Articles| Diagnostic Map to help students and teac...

Diagnostic Map to help students and teachers

26. June 2012 - Lidové noviny INTERVIEW Czech kids lag behind in reading literacy. Will the diagnostic map that is being prepared by Hana Košťálová change this? What should students learn first, and what should follow later for instruction to be as effective as possible? This is what the so-called diagnostic maps say. However, unlike most advanced countries, the Czech Republic does not have them. Now, such maps are being prepared under the Helping Schools Succeed project, which is financed by The Kellner Family Foundation. For the purposes of reading literacy, Hana Košťálová and her colleagues are drawing up a diagnostic map.

* LN In what respect do we lag behind the world in reading?
The modern understanding of literacy is missing in our country. Many people understand literacy as learning the letters, reading, and more or less comprehending the text. They may also pick out information or the main idea. This is an important foundation. However, these days we’re snowed under huge quantities of all kinds of texts that serve a number of overt and covert purposes. There is a need to “read between the lines”. Every author has an intent when he or she writes. But if we are unable to discern this, we think that the text has universal validity and everybody who reads it understands it the same way as we do.

* LN The diagnostic map is to help. Will it really improve instruction so fundamentally?
International experiences are unambiguous. Maps will help the students, teachers, and parents. They form a common platform that shows what and how the kid should learn, how their progress can be monitored. The purpose is that every student progresses in learning at the fastest possible pace. The whole class is then educated faster.

* LN In other countries, diagnostic maps are used commonly?
In many countries, yes. In some countries, they work directly with the maps; in others, for example, in Finland and the U.K., the maps serve as the baseline in formulating the educational program, i.e., the curriculum. In many countries these two approaches have been combined.

* LN How far have you progressed with your reading literacy map?
We’ve been working on it for a year and a half, and are looking at the same period of time to complete it. We have the first draft, and will fine-tune it this summer, and then launch it to pilot use at schools. We’ve already tested the various assignments that we are formulating in connection with the map and that are to help teachers discern the point in the map which each of the kids has reached. After all, this also helps us obtain additional information on what to include in the map at each particular level.

* LN What do you know now?
For example, we’ve tested how kids are able to summarize text with respect to its complexity. This is not autotelic: the ability to summarize text supports comprehension. A proficient reader does such summarization of shorter or longer sections when reading without even being aware of this. Thanks to this, the readers remind themselves of what they are actually reading. Kids who are not good at reading fail precisely because they don’t know how to summarize. Czech schools test, but do not teach, summarizing. Kids are given assignments to summarize a text, but nobody shows them how to do it. Summarizing serves as feedback for the teacher to see whether the kid has understood a text at the verbatim level. Kids don’t know why they actually have to do this. They’re not trained in using this strategy on their own when they get lost in a text.

* LN What else are kids neglecting today?
They don’t ask questions on their own at all when reading a text. The teacher or the textbook poses questions to the students. But at the same time, kids need to have a strategy of discerning, whereby kids themselves identify the place in a text about which they should ask. The point is not only a literal comprehension of a text but also going beyond such comprehension. For example, kids should ask themselves: What does this remind me of in my own life? Can I agree with this proposition, and why? Does this elicit doubts in me?

* LN So you are trying to find the age at which kids should be able to summarize texts or ask questions of themselves?
We cannot regard literacy as a completed process. The map shows the level of certain reading skills that can be achieved by little children and older children. The difficulty of the text also plays a decisive role. We strive to say what quality a, say, summary should have with respect to the level of difficulty of texts at a certain stage of literacy development. That stage needn’t be related to the kid’s age.

* LN And the more the kids exercise these skills, the more literate they will be...
Yes. Precisely this is what we are seeking. We want to calibrate the diagnostic map so as to target better trained kids. We’re trialing assignments and will set the standard accordingly; but the standard will not be tailored to the average Czech student but to well-cared-for children. There exist schools and teachers who have been devoting care to literacy for many years. In such schools, kids in the fourth grade manage what six-graders manage elsewhere.

* LN Can ten-year-olds be expected to be soon as literate as twelve-year-olds are now?
I can’t say this exactly. Literacy has a number of components and different children develop in each of these components at different speeds, some even progressing in leaps. But the map will definitely accelerate children’s learning.

* LN A teacher may have up to 30 kids in a class. How will the map reflect this?
The kids may be given the same assignment, but the feedback will differ depending on their level of advancement. Or, the class can be given a single assignment, but each of the students will be asked to read different texts at different levels of difficulty. Class assistants, who make it possible to individualize work with students, can also help.

* LN What is you own work like in practice, by the way?
We now have a rough outline of the map. We’re also relying on international experience in developing the map. For this hypothetical map, we’ve made up sets of assignments with open answers, which will be tested on kids in selected schools. Trained evaluators will then process the results. We want to launch the next stage in September. Evaluation of assignments has its limits and so we’ll then go to schools directly and will watch children in reading.

* LN You mentioned another year and a half; your diagnostic map will be ready by then?
In New Zealand and Australia, they’ve been using maps for more than 20 years. However, after ten years of trialing them at schools, they completely overhauled them. And so I don’t dare estimate how fast this will go in the Czech Republic. I’m grateful that we have obtained money for the project from the Foundation rather than the European Union’s funds. The reason is that if it turns out that we are slower or faster in this or that respect than had been expected, it will not be a problem. We don’t have to report on useless aspects and are more flexible. In any case, we want to have the map readied in a year and a half to be able to begin validating it. But I don’t think that we will release it for public use immediately. One of the reasons is that teachers have to be trained in working with the map. But we will look for ways and means of making our findings available to the largest possible number of teachers

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Profile

HANA KOŠŤÁLOVÁ (Born 1961) Graduated from the Faculty of Arts of Charles University in Prague, majoring in Czech Language and Pedagogy. She works as a literacy trainer for teachers’ continued education. She is also the reviewer for the Critical Thinking through Reading and Writing program. Serves on the expert panel of the Helping Schools Succeed project financed by The Kellner Family Foundation.

Czech under way, math starting up

*Select one elementary school in each Region. Educate and financially incentivize its teachers, trial new teaching methods there, add assistants to classes. This is the Helping Schools Succeed project, in which the Kellner Family Foundation invests more than CZK 30 million every year.

* “We want to help as many students as possible,” Jan Leiner of The Kellner Family Foundation’s Board of Trustees explains the reason why support for public elementary schools is the focus. The first two schools, one in Prague and the other in Karviná, have joined the project. Another two, one in the Central Bohemian Region and the other in the Olomouc Region, will join in September. “Additional schools will be joining. In parallel with this, we are developing tools that can help all teachers at elementary schools,” says Mr. Leiner.

* In addition to the readership diagnostic map, a mathematics map will be produced; preparations are starting now. Inspiration can be found abroad to a larger extent than for the Czech language. The map will mainly be based on the mathematician Milan Hejný’s methods: students themselves figure out how to tackle the various problems.

* In which respects will the map differ from Hejný’s concept of math in Fraus textbooks? “These textbooks must follow the ‘framework educational program’. But in reality, some students are able to achieve faster progress, while others need more targeted assistance,” explains Martin Chvál, who is in charge of the production of the map. Heavy emphasis will be placed on interrelationships. “We also have to take into account that every teacher needs to learn how to work with the map,” notes Mr. Chvál.

(Author: Eva Hníková, excerpt from the text)

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