Targeting for Success in Math

Over at Scholastic’s Math Hub, Carolyn Kaemmer has an interesting interview with Harvard psychologist,  Dr. Jon Star on conceptual understanding in math.  In the interview, Dr. Star tackles the controversial distinction between ‘knowing versus doing’ in mathematics, e.g. does the math student really understand what they’re doing or just following a process.  Star argues that a student’s math performance can, in fact, be determined through various modes of assessment, including multiple choice tests, though he qualifies his argument with the requirement that the assessment prompts need to be carefully designed.

The Quantile Framework is directly relevant here.  Unfortunately, assessments often fail to inform classroom teachers of their students needs or of their progress in mathematical development.  When summative assessments offer a Quantile measure for the test-taker, however, the teacher has information that is instructionally actionable.  The Quantile Framework for Mathematics helps the educator to determine the material that various students in the classroom are ready to learn when the Quantile measure of the student closely matches the Quantile measure of the skill or concept. When such a match occurs, students will perform more successfully and develop more confidence in their mathematics ability. (more…)

Differentiating Math Instruction

Scholastic’s Math Hub has a great post on using the Quantile Framework to differentiate math instruction.  Utilizing the Quantile Framework allows teachers to identify prerequisite math skills that students may need in order to be successful with a new math skill or concept and to then target students at the appropriate level:

The Quantile Framework measures student mathematical ability, the curriculum and teaching materials on the same developmental scale. Quantile measures help teachers determine which skills and concepts a student is ready to learn and those that will require more instruction. Educators can then use this information to better focus instruction to incorporate the necessary prerequisite skills that may be missing and accurately forecast understanding.

Math Hub does a nice job of summarizing the purpose of the benefits of the Quantile Framework.  Take a look.

For the Students, By the Students

As the Gainesville Times reports, Georgia’s new State Schools Superintendent, Brad Bryant, is looking for advice on how to increase graduation rates – from the students.  In keeping with Superintendent Kathy Cox’s tradition, Superintendent Bryant is forming a council.  High schoolers from all districts in Georgia can apply to the Student Advisory Council which meets three times a year to exchange suggestions and ideas.  Bryant believes “it is important to take the feedback of these students into account as we make statewide policy decisions that affect their futures and prepare them for college and career readiness.”

This year the focus is on increasing the graduation rate.  To apply, students have to provide specific suggestions/ideas to improve the graduation rate.  In 2010, Georgia’s graduation rate rose to approximately 80%, up from 63% in 2002.  The goal of the 2010-2011 Student Advisory Council will be to develop a plan to further increase that percentage.

This bottom-up style of communication not only allows for students to exchange ideas and gain knowledge of how other schools within the state do things, it gives them a sense of ownership for the successes of the school system.  We applaud Georgia for its effort to prepare students for the demands of the post-secondary world. g cloud .

Social Networks for Educators

The free social networking site, English Companion Ning, is an invaluable resource for English teachers, librarians, and others interested in adolescent literacy.  The Ning provides forums for teachers to explore topics ranging from finding books and lessons about specific topics to implementing literature circles, using interactive white boards, and reflecting on the possible impact of the Common Core Standards.   Authors of well-respected professional books host book clubs about their publications throughout the year and quarterly webstitutes are planned for 2010-2011.

The English Companion Ning founder, Jim Burke, describes his creation in this way:

…the three guiding principles of the EC Ning are to support each other both personally and professionally, improve our own practice in the classroom and our knowledge about the field, and grow the next generation of leaders by providing opportunities for them to present, write, and otherwise teach their colleagues here and, eventually, through their own books, workshops, and more.

In 2009, the EC Ning won the EduBlog award for best educational use of a social networking service, and has almost 20,000 members.  Members can search the site for titles or topics of interest, download handouts from other teachers, join groups for special interests,  ask burning questions on best practices, or jump right into the conversation.  Click here to learn more.

What’s In a Grade?

It was recently announced that students in New Jersey’s Mount Olive School District will no longer be receiving a letter grade of D.  Instead, the school district has made the decision to simply eliminate D from the grading scale altogether.  Students will receive an A, B, C or F.

As the New York Times writes:

D’s are simply not useful in society,” said Larrie Reynolds, the Mount Olive superintendent, who led the campaign against D’s as a way to raise the bar and motivate students to work harder.  ‘It’s a throwaway grade.  No one wants to hire a D-anything, so why would we have D-students and give them credit for it?’

Not surprisingly, quite a bit of controversy has ensued following this policy change.  However, Mount Olive is not the first school district to eliminate D from the scale.  In fact, it’s difficult to read this story without considering that another letter has been long removed from the grading scale-the letter E.

According to Slate Magazine the letter-grading system has endured its fair share of changes.  These have ranged from 5-point, 7-point and 10-point numerical scales to needing an exact score to achieve certain letter grades.  Some have suggested that the letter E was removed in an effort to avoid the confusion of it standing for ‘excellent’.  Whether the letter D will face the same fate as the letter E on the grading scale remains to be seen.

Mount Olive’s grading scale change is a useful reminder of just how historically contingent grading scales can be. Over the next few years, as the focus shifts from proficiency to college and career readiness, we’re likely to see many more such changes-changes that measure student readiness for life after high school.

Engaging English: Preparing for the Future

For the past 46 years the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) has been used to evaluate “the ability of nonnative English speakers to use and understand the English language as it is heard, spoken, read and written in the university classroom.”  This test is now the standard used by more than 7,500 colleges, universities and agencies in 130 countries.  Many students intending to study in the United States are required to complete this test in order to confirm their ability to function within an English-speaking environment. 

And it’s not just universities.  Some companies are taking the English proficiency requirement a step further.  The Wall Street Journal recently reported (subscription required for full access) that Rakuten, the Japanese rival to, has developed a plan requiring all business to be conducted in English by 2012.  This requirement goes far beyond an expectation of minimal proficiency.  Rakuten’s CEO, Hiroshi Mikitani, is requiring that all employees speak and correspond only in English.     Although the decision is not without controversy, many other Japanese based companies including Sony, Nissan Motor Fast Retailing Co., Mitsubishi Corp., and Nipon Sheet Glass Co. have already implemented similar policies.  (more…)

Reading Across the Content Areas

Rebecca Alber over at Edutopia gets it exactly right in reminding us how important literacy is across the content areas:

Here’s one way to look at it: Content is what we teach, but there is also the how, and this is where literacy instruction comes in. There are an endless number of engaging, effective strategies to get students to think about, write about, read about, and talk about the content you teach. The ultimate goal of literacy instruction is to build a student’s comprehension, writing skills, and overall skills in communication.

Ask yourself, how do I mostly convey the information and knowledge to my students? Do I turn primarily to straight lecture, or teacher talk? Or, do I allow multiple opportunities for students to discover information on their own?

Admittedly, teaching social studies and science is about much more than literacy.  But Alber’s point is that for many content classes the text continues to be the primary medium for conveying information.  And if the text is the principal method, than the complexity of the text  should be a concern for all educators. (more…)

Good Reads

Much has been written on the growing influence of social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn.  These sites have proven to be extremely popular, with sites like Facebook garnering large percentages of all online traffic.  Some have worried about the long-term impact of these social networking sites.  With so much time spent monitoring and updating social networks, what will happen to the amount of time devoted to reading?  With online time devouring increasingly larger chunks of free time – time that presumably could be spent on other tasks – it’s easy to imagine a negative impact on more productive tasks like reading and writing.

But not all sites detract from time spent reading.  Thankfully, there are some social networking sites available that actually emphasize reading.  Sites like GoodReads, for instance, allow users to create a profile, build a ‘library’ of books that they have read, would like to read, or are currently reading.  GoodReads allows users to then connect with other friends – readers who share the same taste in books – and develop book lists and recommendations based on the network they have built.  Users can go on to post reviews, add commentary, join a reading group, and even engage in an online book club.  Over time GoodReads begins to suggest titles based on a user’s preferences. 

If you’re looking for a social networking site that emphasizes reading, be sure to check it out

Expecting More: Increasing Text Complexity

Mark Pennington recently published a great piece on the importance of teaching increasingly complex levels of text to U.S. students.  Taking his cue from the Common Core Standards Initiative, Pennington argues that:

1. Text complexity is the most important variable in reading comprehension.

2. The level of text complexity in the post-secondary world has remained constant or increased over the past fifty years.

3.  The K-12 level of text complexity has decreased over the past fifty years.

The implications are clear: the text demands of college and career are increasing and students may find themselves increasingly unable to handle the text demands of real-world reading. (more…)

Next Generation Search Engines

In Fortune magazine’s July 29th story entitled Google: The search party is over, author Michael V. Copeland with Seth Weintraub chronicles Google’s rise to dominance of the Internet and probes the options for an encore performance.  Said differently, what can Google do to feed the growth engine it created?

The article is full of possibilities but one struck home for me as I read it since it parallels something we are working on to help English language learners improve their reading ability.  The concept is elegantly simple; create a passive search engine that automatically collects all the news, images, videos, blog posts, Twitter feeds and Facebook updates in a single place for your convenience.  Flipboard for the iPad is a great example of this new paradigm.

Now, imagine you are a Chinese high school student learning English and preparing to attend a university in the United States.  Intuitively, you know that reading more results in reading better but where do you start?  Enter the passive search engine concept.  It delivers reading content targeted to your reading ability and your interests directly to your laptop or mobile device every day.  Content would include magazines, newspapers, blogs, websites and e-books.  Periodically, it would mine your reading experiences to determine how much you’ve improved.  Then, it would raise the difficulty of the content it sends so that you’re always perfectly targeted to achieve optimal growth.

Flipboard seems to be at the intersection of search engines and social networking.  However, applying this next generation search engine to education could result in personalized learning platforms similar to the one described above.  To learn more about this new service for English language learners, please see

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