Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Nation's 2011 Writing Assessment Results

The results are in...The Nation's Report Card for 8th grade and 12th grade writing assessments reveal some interesting data, including gender differences.

The following is an excerpt of the results (the full article can be accessed here):

Nation's Report Card Reveals Writing Gender Gap

Female 8th and 12th grade students significantly outperformed their male counterparts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2011 writing assessment, which tested students’ ability to write for specific purposes and audiences. The average score for female 8th graders was 19 points higher than the average score of their male peers. At grade 12, the gender performance gap was 14 points. And those gender differences persisted across every racial and ethnic subgroup. Although the test doesn’t determine the cause of the gap, survey data about the students who took the exam show that female students in both grades were much more likely to agree that writing is a favorite activity.

For the first time in its history, the NAEP writing assessment used computers to evaluate students' writing. The new, interactive test—designed to measure student ability to communicate clearly and accurately in real-world, on-demand situations—shows that the nation’s students as a whole must improve their writing skills; only about a quarter of students at both grades scored at or above the proficient level.

In addition to assessing the quality of students' writing, the computer-based exam shed light on how students write. For example, almost 30 percent of 8th graders used the thesaurus, and 80 percent of 12th graders did not use the cut, copy, and paste features. At both grade levels, students who frequently used the backspace key and the thesaurus tool scored higher than those who engaged in these actions less often.

Other findings include the following:
  • In addition to gender gaps, significant gaps occurred across racial and ethnic groups. At both grades, black and Hispanic students posted lower average scores than white students and Asian students.
  • Eighth grade students whose teachers frequently ask them to use computers to draft and revise their writing scored higher than their peers.
  • Twelfth grade students who report writing at least four pages a week for their English language arts homework scored higher than their peers.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remembering 9/11...Eleven Years Later

I wanted to acknowledge this day in history as today marks the national (and international) tragedy of 9/11. It is one of those events that conjures up memories of where we were and what we were doing eleven years ago today when we heard the news. Last year commemorated the ten-year anniversary of this tragedy, which provided opportunities to reflect on 9/11 through a multitude of online resources. I posted several of these resources last year on my blog post Remembering 9/11 with Online Resources. I've also listed them again below. A new resource includes the memorial's website, which includes lesson plans for students of all grade levels. 

Although the ceremonies associated with the tragedy of 9/11 are on a much smaller scale today, the memory of this event is still present. Consider resources that can be used to generate teaching moments within your classrooms, or use these resources as a personal reminder of a day in history that you will never forget.

The United Federation of Teachers produced a documentary interviewing dozens of educators in New York City who managed the crisis from inside the schools and guided over one million students to safety.

Thinkfinity provides online conference and community connections, as well as several classroom resources to teach about 9/11.

The National Geographic website provides a video segment of President George W. Bush recounting his experience surrounding the events of 9/11 (to be aired on Sunday).

The Guardian has collected memories of 9/11 from individuals around the world over the last ten years. Individuals recount their memories of what they were doing when they heard about the attack.

The Washington Post has a series of stories covering the ten-year commemoration of 9/11. A few of the stories include the following: A pilot who was ordered to take down United 93Nine lives that were directly affected by 9/11 and where they are now; and the age of 9/11, which recounts how old certain individuals were when the planes struck the World Trade Center, where they were, and where they are now, "10 years older, 10 years after the attacks." 

StoryCorps has documented some touching stories of individuals recounting the loss of loved ones who died in the September 11th terrorist attacks. Here are three: John and JoeShe Was the One; and Always a Family. StoryCorps has a goal of recording at least one interview for each life lost in the terrorist attacks.

NPR highlights an artist, Marc Farre, who lived in New York City and witnessed the events of that day. He attempted to capture 9/11 in a song. Listen to the song here. This is what NPR had to say about it: "We received a lot of songs from amateur musicians back then, and Farre's was the most powerful one we heard — it seemed to capture the loss and fears of that day."

Monday, September 10, 2012

Thoughts on Purpose

I was recently asked to share my thoughts on purpose with my company--why I do what I do. Purpose is one of the tenets of our company creed. I have blogged about purpose before. A few blog posts that illustrate my purpose for doing what I do include the following: 
Lessons Learned from Life
The "Homeless Wanderer"
The Value of Literacy
Post-India: Thoughts on Service
Teaching the Homeless to Read
Curriculum Vision -- Helping Struggling Readers
Success Stories in Learning to Read
Why Do We Do What We Do?

A few highlights of my job include (but, of course, are not limited to):

Part of the purpose for this post was to respond to the request to share my thoughts on purpose with my company. But another impetus for this post was to provide a more personal side to my blog. I understand that most people find this blog organically when searching on the Internet for specific ESOL- and literacy-related topics; however, I also occasionally have friends and associates who are genuinely interested in what I do. Whether you are a "stranger" or a friend, thank you for visiting this blog!

What Does It Mean to Be Literate?

I have posted before about the value of literacy. As I contemplate the value of literacy, I consider what literacy really means. When I think of literacy, I naturally think of reading and writing and the benefits of being able to learn from print and communicate in written form. But with the rise of technology comes a need to consider literacy in technology contexts. Computer literacy, for example, demands the development of crucial skills--computer literacy skills--to enable them to be functional, contributing members of society.

I came across an article this morning that discusses this very topic: What Does It Mean to Be Literate? The author of the article asserts that there are three key skills individuals should learn in order to be considered "literate" (in addition to the ability to read and write, of course):

1) E-mail
Knowing how to email, including attaching documents and pictures, is a skill that not only enables individuals to remain in touch with the world around them, but to communicate quickly.

2) Word Processing
Students need to be taught formatting skills and applications to enable them to share their thoughts and ideas. It is interesting to recall those semesters past when I taught advanced writing to ESL students. We focused quite a bit of time on conventions and less time on computer literacy skills. With these students being advanced, they had experience with word processing prior to attending my class, but perhaps explicit instruction on word processing skills to fill in gaps would have been helpful...something to keep in mind for my future teaching.

3) Research
I remember when I wanted to learn something growing up, I would go into my dad's den and pull an encyclopedia from the bookshelf. I loved looking up new things, and I especially enjoyed accompanying illustrations and pictures. Now we use the Internet as our main resource to look things up. But without basic research skills in sorting through information, individuals may not be able to find the information they need, or they may stumble upon false information altogether.

In order to help students be competitive, functioning members of society, we need to consciously give attention to computer literacy skills in our curriculum. The skills taught should include the three skills mentioned above at a bare minimum. One-time exposure to these skills in our classrooms is not enough. Explicit instruction in these skills, combined with multiple opportunities to consistently apply these skills, are crucial components of our literacy instruction.

How computer literate are you?

Friday, September 7, 2012

International Literacy Day 2012

Tomorrow, September 8, 2012, marks International Literacy Day. With Literacy being a passion of mine, and having taken the opportunity to post in years past on family literacy, I wanted to take the opportunity to acknowledge this day of literacy as it has become customary for me to do so. Last year, I posted about my recent experience of working with a gentleman in his sixties embarking on his "journey to read."

I met with him just yesterday, and he is decoding and spelling words like he has never been able to before. I do not attribute his success to my teaching, but rather the explicit, systematic, sequential strategies he is being taught. He said yesterday that "no one has ever been able to get [him] this far"...and he has had several attempt to teach him over the years.

To commemorate this day of literacy, there are several ways to get involved and assist in literacy efforts. I've posted a few ideas in the following two posts:

Adult Education and Family Literacy Week 2010
Adult Education and Family Literacy Week 2011: Teaching Struggling Readers

Here are a few other blog posts that share my thoughts about and experience with literacy. I invite you to consider the needs of those in your own communities and ponder how you may be able to assist.

On the Journey to Read
On the Journey to Read: Part 2 (Adult Literacy and Teaching Struggling Readers)
Teaching the Homeless to Read
How Do I Teach Literacy?
How Do I Teach Literacy? (Part 2)
The Value of Literacy
Lessons Learned from Life
ESL Literacy - A Tibetan Student's Autobiographical Poem
Thankful for Literacy
Success Stories in Learning to Read

I will also mention here that I will be starting a series of literacy training videos on a YouTube channel in the next week or two. (See my posts on Using Video to Provide Free Education and  Free Online Videos for the ESL and ELL Classroom.) Stay tuned to future posts!