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I read this posting with interest and wondered what would be a similar debate in numeracy instruction? Skills vs. Context? Skills vs. Conceptual knowledge?
I learned recently that in the UK the term "numeracy" may be being phased out in favor of "functional mathemematics."
Is teaching numeracy very different from teaching literacy?
What would be similar research findings in the field of numeracy instruction?
Esther ________________________________________________ Esther D. Leonelli <firstname.lastname@example.org> Notre Dame Education Center 50 West Broadway, South Boston, MA 02127 Tel: 617-268-1912 Fax: 617-464-7924
---------- Forwarded message ---------- Date: Tue, 11 Apr 2006 15:54:28 -0700 From: email@example.com Reply-To: National Literacy Advocacy List sponsored by AAACE <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: email@example.com Subject: [AAACE-NLA] The "Skills" vs "Knowledge" Debate
April 11, 2006
The Great "Skills" Versus "Knowledge" Debate and Adult Literacy Education
Tom Sticht International Consultant in Adult Education
Earlier I posted a note on the aaace-nla list about knowledge and reading. Here I have revised that piece slightly in light of new evidence that the decades old debate about "phonics" [ synthetic, decoding emphasis] versus "whole language" [analytic, meaning emphasis] still rages in education circles. Now this debate appears to be being joined by another decades old debate, the "skills" versus "knowledge" controversy.
On the "skills" side of the debate, the BBC News education service reported on April 11, 2006 [http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/2/hi/uk_news/education/4897272.stm] that the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said that "The national curriculum should be fundamentally reformed with more focus on skills than specific subjects." The Association "wants ministers to give children "entitlements" to broad skills, such as creativity and physical co-ordination, rather than specific knowledge." The ATL general secretary Mary Bousted reportedly said at a conference, "skills" were needed, rather than knowledge on its own. Subjects could be used to "illustrate" them."
On the "knowledge" side of the debate I found it ironically amusing that the day before the BBC news article appeared, I received my copy of The American Educator, a magazine published by the American Federation of Teachers. The Spring 2006 issue presents a lengthy series of articles and sidebars arguing against the position taken by the U.K teachers association and stating that in the U. S. schools there needs to be less of a focus on broad general skills and a much larger focus on subject matter knowledge.
The American Educator Spring issue was lead by an article by E. D. Hirsch Jr, a major commentator on education the U. S. The old adage: "You^Òve got to know something to learn something" provides a succinct summary of the gist of E. D. Hirsch Jr^Òs article (also see his latest book entitled "The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Education Gap for American Children." (available online at Amazon.com). In his book and article, Hirsch presents an extensive review of research that demonstrates that approaches to the teaching of reading with underachieving students that focus on "skills" or "strategies^Ò while largely ignoring the importance of content knowledge are likely to produce students with good decoding skills, but with poor comprehension ability. The reason is that for the most part students who lack vocabulary and comprehension of various bodies of knowledge when these are assessed by listening before the students start school, are the ones most likely to have poor comprehension skills after they learn to decode the written language. This is extensively documented in Sticht et al. (1974) which Hirsch cites in his new book to support his argument for the importance of content knowledge in reading comprehension.
Knowledge Development in Adult Literacy Education
While the "skills" versus "knowledge" debate addressed above aims at children^Òs education, the role of knowledge in reading is even more important for adult literacy education, where the time for developing "broad general skills" is typically very limited. The role of relevant background knowledge for adult literacy education was illustrated in research colleagues and I did to develop a 45 hour reading program for the U. S. Navy. In this work special readability formulas were developed to determine how much general reading ability, as measured by a standardized reading test, was needed to comprehend written materials about the Navy with 70 percent accuracy. We found that as background knowledge about the Navy increased from very little to a lot, the general reading ability needed to comprehend with 70 percent accuracy fell from the 11th grade to the 6th grade. In this case, high knowledge relative to what was being read was as effective as 5 grade levels of general reading ability in influencing reading comprehension.
In additional work for the Navy, we applied the findings of the importance of relevant background knowledge and developed a 45 hour reading program that used navy relaed content in which to embed reading skills instruction. We then compared a general reading program the Navy had which used a variety of general reading materials to the Navy-related program that used Navy-related materials. We developed and administered a Navy Knowledge test, in which students read and answered questions dealing with Navy-related knowledge but with no passages to read on the test. We also administered a reading in which students answered questions by reading paragraphs about the Navy with the information they needed to correctly answer the questions. Additionally, a standardized reading test that provided grade level scores in general reading was administered to all students.
When compared to the general reading program that used general, civilian school-related materials, the Navy-related program made greater improvements in both Navy-related knowledge and Navy-related functional reading than did the conventional, non-job-related program. The lowest reading ability personnel (6th grade or below) in the Navy job-related program also made considerable improvements in general reading. The general reading program made more improvement on the general reading test for personnel across the reading skills spectrum, but that skill did not transfer to the performance of the Navy-related material, which is the material that the Navy personnel had to read for job advancement.
For adults in basic skills programs who generally have little time to devote to improving their reading, it is important to develop their reading skills using as the vehicle for instruction the content knowledge in which they are most immediately in need. Developing a fair amount of knowledge in some specific area, such as health knowledge, computer knowledge, consumer knowledge, job knowledge, etc., can often be done in a relatively brief period of time when the instruction is well focused on the content to be taught. With continued practice in reading in a wide range of materials, adults can develop into more generally knowledgeable and skilled literate adults.
Sticht, T. G. et al. (1974). Auding and Reading: A Developmental Model. Alexandria, VA: Human Resources Research Organization.
Sticht, T. G. (1987, March). Functional Context Education: Workshop Resource Notebook. San Diego, CA: The Applied Behavioral & Cognitive Sciences, Inc.
Thomas G. Sticht International Consultant in Adult Education 2062 Valley View Blvd. El Cajon, CA 92019-2059 Tel/fax: (619) 444-9133 Email: tsticht at aznet.net
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