Showing posts from March, 2015

Table of Hope: A Reflection

This song was written in New York City Of rich man, preacher, and slave If Jesus was to preach what He preached in Galilee, They would lay poor Jesus in His grave.
                                                                           - Woody Guthrie

DepEd's K+12: Realities and Illusions

Learning depends on so many things. This is the reality. Suggesting and expecting a panacea to solve ills plaguing basic education is an illusion. Identifying the resources required to improve the quality of education is rational. Making a wish list without considering what it takes to reach such goals is irrational. No one could disagree with the objectives of DepEd's K+12. No one should disagree with attempting to improve basic education. However, reason calls us to beg to differ against any wishful thinking. DepEd's K+12 is wishful thinking.

The president of the Philippine Business for Education (PBEd), Chito Salazar, writes on an opinion article in the Inquirer the reason why businesses should support DepEd's K+12:

There are key reasons for such low quality: the insufficient amount of public resources invested in education, resulting in inadequate provision facilities such as classrooms, textbooks and toilets; not enough quality teachers or quality teacher training opp…

More on Homework

How homework affects learning outcomes is not that easy to study. Learning hinges on so many factors and homework comes with its own sets of variables. Thus, it is not surprising to see conflicting results from research studies on homework. It is therefore important to use more sophisticated statistical models to unravel the variables involved in the relationship between homework and learning.

A recent study soon to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychologyattempts to determine analytically how homework correlates with learning outcomes. The study involves more than 7,000 students in their second year of obligatory secondary education in the principality of Asturias in Spain. The subjects examined in this work are mathematics and science. Data on homework are collected and scores from standardized tests in mathematics and science are used as measures for learning outcomes. Teachers in these schools generally assign homework that is about 70 minutes long per day. The data i…

Commencement and Not Graduation

In the Philippines, commencement ceremonies are currently being held. These ceremonies are indeed occasions of joy and pride for everyone. Parents, teachers and students are together as one, acknowledging years of labor and hoping for better years to come. Commencement indeed celebrates a beginning. As students embark on a new episode in life, everyone therefore looks forward to hearing a message that hopefully is worth remembering.

Here are excerpts from a memorable speech delivered by an English teacher, David McCullough, at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts in 2012:
"...commencement is life’s great ceremonial beginning, with its own attendant and highly appropriate symbolism. Fitting, for example, for this auspicious rite of passage, is where we find ourselves this afternoon, the venue. Normally, I avoid clich├ęs like the plague, wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole, but here we are on a literal level playing field. That matters. That says something. And your cere…

DepEd's K+12 Is a Problem, Not a Solution

This blog strongly supports the call for suspension of DepEd's K+12.

The Philippines has been embarking on a gargantuan education reform. 2016 marks the beginning of the senior high school as prescribed by the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013. To appreciate the enormity of this revision, the numbers associated with the two additional years in high school are worth noting. High school basically becomes 50% bigger. Currently, there are about 200,000 teachers in secondary schools. What can therefore extrapolate that the two additional years of DepEd K+12 would require 100,000 additional teachers.

In 2014, the passing rate for aspiring secondary teachers in the Philippines was 28% (only 12,033 passed out of 42,358 takers). The fact that it may take up to ten years to produce the 100,000 teachers needed by the new DepEd K+12 curriculum should make anyone pause. Of course, adding years not only requires teachers but also classrooms and learning materials. Schools have not even full…

Things Have Changed in Third Grade Reading

I grew up in Manila. As my father and I walked to school, we would pass by sidewalk vendors as well as beggars. Some of the beggars I saw were blind. This past weekend, my son and I was reading a book, Knots on a Counting Rope. And I just realized that my son who is currently in third grade has yet to see a blind person. I then asked my son to try and walk across the room with his eyes closed to help him imagine what blindness entails.

Knots on a Counting Rope is a beautiful story. It is touching and sad, yet hopeful. Here is the book read online by Bonnie Bartlett & William Daniels:

The counting rope is a metaphor for the passage of time and for a boy's emerging confidence facing his greatest challenges: blindness and the approaching death of his beloved grandfather.

Ideas by Jivey at the Teachers Pay Teachers site has the following suggested activity to accompany the reading of this book.

When my son first read the text "The boy was born with a dark curtain in front of his…

Parents and Homework

A child's success in education is every parent's dream. Parents are often willing to do as much as they can to help prepare their children for the future. In India, where stakes in standardized tests are so high, some parents apparently go as far as handing out answer sheets to their children during the exam.

These are definitely extreme cases of parental involvement in a child's education but there is one aspect of basic education in which parental involvement is expected and normal: Homework.

But even with homework, it is only logical to assume that there is a range in the quality of parental involvement. Dumont and coworkers in a study published in the Journal of Educational Psychologyhave used the following criteria to assess parental involvement in their child's homework.

How a parent helps a child do his or her homework is categorized according to three types based on self-determination theory. From the above list, control corresponds to actions that are often v…

Insights from Gender Differences

If there is one significant conclusion that can be drawn from research on gender differences in education, it is likely the following. The similarities between boys and girls far outweigh the dissimilarities. The main reason behind this is that variance in children really goes far beyond gender. Every child is unique. I have a son who is in third grade and a daughter who is in kindergarten. They do share a lot of things in common. Still, each one is special.

Studies on gender disparities in education also provide plenty of data on how nature and nurture affect learning. At the early ages, there are cognitive and verbal differences between boys and girls. And when boys and girls grow up, there are likewise differences in experiences. Looking at these differences allows us to see the possible variations among children in general, regardless of gender. One simply has to take note that differences are usually found as mere fractions of a standard deviation. This means that there is indeed…

Boys Are Better in Math

In a previous post, possible reasons behind girls outperforming boys in both reading and writing have been examined. It turns out that both language and cognitive variables are predicting the gender gap in this area of learnng. However, these factors alone are not sufficient. Thus, there remains the question of whether attitude or beliefs need to be considered. Interestingly, there is a recent study that looks at the other side, boys outperforming girls in math, and asks the question of whether values matter.

How a student values a discipline encompasses four different dimensions. These four dimensions are intrinsic, attainment, utility and cost. The intrinsic component relates to how much a student gets carried away or immersed in the subject (Math is fun). Attainment is defined by how much importance a student gives to performing well in the subject (It is important to me to do well in math). Utility measures how a student views learning in the subject helps in his or her future (Ma…

Girls Write Better Than Boys Do

Girls outperform boys in various standardized reading comprehension exams. Girls likewise score higher in writing tests. This should not be surprising since one's writing ability depends to a certain extent on one's reading ability. Writing can be distilled into two parts: generation of ideas and their subsequent transcription. In other words, there is quality, which can be measured by organization and theme, and productivity, which can be roughly gauged, for instance, by the number of words written.

A recent study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology examines in detail how girls differ from boys in terms of writing skills. Included in this study are about 500 students (grades 2 and 3) from 76 classrooms in 10 schools in a midsized city in the United States. Three writing tests are administered to gauge both writing quality and productivity and the differences found between the two genders is shown in the following figure:

What is graphed here is the difference b…

I Am Good at Math, But Not in Writing

Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, "Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." Are gaps in education likewise guaranteed? Achievement gaps do seem permanent. And sometimes, gaps even become bigger with time. Inequalities become magnified with one side progressing and the other falling behind.

In US education, there are gender gaps suggested in both math and reading scores for grade 12:

Math Scores
Reading Scores
These gaps are not exclusive at the end of K-12, but are actually present as early as fourth grade:
To address these gaps, stereotyping is frequently judged as the culprit. The gender gaps seen above can indeed come from a social frame of reference. Presently, there are more women teaching in K-12 classrooms but at the university level, there are more male professors. A more recent concern has likewise been raised regardin…

Gender Gap in Education

Early this month, the OECD published a report on gender gaps or inequalities in basic education. The report, The ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence, explores a variety of data from PISA test scores as well as survey questions to shed light on the differences between boys and girls. The following short video recaps the findings and recommendations from the report:

At first glance, the report sounds a bit of a stretch. How can one possibly decipher gender disparities in basic education from multiple choice questions or simple surveys? Another major concern with regard to PISA test scores is the low stakes nature of the exam. Debeer and coworkers, for example, have questioned whether PISA is really testing persistence and not ability. In the paper, "Student, School, and Country Differences in Sustained Test-Taking Effort in the 2009 PISA Reading Assessment", it is found first of all that there is a decrease in examinee effort while taking the P…

Stress, Working Memory, and Reading Comprehension

How stress affects a learner's performance is a factor worth considering since teachers can sometimes intimidate a student. For example, a teacher simply standing behind a student during an exam can induce stress.  Stress occupies part of one's attention. Therefore, it is expected that the effects of stress on a student's performance are likely to depend on the difficulty of the task and the student's working memory capacity.

By focusing on reading comprehension, researchers at Kansas State University are able to decipher the effects of stress, anxiety, difficulty of task, and working memory on a student's performance. The paper published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, "The Effects of Stress on Reading: A Comparison of First-Language Versus Intermediate Second-Language Reading Comprehension", manages to untangle these various factors, providing a picture of how each affects a student's efficiency (speed) and effectiveness (accuracy).


Perimeter and Area: From Activities to Assessments

There is computational fluency and there is conceptual understanding in mathematics. A false dichotomy between fluency and understanding is common among criticisms against how students are taught math. It is true that procedural competence in math does not guarantee a deeper understanding, but one must not jump at the conclusion that the lack of understanding in math is due to an overemphasis on arithmetic competence. Oftentimes, the problem is not a lack of conceptual understanding but the presence of  misconceptions. A misunderstanding of concepts in math can happen when the teaching of concepts themselves is not well designed. These problems can arise from two sides, activities (how math is taught) and assessments (how knowledge and skills are gauged).

Perimeter and area are good examples.

Eric Horn illustrates this in the following slides:

The part, "Do we use area or perimeter", can either be a learning activity or an assessment opportunity. It is an excellent activity b…

A Night of Books in an Elementary School

My children returned to their school, Mason Crest Elementary School, last night to attend a book fair. My son was eager to arrive on time since the book he wanted was probably at high demand. The book was "LEGO Star Wars: the Dark Side". He had a preview earlier in the day of the book fair so he knew exactly where the book was on display. True enough, when he got to the table, there were no more copies of that book. Fortunately, there were still some copies left inside a box under the table so my son went home happy last night.

My five-year old daughter was likewise excited about the book fair. In fact, we had to miss our karate class just to attend the event. She also had her eyes on one book and luckily, she also got a copy.

There were a lot of books. The school's library was turned into a bookstore.

In addition to fiction, there were science books. There was even a display of books in Spanish. There were a lot of people and the line to the cash register manned by volu…