The dyslexia distraction

The dyslexia distraction

In discussions about reading instruction, a commonly raised point is that students with reading disabilities—particularly dyslexia—suffer disproportionately when deprived of systematic instruction in phonics. In fact, this is virtually impossible to dispute—whereas many students in whole language classrooms do manage to figure out enough of the rules to become reasonably proficient readers, students who cannot make sense out of word/sound relationships have no way of keeping up. And if their difficulties are not noticed in time, or they lack access to competent reading specialists, either through their schools or privately, the consequences can indeed be extremely dire. (The percent of prison inmates with reading disabilities is, for example, astronomical.)

I’m saying this upfront because I do not want in any way to minimize the difficulties faced by these students and their parents. But what I’m interested in examining here is how some of the rhetoric surrounding reading pedagogy operates—how concepts like “normal” and “abnormal” are defined and how, in some cases, the recognition of the importance of phonics for students with reading disabilities like dyslexia can become a tool for reinforcing naturalistic ideas about reading. (more…)

Statement on ed-tech

Statement on ed-tech

I’ve been stunned by the reaction my previous post, “Unbalanced Literacy,” has generated (a couple of people have informed that I’m all over Twitter, a platform from which I remain willfully absent—let’s just say that pithy isn’t really my thing); had I known that the debate over phonics was still capable of generating such passion, I would have written something about it a long time ago! The piece took me hours and hours to write, and I’m gratified that it’s gotten such a great response.

That said, in light of some of the queries/interview requests I’ve received, I’d like to follow up on one of the points I made in the original piece, namely the fact that some teachers are suspicious of the push for increased phonics because they believe it represents an attempt by the ed-tech industry to exploit students for financial gain—essentially, that phonics will be marketed as the One Great Solution to magically boost reading scores, and that it will be used as an excuse to create all sorts of highly profitable apps and programs that can be marketed to school districts. (more…)

Unbalanced literacy

Unbalanced literacy

Over the last year or so, an education reporter named Emily Hanford has published a series of exceedingly important articles about the state of phonics instruction (or rather the lack thereof) in American schools. The most in-depth piece appeared on the American Public Media project website, but what are effectively condensed versions of it have also run on NPR and the NY Times op-ed page.

If you have any interest in how reading gets taught, I highly recommend taking the time for the full-length piece in APM: it’s eye-opening and fairly disquieting. While it reiterates a number of important findings regarding the importance of phonics, its originality lies in the fact that Hanford takes on the uneasy truce between phonics and whole language that supposedly put an end to the reading wars of the 1980s and ‘90s, and points out that so-called “balanced literacy” programs often exist in name only.

In principle, this approach recognizes that both development of sound-letter relationships and consistent exposure to high-quality literature are necessary ingredients in helping students become proficient readers. What Hanford does, however, is expose just how vast a chasm exists between theory and reality. In many schools, phonics is largely neglected, or even ignored entirely, while discredited and ineffective whole-language approaches continue to dominate. (more…)

Interview with a tutor: Andrea Kay McFarland (Kay Tutoring)

Interview with a tutor: Andrea Kay McFarland (Kay Tutoring)

Bio

Andrea Kay McFarland is the president and founder of Kay Tutoring. She attended Yale for her B.A. in History and graduated in 2005. A Minnesota native, she also has a Master’s in Education from the University of Minnesota. Starting out as a volunteer, Andrea discovered her passion for education and tutoring in 2000. Her professional tutoring career began in 2006, when she began providing formal academic and test prep services.

While she is incredibly invested in helping her students achieve academic success, Andrea and her tutors strive to make personal connections with all of their students via their interests, realizing that each one is more than just a letter grade or a test score.As an interviewer for Yale University, Andrea has also seen the other side of the college application process and is able to bring her wealth of experience to helping students prepare for interviews and write standout admissions essays.

Andrea lives with her husband, daughter and dog in Plymouth, Minnesota. She named Kay Tutoring after her maiden name, “Kay.”

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Interview with a tutor: Vince Kotchian

Interview with a tutor: Vince Kotchian

Vince Kotchian grew up in small-town Connecticut and completed the honors program at Boston College, graduating with a B.A. in English Literature. Though he loved the intellectual climate of Boston, it eventually dawned on him that life would be much better without Boston’s physical climate (long, gray winters and muggy summers)! He moved to San Diego in 2007, and he’s been working full-time as a test-prep tutor and author ever since. When a student texts him that she aced the test or got into her reach school, he still literally jumps up and down and grins.

In his spare time, he likes traveling using miles and points (next trips are Spain and Japan), reading fiction (favorite authors too numerous to list but include Haruki Murakami, Karl Ove Knausgaard, and Philip Pullman), watching The Great British Bake-Off (and sometimes actually baking things), hiking and camping, and rooting for the Red Sox and Patriots. He lives in the Kensington neighborhood with his hilarious wife and their crazy cat.

Vince tutors the SAT, ACT, and GRE (and teaches classes). 

He meets with students in his Sorrento Valley office or online.

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Why is the rSAT verbal benchmark so much lower than the math?

Why is the rSAT verbal benchmark so much lower than the math?

Image credit: Essayontime.com.au

The SAT and ACT have released their scores for the class of 2018, accompanied by the predictable wailing and gnashing of teeth about persistently low levels of STEM achievement.

As Nick Anderson of the Washington Post reports:

Forty-nine percent of students in this year’s graduating class who took the SAT received a math score indicating they had a strong chance [75%] of earning at least a C in a college-level math class, according to data made public Thursday. That was significantly lower than on the reading and writing portion of the tests: 70 percent of SAT-takers reached a similar benchmark in that area.

What the article quite remarkably fails to mention is that the benchmark verbal score, 480, is a full 50 points lower than that for math. Given the discrepancy, it is entirely unsurprising that fewer students met the benchmark in math.

Let’s try some basic — and I do mean basic — critical thinking with statistics, shall we?

To understand what a 480 verbal score on the redesigned SAT actually means, consider that it translates into about 430 on the pre-2016 exam, which in turn translates into about a 350 (!) on the pre-1995 SAT.

This is not “college ready” in any meaningful sense of the term. In my experience, students scoring in this range typically struggle to do things such as identify when a statement is a sentence, or grasp the concept that texts are making arguments as opposed to “just saying stuff.” But to reiterate one of my favorite points, this is in part why the SAT was changed: the decline in reading/writing scores was becoming embarrassing. And if you can’t change the students, the only other option is to change the test, and the scoring system along with it. (more…)