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14 March 2005: Pop Quiz (4 of 5)

Amazingly enough, it wouldn't take much to change these questions from empty fact recall to assessment of analytical skills. For example, what if #4 was changed to "In the 1960 election, why did the Republicans show the most strength in the west?" Or #2 could say, "In the 1960 election, what were the factors contributing to Mississippi not casting electoral votes for either the Republican or the Democratic candidate?"

I imagine this approach would not only be more effective in assessing whether students are meeting the state content standards, but it would provide much more interesting content for teachers and learners.

And let's talk for a minute about interesting content. Would you rather spend a half hour memorizing election statistics from the mid-twentieth century United States, or looking at population and economic growth maps, then determine the connections between them and use that information to predict election outcomes?

15 March 2005: Pop Quiz (5 of 5)

While I believe that assessment discrepancy is an important factor affecting public schools, I have one other question I have to ask about this quiz: Who gives a damn? Really, I mean, who cares?

I can't imagine a circumstance where knowledge of these facts will ensure success on anything, aside from this quiz.

Yet, the teacher gave the quiz, and the students took the quiz. Not only that, but the outcome of the quiz will affect the teacher's evaluation of the students, and then the students' evaluations of themselves!

I'm not saying that it's not very important to have a good understanding of the history of our country and our world. Nor am I arguing that students of history should not have to have recall of significant dates and statistics. The point I'm trying to make is that this activity is in no way assessing whether students have a good understanding of anything, nor would I consider these facts to be significant.

In the end, though, who is to blame? The teacher gave the test, but the state mandated a different content than is taught by the district-mandated curriculum or the privately administered assessment. No wonder there's a discrepancy.

16 March 2005: Grammar Schmammar (1 of 4)

Do you hear it? There it is again! Another voice joins the cry! From founders of modern educational thought like Jean Piaget to current experts like Steve Krashen and Regie Routman! Together, with one voice, they shout: Grammar Schmammar! Grammar Schmammar!

Why such a cry? Who would dare defile the good name of grammar? What would we do without past participles and subjunctive clauses?

Well, according to a report published by the BBC on January 18:

Formal grammar is not an effective way of teaching children to write.
For the entire text of the article, see

The piece goes on to say that

this review "discovered no evidence that the teaching of traditional grammar, specifically word order or syntax, was effective in assisting writing quality or accuracy among five to 16 year olds".

What a shocking claim! How can it be that knowing basic grammar structures does not give our students tools with which to write more effectively?

17 March 2005: Grammar Schmammar (2 of 4)

All sarcasm aside, I think this study makes a very important point about language and how students do and do not learn. To illustrate, I'll use the analogy that my language arts methods professor used so many years ago.

Think of learning to ride a bike. Do you learn by sitting in a class, having an instructor explain to you how to ride a bicycle? What if they take extra time in asking you to diagram all the parts and explain their functions? Even watching the teacher as they model good bicycle riding would not give you what you need to learn how to do it yourself.

Here's another example, a bit closer to home. Remember learning to talk? No? Well, then think of your previous experience watching other young children learning to talk. Imagine hearing a parent correct their three-year-old, "No honey, say 'I am going' not 'I going.'" What would you do if you heard a parent explain that complete sentences must have a subject and a verb clause?

18 March 2005: Grammar Schmammar (3 of 4)

Of course, the point that I am trying to make in both cases is that learning happens through experience. Riding a bike, like speaking or writing, is a skill that is acquired through a complex process of watching, listening, practicing, failing, adjusting, trying again, and experiencing some amount of success.

Interestingly enough, the "experiencing some amount of success" is really truly necessary to a student's experience of learning.

To continue the metaphor, what if a parent did not respond when a child did not produce grammatically correct language? What if you consistently fell off the bike without travelling even a few inches? What if everything you ever wrote was corrected for grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors? (See 13 October 2004.)

I would predict, in every case, it would not take very long before the learner gave up on learning, because when you discover that something is ineffective, you stop using it.

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teaching quote of the day

Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.

- Chinese proverb

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