Friday, March 18, 2011


I spoke to Sister a couple of nights ago. She was very depressed. She is back at work part time teaching and she was marking year 7 school assignments. One question asked of students was what is the difference between fact and opinion. She read the answers to me. They were incomprehensible. Sister does not teach in poor government school in an underprivileged area, but in a very old private school in a well to do area.

She suggested that the text or tech generation was now starting to come through but also lays the blame at the last teaching method that was in vogue for a few years. What was it? Whole of something?

I asked Sister if she had lowered her marking standards and she said not. I imagine it must be hard for students to feel any liking for writing, spelling or sentence construction when their work is returned having disappeared under the marks of a red pen.

English is very flexible and embracing of the new, but there are still very strict rules about what is right and what is wrong. Every so often I come across people giving examples of misplaced comma's but it is a problem that is addressing itself. Sister's students don't misplace commas. They just don't bother with them at all.


  1. Anonymous8:46 am

    Ah, the Literacy Wars - Whole Word v Phonics. I thought they'd called a truce some years ago. It would be hard to imagine a twelve year old having come through the Victorian education system purely on Whole Word reading but I guess it's possible. The difference between fact and opinion is a pretty high level concept for Year 7s so it would need a fair bit of discussion to be able to articulate it well.

  2. Two things here: language skills, and content.

    It does not surprise that the current range of students are struggling weith both reading, writing and sentence structure, even before we get to content.

    In the old NSW HSC, I was astounded at the massive difference in the language skills of a student who scored 99.95 and a student who scored 98.0 - it was as though the latter were illiterate!

    Could your sister glean anything about the ability of the better students to differentiate between fact and opinion? I suspect the vast majority of adults would struggle to know the difference, that alone be able to articulate it.

    And yet it is so so crucial, eg Minchin saying that Garnaut can not be believed on CC because he is an economist, and yet going on to state that the earth is probably cooling. What is fact here, what is opinion, and what is 'absolute crap'?

  3. As an ex-high school English teacher, I must admit that the only time I was ever taught the basics of grammar was in year three during the 1970s. Most of it was gleaned through copious amounts of reading and writing.

    However when factoring in today's SMS, twitter and facebook updates and newer trends in avoiding too many commas, I don't envy your sister's job at all. No doubt from year ten onwards though they'll be coached in essay writing and how to answer VCE exam questions properly. AS for having to think about stuff like the difference between fact and opinion, if it doesn't affect the final VCE result, it won't be a priority.

    I'll go and eat something sweet now to get the bitterness out of my system!

  4. I had no hope - my parents taught English - but I feel your sister's pain as an ex-teacher (we are legion!!) myself!! I wouldn't be a teacher for quids these days - teachers compete with the most highly paid people on earth (entertainers) so what hope have they got??

  5. One a teacher, two a teacher, three a teacher, slam.

    That's it Scott. Whole word. Wasn't the idea that they would pick up the finer detail later? I am putting my mind back to when I was in Form 1 and I think I would have been able to give a vaguely correct and understandable answer. My education was nothing to speak of, but hey, you have probably guessed that already.

    Julie, perhaps it should have been between fact and absolute crap. Many opinions are crap. I will ask Sister more about it. Not sure why I am interested.

    Kath, like you I was never really taught grammar. I would guess that most people who can write are heavy readers. I was and still am, although the content may have changed. Damn, I just realised I wrote commas when I meant apostrophes. Now I am thinking when at school we used to call apostrophes commas. So commas are discouraged now? If I have a doubt about whether a comma should be inserted, I read aloud in my head and if there is a pause or change of rhythm or the obvious technical multiple items, I stick one in. Reading without commas quite often means re-reading to make sense of a sentence.

    General remark: At the end of the day, I am pleased that anyone has a go at expressing themselves with the written word, and should never be discouraged by the technical side of it. My Dreaded Nephew writing skills are terrible so far as punctuation, caps and spelling, but he can actually write to inform, amuse and educate.

    C'mon KN. I've already got the hat trick. You have a go too.

  6. Oh god, another one. Red, teachers shouldn't be competing with entertainers. Different categories. I am trying to remember back to school and which teachers I learnt the most from. It wasn't the teachers I feared. It wasn't the hot looking teachers. It wasn't the sarcastic teacher, nor the nasty one. Funnily it was the old fuddy duddy english teacher husband and his history teacher wife. I might ever write a post about them.

  7. I know I'm going to regret the following having only today been correctly chastised by Marcellous for an incorrect apostrophe in one of my posts but I'll make the comment anyway.

    When you wrote "misplaced comma's" shouldn't you have written either "misplaced commas" or "a misplaced comma" or were you being deliberately provocative?

  8. My Dad is an english teacher and he says the same thing about kids these days. He's retired, but he does fill in work and he's astounded at how bad they are!

  9. Ah Victor. I am hopeless. I think I have the spelling of post title wrong too.

    Fen, there must be something good about the today's education system. No one seems to know what it is though.

  10. I assumed the misspelling of the post title was deliberate

  11. Yes, I had assumed the misspelling of the post title to be deliberate.

    Your sister does not work in the public system, Andrew. Now that was a question but I felt constrained to end with a question-mark - nevermind. I would think that there could be a difference between the public and the private systems, but Sister provides evidence to the contrary.

    I find this entire topic quite perplexing. There are still young people out there who are very literate. People who can write a cogent essay. How do they get that way? They are born of literate parents, perhaps. They read a widely and deeply, perhaps. Both my children are heavy texters, but inevitably using literate grammar and sentence structures. However, they are in their early 30s.

    Shouid I admit to having been a teacher in a past life?

  12. Julie, I will qualify by saying that many students would be there because they are of a certain religion and possibly don't have to pay the fees. I agree that some young people are extremely literate and they can put me to shame. I fear we have regressed to it being a socia-economic issue. Read to them when they are young. Stimulate their interest in reading later and I think most will be literate. Yes, I remember you taught in Brighton.