We were recently asked to participate in a panel discussion on education technology trends for 2017, our specific area of expertise being technology and e-learning for early childhood education and development. Check out the link below to see our posting (scroll down to subject heading "E-Learning for Early Childhood Education"), as well as the 16 other experts' predictions.
To put it simply, not good. Not good at all. And in fact, getting worse.
A recent article in The Economist explains:
It is easy to be cynical about school-test results, particularly when you are grading the performance of something as complex as a country's education system. Undaunted, every three years the Programme for International Sudent Assessment (PISA), which is run by the OECD club of mainly rich countries, tests more than half a million 15-year-olds in three subjects- math, readin and science- to giva a snapshot of national school policies. The latest results were published on December 6th and again show stellar achievement in East Asia. Singaporean pupils are roughly three years ahead of American ones in math. Some argure that differences in national scores are a result of parenting and innate culture, and therefore that policy makers can do little to improe pupils' performance.
Culture matters, but it is not as if success in PISA is the preserve of East Asia. Estonia scores highly enough to beat the rest of Europe and achieves similar results to Japan.
PISA teaches what does not work. Spending more money, for example, is associated with higher scores, but only in poorer countries. Among those that already spend more than $50,000 per pupil throughout their time in school, money alone brings no improvement. Private schools are no exception, at least when it comes to PISA.
The exercise also tells you what does work, and its most important insight is that what matters most is what happens in the classroom. The successful children are those who are exposed to good teaching more often. Having pupils turn up is a start. In poor countries this often means expanding access for girls. In richer countries it means cutting dropout rates and truancy; Italian pupils do poorly partly because more than half of them skip school at least once a fortnight. Having teachers turn up also helps. One reason why Buenos Aires saw the biggest rise in PISA scores of any area is because the city curbed teachers’ strikes by offering them a deal: it would treat teachers as professionals if they behaved as such. The city improved training and pay. Teachers agreed that merit, not their unions, would determine promotion. Improving the quality of teaching is harder. Who becomes a teacher makes a difference. Australia’s decline in PISA coincides with a fall in the exam results of teacher-training applicants. And what teachers learn about the job is at least as important. Evidence-based methods of instruction, practice, coaching from experienced teachers and feedback are all part of making good teachers.
Poor students tend to do less well in PISA. But the effects of poverty can be overcome. The influence of family background on test scores fell by more in America than in any other OECD country over the past decade. This partly reflects the growth of excellent autonomous but publicly funded charter schools in big cities. Successive presidents’ efforts to hold schools accountable have had some impact, too. In Estonia nearly half the poorest children achieve results that would place them in the top quarter across the OECD. A reason for this is a lack of selection by ability. Many of the top-performing school systems delay the start of formal education until the age of six or seven, focusing instead on play-based education. But they then make students learn academic subjects until about 16. Even in Singapore, where pupils can opt earlier for a vocational track, schools insist on academic rigour as well as practical work.
Concentrate there at the back
Like spoilt children who have failed an exam, some policymakers claim the PISA tests are unfair. Certainly, PISA does not capture all of what matters in education. It offers clues rather than guarantees of what works. It is the fair, rigorous and useful work of technocrats. Yet politicians who ignore it are turning their back on powerful truths.
I was recently asked this question by a reporter doing a nationally syndicated story on childhood education standards and practices. Admittedly this is quite a broad question, with many considerations (age/grade of student, achievment level of student, type of school, etc.).
However, really homework should be based upon quality rather than quantity. Too many sub par teachers, following outdated curricula are in a way "outsourcing" the education process directly to the students, and ultimately to the parents as well, since parental involvement is a key factor in a students rate of success. A lot of teachers utilize their only actual face time with students (i.e. class room time) to broadly touch on subject matter, then assign prodigious amounts of home work that is in essence saying, "here is a little bit of information about a lot of things, now go and learn it yourself". This is not always the fault of the teacher. In many states, recently adopted common core curricula dictates the breadth of information to be covered, by subject and by grade, and this does not always allow for teachers to engage students individually, based upon their various needs. Teachers end up teaching to the standards, not to the class.
Ideally, homework should allow students to further explore specific subject matter and expand upon the foundations of in-class lessons and discussions. In addition, an effective homework load should teach them self reliance, organizational skills, critical thinking, preparedness, and the ability to recognize the importance of meeting deadlines. But in reality, too often homework results in the opposite: reliance on parents, siblings or tutors; disorganization and feeling overwhelmed; lack of focused thinking; unpreparedness and anxiety; missed deadlines and falling behind. Whether or not a student's end result of homework is the former or the latter depends heavily upon the passion, skill and effectiveness of the individual teacher that assigns it.
So it is difficult to put an amount of time as being just enough, or too much, when analyzing homework loads. If one goes by historic assumptions, then the rule of thumb is roughly 1/2 hour of homework per subject, per night. However that is not the way any modern educator would answer this question. Effective homework assignments should emphasize and reinforce the classroom teachings and discussions, and encourage (not discourage!) further exploration of the subject matter. When homework fails to do that, no matter how much or how little the amount, then it is too much.
Is learning English grammar important? Absolutely!
Understanding grammar will give you better communication and thinking skills, making you a better listener, speaker, reader, and writer. Understanding grammar will also allow you to develop your own unique personal style of communicating. Knowledge of grammar will enable you to communicate effectively in any situation, allowing you to form more successful and meaningful relationships with your coworkers, friends, and family. Indeed, learning grammar can improve your life and make you a better person in several ways.
Grammar and Logic
Grammar is a means of organizing words, phrases, and clauses into meaningful communication. This organization depends on logic. Understanding grammar and being able to use it well helps you to think logically. Without logic and organization, your thinking will be disorganized and so will your listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills. The more you understand grammar, the more clearly, meaningfully, and freely you will be able to organize and communicate your own ideas as well as comprehend the ideas of others.
Grammar and Style
Style is the manner you use to communicate. Your style tells a lot about your views of yourself, your subject, your audience, and even your world. If you have a dry, uninteresting style, people will not take your communications seriously. On the other hand, knowledge of grammar, with its flexible and creative syntax, can be used to produce a unique personal style. With a knowledge of grammar, you can have fun with writing, to make jokes, and to create writing that is unique from that of the rest of the worlds. If you can communicate your ideas well, rest assured people will pay attention to you and even seek out what you have to say.
Grammar and Personal Relationships
No matter how brilliant your insights, they will count for little if you are unable to communicate them meaningfully. Knowledge of grammar will enable you to express yourself clearly no matter what your profession. Grammar helps define who you are, and you will be more successful in your career if you are able to communicate your ideas to those around you in unique, interesting ways. You will also be able to form more meaningful friendships and intimate relationships with more interesting and stimulating people, something that requires good speaking ability. Conversation is indeed an art, and if you wish to join the ranks of the worlds great communicators, as well as reap the myriad benefits that accrue to great communicators, you must master the fundamental tool for self-expression--grammar.
Grammar And Communication
How well you communicate your ideas and how well you understand the ideas of others, be they spoken or written, is governed by your understanding of grammar. Mastering this critical subject will make you a more logical thinker and allow you to understanding and appreciate all styles of speech and writing. Knowledge of grammar will also give you the ability to communicate your own thoughts more freely, making for better relations with your coworkers, your friends, and your family.
You are going to be listening, speaking, reading, and writing your entire life. Dont limit yourself to being able to comprehend only simple speech or having only one or two simple ways of communicating your thoughts. Master grammar to give yourself the ability to communicate effectively in any situation and the ability to comprehend any communication you will encounter.
So yes, learning grammar is important. And even THAT may be an understatement!
Whenever I get on my soapbox about grammar, people often tell me I put too much emphasis on the importance of grammar — after all, they say, why does it matter what kind of grammar people use; the important thing is whether or not they understand what they are saying and writing to one another. I know that this is a popular position with some people, but let’s look more deeply into the issue of using correct grammar.
Grammar, regardless of the country or the language, is the foundation for communication — the better the grammar, the clearer the message, the more likelihood of understanding the message’s intent and meaning. That is what communication is all about. Recent national and international events make it clear that in the United States today we are lacking in the quality of communication that leads to understanding our fellow citizens and the people of other countries — and this at a time when better understanding at home and abroad is so necessary.
English is the primary grammatical standard for the world today — in all venues of life: business, government, medicine, education, and so forth. In most countries where English is not the primary language, English is the language of second choice. If you have ever been in a class with international students you probably noticed that, although they may speak with a noticeable accent, their knowledge of English grammar is frequently superior to that of native, U.S. born students.
Most in-depth thinkers, regardless of their national identity, realize that correct grammar leads to the kind of power in leadership that comes from superior communication, and they plan accordingly. As the economy of the United States has sputtered and our federal government has continued to put off action until the last minute, our prestige in the world has suffered. Among the leadership of some non-western countries, this has fueled their dreams of becoming the new world leader.
Just think what it would be like if the international standard for language was not English. Some of the world's diplomats have already begun to suggest such a change in the United Nations, where English is currently the official language. They comprehend that superior communication is an absolute necessity for world leadership and power, and they know how advantageous it would be for their own language to be the world standard. We in the United States had better pay attention — this is not something to be taken lightly.
Our own grammatical standards began their gradual degradation long ago, as people began spending more time watching TV instead of reading. Now, the big enemy is the texting epidemic and it's fascination with emoji communication. Now don't get me wrong, technological developments are not bad; on the contrary, they are not only good but in many cases they are life changing. How they are used and monitored though is equally, if not more important.
In the United States, we really do need to focus our efforts on strengthening our understanding and use of correct English grammar. Indeed our future may depend on it!
Kids are back to school. And as they settle into their language arts lessons, they will be made to learn grammar, spelling and punctuation as if these were as fixed as the stars in the sky.
Best Teaching Method?
Most of our children will be unaware that parents, teachers, policymakers, researchers and critics have been wrangling over what kind of grammar should be taught; when it should be taught; how students should be graded and, in particular, how they should be tested. Critics say that grammar "terminology" is too advanced for 11-year-olds. They also say that the teachers are unprepared themselves, since grammar teaching went out of fashion for decades in the English-speaking world. And the terminology they are expected to know has changed since the days when those who were lucky enough to study grammar did so in the mid- and late 20th century.
No one disputes that children need to be able to write. But do 11-year-olds need the skill of identifying—by name—a “relative clause” (eg, the house that I live in), “modal verb” (eg, can and must) and “determiner” (a term better known to linguists than schoolteachers, including a, the, each, everyand some)? Deliberate study never killed anyone. But does this help kids write? One large meta-study (which looks at a host of previous studies) concluded that, of the teaching strategies designed to get kids writing better, nearly all had a positive effect—except for this kind of rigid grammar teaching, which had a slightly negative one.
Importance of Reading
Good reading is probably more essential to good writing than any other activity; students can produce effective English only by consuming great quantities of it first, finding their rhythm, and absorbing the grammar of the written page by reading, much as they learn the spoken language when they are younger by listening. Of course, many elements of English, like the fact that it’s is not a possessive or that their, they’re and there are different, need to be explicitly taught. But that teaching will stick best with good, curious and frequent readers.
Read, Write, and Read Some More
Explicit and overly abstract grammar teaching before the age of 11 is a bit like throwing seeds, that one hopes will turn into healthy plants, onto thawing early-spring ground yet to be ploughed. At this young age, spelling and punctuation—which are necessary and straightforward—can be introduced. But to expect the teaching of the modal verb and the determiner to make good writers out of young students is not “raising standards”. It is making a category error: writing and explaining syntax are related but not identical. Young children should read, then they should write, write and read again. The formal terms can wait for a later age.
HOW can schools get parents interested in their children’s education?
This is a very important question indeed. There is consensus among teachers, scholars and policymakers that children do better when their parents are involved in their school life. But getting parents on board can be difficult. It is particularly tricky, say teachers, to get parents who got little out of their own time in school to push their children to knuckle down.
A recent study by researchers at Harvard and Bristol Universities, utilizing text messages to parents has shown some promising results. The texts reminded parents of upcoming tests, whether or not homework was submitted on time, and generally outlined what their children were learning. The researches gave parents the option to discontinue receiving the texts messages if they considered them to be bothersome. Almost no one did. And the result was an uptick in performance, particularly subjects such as math and language arts, as well as a decrease in incidents of absenteeism.
This is all very good news, particularly for parents of middle and high school age students, as often they are the most difficult to engage. At this age, most kids travel to and from school by themselves, depriving parents of the crucial "commuter" time they may have shared previously. Also, as students progress the number of teachers they deal with on a daily basis increases. And with parents working, evenings are often occupied with meal preparation and other tasks the prevent quality interaction time. The texts gave parents a chance to get involved in their children’s education.
Take an active role in your children's education. Their future depends on it.
Summer doesn’t have to mean learning loss. It can be a time of powerful learning for children if we ensure that there are many learning activities to engage them in.
Educators know that children being able to read at grade level by third grade is critically important. Summer learning is essential to keep children on track not only for that milestone, but also for others—including high school graduation and college enrollment.
What can you do to help your child continue to learn over the summer? Here are some ideas:
Read books daily. Research shows that books that are “just right” for children (those that aren’t frustratingly hard or super-easy) make the best learning experiences.
Talk with your child about what he or she experiences each day. Give your child time to draw and caption a picture about their day, or write about it if they are older.
Choose a fun and engaging weekly read-aloud book that you can read as a family. Read a chapter aloud every night with different family members taking turns.
Use your local public library to help develop a love of reading and learning. There are so many resources at a library: books, technology access, research areas, fun learning activities, and read-alouds.
Take advantage of any free summer programs that fit into your schedule. Many communities have free summer concerts, parks and recreation events, or farmer’s markets. These are all experiences that your children can talk about or write about to develop their language skills.
Make every outing with your child a learning opportunity. Even your grocery store can be a world of wonder filled with colors, shapes, words, and numbers. Provide questions and other opportunities for your child to learn from the world around her. For example, when you’re at a park you can encourage your child to
Allow your child to use age-appropriate technology and high-quality digital learning content, such as top-rated educational apps, on a computer, smartphone, or tablet. Digital books and games can provide excellent learning opportunities for young children if used properly. But keep in mind that time on a device should be managed based on the child’s age and should not replace the above activities.
Just imagine—if every book that your child opens provides an exciting field trip, this summer you can take your child to the moon and beyond, below the oceans and through a coral reef, and deep into the past or far into the future.
And remember this: the time and thought that you invest in summer learning will repay itself many times over, not just at the beginning of the next school year, but in all the school years after that.
“The sooner the better” is the perfect tag line for early childhood education. There is no magic bullet to ensure a lifetime of self-fulfillment in personal and career terms. But rigorous research shows that high-quality early childhood education is an extraordinarily powerful means to promote continued success in school, in the workplace, and also in social and civic realms.
It may seem surprising, but the experiences of children in their early years have disproportionately large impacts relative to experiences during their school years and beyond. If children lag in those early years, chances are that they will never catch up. Remediation of deficiencies in learning of all types is far more difficult and expensive than learning early on. The good news is that high-quality programs focused on early childhood years can have powerful long-term impacts for all racial and economic groups across the country.
Research shows that high-quality early childhood programs lead to income gains of 1/3 to 3.5 percent each year when the children are adults. That may not seem like much. But compounded, the higher earnings account for between $9,000 and over $30,000 when the program costs are subtracted. Viewed nationwide, if all families were able to enroll their children in pre-school programs at the same rate as high-income families do now, the total enrollment nationwide would increase by around 13 percent and would yield a present value of at least $4.8 billion – some estimates approximate this number as high as $16.1 billion – from the lifetime earnings per person after deducting the costs of the program. High-quality early childhood education programs provide long-term benefits that far outweigh the costs.
The following article by Erin Flynn Jay, published on Concordiaonline.net, excellently summarizes the positive effects engaging and impactful learning experiences have on early childhood learning and knowledge development. Thank you Erin!
Video Lessons Aim to Capture Children’s Shrinking Attention Spans
Teachers don’t have much time to hold a child’s attention span, which seems to get shorter every year. Today’s students start losing interest after about five minutes, says Marc Carver, founder of a new company that creates animated instructional videos for elementary-age students.
“Sustained attention span is what produces the most consistent learning results over time,” Carver said. “And a recent study by psychologists has determined that over the last 10 years, our average sustained attention span has fallen from 12 minutes to just five minutes.” That means when teaching our children something new, we have about five minutes of focused, sustained attention to make it stick.
Carver’s company, called FutureSoBrite, was launched in January 2016. Its first product is called “FUN Grammar 4Kids” — a series of video lessons that help give younger students a foundation in nouns, verbs, sentence structure and overall writing skills. Each of the videos averages around five minutes long.
An option for lectures and one-to-one teaching
“FUN Grammar 4Kids” gives teachers an engagement tool/primer for either grammar lectures for the whole class or for one-to-one instruction. The videos, which supplement Common Core curricula, also can be a boon to parents seeking home-schooling lessons and materials.
Carver says the program is designed to capture attention and deliver information simply and effectively. The videos contain colorful graphics, voice narration and comical characters that engage students and inspire multiple viewings. It really can make the entire learning process a fun experience that children look forward to.
It also enables teachers to maximize the effectiveness of in-class assignments. Teachers can customize lessons/assignments for each student, focusing on the areas that may require more attention on a student-by-student basis.
For example, Carver said, one student may be having difficulty with punctuation skills, while another is not quite grasping sentence structure. Each of these students can access their relevant lesson on their own, working at their own pace (with the guidance of their teacher as necessary), thereby most effectively using classroom time to work on any areas where kids need help.
Tapping the value of blended learning
“This type of blended learning program, utilizing a multichannel information delivery method (visual media combined with live teaching), captures the students’ attention, piques their interest and reinforces the teacher’s words. The end result is maximum knowledge retention,” said Carver.
“FUN Grammar 4Kids” is so new that there’s no statistical data on its effectiveness yet. But it has received strong reviews and comments from educators and parents. There is some data on the effectiveness of blended learning, however.
“A study by schools that have utilized at least some elements of a blended learning curriculum (digital, online learning programs combined with traditional face-to-face teaching) in language arts, math and science have reported increases of up to 27 percent in student proficiency over a non-blended curriculum,” said Carver.
More learning videos on the way
“FUN Grammar 4Kids” is the first program release in the “FUN Learning 4Kids” educational series. Programs focusing on math, science and social studies are in development.
“Any school, whether public, private, or home-based can benefit from the kind of engaging learning programs being developed at FutureSoBrite. So really there are no limits,” said Carver.
It’s not easy to improve attention span, but the most important thing we can do is to remove — or at least limit — the distractions that we’ve all come to take for granted in our everyday lives (noise, interruptions, devices, etc.).
“Learning requires attention, attention requires focus and focus requires concentration. And all of these require a freedom from distractions,” said Carver. “At FutureSoBrite, we believe that every child deserves a bright future, and that education makes all things possible.”
Erin Flynn Jay is a writer, editor and publicist, working mainly with authors and small businesses since 2001. Erin’s interests also reach into the educational space, where her affinity for innovation spurs articles about early childhood education and learning strategies. She is based in Philadelphia.
Tags: Early Childhood and Elementary (Grades: PreK-5) / Engaging Activities / Literacy: Reading and Writing and Speaking / Middle School (Grades: 6-8)
At FutureSoBrite we believe that every child deserves a bright future, and that education makes all things possible. We believe great education doesn't just happen in school, it also happens at home. We are educators and parents who believe lessons learned at home are the foundations for lessons learned in life. Because teachers teach the class, but parents teach the child.