Monday, February 28, 2011

Crafty Readers

By Richard Carson, PhD, Senior Editor

When I was about ten years old, a friend of my parents gave me a handsomely bound, pocket-sized volume that contained selections from the works of Robert Louis Stevenson. Printed around the beginning of the last century, the book's Preface indicated that its size allowed the owner to carry it about upon solitary walks and, should the desire present itself, produce it to locate favorite passages and be transported to places of exotic beauty and high adventure.

Such sentiments reflected the sentiments of its time, namely, that books had power. Towards the end of the last century however, critics began to argue that reading should not focus upon the book being read but upon the act of reading itself. Critics such as Robert Scholes called for "crafty readers," readers who were empowered not by themes and meaning, but by an awareness of the kinds of cultural biases involved in both reading and writing. Practitioners of the newer theories might have argued that the pleasure I took from my childhood volume had less to do with Stevenson and more to do with the class privilege that allowed for solitary walks and the gender bias that was already "constructing" my pre-adolescent consciousness.

Many teachers thought of the newer ideas as a betrayal of all that was meaningful and valuable about literature. But others found the newer ideas exciting. Graduate students brought them to their college teaching assignments, and college graduates who were lucky enough to find high school teaching jobs, wondered how they could bring to their students discussions of literary theory like those that had invigorated their college classes.

Deborah Appleman, in the recent second edition of her book Critical Encounters in High School English: Teaching Literary Theory to Adolescents (Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English, 2009) notes "Contemporary literary theory helps students reshape their knowledge of texts, of themselves, and of the worlds in which both reside (127)." In the pluralistic worlds of our classrooms, Appleman argues, students need to be exposed to canonical and non-canonical texts, as well as to empowering ways of approaching those texts.

Appleman's book, and the theories it discusses, challenges students, teachers, even editors, to creatively rethink our lesson plans. Those of us responsible for creating and producing literature and reading programs need to make certain that we empower young readers with a knowledge of reading, writing, and self, a knowledge that will sustain them on all the journeys that lie ahead.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Teaching World Languages in Elementary School

By Emily Solomon, Intern

Back in the 1960's, linguist Noam Chomsky developed a theory called "Critical Period Hypothesis." Chomsky stated that the time before puberty is the easiest time for children to learn world languages. Once children go through the puberty stage it's more difficult to learn another language. Furthermore, Chomsky explains that while a child is going through puberty, his/her brain is more able to absorb abstract ideas. According to Jean Piaget, a renowned developmental psychologist, when children are going through the developmental stage, between the ages of 5-12, they are more open-minded and curious about the world beyond their own.

In the United States, the majority of our students are not exposed to world language courses until the age of 14. Chomsky believes that young adults have a harder time understanding new languages, because teenagers are usually concerned with the present. Everything they do must benefit their present self or else the value goes away. If an American teenager is learning French for the first time but has no desire to go to France, he or she will automatically see the learning experience as unhelpful.

By incorporating introductory world language classes into the elementary school curriculum, students will be able to learn a world language faster. Once they have a second language under their belts, it will be easier for them to learn a third or fourth language later on. Knowing a second language helps kids when they enter into the workforce, as many companies today find people who speak more than one language to be an asset. Providing world language courses to children can give them a leg up in the job market.

Unfortunately, there are many issues that don't allow for every elementary school to have a world language curriculum. Many schools are constantly trying to revamp the primary subjects, including mathematics, science and literacy, to make those subjects more accessible to students. There are also very few teachers who know how to teach world languages to younger children, and not every school has the funding. With all of these factors driving elementary school curricula, the world language classes get put on the back burner.

America has always been referred to as a melting pot. Every day Americans work with people of all different cultures and languages. By incorporating world language instruction at the elementary level, we would enable the future leaders of America to communicate more effectively with the world around them.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Substance Over Size

By Tamzin Mitchell, Intern

Much of the push for education reform revolves around smaller schools, smaller class sizes, and as much one-on-one time with teachers as possible. Yet some schools have eschewed this model, opting to focus instead on changes that don't require a complete overhaul of the entire school system. In Brockton, Massachusetts, Brockton High School, which caters to over 4,100 students, proved that the focus doesn't necessarily need to be on decreasing class size, but on retooling the structure of classes. Without cutting class size, Brockton High saw an abrupt increase in testing performance by incorporating reading and writing into every subject, even gym.

Although this may not seem immediately intuitive, on one level it makes a great deal of sense: some of the highest-ranked colleges and universities in the United States feature first-year lecture courses seating a hundred or even a thousand students. A student may never know more than a fraction of his or her peers in the class, but he or she will be offered innumerable resources and opportunities to succeed. Brockton High School didn't have the option of teaching only a few hundred students--not only does its large student body make it one of the largest high schools in the country, but it is also larger than many private colleges--so it focused on the quality of education that the students were receiving and what they needed to be successful. In math class, students solved problems and then wrote out explanations of how they had done so. One science teacher asked her students to write out the steps to make a sandwich, starting not with putting the sandwich together but with opening the cupboard or refrigerator. The school has seen a sharp rise in English test scores and is working to make similar improvements to math scores.

Although some may argue that the country's best schools are charter schools, the charter-school model is not always feasible--and it isn't the only model that works. If more schools followed Brockton High School's lead and focused on the things they can change--from curriculum to quality of textbooks and other materials to structure of the school day--perhaps we'd see similar levels of drastic improvement elsewhere.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Same Solid Content, New Ways to Deliver It

By Ken Scherpelz, Vice President of Sales and Business Development

Although solid, accurate content continues to be at the core of successful instructional programs, the means by which content is delivered to students and teachers has taken on a variety of forms that have gone way beyond traditional print products.

Here are some of the "non-print" projects we've been involved in lately at Publishing Solutions Group:

  • PSG prepared Spanish translation and audio recordings for online math dictionaries.
  • PSG prepared Spanish translation, audio recordings, and electronic text highlighting for an online reading fluency program.
  • PSG audited math assessment item banks for accuracy and validity. Our staff created a rubric scale and template for evaluation and reporting, reviewed the client user-failure reports, and corrected data errors to reduce online customer complaint ratios.
  • PSG authored math and language arts test items and distractor rationales aligned to Grades 3-12 state performance indicators into a field-defined template within the client's information architecture. The templates were imported to a database used by customers to create, administer, score, and report assessments, and PSG compared the item templates and alignments against the imported content online to verify that they matched.
  • PSG created online, state-specific high school social studies lesson plans that aligned the client's products and specific lesson plans with state standards.
  • PSG prepared Spanish translations for online science and math simulations, then reviewed all the content in the final online environment.

And while we were doing all that, we continued to create content for good old-fashioned phonics workbooks, several AP textbooks, some adult basic education products, and we even snuck in a fact check.

To say that PSG is a content company is only part of the story. Find out the rest of the story by contacting PSG.