Understanding Academic Text

Understanding academic text is possible through making some minor adjustment to one’s reading style. In this post, we will look at the following ideas for improving academic reading comprehension.

  • Reading the chapter titles
  • Reading the chapter objectives
  • Reading the headings in the chapters
  • Examine the Visuals
  • Make some questions
  • Now read & answer the questions

Read the Chapter Titles

You read the chapter title for the same reason as the preface. It gives you the big picture from which you develop a framework for placing the ideas of the author. I am always amazed how many times I ask my students what the title of the chapter is and they have no clue. This is because they were so determined to read that they never set things in place to understand.

For ESL readers, it is critical that they know the meaning of every word in the title. Again this has to do with the importance of the title for shaping the direction of the reading. If the student gets lost in the details this is where teaching support is there for. However, if they have no idea what the chapter is about there is little even the be3st teacher can do.

Read Chapter Objectives

The objectives of a chapter are a promise of what the author will write about. The student needs to know what the promises are so they know what to expect. This is similar to driving somewhere and expecting to see certain landmarks along the way. When you see these landmarks you know you are getting close to the destination.

The objectives provided the big picture of the chapter in a way that the preface provides the big picture of the entire book. Again, it is common for students to skip this aspect of reading comprehension.

Read the Chapter Headings

By now you probably know why to read the chapter headings. If not, it is because the chapter headings tell the student what to expect in a particular section of the chapter. They serve as a local landmark or a localized purpose.

For an extremely efficient (or perhaps lazy) writer, the objectives and the headings of a chapter will be exactly the same with perhaps slight rewording. This is extremely beneficial for readers because not only do they see the objectives at the beginning but the see them stated again as headings in the chapter.

Examine the Visuals

Visuals are used to illustrate ideas in the text. For now, the student simply wants to glance at them. Being familiar with the visuals now will be useful when the student wants to understand them when reading.

When looking at a visual, here are some things to look for

  • Title
  • author
  • date
  • what’s being measured
  • scale (units of measurement)

For an initial superficial glance, this is more than enough

Make Questions, Read, and Answer 

After examining the text, the student should have questions about what the text is about. Now they should write down what they want to know after examining the various characteristics of the chapter and then they begin to read so they can answer their questions

Examine End of the Chapter Tools

After reading the chapter, many authors provide some sort of study tools at the end. I find it most useful to read the chapter before looking too closely at this information. The reason for this is that the summary and questions at the end indicate what the author thinks is important about the chapter. It’s hard to appreciate this if you did not read the chapter yet.

Knowing what is happening at the end of the chapter helps in reinforcing what you read. You can quiz yourself about the information and use this information to prepare for any examines.

Conclusion

Previewing a chapter is a strategy for understanding a chapter. The ideas a student reads about must have a framework in which the pieces can fit. This framework can be developed through examining the chapter before reading it in detail.

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Linear Regression vs Bayesian Regression

In this post, we are going to look at Bayesian regression. In particular, we will compare the results of ordinary least squares regression with Bayesian regression.

Bayesian Statistics

Bayesian statistics involves the use of probabilities rather than frequencies when addressing uncertainty. This allows you to determine the distribution of the model parameters and not only the values. This is done through averaging over the model parameters through marginalizing the joint probability distribution.

Linear Regression

We will now develop our two models. The first model will be a normal regression and the second a Bayesian model. We will be looking at factors that affect the tax rate of homes in the “Hedonic” dataset in the “Ecdat” package. We will load our packages and partition our data. Below is some initial code

library(ISLR);library(caret);library(arm);library(Ecdat);library(gridExtra)
data("Hedonic")
inTrain<-createDataPartition(y=Hedonic$tax,p=0.7, list=FALSE)
trainingset <- Hedonic[inTrain, ]
testingset <- Hedonic[-inTrain, ]
str(Hedonic)
## 'data.frame':    506 obs. of  15 variables:
##  $ mv     : num  10.09 9.98 10.45 10.42 10.5 ...
##  $ crim   : num  0.00632 0.02731 0.0273 0.03237 0.06905 ...
##  $ zn     : num  18 0 0 0 0 0 12.5 12.5 12.5 12.5 ...
##  $ indus  : num  2.31 7.07 7.07 2.18 2.18 ...
##  $ chas   : Factor w/ 2 levels "no","yes": 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 ...
##  $ nox    : num  28.9 22 22 21 21 ...
##  $ rm     : num  43.2 41.2 51.6 49 51.1 ...
##  $ age    : num  65.2 78.9 61.1 45.8 54.2 ...
##  $ dis    : num  1.41 1.6 1.6 1.8 1.8 ...
##  $ rad    : num  0 0.693 0.693 1.099 1.099 ...
##  $ tax    : int  296 242 242 222 222 222 311 311 311 311 ...
##  $ ptratio: num  15.3 17.8 17.8 18.7 18.7 ...
##  $ blacks : num  0.397 0.397 0.393 0.395 0.397 ...
##  $ lstat  : num  -3 -2.39 -3.21 -3.53 -2.93 ...
##  $ townid : int  1 2 2 3 3 3 4 4 4 4 ...

We will now create our regression model

ols.reg<-lm(tax~.,trainingset)
summary(ols.reg)
## 
## Call:
## lm(formula = tax ~ ., data = trainingset)
## 
## Residuals:
##      Min       1Q   Median       3Q      Max 
## -180.898  -35.276    2.731   33.574  200.308 
## 
## Coefficients:
##             Estimate Std. Error t value Pr(>|t|)    
## (Intercept) 305.1928   192.3024   1.587  0.11343    
## mv          -41.8746    18.8490  -2.222  0.02697 *  
## crim          0.3068     0.6068   0.506  0.61339    
## zn            1.3278     0.2006   6.618 1.42e-10 ***
## indus         7.0685     0.8786   8.045 1.44e-14 ***
## chasyes     -17.0506    15.1883  -1.123  0.26239    
## nox           0.7005     0.4797   1.460  0.14518    
## rm           -0.1840     0.5875  -0.313  0.75431    
## age           0.3054     0.2265   1.349  0.17831    
## dis          -7.4484    14.4654  -0.515  0.60695    
## rad          98.9580     6.0964  16.232  < 2e-16 ***
## ptratio       6.8961     2.1657   3.184  0.00158 ** 
## blacks      -29.6389    45.0043  -0.659  0.51061    
## lstat       -18.6637    12.4674  -1.497  0.13532    
## townid        1.1142     0.1649   6.758 6.07e-11 ***
## ---
## Signif. codes:  0 '***' 0.001 '**' 0.01 '*' 0.05 '.' 0.1 ' ' 1
## 
## Residual standard error: 63.72 on 341 degrees of freedom
## Multiple R-squared:  0.8653, Adjusted R-squared:  0.8597 
## F-statistic: 156.4 on 14 and 341 DF,  p-value: < 2.2e-16

The model does a reasonable job. Next, we will do our prediction and compare the results with the test set using correlation, summary statistics, and the mean absolute error. In the code below, we use the “predict.lm” function and include the arguments “interval” for the prediction as well as “se.fit” for the standard error

ols.regTest<-predict.lm(ols.reg,testingset,interval = 'prediction',se.fit = T)

Below is the code for the correlation, summary stats, and mean absolute error. For MAE, we need to create a function.

cor(testingset$tax,ols.regTest$fit[,1])
## [1] 0.9313795
summary(ols.regTest$fit[,1])
##    Min. 1st Qu.  Median    Mean 3rd Qu.    Max. 
##   144.7   288.3   347.6   399.4   518.4   684.1
summary(trainingset$tax)
##    Min. 1st Qu.  Median    Mean 3rd Qu.    Max. 
##   188.0   279.0   330.0   410.4   666.0   711.0
MAE<-function(actual, predicted){
        mean(abs(actual-predicted))
}
MAE(ols.regTest$fit[,1], testingset$tax)
## [1] 41.07212

The correlation is excellent. The summary stats are similar and the error is not unreasonable. Below is a plot of the actual and predicted values

We now need to combine some data into one dataframe. In particular, we need the following actual dependent variable results predicted dependent variable results The upper confidence value of the prediction THe lower confidence value of the prediction

The code is below

yout.ols <- as.data.frame(cbind(testingset$tax,ols.regTest$fit))
ols.upr <- yout.ols$upr
ols.lwr <- yout.ols$lwr

We can now plot this

p.ols <- ggplot(data = yout.ols, aes(x = testingset$tax, y = ols.regTest$fit[,1])) + geom_point() + ggtitle("Ordinary Regression") + labs(x = "Actual", y = "Predicted")
p.ols + geom_errorbar(ymin = ols.lwr, ymax = ols.upr)

1.png

You can see the strong linear relationship. However, the confidence intervals are rather wide. Let’s see how Bayes does.

Bayes Regression

Bayes regression uses the “bayesglm” function from the “arm” package. We need to set the family to “gaussian” and the link to “identity”. In addition, we have to set the “prior.df” (prior degrees of freedom) to infinity as this indicates we want a normal distribution

bayes.reg<-bayesglm(tax~.,family=gaussian(link=identity),trainingset,prior.df = Inf)
bayes.regTest<-predict.glm(bayes.reg,newdata = testingset,se.fit = T)
cor(testingset$tax,bayes.regTest$fit)
## [1] 0.9313793
summary(bayes.regTest$fit)
##    Min. 1st Qu.  Median    Mean 3rd Qu.    Max. 
##   144.7   288.3   347.5   399.4   518.4   684.1
summary(trainingset$tax)
##    Min. 1st Qu.  Median    Mean 3rd Qu.    Max. 
##   188.0   279.0   330.0   410.4   666.0   711.0
MAE(bayes.regTest$fit, testingset$tax)
## [1] 41.07352

The numbers are essentially the same. This leads to the question of what is the benefit of Bayesian regression? The answer is in the confidence intervals. Next, we will calculate the confidence intervals for the Bayesian model.

yout.bayes <- as.data.frame(cbind(testingset$tax,bayes.regTest$fit))
names(yout.bayes) <- c("tax", "fit")
critval <- 1.96 #approx for 95% CI
bayes.upr <- bayes.regTest$fit + critval * bayes.regTest$se.fit
bayes.lwr <- bayes.regTest$fit - critval * bayes.regTest$se.fit

We now create our Bayesian regression plot.

p.bayes <- ggplot(data = yout.bayes, aes(x = yout.bayes$tax, y = yout.bayes$fit)) + geom_point() + ggtitle("Bayesian Regression Prediction") + labs(x = "Actual", y = "Predicted")

Lastly, we display both plots as a comparison.

ols.plot <-  p.ols + geom_errorbar(ymin = ols.lwr, ymax = ols.upr)
bayes.plot <-  p.bayes + geom_errorbar(ymin = bayes.lwr, ymax = bayes.upr)
grid.arrange(ols.plot,bayes.plot,ncol=2)

1

As you can see, the Bayesian approach gives much more compact confidence intervals. This is because the Bayesian approach a distribution of parameters is calculated from a posterior distribution. These values are then averaged to get the final prediction that appears on the plot. This reduces the variance and strengthens the confidence we can have in each individual example.

Review of “Usborne World of Animals”

The Usborne World of Animals was written by Susanna Davidson and Mike Unwin (pp. 128).

The Summary

This book is about animals and how they live in the world. The book has ten sections. The first section covers topics about how animals live in general. Some of the topics in this section include how animals move, eat, smell, taste, touch, hide, etc. The next 8 sections

The next 8 sections cover different animals in different regions of the world. Examples include Toucans in South America, Bears in North America, Gorillas in Africa, Otters in Europe, Panda Bears in Asia, Kangaroos in Australia, and even Elephant Seals in Antartica.

The Good

This book is full of rich photographs and even illustrations that provide additional learning. The photos depict animals in daily life such as a tiger running, polar bears playing, anteaters searching for food, bats sleeping, monkeys jumping, etc. Children will enjoy the pictures tremendously.

The text is fairly readable. The font is normally large with smaller text being of less importance. There is even a little geography mixed as the book organized the animals based on the region they are from. At the beginning of the section is a map showing where on the continent the animals were from.

The Bad

There is little to criticize about this book. One minor problem is the maps are drawn way out of scale. Asia, in particular, looks really strange. Of course, this is not a geography book but it is distracting somewhat in the learning experience.

Another small complaint could be the superficial nature of the text. There are more animals than there is time to really go deeply into. Again, for an expert this m ay be troublesome but this may not be much of a problem for the typical child.

The Recommendation

This text is 5/5 stars. As a teacher, you can use it for reading to your students or add it to your library for personal reading. The photos and colors will provide a vided learning experience for students for years to come.

Common Task in Machine Learning

Machine learning is used for a variety of task today with a multitude of algorithms that can each do one or more of these tasks well. In this post, we will look at some of the most common tasks that machine learning algorithms perform. In particular, we will look at the following task.

  1. Regression
  2. Classification
  3. Forecasting
  4. Clustering
  5. Association rules
  6. Dimension reduction

Numbers 1-3 are examples of supervised learning, which is learning that involves a dependent variable. Numbers 4-6 are unsupervised which is learning that does not involve a clearly labeled dependent variable.

Regression

Regression involves understanding the relationship between a continuous dependent variable and categorical and continuous independent variables. Understanding this relationship allows for numeric prediction of the dependent continuous variable.

Example algorithms for regression include linear regression, numeric prediction random forest as well as support vector machines and artificial neural networks.

Classification

Classification involves the use of a categorical dependent variable with continuous and or categorical independent variables. The purpose is to classify examples into the groups in the dependent variable.

Examples of this are logisitic regression as well as all the algorithms mentioned in regression. Many algorithms can do both regression and classification.

Forecasting

Forecasting is similar to regression. However, the difference is that the data is a time series. The goal remains the same of predicting future outcomes based on current available data. As such, a slightly different approach is needed because of the type of data involved.

Common algorithms for forecasting is ARIMA even artificial neural networks.

Clustering

Clustering involves grouping together items that are similar in a dataset. This is done by detecting patterns in the data. The problem is that the number of clusters needed is usually no known in advanced which leads to a trial and error approach if there is no other theoretical support.

Common clustering algorithms include k-means and hierarchical clustering. Latent Dirichlet allocation is used often in text mining applications.

Association Rules

Associations rules find items that occur together in a dataset. A common application of association rules is market basket analysis.

Common algorithms include Apriori and frequent pattern matching algorithm.

Dimension Reduction

Dimension reduction involves combining several redundant features into one or more components that capture the majority of the variance. Reducing the number of features can increase the speed of the computation as well as reduce the risk of overfitting.

In machine learning, principal component analysis is often used for dimension reduction. However, factor analysis is sometimes used as well.

Conclusion

In machine learning, there is always an appropriate tool for the job. This post provided insight into the main task of machine learning as well as the algorithm for the situation.

Terms Related to Language

This post will examine different uses of the word language. There are several different ways that this word can be defined. We will look at the following terms for language.

  • Vernacular
  • Standard
  • National
  • Official
  • Lingua Franca

Vernacular Language

The term vernacular language can mean many different things. It can mean a language that is not standardized or a language that is not the standard language of a nation. Generally, a vernacular language is a language that lacks official status in a country.

Standard Language

A standard language is a language that has been codified. By this, it is meant that the language has dictionaries and other grammatical sources that describe and even prescribe the use of the language.

Most languages have experienced codification. However, codification is just one part of being a standard language. A language must also be perceived of as prestigious and serve a high function.

By prestigious it is meant that the language has influence in a community. For example, Japanese is a prestigious language in Japan. By high function, it is meant that the language is used in official settings such as government, business, etc., which Japanese is used for.

National Language

A national language is a language used for political and cultural reasons to unite a people. Many countries that have a huge number of languages and ethnic groups will select one language as a way to forge an identity. For example, in the Philippines, the national language is Tagalog even though hundreds of other languages are spoken.

In Myanmar, Burmese is the national language even though dozens of other languages are spoken. The selection of the language is political motivate with the dominant group imposing their language on others.

Official Language

An official language is the language of government business. Many former colonized nations will still use an official language that comes from the people who colonized them. This is especially true in African countries such as Ivory Coast and Chad which use French as their official language despite having other indigenous languages available.

Lingua Franca

A lingua franca is a language that serves as a vehicle of communication between two language groups whose mother tongues are different. For example, English is often the de facto lingua franca of people who do not speak the same language.

Multiple Categories

A language can fit into more than one of the definitions above. For example, English is a vernacular language in many countries such as Thailand and Malaysia. However, English is not considered a vernacular language in the United States.

To make things more confusing. English is the language of the United States but it is neither the National or Official Language as this has never been legislated. Yet English is a standard language as it has been codified and meets the other criteria for standardization.

Currently, English is viewed by many as an international Lingua Franca with a strong influence on the world today.

Lastly, a language can be in more than one category. Thai is the official, national, and standard language of Thailand.

Conclusion

Language is a term that is used that can also have many meanings. In this post, we looked at how there are different ways to see this word.

Review of “Tut’s Mummy: Lost…and Found”

This post is a review of the book Tut’s Mummy: Lost…and Found by Judy Donnelly (pp. 48).

The Summary

This book covers burial of King Tut along with the eventual discovery of his body several

centuries later. The illustrator draws the preservation of the body, funeral procession, and the burial of the mummy. Intersperse are actual artifacts from the tomb such as a game board and necklace.

The book then moves forward several centuries and explains the discovery of King Tut by Howard Carter. There are several more pictures of artifacts as well as a diagram of the burial chamber of King Tut

The Good

This is a good informative read for younger children. The illustrations support the text yet the book is still text driven. What I mean by this is that you can’t just look at the pictures to understand the book. The text and illustrations work together.

There are also several photographs from the time of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb. The photos help in establishing the authenticity of the text. In addition, the text moves at a good pace and never gets bog down in boring details.

The Bad

There is little to complain about in this text. It provides additional details about King Tut’s life and burial that are probably missing from a standard history textbook.

The Recommendation

This book deserves 4/5. It provides excellent supplementary material on a specific part of history. The writing style is brisk and the illustrations are excellent. Add this to our library if you work with elementary age children

Code -Switching & Lexical Borrowing

Code-switching involves a speaker changing languages as they talk. This post will explore some of the reasons behind why people code-switch. In addition, we will look at lexical borrowing and its use in communication

Code-Switching

Code-switching is most commonly caused by social factors and social dimensions of pragmatics. By social factors, it is meant the who, what, where, when and why of communication. Social dimensions involve distance, status, formality, emotions, referential traits.

For example, two people from the same ethnicity may briefly switch to their language to say hello to each other before returning to English. The “what” is two people meeting each other and the use of the mother-tongue indicates high intimacy with each other.

The topic of discussion can also lead to code-switching. For example, I have commonly seen students with the same mother-tongue switch to using English when discussion academic subjects. This may be because their academic studies use the English language as a medium of instruction.

Switching can also take place for emotional reasons. For example, a person may switch languages to communicate anger such as a mother switching to the mother-tongue to scold their child.

There is a special type of code-switching called metaphorical switching. This type of switching happens when the speaker switches languages for symbolic reasons. For example, when I person agrees about something they use their mother tongue. However, when they disagree about something they may switch to English. This switching back and forth is to indicate their opinion on a matter without having to express it too directly.

Lexical Borrowing

Lexical borrowing is used when a person takes a word from one language to replace an unknown word in a different language. Code-switching happens at the sentence level whereas lexical borrowing happens at the individual word level.

Borrowing does not always happen because of a poor memory. Another reason for lexical borrowing is that some words do not translate into another language. This forces the speaker to borrow. For example, many langauges do not have a word for computer or internet. Therefore, these words are borrowed when speaking.

Perceptions

Often, people have no idea that the are code-switching or even borrowing. However, those who are conscious of it usually have a negative attitude towards it. The criticism of code-switching often involves complaints of how it destroys both languages. However, it takes a unique mastery of both languages to effectively code-switch or borrowing lexically.

Conclusion

Code-switching and lexical borrowing are characteristics of communication. For those who want to prescribe language, it may be frustrating to watch two languages being mixed together. However, from a descriptive perspective, this is a natural result of language interaction.

Absolute vs Relative Grading

Grading is a concept that almost no two teachers agree upon. Some believe in including effort while others believe only performance should be considered. Some believe in many A’s while others believe A’s should be rare.

In this post, we will look at absolute and relative grading and how these two ideas can be applied in an academic setting.

Absolute Grading

Absolute grading involves the teacher pre-specifying the standards for performance. For example, a common absolute grading scale would be

A = 90-100
B = 80-89
C = 70-79
D = 60-69
F = 0-59

Whatever score the student earns is their grade.  There are no adjustments made to their grade. For example, if everyone gets a score between 90-100 everyone gets an “A” or if everyone gets below 59 everyone gets an “F.” The absolute nature of absolute grading makes it inflexible and constraining for unique situations.

Relative Grading

Relative grading allows for the teacher to interpret the results of an assessment and determine grades based on student performance. One example of this is grading “on the curve.” In this approach, the grades of an assessment are forced to fit a “bell curve” no matter what the distribution is. A hard grade to the curve would look as follows.

A = Top 10% of students
B = Next 25% of students
C = Middle 30% of students
D = Next 25% of students
F = Bottom 10% of students

As such, if the entire class had a score on an exam between 90-100% using relative grading would still create a distribution that is balanced. Whether this is fair or not is another discussion.

Some teachers will divide the class grades by quartiles with a spread from A-D. Others will use the highest grade achieved by an individual student as the A grade and mark other students based on the performance of the best student.

There are times when institutions would set the policy for relative grading. For example, in a graduate school, you may see the following grading scale.

A = top 60%
B = next 30%
C = next 10%
D, F = Should never happen

the philosophy behind this is that in graduate school all the students are excellent so the grades should be better. Earning a “C” is the same as earning an “F.” Earning a “D” or “F” often leads to removal from the program.

Grading Philosophy

There will never be agreement on how to grade. Coming from different backgrounds makes this challenging. For example, some cultures believe that the teacher should prepare the students for exams while others do not. Some cultures believe in self-assessment while others do not. Some cultures believe in a massive summative exam while others do not

In addition, many believe that grades are objective when there is little evidence to support this in academic research. A teacher who thinks students are low performers gives out such grades even if the students are high achievers.

As such, the most reasonable approach is for a school to discuss grading policies and lay out the school’s approach to grading to reduce confusion even if it does not reduce frustration.

Review of “Peoples of the World”

This post is a review of the book Peoples of the World by Roma Trundle (pp. 32).

The Summary

This book exposes the reader to various aspects of culture have they are addressed by many different people groups. Topics that are addressed include money, food, clothing, craft, religion, language, and music.

For each of these cultural topics, several people groups provide examples of how they address this. For example, for the cultural topic of money, different examples of money our given. You get to see the Russian rouble, Malaysian sens, and Greek drachmas. There are even examples what is not traditional view as money in the west such as the use of salt for money as well as bartering.

This pattern of an aspect of culture followed by examples is repeated throughout the book.

The Good

This book provides a great deal of exposure to cultures that most students are not familiar with. The illustrations are adequate. There are also activities every few pages for the students. Examples include how to wear a sarong, sara, turban, how to make wax pictures, as well as how to make a pinata.

The Bad 

There is a lot of small text on the pages. This makes the book unreadable for younger students. In addition, there are no learning tools or support. This leaves it up to the teacher to determine how to scaffold this material for their students. For younger teachers, this can be much more challenging.

The Recommendation

 I give this book 2/5. There is just a lack of “wow” when looking at this text. Nothing was done to make this book stand out from the crowd. It’s worthy of the library but not valuable in terms of teaching and instruction. Let the kids enjoy the pictures and for the more academically incline to actual read it.

Self-Assessment

Generally, education has always focused on some form of external assessor watching the progress of a student. This is by far the standard approach. However, it is not the only way.

An alternative form of assessment is self-assessment. In this approach, the student judges their progress themselves rather than leaning on the judgment of a teacher. In this post, we will look at the pros and cons of self-assessment as well as several ways to incorporate self-assessment into the classroom

Pros and Cons

Some of the advantages of this include the following.

  • Autonomy-The student must be able to ascertain what they are doing well and also wrong
  • Critical thinking skills-This relates to the first bullet. The student must form an opinion about their progress
  • Motivation-Students often are energized by the responsibility of making decisions themselves.

There are also some drawbacks such as the subjectivity of such a form of assessment. However, developing the cognitive skills of self-assessment provide a reasonable tradeoff in many situations.

Types of Self-Assessment

Self-assessment can take one of the following forms

  • Goal setting assessment
  • Assessment of performance
  • General assessment
  • Student-generated test

Goal Setting

Goal setting is the student deciding for themselves what they want to do or achieve in an academic context. The student lays down the criteria and attempts to achieve it. This is an excellent way to boost motivation as many students love to dream even if it is limited to academics.

Assessment of Performance

Performance assessment is the student judging how they did on a specific task. Examples may include assessing their performance of a speech, or essay. Often this is best done with some sort of learning experience that is open ended like the previous examples. IN other words, performance assessment might be meaningless for a multiple-choice quiz since they answer is fixed.

General Assessment

General assessment is assessing one’s performance over time rather than at one specific moment. The student might judge their performance over an entire unit or semester and share their thoughts. This is much more vague in nature but if the student walks away with understanding how to improve it can be beneficial.

Student-Generated Test

Having students generate test items strongly encourages review of course content. The student has to identify what they know and do not know as well as the level of understanding of their peers. This complex metacognitive process always for stronger insights into the content.

Supporting Self-Assessment

As the teacher, it is necessary to consider the following

  1. Clearly, define what needs to be done. This is often best done through giving an example through demonstration of self-reflection.
  2. Consider the format. THe teacher can provide a checklist, surveys, or require students to write a self-assessment. The format depends on the goals as well as the abilities of the students.
  3. Challenge the student’s assessment. Students will often be too harsh or easy on themselves. Having the students explain their position will deepen their critical thinking skills and encourage impartial assessments.

Conclusion

Self-assessment is another potential tool in the classroom. This form of assessment allows students to think and decide where they believe they are in their learning experience. As such, occasional use of this approach is probably beneficial for most students.

Conferencing with Students

Conferences can play a vital role in supporting the growth and improvement of your students. The one-on-one interaction is a priceless use of time for them. In this post, we will look at conferencing and the process for successful use of this idea.

Conferencing

A conference is an opportunity for a teacher and student to discuss one-on-one the students progress in regards to the student’s academic performance. By academic performance, it can mean summative performance or formative.

Conferences can also be used for long term projects such as papers, research, or other more complex assignments.  The length of time does not have to be more than 5-10 minutes in order to provide support. The personal nature of a conference seems to work even in such a short amount of time.

Below are some steps to take when conducting a conference with a student

  1. Explain what is going well
  2. Ask the student if they see any other strengths
  3. Explain what needs to be improve
  4. Ask the student if they see any other problems
  5. Provide suggestions on how to improve weaknesses
  6. Let the student suggest ways to improve
  7. Ask the student if they have any questions

The Good

Begin by sharing what was excellent about the paper. This prepares the student for the bad news. There is almost always something to praise even from the weakest students.

You can also solicit what the student thinks is strong about their paper. This encourages critical thinking as it requires them to form an opinion and provide reasons for it. This also encourages dialog and makes conferences collaborative rather than top-down communication.

Conferences need to be evidence based. This means when something is good you have an example from the paper for the student of what good looks like. THe same applies for bad as well. Concrete examples are what people need to understand and learn.

The Bad

Next, it is time to share the problems with the paper. As the teacher, you point out where improvement is necessary. In addition, you allow the student to share where they think they can do better. Often there is awkward silence but self-reflection is critical to success.

If the student remains silent,  you may elicit a response through asking them questions about their paper that indicates a weakness. Soon the student begins to see the problems for themselves.

The Solution

With problems identified it is important to provide ways to improve. This is where the learning begins. They see what’s wrong and they learn what is right. Naturally, the student can contribute as well to how to improve.

This is also a place where the teacher asks if there are any questions. By this pointing dialoguing has gone on for awhile and questions were probably already asked and answered. However, it is still good to ask one more time in case the student was waiting for whatever reason.

Conclusion

Conferencing is time-consuming but it provides an excellent learning experience for students. It is not necessary for them to be long if there is adequate preparation and there is some sort of structure to the experience.

Review of “The Greek News”

In this post, we will take a look at the book History News: The Greek News by Anton Powell and Philip Steele (pp. 32).

The Summary

This book takes actually historical events from Ancient Greece and reduces them into newspaper style articles. The writing style is similar to anything you would see on CNN, NBC, New York Times, etc. Some of the stories in the book include an article on the anger of Greeks on colonists returning to Greece instead of staying overseas The anger was due to the lack of food in Greece and the frustration of having to support the returning colonist.

Another story is the victories of Alexander the Great and his untimely death in his early thirties. There are also several articles on life in Sparta as well as the Olympic Games. There are also advertisements on several pages just as in a real newspaper. My personal the potty training toilet for small children (pg. 18). I am assuming this book is historically accurate

The Good

The authors truly earn an ‘A’ for creativity. Taking the unknown (Greek History) and combining it with the know (modern day news writing) is an excellent pedagogical tool. Like all newspapers, there are many illustrations. Not with photos of course as they were not invented yet but with hand drawings. 

The stories are interesting and give you a picture of everyday life in Greece. There are interviews with housewives, actors, and even architects.

The Bad

Creativity can also be a curse. I love this approach but it may be confusing to people who cannot juxtapose news articles with ancient Greek history. This is probably especially true with young children as they are unfamiliar with both Ancient Greece and news-style writing.

The writing almost assumes that the reader is Greek. Again this requires a lot of background knowledge prior to using this text. Perhaps at the end of a unit on Greece would be an appropriate time to use this text. You may want to try photocopying a few articles and reading them together as a class.

The Recommendation

This book deserves 4.5/5 stars. It is highly engaging with its use of illustration and the clever use of news style writing. The kids will enjoy the pictures and the unique approach to teaching. In addition, for students, they need to be prepared for this type of learning experience through other forms of exposure to Ancient Greece. In other words, this text is excellent supplementary materials, however, a foundation should be laid in advance of the main points of Ancient Greece to avoid confusion due to the writing style of this text.

Social Dimensions of Language

In sociolinguistics, social dimensions are the characteristics of the context that affect how language is used. Generally, there are four dimensions to the social context that are measured are analyzed through the use of five scales. The four dimension and five scales are as follows.

  • Social distance
  • Status
  • Formality
  • Functional (which includes a referential and affective function)

This post will explore each of these four social dimensions of language.

Social Distance

Social distance is an indicator of how well we know someone that we are talking to.  Many languages have different pronouns and even declensions in their verbs based on how well they know someone.

For example, in English, a person might say “what’s up?” to a friend. However, when speaking to a stranger, regardless of the strangers status, a person may say something such as “How are you?”. The only reason for the change in language use is the lack of intimacy with the stranger as compared to the friend.

Status

Status is related to social ranking. The way we speak to peers is different than how we speak to superiors. Friends are called by their first name while a boss, in some cultures, is always referred to by Mr/Mrs or sir/madam.

The rules for status can be confusing. Frequently we will refer to our parents as mom or dad but never Mr/Mrs. Even though Mr/Mrs is a sign of respect it violates the intimacy of the relationship between a parent and child. As such, often parents would be upset if their children called them Mr/Mrs.

Formality

Formality can be seen as the presence or absences of colloquial/slang in a person’s communication. In a highly formal setting, such as a speech, the language will often lack the more earthy style of speaking. Contractions may disappear, idioms may be reduced, etc. However, when spending time with friends at home a more laid-back manner of speaking will emerge

However, when spending time with friends at home a more laid-back manner of speaking will emerge. One’s accent becomes more promeneint, slang terms are permissiable, etc.

Function (Referential & Affective)

Referential is a measure of the amount of information being shared in a discourse. The use of facts, statistics, directions, etc. Affective relates to the emotional content of communication and indicates how someone feels about the topic.

Often referential and affective functions interrelated such as in the following example.

James is a 45 year-old professor of research who has written several books but is still a complete idiot!

This example above shares a lot of information as it shares the person’s name, job, and accomplishments. However, the emotions of the speaker are highly negative towards James as they call James a “complete idiot.”

Conclusion 

The social dimensions of language are useful to know in order to understand what is affecting how people communicate. The concepts behind the four dimensions impact how we talk without most us knowing why or how. This can be frustrating but also empowering as people will understand why they adjust to various contexts of language use.

Journal Writing

A journal is a log that a student uses to record their thoughts about something. This post will provide examples of journals as well as guidelines for using journals in the classroom.

Types of Journals

There are many different types of journals. Normally, all journals have some sort of dialog happening between the student and the teacher. This allows both parties to get to know each other better.

Normally, journals will have a theme or focus. Examples in TESOL would include journals that focus on grammar, learning strategies, language-learning, or recording feelings. Most journals will focus on one of these to the exclusion of the others.

Guidelines for Using Journals

Journals can be useful if they are properly planned. As such, a teacher should consider the following when using journals.

  1. Provide purpose-Students need to know why they are writing journals. Most students seem to despise reflection and will initially reject this learning experience
  2. Forget grammar-Journals are for writing. Students need to set aside the obsession they have acquired for perfect grammar and focus on developing their thoughts about something. There is a time and place for grammar and that is for summative assessments such as final drafts of research papers.
  3. Explain the grading process-Students need to know what they must demonstrate in order to receive adequate credit.
  4. Provide feedback-Journals are a dialog. As such, the feedback should encourage and or instruct the students.  The feedback should also be provided consistently at scheduled intervals.

Journals take a lot of time to read and provide feedback too. In addition, the handwriting quality of students can vary radically which means that some students journals are unreadable.

Conclusion

Journaling is an experience that allows students to focus on the process of learning rather than the product. This is often neglected in the school experience. Through journals, students are able to focus on the development of ideas without wasting working memory capacity on grammar and syntax. As such, journals can be a powerful in developing critical thinking skills.

Review of “Usborne Time Traveler”

This post is a review of the book Usborne Time Traveler (pp. 130).

The Summary

This is a historical text that takes you on a journey of historical time periods the Knights, Vikings, Romans, and ancient Egypt. An unnamed boy has this “helmet” that allows him to travel to this different periods.

In each period, there is a list of the type of people you will read about as well as a fictitious family. The family is always a wealthy or aristocratic family. For example, in the Knight’s section of the book, you learn about Baron Godfrey’s family. You watch his son Simon become a knight. During the Roman section, we meet Petronius and his family and see his sister Antonia disciplining the children.

Each section of the book depicts daily life and events during that period. For example, during the Viking section, there is preparation for a raid on a village. During the Egyptian section of the book, you get to witness a trip to the market as well as a feast. You also get to witness Baron’s Godfrey’s castle survive a siege from a rival nobleman.

The Good

This book provides examples of the clothing, food, language, and other customs of each culture. The pictures are simple yet provide excellent examples that young children can understand. The fictitious family used in each section helps pedagogically as children can relate to the idea of a family and this knowledge helps them to understand the complex aspects of each time periods culture and ways.

Watching the families interact with their world was always interesting and helped in making this ancient history interesting and relevant. From Caius walking to school with a torch to the funeral of Olaf, it seems as if you are actually there for this small experiences.

The Bad

It’s hard to find any complaints about this book. Both old and young can enjoy this text. The older students can read the text and the younger can focus on the pictures. However, there are some violent scenes in the text at times that some parents may object to.

The Recommendation

This book is absolutely 5/5. It is well-written, has excellent illustrations, and paid attention to concepts of teaching and communication. This book should be any every elementary school’s history teacher’s library.

Cradle Approach to Portfolio Development

Portfolio development is one of many forms of alternative assessment available to teachers. When this approach is used, generally the students collected their work and try to make sense of it through reflection.

It is surprisingly easy for portfolio development to amount to nothing more than archiving work. However, the CRADLE approach was developed by Gottlieb to alleviate potential confusion over this process. CRADLE stands for the following

C ollecting
R eflecting
A ssessing
D ocumenting
L inking
E valuating

Collecting

Collecting is the process in which the students gather materials to include in their portfolio. It is left to the students to decide what to include. However, it is still necessary for the teacher to provide clear guidelines in terms of what can be potentially selected.

Clear guidelines include stating the objectives as well as explaining how the portfolio will be assessed. It is also important to set aside class time for portfolio development.

Some examples of work that can be included in a portfolio include the following.

  • tests, quizzes
  • compositions
  • electronic documents (powerpoints, pdfs, etc)

Reflecting

Reflecting happens through the student thinking about the work they have placed in the portfolio. This can be demonstrated many different ways. Common ways to reflect include the use of journals in which students comment on their work. Another way for young students is the use of checklist.

Another way for young students is the use of a checklist. Students simply check the characteristics that are present in their work. As such, the teacher’s role is to provide class time so that students are able to reflect on their work.

Assessing

Assessing involves checking and maintaining the quality of the portfolio over time. Normally, there should a gradual improvement in work quality in a portfolio. This is a subjective matter that is negotiated by the student and teacher often in the form of conferences.

Documenting

Documenting serves more as a reminder than an action. Simply, documenting means that the teacher and student maintain the importance of the portfolio over the course of its usefulness. This is critical as it is easy to forget about portfolios through the pressure of the daily teaching experience.

Linking

Linking is the use of a portfolio to serve as a mode of communication between students, peers, teachers, and even parents. Students can look at each other portfolios and provide feedback. Parents can also examine the work of their child through the use of portfolios.

Evaluating

Evaluating is the process of receiving a grade for this experience. For the teacher, the goal is to provide positive washback when assessing the portfolios. The focus is normally less on grades and more qualitative in nature.

Conclusions

Portfolios provide rich opportunities for developing intrinsic motivation, individualize learning, and critical thinking. However, the trying to affix a grade to such a learning experience is often impractical. As such, portfolios are useful but it can be hard to prove that any learning took place.

Data Munging with Dplyr

Data preparation aka data munging is what most data scientist spend the majority of their time doing. Extracting and transforming data is difficult, to say the least. Every dataset is different with unique problems. This makes it hard to generalize best practices for transforming data so that it is suitable for analysis.

In this post, we will look at how to use the various functions in the “dplyr”” package. This package provides numerous ways to develop features as well as explore the data. We will use the “attitude” dataset from base r for our analysis. Below is some initial code.

library(dplyr)
data("attitude")
str(attitude)
## 'data.frame':    30 obs. of  7 variables:
##  $ rating    : num  43 63 71 61 81 43 58 71 72 67 ...
##  $ complaints: num  51 64 70 63 78 55 67 75 82 61 ...
##  $ privileges: num  30 51 68 45 56 49 42 50 72 45 ...
##  $ learning  : num  39 54 69 47 66 44 56 55 67 47 ...
##  $ raises    : num  61 63 76 54 71 54 66 70 71 62 ...
##  $ critical  : num  92 73 86 84 83 49 68 66 83 80 ...
##  $ advance   : num  45 47 48 35 47 34 35 41 31 41 ...

You can see we have seven variables and only 30 observations. Our first function that we will learn to use is the “select” function. This function allows you to select columns of data you want to use. In order to use this feature, you need to know the names of the columns you want. Therefore, we will first use the “names” function to determine the names of the columns and then use the “select”” function.

names(attitude)[1:3]
## [1] "rating"     "complaints" "privileges"
smallset<-select(attitude,rating:privileges)
head(smallset)
##   rating complaints privileges
## 1     43         51         30
## 2     63         64         51
## 3     71         70         68
## 4     61         63         45
## 5     81         78         56
## 6     43         55         49

The difference is probably obvious. Using the “select” function we have 3 instead of 7 variables. We can also exclude columns we do not want by placing a negative in front of the names of the columns. Below is the code

head(select(attitude,-(rating:privileges)))
##   learning raises critical advance
## 1       39     61       92      45
## 2       54     63       73      47
## 3       69     76       86      48
## 4       47     54       84      35
## 5       66     71       83      47
## 6       44     54       49      34

We can also use the “rename” function to change the names of columns. In our example below, we will change the name of the “rating” to “rates.” The code is below. Keep in mind that the new name for the column is to the left of the equal sign and the old name is to the right

attitude<-rename(attitude,rates=rating)
head(attitude)
##   rates complaints privileges learning raises critical advance
## 1    43         51         30       39     61       92      45
## 2    63         64         51       54     63       73      47
## 3    71         70         68       69     76       86      48
## 4    61         63         45       47     54       84      35
## 5    81         78         56       66     71       83      47
## 6    43         55         49       44     54       49      34

The “select”” function can be used in combination with other functions to find specific columns in the dataset. For example, we will use the “ends_with” function inside the “select” function to find all columns that end with the letter s.

s_set<-head(select(attitude,ends_with("s")))
s_set
##   rates complaints privileges raises
## 1    43         51         30     61
## 2    63         64         51     63
## 3    71         70         68     76
## 4    61         63         45     54
## 5    81         78         56     71
## 6    43         55         49     54

The “filter” function allows you to select rows from a dataset based on criteria. In the code below we will select only rows that have a 75 or higher in the “raises” variable.

bigraise<-filter(attitude,raises>75)
bigraise
##   rates complaints privileges learning raises critical advance
## 1    71         70         68       69     76       86      48
## 2    77         77         54       72     79       77      46
## 3    74         85         64       69     79       79      63
## 4    66         77         66       63     88       76      72
## 5    78         75         58       74     80       78      49
## 6    85         85         71       71     77       74      55

If you look closely all values in the “raise” column are greater than 75. Of course, you can have more than one criteria. IN the code below there are two.

filter(attitude, raises>70 & learning<67)
##   rates complaints privileges learning raises critical advance
## 1    81         78         56       66     71       83      47
## 2    65         70         46       57     75       85      46
## 3    66         77         66       63     88       76      72

The “arrange” function allows you to sort the order of the rows. In the code below we first sort the data ascending by the “critical” variable. Then we sort it descendingly by adding the “desc” function.

ascCritical<-arrange(attitude, critical)
head(ascCritical)
##   rates complaints privileges learning raises critical advance
## 1    43         55         49       44     54       49      34
## 2    81         90         50       72     60       54      36
## 3    40         37         42       58     50       57      49
## 4    69         62         57       42     55       63      25
## 5    50         40         33       34     43       64      33
## 6    71         75         50       55     70       66      41
descCritical<-arrange(attitude, desc(critical))
head(descCritical)
##   rates complaints privileges learning raises critical advance
## 1    43         51         30       39     61       92      45
## 2    71         70         68       69     76       86      48
## 3    65         70         46       57     75       85      46
## 4    61         63         45       47     54       84      35
## 5    81         78         56       66     71       83      47
## 6    72         82         72       67     71       83      31

The “mutate” function is useful for engineering features. In the code below we will transform the “learning” variable by subtracting its mean from its self

attitude<-mutate(attitude,learningtrend=learning-mean(learning))
head(attitude)
##   rates complaints privileges learning raises critical advance
## 1    43         51         30       39     61       92      45
## 2    63         64         51       54     63       73      47
## 3    71         70         68       69     76       86      48
## 4    61         63         45       47     54       84      35
## 5    81         78         56       66     71       83      47
## 6    43         55         49       44     54       49      34
##   learningtrend
## 1    -17.366667
## 2     -2.366667
## 3     12.633333
## 4     -9.366667
## 5      9.633333
## 6    -12.366667

You can also create logical variables with the “mutate” function.In the code below, we create a logical variable that is true when the “critical” variable” is higher than 80 and false when “critical”” is less than 80. The new variable is called “highCritical”

attitude<-mutate(attitude,highCritical=critical>=80)
head(attitude)
##   rates complaints privileges learning raises critical advance
## 1    43         51         30       39     61       92      45
## 2    63         64         51       54     63       73      47
## 3    71         70         68       69     76       86      48
## 4    61         63         45       47     54       84      35
## 5    81         78         56       66     71       83      47
## 6    43         55         49       44     54       49      34
##   learningtrend highCritical
## 1    -17.366667         TRUE
## 2     -2.366667        FALSE
## 3     12.633333         TRUE
## 4     -9.366667         TRUE
## 5      9.633333         TRUE
## 6    -12.366667        FALSE

The “group_by” function is used for creating summary statistics based on a specific variable. It is similar to the “aggregate” function in R. This function works in combination with the “summarize” function for our purposes here. We will group our data by the “highCritical” variable. This means our data will be viewed as either TRUE for “highCritical” or FALSE. The results of this function will be saved in an object called “hcgroups”

hcgroups<-group_by(attitude,highCritical)
head(hcgroups)
## # A tibble: 6 x 9
## # Groups:   highCritical [2]
##   rates complaints privileges learning raises critical advance
##                            
## 1    43         51         30       39     61       92      45
## 2    63         64         51       54     63       73      47
## 3    71         70         68       69     76       86      48
## 4    61         63         45       47     54       84      35
## 5    81         78         56       66     71       83      47
## 6    43         55         49       44     54       49      34
## # ... with 2 more variables: learningtrend , highCritical 

Looking at the data you probably saw no difference. This is because we are not done yet. We need to summarize the data in order to see the results for our two groups in the “highCritical” variable.

We will now generate the summary statistics by using the “summarize” function. We specifically want to know the mean of the “complaint” variable based on the variable “highCritical.” Below is the code

summarize(hcgroups,complaintsAve=mean(complaints))
## # A tibble: 2 x 2
##   highCritical complaintsAve
##                   
## 1        FALSE      67.31579
## 2         TRUE      65.36364

Of course, you could have learned this through doing a t.test but this is another approach.

Conclusion

The “dplyr” package is one powerful tool for wrestling with data. There is nothing new in this package. Instead, the coding is simpler than what you can excute using base r.

Review of “Eye Wonder: Space”

In this post, we will take a look at the book Eye Wonder: Space (Eye Wonder) by Simon Holland (pp.48).

The Summary

This book takes on a journey defining the various characteristics related to space. The journey begins on earth where you look at the stars. From there, the book talks about the moon, the sun, the planets of the solar system, the Milky Way, and places in space beyond our galaxy.

The Good

This book is rich in photos which is consistent with its title. Students get to see what Mars,  asteroids, and even what life is like in space for humans. The book also offers explanations about the characteristics of various features of space. For example, it explains why Mercury is so hot, how stars die, as well why Mars is red.

This text is definitely for individual reading. The way the text is set up and the pictures make it that way.

The Bad

One of the biggest problems with this text is the choice of font color. If the background is black the font color was always white which is acceptable. However, if the background was any other color the font color was black. This often led to problems with trying to read black font on the surface of red Mars, on a night sky filled with stars, or when looking at the deep blue Neptune. There were also times when the text was probably too small for younger readers

There were also times when the text was probably too small for younger readers. However, the small text was normally used for details that did not affect the big picture.

The Recommendation

This book deserves 3/5 stars. It can provide some entertainment for one or a small group of students. It can also provide supplemental information for both the teacher or students. Add it to your library if you are looking to broaden the number of available books.

Teaching a Child to Read

Learning to read is in no way an easy experience. In order to read at even the most basic level requires mastery of syntax, phonology, morphology, and semantics at a minimum. These are skills that we expect a child normally under the age of 8 to show some proficiency at.

This post will explain a process for teaching reading to small children that worked. Of course, there is no claim here that this is the way but it does provide an example. When I began this experience I had been an educator for years at higher grades but had never actually taught anybody how to read. My training and experience have mostly been in improving reading comprehension skills.

The Process

The process I stumble upon goes as follows

  1. Letter recognition
  2. Letter sound production
  3. Word family phonics
  4. Sight words
  5. Reading stories with support from steps 3 & 4

Each step builds on the steps before it

Letter Recognition

The first step in this process was to have the child recognize the letters of the alphabet. This was done through the use of flashcards. In many ways, this was the easiest step. I thought it would take a year for a 4-year-old to learn this but it only took 3-4 months

Letter recognition relates to morphology as letters are in many ways morphemes that cannot be further divided. At this point, the learning experience is simply memory only with no application

Letter Sound Production

Once the alphabet was memorized, I exposed the student to the sounds of the letters. The student then had to reproduce the sound in addition to recognizing what letter it was.

This was much tougher. The student would either forget what letter it was or forget the sound or both. There was a lot of frustration. However, after several more months, we were ready to move on.

Letter sound production is an example of phonology or the understanding of the sounds letters make. This is a crucial step in learning to read.

Word Family Phonics

At this stage, we combine several letters and “sound” them out to produce words. Often, the words used had the same ending or morpheme such as “-ap”, “-at”, “-ad”. etc. and only the first letter would change. This helps the student to recognize patterns quickly at least in theory.

There was also an introduction to vowels and other common morphemes. Looking back I consider this a mistake as it seemed to be confusing for the student. In addition, although phonics are valuable in learning to sound out words I found them to lack context and read “cap”, “tap”, and “map” outside the setting of some story was boring for the student.

Sight Words

Sight words are words that are so common in English that they need to be memorized. Often they cannot be sounded out because they violate the rules of phonology but this is not always the case.

There are two common systems of sight words and these are Dolch and Fry respectively. In terms of which is better, it doesn’t really matter. I used Fry’s and again I think the lack of context was a problem as I was asking the student to learn words that lack an immediate application.

Reading Stories

After about a year of preparatory training, we finally began reading stories. The stories were little short stories appropriate for kindergarteners. At first, it was difficult but the student began to improve rapdily. It was much easier (usually) to get them to cooperate as well.

Conclusion 

The most important point is perhaps not the most obvious one. despite my inexperience and mistakes in pedagogy, the student still learned to read. In many ways, the student learned to read in spite of me. This should be reassuring for many teachers. Even bad teaching can get good results if the aspects of planning, discipline, and commitment to success are there. Students seem to grow as long as they have some guidance.

I would say the most important thing in terms of teaching reading is to actually make them read. Reading provides context and motivation as the student can see what they cannot do. Studying all of the theoretical aspects of reading such as phonics and letters are only beneficial when the child knows they need to know this.

Therefore, if you are provided with an opportunity to teach a child to read start with stories and as the struggle teach only what they are struggling with. For example, if they are having a hard time with long “o” sound, reinforcing that with supplemental theoretical work will make sense for the child. As such, children learn best by doing rather than talking about what they will do.

Types of Rubrics for Writing

Grading essays, papers and other forms of writing is subjective and frustrating for teachers at times. One tool that helps in improving the consistency of the marking, as well as the speed, is the use of rubrics. In this post, we will look at three commonly used rubrics which are…

  • Holistic
  • Analytical
  • Primary trait

Holistic Rubric

A holistic rubric looks at the overall quality of the writing. Normally, there are several levels on the rubric and each level has several descriptors on it. Below is an example template

Presentation1.gifThe descriptors must be systematic which means that they are addressed in each level and in the same order. Below is an actual Holistic Rubric for Writing.

Presentation1In the example above, there are four levels of marking. The descriptors are

  • idea explanation
  • coherency
  • grammar

Between levels, different adverbs and adjectives are used to distinguish the levels.  For example, in level one, “ideas are thoroughly explained” becomes “ideas are explained” in the second level. The use of adverbs is one of the easiest ways to distinguish between levels in a holistic rubric.

Holistic rubrics offer the convenience of fast marking that is easy to interpret and comes with high reliability. The downside is that there is a lack of strong feedback for improvement.

Analytical Rubrics

Analytical rubrics assign a score to each individual attribute the teacher is looking for in the writing. In other words, instead of lumping all the descriptors together as is done in a holistic rubric, each trait is given its own score. Below is a template of an analytical rubric.

Presentation1

You can see that the levels are across the top and the descriptors across the side. Best performance moves from left to right all the way to worst performance. Each level is assigned a range of potential point values.

Below is an actual holistic writing template

Presentation1

Analytical rubrics provide much more washback and learning than holistic. Of course, they also take a  lot more time for the teacher to complete as well.

Primary Trait

A lesser-known way of marking papers is the use of primary trait rubric. With primary trait, the student is only assessed on one specific function of writing. For example, persuasion if they are writing an essay or perhaps vocabulary use for an ESL student writing paragraphs.

The template would be similar to a holistic rubric except that there would only be on descriptor instead of several. The advantage of this is that it allows the teacher and the student to focus on one aspect of writing. Naturally, this can be a disadvantage as writing involves more than one specific skill.

Conclusion

Rubrics are useful for a variety of purposes. For writing, it is critical that you understand what the levels and descriptors are one deciding on what kind of rubric you want to use. In addition, the context affects the use of what type of rubric to use as well.

Review of “The Usborne Book of Houses and Homes”

The Houses and Homes (World geography) by Carol Bowyer (pp. 32) provides insights into how people live from all over the world.

The Summary

This book covers how people live in various climates and locations throughout the world. Living in water, living in caves, in icy places, and the jungle are just some of the examples from the text.

The text is not limited to just housing but also discusses the cultures of various people groups. Students learn about the Turcoman women of Iran making felt for their tents, the Huichol of Mexico grinding maize, and the hunting style of the Eskimos of Alaska to name a few.

The Good 

The multitude of illustrations is always a strength of books from Usborne. Students will be able to see how these people live with an emphasis on the way they live. There are also activities that the students can do that the book provides. For example, the can play an Eskimo game, learn how to make good luck crosses like the Huichol, and how to make a tent.

The text is readable for older elementary students. Younger students would enjoy and learn a great deal from seeing the pictures. In many ways, there is a little bit for everybody in this text.

The Bad

Some of the illustrations are small which relegates this book to the library of your classroom. With so much rich illustration many kids can bypass reading and just learn through the pictures. This is only a problem if you are trying to get the kids to read. For more sensitive people there is a little nudity as the illustrator drew pictures of what the people actual wear or do not wear.

The Recommendation

I would give this book 3.5/5 stars. It’ great supplementary material for any social studies course. The activities provided are more for fun than learning. However, the visuals are excellent for exposing children and stimulating discussion about how people live in the world today.

Guiding the Writing Process

How a teacher guides the writing process can depend on a host of factors. Generally, how you support a student at the beginning of the writing process is different from how you support them at the end. In this post, we will look at the differences between these two stages of writing.

The Beginning

At the beginning of writing, there are a lot of decisions that need to be made as well as extensive planning. Generally, at this point, grammar is not the deciding factor in terms of the quality of the writing. Rather, the teacher is trying to help the students to determine the focus of the paper as well as the main ideas.

The teacher needs to help the student to focus on the big picture of the purpose of their writing. This means that only major issues are addressed at least initially. You only want to point at potential disaster decisions rather than mundane details.

It is tempting to try and fix everything when looking at rough drafts. This not only takes up a great deal of your time but it is also discouraging to students as they deal with intense criticism while still trying to determine what they truly want to do. As such, it is better to view your role at this point as a counselor or guide and not as detail oriented control freak.

At this stage, the focus is on the discourse and not so much on the grammar.

The End

At the end of the writing process, there is a move from general comments to specific concerns. As the student gets closer and closer to the final draft the “little things” become more and more important. Grammar comes to the forefront. In addition, referencing and the strength of the supporting details become more important.

Now is the time to get “picky” this is because major decisions have been made and the cognitive load of fixing small stuff is less stressful once the core of the paper is in place. The analogy I like to give is that first, you build the house. Which involves lots of big movements such as pouring a foundation, adding walls, and including a roof. This is the beginning of writing. The end of building a house includes more refined aspects such as painting the walls, adding the furniture, etc. This is the end of the writing process.

Conclusion

For writers and teachers, it is important to know where they are in the writing process. In my experience, it seems as if it is all about grammar from the beginning when this is not necessarily the case. At the beginning of a writing experience, the focus is on ideas. At the end of a writing experience, the focus is on grammar. The danger is always in trying to do too much at the same time.

Academic vs Applied Research

Academic and applied research are perhaps the only two ways that research can be performed. In this post, we will look at the differences between these two perspectives on research.

Academic Research

Academic research falls into two categories. These two categories are

  • Research ON your field
  • Research FOR your field

Research ON your field is research is research that is searching for best practice. It looks at how your academic area is practiced in the real world. A scholar will examine how well a theory is being applied or used in a real-world setting and make recommendations.

For example, in education, if a scholar does research in reading comprehension, they may want to determine what are some of the most appropriate strategies for teaching reading comprehension. The scholar will look at existing theories and such which one(s) are most appropriate for supporting students.

Research ON your field is focused on existing theories that are tested with the goal of developing recommendations for improving practice.

Research FOR your field is slightly different. This perspective seeks to expand theoretical knowledge about your field. In orders, the scholar develops new theories rather than assess the application of older ones.

An example of this in education would be developing a new theory in reading comprehension. By theory, it is meant explanation. Famous theories in education include Piaget’s stages of development, Kohlberg’s stages of moral development, and more. At their time each of these theories pushes the boundaries of our understanding of something.

The main thing about academic research is that it leads to recommendations but not necessarily to answers that solve problems. Answering problems is something that is done with applied research.

Applied Research

Applied research is also known as research IN your field. This type of research is often performed by practitioners in the field.

  • research IN your field

There are several forms of research IN your field and they are as follows

  • Formative
  • Monitoring
  • Summative

Formative research is for identifying problems. For example, a teacher may notice that students are not performing well or doing their homework. Formative applied research is when the detective hat is put on and the teacher begins to search for the cause of this behavior.

The results of formative research lead to some sort of an action plan to solve the problem. During the implementation of the solution, monitoring applied research is conducted. Monitoring research is conducted during implementation of a solution to see how things are going.

For example, if the teacher discovers that students are struggling with reading because they are struggling with phonological awareness.  They may implement a review program of this skill for the students. Monitoring would involve assessing student performance of reading during the program.

Summative applied research is conduct at the end of implementation to see if the objectives of the program were met. Returning to the reading example, if the teacher’s objective was to improve reading comprehension scores 10% the summative research would assess how well the students can now read and whether there was a 10% improvement.

In education, applied research is also known as action research.

Conclusion

Research can serve many different purposes.  Academics focus on recommendations, not action while practitioners want to solve problems and perhaps not recommend as much. The point is that understanding what type of research you are trying to conduct can help you in shaping the direction of your study.

Review of “A Child’s History of the World”

The history textbook A Child’s History of the World by V.M. Hillyer (pp. 432) was originally written almost 100 years ago. Since then it has been revised and expanded by several other authors. This review is based on the 2014 edition of the text.

The Summary

This textbook is a survey of world history written at the comprehension level of a child. With most surveys, the text covers a little bit everything. Examples of topics in the book include Egyptian, Jewish, Greek, Roman, African, British civilizations and even the rise of the US and USSR. Naturally, many of the major wars of the past 5,000 years are covered as well.

Famous characters from history who are discussed in the book range from Alexander the Great to Jesus Christ as well as Emperor Constantine and even Richard Wagner the famous German composer of the 19th century.

The Good 

For a child’s book, there is a surprising amount of detail. For example, the book explains about  Zoroastrianism, which was the religion of the Medo-Persian empire. How many students today are familiar with such a topic?  In addition, the text is really written in an easy to read format.

The chapters are short, which is critical for young readers. There is also support with pronouncing various words that may be unusual to a western student.  There are also some illustrations throughout the book

The Bad

Given its age (almost 100) the pedagogical approach of the book is outdated. It’s heavy on text and light on illustrations Furthermore, the book lacks any sort of learning tools common in today’s textbooks such as inserts, vocabulary words, questions, discussion items, etc. It is literally just text.

At the time that it was written this text could probably be read by a small child. Today, however, the writing style would probably be more appropriate for high school as in-depth reading is not as common as it once was. With so much text it is almost impossible to read this to a class. My students became extremely bored and antsy when I attempted this even though a chapter is only three pages in length at times. I had to scrape reading it aloud and try another way to teach historical concepts. As such both, whole-class an individual reading of this text is difficult because peoples’ habits have change since the Depression.

The Recommendation

I would give this book 1.5/5 stars. It needs significant pedagogical support in order to be effective in the 21st-century classroom. The teacher would need to prepare support materials in order to help students with understanding the text. All textbooks require scaffolding support from the teacher but this book requires an extraordinary amount of help to provide learning experiences.

However, this book could be useful as a resource for a teacher who needs additional knowledge to teach history to children. In addition, if a regular textbook is already in use then A Child’s History of the World could serve as supplementary material that would allow the class to go deeper on a particular topic. The days of this text being the main source on history for children are probably over.

Types of Writing

This post will look at several types of writing that are done for assessment purposes. In particular, we will look this from the four level of writing which are

  • Imitative
  • Intensive
  • Responsive
  • Extensive

Imitative 

Imitative writing is focused strictly on the grammatical aspects of writing. The student simply reproduces what they see. This is a common way to teach children how to write. Additional examples of activities at this level include cloze task in which the student has to write the word in the blank from a list, spelling test, matching, and even converting numbers to their word equivalent.

Intensive

Intensive writing is more concern about selecting the appropriate word for a given context. Example activities include grammatical transformation, such as changing all verbs to past tense, sequencing pictures, describing pictures, completing short sentences, and ordering task.

Responsive 

Responsive writing involves the development of sentences into paragraphs. The purpose is almost exclusively on the context or function of writing. Form concerns are primarily at the discourse level which means how the sentences work together to make paragraphs and how the paragraphs work to support a thesis statement. Normally no more than 2-3 paragraphs at this level

Example activities at the responsive level include short reports, interpreting visual aids, and summary.

Extensive

Extensive writing is responsive writing over the course of an entire essay or research paper. The student is able to shape a purpose, objectives, main ideas, conclusions, etc. Into a coherent paper.

For many students, this is exceedingly challenging in their mother tongue and is further exasperated in a second language. There is also the experience of multiple drafts of a single paper.

Marking Intensive & Responsive Papers

Marking higher level papers requires a high degree of subjectivity. THis is because of the authentic nature of this type of assessment. As such, it is critical that the teacher communicate expectations clearly through the use of rubrics or some other form of communication.

Another challenge is the issue of time. Higher level papers take much more time to develop. This means that they normally cannot be used as a form of in class assessment. If they are used as in class assessment then it leads to a decrease in the authenticity of the assessment.

Conclusion

Writing is a critical component of the academic experience. Students need to learn how to shape and develop their ideas in print. For teachers, it is important to know at what level the student is capable of writing at in order to support them for further growth.

Analyzing Twitter Data in R

In this post, we will look at analyzing tweets from Twitter using R. Before beginning, if you plan to replicate this on your own, you will need to setup a developer account with Twitter. Below are the steps

Twitter Setup

  1. Go to https://dev.twitter.com/apps
  2. Create a twitter account if you do not already have one
  3. Next, you want to click “create new app”
  4. After entering the requested information be sure to keep the following information for R; consumer key, consumer secret, request token URL, authorize URL, access token URL

The instruction here are primarily for users of Linux. If you are using a windows machine you need to download a cecert.pem file below is the code

download.file(url=‘http://curl.haxx.se/ca/cacert.pem’,destfile=‘/YOUR_LOCATION/cacert.pem’)

You need to save this file where it is appropriate. Below we will begin the analysis by loading the appropriate libraries.

R Setup

library(twitteR);library(ROAuth);library(RCurl);library(tm);library(wordcloud)

Next, we need to use all of the application information we generate when we created the developer account at twitter. We will save the information in objects to use in R. In the example code below “XXXX” is used where you should provide your own information. Sharing this kind of information would allow others to use my twitter developer account. Below is the code

my.key<-"XXXX" #consumer key
my.secret<-"XXXX" #consumer secret
my.accesstoken<-'XXXX' #access token
my.accesssecret<-'XXXX' ##access secret

Some of the information we just stored now needs to be passed to the “OAuthFactory” function of the “ROAuth” package. We will be passing the “my.key” and “my.secret”. We also need to add the request URL, access URL, and auth URL. Below is the code for all this.

cred<-OAuthFactory$new(consumerKey=my.key,consumerSecret=my.secret,requestURL='https://api.twitter/oauth/request_token',
                       accessURL='https://api.twitter/oauth/access_token',authURL='https://api.twitter/oauth/authorize')

If you are a windows user you need to code below for the cacert.pem. You need to use the “cred$handshake(cainfo=”LOCATION OF CACERT.PEM” to complete the setup process. ake sure to save your authentication and then use the “registerTwitterOAuth(cred)” to finish this. For Linux users, the code is below.

setup_twitter_oauth(my.key, my.secret, my.accesstoken, my.accesssecret)

Data Preparation

We can now begin the analysis. We are going to search twitter for the term “Data Science.” We will look for 1,500 of the most recent tweets that contain this term. To do this we will use the “searchTwitter” function. The code is as follows

ds_tweets<-searchTwitter("data science",n=1500)

We know need to some things that are a little more complicated. First, we need to convert our “ds_tweets” object to a dataframe. This is just to save our search so we don’t have to research again. The code below performs this.

ds_tweets.df<-do.call(rbind,lapply(ds_tweets,as.data.frame))

Second, we need to find all the text in our “ds_tweets” object and convert this into a list. We will use the “sapply” function along with a “getText” Below is the code

ds_tweets.list<-sapply(ds_tweets,function(x) x$getText())

Third, we need to turn our “ds_tweets.list” into a corpus.

ds_tweets.corpus<-Corpus(VectorSource(ds_tweets.list))  

Now we need to do a lot of cleaning of the text. In particular, we need to make all words lower case remove punctuation Get rid of funny characters (i.e. #,/, etc) remove stopwords (words that lack meaning such as “the”)

To do this we need to use a combination of functions in the “tm” package as well as some personally made functions

ds_tweets.corpus<-tm_map(ds_tweets.corpus,removePunctuation)
removeSpecialChars <- function(x) gsub("[^a-zA-Z0-9 ]","",x)#remove garbage terms
ds_tweets.corpus<-tm_map(ds_tweets.corpus,removeSpecialChars) #application of custom function
ds_tweets.corpus<-tm_map(ds_tweets.corpus,function(x) removeWords(x,stopwords())) #removes stop words
ds_tweets.corpus<-tm_map(ds_tweets.corpus,tolower)

Data Analysis

We can make a word cloud for fun now

wordcloud(ds_tweets.corpus)
1.png

We now need to convert our corpus to a matrix for further analysis. In addition, we need to remove sparse terms as this reduces the size of the matrix without losing much information. The value to set it to is at the discretion of the researcher. Below is the code

ds_tweets.tdm<-TermDocumentMatrix(ds_tweets.corpus)
ds_tweets.tdm<-removeSparseTerms(ds_tweets.tdm,sparse = .8)#remove sparse terms

We’ve looked at how to find the most frequent terms in another post. Below is the code for the 15 most common words

findFreqTerms(ds_tweets.tdm,15)
##  [1] "datasto"      "demonstrates" "download"     "executed"    
##  [5] "hard"         "key"          "leaka"        "locally"     
##  [9] "memory"       "mitchellvii"  "now"          "portable"    
## [13] "science"      "similarly"    "data"

Below are words that are highly correlated with the term “key”.

findAssocs(ds_tweets.tdm,'key',.95)
## $key
## demonstrates     download     executed        leaka      locally 
##         0.99         0.99         0.99         0.99         0.99 
##       memory      datasto         hard  mitchellvii     portable 
##         0.99         0.98         0.98         0.98         0.98 
##    similarly 
##         0.98

For the final trick, we will make a hierarchical agglomerative cluster. This will clump words that are more similar next to each other. We first need to convert our current “ds_tweets.tdm” into a regular matrix. Then we need to scale it because the distances need to be standardized. Below is the code.

ds_tweets.mat<-as.matrix(ds_tweets.tdm)
ds_tweets.mat.scale<-scale(ds_tweets.mat)

Now, we need to calculate the distance statistically

ds_tweets.dist<-dist(ds_tweets.mat.scale,method = 'euclidean')

At last, we can make the clusters,

ds_tweets.fit<-hclust(ds_tweets.dist,method = 'ward')
plot(ds_tweets.fit)

1

Looking at the chart, it appears we have six main clusters we can highlight them using the code below

plot(ds_tweets.fit)
groups<-cutree(ds_tweets.fit,k=6)
rect.hclust(ds_tweets.fit,k=6)

1.png

Conclusion

This post provided an example of how to pull data from twitter for text analysis. There are many steps but also some useful insights can be gained from this sort of research.

Review of “First Encyclopedia of the Human Body”

The First Encyclopedia of the Human Body (First Encyclopedias)by Fiona Chandler (pp. 64) provides insights into science for young children.

The Summary
This book explains all of the major functions of the human body as well as some aspects of health and hygiene. Students will learn about the brain, heart, hormones, where babies come from, as well as healthy eating and visiting the doctor.

The Good
This book is surprisingly well-written. The author was able to take the complexities of
the human body and word them in a way that a child can
understand. In addition, the illustrations are rich and interesting. For example, there are pictures of an infare-red scan of a child’s hands, x-rays of broken bones, as well as
pictures of people doing things with their bodies such as running or jumping.

There is also a good mix of small and large photos which allows this book to be used individually or for whole class reading. The large size of the text also allows for younger readers to appreciate not only the pictures but also the reading.

There are also several activities in the book at different places. For example, students are invited to take their pulse, determine how much air is in their lungs, as well as an activity for testing your sense of touch.

In every section of the book, there are links to online activities as well. It seems as though this book has every angle covered in terms of learning.

The Bad
There is little to criticize in this book. It’s a really fun text. Perhaps if you are an expert in the human body you may find things that are disappointing. However, for a layman called to teach young people science, this text is more than adequate.

The Recommendation
I would give this book 5/5 stars. My students loved it and I was able to use it in so many different ways to build activities and discussions. I am sure that the use of this book would be beneficial to almost any teacher in any classroom

Reading Assessment at the Interactive and Extensive Level

In reading assessment, the interactive and extensive level are the highest levels of reading. This post will provide examples of assessments at each of these two levels.

Interactive Level

Reading at this level is focused on both form and meaning of the text with an emphasis on top-down processing. Below are some assessment examples

Cloze

Cloze assessment involves removing certain words from a paragraph and expecting the student to supply them. The criteria for removal is every nth word aka fixed-ratio or removing words with meaning aka rational deletion.

In terms of marking, you have the choice of marking based on the student providing the exact wording or an appropriate wording. The exact wording is strict but consistent will appropriate wording can be subjective.

Read and Answer the Question

This is perhaps the most common form of assessment of reading. The student simply reads a passage and then answer questions such as T/F, multiple choice, or some other format.

Information Transfer

Information transfer involves the students interpreting something. For example, they may be asked to interpret a graph and answer some questions. They may also be asked to elaborate on the graph, make predictions, or explain. Explaining a visual is a common requirement for the IELTS.

Extensive Level

This level involves the highest level of reading. It is strictly top-down and requires the ability to see the “big picture” within a text. Marking at this level is almost always subjective.

Summarize and React

Summarizing and reacting requires the student to be able to read a large amount of information, share the main ideas, and then providing their own opinion on the topic. This is difficult as the student must understand the text to a certain extent and then form an opinion about what they understand.

I like to also have my students write several questions they have about the text This teaches them to identify what they do not know. These questions are then shared in class so that they can be discussed.

For marking purposes, you can provide directions about a number of words, paragraphs, etc. to provide guidance. However, marking at this level of reading is still subjective. The primary purpose of marking should probably be evidence that the student read the text.

Conclusion

The interactive and extensive level of reading is when teaching can become enjoyable. Students have moved beyond just learning to read to reading to learn. This opens up many possibilies in terms of learning experiences.

Reading Assessment at the Perceptual and Selective Level

This post will provide examples of assessments that can be used for reading at the perceptual and selective level.

Perceptual Level

The perceptual level is focused on bottom-up processing of text. Comprehension ability is not critical at this point. Rather, you are just determining if the student can accomplish the mechanical process of reading.

Examples

Reading Aloud-How this works is probably obvious to most teachers. The students read a text out loud in the presence of an assessor.

Picture-Cued-Students are shown a picture. At the bottom of the picture are words. The students read the word and point to a visual example of it in the picture. For example, if the picture has a cat in it. At the bottom of the picture would be the word cat. The student would read the word cat and point to the actual cat in the picture.

This can be extended by using sentences instead of words. For example, if the actual picture shows a man driving a car. There may be a sentence at the bottom of the picture that says “a man is driving a car”. The student would then point to the man in the actual picture who is driving.

Another option is T/F statements. Using our cat example from above. We might write that “There is one cat in the picture” the student would then select T/F.

Other Examples-These includes multiple-choice and written short answer.

Selective Level

The selective level is the next above perceptual. At this level, the student should be able to recognize various aspects of grammar.

Examples

Editing Task-Students are given a reading passage and are asked to fix the grammar. This can happen many different ways. They could be asked to pick the incorrect word in a sentence or to add or remove punctuation.

Pictured-Cued Task-This task appeared at the perceptual level. Now it is more complicated. For example, the students might be required to read statements and label a diagram appropriately, such as the human body or aspects of geography.

Gap-Filling Task-Students read a sentence and complete it appropriately

Other Examples-Includes multiple-choice and matching. The multiple-choice may focus on grammar, vocabulary, etc. Matching attempts to assess a students ability to pair similar items.

Conclusion

Reading assessment can take many forms. The examples here provide ways to deal with this for students who are still highly immature in their reading abilities. As fluency develops more complex measures can be used to determine a students reading capability.

Review of “See How It’s Made”

This is a review of the book See How It’s Made written by Penny Smith and Lorrie Mack.

The Summary

This book takes several everyday products such as ice cream, CDs, t-shirts, crayons, etc. and illustrates the process of how the item is made. The authors take you into the factory where these products are produced and shows you through the use of photographs how each item is made. It can be surprising even for teachers to learn how much work goes into making CDs or apple juice.

The Good

The photo rich environment of the text makes it as realistic as possible. In addition, choosing common everyday items really helps in relevancy for students. Many kids find it interesting to know how pencils and crayons are made. The book is truly engaging at least in a one-on-one situation.

The Bad

The text is small in this book. This would make reading it difficult for younger students. In addition, although I appreciate the photos there are so many jammed onto a single page that it would be difficult to share this book with an entire class. This leaves the book for use only in the class library for individual students. Lastly, kids learn a lot of

Lastly, kids learn a lot of relevant interesting things but there seems to be no overall point to the text. It just a collection of different processes for making things. It is left to the teacher to come up with a reason for reading this

The Recommendation

THis book is 3/5 stars. It’s a great text in terms of the visual stimulus but it can be difficult to read and lacks a sense of direction.