kitchen table math, the sequel: More Fourth Grade Slump

Saturday, January 14, 2012

More Fourth Grade Slump

Speaking of Memoria Press, my catalog came in a mail a couple of days ago and there was an article in there on the "top ten" reasons you should teach your child Latin. (Preaching to the choir in our case -- the only question here is what grade are we going to start Latin.)

But I read the article, and one part popped out at me:

Latin is the next step after phonics.

We all understand the importance of phonics, the systematic study of the English letters and their sounds. But phonics only covers half of our language, the English half, those good old concrete words that students learn to speak and read first. But then we stop, even though there is another half of English that has a whole new set of root words, spelling, and pronunciation patterns.

English, you see, is a hybrid language, a marriage of two languages—English and Latin. The name English comes from the Angles who, along with the Saxons and other barbarians, invaded Britain after the fall of Rome in the 5th century. English is a Germanic language and, the Germans being barbarians, had mostly concrete, common, everyday words, the words children learn to speak and read first in primary school.

But, beginning in 3rd grade, students start to encounter the Latin half of English. Latin words are bigger, harder, have more syllables, more abstract meanings, and different pronunciation and spelling patterns. How do we teach the Latin half of English in a systematic orderly way like we do phonics? We don’t. But we should. And the only truly systematic way to continue the study of the English language after phonics is to teach Latin—the foundation of the Latin half of English.


Jean said...

I just read that article and thought of the ktm discussion too. It's an interesting point I'd never thought of, though we've been doing Latin for a while now.

Catherine Johnson said...

I think it's Louise Moats who wrote a terrific article for American Educator demonstrating that English is much more phonetic than people realize -- when you take into account the numerous languages English descended from. Latin, Greek, French (and there's some Danish element, right?), German.

John McWhorter argues that the Celtic language contributed as well.

When you teach children the 'other' phonics, you vastly reduce the number of 'irregular' words.

Catherine Johnson said...

How Spelling Supports Reading: And Why It Is More Regular and Predictable Than You May Think by Louisa C. Moats

Catherine Johnson said...

Louisa, not Louise

Catherine Johnson said...

The AoPS class sizes are not large, and meet for only 2 hours a week, so a lot of the instructor time can be spent on feedback.

gasstation, if you're around, do the AoPS classes meet 'together'? (I realize I could look this up myself!)

Catherine Johnson said...

question - do any of you know, off the top of your heads, the title of that series of novels for 5th grade kids about a group of kids stranded on an island (NOT Lord of the Flies .... )

Those were the books Chris read as soon as his reading kicked back in (5th grade)

When I looked at them I was amazed at the number of multi-syllable words.

Absolutely can't remember the title of the series - and he doesn't, either.

palisadesk said...

If you don't want to get into Latin in a big way (and Greek after that), a good resource for both teachers and parents is Abecedarian Level C and D which give a pretty good introduction to major Greek and Latin roots, their meanings and applications.

Check it out. Reasonably priced, too. Online Yahoo support group as well.

palisadesk said...

Oh, and one more thing -- for those who don't want to buy the outstanding program by Bob Dixon, Spelling Through Morphographs -- whether because of SRA, price or whatever -- try to get his paperback book, The Surefire Way to Better Spelling which covers the same territory. It has been out of print for a long time and its price on the used market is variable, but I can regularly pick up copies for $25 or less via abebooks, alibris or amazon.

Great book.

Catherine Johnson said...

Thank you for the recommendation!

TerriW said...

I'm starting to dig into some of the other articles on their site. This one is giving me kicks:

When parents ask me if we have hands-on learning at Highlands Latin School, I say “Yes, we do—hands on pencil and paper."

Jennie said...

Just got The Surefire Way to Better Spelling on eBay for less than $5. Thanks for the recommendation, Palisadesk!

Anonymous said...

I did a quick Google search for the kid's book. Are you looking for "Stranded on Terror Island" (The Ladd Family Adventure Series #14)?

We never read that series, so I can't really say whether it meets your description.

Jennie said...

Catherine, Is the series you are thinking of called ISLAND, by Gordon Korman? (Publ. 2001)
The first book is called SHIPWRECK.


Catherine Johnson said...

Jennie - that is IT! Thank you! (This as driving me crazy!)

gasstation - I'm asking Chris about your book now---

Catherine Johnson said...

gasstation - that's the same book I kept finding!

Chis doesn't think he's ever read the one you & I found, but he definitely read Shipwreck (and I remember the cover myself.)

Catherine Johnson said...

Thank you, you guys!

Catherine Johnson said...

If you look at page 4, say, you'll see gazillions of multi-syllable words, including words like "flusher" that most kids wouldn't have heard of (I've never heard of it...)

Shipwreck was one of the first books Chris read for fun after we started Megawords & after he'd entered the 5th grade class of a teacher who taught syllables.

The Megawords authors, as I recall, argue that it's quite difficult (to impossible) for a student who knows phonics to sound out more than one syllable in a row AND have those two separate sounded-out syllables cohere into just one word.

Their argument made perfect sense to me at the time (perhaps because of working memory constraints), and I'm glad to see that palisadesk says they cited the research correctly.

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