Update: We've Moved! I now blog about both photography and homeschooling at Pics and Papers.

Thursday, October 3, 2013 0 comments

Problems with Popular Public School Instruction Methods


"'When our students resist writing, it is usually because writing has been treated as little more than a place to expose all they do not know about spelling, penmanship and grammar,' observes Lucy Calkins, probably the workshop model's premier guru. She is almost certainly correct.
This leaves exactly two options: The first is to de-emphasize spelling and grammar. The other is to teach spelling and grammar. But at too many schools, it's more important for a child to unburden her 10-year-old soul writing personal essays about the day she went to the hospital, dropped an ice cream cone on a sidewalk, or shopped for new sneakers. It's more important to write a 'personal response' to literature than engage with the content. This is supposed to be 'authentic' writing. There is nothing inherently inauthentic about research papers and English essays."


"Many of these standards require that students to be able to explain why a particular procedure works. It's not enough for a student to be able to divide one fraction by another. He or she must also 'use the relationship between multiplication and division to explain that (2/3) ÷ (3/4) = 8/9, because 3/4 of 8/9 is 2/3.' 
"This approach not only complicates the simplest of math problems; it also leads to delays. Under the Common Core Standards, students will not learn traditional methods of adding and subtracting double and triple digit numbers until fourth grade. (Currently, most schools teach these skills two years earlier.) The standard method for two and three digit multiplication is delayed until fifth grade; the standard method for long division until sixth. In the meantime, the students learn alternative strategies that are far less efficient, but that presumably help them "understand" the conceptual underpinnings."
"This was my initiation into the world of reform math. It is a world where understanding takes precedence over procedure and process trumps content. In this world, memorization is looked down upon as 'rote learning' and thus addition and subtraction facts are not drilled in the classroom--it's something for students to learn at home. Inefficient methods for adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing are taught in the belief that such methods expose the conceptual underpinning of what is happening during these operations. The standard (and efficient) methods for these operations are delayed sometimes until 4th and 5th grades, when students are deemed ready to learn procedural fluency. 
"The idea is to teach students to 'think like mathematicians.' They are called upon to think critically before acquiring the analytic tools with which to do so. More precisely, they are given analytic tools for 'understanding' problems and are then forced to learn the actual procedural skills necessary to solve them on a "just in time" basis. Such a process may eliminate what the education establishment views as tedious 'drill and kill' exercises, but it results in poor learning and lack of mastery. Students generally work in groups with teachers who 'facilitate' rather than providing direct instruction."


"During library period in grade 4 the librarian teaches the children computer skills: making their names appear in various colours and fonts on the screen and designing brochures. At the end of the period there are a few minutes to check out two books. Most children decline the offer. The child sees a book she wants high on the top shelf and asks the librarian to reach it for her. 'No. You can’t have anything with a yellow sticker. They are too hard for you. You might be able to read it, but you wouldn’t understand it. Pick one of the books with green stickers.' Green stickers mark the spines of The Magic School Bus, The Babysitters’ Club and The Pokemon Guidebook. The book the child has just finished reading, Oliver Twist, is not in the library at all."
Time. "These teachers routinely had children actually reading and writing for as much a half of the school day – often around a 50/50 ratio of reading and writing to stuff (stuff is all the others things teachers have children do instead of reading and writing). In typical classrooms, it is not unusual to find that kids read and write for as little as ten percent of the day (30 minutes of reading and writing activity in a 300 minute, or five hour, school day)." 
Texts. "Simply put, students need enormous quantities of successful reading to become independent, proficient readers...The exemplary teachers we studied too often had to teach against the organizational grain. They rejected district plans that "required" all children be placed in the same textbook or tradebook (and do the same worksheets on the same day)...Unfortunately, these exemplary teachers too often had to spend both their personal time and personal funds to locate and/or purchase the texts needed to effectively teach the children they were assigned." 
Teach. "These exemplary teachers routinely offered direct, explicit demonstrations of the cognitive strategies used by good readers when they read." 
Talk. " The questions teachers posed were more "open" questions, where multiple responses would be appropriate. For instance, consider the difference between the three after-reading questions below: (1) So, where were the children going after all? (2) So, what other story have we read that had an ending like this one? (3) Has anyone had a problem with a pet like the boy in the story? ... Q1 assesses recall; Q2 and Q3 assess a broader understanding and help make children's thinking visible." 
Tasks. "Another characteristic of these exemplary teacher classrooms was the greater use of longer assignments and reduced emphasis on filling the day with multiple, shorter tasks. In these classrooms, students often worked on a writing task for ten days or more. They read whole books, completed individual and small group research projects, and worked on tasks that integrated several content areas (reading, writing, and social studies)." 
Test. "Finally, these exemplary teachers evaluated student work based more on effort and improvement than simply on achievement status."


"The exemplar, in fact, forbids teachers from asking students if they have ever been to a funeral because such questions rely 'on individual experience and opinion,' and answering them 'will not move students closer to understanding the Gettysburg Address.'
"(This is baffling, as if Lincoln delivered the speech in an intellectual vacuum; as if the speech wasn’t delivered at a funeral and meant to be heard in the context of a funeral; as if we must not think about memorials when we read words that memorialize. Rather, it is impossible to have any deep understanding of Lincoln’s speech without thinking about the context of the speech: a memorial service.) ....
"The exemplar instructs teachers to 'avoid giving any background context' because the Common Core’s close reading strategy 'forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all.' What sense does this make?
"Teachers cannot create such a 'level playing field' because we cannot rob any of the students of the background knowledge they already possess. Nor can we force students who have background knowledge not to think about that while they read. A student who has read a biography of Lincoln, or watched documentaries about the Civil War on PBS or the History Channel, will have the 'privilege' of background knowledge beyond the control of the teacher. Attempting to create a shallow and false 'equality' between students will in no way help any of them understand Lincoln’s speech. ....
"Asking questions about, for example, the causes of the Civil War, are also forbidden. Why? These questions go 'outside the text,' a cardinal sin in Common Core-land." 
It should be noted, however, that in the case of "Whole Math," "New Math," "Fuzzy Math" or whatever you want to call it, not all teachers choose to teach using such methods. There are many excellent teachers out there who understand good instruction and are amazing at their jobs. However, whenever a fad theory gets this popular, it is taught in teacher education colleges and training programs. Many inexperienced young teachers take these ideas to heart, and it it all too common to find these issues with writing, math, etc.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013 0 comments

Diagramming Sentences Reference Page

This is a great reference page for sentence diagrams!
Wednesday, September 18, 2013 0 comments

Parsing and Diagramming: Could You Pass This 1912 Grammar Test?

This site has the test, with answers and explanations: http://www.english-grammar-revolution.com/1912-grammar-test-answers.html

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 0 comments

A National Database of Student Information?

"Over the past decade, a slew of new federal incentives and federally funded data models have spurred states to monitor students’ early years, performance in college, and success in the workforce by following 'individuals systematically and efficiently across state lines.' .... 
"Home School Legal Defense Association has long opposed the creation of such a database. We believe that it would threaten the privacy of students, be susceptible to abuse by government officials or business interests, and jeopardize student safety. We believe that detailed data systems are not necessary to educate young people. Education should not be an Orwellian attempt to track students from preschool through assimilation into the workforce."
Read the rest HERE.