Saturday, October 12, 2013

High Standards

I hear it a lot - teachers need to hold students to high standards, but I often wonder what they really mean by that.  One interpretation could be that we need to have goals that are substantial and make sure that kids are encouraged to meet those goals.  The problem is, sometimes the goals are so specific that we can check them off of a checklist, but students still aren't doing as well as they need to be.  They may have accomplished that specific goal for that specific time period, but the learning isn't being incorporated into their overall education. 

A while back, I subbed for a class where the students were supposed to do some writing.  On September 7th, I wrote a post about handwriting.  5th grade students were supposed to write a conclusion for a science activity they had done.  Only they couldn't print correctly; they couldn't write sentences correctly; and most of their conclusions were superficial and even inaccurate.  So, what do teachers typically do?  They give the students a grade for the conclusion and move on.

I see lots of kids' writing.  Most of the time, it is far below what I think students at that grade level should be able to produce.  I was in a fourth grade the other day and was looking at students' writing.  They were doing a final draft, before typing up their pieces on the computer (which is backwards in my mind, but that is for another post).  This was a very good school and the problems weren't huge, but still, how much should the kids be held to producing quality work?  Should everything on the page be spelled correctly?  Should the grammar be correct?  Should paragraphing be correct?

One boy wrote with very poetic language.  He was writing a fable and the ideas and organization of the story were fabulous.  His spelling was atrocious.  How much should we hold him to correct spelling?  Does it hurt his development as a writer to make him spell correctly on his final copy?  My personal bias is to frankly tell him that his writing, and especially his word choice, is fabulous, but his spelling is atrocious.  In order for people to really appreciate his wonderful writing, he needs to spell correctly, so that people can understand and appreciate what he is saying, without being distracted by misspelled words.  I corrected his spelling, but honestly told him what a great fable he had written.

How many times should we go over students' writing?  One girl had the beginning of a good story.  I was there the day she was working on her final draft.  I could see it was getting much better than her original draft (both were available).  How many times should a teacher have her go back and revise her work?  What is the meaning of a high standard in this respect?  She seemed capable of going at it again - should we have her do so? 

I don't usually get to see the whole process, since I am just subbing, but I often wonder what high standards mean in this respect.  And, are we holding the kids to them? 

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