Prospecting For Treasure

Always prospecting for the next treasure of an idea.

Teach Your Conscience: Keeping Integrity and the Basics in Education

Earlier this week a few of the teachers in my building were chatting, after the kids left.  I stopped to talk, and in the course of the conversation, it came out that these teachers aren’t really teaching spelling, grammar, or handwriting anymore, and they weren’t really sure what to do with writer’s workshop, because these things aren’t on “the test”.  I really kind of lost it at this point and reminded them they need to be teaching what the kids need, not teaching to a test.  I know where this came from, because I too sat in meetings last year, where my principal questioned whether teaching spelling was a good use of our time.  She wants to have students spend more time on writing.  My reaction was to explain to her exactly why it is a good use of our time.  It is the only area with our reading series that word study and word attack skills are taught in third through fifth grades.  Words are selected based on a particular spelling or phonics pattern.  Our list this week was spelling patterns for words with –ing or –ed endings, other weeks it might be certain vowel sounds, or prefixes and suffixes.  Understanding spelling patterns helps children to learn decoding skills, so they can read words that are unfamiliar to them.  It also adds to their understanding of word meanings.  Without the mechanics, it is difficult for students to be good writers or readers.  After presenting my arguments, the subject was dropped, and to be honest, it had never occurred to me that anyone had actually stopped teaching spelling. 

In the past year, I have also been told not to spend time on teaching handwriting, and about a month ago, it was suggested to my grade level colleague and I,  that we shouldn’t worry when kids don’t know their basic math facts.  We should just hand them a multiplication chart.  At this point I erupted with a firm “No!” (Let me say that if I didn’t have the great principal that I do, this might have caused problems for me, but she continues to welcome my opinions.) 

I do not understand what is going on in education here, but I am not going to give these kids less than I have given others.  I am not going to give up on them and just hand them a fact chart instead or doing my job and helping them to master those facts!  How can you have any kind of math sense if you don’t know the basics?  How can you ever look at an answer and have any idea whether it is logical or not, if you have to look at a chart to know your math facts?  How can I send them into the world without having done my best to teach them how to write a complete sentence with words spelled correctly?

You may be thinking, well she’s just an older teacher who doesn’t want to let go of the way she’s always done things.  I am an older teacher, but I’m not boasting when I say that I am also the most innovative teacher in my building.  I am the only one using technology to any extent in instruction. Teaching basic skills and using technology are not mutually exclusive.  The more we use technology, the more I see the need to help my students develop stronger basic skills in reading, writing and math.  It is when my kids are writing on our blog or for Wallwisher that it becomes apparent that we need to take time to talk about grammar, sentence structure, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, usage, and so many other very basic skills. 

I am not advocating that we should sit with a language book and diagram sentences, like I grew up doing.  But we need to be very careful before abandoning necessary and basic skills in order to make more time in our schedule for other things.  We cannot assume that students will just pick these skills up along the way.  They need to be taught explicitly, but in an authentic way.  I have always had my kids doing research, reading great books, and excited about learning.  When students are reading and writing about information they are interested in, they are eager to learn more and to master the skills that make them more successful.

Two of the teachers in the hall are fairly new to teaching, and the other has been at it almost as long as I have.  My message to them and to others is that teachers need to stand up for what is right.  We need to say no, when administrators suggest new directions that defy logic.  These kids are not ours.  We only have them on loan.  What would their parents say if they were privy to some of the conversations taking place in education?  Be open to new ideas, but be selective.  We as teachers, must have integrity.  This is the only shot many of these kids get at an education.

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January 8, 2010 - Posted by | Education, Uncategorized | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Its interesting that in the USA you are moving away from testing grammar and spelling, in Australia my year 5 class will have what’s called NAPLAN this May and a large portion of it is on those basics. You are so right about the maths facts too, how can they learn to estimate and judge correctly if they do not have a sense of where the answer should roughly be.

    Comment by henriettami | January 11, 2010 | Reply


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