Friday, April 17, 2009

My Dream Project

Sometimes I amuse myself by thinking of fun little work projects I would like to do. My dream projects.

A few years ago, I read about a study in Florida which got me thinking about developing some kind of pre-testing curriculum. (Testing isn't going to go away. Nor should it, entirely. Whenever anyone waves the anti-testing flag in my face, I think about how none of us would like to the patient in an operation performed by a surgeon who had never undergone any tests of his medical knowledge. We wouldn't even want our cars repaired by technicians who hadn't ever been tested and certified. However, let us all agree there is room for reform in state and district testing, and leave it at that.)

So whenever we administer these tests, these tests on which some children score disproportionately lower than others, why not find better ways to prepare them? Not with test prep products, but with lesson plans that tell about the brain and how it works, and how we--we, all of us, all humans--gather and store and use information. Thereby making sure that the students understand that all humans have the same kinds of brains, brains that work the same way, and no one group has brains that are inherently better or less able to function than those of another group.

We could add a little writing exercise to the lesson plan:
ScienceDaily (Apr. 16, 2009) — In a follow-up to a 2006 study, a University of Colorado at Boulder researcher and his colleagues found that an in-class writing assignment designed to reinforce students' sense of identity and personal integrity increased the grade-point averages of African-American middle school students over a two-year period, and reduced the rate at which these students were held back or placed in remediation.
This follow-up just confirms the results of the 2006 study. This kind of writing exercise clearly has a positive effect on student performance. Why is it not common practice yet?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Back to the Classroom

If anyone has a little extra time, that time would be well spent volunteering in an elementary classroom:
A program that uses older volunteers as tutors has significantly improved the reading skills of students in the early grades, according to a study released today.
. . .
The report found that the program had “statistically significant and substantively important” effects on the youngsters’ reading skills, as measured by standardized tests and teacher evaluations.
Speaking of the classroom, I may be teaching again soon. I'm applying for a position as a part-time lecturer at a local community college. It'll still be business as usual as Inkspot--you might say the teaching is for fun, or for an opportunity to volunteer in my own little way.

P.S. Some information to support literacy volunteering at the front end:

"There is not a lot of causal evidence that specifically says people with educational skills won't commit crimes, but there is definitely a strong correlation between educational ability and staying out of prison," said Peter Leone, a correctional education expert at the University of Maryland.

A comprehensive study by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, the research arm of the Washington Legislature, found that general education programs reduced the recidivism rate by 7 percent and vocational programs by 9 percent, among the best records of in-prison programs.

The academic and vocational programs cost the state about $1,000 a year per inmate but, the study concluded, vocational education produced a net benefit to the state of $13,738 per participant, and the educational programs $10,669 per inmate, in the form of lower crime rates, fewer victims and less criminal justice spending.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

More than a Check

Sometimes I approach my work sort of like the way doctors approach theirs: Above all, do no harm.

Tests are hard enough for students without our setting up unnecessary roadblocks. I like to think about writing tests that are transparent--that give a straightforward view of student performance. No obstacles. Which means sticking to all the item writing rules and writing simply and clearly.

But last week, I received an email message that reminded me that some of the work that I do--writing curriculum and assessment materials for intervention with struggling readers-- actually helps kids in a significant way, and that was a very welcome message.

To be a tiny part of a second chance for a kid who's at risk for dropping out of school, to be one of many people working on materials that will help this child become a competent reader--maybe help this child experience some rare success in a setting where he has only failed before--to just do that much is to do good. It's important to feel that one's work has meaning.