Sunday, August 30, 2009

Standards Sundays: Grade 5 word analysis, fluency, and systematic vocabulary development

1st grade "Fluency Flowers." KM's goal was to have them reading 100 words a minute by the end of the year - which is a VERY ambitious goal indeed, since the regular expectation is 50 wpm.

Wow, that's one long title. I personally think plain old word analysis would cover most of it. Under this first - relatively small - topic of the standards, students are supposed to:

^ read fluently, accurately, and with expression
^ use word origins, roots and affixes to figure out meaning
^ know synonyms, antonyms, and homographs
^ explain figurative/metaphorical language in context

That's basically it. Not too much right? Well, depends on how you look at it. Because:

First, reading with fluency, accuracy, and expression depends not only on the text but on the purpose of the reading. I guess we are going for the minimum here, but there is so much room for more here, especially in terms of expression. I don't think I can explain it very well. It's like how Meredith Grey can deliver the one word, "seriously" in many, many different ways.

By the way, fluency is over-rated. I would very much prefer a student to take their time reading aloud, enunciating, than have them mumble-jumble through text at the speed of light. Also, just because they can read it doesn't mean they know the meaning of it.

Second, a teacher can spend a solid month on origins, roots and affixes alone. But once again, I guess most aim for the minimum. Which is a little sad, but I anticipate that this might be the route I take too. Same with synonyms, antonyms, and homographs (same word, different meaning - can be homophones/homonyms, such as the flower rose and the past tense of rise "rose," or heteronyms such as "to read" and "I read that book yesterday"). English is a tough language to learn, yo.

I think metaphorical language is the most difficult for a lot of fifth graders to grasp. It's such a vague idea, and goes so much beyond knowing how to compare things with "like." I have yet to see it taught in a way that doesn't reduce the importance or power of using such devices in writing.

The best idea I have to teach this standard is to make projects out of idioms. Drawing time pieces flying around a playground would depict "time flies when you're having fun" and so on.

Well, my CT last semester didn't really show me a whole lot of direct instruction strategies to teach these things. For the most part, he had students write paragraphs a lot. And by "a lot," I mean maybe once or twice a month. Which really isn't a whole lot at all. Now that I think about it, he leaned more towards the "banking" philosophy of teaching - that students are empty vessels and the teacher's sole job is to pour knowledge into them. No wonder my teaching never really caught on.

All of this pertains to "grade-level appropriate" reading however. Which I also have a distaste for. What on earth is "grade-level appropriate?" The drivel that's found in Open Court anthologies? Is learning this content using 4th grade, or 6th grade, or God forbid 8th grade level reading not allowed?

Ok, well, I don't want fifth grade students to read second grade level stuff. They really should be on short chapter books at least. But I hate it when students are limited to reading their grade level stuff, at most. So what if they don't understand some words? So what if they take forever to slog through a novel? I think if they want to, and have the determination to, then go for it.

But I also know it's not as simple as that. I also don't want students to be so discouraged at reading something they don't understand that they give up in frustration. However, I've given up on books too - mainly because they are boring, or the writing wasn't great. It's ok to stop reading a particular book, right? Just not stop reading altogether.


Amy said...

found your blog via list addicts society. :) this will be one of my new fave reads!!

i love to read and found this post very interesting considering i know a lot of people (young and old) who do not read at all except when forced to or used to love reading but do not have the "time" or can't find any books that are "interesting enough." Reading is fundamental!!

bun2bon said...

Yes, reading is fundamental!

List Addicts is the best. It never fails to make my day a little brighter. Enjoy the blog!