3 articles worth reading and debating

These three articles captured in my RSS feed reader caught my eye today. Perhaps they’ll interest you as well.

1. Is the Internet Changing Kids’ Minds?

In this excerpt from his book The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads, Daniel T. Willingham argues that the brain is always changing; there’s no reason to assume the Internet is damaging kids’ brains so they can’t concentrate.

What is problematic, Willingham says, is that using digital technologies of all types change users’ expectations: Users are impatient with boredom. They expect instant success with minimal effort.

That sounds like an education problem to me. What do you think?

2. In a Changing Rural America, What Can Charter Schools Offer?

I’ve seen many articles about how school choice championed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos won’t help — and may hurt — rural areas. This article by Terry Ryan and Paul Hill at Education Next suggests that charters, properly done, could be an alternative to school consolidations in sparsely populated areas.

If you live in a rural area, you ought to read their short piece.

3. Why do college students have 6th-grade writing skills?

That question was the headline over an e-Campus News report on a research study by peer-to-peer learning markeplace StudySoup. StudySoup’s own headline was “At Which U.S. Colleges do Students Write at a Middle School Level?”

Educators need to take a look at the StudySoup data: It’s the sort of “research” that will grab media attention and get discussed over coffee at the local diner.

A team from the business used the Hemingway app to analyze hundreds of written documents submitted to the StudySoup . The app evaluated the samples for clarity, readability, and calculated the reading level of the writing. The average reading level score was 12th-grade level. Student work was also given a second score based on how difficult individual sentences were to read. Of the 20 schools from which writing samples were analyzed, 12 were graded “poor.”

The app doesn’t look to see whether writers have anything to say; it looks just at their individual sentences.

Notice that StudySoup assumes that the higher the reading level score the better the writing is. Actually, the higher the reading level, the smaller the audience that will be able to understand it: Here’s StudySoup’s own explanation of Hemingway which supports that interpretation:

Hemingway provides two “readability” scores for each document. The first is the “grade level” of the content, which is determined using a readability algorithm. According to Hemingway, this score determines “the lowest education needed to understand your prose”.

Long, Slow Preparation Aids Advanced Writing

You can reduce the strain of difficult writing assignments, such as compare-contrast writing or literary analysis, by preparing students as they do other activities over fairly long period of time.

If, for example, you are going to have students write a comparison essay in March, 2015,

2015 Calendar with March circled
2015 Calendar

you probably should being preparing students in December, 2014,  for the intellectual tasks comparisons require.

2014 Year Calendar with December circled
2014 Year Calendar

Josh and Caitlin may know nothing about writing comparison essays, but they most certainly know something about using comparison thinking.

Build on what they know.

Use that knowledge to help you teach something that’s in your December lessons.

Then tell students explicitly that the skill they demonstrated so brilliantly will be used later in the course for the comparison essay.

Once you start looking at your materials with an eye to the cognitive processes students need to write a comparison essay, you’ll find many places in which it feels natural to use a comparison to have student discover or describe a relationship.

Continue drawing on students’ knowledge of comparison thinking to help you convey information and to plant the notion that they have the necessary skills for the project coming up later in the year.

Activating knowledge and activating self-confidence over a period of weeks enable students to tackle difficult writing tasks without undue stress.

When it comes to writing skills, familiarity breeds confidence.

Revised Bloom’s taxonomy: 13 lesser-known facts

The revised Bloom’s taxonomy appears destined to become an education classic that people think they know but have never read, just as its famous predecessor did.

A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing:  A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, edited by Lorin W. Anderson and David R. Krathwohl, was published in 2001. It is available in a hardcover edition and an abridged soft cover edition. The authors tactfully say teachers seek second-hand information instead of reading primary sources because they are so busy. The softcover edition eliminates that excuse by omitting chapters and one appendix considered less interesting to teachers than to researchers.

Below is a Baker’s dozen of lesser-known facts about the revision.

1. The revision is based on cognitive research and constructionist perspectives (p. 38).

In the revised Bloom’s taxonomy, the term cognitive process replaces the term behavior in the original. Besides aligning more closely with neurological research into how people learn, the cognitive terminology permits greater precision. For example, an objective in the original taxonomy that might have called for students to list can be more precisely identified as either remembering or analyzing, which are very different cognitive processes (p. 14).

2. The revised taxonomy adds metacognition as a knowledge category (p. 55).

3. The revised taxonomy is two-dimensional ( p. 5).

Forget pyramids.  Think instead of a graph with the  X axis as the cognitive process dimension and the Y axis as the knowledge dimension. Each dimension is a continuum arranged from the 0 point in order of increasing complexity ( (p.4). If your imagination is not up to picturing a graph, these two simple charts from the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at Iowa State University give  a good representation of the content.

If you see reference to an objective that consists of only a verb, you should recognize immediately that the author is not using the Anderson and Krathwohl taxonomy. Objectives in the revised taxonomy consist of a verb and a noun. The verb refers to a cognitive process, the noun to a type of knowledge  (p. 27).

4. The categories of the revised taxonomy are not cumulative hierarchies.
The revised taxonomy does not assume that mastery of the less complex behaviors is necessary for learning the more complex ones (Ch. 16).

5. Revised Bloom’s taxonomy objectives don’t go in daily lesson plans.

Educational objectives are Goldilocks sized. They describe curricular goals that are  narrower than institutional goals (i.e. “college and career ready”) and broader than instructional goals in the daily lesson plans (p. 105).  Objectives for standards based education are written at the educational objectives (unit or course) level.  The taxonomy’s authors believe that the classroom teacher—not the school board, state education department staff, or a publisher—is the judge of how to shape each day’s instruction toward the educational objectives set out on the standards (p. 15).

6. Placement is by subcategories.

To determine where an objective falls on the cognitive processes dimension requires looking at 19 specific cognitive processes, not just the six broad categories. Similarly, a determining of where an objective calls on the knowledge dimension is most readily achieved by looking at the subcategories of the four knowledge dimensions. The revised Bloom’s taxonomy defines them carefully and gives examples. You don’t have to be able to recall the dimension items in order. You can look them up.

7. Educational activity is a group noun.

Anderson and Krathwohl use the term “educational activity” as a group noun implying a collection of learning experiences.

8. The authors assume teachers are professionals.

Anderson and Krathwohl’s revision of Bloom’s taxonomy is written for teachers, elementary through high school.  By necessity, teachers must choose from vast amounts of information what they will teach. The authors expect most teachers in schools from elementary to high school will need to make those choices within a standards-based curriculum. They clearly expect teachers to have the expertise and professionalism to teach students instead of simply presenting publishers’ materials. They say the majority of instructional decisions “depend on the creativity, ingenuity, and wisdom of the teacher.”

Anderson and Krathwohl say teachers should treat standards as “general guidelines to what is worth learning” (p. 6). They urge teachers to make their own decisions as to what their students need to know at a particular time in their education and not rely on  publisher-provided content to determine what they teach. They draw teachers’ attention to the fact that the difficulty of a learning task for students depends on prior learning (p. 106).  A demanding cognitive task that was hard to master initially may be easy a second time because the students need only remember what they previously learned.

After teachers have place their objectives on the Taxonomy Table, the authors expect them to use educational research to determine what kinds of activities will facilitate that particular type of learning.

10. The authors don’t push standardized testing.

Because national and state testing programs and performance scoring guides have high stakes consequences, they can have a negative impact on classrooms, the authors say.  They refer to such testing programs as external assessments  “because people who typically do not teach in classrooms mandate them  (p. 248) [italics added].  Since such high stakes tests won’t disappear any time soon, the authors of the revised Bloom’s taxonomy say, “Teachers need to find ways of incorporating these external assessments into classroom instruction that are positive and constructive” (p. 233).

11. Self-teaching is easiest way to learn the taxonomy.
Anderson and Krathwohl say going through training with using someone else’s materials is the hardest way to learn to use the taxonomy. It’s much less frustrating and much more efficient to use the definitions and examples in the text to help you figure out your own teaching program (Ch. 6).

You may want to buy a copy of the book just to be able to show that to the curriculum people for your district.

12. Appendices summarize the original taxonomy & highlight changes.

Appendix A summarizes changes from the original Bloom’s taxonomy framework. One particularly useful chart, Figure A. 1, shows the structural changes between the original and the revision. Appendix B summarizes the six major categories typically associated with the original taxonomy.

13. Original taxonomy can’t be beat for assessment items.

Anderson and Krathwohl say the best set of test items aligned with specific educational goals is still found in Bloom’s original taxonomy (p. 298). About 130 pages of that original book is devoted to presentation and discussion of objective-specific items.

[Links to information no longer available on the web removed 04-03-2012. Revised reference to the Iowa State Univeristy celt page to reflect changed content.]