Archives for the month of: October, 2015

A friend asked me to put together a bibliography of research on writing. This is a start.

Comparison of Pen & Keyboard Transcription Modes in Children with & without Learning Disabilities – Berninger – 2009

BERNINGER – PUBLICATIONS – Voa English Learning – Which Makes the Better Writer: the Hand or the Keyboard

Virginia Berninger is an educational psychology professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. She tells us about a study which found that children sometimes do a better job as writers when they compose the words by hand than when they type them on a keyboard.

VIRGINIA BERNINGER: “And this was a chance to follow over two hundred children — it was about two hundred forty — longitudinally, once a year for five years. And I looked comprehensively at writing development. And what we found, which was very surprising to us, is that they wrote longer essays, they wrote the words faster. And, in the paper just published, they wrote more complete sentences in fourth and sixth grade when they were writing in handwriting by pen than when writing on keyboard.

Handwriting: what do we know and what do we need to know by Jane Medwell and David Wray:

A major programme of research undertaken over the last 10–15 years (e.g. Berninger, 1994; Berninger and Graham, 1998; Berninger et al., 2006) has investigated the role of handwriting in writing and its findings are extremely interesting. Firstly, it has been established that handwriting is far from a purely motor act. Berninger and Graham (1998) stress that it is ‘‘language by hand’’ and point out that their research suggests that orthographic and memory processes (the ability to recall letter shapes) contribute more to handwriting than do motor skills (Berninger and Amtmann, 2004).

BERNINGER Writing First – LLW2008

Want to Improve Children’s Writing? Don’t Neglect Their Handwriting by Steve Graham – American Educator – Winter 2009-2010

Berninger – Evidence-Based, Developmentally Appropriate Writing Skills K to 5: Teaching the Orthographic Loop of Working Memory to Write Letters So Developing Writers Can Spell Words, and Express Ideas

Berninger – Teaching Spelling & Writing Alone & Together

Writing as a Means of Learning – Legal Writing

Writing To Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading

Write to read: The brain’s universal reading & writing network – Perfetti & Tan – TRENDS IN COGNITIVE SCIENCES

How Handwriting Boosts the Brain –

Cursive Handwriting – Hempenstall (Word doc)

Word processing may be good for children with disabilities: The Power of Word Processing for the Student Writer by Steve Graham

Letter published in the WSJ on the subject of cursive handwriting and dyslexia:

Cursive longhand helps some people in a way few would think about. I am dyslectic to the point that I had to depend on others to read to me for many years. Over 50 years ago I received an engineering degree, and went on to a successful career supervising the design and construction of several big-ticket projects.

With my dyslexia pattern I would never print “dog” as “god” but I could, even today, print “dog” as “bog” and not know the difference, even if someone pointed it out to me. I do not make these mistakes when writing in longhand. I hope the schools continue to teach this method of writing to the dyslectic students.

Robert O. Watkins, PE
Ridgefield, Wash.

Jean Piaget
Born: 1896
Died: 1980

Lev Vygotsky
Born: 1896
Died: 1934

2 kinds of constructivism

Educational Technology and Learning Theories

The Science of Learning – Deans for Impact – Annotated

Math Curriculum Report – 12/2/2003

See page 15, which lists criteria for adoption of a math curriculum in IUFSD.

“Constructivist approach with modeling”

This was 2003, 12 years and 3 superintendents ago. “Constructivist” was a requirement for every math curriculum the district considered. Nobody even looked at Singapore Math. Or Saxon Math, or any of the other “instructivist” math curricula available on the market. 

Constructivism isn’t new.

It’s old.

The word “constructivism” has replaced “progressive education,” but it’s the same thing, only worse.

Constructivism is worse because after the 1960s, progressive education merged with postmodernism to produce radical constructivism

The progressive education movement, which began in the 1890s, was always anti-intellectual. But after the 1960s, progressive education became anti-“truth” as well. From the standpoint of radical constructivism, everything is relative, and there are no right answers. (And the right answer can be wrong.)

What’s different about what Kris and Raina are doing is that most administrators give lip service to constructivism while continuing to tolerate teacher-centered classrooms in practice. 

Kris and Raina intend to make classroom reality conform to ideology.

That’s what’s so dangerous.

Right answer is wrong - 10533__Standardized_Testing
Source: Facebook

10.17.2015 Letter to the Editor – Constructivism – PRINT & SEND TO P.O. BOX 183 IRVINGTON


To the Editor:

During the fields vote last year, parents who opposed artificial turf were afraid to express their views. I know this is true because I have emails from parents saying so.

The same one-sided process is set to unfold again this fall, as the District hosts a new set of forums to discuss a strategic plan. Now, as then, the superintendent knows what he wants, and parents who disagree will do so at a cost.

This week a friend came up with a way for residents to speak freely.

I’ll write a series of letters explaining the kind of schools my family and friends value.

Everyone who shares our educational values—parents, empty nesters, people who’ve never had children in the schools—should cut out the letters and mail them to SOS – Save Our Schools, PO Box 183, Irvington, NY 10533. The envelopes will be hand-delivered unopened to the school board at a public meeting.

It’s important to weigh in because the superintendent has hired a specialist in “constructivism” (peer editing, flipped classrooms, learning stations, etc.) to oversee the strategic planning process—before finding out whether the community wants constructivist schools.

In constructivist classrooms, students teach themselves and each other. They choose their own books to read, and work in groups to “discover” and “construct” their own knowledge while the teacher circulates the classroom working one-on-one with students having difficulty.

Is this what parents want?

Is it what taxpayers want?


Several years ago, Main Street School created a constructivist class. All subjects were to be taught as projects, with math, English, science, and social studies rolled into one.

We parents were given the choice to enroll our children. So few of us did that the principal was forced to call parents personally to sell the class, which filled only because parents of friends enrolled their children in tandem. Overwhelmingly, parents preferred the structure and coherence of a teacher-led classroom.

Our schools are public schools. By law and custom, the community sets the vision, the board sets the mission, the superintendent executes the mission.

Yet for far too long our central administrators have done what they wanted to do, not what we want them to do.

If you agree, send a copy of this letter to SOS – Save Our Schools – PO Box 183, Irvington, NY.

For the price of a 49-cent stamp, your voice can be heard.

And see:
Teachers “taking risks”
Project Follow-Through
We are a Tony Wager district, whether we like it or not
Super’s plan: replace college prep with “workplace prep”
Do we want to be a constructivist district?
“Fast trends”
Teacher-centered v. learner-centered classrooms 

Workplace skills Irvington_Vision_and_Current_Reality10_2015_2-GMK_pdf - BEST

What do we know about the future? Irvington_Vision_and_Current_Reality10_2015_2-GMK_Strategic plan

A slide from the Strategic Planning forum.

College preparation is not included. Nor does the facilitator see knowledge as important to the workplace.

This is constructivism.

Constructivists believe the world is changing so fast that the knowledge students learn today will go extinct by the time they graduate high school or college.

Therefore you should replace knowledge with empty skills that can be transferred to all the new jobs yet to be invented. 

That’s the constructivist position.

Cognitive science tells us that the constructivist position is wrong: empty cognitive skills do not exist.

Instead, skill and knowledge are flip sides of a coin: no knowledge, no skill. This is turning out to be true with athletics, too. Athletic skill draws upon knowledge stored inside long-term memory.

For the record, constructivism is a very old philosophy, dating back as far as 1900.

In one of the earliest manifestations of constructivism, progressive educators argued that working class students should be taught useful skills like sewing instead of Latin and Greek. Working class parents disagreed. They wanted their children to be taught the same elite curriculum wealthy children were taught.

Today progressive educators argue that no one should be taught traditional knowledge — rich, poor, or in-between.

They’ve updated the “skills” they believe children should be taught to a fuzzy array of workplace skills: leadership, “strategic planning skills,” etc. 

Constructivists believe public schools should become pretend b-schools, and that is what our central administrators, supported by a board majority, are doing.


Kris Harrison’s plan for the district


Definitions of Success 3.5.2013 – Superintendent definition & response

Tony Wagner – Rigor Redefined – Harrison vision – 9.24.2013replaces college preparation with “workplace” preparation

Rigor Redefined by Tony Wagner – October 2008

Creating IUFSD Vision for Technology – 1.28.2014 (annotated) 

Creating the Vision for Technology – 1.28.2014 (original)

Response to superintendent technology memo – 2.8.2014

Flipped classrooms in Irvington – Irvington Insight – 1.2014



District Technology Plan – Adopted 6.15.2015no mention of college preparation; no mention of Common Core

9-29_-_strategic_plan_presentation_FINAL “Framework for Strategic Planning”

STRATEGIC PLANNING FORUM: Irvington Vision and Current Reality 10.14.2015.2 – Strategic planing forum – GMKno mention of college preparation; no mention of Common Core

Super’s plan: replace college prep with “workplace” prep
Teacher-centered v. learner-centered classrooms 
“Fast trends”
Teachers “taking risks”

I’m told a video of Tony Wagner was shown at last night’s Community Forum.

Tony Wagner’s ideology is antithetical to liberal education (which Wagner seeks to “redefine”) and to the findings of cognitive science (see: The Science of Learning). 

Ironically, given how difficult the district’s transition to Common Core has been, Wagner’s work is also incompatible with CC. 

The Common Core has its problems, but one problem it does not have is Tony Wagner. Nowhere in Common Core documents will you find a reference to “21st century skills.” The phrase “21st century skills” is a marketing slogan invented by the “Partnership for 21st Century Skills,” an advocacy group created by technology companies and the NEA.

The Common Core is attempting to improve the level of academic rigor in public schools. CC has gone about this task wrongly, at least in the case of English literature, and the testing regimen is a mess. But the goal is right.

Tony Wagner’s goal is to eliminate rigor altogether. To be fair, his stated goal is to “redefine” rigor. But he is not qualified to redefine rigor in the disciplines, and his attempt to do so eliminates rigor altogether. .


This is the Wagner article Kris Harrison and Raina Kor are using to transform the district:

Rigor Redefined by Tony Wagner


And this is a letter to the Enterprise re: Kris Harrison’s adoption of Wagner the consent of the people:

To the Editor:

At the September 23, 2014 meeting of the Board of Education, Superintendent Kris Harrison briefed the board on his plan for the district.

His plan is drawn from Tony Wagner’s 2008 opinion piece, “Rigor Redefined,” available here:

Wagner believes the world is changing so rapidly that by the time today’s children reach adulthood, most of the knowledge they learned in school will be obsolete.

Thus the school’s traditional mission of imparting knowledge to a new generation should be subordinated to a new mission: helping students master seven “21st century skills” Wagner claims to have identified. (Wagner spends the second half of his essay denigrating Advanced Placement classes and their teachers.)

Two years later, the superintendent has acted on at least five of the seven “skills.” This has had the effect of actually increasing the need for tutors, because teaching knowledge is not the district’s priority. Teaching “21st century skills” is. That’s why we now have flipped classrooms, learning stations in 6th-grade math, children sitting in pods peering at iPads and Chromebooks, guidance counselors ordered not to help students draw up lists of colleges, and a Shark Tank project in the middle school. (The last two innovations fall under skill number 4: “Initiative and Entrepreneurialism.”)

What unifies Wagner’s list of seven “skills” is the absence of knowledge, and that’s the first problem. Cognitive scientists have spent years trying to explain that knowledge stored inside long-term memory is different from knowledge stored on Google. To think critically, you need the former. When you think without knowledge, all you’re doing is taking your clichés for a walk.

A second problem: Wagner’s piece was published before the crash. It was wrong then (as a few minutes on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website reveals), but it’s even further off base today. The 21st century Wagner imagined, with its happy, humming global society and its ever-increasing “abundance,” is not the 21st century we got. Our children got world recession and Charlie Hebdo.

But the most important problem is the fact that all of these changes are being made without the consent of the people. No member of the board has expressed enthusiasm for changing the mission of the school to the teaching of 21st century skills, yet three members of the board have allowed the superintendent to proceed.

I hope the next board will have the strength to change course.


How Kris Harrison has interpreted Tony Wagner’s 21st century skills so far: 

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving: flipped classrooms; stations in math class

Collaboration and Leadership: students are seated in pods; teachers “facilitate”

Agility and Adaptability ( ? )

Initiative and Entrepreneurialism: teachers “are encouraged to take risks”; Innovation Fund; Shark Tank project; “leadership coaching”; guidance counselors forbidden to help students draw up lists of colleges because students need to take ownership of the process

Effective Oral and Written Communication: writing taught outside subject-matter courses in violation of what we know about effective practice

Accessing and Analyzing Information: Chromebooks, iPads, Google replaces textbooks

Curiosity and Imagination (“we want kids to make mistakes”… )

Super’s plan: replace college prep with “workplace” prep
Teacher-centered v. learner-centered classrooms 
“Fast trends”
Teachers “taking risks”

Today, IUFSD teachers are encouraged to “take risks.” 

Neither the student nor the parent must be informed that a risk is being taken; no plans to evaluate the results of teacher risk-taking are required; nor is the board informed. And, of course, it’s not the teacher taking the risk. It’s the student. Teachers have tenure and a union.

There is no realm apart from public schools in which taking risks with other people’s children is acceptable. At the university level, all research involving human subjects, including projects as benign as interviewing people about their experiences, must be vetted and approved by an Institutional Review Board. Even teaching autistic children grammar using a software program must undergo thorough review prior to implementation.

Yet here in IUFSD, teachers are expected to “take risks.” 

Below are Siegfried Engelmann’s principles for making changes to curriculum and teaching:

Principles for school boards to follow when authorizing changes to curriculum and teaching practices

1. Don’t adopt any teaching method or curriculum unless you have substantial reason to believe that it will result in improvement of student performance;
2. Don’t adopt any approach without making projections about student learning;
3. Don’t adopt any practice without monitoring it and comparing performance in the classroom with projections;
4. Don’t adopt an approach without having a back-up plan;
5. Don’t maintain practices that are obviously not working as planned;
6. Don’t blame parents, students, or other extraneous factors if the plan fails.


Don’t adopt any teaching method or curriculum unless you have substantial reason to believe that it will result in improvement of student performance.

A good plan is to require the administration to show that the plan works on a small scale before using it across the board.

Even though failure in a small-scale tryout is more humane than failure in an entire school district, children should not be guinea pigs for mindless experiments that have little hope of working. The small-scale tryout is not to be a learning experience for the administration as it discovers facts that it should already know. Therefore, the board should limit the number of tryout programs that are permitted, and should establish contingencies for failure.

The board, however, should require the administration to contact successful teachers within the district and solicit their advice and guidance before installing any approach. (These are teachers who consistently produce results that are above the demographically predicted level.)

Don’t adopt any approach without making projections about student learning.

Unless the benefits of the approach can be readily measured in terms of student outcomes, and unless they are outcomes we are concerned with, the administration should not be permitted to adopt the approach.

Don’t adopt any practice without monitoring it and comparing performance in the classroom with projections.

Monitoring is necessary for the administration that wants the program to succeed. . . Weekly evaluations indicate whether the projected material is presented on schedule, whether the teachers need significant help, and whether they are faithfully following the program.

Don’t maintain practices that are obviously not working as planned, and don’t stick with failed plan.

Part of the initial plan should have a “pull-the-plug” criterion and a back-up plan. The criterion should be expressed in a way that permits some flexibility, but that requires an empathic response to kid problems. . . . What we don’t want the administrators to do is to leave students in the approach all year long and then at the end of the yea conclude that it was a bomb.

Don’t blame parents, kids, or other extraneous factors if the plan fails.

The only factor that affects the plan is whether the kids and the teacher are in attendance on a regular basis. Aside from the unusual situations, this is the only consideration that should be used to demur the results of the implementation. If the teaching failed, it was because the teaching failed, not because the parents didn’t get involved.

Adapted from: War Against the Schools’ Academic Child Abuse by Siegfried Engelmann | Halcyon House | Portland, Oregon 1992

Super’s plan: replace college prep with “workplace” prep
Teacher-centered v. learner-centered classrooms 
“Fast trends”
Teachers “taking risks”
Project Follow-Through

Our Failure To Follow Through by Billy Tashman

Reprinted from New York Newsday, November 15, 1994, with permission

Project Follow Through, America’s longest, costliest and perhaps, most significant study of public school teaching methods quietly concluded this year. The good news is that after 26 years, nearly a billion dollars, and mountains of data, we now know which are the most effective instructional tools. The bad news is that the education world couldn’t care less.

Started in 1968, Follow Through was intended to help kids, from kindergarten through the third grade, continue the progress they had made in Head Start. But the Feds also wanted to find out which instructional methods delivered the most bang for the bucks. So they funded 22 vastly different educational programs in 51 school districts with a disproportionate number of poor children. Standardized test results were collected from almost 10,000 Follow Through children, as well as from kids not in the Follow Through program.

Abt Associates in Cambridge, Mass., analyzed the numbers, then issued the verdict. When it came to academic performance, children who participated in the Direct Instruction method blew their peers out of the classroom. More important, later evaluations of 1,000 Direct Instruction graduates showed that they were still ahead of their cohorts in their senior year of high school.

If something works this well, why aren’t public schools using it? One reason is that Direct Instruction, at first glance, looks dated. Indeed, teachers who treat their jobs as a cross between stand-up comedy and the Superbowl halftime show might, after peeking into a Direct Instruction classroom, disappear faster than a spare textbook at the Board of Ed.

To make matters worse, these methods owe a lot to the late B. F. Skinner, the Harvard behaviorist some recklessly called a fascist. That’s unfortunate and unfair, because Skinner demanded a scientific approach to classroom instruction, which is lacking from almost every hot reform idea du jour.

Direct Instruction stresses basic skills, breaking them down into mini-components. Children learn to read, for example, by learning the sounds of the letters before the letter names. They master each skill before moving onto the next one. Teachers track each student’s progress on daily charts. They also track behavior, encouraging good conduct with praise, while ignoring bad behavior for the most part. In short, if you can’t measure it, you probably shouldn’t teach it. This kind of micro-management is almost unheard of in most classrooms.

But Direct Instruction’s most controversial feature is a script from which teachers conduct lessons. Picture this: A first-grade teacher, reading from her script, makes the “m” sound. The pupils respond in unison. After a word of praise, the teacher, prompted by her script, tells them to repeat the sound.

This may sound a bit like a “Road to Wellville” approach to education, but Direct Instruction has had stunning success at scores of schools. One of the original sites in the early ’70s was P.S. 77 in the South Bronx. After five years, DI “significantly raised the reading, writing and arithmetic performance and scores of the participating children,” said one report. Federal budget cuts eventually gutted the program but, interestingly, P.S 77 old-timers still cling lovingly to the teaching methods.

It may come as a shock to the layperson, but school policymakers haven’t adopted Direct Instruction because they have an aversion to scientific research. Educators throw their weight behind the latest fad, then refuse to abandon it when it doesn’t work. In fact, the federal oversight panel for Follow Through cut the Direct Instruction program even as it continued other models that were spectacular flops. Eschewing basic skills, the failed programs tried to teach kids how to learn on their own, or tried to raise students’ self-esteem (both categories, by the way, in which Direct Instruction students excelled). In these failed programs, students had even lower reading and math scores than the control groups that had no Follow Through program. Yet these failed programs have spread through America like fire through dry corn.

Follow Through demonstrated that scientific research and the classroom are still strangers to one another. Until they join forces, American schoolchildren will continue to receive a second-class education.

Super’s plan: replace college prep with “workplace” prep
Teacher-centered v. learner-centered classrooms 
“Fast trends”
Teachers “taking risks”
Project Follow-Through