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Archive for the ‘Thoughtful Teaching’ Category

I have been reading about Kurt Hahn. I have marked interest in his work and ideas. Doon, the school I attended, based many tenets of its constitution in his philosophy. The Outward Bound Schools also owe their vision to his dreams.

I wanted to share this fantastic quote by him:

A great teacher never sets himself above his students except in carrying responsibilities.”

This one is going onto my softboard.

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YOUNG GIRL WITH VIOLIN

I took music lessons from age six to fourteen, but had no luck with my teachers, for whom music did not transcend mechanical practicing. I really began to learn after I had fallen in love with Mozart’s sonatas. The attempt to reproduce their singular grace compelled me to improve my technique. I believe, on the whole, that love is a better teacher than sense of duty.

– Albert Einstein

Image Courtesy: Bill Viccaro

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carnival of education

Welcome to the Carnival !

I am honoured to host the Carnival of Education, now in its 133rd avatar. Thanks Ed! It’s been quite an exercise, but I’ve tried my best to make it fun by including everything that was submitted to me and organising it into categories.

 

Thanks to all those who contributed and took the time to fill up the survey questionnaire I sent out. I am including the results at the end of the post post.

 

Next week’s carnival will be hosted by Matt Tabor. Mail him at mktabor@gmail.com by 11pm EST on Tuesday, August 29, 2007 or else use this handy submission form. Thanks to Lennie for last week’s carnival.

Hang on now for Here we Go!

 

Leading Schools

The first chapter of Freakonomics, a huge bestseller (read a superintendent’s post on it here) talks about how incentive govern economics. Incentives are it says, simple means to urge people to do more of a good thing and less of a bad one, they are bullets, levers and keys: tiny objects with astonishing power to change a situation. Dave Johnston brings Economics into school with a post on why School Districts Need the Right Incentives.

Teacher Salaries have always been a huge source of debate. Paying his employees well is a must for every Leader. IB a Math Teacher presents a comparison between US and Finnish (the country consistently ranked #1 in OECD surveys on student achievement) teacher salaries. After you read this, you may be surprised to find out that several Indian teachers are paid between 20-25% of what teachers in the US are (adjusted for exchange rates and purchasing power).

In an article that will shock every school leader, I was surprised to learn that 1 out of 8 children in US schools are on retalin, a drug that impacts behavior, cognition, appetite, and stress and can have negative impact on the brain major impact in adulthood. Lennie contends that Ritalin is used in Government Schools to modify the behavior of students to make them fit into the one-size-fits all systems that these schools employ.

This post was not written for teachers or administrators in school, but can help all of us. Phil presents 13 Steps to be Productive saying”Ever wonder why some people are so productive all of the time while other people never accomplish anything?” I’m sure Christian over at Think: Lab was reading- I wonder how he finds the time to write several quality posts a day!

 

Oh My God, This Cannot be Happening

Is that a Bird? Superman? No its an Elementary School Principal! Jo Scott-Coe introduces us to a Principal who thinks that spending a day on the roof may encourage teachers to get better ‘fodder for lessons’ Head over to School Performance Anxiety–No More Gimmicks! for some Laughs!

I’m putting this post right under the one about our Fiddler-on-the-Roof Principal above, because it talks about a stand taken by the British Univeristy and College Union that’s equally stupid and egregious (or both). Read Darren’s post about the boycott of Israeli Universities here.

 

In the Classroom

Here is one thing that you would not believe closes achievement gaps. Getting children to Chew Gum in Class! A teacher was persuaded to do this even when when the policy strictly prohibits it because it (brace yourselves) helps the children think. I’d have put it in the ‘crazies’ section above if it weren’t for the teacher’s concern for her student’s achievement that made her break the rules and try it.

Asking questions is at the heart of a learning organisation and learning classrooms. Joanne Jacobs suggests that it might be the best way to go when teaching History (which she says is way better as a theatre for the higher reaches Bloom’s Taxonomy than Social Studies).

Several kids trip on word problems because they can’t translate the question being asked into a mathematiucal equation. What does it mean to find two-thirds of six they ask? If your kids are have trouble with this and more, read Denise’s post on Pre-algebra problem solving tools. The comment on the post (and maths problem) with the 3 salesman is worth a read too: its a variant of a classic problem that foxes most at first go.

A teacher’s influence can last a life time. Sometimes it is due to a negative incident that leaves a lasting impression. That’s what Ms.Teacher wrote when she submitted her post to the carnival. Check out her very readable reflections over in her post, The Influence of Teachers

Giftedness is a concept and term that most Educators love to use. Jeremy. in his excellent Conceptions of Giftedness, in light of DVD finding informs us that unfortunately, most of these educators may not agree or know what giftedness means. He presents an overview of scholarly definitions and a series of links to a recent finding that instructional videos aren’t effective in teaching language skills to infants.

Ever wonder why teachers in NYC are so psychotic? (!??!) Head over and check with Dr. Homeslice who’s surprised by the keywords that have driven traffic to his site.

 

Back to School after the summer?

Summer means Teacher Development. Carnival newbie Jennie, who’s just endured this version of Teacher Hell and is probably happy to get back to school, wonders why so many seminars are scheduled when Conferences are what really get the teachers going.

Joel, who’s become a bit of a 10-Tips and 7-Ways-To-Do-Things Guru, presents The Twelve Days of Teaching – a series of articles that may be be interesting to read before you start teaching again.

You may also want to consider visiting a wiki set up by Dan Myer to help you get prepared for a new term of teaching (this is not a carnival contribution, I’ve added it).

If you are a new teacher or are advising one this year, it would be helpful to read Graycie’s e-mail exchange with a New Teacher that has some excellent tips and the Right Wing Professor low-down on getting it right the first time around.

Ms. T talks about engaging lower-income and minority families in the school this year, using her dismay over the poor-attendance at her school’s recent back-to-school Open House as a context.

Former Wilmington Mayor Jim Sills shares her concern as he claims that “absence of parental participation plans (meaning budgeted finances and assigned personnel) has contributed to African-American and low-income parents (a) not feeling any “significant sense of ownership” of public schools, and (b) having low levels of parental participation in Parent Teacher Association (PTA) meetings. Unfortunately, we are left with a very large contingent of low-income parents, who feel ill equipped to give their children sufficient personal support in school settings.” Hube thinks that Sill’s enthusiasm may be misplaced and presents his own view on the subject in Once again: Teachers “not doing enough.

Best of luck to all of you starting the new school year! As you do so, read California Teacher Guy’s rather humorous poem on what he didn’t do last summer and Why He Is Rested and Ready to Go.

 

Grading

The best thing about blogs is sometimes the open-source stuff that gets shared- the Science Goddess has put out a draft of her standards-based grading policy on her blog. She’d like your comments! Go have a look- its definitely worth a read as is the discussion developing on the post and this wiki set up by Eric, Repairman, Miss Profe, Exhausted Intern and others on Grading.

A few weeks ago, there was a debate about Austin Lampros and his resignation from a Manhattan School that was activated by a ruling that no student should be given less than 45% marks, irrespective of performance. Now, R.Pettinger, an economist from across the Atlantic presents Are British A Levels Getting Easier? where he examines how lowered standards have doubled the percentage of students getting an A on their national exams.

 

Achievement Gaps and Standardised Testing

Here’s a Quiz for you- the winner gets a Testing for Dummies Handbook. What could the passage below be referring to?

We implemented a national literacy strategy in primary schools, followed quite rapidly by numeracy using the same model: Large-scale reform driven from the top down; designing all the materials at the national level and training everybody in a cascade out; using the accountability system to publish results and school inspection to check that people were adopting better practices.”

NCLB did you say? Nope, it’s the British version that now been imported to the US Shores in Ohio. Read more about it at Middle Shool World

What causes achievement gaps? Race? Parental Income? IQ? Expectation? Parental Pressure? Chanman’s got the lowdown on his post Quotable Crap about the “Achievement Gap”

One person who doesn’t need to read Chanman’s post is Margaret Spellings who seems to have got it all figured out. In a recent statement she asked, “How do we close the achievement gap and prepare all children to succeed in the global economy? To me, the answer is clear—the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Building on the success of this landmark law will help ensure we keep our promise to have every child learning on grade level by 2014.” Read all about it over on EduWonk’s post The Spellings Report: Margaret Heads South!

 

What Schools can Learn from Businesses and Funding in Schools

At a (private) school I worked at, parents were customers and so were students. Fees were income. Annual Days were Marketing promotions and Parent Relations was under a Public Relations Department. I hated the terms but liked the premise. Nancy Flanagan gets into the details on what schools can learn from big business in Business as Usual while Jose Vilson says that “much of the relationships we have in the educational setting have scary similarities to politics, corporate or otherwise” in his review of the book 48 Laws of Power.

Bill Ferriter, who writes for the same network that Nancy does, also handles a similar issue- the question of Funding, Accountability and Donor Relations in Schools- all things we can learn from business about. His post, Just What is a Republic Anyway?, is in response toone on the DeHavilland Blog titled The Upside of Less Education Funding.

I humbly present another post on state funding for education, arguing that higher-ed subsidies that are keeping large numbers out of primary-school should be re-evaluated and maybe, done away with.

Staying with funding and money; Norm Scott presents Oh man, did your readers leave stuff out! that tells you where dues money goes in the largest local teacher union in the nation

 

Essential conversations with our children

What should we tell our children and what should we not? Presenting three articles that touch different angles on this- NYC Educator talks about discussions with children on homesexuality and sex. I present a post on the death of Adnan Patrawala a 16-year old student in Mumbai who’s death may have been abetted by Orkut, an incident that calls for a more careful exposure to social networking sites. To round up is Jeff’s post Putting them in a Bubble (this is not a carnival contribution, I’ve added it).

In India, several schools are attempting to bring in grandparents into schools- acknowledging that the contribution of these elders in the children’s education can be significant and that in Inidan families where generation stay together it’s important that the Elders are on board with the school their grandchild goes to. Dana talks about a British example where elders are encouraged to come to school and share experiences with kids and adds that this may be an implicit vote for homeschooling. Read about it on her post – Bringing intergenerational experiences to the schools.

Emilie Buchwald once said, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” If you want to know what she meant or how to get there read 30+ Teacher’s post on Eleven Ways to Help Your Child Read Well.

WordMama writes a straight-from-the-heart letter to parents who may discover their child needs Special Education.

 

College

Got students or children going to college? Judy’s got some Health Tips, Pinyo talks about the 7 mistakes he made when he went to college, Robert provides you 5 tips on how to get that Calculator to function like a dream while Zantor provides tips on working smarter. If they still haven’t got the financing tied up, look at Robert has got tips on Scott’s post on 32 Weird Scholarships Almost Anyone Can Get.

 

Blogging about Teaching and Education

If you were inspired by Karl’s “Did you Know” Film and want the inside scoop on how Friedman’s World is Flat, Dan Pink’s A new Kind of Mind and speakers the NECC Conference collaborated to kickstart it in his head- go on over to Dr. Jan’s Blog to read The History of “Did You Know” with Karl Fisch and to listen to her podcast interview with him.

Almost 3 weeks after Scott McLeod posted his research on the Top EduBlogs, debate on its methodology and veracity rages on. I am enjoying the debate! You can too by reading Scott’s riposte to the suggestions, comments and questions raised.

We all know teaching can be tough and writing in the little time it leave you with can be tougher. So, when one shares experiences about it through writing on blogs, its frustrating when it gets you pilloried. Andrew, over in Britian, talks about his teaching and experience with blog critics at Just For The Record, I Don’t Hate The Kids

In a related post, Isabella Mori, a counsellor over in Vancouver, talks about her experiences with blogging about Education and Psychology as she debates the difference between blogging and research.

To round up the Carnival, Mister Teacher suggests that I should thank you all for reading and also Thank the custodians who make our teaching duties a lot easier and happier.

One last thing before we go. If, like me, you too wonder who contributes to the Carnival- you have your answers here. Of the 50 contributors to this Carnival, 30 returned my small survey form- I have included the analysis below.

 

 

USA Bloggers Dominate the Carnival of Education

50% are Teachers

50% have been blogging under a year

Blogging in Class is Alive and Well

 

All Contributors were also asked to send in the names of 2 blogs they read daily. Of the responses we received, Joanne Jacobs had the highest Readership (8 votes). Her blog was followed by The Education Wonks and EduWonk (Education Sector Blog) with 4 votes. California Teacher Guy, Weblogg-ed, Edspresso, Right on the Left Coast all got 2 votes each while Education Intelligence Agency, April May, College and Finance, NYC Educator, Principled Mom, NYC Public School Parents, AcademHack, EdWeek, Ms Whatsit, The Thinking Stick, Second Hand Thoughts, Eduholic (Teacher Magazine Blog), It Shouldn’t Happen to a Teacher, Homeschool Buzz, Why Homeschool, Tutor 2u, MathNotations, JD2718, Sicheii Yazhi, Repairkit, What It’s Like on the Inside and The Red Pencil got 1 vote each.

Hope you enjoyed the Carnival. You can access an archive of the previous carnivals here. Thank you all for reading!

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The three-day hiatus in blogging owes in large part to several visits to Doctors (the medical kind). It’s depressing business, sitting in hospitals for hours waiting in grubby offices, but I now know more about the Heart than I care to.

I visited a leading cardiologist two days ago. He sat my Mother down and checked her blood pressure. 140/90. He scribbled it down on a small paper (not on his diagnosis sheet). He proceeded to check her breathing and then, two minutes later, asked her to put her other arm forward and again wrapped the Blood Pressure sensor around it. The blood pressure this time? 130/85.

I frowned. How could the readings be different?

The Doctor smiled. He think took out his fancy pen from its holder and made a note on the diagnosis sheet. He saw the look of bewilderment on my face.

I asked him to explain.

It’s simple, really,” he began. “Most patients come into my chamber for the first time feeling anxious. This accounts for a higher first reading. After a couple of minutes when they’ve warmed up to me, they relax, and I get a lower and correct reading.

I pondered his statement. It did make sense. My Mother was quite the picture of nervousness when she stepped into his chamber, now she had settled down to a healthy chatter about her symptoms.

He pointed out that this pattern repeated itself for almost every patient who consulted him for the first time.

Now as I sit here writing this, I wonder about what he said and what it could mean for us. We, who have been told by psychologists and researchers that in a hiring process, most decisions are made within the first few minutes of the interview. We, who evaluate students (often many more student and very little time) in a hurry, quizzing the student in a viva-voce rapidly about his topic as we thumb through his project.

Is it possible that we may be making Type-II Errors?

If we are indeed choosing in the first few minutes, is there a possibility that we may be rejecting as unsuitable, candidates who may indeed be fit for the job?

Is it possible that the low grade on that project on the Incas was because the student was a first-timer to this kind of evaluation? Because he was nervous coming in? Maybe he really did know Inti from Pachamama?

Or does Malcolm Gladwell and his ‘Thin Slicing’ Theory hold true? In his seminal Blink (a book I loved, successor to Tipping Point which again, I devoured) points out that we make judgements about people within a few seconds of meeting them.

Let me give you an examples from his writing – it’s one from Teaching that you’ll love (and that may make you shudder!).

“Some years ago, an experimental psychologist at Harvard University, Nalini Ambady, together with Robert Rosenthal, set out to examine the nonverbal aspects of good teaching. She used videotapes of teaching fellows which had been made during a training program at Harvard. Her plan was to have outside observers look at the tapes with the sound off and rate the effectiveness of the teachers by their expressions and physical cues…. She showed her raters just two seconds of videotape and took ratings.

She compared those snap judgments of teacher effectiveness with evaluations made, after a full semester of classes, by students of the same teachers. The correlation between the two, she found, was astoundingly high. A person watching a two-second silent video clip of a teacher he has never met will reach conclusions about how good that teacher is that are very similar to those of a student who sits in the teacher’s class for an entire semester.”

Gladwell mentions that in his view, any footage longer than the two seconds is superfluous: anything beyond the first flash of insight is unnecessary.

Clearly the students had decided, by the facial expressions and the body language how effective the teacher may be. It sounds uber-cool, the kind of research we’d all love to lap up. I love Gladwell and his work (he goes on to give other examples of snap judgements, even in interview situations), so would be inclined to agree.

But somewhere it doesn’t agree with me.

If fifteen of us were to sit together and watch footage a few seconds of footage of a potential teacher in the classroom (or in the interviewee’s chair) would any of us be comfortable making the decision to hire based on our median vote?

Ditto for grading a student on a viva-voce?

The fictional Severus Snape doesn’t have great body language. Nor did some of my most inspiring teachers. I would vote (my lowly teacher voice against that of the great Psychologists) in favour of the theory hinted at by the cardiologist – our recruits, our students, indeed all of us are anxious in new situations.

When evaluating, give these folks time to prove themselves.

I wonder what you have to say on this? I’m all ears.

 

Further Reading (as always, click on numbers to follow links):

#1: The New Boy Network (from the New Yorker) – the article that led to the writing of Blink, and the article excerpted above.

#2: Keen on Higher Ed? Here’s Malcolm Gladwell on the Social Logic of Ivy-League Admissions. You should read it to get a handle on what went on behind the heavy oak doors of Admissions Departments.

#3: Fun Aside! Will you be happily married or divorced? Predicted marriage-success in 60 seconds at the Love Lab (referenced in Blink)

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I think a lot about ‘customer satisfaction’ and how to achieve it. ‘Customers’ is sometimes seen as an ugly word in Education, so let me put in this caveat: In this article I am going to mean Parent every time I write Customer.

Why is Customer Satisfaction important?

Apart from the obvious benefits, parent satisfaction leads to engaged parents. Engaged parents allow, among other things, ease of implementing innovative practices (less resistance), lowers costs (parent volunteers replace part-time hired help) and improves student learning (interest in schoolwork and showing up at PTAs) and

How can Parent Satisfaction be increased? Here are 10 Tips from experience.

The Key to the 10 Tips: The over-arching insight is this- most parents are emotionally involved with their children and take their schooling (if not their school) very seriously. Respond to parents and their queries/feedback/suggestions humanely, patiently, emotionally without diluting the professional requirements of your role as an Educator.

1. Know Thyself: Who am I ?

For Principals and Administrators looking to create Wow! in their schools, the first step is to define clearly “what the school is” and “what the school wants to be.”

This means understanding the DNA of your school (private/public, residential/day, progressive/traditional, academe-focussed/big on curriculars etc), its current culture and then what the vision for this school is.

This will then lead an understanding of how resources can be utilised and provide directionality to your actions that make you customer focussed.

The second step is to Know the Customer. During my first 2 months as Principal, we did a small survey (10 questions with mostly demographic and economic data) and were surprised by our results. We had been sending out circulars in English to parents- the data revealed that 93% spoke Hindi or Punjabi at home. This meant that most had greater familiarity with another language, and in all probability several were not comfortable with English.

Talk about a wake up call! We also discovered that most of our children came from joint families (where grandparents stayed with parents). We had been doing little to involve the grandparent (who held considerable authority) in the decision making and was an important ‘customer.’ Our orientation quickly changed.

If you are setting up a new school, you may choose to set-up a school looking at the population you will be serving. If you have a school up-and-running, this will tell you whether you need to educate your existing customers on your ‘philosophy’ or ‘brand’ of education or else it will signal that you are riding the wrong horse and you need to look at a different customer profile in the future when you admit new students.

2. Explain what Customer Service means: Once you have determined who your customer is and what your school wants to be, make sure that your team is geared to deliver. You have to tell them what great customer service means, let them know that customer service starts the moment the parent enters the school (and even outside) and encompasses both the classroom and everything outside it (in equal measure), provide them with examples of exceptional service.

Most teachers and staff-members at the school I headed, had not experienced WOW! as Customers. We took a team of teachers ,administrators and support staff (including gardeners, cleaners and a security-guard) to the Radisson. We paid attention to how the hotel greeted its guests, how the floor shone with wax, the manicured hedges, the clear signage and the alacrity of purpose in restaurant employees. Later, when the staff enjoyed their Rs. 120 (US$ 3) coffees and balked at the prices (compared to the monthly tuition fee of Rs. 800 (US$ 20), they were shown the co-relation between great customer service and the ability of an establishment to command a premium. This was connected to our school and the possibility of heightened innovation and resources at our disposal if we similarly wowed our guests.

3. Focus on the Small Things: During the administrative formalities in the days before I took over as head of school, I encountered long hold times when I called the school and on some ocassions, had to call a couple of times before someone answered the phone. One of the first things I did after I took over implementing a 3-ring policy. The School telephone had to be answered within 3 rings. If it wasn’t, it would be diverted to a voice mailbox (that was checked every half hour during school hours). I was maniacal about this. I know I have been hopping mad if I have been put on hold by call-centre manned telecom companies- it would be criminal to keep an anxious parent checking in on his child on hold for so long. This policy ensured that every individual calling the school received prompt service at his first touchpoint with the school.

There are several “small things” that go a long way- sending a small note to check on an convalescent child, ensuring that refreshments and light reading is available to visitors, ensuring every visitor is met by a member of staff as he enters the school and is guided to his destination etc.

Talk about these at staff meetings. Make sure transgressions are pointed out. Make it a big deal.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book, Tipping Point, talks of the Broken Windows Theory. Robberies tend to be higher in streets where there are broken windows. These streets are perceived as ‘easy.’ I reckon that the same is true of schools- wrappers lying around, broken (even chipped) furniture signal an indisciplined school (and may even cause indiscipline) and may affect how a prospective parent views you.

4. Speak to your Staff constantly: Your staff-members are your listening posts. They speak to parents and the community in greater numbers than you do and probably enjoy a closer rapport with most parents as well. Use them to gain feedback, formal and informal about how the school could improve.

If I was told I was allowed to speak to only one person in a school, I would speak to the receptionist (the lady who receives parents at schools and also their phone calls). If you don’t speak to your receptionist, I recommend you start doing the same. As someone who handles parents everyday, she probably knows of (even if she doesn’t understand) the many complaints, apprehensions and anxieties that they have.

5. Speak to your Customers: While I would be vary of allowing parents to have a say on every decision the school takes, I feel parent representation on school boards, PTAs and the like are great ways to listen to what parents have to say. Then we go further.

We started a Parent-School Partnership Dialogue where 10 Parent Representatives (from parents on one Yeargroup) met and discussed a pre-determined agenda once a month with me and two teachers who dealt with that yeargroup. This was a fantastic success- the parental cohort self-corrected its parental enthusiasm, shared their concerns and suggestions, listened to what the teachers had to say on matters ranging from trip planning and discipline to curriculum and parent-school communication. Parents were allowed to raise any issue they wanted, nothing was taboo (although the veto option was mine- never had to use it). The members understood that these meetings were for sharing ideas and brainstorming and that decisions would rest with the school. Minutes of these meetings were circulated to all parents.

These meetings helped build confidence in the school- we were a school that cared.

Make sure your parents have several ways of communicating with the school and that every parent knows of all possible ways. Research has shown that very few people want to complain/recommend/suggest improvement and you want to make sure you make it easy for those who want to.

All these are very important for the customer knows what he wants better than anyone else does.

Think about these tips and share some of your own! Also, do come back for the Final 5 Tips tomorrow!

 

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One of my biggest learnings of 2004 was understanding Reading levels. I knew, earlier than 2004, that there are reading levels, age-appropriate bands of text complexity, determined by research for classroom settings.

This meant that in your classroom you would want to use text:

a) That was at the reading level of the children in your class or just slightly above

b) That there was the possibility that some there may be a range of reading levels in your class: some students may be reading ahead their age-appropriate reading level and some behind

c) That you would have to make allowances for this spectrum of reading levels, especially in Individual reading classes or Sustained Silent Reading Lessons, else you may end of frustrating the reader (should there we a dissonace between his reading level and that of the text he is offered)

I used reading cards and books in the class that came with the publisher’s recommended reading level guidelines. Else, by scanning the material I made an educated guess on what the reading level could be.

That’s when I stumbled upon stuff like the Gunning Fog Index and the Fleisch Kincaid Reading Ease.These are tools to determine the reading levels of any piece of text.

 

The Gunning Fog index can be calculated with the following alogritm (courtesy wikipedia). Don’t get bothered by the computation; towards the end of the post I will provide links to sites that can compute this stuff in seconds for you:

  1. Take a full passage that is around 100 words (do not omit any sentences).
  2. Find the average sentence length (divide the number of words by the number of sentences).
  3. Count words with three or more syllables (complex words), not including proper nouns (for example, Djibouti), compound words, or common suffixes such as -es, -ed, or -ing as a syllable, or familiar jargon.
  4. Add the average sentence length and the percentage of complex words (ex., +13.37%, not simply + 0.1337)
  5. Multiply the result by 0.4

 

gunning fog index

 

 

 

 

The Fleisch Kincaid Reading Ease can be calculated like this:

flesich kincaid reading ease

 

The Gunning Fog Index gives you a number that corresponds with the number of years of schooling one would need top understand the text. A number of 6, for example, would mean that a 6th grader could understand the text.

The Fleisch Kincaid Reading Ease would return a number between 0-100 with numbers closer to 0 being meaning easier text.

The alogrithms look complicated in their computation, but simplistic in the number of variables they take into account. The shortcomings of this approach may be that the formula cannot account for

  • account for writing style or genre
  • usage of passive/active voice
  • redundancy of expression
  • use of language that is simple or familiar
  • complexity in ordering of logical thought,

all of which are important in making text readable and determining what grade they could be appropriate for.
Here is a look at some popular texts and what their readability is like (GF: Gunning Fog, FRRE: Flesh-Kincaid Reading Ease)

New York Times (webpage at http://www.nytimes.com), GF 9.04 FRRE 60.09

Wall Street Journal (webpage at http://www.wsj.com), GF 9.18 FRRE 59.33

Walt Disney Company (webpage in the site disney.go.com), GF 7.13 FREE 54.02

The Bible has a GF of 6, Reader’s Digest of 8, Time Magazine of 10. A GF of 16 or above means readibility suitable at a post-graduate level.

I ran tests on the first page of my blog and came up with this:

Total sentences – 455

Total words – 4936

Average words per Sentence – 10.8

Words with 1 Syllable – 3298

Words with 2 Syllables – 963

Words with 3 Syllables – 410

Words with 4 or more Syllables – 265

Percentage of word with three or more syllables – 13.68%

Average Syllables per Word – 1.52

Gunning Fog Index – 9.81

Flesch Reading Ease – 67.04

Flesch-Kincaid Grade – 6.60

 

This seems to suggest that my blog is readable by some 9th graders and most 10th graders: given the directionality of the content on this site, I am happy with that. Ideally, I would recommend a readability between 8 – 10 on the Gunning Fog Index.

How does one use this in the classroom? Here are instructions on calculating readability statistics for Webpages, Word Documents and Texts:

Word Document: Fortunately MS Word has an inbuild functionality for this- for many years I was just ignorant of it!

1. On the Tools menu, click Options, and then click the Spelling & Grammar tab.
2. Select the Check grammar with spelling check box.
3. Select the Show readability statistics check box, and then click OK.
4. Click Spelling and Grammar on the Standard toolbar.

Now every time you spell check a document, Word will give you data on Reading grade and Level. As a bonus, it will also tell you how many of your sentences are passive!

Web Page: I recommend Juicy Studio– thats where I ran the stats for my blog shown above.

Text: There are several on the web, I love Jack Daniel’s is one.

The good news: It has its limitations, but can be handy for a quick check of readability and hence a great help in the classroom. Also, it unfortunately it won’t make you a great writer, but it can stop you from being an ordinary one!

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I’ve learnt a lot from Sanjiv Bawa over several meetings, both formal and informal, over the last year and a half – especially about business. He reminded me, in his comment on Arts at the Core, an earlier post that comics can be a very useful tool of learning.

I couldn’t agree more. Comics have a potential to be a great tool for teachers in the classroom, if used intelligently and innovatively. I was introduced to Amar Chitra Katha comics- popular work for children that centred around mythology and ancient literature as a child. I learnt about the Ramayana through Comics. They made Ram and Sita (part of the Hindu pantheon of Deities) cool for a six-year old kid. It laid the foundation for my understanding of Religion.

Given their immense popularity with children and adults, a well-meaning class with comics as teacher’s aids can go downhill if either the content is not age-appropriate or if the teacher is not able to channel the enthusiasm of the kids. I would be nervous before handing out Garfield and Peanuts or Holy Textbook- the Batman Series to the kids.

Some suggestions on how comics could be used in the classroom:

1. With Struggling English Learners or Readers: A child who is struggling to read has to be scaffolded. Have you ever tried learning a new language? You know reading can be difficult enough, without it being made dull.

a) Comics have pictures. The pictures often have quirky characters. That makes reading more interesting.

b) Comics reduce the amount of text on a given page. At the same time, comics lessen the amount of text in a complete story to a manageable level. Moreover, they often use similar terms, ensuring that students keep connecting the dots. Hence, students are able to read and complete whole stories in a reasonable amount of time. This means that a student has followed a narrative from start to end and created used his knowledge to link panels to each other and string together meaning all within a short time. That is a big plus.

c) Pictures go beyond making things interesting. They provide visual clues to the struggling reader, specially when he is reading independently, allowing him to keep persevering with reading.

d) At a later stage, comics provide a bridge between the struggling – but – becoming – slightly-confident reader and more complex material. e.g. A student reading about TinTin and Snoopy in Alaska may be keen to know about the Arctic Circle in greater depth. This can lead him to non-comic reading with more complex sentence structure at a higher grade level.

2. As a tool in other classes:

a) Comics can also be used in Creative Writing Classes in various activities: E.g. Remove the last panel of a 10 panel comic strip. Let the children give their recommendations. Or, remove the text from the voice balloons, let the children fill it in based on the story they see developing.

 

b) Remember doing character sketches you did as a child? Write a character sketch of Uriah Heep. Yikes! Write a Character Sketch of Sinbad the Sailor. Wow! As a teacher i’m interest in the quality, depth and complexity of your analysis, not who you are analysing. At least not in Upper Primaries.

c) As hinted at earlier, they can be used as bridge texts for more complex subjects in the Social Sciences.

d) Art class- there are several opportunities in this domain.

Comics can also help to cultivate a general interest in reading. Research in the US has shown that 60% of children read comics outside of school. Only 12-15% of them read any other kind of literature. I would posit that comics and its older cousin the graphic novel (type of comic book, usually with a lengthy and complex storyline similar to those of novels, often aimed at mature audiences. The term is commonly used to disassociate works from the juvenile or humorous connotations of the terms “comics” and “comic book”, implying that the work is more serious, mature, or literary than traditional comics) with its theme borrowed from classic literature & contemporary children’s novels, could be used to push up reading levels in children even while keeping them entertained with their brand of reading.

In finality, I would say that comics and their use in classrooms should, initially for a teacher, be with the lower forms and struggling readers. As teachers become more versed with the nuances of comics as teaching tools and the school more comfortable with this brand of teaching, they could graduate to senior and more advanced classes and to more developed themes. As i noted, one can do a MA or PhD in Comics (called Sequential Art in the academic circles) too, nowadays!

Lessons in History for readers of the blog: Comics, that were more popular in America and Japan before they were in India, went into the Dark Ages in the 1950s. After World War II, comics in America tended to have more blood and gore than ever, prompting psychologist Dr. Frederick Wertham’s infamous book, “The Seduction of the Innocent.” The book criticized crime, superhero and horror comics genres, in particular those by William Gaines (who later started and ran MAD magazine). The book claimed that comics glorified sex, violence and drugs – and that these texts were one of the prime causes of juvenile delinquency. Read more about this here.

Coming to India: This country has a more recent history of Comics. The staple fare for children in India was Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle and Chacha Chaudhary, though the new generation is unlikely to recognise most of these titles. Archie and his friends from Riverdale rule here now. In fact most of India’s comic heroes are American imports, it has very few of its own creations. Branson’s Virgin in association with Gotham Comics released India’s first attempt at a Manga-type comic- lush illustration and a more-real superhero. Meet- Devi a striking superheroine but sadly one who still has to catch the fancy of the masses. Maybe an Anglican name would help.

Teachers who are keen to know more and find activities for their classroom can follow download a free chapter from Stephen Cary’s new book Going Graphic- Comics at work in the Multilingual Classroom right here.

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