Archive for the 'Written Expression' Category

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Effective methods for teaching writing

Using the methods of meta-analysis, Steve Graham and Dolores Perin examined research about alternative means for teaching written expression to students from fourth through twelfth grades. They limited their review to studies that assessed outcomes on measures of the quality of students’ writing. Unsuprisingly, they found that some of the methods used in teaching writing are more effective than others.

There is considerable concern that the majority of adolescents do not develop the competence in writing they need to be successful in school, the workplace, or their personal lives. A common explanation for why youngsters do not write well is that schools do not do a good job of teaching this complex skill. In an effort to identify effective instructional practices for teaching writing to adolescents, the authors conducted a meta-analysis of the writing intervention literature (Grades 4 –12), focusing their efforts on experimental and quasi-experimental studies. They located 123 documents that yielded 154 effect sizes for quality of writing. The authors calculated an average weighted effect size (presented in parentheses) for the following 11 interventions: strategy instruction (0.82), summarization (0.82), peer assistance (0.75), setting product goals (0.70), word processing (0.55), sentence combining (0.50), inquiry (0.32), prewriting activities (0.32), process writing approach (0.32), study of models (0.25), grammar instruction (– 0.32).

The basic, take-home message: Systematic and explicit instruction helps students write higher quality products than the pop-ed alternative that stress thinking, reflection, and such.
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Monitoring progress–resources

Over on Reading Rockets Kathleen McLane has an entry about monitoring progress that’s got a good intro and some valuable links. Take a look at it. There’s also video about progress monitoring in action, a link to a Web cast featuring Roland Good, Mary Ruth Coleman, and Michael C. McKenna discussing assessment including progress monitoring, and an opportunity to ask CBM guru Lynn Fuchs questions about monitoring progress (click the dropdown menu to select Professor Fuchs as the target of your question).

Zig site morphs

Zig Engelmann, principle author of a sweet suite of instructional materials that cover the range from beginning language skills to core concepts in physical sciences, has revised his Web site, Zig Site. If you’ve ever heard of “Direct Instruction” (sometimes said, “Big DI”), you’ve heard of Zig’s work. The new site has somethings new and somethings old. Rather than précis the changes, here’s how Zig describes it:

Starting in 2009, Zigsite is going to have an emphasis on training through videos. The first will be a series of 13 video sessions on teaching English pronunciation to non-English speakers. It will be followed by a series of training videos on teaching our new program, Direct Instruction Spoken English.

The longer printed works on Zigsite include, Rubric for Identifying Authentic DI Programs, Low Performers’ Manual, and the log of the first formal study I did in education—Comparative Preschool Study: High and Low SES Preschoolers Learning Advanced Cognitive Skills. These are constructive. Most of the other works are constructive only in the sense that they help clarify why education has gone basically nowhere in the past 40 years. Only now are educators starting to “invent” some of the stuff we used back in the 60s.

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Let’s Be More Careful What We Say

Sometimes we fail to say precisely what we mean. I suppose that this is sometimes due to the fact that whatever language we speak or write is constantly changing. Usually, I fear, it’s because we use language poorly, saying things we don’t really mean. More than half a century ago, George Orwell wrote:

But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take a drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible. (1954, p. 163)

I often wonder whether people really mean or have thought much about what they say about educational achievement. What I see too often are ugly, inaccurate, slovenly statements that may reflect foolish thoughts (ugly in their irrationality; inaccurate in the message they are meant to convey; slovenly in ways we associate with linguistic incompetence).

Today, I read something in The Washington Post that prompted me to write this little essay. In an article about Washington, DC school chancellor Michelle Rhee, writer Bill Turque wrote (let’s consider this Exhibit A), “Rhee wants more teachers who share her central belief about education reform: All children can become high academic achievers, regardless of the disadvantages they face outside the classroom” (p. B1).

Now, regardless of who says such nonsensical things (whether Rhee or Turque or anyone else), I think such language is inexcusable. We’d be better off as educators, advocates for kids, and rational citizens interested in improving public education if instead the statement (or belief) were something along the lines of Exhibit B or Exhibit C. (I’m assuming that what I present as Exhibits B and C are close to what Rhee or Turque or others who say such things as Turque wrote might mean to say.) Exhibit B: “My central belief is that children can become high achievers regardless of the disadvantages they face outside the classroom.” Exhibit C: “Regardless of a child’s color or gender, religion, national origin, parentage, or socioeconomic level, he or she can become a high achiever.”

What’s the difference? Well, Exhibit A is statistically impossible (presumably, most people who say similarly irrational things know that but say them anyway because they don’t want to be perceived as biased against various groups and think the accuracy of their language isn’t really important). Are we expecting too much of ourselves and others if we demand rational statements? We recognize that someone who says, “My central belief is that we can all be rich” is a huckster. If we really care about education, then we’ll care enough to watch our mouths and our fingers, to avoid whenever possible saying or writing things that just don’t quite correspond to what most of us accept as reality, things that upon reflection make us the educational huckster.

Let’s all help each other use language more precisely. Let’s raise the bar for each other.

Orwell, G. (1954, original essay 1946). Politics and the English language. In A collection of essays by George Orwell (pp. 162-177). New York: Doubleday Anchor.
Turque, B. (2009, January 5). Rhee plans shake-up of teaching staff, training: Career development would change for those who remain. The Washington Post, B1, B6.

Willingham on learning styles

My colleague Dan Willingham produced a brief video explaining why basing instruction on learning styles is bologna. Here it is:

Here’s the YouTube link for Dan Willingham on Learning Styles and here’s a link to Dan’s Web site where one can learn plenty of useful things. Also, see the extended discussion on D-Ed Reckoning.

DLD fall conference

The Division for Learning Disabilities (DLD) of the Council for Exceptional Children holds a conference annually in late October or early November. This year it is in Philadelphia (PA, US) and it features a batch of presentations that promise to be helpful to teachers, coaches, and administrators interested in learning how to implement evidence-based instructional practices.

Check the agenda for the next Fall Conference 24 and 25 October 2008 and then register! Learn about DLD’s “Bridging the Gap Between Research and Practice” and learn how you can participate in this outstanding professional development opportunity.

Please note that I am connected with DLD (long-time member, former president, currently executive director and co-editor of the Web site), but I’d be pushing this conference even if I wasn’t affiliated with it.

DI success story in BC

In her story for the Vancouver (BC, CA) Sun Janet Steffenhagen reported about the substantial gains in tool skills shown by students at an inner-city school in Vancouver. Under the headline “School leaps ahead in the rankings: Britiannia elementary principal credits a controversial reading program for students’ remarkable improvement,” Ms. Steffenhagen reported that aggregate scores on Canada’s Foundation Skills Assessment moved Britannia School from 636th rank to 232nd among 1000 schools in BC.
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More on brain-based education

My colleague Dan Willingham has posted a marvelous video that’s an introduction to thinking about neuroscience and education. Under the title “Brain-based Education: Fad or Breakthrough,” he illustrates important elements about what are reasoned extrapolations from cognitive neuroscience to education and what are not.


Update (18 May 2008): It’s heartening to see that other sites are pointing to Dan’s video. Here’s a preliminary list (please add others via the comments):

Update (7 June 2008): A couple of days ago, Dan posted a new version of the video; I’ve modified the links in the box accordingly.




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