Two Learning Vignettes

Yesterday we talked about teaching reading and how it can often be difficult to get people to read things when they don’t understand every single word. People tend to get hung up on the words that they don’t understand.

This got me thinking about the proficiency tests that everyone took in their language classes in eighth grade. I’ll be honest. In eighth grade, you really don’t know much in your foreign language. I certainly didn’t, even when I was taking Italian. I could say, Posso andare al bagno? and that was probably the most important thing to me. Besides, of course, Le scimmie requisitano l’aero (the monkeys are commandeering the airplane), which isn’t really ever useful.

A big part of the test was reading passages and answering questions about them. We definitely didn’t understand most of the passages, but we could pick out key words, and there were a lot of cognates.

The thing is, I don’t ever remember being bothered by the fact that I didn’t understand most of the words. Maybe I was young enough that it didn’t matter to me. But I don’t think so. I think my thought process was more along the lines of, I’m terrible at this language. Thank god I can understand anything at all.

* * *

In AP Economics, my teacher occasionally made us underline all the verbs in the questions. What she wanted us to do was underline all the actions that we had to do to complete the question. What we actually did, being seniors and rebellious and too smart for our own good, was underline all the verbs, paying close attention to things like “is” and “be.”

In our reading for yesterday, one of the suggested activities was going through a reading and underlining all the verbs, or adverbs, or whatever part of speech you (as the teacher) want. Or multiple parts of speech. It’s probably just Economics haunting me, but I would never want to do something like that. It would feel really juvenile.

But I guess some people like it after all.


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