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Poetry and a three year old


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.

Hoppity

Christopher Robin goes
Hoppity, hoppity,
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
Hoppity, hoppity,
Hoppity,
Hoppity,
Hop.

IMG_0128

Ready for Hopping

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: a review


Cover of "The Scientist in the Crib: Mind...

Cover via Amazon

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.

Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbili...

Newborn child, seconds after birth. The umbilical cord has not yet been cut. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

My parents are so crazy, I just can't help lau...

My parents are so crazy, I just can’t help laughing… (Photo credit: Ed Yourdon)

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?

Proposed Health Curriculum


Students need to understand the role their behaviour plays in supporting their health and other peoples’ health; they need to know that getting sick happens to everyone and doesn’t always require a visit to the doctor; they need to know how to do simple nursing at home so that people in their care do not get sicker; they need to know what kinds of symptoms require a doctor’s care or even a visit to the hospital.  This is why I advocate teaching First Aid and basic nursing skills such as ways to reduce fevers without resorting to drugs,  appropriate foods to feed patients with stomach bugs or colds, how long a patient needs to rest, stay home, take it easy and what the signs are of severe problems which require help.

I am not advocating that students be trained to be medical professionals but they should be trained to have sufficient knowledge and skills to care for themselves and others and be able to ask reasonable questions about health issues.  Part of growing up should be about caring for other people as well as oneself.  An understanding of the differences in infants and the elderly from the regular population in their health needs is vital.  An educated population could reduce the burden on hospitals and medical professionals.

WHAT IS WELL?

– HOW TO KEEP THE BODY IN GOOD TRIM FOR DEALING WITH BUGS AND ACCIDENTS:

Diet – what kind?

Exercise- what kind? How much?

Sleep – its importance and how much

Main health effects of sleep deprivation (See ...

Main health effects of sleep deprivation (See Wikipedia:Sleep deprivation). Model: Mikael Häggström. To discuss image, please see Template talk:Häggström diagrams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dealing with stress

Hygiene – both mental and physical eg.

Person washing his hands

Person washing his hands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

hand washing after using the toilet and before eating

The importance of friends

The social self.

The social self. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vaccinations

– how they work

– Dangerous myths about vaccinations

Helmets for cycling

– Proper use

– Rules of the road for cyclists & cars and pedestrians.

– Defensive cycling

Safety – risk appraisal and safe behaviour

– Alcohol

– Cigarettes

SEXUALITY:

Menstrual cycle

Relationships

Male & female genitalia

Well Baby Check up

Well Baby Check up (Photo credit: BenSpark)

Conception

Pregnancy

Birth

Breastfeeding & alternatives

Contraception

STDs

Menopause

– WELL BABY CARE

Senior Strutters March Show

Senior Strutters March Show (Photo credit: Old Shoe Woman)

– ISSUES IN AGING SUCH AS:

Age Wave

Age Wave (Photo credit: jurvetson)

Maintaining physical and mental health

Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular Disease (Photo credit: GEEKSTATS)

– Through exercise, diet, participation in the community

– Planning finances for retirement

– Keeping the person living independently as long as possible

Weakening immune system

Loss of bone and muscle strength and ways

Gym Free-weights Area Category:Gyms_and_Health...

Gym Free-weights Area Category:Gyms_and_Health_Clubs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

to reduce it.

Sleeping problems

Elder abuse

MENTAL HEALTH

Dealing with stress

Preventing stress

Good stress

Kindness and compassion as elements in maintaining good health

– WHAT IS SICK?

– HOW THE BODY DEALS WITH ILLNESS – anti-bodies

– Fever

– Fatigue

– SYMPTOMS OF COMMON PLACE ILLNESSES:

Colds

Stomach bugs

Influenza (flu)

Cold/Flu/H1N1 symptom chart

Cold/Flu/H1N1 symptom chart (Photo credit: Kevin Baird)

Viruses

Headaches

Infections

Differences in symptoms and appropriate treatment for the elderly and infants

– TREATMENT OF COMMON PLACE ILLNESSES:

Role of the caregiver in keeping a patient comfortable

Rest – what is it?

Fluid – what kind?

Diet – what kind?

Cold sweat...

Cold sweat… (Photo credit: squishband)

Observation – fever, rashes, behaviour, vomiting, diarrhoea symptoms

Over the counter medication such as acetylsalicylic acid, ibuprofen and acetaminophen, their use, minimum & maximum doses, cautions on use

Symptom suppressors such as over the counter cough and cold medication & how and when to use them

– HOW TO PREVENT INJURIES

Cycling Oxford

Cycling Oxford (Photo credit: tejvanphotos)

Safety on the road

Cleaning up spills

Tidying floors

Understanding which chemicals are dangerous and how to find out if they don’t know.

Storing chemicals and medications appropriately

Fire and scalding prevention

Using and storing knives

Water safety

– SYMPTOMS OF COMMON PLACE INJURIES:

Scrapes

Sprains

Cuts

Bruises

Breaks

English: A typical examination room in a docto...

English: A typical examination room in a doctor’s office. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

bites

Drowning

FIRST AID FOR THE ABOVE

– WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR & HOW TO HANDLE A VISIT TO THE DOCTOR’S OFFICE

Bring information about medicines

A clear description of symptoms – the fine art of taking and using notes

Health card

Patience

A child and adolescent’s right to confidentiality – how much, under what circumstances and at what age

– WHEN TO GO TO THE EMERGENCY:

Bankstown Hospital Emergency Room

Bankstown Hospital Emergency Room (Photo credit: redwolfoz)

Bleeding

Breathing

Unconsciousness

High fever (what is a high fever?)

Pain – prolonged or fierce

– & WHAT TO EXPECT

Hospital expectations such as:

bringing health cards

washing hands

wearing a mask for cold symptoms or coughs to prevent spread

First contact

Triage

Waiting times

A child and adolescent’s right to confidentiality – how much, under what circumstances and at what age

– DISEASES FREQUENTLY CAUSED BY LIFESTYLE:

Diabetes 2

Heart and stroke

What scientists call "Overweight" ch...

What scientists call “Overweight” changes with our knowledge of human health (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Obesity

Addictions

Tooth decay and loss

Emphysema

COMMON CHRONIC DISEASES, PROGRESSION AND TREATMENTS:

Diabetes 1

Asthma

Acne

Emphysema

Cancer

Migraines

MENTAL ILLNESS, SYMPTOMS & COMMON TREATMENTS

Explanation of common terms used to describe mental illness such as:

psychotic,

paranoid,

1212mentalhealth-RW

1212mentalhealth-RW (Photo credit: Robbie Wroblewski)

phobia

MOOD DISORDERS

  • Major Depressive Disorder
  • Dysthymic Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Suicide

SCHIZOPHRENIA

ANXIETY DISORDERS

  • Panic Disorder
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Social Phobia
  • Agoraphobia
  • Specific Phobia

EATING DISORDERS

ATTENTION DEFICIT HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER (ADHD)

AUTISM

PERSONALITY DISORDERS

Family doctor

Teacher

Support groups

ETCETERA

Explanation of terms bandied about the educational system such as ADD, ADHD, intelligence, autism, learning disability and how they affect a person’s learning and education.  Treatments.

English: Ritalin (Australian packaging)

English: Ritalin (Australian packaging) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Explanation of interaction of physical and mental illness, drugs and physical and mental illness.

Explanation of alternative treatments such as:

Massage on the RM Elegant

Massage on the RM Elegant (Photo credit: yachtfan)

Acupuncture

Chiropractic

Massage

Physiotherapy

Biofeedback

Discussion of drug use: over the counter, prescription, illegal and naturopathic and the role of the pharmacist in ensuring that the appropriate medications are prescribed.

Pharmacy Rx symbol

Pharmacy Rx symbol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Discussion of commonly prescribed medications, how they work and how to use them effectively:

eg Antibiotics

Antidepressants

Antivirals

Analgesics

Antipyretics

Anti-inflammatories

Antihistamines

Examples of curriculum, including the health curriculum (from Ontario’s ministry of education) that could integrate with or already cover the proposed health curriculum. 

Health Curriculum Grades 1 to 8

Healthy Eating.

Personal Safety and Injury Prevention.

Substance Use, Addictions, and Related Behaviours.

Growth and Development

Integration of Mental Health

Grade nine and ten science

A1.4 apply knowledge and understanding of safe practices and procedures when planning investigations (e.g., appropriate techniques for handling, storing, and disposing of laboratory materials [following the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System-WHMIS]; safe operation of optical equipment; safe handling and disposal of biological materials), with the aid of appropriate support materials (e.g., the Reference Manual on the WHMIS website; the Live Safe! Work Smart! website)

A1.8 analyse and interpret qualitative and/or quantitative data to determine whether the evidence supports or refutes the initial prediction or hypothesis, identifying possible sources of error, bias, or uncertainty

A1.9 analyse the information gathered from research sources for reliability and bias

A1.10  draw conclusions based on inquiry results and research findings, and justify their conclusions

B1.3 describe public health strategies related to systems biology (e.g., cancer screening and prevention programs; vaccines against the human papillomavirus [HPV] and measles, mumps, and rubella [MMR]; AIDS education), and assess their impact on society [AI, C]

Sample issue: Early-childhood vaccination programs have greatly reduced the incidence of certain diseases and the social and medical costs associated with them. Influenced by controversial studies arguing that there may be health risks associated with such vaccines, some parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children, which could lead to a resurgence of these potentially deadly diseases.

Sample questions: What strategies are included in public health initiatives aimed at reducing the incidence of smoking-related diseases? What impact have these initiatives had on smoking rates and associated medical costs? How have health authorities responded to the threat of West Nile virus? What effect does this response have on people’s lifestyles? How did various cultures attempt to prevent disease before vaccines were available? What impact have vaccines had on global health?

B 2. investigate cell division, cell specialization, organs, and systems in animals and plants, using research and inquiry skills, including various laboratory techniques;

B3.2 describe the interdependence of the components within a terrestrial and an aquatic ecosystem, and explain how the components of both systems work together to ensure the sustainability of a larger ecosystem

B3.3 describe the complementary processes of cellular respiration and photosynthesis with respect to the flow of energy and the cycling of matter within ecosystems (e.g., carbon dioxide is a by-product of cellular respiration and is used for photosynthesis, which produces oxygen needed for cellular respiration), and explain how human activities can disrupt the balance achieved by these processes (e.g., automobile use increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; planting trees reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere)

Sample issue: Scientists are researching changes in climate patterns as possible contributing factors to an increase in the number of smog days in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada. As the air quality worsens, people may curtail their outdoor activities, and those with respiratory problems may require medical attention, increasing health care costs.

C1.1 analyse, on the basis of research, various safety and environmental issues associated with chemical reactions and their reactants and/or product(s) (e.g., chemical reactions related to the use of cyanide in gold mining, the corrosion of metal supports on bridges, the use of different antibacterial agents such as chlorine and bromine in recreational pools) [IP, PR, AI, C]

Sample issue: Ammonia and chlorine bleach are two common household cleaning agents. How-ever, when these two substances are mixed, the chemical reaction produces chlorine gas, which is highly toxic.

Sample questions: Why is it important to understand the chemical composition of chlorinating agents used in swimming pools before using them? What chemical reactions result in acid precipitation? What impact does it have on the environment? What sources of information are available on the safety or environmental implications of chemicals and chemical reactions? Why is it important to ensure that these sources are up to date? Why is it important to understand WHMIS information, including Material Safety Data Sheets, before using any chemicals?

• recognize that communities consist of various physical features and community facilities that meet human needs;

• use a variety of resources and tools to gather, process, and communicate information about the distinguishing physical features and community facilities in their area;

• describe how people in the community interact with each other and the physical environment to meet human needs

C2.1 use appropriate terminology related to chemical reactions, including, but not limited to: compounds, product, and reactant [C]

C2.2 construct molecular models to illustrate the structure of molecules in simple chemical reactions (e.g., C + O2 ? CO2; 2H2 + O2 ? 2H2O), and produce diagrams of these models [PR, C]

C2.3 investigate simple chemical reactions, including synthesis, decomposition, and displacement reactions, and represent them using a variety of formats (e.g., molecular models, word equations, balanced chemical equations) [PR, AI, C]

C2.4 use an inquiry process to investigate the law of conservation of mass in a chemical reaction (e.g., compare the values before and after the reaction), and account for any discrepancies [PR, AI]

C2.5 plan and conduct an inquiry to identify the evidence of chemical change (e.g., the formation of a gas or precipitate, a change in colour or odour, a change in temperature) [IP, PR, AI]

C2.6 plan and conduct an inquiry to classify some common substances as acidic, basic, or neutral (e.g., use acid-base indicators or pH test strips to classify common household substances) [IP, PR, AI]P

Sample issue: Ultrasound is routinely used during pregnancy to monitor the development of the fetus. It is also used to perform amniocentesis, which screens for genetic disorders, and allows doctors to perform surgery on the fetus before birth to correct some abnormalities. However, there have been few studies on the long-term effects of the use of ultrasound.

Sample questions: How are medical imaging technologies used in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease and stroke? What types of imaging technologies are used in ophthalmology? How have they benefited people who have eye disease? How have developments in biophotonics advanced a range of surgical procedures?analyse a technological device or procedure related to human perception of light (e.g., eyeglasses, contact lenses, infrared or low light vision sensors, laser surgery), and evaluate its effectiveness.

What strategies are included in public health initiatives aimed at reducing the incidence of smoking-related diseases? What impact have these initiatives had on smoking rates and associated medical costs? How have health authorities responded to the threat of West Nile virus? What effect does this response have on people’s lifestyles?

A practical health curriculum


Injury - face plant into the concrete floor on...

Injury – face plant into the concrete floor on our way home (Photo credit: Lee Turner)

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

Healthy Eating.

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.

English: Graph of adult cyclist head injuries ...

English: Graph of adult cyclist head injuries versus helmet use in New Zealand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Carelessness causes accidents... Accidents slo...

Carelessness causes accidents… Accidents slow up production. – NARA – 535274 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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

Rethink Mental Illness

Rethink Mental Illness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

Related articles

How We Read Words


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[1] 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?

The Whole English Language

The Whole English Language (Photo credit: Jason DeRusha)

Reading

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

Handwriting

Handwriting (Photo credit: Mot)

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

English: A scene from "", by Lewis C...

English: A scene from “”, by Lewis Carroll, drawn by Sir John Tenniel in 1871. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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[2] 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

Hooked on phonics

Hooked on phonics (Photo credit: daveonkels)

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)

as Yum-Yum (center), with Kate Forster (left) ...

as Yum-Yum (center), with Kate Forster (left) and Geraldine St. Maur (right) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

http://www.howjsay.com/

http://www.forvo.com/

And to find the eight words whose meaning depends on the right stress, check out

http://www.espressoenglish.net/one-word-two-pronunciations-two-meanings/

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.

sept15classroom 001

sept15classroom 001 (Photo credit: mrstg)

What about Balanced Literacy?

visualliteracy

visualliteracy (Photo credit: alisonkeller)

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.

Bibliography

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.


[1] 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.

[2] 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

Aside

Homework Zone

Homework Zone (Photo credit: crysb)

Homework?

Homework? (Photo credit: mikecogh)

TASK

Teacher(s)

Student

Parent

Teaching concepts necessary for homework

**

 

 

Setting tasks for homework

**

 

 

Ensuring students know what is required of them

**

 

 

Deciding how much work is reasonable

**

 

 

Determining how much time should be spent

**

 

 

Establishing timelines for handing in work

**

 

 

Finding out what homework has been assigned

*

**

 

Writing homework assignments in agenda

*

**

 

Taking responsibility for bringing homework home

 

**

 

Providing access to the necessary materials

**

 

**

Collecting the necessary materials to do the work

 

**

 

Setting up an appropriate place to work

 

**

**

Making homework a priority over other activities

 

**

**

Ensuring there are no interruptions during homework time

 

**

**

Setting regular homework time

 

**

**

Checking in agenda to see what homework is required

 

**

 

Prioritizing assignments

*

**

*

Doing the homework

 

**

 

Checking over homework for mistakes or errors

 

**

 

Identifying specific area(s) of difficulty

 

**

 

Exploring resources to help with area(s) of difficulty

 

**

 

Providing assistance to clarify directions or instructions

**

 

*

Re-teaching concepts if necessary

**

 

 

Deciding whether homework is ready to hand in

 

**

 

Handing homework in to the teacher

 

**

 

Evaluating quality of homework

**

 

 

Providing consequences for inadequate homework

**

 

*

English: Weekly Homework Chart

English: Weekly Homework Chart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

** Primary responsibility

* Can give assistance as required

Taken from The Pampered Child Syndrome: How to Manage It and How to Avoid It p. 124 & 125

I highly recommend this book.  It is sensible and to the point.

Diane Scaiff

 

Bertrand Russell’s Ten Commandments for Teacher


1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

Bertrand Russell 1907

Bertrand Russell 1907 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. Do not think it worthwhile to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.

4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavour to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

English: The first page of Bertrand Russell's ...

English: The first page of Bertrand Russell’s important philosophical article ‘On Denoting’. Photographed in Senate House Library. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.

7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

From: Coffin, Donald A <dcoffin_at_iun.edu>