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Saturday, August 14, 2010

Grammar problems caused by "hyper-constructivism"

Guest column by Robert Archer, teacher
Shadle Park High School, Spokane, WA


What is a dangling participle? How about a future perfect progressive verb? What’s the difference between intensive pronouns and reflexive pronouns? How do you parse a sentence?

OK. So maybe those were a little too complex for anyone other than English-major uber-nerds. I get that. In fact, anyone who can answer those previous questions simply wants to show off his/her outstanding grammatical knowledge for all the world to witness and, consequently, to have that world bask in his/her pedantic glory. Let’s go a little easier. How about these?

What’s a noun? How about a verb? Can you tell the difference between a complete sentence, a fragment, and a run-on? Can you make sure your subject and verb agree?

Were those better? Was the latter set of questions more apropos for anyone with a high-school education to have as s/he enters the “real world” of being both a productive and an intelligible member of our modern society? Actually, more specifically, isn’t the latter set of questions completely suitable for any American middle schooler to answer correctly before even taking a step into the halls of the modern high school? To answer: Yes. Yes! And just for emphasis, YES!!!

However, in my 14 years of experience as a high school English teacher, such is absolutely not the case. In fact, I would argue that fewer than 10% of my 10th graders could answer each one of those latter questions correctly (and I believe I’m being generous). Simply put, students these days do not know basic grammatical skills and concepts.

Honestly, it’s gotten to the point that trying to make my way through the grammatical land mines that await me anytime I assign a writing assessment becomes so painstakingly tedious that even the solid content of any given essay becomes lost in the ghastly-writing-skills shrapnel. (And don’t even get me started on the spelling skills of this generation of non-phonics-learning texters! OMG!)

Let’s face it—when high school students cannot use their own language correctly, their overall communication skills—both in written and oral form—suffer tremendously. And if their communication skills are sub-par (and, again, I believe I’m being generous), then they are simply not ready to move on to the next level, whether that level is continuing in post-secondary education or becoming a part of our educated work force. Yet, we in education continue to do just that—pass them on to the next level, washing our hands of their complete language inadequacy.

So, where exactly may I point my flaming finger of blame when 15- and 16-year-olds do not know extremely rudimentary grammar skills as they enter my high school classroom? At first glance, it would seem both easy and logical to blame my middle-school peers (since they didn’t force the knowledge into the students’ brains) or even society at large (since we have allowed written communication to be reduced to little more than texting and emailing). However, the first victim of my intended scorn is unfair, and the second is too broad.

Rather, I tend to blame those involved in curriculum development because somewhere along the line, teaching grammar has become something that we teachers can simply “imbed” into the reading and writing curriculum. I guess grammar is just too “boring” and, therefore, will not “engage” our “modern-day students” into true learning.

I'm sorry, but in my experience, the term "imbedded" is nothing more than educationalese for "not ever specifically taught." Somehow, this grammar-is-imbedded movement is supposed to help students naturally take in what proper grammar is (i.e., grammar by osmosis). It's very much a hyper-constructivist approach to education; the students are supposed to "discover" proper grammar on their own as they read good pieces. Then, somehow and some way, they are to emulate these proper mechanical structures in their own writing. And if the students don't quite "take it all in," the teacher may take 2.5 minutes here and there to show them what a damn verb is.

Allow me a moment to let curriculum developers in on an English-teacher trade secret: It ain’t working! When I’m hoping for nothing more than 3-4 grammatically correct sentences being strung together at a time as the sign of a “good” paper, then my expectations have dropped far, far too low. Yet, sadly, this is exactly to what I’ve resigned myself.

I honestly believe that the English curriculum needs to return to its roots—teaching and drilling proper grammar at younger ages—for the sake of helping our students be better communicators. I don’t believe there could be any other answer.



Note from Laurie Rogers: If you would like to submit a guest column on public education, please write to me at wlroge@comcast.net. Please limit columns to not more than 1,000 words. Columns might be edited for length, content or grammar. You may remain anonymous to the public, however I must know who you are. All decisions on guest columns are the sole right and responsibility of Laurie Rogers.


21 comments:

Breann Treffry said...

Thank you, Mr. Archer, for refusing to be part of the problem by remaining quiet. Change will only come when parents and teachers make themselves heard in numbers that administrators can't ignore.

kprugman said...

Before you write an article, I'd suggest you read what constructivism is first? You have an opinion about the way grammar is taught in school, but that is all that I can understand from your writing. What is hyper-constructivism?

Anonymous said...

To kprugman, follow this link to read on constructivism:

http://www.funderstanding.com/content/constructivism

It seems Mr. archer uses the term quite effectively. Maybe you should have done some research yourself before you passed judgement!

Tunya Audain said...

The Progressive Agenda Being Fulfilled

Today I commented on a Canadian blog, Society for Quality Education, about the trend to poor English. Below are some excerpts from my input.

“The deterioration of language skills is real and deliberate. It is a pervasive trend with direct connections to teacher training where progressivism is the norm. Canadian Deans of Education have signed onto an Accord to produce teachers to assume social and political roles, to contribute to social change and community transformation.

I recently read an article http://www.educationnews.org/commentaries/book_reviews/97169.html
John Dewey, Dumbing Down, and The Scandal of Dyslexia. The author concludes that Dewey and his buddies, being socialists, “They were sick of individualism, the pioneer spirit, free enterprise, and people doing their own thing. John Dewey wanted you to be a happy member of a group. You didn’t need that much literacy or knowledge. Dewey actually saw these as impediments. He calls, especially in the early grades, for sharply curtailing the study of literature, history, math, science, geography and such, in order to make room for social activities, specifically, ‘cooking, sewing, manual training’”.

“To advance his sociopolitical visions, Dewey was eager to dilute content and diminish learning.”

All this is in line with what John Taylor Gatto has been saying in his “Dumbing Us Down. The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling”. Several times a winner of “Teacher of the Year Awards” in New York, when he quit teaching he said he no longer wished to "hurt kids to make a living."

Is all this deliberate, manufactured, dumbing-down? To create a class of poorly educated mass with another class of elitist rulers? Sounds very Plato to me – philosopher kings! Isn’t this what socialism is all about -- We are all equal, but some are more equal than others?

We need to find more essays and material about this deliberate capture of curriculum by left-wing progressives for their ideological/political purposes. I found an excellent article on the hijacking of art education for the purpose of social justice, etc.. Very, very perceptive and scary. http://www.aristos.org/aris-10/hijacking.htm

Of course, science, math, literature are already seeing social justice themes but I haven’t seen any articles (good references) as persuasive as the above art article.

Am I a conspiracy freak? I don’t think so. I see the progressive agenda being actualized everywhere. Progressives are about a number of things, but their main thing is uniformity. NO CHOICES. That’s why they love government monopoly education.

kprugman said...

What is funderstanding? A publisher, so what...

Get a PhD then tell me more about what you learned. I'm an academic, not out to make a buck. This is hyper-bunk.

Laurie H. Rogers said...

Readers, Robert Archer's article has been mentioned in the Core Knowledge blog at this address:

http://blog.coreknowledge.org:80/2010/08/16/teaching-grammar-by-osmosis/

There have been several supportive comments.

kprugman said...

The Core Knowledge Foundation supports the common standards initiative. Voluntary standards are "a not-to-be-missed opportunity" for American education. —E. D. Hirsch, Jr.

Are you claiming Core Knowledge curriculum is non-constructivist?

Vygotsky and Hirsch probably agreed more than they disagreed. Both were Marxists. Constructivism is not about any one particular pedagogy. I find all American textbooks tasteless and pathetic. It matters not the pedagogy.

Constructivism provides a framework for understanding how children learn.

Laurie H. Rogers said...

I don't believe anyone writing for this article or its comments made any mention of a supposed Core Knowledge philosophy. The only reference to CK was that the CK blog mentioned Robert Archer's article.

Second, in my humble opinion, constructivism does NOT provide a framework for understanding how children learn (other than to perhaps unintentionally illustrate how children do NOT learn). Instead, constructivism appears to be all about how certain people would like children to be taught.

Constructivism appears to be all about adults' preferences, NOT about children's needs.

kprugman said...

Constructivism (aka Learning theory)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constructivism_(learning_theory)

Core knowledge is not a research institute it is a window front courtesy E.D. Hirsch's publisher.

What kills a skunk is the publicity it gives itself.
- Abe Lincoln

The most important part of doing research is learning how to ask a question that has an answer. Most research asks a question, but gets lots of answers.

kprugman said...

Constructivism (aka learning theory)

Look it up on Wikipedia - it would be difficult for a researcher to cite Piaget and not include Vygotsky. I'm not making this up.

kprugman said...

And I believe you mentioned core knowledge first and yes, they are connected to E.D. Hirsch and if the publishers were inclined to post Stanley Archer's article, I'd be interested in learning why.

Suburban Chicken Farmer said...

"So, where exactly may I point my flaming finger of blame when 15- and 16-year-olds do not know extremely rudimentary grammar skills as they enter my high school classroom? At first glance, it would seem both easy and logical to blame my middle-school peers (since they didn’t force the knowledge into the students’ brains) or even society at large (since we have allowed written communication to be reduced to little more than texting and emailing). However, the first victim of my intended scorn is unfair..."

Why would it be unfair to blame middle and elementary school teachers for your students not knowing "rudimentary grammar?"
They were given bad directions seems awful thin to me. Could it be, the teachers themselves do not know "rudimentary grammar?"

kprugman said...

Ignorant people think it is the noise which fighting cats make that is so aggravating, but it ain't so; it is the sickening grammar that they use.
~Mark Twain

The grammar you are complaining about is the reasoning of people who don't read.

Vygotsky would probably have said that teeching grammar to an illiterate person is a big waste of time.

Bruce Price said...

Fine column. To those sincerely baffled by the decline in American education, please permit me to summarize all of my work these last many years: yes, it's a conspiracy.

I avoided that word for years and I find that now it makes people nervous. But the more you look at all the facets, the more the situation is undeniable. The Education Establishment in this country was much more interested in ideological maneuvering than in creating smart student. Specifically, they invented Whole Word, a method which makes people illiterate. They invented New Math and Reform Math, curricula which make people mathematically illiterate. They concocted a dozen major gimmicks, such as self-esteem, no memorization, cooperative learning, constructivism and many others, which keep people ignorant.

Just look at each of these items and count up the damage and you will know. How do we turn things around? Simple. Discard all these bad ideas.

Bruce Deitrick Price
Improve-Education.org

Tunya Audain said...

How public education sabotages the public interest

This blog, BETRAYED, Why Public Education is Failing is one of the best things that’s happened to me in the 40 plus years I’ve spent toiling for education reform. I love the aim of this blog: Help teachers and parents take back the classroom from those who have stolen it.

The only education reform success I’ve seen so far is the growth of home education – a movement where I was an early pioneer since 1972 when I first passed the idea on to John Holt in Mexico.

Otherwise, it’s been one long road of dismal frustration. And, YES, Bruce, it is because of a conspiracy. Not one, well-defined conspiracy, but a lot of self-interest and political/ideological agendas. The contending forces may very well be narrowed down to something as simple as Neo-Liberalism vs Neo-Marxism. A more sensitive, or politically correct treatment might call it Traditional Education vs Progressive Education.

I am at the present writing an essay on that topic – the title of this post. Amazing how much research there is on this subject.

Bruce’s writing certainly helps steer me in the right direction. Please see some of his book reviews here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/pdp/profile/AFBBRLA6RP5W0

And read his Dewey article as I’ve linked in my 1st post. Bruce says in one of his pieces, “…the story of how our educators worked so diligently to subvert education is the single most puzzling and thus most engaging story of all.”

In my research I’ve come across teacher trainers who say “Critical pedagogy is just disguised Neo-Marxism”. Bruce says when the term progressive goes into disrepute, it goes underground and reinvents itself as perhaps constructivism or co-operative learning.

I would like to see a lot more discussion on this topic because with the juggernaut now pushing for early, early childhood “education”, I’m really starting to fear for the institution of the family.

kprugman said...

I don't object to everything you post, in fact I support most of it.

Before I support an opinion, I look at the source and I suspect the motives of publishers more than I do of an academic who is motivated by professional interest and less by money.

My task is pointing you in the right direction so you may vent properly on the right villian.

Cooperative learning is a class of activity structures and there are many ways cooperative learning can be utilized in a classroom. It has a mixed record of success.

Most high school classrooms do not use cooperative learning. Some of the reasons this models fails with older students are because the textbooks are a failure and its neither the teacher or the students.

Constructivism had nothing to do with their failure. In fact, good studies usually point out the source of the failure. If its a texbook then said study won't get published.

Real studies might have to control for over 50 variables and take years of analysis and writing. They get subjected to all sorts of scrutiny. The studies you find on a publisher's web site are mostly rubbish. They were written to sell their curriculum to school boards. Most of the research are testimonies from teachers who might have been testing a unit or a chapter for a few weeks during the year. That's not a study - its an opinion from a non-expert.

Constructivism provides a unified framework for studying learning in different settings. It would be impossible to analyze reading programs without some knowledge of constructivism.

Sometimes a researcher is bold enough to reject curriculum x, most are not. Those who do, most likely will lose their job. What better way to defame a respected scientist than demonize the area of his expertise. Such is the mind of a textbook author and his publisher.

kprugman said...

If your district had well-written textbooks, then your teachers wouldn't have to be professors.

I know math teachers working on their Doctorates in Mathematics and their results with high school students are less than average.

Its difficult teaching algebra or fractions when your best student knows only lattice multiplication, courtesy of Everyday Math.

If children can't use fractions then they can't even build a piece of furniture or cook or sew. Well, they could, but who'd want to use it or eat it.

What is hyper-constructivism?

Anonymous said...

I find it funny and ironic that the bulk of these comments fail to properly using elementary grammar.

Carole said...

The loss of 'drill and kill' in the math classroom has been part of the intentional dumbing down of our students. Interesting that 'practice makes perfect' works okay for sports practice, music, etc? It is the same game but a different name. This all coincided with the deliberate loss of diagramming sentences that gave structure,logic, and a mental and visual understanding to every sentence a student wrote. You can't teach what you don't know or understand, and our teachers coming in for the last 25 years have been dummied down to do a dummied down curriculum. The nonsense of worrying about the child's self esteem has taken precedence over mental rigor. This process has been purposely planned and in the works since the 1950s. Read 'The Deliberate Dumbing Down of American Schools', by Charlotte Iserby. As an insider she got fired when she blew the whistle on the policies that had been put into place by the Department of Education, which are still in existence obviously today. It is folly to think that we have fallen so far down all across America with all the money we have poured into the system, and yet it is still in a downward spiral sham. Now the push is to give every student a computer in America so they can 'learn', when research has shown that direct one on one teaching with a live person is the most effective way to learn. This goes far deeper than meets the eye.

Carole said...

The loss of 'drill and kill' in the math classroom has been part of the intentional dumbing down of our students. Interesting that 'practice makes perfect' works okay for sports practice, music, etc? It is the same game but a different name. This all coincided with the deliberate loss of diagramming sentences that gave structure,logic, and a mental and visual understanding to every sentence a student wrote. You can't teach what you don't know or understand, and our teachers coming in for the last 25 years have been dummied down to do a dummied down curriculum. The nonsense of worrying about the child's self esteem has taken precedence over mental rigor. This process has been purposely planned and in the works since the 1950s. Read 'The Deliberate Dumbing Down of American Schools', by Charlotte Iserby. As an insider she got fired when she blew the whistle on the policies that had been put into place by the Department of Education, which are still in existence obviously today. It is folly to think that we have fallen so far down all across America with all the money we have poured into the system, and yet it is still in a downward spiral sham. Now the push is to give every student a computer in America so they can 'learn', when research has shown that direct one on one teaching with a live person is the most effective way to learn. This goes far deeper than meets the eye.

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