Aug. 3rd, 2017

stevenpiziks: (Default)
The New York Times posted this article about students and writing. Go have a look and come back:

It's interesting and shows a number of teachers who have different approaches to solving the problem of students who can't write well.  But, as the article notes, people complaining of a lack of writing skill in America dates back to at least 1874.  The article also fails to point out the two biggest reasons we have that many students don't write well, and I'll address them here.

1.  Student Motivation  A lot of students--the majority of them--just don't care if their writing sparkles and zings.  They really don't.  They only want to know what they can do to earn a certain grade.  For some, this grade is an A, and for some it's a D, and some don't even care about that much.  Only a tiny handful actually care about learning how to be a better writer.  This describes the vast majority of the population, really.  Ask a thousand people on the street how many of them enjoy writing and want to improve their writing skill.  You'll come up with a vanishingly small percentage.  A teacher can only teach what the student wants to learn.  A student who puts in minimal effort will see minimal improvement.  In my own classroom, I use a number of techniques and activities to cheerlead and motivate and attempt to persuade that they should work to improve their writing, but in the end, they have to want to do the work.  I can't force them.  No one can.  It has to come from the students.

2. Class Size  A glaring omission from the article is the impact of class size.  Teacher A talks about identifying a great sentence in a student's work, and Teacher B talks about having all her students read their writing aloud in class.  Very nice.  Then I look at my class lists.  35 students.  34 students.  37 students.  How the hell?  I simply can't go through my students' writing and look for "great sentences."  And having my students read their writing aloud to the class?  I do that with ONE assignment per year, and it takes three full days, plus one make-up day for students who were absent.  I can barely provide feedback on essays by circling responses on a rubric.  I agree that teacher feedback and student rewrites are important to improving student writing, but when you have 34/35/37 students in class, with a third of them special needs, you just can't do it.  Back in the days when my classes were 21/22/19, I gave a lot more feedback, and my students did a lot more writing.  Now?  I scrape by with the minimum because I can only evaluate so many papers at once.

You'll notice that the above two situations aren't within the teacher's control.  Motivation ultimately has to come from within.  Class size is dictated by budgets.  If you really want to improve student writing, parents need to set an example for their kids to provide the motivation and vote to improve school funding to help with the budget.

stevenpiziks: (Default)
Darwin did it, so I did it.  Just for fun, I sent my DNA in for ancestry testing at .  The results came back a few days ago, and they were surprising in that there were no surprises:

  • 49% Europe East (Latvia)

  • 23% Europe West (France and Germany, mostly)

  • 28% Other regions (England, Wales, Scotland)

The half Latvian side is what I expected.  Lots of farmers in my family over there, and they didn't move around much.  But considering the number of times Latvia has been invaded and occupied, I was wondering if some DNA from farther east might have wandered into the bloodline.  Nope!  My dad's side of the family seems to have avoided that.

The other half did surprise me, but it was the lack of surprise that was the surprise.  The Drakes and Bacons (my mother's side) have been in North America for centuries and at least one Drake owned slaves--plenty of time and chances for African and Native American genes to enter the family.  But nope!  Nothing there.  The web site gave me some more specific information, too, which said my mother's half mostly arrived in New York and Connecticut, which I knew already.

Interestingly, I came up less than 4% from Ireland, even though Darwin found a great-great grandmother of ours from Dublin.


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