internalization mediated the relation between social-emotional relatedness and children's learning motivation in both cultures. The findings revealed cultural differences as well as similarities in the psychological process of internalization.
The Chinese Classroom Paradox: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Teacher Controlling Behaviors
Zhou, Ning 1; Lam, Shui-Fong 1; Chan, Kam Chi 2
Journal of Educational Psychology
Publish Ahead of Print, 19 March 2012
High discipline/high joy.

The secret of success.

The Jesuits figured it out 400 years ago.

US public schools forgot it back in the 1960s, I think. The 60s, or maybe not 'til 1985.

update 9/11/2012:
Doug Lemov on warm/strict
all Teach Like a Champion posts

Why rich suburban school districts are the wrong choice for 90% of the kids attending them


Being schooled with other high-achieving peers has a detrimental influence on students' self-perceptions: School-average and class-average achievement have a negative effect on academic self-concept and career aspirations-the big-fish-little-pond effect. Individual achievement, on the other hand, predicts academic self-concept and career aspirations positively. Research from Western and developed countries implies that the negative contextual effect on career aspirations is mediated by academic self-concept. Using data from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2006 (a total of 398,750 15-year-old students from 57 countries), we test the generalizability of this mediation model in science using a general multilevel structural equation modeling framework. Individual achievement was positively related to academic self-concept (52 countries) and career aspirations (42 countries). The positive effect on career aspirations was mediated by self-concept in 54 countries. The negative effects of school-average achievement on self-concept (50 countries) and career aspirations (31 countries) also generalized well. After controlling for self-concept at both the individual and the school level, there were significant indirect contextual effects in 34 countries-evidence for mediation of the contextual effect of school-average achievement on career intentions by academic self-concept.
Big Fish in Little Ponds Aspire More: Mediation and Cross-Cultural Generalizability of School-Average Ability Effects on Self-Concept and Career Aspirations in Science
Nagengast, Benjamin 1 2; Marsh, Herbert W. 2 3 4 | Journal of Educational Psychology |
Publish Ahead of Print, 9 April 2012
Absolutely true.

Absolutely true.

I have seen the damage in my own child and in the children of other parents here and in neighboring towns where I tutor.

To this day, C. sees himself as stupid in math. Stupid. Not: OK in math, really good in verbal. Stupid. Can't do math.

When you're a little fish in a big pond AND YOU ARE A CHILD, WITH A CHILD'S BRAIN, AND A CHILD'S BLACK-WHITE WAY OF PUTTING TWO AND TWO TOGETHER, that's what you think.

Maybe I'll strike those all-caps later, when I read this again.

But maybe I won't.

nominally high-performing schools
grade deflation and winner-take-all "star schools"

thought for the day

I want to open a Catholic school.


teaching math facts: equivalent sums or iterative grouping?


This experiment tested the hypothesis that organizing arithmetic fact practice by equivalent values facilitates children's understanding of math equivalence. Children (M age = 8 years 6 months, N = 104) were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 practice conditions: (a) equivalent values, in which problems were grouped by equivalent sums (e.g., 3 + 4 = 7, 2 + 5 = 7, etc.), (b) iterative, in which problems were grouped iteratively by shared addend (e.g., 3 + 1 = 4, 3 + 2 = 5, etc.), or (c) no extra practice, in which children did not receive any practice over and above what they ordinarily receive at school and home. Children then completed measures to assess their understanding of math equivalence. Children who practiced facts organized by equivalent values demonstrated a better understanding of math equivalence than children in the other 2 conditions. Results suggest that organizing arithmetic facts into conceptually related groupings may help children improve their understanding of math equivalence.
It Pays to be Organized: Organizing Arithmetic Practice Around Equivalent Values Facilitates Understanding of Math Equivalence.[Article]
McNeil, Nicole M. 1; Chesney, Dana L. 1; Matthews, Percival G. 1; Fyfe, Emily R. 1; Petersen, Lori A. 1; Dunwiddie, April E. 1; Wheeler, Mary C. 1
Journal of Educational PsychologY | Publish Ahead of Print, POST AUTHOR CORRECTIONS, 25 June 2012

grade-skipping & STEM


Using data from a 40-year longitudinal study, the authors examined 3 related hypotheses about the effects of grade skipping on future educational and occupational outcomes in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). From a combined sample of 3,467 mathematically precocious students (top 1%), a combination of exact and propensity score matching was used to create balanced comparison groups of 363 grade skippers and 657 matched controls. Results suggest that grade skippers (a) were more likely to pursue advanced degrees in STEM and author peer-reviewed publications in STEM, (b) earned their degrees and authored their 1st publication earlier, and (c) accrued more total citations and highly cited publications by age 50 years. These patterns were consistent among male participants but less so among female participants (who had a greater tendency to pursue advanced degrees in medicine or law). Findings suggest that grade skipping may enhance STEM accomplishments among the mathematically talented. (C) 2012 by the American Psychological Association
When Less Is More: Effects of Grade Skipping on Adult STEM Productivity Among Mathematically Precocious Adolescents.
Park, Gregory 1; Lubinski, David 1; Benbow, Camilla P. 1 | Journal of Educational Psychology | Print ahead July 9, 2012
My dad skipped a grade when he was a child. My mom always thought that was a mistake; she attributed his social awkwardness to that event.

Later on we all attributed it to what we believe to have been his undiagnosed Asperger syndrome.

Why aren't educational games any better?

I saw this article, and thought it was a terrific explanation why it's hard to find video games that are both compelling and educational.  (This link is for Myth 3. . . the whole series hasn't been published)

Monday, September 3, 2012

get the MESAG, part 2

Back from the Open, so summer is officially over, as opposed to emotionally over, which it was the instant Chris set foot inside his dorm.

Hate the empty nest! hate! hate! hate!

Anyway, getting back to my interrupted post on precision teaching, when you learn something to fluency, you "get the MESAG":

Maintenance  "You never forget how to ride a bicycle."

When you learn content or skills to fluency, you remember them.
EnduranceThis one surprised me. Fluency in content and skills means you can perform the content or skill for as long as you need to perform them. You have stamina.
StabilityAnother surprise, rife with implications for our ADHD epidemicFluent knowledge and skills  are impervious to distraction. A noisy classroom has no effect on skills a child knows so well he can do them in his sleep. If he can do long division in his sleep, he can do long division inside Penn Station.


Transferring semi-old knowledge to new contexts is hard. My favorite story re: transfer of knowledge is the little autistic boy whose parents and teachers spent months painstakingly teaching him to butter his bread. Finally he learned! Everyone was happy until, a few weeks later, they discovered that the little boy had no idea how to spread peanut butter on bread. Spreading butter on bread and spreading peanut butter on bread were two different things, and they had to start all over again.

Fluency allows you to apply your bread-buttering skills to peanut-buttering bread.

Autistic children, by the way, are rarely taught anything to fluency. "Discrete trial" teaching puts a ceiling on the number of repetitions a child can do in a minute. 80% correct does not equal fluency.
GenerativityFluent knowledge and skill "repertoires" readily recombine to produce new skills that don't have to be directly taught.

Is fluency the magic that makes inflexible knowledge flexible?

why there are no child prodigies in literature, history, or philosophy

AbstractWriting skills typically develop over a course of more than two decades as a child matures and learns the craft of composition through late adolescence and into early adulthood. The novice writer progresses from a stage of knowledge-telling to a stage of knowledge-transforming characteristic of adult writers. Professional writers advance further to an expert stage of knowledge-crafting in which representations of the author's planned content, the text itself, and the prospective reader's interpretation of the text are routinely manipulated in working memory. Knowledge-transforming, and especially knowledge-crafting, arguably occur only when sufficient executive attention is available to provide a high degree of cognitive control over the maintenance of multiple representations of the text as well as planning conceptual content, generating text, and reviewing content and text. Because executive attention is limited in capacity, such control depends on reducing the working memory demands of these writing processes through maturation and learning. It is suggested that students might best learn writing skills through cognitive apprenticeship training programs that emphasize deliberate practice.
Kellogg, R.T. (2008). Training writing skills: A cognitive developmental perspective. Journal of writing research, 1(1), 1-26

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Is Handwriting Causally Related to Learning to Write?

The contribution of handwriting to learning to write was examined in an experimental training study involving beginning writers with and without an identified disability. First-grade children experiencing handwriting and writing difficulties participated in 27 fifteen-min sessions designed to improve the accuracy and fluency of their handwriting. In comparison to their peers in a contact control condition receiving instruction in phonological awareness, students in the handwriting condition made greater gains in handwriting as well as compositional fluency immediately following instruction and 6 months later, The effects of instruction were similar for students with and without an identified disability. These findings indicate that handwriting is causally related to writing and that explicit and supplemental handwriting instruction is an important element in preventing writing difficulties in the primary grades.

Is handwriting causally related to learning to write? Treatment of handwriting problems in beginning writers.
Graham, Steve; Harris, Karen R.; Fink, Barbara
Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol 92(4), Dec 2000, 620-633

"Do Academic-Track Schools Make Students Smarter?"


Prior research has shown that quantity of schooling affects the development of intelligence in childhood and adolescence. However, it is still debated whether other aspects of schooling-such as ability tracking or, more generally, school quality-can also influence intelligence. In this study, the authors analyzed intelligence gains in academic- and vocational-track schools in Germany, testing for differential effects of school quality (academic vs. vocational track) on psychometric intelligence. Longitudinal data were obtained from a sample of N = 1,038 Grade 7 and 10 students in 49 schools. A nonverbal reasoning test was used as an indicator of general psychometric intelligence, and relevant psychological and social background variables were included in the analyses. Propensity score matching was used to control for selection bias. Results showed a positive effect of attending the academic track.

The Differential Effects of School Tracking on Psychometric Intelligence: Do Academic-Track Schools Make Students Smarter? Becker, Michael 1 2 3; Ludtke, Oliver 4; Trautwein, Ulrich 5; Koller, Olaf 6; Baumert, Jurgen 2
Journal of Educational Psychology | 104(3):682-699, August 2012

Salman Khan on 60 Minutes shortly

7pm Eastern time.

"He built a platform that could completely change education."

I'm taking the other side of that bet.