Monday, April 21, 2008

Do Texas Educators Teach English Good?

Yes, the title is a joke. Shouldn’t it read Do Texas Educators Teach English Real Good? OK, that’s not right either. But you do have to laugh when reading the opening paragraph to this article that appeared in the Chron today:

“The inability of many Texas students to write and speak good English is like a dreadful disease requiring aggressive treatment, say some education advocates who want to use different teaching approaches.”

So it looks like Gary Scharrer, an Austin Bureau Chronicle reporter may just be a product of a Texas education.

Back on topic. The State Board of Education of Texas is re-examining the English curriculum and some of the more conservative members are arguing for a back-to-basics approach in English instruction, because obviously the way we are teaching children in Texas now isn’t cutting it.

This is according to retired Texas ELA teacher Donna Garner who has the ears of conservative SBOE chairman Don McLeroy and board member David Bradley. Garner has some cooked up data showing that Texas students are in dire need of remedial instruction, with “half of Texas college freshmen …in need of remedial education, compared to only 28 percent nationally”.

And it’s all because, according to Garner, these students aren’t being taught grammar. They don’t know how to write because they don’t know the rules. You know, the rules that each and every baby boomer in America had to learn so we would write good.

(I’m still kidding about that good/well stuff).

The Chron article cites input from a coalition of instructors headed by Joyce Armstrong Carroll (is it just in the field of Education that PhDs who are women go by 3 names?). The coalition cites 50 years of research showing that students learn to read, comprehend, and write not by rote memorization of rules, but by an integrated approach that allows students to transfer what they learn into “solid writing”.

Said Alana Morris of Aldine ISD:

“If you drill the basics on handouts and worksheets, then that's where kids will be able to apply them. The bottom line is that drilling doesn't transfer into solid writing. Teaching grammar is important, but we want to teach it clearly so that kids can actually transfer it into their writing. Teaching grammar in drills makes no sense, whatsoever, to them.”

I can’t help but agree and have this little ditty to share with you. Something that I made myself remember by rote in 8th grade. Remember it because I was tested on it.

It goes like this:

(Turn the page)

What is the significance of this list? I haven’t the slightest idea now. It got me an “A” on an 8th grade test. There were lots in my class who didn’t do as well because they thought the list ended at the bottom of the page of our grammar text.

I discovered that you had to turn the page to get the last two words.

That is the kind of rote English grammar instruction you got in the 50’s and 60’s, and it is just as Carroll describes. Mindless trivial information that cannot be applied to knowledge of how to write a structured well-thought out paper.

Public comment on the state’s English curriculum continues until May 18th. After that the board will retire to consider all input and will take final action 4 days later. This action, if finally approved, will decide how Texas school children will learn English for the next 10 years. This, some may know, is the standard textbook adoption term in Texas.

It’s always about the money, isn’t it? The final approved plan will dictate which texts the state will formally adopt. Obviously, money is behind everything. Every theory, every paid expert. Book publishers are lining up then, because the Texas book adoption is considered a real gravy train.

I like how the Chron article concludes because it is so true. Educators in the trenches know what works and what doesn’t. If the SBOE stumbles again, Texas’ professionals in every English classroom will simply fix it.
“‘Teachers will remain professional if the State Board of Education approves the pending document,’ Morris said. ‘Teachers are not the type that will march on Austin’ adding that experienced teachers will simply ignore the new English textbooks.”
Yep. That’s what happens. When bad textbooks are forced on a teacher, they plan work-around lessons to keep instruction in line with current teaching theory, teaching school children correctly despite the poor decisions of the state school board.

And yes, that is yet another example of your tax dollars at work.

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