Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
A little experiment I ran. Two things I'm looking for...are word searches worthless? Are word banks helpful when doing vocabulary activities?
Days 1 and 2
Pre-test, Teach words, review
Days 3 & 4
Group 1--Word Search only
Group 2—Exercise (CRWD, Fill in) only
Group 3—Exercise & Word Search
On day 1, all students were given a vocabulary pre-test consisting of 10 words selected for low likelihood that many students would already know them. The mean for all pre-tests (80) was 1.31. The test was followed by a review (verbally, while words and meanings were projected on the board) of the correct definitions of the words.
Day 2 consisted of a very brief verbal and visual review of the words.
Day 3, Group 1 was given a Word Search with all 10 words; Group 2 a Crossword (without any word bank); Group 3 a Crossword with a Word Search as the word bank. Everyone had 5 minutes to complete as much work as they could.
Day 4, Group 1 was given a Word Search with all 10 words; Group 2 a Sentence completion task using the new words (without any word bank); Group 3 a Sentence completion task using the new words with a Word Search as the word bank. Everyone had 5 minutes to complete as much work as they could.
Day 5, everyone took a post-test of the same design as the pre-test.
I thought that word search only (Group 1) would yield the least improvement, as so little 'work with the word' would be done during the week. The exercise only (Group 2) would, I conjectured, would do better than Group 1, but not as well as exercise plus word search (Group 3) because the latter group would being doing more cognitive work with the definitions, and they would have the visual reminder of the words they were trying to learn.
In short, if Exercise + Word Search (as word bank) is a better learning device, then Group 3 post-test score improvements will be higher (or show more growth) than both Group 2 and Group 1. Also, if Word Searches generate no (or very little learning), then Group 1 post-test scores will be lowest and/or show the least growth. In other words, I expected scores improve with each successive group.
Comparative post-test scores and growth rates that trended in other directions, or no discernible difference among the groups' outcomes would serve as rejection of my hypotheses.
Mean of all pre-tests: 1.31
28 sets of tests taken
Pre-test mean-- .96 Post-test mean—3.00
4 test-takers achieved no change from pre- to post-test; 4 declined by 1 point each; 6 increased by only 1 (which I arbitrarily assume to reflect random 'error' as much as learning). 14 test-takers increased by 2 or more.
28 sets of tests taken
Pre-test mean—1.46 Post-test mean—3.8
3 test-takers achieved no change from pre- to post-test; 3 declined by 1 point each; 7 increased by only 1 (which I arbitrarily assume to reflect random 'error' as much as learning). 15 test-takers increased by 2 or more.
24 sets of tests taken
Pre-test mean—1.32 Post-test mean—3.54
3 test-takers achieved no change from pre- to post-test; 2 declined (1 by 1 point, 1 by 2 points); 7 increased by only 1 (which I arbitrarily assume to reflect random 'error' as much as learning). 15 test-takers increased by 2 or more.
I hope to run a chi-square test of independence to determine if the score change differentials among the group are statistically significant.
Both the test scores and the growth differentials are so similar across the groups that I suspect we will not find confirmation of my hypotheses.
Several factors may have worked against the processes I expected to find. First, while I wanted Group 3 to do the exercises with a word bank, the additional presence of a word search, appears to have distorted the test I was hoping to implement. Many Group 3 test-takers, indeed, nearly all of them on the fill in exercise, chose to do the word search, as I told them they could do whichever part they wanted for the five minutes. This effectively transformed Group 3 participants into something much more like Group 1 participants.
Second, the five minute work time did not allow enough time for students to 'work with' the words thoroughly enough—in any of the experimental circumstances—to generate the hypothesized differences in results. Five minutes proved too little for many in each of the groups to really accomplish much new work or learning with the words.
I hope, now, to sharpen the experiment by a) dropping the Word Search Group altogether and/or b) changing the Group 3 Word Search to a word bank, and conducting the whole process in the space of one day, so as to eliminate the effect of absenteeism (which required me to discard several test-takers' data) in the course of the experiment.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
Saturday, March 5, 2011
Friday, March 4, 2011
President Obama is visiting a Miami school that has turned everything around. Some federal stimulus money helped, but, according to the story, "school officials said all problems can't be solved with money."
Apparently, what you really need to do is "Identify individuals who want to be part of the change -- whether it's students, teachers or administrators -- and have people here who want to be here, for the good of the cause," said [the principal of the school].
The story didn't really explain that last statement. I guess I'm left wondering how you identify the students who want to be part of the change, and what you do with the ones who don't. At the furthest extreme of this principle, you would be able to end up with a non-random group of students with what sounds like higher commitment, and, of course, a school of low commitment students.
We often lament that if only the low-commitment students were more committed….Well, does this 'selection' process solve that problem?
Further, the whole story is presented as a success of the federal deus ex machina that pops out to fix the faculty (by replacement) and thereby the school. How else are we to think about the bit telling us,
"We've replaced over 50% of the faculty in the last two years," said Nikolai Vitti, an assistant superintendent in the Miami-Dade County school system. "It's brought new energy and a greater willingness to go above and beyond for our kids."
I gather this is intended to show that the 'fire the teachers and get better ones' program really is successful. Unions, watch out!
Welcome to the schulekampf.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
Parents Across America (PAA) is a grassroots organization that connects parents and activists from across the U.S. to share ideas and work together on improving our nation's public schools. It was founded by a group of activist parents who recognized the need to collaborate for positive change, rather than remain solely entrenched in separate battles in our local communities. Since the top-down forces that are imposing their will on our schools have become national in scope, we need to be as well.
We advocate for proven, progressive measures such as reducing class size and increasing parent involvement, and oppose corporate-style efforts to privatize our schools.
So grassroots that you cannot contact them from their web site, save to donate or sign up to receive their newsletter. Makes you wonder if collaboration for positive change involves more top-down leadership...just from a different top.
Wednesday, March 2, 2011
Several weeks ago in the pages of a regional newspaper in my area, Marsha Michaelis of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, compared education to macaroni and cheese, arguing that in the same way we're accustomed to 28 varieties of that food product, we really deserve to have a similar market competition in education. This facile analogy serves as a rhetorical sleight of hand which is intended to make us think that market forces are the solution to the problems that are supposed to beset the schools. But the producing, selling and buying of macaroni and cheese is not much like provision of education service. Ms. Michaelis' own market sensibility should reveal this to her. Let me explain.
The dozens of macaroni options available in the store are largely interchangeable. They are packaged, sized, designed, and colored similarly, and they come in a few basic types--traditional boil and mix, microwavable tubs, and 'fun-shaped' novelty noodles. Most importantly, they taste about the same (except for the one 3-cheese variety and the two whole wheat options). So, though there are 28 varieties, they are fundamentally similar. In fact, most of the variation is for marketing purposes. The Scooby Doo variety is only different from Sponge Bob in that it broadens the prospect of catching more children's attention. The two otherwise look, smell and taste the same.
Unless a macaroni consumer is looking for the novelty of something like PowerPuff Girl noodles, or has brand loyalty, most macaroni purchasers are price sensitive. This means that when one similar (almost interchangeable) option is priced lower than the others, many consumers will purchase that one. Consumers can--and sometimes do--even switch brands for price (or novelty) purposes.
This, then, begins to explain how macaroni are not like schools. Macaroni are purchased and consumed. This discrete process may be repeated, but each purchase is fundamentally independent of other macaroni purchases. Further, macaroni are not sentient beings with parents who want particular outcomes from the continuous (not discrete) production process. To put it another way, macaroni purchases are of much lower consequence than educational processes. To wit, switching schools--even in an environment of high school choice--could never be anywhere as easy as an 89-cent macaroni purchase.
Perhaps this inflexibility of movement reflects the lack of options in school choice. But then again, perhaps it reflects the economies of scale problem. Achieving economies of scale means maximizing on the efficiency that comes from production in larger volumes. This side of the economic analysis is often left off by the competition advocates because it takes more account of the reality that a capital and labor intensive activity like education (yes, it really is both) becomes more efficient when done on a larger scale. Lots of variety in schools (and therefore small schools) means smaller scale and reduced efficiency. In other words, two different strains of economic logic actually work at cross purposes in this case. It would be great to have innumerable different types of schools--and it would be cost-ineffective. We can't have it both ways--wide variety and low price.
This fact points to the other conceptual difficulty in broadly applying 'market logic' to education production. Namely, we lack a good metric for 'efficiency.' Economists let prices do a great deal of both the practical communicating and theoretical measuring in their ideas and prescriptions, but pricing education production is made difficult because 'test score outcomes' are not easily monetized, so the correlation between test scores and profit (the monetary measure reflecting gains in efficiency) is merely arbitrary.
This is not to say that the idea of greater competition and wider variety wouldn't be a good thing. It may, but achieving the benefits of competition will be much more complicated, and take more creativity and thought than buying macaroni.