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…)
When it comes to talking about improving students’ reading, one of the factors that makes having a coherent conversation so challenging is that the word “reading” itself has two meanings: it can refer to decoding—that is, the literal process of matching squiggles on a page to their corresponding sounds in the English language—or it can refer to the much more sophisticated process of comprehension, which is also dependent on things like vocabulary, ability to navigate various types of syntax, and background knowledge. Although the same word is used to describe both of these abilities, the first meaning does not necessarily imply the second.
And as if that weren’t already complicated enough, there’s yet another factor that is often overlooked: listening. (more…)
The College Board has announced that beginning January 1, 2017, students who receive accommodations in school will automatically receive equivalent accommodations for all College Board exams (PSAT, SAT, SAT II, AP).
According to the Washington Post:
Early this year, as more states began to adopt the SAT or the ACT as a required test for high school students to take, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division began to look into complaints that the testing organizations were too stingy with accommodations to eligible students, Education Week reported.
In a new statement, David Coleman, president and chief executive of the College Board, said: “Educators, students, and families have asked us to simplify our process, and we’ve listened. The school staff knows their students best, and we want to cut down on the time and paperwork needed to submit a testing accommodations request.” (more…)
As a tutor, I observed a striking phenomenon: despite the pressure to boost students’ confidence levels, I noticed that the amount of confidence my students exhibited often had an inverse relationship to their amount of knowledge.
My highest scorers were moderately confident but also very aware of their weaknesses, whereas my persistently low scorers tended to overestimate their abilities, sometimes dramatically so. (True story: the only student who ever told me he was going to answer every question right on the SAT was scoring in the high 300s-400s.)
As for students who started off lower and raised their scores significantly, they almost always experienced a watershed moment in which they realized that the test was actually hard and that they were going to have to put more in to get the results they wanted. As their knowledge increased and they were able to more effectively self-assess – that is, to more accurately recognize what they didn’t know – their confidence was shaken. But notably, their performance continued to improve.
It turns out that all this is actually an established phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger effect; and as I’ve come to realize, it applies to teaching as well. Regardless of how well novice teachers know their subject, they don’t know what they don’t know about teaching.
While looking for models for the little sendup of progressive education that I posted recently, I came across a New York Times op-ed piece entitled “What Babies Know About Physics and Foreign Languages.” As the title and tag line (“Our kids don’t need to be taught in order to learn”) suggest, the piece is a pitch-perfect paean to the progressive ethos, touting the benefits of allowing preschoolers to learn “naturally,” through imitation.
While preschoolers can of course acquire many important skills this way, my immediate response to the article was to wonder how quickly Gopnik’s assertions about the benefits of natural learning for four year-olds would be misappropriated as an endorsement for treating higher levels of education this way.
As it turned out, I got my answer pretty quickly. (more…)
Just imagine if people talked about sports the same way they talk about education…
In the nineteenth century, when modern sports were invented, athletics served as an extension of the factories in which many of their players worked, reinforcing hierarchies and training athletes to be obedient and “play by the rules.” Today’s sports leagues are heirs to that model. Unsurprisingly, for many athletes, playing a sport has become a source of stress rather than one of joy.
Nothing could be more natural than the desire to run and play, but this inborn tendency is all too frequently destroyed by a system that emphasizes rote drilling of individual skills at the expense of more authentic forms of participation.
A new, more progressive model is clearly required, one that harnesses players’ innate love of games and movement, and that places players rather than sports at the center of the athletic process. (more…)