October 2008


From Mike Rose’s great literacy history “‘I Just Wanna Be Average'” (in Considering Literacy, ed. Linda Adler-Kassner, p. 176) comes a superb statement about how students respond to teachers’ expectations:

Students will float to the mark you set.

And I think this is true: Students will only achieve what they think you believe they can do, and not a bit more. For Rose, he was in a group of “Voc. Ed.” kids (i.e. students in a vocational or low-achieving track), and no one in the group aspired to anything because they didn’t believe they could do it.

Teachers cannot do this.

We have to be willing to let students succeed, but we also have to push them to better things. We have to make them think that they are capable of more than just “being average” (as Rose recalls a peer saying in one of his classes), or there is only one alternative: they will be average, and we will have been an party to that fate.

Today was the first day of fall break for me, and, in a fit of either overachieving or masochism (or perhaps a combination), I took on a full day of classes with my co-op for student teaching. The result, however, was much better than I expected.

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A coworker of mine sent me a link that is very interesting: Amazing Posts: Longest Words.

I knew some of these facts before reading the page, such as pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis being the longest word in the English language and redivider being the longest palindromic word (a fact I discovered when preparing a lesson on palindromes for seventh graders last fall). Others were facts I hadn’t even considered because the criteria simply never occurred to me (the longest word consisting solely of alternating consonants and vowels?).

A note in addition: A few commenters note that it is not strictly true that spoonfed is “theĀ longest word with its letters arranged in reverse alphabetical order” under the conditions that seem to be implicitly involved in the determination. Spoonfeed would seem to fulfill that description if one assumes that consecutive double letters do not violate the reverse alphabetization, which must obviously be assumed if one is to say thatĀ spoonfed meets the criteria. Kudos to the commenters who pointed out this error.

Teachers, students, or other interested parties: Would these facts fit into the language arts classroom? If so, how? What could students take away from these seemingly trivial facts that might enhance their view of language? I don’t know the answer, but I’d love to hear some opinions on the matter.