kitchen table math, the sequel: Here’s one reason I support school choice

Monday, February 18, 2008

Here’s one reason I support school choice

In a story about NCLB, a parent is critical of her children’s school:

"Over the years, Victoria Woisin has noticed a change in the types of projects her children are assigned in school.

And it's not necessarily to her liking.

"The emphasis is more on writing correctly, without as much creativity," said Woisin, a stay-at-home mother of three girls in the White Plains schools. "It just took the fun out of it."

Hmm . . . . When the schools hear parents say things like this, I guess I shouldn’t blame them for doing things like using personal journals as the predominant method of teaching writing in elementary schools. This same parent would probably consider a poster project, instead of an old-fashioned book report, to be a suitable creative outlet for her child. With a poster project a fifth grader can then show her creativity with drawing, coloring, cutting and pasting images from the book. Forget about learning to write a well-crafted expository essay. That just takes the "fun out of it".


Anonymous said...

Well, yes, that parent has a different point of view than you. And that's exactly why we need school choice. Why can't that parent and child have a school that fits their educational philosophy and you and your child have one that fits yours? Some people like the parochial school model, some the KIPP model, some the Montessori model, some the open classroom model, etc. All of these -- and more -- should be options for families.

Crimson Wife said...

I think what the mom is complaining about is this idiotic "6 Trait" writing style fad. I looked at writing curricula to use in our family's homeschool and 99% of what I saw was garbage. This idea that there's a cookie-cutter formula for writing: "gotcha" sentence -> thesis sentence -> 3 supporting paragraphs -> reworded thesis -> "clincher" sentence.

I want my DD to develop her own writing style, not mimic what some educrat has decreed is "the way to write".

Anonymous said...

Your daughter may be one of those who have good expressive language and clear and organized thinking to start with.

Unfortunately what I see is most children being encouraged to "express themselves" and having absolutely no clue how to go about writing paragraphs (even sentences) in an organized and coherent way. Frameworks like Step Up to Writing, 6 Traits or Four Square Writing allow them to get a grip on a formula (yes, it is a formula) to produce an acceptable result. As with other skills --writing poems in various formats, playing certain kinds of music -- 3-part inventions, fugues, whatever -- mastery of component skills can lead individuals to a degree of proficiency that ultimately enables them to find their own unique voice and style.

Unfortunately I see very few who do, BECAUSE they are not taught the basics to mastery. A college English teacher last week was telling me most of the students in her freshman Engish classes can't write a coherent paragraph. How can they develop their personal style when they can't punctuate, spell or write a sentence? The cognitive load of trying to juggle complex ideation when you have second-grade writing skills is too much.

Your daughter may be an unusually talented writer, but most children need structured teaching to get to the point of true individual expression. The solution is to allow those who don't need to be taught certain skills -- because they are past that level -- to "place out,"move ahead and work independently. Even then, however, they can learn a great deal from structured teaching of advanced skills. Arthur Whimbey's books come to mind here.

Doug Sundseth said...

The thing I care least about is having my son "develop his own voice". That's not the responsibility of the school. Give him the tools to write (grammar, spelling, sentence forms, vocabulary) and varied examples of good writing and his voice will emerge.

This is precisely the same in writing as in art, BTW. You have to know the boundaries and characteristics of the box before you can successfully venture outside it.

Catherine Johnson said...

Well, yes, that parent has a different point of view than you. And that's exactly why we need school choice.

This is where I am.

In some ways I'm in a fairly small minority of parents who want a serious education in the liberal arts disciplines delivered via direct instruction and precision teaching.

I have NO desire to force my desires onto everyone else.

But why, then, do I have to spend huge quantities of my life trying to help my kid get through assignments my family doesn't value and doesn't want?

This week: C. has to watch a "science video" and "write something creative about it."

"A poem," C. said. "Or an ode."

I don't know if he was joking about the ode. He wasn't joking about the poem.

Coming up next: C. must film a "video documentary."

Now, number 1, we do not own a video camera.

Number 2, there is no one at the middle school who is certified (or qualified) to teach documentary filmmaking.

Believe it or not, I happen to have a Ph.D. in film studies (please erase that from your memories NOW) so....I may be able to dredge up some ancient knowledge of How to Make a Documentary Film.

But I don't want to.

And I don't want C. to spend his time screwing around with iMovie.

Catherine Johnson said...

Some people like the parochial school model, some the KIPP model, some the Montessori model, some the open classroom model, etc.


AND, while I'm not an advocate of eclecticism as an ultimate good (Snider has a chapter on the myth of eclecticism in her book) I do feel that all of these models has validity for some kids -- which tells me that their parents should make the call.

Catherine Johnson said...

I want my DD to develop her own writing style, not mimic what some educrat has decreed is "the way to write".

It's hard, trying to find models or recipes that work....I looked at a Fieldston writing assignment (Fieldston is probably one of the best private schools in the country) -- it sounded a lot like this except it used a "funnel."

Looking at it, I recoiled.

I just hated the thought of my kid trying to figure out how to put together a g-d FUNNEL, for pete's sake.

The thing is: structure is probably the single hardest aspect of writing & it sounds as if the structure you just described is a classic 5-paragraph essay.

Probably if you can just ignore words like "gotcha sentence" (which isn't a bad way to put it!) and "clincher sentence" (that's going to be hard for a child to understand) this form will be a good one for your child to work with.

Think of it as structure, not voice.

Actually, that makes me wonder how variable and idiosyncratic structure is in writing.

It's true that writers have unique writers have unique structures, too?

I've never thought of that.

Catherine Johnson said...

I LOVE the text reconstruction book -- do you use that one?

It's brilliant, I think.

(This is Whimbey I'm talking about.)

Catherine Johnson said...

So palisadesk - 6 Traits seems OK to you??

Catherine Johnson said...

(I don't know much about the program.)

This reminds me: I've got to get back to Kerrigan....

That book is DENSE.

Catherine Johnson said...

"Voice" to me seems like the last thing to develop....but I don't know.

I do know that structure is unbelievably difficult to master.

Structure is really the single most difficult aspect of expository writing (and of screenwriting, btw).

Anonymous said...

FYI Catherine, speaking of Precision Teaching: I was looking at our Seattle parents' newspaper recently, and there were ads from both Morningside Academy (emphasizing the younger kids' program) and from a forming program called The Academy for Precision Learning (and the website is full of Precision Teaching commentary).

I'm surprised that they have 4 students and yet are looking at PNAIS certification. Perhaps that'a a long-term goal.


Catherine Johnson said...

What is PNAIS certification? (Obviously, I can look it up...)

I LOVE precision teaching.

I'd like to see it spread EVERYWERE.

One of the things I love about it is that the student is involved in setting and monitoring his goals.

If you're going to have kids "take responsibility for their own learning" (which isn't a bad idea in the abstract - responsibility is good), this is the way to do it.

Catherine Johnson said...


I just looked at that school!!!!

Anonymous said...

PNAIS: Pacific Northwest Association of Independent Schools.

Certification is the wrong word -- I meant accreditation.


Anonymous said...

I think that is Alison Moors' new school. Ali is one sharp cookie and knows her stuff. She has incredible energy as well. The school is sure to be a success.If I were a speculator I'd put money on it.

Anonymous said...

6 Traits isn't a program, it's a frame of reference (for lack of a better term). Vicki Spandel wrote a book back in the 80's or early 90's called Creating Writers which is the origin of the "Six Traits" phenomenon. The value of "6 Traits" is in its specificity. Previously writing instruction for children was excessively holistic -- so kids had little idea how to improve. You showed them "models of good writing," but what made those models good? Of course some teachers were adept at teaching writing but many (including yours truly) were not.

The six traits are hardly the only things to teach, but they afforded an opportunity to focus on specifics that were concrete and relatively easy to model, teach and evaluate in context. Sentence variety was a biggie IMO. Word choice, organization etc. are still a little broad but it provided some structure to helping kids improve.

I'm sure some programs are out there based on "6 Traits" but it originated just as a way of looking at writing and helping children improve their own writing. I found Spandel's book very useful. She has a newer one on younger writers (first one was most appropriate for middle grades).