Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Reading and Writing Preparation

The standardized testing being created by the two consortia (PARCC and SBAC) and Pearson is predicted to produce comparable test results among states (less cheating at all levels). The next level of assessment is standardized student certification: students passing the test will have predictable performance in future courses and in the workplace. Pearson, based in London, the largest education company in the world, over 70% of the revenues, is making great strides toward this goal (valid assessment must be coupled with appropriate instruction).

All of this must start with students being capable readers. The main problem found to date, indicated by students dropping out of high school, is that they were not good readers by the end of the third grade. They remained passive captives of the classroom until they could no longer stand the boredom; or the prospects of passing a NCLB standardized test to pass a course seemed impossible; or they were missing, disenrolled or triaged to increase the school’s rank.

To actually know something, to make it your own, requires that you do something with that knowledge or skill. Visualization works with both real and imaginary situations. Performance requires doing the real thing or working with a close mock up. Questioning, answering, and verifying do this for the self-educating student.

The passing rate on NCLB standardized tests makes a good example of how this can work out in a complex system of state and federal agencies. Some states visualized an ever-increasing rate of passing, but with each increase a bit smaller then in the previous year. The idea was to maintain the minimum annual yearly increase until the politicians in Washington, DC, would correct the initial error of requiring the impossible standard of 100% of students passing in 2014. Of course, that did not happen.

The politicians are now five years behind in correcting their original errors, and state departments of education must now explain why their new tests are producing such low passing rates, with about the same low scores. The passing rate was a Ponzi scheme at the state level based, as much on luck (the right count scored multiple-choice test), as on student ability. We really need a way to educate individual students and evaluate each for what each one knows and can do. Teaching to the middle of the class and assessing with the popular right marked scored multiple-choice test cannot do that when the result is low scoring tests. The vision was doubly faulted: instruction and assessment.

The Educational Software Cooperative (ESC) was formed in 1992 (incorporated as a non-profit in 1994) to provide a means for teachers and software authors (who were mostly teachers) to empower individual students to become proficient learners (both quantity and quality, knowledge and judgment, are important) regardless of the academic environment of their schooling. Software lessons can also be non-judgmental and have everlasting patience.

ESC members have continued to teach by way of ever changing software that improves in the level of thinking addressed with every advance in technology. The oldest currently listed downloadable reading software is Animated Alphabet for Windows. It teaches letter sounds and vowels with silly animation to prevent boredom when learning at the lowest levels of thinking. Directions are read aloud for pre-readers. The level of thinking is in balance within instruction, learning, and assessment.

The most advanced downloadable reading software listed, such as AceReader, promote reading, fluency and comprehension. I have never seen such a course in all of my schooling. I took the Evelyn Wood’s Reading Dynamics course in 1967 in Honolulu, Hawaii, when on a two year sabbatical with the USDA, Agriculture Research Service. The most successful students in the class performed at phenomenal reading speeds when they were able to change from sub-vocalizing each word to forming visualizations from groups of words. You actually see, experience, what the author is writing about rather than remember the words used. It is a neat experience. Successful students must be efficient and proficient readers. Yet how often do students in public schools get a chance to learn to read at this level, or even be aware that it exists? It was a new experience to me.

Another example of replacing words about a subject with the experience of doing is Smart Science. Sub-vocalizers think they are reading well because they have never experienced a higher level of reading. Cookbook laboratory manual exercises, followed one word at a time (at lower levels of thinking), do not generate the experience of doing science (at higher levels of thinking). The words are a poor replacement for the real thing. Smart Science teaches the important process of science and scientific habits of thought by way of real virtual labs. This is reading, observing, thinking, and writing using all levels of thinking. It is much more than record keeping at the lowest levels of thinking.

The most recent offerings take advantage of the Internet to supplement individual student learning and perform classroom record keeping chores. Merit Software produces award winning software for the home and the classroom that teaches reading and writing. Essential Skills Software produces both CDs and online versions for use in classrooms that are closely aligned with state reading and writing standards. Please check the ESC list for others.

Teaching by way of software is now well developed. The Common Core State Standards has created an environment in which free enterprise can thrive. Good government has a positive effect that costs the taxpayers nothing. The two consortia however are struggling with computer scored essays (at the lowest levels of thinking comparable to human fast scoring), online assessment (with right count scoring at the lowest levels of thinking) and millions of taxpayer dollars.

The Internet pipeline for full online interactive assessment is needed to manage cheating at all levels. Once in place it can then be reversed and used for individual student instruction. At this point I would hope that all levels of thinking could then be accommodated. I also predict the dominate testing company may well become the dominate instruction company. The traditional classroom will no longer be needed. The creativity that produces new educational software will always be needed. 

Currently, to my knowledge gained in writing this post, student ability is still assessed within school courses. Software teaches as a supplement to, or a replacement of, a part of a course. Each year more teacher friendly features are included: record keeping, etc. Even the software I have named as examples have many more features than I have mentioned. Each author, teacher, has a unique approach to creating software. You must check out each offering for the one that fits your needs the best.

At some point software should have the same weight as a correspondence course. This is coming about as a natural experiment in what is now being called  “flipped” instruction. Students do the lower level of thinking portion at home by CD or online. They are then ready to question and discuss at higher levels of thinking, and to know where they may need help, in class.

This method of instruction worked very well in my remedial biology course. The textbook was presented with questions on the campus computer system to help students learn to read by questioning and relating (meaning making). Biweekly multiple-choice tests scored for quantity and quality (accurate, honest, and fair – no guessing required) promoted student development from passive pupil to self-correcting scholar. Today we can also add Winsteps and Amplifire (see previous post).

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