Give the Gift of Reading

Just in time for the holidays, the International Reading Association has recently published their annual Teacher’s Choice list of new children’s books for 2010.  Teacher’s Choice selections are titles that students enjoy and that encourage children to read.  The list includes a number of popular titles – many of which can be found through Lexile Find a Book - including, Finding Lincoln (AD650L), Listen to the Wind (AD740L), Peace Week in Miss Fox’s Class (AD480L), Neo Leo (AD930L), and The Day of the Pelican (770L).  Be sure to take a look. You may even want to consider one of these titles as a gift for a young reader this holiday season.

Creating a Mathematics Environment

Over at Math Hub, Jennifer Chintala, in Top 10 Ways to Strengthen Classroom Math Instruction,offers some strong tips for math educators.   Building on Chintala’s piece, I would go a step farther and add a short addendum to her first suggestion: Create a mathematics environment

An important strategy in strengthening mathematics instruction is establishing an environment where students are comfortable asking questions, undaunted by problem-solving activities, and secure in the belief that even some mistakes may have some redeeming instructional value.  A mathematics classroom should be non-threatening to all students. Their interaction and discussion about problem solving methods may often reveal alternative creative processes, processes and methods that may yield correct conclusions.  Alternative methods of solving problems offer opportunities for large-group or small-group discussions as to why certain methods work and others don’t.  Such dialogue is important for students to develop their understanding of numeracy, patterns, logic, and spatial reasoning.

In the same way that  adults learn through mistakes, students discover important facts through trial and error and discussion.  A mathematics educator that provides students with time for reflection on arithmetic processes and patterns in logic and geometry will create a mathematics classroom environment that improves mathematics vocabulary and stimulates interest in real problem-solving activities.  That’s what makes learning mathematics fun!

Essays on Demand: The Desperation of the Unprepared

Here’s The Chronicle of Higher Education offering an appalling view into the seedier side of post-secondary education.  In The Shadow Scholar, academic mercenary, Ed Dante (a pseudonym), chronicles his experience as a ghost-writer for hire.  Dante works for a custom-essay company, an organization birthed from the deficiencies of students ill-prepared for the academic rigors of university life and dedicated to churning out essays for students to pass off as their own:

 The request came in by e-mail around 2 in the afternoon. It was from a previous customer, and she had urgent business. I quote her message here verbatim (if I had to put up with it, so should you): “You did me business ethics propsal for me I need propsal got approved pls can you will write me paper?”

I’ve gotten pretty good at interpreting this kind of correspondence. The client had attached a document from her professor with details about the paper. She needed the first section in a week. Seventy-five pages.

I told her no problem.

It truly was no problem. In the past year, I’ve written roughly 5,000 pages of scholarly literature, most on very tight deadlines. But you won’t find my name on a single paper.

There’s no gray area here.  Even the most adept sophist would be hard-pressed to dress this practice up  as anything other than plagiarism - a practice we’d prefer to view as a rare mistep  by the desperate few.  That might be a mistake.  Dante argues that the practice of paying others to produce essays is far more pervasive than most would like to believe.  And it’s not constrained to a particular discipline or department.  Moral ambivalence, apparently, goes all the way down.  Unable, or unwilling, to produce even marginally competent work has led both graduates and undergraduates alike to enlist the help of writers, like Dante, to churn out thoughtful work that they can turn in as their own.  And, as Dante writes, there’s no pattern to the customer base.  The clientele is just as varied as the topics on which they refuse to write: (more…)

The Latest in Digital Content News

Libraries around the country continue to struggle to meet the needs of patrons through the expanded use of technology.  That struggle just got a bit harder.  In recent news, many publishing houses are now placing restrictions on the lending of e-books to library patrons. In the past, we’ve commented on public libraries that are now offering e-book downloads to patrons using their library account.  Unfortunately, at a recent library conference, it was announced that major trade publishers have agreed to offer their e-book content for lending – but with restrictions. These restrictions limit the means by which patrons may access online content, in many cases requiring a patron to be on-site in order to download e-book material.  Additionally, availability is severely limited and some publishers are now requiring that only one copy may be checked out at a time. We’ve seen this before.  This type of enforcement is similar to the type of restrictions in place for music and movie sharing.

Not all publishers, however, are on board. Several will continue to provide access to their e-books without these types of controls. According to Springer-Verlag (an international publisher in science and technology):

“Libraries buy direct from us and they own the content,” says the publisher’s director of channel marketing George Scotti. “Once users download content, they can give it out, share, whatever. They own it. Some of our competitors are afraid to do this, but we say, free the content.”

That’s good to hear.  As the article states, library systems make up only about 4% of book sales.  It’s, therefore, unlikely that the lending of e-content would have a significant impact on the publishing industry.

In  related digital news, it was recently announced that U.S. News and World Report will discontinue its monthly print publication to move entirely to a digital model. The last print issue will publish in December. This is a major milestone.  U.S. News & World Report dates back to 1948.  The shift to all digital content signals major changes in the publishing industry – primarily in the dominant way in which we access and engage content.  It’s likely that other publications may soon follow suit- abandoning print altogether, and opting for a more flexible  and efficient digital model.

Beginning in 2011, readers can find the magazine electronically, on their iPad or Android-based devices – perhaps even lent to you in e-form through your local library.

Competing Globally Starts Locally

In this December’s issue of The Atlantic, Amanda Ripley highlights a recent study which ranks students around the world “…using scores on standardized math tests as a proxy for educational achievement.”  While we’ve mentioned similar studies in the past, Stanford economist Eric Hanushek and colleagues have gone a step further by disaggregating the U.S. into individual states in order to compare the educational rankings of other countries to single states.  By treating each state as an independent country, the study shifts the focus to locating centers and regions of excellence around the U.S., rather than just accepting a national average.

This idea being that by comparing achievement in individual states, the international ranking of the U.S. (at least at a state level) might move up the scale.  Unfortunately, as Ripley reports:

Even if we treat each state as its own country, not a single one makes it into the top dozen contenders on the list.  The best performer is Massachusetts, ringing in at No. 17.

While this news is less than what was hoped for, it does offer the rest of the nation an exemplar.  If Massachusetts is clearly our nation’s front runner when measuring aptitude on standardized math tests, a closer study of the state’s recent reforms may allow us to glean some helpful pointers.

[In the last decade] Massachusetts…began demanding meaningful outcomes from everyone in the school building.

…More states are finally beginning to follow the lead of Massachusetts.  At least 35 states and the District of Columbia agreed this year to adopt common standards for what kids should know in math and language arts.

This is encouraging news.  With many states now adopting the Common Core State Standards, students will be held accountable for a shared set of standards, regardless of what state they happen to call home.  The focus on shared standards will allow each state to shift the focus to what it means to compete on a global scale.  Although the United States may still have a substantial amount of ground to cover, relative to other nations, emulating the effective practices that have worked so well for our most successful states is a certainly a step in the right direction.

Read the whole article to learn more about key reforms Massachusetts has made over the past decade.

Self-Selecting with The Lexile Framework for Reading

Here’s an encouraging story on how Stamford Public Schools in Connecticut are using The Lexile Framework for Reading to allow more choice during student reading time:

The Stamford Public Schools district is using a new model for literacy at the elementary school level. The curriculum is unique to the district. It is based on the America’s Choice model, according to Laura Lynam, the teacher in 256 who also served as a member of the elementary literacy curriculum committee.

In this new system, students have more choices than in previous years. Each student in 256 gets to pick a “just right” book to read during reader’s workshop time. These books are organized into blue bins according to their lexile level; blue-bin books in Lynam’s room run the gamut between the 350 level and 1,000…

There’s plentiful research on both the positive effects of self-selection in allowing students to select their own reading material as well as matching students to texts targeted at their reading level.  Stamford Public Schools are putting that research into practice and it appears to be paying dividends:

Before this year, students would read specific books during assigned reading times rather than plucking one from the bin. This new choice has boosted enthusiasm, Lynam said.

“They’re actively engaged,” she said.

Typically, students read their blue-bin books for about 20 minutes a day.

“If they could, they’d read for 40,” Lynam said with a laugh as she stood near her desk. David Torreswas sitting in Lynam’s seat with a book flat on her desk, reading comfortably. Other kids were strewn about the room, curled beneath the easel or against a pillow, books in hand.

While reading and writing workshops each have hour-long time slots each day, literacy takes up more than 120 minutes of the school day. The kids also fit in small windows of time during which they are allowed the read their second, “just for fun” book, which can be from any lexile level.

Good luck getting the 256 kids to put those books down quietly.

“All right friends, put your books away,” Lynam said after a few minutes of just-right reading in the afternoon as the clock indicated it was time for science.

A massive moan erupted from 20 mouths: “Noooooooooooooooooooooo.”

It’s good to see the Lexile Framework being used to engender such a strong love of reading among young students.

Writers and Literary Critics Weigh In On Text Complexity

A recent Education Week article (subscription required) cites a newly released report by the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers , which found a disturbing absence of classic literary texts in use in high schools across the country.  Instead, researchers found a hodgepodge of literary works reflecting the idiosyncratic preferences of teachers rather than a standard canon of literary classics.  More worrisome still, researchers found that the text demand of reading assignments does not appear to increase as students move  from grade to grade. 

Researchers also found a troubling tendency toward nonanalytical methods of dealing with texts:

In honors courses, it says, teachers are more likely to teach students to use a non-analytical approach to assigned reading – asking them, for example, to draft a personal response to what they read – than to engage students in a close, analytical, reading of texts.

That’s a problem, the report concludes, because “an underuse of analytical reading to understand nonfiction and a stress on personal experience or historical context to understand either an imaginative or a nonfiction text may be contributing to the high remediation rates in post-secondary English and reading courses.”

The report goes on to suggest a number of solutions.  In particular, the ALSCW recommends that state standards should be written so that reading assignments get progressively harder as students advance from grade to grade.  We’ve written much on the Common Core State Standards Initiative and the benefit of reading standards that stretch student ability to handle increasingly difficulty levels of text, as well as the importance of exposing students to a steady diet of nonfiction and informational texts.  Let’s hope some of the suggestions of this report find their way into practice.

Education Evolves: Technology Transforms the Classroom

It goes without saying that the Internet has exerted a tremendous influence on today’s classrooms.  Even the way students receive their curriculum, for example, has undergone significant transformation. Here’s Harold Pollard discussing the alternative styles of teaching and learning his children encounter on a daily basis:

The way he is learning math is a lot different than the way I did. It’s interactive, entertaining, and it’s a competition. The course is online, available whenever and wherever, and it allows him to compete with his classmates, his schoolmates, and other schools nationwide.

Here at MetaMetrics®we’re making use of technology and working to provide teachers and parents with useful, interactive tools that help support instruction.  Lexile Find a Book, for example, allows educators and students to select books at their current Lexile reading level, and to further refine their results based on their areas of interest.  This online tool allows parents and students to create customized reading lists year round.  Find a Book then allows parents and educators to cross reference these customized reading lists with public library catalogs – making reading material available across all socio-economic levels.  Pollard, in fact, references his own use of the Find a Book site. He uses this tool to find reading material suitable and challenging for his sons:

The boys are also able to determine books based on their reading levels. Their teachers know the boys’ reading levels based on assessment tests administered online at school. Then, using an online guide at the Lexile Framework for Reading at Lexile.com, their teachers can recommend books for the boys based on that. Additionally, this same online guide allows my wife and me to determine whether certain titles are appropriate for the boys’ reading levels.

Pollard, like many parents these days, see the value and opportunity present in this increasingly digital age.  Our students have more access to information than ever before. To read more about the work MetaMetrics® is doing to be a part of this evolution, visit us at Lexile.com and Quantiles.com.

And Then There Were Thirty-Nine

As the National Governors Association is reporting, thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia have now adopted the Common Core State Standards.  Those states include: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, U.S. Virgin Islands, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

Click here and here for more information on the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

The Stiff Penalties of Illiteracy

Here’s David Fowler making a good case for the importance of reading ability in the post-secondary world.  Fowler worries that voters may sometimes lack the literacy skills to be aware of what exactly they’re voting for or against:

After explaining that the reading of Amendment 8 was one of those tricky ones that you had to read closely, we laughed about their error. Yet, I began to think about this as a larger concern for our community. How many others who voted faced the same dilemma? Was it that they simply did not read it, or more importantly, that they did not comprehend the paragraph as written?

As Fowler explains, Amendment 8 is written at a Lexile level of 1340L – at about the same level as a university textbook.  Given that 45% of the citizens in Fowler’s county have only a high school diploma or less, Fowler worries that many of the voters may have simply lacked the basic literacy skills to comprehend what they were reading.

His point is worth considering.  Over the last fifty years, the text complexity levels of college and career materials have continued to rise, while the complexity levels of many secondary textbooks have declined.  If students are graduating accustomed to reading texts around 1100L, they face obvious challenges when confronted with texts, in the post-secondary world, that are significantly higher than what they have been reading. 

In an increasingly global environment, this alarming lack of preparedness translates into reduced educational, social and economic opportunities – not the least of which is the inability to comprehend ballot measures and the language of the voting booth.

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.