Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Minor Musing: NCAA Brackets, Horoscopes, And The Classroom

John Spencer teaches "a sixth-grade ELL teacher in an urban, Title One School" in Arizona school. In a recent post he discusses the small victories of teaching. One stuck out:
Two students talk to me before school, asking about the NCAA Tournament brackets. It wouldn't seem like a big deal, except for the fact that they spoke no English at the beginning of the year. Both students worked far harder as students than I worked as a teacher.
Everyone who walks into my classroom speaks English. And yet, I have students ask me to help "put things in regular English." This past Friday, during study hall (yes, we still have study hall, but that's a post for a different day), a student brought up the local paper and asked me to help with the following passage:
Recognize the importance of indulging a loved one. Your positive attitude, coupled with the fact that it is Friday, helps you create the optimism and cheerful attitude you like to exude and also receive. Choose the right invitation for you. Tonight: In the whirlwind of life.
Even horoscopes can be a difficult read for some students. It wasn't "regular English."

I suppose some will suggest that I should have made sure that the student had all his homework done before giving him the "privilege" of reading the newspaper. At least one South Dakota blogger will accuse me of promoting some sort of UNESCO plot to take over schools because I helped a high school student learn what "indulge," "optimism," and "exude" mean when used in context. I'm sure some teachers will point out that  I didn't take full advantage of the teachable moment by having him sit down and and write an essay explaining if learning to use vocabulary a little better made him "exude optimism."

That being said a student came to a teacher to learn something; it doesn't matter if it's NCAA brackets or a horoscope. Spencer concludes his post:
So, when someone asks me about our achievement levels, I'm not going to spout off a bunch of test scores. I'm going to talk about achievement. Real achievement. The kind that lasts beyond the sixth grade. And I'm going to recognize that even if I was a part of the process, my students worked incredibly hard to pull it off.
He gets it right. The real achievement is the work students do to learn.

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