Saturday, April 26, 2008

Teaching Writing

Many parents are disappointed by the writing skills of their children. However, they find that teaching writing is difficult as the kids don't necessarily recognize the parents' authority in this area.

Most schools just don't have the resources to give the children lots of writing assignments with appropriate feedback. Without the practice and instruction, students' writing skills do NOT improve.

Many parents look for help to teach writing. Time4Writing provides that help. It's a set of online eight week courses which gives weekly writing assignments followed by in-depth personalized feedback on the writing. Students can take courses afterschool, during the summer, or for homeschool families, whenever it fits into their schedule. Classes start almost every Monday.

Prices are terrribly reasonable for the amount of personalized instruction that each student needs. The course requirements are simply an Internet connection and a browser. The writing is done on an online system so a word processor is not even required.

In middle and high school, a methodology called Four Trait Writing is used.
The first course on Four Traiting Writing is available from Time4Writing, which provides online writing courses. But there are likely to be books and other courses promoting this methodology in the near future. Time4Writing conforms to the NSTE approach to writing.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Spelling Tests

If there's one common educational principle through the entire US educational system, it's the tradition of the weekly spelling test.

Public schools, private schools, parochial schools and homeschoolers all seem to unite around this principle. Somehow that amuses me. Has anyone ever studied the actual benefits of a weekly spelling test to education? Fro teachers, it's a simple routine time-filler. For most students, it's their first introduction to graded activities.

I do believe that if you organize your spelling lists well, you can achieve significant educational benefits. For instance, in the kindergarten through second grade, students are learning phonics which is best done through word families. Spelling tests that are organized in support of this principle (cat, rat, fat, hat, bat etc) are useful reinforcement. Similiarly, at these ages and into third grade for script, combining spelling list practice with handwriting practice is probably a very efficient way to go.

Practice spelling tests in later grades can deal with concepts like compound words, word roots, vocabulary by subject areas, country of origin, and what not.

Do you have any original ways to combine spelling tests to make them useful?

How do you spell: John Chow?


"The H* with Spelling" Time Magazine article

"The Hell with Spelling" Time Magazine. And I quote:

In the course of a congressional hearing on U.S. economic policy, a witness casually mentioned the importance of education to the future of the nation. That was enough for Vermont's plain-spoken Republican Senator Ralph Flanders, 76, who proceeded to sound off on what has obviously become one of his favorite topics.

"Our education system," said he, "is a shambles. I have, for instance, four grandchildren in high school . . . Three of them are writing rather good theses and essays but are not corrected in spelling. They communicate; that's all that is necessary. The hell with spelling.

"Furthermore, the leading citizens of the town in which I live, Springfield, Vermont, were hypnotized into signing a statement of educational policies which includes this: that examinations shall be student-based and not subject-based. In other words, it is of no great importance whether a child really understands the mathematics so long as he is working hard at it. If so, he gets a good grade. But as to whether he has achieved a satisfactory degree of proficiency is not of any particular interest to the school."

Here's my questions, what is this about?

As far as I can tell, the position of standardized tests measuring skills and achievement is very strong in this country. NCLB has vastly increased their importance and impact. So what is he going on about that the lack of testing is the problem with our educational system? It's true that spelling has lost some ground in academia due to the increased use of proof-reading and spell checkers and word processing.

Remember, my generation went to school and we drafted our writing by hand. One did not make endless revisions since each one could mean copying over the entire document. Instead, we doodled up an outline, wrote a draft, proofed it, and then wrote a final version in pretty distinct stages. Now that we have word processors, we tend to do our brainstorming on the keyboard rather than in our head and doodling. So more typos and misspellings occur. And we get sloppy since the spellchecker fixes most of them correctly so some great bloopers get through.

But this is hardly a sign of our educational system going to pot.

Frankly, there haven't been that many great tools to make spelling time, a fun time. But there are now...try


Monday, April 07, 2008

Learning games - they don't get better than this

I'm so impressed.

Check out the PestWorld Learning Games by the National Pest Management Association.
They're great flash games. And I quote:

Archibald Ant is a very fussy odorous house ant who must find food for his colony and stay out of harm's way. Help Archibald complete his mission to locate and plunder the legendary sugar bowl on the far-off kitchen counter. And he needs, help, too, because he would rather stay outside.