Archives for category: Literacy

Nancy Bailey features a post about an absurdly inappropriate reading program, citing work by Betty Casey in Tulsa. 

Casey interviewed experienced reading teachers, who gave her examples of age-inappropriate questions in the Core Knowledge Amplify scripted program.

Casey writes:

Do you think primogeniture is fair? Justify your answer with three supporting reasons.

You may think this is from a high school test, but it’s a question from a Common Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) workbook for third-graders.

Why is the War of 1812 often referred to as America’s second war for independence? In your response, describe what caused the war and Great Britain’s three-part plan for defeating the United States. This is a writing task for second-grade students.

A first-grade Tulsa Public Schools teacher described this reading lesson: “You say, ‘I’m going to say one of the vocabulary words, and I’m going to use it in a sentence. If I use it correctly in a sentence, I want you to circle a happy face. If I use it incorrectly, I want you to circle a sad face. The sentence is Personification is when animals act like a person.’”

That lesson is given 10 days after the start of school. “I had kids who wouldn’t circle either one,” the teacher said. “Some cried. I have sped (special education) kids in my room, and they had no idea. That’s wrong. Good grief! These are 6-year-olds!”

Arthur Goldstein, veteran teacher of many decades, thinks he knows a thing or two about teaching English. The State Education Department doesn’t trust him or other English teachers. So they have distributed new mandates about how to teach “advanced literacy” to make sure that he does what he is told. And he doesn’t like it. 

Frankly, it sounds like Common Core in a new dress.

Goldstein writes:

Forget everything you’ve heard and read about education. There’s a new paradigm, and it’s called Teaching Advanced Literacy Skills. This is revolutionary, of course, because it appears clear to the authors that no English teacher in the history of the universe has ever taught advanced literacy. Also, since no one in the world will ever go into a trade, and since everyone will spend their entire lives doing academic writing, we need to start work on this right away.

No, evidently we just do the whole phonics thing, and once students are able to sound out words, we give up on them for the next eleven years or so and hope for the best. Thank goodness these brilliant writers are here to let us know that students need to be able to identify a main idea, and that this indispensable skill is actually an amalgam of other vital skills.

Not only that, but we now know that it’s important students use a variety of sources to support their arguments, as opposed to just making stuff up (like the President of the United States, for example). That’s why we, as teachers, should hand them several sources on which to base their writing, as do the geniuses in Albany when they issue the NY State ELA Regents, the final word on whether or not students have advanced literacy.

Never mind that students who’ve passed the test with high grades don’t seem to know how to read or write well. Never mind nonsense like writer voice, mentioned absolutely nowhere in the book. Never mind whether or not anyone actually wishes to read whatever writing the students produce, because that’s also mentioned absolutely nowhere in the book. The important thing is that they be able to produce academic writing. Do you go out of your way to read academic writing? Neither do I.

The book is big on synthesis, that is, using multiple sources. Like the awful English Regents exam,  students are generally provided with sources. I suppose this is some sort of training to write research papers. Here’s the thing, though–if you write research papers you will have to find your own sources. I recall being in summer classes at Queens College, in their old crappy library searching through shelves with a flashlight trying to find things to write about. No such issue for our advanced literacy-trained students. Here are texts a, b, c and d. Get out there and tell me which ones are better.

We don’t need to teach students about logical fallacy either, which is good news for politicians everywhere. Students need not recognize ad hominem or straw man arguments. No guilt by association for you. We don’t need to bother showing them why some arguments are less logical than others, as per this book at least. I suppose when Donald Trump calls whatever doesn’t suit him “fake news,” that’s okay. It’s just another academic source.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this book, to me, is that the project they spend the most time on is one in which students discuss whether or not their school should adopt uniforms. I wrote in the margins, “great topic,” Why? Because this was a topic that had a direct effect on their lives. This decision would change their behavior, and perhaps change their entire school. There was an intrinsic motivation for students to be involved in this decision.

Nowhere in the book did the writers deem this worthy of mention. I have no idea whether or not they even noticed it. I did, though, and it was hands down a better topic than some of the crap students must wade through on the English Regents exam. Don’t get me wrong–I understand that students, like us, will have to wade through a lot of crap in their academic lives. To me, though, it seems smarter to make them love reading. It seems smarter to motivate them to do so on their own. Then, when they have to read some crap to which they cannot relate, they’ll be better equipped to do so, having developed the skills this book advocates in a far more positive fashion.

One thing that makes me love writers is something called writer voice. A great example of this is Angela’s Ashes, a non-fiction work (!) by the late and brilliant Frank McCourt. They made a film out of it which faithfully told the story, but was total crap. That’s because the allure and charm of this story was all about the way McCourt told it, his humor, his deft and inspiring use of language. He had me at the first sentence about childhood, and kept me hypnotized until the last sentence. I couldn’t put the book down.

Why should students today have the same pleasure? Why do experienced teachers know about teaching anyway? Nothing, by the lights of the bureaucrats in Albany.

 

Peter Greene reveals here why he loves to read. What is reading for? It is utilitarian, to be sure. It would be impossible to make your way in the world without knowing how to read nowadays.

This post focuses on the author Rebecca Solnit, who writes about reading and its pleasures.

Greene writes:

It is easy in the ed biz to get caught up in things like the reading wars and test results and arguments about whether or not Pat can read and if not why not. And in our very utilitarian reformster-created status quo, some lapse far too quickly to the discussion of reading as a set of Very Useful Skills that will make children employable meat widgets for employers on some future day, and therefor we shall have drill and practice and exercises to build up reading muscles for that far off day.

“But let’s not kill the lifelong love of reading,” is a common reply, and one that I’m not entirely comfortable with. It’s fuzzy and reductive. I can love peanut butter and jelly, but that doesn’t really open any windows on the world; I don’t love science, but understanding it at least a little has enriched my world. The act of reading is wonderful in a sense, like looking through a pane of glass in an otherwise dull and impenetrable wall. It’s magical, yes– but what’s really uplifting and life-changing is what we can see on the other side.

The reading technocrats and pure phonics police are focused on the future, and even the lifelong love of reading camp is looking forward. Both run the risk of forgetting that reading is useful for children right now, this year, this minute, as a way of finding answers to fundamental questions– how does the world work, and what does it mean to be fully human, and how can I be in the world? Reading gives children access to answers beyond their own immediate experience which is always limited and all-too-often, as in Solnit’s case, severely limited by the control of adults who have trouble working out answers of their own. In the crush to provide reading instruction that will benefit children someday, we shouldn’t overlook the ways in which reading will benefit them right now. Both reading science and lifelong love camps stand at the window and say some version of, “Let’s look at this window. Let’s examine it and study it and polish it and enter into a deeper relationship with it,” while anxious children hop up and down on their toes and beg to look through it.

Solnit likes the wall metaphor. I’m fond of windows. You can pick your own favorite. I just want to argue that we not get carried away by either the desire to reduce reading instruction to hard science or fuzzy emotions, that we not forget that there’s an actual reason for children to read, and that the reason exists today, right now. Don’t get caught up on the trees in the larger reading forest. The children are small people, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t working on big questions. School should help.

After I read this post, I ordered Rebecca Solnit’s book as a gift for a grandson, who will love it.

Vicki Cobb is a very successful author of children’s books and is active in promoting children’s interest in reading and in science.

She writes here about a wonderful FREE resource for children.

No catch.

Wonderful reading online at no cost.

She begins (open the link to read it all!):

In my recent post Why Education Should Always Be Nonprofit I examined some opportunities for corruption.  First, in the building of fortunes, like oil,  but also in the establishment of for-profit schools where money is siphoned off by realtors and administrators.  The product of education is not a commodity that generates enormous wealth,  like oil, but a human being who is capable of contributing to society.  So where’s the payoff for the individual for-profit investor in the school?  It’s certainly not in the production of educated individuals. Society at large benefits from that investment.

So I started a nonprofit organization to bring the work of the most talented children’s nonfiction authors to the classroom.  To that end, in 2014 we started publishing the Nonfiction Minute, a FREE daily posting of 400-word essays by top children’s nonfiction authors.  An audio file accompanies each Minute so that the more challenged readers have access to our content.  Millions of page-views later, we caught the eye of Paul Langhorst, the executive of SchoolTube.  And today, we have something new to celebrate:  We are launching The Nonfiction Minute Channel on School Tube.  Each post is the audio file of the author reading his/her Minute and is illustrated with art in a slide show.  Paul Langhorst, told me that teachers have been asking for more on quality reading and writing, so here we are. There are links on the School Tube post to the Nonfiction Minute archives so students can read the text of the Nonfiction Minutes if they are so inclined.   

A newly released study in Australia raises questions about whether digital literacy is actually undermining children’s ability and interest in reading.

A Four Corners investigation has found there are growing fears among education experts that screen time is contributing to a generation of skim readers with poor literacy, who may struggle to gain employment later in life as low-skilled jobs disappear.

By the age of 12 or 13, up to 30 per cent of Australian children’s waking hours are spent in front of a screen, according to the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children.

Robyn Ewing, a Professor of Teacher Education at the University of Sydney, said this was having a tangible impact on vocabulary and literacy.

“Children who have been sat in front of a screen from a very early age start school with thousands and thousands of words less, vocabulary-wise, than those who have been meaningfully communicated with,” Professor Ewing said.

Four Corners gained exclusive access to the initial results of a national survey of 1,000 teachers and principals conducted by the Gonski Institute.

The survey found excessive screen time had a profound impact on Australian school students over the past five years, making them more distracted and tired, and less ready to learn.

The Growing Up Digital Australia study has been described by its authors as a “call to action” on the excessive screen use “pervasively penetrating the classroom”.

The study lead, Professor Pasi Sahlberg, said while teachers reported there were benefits to technology in the classroom, most also believed that technology was a huge distracting force in young people.