VIGNETTES SERIES 10 : Ideas for teachers

VIGNETTES SERIES 10

Vignettes 32 – 34
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VIGNETTE. 32

SPELLING : NECESSARY OR SUPERFLUOUS?

There are some who says that attention the spelling is old hat and the discipline of being able to spell accurately and correctly really not necessary anymore.

In an age of computer technology, they argue that the computer, iPads and similar gadgets provide students with correct spelling options through “spellcheck” and other text refining devices. Therefore it is not necessary to know how to spell words by heart any longer.

Others argue that in terms of priority spelling is a basic that no longer needs to be taught. There are other teaching and learning priorities.

Maybe “experts” believe that spelling skills will be required by osmosis. Some people genuinely believe that spelling accuracy isn’t important because corrections for both spelling and grammar can be provided by checks built into attachments for word documents and others. My personal belief is that that is the lazy way out.

I once had a teacher say to me “I don’t teach spelling because I don’t like it.” Teaching basics is apparently boring and quite stifling for some people. This overlooks the fact that teaching important basic understanding this is repetitious and not all learning is tinsel and glitter. However, there is a way of engaging children with spelling that makes it quite exciting and look forward to. There are numerous spelling games available that can be adapted for classroom use. These can be developed to support and reinforce graduated learning where the specific spelling word building an extension program is being followed.

Spelling and word appreciation games up also available and this is one area where computer or iPad use can be reinforcing. My contention however is that spelling is an area that requires basic teaching. It can’t all be left to children working on devices and acquiring the understanding they need without teaching going into the program.

And example of one game are used with spelling was to ask children to within their minds to configure words broken into syllables attached to a piece of elastic. There is the word. as your stretch the elastic with in your minds eye the word broke into syllables. The study of the silver balls enabled you to follow the patterning of the word. When the word had been “examined the close boat by the stretch principal the elastic was relaxed the word came back together and was spilled aurally with everything all in place. I found this method worked particularly well especially if it was built into a game including competition between children for accuracy and recall.

I believe we neglect spelling at our peril and to the eternal loss of students.
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VIGNETTE 33

WATCH OUT FOR TRENDINESS

Education is exciting, often because of the chance to innovate and try out new ideas. However, it is important to consider and study the merit of new ideas. ‘Reform’ and ‘initiative’ are words often overdone.

Education that bounces from one new idea to the next, to the next in rapid succession, can present a destabilising and hard to follow classroom experience for children. There seems no end to the plethora of ideas, approaches and priorities that come along.

It is important that schools and teachers apply a filter to suggestions of change. The pros and cons of issues need to be considered. To grasp at something new for the sake of its novelty is unwise.

Schools and staff who take and consider ideas and change suggestions are wise. This is where the value of collaboration and conversation comes to the fore. Within every group, there are those who want to run with change, others who prefer dialogue and careful consideration and a third group who dig in and avoid change at all costs. from this delightful mix, school organisation evolves.

Some thoughts:

* Discuss issues with colleagues and also be a sounding board for them.
* Read and research new initiatives.
* Make a list of the pros and cons relative to change in teaching approaches.
* Discuss ideas with people who may have trialled them.
* Make the subject one for discussion at unit meetings and possibly whole staff
meetings.
* Consider whether changes will build on what has gone before, or whether
they will mean starting all over again in particular areas. There is a lot to be
said for ‘steady state’ or incremental development.
* Take into account budgetary implications of change. Programs that are resource heavy can finish up costing schools a lot of money.
* Consider if change addresses major learning needs or if it is simply about embellishment or ‘prettying the edges’ of learning; is it about superficiality or
substance?

Change ought not be resisted by habit. Neither should it be blindly accepted for change’s sake. Consider new ideas on their merit including thinking, reading and discussion with others.

Importantly, consider that change builds on what has gone before. To throw out everything that has been developed, using change as an excuse to ‘start all over’ would be the extreme of foolishness.
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VIGNETTE 34

REPORTING TO PARENTS

Reporting to parents and caregivers in most primary schools, is a task undertaken each term. Toward the end of terms one and three, teachers report orally. Oral reports allow for conversations with parents on student progress. They enable teachers and parents to discuss progress including student strengths and the challenges they face.

Written reports are provided toward the end of terms two and four. These documents are looked forward to by many parents. They are at times photocopied and sent to grandparents or other relatives living at distance.

For teachers, report writing is a task not to be taken lightly. The importance of reports to parents in large part influences the way in which these documents are regarded by our department and school principals. They are valued and valuable documents.

There are a couple of things that need to be understood. The first is that with teaching being increasingly a collaborative effort, a number of teachers may need to contribute to the preparation of student reports. Secondly, the steps leading to final report documents, mean that reports have to be started many weeks before the end of each term. Allowing time to prepare them reasonably is something that can be easily overlooked.

Consider the following:

* Reports as a statement from teachers to parents need to be honest and
accurate.
* Spelling and grammar need to be correct as they reflect teacher standards.
* Reports should be factually correct.
* Preparation is helped if teachers have a critical colleague read through their
documents before sending them to senior staff for vetting and approval.
* What is written needs to be substantiated by background facts supporting
statements of progress. Inaccuracy can be embarrassing to teachers if report
comments are challenged by parents and cannot be refuted.
* Language needs to be carefully chosen, reporting on facts and not supposition.
* Avoid words like ‘will’ and choose words like ‘may’ when talking about potential
for improvement. Absolute words throw the onus on teachers to make things
happen; it is up to the student to achieve his or her potential.

I have always favoured the idea of teachers discussing reports with children and students about whom they are prepared, on a one-to-one basis. Commendation and recommendation for improvement might be part of these conversations. Post report discussion with parents can also have positive spin offs, particularly if the approach is one of offering encouragement.

Reports reflect outcomes based on effort. That, together with character traits that contribute to good citizenship deserve recognition. While academic success is important, the social, emotional and moral/spiritual aspects of development are also worthy of mention. That is not always possible because these criterion have been expunged from many reporting templates.
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