Promoting Literacy with Grammarly

There are many ideas not worth promoting; however, there is just as many worth promoting.  One of these ideas that is worth promoting is literacy.

Grammarly, a blog, has a Promote Literacy Program.  They want bloggers to help spread literacy.  So, let’s spread it:

  • Low literacy affects more people that you think. About 22 percent of American adults have minimal literacy skills, which prevents them from effectively communicating. (National Center for Educational Statistics)
  • Low literacy is correlated with chronic unemployment. 50 percent of the chronically unemployed are not functionally literate, which prevents them from maintaining jobs. (Ohio Literary Resource Center)
  • Low literacy is correlated with imprisonment. 65 percent of prison inmates (or one million Americans) have low literacy. (Literacy Partners)
  • Low literacy is correlated with poverty.  43 percent of Americans with low literacy are impoverished, lacking basic reading and writing skills to help them overcome their situations. (Literacy Partners)
  • Low literacy affects the American economy. Experts estimate that low literacy costs the American economy $225 billion a year in lost productivity. Improved workplace literacy can increase employees’ efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity on the job. (Reach Higher, America)

Being able to read and write, in other words, being literate, will affect you paycheck.  Yes, good grammar will get you promoted.

So this next school year, pay attention to your English teachers—they want you to earn a higher paycheck in the future!

 

“Fact-checking attacks on Common Core school standards”

This article was written by Cara Fitzpatrick, Amy Sherman, Jeffrey S. Solochek and originally published on Monday, October 21st, 2013 at 6:01 a.m. on PolitiFact.

It seems many people know about what Common Core is and isn’t. However, many people have not actually explored some of these claims, simply reiterated something they heard, adding their own two cents or interpretation. Unfortunately, this has led to a game of telephone.

As states surge toward full implementation of Common Core State Standards for public schools, the din is rising from some fronts to pull back.

In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott, whose tea party base offers perhaps the most strident opposition, is listening. In open forums Scott requested last week, people stepped forward to give their views. Criticism ranged from what’s taught in English class all the way to conspiracy theories involving iris scans.

PolitiFact Florida reviewed comments from the hearings and found that several of the most dramatic criticisms aren’t backed up by the facts. Here is a brief review of some of their findings. (See individual reports for more details.)

Common Core refers to a set of national education standards adopted by 45 states, including Florida. They came out of years of discussion between private nonprofit groups and state education departments.

The goal: to better prepare students for college and careers and ensure that students in different states learn the same academic concepts.

The Obama administration has used its education grant process, Race to the Top, to encourage states to use the new standards, but no state is required to adhere to Common Core.

•••

One frequent complaint at the hearings is that teachers were not involved in developing the standards.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative, the official group that organizes the standards, says that’s not the case.

We wanted more evidence, so we talked to teachers who actually participated in the process.

Becky Pittard, a Volusia County elementary math teacher, served on a team that developed math standards. She said she was puzzled by any suggestion that teachers were left out.

“I can tell you the equal sign standard is there because I insisted,” she said, referring to a first-grade guideline on understanding the meaning of the symbol. “There was impact.”

Many states assembled teams of teachers to review the new standards, including Florida. Deputy chancellor Mary Jane Tappen sent an email to selected teachers in November 2009 expressly for that purpose.

“You are receiving this email because you are a trusted and respected expert in your field,” Tappen wrote. “Florida must provide input on this very first drafty draft of the Common Core National Standards by December 4. … I will be collecting and compiling all our work into one Florida response.”

PolitiFact Florida rated the claim that teachers weren’t involved in creating the standards as False.

•••

Another claim: Common Core standards will dramatically increase the amount of personal information the federal government collects.

“There are over 300 data elements the government is going to be collecting about your children and about you,” Tim Curtis, an activist with the tea party group 9/12, said in Tampa.

His claim has a kernel of truth: Florida requires school districts to keep student information. Some of it is required by the state, while other elements are optional, or only kept at the local level, such as bus stop numbers. The list includes students’ race, test scores, attendance and many more factors.

But those requirements have existed for decades — long before Common Core came along. States collect the data to help them make decisions.

The U.S. Department of Education has routine access to some data, but that data is aggregated and stripped of personally identifiable information.

In fact, laws predating Common Core prohibit a federal database of personally identifiable information on students.

“Florida has no plans to change the data it collects that is linked to Common Core,” said Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters.

We told Curtis that multiple educational experts said Common Core doesn’t require new data collection.

“I can shoot that claim down with a single explanation,” Curtis said. “The Polk County school district began to do iris screening on school children and they did so without notifying their parents. They did so as a result of the beginning of the implementation of Common Core.”

According to the Florida Department of Education, the screening was intended to route children onto the proper bus and wasn’t related to Common Core.

We rated the claim that Common Core means 300 points of data being collected as Mostly False.

•••

Another criticism of Common Core is that it will reduce the reading of fiction and literature.

“Common Core expects English teachers to spend at least half of their reading instructional time at every grade level on informational texts,” said Sandra Stotsky, an education professor at the University of Arkansas and staunch critic of the Common Core. Stotsky didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Common Core standards do emphasize informational texts, particularly in history, social studies, science, and other technical subjects.

And news reports suggest that English teachers are using more informational texts in their classrooms as they move to the Common Core. An Oct. 15 story in The Hechinger Report found one teacher replaced the novel The Great Gatsby, with a memoir, The Glass Castle.

However, the idea that English teachers must spend half their time on informational texts misreads the standards.

Common Core follows a framework that spells out percentages of literary versus informational texts by grade level. It calls for a 50 percent/50 percent split in grade four, with an increasing emphasis on informational texts in later grades. In grade 12, the split is 30 percent/70 percent.

But those percentages are meant to reflect the sum of student reading, not just in English.

To meet the 30 percent threshold for literary reading at grade 12, an English teacher would have to focus on stories, novels and plays, said Timothy Shanahan, a retired education professor and a member of the English Language Arts Work Team for the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

PolitiFact Florida rated the claim that English teachers must spend half their time on informational texts as False.

•••

One of the most dramatic claims we found against Common Core came from published materials from the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition. The standards aim “to instill federally determined attitudes and mindsets in students including political and religious beliefs,” states a report on the group’s website.

We found nothing in the standards that suggested any level of government was telling students what political or religious beliefs they should personally hold.

So what evidence do the critics have for saying the Common Core will instill political and religious beliefs?

The coalition’s report zeroes in on lists of hundreds of data elements a school district might keep on its students. The report linked to a screen grab it created of data elements from the National Education Data Model.

The list shown includes “voting status” and “religious consideration” and “religious affiliation.”

But this is not a required list of data for all states or school districts to collect.

So why are the fields on voting and religion even there?

We interviewed Alexander Jackl, chief architect of Choice Solutions, Inc., an education data software company. He’s also one of the original authors of the National Education Data Model.

The data fields are all optional, and the fields for religion are useful for private, religious schools, he said.

We contacted several Florida school districts to ask if they collect data on voting status, political affiliation or religious affiliations, or if they plan to start doing that with Common Core. They all said no.

The Florida Department of Education does not require school districts to ask about those subjects and has no plan to do so under Common Core, Etters said.

So the evidence — a computer model that has a data field for voting status or religion, typically used by a private school — is a far cry from the federal government attempting to instill particular religious or political beliefs. We rate this Pants on Fire!

“Indoctrination in Common Core ELA textbooks”

A few weeks ago I saw a video on Facebook titled “Indoctrination in Common Core ELA textbooks”.  It was posted on June 15 by Aliēnātus: the truth is out there.  The goal was to open people’s minds to what was in the Common Core curriculum and that the curriculum is horrible because it “indoctrinates” students starting in the 1st grade.  According to the commentators in the video, the book(s) shown have been approved by the state of Utah.

I was outraged, but not by the curriculum, rather by the ignorance of the commentators in the video and by the comments on the video.  It still outrages me, thus, I have decided to embedded the video and share my thoughts.

My Issues with Statements Made in This Video

The commentators have no authority on the subject matter.  The commentators who are evaluating the curriculum have no stated background in teaching, curriculum planning/design, or education.  One commentator claims he has a 6-year-old (1st grader).  This does NOT make him an expert on what is taught or should be taught but isn’t being taught in the 1st grade.  It is apparent that he has not seen the entire K-12 system as a whole, its successes and its failures, from the standpoint of an educator.  He is a parent.  He may be an expert on the interests of his child, but that does not translate into the expertise of the educational goals for that grade.

The commentators’ narrow focus on the title, “Literature and Writing” ignores the benefits of working with content in different contexts.  Since the commentators are not well-versed in educational issues, they do not understand that one of the major problems of the American school system is that we pulled apart our content and put each one into different boxes called grade level and subject matter from which we were told to never deviate into another subject or grade level.  In other words, the 1st grade English teacher taught 1st grade English, which included reading, spelling, writing, and literature.  Students were not taught reading in 2nd grade science class because “that’s the 1st grade English teacher’s job.”  We now know this chunking to be very problematic and the term “cross-curricular” has entered the educational vocabulary.  Encouraging students to write about advocacy in a “literature and writing” class highlights that you don’t just write papers in an English class and talk about society in social studies, you can mix them!

It’s also important to note that writing is not just about the motor skills of writing letters and sentence structure.  Why should we waste students’ precious time writing about insignificant things like, “The sky is blue.  I like puppies,” when they are capable of so much more?  Many students have already grasped these basic verbal concepts by the 1st grade, thus, we are wasting their time by re-teaching the same concept with only adding the motor skill of writing.  We end up hindering the grow of their mental skills; and when their brain isn’t stimulated, students get bored, which can directly lead to learning, “nothing” all day and hating school.

The commentators project their adult understanding and definition of “advocacy” and cannot fathom that a 6-year-old can advocate for anything.  The concept of “advocacy” can be complicated or boiled down to a very simple basic element: standing up for what you think is right.  Isn’t that the exact same message behind the anti-bullying campaigns in elementary schools right now?  The commentators laugh and one says sarcastically, “Yeah, my six-year-old does that all the time.  She looks at what is wrong in the world and says how do I organize my people and my community to fix these social problems?”  By six years old, kids are able to identify things that are right and wrong as well as come up with ideas on how to change the status quo.  Why tell a six-year-old, “no, you’re only six, you have nothing positive to contribute to your family/house, neighborhood, your school, or your city”?  We’re not talking about six-year-olds organizing and starting a national revolution, but they can see that there are people who are starving and that creating a community garden and donating the food to a local food bank can help.  It’s also fathomable that 1st graders could organize a school-wide blanket drive to donate blankets to the American Red Cross for the upcoming winter.

The commentators ignore the intended audience of the curriculum guidebook that they mock.  The guidebook is written for a college-educated educator.  The voice and style of the paragraphs is written such that it will not be an insult to the intelligence of an elementary school teacher.  The educator is able to translate the broad concept of “call to action” into simpler words that each individual student will understand.  The concept of “call to action” really isn’t difficult to understand at all.  A six-year old definitely understands, “the sentence that says ‘I want you to clean your room.’ is a call to action because ‘clean’ is a verb, and a verb is an action, right?”  Why are we insulting the intelligence of six-year-olds?  If they are capable of understanding the concept, willing to learn it, and desiring more out of their education, then we should be teaching them.  It is the role of an educated, effective teacher to translate concepts from complex to simple.  Teacher guidebooks are written for the teacher, not the student.

The commentators have ignored the basic principles of persuasion: logos, ethos, and pathos.  Logos ethos, and pathos are Greek words that used to describe the three types of appeal that are used to convince people in an argument.  They are essentially logical appeal, credibility appeal, and emotional appeal.  These are very complex subjects that are repeatedly studied throughout middle school, high school, and college.  However, the commentators do not understand that the fundamental understanding of these complex concepts must begin early.  Since the commentators do not seem to have an education background, they have not experienced the problems that occur later when this ground work is not laid.  An effective elementary teacher is able to teach a very basic understanding of these concepts.

The commentators have ignored the value of recognizing how someone is manipulating you in favor of focusing on the fact that we are equipping 1st graders with tools to manipulate.  A six-year-old has already experienced manipulation using all three types of appeal: in video and/or print advertisements, in overhearing an argument between their parents or other adults, or by engaging in an argument themselves.  It is imperative that students begin to understand how peer pressure works (usually a combination of all three, but typically lots of logical and emotional appeal) and how to avoid failing prey to it.

The commentators take issue with the example of arguing with their parents.  My gut instinct is that the reason parents were chosen is that they were looking for an authority figure that a child may feel comfortable arguing with, and it’s pretty safe to assume that each child has at least one parent (or guardian).  But I think the bigger problem is if you are worried that we are teaching six-year-olds how to argue back to their parents instead of simply obeying and doing as their told without incident…perhaps you need to re-evaluate your parenting style.  I mean..if you can be outsmarted or outargued by a six-year-old…then you probably have not taught your kids WHY you want them to do something, which is just as important as the WHAT.  Why don’t we want to equip our children as early as we can with the weapon of words instead of the weapon of fists?  Why do we want to enforce blind obedience, but then wonder why kids aren’t thinking for themselves?

The commentators fall victim to the exact “problems” they criticize in the teacher’s guidebook.  The commentators emphasize and pause on certain words to elicit an emotional response from the viewer.  They are trying to convince the viewers that this guidebook is indoctrinating students by using their “authority” as a parent of a six year old, emphasizing emotional words, and trying to insert sarcastic commentary as part of their emotional appeal.  The end goal of this video was not to objectively review the Common Core approved, curriculum guidebook for 1st grade in the state of Utah, but it was to stir up emotions and fuel rage-filled comments.

What is Literacy?

What is literacy?

I have noticed that word “literacy” recently has become a buzzword to mean “to be fluent in” or “to be well-versed in”.  The buzzword “literacy” has been so overused that society is now misusing the word.

The dictionary definition of the word “literate” (at least the first entry still) is “able to read and write” (dictionary.com).  The second entry is “having or showing knowledge of literature, writing, etc.; literary; well-read.”  As a noun, the definition is “a person who can read and write” or “a learned person”.  So how have we made the jump to the fourth entry definition, “having knowledge or skill in a specified field: literate in computer usage“?

In in my education class tonight my professor brought up the topic of literacy.  She briefly explained the main “types” of literacy and “degrees” of literacy with words like “cultural literacy”, “functionally literacy” and “computer literacy”.  I have heard these terms thrown around the last few years and probably have even used them myself.  But during this classroom discussion I began to analyze the term “literacy” more deeply and found many of these terms to be oxymorons.

My professor used the following example to describe “cultural literacy”.  An American, who only speaks English, travels to Japan.  During one meal, soup is served and the American does not slurp the soup because that behavior is rude in the US.  However, in Japan, slurping one’s soup is a compliment to the chef and indicates that the one slurping the soup likes it.  This American is culturally illiterate because s/he does not know the customs of Japan.

I wouldn’t use the term “culturally illiterate” here, as slurping soup (customs) have nothing to do with reading or writing.  I think the correct terminology would be “not well-versed” in Japanese culture or “culturally unaware”.  I could even see the word “not fluent” as in “not fluent in Japanese culture” being acceptable because fluent does not just mean the level of speech ability, but it describes a level of proficiency in a subject matter or language.  But “culturally illiterate”?  No, I don’t see that term as being the best word choice or the most accurate choice of words.  Using words correctly will ensure your message will be communicated effectively with the lowest error rate.

Has the definition of “literate” changed to mean “an understanding of something”?  My professor cited an article that stated Patrick Dempsey (Grey’s Anatomy, or for you 80s movie buffs, Can’t Buy Me Love) was “functionally illiterate”.  He could not read–he memorized his lines by having someone read them to him and he eventually memorized them.  Another article cited that Tom Cruise (I’m sure you know who he is), called himself a “functional illiterate” when he was younger.  One student brought up the fact that Fantasia (winner of Season 3 of American Idol) was illiterate.  In doing a quick Google search just now to look for famous illiterate people I came across the term “economic illiterates”.  What does that really mean?  What does it mean to be illiterate in the 21st century?

Austin Buffman, Mike Mattos, and Chris Webber state in their article in Educational Leadership that “…the definition of illiterate in the 21st century will not be ‘Can a person read and write?’ but rather ‘Can a person learn, unlearn, and relearn?’” (14).  Do you agree?

So…has the definition of literacy changed or has society turned the word into the latest buzzword to mean a whole laundry list of concepts that really have nothing to do with reading and writing?

 

References:

Buffman, Austin, Mike Mattos, and Chris Webber. “The Why Behind RTI.” Educational Leadership 68.2 (2010): 10-16. Print.

“Literate”. Dictionary.com. 28 Feb 2012. Web.

 

Mindset

Understanding the mindset of students is a key element in understanding why students may “go through the motions” but never learn a thing.  Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset, is the product of her entire researching career on mindsets.

Mindset thoroughly explains the fixed mindset and growth mindset through years of research and numerous examples, with the goal of helping people change.  Have I changed as a result of reading her book?  No, because, according to her definition, I already have a growth mindset—I learn from my failures.  When I do not receive the grade I expected, I review the assignment myself for errors.  If I do not understand why my answer is not the best choice, I then seek out my professor to discuss my answer versus the best answer.  I do possess some qualities of a fixed mindset because I tell myself “I am smart” and expect my intelligence to take me where I want to go (but not without hard work). Of course, as I grew up I changed from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset as my understanding of the world expanded.

Although Dweck’s mindset theory makes many valid points, I find her research to be questionable, examples extraneous, and conclusions to be common knowledge.  There are a vast number of “studies” that are thrown in so casually, without circumstantial details, that I find her research data to be perplexing and inaccurate, such as her examples of students and children.  It is difficult to list all the qualities of a fixed mindset or a growth mindset because nearly every other paragraph is overshadowed by a case study of athletes, CEOs, famous people, etc.  And once I found her conclusions?  There was nothing new to learn.  Substitute “fixed mindset” with “closed-minded” and “growth mindset” with “open-minded” and the conclusions are the same as those common knowledge terms.  In fact, the most fascinating concept in her book is that her entire book read as though she has a fixed mindset and therefore was attempting to prove the legitimacy of her research and be showered with praise because she worked hard for decades.

Prior to reading this book I already planned to apply mindset theory to my lessons, only I did not call it mindset theory.  I have a 5×7 Moleskine book where I have notated some lesson and project ideas for students.  Each one of them has two parts, the object the student will create and a reflection paper.  The reflection paper requires students to explain his/her process, what he/she learned from working on the project, and what the student would do differently in the future.  This forces them to not just slap a project together, but to reflect on why they did what they did, to learn something about themselves/time management/their creativity, and to analyze errors and learn from them.  My hope is eventually the students will unconsciously reflect on assignments from other classes and become a better student which, in turn, could affect their home life and even their career.  A student’s mindset is very powerful and influential; therefore I will ensure all my students have a growth mindset by the time they leave my classroom.