"Dumbing Down"

Discussion in 'Elementary Education' started by Ambrosegirl84, Sep 22, 2009.

  1. Ambrosegirl84

    Ambrosegirl84 Companion

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    Sep 22, 2009

    Hi,
    I have been doing some reading, and am wondering: does anyone notice a "dumbing down" of the curriculum, while at the same time expecting students to know a lot more? I know it doesn't make sense, but a good example is looking at older textbooks. I don't know a lot of the words in the teachers' notes, and know that many of them wouldn't make sense to kids of today.

    But obviously kids have always learned. The only thing is now that kids' (and younger adults like my own generations) vocabularies have become severely limited. How do we rectify that?

    I've been using words in my classroom that the kids might not know, and when they ask me, I explain it. Then we write the word up on the wall, and I try to go through each word every week. I'm also using a vocabulary workbook for the 3rd graders, but some of the words are so simple it's ludicrous. "Greedy" and "sew" were two words. Honestly!! I just can't seem to find any resources to help my students become more efficient wordsmiths. I think it has to start earlier than just throwing in Greek/Latin roots in 4th grade, but how does one do this?

    Thanks!
     
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  3. bros

    bros Phenom

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    Sep 22, 2009

    Have them read books.

    Books introduce excellent words into a persons vocabulary
     
  4. peggy27

    peggy27 Cohort

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    Yes, today I pulled out stuff I used when I taught third grade over 8 years ago and I thought many of my students can't do this!! Granted our school population has changed but are we expecting less of them now?
     
  5. KinderCowgirl

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    I think read-alouds a few grades above their grade level can be beneficial too. I'm not surprised their vocabularies are more limited; studies have been done tracking the level of vocab in television and it's soooo low-that's where they hear most of their language-that and conversations with friends. It's hard to fight against that.

    It is interesting what you say about curriculum-we have a math one that I think is much more simplistic than what it used to be but you're right the standards for what they need to know are so much higher today-especially in the younger grades.
     
  6. punchinello

    punchinello Comrade

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    I went to the library the other day to return "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm", which I thought my 4th grader would enjoy. She is a good reader, but boy, that book was difficult to read! It was written in 1903 and is classified as a children's novel. Did 9 year olds read it in the early 1900's?

    I asked the librarian and we had an interesting discussion about just this topic - how kids today seem to know much more than they did a hundred years ago. But they are getting the knowledge in little snippets, the attention spans are shorter, and the language skills just aren't what they used to be. It was funny because we sounded like a couple of old-timers. The librarian was reminding me that a hundred years ago there were no televisions, videos, computers, Ipods, cell phones...Kids had nothing better to do than sit and read a nice, long novel.

    Then again, my high schooler is learning things that I studied in college. So kids today seem very advanced in some ways. It's baffling! :)
     
  7. Ambrosegirl84

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    Jan 22, 2010

    It is...I think it's interesting that many kids have such low vocabularies today, yet are being pushed harder in school (I think) than they were 100 years ago. I mean, my dad never even went to kindergarten, I wasn't taught to read in kindergarten (taught myself before first grade), and yet we have kindergartners reading now, yet the English language seems to be slipping away...

    I love old books/novels, and think they are so much richer than what seems to be being churned out these days...I guess teaching time doesn't really take the place of parents using and teaching vocabulary at home. Guess I'll have to wait until I have kids of my own...
     
  8. Jem

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    Interesting observations! I tried to read Anne of Green Gables out loud to my students, and they were totally lost during the first chapter. It goes on and on about how beautiful Prince Edward's Island is, but the words are huge and I kept having to stop and explain the meaning.

    Another reason why context clues and reference books are so important!
     
  9. stephenpe

    stephenpe Connoisseur

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    I remember our fifth grade teacher reading us (back in 65) Beowulf.
    It was amazing. I remember all of us were mesmorized.
     
  10. Ambrosegirl84

    Ambrosegirl84 Companion

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    Beowulf??? That's awesome! Sadly, I had a hard time understanding it in high school, and I was at the top of my sr. class...which leads me to believe and admit that I was very "worksheet-wise."

    'Tis a sad state when students are filled with knowledge, but never get a chance to exercise wisdom (or to use the knowledge in new contexts!)....
     
  11. TeacherGroupie

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    Knowledge and skills that can't be generalized from one context to another are worse than useless - and vocabulary is crucial in that generalization.
     
  12. KateL

    KateL Habitué

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    Middle school science is much more rigorous now than when I was in school. I'm teaching things that I didn't learn until high school and sometimes even college. Sixth graders are learning about tectonic plates now!

    I have to admit that when I was a kid, I skipped over most of the descriptions in Anne of Green Gables and also in Little House on the Prairie. I wanted to read about the characters doing things, not flowery paragraphs about the scenery!
     
  13. alilac

    alilac Rookie

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    Read good literature. Classic literature. Beatrix Potter, Moby Dick, Aesops Fables, etc. So much of school reading is purely garbage. I'm not a fan of Scholastic. They've dumbed down and put out tv-related books. Yuck. Start to mix in some unabridged classical literature. Base your vocabulary work on those words found in that particular reading.

    I will say that going above grade level can work, but it can also backfire. Sometimes the message is too advanced so while they get the words, the difficulty is strewn through out the book which makes comprehension difficult. Stay on level with classic literature.
     
  14. Ambrosegirl84

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    Jan 26, 2010

    I've started using a new phonics program, Vowac, which has a lot of good vocabulary embedded right into it, and part of the lessons include activities that help explain the meanings of the words.

    I think this has been helping...it almost reminds me of an old textbook, but the kids have exclaimed several times that it makes more sense to them than their previous phonics book.

    I figure that as dry as the book is, and as challenging as it is, the kids MUST enjoy it and find it helpful, otherwise they'd be begging for their old books. :)
     
  15. Hoot Owl

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    I love Anne of Green Gables!!

    I think curriculum has most definitely been dumbed down and it's not that kds are dumber, they're just exposed to less and have we have lower expectations for them.
     
  16. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    I think it's because schools are taking on so many different roles.

    School, or at least elementary school, used to be all about the "3 R's." Now schools are so incredibly swamped with curriculum demands, no wonder they're being watered down!

    Everything from stranger safety to technology to fears of obesity-- we all know the list could go on and on and on and on.

    Yes, all of these are important. But teaching them in school means less time can be devoted to those things that used to fill the school day. So of course things are being waterered down!
     
  17. Toak

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    Well if it makes you feel better when I began studying for the GRE I had sources written in the past few years and a book from 1981. The vocabulary in the book from 1981 was simple, every day language - the vocabulary in the modern sources typically consists of words that most people could not begin to define
     
  18. Pisces_Fish

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    We just had this conversation in my grad class yesterday. I have not read the other posts, so forgive me if this is repetitive.

    I agree it's been so watered down. My student's vocabularies are terrible. Like you, I'm always trying to use words that are "over their head." I figure if they hear me say it enough it might sink in.

    I think the problem is that we're expected to teach them so little about so much; the curriculum is an inch deep and a mile wide.

    I saw a spelling book (a primer, no less) in a museum from just after the Civil War last summer. Even I didn't know some of these words - they were huge, and very specific.

    It's sad that the classics of my childhood are much too difficult for this generation...Anne of Green Gables and The Secret Garden come to mind.

    I often worry about this kids. The testing, testing, testing is hurting them so much :(
     
  19. PowerTeacher

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    Jan 27, 2010

    Fie, and a pox upon it! There is certainly some veracity to the proposition that the youth of today lack the prodigious vocabulary of peers of yesteryear, mayhap there is more here than current consideration has lent to our attention!

    Recall that dialectic divergence must always progress with the increase of technological sophistication, to wit, as the warp and woof of the technological panoply expands so must the propogation of terms to describe the ever increasing cornucopia of knowledge must likewise evolve to meet the challenge! Our modern progeny may not know many of the treasures of loquatious communications of the past, but by the same token, those wordsmiths of yesteryear would be lost in the labrynth of technological terms, functions, and applications that our modern sophomores must be conversant with.

    er....sorry...something from another era seemed to overtake me there.
     
  20. KateL

    KateL Habitué

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    LOL! That's great, PowerTeacher!
     
  21. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

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    I don't think "watered down" is the correct term. The curriculum has become a ten miles wide and half an inch deep. That's quite a different story, though no less alarming.
     
  22. Upsadaisy

    Upsadaisy Moderator

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    But, think about it. Because it is a mile wide, in order to teach it, you have to compress it and force as much content into as small a package as possible; that is where the simplified vocab comes in. You can't have both (depth and breadth), so we substitute simple language for the in-depth language. I think that makes sense, anyway. What a shame.
     
  23. mmswm

    mmswm Moderator

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    daisy...that's why I said it was no less alarming.
     
  24. Upsadaisy

    Upsadaisy Moderator

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    I know. And all the causes are so pervasive that teachers alone don't have a shot at alleviating the ramifications, at least not with our usual methods.
     
  25. Ambrosegirl84

    Ambrosegirl84 Companion

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    No kidding! It seems that in many cases teachers and schools are having to teach subjects that can only effectively be taught at home by parents. :( Which in turn leaves insufficient time to teach subjects that can't always be adequately be taught by parents....


    Oh, and I loved that paragraph!! :)
     
  26. Ambrosegirl84

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    Incidentally, I have a very small class of students who aren't over "tv-and-computered" and do spend more time imagining, exploring, playing outside, and reading than in front of a screen. I don't notice the same problems in vocabulary with those students.

    My sister, also, has a soon-to-be 3-year-old, who has been read to and played with by her parents rather than set in front of a screen for "educational videos." She has an amazing vocabulary, a marvelous attention span, and an excellent memory (not to mention she can play quietly through an entire church service).

    Sigh, I'll stop ranting. :) I just can't wait to have some of my own! ;)
     
  27. webmistress

    webmistress Devotee

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    I will have to agree. I wouldn't say watered down either, because 5th graders are "learning" about things I learned in high school. (And I had a great education and did great in college and grad school).

    It's just that it's all moving too fast for them and you (the teacher). You end up having to teach to the test and can't go into much detail so that they can grasp the material. Thus in the end, they end up not knowing much more than what we did, (or maybe they know less?) although their curriculum is harder IMO.
     
  28. Bumble

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    I teach math to K/1st graders. My students come to school without the basics. 98% of them cannot identify single-digit numbers. It is extremely hard when our students don't have the basics.

    I have several 4th graders who are 4 years below grade level.
     
  29. Mamacita

    Mamacita Aficionado

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    Ohhhh, you really don't want to get me started on this topic.

    My mother's 3rd grade reader had excerpts from "Les Miserables" in it; that's where I learned to love it when I was in grade school.

    My daughter's 3rd grade reader had very short, very abridged, very dumbed-down, very insulting, very condescending, very boring little stories; it was an affront to literacy. The worksheets were longer than the story itself.

    If we expect and then require our students to increase their vocabularies, then they must be exposed to pieces of literature that use the cool words. Those dreadful limited vocabulary "stories" are an insult to the intelligence of even an average reader. With nothing else before them, we shouldn't be surprised when so many kids - and adults! - have such limited vocabularies. One's reading vocabulary is supposed to be MUCH larger than the speaking and writing vocabularies, but a lot of kids these days won't even try to figure out a word's meaning from its context.

    I've read several articles lately that said - and I agree - that ONE reason there is so much physical violence in the lower grades is that kids with limited vocabularies can't defend their stance or fully understand the other kid's stance, so they resort to the physical to try and win the argument. I will go further and state that I also believe limited vocabulary to be a cause of much of the physical violence between older students and even adults. I've had students at the college level who, when confronted with an unfamiliar word, would slam the book shut and give up, rather than reading on and probably becoming able to figure out the meaning, themselves. Sigh. Makes me want to scream.

    Oops. I guess I got started. My bad. (When my students write that remark in an essay, it's an automatic D. If they use cutesy-code or text talk, it's an instant F.)

    Words have power. With lots of words come lots of power. Those who don't know many words? Dare I say it: they don't deserve the same level of power. To keep on trying is a choice; to choose to not go on is a loser choice.
     
  30. Ambrosegirl84

    Ambrosegirl84 Companion

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    Love it!!!

    Wow! I love Les Miserables...although I didn't read it until 7th grade and skipped over some of the long descriptions (like the chapter-long description of Paris' sewer system)...

    Yes! That's what I was kind of trying to get at, but didn't describe it adequately! It seems as though we are expecting our students to learn things they just aren't ready for...while at the same time, not giving them enough time to study what they DO need to learn (like basic math).
     
  31. Cerek

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    The loss of vocabulary in our society has been increasing for the last couple of decades. It's true that many of this comes from TV, internet, iPods and text messaging, but it is also true that professional standards have been lowered as well.

    Watch some commentaries with Walter Cronkite, David Brinkly and even Barbara Walters, then compare that to the average news anchorperson today. If linguistic integrity is not demanded even in journalistic occupations, how in the world can we expect others to accept the importance of an expanded vocabulary.

    During my internship, I would frequently use words my math students did not recognize. When they asked "What was that word?", I would write in on the board for them to copy. When they asked "What does it mean?", I would point them towards the dictionaries on the bookshelf. This actually became an almost daily occurrence, especially after I learned the L.A. teacher required them to find 20 vocabulary words on their own each week. I did my part by giving them new words almost daily.

    When my students asked "How come you know so many big words?", I told them "I know these words because I made the effort to learn them." Many of the words were learned from Reader's Digest magazines. It Pays To Enrich Your Word Power was one of my favorite sections and one of the first parts I turned to each month.

    When my students said "Yeah, but you were in high school. You didn't know words like that when you were OUR age", I explained that my interest in a proper vocabular begain in the 4th grade and I was learning new words from the Reader's Digest magazine in the 5th and 6th grades. In other words, I most assuredly did know many of these words by the time I was in Jr. High.

    I do agree that curriculum demands have become so broad that it is nigh impossible to gain any depth on the subject. So teachers are left with trying to instill a curiosity in the students that will, hopefully, lead them to learn some of these things on their own.
     
  32. Upsadaisy

    Upsadaisy Moderator

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    I don't remember learning vocabulary in isolation. My vocabulary developed simply because I read a lot as a kid. I loved language. Then again, we didn't have much, so reading was a way to expand my world as well as a way to escape. The library was one of the richest places I visited. We didn't have much children's literature at home, so I read anything I could get my hands on - even Reader's Digest Condensed Books. They were big at the time.

    Too bad kids have so much today and won't slow down enough to enjoy reading.
     
  33. Ambrosegirl84

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    I think it also has something to do with how parents raise their kids to find enjoyment. I'm 25, and part of the beginning of the "video-game generation." Simply put, we just didn't have video games.

    I'm probably preaching to the choir here, but so many parents lament, "if only kids would enjoy (reading/writing/playing outside/interacting) and not spend so much time in front of a screen!!" Then they go out and buy DVD players for the car so the kids don't have to look entertain themselves...

    I'm going to have some pretty "deprived" kids...
     
  34. Upsadaisy

    Upsadaisy Moderator

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    Haha. Well, at the beginning of rampant technology, it was easier to control. My kids are around your age and they didn't have too much. But, ten years after their time, it was too late. No matter where kids went, who they saw, it was technology all the time. And given the choice between ice-cream and vegetables, well, you know how that goes.
     
  35. Ambrosegirl84

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    Yes, I agree. I think it makes for more "Mom, can I have (XYZ)?" Thus more arguments once a kid is older about what a "stupid parent" you are, etc. (I remember having those with my mom :p)

    I am figuring on becoming a "stupid parent" myself someday, because the way the world has changed even since I was a child, there is an ever-increasing list of things that just won't be happening in my family from Day 1. My little nieces, for example, just aren't put in front the tv. It's not a part of their family dynamic. They read, play games, play music, etc. TV is hardly ever on.

    So when she got a "toddler-computer" for Christmas, she has hardly any interest in it. She'd rather read a book. :)
     
  36. Ambrosegirl84

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    Jan 28, 2010

    At age 3, she has an excellent vocabulary, by the way. :)
     

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