July 20, 2012

Deep Feedback and Deep Word Use

....Was reading a Mother Jones article about private vs. public universities and how well they teach writing, critical thinking, and the like. Of course there is the familiar argument about how we can't really teach sophistication, and the differences in how your papers are attended to, and by who (professor or TA), but what pranced out at me was mention of how paltry the actual deep feedback is, for written assigments, with  budget cutbacks.

That is what is sorely needed - a mentor, a teacher, a trusted adult, with whom to talk about your writing with. Sigh!

Pity the middle school Language Arts teachers, who subscribe to Educational Journals, read the articles that their guest in-service providers hand out, take summer intensives in how to better teach writing to hormonal media-soaked pre-teens, and YET, they don't have the time to really spend with them, one-on-one, discussing the revisions needed in their writing, create deep goals for their writing improvement, and simply have time to READ all those papers! Okay run-on sentence award there, for me.

Someday there will be a way to tape record comments of a teacher while they skim a paper, with some futuristic mind-reading software, and the student then uses those to create a revision, which then gets read by a Grad Student who is doing an in-service project as part of their teacher certification.  In the meantime we need smaller classes and great teachers and bigger budgets and (refrain of song repeats here)

And how I wish this Scrabble sentence were true!
This summer I am also awash in reflections on the Vocabulary Deficit. For BOTH the students whose families have "means", as well as the foster kids who I am overseeing the interventions for this summer, I see serious gaps in vocabulary, as we read fiction, non-fiction, and everything in between. I am shocked at the limits of their understanding of academic language (aka "book words" or the ability to draw from sophisticated lists of synonyms for what they are reading - or what they are writing).

I mean, I don't spend time with them on a word like "cabaret" or "arid" but when a soon-to-be 7th grader doesn't know what "finite" or "prohibitive" means, we may be headed for a roadblock or two in assigned readings in 7th or 8th grade. Duh. 

Oh, if I am in a thunderstorm kind of day, July mood, with fewer clients than I would like to have this month, and cleaning even the tops of door jambs to pass the time, forgive my melancholy. But the vocabulary gap is real. As is the dearth of adult feedback to our budding next generation of writers. 

As one of my favorite bloggers says, "Today I don't have any upbeat tips, just words strung together to make you think, and smile."

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