Friday, January 18, 2008

Catching Up

I've really not been doing a good job of keeping these things updated. I have like four interviews I need to report on, plus class..!

Things have been very busy here. Among other things, I've been teaching at the community college again. It's a mix of frustration and reward, this semester as previously. I look at my students, and I realize that they are basically no different from the nine-year-olds I teach on Sunday mornings. They don't have much in the way of reading comprehension or analytical skills, they have a short attention span, and they frankly just don't care--but they're also desperate for someone to challenge them, to tell them that they can do something relevant, and to give them a hint what that might be.
Anyway, Sunday school has been going pretty well. We LOVE Bible Study Guides. JoEtta, who used to homeschool her kids (they are now my age) saw that and said, "That's what you guys are using? We used that! It's exactly what you wanted, isn't it? Just simple and straightforward." She's right. I've just been trying to compile my thoughts on curriculum, and to outline what I feel it should be, and Jo summed it up exactly. When curricula start to get a bit fancy, I become suspicious that they are trying to cover up the fact that they have no real content to speak of. I think the kids are getting a lot out of it. We've just finished studying the story of Joseph, and we've been working through it since the first Sunday of December. Don't bother getting out your Bibles and calculators--that's about two chapters per week (one for Sunday and one for Wednesday). In the curriculum the church used before this quarter, this would have been a one-week proposition. A few weeks ago, Josh said, "Are we done with Joseph yet??" He said he was getting bored with Joseph (probably because he already had a passing knowledge of the story). He couldn't have been too bored, though--he attacked his lesson happily once we got going.
I'm constantly surprised at how the kids like anything that seems like a game, even if they can tell it's entirely academic and drill-ish. I invented a game that I call "5Ws (and H)," where I write the interrogatives down the left side of the board, and then I give them a section of text from the Bible (typically, this is an end-of-class five-minute game, so I use the Bible text from that day). The kids have to take turns thinking of a question, and the other kids have to try to answer it. The answerer gets a point, or if no one answers, the asker gets a point. Once someone has asked a particular type of question (a "Why" question, for example), that type of question is no longer available to the other askers. The kids are always stumped by "When" and "Where," which seems odd to me--everything happens in a place and a time, and before, after, near, or far from something else. Ben stared at his Bible and said, "I don't see any questions in here." I tried to help. "Can you find something that happens in the story and then ask where it happened?" He ultimately came up with something, but I don't think that he really understood the game. The others did, though, and he'll catch on. He's a very smart boy, but he doesn't know it.
One thing I'm constantly baffled by is the kids' lack of reading comprehension, across the board. Even Josh, who is often a big reader--well, more about him later. Last Sunday, when we were studying the chapter where Jacob blesses his grandsons, I asked Gracen the question, "Who did Joseph say gave his children to him?" She thought for a minute and then said, "Pharoah?" I pointed her to the verse where Joseph says, "These are my sons, whom God gave to me in the land of Israel." She read it aloud and with perfect fluency. I asked the question again. She still didn't know. It took her reading the passage three times and more pointed questioning before she found the answer. She's a smart kid, and she says she loves books. So...why was that hard? I wish I knew more about what the schools here are teaching kids. Several of the instructors at the community college have told me that they are seeing an effect of the Virginia "Standards of Learning" (which includes, in part, a list of vocabulary words kids should have memorized. Example: Every seventh-grader in the state has to know the word "speakeasy." Seriously??). These instructors feel that the quality of their students has declined since VA implemented its version of education reform. One math professor told me, "My students are always begging me for multiple choice tests. It's because you can just do your problem and then look at the choices, and if the answer you came up with isn't there, you know you messed up. So I gave them a multiple-choice test--but I put "None of the above" as the last option on every question. They bombed it." Is it the SoLs (which, incidentally, stands for something else entirely in the state where I grew up)? Or what?
Even Josh is not making reading progress on the same trajectory he was last year. He also doesn't talk about books as much as he used to, relative to video games or movies. I was surprised and bothered by that, and when I mentioned it to JC, he said, "Josh didn't have a PSP or Nintendo DS last year." For clueless people like me, those are handheld gaming systems, as opposed to the consoles that you plug into the TV. "Think about it," JC said. "You take your handheld everywhere that boredom might otherwise prompt you to take a book. So you play your PSP on the school bus, or while you're waiting for the train or on car trips. At least a console system, you have the TV that other people in the family want access to, so you have some limits. Kids don't read under the covers anymore, they play Nintendo DS." I realized that my husband was totally right--and my (future) children will never have hand-held systems.

The kids generally, despite lack of reading comprehension, have been better than last year. When we have only boys in the class, it does get a little out of hand (one of us teaches while the other repeats a litany of, "Stop poking him. Quit making that noise. Put all the feet of your chair on the floor."). The boys feed off of each other's chaotic energy, which makes it escalate. Still, we don't have anyone who is deliberately malicious, just mischevious. We've had some really great moments when the kids will be reading their Bibles and they will start giggling--not in a distracting, hyperactive way, but because they understand a joke that is being played in the Bible story. For example, Ben about fell out of his chair when he read about Joseph framing his brother Benjamin. I LOVE when the kids get to the point where they can interact with the text like that. It's why I teach. Last week, when we taught about Jacob's blessings, we stood up and acted it out. That passage about Joseph putting Manasseh on his left side, which was Jacob's right, etc., is awfully confusing even for an adult to read. JC (being by far the oldest male in the room) played Jacob, and I played Joseph, with Josh as Manasseh and Gracen as Ephraim. Because we talked about which hand was the "good" hand (right), and which kid should get the "good" blessing (the oldest), Josh really thought he was going to come out on top. He was rooting for his character very seriously. I read the whole set up, and he was just wiggling with excitement and saying to Gracen, "See, I get the good blessing and you don't!" when I read, "...but--"
Josh said, "Oh, no! Not 'but'! I don't want to hear 'but'!"
I love that he reads textual cues like that. It's awesome.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've found your blog twice now, searching for Bible Study Guide for All Ages. (We're starting Lesson 1 in our church at home this morning, btw!)

Would you please e-mail me at I have some questions about Rosetta Stone I'd love to ask you! :)

<><, TN Lizzie