Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The forest and the trees

I'm in Greenville, at the University Center, getting warm before I head out to John T. Simpson Alternative School for an afternoon meeting. I was thinking as I observed one of the CEALL teachers today how often we take for granted the vast number of vocabulary terms we throw at students, and I am including myself in this.

Students were reviewing terms about weather in one class, learning about the coordinate plane in another, and discussing grammar and the punctuation that is called for with complex and compound sentences and characterization in the novel Sense and Sensibility. In just three class periods, I was really overwhelmed. Weather is not one of my areas of expertise, nor is the coordinate plane or grammar - in fact, I noted some new stuff I learned today in my notes - I never really knew what a comma splice was until today. I mean, I knew you shouldn't do it. I knew I had made bad grades because I had made the error, but no one had ever really explained what it was [and now I'm wondering if I've just made a comma splice myself]. Anyway, I started thinking about the course I'm teaching right now and all the vocabulary I use, thinking that the students know what I'm talking about but now I really wonder -- have I literally thrown lots of terms at them and they are just too overwhelmed or too polite to stop me and say, "Hey, I don't have a clue" -- makes one wonder.

Sometimes, I think we as teachers get bogged down in a consideration of the trees with little or no consideration of the forest - and I for one need to step back and reconsider just how much I try to cram down my students' throats. I've often said less is more, and I've tried to simplify -- but maybe I need to do more of that. I don't want my students to get lost in the trees and never really glimpse the forest - so it's back to the drawing board for the READ 867 class plans - we meet next week and it should be interesting. The topic is vocabulary. How ironic is that?

No comments: