Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Reading is... fun!

Recently, I entered into the debate on teaching models for language arts skills. More specifically, how do we teach reading most effectively? The classic model, made famous by those ridiculous Hooked on Phonics works for me commercials, deals with building skills from the bottom (sounds) to the top (whole sentences).

In the 80's, these experts, Goodman and Smith, decided going the other direction would be better, as communication relies on whole meanings, not just parts of meaning. The concept is that regardless of one's basic knowledge of sounds, pronunciation, and vocabulary, comprehension should be the first thing studied, and then the basic things come second. This, of course, would never work in Kindergarten, but it is effective in high school.

However, because everyone is pretty familiar with Bottom-Up tactics, since everyone was taught that way, until the late 80's, teachers found themselves blending the two ideas and it has been decided that integrating the two is the best policy.

Another concept in mainstream teaching is the idea that everything has a meaning in literature and language, and therefore reading is an exercise in decoding the meaning. This is very much the way poetry is taught. The theory is called New Criticism, which i find ironic, because there is nothing new about it. New Criticism matches up nicely with a bottom-up approach to teaching reading also.

Of course there is another polarizing method to teaching reading. An aesthetic reading, instead of looking for the definite answer, one that clearly makes sense, and obviously was meant by the author, Teachers have students look into the text to create their own meaning based on their experiences, and the experiences of the author which are made known to the class through a lesson on biography. This is a wonderfully fun and creative idea, however, no matter what students come up with, some things just mean exactly what they were intended. For example, nothing by Sylvia Plath is ever going to be about pink ponies and rainbow flavoured sherbert.

The teaching landscape, however, is moving more towards open-ended interpretation, creative thinking, aesthetic readings, despite the demand for schools to prove success through high test grades.
However, because we I think, just by growing up, for the most part, in schools in the 80s,

This seems to be an ongoing issue for contemporary teachers and the professors and experts that teach them. Its nearly paradoxical. Clearly, the teacher teachers want to see more creativity, foster the love of learning, fight boredom in classrooms, and put some energy into lackluster lessons, however, the state needs to see data that shows how smart our students are. No one can measure accurately how much a student learns and retains through personal experiences. So we are left teaching to standards, measuring success through large tests that dont require creativity, or foster outside of the test learning, or care if one is bored and uninspired. as long as you pick the correct multiple choice answer. But learning is way more than test grades.

When I was in middle school, I learned more in one week at Nature's Classroom, for example, then I did the rest of the year in my language arts class. Or, at the very least, I remember more. Guess which experience was graded, and which wasn't.

I think too, that a lesson in discourse is almost a must when teaching aesthetics especially when doing MCAS prep. Just knowing that not all types of writing and language is proper for all situations may help differentiate between efferent answers and aesthetic answers. for example: the way we write in personal journals is not the same way we should write for term papers, or... a letter to my friend (or probably more likely text message) is not the same as a letter we would send with a job application. choosing to teach efferents or aesthetics without teaching the other would be a mistake.