Archive for ‘learning’

April 11, 2014

Are our ‘digital brains’ losing the ability to handle ‘deep reading?

by Grace

Are we “developing digital brains” that are suitable “for skimming through the torrent of information online” but unable to handle “traditional deep reading”?

“I worry that the superficial way we read during the day is affecting us when we have to read with more in-depth processing,” said Maryanne Wolf, a Tufts University cognitive neuroscientist and the author of “Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.”…

Researchers are working to get a clearer sense of the differences between online and print reading — comprehension, for starters, seems better with paper — and are grappling with what these differences could mean not only for enjoying the latest Pat Conroy novel but for understanding difficult material at work and school. There is concern that young children’s affinity and often mastery of their parents’ devices could stunt the development of deep reading skills.

Linear vs. nonlinear reading

Before the Internet, the brain read mostly in linear ways — one page led to the next page, and so on. Sure, there might be pictures mixed in with the text, but there didn’t tend to be many distractions. Reading in print even gave us a remarkable ability to remember where key information was in a book simply by the layout, researchers said. We’d know a protagonist died on the page with the two long paragraphs after the page with all that dialogue.

The Internet is different. With so much information, hyperlinked text, videos alongside words and interactivity everywhere, our brains form shortcuts to deal with it all — scanning, searching for key words, scrolling up and down quickly. This is nonlinear reading, and it has been documented in academic studies. Some researchers believe that for many people, this style of reading is beginning to invade when dealing with other mediums as well.

“We’re spending so much time touching, pushing, linking, scroll­ing and jumping through text that when we sit down with a novel, your daily habits of jumping, clicking, linking is just ingrained in you,” said Andrew Dillon, a University of Texas professor who studies reading. “We’re in this new era of information behavior, and we’re beginning to see the consequences of that.”

The consequences may include a dwindling proficiency in “reading long sentences with multiple, winding clauses”.  Wolf hears from college professors about this problem.

 Several English department chairs from around the country have e-mailed her to say their students are having trouble reading the classics.

“They cannot read ‘Middlemarch.’ They cannot read William James or Henry James,” Wolf said. “I can’t tell you how many people have written to me about this phenomenon. The students no longer will or are perhaps incapable of dealing with the convoluted syntax and construction of George Eliot and Henry James.”

Convoluted prose is not limited to fiction, but also exists in history and science texts.  I am currently reading a text dealing with the tax benefits of college savings options, and it’s replete with convoluted syntax.

… Because of their easy navigability, paper books and documents may be better suited to absorption in a text….

Compared to print, online content lends itself to nonlinear reading.  Sentences tend to be shorter and syntax is simpler.  Links encourage interruptions.

Sometimes we are biased in thinking screen reading offers superior comprehension.  This might be especially true for younger readers.

…A 2012 Israeli study of engineering students — who grew up in the world of screens — looked at their comprehension while reading the same text on screen and in print when under time pressure to complete the task.

The students believed they did better on screen. They were wrong. Their comprehension and learning was better on paper.

Using the Internet is ‘supereasy’, but ‘deep reading, advanced math, scientific reasoning’ is hard.

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April 10, 2014

‘College and career ready’ students should be reading at a 1450 Lexile

by Grace

Paige Jaeger, Coordinator of School Library Services for WSWHE BOCEs in New York, offers the basics of Lexiles 101, including how they fit into Common Core Standards.

  • The Common Core has defined where “college and career ready” (CCR) students should be reading and it’s a 1450  Lexile.  Therefore, they scaffolded in reverse levels to graduate students at the appropriate level.  These Lexile levels are more difficult than where typical students are reading.
  • Lexile is an algorithm. It is a mathematical assessment of a linguistic product. 
  • Lexiles (and other readability statistics) are fallible. (For instance, it is not valid for prose or drama and is less valid for fiction in 1000+ Lexile range.) 
  • The parent organization to the CCSS, (CCSSO formally called the Governor’s convention) recently released a white paper verifying the validity of text complexity. Therefore, we have to pay attention to this essential shift to embrace “rigor” in reading.
  • To read the recent white paper from the Council of Chief State School Officers click here. This article compares a number of algorithms and the summarizes text complexity for the CCSS. 
  • Text complexity formulas were meant for instructional purposes.
  • Pleasure reading should be allowed at any level and this is validated in the Common Core, Appendix A, page 9, paragraph 1:

CCS does not require teachers to select texts based only on complexity.

The Common Core has asked teachers to evaluate classroom materials for quality as well as quantity.  Complexity is only one piece of the puzzle. In addition, a teacher, librarian, or educator, has to pay attention to:

  •  Complexity - Lexile, vocabulary
  •  Qualitative measures -value
  •  Reader and the task -is there enough in the text to foster good discussion, value -added assignments, and begin a knowledge exploration. How can I use this novel or passage to foster critical thinking skills?

Jaeger writes that “Microsoft Word’s Flesch-Kincaid measure has also been proven valid”.  That’s good to know since I find it is a handy tool to use in assessing writing.

Related:  High school students are assigned too many FIFTH-GRADE books (Cost of College)

March 20, 2014

Reading time compared to TV time

by Grace

Many of us assume that Americans spend more time watching TV than reading, and here are some graphics that show the numbers within various age groups.

These charts show what percent of the population is engaged in the stated activity at that particular time.

Older people read more.  Fewer than 2% of 18-24 year-olds are reading for pleasure at any hour of the day.

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 However, young people are presumably doing more school-related reading.

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Americans of all ages watch a lot of  TV.

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The source is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics American Time Use Survey (2012).   More charts on other activities can be seen at Chris Walker’s website.

Related:  Asian-American students spend significantly more time on homework (Cost of College)

March 12, 2014

Public universities want more ‘smart students who can pay’

by Grace

Public colleges and universities have shifted their financial aid priorities away from need-based to merit-based awards.  Low-income students are feeling the brunt of this change, but pressure on schools to admit only college-ready students and to raise revenue will probably cause this trend to continue.

Public colleges are turning away from their mission to offer access to an affordable college education for all students.

A ProPublica analysis of new data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that, from 1996 through 2012, public colleges and universities gave a declining portion of grants—as measured by both the number of grants and the dollar amounts—to students in the lowest quartile of family income. That trend continued even though the recession hit those in lower income brackets the hardest.

Universities feel the dual pressures of raising their revenues and ratings.

Why have public universities across the nation shifted their aid?

“For some schools, they’re trying to climb to the top of the rankings. For other schools, it’s more about revenue generation,” said Donald R. Hossler, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University at Bloomington.

To achieve those goals, colleges use their aid to draw wealthier students—especially those from out of state, who will pay more in tuition—or higher-achieving students, whose scores will give the colleges a boost in the rankings.

Private colleges have been using such tactics aggressively for some time. But in recent years, many public colleges have sought to catch up, doing what the industry calls “financial-aid leveraging.”

The math can work like this: Instead of offering, say, $12,000 to an especially needy student, a college might choose to leverage its aid by giving $3,000 discounts to four students with less need, each of whom scored high on the SAT and who together will bring in more tuition dollars than the needier student will.

Those discounts are often offered to prospective students as “merit aid.”

The student profiled in the Chronicle of Higher Ed article offered a clue to the reason many low-income students are losing out.  They are academically unprepared for college-level work.

Ms. Epps had a combined SAT score of 820 on mathematics and critical reading…

That score is below the College Board SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark, indicating a lack of “skills and knowledge that research demonstrates are critical to college and career readiness”.  The same low SAT scores that disqualify some students for merit aid also signal they are at high risk for dropping out of college.

Problem should be addressed before the college years.

The answer is not to give more need-based aid to students who are not prepared for college, but to do a better job of educating students to be college and career ready.  That is the job of K-12 education and community colleges.

Related:  Increasing college merit aid decreases enrollment of minority and low-income students (Cost of College)

March 10, 2014

High school students spend only about half the time expected by teachers on homework

by Grace

We know there is a disparity between the amount of homework teachers assign and the amount of homework students actually do.  Here are some numbers that illustrate that difference.

HOW MUCH HOMEWORK IN HIGH SCHOOL?

Harris Poll 2013 Assigned by teachers: 3.5 hours a day 
National Center for Educational Statistics 2007 Done by students: 1.4 hours a day

Admittedly, this data probably does not show fully accurate numbers.  For one thing, six years separate the times when the two different surveys were conducted.  Plus the information is self reported, so some error is likely for that reason.  Still, I’m willing to accept that it reflects what goes on in real life.

On average, students complete about half of the homework assigned by their teachers.

Or, more accurately:

On average, students spend about half the time expected by their teachers in doing their homework.

Why the difference?

Teachers cannot always accurately predict how long it will take their students to complete assigned homework.  And clearly there are slacker students who simply don’t do their school work.  Another element is the cynicism about the value of homework, sometimes prompting both parents and students to ignore some assignments.

This anonymous comment from a teacher captures some of the reasons for the cynicism felt by families.

Funny I was just thinking about this and other things we do in our school to satisfy parents who want their kids “busy” . I teach kindergarten and we give homework! We do it so the After School workers have something to do with the kids. Most of our kids don’t go straight home they go to daycare or After School so rather than have them do unrelated work we send work for them to do.

I don’t think homework is necessary and find that many teachers use it as an abdication of their own teaching. Many teachers, for example, will tell parents to practice reading sight words because their child is not learning to read in school. Right there parents are made responsible for teaching their child to read. Parents often made to feel guilty about their child not learning. This is just one example of how homework turns into school work.

I spiral the work so it’s always something the kids can do independently.

We have been told as teachers that homework is to teach self discipline but it’s really to show the parents that their kids are doing something in my school.

Some homework is just for show?

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Related: Asian-American students spend significantly more time on homework (Cost of College)

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February 27, 2014

Ready or not, K-12 is moving to increased online instruction

by Grace

It can be argued that K-12 online instruction in and of itself is no better or worse than traditional teaching.  Sometimes it works well, and sometimes it fails miserably.

In any case, the education industry is eagerly embracing online methods in yet another attempt to “innovate” K-12 education.

 … by the year 2019 half of all classes for grades K-12 will be taught online.

That’s the prediction from Clayton Christensen, author of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Transform the Way the World Learns.  I will not be surprised to see this come true.

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There is very little good research on K-12 online learning.

… the results of meta-analyses of K-12 studies do not show a decided edge for students taking online courses or in virtual full-time schools performing even marginally above students who are in teacher-led classrooms.  More striking, however, is that only a few studies of virtual instruction in K-12 schools meet the minimum quality threshold for design, sampling, and methodologies….

Online instruction fills a need and is effective for some K-12 students.

“Some kids don’t have the discipline to sit down at a computer every day and do schoolwork with no one looking over their shoulder. … But for the right kid, the online approach offers benefits that traditional school doesn’t.”

Those benefits include flexibility and efficiency. Taking all or a few classes online gives students more opportunities than ever before. They have more opportunities to work while in school, gaining valuable job experience that economists show increases their ability to move up the ladder later in life. They can chase serious interests like athletics, music, or volunteering, and spend more time in the real world than preparing for it.

Any combination of lousy administration, inept teachers, and poor curriculum will produce poor results whether online or traditional methods are used.

Here are letters from Manhattan’s Murry Bergtraum high school students defending their fraudulent blended-learning program where one “social-studies teacher had a roster of 475 students in all grades and subjects”.

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A junior wrote that the program “made it less challenging and more understandable. We watched a video, answer a few questions, and took an online quiz/test. It was simple, and reasonable.” This helped him score 85 in chemistry, he said.

But professors at CUNY — where nearly 80 percent of New York City grads who attend must take remedial classes in math, reading or writing — said online instruction often leaves students ill-prepared.

No kidding.

February 21, 2014

How fast do you read?

by Grace

Do You Read Fast Enough To Be Successful?

That’s the question posed by Brett Nelson in Forbes.  He sees a link between speedy reading and success.

The most successful people I know don’t just read—they inhale information.

Average reading speeds:

Average adult:  300 WPM
Average college student:  450 WPM
High-level executive:  575 WPM
High-scoring college student:  800 WPM
Speed readers:  1500 WPM

Staples has on online test you can take to get a sense of your reading speed.  It seems a bit flawed because it only includes a very short passage.  Wouldn’t a lengthier test be more accurate?  I believe I read faster after a few minutes as I get into the groove of a book.

I took the test and the results showed I’m a relatively slow reader.  Most of my reading these days is on the Internet, and I’ve developed a habit of skimming that does not lend itself to deep comprehension.

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I’m informed that if I kept up this pace, I could finish War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy in 27 hours and 7 minutes.

Confession:  This was my second try at the test after my first attempt put me even closer to the average reading level.  I’m embarrassed to be average.

I invite you to try the test and post your results in the comments.  Click the image to go to the test.

ereader test
Source: Staples eReader Department

Related:  Using the Internet is ‘supereasy’, but ‘deep reading, advanced math, scientific reasoning’ is hard (Cost of College)

February 17, 2014

More students taking AP exams

by Grace

More high school students are taking AP exams, but the passing rate is lower.

  • 33.2 percent of public high school graduates in the class of 2013 took an AP Exam, compared to 18.9 percent of graduates in the class of 2003.
  • 20.1 percent of public high school graduates in the class of 2013 earned a 3 or higher on an AP Exam, compared to 12.2 percent of graduates in the class of 2003.

The goal of the AP program is to promote both equity and excellence in education.  This means increasing access to AP course work while also increasing the percentage of students earning scores of 3 or higher.

As would be expected, as more AP exams are taken passing rate has dropped.

2003:  61%  of AP exams had scores of 3 or higher
2013:  43%  of AP exams had scores of 3 or higher

These figures exclude those students who take AP courses but do not sit for the exam.  Not all schools follow the policy at our local high school, which requires students who take an AP course to also take the AP exam.

A campaign to help increase AP enrollment among academically prepared minority students

“All In” Campaign: Despite significant progress, African American, Hispanic/Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native students who show AP potential through the PSAT/NMSQT still typically enrolled in AP classes at lower rates than white and Asian students.

In order to help academically prepared but underserved students access the AP course work for which they are ready, the College Board is currently developing an “All In” campaign, a coordinated effort among College Board members to ensure that 100 percent of underserved students who have demonstrated the potential to succeed in AP take at least one AP course.

Related:  A glossary of high school standardized tests (Cost of College)

February 14, 2014

Handwriting is better than typing when taking notes in class

by Grace

Laptops may offer some efficiency in classroom note-taking, but handwriting is better for learning because typing appears related to a “shallower kind of cognitive processing”.

Here is a story from HuffPost about two studies by UCLA psychologists concluding that students who take notes by hand learn better than those who take notes by computer, both in short-term and longer-term learning. They found that computer users tend to engage in “mindless transcription,” which gives them lots of notes, but did not learn as much, especially when testing focused on concepts rather than facts. In addition, at one point they specifically told laptop users not to simply transcribe what they were hearing, but it didn’t work–the computer users were unable to stop themselves from trying to get verbatim notes.

Another possible reason handwriting is better

I can see how it would be easier for a student’s mind to wander while typing as opposed to when he is writing.  On the other hand, did the study incorporate the effect of the many distractions that can easily pull a laptop user’s attention away from the lecture topic?  For example, one college student told me he always has his Twitter feed open so he can constantly check to make sure he doesn’t miss “important” news.  It seems that kind of multitasking could also be related to shallower cognitive processing.

Related:  Successful media multitasking teens are a myth (Cost of College)

February 7, 2014

The growing distinction between ‘meaningful’ and ‘worthless” college degrees

by Grace

As American college completion rates continue to climb, George Will foresees a time when society will sharply distinguish “between those with meaningful college degrees and those with worthless ones”.

Today, the dominant distinction defining socioeconomic class is between those with and without college degrees. Graduates earn 70 percent more than those with only high school diplomas. In 1980, the difference was just 30 percent.

Soon the crucial distinction will be between those with meaningful college degrees and those with worthless ones. Many colleges are becoming less demanding as they become more expensive: They rake in money — much of it from government-subsidized tuition grants — by taking in many marginally qualified students who are motivated only to acquire a credential and who learn little.

Today’s “college students are learning less than they used to”.

Lindsey reported that in 1961, full-time college students reported studying 25 hours a week on average; by 2003, average studying time had fallen to 13 hours. Half of today’s students take no courses requiring more than 20 pages of writing in a semester. Given the role of practice in developing expertise, “the conclusion that college students are learning less than they used to seems unavoidable.” Small wonder those with college degrees occupying jobs that do not require a high school diploma include 1.4 million retail salespeople and cashiers, half a million waiters, bartenders and janitors, and many more.

Most college graduates are underemployed

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