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That means that while there are a lot of students who read and write poorly or who read and write well, there are also surprising numbers who read well and write poorly and vice versa.
Traditional state writing assessments were designed so that students did not have to read to do the writing. Students who wrote well, but read poorly, did well on past tests.
PARCC is going to have students read texts, answer reading comprehension questions, and then write about those texts (summarizing or synthesizing, according to the prototypes). Students who manage to express themselves well, but who struggle with reading, will be at a marked disadvantage on the writing assessment. Such students will fail to write well not because of weaknesses in composition, but in comprehension.
That’s why the scores are going to drop. But why would I cheer for this?
Two reasons really. Research shows that literacy is improved when students write about what they read. Recently, there has been little emphasis on correlating reading and writing instruction and PARCC’s test design will push many teachers to combine reading and writing. That’s a real plus for kids.
Also, past measures provided a purer assessment of “writing,” but it wasn’t the writing that allows individuals to succeed academically and economically. Writing about reading is not as pure a measure of writing, but it is a much better measure of writing about reading, which has greater value to our children.
So, the writing scores are going to drop, but that means students are more likely to end up with higher real proficiency, especially with the skills that we most want them to have. That is going to look bad, but it is a real benefit for the kids.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
What a great week... I just got back from a very pleasing visit to Dublin, Ireland. My Irish friends invited me over to see if I could provide any help to their wonderful "youngballymun" project. Ballymun is an area of Dublin that is economically challenged. Ireland has one of the world's best education systems and among the highest literacy levels, but everything isn't what it should be in Ballymun.
As in major cities all over the U.S., the kids who live in economically-challenged neighborhoods (with the worst housing, the most serious health problems including drug abuse, etc.) do worst in school. Some Irish areas manage remarkably to avoid this unfortunate pattern, but not Ballymun.
Consequently, Atlantic Philanthropies has teamed up with the Irish government to provide support to make things go better in such neighborhoods. The team in Ballymun is working closely with the schools to get improvements there, but they are also expanding preschool, afterschool, and health care opportunities, and doing everything they can to try to make it possible for more kids to do well in this changing neighborhood.
The current environment there reminds me of Chicago when they were tearing down the Robert Taylor homes--the high rise public housing projects that didn't work well for the residents in Chicago. Right now in Ballymun the ever-changing landscape is punctuated by abandoned high rises, piles of rubble from the demolition, and hopeful new housing. But while changing the physical environment is a good idea, that alone will not likely lead to improved achievement without real changes in these children's educational lives.
That was why they brought me over. I visited all the schools, attended a plethora of meetings, shared my framework with everybody who would listen, and kept up the mantra that it is the children's experience that matters: amount of teaching, curriculum focus, and quality of delivery are what improve literacy--everything else is just commentary. I look forward to continuing to work with this vibrant and commited group, and will keep you posted on their progress. For more on the youngballymun project go to http://www.youngballymun.org/
Also, while I was away Just Read, Florida has posted some professional development materials that you might be interested in. They conducted an interview with me about oral language development, decoding and fluency, explicit comprehension instruction, vocabulary development for older students, writing, and ELL. You can listen to the interview or download the transcript at: http://forpd.ucf.edu/resources/timothy-shanahan-interview.html
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
I was asked to write the following for a local high school that wanted to provide some writing guidelines for its students. This might be of use to you, too. I hope so.
Ten things good writers do…
1. Good writers make a good first impression. They put extra effort into their introductions and first paragraphs because they want readers to read on. Consider this wonderful opener from E. B. White:”When Mrs. Frederick C. Little’s second son was born, everybody noticed that he was not much bigger than a mouse.” That simple sentence took a lot of work, but it sure makes you want to find out about Mrs. Little’s mouse-sized son.
2. Good writers make their endings strong, too. No one wants to read a piece that doesn’t leave them feeling fulfilled and satisfied at the end, and good writers usually pull everything together with a rewarding climax or a thoughtful summary.
3. Good writers organize their articles and stories so that readers can follow along without getting lost or confused. That might mean that a good writer writes stories with clear beginnings, middles, and ends, or that they use an understandable logical plan in their science essays. For some kinds of writing it is a good idea to tell the reader right up front what is going to follow.
4. Good writers rewrite. In fact, someone once even said that good writing is bad writing that has been rewritten. It is very difficult to write something that another person can understand and enjoy, so good writers make a real effort to polish their work. Once they have a draft of what they want to say, they go back several times to add, delete, or change it so that it will be just right. Rarely are good writers happy with the first words they come up with, so good writing is rewriting.
5. Good writers don’t just tell something, they show it. A good writer doesn’t just state an opinion without real examples that reveal why he or she holds that opinion. Similarly, a good story writer doesn’t tell you that a character is unhappy, he/she shows it (maybe the character punches a pillow or kicks over a garbage can – anything that reveals the feeling without the writer just telling it).
6. Good writers use sentences that are varied and interesting. No one wants to read a paper that says, “A nanotube is very small. A nanotube can be used to make a little radio. A nanotube uses carbon. A nanotube….” Boring! Repetition can be effective in some instances, but in this case it doesn’t work. This is better: “Nanotubes are so tiny they can’t be seen by the naked eye. And, yet, it is possible to make a radio from one. Imagine listening to hip-hop on a radio that no one can see!”
7. Good writers write for the ear, not the eye. That is, a good writer tries to make sure the text would sound good if someone were to read it aloud (in fact, good writers often read their stuff aloud when they are revising just to make sure it sounds like it should).
8. Good writers elaborate; they try to share a lot of information and detail. It helps to be analytical, to be able to break a topic into its parts and then to tell about the parts. In a science class that might mean writing about a structure of an organism and then connecting the structure to the processes that the organism is involved in. Or, in a social studies class it might mean describing an involved chain of events that led to a particular historical outcome.
9. Good writers get their facts right, even when they are writing fiction. It isn’t enough to sound right, it has to be right. In a report, that means checking that your facts are correct (and, if facts are in dispute, that fact should end up in the report, too). Truth in fiction is a little trickier, but it matters as well; even in far out science-fiction writing the imaginary worlds have to make sense (if an imaginary universe has no gravity, it can’t just magically have gravity later in the story—maybe something changed it so that it did, but the change has to be plausible).
10. Good writers should know when to quit. When you’ve said what you wanted to say it’s time to stop. And, since I set out to tell 10 things that good writers do, I think this would be a good place to end!
Saturday, December 20, 2008
It is important that principals know what to watch for in a reading lesson. What makes it effective? It is important for coaches to, if they are to give teachers any kind of supportive guidance. And, let's face it, good teachers are likely to do much more self evaluation than being observed by others.
One thing that complicates reading instruction is there are lots of different kinds of lessons, and each of these lesson types has its own requirements. Basically, reading is both a skilled activity that requires a lot of precision performance without much conscious awareness (like recognizing high frequency words or common spelling patterns). But, it also requires actions that are synonymous with thinking and these require a lot of reflection and depth of thought. That means that a comprehension lesson ought to look pretty different from a phonics lesson; not just in content, but in the kinds of cognitive action the lesson leads kids to engage.
So, if you need to do observations -- including self observations -- you might find the following document to be useful. It tells the kinds of things I would watch for in various reading lessons.
Friday, September 12, 2008
From time to time, I'm aksed to give talks about improving adolescent literacy. Recently, Pearson Publishing asked me to do so (I have developed an instructional program for teaching reading to adolescents who read between the 3rd-5th grade levels: AMP Reading Systems).
I gave the speech to a group of teachers in Minnesota, and yesterday the publisher gifted me with the following video clips of parts of my talk. I've posted the powerpoint slides of this talk previously, but now you can actually hear what I say about the various slides. Hope you find these useful. I've listed the topics of each clip below in the order that they are listed.
Key 1: The Need for Learning Standards
Key 2: Require Reading
Key 3: Increase Reading Instructional Time
Key 4: More Time for Low Readers
Key 5: Teach Vocabulary
Key 6: Oral Reading Fluency
Key 7: Reading Comprehension
Key 8: Writing
Key 9: Professional Development
Key 10: Motivation
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Over the years, one question has come to me more than any other about the work of the National Reading Panel: "Why didn't you look at writing?"
Some of you might know that I have spent much of my career studying the reading-writing relationship, and I think it is fair to say that have been a major proponent of putting writing into the reading curriculum. So, the omission of writing surprised a lot of people.
NRP considered looking at writing, but the votes just weren't there. It will strongly be recommended to the new Commission on Reading by me and others once they begin their work. I hope they will do so.
Until then, I think the research review done recently by Graham and Perin is excellent and the attached presentation is based to a great extent on their fine work.