Today’s Math Thoughts About Common Core Homework

September 2, 2018

Math Homework Photo of Grade 6 Common Core Math

One of my former tutoring students posted this recently on Instagram as some homework that they are currently being given at the end of Grade Six (age 11-12).  His comment was about hating homework.

Thank goodness I did not have to teach in this manner when I taught in an overseas American School.   About three years ago (well after I left and started a tutoring business), the school I taught in revamped to the new “Common Core” curriculum, which apparently de-emphasizes calculations, and where students are required to spend more than 50% of their time explaining reasons why things are done–in English words.  Yet, many students are still unable to add, subtract, multiply, or divide correctly, even by the end of elementary school.

In my own 30 years’ experience teaching–it’s not that I OBJECT to students knowing the reason why something will work–however,  my personal conclusion is that many students have trouble in primary math because of:

1.  Brain maturation issues.  A few students can master time and problems with time, place value and what each place means relative to each other, etc., at the time it is first taught (age 7); but most are not able to really get it until about age 10, no matter how much time is spent on these subjects at a younger age.

2.  Needing individualized help.  Some students need what seem like simple processes broken down into much smaller steps; followed by putting those smaller steps back together, to get to mastery.  One teacher in a full classroom may have time difficulties doing this for students who need this extra help.

3.   Concrete vs. abstract thinking.  Young students are mostly concrete thinkers who do better at younger ages (in my opinion) with concrete math tasks.  The worksheets like in the picture above now start in Grade 2 (age 7).   Some students just don’t have the abstract thinking abilities required for these tasks at this age; in some cases, they don’t have the language ability in English, if they speak more than one language (as all students in overseas schools do).

What do others think of this sort of homework?

–Lynne Diligent

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Seven Cursive Worksheets You Can Use Right Now

April 25, 2018

I have decided make and share some of my own scanned cursive worksheets (shared below).  The first seven (in order) will appear in this post. Each worksheet builds on the ones before it, using only the letters in the current and earlier worksheets.

Worksheet 1     c, a, d (all lower case)

Worksheet 2     C, A, D (all upper case)

Worksheet 3     e, l (lower case) and E, L (upper case)

Worksheet 4     i, j (lower case), and J, I (upper case)

Worksheet 5      m, n (lower case) and M, N (upper case)

Worksheet 6      o, u (lower case) and O, U (upper case)

Worksheet 7     s (lower case) and S (upper case)

I am now in the process of writing up the remaining worksheets and will post them as they become ready.

These worksheets are presented in an order which enables students to  begin writing in cursive successfully, almost from the very first day.   I take the approach of teaching BOTH the small and capital forms of each alphabet letter, and immediately giving practice words using both.  By mastering both forms, students immediately gain confidence in writing real words, friends’ names,  and sentences.

On each worksheet (at the bottom) I have given permission for individual teachers and parents to print and photocopy the worksheets for use with their own students.  However, I do not give permission for them to be sold, or shared directly with others, without taking them from this website.

t in the coming few weeks I will post the rest of the worksheets here, as they become ready.

I will be writing a series of posts with complete directions about how to use them.   Just giving the worksheets to students to trace, without proper instruction first, will not produce the desired result.  So the coming instructions will be important.

I’d be interested to know in the comments if you’ve found these worksheets helpful.  Eventually I plan to compile all these worksheets and instructions into a book.

–Lynne Diligent

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What Happened to the Narrative Method of Teaching History?

January 14, 2018

Most students do not find history an interesting subject before graduating from high school (unless they have an exceptional teacher, of course).  Most students see no point to studying history, or what relevance most of it has to their lives now.

Sadly, most history classes at the high school level involve memorizing lists of military or political events, and names of leaders.  But all this is meaningless to most students.

When I was a child in elementary school, I recall my father telling me, “History is like a big, long story.  That makes it easy to learn and easy to remember.”

Yet the history lessons I had in school, and even in University classes, were nothing like this.  Since 1960 or before, most history is now presented in Social Studies “Units,” or in disjointed tidbits mixed into lessons on geography or the arts.  What is missing, however, is any sense of cause and effect, or how any of these periods tie together or transitioned from one change to another.  Thus, history has become, for most, memorizing random facts with no meaning, in order to pass a test.

HOW OUR SOCIETAL VIEWS OF TIME CAUSED THIS SITUATION:

We must look briefly at the three methods of viewing time.

CHAOTIC TIME is how time is viewed by a small child.  Events follow each other randomly, and it is hopeless to try to impute any meaning to these events.

CYCLICAL TIME arose with the very first societies.   Natural cycles of planetary events began to be linked with human activities such as planting, harvesting, hunting, and feasting.  Lengths of days, and times of year, were measured by watching the stars or other natural phenomena.  Cyclical belief systems and practices arose in early societies all around the world.  Examples of some cyclical systems include astrology, the Cult of Osiris, Feng Shui, or the Aztec Calendar.   Through repetition, cyclical time was able to conquer chaotic time.

Most early societies believed in a cyclical view of time, in which patience, ritual, and the healing power of time-from-nature were valued.  The ability to divine nature’s energy and use it was highly valued (Strauss, 11).   One advantage of belief in cyclical time is that when societies have horrible wars, or fall apart, these times are seen as temporary, as being a “winter season” from which the spring and a renewal will eventually come.

Things changed with the arrival of monotheism, especially Christianity.  From its earliest days, Christianity tried to stamp out the cyclical view of time.   They denounced it as “calendrical paganism” and did their best to stamp out non-linear thought-systems such as astrology (Strauss, 10).   Yet, they were never able to stamp it out completely.  When modernity, and especially the Enlightenment arrived, the Western World switched to a LINEAR VIEW OF TIME.

The greatest achievement of LINEAR TIME has been to give all mankind the sense that we are improving ourselves, that we are MAKING PROGRESS TOWARD A BETTER END.  We now “prize the ability to defy nature’s energy and overcome it,”  (Strauss, 11).

By the sixteenth century, printed copies of the Christian Bible were now circulating, and there was a new urgency in European society, as people now began speculating about Christ’s second (and final) coming.  Early English settlements transported this linearism of religious purpose in building utopias to America, where it greatly influenced future American society.  Waves of immigrants saw themselves as the builders of new utopias–Calvinists, Puritans, and others transported ideas of “building a New Jerusalem, as defenders of ‘God’s Chosen Country,’ and pioneers in the service of a Manifest Destiny.”  (Strauss, 10)

Linear societies define EXPLICIT GOALS (whether moral or material), and set out to deliberately attain them.  When these goals are reached, people feel triumphant.  This leads us to view life as SELF-DIRECTED, and our personal lives as SELF-MADE.  These ideas instilled in Western societies the idea of LINEAR PROGRESS toward an EVER-BETTER MATERIAL and societal future.  These were the ages of belief in technological progress solving all problems, of Manifest Destiny in America.

In America, the HAPPY ENDING is truly our NATIONAL BELIEF  (Strauss, 11).

THE BIG CATASTROPHIC CHANGE:

This view held until World War I.  The entire Western World was affected.  Suddenly, we were NO LONGER SURE of the idea of continual progress.  Now, we had the fear that our linear path may, in fact, be DOWNWARD.

Despair and dystopian ideas took hold.  (The optimism following World War II created a reprive from these ideas for a time; however, they returned in the 1960s.)  Progress doesn’t look as positive as it did in the past; the fear of nuclear winter (or planetary destruction), robotic technology replacing human jobs, and the new fear that HISTORY IS RANDOM AND DIRECTIONLESS has replaced Manifest Destiny and Belief in Continual Positive ProgressThe FEELING of CHAOTIC TIME has returned, as if events follow each other randomly, without purpose or reason.

THE CHANGE IN HISTORY TEACHING:

Dramatic changes in history teaching methods during the twentieth century were caused by changes in our societal view of time.

When the narrative method was used to teach history, the glue which held it together was that it was a teleological view.  This view means that history had a beginning and was headed toward a particular end.  In more religious times (and among those who currently believe “End Times” are coming) this would mean the time of the last Judgement, or the times of Revelation, or the End of the World, or the Second Coming of Christ.  In America’s past, the idea of Manifest Destiny came out of this teleological view.

Among the less religious, a secular teleological view was substituted, that of continual progress toward the self-betterment of mankind (Strauss, 11).

The teleological, linear, narrative view essentially taught (in religious times) that the victors of history were part of the God-approved progression of history toward an eventual religious triumph and religious conclusion:  including the rise and fall of societies; the conquest of societies and peoples; the people in positions of authority having the approval of God to be there, etc.    Events such as the genocide and/or enslavement of  Native Americans were viewed in the past as replacement of inferior societies and worldviews with morally-correct and improved peoples and world-views.  Today’s ways of looking at events was not even considered, since the teleological view implied God’s approval.

Generally speaking, science eschews teleology.  Teleologically-based “grand narratives” are now frowned upon in post-modern society.  However, in America, the belief in scientific progress leading mankind toward a Utopian end has persisted until recently.

For example, the television  series Star Trek was so popular precisely because it supported the idea of hope and progress being able to solve all future social problems of hunger, poverty, wise government through democratic institutions.  Furthermore, they go throughout the universe spreading hope, light, and progress by means of the morally upstanding Federation (seeming to represent the ideas of the United States after WWII) against the Klingon Empire of Darkness (seeming to represent the Western ideas of communist empires of evil and darkness).

WHAT WE ARE LEFT WITH TODAY:

History classes in schools and in text books (where they are even still used) tend to be very light on examining the time periods between major catastrophic or important events.  This is partly due to time constraints, but it is also due to the fact that so many people and societal groups DISAGREE on the causes.

Text books took to leaving out anything controversial decades ago so that they can sell one or two versions of their books across most state lines.  Books and history courses that offend no one are now the order of the day.  When causes are taught, they are taught in isolation from other events.

Here is one example.  Hardly anyone knows why World War I was fought.  Students are taught, “The cause was the shooting of the archduke.  Then everyone began fighting.”  In fact, the real causes are found in the larger, global events of the previous one-to-two centuries leading up to the war, in the expansion of the British Empire, particularly in India, and the Great Game played between Russia and Britain, and alliances which took place in Europe, concerned with balance-of-power politics.  Students learn little to nothing about any of these things, and learn nothing of how the basic geography of certain countries drives their foreign policy.  Once these things are studied, World War I doesn’t seem so mysterious.  (See references below if interested in pursuing these topics further.)

For years, as a teacher, I wondered both WHEN and WHY the teaching of history changed, and I am finally glad to at least understand what happened.  I wish I had solutions toward improving it in modern society.  But when every group seems to be pushing their own agenda, and with no one really in charge, I have no idea how to do that.  Any thoughts would be welcome in discussion below.

REFERENCE, AND RECOMMENDED READING:

Strauss, William, and Neil Howe. The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny. Bantam Doubleday Dell Pub., 1997.

OTHER SUGGESTED READING:

Tharoor, Shashi.  An Era of Darkness:  The British Empire in India.  Aleph Book Company, 2016.

Frankopan, Peter.  The Silk Roads:  A New History of the World.  Bloomsbury Publishing, PLC, 2015.

Cursive Series Now Continues

December 27, 2017

My cursive series is about to continue.

So many schools seemed to have quit teaching cursive that I became depressed about continuing, and stopped writing the series.

Meanwhile, a number of teachers and parents have written to me asking me to continue.  Furthermore, quite a few schools now seem to be starting up with cursive teaching again, and many teachers out there need help–especially since some teachers grew up without proper cursive mastery or instruction themselves.

Therefore, I will be continuing my series starting the first week of January, 2018, and will continue until it is finished.

–Lynne Diligent

Teaching Cursive Part 7 (of 25): How to Teach Correct Forward Slant

January 8, 2016

 

Turn the paper while writing in order to get properly slanted cursive.

Turn the paper while writing in order to get properly slanted cursive.

 

Correct positioning for left-handed writers to obtain the forward slant.

Correct positioning for left-handed writers to obtain the forward slant.

 

This post is both for parents and for teachers who may be called upon to teach cursive, but need help with how to teach the correct slant.  For examples of correct slant, see this post.

The way to get a slant is to TURN THE PAPER (or notebook). Instead of having the paper directly upright in front of you, rotate it about 45° COUNTER-CLOCKWISE, so that the upper right corner is in the 12:00 position (and lower left corner is in 6:00 position). Then write normally on the page, and the writing will have the proper slant.

The paper should be turned on an angle to write for one’s entire life–it is the correct way–it is not something one does while learning as a child, and later on reverts back to using a straight paper.  No one can write with a proper forward slant if the page is not turned on the desk

A helpful hint for teachers and parents is to cut a thin strip of paper (I used to use a 1/8th-wide strip cut from red construction paper, but any paper will do) and tape it to the desk or table where your student is working. The bottom edge of his paper should rest on that line. As a third-grade teacher, I taped these red lines on each desk before the first day of school. (I also did it when I taught Kindergarten for three years.) How did I get the idea? My own teachers did it when I was a child.

Line taped on edge of desk for slanted cursive writing.

Line taped on edge of desk for slanted cursive writing.

If you would like to try the taped line method (highly recommended), here is how to put it in the right position:

Steps for Correctly Positioning the Taped Line on the Desk

It’s important to WATCH your own children or students work, for several weeks or months, until they develop the habit automatically. It feels very awkward at first since they have most likely learned incorrectly. They might need constant reminding every two or three minutes at first.  As a teacher, it was easy for me to keep constant watch in the classroom and remind students all day long, “Turn your papers,” or “Papers on the red line.”

How to Move the Paper Up and Down While Writing

Once students start writing, there will naturally be some students whose writing is not slanted enough, and others whose writing is too slanted.  At that point, tell those individual students to habitually turn their papers more, or less–whatever is required–in order to arrive at the correct amount of slant.

 How to Adjust Student Papers Later On

My hope is that these instructions will help parents and teachers understand how to teach cursive slant with excellent results.

Teaching Cursive Part 6 (of 25): WHY Correct Cursive Slant Is Important in American Writing

January 7, 2016

Cursive Slant in American Writing

Why is cursive slant still important?  American society still makes judgments about people based on their handwriting, and slant is one of the strongest criteria used.   Most people make these judgments subjectively and subconsciously every day.  However, employers and bank officers are just two examples of those in the power structure who employ professional handwriting analysts to make judgments about prospective employees and about people applying for loans.

In the photo above, I have written out some examples of various slants, as well as how they are perceived.  As a teacher, when I introduce cursive writing, I actually write samples like this on the chalk board to show them to students, and explain what people might think about others based on the slant of their handwriting.  So I encourage them right from the very first day that our goal is to try for an average forward slant, shown in the last example in the photo above.

One other example did not fit on the page, so here it is:

Variable slant

Our slant, like other aspects of our handwriting, will change from day-to-day, but we should generally try for a correct forward slant.  This can be obtained by turning the writing paper 45° counterclockwise (subject of the post following this one, Part 7).

Countries and cultures, when compared with one another, also tend to have typical characteristics.  For example, British “reserve” as compared with American “friendliness with strangers” can be seen in typical handwriting slants from each culture.  Vertical, or even backslanted writing is more common in British culture than in American.  If we move to North Africa, we find people generally suspicious and distrustful of others, and as expected, backslanted writing (in Western languages) is most common of all.

If you are from outside the United States, you should be all right using the slant which is most common in your own culture, and no one will judge you negatively.  But if you are living or working in America, you should be very aware of this and of the impact it could have on your personal life or career with any of the undesirable slants discussed above.

My next post will explain, with photos, how to position the paper to get a correct forward slant.

In case anyone has had trouble reading the cursive in the photo, here is a typed version:

Cursive Slant for American Writing

In American culture:

A vertical slant is not considered desirable; you are judged to be too logical, too cold, and without feeling.

A backslant is to be avoided at all costs; you are judged to be  emotionally suppressed, possibly with some kind of ecret emotional trauma in your background, difficult to approach,and someone who maintains a shell around themselves.

This is too much forward slant; these people are judged as being far too emotional, of making all of their decisions based on feelings.

This is the minimum acceptable forward slant.

This is an average/normal forward slant, which is considered most desirable in America.  This slant, to Americans, indicates a balanced person who uses good judgment between logical decisions and emotion in their decision-making.

A variable (frequently changing) slant indicates moodiness, instability, and a frequently changing picture of oneself, as well as trouble making decisions.

 

How Can Parents and Students Find a Good Tutor?

August 3, 2015

Good tutor

When looking for a tutor, start by asking individual teachers and other parents at your own school if they can recommend someone.  Ask other parents, first, because sometimes they know of current tutors that the school doesn’t.  Sometimes students don’t want anyone at school to know that they are being tutored, which is why parents sometimes know of more tutors than schools do.  Numerous individuals in schools know of good people, so don’t just limit yourself to asking only one teacher, or one administrator.  If you don’t find someone through other parents, ask the librarian, the administrator, and all the teachers near the grade level of your child–a couple grades up, and a couple grades down.  If that doesn’t work, try asking neighbors and work colleagues who have children.  Don’t forget to ask people with older children, as previous tutors may still be available, but current school personnel may no longer know them.  If you are an expat, ask other expats in your community.

The most important things in finding a tutor for your child are that:

1.)  The student likes the tutor, and that they are able to develop a personal connection; otherwise, no matter how knowledgeable the tutor, it just doesn’t work with your child.

2.)  The tutor understands that what you want is better grades, but also for your child’s skills to improve.  It has to be a combination of both to work out.

3.)  The tutor also functions as a cheerleader/coach for your child, as many students in need of tutoring have lost confidence in themselves.  A good tutor, who the student connects with, can help replace that confidence, while helping your child master the skills he or she is having trouble with.  This is why it’s so important that they like each other and have a good relationship.

4.)  The tutor needs to be just a little more on your child’s side, than on the school’s side.  Sometimes, the problem with tutors who are also teachers at the same time is that there is a fine line between helping a student overcome difficulties and helping them improve their grades, vs. helping too much, and crossing over into doing it for them.  Tutors who are also teachers sometimes don’t go far enough, while sometimes tutors go too far.  A personal recommendation from other pleased parents or pleased teachers can go far in finding a tutor that strikes the right balance to really help your child.

–Lynne Diligent

Writers’ Resources / Student Writing Resources

July 22, 2015

I compiled the following succinct list both for fiction and nonfiction writers, as well as to help students who need access to high-quality journal articles and books for FREE.  I hope the following list will be help everyone!  Please feel free to reblog or share this post or these links with anyone.

book-signing

WRITERS’ MAGAZINES:  

Writers’ Digest.  “Write Better, Get Published!”

RECOMMENDED BOOKS ON FICTION WRITING:

Swain, Dwight V.  Techniques of the Selling Writer.  1981: University of Oklahoma Press.     “Provides solid instruction for people who want to write and sell fiction, not just to talk and study about it. This is the book for writers who want to turn rejection slips into cashable checks.”

RECOMMENDED BOOKS ON NON-FICTION WRITING:

Rabiner, Susan.  Thinking Like Your Editor:  How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction and Get It Published.  2002:  W.W. Norton & Company.

MAKING FOOTNOTES:

 Son of Citation Machine  (MLA, Chicaco, or APA)

PROFESSIONAL RESEARCH:

List of FREE SCHOLARLY Resources:  Are you a student, researcher or practitioner with limited or no access to fee-based information resources? The ISS library staff has selected some resources with free access to scholarly publications.

African Journals Online:  World’s largest collection of peer-reviewed, African-published scholarly journals.

Directory of Open Access Journals: An online directory that indexes and provides access to high quality, open access, peer-reviewed journals.

Google Scholar:  A simple way to broadly search for scholarly literature. From one place, you can search across many disciplines and sources: articles, theses, books, abstracts and court opinions, from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and other web sites.

HighWire: Free, Online, Full-Text Articles

IDEAS:  Largest FREE Bibliographic Economics Data Base

IDRC:  International Development Research Centre supports researchers from developing countries who are finding innovative, lasting solutions to local problems.

National Academies Press:  Offers hundreds of books on research topics which can be downloaded as pdf for free, by the chapter, or the entire book.

Oaister:  A catalog of millions of FREE SCHOLARLY collections, from universities all over the world.

OAPEN Open Access:  Freely accessible academic books, mainly in the area of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Open Research Online:  The UK Open University’s repository of research publications providing FREE open access to the public.  Where copyright permissions allow, a full copy of each research publication is directly available from ORO.

PubMed Central:   A FREE full-text digital archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature.

SCHOLARLY CULTURAL RESOURCES:

World Digital Library:  Makes it possible to discover, study, and enjoy cultural treasures from around the world on one site, in a variety of ways. These cultural treasures include manuscripts, maps, rare books, musical scores, recordings, films, prints, photographs, and architectural drawings.

STATISTICS RESEARCH:

CIA World Fact Book:  Facts on the history, people, government, economy, energy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities.

UN Data:   FREE data access to UN statistical databases through a single entry point. Users can search and download a variety of statistical resources of the UN system. Useful features include Country Profiles, Advanced Search and Glossaries. The numerous databases, tables and glossaries containing over 60 million data points cover a wide range of themes including Agriculture, Crime, Education, Employment, Energy, Environment, Health, HIV/AIDS, Human Development, Industry, Information and Communication Technology, National Accounts, Population, Refugees, Tourism, Trade, as well as the Millennium Development Goals indicators.

World Bank Data Catalog:  World Bank’s official open access repository. OKR includes WB books, WDRs, PRWPs, ESW studies, journal articles from the World Bank Economic Review and World Bank Research Observer, WB annual reports. Check here for the list of content.

Why Reading Levels Continue to Decline–PART I (of 2)

April 30, 2015

Students who still can't read

The problem of students who are unable to adequately read their grade-level textbooks is not new; the problem starts in early elementary school and only gets worse as students move up in grade levels.  Unfortunately, the rise of the internet in the past twenty years has only exacerbated the problem.

Let’s look briefly at the pre-internet reading situation in middle-class schools and above (poor schools have additional problems which will not be treated in this particular article).  Looking back, the most important function of the school library was to be filled with books to be used for school research projects which were at the correct reading levels for students.

Primary School Libraries

Not only were grade-level books provided, but there were plenty of below-grade-level books on every topic available to readers who were still below grade-level.  For example, a middle-school student with a lower reading level could still find good primary-level books on any research topic assigned. There used to be hundreds of books available through publishers, on every conceivable topic, for school libraries and public libraries to choose from.  Bookstores made them available to the general public.

Today, funding priorities are focused less on providing new books for the school library–partly because of the explosion of new topics and knowledge in our modern world, and also because of the explosion of information on the internet.  Now funding must be divided between  books, and new library computers.

The market for children’s non-fiction has plummeted since 2005.  Sales to both libraries and bookstores have dropped substantially. Therefore,  fewer nonfiction books for children are being written and published.  Publishers and booksellers decided to drop most nonfiction, and focus primarily on children’s fiction–for which there does continue to be a market.

Desirable Non-Fiction Book Topics

 The lack of nonfiction is particularly damaging for boys.  They tend to prefer autobiographies, nonfiction, newspapers, and realistic topics. Ever since 2005, as the internet has become more powerful, children’s nonfiction has declined.  This decline is preventing many boys from developing as readers. National standards in Britain and America drive the decline even further, “…as the strictures of the national curriculum have driven many publishers to stop producing anything very original, and how many books on Vikings and rainforests do we really need?”

Starting in middle school–most commonly Grade 6 and above–teachers now direct students to the internet for research, instead of to school libraries. One reason is that science classes are now often researching topics which are not even available in books in the school libraries–things such as genetics, and various types of cells–and this is happening in Grades 6, 7, and 8.

Students are now being asked to research obscure people for reasons of diversity in the classroom, rather than famous people.  This means that the information can only be found on the internet.  Students are now expected to use the internet for all research.  This is now true even in elementary school.  Students may be assigned reports on animals, for example.  Perhaps there are perfectly good books in the school library at the right reading level; however, it has now become “too much trouble” to even check , when one can “just look it up online.”

Using online sources creates a much worse problem–aside from the problem of whether a source is reliable, biased, or incomplete–that is, the problem of reading level!

Below is reading sample from a Grade 5 science text which more than half of students (even in good schools) might find too difficult to read without the teacher’s help.  Why?  Because students are now used to reading only fiction in reading class.  They are not used to the vocabulary in non-fiction; nor are they used to reading expository sentences..

Levers text

 

Not only have student reading levels declined in real terms, but the sources students are now attempting to use are usually written at far too high of a level for their age.  Students in middle school and high school usually go first to Wikipedia (and are often specifically told to do so by their teachers, particularly in international schools that have much less access to English-language printed material).  Unlike school library books or school text books of old, vocabulary is not controlled for difficulty.  Sometimes the articles are poorly written, and written by scholars who are just trying to impress other scholars with their difficult vocabulary.

Below is a section of what one of my 7th-graders attempted to read for a report on glial cells last year, using Wikipedia.  Most students now need adult help to translate and explain what they are trying to read.  To a poor reader, this may as well be in Chinese:

Glial cells text from Wikipedia

Those students who can afford it hire private tutors.  My students show up and say, “I have a project or report due next week on glial cells (or guard cells, or an obscure historical figure).  Can you help me?”  Students arrive knowing nothing about the topic, and are expected to research on line, and write a report listing their sources.  So, together we look on line and usually find very scholarly articles, which I, as an excellent reader in my 60s with a graduate degree and decades of experience teaching, sometimes have trouble understanding!  So we pull out little snippets of information from various articles, which I explain in plain English and then mark our source.  Even many Wikipedia articles are written by scholars, seemingly just in order to impress other scholars!

Hiring a private tutor

I learned a great trick years ago when I was in a professional writers’ group.  If you need good, concise information on an area or a subject, one of the best ways to find it is to go directly to children’s books, where you can find the information thoroughly distilled and written in clear, easy English.  I use this same strategy now and show students how they can search on the internet using the search terms “my topic + explained for children.”  It doesn’t always work, but it often does.  Sometimes we arrive at a website where something has been clearly explained at a reading level appropriate for middle-school students.

The thing which most excited me about the internet when it first began, especially as an overseas teacher with little access to English-language reading materials, was its potential as a world library at our fingertips.  Sadly, much of this potential is being lost for two reasons.  First, children are not developing adequate non-fiction reading abilities to function in society.  Second, most of what is available on the internet is written at far too high of a level for students to be able to benefit from it.

In most American schools, for the past several decades, the textbook has been seen by teachers as only one resource of many for classroom use.  In fact, years ago, over-reliance on the textbook was almost seen as the mark of a lazy teacher, within the teaching profession.  Unfortunately, the current result of this attitude has now led to teacher over-reliance on the internet, with students who are unable to understand either their textbooks OR the internet!  I personally have come around 180° to the view that students would be better served if they learned and discussed in class everything which is in the textbook.  Now, however, there is a new problem!  Many schools are now moving entirely away from textbooks as a way to save money, and teachers are mostly downloading random worksheets from the internet. Unfortunately, it is students who are again losing out on their education.

Part II of this series will discuss what parents, schools, and teachers can do to address these problems.

–Lynne Diligent