Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nick Diaz on bigotry and mathematical ability

This is a bit off the usual track but I happened to notice that Nick Diaz has written a guest column on Laurie Rogers' blog 'Betrayed: Why public education is failing'.
In the piece, Diaz takes on the stereotyping of 'Asian' students (by which people in the USA mean students whose parents are of Chinese, Korean, Indian, Taiwanese, and Japanese extraction). The stereotype has it that Asian students are 'smarter, can learn math much faster, know "stuff" more deeply, and are much quicker at arriving at answers'. As he quite rightly points out, this is as racist and bigoted as negative discrimination.
However, it is certainly the case that many Asian students do tend to do better in 'math' than other students and Diaz explains this by pointing out that many Asian parents are recent immigrants and are very highly qualified, many of them employed in the USA as engineers, scientists and mathematicians. And, guess what? These families – because these people come with kids! – are usually exceptionally highly motivated and supportive of their children's learning in school.
Culturally, too, according to Diaz, many of these children are trained to be more focused and to engage their brains before they commit to answering questions. Neither are these parents usually given to making statements to the effect that they were 'no good at math' when they were at school.
There's also an interesting discussion on kitchen table math at the moment on the subject of placing maths students by mastery not age.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Money, money money? Or autonomy, mastery and purpose?

I've just seen this rather fascinating video, originally posted on the irvingparentsforum. I picked it up on the kitchen table math blog, posted by the inimitable Catherine Johnson, and it's certainly worth sharing.
The context for the interest in this subject relates back to a story, reported by npr, that broke into the news earlier this week in the USA about bonuses for teachers and whether they are effective in raising standards.
So, does paying out big bonuses work? According to a study by Vanderbilt University's National Center on Performance Incentives, which looked into whether paying teachers big bonuses for improving pupils' tests scores works and 'was described by the researchers as the nation's first scientifically rigorous look at merit pay for teachers', it doesn’t!
The youtube video may explain why. Watch and enjoy!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Decline in SpLD numbers in the USA

Catherine Johnson from kitchen table math is reporting that the number of students in the USA identified as having a 'specific learning disability' has declined over the past ten years from 6.1% in 2000-2001 to 5.2% in 2007-2008. The figures come from the U.S Department of Education's 2009 Digest of Education Statistics.
As is the case here in UK, about 80% of pupils to whom the classification applies are those struggling with learning to read. This is very similar to the figure arrived at by Dr John Marks ten years ago.
What's the cause for the drop? Are they counting differently or has teaching methodology improved? Speculation has it that its the former.
For the record, kitchen table math is an excellent source of ideas and resources, particularly in respect of how to teach mathematics. However, Catherine Johnson often posts on more general areas of education. Following her recommendation, I'm currently reading Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College. It's a great, no-nonsense book, full of excellent advice by Doug Lemov, managing director of Uncommon Schools. I'd put it into the hands of every trainee- and practising teacher.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Introducing the new Battle Cries series of books

Sounds-Write is pleased to announce the publication of its new series Battle Cries, which features the heroine Amy Blade, 'all action, all heart, already two steps in front of you'!
The series is designed to help struggling, older readers (from about eleven years and onwards). Each book focuses on a particular sound and is deliberately contrived to contain multiple spellings of the sound. The first book, Caves of Danger, starts with the sound /ae/.
The books are meant to be challenging and work on a number of different levels simultaneously: adventure series, a brief history of writing systems, and as allegory.
We hope you like them.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

SEN, or just poor teaching?

Has Ofsted recovered its nerve? Apparently so. In its recent report 'The special educational needs and disability review: a statement is not enough', Ofsted reveals that, while the number of pupils with a statement of special educational needs 'decreased slightly' (from 3% to 2.7%), 'the proportion identified as needing less intensive additional support at School Action or School Action Plus has increased from 14.0% in 2003 to 18.2% in 2010'. In the next paragraph of the report, Ofsted wastes no time in cutting to the chase, stating baldly that 'as many as half of all pupils identified for School Action would not be identified as having special educational needs if schools focused on improving teaching and learning for all, with individual goals for improvement'.
Anyone working in the field and not wearing blinkers will know very well that all this has been common knowledge for years. Ten years ago, Dr John Marks drew attention to the alarming rise in the numbers of children and young people 'with special educational needs but without Statements'. He reported that over the four years from 1995 to 1999, numbers rose from 9.6% to 16.5%.
As Marks noted at the time, the system of SEN is 'perverse': 'the system has a vested interest in failure: the more children with Special Educational Needs that can be identified, the greater the resources that can be claimed.'
At the heart of Marks’ analysis is the estimation that 'the main problem with about 75% of special needs pupils' both in 2000, when he was writing, and a decade earlier, 'is that they can’t read'. Ten years later, in 2010, this egregious state of affairs remains the same – in spite of the huge sums of money put into the literacy strategy by the last government.
In its latest report on SEN, Ofsted contends that some schools are using 'low attainment and relatively slow progress' as a criterion for designating children as having SEN, from which it goes on to state:
A conclusion that may be drawn from this is that some pupils are being wrongly identified as having special educational needs and that relatively expensive additional provision is being used to make up for poor day-to-day teaching and pastoral support.
Ofsted is absolutely right in its report to make explicit that pupils learn best when they are being taught by practitioners who have a thorough and detailed knowledge of the subject they are teaching, have knowledge and understanding of proven and effective teaching approaches and strategies, and have 'a sound understanding of child development'.
Would that it were that easy! We come back time and again to the same thing: the training of teaching practitioners. On the latest Sounds-Write course I am teaching, there are three NQT’s, all of them working in an early years setting. When asked what training in the teaching of reading and spelling they had received from their training institutions, they all said the same - not a one of them had had anything practical. And this is exactly what we hear on all the courses we run attended by NQTs. It is obvious that most training institutions couldn't care less about training their trainee teachers to teach this fundamentally important ability on which rests the whole educational edifice and that they are openly flouting the requirement that they give adequate time to the teaching of phonics. It's a scandal and unless Michael Gove and Nick Gibb show some resolution in attending to the problem, we'll be reading the same thing in another ten years.

Busy bureaucrats must be braver!

As a postscript to yesterday’s story about Lincolnshire county council's desire to pursue Mark McCullough for allowing his daughter to walk twenty yards to the stop for her school bus, Toby Young, in the Telegraph (13/09/2010) – 'Schools must be braver with our children: Spending a childhood wrapped in cotton wool is no preparation for adult life', says:
According to Dr Amanda Gummer, a psychologist who advises the British Toy & Hobby Association, a completely safe childhood is actually more dangerous than one containing its fair share of bumps and scrapes… A survey of over 2,000 parents of primary school children commissioned by Play England found that three-quarters of them thought schools were too concerned with health and safety. We need to dismantle the whole edifice of mollycoddling rules and regulations so our children are free to play proper, old-fashioned games even if they involve risk of injury.
You can now add Lincolnshire county council to your complaint, Toby!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Busybody bureaucrats at it again!

I expect people will have been pretty shocked to read in today's papers of another county council that doesn't seem to know where to draw the line when it comes to minding its own business. This morning's Telegraph is reporting that Mark McCullough is being threatened by Lincolnshire county council for allowing his seven-year-old daughter to walk twenty yards from their home to a bus stop. Because this involves crossing a country road in the village of Glentham, the council have decided to consider this a child protection issue. A council spokesperson is reported as saying that they are 'simply trying to be responsible'.
This smacks of the same kind of interfering nonsense I reported on in July, when a school in Dulwich was 'threatening to report a couple to children's services because they allow their two children, aged eight and five, to cycle to school every day'.
Perhaps it's about time Lincolnshire county council realised that they don't have the right to poke their noses into every aspect of people’s lives.
The parents of the child are refusing to be intimidated.