Posts tagged ‘Literacy’

August 31, 2012

Which curriculum would you choose? watered down, or content-rich rigorous

by Grace

Would you rather have a dumbed down curriculum for your children or a content-rich, rigorous one?

Which of these two examples would you rather have for your children’s middle or high school English course?  They are pulled from two different teacher guides.

Example A – five lessons that cover a section of The Outsiders.

The Outsiders, a young adult novel with a 5th grade reading level, has become a standard assignment in many public schools.   These lessons feature cooperative learning, hands on projects, and self-reflective writing.

1.  Hands-On Project – “Tuff” collage

“Tough and tuff are two different words. Tough is the same as rough; tuff means cool, sharp–like a tuff-looking Mustang or a tuff record.”  –  Ponyboy

… For this project, make a collage or montage of what is tuff.

Suggested materials include:  a large piece of posterboard for the display; magazines, newspapers, and other print media; fabric samples; jewelry; nail polish and lipstick; pictures of tuff people.  (Not very gender neutral?)  The finished display is shared with the class.

2.  Cooperative Learning Activity – Making Rules

Students are assigned to work in small groups to plan how they would manage if their parents left them alone for a month.  They assign jobs to each member, plan meals, make house rules, schedule activities, determine emergency procedures, and resolve conflicts. This activity relates to the main characters in The Outsiders who managed to live without their parents.

3.  Reading Response Assignment – Personal Journal

Students are asked to create a reading response journal to record their thoughts, observations, ideas, and questions as they read The Outsiders.  They can use a “diary-type” format, with personal reflections to be read by the teacher in a non-judgemental way with no corrections or letter grades.  A list of suggested teacher responses is provided, including “Wow!  That’s interesting stuff!”

The two other lessons included a social science group project and a quiz.

Example B – three lessons that cover the Gettysburg Address.

The Gettysburg Address (11/12th grade reading level) is typically studied in history class, but these lessons are intended for an English course.

1.  Understanding The Gettysburg Address

Students are divided into groups and each group is assigned to “translate” one sentence from the Gettysburg Address. Students will use a dictionary and/or thesaurus to rewrite the sentence in their own words.  These student sentences are compiled, and the meaning of Lincoln’s speech is discussed in class.  Afterwards students complete a worksheet and a quiz that tests their understanding.

2.  The Language Of The Gettysburg Address

Students receive instruction on rhetorical devices used by Lincoln – grammatical parallelism, antithesis,
alliteration, and repetition.  Using a worksheet, students are asked to identify examples of these devices and then create a persuasive speech modeled on Lincoln’s presentation.  It is suggested that students present their speeches to the class.

3.  A Civil Conversation

This exercise takes the form of a respectful debate, where students are asked to discuss ideas from the Gettysburg Address.  They select areas of agreement and disagreement, using the text to support their ideas.  They are instructed to focus on ideas not on personalities, and to find areas of common ground among other class members.

Among the objectives of the Gettysburg Address lessons:

  • Learn the main concepts of the Gettysburg Address and understand its place in history
  • Apply word analysis and vocabulary skills in comprehending the speech.
  • Write a concise persuasive speech.
  • Identify and apply various literary devices
  • Practice respectful and fact-based debate


A few observations:

  • I would rather have the Gettysburg Address lessons for my own children.
  • From what I have seen, The Outsiders lessons are more typical of  public school English curriculum.  Students spend hours and hours on poster projects and group projects, which apparently tend to lower IQ.
  • When I say that I believe more rigorous curriculum could improve SAT scores, these examples are what I have in mind.  Class days spent on poster projects, group discussions about menu planning, and uncorrected personal journals are not likely to teach the skills measured by SAT exams.

HT Kitchen Table Math

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March 28, 2012

Phonics instruction helps boys close the gender literacy gap

by Grace

Phonics instruction helps boys close the gender gap on reading skills according to recent research findings.

The use of more traditional phonetics-based lessons helps boys catch up with girls – even doing better on some tests – and prevents some children from needing ‘special’ schooling, according to new research findings.

Better for low-income students

A study of synthetic phonics also found children from disadvantaged backgrounds do as well as those from better off homes.

Fewer students assigned to special education classes

“We found children were performing well who might otherwise have ended up in special teaching arrangements,” she added.

Whole language replaced phonics instruction
Beginning in the 1960s, synthetic phonics was replaced in favor of whole language and later balanced literacy instruction.  Instead of learning the sounds that make up words (phonics), students were taught to guess at words based on content and pictures (whole language).

This study was conducted in Scotland, and in January it was reported that thousands of primary schools in the UK have signed up to participate in an initiative to increase funding for phonics instruction.

UK Schools Minister Nick Gibb on the phonics funding program:

This is an open invitation to all schools to improve the way they teach systematic synthetic phonics – the tried and tested method of improving the reading of all our children, especially the weakest.

Some evidence from The Importance of Phonics: Securing Confident Reading evidence paper.

The importance of a systematic approach to phonics instruction

Recent inspection evidence from a sample of 12 primary schools supports this view….

In 2006, the Department for Education and Skills commissioned the Universities of York and Sheffield to conduct a review of the experimental research on using phonics to teach reading and spelling. Torgerson, Hall and Brooks found that systematic phonics teaching “enables children to make better progress in reading accuracy than unsystematic or no phonics, and that this is true for both normally-developing children and those at risk of failure” (2006)

In Australia, the committee for the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy produced the report ‘Teaching Reading’ (2005). The committee concluded: “The evidence is clear, whether from research, good practice observed in schools, advice from submissions to the Inquiry, consultations […] that direct systematic instruction in phonics during the early years of schooling is an essential foundation for teaching children to read. …systematic phonics instruction is critical if children are to be taught to read well, whether or not they experience reading difficulties. […] Moreover, where there is unsystematic or no phonics instruction, children’s literacy progress is significantly impeded, inhibiting their initial and subsequent growth in reading accuracy, fluency, writing, spelling and comprehension.”

In England, Jim Rose (2006) in his ‘Independent Review of the Teaching of Early Reading, Final Report’ emphasised that beginner readers should be taught using a systematic approach to phonics and cautioned that evidence submitted to the review suggested that, for almost all children, diluting the approach by using a mix of approaches can hinder children’s progress….

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