kitchen table math, the sequel: back to the future

Saturday, February 27, 2010

back to the future



West Ashley High ninth-grader Erika Wesolek works on a grammar lesson Thursday.

A reading program given a trial run last year at West Ashley High School has been so successful that other Charleston County and neighboring Dorchester 2 high schools have taken notice and may begin using it.

In Charleston, the curriculum had been used exclusively with special education students. School Principal Mary Runyon saw those students' reading scores improving and decided to experiment and see whether it also would work for students who didn't have a disability.

The research-based curriculum, Language!, teaches English as if it were a foreign language; it breaks down its rules and explains them to students. The class focuses on the five components of reading -- from identifying sounds in words to developing vocabulary -- and the goal is to give students the foundation they need to become better readers.

[snip]

Dorchester 2 Deputy Superintendent Barbara Stroble took a group of her high school teachers to West Ashley High last week to observe the program and get a better understanding of the way it works. Although Dorchester 2, which includes Summerville area schools, is one of the state's higher-performing districts, nearly 13 percent of its freshmen can't read better than a fourth-grader, according to an analysis requested by The Post and Courier.

[snip]

"It's the old way we used to teach English," Stroble said. "A kid who's having difficulty in reading and he or she doesn't know the rules of the game, they get lost."

Freshman Amber Armstrong is in the West Ashley High program this year. She always thought her reading was fine, but after being in this class, she said she feels more confident because she's learning skills that none of her previous schools taught her.

She used to skip words she didn't know, but now she tries to figure out what they mean. It's easier for her to skim through notes and pick out important points, and vocabulary isn't as much of a challenge, she said. She doesn't use slang and she uses correct verbs when speaking. She said she'd like to take the course again next year.

Giant strides
by Diette Courrege
The Post and Courier
Monday, February 22, 2010

Here in my town, it's common knowledge that the kids are gaining all their knowledge of grammar from foreign language classes.

Not from "ELA."

11 comments:

farmwifetwo said...

"The research-based curriculum, Language!, teaches English as if it were a foreign language; it breaks down its rules and explains them to students. The class focuses on the five components of reading -- from identifying sounds in words to developing vocabulary -- and the goal is to give students the foundation they need to become better readers."

Just ask a SLP who has more 'language'. The child that's been in speech therapy.... or the one that's done without... It's the one that's had the therapy and been taugh... English.

ElizabethB said...

Well, that's good, they should do it in more schools....but, why not in 1st and 2nd grade when they really need to learn how to read? (At least the phonics part.) You can teach grammar in 3rd- 6th.

It's so crazy that teachers just expect students to skip words, they don't realize that they could have almost all their students sounding out everything if they taught the right way from the beginning.

concernedCTparent said...

The Well Trained Mind (First Language Lessons) material begins teaching diagramming in third grade, but grammar begins in first grade. The rules of the English language should be taught from the very beginning. There's no reason to wait.

MagisterGreen said...

"The research-based curriculum, Language!, teaches English as if it were a foreign language; it breaks down its rules and explains them to students."

That has to be one of the most depressing sentences I've read in a good while. That the notion of teaching the rules of English is so alien that it has to be described by equating it to foreign-language instruction saddens me.

And for Catherine's remark about grammar instruction being largely confined to foreign language classes in her experience - I can attest that my Latin students learn more grammar in one year of Latin than they do in four years of English. I encourage the kids to be particular about it because it's a real power they have over others...they know secrets that the rest don't. Kids, being kids, respond to that.

MagisterGreen said...

A further thought...if teaching the rules of English causes the author of this article to equate it to foreign language instruction, it begs the question: What are the kids learning in *English* class?

Robin said...

Wish that was the way foreign language classes were still taught where I live.

They use "immersion" from the beginning so the foreign language grammar lessons are conducted in the language to be learned and usually involve grammar points that have not been taught in the primary language either.

Ignorant in multiple languages-the new American way. Actually Melanie Phillips recounts that even Oxbridge grads are being taught this way making their foreign language skills the joke of Europe.

Anonymous said...

The US FSI, the single most effective and highly respected organization in the world for foreign-language instruction, uses immersion and "over learning" techniques to successfully teach tens of thousands of people a year to become functionally proficient in their target language. No system has ever worked better.

The grammar-first method of foreign language learning, in contrast, has produced generations of people who can conjugate (or decline) any given verb (noun) but can't write well or carry on a casual conversation. Not one in ten students with three years of Spanish can conduct a halfway decent conversation. I know--I was the best non-native speaker out of the 500+ kids in my school who took Spanish by a LOT, and *I* struggled--and the only reason I did well at all was because I worked hard with the kids who mostly spoke Spanish.

Brits have been a laughingstock in Europe for generations because of their foreign language skills (heck, check Chaucer!), and the reason is the prevailing historical attitude toward accents (actually speaking French with a French accent is, you know, in becoming and maybe unmanly), not because of an immersion method.

Induction and immersion both work extraordinarily well in older learners when well-supported by sensible grammatical assistance. But you never get from verb-chants to fluent speaking through more grammar drills.

As for English grammar--it shouldn't take that long to teach! Do something like Analytical Grammar for one year, and be done with it. Forever.

In 6th through 8th grades, we actually had two periods of "language arts" a day--English (grammar and spelling, mostly, with some reading) and Reading (lit only). I diagrammed my first sentence in 3rd grade, my last in 8th--1993-4. My school wasn't even very good, but it seems like everywhere I turn, I discover that the education that seemed so skimpy was better than 99% of what people are getting out there. What are teachers DOING with their time? Or are students simply paying that little attention?

Lisa said...

A sad commentary on what is being taught in 'regular' LA's classes BUT I must admit that through numerous high school honors English classes, 4 years of high school German, a major in German in college and various English classes there, I have NEVER diagrammed a sentence. I'm working on it now to teach my 3rd grader. For the record I'm old (graduated high school in 1981) so poor instruction is nothing new.

momof4 said...

Anonymous, I also wonder what schools are doing all day. Apparently affluent NYC parents are now hiring occupational therapists to teach their kids handwriting (ref. Joanne Jacob's blog) Since I was in ES, schools appear to have stopped teaching phonics, grammar, composition, spelling, handwriting, arithmetic and geography. History, government and sciences get short shrift and classic children's lit has been supplanted by mush and drivel. What is being done in the time that was formerly used to cover these areas?

lgm said...

Check your district's contract w/teachers to find out what teachers are doing. (seethroughny.com for NYers).

Here an elementary day is 6 hours not including entry/exit.
1 hr is lunch/recess for students and lunch/professional time for teachers. 45 min is gym/art/music for students, prep for teachers. 45 min is paraprofessional supervised 'study hall' or 'read out loud to students' while teachers are at a team meeting or meeting with parents. That leaves 3.5 hrs of time daily for the teachers to be with the students and give instruction plus time to complete classwork.

In addition, the teacher is restricted to the equity philosophy of no child gets ahead. so..there is a lot of downtime for the capable child while pullouts/pushins are going on and math & reading specialists work the room. The focus is on moving below-basic students up to basic and providing enough for basic to not slip behind. There is no thought of a year's growth for a year in the classroom. Very few teachers know how to differentiate. It's as if the invisible hand wants middle class nonclassified to go to private or homeschool, except that there are not enough private schools available and homeschool is not easy in NY.

Anonymous said...

>Since I was in ES, schools appear to have stopped teaching phonics, grammar, composition, spelling, handwriting, arithmetic and geography. History, government and sciences get short shrift and classic children's lit has been supplanted by mush and drivel. What is being done in the time that was formerly used to cover these areas?

I have to admit (I'm the Anon above--I keep forgetting to sign) that we weren't taught handwriting. My pencil grip is shameful, and my 7-y-o's NOT GOOD hwing looks like mine sometimes. I have no clue about phonics. I know we had at least a little.

(My 7-y-o was severely behind in fine motor skills at age 5. As in, I've never seen that poor handwriting among non-disabled children, ever. It's actually above average now for his age, but just that. Not good. My 16-mo-old daughter has an immaculate pencil grip and has for months now--totally opposite. DS is learning Getty-Dubay Italic handwriting--DD will learn Spencerian!)

We had lots of coloring and pasting and worksheets. I remember all these things with a festering kind of hatred. Maybe they just had more...

I firmly believe that any child with moderate dedication and average intelligence can easily be
lifted into the top 5% of performers in their age group if teachers had any sort of hold on a clue-stick.

--SameAnon