The Knowledge Gap, Chapter 11 Q/A Read the following chapter and answer the questions below. Upload your document to canvas. Include the title of the book, chapter, questions stems and your answers.

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The Knowledge Gap, Chapter 11 Q/A

Read the following chapter and answer the questions below.  Upload your document to canvas.  Include the title of the book, chapter, questions stems and your answers.  Each question is worth 10 points.

The Knowledge Gap – Chapter 11.pdf Download The Knowledge Gap – Chapter 11.pdf

1.  Is written English really “a second language”?  If all educators adopted that perspective, how might it change their approach to teaching writing?  If you are a teacher, how much training did you receive in how to teach writing?  If you are a parent, do you feel your children are getting or have gotten effective writing instruction?

2.  “Hochman discovered that writing, reading comprehension, and analytical ability were all connected – and that writing was the key to unlocking the two.” Do you agree?  How can writing boost comprehension and lead students to make connections between bits of information?  Is the knowledge gap exacerbated by a lack of writing instruction?

3.  Judith Hochman and Lucy Calkins began with similar perceptions about what was missing from writing instruction but ended up with two very different approaches.  What are the main differences in their methods?  Why do you think their paths diverged?  To what extent was each of them influenced by the students she was working with?

4.  Do see parallels between the standards approach to reading comprehension and the writer’s workshop approach to writing instruction?  Does that assumption that skills can be taught independently of content make more sense in one context than the other?

5.  Should children be encouraged to write at length about their own experiences or develop their “voice” without worrying much about the conventions of written language? Or do you agree with Hochman that most students will only learn to write if instruction is grounded in the content of the curriculum and they are explicitly taught how to construct sentences and plan and revise paragraphs and essays?

The Knowledge Gap, Chapter 11 Q/A Read the following chapter and answer the questions below. Upload your document to canvas. Include the title of the book, chapter, questions stems and your answers.
CHAPTER 11 Don’t Forget to Write O NE DAY IN THE LATE 1970S, Judith Hochmau found herself at a workshop in Hoboken, New Jersey, that focused on teaching writ ing to a rapidly growing segment of the state’s population: Hispanic students who were still learning English. Hochman isn’t sure why she signed up for the workshop. She didn’t teach English language learners. She didn’t even teach in I ev.’ Jersey. She had started her career, some twenty years before, as a classroom teacher in public schools. Now she was the curriculum coordinator at the Windward School, an independent school for students with language-based learning disabilities in a New York City suburb. The fo cus at Windward was on reading—and more specifically on decoding. Most schools in the 1970s were encouraging children to guess at and memorize words rather than systematically teaching them how to sound them out. Windward, like other schools for kids with learning disabili ties, drew its students from the large numbers for whom that approach didn’t work. Instead, they used systematic phonics instruction, which worked well. The school tackled comprehension in the usual way: stu dents read short, disconnected passages in a basal reader and answered questions. But writing? Windward wasn’t doing much with that. 218 I THE KNOWLEDGE GAP Neither was anyone else. Writing instruction in elementary school consisted of teaching spelling and grammar rules and sentence struc ture: a noun is a person, place, or thing; a verb is an action word; a sen tence contains a noun and a verb and expresses a complete thought. In later grades, students would learn about the structure of paragraphs and compositions and be expected to produce them. That kind of abstract, rules-focused instruction didn’t work for many students—includin g those at Windward. Hochman suspected that writing could be important in helping her students compensate for their disabilities and reenter mainstream schools, which was the goal. Despite her undergraduate and graduate degrees in education, she had never been trained in how to teach writ ing, just when to assign it. When confronted with disappointing writ ing, she—like most teachers—simply gave her students vague injunctions to go over what they’d written and “make it better.” While she must have felt she could learn something from the Hoboken workshop, she had no idea it would change her life. The presenters talked about how Hispanic kids managed to pick up spoken English well enough, as immigrant kids have for generations. But writing, they said, needed to be taught explicitly and sequentially, beginning with how to construct a sentence in English. Instead of gram mar rules, the presenters offered strategies. Oh my God, Hochman real ized: this was what her Windward kids needed too. They could speak English well enough, but they tried to write the way they spoke. “My sense was we had to teach English as a second language,” Hoch man says. “Because written English is a second language.” In the decades following Hochman’s epiphany, elementary class rooms would come to be dominated by a freewheeling approach to writing instruction that rejected the emphasis on grammar rules. But for many children, it worked no better than the old one. By the fi rst de cade of the twenty-first century, it was clear that most students— especially those who were black, Hispanic, and low-income—were struggling to write coherently. As with reading, the Common Core standards released in 2010 Don’t Forget to Write 219 would demand that students’ writing abilities improve dramatically. But those standards would fail to explain how teachers were supposed to engineer that change. Like Hochman, the vast majority of teachers never learn anything about teaching writing during their training. And writing, it turns out, is even harder to teach than reading. Meanwhile, Hochman and her colleagues at Windward were gradu ally figuring out a system that worked—not just for the kids at Wind ward but for all students, including English language learners and those from less-educated families. Eventually, Hochman thought back to the many students she’d taught earlier in her career who hadn’t been diag nosed with learning disabilities but faced the same difficulties with writing. “I realized I did a big disservice to these kids,” Hochman says now. “That was not easy for me to deal with.” Hochman discovered that writing, reading comprehension, and analytical ability were all connected—and that writing was the key to unlocking the other two. If you wanted to enable students to understand what they were reading, convert information into long-lasting knowl edge, and learn to think critically, teaching them to write was about the best thing you could do. The writing strategies Hochman saw in Hoboken were rudimen tary. She tried to fi nd academic studies on writing instruction, but there weren’t many. So she started to experiment. Her initial goal was simply to get students to provide more information in their writing. If a student wrote, for example, “My dog hid,” Hochman would coax, “Tell me when that happened.” Then she might ask where, and then why. The student would note down his responses to these “question words” and combine them to create a sentence that both conveyed more information and used a structure that was common in written but not spoken English. “During the storm,” he might write, “my dog hid under the bed because he was scared.” The Windward teachers tried other approaches too, like giving 220 I THE KNOWLEDGE GAP students the beginning of a sentence—a “stem”—and asking them to fi nish it using because. A student might get the stem, “The teacher was and add, “we raised our hands ” Later on, teachers added other conjunctions: buty so. When students got comfortable, teachers racheted things up a notch by giving them the beginnings of sentences with subordinating con junctions: ‘Although the teacher was happy, These sentence stems familiarized students with types of sentences be yond the simple declarative and focused their attention on a specific task; if the conjunction was but or although, they had to come up with information that went in a different direction. Hochman incorporated practice in using appositives—phrases that describe nouns and provide more information—and combining short sentences into longer ones. Windward teachers began to notice that as students learned to con struct complex sentences, they became better able to understand them when they encountered them in their reading. They also began to use more complex sentences and provide more information in classroom discussions. Then Hochman had a second epiphany: these strategies would work even better if they were “embedded in content.” Instead of asking stu dents to practice writing on topics that didn’t require any particular knowledge—like what makes a teacher happy—she asked them to write about what they were learning. This worked especially well in history and social studies. If students were learning about the American Revo lution, the teacher could give them a bare-bones sentence like “They rebelled” and ask the kids to expand it: Who rebelled? Whenl W/iy? The faculty soon realized there wasn’t enough information in social studies textbooks to enable students to write meaningfully about the topics they covered. So teachers started providing additional material. Once the kids had enough information to draw on, their writing be came richer and more interesting. And their understanding increased, because they had to fi gure out the meaning of what they were reading in order to write about it. Students moved on to writing paragraphs and compositions, always happy because Don’t Forget to Write 221 creating an outline first to organize their thoughts, but Hochman came to believe they should keep practicing sentence-level activities. That went against the traditional sequence: first students learned to write sentences, and once they had “mastered” them, they moved on. But writing a sentence can be just as challenging, and just as much of a lever for deepening understanding, in high school as in elementary school—as long as it’s embedded in content. Like reading comprehen sion, writing isn’t a freestanding set of skills that can be learned once and then applied anywhere. Whether you can write a meaningful sentence depends on your knowledge of the particular topic; if the content is complex, so is the activity. There’s nothing simple about completing the following sentence stem: “Immanuel Kant believed that space and time are subjective forms of human sensibility, but As Hochman came to understand, writing is a lot harder than most people realize. It’s commonly assumed that if kids read a lot, they’ll simply pick up the techniques of good writing. But for many that’s not the case. Writing is far more difficult than reading—just as speaking a foreign language is more difficult than understanding it—because it’s expressive rather than receptive. Excellent readers can still struggle with writing. The same goes for speaking ability. As Hochman intuited, writ ten English is like a second language, with different demands and con ventions. When we speak, we often use fragments rather than full sentences. We don’t always clarify what our pronouns refer to, and we tend not to use words and phrases like although and in addition. Nor do we usually plan out what we’re going to say during a conversation. Generally, we know something about how much our listeners already understand and how much we need to explain. We can use gestures, facial expressions, and intonation to help get our meaning across. And if listeners are con fused, they can always ask, “Wait—what do you mean?” With writing, those aids to communication aren’t available. We need 222 I THE KNOWLEDGE GAP to be precise about our meaning, using full sentences, imposing organi zation on our thoughts, signaling when we’re making transitions—and, perhaps most difficult of all, putting ourselves in the shoes of hypothet ical readers and fi guring out what they need to know. When we make mistakes in writing, they don’t just evaporate, as they do in conversa tion. They sit right there, concrete representations of our shortcomings. Writing also places huge demands on working memory—the aspect of cognition that might be called consciousness. Inexperienced writers are trying to juggle all sorts of things within the boundaries of working memory: penmanship or keyboarding, spelling, word choice, sentence structure, paragraph structure, essay structure. Students who are trying to deal with these factors simultaneously are likely to become anxious and stressed, decreasing their cognitive power. And they need that cog nitive power to understand and explain the content they’re trying to write about. As important as background knowledge is to reading, it’s far more critical to writing. It may be tough to read about a topic you don’t know well, but it can be done. If you’re asked to write about it, you’ll struggle to produce anything coherent. But when all of that is in place—when the mechanics aren’t too bur densome and the writer has sufficient information to work with- writing may be the most powerful teaching tool we have. Writing assignments quickly alert students and their teachers to information students have missed or failed to understand, enabling them to fi ll in gaps or correct errors before it’s too late. If students have absorbed the right information, writing about it forces them to retrieve it in a way that lodges it in their long-term memories, where it can be drawn on in the future. Cognitive scientists call this retrieval practice. Writing also pro vides the kinds of benefits referred to as the protege effect: when people try to teach material to others, or simply plan to, their own understand ing gets a powerful boost. Writing may also be the best way to develop old-fashioned skills like fi nding the main idea, metacognitive skills like asking questions about one’s own understanding, and the highly prized “twenty-first-cen tury” skills of analytical or critical thinking. Skills-focused teachers haven’t Don’t Forget to Write 223 been wrong to want students to acquire those abilities. They Ve just been mistaken in their assumption that they can be taught directly, isolated from content. That mistake is much harder to make when it comes to writing. When teachers demonstrate a skill like fi nding the main idea in the con text of reading and send students off to practice with their leveled read ers, it may look like students have taken it in. But if students are asked to write about a text s main idea, they won’t be able to produce anything that makes sense unless they’ve acquired a fair amount of related factual information. And as the Windward faculty discovered, asking students to write can even reveal the shallowness and inadequacy of the teaching materials themselves. Writing may also be the best way to guard against what progressive educators have feared will result from a focus on content: rote memori zation and the regurgitation of disconnected facts. While educators’ fears have been overblown, it can happen. But when students write in response to a well-crafted prompt, they have no choice but to analyze how facts are related, which ones are truly important, and how best to communicate them to an unknown reader. In short, teaching writing is not only inseparable from teaching content, it can also be tantamount to teaching students how to think critically. Having students write about what they’re learning can yield greater benefits than the techniques currently favored by teachers: discussion, projects, and group work. While there’s a role for each in the classroom, they also have disadvantages. Class discussion is not only less rigorous than writing, it’s often dominated by the same few kids. Similarly, the details—and fun—of creating a project can easily obscure the learning objectives. As Daniel Willingham has observed, if students bake bis cuits as part of a lesson on what slaves ate on the Underground Railroad, they’re likely to remember more about baking biscuits than about the Underground Railroad. Group work, which has become almost manda tory at all grade levels, often devolves into students chatting about what ever strikes their fancies, with the more conscientious group members doing all the work. “When I die,” goes one internet meme, “I want my 224 I THE KNOWLEDGE GAP group project members to lower me into my grave so they can let me down one last time.” If each student is also writing in a focused way, group activities are likely to become more productive and valuable for everyone. It’s important to bear in mind that the benefits of writing will accrue only if the mechanics aren’t overwhelming. Just as with reading, the best way to prevent working memory from becoming overwhelmed is to en sure that some parts of the process are stored in long-term memory. In writing, what needs to be stored are not only spelling and background knowledge but also things like the ways to vary sentence structure or begin a paragraph. When inexperienced writers try to compose longer pieces of writing, they need a written plan to follow so their working memory isn’t constantly trying to fi gure out what to do next, interrupt ing their train of thought. All of this means that simply writing, and possibly making the same mistakes over and over, isn’t likely to help struggling students. Teachers need to break down the components of the process into manageable chunks and guide students through practicing those chunks in a logical sequence while providing prompt feedback. Psychologists have called this approach deliberate practice, and it’s crucial to developing mastery and expertise. Much of this research hadn’t yet been done when Hochman was de veloping her method through trial and error. And more research is still needed on writing, which has attracted far less interest from academics than reading. But what she came up with conforms remarkably well to what the research indicates will work. In the 1980s and 1990s, news of Hochman’s work began to spread within the special-education community. At the same time, a different approach was taking hold in regular elementary classrooms. Commonly known as “writers’ workshop,” it’s a key component of the balanced- literacy movement. In fact, the educator with whom it is most closely as sociated is Lucy Calkins. Calkins got her start as a writing guru, and that’s Don’t Forget to Write 225 where her influence is greatest. Schools across the country—including many elite private schools—use her Units of Study in writing and send their teachers to her writing institutes. Generally, balanced literacy disdains instruction in mechanics and prioritizes student choice. When it comes to writing, that means de emphasizing conventions like punctuation and capitalization, instead encouraging children to freely express themselves about whatever they choose—as long as it relates to their own experience. Hochman and writers’ workshop theorists both believe that schools have paid too little attention to writing, treating it as a product when it’s really a process. In traditional classrooms, students get assign ments back with their mistakes circled in red ink, possibly without further explanation, and then move on to the next assignment. Hoch man and Calkins want students to engage in planning, drafting, re vising, and editing a piece of writing, receiving targeted feedback along the way to help them improve it. Both also recognize that teaching rules of grammar in isolation doesn’t work for most students—even though many members of the public insist that the reason students can’t write today is that teachers don’t spend enough time on things like sentence diagramming. (Studies going back a century show that kind of instruction has no positive impact on stu dent writing, and some have actually shown a small negative effect.) And both Hochman and Calkins understand that students can only write about subjects they know well. Despite the similarities in their starting points, their approaches are radically different. Calkins urges students to “flash draft,” writing at a furious pace without overthinking, and then go back and revise repeat edly. If kids don’t write everything down in one fell swoop, she warns, their writing will be wooden. And if they labor over a draft, they’ll be less willing to revise it later. As for the skills necessary to create interest ing, complex sentences, she trusts children will pick those up largely by studying “mentor texts.” For Hochman, the place to start is the sentence. If students don’t yet know how to write a good sentence, they’ll never write good 226 I THE KNOWLEDGE GAP paragraphs, let alone good essays. And Hochman places as much em phasis on planning, by means of a clear, linear outline, as she does on revising. As for grammar, proponents of writers’ workshop trust that students will naturally develop a sense of the conventions if they write enough about subjects that matter to them. Focusing on mistakes, they believe, will inhibit children’s ability to express themselves and prevent them from developing fl uency. If a student uses run-on sentences, for example, Calkins cautions against explaining that “writers use periods at the ends of sentences, at the end of a complete thought The truth is that decid¬ ing where a sentence ends is one of the more complicated decisions a writer makes, and this writer is on her way toward fi guring it out. She needs to be supported, encouraged, and guided rather than corrected and reprimanded.” Calkins anticipates that students will get whatever feedback on mechanics they need after completing their drafts. But con fronted with page after page of error-filled writing, teachers often feel overwhelmed. One second-grade teacher showed me a student’s indeci pherable two-page journal entry; he was supposed to “respond” to writ ing like this, but he couldn’t tell what the student was trying to communicate. Others who have tried Calkins’s approach with struggling writers have found it to be a disaster. The result is that students who don’t naturally pick up the conven tions of written language—of whom there are many—never manage to master them. Studies may have shown that it doesn’t work to teach rules of grammar in isolation, but they’ve also shown that most children do not in fact acquire writing skill by osmosis; they need to have mistakes corrected in the context of their own writing. If teachers begin instruc tion at the sentence level, as Hochman recommends, that is a far more manageable task. Lastly, Calkins’s understanding that writers need to know their sub ject well has led her to limit children primarily to their interests and small moments” in their lives, which they can stretch experiences and “explode” with sensory details. Kids may not know much about the larger world, but they’re experts on their own lives. They might choose Don’t Forget to Write I 227 to write about a scary ride on a roller coaster, a visit from their grand parents, or perhaps something as big as the death of a parent. Calkins began to develop this approach in the late 1970s while doing research in a third-grade classroom. One day the teacher, Mrs. Howard, asked her students to write about “lost dolphins,” a topic in the basal reader. The resulting paragraphs, Calkins reports, were dull, lifeless, and virtually indistinguishable—because the children “knew little, if anything, about dolphins.” Mrs. Howard concluded that the assignment had been “stu pid.” She wondered aloud if it would be better to let the students choose their own topics. “I wanted to hug her,” Calkins writes. Another alternative, of course, would have been to teach the kids about dolphins, supplementing the textbook with more in-depth material—as Hochman did at Windward—and only then ask them to write. By restricting students to their own experiences, the writers’ workshop model squanders the enormous potential of writing as a tool for teaching content and skills simultaneously. It also fails to equip stu dents for writing about “domains” beyond their lives, in genres other than personal narrative. Even when students do write about material beyond their own experience, balanced literacy’s bias in favor of choice can impede their learning. If everyone chooses a different topic, it’s im possible for the teacher to know enough about each to ensure students are acquiring both accurate knowledge and the writing skills that can only develop in tandem with it. A fourth-grade teacher in a high-poverty school in Ohio told me that writing is “a perfect example of why choice isn’t always the best thing.” She recently switched from a system in which students chose their own topics for a social studies composition to one in which their choices were restricted. Under the old system, she said, she wasn’t able to help many of them, because she couldn’t be an expert on all their topics. “It be comes an independent study,” she said. “That can be fun, but it’s not productive.” But the writers’ workshop ethos holds that a teacher shouldn’t as sume a position of authority, handing out assignments and giving stu dents information she has access to and they don’t—becoming the “sage 228 I THE KNOWLEDGE GAP on the stage” rather than the “guide on the side.” The model is the fulfill ment of the progressive educator’s dream: a classroom where the teacher and her students are equals—or, to borrow from the title of Calkins’s fi rst book, Lessons from a Child, where the students are the teachers. While it’s designed to enable students to pursue their own interests and develop their writerly voices, this well-intentioned approach ends up leaving many of them unaware of topics that might fascinate them—and rendering them effectively voiceless. In most elementary classrooms, the obstacle to writing instruc tion is a lack of content. But in the few that use a content-rich curricu lum, there’s often a different problem: students whose writing skills are still developing can easily become overwhelmed, both by the abundance of information and the open-ended nature of the assignments. One second-grade classroom I visited in Reno was in the middle of the Core Knowledge unit on the Civil War. That day, the teacher gave each student a blank sheet of paper and asked them to write down “everything you’ve learned about slavery over the last two days.” In response to students’ requests, she wrote certain spellings on the board: Harriet Tubman, African American, kidnap, passengers, conductors, sta tion. Even so, the children struggled to articulate their knowledge coher ently on paper. “Harriet Tubman’s a slavery,” one began. Remember how Abril and her classmate Mia were each writing about Civil War-era he roes but Mia was able to craft more complex, information-rich sentences? If their teacher {who happens to have been the same teacher who handed out the slavery assignment) had been using an explicit method of writing instruction, Abril could not only have accessed the same content as Mia but also acquired similar writing skills. In a fourth-grade classroom at the same school, students were writ ing up a research project on an ancient Native American mummy. They seemed engaged, but much of their writing consisted largely of verbatim quotations copied from the texts they had read. If they had been explic itly taught to paraphrase in their own words, they would have had a Don’t Forget to Write 229 better chance of understanding and remembering the material. And they could have simultaneously learned how to make their writing smoother and more coherent. (Ihe Common Core’s demand that stu dents cite evidence for their claims, while well-intentioned, has led to writing that consists largely of undigested quotes.) If students don’t learn these skills in elementary school, they’re un likely to acquire them in middle or high school. Teachers at that level don’t see teaching writing as part of their job—and they, like most el ementary teachers, haven’t been trained to do it. High school teachers confronted by classes full of struggling writers are likely to assign very little writing, thereby continuing to deprive students of an essential means of learning material in depth and developing analytical skills. As with reading, students from more-educated families have a better chance of absorbing the basics of writing at home, leaving others to fl ounder. In her book Other People’s Children, published in 1995, African American educator Lisa Delpit quotes a friend named Cathy, also Afri can American, a teacher at an alternative high school in Philadelphia. “These people keep pushing this fl uency thing,” Cathy says, referring to middle-class white literacy gurus who focus on simply getting students comfortable putting pen to paper without expecting them to conform to conventional standards of written English. “Our kids are fl uent. What they need are the skills that will get them into college. . . . This is just another one of those racist ploys to keep our kids out. White kids learn how to write a decent sentence. Even if they don’t teach them in school, their parents make sure they get what they need. But what about our kids? They don’t get it at home and they spend all their time in school learning to he fluent. I’m sick of this liberal nonsense.” Even some teachers who are fervent advocates of writers’ workshop have told me their students never manage to produce work that’s as well written as the writing samples Calkins includes in her books. But Calkins rejects the suggestion that her approach might not work for all students. The problem, she maintains, lies with the teachers. “Sometimes teachers will say to me,” Calkins said during a 230 I THE KNOWLEDGE GAP teacher-training session I attended, “I look at the student work that you give us to study, and I just look at that work, and my kids can’t do that. And then I say to those teachers, you know, I think you’re right.” She paused for dramatic effect. “I think your kids can’t do that. Because your expectations are their ceiling. And they will never do more than you expect.” Calkins is right that teachers need to have high expectations. But even astronomical expectations won’t do any good unless children get the explicit instruction they need to meet them. Without that, it’s unfair to blame teachers—or students. As Lisa Delpit has observed, writing- process advocates sometimes “create situations in which students ulti mately find themselves held accountable for knowing a set of rules about which no one has ever directly informed them.” The Common Core was designed to shine a spotlight on writing, which had been largely ignored during the reading-and-math-obses sed era of No Child Left Behind. And just as the reading standards were aimed at changing many of the practices associated with balanced lit eracy, the writing standards were designed in large part to uproot the writers’ workshop emphasis on personal narrative. In another infamous Common Core video, David Coleman tells an audience of educators that the “two most popular forms of writing in the American high school today” are personal opinion and personal narrative. “The only problem with those two forms of writing,” he con tinues, “is that as you grow up in this world, you realize that people re ally don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.” In a similar vein, Coleman has remarked that it would be rare for a supervisor to tell an employee, “Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday, but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.” These colorful observations sparked outrage among many teachers: How dare Coleman, who wasn’t even an educator, be so dismissive of students’ experiences, thoughts, and feelings? Clearly, critics charged, Don’t Forget to Write 231 all he cared about was creating worker bees who had no ability to think creatively or appreciate literature. What got lost in the outcry was Coleman’s point: students need to be taught how to write in forms in addition to the relatively straightfor ward one of narrative—and they need to learn to write about topics other than their own lives and experiences. They need to be able to ex plain processes or events clearly and construct coherent arguments sup ported with evidence. That’s the kind of writing expected in college and the workplace, and it’s also the kind most likely to develop the abilities to understand complex text and think analytically. But while the standards set forth worthy goals, they don’t provide teachers with anything like a road map. Examples of student work in an appendix begin with a brief “argument” piece by a kindergartener , repro duced in a fi ve-year-old’s imperfect scrawl. “My fabit book is do you want to be my friend,” it begins. Toward the end there are smoothly written essays by twelfth-graders on topics like the 1918 influenza epidemic and the nuances of the distinction between fi ction and nonfiction. How stu dents are supposed to move from one end of this spectrum to the other is unexplained. The standards assume the basics will somehow be acquired, advising eleventh- and twelfth-grade teachers to ensure their students “use appropriate and varied transitions to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships among complex ideas and concepts”—whether or not they know how to construct a sentence. Unfortunately, the Common Core also endorses Calkins’s position that students should write at length beginning in kindergarten and, like her, defines goals in terms of the number of pages: fourth-graders need to be able to produce a minimum of one typed page in a sitting, fi ft h- graders two pages, and sixth-graders three. Teachers might easily mis interpret these guidelines to mean the quality of the writing is beside the point. Calkins has tried to adapt her approach to align with other require ments of the Common Core, expanding her units of study beyond per sonal narrative and producing new ones on informative and argumentative 232 I THE KNOWLEDGE GAP writing. But as with reading, she’s retained her fundamental philosophy, and it’s incompatible with the standards’ demands for increased rigor. Her updated units, for example, continue to insist on flash-drafting rather than fi rst creating a linear outline. Given the cognitive demands imposed by writing, the wisdom of having inexperienced writers take that approach is dubious even for personal narrative. For the more demanding genres of informational and argumentative writing, it can easily lead to incoherent results. Even accomplished writers often need to spend a good deal of time planning before they plunge in. Beyond that, Calkins has continued to treat writing—like reading— as a free-floating collection of skills. Content can and should be taught elsewhere, she says: “But when I’m teaching people to write. I’m teaching them a method—I’m teaching them how to do something.” She is suffi ciently aware of the connection between writing and knowledge that she has grounded her units in specific topics: the American Revolution for fourth grade, the pros and cons of chocolate milk for fi ft h. But the idea is that other topics could easily be substituted, so the approach is still generic. In a fi ft h-grade unit on Westward Expansion, for example, teachers aren’t supposed to tell kids, “The question we’re going to write about today is how the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 led to settlers moving west.” Instead, they’re advised to say, “Historians write about relation ships between events because the past will always have an impact on what unfolds in the future.” Students are encouraged to consider gener alities like “what historians might care about that is special to history.” It’s difficult enough for many kids to understand Westward Expansion without also having to think about what historians “might care about”—a directive that is so broad as to be almost meaningless. Still, Calkins’s approach is preferable to many of the “Common Core-aligned” writing programs that have sprung up in response to cries for help from teachers and administrators. She at least has students spend several weeks on the same topic—whatever it may be—giving them a chance to absorb some actual knowledge. Most programs pro vide no more than a jumble of disconnected subjects for students to Don’t Forget to Write I 233 write about. One shows students how to make an outline by giving them a paragraph about Arches National Park, followed by an example of in formative writing about how bats use sound to fly in the dark. Students are then invited to write an informative paragraph by choosing any topic, before being shown a model paragraph on the Battle of Yorktown. To teach them how to plan and organize, they get a paragraph on yet another subject: “How Crocodiles and Alligators Are Different.” Even before the Common Core arrived on the scene in 2010, the Hochman Method was beginning to spread beyond the special- education world. When Windward students reentered the mainstream schools they had come from, usually after two or three years, their writ ing ability attracted attention. “Occasionally, we’d have a student attend Windward,” the head of a nearby elite private school. Rye Country Day School, told a journalist. “And they’d come back and we’d find that that student had writing down.” Public and private schools began sending faculty members to the teacher-training institute Windward had established. Hochman—who headed Windward for eleven years before stepping down in 1999—also started working directly with schools and school districts. In 2009, the principal of a low-performing high school on Staten Island called New Dorp enlisted Hochman’s help in a last-ditch effort to stave off closure. Nothing else had worked to improve the performance of the school’s largely poor and working-class students, many of whom were still learn ing English. The faculty had concluded that a large part of the problem was students’ inability to express themselves well in writing. When the principal, Deirdre DeAngelis, and a group of New Dorp teachers visited Windward, they were amazed to see writing samples from learning-disabled sixth- and seventh-graders that were clearer and better organized than the writing some of their seniors were able to produce. The next day, the teachers told DeAngelis, “We have to do this.” 234 I THE KNOWLEDGE GAP After a few years of school-wide implementation, starting with so cial studies and eventually including English, math, science, and even PE, New Dorp saw dramatic results. In 2009, the teacher of an Ad vanced Placement US history class had only two of her twenty-three students do well enough on the fi nal exam to qualify for college credit, squeaking by with the minimum qualifying score of three out of a pos sible fi ve. After three years of the Hochman Method, twenty-six of the teacher’s twenty-eight students passed with a score of four or fi ve. Pass rates on the New York State Regents exams were also climbing, as were graduation rates. No longer in danger of being shut down, New Dorp was now attracting educators from across the country who wanted to replicate its success. Then, in 2012, as anxiety about the Common Core’s writing require ments was rising, an article about New Dorp appeared in the Atlantic. The result was a veritable tsunami of interest, which led Hochman to establish a nonprofit that took its name from the Atlantic article: The Writing Revolution. I was one of the many who read the article and came away impressed. I had been trying to tutor low-income high school students in writing and, despite what I thought were realistic expectations, I’d been shocked that most couldn’t even distinguish a complete sentence from a sentence fragment. Nor—for reasons I didn’t yet grasp—had they acquired enough knowledge of the world in their ten years of schooling to under stand the fairly straightforward texts I was asking them to write about. A method that started at the sentence level and taught content at the same time as skills sounded like just what they needed. Officials within the D.C. Public School system, having also read the article, launched a pilot to bring the method to D.C. Several years later, preliminary data collected by the district showed improvement at all the Hochman schools on measures of literacy growth and attendance. One of those schools is the high school where I tutored, which has had phe nomenal success with a writing-heavy college-level program called the International Baccalaureate. Educators at several others, including some Don’t Forget to Write I 235 serving many English language learners, have expressed amazement at the transformation they’ve seen not only in their students’ writing but also in their speaking, reading, and thinking. (I ended up coauthoring a book on the method with Judith Hochman and chairing the board of the nonprofit she founded.) But DCPS’s plans to disseminate the method system-wide have run into obstacles, raising questions about how quickly an approach like Hochman’s can be scaled up. Other district initiatives have taken prece dence, and so far, few teachers outside the schools Hochman worked with directly have been trained in her method. The district was sup posed to embed her writing strategies in the content-focused curricu lum it has been creating over the last several years, but many assignments ask students to write at length without regard to whether they have mas tered sentence-level skills, even in the early grades. The DCPS official in charge of literacy, Corinne Colgan, says one problem has been pushback from teachers and school leaders who be lieve inexperienced writers shouldn’t be limited to sentence-level work. “Lots of people feel very strongly about kids building up writing stam ina,” she told me, “or needing more than a sentence to get all the infor mation out.” Even if they or their schools don’t embrace Hochman’s entire phi losophy, individual teachers can use sentence-level strategies to boost students’ comprehension and enable them to retain and critique mate rial they’re learning. They can show students how to create linear out lines before they write to help them organize their thoughts and lighten their cognitive load. But that piecemeal approach probably won’t be enough to fully un lock the power of writing instruction to develop students’ abilities to express themselves coherently and with sophistication, understand complex text, and think about that text critically. For that to happen, school leaders will need to commit to ensuring students are exposed to the same strategies throughout the curriculum, ideally on a daily basis and perhaps for years. While it’s crucial for a school district to ensure 236 I THE KNOWLEDGE GAP the new approach is sustained despite teacher and administrative turn over, it’s unlikely to work if imposed from the top down. As in Washoe County, teachers need to understand why a radical shift makes sense and have an opportunity to see it in action at pilot schools that choose to adopt it. Beyond all that, teachers will need to ignore the Common Core’s im plication that success should be measured in quantity rather than qual ity. And if writing instruction is to begin in elementary school, as it should, the elementary curriculum will need a hefty injection of content. May 2017 I 237 MAY 2017 It’s been almost a month since my last visit, but Ms. Townsell’s first- grade girls greet me like an old friend, with smiles and waves. One even remembers my name. “Hi, Ms. Wexler!” she chirps. The class is going through its usual morning literacy routine—more or less. Today, the fi rst-graders don’t have computers to work on because they’re all being used for testing. All public schools in D.C., both tradi tional and charter, administer the Common Core-aligned test called PARCC in the spring, and there are signs on the front door and through out the school that read: “Quiet—Testing!” And even though fi rst-graders don’t have to take PARCC, their lives aren’t free from testing. They take a widely used test called Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, three times a year: once in the fall to regis ter their baseline ability, and again midyear and in the spring to measure growth. The midyear exam—which fi rst-graders took several times, in hopes scores would improve—showed there were problems with founda tional skills like phonemic awareness and phonics. The administration has decreed that teachers need to focus on those skills intensively before the spring testing in just a few weeks. So instead of this week’s Journeys unit, Ms. Townsell has been di rected to do a “close read” of a poem called “Ready for the Rain.” Whether the poem is the kind of layered and stylistically complex text for which close reading is intended is debatable. Its unnamed narrators smell rain in the air and get excited about splashing in puddles. There are a few words and phrases that Ms. Townsell’s students are unfamiliar with— rain gear and refreshing—and some words are challenging to decode, like tongue. But how the poem will help with phonemic awareness and pho nics isn’t clear. To Ms. Townsell’s mind, it’s too late to do much before the MAP test anyway; there simply hasn’t been enough time devoted to reading. Last year, when she taught kindergarten, the literacy block was two and a half hours. This year, it’s only ninety minutes—if that, because kids of ten trickle in late, and she doesn’t want to start until everyone is there. 238 I THE KNOWLEDGE GAP That gets to an even more fundamental problem: the schools lax atti tude toward attendance. Ms. Townsell’s sense is that the administration doesn’t want to come down hard on parents for fear of losing more of them—something that could hurt the school’s chances of getting its charter renewed. The lack of progress on test scores is another looming threat, and tensions are running high. Ms. Townsell has toyed with the idea of moving to another school that does a better job with both culture and instruction, but she isn’t yet ready to give up on her vision of Excel as a place where African Ameri can girls learn about sisterhood and pride. She’s decided to stay but in a new role as the elementary art teacher. Not only was art her original career plan, now she won’t have to worry about reading and math tests. She’s looking forward to having more freedom to teach as she wants— and possibly boosting students’ literacy skills at the same time. The model lesson she taught as part of her application, for example, focused on the concepts of “juxtaposition” and “contrast,” teaching vocabulary through art. It’s not ideal, but it will work for now. There’s another glimmer of hope on the horizon: Tara Warrington, the elementary principal—who has been just as frustrated with the Jour neys basal as Ms. Townsell—tells me she’s gotten approval to try a content-focused curriculum called Wit & Wisdom with next year’s third grade. But Ms. Warrington ends up moving to another state. Then, in Janu ary 2018 comes the news that everyone at Excel has feared: over impas sioned objections from administrators, parents, and students, D.C.’s Public Charter School Board votes to revoke the school’s charter, citing declining reading and math scores and low attendance in its decision. It’s testing season at Center City too. On the walls outside Ms. Masi’s fourth-floor classroom, motivational posters have taken the place of the student work usually on display. Large sheets of red and yellow con struction paper feature handwritten notes from students and teachers: “TRY HARD . . . We can do anything! … No fear!! Believe! .. . I May 2017 I 239 know that I am going to do good.” A colorful paper chain is poignantly labeled the “3rd grade PARCC worry chain.” A note reads: “We are leav ing our fears outside and refuse to take them into the test! … Each link is something we worry about but together we can tackle it all!” Ms. Masis second-graders, being exempt from state testing until next year, are in the thick of their next-to-last Core Knowledge domain. It s one that has particular resonance for many: immigration. In previ ous lessons, students read about a four-foot-tall German immigrant who made important scientific discoveries; an Irish family fl eeing the potato blight; and Chinese immigrants who came to America hoping to fi nd gold. Yesterday s read-aloud was about a Scandinavian family who moved to the Midwest in search of farmland. Today s lesson is a more general discussion of the various “push” and “pull” factors that brought different groups to the United States. Ms. Masi s chart has blanks for each factor as applied to immigrants from England, Scotland, Ireland, China—and “Today.” This lesson could eas ily be taken over by text-to-self connections, and Ms. Masi addresses that possibility head-on. First she reveals that her own ancestors were immigrants from Italy, and then she asks kids to raise their hands if a parent is an immigrant. About half the hands go up. Most of the rest go up when she asks about grandparents and great-grandparents. But Ms. Masi is determined to keep the class focused on the read-aloud. She wants the kids to connect the material not just to their own lives but to what they’ve already learned. When she reads that for many years “the people of Europe did not know that the Americas existed,” she pauses and asks the kids what con nection they can make. It takes a while, but eventually some get it: Christopher Columbus and other explorers stumbled across America in their search for a route to Asia. Ms. Masi pauses again after a reference to “the Pilgrims.” Where did they come from? Why did they leave? After each correct answer from one student who has raised a hand, there are disappointed rumblings from the others. “If you already knew that,” Ms. Masi responds calmly, “give yourself a pat on the back.” 240 I THE KNOWLEDGE GAP When she’s almost fi nished with the read-aloud, a boy named Dawi raises his hand and volunteers, apropos of nothing, “In Ethiopia, the government was very bad, and they just hurt the people for no reason!” “That seems like it would be a push factor, if the government is not running in a way that people feel safe,” Ms. Masi observes. But there’s hubbub brewing. “And Barack Obama don’t do nothing about it!” Dawi continues. Ms. Masi tries to point out that Dawi’s sentence has some grammati cal problems, but the din is growing louder. Exactly what the kids are grumbling about, she’s not sure. “I do want to talk more about the connections you’re making,” Ms. Masi says firmly, “but we are absolutely not going to do it if side conver sations start, and if opinions are being expressed in a disrespectful way.” She promises that later on, the class will talk more about students’ per sonal connections to immigration. And when “center” time begins, she makes a spur-of-the-moment decision: the kids can choose to write about their experiences, explaining the push and pull factors for their own families. But now the students seem uncertain: What if you don’t know the push and pull factors? What if your parents only told you a little bit? Then just write a little bit, Ms. Masi reassures them. There’s no right or wrong answer. In the end, only three students take Ms. Masi up on her invitation, and they don’t say much that connects their own families to past im migrants. While Ms. Masi didn’t dismiss or stifle her students’ desire to talk about their lives, she didn’t allow it to dominate the lesson either. Yes, it’s important for kids to relate their own experiences to what they’re learning. But in order to do that, they need to learn something fi rst. Ms. Masi has gotten positive feedback from Center City for her ability to teach Core Knowledge, but as the year draws to a close, her frustra tions are coming to the fore. She values what the curriculum has done for these kids, but it isn’t her natural teaching style. The school’s policy of having students write daily notes and exit tickets—written responses at the end of a lesson—seems “robotic.” Like Ms. Townsell, she would prefer May 2017 I 241 a more creative, project-based approach, along the lines of the end-of- year “capstone project,” when students collectively write and perform skits on the theme of gender equality. Perhaps if she were to continue with Core Knowledge, she could come up with more creative ways of teaching it—as Ms. Williams did with her fi rst-grade time-travel expedi tion to Mesopotamia. And perhaps the administration would give her the flexibility to try them. But that is not to be. Ms. Masi decides to leave Center City for a fi rst- grade classroom at one of D.C. s elite private schools, where she feels she’ll have more freedom to teach in a way that feels natural. Also, like Ms. Townsell—and many other talented teachers—she’s fed up with testing, and private schools don’t have to administer standardized tests. Ms. Masi has seen the effects of high-stakes testing on her third- graders. Two months before PARCC, they started taking practice tests and fi lling out exit tickets framed to mimic test questions: What is the meaning of this word in the context of this sentence? What evidence from the text supports your answer from part A, which then justifies your answer in part B? “My mind is blown sometimes when I have to answer questions like that,” Ms. Masi says. Even her second-graders have been affected. Like the fi rst-graders at Excel, they take the MAP test three times a year. And they’re close enough to third grade to feel the pressure. At the end of the year, when each class visits the class above, the only thing the second-graders want to ask the third-graders about is PARCC: How long is it? Were you scared? “And I was just like, hey, let’s think about some other things that third-graders have to do,” Ms. Masi says. “Like that’s the only message we sent to them all year.” When I spoke to Center City’s CEO, Russ Williams, many months before, he told me he advises teachers not to worry about tests—if they pay attention to the curriculum the tests will take care of themselves. But the signs posted in the hallway outside Ms. Masi’s classroom, and her experience, show that’s not so easy to do. After a few months at the private school, Ms. Masi is surprised to discover she misses the structure and coherence of Core Knowledge. At 242 I THE KNOWLEDGE GAP her new school, she tells me, not much thought is given to ensuring that the curriculum builds across grade levels, or even within grades. Teach ers have assembled the first-grade curriculum over the years, and the social studies units feel “disconnected.” Reflecting the usual assump tions about the interests and capabilities of young children, the first six weeks of the school year are spent on a unit called “All About Me.” Some time on that topic would be fine, Ms. Masi says, but six weeks? “Some students are so smart and ready to learn new things,” she says, “and it seems were not building them up to their capacity.” She knows this school would never adopt Core Knowledge, but she’s hoping that eventually she’ll be able to introduce some of its underlying concepts. Perhaps she would start with history. “I think about how much history I learned at Center City,” she says, “and how I saw kids making connections.” She’d also like to try teaching some vocabulary words, which she’s sure these highly verbal children would pick up quickly. But when she suggested choosing three words as “words of the week” during the “All About Me” unit, her co-teacher—a veteran at the school—said “Oh, no, these kids already know that stuff—we don’t need to do that.” “And I wanted to say, the kids at Center City were also smart,” Ms. Masi remembers. “The kids may be smart, but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to teach them anymore.”

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