Friday, June 19, 2009

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Yesterday I read One Million Papers.

Today I have to read One Million More.

You don't know what life is all about until you've read One Million Papers written by kids who don't quite know English yet. Now don't get me wrong, I adore kids like that (for the most part, at least). But it's very time-consuming to read their papers en masse.

Do you know what "luin" means? It means the kid just came from Korea six months ago and cannot yet discern the difference between "r" and "l" sounds. Have you ever eaten a bowl of "soap?" Well, my Spanish-speaking student hasn't actually done that either, but hears the word half in his own language and that's how it comes out.

Now take those perception errors, multiply them a hundredfold, and read pages and pages and pages of them. It can be a long day.

But that's not really the main problem. The worst of it is that the NY State Board of Regents values content and meaning much more than usage or grammar. And so, when preparing them for this make-or-break test, we teach them content, meaning, a dozen literary terms the Regents think people can't live without, but tend to gloss over the usage and grammar we don't have time for. Consequently, our students are likely not to carry basic, necessary skills to college--Regents prep courses are given in lieu of traditional ESL classes.

It's really on our minds that they have to pass the test or they don't graduate. So we have to keep a narrow focus and make them pass by pretty much any means necessary. But our kids would be far better off in the long run if we could just teach them the English skills they will so sorely need later--in college. At that point, habits are more entrenched, and kids will literally have to pay for what we could've given them when they were younger--when they could absorb concepts about language more easily.

It's pretty clear the Board of Regents in New York State knows absolutely nothing about language acquisition.
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