Re: The Imaginary Teacher Shortage

There was an interesting opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal  today: “The Imaginary Teacher Shortage” by Jay Greene. Both Obama and Romney think we need more teachers, but as Greene notes:

For decades we have tried to boost academic outcomes by hiring more teachers, and we have essentially nothing to show for it. In 1970, public schools employed 2.06 million teachers, or one for every 22.3 students, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Digest of Education Statistics. In 2012, we have 3.27 million teachers, one for every 15.2 students. Yet math and reading scores for 17-year-olds have remained virtually unchanged since 1970, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress.

That study Greene refers to can be found here. Interestingly, while scores for high school students haven’t changed, scores for nine- and thirteen-year-olds have improved. It’s also worth noting that the pupil to teacher ratio depends on what kind of school we’re talking about. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “the public school pupil/teacher ratio was 15.4 in 2009. By comparison, the pupil/teacher ratio for private schools was estimated at 12.5 in 2009. The average class size in 2007–08 was 20.0 pupils for public elementary schools and 23.4 pupils for public secondary schools.”

While I agree that hiring more teachers isn’t necessarily the solution to our education problem, I disagree with Greene’s proposed alternative: using more technology in classrooms to allow for “more individualized instruction with many fewer teachers.” I don’t think that letting young students sit for hours in front of a computer screen, with teachers serving merely as “tutors, problem-solvers, and behavior managers,” is the answer. What do you think?


 

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Will We Be Publishing Books Written in Digital English Someday? (Guest Post)

I’m excited to introduce my first guest blogger, Alexa Russell.  In this post, Alexa writes about nothing less than the future of the English language.  While we need to recognize the importance of Internet English, we should be wary of relying on it too much.  What’s your take on the issue?  Should we embrace the patois of the digital age, or fight to keep ‘proper’ English alive?  Should digital English become part of what you actually learn in English programs?  Without further ado, here’s Alexa.

The digital migration brings millions of new users to the Internet daily, with even more returning day after day to their favorite informational resource. Not only do these individuals access countless stores of knowledge held on websites and databases, they also contribute to the Internet by publishing in the form of Twitter and Facebook updates and blog posts. Many of these publication forms champion cursory writing, and in response many Internet users have found ways to express themselves through acronyms or shortened words.

This has spurred a huge debate about the current state of the English language. On the one hand, many believe that the rules of grammar serve as the best way to express yourself and be taken seriously. Others, however, believe that these rules hinder actual communication and force people to follow archaic rules that are inefficient for the digital age. The point of using abbreviations or removing vowels from words, after all, is to communicate more quickly.

A January 2012 feature article published by Wired Magazine illustrates why we should embrace this digital form of English. As the headline announces, “Its Tyme to Let Luce” with the rules of casual conversation. “English spelling is a terrible mess anyway,” writes Anne Trubek, “full of arbitrary contrivances and exceptions that outnumber rules. Why receipt but deceit? Water but daughter?”

Efforts to stem the digital corruption of English only get in the way, Trubek argues. Autocorrect software, which attempts to make sense out of misspelled words, both purposefully and not, often further complicates intended meanings by correcting to the wrong word.

Even colleges and universities, the bastions of proper English and, are beginning to embrace digital applications. A January 2012 piece published in the New York Times reports the attempts of Duke English professor Cathy Davidson to do away with the traditional term paper in favor of consistent posting to a class blog.

Although she finds that this outlet supports writers that rely on creativity in their prose, many feel that the rigid rules of proper grammar need to be respected, especially by college students. “Writing term papers is a dying art, but those who do write them have a dramatic leg up in terms of critical thinking, argumentation and the sort of expression required not only in college, but in the job market,” said Douglas Reeves, founder of the Leadership and Learning Center and a columnist for the American School Board Journal.

The youngest among us have incorporated digital forms of English so completely into our usage that it often finds its way into oral conversation. The Baltimore Sun published a May 2012 piece on different acronyms and abbreviations that parents should know in order to communicate with their children. Many of the more popular ones, like “YOLO” and “OOMF” are relatively new but are already being used by millions.

What the digital migration has allowed people to do is construct their own rules of conversation, apart from those held sacred by the old school of grammar. There’s no doubt that people will continue using these forms of speech, and postmodern writers have long been published advocates of English deconstruction. With the ease of publishing today, digital English will continue to take hold. However, those who don’t publish works that adhere to at least some standard rules of writing, may find that their audience dwindles when they can’t understand what they’re reading.


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Thinking outside the box on education: 4 great books with a fresh new perspective

Some of the books with the most original, thought-provoking ideas about education these days aren’t even on education. They’re on subjects such as sociology, psychology, technology, and self-help, among others, but they challenge what’s going on in schools today. Here are some books that don’t fall into the category of education, but which have a lot to say about the way we learn.

1. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain (Crown, 2012). This book is ammunition against a school system that increasingly views classroom education as an endless stream of group projects. While it’s important for kids to learn teamwork, all too often we forget the importance of solitude, concentration, and deep thought in the learning process. I know that when I was in school, I did my best work alone. As Ms. Cain writes:

What’s so magical about solitude? In many fields, Ericsson told me, it’s only when you’re alone that you can engage in Deliberate Practice, which he has identified as the key to exceptional achievement. When you practice deliberately, you identify the tasks or knowledge that are just out of your reach, strive to upgrade your performance, monitor your progress, and revise accordingly. Practice sessions that fall short of this standard are not only useful – they’re counterproductive. They reinforce existing cognitive mechanisms instead of improving them. Deliberate Practice is best conducted alone for several reasons. It takes intense concentration, and other people can be distracting. It requires deep motivation, often self-generated. But most important, it involves working on the task that’s most challenging to you personally. Only when you’re alone, Ericsson told me, can you “go directly to the part that’s challenging to you. If you want to improve what you’re doing, you have to be the one who generates the move. Imagine a group class – you’re the one generating the move only a small percentage of the time.” [page 81]

Another book about deliberate practice is Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, by Geoff Colvin (Portfolio Trade, 2010).

2. The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30), by Mark Bauerlein. (New York: Penguin/Tarcher, 2008). The title says it all. Technology may be causing untold damage to the brains of young people. I’ve written two articles about avoiding the pitfalls of technology in education (see my piece in USA Today and the follow-up post on my blog). In this passage, Mr. Bauerlein paints a disturbing picture of this country’s rising generation of scholars:

Most young Americans possess little of the knowledge that makes for an informed citizen, and too few of them master the skills needed to negotiate an information-heavy, communication-based society and economy. Furthermore, they avoid the resources and media that might enlighten them and boost their talents. An anti-intellectual outlook prevails in their leisure lives, squashing the lessons of school, and instead of producing a knowledgeable and querulous young mind, the youth culture of American society yields an adolescent consumer enmeshed in juvenile matters and secluded from adult realities. [page 16]

There’s a book on a similar topic, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr (W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), which I hope to read soon.

3. Outliers: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2008). In addition to talking about the 10,000 hour rule (the theory that it takes at least 10,000 hours of practice for someone to become an expert in something), Mr. Gladwell also discusses why Asian students often outperform their American peers, especially in science and math:

We should be able to predict which countries are best at math simply by looking at which national cultures place the highest emphasis on effort and hard work. So, which places are at the top of both lists? The answer shouldn’t surprise you: Singapore, South Korea, China (Taiwan), Hong Kong, and Japan. What those five have in common, of course, is that they are all cultures shaped by the tradition of wet-rice agriculture and meaningful work. They are the kinds of places where, for hundreds of years, penniless peasants, slaving away at the rice paddies three thousand hours a year, said things to one another like “No one who can rise before dawn three hundred sixty days a year fails to make his family rich.” [pages 247-49]

4. The 4-Hour Workweek, by Timothy Ferriss (Crown Archetype, 2009). This one may be a bit of a surprise. Am I suggesting that you can get great grades by working four hours a week? Not at all. Nor am I encouraging you to outsource your schoolwork to India. But Mr. Ferriss does present some useful advice on how to work more efficiently and effectively, whether you’re a student or an entrepreneur. Here’s an example:

Parkinson’s Law dictates that a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion. It is the magic of the imminent deadline. If I give you 24 hours to complete a project, the time pressure forces you to focus on execution, and you have no choice but to do only the bare essentials. If I give you a week to complete the same task, it’s six days of making a mountain out of a molehill. . . . The end product of the shorter deadline is almost inevitably of equal or higher quality due to greater focus. . . . . There are two synergistic approaches for increasing productivity that are inversions of each other:

  1. Limit tasks to the important to shorten work time (80/20).
  2. Shorten work time to limit tasks to the important (Parkinson’s Law). [page 75]

What are some of your book recommendations?


Give yourself the gift of great grades.  Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

The Benefits of Going Low-Tech in College

Low-tech tools

USA Today‘s College Blog just posted my article on the benefits of going low-tech in college!  In it, I explain why ditching your laptop may be good for your GPA.  There were a bunch of things I didn’t get to include in the article, though, so here’s some more advice about how to avoid the pitfalls of technology in the classroom.

      1. How to use slides.In my article, I caution against relying too much on the professor’s PowerPoint presentations, which are now commonly posted online.  But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use them at all – they can make taking notes easier and faster, if you use them the right way.  Here’s one way to do it:
        • If the slides are posted before class, print them out and number each one.  Bring the print-outs and a notebook to class.  Write today’s date on your slides and in your notebook.
        • Take notes directly on the slide printouts as they are covered in class.  Flesh out the slide’s outlines with details and examples provided by the professor.
        • If you run out of space on a slide printout, write that slide’s number in your notebook and continue taking notes there.  That way, when you’re reviewing, you can easily match up the slide with the relevant section in your notebook.
        • If the slides are posted after class, take notes as you normally would and use the slides as a supplement.

The benefits of paper

    1. When in doubt, print it out. Many professors have joined the environmental movement by posting syllabi and assignments online instead of printing them out.  This is all well and good for Mother Earth, but it may not be the best thing for your GPA.  If you don’t print out important documents, there’s a much greater chance that you will overlook some key detail.  I observed this numerous times in my paper-free classes.  For example, when essay assignments were posted online, many of my classmates were unaware of essentials such as the due-date and topic.  During finals, they often lost points because they hadn’t noticed certain required readings on the online syllabus.  During meetings for group projects, I was often the only one who could clarify the requirements because I had the assignment right there in front of me.  Printing out documents saves you from having to turn on your computer and navigate to your course’s web page every time you want to check something. If your conscience nags you about killing trees, remind it that you can recycle the paper when the term is over.
    2. Books aren’t dead yet. Dr. Jakob Nielsen, a web usability expert, has some alarming things to say about how technology affects reading comprehension.  “The online medium lends itself to a more superficial processing of information,” he says. “You’re just surfing the information. It’s not a deep learning.” Although reading speeds on electronic devices have improved, they’re still not as good as reading on paper: in Mr. Nielsen’s study, the iPad measured at 6.2% lower reading speed than the printed book, whereas the Kindle measured at 10.7% slower than print. And if you’re even thinking about doing serious reading on your iPhone, I have one word for you: don’t. Reading comprehension scores are 48% of the desktop level when using the iPhone-sized screen. That is, it’s twice as hard to understand complex content when reading on an iPhone versus on a full-sized computer screen.
    3. Be more independent. Lastly, this week’s Time magazine provides more evidence that we’re becoming overly dependent on technology and losing our ability to contextualize information. According to Annie Murphy Paul in the article “Your Head Is in the Cloud”

      Research conducted by Betsy Sparrow, an assistant professor of psychology at Columbia University, and published last year in the journal Science has identified three new realities about how we process information in the Internet age. First, her experiments showed that when we don’t know the answer to a question, we now think about where we can find the nearest Web connection instead of the subject of the question itself. . . . A second revelation: when we expect to be able to find information again later on, we don’t remember it as well as when we think it might become unavailable. . . . The researchers’ final observation: the expectation that we’ll be able to locate information down the line leads us to form a memory not of the fact itself but of where we’ll be able to find it.”

      Scary stuff. You can’t have an intelligent conversation if you have to look something up on your computer every 20 seconds. We must use technology with restraint, both in school and in our post-graduate lives.


Give yourself the gift of great grades.  Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!

Education Update

1) There’s an interesting article about the 10 most educated countries in the world. The U.S. did better than I expected. China isn’t on this list, which is evidently a sign that even though privileged Chinese students have been beating American students in science and math, the country as a whole has a long way to go.

Here are the top 10, with postsecondary education rates:
1. Canada
Pct. population with postsecondary education: 50%

2. Israel
Pct. population with postsecondary education: 45%

3. Japan
Pct. population with postsecondary education: 44%

4. United States
Pct. population with postsecondary education: 41%

5. New Zealand
Pct. population with postsecondary education: 40%

6. South Korea
Pct. population with postsecondary education: 39%

7. Norway
Pct. population with postsecondary education: 37%

8. United Kingdom
Pct. population with postsecondary education: 37%

9. Australia
Pct. population with postsecondary education: 37%

10. Finland
Pct. population with postsecondary education: 37%

2) Technology in the classroom.
There’s a good infographic about how professors are using social media:
Key stat: 80% of faculty use social media for some aspect of a course they are teaching.
Reading professors like an open facebook, or how teachers use social media
Courtesy of: Schools.com
And here’s an infographic on how 100% of colleges and universities are using it:
Pros and Cons of Social Media in Education

On a related note, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski have been promoting digital textbooks. I’m not about to join the debate on this divisive issue, but here are some thought-provoking articles:
The Promise of Education Technology (It’s Not Just About Lighter Backpacks), by Joel Klein
Who really benefits from putting high-tech gadgets in classrooms?, by Michael Hiltzik


Give yourself the gift of great grades.  Order your copy of The Secrets of Top Students today!