Seven Years of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom 2021-03-04T02:42:01.475Z
A Second Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom 2016-05-01T22:14:08.092Z
Travel Through Time to Increase Your Effectiveness 2015-08-23T01:32:09.629Z
A Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom 2015-07-04T22:30:16.207Z


Comment by tanagrabeast on Seven Years of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2021-03-08T23:50:05.348Z · LW · GW

I don't see as much disagreement between us as you might be thinking. Precisely because I agree with your numbered points 1 and 2, I suggested it could be beneficial to compress most of our 12 years of math instruction down to a more intensive 2-3 years. That doesn't mean we couldn't instill useful basic arithmetic in lower grades. If we chose a smaller set of core basics, it could be quite practical to retain them over long summers and breaks -- at least for the students who stay in our system for the long haul. 

I'm also glad you brought up the fact that spaced repetition doesn't have to involve software. I should have done more to remind readers of this. I weave the spacing and testing effects into the fabric of my course in many ways that have nothing to do with software.

Carefully engineered homework assignments are great if you have motivated students. Take-home SRS could even work for that. Those students are usually fine, though. It's the apathetic middle I have to fight for, and they won't do homework regardless of how I try to incentivize it.

Moreover, I don't feel good about assigning to students who would hate to do it. School is already prison for those kids. I don't want to send prison home with them. As both a child and a parent, I have been too familiar with the toxic effects homework -- especially math homework -- can have on family relationships. Let kids have a light at the end of the daily tunnel, I say.

Is homework vital to a successful math program? I don't know. But I'm glad I don't teach math.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Seven Years of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2021-03-07T01:30:01.263Z · LW · GW

Did you get IRB approval for these human studies on children?

I'm not sure which is more absurd: the IRB approval process or the very idea of high school. I've often asked people to consider a thought experiment where everyone on Earth suddenly forgets that our educational system as we know it ever existed. Would we really reinvent it just like it is now? Hearing how it worked, would we scream in terror and cancel anyone who had taken part? (Status quo bias much?)

When I was studying stand-up comedy, I actually developed a bit in which I play-acted a researcher proposing high school to an ethics board. It went like this:

RESEARCHER: "I was thinking we could stick 35 sleep-deprived teenagers in a room for an hour and expose them to academic stimuli. After that, we'll do some tests on them.”

BOARD: “I see. Tell me more about your subjects.”

RESEARCHER: "Well, they’re minors, obviously.”

BOARD: “Okay…”

RESEARCHER: “And most of them will be enrolled against their will.”

BOARD: “And how long will you need them?”

RESEARCHER: “6 sessions a day for four years.”

BOARD: "Wait, hold on. Sample size? How many kids are we talking about, here?"

RESEARCHER: "All of them."

BOARD: (mutterings among themselves) “Well, it sounds like everything is in order..."

Are you familiar with Direct Instruction, which is reminiscent of the Mennonite school?

Someone (probably on LW) pointed me to Direct Instruction a few years back, so yes, I'm acquainted with it. Because of the emphasis on staying fully reviewed on all relevant prior knowledge, I saw it as having obvious promise for technical subjects like math, in the hands of the right teacher. I was less convinced it made a good fit elsewhere, perceiving (perhaps unfairly -- I didn't dig too deeply) some big negative trade-offs:

  • Like with my whole-class Anki, it seems heavily reliant on the teacher's high-energy snake-charmer charisma. This makes it difficult to sustain for much of a class period and demands a great deal from a teacher who tries to do it all day long, day after day. This also makes it difficult to broadly among teachers with different personalities.
  • It sounds brittle with regards to roster variance. Specifically, it seems pretty insistent on having everyone in the room up to speed. With careful tracking/grouping of students, this can be achieved, but in practice, kids move in to your school part way through the year and aren't on the same page. Or you only have the one or two teachers for that grade level math, so the slowest kids are in the same boat as the sharpest. I would think that one or two stragglers would grind the class to a halt, and that this would be statistically inevitable in larger classes. (I don't know if this makes DI math worse than the status quo, where plenty of students are fall behind and get lost, but with less fanfare and hold-up for everyone else.)

Have you ever tried SRS for muscle memory?

No. I'm not seeing how that would work, or how that would be relevant to what I do, but I'm certainly curious. Do you have examples?

Comment by tanagrabeast on Seven Years of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2021-03-06T02:39:12.604Z · LW · GW

Do you think that instinctive drive to listen to experts "talk shop" applies to apathetic students, though?

That's definitely the right question. If you and another expert leap straight into fluent French, no, I don't think your apathetic students will try to keep up -- especially if they are early beginners. More helpful might be a Franc-lish hybrid conversation where you swap stories of embarrassing errors and insights largely in English while sprinkling in French words and expressions, reenacting parts of colorful encounters from your combined French-speaking experience.

I also think one of the difficulties in modeling language fluency is that the whole point of being fluent is to not need to think about the language, but to simply think in it, so I'm not sure what your vocalized monologue would be about...unless...

Ok, here's a thought: I and the other motivated folks I learned Spanish with sometimes found ourselves slipping into a Spanglish patois outside of class where we spoke English with Spanish syntax. It felt like silly play at the time, but I now think it was an instinctive intermediate step to thinking in that language. 

"It makes rain." (It's raining.)

"To me pleases the rain!" (I like rain.)

Perhaps you could try fostering a Franc-lish dialect in your classes by thinking out loud in that style and inviting others to join you in banter, patiently nudging them to get the grammar right instead of just talking like Yoda. From there, substituting actual French with increasing frequency could feel very natural.

You may not have immersive environments, but I imagine you'll be creating simulated immersion: play-acting situations that give you a chance to think out loud as though you are navigating the moment for real. (Example: Going to the produce section of the store and seeing what looks good, what you could make with it, etc.) How much of that you should do in English, Frank-lish syntactic patois, or French will probably be something you will develop an expert instinct for as you become skilled at reading the room. Along the way, developing an entertaining stage presence for this play-acting would give you a powerful weapon against apathy.

Yes, yes... and you would be randomly involving students in your little improvised plays, assigning them roles, keeping them on their toes, making the non-participants want to get called on.

Yep, it sounds pretty awesome from the comfort of my not-having-to-teach-French perch :)

Comment by tanagrabeast on Seven Years of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2021-03-05T14:29:10.304Z · LW · GW

Oh, wow. Yes. That. Looks like there's another book I don't need to write.

The fact that the concept was so fleshed out thirty years ago kind of pisses me off. My teacher training was so the opposite of that (a bunch of student group work nonsense). And I'm not finding apprenticeship familiar to new teachers currently, though strong veterans often seem to have at least a half-baked version they've derived from experience. I get a lot of wide-eyed "Yes!" when I share it with them.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Seven Years of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2021-03-05T01:44:56.448Z · LW · GW

Experts talking shop with other experts is one of my favorite finds when I study!

During my dive into stand-up comedy, I came across this video of some top comedians talking shop. Especially from about the 30 minute mark, when they seem less concerned with entertaining their audience, they get into some juicy minutiae of why a joke might work or not. It really expanded my thinking on the subject.

Are such chats more insightful than an expert teacher would be in a lesson on that same topic? Not necessarily. But you might not find a skilled teacher ever teaching a lesson on that exact topic. I think humans are naturally primed to closely observe expert-expert chats for a few reasons:

Social proof. We instinctively want to be able to talk like the experts do so we can blend in with them. So we listen carefully to how they talk. 

Authenticity. If this is what experts actually talk about, we feel like it must really matter. It's not just the lesson of the day.

The overhearing effect. This is a term I'm making up, but I've found it to be an important one exploited by storytellers. We naturally want to deduce the context of overheard language, so we listen extra carefully, trying to fill in the blanks. I suspect this is down to humans' highly evolved appetite for gossip. The fact that the experts aren't talking to us is essential for exploiting this effect.

Although... I find that an expert talking to himself, seemingly unguarded, seemingly without conscious awareness that he is being overhead... can also trigger the overhearing effect. When I model a skill to my students, I try to verbalize my inner monologue in a way that will be intriguing to overhear and carry that essential whiff of authenticity.

I'm not sure what expert self-talk looks like in foreign language instruction, but I would be interested to find out. (Any ideas?)

But from my time becoming a reasonably fluent Spanish speaker (since lost), I can describe a few language dimensions I found interesting but neglected by all but the nerdiest supplemental books.

  1. Sentence-level inflection patterns vary, and it helps to be aware of them. For instance, the musicality of typical question sentence is different in American English than in Castilian Spanish. If you can pick up on the melody earlier in the sentence, you can better contextualize what is being said asked.
  2. The way speakers in different languages produce what seems, on the surface, to be identical phonemes, can be quite different, and understanding this is essential to actually sounding like a native. There can be hours of fun trying to practice a Castilian 'toh' sound (as in toma), with its thicker top-front palette tongue contact, vs. the American English cousin equivalent (as in tomato).
  3. Native speakers of language A learning language B often end up predictably adopting many of the same idioms and juicy words from language B into their language A conversations with each other, and they find themselves saying or thinking in those patterns even when their brains are mostly running language A. It could be fun to introduce some of these to novices and make it part of the language A classroom slang -- a kind of introduction to thinking in language B.
Comment by tanagrabeast on Seven Years of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2021-03-04T20:28:23.490Z · LW · GW

[10] If you’re a fellow teacher, you know that this is the differentiation problem solving itself.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Seven Years of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2021-03-04T20:27:27.086Z · LW · GW

[9] Do you want to know what I’ve hated most about teaching in person during the Covid-19 pandemic? The way mutual mask-wearing scrams my reactor. With my facial expressions concealed, my deliveries don’t land as consistently. With the students’ expressions concealed, I am deprived of the energy I would gain by getting a reaction out of them. The parts of the job that used to recharge me drain me instead. I don’t have words to describe how awful this feels.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Seven Years of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2021-03-04T20:27:17.448Z · LW · GW

[8] I remember the first time I appreciated this skill. It was when I saw this hilarious exchange between Louis CK and Conan O’Brien, and then saw the same content later as a bit in one of his shows (4:39). It seems embarrassing to have not seen it, but it hadn’t occurred to me that talk-show ‘interviews’ with comedians might sometimes be adaptations of their bits. Seriously, though, Louis CK really comes across as a spontaneously funny guy in that first clip. He elevates the convincingness of spontaneity into another layer of comedic art.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Seven Years of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2021-03-04T20:27:02.449Z · LW · GW

[7] She goes by many names around the world. In the UK, teachers swap scary stories about Bore-a-trix Lestrange, Lady Macbarf, and Nary, Queen of Nots.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Seven Years of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2021-03-04T20:26:42.975Z · LW · GW

[6] When it’s releasing more energy than you’re using to contain it.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Seven Years of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2021-03-04T20:26:33.728Z · LW · GW

[5] This book would be somewhat redundant in a world where we already have David Didau’s What if everything you knew about education was wrong? I crossed paths with this title during a pensive season of my life and appreciated the way it asked questions from first principles, challenging orthodox assumptions without jumping to new conclusions. In particular, Didau had the words to express what I was feeling about forgetting.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Seven Years of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2021-03-04T20:26:22.961Z · LW · GW

[4] Consider how a serial television show uses a “Previously, on [title]” to remind you of plot threads that are going to be relevant to this episode, some of which might be from several episodes back. This is superior to how they used to do it, which was “Last time, on [this show].” The primitive form would fail to remind you of relevant threads from older episodes and needlessly remind you of irrelevant threads from last week. When you review with your students, are you just reviewing the most recent stuff, or are you choosing the stuff that’s about to be relevant again?

Comment by tanagrabeast on Seven Years of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2021-03-04T20:25:56.023Z · LW · GW

[3] A widespread bias I see in education is viewing every subject as a technical one with a straightforward dependency tree. Take my subject: English. The delusion held by seemingly all district-level curriculum czars is that, if Johnny’s reading scores are deficient, there must be one or two very specific dependencies he lacks. They will often look to a single wrong answer on a diagnostic test and say, “Ah! There it is. ‘Deducing the meaning of a word from context.’ Teacher, give them lessons on that until they master it.” 

Sorry. It doesn’t work that way. Johnny, like most humans, intuitively understands how to derive meaning from context. But in this case, he didn’t understand the context, because it’s one of the millions of things he’s naive about. He’s young and hasn’t read very many books. If we want to get reductive, I will concede the hypothetical possibility of making a shaggy graph of the millions of micro-dependencies that underpin an individual’s reading skill. But maybe we should just try to find Johnny some books he might like.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Seven Years of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2021-03-04T20:25:31.642Z · LW · GW

[2] You don’t have to justify yourself to me. I, too, have motivational and administrative reasons that keep me testing on occasion as well. But I approach and design them differently, when I can.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Seven Years of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2021-03-04T20:25:06.401Z · LW · GW

[1] Neel Nanda beat me to a discussion of this. Worth a read. The comments are great, too. I was reassured that others like me with real experience, a little research, and rigorous thinking on the topic had reached such similar conclusions.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Seven Years of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2021-03-04T20:22:41.590Z · LW · GW

Footnotes (each footnote is a reply to this comment)

Comment by tanagrabeast on Seven Years of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2021-03-04T14:57:05.478Z · LW · GW

I don't claim that learning is repeated memorization and forgetting though. Learning is when the brain updates its internal models in response to the information it has been chewing on. Forgetting the info after is mostly inevitable, but is not core to this model-update process. And though relearning has silver linings, this does not mean that it is ideal.

Comment by tanagrabeast on LW 2.0 Open Beta Live · 2017-09-26T05:52:57.437Z · LW · GW

Even a site's use of a font I don't recognize I provokes that reaction in me.

Speaking of font difficulty, the new font doesn't render well on my desktop (Windows 10, Chrome, default font/size, 1680x1050). It comes out looking poorly aliased, or maybe just not fully black. I compare to another serif-heavy site like nytimes and the latter just seems so much darker and crisper, even at similar sizes.

On my older MacBook Air the LW font is not as ugly, though it still seems less than fully black.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Second Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2016-05-05T02:41:31.265Z · LW · GW

14-16, usually. These are 9th and 10th graders, with a few repeating upperclassmen.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Second Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2016-05-05T02:05:30.581Z · LW · GW

I did made hundreds of Anki cards on that basis with 2 to 3 answers and my conclusion is that it's a bad idea. Given "what fires together wires together" cards like that seem to create links between the question and the wrong answers.

There's also a risk that you become dependent on being able to look for the answer visually rather than being able to fish it out of year head; in most real-world cases, it's the latter skill you need.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Second Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2016-05-05T02:01:58.877Z · LW · GW

Have you considered sharing some version of this essay with your students?

This question makes me squirm a bit, which makes me think it might be important.

I do discuss the rationale behind my course design choices with students, in some limited domains. I should have mentioned in this report that I've tweaked my intro-to-SRS presentation I gave at the start of last year; I now bill it as a kind of superpower, and we have some cards in our deck about the principles of it -- cards that still get some play even this late in the year. I hope this may create more of those "sleeper agents" I speculated about, who may bloom into power-learners down the road.

I also make sure my students understand how valuable I think pleasure reading is, with a different presentation that spruces up the more interesting findings from that report I linked to. And I put my money where my mouth is by making sure they understand how very unlikely I am to give them a hard time for reading during my class, even if it's not exactly what they're supposed to be doing.

I even try to let them know why each unit is in our curriculum, whether it's "because the boss/district/state says so, but we'll try to make it fun" or "because I want to help you get into college and I know this will help".

But a lot of my thinking I don't share. I understand some of my reticence: there are things I do that wouldn't work as well if they knew I was doing them, and there are other things that would be exploitable if I laid out the strategies behind them. I'm struggling to articulate the rest of my hesitation, though.

Like the stuff about apathy and caring. I had some experimental lessons dealing with this sort of thing about 7 years ago when I taught a course with a broader curriculum mandate. I don't feel like these lessons got a lot of traction, though, in the same way that other "life skills" lessons tend to fall flat with typical teens. This age group is so slippery... so reluctant to accept advice where others would see it, so wary of anything that smells of paternalism.

My instincts now tell me to approach these things obliquely, as though I'm accidentally letting out the secrets I know they're too immature to make use of. I'm not telling them what they should do. I'm talking about how the rash actions of young characters in our stories make sense because said characters don't understand how adolescent brains are wired for overconfidence and short tempers. I'm making a seemingly off-hand comment about the rare superpower of "taking advice". I'm giving an off-script response to a question about my past with an answer about that time I totally kicked butt by putting in extra hours of effort, as though this were a cheat giving me a secret edge.

I remember being a teen and thinking much more deeply about the things adults seemed to let slip than about their prepared remarks. It hadn't occurred to me until now that some of those slips might have been carefully scripted.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Second Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2016-05-03T00:31:22.821Z · LW · GW

It should be noted that how the cloze cards play out changes greatly depending on whether you allow different cards of the same note to show up on the same day. One version gives you that early overload effect, while the other gives a kind of extended familiarity effect where for months you'll probably have at least one variation of that cloze come up every day or two. The more variations on a note, the longer this stretches out.

The problem in Anki, at least, is that this is a global deck setting ("Bury related reviews until the next day") and not one you can customize for individual notes. Maybe I should start organizing decks by desired automaticity levels rather than by content.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Second Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2016-05-03T00:18:44.087Z · LW · GW

You know, I had a start-up idea along these lines recently: something that would combine SRS with social bookmarking.

Example: I'm slowly-but-steadily working my way through Learn You a Haskell for Great Good. I have it on good authority that few people make it as far as I have. I feel like the only reason I can do it is because I stop to make cards for terms, concepts, and many of the examples. I take days or weeks away from the book between sessions while I let those facts firm up in my head, and then I resume.

While I hold that there is real value to making cards yourself when this involves putting things into your own words, making a high-quality card is also a time-consuming chore that is just as much about formatting. I've often wished, as I read, that I had a browser extension that would let me pluck pre-made cards out of a side-bar that went with the passage I was reading -- cards by one of the thousands of people that have no doubt come before me in that chapter.

You can see how this might work. People could build karma when others copy their cards. Site creators might create their own cards as a way to help readers and boost traffic, or pay bounties of some kind to others who make them.

You could browse other cards by the writers of cards you've cloned, and all cards would have automatic links to the sites they go with -- getting around a big problem with imported cards, which is that they are shorn from their creation context.

Monetization? Maybe ads in the corner of the side-bar or something. Maybe partnerships with popular for-pay learning sites.

There are no doubt some thorny copyright issues at play though, and the overall potential market is probably pretty small.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Second Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2016-05-02T23:47:14.322Z · LW · GW

I think all of these strategies give the type of student I'm talking about too much credit, as they are mostly emotional creatures not prone to strategic planning. I guess TDTPT comes closest, but I would change it to a phrase I use with my students: "It's fun to be right." IFTBR.

Easy trivia apps were all the rage among my students a couple years ago. Nobody was trying to get a high score or trying to advance to the next level, but if you put a question in front of someone that they think they know the answer to, the urge to get validation for knowing it is irresistible. You've probably seen ads on the internet that work on this principle.

It's why Who Wants to Be a Millionaire always started off with insultingly easy questions, and why easy cards in the class Anki deck are so important for raising participation and morale.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Second Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2016-05-02T23:32:43.592Z · LW · GW

Monitoring features are definitely a part of the vision I'll be laying out in the next post, but more as a way to make classroom time more productive than as a homework enforcement aid. To get them to use something on their own time I'm going to have to be more clever, and make them feel like it was their idea.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Second Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2016-05-02T05:51:51.792Z · LW · GW

I've cut back on note-taking quite a bit thanks to Anki. They weren't looking up those notes anyway. If they want them bad enough they can look them up on my web page or go straight to the Anki cards.

Anki hasn't displaced much homework, though, as there wasn't much left to displace. I don't give it mostly because few of my students would do it; they are not strongly motivated by grades. This is especially true of reading homework; I gave up on that a year after I stopped teaching honors after getting about 10% compliance. Reading happens in class or not at all, and yes, it is a big challenge to squeeze this in and still do all of the other things we need to do. It's important, though. For most of my students, the reading we do together is the only reading-at-length they do all year. They admit this readily -- even proudly.

Essays are more mixed. We don't do too many full ones, and the ones we do mostly get done in class. The "homework" is there just as safety valve for those who care enough to make their essay great.

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Second Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2016-05-02T03:44:48.677Z · LW · GW

Good question, but no, I wouldn't say these students are trying to guess the password. The cards they're remembering aren't complex enough to qualify. The answer is the answer, not a surface representation of some deeper knowledge they're skipping.

This feels more like a case of selective attention, of perking up and caring more about cards they see as "in their wheelhouse". It's an easy way of being better than everyone else at something, even if that something is pretty narrow. If you've ever done any cooperative social gaming, you can probably recall analogous situations where new players spontaneously start seeing themselves as specialists with some power-up, weapon, player class, etc. It's a land grab for the ego, and mostly just harmless fun.

Remembering passwords takes effort; a mystical incantation is harder to memorize than an answer you can logically derive from deeper knowledge. Hence, password guessing is something I mostly see in students who are grade obsessed, and I don't get too many of those.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Abuse of Productivity Systems · 2016-03-28T23:50:26.474Z · LW · GW

Just wanted to thank you for sharing the seemingly silly and overly personal. More generally applicable and insightful than you might appreciate.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Lesswrong 2016 Survey · 2016-03-27T16:36:11.602Z · LW · GW

I have taken the survey.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Require contributions in advance · 2016-02-08T23:57:14.787Z · LW · GW

As a high school teacher, I use this tactic all the time. I have to, or I would be overwhelmed by the many requests from parents that seem perfectly reasonable from their perspective but which become mathematically impossible in the aggregate.

"I think each teacher should check my son's agenda every day and sign off on whether they did their classwork and whether they have homework."

"Of course. Not a problem. As long as he brings it to me at the end of every class period filled out and ready for my signature, this should not be an issue."

Three days later -- often less -- the practice discontinues with no word from anyone.

Another example, by email: "I would like to meet with you this week about my daughter's grade."

I deliberately wait between 4 and 24 hours. And then:

"Of course. I'm available every day after school until..."

9 times out of 10 I'll never hear from the parent again. Ever. It's easy to rattle off an email to a teacher when you're mad at your kid, and it's easy to let a teacher make an appointment for you, but the trivial inconvenience of deciding on and committing to your own appointment time, combined with the cool-off period I created before responding, almost always leaves the ball dead in their court. And I think they feel too silly about it all afterwards to even talk to me again.

Oh well. Guess it wasn't that important to you.

Yeah, this is a dark art. Selective application is key. I really am there to help. But I use judicious social engineering to filter many of the demands I could end up committed to. Hopefully, I'm letting the ones through where I can actually do some good.

Comment by tanagrabeast on [Link] AlphaGo: Mastering the ancient game of Go with Machine Learning · 2016-01-30T01:47:35.358Z · LW · GW

Does one have to be the master to be a master?

I would be amazingly impressed by a robot beating the 633rd-ranked tennis pro. That would easily put it in the top 1% of the top 1% of those who play tennis. How close to the top of a sport or game would a human have to be before we would call them a master of it? Surely not that high!

Imagine the following exchange:

"I'm the best blacksmith in Britain."

"Oh. Well, this is awkward. You see, I was looking for a master blacksmith..."

Comment by tanagrabeast on Studying Your Native Language · 2016-01-29T23:49:24.825Z · LW · GW

Do you remember the source for this? Because what you described here was very fashionable in my country, at least a few years ago -- having schools where students not only learn English (as a second language), but also learn all subjects in English, so it deepens their language skills.

I'm not sure this is the same thing in a country where English is the native language. In your country, a school that teaches every subject in English might be the only way to make sure students are sufficiently immersed in the language. Your teachers are well aware of the limited English possessed by their students and no doubt adjust their instruction accordingly, perhaps even dipping into the native language as needed to communicate difficult ideas. English fluency at graduation is a selling point for those schools, I bet, and they are willing to take a hit to the efficiency of instruction to get it.

Here in the US, there is little worry that students will not be sufficiently immersed in English. The texts I remember I would summarize as saying that bilingual instruction is great, but that in reality most students are left to "sink or swim". The good news is that most students will, eventually, "swim" and become fluent in English whether we help them or not.

The concern here is what they lost while treading water. You see, graduation rates for students new to English here are not so great.

Which takes us back to the issue of whether academic instruction in the native language is important while the English is weak.

There is a good deal of irony in how and what I learned from these required courses. For reasons that melt into partisan politics, my state is one of a handful that specifically forbids (by law!) instruction in any language other than English (with obvious exceptions for classes teaching foreign languages as second languages). My 6 credit hours were required as part of a federal court settlement -- the state was sued by students who felt ill-served by this law -- which amounted to saying, “if you’re going to mandate English-only instruction, all of your teachers better know best practices for teaching English Language Learners (ELLs) using only English.”

But back to sources. I went to a very dusty bookshelf for you...

Alas, the one text I have left from this era is “Echevarria, Vogt, and Short. Making Content Comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP Model 2008.”, which is a book on best practices focused on English-only instruction... but even this still touches on the value of “L1” (the students’ native language) fluency in making sure students are receiving “comprehensible input” -- an important term in this field, as language that does not reach the threshold of comprehensibility for a given student will not help them build language fluency or academic subject knowledge.

Echevarria, Vogt, and Shorts say their model still allows for students to be “given the opportunity to have a concept or assignment explained in their L1 as needed. Significant controversy surrounds the use of L1 for instructional purposes, but we believe the clarification in students’ L1 by a bilingual instructional aide, peer, or through the use of materials written in the students’ L1 provides an important support for the academic learning of those students who are not yet fully proficient in English.” These authors seemed to be glad that, thanks to internet technologies, all classrooms “should have some resources in most of the students’ native languages.”

Another relevant passage:

“In fact, the National Literacy Panel on Language Minority Children and Youth found that academic skills such as reading taught in the first language transfer to the second language.”

Summarizing findings from the National Center for Research on Education, Diversity, & Excellence, they listed as a bullet point that “Academic literacy in the native language facilitates the development of academic literacy in English”

I remember stronger endorsements for bilingual instruction in books now lost to me, but even these acknowledged that bilingual instruction generally doesn’t exist for a variety of budgetary and political reasons, so we had better learn to help ELLs get by in an English-only classroom.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Studying Your Native Language · 2016-01-29T02:27:52.565Z · LW · GW

As an American teacher of high school English, with a passion for spaced repetition software, I feel like it is my duty to respond to this post. My answer may surprise you.

If your goals are simply to understand more of what you read and to write more effectively, trying to skill up your general English skills strikes me as rather suboptimal.

Sure, a mastery of common word fragments will improve your ability to make at least some sense of unfamiliar words that use them -- I certainly teach these -- but you probably already know the most useful ones. I’m also unconvinced that etymology deepens comprehension much; usually, we want to understand someone, not somewords; this comes from understanding what that person intended to communicate, not from unlocking obscure arcana behind the words they happened to use.

Most of what is known to help reading comprehension is language independent, as is most of what is known to help you write better. I certainly don’t think Paul Graham’s skill as an essayist has much to do with his English; if he knows a second language even marginally well, I’m sure he would write in it nearly as effectively. To wit, he eschews esoteric explication. Writing is a craft, not a lookup table.

The strongest predictor of how well someone will do on a comprehension test of a given passage is how much they already know about the topic of that passage. A knowledge of the domain-specific vocabulary for that topic is either the second strongest predictor, or the same thing, depending on who you ask. General purpose vocabulary is farther down the list, and as an educated native speaker, you, again, are unlikely to find much low-hanging fruit in that area. So rather than take another level in English, I would suggest you consider which domains you want to be able to understand more of, and just start reading more in those domains, looking up words as needed. The language you do it in is almost irrelevant.

Consider: in the 6 credit hours of theory and practice for teachers of English Language Learners my state requires all teachers to take, I was taught that teenagers acquiring English as their second language are best off when they can continue learning domain specific concepts in their native language while waiting for their English to mature enough to transfer this knowledge over. Otherwise, they gain conversational English fluency but miss out on their first, best chance to learn foundational abstract concepts in, say, Science, Math, or Social Studies, leaving them without the ability to talk or even think about these subjects in any language.

With all the above in mind, when it comes to Anki cards and vocabulary, I am convinced that a great example sentence is much more useful than a great denotative definition. Connotations matter, and a visualizable, narratable context goes far both in conveying the extra implications of a word and in providing hooks for one’s memory. Still, you’re unlikely to absorb the deep flavor of the word -- the full intent of one who wields it fluently -- without encountering the word many times in varied contexts.

I say this in part because I acquired a sizable Spanish vocabulary from a time living in Spain decades ago, and there are to this day a number of words common to my internal monologue that are Spanish simply because they capture the flavor of the concept more perfectly than my closest English equivalents. But this is only the case for words that I encountered on enough authentic occasions to build that full connotative sense. Ones I merely studied out of the dictionary never reached that level, no matter how well I mastered them from a recognition and recall standpoint.

As any programmer will tell you, leveling skills in one language will have knock-on effects on your abilities in other languages, whether they are similar or not; the similar ones give you skills that transfer very directly, while the dissimilar ones broaden your conceptual toolset for approaching programs in general. If a problem might be more tractable within the intricacies of language suited to it, by all means, go deep into that language. But if you’re trying to understand say, an algorithm or a data structure, study that.

Comment by tanagrabeast on [LINK] Waitbutwhy article on the history and future of space exploration, SpaceX and more · 2015-09-08T01:34:20.148Z · LW · GW

It's possible that you are not the intended audience for such an article, which is clearly targeted at people like the author: a non-expert who is sometimes interested in technical topics. Simplifications, which were indeed abundant, are not the same thing as errors, which is what it sounds like you were implying with "ignorance".

If the author was all, "the thrust-to-weight on a Merlin is like, awesome" and you were like, "but that vacuum ISP, yo!" then you should probably be following SpaceX from rather than from an eclectic blog.

Comment by tanagrabeast on making notes - an instrumental rationality process. · 2015-09-06T01:25:52.614Z · LW · GW

Twenty years ago, I was an American living in Spain. The most useful habit I established was one of carrying around one or two tiny flip notebooks in my shirt pocket. Whenever I left a situation where I hadn't known the right Spanish word to express myself, I would write down the English equivalent in the left column.

At least once a day, I would consult the premium badass bilingual dictionary I kept on my kitchen table, writing the words or phrases I hadn't known on their corresponding lines in the right column.

During spare moments, I would pull out my notebooks and quiz myself. Over a two-year period, I had filled four or five of these notebooks--thousands of words--and rotated them in or out of my pocket as needed to keep every word fresh in my head. It was spaced repetition for an age before we carried computers in our pockets, and it steadily ratcheted up my language mastery in a very satisfying way.

Living now in the age of Anki, I find myself re-embracing this systemized approach for whatever I'm trying to learn. But the weakest cog in the machine is my inconsistency in making a timely note at the moment of insight or confusion. I'm tempted to go buy another mini-notebook... but since I have a phone with a stylus, I'll first try to train a habit to actually use it.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Travel Through Time to Increase Your Effectiveness · 2015-08-29T18:25:44.792Z · LW · GW

[Added the Exercises section. I think the article is definitely better for it. Thanks for the advice.]

Comment by tanagrabeast on Calling references: Rational or irrational? · 2015-08-29T00:30:33.145Z · LW · GW

Why does every employer ask for a list of references, then not call them?

You think that's bad?

A local school district called the "references" of a prospective employee for a tough-to-fill position. These references, her former bosses, uniformly advised against hiring this person.

The district hired her anyway.

After a long and difficult process, the district eventually fired this employee. Then, the principal that had done most of the legwork on the firing got a call from yet another district. Surprised to have been listed as a reference, the principal vociferously cautioned the new district against hiring her.

They hired her anyway.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Travel Through Time to Increase Your Effectiveness · 2015-08-28T04:12:28.383Z · LW · GW

Hmm. I see your points. I'll try to structure future articles so that an above-the-fold abstract structure will work better, but I'm not convinced that my present post is long enough or self-evident enough to support it -- at least not without an extensive rewrite. What I think I'll do this weekend is add an Exercises section at the bottom with the techniques in concise form. Thanks!

Comment by tanagrabeast on A Year of Spaced Repetition Software in the Classroom · 2015-08-28T04:03:59.965Z · LW · GW

I spent the better part of a year teaching Spanish as a long-term sub for teachers on maternity leave, and made extensive use of their mini whiteboards. I loved them. They forced everyone to engage, and gave me a clear picture of which misconceptions needed correction.

When it comes to mini whiteboards, though, I found that there's a sweet spot for the length and complexity of responses. Anything too short or simple doesn't justify the time it takes to wait for everyone to write it on their boards. Anything too long and it doesn't fit on the boards and/or can't be easily read by me.

Spanish, with what, to Americans, feels like backwards syntax and weirdly complex conjugation, routinely fell into that sweet spot, where a phrase or short sentence conveyed a great deal.

English hardly ever seems to hit that same spot. Occasionally, if we're covering conventions/grammar issues, perhaps, but not often enough, so here's what I've been doing more of for that type of lesson:

After going over each concept, we do multiple choice slides. Students select their answers with those same 4-colored cards they use during Anki time. I have them get their colors ready but not hold them up until I say so. This is very fast, easy to read at a glance, and still lets me identify areas that need clarification. The trick is to produce really good multiple choice options that will help tease out these problem spots.

If I were teaching foreign language right now I'm sure I would still be using the mini boards. I would also be trying very hard to get my students to use Duolingo, the gamified language-learning SRS that Spanish teachers and their students keep raving about to me.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Why people want to die · 2015-08-27T14:23:07.883Z · LW · GW

My assertion is that there's a difference between wanting to die and being apathetic about having death sneak up on you, and that most old people are actually in the latter category. I'm not comfortable calling these people "deathist", preferring instead to reserve the term for those who would oppose the idea that death should be optional.

I hold that the person who merely wouldn't mind not waking up tomorrow is usually just as content to keep living for one more day, and would likely be at least as content to wake up in a younger body.

The guy living in his mom's basement who says he would like to leave is less ambivalent. He would much rather wake up in a place of his own, provided he didn't have to make the continuous effort normally needed to enable this.

If dying took as much effort as getting and holding a job, I doubt it would be so popular.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Travel Through Time to Increase Your Effectiveness · 2015-08-26T23:01:43.860Z · LW · GW

I'm glad you liked the article.

Can you point me to a post on LW that is laid out in the style that you propose? This could give me a better vision of it.

Also, don't you think my techniques might sound a little kooky without context? I worry that, as openers, they might be more off-putting than inviting.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Why people want to die · 2015-08-24T23:20:12.837Z · LW · GW

How many of these people want to die today?

Precious few I expect. Their daily rituals must still carry some intrinsic satisfaction. Perhaps they no longer hold long-term goals because they don't feel like they have enough time left to achieve them and enjoy their fruits. This does not seem unreasonable, though it may seem self-defeating from the outside.

As I've recently commented, I don't like the idea of living each day as though it might be your last, but if I were 80 years old it might make a certain kind of sense. At the very least, this late-game logic creates a sizable hurdle to getting an elderly person interested in something to the point where they become less apathetic about eventually kicking the bucket -- which is all we're really talking about here.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Travel Through Time to Increase Your Effectiveness · 2015-08-23T16:39:32.908Z · LW · GW

What we're really getting at now is the idea of roles, as explored in this LW post from last year. (The comments on that one are fantastic.)

Developing personas to play in different contexts -- and training to swap between them -- is, I think, incredibly valuable. The persona I developed for my day job as a teacher is actually quite different from my default personality, and has its own contingent sub-personas that I shift into as circumstances warrant.

"Time traveller", "clone", "fork" are, in this sense, useful meta-roles that may help give your other roles additional purpose and focus.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Travel Through Time to Increase Your Effectiveness · 2015-08-23T05:24:30.354Z · LW · GW

I like your summaries, and have a few clarifications along with answers to your questions.

On Second Chances, you asked:

Do you think it has to be a whole day? What if you thought about a whole chunk of time in which you will be in a particular situation and then approached it with a specific purpose? If you are at the beach with your family, maybe you can take on the appreciative frame of mind. If you are driving, maybe you can take on the mindful frame of mind.

No. In the paragraph about driving, I was trying to suggest that I don't expect a second chance mentality to fill an entire day. I agree that as contexts shift throughout the day, it makes sense shift the mentality. The Bill Murray character in Groundhog Day, for example figures out the best ways of approaching each segment of the day he has to continually relive.

More mindful which means being in the moment and in control (you don’t need to do that silly thing that caused an accident last time)....

Mindfulness probably isn't quite the right term for what I'm talking about, just because people use it in so many different ways. I use it to mean feeling present in the moment, with my attention on the things that, looking back, I would be glad (or wish) I had been paying attention to.

...Is there any kind of thought pattern or ritual that would make the perspective you take more impactful and vivid.

The hallmark of "time travelling" mindsets for me is that they take so little effort to slip into. Only my "bobbling" has much of a ritual to it. I will say, though, that reflecting on past situations where I was successful at heightening my asethetic appreciation and emotional presence helps prime me to do so again.

What do you think is the best amount of time to use? [bobbling]

I've not hit on a single optimum. It depends partly on how much uninterrupted time I think I can expect (or afford to take), and partly on the nature of the task. I've gone as long as 4 hours (with short breaks, Pomodoro style), but 90-120 minutes with only a short stretch break or two is more my preference. I tend to be something of a zombie if I'm walking around taking care of biology in the middle of a bobbling, as I don't want to release any of my goal-task thoughts from working memory. I cleared everything else out of it for a reason.

Do you ever extend the period of time. For example, if you are writing and you get a great idea do you just keep writing or do you take a break?

I usually had a very specific reason for choosing the length of time I bobbled. Unless these (often external) constraints have changed, I will probably not attempt to hold on to the timeless single-minded mentality, although I will often ride the momentum when I can, even if I can no longer give it 100% of my attention. The hardest part of many tasks is starting them.

It pays to know when to quit, though. I don't want to create memory associations where bobbling ends in fizzling or burnout. See Peak-End Rule.

The Past, Interrupted(Essentially, it means that you make a certain perspective or context vivid so that you are more likely to take actions appropriate for that context)

That's not quite how I meant it, although I think what you are suggesting can help. I was more talking about the ability to let go of what's on your mind right now so as to shift back to a prior mental context. This requires trusting that you are able to reclaim whatever is valuable in the context you are leaving, which is why I say that you might need to write things down so that you can feel good about releasing them from your working memory. This ability to trust your systems to store your concerns is practically the entire thesis of David Allen's Getting Things Done.

Your comment has me giving some thought to the idea of looking for ways to create emotionally vivid hooks for the working memory contents of the context I'm about to walk away from. I would love to be able to load back more of what was on my mind at the time, although there is also something to be said for getting a bit of a fresh perspective on a problem that had been giving you trouble.

"ug field" should be "ugh field" I made this mistake. You should have a summary break so that people don’t need to scroll through the whole article when they look for new main articles.

Fixed both, I think. Thanks for the feedback!

Comment by tanagrabeast on Wear a Helmet While Driving a Car · 2015-07-30T23:29:02.654Z · LW · GW

I'm curious about liability risks that may accrue to the very lonely trendsetters who try it.

In my imagination, there's a terrible accident that leaves someone other than the helmet-wearer paralyzed or dead, and investigators are surprised to see that one driver was wearing... a helmet?? It's almost like he knew he was going to get into an accident -- perhaps even intended to. Certainly, that's what people would think reading the articles about it. Perhaps a jury would, as well.

Even a weaker version of that argument could be damaging; anti-lock breaks are said to increase risky driving behavior, after all. The same has been said of seat belts, even. See risk compensation.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Catastrophe Engines: A possible resolution to the Fermi Paradox · 2015-07-26T03:23:08.647Z · LW · GW

Seconded. So many layers of specificity, one of which is "exotic physics" ... I have a hard time seeing why it's worth entertaining this idea over any of the other unlikely but less specific theories one could devise.

Comment by tanagrabeast on MIRI's 2015 Summer Fundraiser! · 2015-07-21T02:14:13.771Z · LW · GW

At the smaller end of the spectrum, I'm using this as an opportunity to zero out several gift cards with awkward remaining balances -- my digital loose change.

Or at least, I started to. There's a trivial inconvenience in that the donation button doesn't let you specify increments smaller than a dollar. So I wouldn't actually be able to zero them out.

This is, of course, a silly obstacle I have more than compensated for with a round donation from my main account. The inconvenience will just have to be borne by those poor retail cashiers with "split transaction" phobia.

Comment by tanagrabeast on Bragging Thread July 2015 · 2015-07-15T04:34:54.633Z · LW · GW

I think you may overestimate my odds in both domains, but the sentiment is appreciated.

That was an interesting link you posted. I read it with much affirmative nodding, and only the occasional impulse to make a snarky remark about the cute little sample size :)

Comment by tanagrabeast on Bragging Thread July 2015 · 2015-07-14T04:31:50.647Z · LW · GW

I expanded MIRI's pool of quality candidates for their office manager position by submitting my application.

If you can see yourself stepping into that role, please do likewise!

Comment by tanagrabeast on MIRI needs an Office Manager (aka Force Multiplier) · 2015-07-09T20:05:35.069Z · LW · GW


(I didn't need a whole lot of convincing.)