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Friday, August 1, 2008

Munro's Commentary on Reading and Education

SEE BRIDGING DIFFERENCES the blog by Deb Meier and Diane Ravitch.

Dear Deb: Tony makes a very good point. Continued extended commentary (essasys) and refrences to literature are splendid. I too have read Horace's Choice by Sizer and agree it is a very good book. There is no question that secondary teachers have to compromose to the reality that
1) they want you to teach at the collee prep level but few students can read at the 8th grade level
2) a text is chosen for you and today with NCLB every teacher has to give standarized objective based tests. A good teacher will work harder to give some other quizzes, essays and projects but many teachers find that giving a series of computer corrected Scantrons meets the minimum requirement. So in that way standarized testing is insidious.
3) A secondary teacher will rarely teach a subject area or text more than for a few years. A Jack of all trades is a master of none.
4) High School exit exams help motive students a little bit but can devalue other classes such as science and social studies which are NOT specifically tested. Student know that a D is good enough for those classes passing in English proficiency and Math is enough.

In any case continue on with your discussions. They are illiminating.

I only know about Deb Meier by the way because Diane Ravitch recommended her books to me. Deb is obviously savvy, experienced and wise and she has a lot to teach others.

I think tempermentally and politically I could not be more different than Deb BUT I recognize we have much common ground. WE CARE ABOUT THE KIDS AND WANT TO SEE THEM AUTHENTICALLY ACHIEVE.

Both of us are skeptical of the superficial scantron quiz approach which does not favor, speaking orally on a topic, research or writing -all elements we both agree are needed for a student to develop.

I think Deb and I would agree that Scantron tests BY THEMSELVES are not accurate instruments and that they are acadeic junk food. For mass testing there may be no other recourse but there is no reason for a CLASSROOM teacher to be completely dependent on them. My idea is always teach BEYOND the test.

But one idea I have always held as a teacher that STUDENTS SHOULD BE EXPOSED TO AS GREAT A VARIETY of speech patterns, methods and approaches as possible. I have been a teacher long enough to know different students respond differently to different stimuli. I would not be good, for example, for a student only to hear a male voice in Spanish or English or only an American accent. A student should be conscious of what is standard for an educated native speaker but also be aware there is a British/Indian standard and an American standard. The only way for a student to become totally fluent in English is to read a wide variety of authors both classical and contemporary. Some free choice in reading or research projects is essential. One student may like Ken Follet's spy novels and another might like his more serious historical novels.

One thing is for certain: students should be encouraged to do some general reading (journals, newspapers, book and mmovie reviews) and some reading that is just for amusement. I believe if a student does both regularly he or she will be able to develop the seriousness and the stamina to be able to read and sstudy more serious works. Similarly, I bbelieve that it is useful for students tto translate poems, articles and defintions. If one can translate something one understands it. Translation is yet another tool for language learning. But it is not for everyone. I like to study etymologies bbut that is not for everyone. Diagraming sentences or learning Latin or a foreign langauge helpes in understanding English grammar but understanding grammar has to be secondary to developing and promoting reading ability. In my view all liberal arts classes must emphasize with equal measure oral participation, reading, and writing about what one has read (synthesis) in short form (sentences) or a longer form (paragrahs, five paragraph essays or research papers).

But there are as many opinions as there are men and women. There are many roads to Rome. A teacher does what he or she can but must do:
1) No have failed if you hurt students or make them hate your subject material
2) do the best one can do and sometimes try new approaches. This is why exchanges with students and other teachers are illiminating. One learns from all sides, one learns by teaching and one learns from other teachers and one learns from students.
3) do what seems to work. We must always do our duty but in my experience there is always time for some individuality. Excessive conformity and a too scrpited approach is deadly to classroom enthusiasm. I love the subject materials I teach and I want to invite my student to consider the value and delight they can take from learning. Yes, there are practical aims in education but education must always be about bigger things and we as teachers must encourage students to be lifelong readers and learners. I tell my students over and over they must learn throughout their lives and they must read throughout their lives otherwise they will be gravely handicapped.

In any case we look foward to reading the exhanges of two very worthy dames of American education. Quid est vertias? What is the truth? It may exist in theory but practically speaking it is very elusive. We can come closer to understand the truth if we approach it from different viewpoints and give all viewpoints serious consideration.

Posted by: Richard "Ricardo" Munro | August

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