Saturday, March 17, 2007

"educational" materials

We found some "unworked" workbooks for the kids at the thrift store and bought them for school. Anda is working through a first grade book. The other book was fourth grade. I bought it because the concepts were just right for Caleb (plurals, possessives, brainstorming, etc), but the execution is just a little too hard. The activities ask him to do more than one task at a time (find the word from the definition AND change it to plural before you fill in the blank). So we went back and bought him a third grade "daily language practice" book, which seems to be just on his level: he has to think about it a little every once in a while, but he still gets the answers right without getting distressed. Caleb is like me--he flourishes when it's easy, but won't try if there's a risk of doing it wrong. So we have to sneak new concepts in instead of outright challenging him. Even with the third grade book, I actually have to TEACH him something before each activity. It's just one sentence worth of teaching that he can grasp quickly and instantly instead of a whole complex lecture, which he rarely follows through to the end (in both of us, is this ADD, or just temprament?).

Anyway, we've noticed that whoever writes all these exercises has about half a brain. Like asking the kids to do two tasks at once. I learned a long time ago, when I started teaching, that students should be "tested" on only one skill at a time or they don't have the ability to actually grasp the skill. For example, they should EITHER be asked to spell the word correctly OR place it in the right place on the map, but not both. Even in vocabulary, which I did require them to do both spelling and definitions for, I regret not doing it a step at a time: "Write down each of these words and spell it correctly. Now go back and write the definitions." At least I never checked the spellings of the definitions. I got that right, at least.

Not only is the more general educational philosophy consistently wrong, there are other problems with the exercises. For example, one page asked Anda to identify which words had the short i sound in them. They didn't provide the words, just pictures of the items. One of them was a boat--or is that a ship? You see the problem?

Many times she also missed answers because she didn't know what the picture was supposed to be a picture of. So there's an arrow pointing at a man's face. Is that "face" or "nose" or "lips" or "mouth" or "teeth"? Is that group of people "people" or is it "family"? Another page said, "Color the cat with just one bat." Anda read the sentence okay. She couldn't find the right cat in the picture--it was wearing a batting cap and baseball uniform and looked like a dog to her. Clearly the exercise didn't test what it was supposed to. There were "cause and effect" pictures she couldn't figure out, too. A boy in one picture is crying. Anda looked at it and matched it to one of a boy opening a present. "Why would he be crying?" I asked. "Because he can't fit that fire truck into the box," she said. Obviously, the narrative she was perceiving in the illustration was different from the one I perceived. Different, but equally valid.

I wonder how many truly intelligent kids miss questions in school because they didn't see the picture the way the teacher did. Did they miss the ship? Or was it the boat?

Caleb's "daily language" book had some laughably serious errors. One question said, and I quote, "Circle the words that have the same 'e' sound as in 'read'." The choices were teeth, tent, chief, and bell. As Caleb pointed out, is that "read" as in "I can read" or "read" as in "I read that book yesterday"? The choices don't give us any clue. Whoever wrote that clearly couldn't read, or maybe they just hadn't read what they wrote.

Makes me think I should get a degree in writing worksheets or something. For all the errors in educational theory and application, it finally occurred to me that perhaps creating educational materials ISN'T instinctive to most teachers. Maybe I should become an educational 'writer'. From what I've seen, there's a desperate need for competence in that field.

The whole thing makes home schooling seem reasonable, doesn't it? At least nobody here told Anda she was "wrong" or refused to give her a good grade for perceiving something different. Who knows--maybe I was the one that was wrong? Or perhaps neither of us was. But certainly I wouldn't want anyone to dampen her enthusiasm and instinct for learning because we don't see things the same way. That would be a tragedy. And I suspect it happens all the time.

1 comment:

morelightthanburden said...

I know this post is almost two years old, and you have found some systems you like, but, in case it helps, I am using the ABEKA (yes, all caps, I believe) system and absolutely LOVE (yes, also all caps), LOVE it! They are very gradual, sequential, repetitive, and 'teach' things to the kids without actually 'teaching' it at all--very subversive. I love it and, more importantly, so do the kids. (Explode the Code is also great!)