Monday, February 25, 2008

Booknotes: What Do I Do Monday, Part Five


Varieties of Writing

  • “In all talking or writing (which is a special form of talking) there are three elements. Someone is talking; he is talking to someone; his is talking about something. How he talks, or writes, depends on whom he is talking to, and what his is talking about.” What he learned from James Moffett.
  • “Almost all the writing we ask students to do in school is of a very distant kind – writing to a far, almost non-existent audience, about far subjects.” Also from Moffett.
  • “But Moffett’s further point is that it is very unlikely, almost impossible, that someone will be able to do good far writing if he has not first learned to do good near (personal) writing.”

Writing for Others

  • “There has to be more writing for love, if writing is to improve, and I don’t see how this can be done unless at least a good part of each child’s writing is wholly outside the area of corrections, approval, criticism, marks.

Marking and Grading

  • “In the kind of learning I have been talking about there is no place and no need for conventional testing and grading.”
  • Idea: Average of all a student’s grades or even his best grade for the semester.
  • “It is not grading alone that is stupid, but the whole idea of trying to have a class move along on a schedule, like a train. Children do not learn things at the same time, or equally easily and quickly.”
  • “We should also mark as privately as we can. Only the teacher and the student, not the other children, should know what marks anyone is getting.
  • “We can at least make clear to the children how little grades mean to us. In my last fifth-grade class, I told the children that I did not believe in grades, that learning could not be measured and labeled with a number or letter or word, that I only gave them grades because if I didn’t the school wouldn’t let me teach them at all, and that grades had nothing to do with what I thought about them as people.”
  • “We should grade, if we have to, as easily as possible. Particularly at the low end.” Minimum of C-.
  • “There is absolutely no excuse for a teacher or a school failing a student. We are there for them, not they for us. … If a student spends a year in my class and learns something, then I have no right to fail him. I must find a way to give him some positive and legitimate credit for whatever he has learned. If at the end of a year he has truly learned nothing, if the experience has brought nothing new at all into his life, has not in any way helped him to grow out into the world, then I am the one who should be failed, not him.”
  • ‘For years they’ve been making me hate my kid!’ “This rule about parents and teachers always working together is a bad and silly one. The only good rule is that people, whether parents or teachers, who trust and respect and value children should support them against other people, whether parents or teachers, who do not.”
  • “I then said that students should organize to refuse to take such tests, and that teachers should organize to refuse to give them. … Only when we stop being judges, graders, labelers, can we begin to be true teachers, educators, helpers of growth and learning.”
  • “Only when all parents, not just rich ones, have a truly free choice in education, when they can take their children out of a school they don’t like, and have a choice of many others to send to, or the possibility of starting their own, or of educating their children outside of school altogether – only then will we teachers begin to stop being what most of us still are and if w are honest know we are, which is jailers and babysitters, cops without uniforms, and begin to be professionals, freely exercising an important, valued, and honored skill and art.”

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