They don’t read ‘Evangeline’ any more

In 1908, Minnesota’s recommended reading list for 7th and 8th graders included Longfellow’s Evangeline and the Courtship of Miles Standish, and works by Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, James Fenimore Cooper, Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson and others, writes Annie Holmquist on Better-Ed. Most of the books were 50 to 100 years old.

She found the 2014 reading list for 7th and 8th graders in Edina, one of the state’s best school districts. Other than Tom Sawyer, The Diary of Anne Frank and Fahrenheit 451, the books were written in the last 20 years.



The 1908 list “is full of historical references and settings which stretch from ancient Greece (Tanglewood Tales) to the Middle Ages (Harold, Last of Saxon Kings) to the founding of America (Courtship of Miles Standish),” Holmquist writes. Children are introduced to classic writers.

The 2014 books touch on “current political and cultural themes such as the Taliban (The Breadwinner), cloning, illegal immigrants, the drug war (The House of the Scorpion), and deeply troubled youth (Touching Spirit Bear).”

In addition, the modern books use simple language and familiar vocabulary, she writes. It’s easy reading.

Nothing But the Truth starts:

 Coach Jamison saw me in the hall and said he wanted to make sure I’m trying out for the track team!!!! Said my middle school gym teacher told him I was really good!!!! Then he said that with me on the Harrison High team we have a real shot at being county champs. Fantastic!!!!!! He wouldn’t say that unless he meant it. Have to ask folks about helping me get new shoes. Newspaper route won’t do it all. But Dad was so excited when I told him what Coach said that I’m sure he’ll help.

Evangeline is a more challenging read:

 “This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.
Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring ocean
Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.”

Apparently, it wasn’t too challenging for kids in 1908.

Via The Federalist Papers.

Reading for wisdom — or info extraction?

Laurence Olivier as Hamlet

Literature can teach “wisdom,” writes Michael Godsey, an Advanced Placement English teacher,  in The Atlantic. But Common Core standards favor “objective analysis” and information extraction.

The Common Core promotes 10 so-called “College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards” for reading that emphasize technical skills like analyzing, integrating, and delineating a text

College readiness is not the same as life readiness, Godsey argues.

. . . I’m making plans to teach the students how to “evaluate the sufficiency of the evidence” instead of asking them, “Who here sympathizes with Hamlet, or Ophelia, or any character, and how so?”

A consultant told Godsey to “ditch literature” since “literary fiction is not critical to college success.”

Achieve the Core, for example, an organization founded by the lead writers of the standards, explicitly encourages schools to teach students to “extract” information so they can “note and assess patterns of writing” without relying on “any particular background information” or “students having other experiences or knowledge.”

“None of the state assessments has a single question about the content of any classic literature,” he writes. It’s all about reading skills. There goes the “secular wisdom” of American culture.

Teacher: Core tests set kids up to fail

Common Core tests set kids up to fail, argues Jennifer Rickert, a sixth-grade teacher in New York, on Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet.

The “New York State Testing Program’s Educator Guide to the 2015 Grade 6 Common Core English Language Arts Test” describes expectations that are way too high, writes Rickert.

At 11 and 12 years old, her students have difficulty understanding abstract or hypothetical situations, she writes, citing Piaget’s theories.

Yet in the guide, it states that students will “evaluate intricate arguments.”

In addition, “students will need to make hard choices between fully correct and plausible, but incorrect answers that are designed specifically to determine whether students have comprehended the entire passage.”  This is not developmentally appropriate for my students . . .

Students will read passages from texts such as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which include “controversial ideas and language some may find provocative.”

Is "Tom Sawyer" too "provocative" for sixth graders?

Is “Tom Sawyer” too “provocative” for sixth graders?

Children shouldn’t be subjected to “provocative language” in sixth grade, Rickert believes. In addition, sixth graders won’t be able to understand these readings because they don’t study the history till seventh or eighth grade.

Some readings will be at the eleventh-grade level. Presumably that’s to challenge the very good readers. Rickert sees it as a plot to humiliate everyone else.

I read, and loved, Tom Sawyer in elementary school.  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn made a big impression on me when I was in sixth grade. I also read lots of U.S. history and historical novels, so I had the context to understand what I was reading.

Piaget is not a reliable guide to what children can learn, writes cognitive scientist Dan Willingham in a critique of the “developmentally appropriate” concept.

Kindergarten reading: Is it bad for kids?

Teaching reading in kindergarten could be harmful to kids who aren’t ready, argues a new report by Defending the Early Years and Alliance for Childhood. Furthermore, there’s no advantage in learning early, the writers argue.

Common Core State Standards call for children to “read emergent-reader texts with purpose and understanding”  by the end of kindergarten. That pressures kindergarten (and some preschool) teachers to use “inappropriate” teaching methods instead of “the active, play-based, experiential learning that we know children need.”

In my day, kids were introduced to Dick, Jane and Sally in first grade. Parents were told not to teach their kids to read earlier, lest they “do it wrong.” (My sister taught me when I was in kindergarten and she was in first grade.)

These days, what used to be the first-grade curriculum is taught in kindergarten and first grade has turned into second grade. That’s great for some kids, not so great for others.

So, teaching reading is important?

Fourteen states require would-be elementary teachers to “demonstrate knowledge of the science of reading instruction on a stand-alone assessment” before getting a license to teach, according to Trends in Teacher Certification from Education Commission of the States.

That means 36 states license elementary school teachers without making them prove they can teach kids to read, writes Robert Pondiscio. Or, if they’re assessed on reading, it’s mixed in with other subjects.

Apparently, making sure elementary teachers can teach reading is a trend.

“Rather than relying entirely on interventions for struggling readers, some states have begun to emphasize the need for all elementary school teachers to possess the necessary skills to effectively teach reading,” the report notes (wait, they’ve just begun doing this?). Access to highly qualified teachers “provides students with the equivalent of a constant specialist” (you mean a teacher?) thereby “ensuring that struggling readers are identified and supported as quickly as possible” (but…but…hasn’t that always been, like, the most important part of the job!?).

Perhaps the kids are supposed to teach themselves to read.

Blacks, Hispanics gain in reading, math

Black and Hispanic students are improving in reading and math on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams, writes Mikhail Zinshteyn on FiveThirtyEight.

“Overall, scores for 9-year-olds taking the reading assessment grew by 11 points between 1975 and 2012,” he writes. “The scores for black and Hispanic students each rose by 25 points in that same period”

While scores for white 13-year-olds increased by less than 10 points in reading, scores for blacks and Hispanics grew by 21 and 17 points, respectively.

White 17-year-olds gained no more than two points between 1975 and 2012, while scores for black and Hispanic students grew by more than 20 points.

Math shows the same pattern. Gains for black and Hispanic students were much greater than average at each age level.

Among 13-year-olds, math scores for white students increased by 21 points, while results for blacks and Hispanics increased by 34 points and 33 points, respectively.

Seventeen-year-old gained six points overall between 1978 and 2012.  Scores for black and Hispanic students increased by 20 and 18 points, respectively.

Blacks and Hispanics remain behind and they make a larger share of enrollment, so the average score doesn’t look all that good, concludes Zinshteyn.

It’s not your dad’s math teaching

Any parent who opposes Common Core standards is saying, in effect, “‘I do not want my child prepared for life in the Twenty-First Century’,” writes Keith Devlin, a Stanford mathematician. They don’t realize how much educational needs have changed in the last 30 years, he argues.

Fortune 500 executives were asked for the most valued skills in a new hire in 1970 and again in 1999, notes Linda Darling-Hammond in a 2013 paper, Devlin writes.

Writing, the top skill in 1970, dropped to 10th place, while skills two and three, computation and reading, didn’t even make the top 10 in 1999.

Teamwork rose from number 10 to first place. The other two skills at the top, problem solving and interpersonal skills, weren’t listed in 1970.

Common Core math standards, which include “make sense of problems and persevere in solving them,” align with those 21st-century skills, writes Devlin. Today’s children “need a very different kind of education: one based on understanding rather then procedural mastery, and on exploration rather than instruction,” he concludes.

Even in my day, when we were trying to beat “Ivan,” people wanted kids to understand math. If Core math leads to deeper understanding, rather than dizzier confusion, parents will climb on board.

Still, I doubt that 21st-century employers really want to hire people with weak literacy and math skills, as long as they’re team players with pleasant personalities. As for “problem solving,” I agree with a comment by Ellie K:

Employees who can’t read, write or “compute,” i.e. know arithmetic, geometry and algebra, aren’t going to be able to solve problems, contribute as members of teams in collaborative settings nor communicate effectively.

In a 2014 Linked-In survey, employers rated problem-solving skills and being a good learner as the two most important skills for a new hire, reports Business News Daily. Employers also value strong analytical and communications skills, but speaking well is more important than writing. “Only 6 percent of employers said they’re looking for strong mathematical and statistical skills.”

Employers also want workers who can collaborate effectively and work hard.

Via Laura Waters on Education Post.


Updating the Magic School Bus

Has The Magic School Bus reached the end of the road? asks Alexandra Ossola in The Atlantic. After all, the popular science series requires kids to read.  That’s so 20th century.

I recently came across a copy of a relic from my childhood: The Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body. In it, Ms. Frizzle, the “strangest teacher in the school,” shrinks down her class (and their bus) so they can travel through the human body. They see the digestive system hard at work, blood cells up close, and muscles in action, with quips from characters in the comic book format.

School Bus, which debuted in the mid-1980s, made it to video in the ’90s.

Despite the shift to digital devices, “the heart of science communication still hinges on narrative,” argues Ossola. But the story may be told through video games, movies and websites.

Girls in particular are captivated by stories, including those that involve science. . . . By integrating STEM and narrative literature, educators hope that more girls will stick in those fields.

This year, I gave GoldieBlox engineering kits to my six-year-old niece and five-year-old step-granddaughter. Each kit comes with a story about how Goldie and her friends design and build something to solve a problem.


Stanford player promotes reading

Wayne Lyons will read the quarterback when he covers pass receivers for the Stanford Cardinal in Tuesday’s Foster Farms Bowl. He’s into reading, reports Elliott Almond for the San Jose Mercury News.  A Fort Lauderdale native, the 22-year-old architectural design major started a virtual book club to encourage his high school friends and team mates to read.

Stanford football safety Wayne Lyons, photographed in the Stanford Business Library, started a book club to keep his high school team mates eligible. (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group)

Stanford football safety Wayne Lyons, photographed in the Stanford Business Library, started a book club to keep his high school team mates eligible. (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group)

Lyons believed 20 minutes a day of reading would help classmates build knowledge that would make them better students — and eligible to play football.

He encouraged students to read and write about their book in a text or on Facebook.

An honors student and class president at Dillard High, Lyons took community college classes in high school and became class valedictorian.

His friend and teammate Wilkervens Tamar, who’d left middle school with a 1.0 grade-point average, graduated No. 3 in his class, earned a Bill Gates Millennium scholarship and attends Georgia Tech.

After seeing how excited some of his classmates got about reading, Lyons expanded the project to reach younger students with a mentoring program he called P.A.R.T.Y. — Pick Up Anything and Read To Yourself. He also matched upperclassmen with middle school kids so the younger ones would know what to expect upon entering Dillard.

Lyons once told his mother, “I feel bad for a lot of these kids. They don’t have study habits. They’re doomed before they even get into high school. I’ve got to get them reading, because that’s the start.”

His mother, Gwen Bush, a computer science teacher, taught her children to read fluently before they started kindergarten.

Lyons plans to graduate in June, but has another season of academic eligibility. He may return to Stanford or go on to the NFL.

‘The world needs books!’

“The world needs books!,” declares Madison Reid, an eight-year-old Cleveland girl. Just as a car can’t go without gas, “our brains can’t go without books.” The third grader was interviewed at an event for Little Free Library, which provides books for people to read and exchange.