Sunday, January 6, 2013

In which Robert Barron is Awesome.

Fr. Barron had a really good homily on religion and science. I need to think about it for a while before I have anything intelligent to say, but I wanted to post it here so that I won't lose it, and so that anyone who's interested can check it out.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Insanity is Repeating the Same Failed Tactics Over and Over Again

According to a post a Joanne Jacobs, Ohio now requires all third graders to read on grade level by the end of the year. Children who can't pass a test are held back, and repeat third grade. Since I'm usually in favor of requiring competency and creating consequences, you'd think I'd be in favor of this, right?

I'm not. I can't see how this policy will help kids. The research on reading seems to suggest that, once a student has learned enough phonics to sound out words, the most important factors in reading are vocabulary and background knowledge. Basically, it doesn't do you any good to sound out a word, or a series of words, unless you can understand them.

These days, public school K-3 tends to focus on decoding and reading simple words, not on building vocabulary and content knowledge. Basically, we've increased the focus on language arts, and we're ignoring the subjects that we're supposed to apply language arts to: literature, art, music, geography, history, science......

In the early grades, kids develop background knowledge and vocabulary when we talk to them, read interesting books to them, take them on field trips, and even show them educational programs. (My kids recently watched the National Geographic special on Treasures of Afghanistan, for instance. Now they won't STOP telling me about the standing Buddhas and the giant reclining Buddha.)

Elementary curricula have de-emphasized this background knowledge in recent years. It's not such a big deal for the more privileged kids. Their parents will take them to museums, read books to them, attend art festivals and go out to the orchard to pick apples. They enter school with a huge advantage in vocabulary and experiences, and their parents will keep giving them new words and things to think about. When they see "Afghanistan" in a text book, they'll remember where and what it is, because they already know something about it.

The problem with Ohio's policy is it will fall heaviest on the poor. These kids won't be reading at grade level because they don't have the vocabulary and experience to comprehend grade level texts. Then, when we hold them back, they'll get more empty phonics and decoding practice, and they'll still get no exposure to subject area knowledge, and they'll stagnate.

Third grade is too late, and repeating third grade won't help. If Ohio is serious about teaching kids to read, it needs to teach them about everything else. Read children the Little House books before they can read them on their own. They'll learn a lot about life as a pioneer. Read to them from National Geographic. Teach them about mummies and Greek myths and Napoleon and Spanish Doubloons at the bottom of the sea, take them to the museum and the theater and, most of all, the LIBRARY. Without basic vocabulary and background knowledge, reading is a chore. And hours spent teaching kids to 'make connections' as they read won't do any good unless the kids have some facts and ideas to connect.

The Ohio plan is a disaster, and I have a feeling the kids who suffer most will be the ones from families that have the fewest resources to help them develop subject area and cultural knowledge.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Taking Time Out to Read

I've been taking some time out to read recently, as I recover from a particularly nasty flu which has swamped Perry County.

So, here are my recent reads, with a few comments.

I won a copy of this book when Elizabeth Scalia hosted a blog contest. On the same day the book arrived in the mail, the electronic copy I'd requested from my library came in. Clearly, I was meant to read this book. I enjoyed the whole journey, but my favorite chapter was the one on Edith Stein. I realized that I need to give this saint a bit more of my time and attention, and plan to go hunting for some of her works on women and family.

I also recently read
I had tried to read 'Mortal Engines' a few years ago. While I found the setting interesting, Reeve's characters and plotting fell flat. He corrected those problems with Fever Crumb, where he created an intriguing main character and a harrowing plot. I can't wait to pick up the sequel when I hit the library again.

At the request of my third grader, who wants me to read and love whatever she does, I've recently started reading the Sisters Grimm series again.

I read and enjoyed the first one when it came out, but my daughter is tearing through the series and insists that I read them all as soon as she's done. They're fun, quick, popcorn reads, and I don't mind. Besides, reading them leads to very animated breakfast conversations with my daughter.

I also recently read  this book, because I loved Princess Academy (as did my daughter.) The sequel was a fun read, full of romance and revolution but still appropriate for my third grader, who is intellectually precocious, but emotionally nine. It's a must read for fans of the original, and I don't know how I missed its release!

Anyway, there's my quick, shallow, and goofy reading wrap-up. Since I'm recovering from the flu, I'll have to set the novels aside and go back to the copywriting mines..... those SEO-oriented blogposts don't write themselves... (Yet... I'm toying with the idea of seeing if I could be replaced with a computer program.... because it's an amusing thought.)