Jostling me out of my grading groove this weekend was this item–another candidate for my collection of student sentences:
Month: May 2018
Or are we walking and talking in circles?
Shortly after writing about the pedagogical conundrums that arise when students don’t do the reading, I encountered this passage in Tristram Shandy—which suggests that it’s all part of one big, ever-repeating cycle:
Walking the walk instead of talking the talk
I’ve just finished teaching my latest crop of ed school students, and I’ve been puzzling over two trends in education. These trends aren’t exactly new, but, for some reason, it hadn’t occurred to me until now the degree to which they’re in hopeless contradiction. Think irresistible force hitting immovable object. The one: most instructors spend most of their time being guides on the side rather than sages on stages. The other: most students no longer get through most of the assigned readings.
The shoes I wore last summer seem to be about a half-size too big now.
That’s a first.
Le packing, part 2
Also, what is “casual elegant”?
On a boat.
I’ve been packing to spend 8 weeks away from home for a couple of hours now.
Good thing I’m not an Israeli judge.
The most important research on learning I’ve read
Someone has posted it on line, so here it is !
Deferred Feedback Sharply Dissociates Implicit and Explicit Category Learning
J. David Smith, Joseph Boomer, Alexandria C. Zakrzewski, Jessica L. Roeder, Barbara A. Church, and F. Gregory Ashby Psychological Science 2014, Vol. 25(2) 447-457
I’ve been mulling this article since the summer of 2014, when it was published. It’s life altering.
Laurel, meet Yanny
In case you’re wondering, I heard “Laurel.”
Then I walked across the room and heard Yanny.
Which reminds me: I need to spend some time at Phonetique. I haven’t done so because, unfortunately, they’ve got their exercises set up wrong for implicit learning.
Implicit learning (“information integration” learning) requires immediate feedback. You can’t do 10 items then find out which ones you got wrong. You have to do one at a time and get the answer before you move on.
Speaking of immediate feedback, this is the most important research on learning I’ve ever read.
Barry Garelick on K-12 math education in the US and how it got that way
Very exciting !
I’m going to pour myself a glass of wine and watch.
Teaching formal grammar is teaching vocabulary
Doug left this link to a post on the difficulty of searching Google when you don’t know what the thing you’re looking for is called:
What do you do when you want to look something up but you don’t know what it’s called? Sometimes you can just type what you know into a search engine and it will sort things out for you. I just typed “part of the car that covers the engine” and I got:
Sadly, things are not always this easy. Right now I know what I want to make but I don’t know what to search for. I know what it looks like and how it behaves, but not how it’s created or what you call it. In fact, I can even draw a picture of it. It looks kind of like a stained glass window.
Where college writing is concerned, not knowing the search term is a chronic problem.
It’s a problem because nobody teaches formal grammar any more. When I say “any more,” I mean not since the 1950s, pretty much.
My students have usually heard of “subject,” “predicate,” “noun,” “verb,” and “sentence,” but that’s about it.
So nobody can look anything up. Not on Google, not in a handbook. Especially not a handbook, which, unlike Google, doesn’t try to guess what your question is.
Here’s an example.
In my first semester of teaching, I think it was, I wanted to know which was correct (in formal writing):
Do you mind my sitting here?
Do you mind me sitting here?
I was pretty sure “my” was right, but only because in years gone by I had always said and written “my.” But that was then. In recent years, I had started saying and writing “me,” so I wasn’t sure. (I take the fact that my usage had changed to mean that the rule was changing.)
I had no idea how to look up the answer.
I did know what the word “possessive” meant in the context of grammar, but I didn’t know what a word that ended in “ing” was called.
So I didn’t know to search for “possessives in front of gerunds.”
I eventually figured it out, but it would have been a lot easier if someone had just told me what a gerund was when I was 10.
Vocabulary is a good thing.
People should teach it.
I’ve just skimmed Paul Brians’ page on gerunds and pronouns. I like this:
This is a subtle point, and hard to explain without using the sort of technical language I usually try to avoid; but if you can learn how to precede gerunds with possessive pronouns, your writing will definitely improve in the eyes of many readers.
It’s not wrong to write “do you mind me sitting here?”
But it does sound different from “do you mind my sitting here,” and it makes a different impression.
When you teach writing, part of what you’re doing is giving students the means to control the impression they make.
I was reading the other Katharine’s post about the learning pyramid, which reminded me of my 1st or 2nd favorite scenario re: not committing anything to memory because we can always Google it.
Here’s the hypothetical:
If I know nothing about the Revolutionary War, how do I Google it ?
I wonder what Google thinks is wrong with “happen.”
I keep meaning to tell one of my favorite school stories ….
I heard this from a friend of mine who teaches in an urban school.
The school sounds like a happy place. It sounds like a reasonably effective place, too, although listening to the stories makes me even more convinced (if that’s possible) that all schools need field-tested, proven curricula. They need books that can carry the teacher if the teacher needs carrying.
Teachers who need carrying aren’t the only reason schools need field-tested, proven curricula, but they’re one of them for sure.
I should add that I think most teachers probably need carrying at least some the time. I certainly have. When I decided to re-teach math to C., a project that required re-teaching math to myself, I chose Saxon Math for that exact reason. This book will get us both through algebra, I thought.
Anyway, back to my story.
Once a year my friend’s school has career day, when they invite an employed person, usually a parent, I think, to tell the kids what it’s like to work as ‘X.’
This year they had a policeman.
All the kids were interested, and had lots of questions to ask.
My friend’s favorite question, by far:
How much time do you get for Grand Larceny in the Third Degree?
Talk about missing background knowledge. I didn’t even know Grand Larceny in the Third Degree was a thing, let alone how much time you might spend in jail if you get caught doing it.
This reminds me of that great Kevin Bacon line in Diner: “Do you ever get the feeling that there’s something going on that we don’t know about?”
Answer: Yes. Yes, I do.
Churchill on short writing & clear thinking
In the Financial Times:
On August 9 1940, a month before the Blitz bombing of London started, [Churchill] dictated a memo to the UK civil service on the subject of memos. “To do our work, we all have to read a mass of papers. Nearly all of them are far too long.” he declared. “The discipline of setting out the real points concisely will prove an aid to clearer thinking.”
Stop making sense
I had a funny moment last night… I had the TV on in the background while I was dealing with the dogs, fixing their food bowls & the like, also cooking spinach because spinach is my new Health Plan …
Point is, I wasn’t paying attention to the television.
And I happened to catch a line.
Alex Trebek was interviewing the contestants, and I heard one saying (this is close to a direct quote): “. . . so I assign a lot of projects. They do a lot of independent learning. I guide from the side.”
That was the contestant’s wrap-up.
I guide from the side.
And that was it, back to the game. No particular reaction from Alex, who, I think it’s fair to say, did not look enthusiastic. Then again, he didn’t look unenthusiastic, necessarily, either.
Two thoughts popped into my head at the exact same moment, then ping-ponged back and forth, vying for dominance. (Maybe spinach will fix that.)
My first thought: Common Core doesn’t seem to have put much of a dent in constructivism. Not that it was supposed to, really, but CC did have instructivist elements. Plus a friend of mine, who teaches in the city, tells me kids there are now being taught phonics, so I was thinking there’d been some progress.
But maybe not.
Maybe it’s constructivism that’s on the rise.
I’ve always found it telling that no one ever calls himself, or herself, a constructivist. Yet here was a young teacher announcing, on national television, that he’s a guide on the side. He didn’t sound defensive.
Anyway, that was my first thought.
Constructivism, still here.
Possibly more here.
My second thought: You’re on Jeopardy, bub.
Jeopardy, for pete’s sake !
People win Jeopardy by spending hours and hours and hours memorizing stuff.
Then, after they win on Jeopardy, they post Jeopardy book lists to help other people memorize stuff.
There is no constructivist path to victory on Jeopardy.
I don’t get it.
The contestant ended up losing pretty badly, which–I won’t lie–I enjoyed, but not before giving me a scare when he pulled into 2nd place after correctly answering a couple of big-ticket questions while his two opponents flubbed theirs.
But in the end he closed out the game with $500.
Compared to the winner, who had $13,601.
Bonus points: I read a journal article on neoliberalism the other day, which pointed out that no one ever calls himself a neoliberal, either. Hah! I guess not. Of course, maybe I’ll turn on Jeopardy tomorrow and hear a contestant telling Alex he’s always been a big fan of the Phillips curve, ever since he was a little kid.
How many words do you need to know ?
Research indicates that if the students know about 98% of the words on a page, then they can read it quickly and with high levels of comprehension. Below 90% (one unknown word in 10) the reading becomes frustrating and slow requiring a lot of dictionary use and comprehension suffers badly.
The Extensive Reading Foundation’s Guide to Extensive Reading
I first came across this research while teaching English 109, and it sure corresponds to my experience.
If my students knew just 90% of the words in a text, they couldn’t read it at all, even with the definitions of new vocabulary words typed in the margins.
I’m sure the problem is working memory.
Every time you look up a new word you have to remember a) what you were just reading, b) the ‘name’ of the new word, and c) the new word’s definition.
Plus you have to moosh all these things together into a meaningful whole, an operation that is also performed by working memory.
And since you know only 90% of the words, you have to do this over and over again, which erodes your memory of the other words you just looked up, not to mention your memory (and, consequently, your understanding) of the essay as a whole.
It’s like trying to multiply 79 by 6 inside your head. You have to remember the 79, you have to remember the 6, you have to remember the subproducts (is that the right word ? I don’t remember !), and you have to perform the calculation.
It’s too much.
This is why schools should teach vocabulary.