Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reading, Writing and 'rithmetic

We all know something is seriously wrong with education and that has been the case for many, many years. "Why Johnny can't Read" came out in 1955. Schools of education sprung into action causing the last 50+ years of students to become guinea pigs to the latest fashions in education, subjects of countless Phd. theses, while many of these same students were lost in the jumble. Only those who happened to have dedicated and real teachers managed to succeed in this system. And thank God, there were those teachers.

For almost ten years I worked with adults who could not read. This was an all volunteer agency. We had many successes. We used the Laubach Way to Literacy which was strong on phonics. Phonics was left by the wayside by some of those experiments which touted the whole word way to reading. Some very bright children managed to learn to read with that method, many were left behind.

I am writing this because I found this article in the New York Times, and while the title of the piece is 4,100 Students Prove ‘Small Is Better’ Rule Wrong, the premise of the article is back to the basics. Let's see what they actually say:
The committee’s first big step was to go back to basics, and deem that reading, writing, speaking and reasoning were the most important skills to teach. They set out to recruit every educator in the building — not just English, but math, science, even guidance counselors — to teach those skills to students.
The committee put together a rubric to help teachers understand what good writing looks like, and began devoting faculty meetings to teaching department heads how to use it. The school’s 300 teachers were then trained in small groups.
Writing exercises took many forms, but encouraged students to think methodically. A science teacher, for example, had her students write out, step by step, how to make a sandwich, starting with opening the cupboard to fetch the peanut butter, through washing the knife once the sandwich was made. Other writing exercises, of course, were much more sophisticated.
Some teachers dragged their feet. Michael Thomas, now the district’s operations director but who led the school’s physical education department at the time, recalled that several of his teachers told him, “This is gym; we shouldn’t have to teach writing.” Mr. Thomas said he replied, “If you want to work at Brockton High, it’s your job.”
Fear held some teachers back — fear of wasting time on what could be just another faddish reform, fear of a heavier workload — and committee members tried to help them surmount it.
“Let me help you,” was a response committee members said they often offered to reluctant colleagues who argued that some requests were too difficult.
Read the article for the whole story, but keep in mind what they are saying; reading, writing and 'rithmetic. The three basics you need to learn to reason no matter the size of the school.

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