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Volume 3 • #10 • Sept. 2004


When my first son studied Hamlet in high school, he missed the answer on question #15 of the final exam. The answer was Laertes. So when his brother studied Hamlet two years later, Peter warned him that the answer to question 15 on the test was Laertes. In due course, Kip told Polly, Polly told Jerry, and Jerry told Louisa, so they all got it right, and they all got 100 instead of 95. And I am still wondering how a teacher could feel that a child who got 100 on the test understood the power, the drama, and the beauty of such a masterpiece better than the poor schmuck who only got, say, 95. Or 75, for that matter. Or how she felt qualified to decide that one person’s reaction to the play was “better” than another’s. Or, for that matter, why she felt she could get inside a child’s head and know what his real reaction was. And for that matter, why she thought a number grade was an appropriate measure for understanding Shakespeare in the first place.

Now there are, indeed, occasions when a factual test with a grade is appropriate to the subject being studied. Before a med student is allowed to practice medicine, he must know a ton of facts or he may kill his patients. A civil engineer must know Strength of Materials cold or some hapless soul will end up in the drink because the bridge over the river collapsed. A linguist who works for the State Department must know his language cold or he may get us all in hot water, as happened recently when someone in Iraq misread the word for brother.

But if you are teaching a child to play the French Horn, you show him how to finger a passage, how to get his lip just right and send him home to practise. When he comes back for the next lesson, you help some more. If he still doesn’t have the lip just right, you adjust it a little bit more, but you don’t give him a D for that day and tell him that next week you are going to give him a test, and if he doesn’t pass it, he will have to start all over from the beginning next year.

There are three reasons never to give a test, “pop” quiz, exam, weekly quiz, or any other kind of test to a dyslectic child during your year of tutoring. First, the word, test, frightens or depresses. That is positively the last thing you want to do to your pupil. He must feel comfortable in your class, knowing that he will never be humiliated or feel that he has failed. Second, testing a dyslectic’s grasp of some spelling rule is a waste of time. You don’t need to test him to see what he knows. You watch him work every day. You know what he has learned, and you have a folder of his best spelling exercises to show it. Thirdly, your object is to get him to use the left side of his head when he reads and spells. You can’t test for that. When he reads happily and spells – well, pretty well-- you know you have done that, but you can’t give him an MRI to prove it.

Teaching Tip:

Give one final test in June like the Gilmore Oral Reading Test or the Woodcock Johnson reading test which will give you two scores: accuracy and comprehension. And expect to get into an argument four times a year with your principal who wants scores for the student’s report card, whether it makes sense or not. Try to win the argument by saying that your mark during the year will reflect the student’s conduct, and you will send home a progress report at the end of the year specifying what the student has learned and what his grade level is.

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Archives (2001 files in .doc format):

April 2004 - Vol. 3 #6 November 2002 - Vol. 2, #3
March 2004 - Vol. 3 #5 October 2002 - Vol. 2, #2
February 2004 - Vol. 3, #4 September 2002 - Vol. 2, #1
December 2003 - Vol. 3, #3 August 2002 - Vol. 1, #11
October/November 2003 - Vol. 3, #2 July 2002 - Vol. 1, #10
September 2003 - Vol. 3, #1 May 2002 - Vol. 1, #9
August 2003 - Vol 2, # 12 March 2002 - Vol. 1, #8
July 2003 - Vol. 2, #11 February 2002 - Vol. 1, #7
June 2003 - Vol. 2, #10 January 2002 - Vol. 1, #6
May 2003 - Vol. 2, #9 December 2001 - Vol. 1, #5
April 2003 - Vol. 2, #8 November 2001 - Vol. 1, #4
March 2003 - Vol. 2 #7 October 2001 - Vol. 1, #3
January 2003 - Vol. 2, #5 September 2001 - Vol. 1, #2
December 2002 - Vol. 2, #4 August 2001 - Vol. 1, #1



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