From time to time, textbooks are published which are designed to be used particularly by children with special learning needs. Today's versions generally include directions to teachers, suggestions for ways to use not only the text but supplementary materials, and also specifc materials for use by the students themselves.
Jargon neducationese) abounds in these volumes, rendering them almost useless by parents who might otherwise welcome material to use to reinforce what happens during the all-too-short school hours.
And this is a very serious shortcoming. Teachers often guard the texts used in the schools against parents -- some schools, for example, will not let children take their reading books home, lest the children "get ahead." We will not argue here about this practice with normal students; perhaps that should be the subject of another comment column. We will, instead, discuss the crying need for good materials for teaching reading, languages arts, and arithmetic to children whose learning patterns require careful nurturing.
But jargon, r the use of obtuse education terminology, is not the worst problem with many of the new materials. What's worse is that many of the suggestions are not really sound.
And part of the reason for this failing is the fact that each "special" student is just that -- and does need "special" teaching; hence the text that tries to reach a variety of learners at one sitting reaches none.
Yet, one mistake seems to be common to most text materials that purport to teach English language and grammar to retarded learners. Example:
"Use These Words": "maze," "pave," "pde," "cape," "lete."
Of course, two of those letter combinations do not make words. And now the words that go with them: "amaze," "pavement," "stampede," "escape," and "athlete."
Yet, the lesson is to teach what vowels sound like when closed in by syllables. And so the "a" in maze and the "a" in pave have the hard sound, or as is often said by teachers, "say their name."
But what about the other half of pavement? "Ment" has a vowel surrounded by syllables, yet the "e" is not hard nor does it say its name.
No, the teacher who would work with "special" learners must not offer two sets of signals at the same time. This kind of teaching is exciting and demanding for the child who already has some literary skills. But it's particularly frustrating for the youngster who has little facility with the sounds and sense of the English language.
And there's certainly no reaso that parents can't be given the same texts as the teachers; no reason parents shouldn't be able to work intelligently and carefully with their youngsters to build up some of the more basic skills.
Here are some double "ee" words. And herehs a lesson that you, as a parent or other caring adult, may want to adapt to your particular learner's needs.
The words: seed, seen, seem, seek.
Don't let your pupil see the words; instead, you write each one with large black crayon on a piece of paper about 8 inches wide and 3 inches deep and turn the paper wordside down.
Now, talk about a seed. What does it look like? What does it do? What is its purpose? How many does an apple have, as compared with a cherry? Talk about little seeds (Mustard/carrot/radish) and about larger seeds (avocado or peach).
Then show the pupil the word.
You say it; have him (or her) say it.
Ask your pupil to spell the word aloud. Remind him that today's lesson has all double "ee" words. Have him trace over your crayon version of "seed," but skip this step if you think he already has "seed" embedded in his thought.
It's time for your pupil to write "seed."
If you have a dish of sand handy, have it written in there.
If no dish of sand, before using pencil or crayon have the pupil try writing seed with his finger in the air, and on the desktop.
When you're sure that "seed" is his, not only for spelling but for meaning, then have him write it.
And now turn the word "seen" over and treat it like "seed." Talk about seeing , and how far one can see and what it means when you say "I see," and how you don't always mean that you are actually looking at something but that you are understanding something.
Again, before asking the pupil to write the word "seen" on his own piece of paper, be sure he can write it correctly in the air, or in a dish of sand.
And explain again about the double "ee."
You may want to resist the temptation to call for the writing of the sentence "Have you seen my seed?"
And now "seem." A harder word to explain the meaning of. Probably time now to look in a dictionary for what "seem" is supposed to be. And to put into use the sentence "I seem to have seen a seed."
And now that you are in the dictionary, you might ask the pupil to put together the meaning, sound, spelling, and use of other "seed" words. From "seed," a "seedling" can't be far away.
But once again the need to write in the air, on the desktop, and finally on paper.
And then on to "seek," using the same learning techniques.
There also are texts and teachers that think it all right to teach spelling without meaning, or meaning without spelling. But not for these precious special students who need every help to keep in thought both how words are spelled and used.
Today, all special students are supposed to have their school programs approved by their parents, and this, parents and guardians, gives you an opportunity to plead for materials to use at home.
It won't take many requests before publishers are preparing books not only free of educationese, but ones of the highest quality for teaching basic skills.
Perhaps a math lesson will be next!