A small snippet of cultural bias

We talk about how standardized tests may be biased toward the established culture, but we do not often describe details. Here’s a small example: I am grading a paper that includes many unusual names such as Lourdes, Maite, Lupe, Ling, Sammo, Andrés, Antoinette, Luigi and Pierre. Except for Ling and Sammo, I am on comfortable ground. But many of my students do not know these names, even if they were born and raised in this country. They have never come across a Luigi, Maite, or Andrés. Since they have to know the gender of the people in the questions to provide correct answers in Spanish, I am finding a fair number of mistakes. Some kids asked as they started the homework in class, alerting me to the name problem. Others just guessed, and only sometimes correctly. One girl added a note: “I did not always know if it was a girl or a boy.”

It’s so easy to miss examples of cultural bias, hidden as they are in mistaken assumptions of knowledge that may not come to our attention until after the tests.

P.S. For those who know Spanish, I liked one Eastern European boy’s workaround. For “Ignacio” he wrote, “alto or guapo if a boy, alta or guapa if a girl.”

Hating to be on the wrong side


I read the protests. In answer to Target’s move to allow transgender customers to use the restroom of their choice, the Target boycott organized by the American Family Association apparently surged past 1 million participants Thursday night. The numbers keep climbing. Target’s on the wrong side of popular opinion on this one, that’s for sure.

I read frustrated responses from the LGBT community who point out that no one to our knowledge has ever been harmed by a transgender person in a bathroom. That may well be true. It’s tough to be sure in the Too Much Information Age about any facts, but I never saw that story ever, so I’ll accept the LGBT contention. I believe the LGBT community has been telling the truth about the risk from transgendered people in restrooms, which is probably close to nil.

My problem lies with those sexual predators and voyeurs who will take advantage of a bathroom open-door policy. I don’t see how we protect against the predator who throws on a scarf, some lipstick, and earrings and walks into an isolated restroom hoping to trap a girl or woman in a stall.

Women go to the bathroom in stalls, which are nothing more than little, locked rooms. What do you do if you are shoved into that little, locked room? Or pushed back in as you open the stall door? What if that man wearing magenta lipstick and gold earrings has a gun or knife? I can envisage too many scenarios where bathrooms become traps.

Have women been assaulted by transgendered individuals in women’s restrooms? Maybe never. But they have certainly been raped and assaulted and even killed in those restrooms by heterosexual men. A search on the “raped in bathroom” topic turns up some sickening results, including a recent story about a transgendered man raped in a historic gay bar in New York.

Here’s the thing: I feel guilty about the stand I have been taking against freely opening up the bathrooms. I know that transgender students, for example, are often (always?) the target of bullies. They know what being excluded feels like and many become better people for their understanding. Bullying has many effects. Compassionate people who have been bullied understand social dynamics in a way that most people cannot. Transgender students are often the first to stand up for outsiders, for the kids and people who don’t fit in.

I would naturally like to do all I can for these kids who are navigating a too often unfriendly world.

Eduhonesty: I wish we could find an alternative. How about specific unisex bathrooms, the equivalent of the “Family” bathrooms that so many establishments now provide? If America must mandate restroom policy, why don’t we add that third, single stall room that allows for exceptional situations such as a husband needing to help his wife or a woman needing to keep track of her three kids? That room could provide a safe, clean location for LGBT persons to manage their personal needs without declaring any gender at all.





On the Walls of a District Board Office


(Maybe this post should be titled, “Help! I am stuck in the bathroom and I can’t get out.”)

The picture frame enclosed the words, “1 in 5 children will be abused or neglected before they are 18.”

We again descend into the world of slippery, social science numbers. Does that “one in five” represent a truth? Could the number be one in ten? One in twenty? Who conducted the study that led to this result? Who were the children in the sample population? Who concocted the definitions? How was abuse defined? How was neglect defined? In a time when parents are investigated by state child protective services for infractions such as letting their kids walk to school alone or play unsupervised in a fenced-in yard, these are not trivial questions.

Someone in a mostly middle-class school district felt compelled to display that “statistic” behind glass in a neutral frame in a beige hallway of the central office of a district with thirteen schools, a large district that sprawls across six communities. One in five sounds high to me, but perhaps I am naïve. I think of my previous post about transgender bathroom rights. In these times, I submit that allowing anyone and everyone into the girl’s bathroom may simply be a bad idea.

I don’t believe the government should legislate morality at the cost of child safety. The U.S. government should not define entrance requirements for restrooms! I’d say the extent of government interference in normal human interactions entered a level I’d call wacky years back. That interference has crippled education, especially in disadvantaged areas, as schools chase scores and test students for as much as 20% of a school year.

I don’t know if one in five children in this nation can expect to be abused. But numbers like that one in five ought to cause alarm bells to ring when we discuss opening all the bathroom doors to anyone who chooses to declare himself or herself a victim of gender dysphoria. All indicators are that the number of sexual predators exceeds the number of transgendered individuals.

People lie. People lie all the time. Not all people lie, but some of America’s predators can reinvent their worlds without hesitation, blinks or other tells. I’ve had a few of these kids as students. I’ve listened as they told me that I was mistaken about what I had seen. Some kids can reframe reality so well that I’ve briefly even doubted the evidence of my own eyes, before I came back into the moment and realized that, no, dammit, I saw the whole thing.

From Robert Feldman, PhD, professor of psychological and brain sciences and deputy chancellor at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, found in an article titled, “The truth behind Pathological and Compulsive Liars,” by Kathleen Doheny:

“Pathological liars are so good, Feldman agrees, ”so you won’t know when you’re being lied to.” Don’t expect remorse, either, he says. “Pathological liars will look at a situation entirely from their own perspective. They have no regard for another’s feelings about what might happen as a result of their lies,” Feldman says.”

Eduhonesty: Idealism must be tempered with realism. Realistically, our kids are not fodder for social experimentation. They are children. They deserve to feel safe and protected. We don’t let people walk around the streets of America (most of America) with guns holstered on their hips. Why should we let any man who chooses enter a girl’s restroom?

I’m not anti-firearm, but I support reasonable limitations on firearms. It’s best to keep guns out of bars, for example. I’m not anti-transgender. If we could control for predators, I’d be willing to sign off on the everyone-in-the-bathroom-of-their-choice movement.

But that one-in-five statistic may be true. We cannot control for predators. The news reminds of that fact every single day. Given the dangers of daily life in this society, I think mandating free access for everyone to all restrooms should not become a civil rights issue that trumps common sense.

The kids in my class don’t want same-sex bathrooms


From http://insider.foxnews.com/2016/04/24/340000-sign-pledge-boycott-target-over-transgender-bathroom-statement:

More than 340,000 have signed a pledge to stop shopping at Target, in response to the corporation’s announcement this week that transgender employees and customers will be allowed to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity.

“This means a man can simply say he ‘feels like a woman today’ and enter the women’s restroom… even if young girls or women are already in there,” stated the American Family Association, which started the petition.

I want to leave my views out of this post. But somehow this topic came up in Spanish class, perhaps because the idea of men in the women’s bathroom sparks a conflagration of emotion in thirteen-year-old girls. No small number of these girls are appalled at the idea of sharing their bathrooms. At best, they are squicked, finding the idea distasteful. At worst, they are scared.

“How can they allow that?” One student asked indignantly.

“Yeah, I don’t want a guy in the bathroom with me!” Another one said. Voices leapt in to join her protest.

“It could be dangerous. Who knows who those guys are?” Another girl brought up.

“Yeah, that’s scary.” Her classmate agreed.

I’d say they have some reason to be scared. Yes, transgender people should not be prejudged. Yes, some of the nicest people you may ever meet will identify as transgender. Yes, the civil rights of transgender people matter.

But who will control for the predators who claim they identify as female? That lie takes no effort to perpetrate, nothing more than a unisex outfit and a good story. I still remember being fondled against my will by some crazy street guy when I was a thirteen-year-old girl in the main branch of the Tacoma Public Library. That event stayed with me for decades, and no doubt skewed my view of street people forever. While the wild-eyed man blocking my exit did me no actual physical harm, he made my whole world forever a more threatening place. That assault happened long ago, back when the mentally ill were hospitalized much more often than today. Now, unless someone explicitly declares an intent to harm him or herself or others, that person pretty much remains out on the street.

Bathrooms can be isolated places, designed for privacy. They offer convenient hiding places. Some are even placed outside of the business establishments they serve, doors in walls that offer no exit other than the door you open with the key you picked up at the counter. Or did not pick up at the counter. How many of us willingly hold the bathroom door open for a stranger waiting outside as we exit?

Eduhonesty: Thirteen-year-old girls ought to have civil rights, too. A staggering number of sexual predators have been registered in this country, and those are the predators who have been caught and convicted of a crime. Just opening the doors to all America’s bathrooms to any and everyone strikes me as a bad plan.

Nearly a half-century later, I vividly remember the man who cornered me in a quiet nook in a large, public library. I never told anyone about that incident ever. Except for some scary, disgusting groping, nothing had happened and I knew my parents would be outraged, so outraged that I did not want to find out what would happen if I shared what had occurred.

I am sorry to say that I think we have to plan for the world as it is, not the world as we might like it to be, and the world as it is has become treacherous country for thirteen-year-old girls. I’d like Target to rethink this policy. I’d like transsexuals to take one for the female team, suck it up and enter that men’s room.

Do it for the girls, girls. Childhood and young adulthood are being stripped away too quickly today. Social policy should not accelerate the erosion of youth. Social policy should not increase the danger to our children.


Missing grammar


It would be much easier to teach the rules for Spanish adjectives use and placement if more of my students knew what an adjective was. Good students keep getting fouled up on assignments and tests by the statement, “Answer the questions in complete sentences.” These kids would happily oblige if they knew what how to build this mystery object, “the complete sentence.” Learning grammar has become one of the hidden benefits of foreign language study.

Teaching grammar is definitely slowing me down, however. I am not complaining. I am happy to fill in this hole in our educational system. I’d be happy to teach some of that missing geography as well. Middle school students should be able to identify more than the majority of U.S. states and their capitols, along with the United States, and sometimes Mexico and Canada.

We are dropping grammar, along with geography, cursive writing, and even sometimes recess in an effort to get more time for English and mathematics. If a subject does not affect school test scores, that subject is likely to vanish or find its class minutes cut in a poorer-scoring school. In better-scoring schools that can still afford to teach away from the test, some subjects may still be deemphasized, but stronger districts have been able to offer more robust and diverse curricula than their less-advantaged counterparts, simply because they have not had to live in fear of the old No Child Left Behind penalties from failing test scores, penalties that only just vanished from the educational landscape.

Eduhonesty: I went to a poor high school in Tacoma, Washington some decades ago. By middle school, I knew grammar. I could find most of the world on the map. I was able to eventually major in mathematics and gain the credits and knowledge needed to become a high school math teacher. In my two long-ago shots at the verbal portion of the GRE, I believe I averaged 97.5%.

I was not alone. My classmates graduated able to write paragraphs. They recognized complete sentences by the age of thirteen because they had been taught the parts of a sentence. They knew the subject and verb were not optional, although the subject, especially in commands, did not always need to be explicitly written out.

It’s scary how many of our students know that something is going on with refugees from somewhere, but can’t explain who these refugees are or why they are leaving their home countries. Some can’t get within 1,000 miles or more of finding Syria on a globe.

Newspapers and other sources spend a great deal of time discussing the total amount of time spent on testing now. America would benefit from more discussion about how testing is determining instructional content. Testing is driving instructional choices. I offer that fact as a major reason why testing needs to be notched back and also changed in character. We ought to start testing for knowledge of the world, as well as the fundamentals of grammar that we are now expecting students to somehow pick up contextually. As schools hone in on English and math, adding more instructional time in these areas, they necessarily take time away from social studies, science and other topics that are not expected to be seen on the test.

That current emphasis on critical thinking? Critical thinking cannot happen without a reasonable store of background knowledge. I find conversations with my middle school students unnerving at times now, because that knowledge seems thin on the ground. I worry when a student hands me a list of activities and asks why that list does not represent a complete sentence. I worry when a student asks where Europe is. I worry when a kid tells me that offering an apple to a teacher is “racist.” I am not sure I mind the question about why we need math. Kids have been asking that question as long as I remember.

In a time when we should be raising global citizens, we have too many kids who can’t write a paragraph or tell the difference between Poland, Syria and Finland.

I don’t see the Common Core helping us with this problem, either. As far as I can tell, the Core has created a new, harder math that is more demanding than the previous math, while showing no signs of being actually better than that previous math, and the Core has shifted our reading choices away from the classics toward more nonfiction. Since I am not sure how the classics were failing us, I don’t see the benefit of this shift. I know our vocabularies will be the poorer for the change.

In the meantime, I’ve spent a long week shushing my classes for the sake of other classes that are taking the PARCC test, and that shushing is not over yet. Because the test is computerized, and because the whole school cannot take a computerized test at once — hardly any school has the bandwidth to do this — I face more weeks of shushing combined with days when students who tested all morning arrive fried in my classroom.


For the sake of my students, I desperately wish I could move educational practice and theory back twenty years or so, before No Child Left Behind and before testing became the goal of education, instead of merely a sensible, measuring tool.

Mom, please listen!

best plan ebver

Taken from a Dear Abby column on April 19th:

‘It’s hard enough wrangling an energetic kid while trying to shop, do banking or send mail without being constantly pestered by strangers. Do you have any thoughts on this? — MOM IN HILLSBORO, OREGON

DEAR MOM: If your child is so disruptive that individuals feel the need to intervene or offer “parenting advice,” then it’s time you took some of it to heart.

If she’s bored while you’re doing errands, bring something along for her to do rather than use her “outside voice” or run wild in the aisles.”

Eduhonesty: This child will be in school some year soon. As I read this column, I thought of one of my students. I have an email from the administration saying mom wants to speak to his teachers. She thinks he is being picked on and is not being challenged.

I think her kid is a major handful. Don’t get me wrong I like the kid. He has a lot of energy and he can be pretty entertaining. But I think the problem was captured when I asked him after school how his day went and he loudly belted out — in a hallway crowded with exiting students — “SHIT, YEAH!” I can totally see him doing the same in some classroom or another, just to let off steam. When he missed class a few days back for some unknown disciplinary infraction in the cafeteria, I was not surprised.

Mom would no doubt ascribe this off-the-chain behavior to not being challenged, but I don’t think a more challenging environment would improve her boy’s behavior. In fact, greater challenges might lead to greater wackiness. Upping the bar increases kids’ stress and I suspect stress may be part of my student’s problem — that, and/or seventh grade hormonal changes, along with some unfortunate choices in friends.

Like I say, I like this boy. I see a lot of potential in him. But his mom is doing him no favors by trying to figure out what the school and its teachers are somehow doing wrong to cause his misbehavior. If this boy does not start to own his own behavior soon, he may fall into that victim mode some students adopt to explain away their failures.

Blaming others for failures tends to insure those failures never end.

$20 Billion in the Hole

asteroidThe headline from today’s Chicago News Tribune claims that “Illinois public school districts are roughly $20 billion in debt, a staggering figure fueled in part by decades of special deals in Springfield that have given districts exemptions so they can keep borrowing beyond limits set by law.” In some districts, according to the article, debt payments actually exceed costs for teacher salaries and student instruction. All that money that is paying for interest on money borrowed by school districts? That money might have been supplies for schools or additional personnel to help in special education classrooms, among other unmet needs.

The news article lays out a macro problem. Here is one micro result of that problem: The district where I am currently filling in for a maternity leave is not a poor district. Oh, the district has low-income children. Few pockets of America do not. But I am talking about a solid school with test scores that exceed the averages for both the district and the state.

Professional development is currently frozen in my school. Teachers are not even allowed to attend supposedly free state conferences for which the state has previously promised reimbursement. No one believes in that reimbursement. The state is not reimbursing people for expenses the state had previously covered. In many cases, the state is not even paying current bills. Social services are folding around us in Illinois. A few years ago, checks sometimes took most of a year to arrive. Now, those checks have come to be viewed as a paper version of vaporware.

Eduhonesty: This mess will hit our least-advantaged students hardest. America’s poorest districts rely heavily on government aid to supplement the funds that local property taxes provide. Without that money, lack of professional development may be the least of a district’s worries. Where will the money come from to fix the copy machine? To replace the retired teachers? To buy books, software and supplies for students who don’t have the funds to buy their own books, software and supplies? In a time when technology has become central to many educational needs, where will the funds come from to fix or replace broken Chromebooks?

Districts with strong property tax bases and large percentages of middle class families can compensate for lack of state aid.

Districts without those advantages may be about to run the rapids in leaky rafts without paddles.


The Romance of Slaying the Dragon

A few more thoughts taken from “Remedial College Classes Are Costing Students Billions,” from TakePart.com April 9, 2016:

At private four-year colleges and universities, however, the number of remediation classes, and the related costs, are significantly higher—as much as $12,000 for three or more classes.

But the costs aren’t solely financial, according to the report: Full-time bachelor’s degree students sidetracked into remedial courses their freshman year are 74 percent more likely to drop out of college, and take nearly a year longer to graduate, adding to tuition debt and delaying their workforce earning power.

The article goes on to point out that these ill effects unsurprisingly are felt more by students from historically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Looking solely at the numbers provided above, though, I believe we miss the big picture. Many of these students should never have been funneled into college in the first place. They weren’t ready. Their inability to function without remedial coursework demonstrates this fact.

These students don’t drop out because of remedial coursework. They drop out because they are unable to manage  the demands of “real” college coursework. They take an extra year because they have to take smaller loads to stay afloat, on top of the time lost to remedial coursework. These students have no choice but to delay their workforce earning power.

The lucky ones can hang onto their swords, swinging away at the dragon, until they finally prevail. These are the students who will manage to graduate in their fifth, sixth, seventh year or beyond. These are the students who flail away at first but stay in the fight, despite regular reminders that they have fallen behind the pack within many of their university classrooms.

We love the stories of hobbits who climb Mt. Doom and “D” students who emerge with engineering degrees in their late twenties. We embrace these sagas of young men and women who beat the odds. Our high schools and colleges sell hope in part because hope is an easy sell.

But what about the stories that don’t capture our hearts and minds? What about the young man who owes $26,000 because he tried to complete a degree in criminal justice but failed to make the necessary grades? What about the would-have-been psychologist who is selling socks at Macys and trying to figure out how to pay both his students loans and rent? The girl who is adding up credit card debt as she tries to finish out her first school year — despite the fact that most of her coursework has been classified as remedial and will not count toward graduation — a fact made more ominous by the fact that her highest grade in those remedial classes is a single “B”? What about the effectively illiterate student who graduated high school and then entered community college because everyone had been telling him he should go to college — while no one had been honestly assessing his chances for success, despite ample documentation in a high school cumulative folder that showed — dammit — the poor kid can’t read?

Eduhonesty: We need to bring back the vocational education of bygone years. While still in high school, some of these indebted kids should have been learning the basics to be mechanics or skilled machinists. We are importing employees to fill many skilled machinery positions today while simultaneously sending unprepared and uninterested students off to colleges where they don’t want to be.

Inflexible, idealistic social policies can ruin lives. I consider the college-for-all vision of some leaders to be one of those policies.





Even Remediation is Running Amok

common core math book

From https://www.yahoo.com/news/remedial-college-classes-costing-students-billions-151713187.html?nhp=1:

Remedial College Classes Are Costing Students Billions

April 9, 2016

Add another log to the raging fire that is the student debt crisis: One in four incoming college freshmen is required to take remedial classes at full expense and without credit toward graduation, a requirement that tacks on roughly $1.5 billion to tuition costs nationwide, according to a new report.

Unlike other issues in higher education, however, the problem has swept into the middle class along with poor and minority college students, according to the report Out of Pocket: The High Cost of Inadequate High Schools and High School Student Achievement on College Affordability.

Forty-five percent of students who were required to take remedial classwork came from well-off families, the report’s authors found, and those students entered college with a less-than-rigorous high-school education.

Eduhonesty: The outrageous expenses associated with remedial classes have been attacked before in my blog. If the problem is spreading into the middle class, though, we need to realize that something has been going badly wrong in the recent past. It’s easy to explain away those remedial classes for poor students from families without college backgrounds. But as more middle class students require college remediation, questions arise with frightening implications. Has American education as practiced under No Child Left Behind and current educational theory declined so drastically? Will the repeal of No Child Left Behind ameliorate the damage? How far down the river have we drifted without our paddles? Can we find our way back to shore?

The very best interpretation of this information that I can conjure up involves middle-class students who previously would never have been pushed into college because counselors and families knew those students lacked the necessary background knowledge for success. Perhaps those students are now being FAFSA’d and matriculated in our univisionary college-for-all world, despite their lack of readiness. I would like to put this spin on the article referenced above. I do know one or two of these kids, kids with helicopter parents who intend for their child to pursue engineering or medicine despite the fact that those kids cannot pass regular math classes without extra tutoring.

But I also suspect the Testing Monster combined with current inclusion and group work policies may be creating remediation requirements where none would exist if we simply stopped making learning so tough for many kids in public schools. That 20% of my school year that I spent in last year’s math classes testing or reviewing for tomorrow’s test? My students would have learned a great deal more math if that 20% had been 10% or 5% instead. They would also have learned a great deal more math if I had not been forced to give every one of them required, identical work written by outsiders — work that they sometimes could not even read — according to a time table set by outsiders that ignored what those students knew and what they had learned.

Did you learn new words today?


Eliza Doolittle (Singing):

Words! Words! I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him, now from you! Is that all you blighters can do?

The school year ending in 2012 drove me to look for work and I have a bad habit: When I look for work, I find it. I even find positions I am not looking for, such as one teaching Spanish 1, Spanish 2 and bilingual social studies in a high school about 25 easy miles from my home. Administration found me from a teacher database before I even knew the job existed. I remembered Spanish. I remembered high school, and except for the size of those Spanish classes during my first year teaching, I remembered my first year of Spanish fondly. But some time had passed since that first year of projects and dialogs. I never thought to ask about curricular expectations attached to my new Spanish position. I discovered we were expected to cover an entire textbook, more than 300 pages total, in order to get ready for common midterms and finals that had been written outside of the classroom.

Those 300 pages were entirely doable. Still, a 300-page foreign language commitment cannot be batted out of the way in a few evening study sessions. We had a great deal of work facing us and a great deal of memorization that necessarily came with that work.

“That’s too many words,” certain students kept saying as I assigned homework.

My classes and I had a problem, one that I have come to call the internet predicament, based in the intersection between diminished student efforts and high, curricular expectations. Many students today have become experts at retrieval. They can figure out search terms and string search results together. They can copy and rephrase information they find, hopefully giving credit for information their searches turn up.

Teachers are taught to emphasize information retrieval skills using available technology. We are taught to help students learn to put search results in context. We are taught to use critical thinking questions to stimulate making connections between disciplines as students report on retrieved information.

But when called upon to memorize twenty words, students can act as if they have been asked to both raise the bridge and lower the river. American education has been moving away from memorization. American education has been moving away from repetition and even homework.

“They can look it up on their phones,” administrators will say when we are discussing historical dates, for example. Then those same administrators sometimes give a patronizing smile as they add that teachers need to focus on critical thinking instead of memorization.

Critical thinking depends on background knowledge, however, and retrieval skills cannot compensate for the intuitive understanding that comes with actual knowledge. Critical thinking skills are also of limited use in learning the fundamentals of a new language. I’m not saying such skills are useless. Over time, a great deal of critical thinking will occur during language studies. Comparisons between grammar, vocabulary and usage lead us into insights that may bridge cultures and meanings.

But first, language students must memorize groups of basic words and phrases. No short-cuts will work. Some language-learning techniques may work better than others, but new words have to be stored in the brain. Unfortunately, drilling and memorization are trumpeted as examples of older, outmoded pedagogical methods that show a teacher is not up-to-date on the latest best practices, and to say a teacher uses drilling and memorization has become a criticism of that teacher, proof that he or she is not creating a modern “child-centered” classroom. Yet drilling works. Many old fashioned techniques have never been proven ineffective; instead, these techniques have gone out of fashion.

I pity the poor classroom teacher who has students seated in rows memorizing words on paper if an administrator walks in nowadays. He or she will almost certainly be criticized, even if that criticism comes in the form of helpful suggestions about creating group work or gallery walks. A gallery walk is a discussion technique in which students walk around the room looking at pictures or writing on posters. I like gallery walks. Students need to get out of their seats sometimes.

But flashcards — alone or with a partner — will be more efficient for my purposes when my goal is to teach new vocabulary. I can also play computer games – I love Kahoot – that offer students a chance to play against each other while translating words. But I can’t play games all the time and putting a word into long-term memory requires repeating words over and over. The amount of repetition will vary from student to student, but that repetition is not optional. How does a person become fluent in another language? Students practice until magically, one day, words begin popping onto their tongues and those words somehow keep rolling.

Modern educational theory has created a climate in which too many students consider memorization an imposition. Students want learning to be a game and I am sympathetic. By all means, students should play online language games. I enjoy making classroom Jeopardy games. But language learning goes much faster when students deliberately memorize words. Asking friends to practice new vocabulary in pairs or groups is great, but friends will not always be available. During the game, or after the game is over, I believe students ought to make flash cards or lists for tricky words that caused them problems, either on paper or in their phones. After the game is over, they ought to write lists and then cover either the word or its definition, working their way down their lists in a memorization exercise. In the end, we learn a great deal of language alone.

Eduhonesty: Our challenge today is creating self-motivated learners who will keep going when the game stops and their seat-partners go home. Students ought to go in search of inexpensive or free language learning apps such as Conjuverb or Conjugation Nation. Older students ought to pop those library language-learning CDs into their car’s CD player. I recommend finding translations of favorite books and ordering these off the internet.

We all learn new words from seeing those words and saying those words. Students who are taught to regard learning as a social exercise filled with fun activities will always fall behind students who also read and consciously work to learn new words after the fun activities are over.

As silly as I may sound, I think we ought to take a little fun out of learning. One of the best lessons we can give our students today is learning how to tough out the necessary, less-entertaining language lessons of life. A little drudgery in the here-and-now can go a long way toward creating an exciting, fun future. Making that connection for kids as they whine about vocabulary quizzes may be one of the biggest gifts a teacher can offer her students.