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Class Notes - Winter 2007

The Baltimore Curriculum Project (BCP) is a nonprofit organization that operates public charter schools in Baltimore City. BCP converts underperforming high-poverty schools into high-performing charter schools by implementing research-based instructional methods and the BCP/Core Knowledge Curriculum.

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In This Edition:
 
SPOTLIGHT: Vocabulary Development

 

Interview with Vocabulary Development Expert Andrew Biemiller

Andrew Biemiller

Dr. Andrew Biemiller is Professor Emeritus of Developmental Psychology at the University of Toronto and Associate Editor of the Journal of Educational Psychology. He is also a consultant for research groups, publishers, and federal (U.S.) and state agencies, mainly regarding vocabulary development and instruction. Dr. Biemiller's current research activities involve promoting vocabulary and language development in elementary school.


What does recent research tells us about vocabulary development? People acquire words in a fairly predictable order and that makes it possible to decide what words need to be taught to those whose vocabulary is relatively small. The average kid has about 6000 root words by the end of grade two.

Unfortunately, quite disadvantaged kids have about 4000 and kids who are really advantaged have about 8000 at that point. A couple of years later disadvantaged kids have about 6000 words. They have about the same number of words the average kids had at the end of grade 2.

That’s why we’re so clear that kids learn words in the same order. Some of them are just learning words faster. We need to help kids in the primary grades so that they don’t get so far behind.

What do schools do to close the vocabulary gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children? At the present time schools don’t do very much to close that gap. Research suggests that a year of schooling has no impact at all on vocabulary growth in the primary grades.

After grade two, basically after kids become literate, there seems to be much less difference in the rate at which disadvantaged and advantaged kids acquire new words. This would suggest that after grade two kids are starting to acquire more words as a result of reading.

The problem is that reading isn’t likely to do much for the vocabulary of pre-literate kids – kids up to grade two. In fact, when reading does help later, it’s not just because you read. It’s because when you encounter a new word it’s possible to stop and think about it or ask someone for an explanation.

When you’re acquiring language through your ears you can’t do that. You can ask questions one-on-one if someone will answer, but kids rarely ask. In particularly disadvantaged homes the words aren’t even there to be learned. We need to do more in school. Most kids have the first 2500 words. The words that the disadvantaged kids don’t have are the next 2500 words.

Since the research on the importance of vocabulary has been around for so long why haven’t schools made a greater effort to incorporate vocabulary instruction into their curricula? There are several reasons. Wesley Becker said many years ago that in schools we’re mostly concerned with teaching reading and arithmetic. As long as the kids are making progress with reading, we’ve been pretty happy.

Many people have said the kids will acquire the vocabulary after they learn to read. However, by the end of grade two, disadvantaged students are already 2000 to 3000 words behind the average. Even if they do a pretty decent job learning vocabulary after that they don’t make up the difference.

The vocabulary gap may not get a lot wider. But it doesn’t get narrower and the disadvantaged kids remain two to three grades behind. For practical purposes two to three grades behind in vocabulary comes to mean 2 or 3 grades behind in reading comprehension by the time they get to grade four or five.

A kid can look good on reading comprehension in grades one and two because the vocabulary we use in these grades is very restricted. In grade three and four all of a sudden a lot of kids who have done a good job of learning to read can read words put in front of them, but they don’t know what the words mean. And then they’re in trouble.

So the first reason schools haven’t focused on vocabulary instruction in the early grades is that we’re busy teaching other things and not teaching vocabulary. The second reason is that we haven’t identified which vocabulary words to teach. I think we know the answer to that now, but, by in large there isn’t anyone out there using it.

The third reason is that it’s very hard to test vocabulary in the primary grades. The methods for testing vocabulary in the primary grades involves one-on-one oral testing. Teachers don’t have the time to do it.

Many teachers say they don't have enough time to teach basic reading skills much less time to devote thirty minutes a day to teaching vocabulary. Yes. A teacher who’s saying that they’re willing to ignore vocabulary because they don’t have time for it is saying in effect that it’s okay for the kids to wind up two grade levels behind by the end of grade two.

It’s hard to confront teachers with that. If we don’t teach vocabulary in the primary grades, we are accepting the fact that disadvantaged and advantaged kids are going to be that far apart.

Are there any curricula out there today that integrate vocabulary instruction into the reading curriculum? None that I know of. I think the curricula that are coming out in the next year or two, such as Open Court and Houghton-Mifflin, will include vocabulary instruction.

Most of the new programs that are coming out for approval around 2007/2008 are likely to include a substantial commitment to vocabulary. One major reason for that is the state of California is requiring half an hour of vocabulary work in any program they’re going to accept.

What can parents do to help their children increase their vocabulary? It’s pretty clear that what’s happening in middle class and advantaged homes is that parents (a) are using more different words with their kids and (b) they’re stopping to explain what words mean now and then.

If a child has a chance to learn 2 to 4 words a day they’ll do alright. Advantaged kids acquire 2 to 4 words a day, whereas a disadvantaged kid may learn just one. I really believe that just briefly stopping to point out what a word means helps.

You hand them a banana and you say this is a banana. Or you may even just say “here Johnny have a banana” as you hand it to him. Bingo. The kid knows what a banana is. That’s easy for concrete words. For abstract words and phrases such as “Don’t run,” you may have to show him what you mean by run.

There need to be more words in the environment. It’s very clear that reading a lot to kids is good but it’s a heck of a lot better if you stop and explain a few words as you go along. In my view what’s really important is letting your child know that they should ask when they want to know a word for something or what a particular word means.

Encourage them to ask and praise them for asking. In a whole lot of homes it’s “don’t bug me.” Kids are to be seen and not heard. Well, kids who are seen and not heard are kids who don’t ask a lot about words.

Remember, you don’t want to flood them. Doing ten or twenty words a day is obviously not likely to work. In fact, I suspect kids rarely learn more than three or four words a day.

What kinds of books would you recommend reading to young children? Speaking as a parent, I used a lot of Richard Scarry’s big word books with my son right around age two. At that age my son loved going through books like that. By another year or two they want more story, but at that age he loved things that were just simple pictures and the words that went with them.

The next stage was books about vehicles and a sentence or two for each vehicle. I really don’t know anything better than the Richard Scarry books, though they may exist.

What is the most effective way to teach vocabulary? The published research on teaching vocabulary with kids under grade three almost all concerns variations on one method: reading a story several times and explaining what some of the words mean either on each reading or on each reading after the first reading..

The research of my associates and I has shown that by-and-large kids don’t like a lot of interruption for explaining words the first time a book is read. On the other hand, as any parent knows, kids up through age 6 or 7 are very tolerant of having the same book read several times. In fact, usually they want it read a lot more than the parent or teacher wants to read it.

Once you get past the first reading, kids are much more tolerant of stopping to explain what a word means. We will typically teach ten words per story. We don’t expect the kids to actually learn more than three or four of the words that are explained. With a little bit of review they learn more words.

Does seeing the words in print help students to retain new vocabulary words? There’s some clinical evidence that from grade one up if you’re teaching what a word means you should make sure they see it and print it as well. On the other hand, the books kids are reading in first grade are unlikely to provide a lot of the vocabulary words kids need to learn.

In kindergarten, first grade and second grade you need to read stories to kids, which are more advanced than the stories they would be reading by themselves. By grade three or four, if the kid’s making reasonable progress with print skills, they will be able to read the words they’ve learned orally. My own data shows that 95% of kids grades three and up can read a lot more words than they know the meanings of.

Are there any book lists that recommend vocabulary-rich books to be read to young children? There isn’t a lot out there now. I can give you two practical methods. One method is to use the Dale-Chall list of simple words. This word list contains 3,000 simple, familiar words, which more than 80% of fourth grade students can understand.

In order to determine how advanced a passage is, one can see how many words in the passage are not included in the Dale-Chall list. This is a pretty good method. If 15% of the words are not on list it is a fourth grade level passage. Twenty percent makes it sixth grade and 10% makes it second grade. So you aren’t adding very many complex words to get an increase in the difficulty of the passage. That’s the quick and dirty method.

I have a book coming out soon which has an explicit list of a couple thousand words we should be worrying about in the primary grades and another 3,000 we should be worrying about with the junior grades. That list is based on testing a large number of kids.

If a word is known by more than 80% of the kids, and that’s generally true of the first 2500 words, we don’t have to worry about them. Kids learn them. Even second language kids learn them in our experience. If the words are known by less than 40% of second graders we figure those are words to worry about learning at some point after grade two.

The words you worry about the kids really learning are the words that are known by 40-80% of kids. By-and-large the advanced kids know them and the not so advanced kids should learn them. That gives you a target list of words you really worry about during those K, 1 and 2 years. Basically you use exactly the same method for picking words to be used in grades 3, 4, 5 and 6.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add? The truth is that a) vocabulary accounts for a lot of the disadvantages of disadvantaged kids. Especially nowadays, because we’re getting better at teaching reading skills. What there’s been is almost no attention at all to vocabulary.

As long as you neglect vocabulary you’re still going to see disadvantaged kids and second language kids running along two to three grade levels behind the average kids. Not to mention the advanced kids. Until we reach a point of running programs in schools so that the kid who leaves sixth grade can actually read and understand sixth grade texts, we’re going to continue to see a whole lot of kids who are just fumbling around in High School.

The need for vocabulary instruction seems to be such a huge blind spot. Yes, it really is. I cannot guarantee that if you get all the kids up to what is now the average of vocabulary that everybody would be able to read and comprehend.

What you can guarantee is that if they don’t have that vocabulary they will continue to be falling off the way they do now. I don’t think getting the vocabulary solves everything. I do think that without it you’re dead in the water.

For more information on Dr. Biemiller's research visit:
http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/ICS/site_LaidlawCentre/ResearcherProfiles/profile_AndrewBiemiller.shtml

 

QUOTATION OF THE MONTH

 

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell, where his influence stops.

- Henry B. Adams, American historian (1838 – 1918)

 

BCP NEWS

 

Two New Schools Join BCP Family

General Wolfe Elementary

On December 14, 2006 the Baltimore City School Board approved the conversion of Dr. Rayner Browne Elementary and General Wolfe Elementary to charter schools. The Baltimore Curriculum Project will begin operating the schools in August 2007.

Community support for these conversions has been overwhelming. The dozens of General Wolfe supporters who turned out for the School Board vote applauded the approval.

General Wolfe Elementary School is named after James Wolfe an officer in the British Army. Currently serving around 130 students in grades Pre-Kindergarten through fifth grade, General Wolfe Elementary School serves a vibrant, ever-changing community.

Dr. Rayner Browne School

The General Wolfe neighborhood is home to a large Latino population from Mexico and Central America. For this reason, the school provides English as a Second Language education to nearly fifty percent of its students. General Wolfe Elementary will re-open in August 2007 as Wolfe Street Academy.

Dr. Rayner Browne School is named after the late Dr. Grafton Rayner Browne, a member of the Baltimore Chirugical Society, the Monumental City Medical Society, and the American Medical Society. The school serves 213 African-American students in grades pre-kindergarten through six.

Dr. Rayner Browne will expand to include seventh grade in the 2007-2008 school year and eighth grade in the 2008-2009 school year. After charter conversion, the school will remain a zoned school serving students residing in the Madison/east end area of Baltimore City.

We would like to welcome Wolfe Street Academy and Dr. Rayner Browne School to the BCP family.

 

BCP Awarded 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant

Maryland 21st Century Community Learning Centers

The Maryland State Department of Education has awarded BCP a 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant to operate the City Springs After-School Program. The three-year award will provide $130,647 per year for the first two years and $111,000 for the third year.

The grant will enable the after-school program to serve 120 students and offer additional services including an expanded mentoring program and service learning projects coordinated by Parks & People Foundation.

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program supports the creation of community learning centers that provide academic enrichment opportunities and additional services for children, particularly students who attend high-poverty and low-performing schools. BCP would like to thank the Maryland State Department of Education for their support.

 

Collington Speak Write Center

In November 2006 Collington opened it's new Speak Write Center. Made possible by a generous grant from the Goldsmith Family Foundation, the Center was established to improve the language and writing skills of Collington students.

Similar to private school writing centers, teachers refer students to the Center for assistance with writing assignments. The Center Director helps students to first speak articulately about the subject of their assignment and then to write the assignment. Research shows that verbal competence comes before written.

Mostly underperforming students are referred to the Center; however, middle school teachers are exploring the possibility of referring gifted students to the Center. In this way, teachers could provide less advanced students with additional support, while advanced students proceed at their own pace.

During the next few months, the Speak Write Center will be starting an after school poetry club for middle school students. The Poetry club will consider a wide range of poetry from classical poetry to modern poetry and rap.

We would like to thank the Goldsmith Family Foundation for their generosity in supporting this program.

 

OSI Fellow Tonya Featherstone Joins BCP

Tonya Featherstone

In November 2006, Tonya Featherston was awarded an Open Society Institute (OSI) Baltimore Community Fellowship to create the Restorative Schools Project.

The project focuses on assisting school administrators, teachers and students in making a paradigm shift and moving from traditional punishment based discipline practices to practices that are more restorative in nature. Restorative practices seek to help students take responsibility for their actions and make amends for any harm done.

The project is in partnership with the three Baltimore Curriculum Project schools, City Springs, Collington Square and Hampstead Hill Academy. Ms. Featherston is working with the schools to implement restorative strategies such as peace making circles, talking circles, and family group decision making conferences.

The OSI Community Fellowships Program was established to assist individuals wishing to apply their education and professional experiences to serve disadvantaged communities. We would like to welcome Ms. Featherstone and to thank the Open Society Institute for supporting this important program.

 

BCP Partners with Business Volunteers Unlimited

Business Volunteers Unlimited Maryland

In November BCP formed a partnership with Business Volunteers Unlimited Maryland (BVU) to provide additional volunteers and mentors for BCP schools. BVU is a private nonprofit organization, which works to actively engage businesses and volunteers from the community in productive and rewarding volunteer opportunities.

BVU has already connected BCP with Proctor and Gamble for a holiday school drive to support Collington Square School. For more information about BVU visit www.bvumaryland.org. We would like to thank BVU for their support.

 

 

BCP Partners with the Center for Community Technology Services

CCTS

The Center for Community Technology Services (CCTS) at the University of Baltimore helps Baltimore area nonprofits increase their ability to use technology, strengthen their organizations and improve their service delivery.

Through a program supported by the Goldseker Foundation, CCTS will work with BCP schools to provide preliminary project assessment and feasibility studies, develop project implementation plans, offer hardware and software system recommendations, and develop requests for proposals.

BCP is very fortunate to receive the expert guidance of CCTS and we would like to thank them for their support. For more information about CCTS visit http://ccts.ubalt.edu/.

 

Random House Donate Books to BCP Schools

Random House Logo
Richard Scarry childrens book

Random House has generously donated over $3800 worth of children's books to our schools. The books, written by beloved children's author Richard Scarry, were requested as part of BCP's new vocabulary development program.

In the current BCP interview, Dr. Andrew Biemiller recommends the Scarry books to help with vocabulary development among young children. Books donated by Random House include Best Word Book Ever!, Cars and Trucks and Things that Go, Best Storybook Ever, and What Do People Do All Day?

BCP would like to thank Random House for their generosity and for supporting our students and our vocabulary development program.

 

spacerCITY SPRINGS SCHOOL NEWS

 

New City Springs After-School Program

Students building robot
Chantez Jacobs and Dewitt Henderson build a robot, which they will program with a computer.

BCP's new after-school program at City Springs is off to a grand start. The free 5 day a week, 3 hour a day program offers students academic instruction, cultural enrichment, homework assistance, and recreation.

The program is supported by grants from the Family League of Baltimore City and the Maryland 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program. Program Director Joel Bratton has recruited a variety of talented teachers to provide enrichment activities that educate, stimulate, and engage.

The Inner City Robotics League, run by Tonya Featherstone, combines sports with science and technology. Middle school students work together in teams of five to build and program working robots using the Lego Mindstorms program.

After participating in the after school learning sessions, students prepare to compete against each other in a tournament style atmosphere once per semester at a local university. Students participating in the league receive coaching/mentoring from engineering and technology professionals, learn problem solving skills and explore career opportunities.

Student eating food.
Keyontae Everett samples healthy food prepared in the Food for Life program.

The Food for Life Program, run by food educator Ariel Demas, teaches students about about good cooking habits including hygiene in the kitchen, choosing ingredients, and tasty recipes. The Food is Elementary curriculum takes students on a "culinary tour of the world," incorporating science, social studies, music, art, mathematics, and chemistry into the classes.

The Enoch Pratt Free Library Family Reading Circle, run by Mona DeGross, is a six-week program held during the fall and spring. This past fall 8-10 families met weekly to read and discuss a variety of books, which they get to keep.

The fall program concluded with a visit by children's illustrators Cornelius Van Wright and Ying-Hwa Hu who shared insights into the creative process and how they use art to teach and inspire.

The Science Technology and Engineering program, directed by Tonya Featherstone, provides a rich source of activities and challenges that introduce, illustrate and reinforce scientific and mathematical concepts and applications for students of varying ability levels. The goal of the program is to bring math to life and help students discover the fun in science and technology.

Student making grape soda.
Artez Brown learns about chemistry while making grape soda.

City Springs students have learned chemistry principles by making their own grape soda and Halloween slime. They learned physics principles by creating water rockets, balloon powered cars and a roller coaster simulation. Mathematical principles such as probability, fractions and percents were reinforced using edible materials such as M&M’s and Skittles.

Other Activities

The After-School program also offers a championship Step Dancing team led by Nadine Jackson, Drama with Koli Tengella, Visual Arts with Dorothy Glewwe and Todd Matte, Basketball with Kyle Garrison, and a variety of educational field trips.

BCP would like to thank Joel Bratton, Mrs. Newkirk, the Enoch Pratt Free Library, and all of the teachers for their hard work. We'd also like to thank the Family League of Baltimore City and the Maryland State Department of Education for supporting this program.

 

spacerCOLLINGTON SQUARE SCHOOL NEWS

 

Collington Community Goes the Extra Mile

Collington Extra Mile Walk

On a bright and sunny November morning neighborhood organizations, Episcopal parishes, and friends gathered for the third annual Collington Square Extra Mile Walk. Sponsored by Episcopal Community Services of Maryland (ECSM), the one-mile walk featured stops at 10 churches and community organizations where walkers heard brief presentations from community leaders and groups.

The Walk began at Collington Square Park, where children were treated to a petting zoo filled with sheep and chickens brought by the Kinder Park 4H Livestock Club. The first stop was the Collington Square School auditorium where walkers were treated to an inspiring performance by Mr. Koli Tengella's middle school drama class.

In addition to a walking tour of the revitalized Collington Square neighborhood, the event was a fundraiser to benefit after-school and summer programs for Collington Square middle school students. ECSM provides these programs through “The Club”, a place for kids to go after school to do homework, receive tutoring, and have safe, fun activities available.

BCP would like to thank ECSM for their ongoing support of Collington Square School and the Collington community.

 

Days of Taste

Days of Taste Program

During the month of October Collington third grade students were introduced to an array of culinary delights. Days of Taste is a national program of The American Institute of Food & Wine (AIWF) that brings together chefs, farmers, members of the community and elementary school children. The program teaches students about the importance of fresh food and how ingredients weave their way through daily life, from farm to table.

The three-day Baltimore Days of Taste Program began in 1998. Riva Kahn and Ned Atwater coordinate the program at over a dozen Baltimore area elementary schools with a team of dedicated chefs and volunteers.

On Day One of the program students learned about the fundamentals of taste. They increased their food/nutrition vocabularies and experienced and compared basic tastes – sweet, sour, salty and bitter.

On Day Two about 50 Collington students visited Springfield Farm in Sparks, MD to learn how food starts its journey from farm to table. Farmer David Smith and his family gave the students a tour of their 67-acre farm. Students fed the pigs, talked with the turkeys and viewed free-range chickens in the field and in their “houses” laying eggs.

On Day Three students prepared a harvest salad in order to develop an appreciation of the seasonality of locally grown foods and to learn how flavors combine with one another. Chef Galen Sampson of The Dogwood Deli in Hampden taught students how to make a sweet and sour vinaigrette.

Students worked together in teams of six to create the salads and I was delighted to sample the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor.

"Different students learn different things from Days of Taste," says Ms. Riva Kahn. "A lot of kids don’t realize how our food actually starts off at a farm, so the field trip is the biggest eye-opener."

"Others are amazed when they sample the different taste elements, and recognize how the things they like to eat are a combination of tastes. Still others are most excited by working with a chef – the kids see that there are a wide variety of interesting jobs out there."

BCP would like to thank Ms. Riva Kahn, Mr. Ned Atwater, Chef Sampson, Ms. Simmons, Ms. Mason, the AIWF, and all the Days of Taste volunteers for making this wonderful program possible.

 

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HAMPSTEAD HILL ACADEMY NEWS

 

Audubon & Legg Mason Support Hampstead Hill

Audubon Logo

For the past two years Audubon Maryland-DC's Patterson Park Initiative has offered a variety of exciting nature programs to Hampstead Hill students. Legg-Mason has been a huge support to this program, donating $7000 both last year and this year. Audubon has been kind enough to raise the funds to cover the remaining costs.

Winging it in Baltimore is a new 14-week after school program for second through fourth graders. The program includes bird watching, identification, and habitat.

Lessons to complement the middle school science curriculum will be developed by Audubon and taught in Patterson Park. Mr. Swann and Mr. Vaday's science classes will visit the park several times this year to enjoy these outdoor learning experiences.

Legg Mason Logo

Mean, Green, and Growing will be offered this summer for students entering first and second grade. The program focuses on plant structure and the relationships of plants within their ecosystems. The program was successful last summer, meeting over a two-week time period including five 3-hour classes in Patterson Park and a day-long field trip to other nature centers.

BCP would like to thank Audubon Maryland-DC's Patterson Park Initiative and Legg Mason for their ongoing support.

 

Holiday Concert and Art Show Great Fun

Hampstead Hill Symphonic Band

Hampstead Hill Academy Symphonic Band
Danielle Scangarello, Director

Hampstead Hill's annual Holiday Concert and Art Show on December 19th was an inspiration for all who attended. Beginner and advanced band members played beautifully to a packed auditorium filled with hundreds of family and friends.

The concert included performances by the HHA Concert Band and Symphonic Band (directed by Danielle Scangarello) the HHA Orchestra and Choir (directed by Deborah Smith), and a vocal performance by Ms. Suzannah Bauer’s kindergarten class.

Scores of brilliant student artwork from Mrs. Butcher’s classes decorated the walls. Light refreshments were provided by Hampstead Hill's Food for Life program.

 

 

Coldwell Banker Sponsors Hampstead Hill Families

Coldwell Banker

In December Coldwell Banker sponsored two Hampstead Hill Families for the Holidays. The bank provided presents and Christmas dinner. BCP and Hampstead Hill would like to thank Coldwell Banker for their generosity.

 

National Academic League Team Undefeated

Baltimore National Academic League

Hampstead Hill's National Academic League (NAL) team remains undefeated entering the spring season. The Baltimore City National Academic League is an extracurricular scholastic league consisting of teams from thirty Baltimore City Public Middle Schools.

During NAL competitions, teams of 15 to 40 students under the direction of a coach play a four-quarter game focusing on curriculum-based questions correlated to national standards. Players use strategies to keep possession of a question sequence, learn teamwork as they huddle to answer a complex question, learn to problem-solve by preparing and presenting a solution to real-world problems, and engage in a fast-paced, quick-answer contest.

Hampstead Hill is currently forming a Junior National Academic League for 5th graders. Congratulations to the entire team for their big win last month against Southeast Middle.

 

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EDUCATIONAL POLICY UPDATE

 

NCTM's New Math Focal Points

NCTM Focal Points Logo

On December 5th the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) met with Maryland’s math leaders to discuss its new publication: Curriculum Focal Points for Prekindergarten through Grade 8 Mathematics. The Curriculum Focal Points are what NCTM considers to be the most important mathematical topics for each grade level.

NCTM recommends that instead of trying to teach many different topics mathematics education should spotlight three broad concepts in each grade. Its reasoning behind this philosophy is that under the current system “students are expected to become acquainted with a wide range of topics in a short period of time, keeping them from developing deep mathematical understanding and connections.” [1]

In the last BCP newsletter we highlighted some of the differences between the “traditionalists” (those who—like BCP—favor teaching few topics very intensely) and the “progressives” (those who favor teaching many subjects less intensely). We noted that most school systems currently use a “progressive” model, but highlighted some recent advances by “traditionalist” factions (in California, most significantly). However, the gains have thus far come on a state-by-state level. The NCTM Focal Points report is the first significant national publication to advocate a traditionalist approach.

One problem with the current mathematics education system in Maryland is that it focuses on—and tests—too many topics. For example, the Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum has a full 41 “learning expectations” for fourth-graders. The NCTM advocates just three: multiplication and division, decimals, and two-dimensional shapes. [2] It is hoped that by focusing on just three overarching topics, students will build a stronger mathematical foundation and will develop a more intimate understanding of essential material. As a result, students will have an easier time trying to conceptualize and expand on their mathematical knowledge. [3]

Direct Instruction is founded on the notion of teaching topics to mastery before proceeding, and as such is much more aligned with the Curriculum Focal Points recently outlined by the NCTM than the current Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum. We very much hope that Maryland’s math leaders will adopt the NCTM guidelines and adjust the Voluntary State Curriculum and standardized tests accordingly. The Baltimore Curriculum Project will continue to monitor Maryland’s consideration of the NCTM proposals and will publish further updates of any developments in the next newsletter.

  1. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2006). Curriculum Focal Points for Prekindergarten through Grade 8 Mathematics. <http://www.nctm.org/focalpoints/>
  2. De Vise, D. (5 December 2006). Local Schools to Study Whether Math -- Topics = Better Instruction. The Washington Post.By Daniel de Vise Washington Post, p. A01.
  3. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2006). Curriculum Focal Points for Prekindergarten through Grade 8 Mathematics. <http://www.nctm.org/focalpoints/>

 

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