Friday, July 22, 2016

Why Knowledge Matters

| by Cory Curl |

Reading comprehension has a lot to do with students’ knowledge and vocabulary.

To build a foundation for reading comprehension for all future learning, students need exposure to a well-rounded curriculum including science, social studies, arts, music, and other subjects beginning in early elementary school. Susan Weston has shared this point several times here at PrichBlog.

Fortunately, Kentucky’s education community has understood this for a long time. Both policy and practice have emphasized a well-rounded curriculum, and we have the results to suggest that this is the right track.

Science is a case in point. As Lisa Hansel of the Knowledge Matters campaign pointed out in a webinar that we hosted last evening, Kentucky ranked 4th in the nation on the 2009 4th grade NAEP science test. That year, Kentucky elementary schools had the highest amount of instructional time devoted to science (see this paper by Dr. Rolf Blank).

Lisa also suggested that this commitment to building knowledge in the early grades contributes to Kentucky’s strong showing in NAEP reading, where Kentucky 4th grade students score in the top 10 in the nation.

The webinar also featured Robert Pondiscio of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who went into lively detail about why knowledge matters for reading comprehension, as well as why attention to this connection is important for equity for all students. Lisa provided five concrete recommendations of how states can incentivize a well-rounded approach in the early grades. You can learn more about the research and recommendations in this issue brief.

We had a great discussion about how parents can advocate for a knowledge-rich curriculum. Lisa and Robert also shared stories to illustrate why an emphasis on building knowledge provides an opportunity for engaging and active classroom learning rather than rote memorization.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) provides some policy spark for states to incentivize a well-rounded education, an opportunity that Secretary of Education John King underscored in recent remarks. As always, we encourage you to be involved in Kentucky’s efforts to redesign its accountability system and otherwise take advantage of opportunities provided in the new law.

We welcome your suggestions on how can help keep you informed and engaged through the process.

Monday, July 18, 2016

What Kind of Student Writing Do We Want? And Where?

| By Susan Perkins Weston | 

 Some writing makes an argument to support a claim.  Other pieces inform or explain, and still others provide narratives or real or imagined experience.  Our Kentucky Academic Standards call for students to become skilled in all three, but that still leaves room to puzzle about how much teaching and learning time should be invested in each kind. 

In EdWeek's new coverage of Changing Practice in Writing Instruction, that balancing pops up in multiple places.  In one interview, Lucy Calkins says "the common core says that a third of kids’ writing should be narrative."  Another article reports that "By the time students are in 12th grade, literary writing to convey experiences is expected to take up 20 percent of the time allotted to composition, compared with 40 percent each for informative writing and argumentative writing."

Both statements share a part of story. The 2010 Common Core State Standards aimed to align with an earlier Writing Framework for the National Assessment of Educational Progress.  The original CCSS document show that framework using this table:
It's clear that Dr. Calkins' comment is about the grade 4 expectations, and the other article was explicitly looking at grade 12.

Both leave something big to be said.  This isn't all about English and the study of composition. Much of the high school writing for argumentation and explanation can be, should be, and must be part of mastering scientific communication and civic participation. That work belongs in science classes and social studies classes. That version of literacy needs teachers who are expert in the work of those disciplines.  Still more, those disciplines need literate students: they need students who are equipped to make sense of texts about science and social studies and equipped to organize and share thinking in those fields. 

For example, a high school's writing plans might be spread out like this, with plenty of room for narrative in English because major slices of argument and explanation happen in other classes.

The elementary and middle years can prepare students for that high school range, with argument and explanation becoming increasingly important as students mature.

Seeing the role of disciplines beyond English is essential to understanding how richly English classes can engage narrative writing, literary texts, and other classic undertaking.