Friday, October 16, 2009

Topic: Back to Basics.

10-second review: Nobody seems to agree on what the “basics” in teaching English are.

Title: “Notes and Quotes on Back to Basics.” Rodney J. Barth. English Journal (November 1976), 88-91. The secondary school journal of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary/Quote: “If the back-to-basics movement is going to be anything more than a meaningless phrase, those who refer to ‘basic skills,’ ‘back-to-basics,’ ‘the basics movement,’ or just plain ‘basics’ need to define their terms.” p. 89.

Comment: Why bring up this issue from the past? First, it will come up again and English teachers would do well to formulate their own answers to defining the “basics.” Second, I have learned one important lesson as K-12 English supervisor: When people say "Our kids can’t read, write,” etc., you need to ask them to define their terms: “What problem are your children having that suggests they can’t read? or write? Do you mean that they can not decode words? Are they having trouble comprehending in biology classes? Are they just not reading outside of school? Do they have a lot of problems with spelling and grammar? Are they having trouble organizing their papers? Don't give them ideas like those I just suggested, but let them tell you what they perceive as the problems.

The question should not be asked defensively. You need to learn exactly what problems the students are exhibiting so that you can do something about them.

I remember a parent who said her children were not learning to write. When I asked her to explain why she thought that, she said that compositions never came home and she assumed they were not learning to write. The fact was that the compositions were being kept in folders in school and we realized that at some point students should be taking them home for the parents to see what they were learning before storing them in folders. Why were we storing them in folders? For use later, to provide students with the opportunity to note their progress throughout the year—and beyond. RayS.

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