The little words

Classic test prep works amazingly well at times.

I’m starting a new job teaching English as a second language, and, along with six other people, am being trained to pass a standardized test of teaching knowledge. (The test may be a state department requirement. Not sure.)

The training and testing material are challenging.

You’re given 20 abstract terms that all sound alike; then you take a multiple-choice test on which all the answers sound alike.

Plus you have to do all of this fast. After just a couple of days of training, we took a practice test; a couple of days later we took the real one.

Amazingly, I found that I could get virtually every answer correct using one of the tactics I teach for the SAT/ACT:

Look at the little words.

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Jeopardy fail


Teacher’s night on Jeopardy, & one of the categories is “alphabetically second.” Meaning the correct answer is the second item in an alphabetized list.

Question: What is the second book of the Pentateuch?

Answer: What is Deuteronomy?

Three teachers onstage, and not one of them knows the sequence “Genesis, Exodus.”

Another one bites the dust

I think one or the other of us has written posts on the subject of dying grammar and punctuation, but I don’t remember what they were or what we said. 


So I’ve started a new category called “dying grammar and punctuation.” 

Dangling modifiers are a major category of dying grammar; I see them constantly and am even hearing them on news programs as well. 

Today I came across another category that I’m pretty sure is fading: possessive pronouns in front of gerunds, as in “do you mind my sitting here” versus “do you mind me sitting here.”

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Terri on children learning differently

This is amazing — I’ve never imagined “score scatter” (or score divergence, I guess) like this was even possible. (Though it does make me wonder about Andrew, whether he has some kind of crazy divergence in capacities that no one has been able to measure.)

Plus a child learning phonics at 2 — also amazing !

How do these things happen?

Terri W describes her children’s learning:

I have one child who is basically a hyperlexic pattern matcher extraordinaire — one of the ones who works out the phonics for themselves around age 2, just by being read to.

And the other one has profound dyslexia, and had to be explicitly trained, four hours a day, five days a week, that symbols stood for sounds. (A particularly high IQ kid, too. The vocabulary portion of the test was 98th percentile, the decoding was 1st percentile.)

Five years and six digits into Lindamood Bell later, he can read almost to grade level, but still with difficulty. But if you didn’t already know before you met him, he’d mostly pass as a sort of crappyish student. (Can only barely memorize facts, mis-orders or forgets instructions, the continued painful reading). On the other hand, he’ll understand the narrative and the themes and ask you questions that’ll blow your mind.

So, dyslexia truly is a different way of learning, and scans have shown that different areas of the brain light up when they’re thinking/doing tasks.

But that’s usually not what they’re talking about when they talk about learning styles for students.

Do all children learn differently?

1. No, they don’t

First of all, I agree with Emily Hanford’s tweet: our brains are much more similar than different.

The way I think about this is to ask myself whether evolution would be likely to create many, many millions of creatures who all, every last one of them, learn differently. 

Do all goats learn differently?

Do all birds learn differently?

All fish?

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How many words do you need to know?

Number of word families needed to:
Get most things done as a tourist or visitor 1,000 to 2,000
Hold a friendly conversation 6,000
Watch television & movies 3,000 minimum, preferably 6,000
Read fluently (must know 98% of a text’s word families) 3,000 minimum, preferably 6,000

What do you need to know to learn a foreign language? by Paul Nation
Vocabulary Size, Text Coverage and Word Lists by Paul Nation and Robert Waring

“Simple practice effects” and the SAT

Useful article in the Washington Post re: standardized testing and fairness: No one likes the SAT. It’s still the fairest thing about admissions.

I’ll post some of the sections on income and scores in a bit, but this section on tutoring caught my eye:

Highly paid tutors make bold claims about how much they can raise SAT scores (“my students routinely improve their scores by more than 400 points”), but there is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence that coaching can reliably provide more than a modest boost — especially once simple practice effects and other expected improvements from retaking a test are accounted for. For the typical rich kid, a more realistic gain of 50 points would represent the difference between the average students at Syracuse and No. 197 University of Colorado at Boulder — significant, perhaps, but not dramatic.

By Jonathan Wai, Matt Brown and Christopher Chabris | 3/22/2019

Simple practice effects !


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