kitchen table math, the sequel: b-ass ackwards

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

b-ass ackwards

advice for teachers from Four Blocks implementer, Cheryl Sigmon:
All at once, I've been besieged by emails concerning spelling in the Writing Block at upper grades. Nancy, a fourth grade teacher in New York, who's enjoying her move to Four-Blocks wrote, "Cheryl, do you think it's important that we misspell words in our model writing daily? It really makes me cringe every time I misspell something, and I'm worried that my students may begin to pick up bad habits from the misspellings I'm modeling. I don't think I can continue to go against my better judgment to spell words correctly! What do you suggest?" Also, Cathy, a curriculum specialist,1 wrote to ask, "How do you respond to a group of teachers who feel it is of the utmost importance to spell everything correctly when writing in front of the students? These are 4th and 5th grade teachers if it makes a difference."

[snip]

First of all, teachers certainly don't want kids to think they can't spell! Our worst nightmare is that Johnny will go home and tell his parents, "My poor teacher can't spell a lick when she writes in front of the class!" Then, of course, the parents are either on our doorstep the next morning or in the principal's office wanting our teaching certificate revoked! In a minute, we're going to be sure that everyone understands why we model misspellings2 in front of our students.

[snip]

Next, as far as teachers feeling that they must always spell every word correctly in their model writing, I feel that puts unnecessary stress on the teacher and that it might even be counterproductive to what we've trying to accomplish with students as writers. I would never want to give students at any grade level the impression that perfection is a goal of first draft writing. There are many opportunities in later drafts to edit our work. When producing the first draft, fluency in our writing---getting down our ideas---is the objective. I want to model for my students how to "overlook" possible misspellings by putting down my best guess and circling the word. The circling gives students "permission" to keep writing and provides a marker for returning to correct words they've had to guess.

What we're modeling isn't misspellings. We're actually modeling strategies for how to handle misspellings while we're getting our ideas on paper. Just as we teach students what to do when they come to a word they don't know when they're reading, we also teach students what to do when they come to a word they can't spell in their writing. We want them to be cognizant of the high frequency words they know, the many word patterns, and the meaningful word chunks---all of which will help them make a reasonable guess about the spelling of a word they want to use. We don't want to teach students that they should stop and look up words in the dictionary or the thesaurus during rough draft writing. The rough draft stage of writing is not the appropriate time to do so. That's done in later drafts when editing. We also don't want them to ask us how to spell for them. "The teacher won't spell for you" is a steadfast rule made clear to students in the beginning of the school year. It liberates the teacher, who has more important responsibilities, and liberates the students, too!

Sifting and Sorting through the 4-Blocks Literacy Model by Cheryl M. Sigmon


So we've got grade school kids writing & rewriting multiple "drafts" before they can spell.

Typical.

Here's a question.

Do you think there's a writer on the planet who makes his best guess about how to spell a word, writes that down, circles it, and comes back later to figure it out when he is "working on a further draft?"

Even when he's writing by hand?

I don't.

As to teachers who have "more important responsibilities" than telling students how to spell a word, I guess that explains the 5 years my household has now devoted to Megawords.


b-ass ackwards
what do authors do?
Four Blocks by Doug Sundseth
Vlorbik on what authors do
cranberry on the real world
Writing Block
Sifting and Sorting Through the 4-Blocks Literacy Model

1 I'm against curriculum specialists
2 it's not like we don't have numerous studies demonstrating The Negative Impact of Seeing Misspelled Words or anything

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

This implies that the misspellings (and other errors?)are intentional; I wish I could think the ones that came to my house on school and teacher communications were. I was REALLY tempted to red-pencil them and send them back for correction. And that was in a high-performing, affluent district in the leafy suburbs.

My kids often thought I was a witch, because my standards were much pickier than were most of their teachers. As college students, they apologized and thanked me. They all insisted on being the one doing the final draft of any group work because the general level of writing skills was so low. They were in very competitive state university Honors programs, too.

concernedCTparent said...

This is really scary stuff. What a load! Not that the actual content of the Four Blocks: Writing isn't distressing enough, but is minilesson even a word?

"Authors don't stop their writing and look up a word. They keep writing and spell the word as best they can. Then they hope that spell check will find and fix it. If not, they depend on their editor to be sure everything is correct before going to print!" I'm not writer, but I do keep a dictionary within quick reach when I'm writing and in a pinch, even Google has been known to ease my mind because I don't trust spell-check and I certainly don't have an editor.

So this is how they rationalize lack of spelling instruction these days. It's madness. Sheer and unforgivable madness.

Anonymous said...

I wish the educational establishment acknowledged the concept of educational malpractice, resulting in loss of credentials.

I've read a number of books, presumably having had editors, that proved the unreliability of spellcheck. Their vs. there, stake vs. steak, flair vs. flare ...

Catherine Johnson said...

Authors don't stop their writing and look up a word.Apparently when real authors write, pages of prose come streaming out of their brains so fast they can barely type fast enough to get it all down.

TerriW said...

Catherine:

Thank God there are specialists out there who can illuminate you on how Real Authors(tm) write.

CassyT said...

Metacognition, right? The ability to know that you don't know something (like how to spell a word) but that you know you need a strategy to help you solve your problem. Strategy - use a dictionary.

Webster's says metacognition is: "awareness or analysis of one's own learning or thinking processes".

Sorry, I just had to stop and look up the "official" definition.

(I have a dictionary on the ipod for those moments away from home I might need to look up "supercilious" or something.)

Dawn said...

Wow.

For an excellent book (did I originally learn about it here?) on how modeling SHOULD be done try Everyday Editing by Jeff Anderson. He points out that in learning how to punctuate and more generally how to write children need examples of excellent writing to discuss, tear apart, reconstruct and imitate.

I can't even comment on your post because the thinking is so...Stupid. Utterly stupid.

Catherine Johnson said...

Thank God there are specialists out there who can illuminate you on how Real Authors(tm) write.lollllll

boy, no kidding

I stand enlightened

Catherine Johnson said...

Dawn - I'll look up Jeff Anderson's book -- THANKS!

I know what you mean about not being able to comment.

Remember when Susan S used to always say, "I don't even know where to begin?"

That's pretty much how I felt, reading this.

I have to buy some of those "not even wrong" stickers.

Catherine Johnson said...

I wonder if there are any writers who use the Peter Elbow pour-it-all-out-on-paper and then go back and fix it method.

When I first read Elbow, many years ago, I thought I should just sit down and free-associate for 15 minutes or whatever the way he said to -- and then it just seemed so unnatural that I never did it.

That's the thing: as far as I can tell, crazed perfectionism about each & every word is a natural state for writers. No writer I know sits down and writes a whole lot of cr** on purpose because he can fix it later.

You sit down and try to write something good, then read it over and see that it's cr**.

Then you keep repeating the sequence until you finally have something you hope is not cr**.

Catherine Johnson said...

Anonymous--

As college students, they apologized and thanked me.This is something all of us wanna hear.

SteveH said...

My wife goes ballistic when notices come home with bad grammar or spelling. She really wants to send corrected versions back to the school. This doesn't bother me so much.

However, it struck me that a number of my son's teachers are extremely poor spellers and can't pronounce unknown words. It's almost as if they they have a learning disability. I think it's just that they don't know phonics. My son's social studies teacher can't seem to pronounce any of the names from the ancient history textbook. My son has to tell her how they should be pronounced. This happens way too often. The LA teacher asks my son how to pronounce the names of some of the Greek and Roman gods. We taught our son phonics when he was 3 or 4 using the Mrs. Phipps & Snoothy" tape and "The Junior Phonics Game".

Then, starting in sixth grade, they try to entice kids to write using a blog they created. There are no grammar or spelling rules.

that would stifle their creativity haha

... or something like that. I have a nephew who adds "haha" to almost every paragraph he emails me. Editing? what's that? It's not about now or later, it's let the editor or someone else do it. Don't bother me. I'm being creative. That's much more important. haha

SteveH said...

"...pour-it-all-out-on-paper and then go back and fix it method."

There will be too many things to fix. Free-association might be a great way to come up with a bunch of ideas, but it's not really writing. It will read like free-association and not like a well-crafted piece.

Often, things will
come to me too quickly and I will scroll down and leave key words to remind me for later. I expect sometime you will see a blog entry from me where I will forget to finally delete some of those things.

I make sure my writing says just what I want as I go along. I never do a rough draft. I do a very good draft. I'm always going back to reread and edit as I go along. When I get to the end, it's more like the nth draft.

Barry Garelick said...

I tried the free association, write it all down technique. What you end up with is a lot of pages and the illusion that you're really cooking. At the end of it, you have to sort it all out, and it's a bunch more work trying to make use of the crap that came pouring out.

On the other hand, there are times when you might respond to something on a blog--like now--and you do it fairly rapidly. There are sometimes errors and poorly composed sentences but you sometimes get "in a groove" and turn out something that's useful. OK, that's fine. That's what notebooks are for and jotting things down when thoughts occur to you. But as a procedure for writing first drafts, no. It's inefficient and you end up with more crap than you can deal with. Plus, there are people who would have you believe that whatever comes out of your head in such free-association jaunts is inviolable. Sort of like student-invented algorithms. But don't get me started on that.

Cranberry said...

Despite statements to the contrary, the teacher would be modeling disdain for proper spelling.

We also don't want them to ask us how to spell for them. "The teacher won't spell for you" is a steadfast rule made clear to students in the beginning of the school year. It liberates the teacher, who has more important responsibilities, and liberates the students, too!That once meant that the students were to look up the word in the dictionary. Now, everyone's busy with "more important responsibilities."

Just once in such writings, I'd love to see the glimmerings of the concept that perhaps parents are right when they implore schools to teach proper spelling, grammar, and traditional algorithms. Many teachers progress from college straight into the classroom, without a sojourn in the "outside" world. In the world outside the classroom, spelling, grammar, and penmanship count. Courtesy, good manners, perseverance and punctuality count too. The parents who are able to function in the professions, by and large, would prefer that their children leave school with these old-fashioned skills, because these skills are important.

SteveH said...

"...the illusion that you're really cooking."

This is a problem with my son's writing. Once he gets the (very) rough draft done, he thinks it's 90% done. He will not look very hard to find things that require more effort. Teachers should know that once a student gets the required number of words or pages written, few alterations will be made. Good alterations usually require cutting out lots of stuff, and students won't do that.


I think that if you put in enough effort to really fix up (edit implies few changes) a free-association rough draft, you would find that it would have been faster to be more thoughtful from the start.

Catherine Johnson said...

I tried the free association, write it all down technique. What you end up with is a lot of pages and the illusion that you're really cooking. At the end of it, you have to sort it all out, and it's a bunch more work trying to make use of the crap that came pouring out.Interesting.

I don't know if I ever really tried it. It just felt so wrong.

I make lists, probably similar to what Steve H does.

Lists are bad enough; I end up with fantastic numbers of ideas, factoids, half-perceptions, etc. which I then have to analyze to figure out how they relate or if they relate, etc.

I've found Inspiration software to be pretty useful.

Catherine Johnson said...

Frankly, if you're mostly free-associating, I don't see why you'd be writing sentences & paragraphs at all.

Catherine Johnson said...

On the other hand, there are times when you might respond to something on a blog--like now--and you do it fairly rapidly. There are sometimes errors and poorly composed sentences but you sometimes get "in a groove" and turn out something that's useful.It's interesting, the way you can get in a groove with Comment writing -- and sometimes with blog post writing...

I wonder why that is.

SteveH said...

"Frankly, if you're mostly free-associating, I don't see why you'd be writing sentences & paragraphs at all."

Exactly. While I'm writing, ideas pop into my head. They are for later, not now. I have to finish the idea I'm working on. Since I don't want to forget the idea, I write a few words at the end of the file. Then I quickly get back to what I'm currently writing.

Ideas are not sequential. I can see how free-association might work as a pre-writing exercise. Sometimes ideas will pop into my head and I will quickly open Notepad and save them. They usually are not full sentences.

Anonymous said...

SteveH - if the teacher can't pronounce the names/places in the ancient history text, I tend to think that his/her knowledge of the subject is suspect.

SteveH said...

"...his/her knowledge of the subject is suspect."

I would like to know whether her subject area certfication came from the history department or from ed school courses.

But it seems to be more than that. I'm not the best speller by far, but I try (!) to make sure I pronounce words correctly. For the SS teacher, I think she has no phonetic knowledge and no interest in learning what is correct. The no interest issue is the worse of the two.

Independent George said...

The whole point to writing - or, indeed, language - is communication. Standard (i.e., correct) spelling and grammar are the code which ensures that the sender and receiver are looking at the same information.

When a writer misspells a word, uses poor grammar & punctuation, or doesn't organize his thoughts into coherent paragraphs, that ruins the code. The message is lost; I can't decipher (literally) what the writer is saying.

The thing is, while the code is necessarily logical, it's also arbitrary. Learning the code requires work, and you can't fake it - you need to really and truly know it. It has to be automatic, and the only way that happens is through practice, practice, practice (hey, that sounds familiar).

I hate free association because I rarely have a shortage of ideas; it's just that most of them are bad. For me, the trick to writing is filtering out the bad ideas from the good ones, then organizing the good ones into something coherent. All those free association games seem to be about throwing everything into the mix and randomly putting things together, instead of the efficient direction of thought. It's a wasteful process that expends a lot of energy for a shoddy result which requires even more energy to shape into something useful.

Catherine Johnson said...

I hate free association because I rarely have a shortage of ideas; it's just that most of them are bad. For me, the trick to writing is filtering out the bad ideas from the good ones, then organizing the good ones into something coherent.I was going to say something along those lines.

Writing is really about "structure;" that's the hard part & that's what makes the difference between a book and an encyclopedia.

Not infrequently I **will** get onto some kind of "roll" at the beginning of a chapter or an article --- and then, at some point, I realize I've gone off on a completely unrelated tangent; the whole thing is wrong; I have to rip it apart and figure out what I can & can't use....

Given what professional or business writing actually is, the last thing you want to do is just WRITE.

Restructuring ideas is he**.

Doug Sundseth said...

Real-author first-draft technique:

1) Stare at the blank page until drops of blood form on your forehead.

2) Dip your finger in the blood and write a sentence.

3) Repeat until done.

BTW, can somebody recommend a product that will remove blood from a monitor?

8-)

VickyS said...

When I write, which I do for both a living & a hobby, I invariably feel like I'm working with clay. I can almost see a sculpture. I poke a little here, pull a little there, shape it, shape it. I structure it as I'm writing. I emerge with a finished product, never what would be called a draft. It's a very careful, intentional process. (And like Steve I carry along that little list of ideas and key words at the end; they are on the table waiting to be incorporated into the sculpture.)

Sounds like many of us write using a somewhat similar process, which is *nothing* like the "Four Blocks" nonsense.

It's the computer that has allowed us to do this, isn't it? And yet, Four Blocks makes doesn't make use of "technology" in this way at all.

My writing process was a lot different before computers. Back then, I did do rough drafts, because I had to see it before I could edit it.

Sounds to me like Writing Blocks is pretty 20th century.