kitchen table math, the sequel: 10/7/12 - 10/14/12

Friday, October 12, 2012

from the Chairs Survey at the University of New Hampshire

from the report:
3) Disciplinary Disconnect. When asked what the most positive aspect of the UWR [University Writing Requirement] was, one [department] chair from CEPS wrote,
None. Students need technical writing for success and not exploratory writing.
Despite the ambiguity of the term "exploratory writing," one could infer that it points to process-based writing-to-learn procedures such as freewriting, journaling, and drafting. Such techniques tend to delay exactness and preciseness in language, two of the pinnacles of what the respondent above refers to as "technical writing."

Some may disagree with the goals of writing-to-learn and process-writing methodology. However, this comment may point to a wider issue: the disparity between what individual disciplines value as "good writing" and the values espoused by a writing program with roots in composition pedagogy. It is this disparity—what we will refer to as a disciplinary disconnect—that seems prevalent in respondents' perceptions of writing in general and in perceptions of the UWR.

In fact, as some chairs suggested, the genres and forms of writing required in different disciplines—and the way such writing should be taught—vary greatly:
Scientific writing is quite different from composition classes.

[The needs for writing instruction] depend on the specialization of the department.
Spring 2005 Chairs Survey Report
University Writing Program University of New Hampshire

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"students working collaboratively to understand Freire"

Welcome to Resources for Teachers links to video posted at the California Acceleration Project, in which "developmental reading" students are discussing "The 'Banking' Concept of Education" by Paulo Freire.

INSTRUCTOR: So how does that relate to oppression?

STUDENT: 'Cuz you know it's down when it's the oppression time.

INSTRUCTOR: It sets you back.

STUDENT: Now you can't get no jobs or nothing. You got a depression, know what I'm saying, Recession.


INSTRUCTOR: "It inhibits creative power." You know that word inhibit? Make a guess at what inhibit [unintelligible].

VARIOUS STUDENTS: Advance? Occupy? Allows?

INSTRUCTOR: That's a good guess.

STUDENTS [unintelligible]

INSTRUCTOR: From context. You look at the rest of that sentence and the whole article and what we've learned so far. Make a guess at what inhibits means.

STUDENT: [unintelligible]

INSTRUCTOR: Do you think that banking education ALLOWS creative power? Does that work?


INSTRUCTOR: Exactly! Exactly.

(Successful student exchanges high five with neighbor.)

INSTRUCTOR: Nice reading from context. Right on.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

handwriting and grades and the wisdom of the crowd

Even legible handwriting that's messy can have its own ramifications, says Steve Graham, professor of education at Vanderbilt University. He cites several studies indicating that good handwriting can take a generic classroom test score from the 50th percentile to the 84th percentile, while bad penmanship could tank it to the 16th. "There is a reader effect that is insidious," Dr. Graham says. "People judge the quality of your ideas based on your handwriting."
How Handwriting Boosts the Brain by Gwendolyn Bounds | WSJ | October 5, 2010
I absolutely believe that. And I doubt teachers can turn this bias off. Cognitive biases can't be turned off at will.

Grades and grading are a mess. Probably for writing especially.

Speaking of writing and grades, I had a thought the other day. It's not possible, under the current system, for teachers to grade papers according to an objective standard. An A paper for one teacher is a B paper for another teacher is a C paper for a third.

In theory, a testing company can achieve 'rater reliability' by dint of extensive training sessions, although Todd Farley's account of his experience in the industry makes me wonder.

But is training-up individual graders to apply the same standards as their colleagues (even if it's possible) the best approach?

Maybe not.

Any teacher can (or should be able to) correct a paper's grammar, punctuation, and spelling. I assume teachers are going to agree on grammar, punctuation, and spelling far more often more than they disagree.

Beyond that, however, I'm not sure you actually want a uniform response across teachers. "Writing" as a profession or a business obligation means writing for an audience of more than one reader, and the individuals who make up that audience don't necessarily agree amongst themselves that you've said what you've said or that you've said it well. Writers learn from these disagreements.

Maybe students would also benefit from a 'diversity' of reader reaction?

If I had my druthers, I would scrap the letter-grading of writing altogether, apart from scoring punctuation, grammar, and spelling, simply on grounds that the letter-grading of student writing is simply too inconsistent to be credible.

I would experiment with some kind of Intrade or Wisdom of the Crowd approach. Farm papers out to a bunch of readers who read quickly and check off a thumbs-up or thumbs-down option. Something simple. Then give everyone the results for everyone.

Students would receive a kind of polling or survey result instead of a grade: a rough sense of how well their papers worked for an audience compared to papers written by their peers.

Of course, students would need to be able to read the work of their peers to see what kind of paper produced what kind of global response.

Or -- here's a thought -- perhaps schools could create an extensive set of exemplar student papers that have been 'voted on' by a large number of instructors. As a teacher of freshman writing I would kill to have such a resource myself.

I don't know whether a system along these lines would offer useful or 'actionable' information to students.

But I think it might.

Mark Helprin on writing by hand

In the Wall Street Journal's Word Craft series:
This brings up Levenger, which sells "tools for writers." The fewer tools the better, and they need not be costly or complicated. Whether you use a pencil, a pen, an old typewriter or something electrical is largely irrelevant to the result, although there is magic in writing by hand. It's not just that it has been that way for 5,000 years or more, and has engraved upon our expectations of literature the effects associated with the pen—the pauses; considerations; sometimes the racing; the scratching out; the transportation of words and phrases with arrows, lines and circles; the closeness of the eyes to the page; the very touching of the page—but that the pen, not being a machine (it does not meet the scientific definition of a machine), is a surrender to a different power than those of mere speed and efficiency.

In short, a pen (somehow) helps you think and feel. And although once you find a pen you like you'll probably stick with it the way an addict sticks with heroin, it can be anything from a Mont Blanc to a Bic. The same for paper. There are beautiful, smooth, heavy papers, but great works have been written on ration cards, legal pads and the kind of cheap paper they sell in developing countries—grayish white, almost furry, with flecks of brown and black that probably came from lizards and bats that jumped into the paper makers' vats.
Skip the Paris Caf├ęs And Get a Good Pen by Mark Helprin
I can't help but feel there's something to this, although I don't write by hand myself. Still, I started out writing by hand, and that may be what matters. Temple told me that older architects who'd learned to draw by hand before switching to CAD continued to make good drawings. It was the younger architects, she said, who sent her blueprints with two-foot wide passageways for cattle and the like. They had never learned to draw, and their CAD drawings were severely flawed.

I don't generally give a lot of credence to intuition, but in this case my intuition coincides with a century-old belief in the value of good handwriting (at least a century). Seeing as how our predecessors seem to have known more than a few things we've forgotten, the fact that they valued fluent and beautiful handwriting strikes me as one more reason not to simply assume that "keyboarding" is to writing what washing machines are to doing your laundry in the creek.

But of course I could be completely wrong. Maybe one of these days I'll get around to reading The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture.

In the meantime, I'm going to see what Lifehacker and the Wall Street have to say about it:

A few years ago, I used Betty Dubay's Write Now to try to improve C's handwriting as well as my own. My printing improved quite a bit.

image from WSJ

help desk - 2nd grade mode question

A ktm reader sends this question from her daughter's 2nd grade math book.