Thursday, March 06, 2008

New, revolutionary teaching method: instruction

I know I won’t be able to keep the sarcasm and anger out of this post, so I apologize in advance.

There’s a story in The Funny Paper today about how much better our schools are doing teaching English to English as Second Language (ESL) students, because they are using a “new way of teaching that has swept Oregon ESL classrooms in the past couple years.”

What is this new approach that our educators only recently discovered?

“Schools have begun explicitly teaching the grammar, rules and structure of English. And they are doing it in a carefully ordered way, making sure that students don't miss any of the building blocks of how English verbs are conjugated, words are ordered, conversations are expected to proceed and sentences are constructed.”

In other words: Instruction. The “new approach” is to actually instruct the students in the English language. So what on Earth were they doing before, one might ask? Well, the ESL coordinator at Gresham Barlow is helpful enough to give us the answer, as incredible as it seems.

Before you read the quote, please pause for a moment and prepare yourself to read one of the most idiotic things you have ever heard uttered. It should be enough to completely destroy any remaining confidence you might have in our education establishment:

“For a long time, we just read to them and exposed them to English and figured they would pick it up just like native speakers do," said Danelle Heikkila, who directs the English Language Learner program for Gresham-Barlow schools.”

So the strategy before was to not instruct them, and just to hope the non English-speaking students would pick up the complicated English language by osmosis.

This is disturbing on so many levels. First, it reveals an incredible ignorance of how children acquire language skills. Yes, kids learn to speak English by simply being immersed in an environment where it is spoken. But reading is an entirely different matter, and decades of research proves it.

So to say that “native speakers” pick up reading by being “exposed” to English quite simply reveals such a shocking ignorance that this person should be fired immediately. The problem is that this is not an isolated attitude. It is the prevailing notion of how to teach English, as the article points out. Not just for ESL kids, but for all kids.

So for years and years, our public schools have been teaching English by not teaching them English. It’s called “Whole Language,” and it has failed miserably. But it’s not often it gets so clearly exposed as the farce it is, and for that we should thank Ms. Heikkila.

And then we should call for her resignation, and the resignation of the countless other bureaucrats, college of education professors and teachers who have perpetrated this fraud on the public for the last several decades.

But we all know, nobody will ever be held accountable for the untold damage done to kids’ lives by the fact that our schools simply refused to teach English for decades on end.

10 comments:

Troutdale Councilor Canfield said...

Teaching grammar. . . that's crazy talk!

Anonymous said...

Public Schools don't teach grammar. My two public schools children did not learn much of any grammar.

My private school child learned grammar, and also learned Latin starting in 2nd grade.

I am one of the very few parents who have TAG children in both public and private schools (long story). It is very instructive just how deficient public schools are. But the biggest difference is in grammar and languages.

J said...

Most of the kids who graduated with me in 2007 didn't know an adjective from an adverb. The public school system in Oregon does not do an adequate job of teaching grammar and punctuation.

It seems to me that the building blocks of language and math and brushed over, and that is very destructive. A weak foundation causes the structure to crumble.

rural resident said...

It's wonderful that we're going a better job of teaching ESL. Now, if we can just do a better job of teaching English as a FIRST language.

MAX Redline said...

What's an adjective, or an adverb, among friends?

Actually, I seem to be able to speak and write in a manner that most people who speak English understand.

I don't know what an adjective, a pronoun, an adverb, or any of that other stuff mean.

Frankly, it doesn't matter. You can diagram sentences to your heart's content, but it doesn't make you a better writer, nor a more effective speaker.

What does matter: understanding words. That means that you need to understand the difference between "their" and "there".

Those are the nuances that spell-checkers don't generally catch, and our literacy suffers as a result of computer-dependence.

You know it's bad when a trained lawyer and President struggles to determine what the meaning of "is" is.

J said...

A lot of people do well on sensing alone, but I have met plenty of kids in college with me right now who would have benefited greatly from knowing the basic rules of grammar and punctuation. Run on-sentences everywhere, commas all over the place, all kinds of problems. I can break the rules when I want to, but other people can't follow them if they want to. Even though these people are just as intelligent as the next person, the way they write makes them seem unintelligent. Plus, its a pain to read and edit their essays.

But good for you that you got away with not knowing. You're right, some people do.

Not as Dumb as I Sound on Paper said...

Thank you for bringing this up! My worst frustrations & embarassments (I don't think that's spelled right, so let it be an example,) are my horrible grammatic skills.

Since my strength is logic and grammar is not (taught) logical, I never "picked it up" like my teachers expected me to.

I know words have meanings, I know parts of words have meanings, they have roots, they come from other languages, there are proper methods for using and applying words.

The dictionary includes a wealth of information related to each word, but somehow we go all through school without one explaination of what any of it means. It wasn't presented as important, so I let it slide up until now, when I have my first "real" job, and I embarass myself daily with my ignorance of my own language.

I'm not a dumb person, so if this one hiccup holds me back, I'll be kicking myself (and whoever chose NOT to teach me basic english,) for the rest of my life.

Anonymous said...

"I'm not a dumb person, so if this one hiccup holds me back, I'll be kicking myself (and whoever chose NOT to teach me basic english,) for the rest of my life."
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You are NOT a dumb person, but you will be part of the masses who don't understand grammar.

Max is wrong. It does matter, just less and less, since the US is filled with people who can't speak nor write proper English as a first language.

Maybe the illegals will learn ESL so well, they can teach us our own language in our old age.

Public schools are dumbing down America. Both with a lack of grammatical skills, as well as with a lack of 2nd and 3rd language skills.

Jordan said...

Me, fail english? That's unpossible!

Anonymous said...

No anonymous you are not a dumb person or you wouldn't recognize your need for the english language. Fortunately I was taught to diagram sentences, also to read, also to speed read. I have no problem, but still read the dictionary regularly, either in a book or online. Wow can you learn a lot. When I see a word I'm not sure of, I look it up. You can too and as a result you can prove just how much smarter than your teachers you are.