User:ASnieckus/Learning- and education-related books

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When I get a chance, I'll write some sort of preamble here. Wondering what list order to use.

Measuring Up

Title: Measuring Up: What Educational Testing Really Tells Us

Author(s): Daniel Koretz

Year: 2008

Written by a psychometrician and Professor of Education at Harvard University, Measuring Up provides a careful and balanced explanation of what educational tests can and can not tell us, and how seemingly reasonable test prep activities and common-sense interpretations of results can so easily undermine good educational practice and the very usefulness of testing. The book is an outgrowth of a class that Koretz teaches at Harvard focused on the theory and practical understanding of educational testing, rather than the mathematical underpinnnings. Koretz is not anti-testing, as he makes clear in the book, but rather a realist. Measuring Up should be a must read for all school administrators and politicians, in particular state education commissioners, Arne Duncan (US Secretary of Eduation) and even President Obama.

A Q&A with Professor Dan Koretz

A discussion of with Dr. Koretz: How do Tests Measure Up?, by Anthony Cody

Some interesting bits

  • In the opening Chapter "If Only It Were So Simple", Koretz relates a number of stories of failed attempts to help individuals understand the nuance and complexity of testing, to help them see beyond the average test scores. In response to requests for help in deciding which school district in a town is best, rather than describe the many factors that can be considered, Koretz suggests "If all you want is high average test scores, tell your realtor that you want to buy into the highest-income neighborhood you can manage. That will buy you the highest average score you can afford" (p. 6).
  • In chapter 2 "What Is a Test", in a discussion of an example vocabulary test: "You are interested in the applicants' mastery of a large number of words--the domain--but the evidence you have is their mastery of only the small sample included in the test" (p. 24). Koretz uses this vocabulary test to introduce the concepts of measurement error, reliability, validity, and score inflation.
  • In Chapter 10 "Inflated Test Score", Koretz remarks on the often reported increase in test scores. "While credible detailed studies of score inflation have been done in only a handful of jurisdictions, the findings of these studies are highly consistent, generally showing large exaggeration of gains in score on high-stakes tests" (p. 236). Koretz goes on to provide solid evidence for this statement. Koretz concludes: "Of course, one could simply ignore score inflation, or dismiss it as merely 'opinion.' The overwhelming majority of people who use scores do precisely that. The cost, however, is great. Doing so leads to an illusion of progress and to erroneous judgements about the relative performance of schools. More important, it cheats the students who deserve better and more effective schooling" (p. 258-259).
  • Score inflation, pra

Notable Reviews

Paul Holland in Issues in Science and Technology: Holland is an eminent scholar of educational testing, providing a clear and concise summary of the many important arguments.

Test Anxiety: An Essay Review of Koretz's Measuring Up, by Mark Fetler in education review, a journal of book reviews


Title: Innumeracy:Mathematical Illiteracy and its Consequences

Author(s): John Allen Paulos

Paulos makes the case that America's lack of mathematical understanding has very real and serious consequences which negatively impact government policies, personal decisions, and our ability to navigate our information-rich culture. Paulos doesn't tackle the question of how to improve numeracy, but suggests that a course in probability (and I would add statistics) is be a good place to start. "Statistical tests, and confidence intervals, the difference between cause and correlation, conditional probability, independence, and the multiplication principle, the art of estimating and the design of experiments, the notion of expected value and of a probability distribution, as well as the most common examples and counter-examples of all of the above, should be much more widely known" (p. 134).

I am struck with how closely this list of important concepts correlates with the content of the OLI Statistics course. It seems to me that today's students, although often steeped in math "instruction", are not offered rich learning opportunities in the areas of "numeracy". More encouragement to study statistics and probability would be a good place to start.

What the Best College Teachers Do

Title: What the Best College Teachers Do

Author(s): Ken Bain

Publisher: Harvard University Press

ISBN: 978-0674013254, Pages: 207, Year: 2004

I read this book awhile back. I noticed it again this week (Aug 2009) and given I'll be "teaching" a course beginning in a few weeks (it's a blended course, with the content provided online; I'm struggling with whether I should consider myself a teacher), wondered anew just what the best college teachers do. Bain conducted a fifteen-year study of nearly 100 college teachers, identified as the best in their field.

What has struck me most decisively is Bain's conclusion about what a teacher is. My concept of a teacher is someone responsible for the delivery of content. According to Merriam-Webster, "to teach" is "to cause to know something", "to impart the knowledge of", "to instruct" [1]. But this model clearly doesn't jive with what we are beginning to understand about how people learn. We can't "cause" someone to know something. Bain suggests we need a fundamental conceptual shift:

If you ask many academics how they define teaching, they will often talk about "transmitting" knowledge, as if teaching is telling. That's a comforting way of talking about it because it leaves us completely in control; if we tell them, we've taught them. To benefit from what the best teachers do, however, we must embrace a different model, one in which teaching occurs only when learning takes place. Most fundamentally, teaching in this conception is creating those conditions in which most--if not all--of our students will realize their potential to learn (p. 173).

So maybe teaching is better thought of as Merriam-Webster's second definition "to guide the studies of"[2], although clearly the minority view in the list of possibilities. With this new conceptualization, Bain's conclusions in "What the Best College Teachers Do" offer some real insight:

  1. What do the best teachers know and understand?
    They understand their field and have a strong interest in the broader issues of their disciplines. But more importantly, they have at least an intuitive understanding of human learning, recognizing that performing well on the tests is not a satisfactory indicator of learning. Learning is a transformative experience.
  2. How do they prepare to teach?
    The best teachers approach the design and preparation of their course materials from the vantage point of fostering learning. Bain offers a series of specific planning questions that illuminate this process, from "What big questions will my course help students answer?" (p. 50) to "How will I create a natural critical learning environment?" (p. 60).
  3. What do they expect of their students?
    The best teachers expect "more", but the more is clearly tied to the kind of thought and action expected in real life.
  4. What do they do when they teach?
    The best teachers create a "natural critical learning environment", one in which the learners feel a certain control over their learning experience. The environment is challenging yet supportive, collaborative, fair and honest, and most importantly a safe place to try, fail, and try again.
  5. How do they treat students?
    The best teachers treat students with trust and respect, assuming that each student wants to learn and that they will be able to.
  6. How do they check their progress and evaluate their efforts?
    The best teachers use a systematic program of evaluation and make the needed changes to improve their teaching.

With technology offering to fundamentally change the opportunities for learning and with our deepening understanding of the learning process, maybe this new definition of a teacher, one who creates the conditions for learning for ALL learners, can take root.

  1., accessed 23-8-2009
  2., accessed 23-8-2009

Turning Learning Right Side Up

Title: Turning Learning Right Side Up: Putting Education Back on Track

Author(s): Russell L. Ackoff, Daniel Greenberg

Publisher: Wharton School Publishing

ISBN: 978-0132346498, Pages: 196, Year: 2008

YouTube Video of authors' book talk, part 1

Exerpt posted as blog entry on Wharton's website.

Quotes & Thoughts:

  • To make the case for a different kind of educational system, one that is designed for today's work rather than the industrial machine of the 1900's, Ackoff and Greenberg quote Einstein (p. xix),
One should guard against preaching to young people success in the customary form as the main aim in life. The most important motive for work in school and in life is pleasure in work, pleasure in the result, and the knowledge of the value of the result to the community.
Could there be a better statement for why I choose to contribute to WikiEducator.
  • "The objective of education is learning, not teaching" (p. 5).
  • "There is no way that the vast majority of teachers, whatever their training, can ever hope to match in their classrooms what students can receive at will from sources of their own choosing" (p. 14-15)
  • "Education is the lifelong process of pursuing the activities that give meaning to our lives" (p. 99).
  • Ackoff and Greenberg conclude that the two most important elements to learning are play, interpreted in its broadest sense as free exploration (p. 48), and conversation (p. 103-104), neither of which is particularly encouraged in traditional school settings.
  • Ackoff and Greenberg list the following attributes of an ideal environment for people to become educated (p. 135-136):
  • Learning takes place through self-motivation and self-regulation.
  • Equal status is given to all interests.
  • The output of learners is judged throught self-evaluation, a concept that includes the freedom to seek outside feedback.
  • Learning groups form based on common interests.
  • No artificial distinction is drawn between learners and teachers.
  • All members of the learning community participate fully in regulating its activities.

Understanding by Design

Title: Understanding by Design

Author(s): Grant Wiggins and Jay McTigue

Publisher: Prentice Hall, New Jersey

ISBN: 978-0871203137, Pages: 201, Year: 1998

Not done with this yet.

What Does it Mean to be Well Educated?

Title: What Does it Mean to be Well Educated?: And More Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies

Author(s): Alfie Kohn

Publisher: Beacon Press, Boston

ISBN: 978-0807032671, Pages: 208, Year: 2004

Quotes & Thoughts:

  • In the title essay, Kohn suggests that one definition of well-educated could be encompassed in Deborah Meier's five "habits of mind" (p. 9):
...the value of raising questions about evidence ("How do we know what we know?"), point of view ("Whose perspective does this represent?"), connections ("How is this related to that?"), supposition ("How might things have been otherwise?"), and relevance ("Why is this important?").
  • In "The Costs of Overemphasizing Achievement", Kohn discusses five consequences likely to arise from educational methods steeped in standards and achievement (p. 31-35):
  1. Students come to regard learning as a chore.
  2. Students try to avoid challenging tasks.
  3. Students tend to think less deeply.
  4. Students may fall apart when they fail.
  5. Students value ability more than effort.
Kohn has written these to suggest that these outcomes apply to all students. I don't know. I do know many students who seem to work harder at manipulating the system and grade-grubbing than actual learning. If even one student experiences any one of these, the damage is done. We need a more flexible system that values all learning, not just subjects and topics that others have deemed as the "valued" content.
  • In "The Dangerous Myth of Grade Inflation", Kohn takes issue with the common belief that grades motivate, citing research that concludes (p. 103):
Students who are given grades, or for whom grades are made particularly salient, tend to display less interest in what they are doing, fare worse on meaningful measures of learning, and avoid more challenging tasks when given the opportunity--as compared with those in a nongraded comparison group.
I can see the argument on both sides. I wonder if there's a middle ground.