Showing posts from November, 2014

When Should a Child Start Schooling?

There is evidence that shows benefits from quality preschool education. A good preschool program can decrease educational gaps between children from high- and low-income families. These gaps are often associated with the limited vocabulary and experiences children in poor homes have. There are, however, gaps observed in the early years of schooling that are not related to family income at all. Children also develop at different rates. There are obviously age differences since birth dates are distributed all throughout the year. Thus, in one kindergarten class where the school entry age is five years old, there are children who just turned five while there are children who would be six after only several weeks in school. A difference of about six months to a year in age can be substantial at a young age. Six months in five years is after all ten percent in terms of time. In terms of skills and knowledge already acquired, the differences can therefore easily be substantial.

Datar and Go…

How Should Teachers Teach Math?

Seeing little children enjoy math through games and manipulatives does seem promising. Having the pupils engaged in what they are trying to learn seems the best way to go. The proof, however, still depends on whether students are indeed learning. For this reason, it is always important to gauge how much learning really occurs during these activities. Teachers are increasingly using child-centered activities, introducing calculators, and even utilizing music and movement to help students learn how to add and subtract numbers. The question that still needs to be answered, however, is whether these schemes actually work. Unfortunately, the answer from research is no. The following is an article published in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis:

The findings in the above article are in fact no different from what British educators have found by observing classrooms in international math exams' high-scoring Shanghai as described in a previous article on this blog, How…

How Teachers in the US View the Common Core

Gallup has recently released the results of a survey that seeks reactions of teachers to the Common Core standards. I am not sure how familiar most teachers in the US are to the writings of Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg but the Gallup findings resonate soundly with what Pasi has to say, for example, in his article "Global Education Reform Is Here". The following are excerpts:
...the Finnish education system has remained quite uninfected to viruses of what is often called the global education reform movement or GERM...

...Since the 1980s, at least five globally common features of education policies and reform principles have been employed to try to improve the quality of education and fix the apparent problems in public education systems. 
First is standardization of education... A second common feature of GERM is focus on core subjects in school... The third characteristic that is easily identifiable in global education reforms is the search for low-risk ways to reach learning…

Why Do People Believe in "Learning Styles"?

It is a myth. Yet, even a professional organization of scientists, the American Chemical Society, has a webinar on this subject:

Distinguished professor of psychology, Harold Pashler, and coworkers have written an authoritative review, that should have settled this matter. The following is the summary of their paper published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest:

The term “learning styles” refers to the concept that individuals differ in regard to what mode of instruction or study is most effective for them. Proponents of learning-style assessment contend that optimal instruction requires diagnosing individuals' learning style and tailoring instruction accordingly. Assessments of learning style typically ask people to evaluate what sort of information presentation they prefer (e.g., words versus pictures versus speech) and/or what kind of mental activity they find most engaging or congenial (e.g., analysis versus listening), although assessment instru…

How Should Teachers Teach?

It is amazing to hear scores in standardized exams being easily dismissed as unreliable measures of learning outcomes while pointing to the results of the same exams as signs that there is something currently wrong with schools. The reality is that these international tests, PISA and TIMSS, do inform us about the state of basic education. Therefore, it is useful to look at school systems that do well in these exams. There may just be a lesson or two to learn.
England has been looking closely at Shanghai's schools to find out why Chinese students perform so well in these standardized exams. Zhenzhen Miao and David Reynolds of the University of Southhamptom have found that the higher test scores of Chinese students are associated with a particular type of teaching. Surprisingly, the method of teaching the British researchers have found in Shanghai is not one of those trending in education conferences. It is the old "chalk and talk" approach:

Here are excerpts from Miao an…

I Had a Good Teacher

In the small town of Paete in the Philippines, local folks affectionately refer to their school principals as "apples". Although the apple has been associated with the downfall of man in Genesis, the fruit has certainly overcome this image by becoming part of one of the most important rooms in our lives, the classroom. Binkovitz in the Smithsonian writes in "Why Do Students Give Teachers Apples and More from the Fruit’s Juicy Past":
...Shaking its association with hard cider and reckless imbibing, the apple found a place in one of the most faultless places of American society: the schoolhouse.
Held up as the paragon of moral fastidiousness, teachers, particularly on the frontier, frequently received sustenance from their pupils. “Families whose children attended schools were often responsible for housing and feeding frontier teachers,” according to a PBS special, titled “Frontier House, Frontier Life.” An apple could show appreciation for a teacher sometimes in charg…

Identifying Learners

In medicine, Brody and Waters stated it quite clearly in the title of an article they published in the Journal of Family Practice: Diagnosis Is Treatment. Effective teaching is perhaps similar. Being able to identify the needs of a learner should equip a teacher with a starting point. Where a learner currently stands should likewise inform the teacher what is necessary thereby allowing for the appropriate and correct strategy or intervention to be drawn. Initial assessment is important to assign adequate resources and design appropriate teaching plans.

One area of recent interest involves identifying language learners. If a child has difficulty in the language that is used as medium of instruction, learning can be severely compromised inside a classroom. For this reason, elementary schools in the United States screen students as early as kindergarten. In fact, Federal law mandates that states have a means of identifying English-language learners. The means, however, is not specified. …

What Is Grit?

In a previous article on this blog the question of when should we start developing grit was addressed. I guess before we tackle that question it is necessary that we fully understand first what grit is. The definition provided by Duckworth and coworkers, "perseverance and passion for long term goals", may help us grasp what grit entails. However, this may not be specific enough. There is a "grit scale" developed by these scientists to help measure grit in children. Perhaps by seeing this scale, what grit really is may become clearer. In this scale, a child who exhibits all of the following is deemed extremely gritty:
Difficult to distractNot easily discouragedDo not have short term obsessionsHard-workingStays on course for a goalAble to focus on projects that take more than a few months to completeFinishes whatever has been startedDiligent  Actually, the list above really makes grit no different from perseverance except for the second one (not easily discouraged). G…

When Should We Begin Developing Grit?

How a person becomes successful is now widely attributed to a sustained passion to practice and learn. Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania has examined this psychological trait called grit. It is indeed comforting to find out that success is not so much about genes but more on deliberate practice. Still, it is very unlikely that I would become a world champion in tennis at this point even with endless hours and days of practice on the court. There is such a thing as "too late". After all, development does occur in stages. Each stage takes time and there is no shortcut from beginner to expert. Talent may be overrated but an individual's current skills should not be dismissed. What we are today often offers a good glimpse on what we would be tomorrow. Our achievements in the early years therefore have predictive power. And proficiency in mathematics is no exception.

Watts and coworkers have recently demonstrated how mathematical skills at 54 months are corre…

A Multicultural Night at an Elementary School

In addition to priding itself as a professional learning community, Mason Crest Elementary School is also home to an international mix of children.

These students are not just children of immigrants. These children were born in other countries. Flags representing the countries of origin of students at Mason Crest can decorate its entire gym.

Teachers' Sit-Down Strike in the Philippines?

Was there a strike? Perusing the cover pages of the major newspapers in the Philippines seems to convey that there was no strike yesterday. The following are the cover pages for this Saturday, November 15, 2014:

Teachers' Sit-Down Strike

The Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT) in the Philippines has scheduled a sit-down strike this coming Friday, November 14, 2014. The International League of People's Struggle (ILPS) has likewise issued a press release calling for support for the teachers' demands:
"...Teachers and education employees are demanding an increase of their monthly basic pay from P18,549 to P25,000 and from P9,000 to P15,000 respectively. They have started this campaign since last year. The demand seeks to pursue the living wage needed to cope with the unprecedented monthly rise in prices of food and other basic commodities... ...Instead of granting the teachers’ salary demand, the government even took away previous benefits from the teachers. The previous P10,000 Performance Enhancement Incentive (PEI) was slashed to P5,000 and the P2,000 Performance Incentive Bonus (PEB) is set to end this year. Teachers in public elementary and high schools in the National Capital Region are expected to pa…

The Undying Myth of Learning Styles

In 2012, Dekker and coworkers compiled a list of neuromyths in education. The most prevalent myth found among teachers in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands is:
Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style (e.g., auditoryvisual,kinesthetic). The teachers included in this survey are among those who show interest in scientific studies about the brain and learning. In spite of such interest, these teachers are in fact embracing and propagating a myth. This specific misinformation is so pervasive that even the Philippines DepEd K+12 framework contains the unfounded idea of learning styles:

One must not confuse learning styles with learning disabilities. There are indeed children who perform better with a particular mode of learning. Some children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can process instruction more efficiently when information is written down instead of being announced. In these cases, the style is required by necessit…

We Learn from Answers

A teacher can state a fact and it usually takes effort to remember what the teacher has said. On the other hand, when a teacher asks a question, the lecture becomes a bit more participatory. A question often engages the audience and when the question is further explored, the answer at the end becomes a bit easier to remember. In my high school physics class, I still remember the time my teacher asked a question similar to the one described below:
And I cannot delete from my memory the answer my teacher provided: When the ice melts, the water will overflow. It is the wrong answer yet it manages to stay in my mind.

Obviously, questions asked and then answered describe what a graded exam entails. We can learn from a test. An exam that allows a student to find out what he or she does not know is a formative assessment. We can learn from mistakes. And as in my experience, I can remember the answer of my teacher. It is therefore disconcerting to see exams that are both written and graded p…

Save Our Schools

November is the National Reading Month in the Philippines. This is the month that the government tries to put an image of supporting the education of young minds by promoting a love for reading. That does sound good. Children need to learn to read so that they will read to learn in the future. Unfortunately, simply encouraging the public to donate books to schools and storytelling inside classrooms are just the first steps. Providing textbooks of good quality is an equally if not more important task so that children may actually move beyond reading fairy tales.

It is truly infuriating to see that what the Philippine government does for education is often only for show. Take, for instance, DepEd touting the use of the mother tongue as medium of instruction in the early years of education. On the surface, it may seem that DepEd is indeed taking a step in the right direction by keeping something inside classrooms that the children have learned at home. With a language of instruction that…

Preparing for 21st Century Jobs

The title is really catchy. No, I do not mean the title of this article, but the title used by Alan Singer in his blog on Huffington Post: Preparing Students for 21st Century Jobs at McDonald's:

Singer's article talks about the lowering of academic standards in New York schools by introducing an alternative pathway to a high school diploma, specifically by taking special "Career Readiness" courses. Assessment on one of these special tracks can be taken in place of one of the regents' exams on social studies, science, or math. Singer then examines an example for an assessment. This one is used for the specific field of "Food and Beverage". It is taken from NOCTI, an organization that provides "industry-based credentials and partner industry certifications for career and technical education (CTE) programs across the nation".

And here are the sample questions:

The following is what Alan Singer has to say after seeing the above questions:

Does Your Child Have ADHD?

A diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is not possible in one office visit to a pediatrician. Instead, symptoms of ADHD must be observed in a child regularly for about six months. The following is a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
To make a diagnosis of ADHD, the primary care clinician should determine that Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Editioncriteria have been met (including documentation of impairment in more than 1 major setting); information should be obtained primarily from reports from parents or guardians, teachers, and other school and mental health clinicians involved in the child's care. The primary care clinician should also rule out any alternative cause (quality of evidence B/strong recommendation).
A child with ADHD may exhibit the following (from
Are in constant motionSquirm and fidgetMake careless mistakesOften lose thingsDo not seem to listenAre easily distractedDo not finis…