15 April 2009

“Seriously, Open Court, what is it with you and woodcocks?”

At Vast Public Indifference, Caitlin G. D. Hopkins looks at one of the hidden pitfalls of teaching elementary school: the suggestive spelling test.

Our district used a scripted reading curriculum called Open Court — all the 2nd grade classes across the whole 20-school district read the same story during the same week and are supposed to do the exact same activities, etc. If you have a hardass principal, it can be awful, but parts of it aren't that bad. The 2nd grade curriculum has some really great units (Fossils, Camouflage) and some terrible units (Kindness).

The people who developed Open Court were never children. They have no children of their own and have never met any children. Proof of this: the very first lesson in the 4th grade Open Court curriculum, week 1, day 1, is a vocabulary lesson including the words "cockpit" and "abreast." All fourth graders think this is amazingly hilarious. First year teachers who've spent all summer working on ulcers and reading about "classroom management" do not.
But I don't think it's all Open Court's fault. From the Open Court Resources website, I learned that "cockpit" and "abreast" come out of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O'Brien. In other words, the problem isn't misguided cookie-cutter lesson plans and vocabulary tests--it's literature!

That same resources website offers a picture of a woodcock for when that word comes up in these lessons--which Caitlin says is far more often than one would expect.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Our fifth grade teacher made cleavage one of our vocabulary words, teaching us that it means "the wake left by a ship as it passes through the water."

I think if you can't teach kids the main meaning of a word, just leave it off the damn vocabulary list!