Thursday, December 25, 2014

Favorite comments of '14, cont: kcab, JF, Anonymous, momof4, cranberry, forty-two, Auntie Ann

On Other parents and other children, II:

kcab said...
Is your daughter ever required to do multiple (or even single) revisions that involve re-organizing, re-wording, re-casting, etc.?
In middle school - never. Ditto never in first two years of HS (in two different schools, very different styles, honors classes in both). Almost all of the writing this year is done in class; they can count on an in-class essay every third class period. I can only recall two where revision took place. There has been value in having to write essays frequently on demand.

She did get feedback and help with revision and rewrites in early elementary (2nd and 3rd grade). Since then the feedback has been less than worthless. Unfortunately, this is a kid who always takes her teacher's word over that of her parents and has refused to consider homeschooling. Those easy A's on papers with "nice job" as the feedback did not motivate her to revise or even think harder. I hired a tutor to work with her on writing last year when her grades on written assignments made it clear to her that she needed help in that specific area. The focus ended up being on organization and planning what to write, which was good to do but there was no feedback loop.

Next year she'll drop back to the regular level in English and will hope it's easier. Seems a bit sad for a kid who has always easily understood the themes and character's motivations in text. Given her SAT scores, it will look like she is being lazy, but it's not that simple.

My seventh grader has had much better writing instruction, including a lot of revision and rewriting, thank goodness.

SJ said...
Education for gifted kids is important. But there is a difference between specialised, differentiated instruction for exceptional children, and changing the curriculum so that only gifted children can derive the full benefit of the material presented.

Also many parents conflate gifted (greater potential for understanding) with precocious (reaching a milestone earlier than is typical). The American education system already places too much emphasis on doing things younger rather than better.

Anonymous said...
". Of course, pushing unprepared kids into these courses doesn't lead to the same outcomes and only weakens the course for the prepared kids. "

Totally agree. But, expanding access to those opportunities might catch a group of students who would not previously been identified as the "most able and motivated." I think that ed meddlers (not so much teachers, who I think actually know the kids they teach) often do mistake correlation with causation, but I also think that expanding opportunity and the difficulty of identification can be an alternative explanation for the push, to, say, offer algebra to everyone.

The problem is that we don't have good mechanisms in place for dealing with those for whom the offer is not an opportunity but a chance to get lost in the maze (especially since we don't always give good feedback on outcomes).


momof4 said...
It's one thing to let CERTAIN kids try an honors or AP course but it needs to be clearly understood that the pace will not be slowed and the course requirements will not be weakened. What is happening now, in the push for college-prep/honors/AP for all is a serious weakening of the classes. Kids who don't know their math facts, basic algorithms, manipulation of fractions, the relationship between fractions, decimals and percentages are pushed into algebra. Kids who read at the 5th grade level, or less, are pushed into AP English (as in being done in Prince George's Co, MD, according to one of the teachers) Kids who have no historical knowledge are allowed to take APs - insanity. APs were designed to have honors prerequisites, because they were designed for kids who had already mastered the top HS material - as is still done at my older kids' HS. Honors chem before AP chem, honors world hx before AP Euro hs etc - all APs have honors preqeqs. Jay Mathews Challenge Index rewards the idiocy - awarding points for kids taking APs even if they never take, let alone pass, an AP test.

SJ said...
A Death on the Nile is a very simple book. Many children in primary school could read it. Most children will be able to read it by fifth grade. If your child is reading A Death on the Nile in fifth grade, there is nothing wrong with that, but it is not challenging or exceptional. A Death on the Nile has a Lexile score of 660, which would be at the lower end of the fourth and fifth grade range, pre-Common Core adjustment.

Most of the better children's works (Mary Poppins, Heidi, Peter Pan and the like) range from the mid 700 area to the late 800s. The Hunger Games, fwiw, is 810 (Mary Poppins is 830), but many people would not encourage it for a younger reader because of the disturbing content.

Beowulf is 1090, and frankly I think that is a low-ball estimate unless the reader is fairly familiar with earlier English history. It is generally reserved for university courses, but could be plausibly taken up by a class of astute high school students.

The Brearley School has an excellent set of reading lists by grade. They are challenging but age-appropriate:

I am not sure what people intend to convey when they lecture that parents ought to encourage their child to read books and read to their toddlers, and if they do so, their children will of course be able to take up Beowulf at 12. I think it is impossible that anyone can live so divorced from reality as to think that this is the case. Surely even someone in a fairly constrained environment knows people who read to their children and take them to the library and yet their children do not read 5+ years ahead of grade level. I can only conclude that they know perfectly well that their child is an unusually good reader and simply want to talk about that.

The "gifted children" argument is a red herring. Gifted children deserve to be taught at a higher level. I can think of few things more torturous to a gifted child than sitting in a class where they find the text simple and easy to understand, but where no one else understands it at all and the teacher is thus obliged to "scaffold" extensively and move at the speed of molasses.
momof4 said...
My small-town 1-12 school had a very good 1-8 program, with grades 1-4 taught by Normal School grads; phonics, grammar & composition (starting at the sentence level, with copywork and dictation preceding free composition), sciences, geography, civics and history. The school was too small (grades of about 30) to allow ES tracking, although all subjects were grouped by level, and teachers were very willing to allow advanced students to do independent work and read during class (thank Heaven). The HS had general, a highly-regarded secretarial and college prep tracks. Although the math/sciences were very weak (New Math started my freshman year), the history and English were excellent. In college prep, we did do Beowulf, Canterbury Tales, Greek, Roman and British legends, Shakespeare, poetry etc, in conjunction with ancient and world history, as freshmen and sophomores. We also did lots of in-class and outside composition (although I don't remember re-writes - but we had a very solid base from ES, including diagramming sentences) and did college-standard term papers in junior-senior English and US History. The English for the secretarial/general kids also required correct composition but spent more time on business/practical formats and less time on literature. I think Charles Murray makes a good point in Real Education; the people who write/comment on ed blogs (as well as most professionals) really don't know what limitations the under 90 IQ and spec ed kids (however defined) actually have, unless they have family members, because they don't interact with them frequently - and particularly not on an academic level. Hence the "all" will "be proficient", "do XYZ" etc. standards that are completely impossible for one group and far too low for another.

momof4 said...
Yes, I realize now that my k-8 school really did ensure that kids had a solid foundation across the disciplines, even though only a few parents had college degrees or sent their kids to college. I'm sure that my classmates had a better foundation entering HS than far too many kids today have at HS graduation. Of course, I went to school when severely handicapped kids never entered school, but I'm sure that some of my contemporaries would have spec ed diagnoses today - AHDH or SLDs. However, direct, explicit instruction (including phonics) meant that everyone did learn the basics. One didn't see mis-spelled or grammatically incorrect signs in town. There was no social promotion, either; half of the pair of twins who started in my class didn't make it to third grade with us - and his self-esteem survived; I played with both guys on a regular basis.
cranberry said...
In my opinion, Beowulf, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Jungle could/should all be reserved for high school.

For what it's worth, the Common Core Appendix listing of text exemplars for grades 6-8 are in line with what I would find appropriate for middle schoolers, even those who read well. Little Women, Tom Sawyer, The Dark is Rising, etc.

I do not think precocious children are well-served by being forced to read high school level texts in middle school. That isn't a better education.

As an example, yes, we could marry our 12 year olds to each other. Why don't we? (apart from the legal, moral, and ethical objections, of course.) One good reason is that 12 year olds are not adults yet. They see the world through a different lens. Rushing to force high-school level work on them is not a better nor a more advanced model for education.

My 6th grader is currenly enjoying reading "Story Time," by Edward Bloor. His view of this book is influenced by the modern experience of school testing. I don't care what its Lexile level is. I care that it's a great way to talk about the modern testing mania.

Encouraging students to write about issues they understand--such as the benefits and downsides of standardized testing--is a better way to increase academic skills than forcing them to read texts appropriate for college-bound high school students.

All of my children read well. I know some students catch up, if given appropriate instruction. When my oldest child began elementary school, that school was still close to Whole Language. (We were part of a group of parents who would show up at school meetings to plead for phonics.) Some children at that school did not learn to read. That's not appropriate.

On the other hand, recent newspaper reports on the school curriculum lead me to believe phonics instruction now extends into middle school for all students. That's also not appropriate.

The private schools our children attend(-ed) emphasize grammar. I think all children would benefit from grammar instruction. My oldest child, who had not received useful comments on her papers (good job and check plus are not useful comments) had to work to catch up to children who had had writing instruction.
momof4 said...
I agree with Cranberry on grammar instruction. As soon as we learned to write letters, numbers and our names, our first-grade teacher started us with copying from the board. Every page was headed by our full names and the month, day and year. We were explictly taught the rules of capitalization and punctuation, parts of speech and the structure of a sentence - by copying correct examples. We progressed to writing as Miss H dictated, and only then did we do free composition. ALL of our work was corrected for spelling, grammar and content (if appropriate). In 7th-8th, we diagrammed sentences. Skipping the foundational work leaves HS freshmen unable to write grammatically correct sentences or to identify the subject of a sentence with only one noun/pronoun (in a relative's affluent suburban school). It takes 8-9 years of real instruction to teach most kids how to write decently and it's not always easy, either for students or teachers. However, doing it well means that HS kids can hand-write a grammatically correct, in-class, essay or business letter, in 10-15 minutes of moderate effort. (no spell-check, auto-correct etc)

forty-two said...
There's a *huge* difference between *requiring* a child to read a book and *refusing* to allow a child to read a book.

I *let* my dd7 read almost anything she wants (and any refusal is based on inappropriate-for-her-age content, not difficulty). And she picks up all sorts of things, at all sorts of difficulty levels. And some are too hard, and those she generally puts down after a few pages (although she will tough out some). And that's the big difference - she's free to stop anything she doesn't comprehend.

Also, ime families who want their kids to read difficult-ish religious texts put quite a bit of effort into *teaching* them how to comprehend those texts, usually over several years. Often kids in those families been hearing the texts read aloud and explained since birth. Their understanding doesn't come out of nowhere.
cranberry said...
When I showed Heaney's version to my kid, he could understand it fine, but was most fascinated by the facing page Old English. "It doesn't look like English at all," he said. "Anybody looking at this would think it's another language. I've never even seen that letter before." And off we go discussing the Romans, the Picts, the Danes, and the year 900, and that entry into history is one of the reasons Beowulf fits so well in a child's education.

By my lights, this ^^^ proves that your son is not yet ready to read Heaney's text.

It's a matter of background knowledge. Being able to read a text *with* an adult is very different from being able to read a text independently without an adult tutor, make notes of important points & things not understood, and participate in a discussion with peers & teacher on the subject.

Reading independently, monitoring one's comprehension, and formulating responses to the text on the basis of one's knowledge of a topic--those are all essential academic skills. Contact with teachers is limited in school and college. Students must learn how to read a text. Assigning texts they don't understand from an early age does not help them develop the skills they need to understand age-appropriate texts.

The Common Core's exemplar texts are age-appropriate, for college-bound students. I do not know how the process will work for students who are not college-bound. It isn't as if reading Plato in middle school will magically transform a non-reader into a scholar.
Auntie Ann said...
Maturity definitely counts when it comes to reading and reading comp.

Our boy was desperate to read the Harry Potter books when he was 8-9 years old. I strongly discouraged him. The books have a lot of depth that he would never pick up on at his age--it would be wasted on him. I've always thought they should be read by older kids, but the push to be able to say "my kid read them in 3rd grade!" and often "I read them in 3rd grade!" is strong. I couldn't stop him from reading them, but I kept discussing the books with him as he read and I made him think about what was happening and see the various layers.

He recently re-read them (he's now almost 12) and I think he got more out of them this time. Still, a re-read is not the same as your first time.

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