Reading: quantity, nonfiction, knowledge

The common standards movement has sparked a useful discussion of teaching reading. Many critics like the newest draft of the standards, reports Curriculum Matters.

Carol Jago, the president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of English, tells me she thinks the draft has improved in two ways. First, it emphasizes “quantity in reading.” Jago, an author and former high school teacher, served as one of several outside reviewers of the English-language arts version of the document.

“More is more when it comes to students and reading,” Jago told me in an e-mail. “I was delighted to see this important point addressed so directly…The dramatic difference between the number of books students read in high school and the number they are assigned in college I believe contributes enormously to student failure in the first semester at university.”

Jago also likes the focus on reading challenging books independently, a skill needed for college and the workplace.

Will Fitzhugh, the founder of The Concord Review, wants more stress on nonfiction documents and research papers.

In a Washington Post op-ed, cognitive scientist Dan Willingham critiques the standards for assuming students can understand what they read without background knowledge. Teaching “strategies” doesn’t lead to comprehension, he writes.

Remarkably, if you take kids who score poorly on a reading test and ask them to read on a topic they know something about (baseball, say, or dinosaurs) all of a sudden their comprehension is terrific—better than kids who score well on reading tests but who don’t know a lot about baseball or dinosaurs.

In other words, kids who score well on reading tests are not really kids with good “reading skills.”

Once students have “cracked the code of letters and sounds” and read fluently, the good readers are the ones with the prior knowledge to enable them to understand what they read, Willingham argues.  Students who lack background knowledge can reason their way through a text, but it’s slow and difficult, “a recipe for creating a student who doesn’t like reading.”

Texas adds Huerta, Winfrey, drops FDR

Texas’ social studies textbooks may get browner, reports the San Antonio Express-News. A draft of the new curriculum standards adds “Dolores Huerta, Dr. Hector P. Garcia, Sandra Cisneros, Henry B. Gonzalez and Irma Rangel to the list of important Hispanic figures Texas schoolchildren might be discussing in the future.”

Huerta, a co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America, would join Helen Keller and Clara Barton to show third-graders examples of good citizenship.

Under the proposal, third-graders also would be introduced to Dr. Garcia, a civil rights leader and founder of the American GI Forum who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Reagan.

The late Henry B. Gonzalez of San Antonio could end up in fourth-grade history books as an example “of individuals who modeled active participation in the democratic process.” Gonzalez, who once stood for 22 straight hours on the Texas Senate floor to fight segregation bills, was later a member of the U.S. House for 38 years.

But there isn’t room for everyone. Peter Morrison, a school board member on the grade 5 review panel, “complained that Presidents Eisenhower and Roosevelt were characterized as ‘dead white guys’ during a committee discussion,” reports the Express-News.

On Curriculum Matters, Mary Ann Zehr notes that Franklin D. Roosevelt has been cut  from the list of “significant political and social leaders in the United States,” though he does appear in a section on the Depression.

Henry B. Gonzalez, Thurgood Marshall, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Billy Graham have been added.

. . .  Bill Gates, Sam Walton, and Oprah Winfrey have been added as examples in the U.S. history standards of “American entrepreneurs.”

A majority of Texas students will be Hispanic by 2013, when the new books will come out.

We're not evolved to love algebra

Learning can’t be fun all the time,  argues David Geary, a University of Missouri psychology professor, in a journal article and an e-mail to Curriculum Matters.

 The process of evolution, Geary says in the study, has resulted in students being able to acquire certain types of new knowledge and skills in a relatively “effortless” manner, through processes that are “child-centered” and fun.

. . .  Schools have attempted to use child-centered and fun methods, in the belief that students’ natural curiosity will lead them to take on certain, more difficult tasks, like learning to read or do fractions, in the same way they learn language or how to count, he says. But Geary argues that explicit, teacher-directed instruction will be needed for many children to learn more unfamiliar and difficult, or “evolutionarily novel information.”

Evolution “has not provided the scaffolding for this learning,” Geary told me. And so “the scaffolding must come from instructional materials and teachers.” Schools should not expect students to be motivated to learn this evolutionarily novel information in the same way they are motivated to learn through social relationships. “There is no such inherent motivation to learn linear algebra or Newtonian physics,” he said.

OK, it seems obvious, but not in the education world.

Carnival of Education

Welcome to the Carnival of Education. The theme is: We don’t need no stinking theme! It’s too much work to impose a spurious commonality among very diverse posts.

Cultural differences make it hard to compare U.S. schools to European and Asian schools, writes Michael Mazenko on A Teacher’s View. He quotes Dr. David Ho, the researcher who invented the “AIDS cocktail.” Ho went to elementary and middle school in Taiwan, high school and college in the U.S.

He has noted that if he’d stayed in Taiwan his whole life, he never would have made the discovery. Likewise, he explains if he had been born in the US and always educated here, he never would have made the discovery. It was the rigid style of the early years in a Confucian system that gave him the discipline he needed, as well as the more “open” and diverse style in the US that encouraged questioning and creativity (yes, through electives) that allowed him the solid foundation and insight necessary to make one of the 20th century’s most significant medical breakthroughs.

Is homework just busywork? Mathew Needleman looks at the question on Creating Lifelong Learners.

Practice like you play urges Mister Teacher at Learn Me Good.

Education shouldn’t be an assembly line, writes Loony Hiker on Successful Teaching. But there are things educators could learn from Boeing’s manufacturing process, LH adds.

At The English Teacher, Scott Walker thinks raising expectations isn’t enough. Students need to be taught phonics, grammar and the classics.

Having raised a daughter who loves to read, Why Homeschool’s Henry Cate is surprised by British complaints that literacy lessons have created students who “lack the stamina” to read books.

“Troubled and troubling” Stephane is Failing the Poem at Classroom as Microcosm — and Siobhan Curious is nervous about his ambitions to be a commercial airline pilot.

SchoolGate’s Sarah Ebner, who writes for the Times of London, explains why  students should learn about kings and queens, not just about Florence Nightingale. Her seven-year-old daughter thought history was boring till Mum told her “about the Tudors, from Henry VII to Elizabeth I and added in James I for good measure.”

When I told my daughter that the next story we would cover was about a king who got his head chopped off, she was desperate to hear about it NOW. She didn’t say that about Florence Nightingale.

As a history buff — with a special love for the Plantagenets — I agree. And I would have welcomed a little Florence Nightingale in my day instead of memorizing the three principal products of every country in Latin America and every province of Canada.

Denise’s daughter dislikes math, but Buddy Math — taking turns with Mom — works for her. Let’s Play Math hints:

When it’s my turn, I work slo-o-owly. I pause frequently, hoping to give her mind time to skip ahead of me and predict my next move. Sometimes, she will even jump in and finish a problem for me.

Brain teasers can improve your concentration, according to Sharp Brains.

As a former music teacher, Nancy Flanagan was enchanted by a video of 200 people at Antwerp train station dancing to Julie Andrews’ “Do Re Mi.”  According to Nancy, who blogs at Teacher in a Strange Land, Nietzsche said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” Who knew the old guy had it in him?

At A Ten O’Clock Scholar, Kerry offers Art Links for Homeschoolers.

On the technology front, Larry Ferlazzo offers tips on the best places where students can create online learning/teaching objects for an “authentic audience.”

I blog on two Utah fifth graders who created an all-too educational experience for their audience: They figured out how to bypass their classroom computer’s filter to show porn to their classmates. Police are threatening to file felony charges against the 11-year-olds.

TweenTeacher is teaching her students to Twitter.

The rules for joining the Literacy Club have changed in the digital age, writes Angela Maiers.

Using a computer program to evaluate students’ writing is wacky, writes Kristian Bland at Coquetting Tarradiddles.

For those teaching science, Dead Birds Do Tell Tales, writes GrrlScientist on Living the Scientific Life.

Wild About Nature reviews a book called What Seeds Are These?

How do teachers build the fortitude to keep reaching for “unreachable” students, asks Angela Powell on The Cornerstone Blog.

Self-esteem isn’t bad if it’s based on academic achievement or good behavior, writes Old Andrew on Scenes from the Battleground. However, teachers are lead astray when they attribute bad behavior to insecurity:

Most of the time when a teacher concludes that a badly behaved boy must secretly hate himself what the teacher actually feels that he should hate himself if he has any sense.

Teachers, are you too busy grading papers to go to the faculty room? On Stories from School, Travis Wittwer urges new teachers to hang out with colleagues, even if it means listening to a recap of Dancing with the Stars.

Fear the Tsunami of teacher retirements, writes Dave Saba of ABCTE.

The British government is trying to “fast-track” laid-off workers into teaching jobs. Robert Reid is dubious that ex-bankers will make good teachers.

In deciding whether to fund D.C. vouchers, congressional Democrats must decide between helping the poor or helping the teachers’ unions, writes Matthew Ladner on Jay P. Greene’s Blog.

Federal programs rarely die — except for D.C. vouchers, writes William Schimmel on No Cynics Allowed.

Weak on reform, Milwaukee may be unable to compete for education stimulus dollars writes Liam Goldrick of The Education Optimists.

Ed Week’s Mary Ann Zehr wonders on Learning the Language why the administration hasn’t discussed its English Language Learners policy.

John Wills Lloyd of Teach Effectively! analyzes a study showing Experience Corps tutors boosted reading scores significantly.

Japan’s gender gap looks a lot like ours, notes Curriculum Matters: Japanese girls are much better in reading; boys are somewhat better in math.

In “That’s Racist,” posted at Right on the Left Coast, Darren wonders why normally super-sensitive students didn’t protest a student newspaper cartoon about North Korean missiles that made fun of Korean accents. The cartoonist was Korean-American — and Asians aren’t “an aggrieved class” in schools.

On Bellringers, Carol writes about taking her journalism students to Journalism Day at the Dallas Morning News.

Martha, the Test Grader is having a very bad day, writes Jim McGuire at The Reading Workshop. Do you want her reading your test?

Student Jason Oller of Jason’s Perspective wants a much longer school day.

LeaderTalk examines What I Think I Say vs. What I Think Others Hear.

R.J. O’Hara of The Collegiate Way wonders if the charter model could be used to create small, independent, residential colleges within large, impersonal universities.

At Teaching All Students, Patrick has a crazy idea that disabled students can learn about desert biomes.

That’s all for this week. Have a Happy Tax Day. Carol at Bellringers is next week’s host.  Submit here to join the carnival or email her at mybellringers@gmail.com.  The deadline is 7 pm (Central) on Tuesday.

Academy of Science and Technology

Kim’s Play Place is hosting the first Academy of Science and Technology, which features a post by Sean Cavanagh, of Curriculum Matters on Science and Math in the Stimulus.

Reading First works in California

Reading First is raising achievement significantly in California, according to an Educational Data Systems study, reports Curriculum Matters.

. . . students in schools that implemented the program to a high degree had much higher achievement than students in schools that didn’t implement the program in a comprehensive way.

The pattern of higher achievement for students at Reading First schools in California even applied to English-language learners.

However, the 2009 omnibus funding bill zeroes out money for Reading First, based on a national study (which some have questioned) that found minimal impact.