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Monday
Mar282016

Soft bigotry of low expectations in reading

In contrast, Kim (2004) estimated that just reading five books over the summer results in a gain of about three percentiles, about the same as the huge investment required by Read 180. Stephen Krashen

I was struck once again when reading Scholastic's School Libraries Work, 2016 Edition just how unjust reading instruction can be in too many schools. In study after study, quality library programs lead by progressive librarians build reading skills by getting kids to read. This is not exactly news. One of my heroes, Stephen Krashen, has been linking free voluntary reading to improved reading scores since the early 90s.

So when schools start to spend vast sums of money on computerized reading "systems" and under fund school libraries and cut professional library staff, I worry. Do these expensive "read the text on the screen, take the quiz, advance to the next level" programs improve test scores? Results are mixed. But let's assume that programs like Read 180 provide effective intervention for struggling readers and really do improve reading abilities as measure on state tests. Fantastic - we as educators can now say "job well done" and pat ourselves on the back.

If simply the ability to read is the ultimate goal of our schools.

Personally, making reading ability not reading attitude the sole measure of success for students is the very definition of "soft bigotry of low expectations." As Mark Twain once observed, "The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them." My goal as a librarian and teacher has always been to create "life-long critical readers." Citizens who not only can read, but do read.

  • Out of love of the act.
  • Out of a need to know the truth.
  • Out of the need to view the world through the eyes and souls of others.
  • Out of the need to be changed by what one reads.

Do we spend so much time getting students, especially struggling readers, to pass tests that we actually kill their enjoyment of reading? Solving illiteracy but creating masses of the alliterate.

Think twice before you put a child in front a computer to learn how to read instead putting that child in the hands of a caring librarian who uses just the right book.

Friday
Mar252016

Procrastination - is there a cure?

Squirrel!
       Dug the Dog

If you're wondering why one might need this app [Stop Procrastinating] or apps like it, ask yourself the following questions: How often do you browse the web or use social media while in a meeting? How often do you use it on the toilet? Is getting on the internet the first and last thing you do everyday? Do you often lose track of conversations because you were distracted by the tiny screen in front of you? The Digital Reader, March 22, 2016

It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about? Henry David Thoreau

This blog has been pretty quiet for the last couple weeks. Busy time at work, packing and moving a household, spring-like weather - pick your excuse. That's pretty much what they are - excuses - a list of things I want to/need to/must do instead of jotting down idle ramblings.

I have to admit, however, that continuous and ubiquitous Internet access has increasingly exacerbated my natural tendency to procrastinate. The e-mail/Facebook/Twitter/feedreader/Zinio/et al checks take great bites from not just my writing time, but my book reading time as well.

One reason that I have taken "writing weeks" in the past is that they allow me to simply focus on my book writing without distraction. I am beginning to think I need to block out "writing hours" each day as well.

Any suggestions on how to eliminate the "squirrel" quality of the Internet and actually get work accomplished?

Monday
Mar142016

Numeracy, not math. Another rant.

HERE’S an apparent paradox: Most Americans have taken high school mathematics, including geometry and algebra, yet a national survey found that 82 percent of adults could not compute the cost of a carpet when told its dimensions and square-yard price. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recently tested adults in 24 countries on basic “numeracy” skills. Typical questions involved odometer readings and produce sell-by tags. The United States ended an embarrassing 22nd, behind Estonia and Cyprus. We should be doing better. Is more mathematics the answer? Andrew Hacker (quoted by Larry Cuban) in "The Wrong Way to Teach Math"

Any long time readers of the Blue Skunk know that ranting about mathematics instructions is a common theme of this blog. For example see:

The current political debates have reinforced my despair over numeracy having any impact on the direction our country heads in its economic policy. General diatribes about the 1% (uber rich), the 47% (takers), and 50% (deadbeats) make it easy to understand why one of our candidates loves the "uneducated."

But is the general population undeducated or miseducated?

In our data-loving culture, especially schools, I often find numeracy in short supply. For me an important aspect of numeracy is understanding the context in which the numbers are placed.In a report to the school board last week, we shared the following graph about how our LMS is being used in its first year of implementation.

Personally, I (and I think the board) found the numbers impressive. This program IS being used - and its use seems to be growing. But I have little context for these numbers. How do we compare to other districts? What is being done on the visits?  What percent of possible users does this represent?

I've long encouraged librarians to add context to numbers. In an old column, Demonstrating Our Impact - Putting Numbers in Context Part 2 March 2007, I advised:

Context and Focus Numbers alone, of course, mean little. They need to be interpreted and placed in some type of meaningful context. Context can be achieved by setting and meeting goals and by looking at numbers in a historical context. Look, for example, at how each statement gets more powerful:

  • 28 teachers participated in collaborative units (Is this good or bad?)

  • 78% of teachers in the building participated in collaborative units (This tells me more.)

  • 78% of teachers, up from 62% of teachers last year, participated in collaborative teaching units. (This shows a program that is getting stronger.)

In light of NCLB’s focus on the achievement of subgroups within a school, data that relate specifically to target populations may be more powerful than that which applies to the entire school population. While numbers showing that book circulation has grown by x% this year is good to report, numbers that show book checkout by the building’s ELL (English Language Learners) has increased by x% is probably of more interest to your administration.

Numeracy, not math.

Or you'll never know who your next president might be.