Saturday, August 5, 2017

Why Freshman Comp Students Struggle to Get an ''A'

They fight against learning throughout their entire school career. There's no help from parents. So it ends up like this. What a surprise.
Your first skirmish will pit you against invisible, nameless, and formidable adversaries: all those “language arts” teachers from the past who, at least according to many students, seldom held them accountable for anything. To hear them tell it, their every idea was deemed above average, รก la Lake Wobegon. Thesaurus-diving was also encouraged, so that a word like “plethora” will in their view serve their purpose much better than the perfectly clear and acceptable “many.”
And if you expect reasonably well-structured sentences with close-to-appropriate punctuation, don’t be surprised to encounter something like this: “They said all their usual announcements then they talked about a contest for writing and they read the winners that won it was only three from my school two boys and one girl.”  
Should you succeed in routing the enemy this first time, your work will have only just begun.  Although some of your students may be impressed by your promise to expect only their best work, they will view themselves as casualties if their first essay—often a revamped version of one written in high school—earns a low grade.

Why Teachers Suck

This is only part of it.
  1. … because of expectations from a broken society.
Teachers no longer simply teach their subjects.  Our schools are now responsible for raising children.  Not many kids learn basic “life skills” and attitudes at home, so we expect teachers to do what moms and dads won’t (or can’t).  Oh, and they’re also supposed to make sure the kids get fed.
Too many schools now have food / toiletry / clothing pantries for kids whose homes can’t provide basic necessities.  These are run by volunteers … and teachers, of course.
We ask teachers to teach, feed, clothe, and parent our children, but refuse them the resources, support, and time to do the job.  Instead, we shame them for not saving our fractured society.
“Not only are schools and teachers expected to fix all of society’s ills, we are also expected to turn out a fantastic product,” Susan says.  “It would be nice if it could be remembered that we are working with human capital, not with a product whose outcome we can control completely.”
And therein lies the biggest key to understanding why teacher’s suck …
Our teachers end up parenting a lot of kids, and that role comes with a costly emotional and psychological investment.  Teachers are often caring for students who are functioning orphans—and they do it for countless kids.  While they’re teaching their preps, answering emails and phone calls from angry parents, trying to ignore what some yahoo has said about them on social media, and filling out an insane amount of hoop-jumping documentation to help some politician get re-elected, they’re also trying to get the girl who’s been raped into counseling, making sure the kid out of rehab stays clean and on track, and trying to tenderly engage that discipline problem who’s now living on the streets because his parents are both in jail.
There is so much more.

Monday, July 17, 2017

A's on the rise in U.S. report cards, but SATs flounder

From USA Today:
The good news on America's report cards: More high school teachers are handing out A's. But the bad news is that students aren't necessarily learning more.
Recent findings show that the proportion of high school seniors graduating with an A average — that includes an A-minus or A-plus — has grown sharply over the past generation, even as average SAT scores have fallen.
In 1998, it was 38.9%. By last year, it had grown to 47%.
That’s right: Nearly half of America’s Class of 2016 are A students. Meanwhile, their average SAT score fell from 1,026 to 1,002 on a 1,600-point scale — suggesting that those A's on report cards might be fool's gold.
Ahh yes, how many times have I heard from parents that "C"s are not acceptable, "A"s and "B"s only? And this would be from parents of average to below average students. The parents of true honor roll students, you know, the ones who really achieve, who earn the top grades, didn't have to tell me anything. It showed up in the work of their children. It was obvious in everything they turned in and in their daily work habits.

The problem is that some teachers have come to accept ridiculously low standards, or they don't want to have to deal with angry parents. So I get students coming into fourth grade who can't read yet have been on the honor roll every year. I used to doubt parents when they told me that. I've learned.

When we used to have honor roll assemblies, some of us would count the number of honor roll students being announced by each teacher. Sometimes we laughed. If there are 16 honor roll students in a second or third grade class of 25, you know that you are going to have a rough time when you get those kids - if you maintain your standards and honesty.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Why Aren't Schools Hooked on Phonics?

You must read this article in The Metropolitan. Why? I wrote it. It may be the most important article I've ever written. It may be the only article I've ever written. But it does raise some very important points regarding elementary education.
Children don’t need expensive computer labs fitted with colorful computer programs and websites that “make learning fun.” Children need a good sharp pencil, lots of paper, and a teacher who has learned and therefore can teach the phonetic structure of English.
Here’s why. Phonics is the beginning of reading. It’s learning the sounds that the letters make, both individually and in combination with other letters. Some students, especially those whose parents read to them frequently, can usually do this with little phonetic instruction. Those children coming from poverty and a lack of household literacy usually can’t. We know that. It’s been documented and re-documented. And yet until recently, almost all big time reading programs ignored phonics in favor of “balanced literacy”, formerly known as “whole language.” Teachers began in the middle with sight words and were taught that phonics doesn’t work.
Since the “balanced literacy” name change, phonemic awareness has become a piece of beginning reading instruction, which is kind of “phonics lite” with no expectation that teachers know and understand English on a phonetic level. How can teachers teach what they don’t know? Even Common Core, which does have some phonics requirements doesn’t truly address the issue since teachers are not trained to teach phonics and don’t know enough phonics to be effective.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Legislating Literacy

Can passing news laws help children learn?
I think we know the answer to that. (And if you don't, the answer is "no".)
And yet, here in the mitten-shaped state of Michigan, the legislature has passed what is known as "The Third Grade Reading Law." In theory, students who can't read at grade level at the end of third grade are to be retained. And there are supposed to be extra services for students who test below grade level in K-2. In other words, the teachers can't teach these kids to read, so it's time to call in some real experts as literacy coaches.
And who will these coaches be?
Based on past experience, they'll either be current teachers who will receive extra training in same literacy methods that haven't worked previously, or they will be para-pros, fresh out of teachers' college, who are doing this until they can get a full-time teaching gig with salary and benefits.
They will be immersed in subjects like phonemic awareness, fluency, decoding, and comprehension. They will learn (hopefully) entertaining activities that they will use with individuals or small groups of struggling readers. The activities will be "research-based". They will be "data-driven." They will entail activities on various literacy websites and programs. They will be failures in teaching students to read.
How do I know? We've been through this too many times already to not know. It's always failed, not because the students couldn't learn, or because the teachers couldn't teach, but because teachers haven't been taught to teach correctly for generations. Remember "No Child Left Behind?" or "Race to the Top?" Great successes, weren't they? Neither one focused on the ineffectual reading curriculum.
Yes, I'm getting back, as I frequently do, to phonics, or phonetic instruction, or whatever you want to call it; getting back to the beginning, the phoneme, the smallest piece of reading, so that students can begin at the beginning with tiny bite-sized pieces of impending literacy and build; from phoneme to word, to sentence, to paragraph, to story or essay, to literacy which opens up infinite worlds to them.
So like I was saying earlier, Michigan has this new law. And third grades in some of our lower performing schools are going to get very crowded if teachers are not allowed to promote their non-readers.
Fortunately (or not) there are enough exemptions and loopholes to the requirement that nobody need take it seriously. First of all, as the law currently stands, it doesn't take effect until the 2019-2020 school year. Second of all, there are nine (yes nine) possible ways out of retention. Some of them are absurd. Example:
(iii) The child demonstrates a grade 3 reading level through a pupil portfolio, as evidenced by demonstrating competency in all grade 3 state English language arts standards through multiple work samples.
Yes, a third grader who can't read will have no trouble with this. Of course, since parents can request an exemption anyway the point is moot. Yes, the exemption has to be approved by the district superintendent. For this, rubber stamps are already on order - or my name isn't "The Teacher That Exploded!"
I did find one interesting section of the bill:
(iv) Provides reading intervention that meets, at a minimum, the following specifications:(A) Assists pupils exhibiting a reading deficiency in developing the ability to read at grade level.(B) Provides intensive development in the 5 major reading components: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.(C) Is systematic, explicit, multisensory, and sequential.
Phonetic, multi-sensory instruction. That's what I do, baby! Part C is what a good phonetic reading program should be. So of course, it will be ignored by school districts. And since politicians only know what their most generous lobbyists want them to know, they won't even know enough to question whether or not school districts are following these basic necessities in literacy.
In other words, we in Michigan are in line for another spin on the merry-go-round of illiteracy.
I'll be laughing just to keep from crying.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

O. Really.


           Why are so many children doing so poorly when learning to read?
            Funny you should ask. But as long as you did, let’s take a quick look at one letter, the letter “o”.
            If we place the “o” after the letter “t” we have the word, “to” (which rhymes with “do” but not with “go”.) Two letters, each making a different sound, create a word. If we add the letter “m” to the end of “to”, we have the word (name), “Tom. The “o” is making a different sound. Add a final silent “e” to create the word, tome, and what do you know? The “o” makes a third sound (the same sound it makes in “go”). What if instead of “m”, we add “ss” for the word “toss”? Yep, a fourth sound. Use the letter “n” instead of “m” and you get the world “ton”, and we’re treated to the schwa sound.  What other words begin with t-o? And what do they sound like? In tow, town, toy, tough, and toil, the “o” is combined with other letters to make various other sounds.
            So what does this all mean?
            First of all, we adults know, there are many more opportunities for the young reading student to become fall into a ball of confusion, especially if they’re expected to figure all of this reading and spelling on their own. This is especially true for children who have been raised in poverty, or in a home where education is ignored or reviled. The child who’s been raised in a literate home has a huge head start in this quest and can sometimes figure this mess out with nominal help.
            For children born into the previously mentioned less than advantageous surroundings, wouldn’t it make more sense to give them a proper phonetic education so that the confusion can be, if not completely eliminated, at least minimized? There are reasons and rules for many (but not all) of the English language’s seeming inconsistencies. Sometimes, as in the case of “ton” it’s due to changing (some would say slovenly) speech patterns. Some are due to specific word origins. A knowledgeable teacher can turn these different sounds and spelling patterns into many “teachable moments” delving into history and literature and increasing student knowledge.
            Very few teachers are taught how. Most teachers are not knowledgeable about the workings of English. They flounder, miss opportunities, try to add a bit of “phonemic awareness”, try some useless interventions, and another generation of illiterates passes through their classroom.
            It’s  time to teach teachers to teach reading correctly, that is, phonetically.