What is 2%?

I’m back in touch with Carolyn Johnston! (Carolyn and I started the original Kitchen Table Math together.)

Carolyn used to write about the fraction issue in math education. When they hit fractions, students fall off the math cliff.

(How well do I remember the summer after C’s 8th grade year, or maybe it was the summer before, when we discovered he couldn’t figure a 10% tip!)

I remember Carolyn talking about nursing students who had washed out of their programs because they couldn’t do fractions.

So I thought of her yesterday when I saw this:

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Is Structured Word Inquiry the answer to America’s reading woes? Part V

At this point, with five recent SWI critiques from Greg Ashman, writing yet one more myself feels like beating a dead horse. In terms of SWI publications, much of Ashman’s criticism has focused on a paper that has come out since I started this series: Bowers’ recent paper “Reconsidering the Evidence That Systematic Phonics Is More Effective Than Alternative Methods of Reading Instruction“. Ashman’s criticisms are quite thorough, and I have nothing to add to them.

Instead, I’ll return to the older Devonshire et al (2013) paper—a paper that discusses efficacy data that supposedly favors SWI over phonics. This paper compares 1st and 2nd graders who spent 6 weeks exposed to 15-25 minutes daily of SWI as opposed to those got “standard classroom” phonics instruction, and finds that the SWI intervention improves word reading scores. While this is reasonable grounds for further investigation, it’s far from the kind of study needed to justify a replacement of systematic phonics with SWI. For one thing, all of the students in the study received phonics instruction in addition to SWI. For another, the comparison involved an instructional time frame of only 6 weeks. Finally, the “standard classroom” phonics being compared to SWI can mean just about anything, including watered-down, unsystematic phonics instruction of the sort that has failed many kids over many years.

To answer the question of whether systematic phonics should be replaced with SWI, Continue reading

Tuning in, tuning out

What is the longest period of time a student can focus on a lesson without his/her mind wandering?

Probably 15 to 20 minutes, max.

I sat in the back of the classroom, observing and taking careful notes as usual. The class had started at 1:00 o’clock. The student sitting in front of me took copious notes until 1:20. Then he just nodded off. The student sat motionless, with eyes shut for about a minute and a half, pen still poised. Then he awoke, and continued his rapid note–taking as if he hadn’t missed a beat.

[…]

Adult learners can keep tuned in to a lecture for no more than 15 to 20 minutes at a time, and this at the beginning of the class. In 1976, A. H. Johnstone and F. Percival observed students in over 90 lectures, with twelve different lecturers, recording breaks in student attention. They identified a general pattern: After three to five minutes of “settling down” at the start of class, one study found that “the next lapse of attention usually occurred some 10 to 18 minutes later, and as the lecture proceeded the attention span became shorter and often fell to three or four minutes towards the end of a standard lecture” (pp. 49–50).

The “Change–up” in Lectures bt=y Joan Middendorf & Alan Kalish. TRC Newsletter, 8:1 (Fall 1996).

This makes sense to me.

I think a lot of teachers intuitively deal with the fact that student attention waxes and wanes by a) repeating points, b) asking multiple questions (which repeats points), and c) using the blackboard/whiteboard (also repeats points).

That’s why Powerpoints are a problem: if you miss a slide you’re sunk. Nothing stays on the board.

Is Structured Word Inquiry the answer to America’s reading woes? Part IV

When I left off last November, I ended Part III of this series with this note:

When it comes to the viability of SWI, particularly for novice readers encountering unfamiliar printed words, the devil is in the details. Stay tuned for part IV.

So how does SWI teach basic written words to novice readers? How does it teach a reader who is encountering the word “cat” for the first time in print how to sound it out?

The guiding principles of SWI, according to Pete Bowers, suggest that sounding out a word is, in fact, not a good way to identify it.

Rather, students should start by looking at the word’s meaning and morphological components.

SWI_4_questions

But if you’ve never seen the word in writing before, how do you know what it means or how it’s built? And how does figuring out how it’s built get you anywhere in the case of basic words like “cat” that are built out of a single morpheme?

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Ghost teachers again

The district said it had added a new phonics sequence…But it stands by its broader balanced literacy approach…

That’s not enough for parents like Diane Dragan. An attorney who has three children with dyslexia, Ms. Dragan noted that well-off parents in her area regularly pay thousands of dollars to have their children taught intensive phonics at private tutoring centers.

“The irony to me is that the public-school teacher who teaches balanced literacy during the day moonlights to do science-based tutoring for kids who fail to learn to read,” Ms. Dragan said.

An Old and Contested Solution to Boost Reading Scores: Phonics BY Dana Goldstein 2/15/2020

Why is the ghost teaching force such a well-kept secret?

Everyone who’s raised kids in these communities knows it: the reason progressive education “works” for affluent kids is that they’re getting traditional ed delivered by parents and tutors at night. 

If at first you don’t succeed, don’t try to grow your way out of it

A new study finds no support for the importance of a “growth mindset”:

People with a “growth mindset” – those who believe their intelligence can be improved with effort – are said to seek out challenges, persist in the face of difficulty and bounce back after failure. By contrast, people with a “fixed mindset” – those who believe their intelligence doesn’t change much – are said to give up when facing challenges and be devastated by failure.

But new research from Michigan State University and Case Western Reserve University suggests these claims are overstated.

“We found little to no evidence for the major premises of mindset theory” said Alexander Burgoyne, a recent MSU PhD graduate and study co-author. “In fact, the largest effect we found directly contradicts what mindset theorists have claimed.”

“Mind-set theory” has captured the imagination of education types for years.

I never objected to the theory myself, but I never cottoned to it, either, probably because I grew up in central Illinois, where bragging, showing off, and generally being too big for your britches were considered mortal sins.

Nobody in Lincoln, Illinois had a growth mindset or a fixed one as far as I know. 

Sad news and bad news in English class

So much badness where cell phones in the classroom are concerned.

I mentioned that a couple of years ago I had a classroom cell phone problem so oppressive I actually considered leaving my job.

Of course, I wasn’t going to leave my job, but what I did do was assign “cell phones in the classroom” as the final paper topic–the final paper happening to be, fortuitously, the “simple argument” assignment. (Simple argument in my department: write a 5-paragraph essay arguing for or against X.)

Unfortunately, assigning cell phones in the classroom turned out to be a misfire since more than one student took the position that cell phones in the classroom were A-OK,  the only problem being that we instructors were too boring to compete. Being more riveting than a cell phone, one student wrote, was the professor’s job.

So that was annoying. Since my policy is never to be annoyed by a student opinion, I regretted assigning the topic.

That said, the papers were a revelation.

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What we do and do not learn without trying

Useful line from Katharine’s last post:

…the conventions of written language, unlike those of spoken language, are not picked up incidentally by most native English speakers…

For some reason, I find the question of what we learn incidentally endlessly fascinating.

In my case, I actually did pick up most of the conventions of writing incidentally. I wrote by ear.

But how did I acquire an “ear”?

I’m sure my path to incidental learning of “school grammar” was obsessive reading. I was a bookworm: I read the backs of cereal boxes at the breakfast table; I read books when we had company; on vacation trips I read Agatha Christie mysteries as  my family walked along seeing the sights. [1/11/2020 – UPDATE: Had a conversation with Katharine yesterday re: learning to write without being taught to write. I’m not so sure now that obsessive reading was the ticket.]

At some point, I gained the ability to hear what I wrote.

Nevertheless, I would have been much better off if some teacher had sat me down and taught me the principles Katharine and I cover in Europe in the Modern World.

Basic grammar vs. “school grammar”

I still need wrap up my Structured Word Inquiry series (from last November!) with at least one more post, but some of the more recent twitter chatter on SWI has brought up a broader issue that I thought I’d address first. That would be the question of which aspects of grammar actually need to be taught to students who are native English speakers.

To address this question, it’s useful to draw a distinction between “basic grammar” and “school grammar.”

Basic grammar is the stuff that native speakers, assuming they don’t have language impairments/autism, pick up incidentally without formal instruction. This includes everyday vocabulary, word order, and word endings (morphology), and syllabification. Absent language impairments, native speakers, do not, for example, need to be taught that “crumb” and “crumbs” and “do” and “does” are related, or that we say “no bananas” rather than “no banana”–contrary to what some SWI proponents have suggested on twitter:

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App shmapp

It wasn’t so much that the new app … didn’t work. It was that people were struggling to even log in or download it in the first place.

‘A Systemwide Disaster’: How the Iowa Caucuses Melted Down By Shane Goldmacher and Nick Corasaniti 2/4/2020

This is reminding me of my friend who teaches in the city.

Last fall, word came down that this year teachers were to provide 21st century learning. Which meant Google docs. Everyone had to use Google docs in every class.

My friend teaches a combined SPED/gen ed middle-school class, and not one of the students could remember his/her password. Not one. So every day there would be 40 password crises, all of which had to be personally resolved by the two teachers in the room.

In case you’re wondering, the teachers couldn’t just have all the kids use the same password on one big shared Google doc (I asked) because my friend had already tried that the year before. A couple of the kids wrote bad words in the shared doc, so every student now had a document peppered with bad words, then admin saw the words and raised a fuss, plus a couple of parents might have seen them … I’ve forgotten the story now, but the upshot was that assigning the same password to an entire middle school class yielded exactly the kind of trouble anyone who has ever lived with a middle-school child would predict.

This school year the problem wasn’t just that none of the kids could remember their password. The possibly bigger problem was that they all freaked out when they forgot. So on top of individually logging 40 students into Google every day, the teachers had to talk 40 students down off the Forgot My Password cliff.

All this just to get into the system.

It took hours to get anything done. The class was taking 3 days to finish a lesson that had taken 1 day to complete the year before, and the kids were begging for release.

“Can’t we use paper? Please?

A couple of months in, the school did its usual quarterly testing, and the best teacher in the school had dismal results. After that the whole thing went away.

And see:
Blackboard shmackboard
Cell phone agonistes

Weekly roundup of favorite posts

Here are some of our favorite posts from the past week (and a bit back)

Common Sense Media on cell phone use (hat tip, David Fortin)

Angie and Emily Hanford on Balanced Literacy

Greg Ashman on the virtues of copying sentences

Greg Ashman and Jennifer Buckingham on Structured Word Inquiry:

Fordham Institute on

See Sth Say Sth on

Brightbeam on the secret shame of progressive cities