Thursday, December 18, 2008


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Food for thought

If any of what you read in my previous post sounds interesting, there is a research paper that goes in between the two passages. For now though here is our bibliography so that you can read up on the areas of the subject you find personally interesting.

Delpit, Lisa and Paula White-Bradley. "Educating or Imprisoning the Spirit: Lessons From Ancient Egypt." Theory Into Practice (2003): 284-288.
Driscoll, Donna, Dennis Halcoussis and Shirley Svorny. "Gains in standardized test scores: Evidence of diminishing returns to achievement." Economics of Education Review (2006): 211-220.
Hong, Won-Pyo and Peter Youngs. "Does High-Stakes Testing Increase Cultural Capitol Among Low-Income and Racial Minority Students?" Educational Policy Analysis Archives (2008).
Koretz, Daniel. Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008.
Lemann, Nicholas. The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy. New York: Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 1999.
McDonnell, Lorraine M. "No Child Left Behind and the Federal Role in Education: Evolution or Revolution?" Peabody Journal of Education (2005): 19-38.
Mooney, John. "State plan to revamp high school curricula met with tough questions." 2008. 16 December 2008 .
Rothman, Robert. Measuring Up: Standards, Assessment, and School Reform. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995.
Sacks, Peter. Standardized Minds: The High Price of America's Testing Culture and What We Can do to Change It. Cambridge: Perseus Books, 1999.
Smyth, Theoni S. "Who is No Child Left Behind Leaving Behind?" The Clearing House (2008): 133-137.
Teach For America. Teaching as Leadership Online Rubric (TALON). 2008. 16 December 2008 .
US Department of Education. No Child Left Behind: a toolkit for teachers. Government Report. Washington D.C.: ED Pubs. US Department of Education , 2004.
Wood, George. "A View From the Field: NCLB's Effects on Classrooms and Schools." Wood, George, et al. Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act is Damaging Our Children and Our Schools. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004. 33-52.

Beginnings and endings

I have referred multiple times to the paper on HST(High Stakes Testing) I have collaborated on without giving away the milk for free I simply say: here is the abstract and conclusion from our paper.

This paper investigates accountability issues of standardized tests and their affect on low-income and racial minority student’s ability to acquire cultural capital. While this shall embody a significant portion of this paper, other issues are examined such as systemic issues (validity, accuracy, etc) with educational legislation such as the “No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), as well as the delicacies of conducting research in a highly politicized and “high stakes” topic. The goal here is not to be propagandistic but to be objective and explore these issues in such a manner that it heightens awareness of the many issues relative to standardized testing. Lastly there is an examination of curriculums that are programmed, scripted and designed to improve test scores of urban students in low-income communities.

By no means can this be considered a definitive exploration of high stakes testing, and its effects on any of the constituent populations, be they the educators, the administrators, politicians, or consumers (of all socio-economic classes.) We have shown that high-stakes testing from inception (Horace Mann) to current implementation (NCLB), was designed to “close the gap” for immigrant and minority populations, or more generally to equalize the educational aptitude, access, and achievement of all Americans. However, our research, as well as many prominent educational researchers has shown that this has not been the reality created by the indoctrination of high-stakes testing into the American Educational System. There is no magic bullet to wipe out every issue involved with high-stakes testing. At this point, most researchers find themselves in a place where they can only offer suggestions to ameliorate said problems. At best, with a national education plan in place, the best that can be attempted at the state and local levels are stop gap measures. High-stakes testing has effects that reach far beyond the classroom, into the homes and lives of the consumers, as well into the political powder keg of today’s America. Every aspect of this paper, cultural capital, test validity, effects on teachers, the effects on students, accountability, and research methodology are all deserving of their own investigations. That said, this endeavor has provided a solid basis for inquiry into the myriad of issues discussed, as well as additional associated ones not discussed here. High-stakes testing does in fact have high stakes, but unfortunately they are not all for the students.

Every teacher is a literacy teacher

I am sick about writing on policy so i have decided to change pace. I recently completed a paper on the role of a science teacher in literacy. I present to you my paper on why every science teacher NEEDS to be a literacy teacher.


It is said: “every teacher is a literacy teacher!” But what does that mean? How does this affect subject area teachers? This paper will address those questions as well as assessing: how does one define literacy? How does the science teacher define literacy? How does the science teacher fit into this equation? The growing emergence of new technology, the scientific research field, as well as the infusion of technology into school curriculums has led to the emergence of “techno-literacy” creating a new dimension of literacy instruction for science teachers. Not only is being a literacy instructor a component of being a science teacher, it is a requirement for science teachers in order for them to truly do their jobs.

Every teacher is a literacy teacher! Language Arts and Social Studies/History teachers are the most obvious to fall under this classification. The literacy coach, bilingual, special educations, and speech teachers, not surprisingly are automatically and subconsciously “folded in” with this group. Math and science teachers, though less obvious are also participants in the literacy education of our students.
How then can a science teacher be considered a literacy teacher? This brings us to the fundamental question, “what does this mean for the science teacher?” Rather, how should a science teacher define literacy? What should they be looking to accomplish in terms of literacy education? (What “type” of literacy should they concern themselves with?) And when this is all answered we are left with the functional question of importance: Surprisingly this is not “How is a science teacher a literacy teacher?” But rather: “Why is it necessary for the science teacher to be a literacy instructor, as well, in order to actually carry out their primary objective of being a content area teacher?”
Unfortunately, the situation is not so “cut and dry” as to simply ask how is a science teacher also a literacy teacher? There are many questions that can confound the answer. Literacy is not limited to content area specific literacy for the science teacher…more and more today, content area teachers are finding it necessary to supplement the general literacy instructor. This is for two major reasons, the first being a need to fill the requirements of a curriculum driven more and more towards math and literacy guarded by high stakes standardized testing. The second is a general deficiency in the required skills. More simply, students are not where they should be, or more importantly, where they need to be in order to function at a level where they are capable of learning grade appropriate content. So what “type” of literacy are we talking about? This question needs an answer before we can ask how a science teacher can best fill this role. There is no easy way to answer this, so researchers have come to lump the different types of literacy into an amalgam definition, termed “scientific literacy.” (Van Eijck & Roth, 2007 p.225) (Corder, 2007 p. 38)
At this point, we reach another stumbling block; how do you define literacy? Are we talking about functional literacy? Content area literacy? “High literacy? Without a good working definition of literacy, or better yet, a more focused “type” of literacy such as those listed above, defining the role of any teacher in educating others in it is troublesome at best.
So what is literacy? Though there is a vast gradient of ways to define literacy, there will always be two overarching “camps” the “technocratic”, or specific and traditionalist, and the “progressive” or general and overarching. In other words, there are those who feel that being able to read and write constitutes literacy (this would be a technocratic approach) and those whom embrace a more comprehensive view of what literacy means. (De Castell, 1981) De Castell, et al. do, however state that the technocratic approach does tend to “…dominate current educational practice and research.” (De Castell, 1981 p.5)
Beers does a good job of explaining the point that literacy demands (even from the narrower traditionalist POV) have always changed to meet the needs of the times. From pre-WWI penmanship, to 20th century “recitational literacy” through the analysis phase of the 80’s and 90’s and today’s world where she, through Daniel Pink, explains that the focus of literacy will be on connectivity. (Beers, 2007 pp.7-8) She then goes on to tell a story about a boy she met who, while by his school’s traditional standards was not literate, was able to make not only intellectually well thought out arguments, but make them eloquent enough to carry on an academic conversation. (Beers, 2007)
This brings up an interesting point as to why science is particularly suited to be an extension of the literacy classroom in today’s modern world of emerging technologies. Science classrooms are natural places for the instruction in IT or Information Technologies as they are integral in the study and research of many fields of science themselves. Thus, if we take a more progressive approach to defining literacy, specifically an approach in which the student above, who was able to clearly express his thoughts, is considered literate, we must inexorably come to the conclusion that true literacy in today’s world (whether or not it is mirrored in curriculum) includes the mastery of communications technology, information technology, and the like.
As technology continues to develop at an exponential rate, the significance and relative importance of technological literacy (over print literacy in some circumstances) increases with it. This can be seen in the fact that many a well educated, and largely accepted as literate adult will ask a child for help in using a computer program or sending an e-mail. Even in pop-culture advertising campaigns, images of adults befuddles by modern technology are prevalent. Thus we can see there is a need for literacy education in the classroom if not in the classical sense then in the new and emerging classification of technological literacy. While some school districts are trying to embrace a technological infusion into the curriculum, even going so far as to include high stakes testing in information technology , Beers paints the picture in the story of this boy that on the whole, schools are not doing enough to incorporate the technological aspects of literacy into our schools. This sentiment is echoed by Van Eijck and Roth who state that, “Given the central place IT-based research tools take in scientific research, the marginal role such tools currently play in science curricula is dissatisfying from the perspective of making students scientifically literate.” (Van Eijck & Roth, 2007 p.225) If we are supposed to be preparing our students for the next level, be it high school, college, graduate school, or the real world: as science teachers, to not prepare them with the skills to utilize the tools they will need to survive, we are being derelict in our duties.
Above, we discussed the importance of the role of the science teacher as a literacy teacher with respect to teaching technology literacy. Why though, is the role of the science teacher also so important? To simplify it we can break it down into: “vocabulary” “comprehension” and “literacy skills.” These three words represent three threads which are inter-woven in respect to how they apply to literacy.
As anyone who has taken a science class (especially a life science class such as biology) can tell you, vocabulary is an integral and large component of science teaching. Students are typically taught to use prefixes and suffixes to “decode” the meanings of words they may not know. Without the traditional literacy knowledge of not only learning such parts of speech, but the skill of being able to apply that knowledge to break up a word, student’s might face a brick wall in terms of understanding content.
This however does not have to be the case. Science classes need not be vocabulary driven. As Jay Lemke states in the forward of Language and Literacy in Science Education:
In fact it is possible to discuss a topic very scientifically without
use of technical vocabulary, if you can use the right kind of
language to scaffold deductive and inductive reasoning, formulate
hypotheses, make generalizations, identify exceptions, connect
evidence to theses, classify, relate,organize, plan and persuade. (Lemke, 2001)

In other words, if you teach students how to approach content text (whatever the form) the need for heavy dependence on vocabulary lessons. For example, teaching them how to ask the right questions from a text to extract meaning (QtA) or relating the text to themselves (QAR), et cetera. However, these tools are themselves literary/ literacy techniques which need to be taught to the students, thus reinforcing the necessity of the role of a science teacher including the “hat” of literacy instructor.
Textbooks in general, and science textbooks specifically, are notoriously hard to decode. Graphs, charts and pictures break up the main body of text, while “break out sections” which typically have nothing to do with the specific content being discussed, serve to further confuse the reader. Even some teachers rely on their teacher’s edition to decode and chunk science texts; this is what “literacy skills” refers to above. The need to teach students how to distinguish between caption and paragraph, between title and subject heading are necessary literacy skills that frequently need to be addressed if not completely taught in the science classroom. Again, the role of every science teacher as a literacy teacher is cemented.
The title of this section is ELL standing for English Language Learners. Typically, this term refers to a group of students who are learning English as a “second” language. However, if you look at the situation fundamentally, the term can really apply to any student who is “illiterate” in the traditional sense, or severely struggling with traditional literacy skills to the point where they are years behind where they should be.
The focus of this section is why the presence of this population necessitates the presence of a literacy teacher “within” each science teacher. Above, comprehension was listed. “The skill to read and understand science-oriented information is an important means by which students may enhance their ability to acquire scientific literacy.” (Corder, 2007, p. 38) While Corder’s research focuses on the fact that the lack of these skills is endemic to ELLs, it is relevant to all science teachers for three main reasons. Firstly, as described above, any student struggling severely with literacy can be considered an ELL. Secondly, Corder believes that developing the reading abilities of students can take place in the science classroom. And thirdly, between 1992 and 2003, the ELL population increased by approximately 85%. (Corder, 2007, p. 39) Hence, this is a problem (and a growing one at that) for all science teachers. The bottom line is that not only are science teachers needed to teach content area literacy, or “scientific literacy,” but they are required to teach basic reading and literacy skills, even in the most traditionalist sense, so that their students’ have the foundation for content area development.
After each step navigating the minefield of determining what literacy “is” and how it “should” be defined for the science teacher, we have always come to the same conclusion that there is a place, a necessary place, for literacy education in the science classroom. Thus the science teacher is a de facto literacy instructor as well, not out of common practice, but out of necessity! The science teacher must be a literacy instructor as well to support his/her students both in and out of the classroom. As Amy Wilson states: “To help students meet these challenges, it will take the concerted efforts of teachers across the content areas to support their students in understanding, critiquing, and designing a variety of texts.” (Wilson, 2008, p. 156) Thus we return to the opening affirmation of this paper: every teacher is a literacy teacher! And for science teachers, not only due to the emergence of “techno-literacy” as termed above, or “scientific-literacy” as researchers refer to science content literacy, but to support our students completely, literacy is an integral facet of everyone’s education.

Beers, K. (2007). The Measure of Our Success. In K. Beers, R. E. Probst, & L. Rief, adolescent LITERACY: Turning Promise into Practice (pp. 1-14). Portsmouth: Heinemann.
Corder, G. (2007, September). Supporting English Language Learners' Reading in the Science Classroom. Science Scope , pp. 38-41.
De Castell, S. (1981). On Defining Literacy. Canadian Journal of Education / Revue canadienne de l'éducation , 7-18.
Lemke, J. (2001). Foreword. In J. Osborne, & J. Wellington, Language and Literacy in Science Education (pp. iv-v). Philadelphia: Open University Press.
Van Eijck, M., & Roth, W.-M. (2007). Rethinking the Role of Information Technology-Based Research Tools in Students’ Development of Scientific Literacy. Journal of Science Education and Technology , 225-238.
Wilson, A. A. (2008). Moving Beyond the Page in Content Area Literacy: Comprehension Instruction for Multimodal Texts in Science. The Reading Teacher , 153-156.

Supplement to my annotated bibliography

A while ago i posted an annotated bibliography. The day I published it, I decided to partner up with someone else to collaborate on a paper. I have never done this in my upper academic career, certainly not on the post graduate level. It goes without saying that i was concerned initially and without cause. IT HAS BEEN A VERY REWARDING AND ENRICHING EXPERIENCE.

It started off with a challenge, how do you find a thesis, when only the topic is in common. I present my collaborator's annotated bibliography:Annotated Bibliography

Driscoll, Donna; Halcoussis, Dennis; Svorny, Shirley (2008). Gains in Standardized
Test Scores: Evidence of diminishing returns to achievement: This is an examination of issues related to test scores which are initially high and why they only yield modest gains in the long term.
California: Economics of Education Review.

Many studies examine the characteristics of schools that achieve high or low test scores; however, little is know about issues relative to gains over the long term. Financial awards for high achieving schools, teachers and administrators are used as a motivational tool. If test results reflect the actions of school administrators and teachers then the awards should be discernible. Various factors that influence high test scores over time are examined.

Hannafin, Robert D.; Foshay, Wellesley R. (2008). Computer-Based Instruction's (CBI)
Rediscovered Role in K-12: An Evaluation Case Study of One High School's Use
of CBI to Improve Pass Rates on High-Stakes Tests: This is a case study about
how a high school implemented a remediation strategy to help students at risk of
failing the math portion of a state wide test.
Educational Technology Research and Development

This study investigates the overall effectiveness of the schools remediation strategies which included: CBI coursework, better alignment with state standards, staff development, improved delivery of traditional instruction, standards-based lesson planning, and helping at-risk students improve study and organizational skills. The study focuses more on the CBI component. Teacher’s performance ratings are directly tied to the performance of student test. There is a direct correlation between test scores and federal funding.

Annotated Bibliography

Smyth, Theoni Soublis (2008). Who Is No Child Left Behind Leaving Behind? This
is an evaluation of the NCLB( No Child Left Behind) and its effect on soci-economically disadvantaged students six years after its implementation.
Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas.

The NCLB is working for the privileged elite not for the economically disadvantage students. It is flawed legislation that puts pressure on all educators, especially teachers. This study recognizes the inequities inherent in the NCLB and how it negatively affects minorities, students with special needs, and second-language learners. This paper points out how the NCLB is money driven and how politicians use the aggregate testing data for their political platforms.

Delpit, Lisa; White-Bradley, Paula (2007). Educating or Imprisoning the Spirit:
Lessons from Ancient Egypt: This article examines the dehumanizing effects of
of mandated instructional programs designed to raise test scores of urban children.
Theory Into Practice.

Stereotyping is a handicap that has crippled intelligent minds. Teachers who care about honing their craft should willingly connect with their students and use their platform to develop inquisitive thinking minds. Children should not be classified by their socio-economic status because it’s morally destructive and dehumanizing. There are many questions to be answered but one that poignantly stands out is; Do we want to educate students spirits or incarcerate them?

November 3, 2008

Annotated Bibliography

Supon, Viola (2007). Implementing Strategies to Assist Test-Anxious Students:

Smith, Emma (2005). Raising Standards in American Schools: The Case of "No Child
Left behind"

McDonnell, Lorraine M. (2005). No Child Left Behind and the Federal Role in
Education: Evolution or Revolution?

Hollingworth, Liz (2007). Five Ways to Prepare for Standardized Tests without
Sacrificing Best Practice: This paper proposes five methods for test
preparation that may keep educators motivated without comprising their
teaching practices.
Reading Teacher

A little goes a long way

Just a short post this time. Last weekend, I attended both a debate competition and a robotics competition both of which had my 8th graders participating. I literally drove over a third of the state. ( I live in a different one all together.) While the robotics team didn't fair so well, the debate team kicked some serious tail. Two of my home room students (Girls A&S) won 8th place out of 160 teams of two. A won 14th place of all of the speakers.

What amazed me more was the respect they all have given me since i attended. I guess they really just need to see that you care, and are willing to go that extra mile to be there for them when someone else can't.

A little goes a long way.

It was a pleasant and teachable moment.

Who are you?

SO I started a forensic science extracurricular club for my 8th graders. It is amazing to see how focused, dedicated, and mature they can be when they are interested in the subject matter. It makes me wish even more that we tailored education plans for our students at an earlier age. I would have liked to have been an academic during the Renaissance Age as an apprentice. If only i could get my students to behave and take notes in class on the material they will actually be tested on. I might have put the cart before the horse though as now i have 40+ interested students and the school can't find the money to order the kit/materials. The only crime scene investigation might be my own when the students find out :x