Left behind

Mr. Kim, a Teach for America novice in Washington, D.C.,  tried to explain to JR that he needs to do much better to pass summer school and move on to 10th grade. Asked if he’d review for the final, he said “probably.” After all, he said, did George Bush pass a law about not leaving anyone behind?

We explained that NCLB was about schools and not individual students.

. . . JR didn’t buy it. He expressed his confusion: “Well then why do they still call it ‘No Student Left Behind’?”

We told him we didn’t know.

Mr. Kim also is trying to help LA, who never learned to sound out words phonetically.

He told me after our session that when he “reads” he looks at new words and compares them to the limited set of words he already knows and sees how they are similar.  Based on this familiarity analysis, he literally “guesses” what a word might mean.  He told me he never actually sounds out new words because he doesn’t know how to.  So, when he sees “America” he often says “Americans” since he is more familiar with the latter word and doesn’t actually “read out” the former.

These students were left behind years ago.

Teach for America teachers are finishing their summer training — four hours of sleep a night seems to be the standard — and heading to their teaching assignments. Here’s a link to their blogs.

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  1. thaprof says:

    Another victim of “whole language” reading instruction. They ought to round up and horsewhip the education profs who peddle this nonsense.

  2. CA Teacher says:

    Got to agree with thaprof there. Although when I read the whole post, it looked as if JR has some idea that NCLB means that he’s not required to do any work himself, because the school’s not supposed to leave him behind no matter what.

    The “four hours of sleep” thing caught my attention. Why do society and the education system think it is okay to do that to people? I had the same experience in my regular credential program and during the CA State BTSA program, which is required in the first two years of teaching. It was three years of sheer hell. My cohort and I nearly lost our minds, because we were given more work than was humanly possible to finish. People wonder why so many burn out during the first few years? Sheesh.

  3. Cardinal Fang says:

    I tried to leave a comment on Mr. Kim’s site, but it failed. I hope he reads here.

    His student, LA, lacks phonological awareness. This is a classic symptom of dyslexia. LA is probably dyslexic. Mr. Kim should ask his literacy specialist for strategies to remediate dyslexia.

    It’s not enough to teach young dyslexics to sound out words. Their problem is prior to that: they can’t segment spoken words into sounds. I bet LA has trouble rhyming.

  4. CA Teacher says:

    I was thinking the same thing as Cardinal Fang re. LA– that it sounded more like a processing disorder than a whole-language issue.

  5. I agree with the above poster. My guess is that TFA has no way or time to advise their young teachers about learning issues, many of which have been neglected over the years especially in the areas where TFA goes. Not sure how to advise.

  6. Cardinal Fang says:

    Even if LA was initially taught phonics, if he’s dyslexic, phonics wouldn’t have been enough. He can’t learn the names of the sounds if he can’t tell the sounds apart.

    Consider this analogy: I have two balls. Without using English, I’m trying to teach you that the red ball is called “Rojo” and the green ball is called “Verde.” I’ll point, and name, and use pantomime, and probably pretty quickly you’ll pick it up. You know the difference between a red ball and a green ball; you just need to learn the names.

    Now suppose you’re red/green colorblind. Both of the balls look the same to you, a dirty brown. You can’t learn the names, because you can’t distinguish the red ball from the green ball.

    It’s the same with trying to teach phonics to someone without phonological awareness. The teacher is trying to teach them that “cast” is spelled C A S T and “cask” is spelled C A S K, but they can’t even distinguish the endings of those two words. They think “task” rhymes with “cast.” They can’t learn the names, because they can’t distinguish the sounds.

    So it may be that LA was in fact taught phonics, but it went right over his head because it made no sense to him, just as insisting the red and the green ball are different makes no sense to a colorblind person. It’s greatly to LA’s credit that he managed to learn to read without phonological awareness.

  7. EDougas says:

    As a teacher, and someone who has struggled with dyslexia, I cannot count the number of times I’ve heard the anti whole language argument and raged at it. The number of unfortunates who, unable to read using phonics, simply have more phonics pushed in their faces, is truly sad. I’ve made it my mission to talk to children about reading and my own experiences. More than one child, and more than one parent, has come to thank me for helping them understand what’s going on with their reading.

  8. Why isn’t TFA teaching its people how to diagnose reading problems? Screening students for phonemic awareness should be a basic for anyone going into teaching.

  9. Cardinal Fang says:

    Ray says: Why isn’t TFA teaching its people how to diagnose reading problems? Screening students for phonemic awareness should be a basic for anyone going into teaching.

    In Mr. Kim’s defense, he’s teaching high school. Most high school teachers are not reading specialists.

  10. You’ve got a good point. The school should be screening these students and making sure they get the services they need. It would probably be helpful for the TFA people to learn more about reading problems, although with a less dysfunctional school system they wouldn’t have to.

  11. Neither Whole Language or Phonics are complete in themselves. One needs to use parts of each system to teach reading properly, with some students learning more from one approach than another.

  12. I’m secondary certified, and I had classes in identifying learning disorders. But there’s only so much you can jam into a six-week summer program.

    EDougas: you are absolutely correct. Many learning disabled kids cannot learn with phonics; this is why you need teachers trained in several methods and how to discern when to use them.