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TeachYourKidsToWrite 10 Jan 2006 - 13:37 CatherineJohnson
This sounds just great:
"If you write for a living," says Jefferson D. Bates in Writing with Precision, "this book is probably not for you." But if what you do for a living involves writing, then this book can help you do so "clearly, concisely, and PRECISELY." Bates is fond of italics, boldface, CAPS, exclamations!, quirky footnotes, and the word crotchet. He's over 80. He's been editorial director of the U.S. Air Force's Effective Writing Program and a chief speechwriter for NASA. The cornerstone of his campaign is the elimination of bureaucratese and jargon. Writing with Precision, originally published in 1978, is divided into four parts: writing (mainly letters, memos, instructions, regulations, and reports), editing (mostly copyediting), usage, and exercises. There is a definite personality behind this readable, conversational book. It's mostly updated, though a little checking by Bates could have prevented the reference to some books as being "probably out of print now."Talk about a book that's withstood the test of time. 1978. Wow. I may have to order a copy. Especially since it has EXERCISES. Writing with Precision: How to Write So that You Cannot Possibly Be Misunderstood
by Jefferson D. Bates
BestGrammarBook 15 May 2006 - 02:07 CatherineJohnson
I have appointed Susan grammar diva, because....she knows grammar! (And, more to the point, grammar books!) Susan, what book should I order RIGHT THIS MINUTE? Christopher got a 63 on his grammar test, because he 'mixed up subject and predicate.' I can't take it. He's ELEVEN. And he doesn't know subject & predicate. So.....which one of the books you told me about should I get NOW. I need something with MAXIMUM direct instruction, MAXIMUM coherence (if possible), and PRACTICE EXERCISES. Sigh.
Another commenter once recommended the Shurley grammar series--how involved is this series? (Does anyone know?) Can I fit it in with everything else?
GrammarSchool 14 May 2006 - 15:09 CatherineJohnson
So, yes, I am now in the grammar instruction business, too. Ed asked Christopher last night what the subject and predicate were in the sentence, I ate too much food, and Christopher didn't have a clue. He flat out couldn't say what the subject was, and he thought the predicate was 'too much food.' Then, when Ed corrected him, he sobbed for 15 minutes. Middle school stinks. We're only....3 weeks in? Already I've got at least 4 crying children stories, 4 that I can remember, anyway; there may have been more. Today Christopher's close friend M. started crying when the math teacher docked him a point on his math test for telling his twin brother, 'It's easy, you can do it.' M. protested that he had only been telling his brother he could do the test, and the teacher said that didn't matter, he could have been cheating. So back to grammar, Christopher has no clue what a subject and a predicate are. He rejected outright Ed's claim that 'I' was the subject: How can 'I' be a subject??????' Then collapsed into sobs brought on by the sudden realization that the reason he 'put the line in the wrong place' was that he didn't know where the subject ended and the predicate began. A classic example of a child not knowing what he doesn't know, which Willingham has written about. (Why Students Think They Understand—When They Don’t and How To Help Students See When Their Knowledge is Superficial or Incomplete) I'm guessing Christopher probably thinks 'subject' means 'topic,' as in the topic of an article or book; and, by extension, 'predicate' means the topic of the second half of the sentence. Which would pretty much rule out pronouns & verbs as subjects & predicates, respectively. Christopher is 11. His school has two hours of 'English language arts' a day, TWO. And in two hours a day this teacher--this tenured, health insuranced, pensioned individual--did not manage to teach Christopher what a subject and a predicate are. Teaching math is hard. I'm not going to be wildly critical of a math teacher who is trying. (A math teacher who docks a twin a point because he might have been cheating is another story.) But teaching subject and predicate to a bright child with a good attention faculty whose strength is English language arts....... Rolling off a log. And I'm the one who's going to be doing the rolling. I'm not happy.
GrammarQuestion 14 May 2006 - 15:10 CatherineJohnson
What is the complete subject of this sentence?
While taking the dog for a walk, she stepped in poop.
Thank you in advance.
DescriptiveNormativeAndCritical 10 Jan 2006 - 13:40 CatherineJohnson
Now that it's become clear I'm going to have to teach Christopher how to write, I'm on the prowl for material and ideas. I'm posting this cartoon because I'll be showing it to Christopher at some point, and I want it where I can find it.
NortonSampler 10 Jan 2006 - 13:41 CatherineJohnson
One of you (I have to find the Comment again—) left a link to the Johns Hopkins CTY Summer program, specifically to the page that lists all the courses. All of the writing courses have posted syllabi, including the course called Crafting the Essay. The readings for 'Crafting the Essay' seem far too weighted towards the personal essay—what is it with all this memoir writing?*—but, at the end of the syllabus, there's a list of 'Supplemental Texts' that includes this book:
Here's the jacket copy:
As a rhetorically arranged collection of short essays for composition, our Sampler echoes the cloth samplers once done in colonial America, presenting the basic patterns of writing for students to practice just as schoolchildren once practiced their stitches and ABCs on needlework samplers. This new edition shows students that description, narration, and the other patterns of exposition are not just abstract concepts used in composition classrooms but are in fact the way we think—and write. The Norton Sampler contains 63 carefully chosen readings—classics as well as more recent pieces, essays along with a few real-world texts—all demonstrating how writers use the modes of discourse for many varied purposes.
Wow. Depending what's actually in the book, this is exactly what I'm looking for—and I found it thanks to ktm commenters. Incredible. Thank you. I've mentioned that I learned how to teach writing at the University of Iowa. At the time (and perhaps still today) Iowa had one of the best freshman writing programs in the country. We used the The Norton Reader of Expository Prose. We lived by that book. Later on I used the short version, I believe, to teach the same course to gifted middle schoolers for Johns Hopkins CTY. I looked at the Norton Reader again the other day, and had been planning to order it this weekend....but it isn't exactly what I want. If I were teaching a full-fledged writing course at school, then sure. The Norton Reader would probably be the book. But I'm going to be trying to hammer my massively resistant middle-schooler into adding afterschool writing to afterschool math, and the mere sight of a 1214-page NORTON READER is going to be trouble. I haven't looked at The Norton Sampler yet, but I'm almost certainly going to be buying it tonight.
Susan explains the shift to early writing
Part of the problem is that, like New Math and Whole Language, there is a movement afoot to push what I consider middle school skills down into grade school, all with the assumption that grade school skills will just be learned by osmosis (or shoved onto the middle school teachers...again.) These are your two camps. In the beginning this new way of teaching writing looks very impressive as little persuasive essays come home and state tests appear to improve. Like math, we didn't learn it that way and so what do we know? I believe this is what you would label teaching Whole to Parts. The traditional way of learning writing (or math, for that matter) has always been Parts to Whole, starting with building blocks for younger children (handwriting, grammar, sentence structure, punctuation) and then moving to more complicated techniques requiring better critical thinking skills (notetaking, outlining, etc.)that actually match the child's growing opinions and ideas. This strikes me as common sense, but what do I know? Whether this new way is really better in the long run is still unsure, from everything I've read, yet one can't help notice that something is wrong when college professors complain loudly about students' bad writing skills, and then even request a grammar section on the SATs.
That explains a lot. I've never given it any thought, but offhand I would say that writing isn't 'foundational' or 'hierarchical' the way math is foundational or hierarchical. Still, I think it's nuts to plunge right into paragraphs and short essays in grade school. Doesn't make sense to me. Without knowing much about it, I'd say the focus in the early years is words and sentences; then paragraphs. I don't know what to think about all the journal-writing tiny little children do these days. I like having a record of Christopher's 6-year old thoughts, but whether journaling helped him learn how to write, I don't know. I was over at a friend's house the other day, looking at books on how to write. My friend was traumatized by a nasty writing teacher in high school and has only recently started to recover from that experience. She's read a number of books for people who want to write but are anxious or blocked, the writing equivalent of Math Anxiety. All of these books, universally, promote journaling, freewriting, etc., etc......and they all seem utterly foreign to me. I have no idea whether professional writers 'journal' or 'freewrite.' Maybe they do. If so, they don't talk about it much. I do neither. I have zero interest in journaling or freewriting; I find the very word 'freewriting' slightly repellent. (Because it doesn't sound free?) I have so little interest in journaling that I don't do it even though I wish I would. From time to time I remind myself that I'm letting my kids' childhoods pass by unrecorded & unremembered. Then I carry on not journaling. I suspect that professional writers of nonfiction, which is what we're talking about, are motivated to 'communicate' more than to 'express.' I write every day, but I write to other people, not to myself. I used to write letters; now I write emails & blooki posts & comments on Kitchen Table Math. I'm also motivated by curiosity, and nonfiction writing means Learning New Things virtually every day. That's another reason I write Kitchen Table Math. Once I write a post, people chime in with interesting comments and factoids I've never heard before. I love that, and it doesn't happen with Journaling or Freewriting. Given that I've been a professional writer for quite awhile now, and given that I never, ever Journal or Freewrite, I'm not inclined to think that students should Journal or Freewrite as a means to learning to write themselves. One other thing. I never took a writing course. I never even wrote a paper in high school. I arrived at Wellesley not knowing what a paper was. I never took a writing course because I was terrified I would be told I was no good. I desperately wanted to be a writer, but didn't think I was good enough, and I figured if a teacher told me I wasn't good enough that would be the end of it. So I didn't get near any teachers. The funny thing is, when I finally got on track to write, just short of age 30, two different Authority Figures instantly popped out of the woodwork to tell me I wouldn't be able to do it. One said I didn't have the commitment or the drive; the other told me he'd never liked my writing. This person actually took the time to sit down and write me a letter saying, 'I've never liked your writing.' People are bizarre. In any case, they were too late. I'd made up my mind. Getting back to how to teach children to write.....I think my own personal narrative tells me that writing isn't a hierarchical skill the way mathematics is, and I think it tells me that expository writing isn't a direct or natural outgrowth of Journaling or Freewriting, but may be a natural outgrowth of reading, thinking, and talking to other people about what you're reading and thinking. I know that in order to write nonfiction you have to be reading nonfiction. That's about as far as I can go tonight.
Johns Hopkins CTY course list (including math courses):
Crafting the Essay WRT3
Crafting the Essay 3B
KTM Commenter suggestions and recommendations:
First Language Lessons by Jesse Wise (recommended by Ken &, I think, Susan, looks good; apparently there are more books coming in the series)
Classical Writing series (Nick's Mama left the link for this series)
The two biggies amongst homeschoolers seem to be:
Writing Strands (the Well Trained Mind people use this series)
Excellence in Writing
I'd bet money the KUMON reading program teaches writing as well as reading, if only incidentally. I've scanned in one set of KUMON reading worksheets and will get them posted to a separate KUMON page & linked here, so you can see what I'm talking about. KUMON Reading is as good a nonficiton, critical reading program as any I've ever seen. Actually, KUMON Reading is the only nonfiction critical reading program I've ever seen. At our school, and apparently at many other schools, the kids read wall-to-wall fiction. No one teaches them how to read nonfiction. KUMON does.
update: Norton Sampler TOC This is fantastic: Introduction Annie Dillard, The Death of a Moth
Annie Dillard, How I Wrote the Moth Essay—and Why
The Processes of Writing
The Modes of Writing
Mixing the Modes (great)
1 Description 2 Narrative 3 Example 4 Classification and Division 5 Process Analysis 6 Comparison and Contrast 7 Definition 8 Cause and Effect 9 Argumentation and Persuasion 10 Classic Essays for Further Reading
It doesn't look overloaded with partisan picks, and there are two student essays included, which could be a lot of fun. Ann Hodgman ('No Wonder They Call Me a Bitch') is the author of three of my favorite cookbooks: Beat This, Beat That!, and One Bite Won't Kill You. This is the one.
1918 version of Elements of Style online
* My neighbor's son has now written so many personal narratives he says he's running out of memories.
SmartestTractorsAssessmentForm 19 May 2006 - 21:54 CatherineJohnson
"Attached is a page from our Guide to the Provincial Report Card. It is not required we use it in our classrooms, but I find it helpful in focusing some students. At worst, it is an alternative to the page you have been handed."
my contract to improve Christopher's grades
a Grade Contract that makes sense
Grade Contract for married people
Smartest Tractor saves the day
KIPP Academy contract
EngelmannOnRulesForInstallingCurricula 19 May 2006 - 21:55 CatherineJohnson
Ken's done more of the typing! Thank you!
Here's Engelmann on rules School Boards should insist the school district follow when installing a new curriculum:
1. Don't install any practice or reform unless you have substantial reason to believe that it will result in improvement of student performance.
Test on small scale before wider implementation. Research validation. Field tested.
2. Don't install any approach without making projections about student learning.
The benefits of the approach must be measurable. Tests are needed to determine success. The tests should be "do it" tests, one that requires actual reading, answering questions, working math problems, etc (not multiple choice).
3. Don't install any practice without monitoring it and comparing performance in the classroom with projections.
formative assessment. Installed programs should be limited to a reasonable period of time such as no more than an hour aday for reading. The monitoring should deal with what the teachers do and how it relates to what the students have learned. Is the projected material being presented on schedule? Do the teacherfs need help? Is the program being followed faithfully? Are the kids mastering the material in the projected time.
4. Don't install an approach without having a back-up plan.
5. Don't maintain practices that are obviously not working as planned.
6. Don't blame parents, kids, or other extraneous factors if the plan fails.
The only factor that affects the plan is whether the kids and teacher are in attendance on a regular basis."If the teaching failed, it was because the teaching failed, not beacause the parents didn't get involved."
The same problem exists with manipulatives. Kids play with rods that represent different values--based on the length of the rod. Kids can use these rods to perform a variety of "act-outs" that are consistent with complicated math notions, such as the idea that 10x2 equals 5X4, but the kids doing the acting-out are typically not learning the relationship. They're simply making one group of rods the same length as the other group. The great meanings that they're deriving are not in their minds but in the imagination of the educational observer. Direct work with symbols and notations of math is a far safer method of teaching relationships because symbols are consistent with far fewer misinterpretations than noisy and often time-consuming act-outs. The [NCTM] Standards do not favor pencil-and-paper work, however, because such work implies skills, and the Standards are very ambivalent about skills. War Against the Schools' Academic Child Abuse, p. 115
on the shelf life of learned material
Typically about 60 school days pass before any topic is revisited. Stated differently, the spiral curriculum is exposure, not teaching. You don't "teach" something and put it back on the shelf for 60 days. It doesn't have a shelf-life of more than a few days. It would be outrageous enough to do that with one topic-- let alone all of them. ...Don't they know that if something is just taught, it will atrophy the fast way if it is not reinforced, kindled, and used? Don't they know that the suggested "revisiting of topics" requires putting stuff that has been recently taught on the shelf where it will shrivel up? Don't they know that the constant "reteaching" and "relearning" of topics that have gone stale from three months of disuse is so inefficient and impratical that it will lead not to "teaching" but to mere exposure? And don't they know that when the "teaching" becomes mere exposure, kids will understandably figure out that they are not expected to learn and that they'll develop adaptive attitudes like, "We're doing this ugly geometry again, but don't worry. It'll soon go away and we won't see it for a long time"? The Underachieving Curriculum judged the problem with the spiral curriculum is that is lacks both intensity and focus. "Perhaps the greatest irony is that a curricular construct conceived to prevent the postponing of teaching many important subjects on the grounds that they are too difficult has resulted in a treatment of mathematics that has postponed, often indefinitely, the attainment of much substantive content at all." War Against the Schools' Academic Child Abuse, pp. 108-9
what people know and don't know I was saying in a Comment on the Smartest Tractor thread that there are many aspects of DI & formative assessment everyone already knows. They just don't know they know...they probably haven't realized that what they know about DI & formative assessment amounts to an entire alternative educational philosophy, or would if they filled in the gaps. But this 60-day figure is a statistic people really do not possess. I had a funny experience with this at a PTSA meeting once. I was running the after-school program (this would be the program in which I hired myself to teach Singapore Math, btw). All of the program chairs were meeting to be filled in about forms, money, procedures, etc. When the question of kids who couldn't afford the fees for the after-school program arose, the president said that the PTSA picks up the tab. The president said the teachers knew about the policy and would steer these children to us (something like that). One of the volunteers said the teachers didn't know about it. She'd worked with a teacher the year before who had no idea this option existed. The president looked annoyed, and said, 'We sent them an email at the beginning of the year.' That was a striking moment, because here we were, highly educated ourselves, devoted to our kids' schooling, and everyone in the room appeared to believe that if you've told someone something once they've learned it. I think this is a common perception; I often have it myself. I'll think, 'I told him/her/them that already.' I should know better. It's true that in job situations—in any situation where you're responsible for hearing what people tell you, writing it down, and remembering and acting on it—people can say something once and expect it to stick. But that's not the norm, especially when you're talking about one email sent to teachers at the beginning of the school year when they're swamped. This is a factoid that needs to get out there.
HelicopterParentsPart3 10 Jan 2006 - 13:43 CatherineJohnson
Staying Within the Lines on Homework help
I spent years reading about how women (or blacks) internalized the culture's view of them. Ed reminded me yesterday that this is called false consciousness. Parents have false consciousness. Here's an article, written by a parent, all about the Bad Things Parents Do when their children go to school. The author lives here in Westchester; she's in one of the river towns. Hastings, Dobbs, or Ardsley, can't remember which. That makes her a neighbor.
LISA JACOBSON runs a tutoring business, Inspirica, in Manhattan, and she has seen parents at their worst, their most enmeshed, their pushiest. Parents who do their children's art projects for them, so the third-grade classroom looks, she said, "like a gallery at MoMA." Parents who tinker with science labs and correct math homework and edit English essays until the child does not recognize more than a comma in an opening sentence.
Gee. It's those Pushy Parents again. The ones I keep hearing about here in Irvington. I wonder why all those Pushy Parents are spending hours of their lives doing their children's art projects. Might it be because if they don't do their child's projects the child will be given a large, prominently displayed 'D' for all the world to see, called up to the teacher's desk, asked loudly, 'Are you even trying to do the work?' and sent off to the cafeteria to be taunted by the entire 6th grade class? I wonder.
Back when my sons were younger, the rule was that they did the "content" and I would help out with the cutting and the coloring. It just didn't seem worth the extra hours they would spend wrestling with scissors and crayons. So after my older son drew his poster for social studies intricately mapping the route from the school to his house, I colored the roads black and the treetops green. And once he had completed his essay for French about the Arc de Triomphe, I took a razor and cobbled a three-dimensional model of that landmark from foam-backed board. (For the record, he lost points for neatness on the map poster I colored, and while his French essay earned an A, my foam representation got only a B.)
Does this passage offer a clue? A parent-created art project earns a B. Question. What grade does a child-created art project earn? As it happens, I have the answer, since I've just run that experiment. Here's how it comes out. Other parents stay up all night doing their child's feature story/persuasive essay/major research product. (Seriously. One mother told me she had to pull an all-nighter to get it done. Good for her. She's as furious at Mrs. Roth as I am, btw, and has been hovering on the brink of Going To The Principal for some weeks now.) Your child writes his own feature story. Your child receives a bright red D, is berated in front of his classmates, is taunted at recess, spends a week crying at home every night. Meanwhile you drop work on your Actual Job, the one you need to pay your monster property taxes to support the school, in order to steal time to launch a major offensive against the school you're working so hard to support. Question. What was the smart play here? Stay up all night writing your child's paper and be done with it, or let your child write his own paper, after which all he** breaks loose and you get to spend the next 6 weeks dealing with it. And that's 6 weeks if you're lucky.
On the one hand, I am well positioned to help with their writing. Not to do it for them, but to read what they write and send them back to revise. On the other hand, is that helping or hurting? Can a teacher, however well intentioned, possibly give scores of children the same attention that I can give my own? Am I cheating my boys more by stepping in or standing back? Should the roles of parent and professional ever be mixed?
False consciousness! The Core Question is not Should the roles of parent and professional ever be mixed? The Core Question is What is my child learning at school, if anything?
My fifth grader's teacher has specifically asked us not to help," said Jacqueline Ghosen, who also has a fourth grader, and who is more than able to help with math because she teaches business classes at the University at Buffalo School of Management. "Her thought is that if the children are not getting the concept, she is not teaching it well," she said. "But if our child gets it wrong, regardless of whose fault it is, he still gets a lower homework grade. Also, if he is the only one who didn't get the concept, she is not going to reteach it."
That's a problem, alright. Two words: formative assessment
So every night Ms. Ghosen and her husband spend at least three hours reviewing their sons' math, one equation at a time, telling them how many problems are wrong and sending the children back to find the mistakes themselves.A big, fat, red 'A' to Ms. Ghosen and her husband for logical reasoning. If the teacher isn't teaching to mastery, somebody has to. Who's it going to be?
Other teachers have the opposite request: they want parents to take the reins. Ms. Jacobson recalls a recent parent-teacher conference where she was told "that the only way to keep kids achieving at the high level expected by the school district is to teach at school and then have the kids go home and be drilled and helped and tutored by the parents."
Another big, fat, red 'A' to Ms. Jacobson's teacher for logical reasoning. This teacher would no doubt thrive in a DI system. She is not teaching in a DI system. So she's leveled with the parents. If the school isn't teaching to mastery somebody has to do it. Unless you have a live-in tutor (that's another story) it's going to be you. Us. The parents. The real story here, the story that should have been written, is the story of why the schools aren't teaching to mastery. She's looking at the symptom of school failure. Not the source.
p.s. I just spent a couple of seconds looking at that picture. It's great, isn't it? Totally undermines the article, something I've seen more than once. Here we have an anxious child, bewildered by the indecipherable schoolwork he's supposed to complete at home, on his own, with neither competent instruction nor help. The teacher has written some stuff on the board, or the child and a couple of classmates have discovered some stuff in a small group, and now he's supposed to know it. And here we have a mother glaring at the books her school has sent home—glaring from clear across the room. She's also looking semi-bewildered, but bewildered in a mad way, not a say way. Wait! she's saying. Is it a 'feature story'? Is it a 'persuasive essay'? Is it a 'major research PRODUCT'? Plus, she's so ticked off she has apparently acquired the ability to project herself across the room telepathically, double in size, and change colors; she's so ticked off she's turning into THE HULK. I could send this out as a Christmas picture.
Of course the good news is that parents who possess supernatural powers terrify school administrators.
a personality change, too Plus the mom was a happy, nice, non-hovering, non-helicopter parent before she got a look at the incomprehensible junk they sent home for her child to do. I think the TIMES should forget about writing articles, and just have the artists draw the stories.
helicopter parents, part 1
helicopter parents, part 2
helicopter parents, part 3
helicopter parents at the AFT
news from nowhere, part 6 (AP students)
helicopter parents of the word, unite
helicopter parents of the world, unite part 2a (t-shirts)
MiddleWeb says hovering is good
KumonWriting 16 Dec 2005 - 22:07 CatherineJohnson
I've been forgetting to thank Carolyn for our new categories:
learning to write with KUMON Reading I've mentioned that Ben Franklin taught himself to write persuasive essays by reverse engineering other people's persuasive essays. He'd cut apart the sentences (IIRC), then try to reassemble them in proper sequence. I've tried this myself. It's much harder than it sounds. KUMON Reading (which I think is a superb program) does something similar, which I suspect would help any child develop a mature expository writing style. Here it is: Rearrange the words to complete the sentences. 1) A rocket is a spacecraft __________________________________.
[ that / space / allows / to / reach/ humans / outer ]
2) __________________________________ ,
the probe is navigated from afar.
[ are / humans / as / aboard / there / no ]
3) The universe is __________________________________ .
[ exist / matter / space / and / all / where ]
the scientist boasted.
[ now / we / " / " / have / technology / the / , ]
KUMON Reading worksheet E1 77a (5th grade)
answers: 1) A rocket is a spacecraft that allows humans to reach outer space. 2) As there are no humans aboard, the probe is navigated from afar. 3) The universe is where all space and matter exist. 4) "We now have the technology," the scientist boasted.
This is sophisticated prose, and it's difficult to teach to children, or to students of any age. Left to his own devices, no 5th grader—these are 5th grade worksheets—is going to produce sentences like these. Doing this exercise forces the child to focus on the 'smallest units' of writing, words and punctuation marks. It also directs the child's attention to the 'Exactly Right Words,' to see that the difference between the best composition and the next-best is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug (wasn't that the Mark Twain analogy)? Christopher, for instance, constructed sentence number 4 in this way: "Now we have the technology," the scientist boasted. That's perfectly fine. It's grammatically correct; it makes sense. But it's not as elegant as 'We now have the technology,' and in fact it doesn't work as well with the verb 'boasted.' This is a subtle point. Offhand I can't think of a better way to make it (or of any way to make it at all, as a matter of fact). The same principle holds with number 3. It would be grammatically correct to write, The universe is where all matter and space exist. But it wouldn't be as good I would imagine that the only time in school students are taught to pay such close attention to language would be in reading and writing poetry. Not expository prose. (If anyone knows expository writing programs that do teach the subtleties of style, let us know.)
learning to read expository prose I've often read educators saying that, in 4th grade, children must begin to read for content. Unfortunately, they haven't been taught to do this. The reading programs of elementary schools are fiction, fiction, and more fiction, along with a personal narrative or two. Children aren't taught to read and interpret expository prose. Another missing piece.
Andrew to KUMON I'm starting Andrew in KUMON math today. Mr. Liu saw him in action last week, and told me to bring him at 4. In preparation, I'm going to spend the rest of the afternoon chanting persistent and patient under my breath.
do narrative reading skills transfer to expository reading? The Direct Instruction folks say no, which would be my guess:
Narrative reading skills do not readily transfer to expository reading. Narrative and expository texts have been found to have differential effects upon readers, with narrative being easier to comprehend than expository (Zabrucky & Ratner, 1992.) The ability to comprehend and formulate expository prose is essential for achievement in school (Seidenberg, 1989).
articles, marketing material from EPS, College Board report Seidenberg, P.L. (1989). Relating text processing research to reading and writing instruction for learning disabled students. Learning Disabilities Focus 5 (1), pp. 4-12.
Zabrucky, K. & Ratner, H.H. (1992). Effects of passage type on comprehension monitoring and recall in good and poor readers. Journal of Reading Behavior 24, pp. 373-391. Writing Across the Curriculum Series by Patrice Cardiel, Ronda Cole, Mary Kay Hobbs, et. al. By Anna Cimochowski, Ph.D. research supporting the Writing Across the Curriculum Series published by EPS. You may have to Google to find it. This is marketing material, but often these papers are useful. Report of The College Board National Commission on Writing in America's Schools and Colleges, pdf file to download at EPS.
AnimalsInTranslationInDiscoverMagazineBestBooks 10 Jan 2006 - 22:23 CatherineJohnson
Temple says Discover Magazine has chosen Animals in Translation as one of its Top Science Books of the Year (link to last year's list). yay! Plus the paperback came today. I was going to take a picture of it with my dogs, but the camera battery is out of juice.
this is cool I just went over to Barnes and Noble to pull a picture of the paperback, and found this:
Animals in Translation is a recommended holiday gift. Good.
TrustInSchools 10 Jan 2006 - 14:23 CatherineJohnson
Via eduwonk, Schooling America: How the Public Schools Meet the Nation’s Changing Needs by Patricia Albjerg Graham
This is why I find the public school system opaque. It strikes me as entirely possible that her thesis is true. I just don't know. One data point: Ed told me, this morning, that there's no question college students' writing has gotten much better over the 20-odd years he's been reading it at UCLA and NYU. Interestingly, students can't write an argument. The content of student writing isn't better, in his experience. But the form is dramatically improved. (We're talking an elite group of students, obviously. Still, those are the students I'm specifically concerned about as a mom, so I'm glad to hear it.) The idea that students are better at writing but no better at thinking is slightly scandalous to me, since I tend to think of form and content as reasonably inseparable. But if that's what Ed is seeing, I believe him. After all, the reality of good writing expressing bad thinking is what the word 'glib' was invented to express. Graham's blog is here.
During the last century, what we Americans wanted and what we got from our schools shifted through four distinct periods, which I call Assimilation, Adjustment, Access and Achievement. Last week we looked at the period of Assimilation covering the early years of the 20th century. This week I look at the middle years of the twentieth century, including WWII and the post-war years, which I call the Adjustment era. In coming weeks, I will address Access, the period after Brown v. Board of Education until 1983 and, finally, Achievement, the years from 1983 to the present day. The following pictures help illustrate this tale of shifting assignments to America's schools and their reluctance, sometimes wisely, to complete the new assignments as fully and promptly as the public and, later, policy-makers, wished.
It's certainly true that we here at Kitchen Table Math are in the Unhappy Achievement phase of edu-history. I know I am, anyway.
declinism Last fall, I think it was, there three different books about the decline and fall of France on the French bestseller list. I remember one was called something like France qui tombe, France that Falls (roughly). The French call this school of thought declinism.
MrsRothInstructionAndGrading 19 May 2006 - 16:05 CatherineJohnson
Sorry, I know this is repetitive. I've decided to capture the 'Feature Story' instructions & feedback inside one post, so they show up together in the category thread, and so I can pull a few thoughts together about how to teach writing.
The kids were told they were to write a feature story. Then they were given 2 handouts in class.
here's the other:
And that was it. The kids went off, wrote a Feature Story/Persuasive Essay/Major Research Product, and turned it in. Then they were given a grade.
feedback and grade:
The papers were handed out so that all students saw each others' grades, and Christopher was called to Mrs. Roth's desk to be shamed. "Are you actually trying to do the work?" Mrs. Roth said, with all the class listening. Notice there are two Ds here; he was first learning he'd flunked two writing assignments at that moment. He is the only child in any of Mrs. Roth's classes to receive a grade of D on both papers, or—I'll wager—on any paper. Since that day Christopher has been teased and taunted at lunch and recess every day. At night he comes home and cries. Two days ago one of his closest friends said to him, "Mrs. Roth is a good teacher, you're just stupid." He's no longer sitting with his friends at lunch, and has joined the table of two students who are struggling academically. One of them is the sole black child in his English class, to whom Mrs. Roth said, recently, "Stop acting stupid." The other is a boy whose parents have had a bitter divorce, and who has been sent for Homework Help. I like these boys; I'm happy for Christopher to be their friend. I'm not happy that this new friendship has been caused by a public humiliation of my child. (If I were the parent of either of those boys—and I knew what was happening—I wouldn't be happy, either.)
One more thing. For the record, Christopher says he turned in a 'work cited page.' I have no idea what happened to the work cited page. If he says he did it, then he did. It could be buried in his folder, his locker, his notebook.....lord only knows where it is. For all I know, Mrs. Roth could have lost it herself. If she were concerned with his learning, she'd find out.
how not to teach writing
I'm thinking about how to teach writing, and remembering how I did teach writing at Iowa, Cal State Long Beach, UC Irvine (where I taught science writing), and Johns Hopkins CTY. This isn't it.
* That's a stupid answer.
LogicalFallacyBingoPart2 15 Dec 2005 - 17:30 CatherineJohnson
logic sites Doug also left links to 2 logic sites: Nizkor project: logical fallacies Atheism Web: Logic & Fallacies (ooo, that's Christmasy!) I used Howard Kahane's Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric: The Use of Reason in Everyday Life to teach freshman rhetoric at Iowa. The book seems to have expanded by a couple hundred pages since I used it, and the price has gone through the roof. But I'll bet it's still a terrific book.
Logical Fallacy Bingo
SteveOnWriting 15 Dec 2005 - 20:09 CatherineJohnson
from the helicopter parents Comments thread:
Susan: Writing-wise, developmentally inappropriate to me is when they ask for middle school cognitive skills in grade school, like the ability to extract a main point from a paragraph, or the ability to develop a thesis through an essay before they even know what a sentence is. Steve: I have noticed that writing skills greatly lag reading skills, as one would expect. When a book report is given, it is for a book at their reading level: 75-150 page chapter books (although he has read all of the Harry Potter books). He is given a two/three page form to follow for writing the report with maybe a page allowed for writing a description of the book. Even I would have to work at reducing a description of the book down to one or two pages. The times I have worked with my son on these projects (he could never do them himself), it has been a struggle. In class, they talk a lot about editing (they call it SCOPE) and correcting a rough draft, but not much time on the more difficult task of coming up with the first draft and have it close enough to even begin the SCOPE process. I tell him that it is like reducing a Harry Potter book down to movie length, since we have spent a long time talking about what is in the book versus what is in the movie. He can see that the more you have to reduce, the more difficult it becomes.
Re-reading this, I think Steve has put his finger on what's been bothering me about the Writing As Process juggernaut (which apparently got underway in San Francisco in the....1970s? Ed knows. It was something called the San Francisco Writing Project, or some such). It's been hugely influential. At Iowa, we didn't teach writing as 'process.' We used the Norton Anthology and Kahane's book on logic if we chose (I did choose) and the kids turned in one 500-word paper a week. Then we discussed as many of them in class as we could. We read nonfiction essays in Norton and analyzed the argument, support, structure, and style. We also had a coherent sequence of assignments, starting with the personal narrative, and working up to the persuasive essay. This is a terrific way to organize a comp course, because the structure of a personal narrative is 'natural' to most people (though not all). It's organized along a timeline. Moreoever, even the greenest students could instantly tell which personal narrative worked best, and invariably the best narrative was the narrative with the most detail. Everyone saw this. Typically, what would happen is that most of the essays would be awful—boring as heck—but one kid would be a natural-born user-of-detail and everyone else would see this. Because 'detail' is to a personal narrative what 'evidence' is to an expository essay, we had a natural jumping off point. I'll add that we didn't purposely send them out to write boring personal narratives for the sake of making a point. Before they wrote a personal narrative they read examples of personal narratives in Norton, and we pointed out that the narratives worked, in large part, because of vivid detail. But they were young, new writers, so just reading a couple of good personal narratives and being told that Detail was the Magic Ingredient wasn't enough. The contrast between a boring personal narrative without detail and an interesting personal narrative with detail brought the point home. I'm wondering now whether we should have had a writing-as-process 'strand' (golly I hate that word).....I'm also having trouble remembering whether, in fact, we did have such a strand! I have a vague memory that a lot of the kids took a two-semester course in Freshman Rhetoric, and that the second course taught them to write & revise a research paper. I guess I'm thinking, at the moment, that writing-as-process is, as Steve suggests, a later stage.
U.K. writing instruction This passage bears repeating. I'm going to figure out how to create this exercise for Christopehr:
[Judith] Koren describes how two British women she knows became effective essayists and speakers. “Each week, they’d had homework exercises like this: While preserving every essential point, reduce a 100-word essay to 50 words, then to 20, then to 10. Reduce 500 words to 50, 1,000 words to 100. Week after week, year after year.
we need info on UK writing instruction
key words: San Francisco Bay Area writing project writing as process
BeckyOnHowNotToTeachWriting 10 Jan 2006 - 13:38 CatherineJohnson
Let me just say that my 4th grader had to write a five-paragraph "persuasive essay" this weekend on why students should be allowed to return to the classroom unescorted if they forget their lunchboxes. I didn't help him with that one, except to correct his spelling. In fact, I was bursting with pride that my son figured out 3 different ways to state his 1 reason, so that he could form an essay body of 3 short paragraphs... he deserves a gold star for recognizing and attempting to execute the convention of using 3 independent supports for his argument. Even though he didn't. But in regards to developmentally inappropriate writing assignments for 3rd graders: The Book Talk, that comes home with these instructions, in this order: 1. Give the name of the book and the author. 2. Tell your favorite part. 3. Tell what other books this book reminds you of. 4. Show your favorite illustration from the book. 5. Tell the first sentence of the book. 6. Would you recommend this book to others? Seem reasonable? Except there is no instruction for: How much or how little to describe the main and supporting characters that are featured in your favorite part, so that when you read a paragraph from your favorite part, it will make sense to your classmates. How much or how little plot information to give so that your favorite part will make sense to your classmates. How to pick a good favorite part that you can read to your classmates and have them grasp what is funny or scary or mysterious in one paragraph. Whether your favorite part should match the favorite illustration you pick. Whether the best order to answer questions 1 - 6 in your book talk is 1 - 6. And don't forget the poster for your talk! As Steve said, it's (finding,) organizing, reducing, and localizing the information with your child that is so incredibly hard. Important, yes; easy, no. It just still takes me by surprise when I'm called upon to teach my child how to write in these situations. But for a science fair project? It's much more pleasant to teach my son how to write in that context. That is entirely parent-driven, and it's not a surprise: I know I'm on the hook for how clearly my child presents his information. Children have not developed the ability to step outside themselves and figure out what their audience needs to know, and when they need to know it.
Yes, yes, and yes. I find writing books incredibly hard. But the hard part isn't the writing & revising. The hard part is the researching and thinking.
IndependentGeorgeOnWriting 19 May 2006 - 16:04 CatherineJohnson
responding to posts by Becky C and Steve:
This reminds me of two things: Mr. Jacobs' AP American History class in the 11th grade, and Paul Salley's Calculus class in college. Mr. Jacobs' was the first class I ever took where the ratio of red marks (his comments) to blue marks (my sentences) approached 1. He didn't grade the first few essays, but instead wrote short essays of his own telling us what we needed to change. It was the first time I'd ever seen comments like, "You have offered no evidence to support this", "You claimed the exact opposite in paragraph 2", or, my personal favorite: "Interesting point - where's the followup?". (That was generally with regard to provocative points in the opening paragraph, which I never backed up later on). It was blunt, but, after that initial shock (and hurt, to be quite honest), I soon came around to seeing that everything he said was dead on. I could write beautifully, but I'd never learned to formulate, and sustain, a coherent argument. The thing is, though, that even by the end of that year, I was still having trouble composing my essays, and would revert to my old tricks when pressed. If I couldn't find a supporting argument in one of the documents, I would just make a declaration without citing evidence. If I had two unrelated points, I would link them together with a well-turned phrase which sounded great, but held together with only the most tenuous of logic. And no matter how many times Mr. Jacobs called me out on it, and no matter how much I knew he was right, I continued to have trouble. My re-writes always fixed the problem, but I could only do it after he had already pointed them out to me. I still aced the class (I got a 5 on the AP Exam), but nevertheless couldn't get over the hump intellectually. I finally figured it out in college, in Mr. Salley's calculus class. Unusual for a freshman class, Mr. Salley had us working on proofs from day one (easy ones, but proofs nonetheless), and would always enjoin us to "prove it" when we stated ideas that just seemed so blindingly obvious. It was in that context - seeing logic and deduction stripped almost entirely of language - that I finally learned out how to put everything together. What I couldn't do with words, I could do with a bunch of weird squiggles on a page; all I had to do was translate. It was an epiphany. I'm not sure how useful this anecdote is (I guess I needed to spend a little more time working on the thesis). But I think it does illustrate difficult it can be to teach good writing. Mr. Jacobs wasn't a good teacher - he was a great one. And not to put too fine a point on it, I was a great student. And yet, I still had trouble. I don't think I would have ever 'gotten it' on my own, without the explicit training Mr. Salley gave us. At the same time, I never would have been able to make the connection without Mr. Jacobs' instruction; until then, I never even realized that there was a problem with my writing. Without that help, I don't think I ever would have thought to apply the same brain which decoded algebra to encode good rhetoric.
formulate and sustain a coherent argument Ed says his entry-level Masters candidates can't write an argument (and often can't identify the argument of a text). He doesn't say this as a 'students are so dumb today' lament. These are smart, well-educated students who possess strong skills and domain knowledge. Another thing. There is research showing, and it's so true as to be obvious in Ed's experience, that college students can talk an argument or an idea far better than they can write an argument or an idea. That may sound obvious, but when you see it, it's startling. People who can be cogent, coherent, and intelligent in conversation or debate can produce very poor prose—prose in which the argument they are making unravels or disappears altogether. Neither of us knows how early in a child's education he or she can learn to formulate and sustain a coherent argument in prose. What we do know is that it's very difficult, and it seems to come after a number of years of practice. This may not have to be the case with proper teaching, which is one of the reasons I want to know how the British teach composition. I think the British may be doing it better than we, and perhaps earlier in a student's career (though, again, I don't know). Nevertheless, here in America, at the moment, that's the way it is. It takes a long time for a student to learn how to formulate and sustain a coherent argument in prose. This is why I'm going to spend a great deal of time simply having Christopher read quality nonfiction essays and identify the argument, supporting evidence, and logical structure. I'm going to use the British exercise of having a student condense and re-condense a 500-word argument into ever-shorter statements. And I'm going to experiment with Ben Franklin's practice of reverse-engineering of persuasive essays by cutting apart the sentences and trying to reassemble them himself, like a puzzle. It worked for him.
terrific Comments thread
ExpressiveWriting 21 Dec 2005 - 18:06 CatherineJohnson
Ken tracked down this Direct Instruction writing curriculum from SRA. They have some interesting lessons posted online, and the Scope and Sequence categories are helpful.
He also rounded up two studies of the series: Using the Expressive Writing Program to Improve the Writing Skills of High School Students with Learning Disabilities Teaching Expressive Writing to Students with Learning Disabilities: A Research Synthesis
update: Smartest Tractor's pick
Step up to Writing from SOPRIS WEST. Here's the Program Overview (pdf file)
Glancing through the Program Overview, I found the stoplight graphic I've posted below. I like it. I'm a fan of visual teaching in general; visuals stay with us in some way words don't seem to. By way of support, I'll re-tell my sister-in-law anecdote. My sister-in-law is a federal prosecutor in Philadelphia. One day we were talking about 'learning styles,' which I don't particularly believe in, but since everyone else does I don't automatically launch into a cognitive science lecture every time the subject comes up. So we were talking about learning styles, and I said something about visual learning styles, and my sister-in-law said, "Everyone has a visual learning style." "That's the first thing they tell you about presenting evidence to juries. If you want the jury to remember what you've said, you have to give them a visual." I believe that. Step Up To Writing gives kids a visual for writing that looks like it can probably be applied both to paragraphs and to entire essays. That makes sense; a paragraph can be thought of as a mini-essay. I also very much like the stoplight metaphor. Writing should have rhythm; some parts should be fast, some slow, some in-between. That's a subtle concept to teach, and regardless of whether you try to teach rhythm explicitly, the stoplight image will be making the point. My only problem, just on this cursory inspection, it that I find the final greenlight confusing. I'm not used to thinking of a green light as meaning go back, and since the green light seems to take the writer to the essay's conclusion, I find 'green' for 'conclude' confusing. However, that doesn't seem like an insurmountable problem. The conclusion in an action film is typically faster-paced than the rest of the film, and this can be true of an essay.....I think a student can probably survive the semi-breakdown of the analogy at this point. I'll be looking forward to hearing how this program works for Smartest Tractor whose students are, IIRC, in 8th grade.
compare and contrast
'Graphic organizers' are huge these days, as far as I can tell. Everyone's using them. If I were teaching a class of middle school kids how to write, I'd go with stoplights.
ThereAreOrAreNotShortcutsChooseOne 10 Jan 2006 - 16:13 CatherineJohnson
This is funny. I picked up a book called Shortcuts for the Student Writer at Barnes and Noble today. When I looked it up on Amazon to post a picture of the cover, Rafe Asquith's book about teaching Shakespeare to disadvantaged kids also popped up. (Asquith is the Jaime Escalante of ELA.) Title: There Are No Shortcuts.
IfTheStudentHasntLearned 23 Dec 2005 - 22:16 CatherineJohnson
revision From Catherine: Our new pretend-shirt specifically says "If the student hasn't learned, the school hasn't taught," not 'the teacher hasn't taught'. No more thoughtless (and unintended) teacher-bashing. Seriously. I'm the last person to want to make teachers feel blamed and bashed, seeing as how half my relatives have been or are currently teachers. I'm sure I'll be one again at some point, too. The problem is that, when you talk about schools, it's the teachers who are visible. They're in the trenches, so they get the blame. (I realize I'm not telling teachers anything they don't know.) I know better than that, but I've been sounding like I don't. Time for a course correction.
From Carolyn: Hey, my entire family on my mother's side were also teachers, every man and woman Jack of them. I've been a teacher too; so has Catherine. My observation is that policy flows downhill in a school, and the buck stops with the teachers. They get the responsibility, but not the authority; policy changes really have to start with upper management. We're here to put the pressure on upper management, and support the teachers in doing what they know how to do.
DanOnWritingProcess 22 Dec 2005 - 20:39 CatherineJohnson
Most of my writing involved creating technical white papers, proposals to customers, or presentations of experimental research. You usually begin with an introduction and end with a conclusion/summary. Beyond that, there often wasn’t much of a template. I would generally begin writing by typing key ideas into the word processor with lots of white space in between. These were generally sentence fragments. Sometimes, though, an elegant phrase would occur to me, so I might type in a few whole sentences. Only in the roughest sense would this be considered an outline. Some of these fragments would become section headings; others would end up as list items in bullet lists. As I went along, I would just keep putting more meat on the bones. Also, as things took shape, I would continually re-arrange the order of things. Sometimes you lay out the plan first, then highlight the key nuggets therein. Other times, you lead with your value proposition, then lay out the plan that delivers it. You don’t necessarily know which will work better right off the bat. I was never formally taught to do things this way. As I said, I make no claim that it is a particularly good way to write. It seems to work for me, though—most of the time. I think the exception is interesting. A few years back, I took a standardized certification test. One section was an essay. I had to write it with pencil and paper in a test booklet. I found this very difficult. I am very reliant on word processing software, and the flexibility it gives me to easily re-arrange, insert, and delete redundancy once I detect it. The standardized test essay forced me to write linearly, from beginning to end. This seems to me to be a very artificial constraint. It makes me skeptical of standardized tests of writing.
It never occurred to me that word processors might affect the way people write. I became a writer before anyone had personal computers. I used to write longhand, in pencil, and I had an 'embedding scheme,' where I'd put a zillion different phrasing options inside one sentence, in brackets. That way, when I went back & re-read, I could cross out the ones I didn't like. It looked like this, only in messy handwriting:
I [became / was / wanted to be] a [writer / start writing] before I had a [computer / word processor / before personal computers were invented] ....... etc.
On first read-through I'd do as much crossing out as I could, which was never enough; then I might change the crossings-out on the 3rd read-through, or I might add in some new options-in-brackets, and so it went. I could fill up an entire sheet of paper with just one sentence and its multiple choices. As I was reading Dan's post, it struck me that I was trying to do word processing without a word processor.
I find the kind of writing that (I think) Dan is doing extremely difficult. In fact, I find it agonizing, not to put too fine a point on it. No, agonizing isn't the word. I don't have a word.* It's the same kind of writing you have to do for a book proposal, where you have two purposes:
a) write well about your subject b) sell your subject
I'm just, today, putting a reasonably close-to-final draft of Temple's & my new book proposal in the mail to her. The whole thing has been driving me crazy for months. First of all, it took forever to figure out what our central idea is. I think it only came to me last month, finally. Up 'til then, the central idea was: Write a sequel to Animals in Translation. Figuring out a central idea is hard enough, but when you're writing a book proposal, not a book, having a central idea is just the beginning. You can't just have a central idea, you have to have what Hollywood types used to call a 'high concept.' (They may still call it that, I don't know.) Turning a central idea into a high concept is he**.
* Yes, I do have a word. I have a whole phrase. Our friend Rachel used this phrase to describe her first encounter with, yes, a word processor, the original KayPro II. She said, 'Well you know how it is trying to learn to word process. You spend a week in an agitated state." That's book proposal writing, except it's not a week. It's months.
WritingQuirks 27 Dec 2005 - 17:03 CatherineJohnson
Announcing an unofficial poll of writing quirks. Here's what we've got so far:
Here's Carolyn's version:
Carolyn used an open source thing called VYM (visualize your mind) for diagramming. I used Inspiration, which is the adult version of Kidspiration.
Rapid Problem Solving with Post-It Notes I'm seriously considering dumping the fancy-schmancy graphical organizer and going to a bulletin board, index cards, and push-pins. Or else Post-It Notes.
ReadingDiagnosticAtKumon 10 Jan 2006 - 14:47 CarolynJohnston
Ben and I visited Ginny at the Kumon Center tonight, so that Ben could take the diagnostic test for placement in the Kumon reading program. Ginny and I had a great time talking while Ben ground away at the diagnostic test (just kidding about the grinding-away part -- I just wanted to leave you with the accurate picture of Ginny and Ilaughing and yakking while Ben swotted away on his exam). She was a Japan consultant for a long time, working with American executives to help them learn to deal with Japanese executives. She started a Kumon franchise about 8 years ago because she really believed (and believes) in what Kumon can do for students. It looks as though Kumon might be able to do a lot for Ben. She gave him the primary 6 placement exam in reading, for 6th graders. When he sat down with it, he actually said, "Finally, some real language arts! With real grammar practice and writing! Not this stupid lit log stuff all the time." I was surprised to hear him say that. I know he's treading water in his language arts class -- I know he is not learning much, and he's doing no real expository writing at all. It's a joke, actually. He went to a Core Knowledge school, and they did extensive research reports on topics in history every year after 2nd grade. That was intense; maybe even a little too intense. But when it gets to the point where BEN HIMSELF is complaining about the lack of teeth in his language arts class -- then I sit up and take notice. I was delighted with his performance on the reading exam. She gave him the 6th grade diagnostic test and he went all the way through with one small error. It wasn't easy material, either. What really impressed me was one problem -- which he aced -- in which a short story had been broken up into 8 or 9 single sentences and rearranged; the testee was supposed to number them in their correct order. It wasn't a trivial task. What's amazing about the fact that he aced this question is that sequencing -- correctly ordering things -- was one of Ben's weakest areas, cognitively, as a young child. We spent hours with the Playskool stacking rings and stacking cups, trying to help him put them in the correct order; later, we worked with sets of 3 or 4 simple cards that told a story if you put them in the right order. It is something that typical kids do pretty easily, and we had to work hard to catch up. Eventually we left them behind and moved on with his childhood, because you have to, but to find that he has somehow magically more than caught up in this area is an extremely pleasant extreme surprise. He placed into a section in which he'll work on dependent clauses, mastering the main idea of a paragraph, and vocabulary. Extracting the main idea of a paragraph is one of the most difficult tasks for any autism spectrum kid -- as Catherine and Temple say, autism is a disorder of hyperspecificity. People with very high-functioning autism will seize on a million irrelevant details in a narrative, and completely miss its main point, something we typicals can extract almost without thinking. I am excited about Ben's starting Kumon reading; his success on the diagnostic test is a good omen. And it also did me good to hear Ginny say, "he does well." Because I've known in my heart for years that he does really well, and is someone to be proud of, but I'm often out there waving the flag all by myself.
(Comments thread: notes on DOUBLE YOUR CHILD'S GRADES by Eugene Schwartz — teaching your child to read analytically & take notes)
SteveOnTeachingWritingPart2 10 Jan 2006 - 14:00 CatherineJohnson
I'm trying to pull together the Writing thread for my neighbor, and just re-discovered this Comment from Steve:
I just helped my son (4th grade) complete his report/map/craft project on Chirstmas in Greece. (All of the kids had a different country.) As with his other projects, the problem is that the school doesn't prepare them to do the job. They may talk a little bit about what to do, but they don't see what goes on at home. The kids just can't do the project by themselves. If I let him do the project all by himself, it would be horrible, take FOREVER, he would learn very little, and he would get a poor grade. I end up doing the teacher's job. I don't do it for him, but he needed major help in organization, reducing the information down to a reasonable size, and putting it all into his own words. No parent I know likes school projects like dioramas, research reports, and other thematic displays of educational pedagogy and feel-good-ness. Perhaps they expect and want parental involvement?!? I'm more than willing to do my part, but, I really don't want to do their job. Please don't ask me again to practice basic math with my son at home.
There are so many fantastic Comments on this site. I've got a list to pull 'up front,' and am going to carve out some time today to get started, at least. The archived entries on how to teach writing are here.
SusanOnPartsAndWholes 11 Jan 2006 - 16:04 CatherineJohnson
This way of looking at the edu-world has been terrifically helpful to me:
Part of the problem is that, like New Math and Whole Language, there is a movement afoot to push what I consider middle school skills down into grade school, all with the assumption that grade school skills will just be learned by osmosis (or shoved onto the middle school teachers...again.) These are your two camps. In the beginning this new way of teaching writing [beginning in Kindergarten] looks very impressive as little persuasive essays come home and state tests appear to improve. Like math, we didn't learn it that way and so what do we know? I believe this is what you would label teaching Whole to Parts. The traditional way of learning writing (or math, for that matter) has always been Parts to Whole, starting with building blocks for younger children (handwriting, grammar, sentence structure, punctuation) and then moving to more complicated techniques requiring better critical thinking skills (notetaking, outlining, etc.) that actually match the child's growing opinions and ideas. This strikes me as common sense, but what do I know? Whether this new way is really better in the long run is still unsure, from everything I've read, yet one can't help notice that something is wrong when college professors complain loudly about students' bad writing skills, and then even request a grammar section on the SATs.
key words: parts to whole whole to parts two camps
SentenceCombining 18 Jan 2006 - 16:43 CatherineJohnson
....speaking of books coming in the mail, my copy of Don Killgallon's Sentence Composing for Middle School arrived today. (Killgallon's website) I don't exactly know what sentence combining is, but I have a Bayesian conviction it's going to be the answer to my Writing-Instruction problems at the sentence level, thanks to this fellow:
Grammar teaching and writing skills: the research evidence Richard Hudson (email@example.com) Dept of Phonetics and Linguistics, UCL, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT Does a training in 'formal grammar' improve a child's ability to write? At one time it was taken for granted that the answer was yes, so children were taught grammatical analysis as part of the effort to improve their writing. However when educational researchers sought evidence for the expected effects, the results were negative; for example, one of the classic experiments concluded: "It seems safe to infer that the study of English grammar had a negligible or even harmful effect upon the correctness of children's writing in the early part of the five secondary schools." (Harris 1962) A number of studies in the 60s and 70s have since been accepted as 'classic' support for the view that grammar teaching does nothing for children's writing. By the late 60s the dominant view in both the UK and the USA, and possibly throughout the English-speaking world, was that "most children cannot learn grammar and ... even to those who can it is of little value." (Thompson 1969) No doubt this view fitted the spirit of the times both in English teaching (where grammar was seen as a shackle on children's imagination) and in linguistics (where Chomsky was arguing that grammatical competence develops 'naturally' according to an innate programme, so teaching is simply irrelevant). Since then much has changed in both the UK and the USA, and the pendulum seems to be on the return swing. It would be naive to think that the pendulum is driven by academic research - indeed, there has been very little research on grammar and writing since the flurry in the 60s and 70s; rather it reflects very general attitude changes in education and more generally throughout society. However the result is that there is now much more enthusiasm in some educational circles for the idea that conscious grammar (resulting from formal teaching) could have the useful benefit of improving writing..... What, then, does the published research really say about the effects of grammar teaching? [snip] Grammar teaching could be surreptitious, as it were, with a clear underlying theory of grammar but minimal use of grammatical terminology. This is in fact how a lot of grammar teaching has been done; and in particular there is a well-recognised activity called 'sentence combining' which seems to be widely used in the USA. There is some evidence, apparently good, that this kind of activity benefits children's writing (Abrahamson 1977; Barton 1997; Hillocks 1986; Mellon 1969; O'Hare 1973), and in some studies it turned out that this kind of grammar teaching produced better results than more traditional teaching of grammatical analysis. For example, " Hillocks surveys the many studies of the effects of sentence combining, and finds them overwhelmingly POSITIVE at all levels (grade 2 to adult). 60% show significant gains in syntactic maturity; 30% non-significant gains; 10% no gains." (Weaver 1996, reporting Hillocks (1986)). Why should these exercises be so much more successful than traditional analysis? It seems reasonable to assume that it is at least in part because they are exercises in the production of language, and specifically in the production of written language, so they feed much more directly into the child's growing repertoire of productive skills than exercises in grammatical analysis do. In short, they are more closely integrated into the teaching of writing, so the skills acquired in isolation are more likely to transfer directly into a usable skill. However this conclusion does not necessarily rule out the possibility of transfer from grammatical analysis under the right conditions.
This makes sense to me, so I'm going with it. 5 reasons:
We need a Bayesian Rating Scale That way, we could assign numerical values to the question of, Just how strongly do I think I guessed right? Here's a possibility: On a scale of 1 to 7, 1 being 'no clue' and 7 being 'death and taxes, how certain do I feel that sentence-combining will make Christopher a better writer? 6 or 6.5 I'm not feeling a lot of doubt here.
I love this back to Hudson:
In conclusion, the idea that grammar teaching improves children's writing skills is much better supported by the available research than is commonly supposed. However there is no denying the need for more research in this area, so we finish with quotations (from Walmsley 1984) by two of the twentieth century's most distinguished psychologists who have taken an interest in this question. Robert Thouless (1969:211):
I went on a Sentence-Combining treasure hunt on Amazon, and came up with Don Kilgallon as the likeliest prospect. Just glancing through the middle school book, it seems like exactly what I want. From the back of the book:
With the first edition of his book, Don Killgallon changed the way thousands of high school English teachers and their students look at language, literature, and writing by focusing on the sentence. In this revised edition, Killgallon presents the same proven methodology but offers all-new writing exercises designed specifically for the middle school student. Unlike traditional grammar books that emphasize the parsing of sentences, this worktext asks students to imitate the sentence styles of professional writers, making the sentence composition process an enjoyable and challenging one. Killgallon teaches subliminally, nontechnically--the ways real writers compose their sentences, the ways students subsequently intuit within their own writing. Designed to produce sentence maturity and variety, the worktext offers extensive practice in four sentence-manipulating techniques: sentence unscrambling, sentence imitating, sentence combining, and sentence expanding. All of the activities are based on model sentences written by widely respected authors. They are designed to teach students structures they should but seldom use. The rationale is that imitation and practice are as valuable in gaining competence and confidence in written language production as they are in oral language production. Since the practices have proven successful for the great majority of students who have used them in all kinds of schools, it's demonstrably true that Sentence Composing can work anywhere--in any school, with any student.
I believe it. Kilgallon has written books for all grade levels.
Bayesian statistics & false positives
Bayes & the human mind
Bayesian reasoning, intuition, & the cognitive unconscious
most bell curves have thick tails
ECONOMIST explanation Bayesian statistics
Bayesian certainty scale
Smartest Tractor on Killgallon & 5 ways to combine sentences
-- CatherineJohnson - 17 Jan 2006
TheGreatZucchini 31 Jan 2006 - 18:17 CatherineJohnson
The Peekaboo Paradox by Gene Weingarten, a WAPO Magazine story about The Great Zucchini, who is a children's entertainer in Washington D.C. It's an incredible work. I've logged it under 'Teaching Writing' because this essay will be anthologized in every Composition Textbook on the market, or ought to be. I cried at the end:
Maybe he's Peter Pan. He's even got some magic dust, until he loses it. "If Eric ever grows up," Jane Knaus had told me, "his career might be over." We are in the Great Falls home of Melanie and Denny Sisson, where eight children and their parents are gathering for a show. A few minutes earlier, Eric had asked me to pull my car up to the side of another one, so we were hidden from the house while he finished a cigarette. The Sissons jokingly call their house a "bowling alley," because of the open space. It's more than 6,000 square feet of atria, solaria and balustrade, a beautiful home that is a testament to Denny's successful business as a landscape architect, which is itself a testament to the opulence of Great Falls real estate. It all dovetails nicely. Things don't always work out so perfectly, though, even in Great Falls. The birthday girl is the Sissons' 5-year-old, Phoebe, and her guests are mostly kids from her special-needs class. Like Phoebe, these are children with developmental disabilities of varying degrees. They're a handful and a half. A former elementary school teacher, Melanie chose Eric after seeing him perform elsewhere. She concluded he is "a true artist" who could entertain a roomful of kids equally well "in Great Falls or in the Sudan." Eric didn't know these were going to be mostly kids with special needs, but it becomes apparent right away. They're beautiful children, and seem plenty smart, but they're all over the floor, with nanosecond attention spans. One mother with tired eyes and a wary bearing hovers at her son's elbow the whole time. The show starts, and within seconds, Eric's got them. Instinctively, he's streamlining his act, making his gags last half as long as usual. He takes a drink of water, calling it, in a goofy, sonorous voice, "WA-WA." For some reason, this sends the kids into hysterics, so he repeats it. Hysterics, again. He does it a third time, and now they're doubled over, gasping for air. Eric looks out at the parents, shrugs, winks and says, "I'll just keep doin' this all afternoon, okay?" The parents laugh, maybe for the first time in a while. For 35 minutes, Eric handles the crowd, improvising deftly as he goes. When one boy walks up excitedly and slugs him in the leg, he takes no notice. When another grabs a prop, Eric turns it into a joke. When he is done, he has actually worked up a sweat. Some parents applaud. A little girl in pink walks right up to him -- she's not from the special-needs class, just an ordinary little girl with a special need of her own, right now -- and extends a forefinger, straight up in the air. It's puzzling. Eric meets her eyes. Something indefinable passes between them, something only they understand, and Eric reaches out, seizes that little finger in his big fist, and gives it a shake. The girl breaks into a grin. Then she hugs the most fabulous person she's ever known in her whole life, the Great Zucchini
WAPO reader responses
-- CatherineJohnson - 30 Jan 2006
NoGradeInflationInTheSuburbs 16 Sep 2006 - 21:07 CatherineJohnson
I say we get rid of middle schools altogether. Ed just called. On the train he had a chat with a distinguished academic, a Brit. Her daughter is in middle school, and is doing badly. As the mom put it, 'my very bright daughter who is getting bad grades.' The mom just wrote a paper, start to finish, for her daughter. The grade? C- Ed said, "Very few Brits who've become distinguished professors can't write." update: Ed now says it was a C+, not a C-. He also talked to the professor again, and learned that the only reason she'd written the paper was that her daughter was completely overwhelmed with work that night. There was no way she could finish everything, so the mother wrote the paper and the daughter did everything else.
Ed gets a B- So Christopher just handed in his first paper to his new English teacher. Ed worked closely with him on it. He didn't write it. He read Christopher's rough draft and made comments, as a teacher would do, and as this teacher does.* Then Christopher revised. Ed checked grammar, punctuation, paragraph structure, and topic sentences. The paper came back yesterday with a grade of 80. I better try my hand on the next one. See if we can get that baby up to 83 or 84. [update: ok, bad idea ]
my Secret Plan This reminds me of my Secret Plan. Back when Christopher got his two Ds from she-who-shall-be-nameless and was asked, in front of the class, 'Are you trying to do the work at all?' I mentioned that Christopher would not be writing any more papers for this teacher. What I didn't say was that, henceforth, I would be writing Christopher's papers for this teacher. Ed and I agreed on that course of action the day he wrote his email to the principal. My plan was to write all of Christopher's papers, start to finish, collect my Cs and Ds, and then, at the end of the school year, publish the whole lot of them on the internet - or, better yet, publish the whole lot of them on the internet and write an article about my experience. Bestselling author flunks middle school English. No! Make that Bestselling author with glowing reviews flunks middle school English. That works. I would have done it, too.
at Princeton Ed told me a great story from his Princeton days. He met his first wife there. In one of her history courses, she got stalled; just could not bring herself to write the paper that was due. Finally a professor friend of theirs, also a historian, wrote it for her. I find that shocking, but there it is. This was a famous professor; I think he's well-known & respected to this day. (Come to think of it, he may have been a Brit, too.) When Ed read the paper he told his girlfriend, "This is too good, you can't hand this in." She handed it in anyway. She got a B+.
grade inflation for children who are struggling, grade deflation for children who aren't I'll write a serious post about this at some point, but that's for later. Suffice it to say that, from where I sit, the notion that there is massive 'grade inflation' in American schools has it exactly backwards. We're experiencing grade deflation. We have a child who does better work at a younger age than either of us ever did, and he's getting worse grades. Much worse. Other parents have said the same. I don't know why this should be. But I have to consider the possibility that Grading Hard is another form of false rigor. You know the curriculum is rigorous because the kids are getting Bs, not As. Or Cs and Ds, not Bs. As things stand, the system is filled to overflowing with bad incentives. A behaviorist would tell you that 'incentives' operate mostly outside conscious awareness. That's certainly what I believe. There are many, many incentives in our school system - perhaps especially in well-financed school districts like my own - to look like you're offering a rigorous, high-quality curriculum whether you are or not. It would be a miracle if schools hadn't responded to these incentives - and it would be a miracle if they had any idea that they have responded to these incentives.
alternative hypothesis OK, this makes more sense (from Ken & Steve) [update: this makes sense, but it isn't what's going on in Irvington]: Ken:
My theory is that in courses where there is subjective grading (most courses outside of math and science) a student's grades are mostly determined by his academic reputation. [snip] I transferred schools often as a kid -- in 5th grade, in 7th, and in 10th. Every time I transferred, my grades would always dip a little (I'd get more Bs than A's) until the teachers got to know me. After a quarter or so, they'd always return back up to where they'd always been. I basically I had to re-prove I was an A student before the teachers handed out A's again. Then there was the time in senior year of high school where I had to take a lower track class (religion I believe) because it was the only class that I could fit in my schedule and even then I had to go seven periods straight through without a lunch. For the first half of the year, the teacher knew who I was and knew I was in his class and graded me accordingly. But, he left after the first semester and a new teacher taught the course. He was new so he didn't know me. I was just another non-college bound kid to him and he didn't exactly have high expectations of the class. Needless to say, he gave me the lowest grade that semester. This wasn't a class of A students; these were mostly B students and they deserved Bs. Then there was the time in college when I gave all my psych class papers to my friend who was taking the same class two years after I took it (different teacher though). I got all As in that class, don't know whether they were deserved or not. He got out with Cs using the same papers that got me As. Go figure.
This is the competitive ice skating grading philosophy. Some skaters can never win no matter how well they do. It's kind of like a running average grade.
wicked thought for the day This is reminding me of that famous social psych experiment where perfectly normal people checked into mental hospitals as patients with psychiatric diagnoses, and then acted normal. All of their normal behaviors, IIRC, were interpreted by staff as acting-out or psychotic. (NOT FACT-CHECKED) Some writer-parent with time on his/her hands ought to write all his/her kid's papers some year as an experiment. PLEASE NOTE: THIS PERSON WILL NOT BE ME. I'd love to see someone do it, though.
update: fact-checked "On Being Sane in Insane Places" I was right. After the 'pseudo-patients' were admitted to the psychiatric hospital, all acted sane. None of the doctors picked up on it, but some of the patients did:
The pseudo-patient's sanity went undetected. They spent an average of 19 days (range of 7 to 52 days) on the ward, before being released. When released, they were diagnosed as being `schizophrenic in remission' not as being sane. Some visitors and patients detected the pseudo-patients' sanity (35 out of 118 patients).
* I must add this: Christopher's new English teacher is lovely, and is teaching a serious course. Christopher comes home nights and reads me the notes he's taken; he's shown me the grammar and spelling they're working on (excellent); I've read the writing instructions she's given them (also excellent). She's even working on his handwriting, which is almost enough in and of itself to put her in my pantheon. Her grading may be stricter than I think right (we'll see), but she is teaching and Christopher is learning. Perhaps even more importantly, he's motivated to learn. In her class, he wants to do his best. UPDATE 9-27-2006: She was a pretty harsh grader, but Christopher was able to improve his work over the course of a semester. The comments at rate my teacher are interesting.
no grade inflation in the suburbs
grade deflation in Irvington
grade deflation in the suburbs, part 2
is there a dangerous myth of grade inflation?
-- CatherineJohnson - 31 Jan 2006
AlphaSmartReducedPrice 23 Jul 2006 - 11:18 CatherineJohnson
I talked to the folks at AlphaSmart today & learned that the price has been reduced 30%. $199 (which is what I paid for mine years ago) down to $139. The price is reduced because the company may discontinue AlphaSmarts; the woman on the phone wasn't sure. This news prompted me to buy one for Andrew on the spot. (Impulse purchase alert.) I hope they don't discontinue the AlphaSmart, but the possibility that they might is reason to buy one before they do, not reason to move on to the new, improved Neo or Dana (though the Neo probably is an improvement). Ed bought a Dana as soon as it came out and has had problems. I can't remember now whether his problems — losing his research notes from a trip to France — were the machine's fault, or his, but I have a memory the problem was in the machine... UPDATE 7-23-2006: The original AlphaSmart is no longer shown on the site. Now they're just selling the Neo for $249 and the Dana for $429. I should have bought another AlphaSmart while I had the chance. When I turned on my AlphaSmart for the first time in at least 2 years last weekend, everything was still there where I left it. I'd guess that whatever bugs the Dana had at first have been worked out, but I know the AlphaSmarts can live in a backpack. I also got a new keypad for 25 bucks, AND — once you get going with a completely un-thought-through semi-major purchase, you may as well go for broke — I also purchased two 10-dollar cloth slip covers so as to avoid a repeat of the gummy keyboard mishap. I'm thrilled Andrew will have his own machine. He can be liberated from doing his addition problems at school with stamps and inkpad. Talk about inefficient.
Neo from the website:
AlphaSmart (& letter to LA Times)
AlphaSmart & Andrew & KUMON
AlphaSmarts reduced 30%
AlphaSmart to the rescue
the joys of primitive computing
the joys of primitive computing
-- CatherineJohnson - 10 Feb 2006
PrimitiveComputing 15 Feb 2006 - 01:44 CatherineJohnson
At least 2 ktm Contributors have ordered AlphaSmarts since I started obsessing about the things last week. No question I missed my calling in life. I was supposed to be a Travelling Salesman. This reminds me of the time my mom and I interviewed her Uncle George, who was the patriarch of the family, to the extent that we had a patriarch, which we didn't. Uncle George was an engineer. He worked all over the world, in Saudi Arabia, South America — everywhere. He has incredible stories of his wife giving birth in the middle of South American revolutions. Anyways, we were talking about his father, my Grandad McCammon, a Methodist minister who was president of the first Methodist college in Illinois. Uncle George said (paraphrasing), 'Dad wasn't really a religious man. He was a salesman.' I just about fell out of my chair. I'd been wondering about that. I like religion myself, and try to 'be religious,' but it doesn't come naturally. It's something I have to work at (and it tends to be something I put off working at.) Tearing around the internet grabbing folks' arms and urging them to BUY THIS REDUCED-PRICE ALPHASMART NOW! is what comes naturally. Blood will out. In case you're wondering, the reason my Granddad McCammon became president of the first Methodist college in IL was that he'd raised enough money to build a Methodist Fellowship Center (I think that's what it's called) at the U. of Ill. Folks had been trying to raise the funds for awhile without much luck. When my Granddad took over, he got the money. That's selling. His reward was to be named president of the Methodist College.
On the Joys of Primitive Computing: The AlphaSmart Neo While I was hopping from one AlphaSmart website to the next, I found this terrific essay on the joys of primitive computing by Kendall Clark. I agree with every word that a) applies to me and b) I understand.
Part of being a savvy technologist includes staying on the perpetual hardware upgrade habitrail -- or so people too often assume. Some of us, however, are done with hardware. I put myself through college, back in the day when Intel' 80386 CPU was a big deal, by building computers for aeronautical engineering students at the University of Texas, where I wasn't a student. I am so over hardware, and I have been for more than a decade. I take pride in making my living from technology and doing so with very old, even decrepit hardware. My main server for five years has been an IBM Thinkpad I found in a dumpster. My only extravagance was to max out its RAM at 512 MB. My everyday system is a nice 15" Powerbook supplied by UMD. While OSX is nice, it's not exactly Linux on an Opteron. I'm bored by hardware and a bit cheap about it, too. All of which makes the fact that I've fallen in love with a new box (and a new kind of box) all the more curious. I'm talking about my new Neo by AlphaSmart, upon which I'm typing this weblog entry. Before saying more, thanks to Paul Ford for telling me about the Neo. Paul rocks. Oddly enough, the Neo is basically a computer for school children. It's stunningly stupid and, well, primitive. I'm enjoying it so much, and being so productive with it, that it's got me thinking about what I'll call Primtive Computing and Power User Devolution. The Neo is interesting not because of what it does or what features it has, but what it can't do and the features it's missing. It's all about one thing and one thing only: writing. [ed.: I wrote a huge part of the ANIMALS IN TRANSLATION proposal on my AlphaSmart, sitting at the picnic table outside the kitchen.] I'm most comfortable turning any task into a writing task (when all you have is a hammer...), which means I'm super comfortable with a primitive device that's really only good for writing. Specs? I don't even know what kind of CPU this thing has, and I couldn't care less. The OS is some homegrown thing, apparently,
The best thing about the AlphaSmart & the AlphaSmart Neo? You can't hook them up to the internet.
Mind Swap - Maryland Information and Network Dynamics Lab Semantic Web Agents Project
(Kendall Hunt is part of this)
AlphaSmart (& letter to LA Times)
AlphaSmart & Andrew & KUMON
AlphaSmarts reduced 30%
AlphaSmart to the rescue
-- CatherineJohnson - 14 Feb 2006
DowsLanePrincipalTalksAboutHandwriting 08 Oct 2006 - 22:18 CatherineJohnson
Just got a call from our old principal at Dows Lane (K-3), Joe Rodriguez. Golly, we miss Dows Lane. We miss Main Street School (4-5). Homesick!
oops, out of time Christopher's been sick for days, and is getting worse.....and our doctor is out of town. So I'm off to Ossining to see the doctor who's filling in for her. Back later -
Home again; Christopher will live. Also, he will probably not end up in the emergency room suffering dehydration, as he did this time last year, when he had this same virus. Good.
Anyway, back to Joe. Long story short, I had asked our school board president what the proposed 'Math and Handwriting' books for Dows Lane were. Our board president had apparently forwarded my question to the assistant superintendent for curriculum, and the assistant superintendent had asked Joe to give me a call and fill me in. So he did. Turns out they're not buying "Math and Handwriting" books, they're buying some math books and some handwriting books. They're two different things. That's cool, because Joe said Andrea, the occupational therapist who works with Andrew, told him they must give the kids another year of practice with printing before starting them on cursive. They used to teach cursive in 2nd grade; now they'll teach it in 3rd grade. GREAT! I told him what a mess Christopher's printing is, and what a problem it is when it comes to math, and added that everyone over 70 has great handwriting because they were taught handwriting at school until they'd mastered it. Joe disagreed. "My handwriting isn't any good," he said. Joe is 50. 55, tops. I said, "Joe, you're not 70." Joe said he had 8 years of handwriting instruction and daily practice in Catholic school and it didn't work. That was depressing. He said back when he was teaching, he had to concentrate to write legibly on the board. He'd start writing a sentence in the top lefthand corner writing a sentence, and end up down in the middle of the board. A lot of teachers, he said, can just blast their way across the board and it comes out looking great. I told him I call that Teacher Handwriting.
Talking to Joe made me homesick. Back at Dows Lane we weren't having to fight constant skirmishes over bullying teachers and lousy computer-generated mid-term reports delivered to your mailbox on Christmas eve and 20-point deductions because the State Test made you do it. At Dows Lane, and at Main Street School, you had conversations about things like How come Joe had 8 years of handwriting instruction from the nuns and he still can't write a straight line on the blackboard? At Irvington Middle School, when you see Scott he tells you, "I'm very protective of my teachers." Or, "I protect my staff." One time he asked me, on the phone, if I thought he was protective of his teachers. At the time I was in the full flush of gratitude that he'd rescued Christopher from Mrs. Roth's class, and I said, admiringly, Yes! I think you take good care of your teachers. Which is what he wanted to hear. Of course that was a sign. I was talking about that to Ed today. He said, "If you listen, people always tell you who they are."
update: compare and contrast Ed just ran into one of our closest friends from Dows Lane at the video store. This mom is very on top of things, and has been extremely concerned about TRAILBLAZERS, to the point of enrolling her child in KUMON. She told Ed she's resolved 'every' concern she had with the school. She's worked closely with her child's teacher, and the teacher has responded to every issue, and made changes where necessary. Every one of her concerns has now been addressed and resolved. Ed said, "Joe runs a tight ship."
a cordial email Meanwhile, we are not working closely with our teacher. We are not working with Ms. K at all. Ms. K. has not responded to our emails. Ed raised this issue with Scott Fried, who said something about cordial conversations. Our emails, he said, were not cordial. True. So, on Wednesday evening, I wrote a cordial email to Ms. Kahl:
Ms. K — we haven’t heard back from you about Christopher’s grade on the blueprint project. I’ve never complained about his grades in your class. Every time he’s gotten a bad grade—and he’s had many, many bad grades—we’ve worked harder. And now this. This project was his one and only success in math this year. He spent four hours working on it. Ed had to supervise; he couldn’t do it alone. But he did all the work, and he figured out how to do all the work with guidance. We’re working so hard to keep his motivation up. This is the age when boys check out. Some of his friends already are checked out (these are kids who moved from Phase 4 to Phase 3). Before I started working with him he was completely turned off to math. I got him liking it again. He’s very discouraged now. We really need some help here. Catherine
Radio silence. This doesn't happen at Dows Lane.
update 4-19-2006: 20 days and counting.....still no response...
-- CatherineJohnson - 31 Mar 2006
LucyCalkins 01 May 2006 - 14:38 CatherineJohnson
stupid mayor trick
Thank you, whole language
guess and check reading
stupid mayor trick part 3: the good news
who is Lucy Calkins
having a Lucy Calkins day
Cargo Cult Lucy from Becky
National Reading Panel (official website)
The Partnership for Reading
(govt website: "bringing scientific evidence to learning")
National Reading Panel report full text (pdf file)
-- CatherineJohnson - 01 May 2006
WriteShop 03 May 2006 - 12:20 CatherineJohnson
Does anyone know anything about WriteShop?
-- CatherineJohnson - 01 May 2006
BreakingTheRules 05 May 2006 - 15:05 CatherineJohnson
Cruising grammar & writing books this morning, I've come across Breaking the Rules by Edgar H. Schuster. Edgar H. Schuster appears to be an eminence grise in the world of edu-writing:
Edgar H. Schuster has taught English in secondary schools and in colleges for more than forty years. He has spoken frequently at national conferences, held various positions with NCTE, and is a member of the Writing Assessment Advisory Committee for the state of Pennsylvania. Author of several textbooks and articles, he has been a Master Teacher at the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University and is a recipient of a Lindback Foundation Award for Distinguished Teaching.
So here is the first review posted on Amazon:
If you are looking for an untraditional and creative means of helping students become better writers then this book is for you. breaking the rules by Edgar Schuster is a idealistic book about grammar that goes beyond traditional instruction. This book is meant for anyone who is interested in a better instruction of grammar, which includes college students and reflective teachers. In the book Schuster suggest that teachers look at the works of students, writers, and other professionals and then after reviewing the works, the teachers need to decide which language rules are practical and which ones on be broken, for example the case of Finlay McQuade during the late 1970's. McQuade took a good look at his Editorial Skills class and found out that teaching grammar in a traditionally way is a failure (p. xviii.) There is too many rules in traditional grammar that has no space in the realities of spoken or written language today. The book is full of real life anecdotes that makes it easy to read. For example, Schuster used himself in an example about a student who was told that the definition of a pronoun was a word that replaces a noun. So the student used words such as writer for author and book for novel. There are detailed instructions on how grammar rules are used, and if possible, how the rule can be broken to enhance the writing. The book includes many topics from the definition of a noun to tips on revising and editing. There are also many activities in the book that make it easier for the reader to understand the concept. This is a wonderful book to keep on hand for a reference for anyone who is going into the field of teaching or anyone else who is interested in improving his or her writing.
Yes. This review was helpful to me.
Steve & Smartest Tractor weigh in
Yup. There is too many rules to learn. There is too many numbers in math too. There is just too many things to learn in education.
So bring on the character education...
- Smartest Tractor
-- CatherineJohnson - 03 May 2006
NyEducatorOnWrittenLanguage 05 May 2006 - 21:13 CatherineJohnson
It's important that kids know the rules of writing are largely unforgiving, and breaking them, if you don't know what you're doing, is going to make life awfully difficult if you can't, for example, afford to pay someone competent to write your college papers.
I think that's nicely put. I've been submerged in writing books & programs this week, and am about to spend my next book advance on teaching materials. (BACK STORY: 8th graders are now being accepted & rejected by the high school honors courses. Of course none of us has the faintest idea how these decisions are made, but rumor has it the 'honors application essay' (my term) the kids write is a major factor. This means Christopher has to learn to write, and I have to teach him. I'm mainstream on this one. Both Scott Fried and Raina Kor have directly told parents - Ed and I were present - that the 7th and 8th grade writing program is poor. When you've got the principal telling you his writing program stinks, your task is clear.) One book I saw compared style & tone to clothing, an analogy I think works pretty well. The author pointed out that you wouldn't wear your skater clothes to a job interview (something along those lines). I always talk about tone & voice, and explain that you don't use the same language in church that you use with your friends. I think the visual analogy will shore up the direct-instruction in tone.
more from NYC Educator
I had a student in a college class whose sentences covered entire pages, and who did not believe in ending paragraphs, ever. He stated that Gabriel Garcia-Marquez did that. I was never able to convince him he didn't write like Garcia-Marquez. But he didn't. The author of this cutesy little book should be given a prison cell right next to the folks who put Beethoven to a disco beat. The key should be lost, and its location should be reported to him in an utterly incomprehensible note written by my former student.
previews of coming attractions Ed has fantastic news from his nationalism course! I'll try to get a first report posted today.
-- CatherineJohnson - 05 May 2006
EdsWritingAssignment 13 May 2006 - 02:55 CatherineJohnson
Ed and I are now in a state of emergency vis a vis writing not unlike the one I was in vis a vis math at the end of 4th grade. This year the 6th graders had two periods of ELA a day instead of one. I'm not sure what this accomplished. If I managed to put my hands on a paper Christopher wrote last year, would I see any difference between it and the "book shares" and feature story/book report/major research products he's written this year? I'm guessing no. If we keep doing what we're doing, i.e. leaving things up to Christopher's school, he won't be learning to write in grades 7 and 8, either. I know this because the principal and assistant principal both said so at our coffee with the principal. They said the 7th & 8th grade writing instruction is weak and needs work, while the 6th grade writing instruction has been improved. Something like that. When your principal tells you the writing instruction in his school is poor, you're on your own. Now I find out that at the end of 8th grade students are accepted or rejected by the high school Honors program apparently based on their ability to write. I say "apparently" because in fact I have no idea how these decisions are made. It's possible there are parents who do know, but if so I haven't met them. How does the program work? What are the selection criteria?* What is the rate of acceptance? We don't know! I didn't even know there was a competitive selection process until a couple of weeks ago when all of a sudden smart kids I know and like were getting rejection letters in the mail. I'll probably force myself to Request Information on the Honors Program (I'll be SUPER cordial when I do), but I'd say my odds of actually getting information - real information as opposed to blah-blah - are slim to none. Some of you will remember that in my latest conversation with Christopher's English teacher I asked for writing samples of work she considers to be "A level." She said she would provide me with samples after spring break. This week she sent an email saying she is "not at liberty" to give me samples of A level work, but I can find sample essays in the book Write Source. Good thing I happen to own a copy. [update: She may have said Writer's Choice, not Write Source. Good thing I happen to own copies of both.]
could you grade it for me? The Write Source samples won't do me much good at this point, because I don't know what grade they would receive from Irvington Middle School English teachers. So far this year, the paper Ed helped with has gotten a B- and the paper I helped with got a C. And let us not forget the Distinguished Historian who is earning C+s in her own child's middle school. My point: I have no idea whether Irvington Middle School's concept of good writing is my concept of good writing; nor do I have any idea whether Irvington Middle School's concept of good writing is Write Source's idea of good writing. While I'm on the subject of things I don't know, I don't know what Irvington High School considers to be good writing, either. We're in the dark.**
speaking of Write Source Back when we were dealing with the Mrs. R situation, I pulled some online Write Source student writing samples to show the principal that Christopher's paper was not inordinately short.
Here is the opening sentence of a "student model" report on wolves:
"Can you imagine hearing the howl of a wolf during the night?"
Compare that to the opening sentence of Christopher's "feature story/book share/major research product" on violence in the schools:
"School should be a safe place, right?"
The principal specifically told us that he disliked Christopher's opening sentence.
Which tells me Write Source student writing models may not be the Key to the Kingdom.
writing to crammery Two years from now, Christopher has to be able to write. At 10 minutes a day 4 days a week, which is all the time I'm going to have, given the fact that 7th grade is rumored to be "even worse" than 6th grade, that's about....70 hours. As to that, now that the principal is leaving, homeschooling for part of next school year is out unless I want to launch WWIII around here. I might launch WWIII - no one puts it past me - but my position is a lot weaker than it was one week ago before the Big News. Apparently, I have learned nothing from George Bush. I've spent the last several weeks telling Ed that I will not be able "to live through" another year like this one, and I certainly will not be able to write a book if I am forced "to live through" another year like this one, so if he wants me to write a book he better get behind homeschooling. That justification for homeschooling, not unlike the WMD justification for invading Iraq, is now moot. The only difference is that the WMD justification isn't nearly as moot as I-can't-live-through-another-year-like-this. [NOTE! This is not an anti-George Bush observation! Nor is it a pro-George Bush observation! It's a joke!] I'll get my ducks in a row for homeschooling. I'll do the research, choose the curriculum, get set up legally to do it. But I have to assume I'm going to be teaching my kid how to write as an afterschooler, not a homeschooler. I'm going to have 10 minutes a day to do it, because the school needs 6 hours a day to have the kids talk about things like whether they can achieve their life goals if they only have half a tongue.
end part 1 - more t/k
I'm hoping this book will help. Also this one. This, too. Definitely getting Writing with Precision, which was recommended a year ago by a ktm commenter. What to do with the 5 minutes a day I have left.
* UPDATE 11-7-2006: No one knows the rules. Furthermore, the "rules" are almost certainly arbitrary, based in "distinctions" no teacher, principal, "curriculum specialist," or educational psychologist is qualified to make. Kids with the exact same grades & state test scores are ending up on opposite sides of the Great Honors Divide, with no explanation offered by the powers that be. I stand by this statement until our school shows me I'm wrong - ultin our school shows me and everyone else in this district and exactly why I'm wrong. In other words: I stand by this statement until our school establishes a transparent selection process - or, better still, commits itself to providing enough Honors courses to take all comers, along with the academic support to make sure students succeed in these courses. ** For example, Christopher's English teacher says all of Christopher's paragraphs must end in a concluding sentence. I would call that bad writing, and so would Ed. If Ed got a paper from a student in which every paragraph ended in a concluding sentence, he would write "rep" in the margins a lot. Or take topic sentences. Christopher got his B- on a paper which, according to Ed, included a topic sentence in each and every paragraph. The teacher said there weren't any topic sentences. teachtocrammery
-- CatherineJohnson - 05 May 2006
VocabularyWorkshop 06 May 2006 - 20:49 CatherineJohnson
Jerome Shostak on: The Value of Direct and Systematic Instruction of Vocabulary (pdf file) (intended for Grades 6-12, but you could start in 5th grade or possibly even 4th - which I would do, given the fact that kids take the SAT at the beginning of 12th grade, not the end)
sample lesson Level E (average student 10th grade, or advanced student 9th grade) (pdf file)
Student website for the The Norton Sampler includes writing assignments - OK, but seem skewed towards girls (first assignment requires student to write about Martha Stewart's website) SAT vocabulary at the Free Study Materials for SAT website. online SAT vocabulary tests, w/VocabularyWorkshop words AP vocabulary, too - retests you automatically on any words you miss cool SAT vocabulary quiz - timed
Christopher took the diagnostic test in Shostak's Vocabulary Workshop Level A a couple of minutes ago, and scored 36 out of 50 correct. I can't tell whether that's good or bad. Does anyone know of a free, online norm-referenced vocabulary list I can consult? I do think his English teacher has been getting vocabulary inside the kids' heads. While we were doing the spelling test for the next-to-last word list in Megawords 3 he told me a definition for the word "malignant" that he learned from her. So that's good. Carolyn uses VOCABULARY WORKSHOP with Ben - haven't talked to her about it lately. An overview of the program is here. (pdf file) Now that I've taken a look at it, I'd say Christopher is behind where he should be, given the amount of reading we do around here and the super-
words he knew:
topple (the government)
verging on (insanity)
words he didn't know:
foil (the plot)
VocabularyWorkshop websites & books for teaching vocabulary
Hake Grammar & Writing, VocabularyWorkshop, English from the Roots Up
SAT scores & VocabularyWorkshop
-- CatherineJohnson - 06 May 2006
SummaryStreet 11 May 2006 - 19:24 CatherineJohnson
I want this software, I think.
retelling I've been on an intensive Google Quest for a Plan. At the moment, it looks like I'm going to have to teach Christopher how to write and do math in the tiny fragments of time not eaten up by 6-hour school days, homework, and teaching to crammery. From what I gather, asking a child to write "retellings" (an Engelmann term, I believe) and summaries is probably the ticket. (I'm defining "retelling" as retelling a story or perhaps writing a how-to; I think of "summarizing" as applying to expository, analytical, and persuasive writing. Don't know whether this is the distinction Engelmann uses.) Teaching a child to retell and summarize makes sense to me for a number of reasons I won't take the time to go into just now. The good news is that I've stumbled across "converging lines of evidence." Different people coming at this issue from different directions have arrived at the same conclusion: retelling & summarizing are the keys to the kingdom — or, at least, retelling and summarizing are the Keys to the Kingdom of extremely efficient writing instruction. The question guiding my Google Quest has been: What would KUMON for writing look like? I'm pretty sure it would be a program that has kids write retellings and summaries on a daily basis. * More later.
resources Summary Street (press release - Pearson Knowledge Technologies) WriteToLearn (Pearson) WriteToLearn demonstration site (Pearson) Intelligent Essay Assessor (Pearson) WriteToLearn (press release) Writing a Good Summary (Pearson) Summary Street (Colorado Latent Semantic Analysis) Latent Semantic Analysis (Colorado University Boulder) dissertation on Summary Street (pdf file)
sample assessment screen Summary Street