Tags"Education for All" accommodations assessment biculturalism canoe camping CHILDREN Chinese Christmas compacted curriculum Core French creativity default placement differentiation discrimination education Elementary English as a Second Language English Language Learners ESL excellence FI French Immersion Funding gifted grant Health High school homework identification IEP inclusive classroom Intensive French IPRC IQ LEARNING learning disabled learning profiles lesson plans literacy skills Lower SES mathematics modifications Money motivation New Brunswick numeracy Ontario Ontario Ministry of Education and Training OSR Ottawa Carleton District School Board paperwork Parent parents pedagogical Peel District School Board Play political poverty preparation time primary principal reading report cards responsibility risk taking safety SCHOOL school board school bus second language special education Teacher teachers Toronto District School Board WISC
Recent Comments: Join the Discussion
Charlene on French Immersion: Is It Access… orc name generator w… on Is French Immersion a Money Ma… jcsprenger on Two Animal Fables About Educat… esthetician salary on Is French Immersion a Money Ma…
- May 2014
- October 2013
- June 2013
- February 2013
- December 2012
- July 2012
- June 2012
- May 2012
- April 2012
- March 2012
- February 2012
- January 2012
- December 2011
- November 2011
- March 2011
- December 2010
- October 2010
- September 2010
- December 2009
- November 2009
- October 2009
- September 2009
- August 2009
- July 2009
- June 2009
- May 2009
- April 2009
- March 2009
- February 2009
- January 2009
- December 2008
- November 2008
- October 2008
Recently, I carefully packed the Christopher Robin books of my childhood into my suitcase when I went to visit my granddaughters. The older one is three and a half so I though it might be time to introduce her to one of my favorite authors. Was it a good idea? I don’t know yet.
I realised very quickly that she wasn’t ready for the stories so I thought I would try the poetry book, When We Were Very Young. These were very hasty thoughts because, as I have learned from teaching and parenting, a child’s attention must be caught within a minute of proposing something or you will lose their interest and find yourself playing School, Going to Montreal on the Bus or even Lying on the Floor Waving Your Legs in the Air.
So, at random mainly because I was in a hurry and the poem had illustrations of small child hopping, I chose Hoppity. I read it to my small grand-daughter, interrupting myself to ask her if she could hop. She happily obliged and with each chorus, she went flying around the room hoppity hopping. After a couple of minutes she joined in with the rest of the verses (confession: I did coach a bit). As I listened to us I realised how much of the enchantment was the combination of the rhythm and the apparently simple plot.
Christopher Robin goes
Hoppity, hoppity, hop.
Whenever I tell him
Politely to stop it, he
Says he can’t possibly stop.
If he stopped hopping,
He couldn’t go anywhere,
Poor little Christopher
Couldn’t go anywhere…
That’s why he always goes
Alan Alexander Milne
She especially remembered the line: Poor little Christopher
Couldn’t go anywhere... When she chanted with me there was a hint of sarcasm in that three-year old voice. A few weeks later, she still remembered the chorus.
I realised as I said this poem over and over with her that this was where I learned to write – from A. A. Milne and Kenneth Grahame and Rudyard Kipling. My father read aloud to me on a daily basis – and I was also expected to properly recite poetry to my parents regularly. Good writing starts with the ear, a pleasure in the “mot juste” and the clever construction that hints at an understory.
Even three-year olds are capable of intuiting the back story in good writing. We should honour that by reading good writing to them. I started grade one at the age of five, excited to be on the verge of learning to read. When the first book they gave me was Dick and Jane – I kid you not – I was seriously disappointed. I knew crap writing when I read it and this was in no way as good as the stuff my father read to me.
Next time I spend time with my granddaughter I am going to teach her Disobedience. It starts out:
|James James MorrisonMorrisonWeatherby GeorgeDupreeTookgreatCare of his Mother,Though he was only three.
James James Said to his Mother,
“Mother,” he said, said he;
“You must never go down
to the end of the town,
if you don’t go down with me.
I anticipate with delight the giggling we will indulge in about a three-year old telling his mother how to behave. If she doesn’t get the joke that the title is about the mother, she will some day and that will be another giggle.
The Scientist In The Crib is a well written book on the intellectual development of children from birth to about three years old. The three authors are experts in this field and have children on their own. This combination shows in the easy connection they make between research and real life. As the book is intended for the layman, it makes for a pleasant read.
It is also soundly researched and provides a solid understanding for teachers and other professionals. For those who wish to learn more, there are footnotes, a bibliography, an index and an index of researchers cited.
The authors postulate that children are born armed and ready to be powerful learners. They have not only powerful learning abilities but innate knowledge.
One of my favorite party tricks with newborns has been to stick my tongue out at one. To everyone’s astonishment, the baby will do the same back. Sometimes she pokes it in and out, sometimes she sticks it out in a different shape. It turns out that this knowledge was confirmed by one of the authors about 20 years ago. He tested newborns as soon after birth as possible; the youngest was 42 minutes old. They all responded by copying him when he stuck out his tongue.
Why the tongue? I suspect as babies are born knowing how to nurse, they have the most conscious control over their tongues. As a nursing mother can tell you, babies use their tongues to help them get milk from the breast. What is more interesting is that the babies recognise at sight someone else’s tongue and identify it with their own. It is excellent evidence that babies are born with innate knowledge.
This also demonstrates the third thing which contributes to the rapid progress that babies make: adults are innately motivated and able to teach their babies. As they stick out their tongues at babies and watch the babies’ reaction, they are teaching the infants. The adults and babies are also having fun.
This kind of interaction continues throughout childhood as children learn about the world and how to use language through games, exploration, play and mimicking the older people in their world. The book makes it clear that children do not need enrichment or any extra stimulus to flourish; all they need is the opportunity to interact with loving adults who have the time and will to play with them.
Isn’t that reassuring?
- Babies remember melodies heard in womb, study suggests (theguardian.com)
- Babies Can Hear and Remember First Lullabies While Still in the Womb (scienceworldreport.com)
- A first step in learning by imitation, baby brains respond to another’s actions (psypost.org)
- Scientists discover why newborns get sick so often (eurekalert.org)
While I am the last person to want to add to teachers’ work load, I do think it is time to teach a real health curriculum, starting in kindergarten. We are facing difficulties with our health system and it is likely to get worse. I have been surprised by how little people understand about dealing with minor illnesses and injuries; as our aging population increases, we will have more patients with increasing health needs. We can’t avoid the need for medical professionals to treat serious illnesses but we can learn to recognise what is serious and what isn’t and how to reduce the load on doctors and hospitals. People need to understand how their bodies function, especially to keep them well. They need to know how to support their body’s effort to keep them well and how to recognise the seriousness of an illness or injury and how to respond. And they need to know how infants and the elderly differ in their health needs.
I have done some research and discovered that much of the curriculum could be covered not only in health classes, but some science and even (economic) geography. It would require some reshaping of the curriculum but, for example, cells are how human beings are constructed, sometimes repaired, attacked by bacteria and viruses and healed. A biology curriculum would have to go further than just teaching cells, but the teaching of how cells operate in bodies may actually help improve retention of cell biology.
Ontario’s grade 1 to 8 curriculum is primarily concerned with making healthy choices:
Health Curriculum Grades 1 to 8
Personal Safety and Injury Prevention.
Substance Use, Addictions, and Related Behaviours.
Growth and Development
Integration of Mental Health
This is good, but not enough. A more thoroughly developed curriculum would empower our future citizens in taking responsibility for their own health.
I live in a city where a lot of people bicycle. I have noticed that very few cyclists realise that they come under the same laws and regulations as cars. There are some allowances made for parking bikes and occasionally they are allowed (the permission is posted clearly) to enter a road blocked to cars. There are many bike lanes.
Driving a car without lights and using a cellphone while driving are both illegal here. Recently a young woman was hit by a car as she cycled on the wrong side of the road at night without lights and while texting. The local media did say the driver of the car was not charged but they did not make it clear how many violations this woman was guilty of. In addition, she was not wearing a helmet. Helmets are mandatory here for children (not adults) but many children and adults wear them sitting improperly on their heads, on top of caps or not firmly secured. A great waste of money.
When I was a kid, the police used to come to the school to talk to us about road safety – as pedestrians and cyclists. While many of us might have ignored the advice, at least we knew that what we were doing was either dangerous or illegal. That program no longer exists. Fire departments have trailers designed to teach fire safety and public health nurses used to come to school to teach personal hygiene and how to use a toothbrush. These programs not only made an impression but it broadened students’ horizons to recognise what some of the resources in their community were.
I realise that changes need to be made to the way our health care is delivered and medical professionals are taking steps to streamline care without making it less effective. That is not my field, however. What I am proposing is that we educate our citizenry in how to care for themselves and when they need to seek professional help.
Including mental health is perhaps not more than a gesture as treatment is
available only to those are seriously ill or who have enough money to pay for care. Perhaps a country of people who understand mental illness, believe it can be treated and are aware of what mental illness costs in productivity are might decide that mental health also needs funding.
What I propose is a curriculum starting in grade one and largely delivered by the end of grade ten. My next post will give a detailed outline of the proposed health curriculum.
- In ‘Peer’ We Trust (madinamerica.com)
- I Damaged My Children By Hiding My Mental Illness From Them (thegoodmotherproject.com)
- Misconceptions about mental health (mentalhealthstories.wordpress.com)
- Kathy Rohr: Myths about mental illness are harmful (lacrossetribune.com)
- Coping with Chronic Illness: Specialist Toby Dauber on Becoming Stronger and Living a Fulfilling Life (prweb.com)
- The Benefits Of Homeopathy Naturopathy Montreal (allabouthealthandfitnessblog.wordpress.com)
- How Do Physical and Psychological Health Co-Exist? (thenerdynurse.com)
I am reading The Neural basis of Reading and currently reading the chapter called The Functional Neuroanatomy of Reading.(Cornelissen 2010)
The author, Nicola Brunswick, asserts that there are two routes to reading single words and that this is borne out in neurological research. I am not going to go into the neurology in this post as I think that the theory is probably of more interest to educators. Besides, I don’t feel that I fully understand the neurology. No surprise, as I am only eighty pages into the book. When I do understand, I will write a post on the topic.
Whole language and Hooked on Phonics
Do you remember the Whole Language versus the Hooked on Phonics debate? When I started teaching in the eighties it seemed that the teaching community was polarised by the split between the two methods. At the time I didn’t feel that I had a strong grasp on the whole language concept even though I was told my own approach to teaching reflected that perspective.
What is Whole Language?
Whole language teachers engage their students in the use of language and teach the structures of spelling, grammar and writing as the issue arises during the students’ learning. In my classroom, I read to the children and the children read on their own. For my students who couldn’t yet read independently, I created tapes of stories they could listen to on headphones as they looked at the book itself. I made sure to tell them when to turn the page. Students were encouraged to guess at words they couldn’t figure out rather than interrupt the flow of the text. These were educated guesses based on context or graphics such as pictures or diagrams.
Writing, grammar and style
My students also wrote daily, starting with a journal, but also using writing in all kinds of forms including reports on classroom experiments, their own stories and scripts for advertising. I read the journals daily and responded to the content. This was not the place to correct grammar or spelling. I did note problems with spelling and grammar and addressed the most common ones with the class. When I had the opportunity, I also privately talked to some students about errors I didn’t deal with in class.
Almost every product except for the journals was expected to be correctly spelt and written. This was done through drafts and conferences with the students on their work. They talked to each other about their work as well as discussing it with me. The Writing Conference Centre was actively used.
Using handwriting to teach spelling, punctuation and poetry
I was expected to teach handwriting. Setting up practice was rather dreary but I
used it as an opportunity to teach spelling, too. For example, in setting up practices in the joining of w and e and h and e, I would include such bugbears as were, wear, we’re and where and explain the differences. In later work, there might be sentences to show the difference in usages: “Where were you?” “We’re going to dye our underwear green.” “We were wearing out the pencil sharpener.”
Later, when we had gone through all the permutations, I put up poetry to be
copied as a writing exercise. I first used The Walrus and the Carpenter. Each day they copied a stanza. Through the exercise, they learned the difference between a stanza and a verse, the technical aspects of writing out lines of poetry and some new vocabulary. The writing morphed into learning how to read poetry, most importantly not to pause at the end of the line unless there was punctuation there to tell you to do so. They also learned the purpose of punctuation and how it helped the reader to understand.
Phonics and whole language
I didn’t ignore phonics or the teaching of spelling, I just taught phonics when and where it was useful to learn it. We did do spelling tests. The list of words was drawn from my observations of the students’ difficulties and the vocabulary they were trying to use. I always added an eleventh very difficult word such as chrysanthemum or fuchsia that didn’t count in marking the tests; it was only for fun. Sometimes students learnt the tough word better than the others. I didn’t plan it that way, but now I realise that it also taught students that there are a number of words in English that break orthographic rules. You can’t entirely rely on phonics.
Hooked on Phonics
Phonics in this context refers to teaching the correlation between sound and letters. This allows unfamiliar words to be sounded out by the reader. For example, if you know that g followed by an i or an e will be given the soft pronunciation of g i.e. “j”, you can decipher the pronunciation of words such as gorge, gamete and gelid. It won’t be much help with geisha or gecko, which is why experience is important in learning English.
Stress, pronunciation, meaning and spelling
However, a multisyllabic word that follows the rules of standard phonics may still stymie the reader in pronouncing it. Pronunciation includes stress; without knowing which syllable is stressed, one can pronounce the word and be misunderstood. There are also a handful of common words in English that change their meaning depending on their pronunciation. How would you pronounce object in the following two sentences? “I object to your use of such vulgar language”; “My object all sublime, I shall achieve in time…” (From Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado)
To learn how to pronounce difficult words check out the two sites below. I especially like Forvo as it usually gives both the British and American pronunciations and even states the gender and origin of the speaker.
And to find the eight words whose meaning depends on the right stress, check out
So phonics is a useful tool in in figuring out the pronunciation and spelling of words, but thanks to the many languages from which we have adopted words and the development of English from a more ancient language, one would flounder in the orthographies of English without experience of all the many exceptions.
What about Balanced Literacy?
Initially, the words were a description of a holistic approach to teaching language in which teachers use their personal professional knowledge to select their methods. As professionals they are free to choose and use the materials they deemed appropriate. Neither phonics nor whole language is an issue as the selection reflects what the students need to learn about language at this stage in their development, how they learn and their interests. What Balanced Literacy now means is a whole different kettle of fish and a considerable money earner for academic publishers. But that is a topic for another post.
So what are the two routes to learning reading?
The first route, according to Brunswick, is called the grapho-phonological route. The progression in this route is from recognition of individual letters to the conversion of those letters to sounds. You probably recognise this route as very closely related to teaching phonics.
The second route is called the lexico-semantic route. The reader recognises words and proceeds from there to deduce the rules of spelling and acquire a knowledge of irregular spellings.
Which route is more effective?
The author doesn’t comment directly. What she does say is that the grapho-phonological route is more useful in languages with shallow orthography. What she means is languages where there is almost always a direct correspondence between letters and sounds.
Unfortunately, English is a deep orthographic language. That means that not only can a grapheme (linguist speak for a letter or bunch of letters that make one sound) make several different sounds but different graphemes can make the same sound.
Think of the f sound. It can be made by f or ph or gh as in food, phonics and laugh. And gh can sound like f or p or, with an ou sound preceding it, sound like ow or o: laugh, plough, hiccough and thorough. (Cornelissen 2010) What is a poor speller to do?
You can see that to be proficient in decoding English words, you definitely need both routes to reading. Neither route is more effective, but together they allow readers to acquire a good command of spelling in English.
Cornelissen, P. L. H., Peter C.: Kringlebach, Morten L.; Pugh, Ken., Ed. (2010). The Neural Basis of Reading. New York, New York, Oxford University Press.
 My first class was a grade three/four split. My second was a grade two/three split. This was a particularly interesting class as most of the second grade was behind in language and several of the grade threes were advanced. You will notice that my approach could also have been called Balanced Literacy except that the term wasn’t being used at that time.
 I prefer to use words that students can understand or might even have heard frequently: necessary, definitely, conscientiously, onomatopoeia, pneumonia, asthma, psychology. My personal bugbear is accommodation. For more information go to: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/vivian.c/TestsFrame.htm
- About Phonics (juhuartcraftphonics.wordpress.com)
- More OFSTED Good Practice that isn’t (teachingbattleground.wordpress.com)
- pronouncing the (painfulenglish.wordpress.com)
- The internet to transform spelling (smh.com.au)
- Phonological Awareness and Phonics (alvindavis99.wordpress.com)
- Reading matters (dyslexiaclinic.wordpress.com)
- Reading Is Not A Natural Process (readingforensics.com)
- The Three Complexities of the English Alphabetic Code (6thgradesaintgregorys.wordpress.com)
- Phonological Awareness vs. Phonics (readingforensics.com)
- The Language of Literacy (firststepsinreading.wordpress.com)