Sunday, February 24, 2008

My Teachers Never Let Me Get Away With This

One of the exercises my wife has the Pillowfight Fairy do as part of her homeschooling involves composing sentences that incorporate words from a vocabulary list. I've posted examples of this work before (here is a good one).

Well, since time immemorial, students have been trying to get the maximum amount of schoolwork done with the minimum of effort. Think of it as a problem in optimization! And as a result, every generation of young scholars seems to discover the same kinds of tricks. One classic, used often in college, is to write one term paper that can be turned in to two classes.

Well, my five-year-old daughter has already started to hit upon some of these schemes.

When you have to compose sentences incorporating vocabulary words from a list, there are two old standbys that every generation discovers anew. The Pillowfight Fairy has suddenly incorporated both of them. See if you can spot them.

Item 1:


Item 2:


Item 3:


Item 4:

Hm. It would appear that the Fairy needs a little work on her commas and apostrophes. But cut her some slack, she's only five.

But here are the two tricks that the Fairy discovered.

One: If you have to write sentences incorporating a list of vocabulary words, it's less work if you can put several words in one sentence. I discovered in Junior High that if I could work four vocabulary words in per sentence, then I would only have to write--say--five sentences instead of twenty. That's a big deal! And it appears that the Fairy has this trick down cold.

Of course, the sentences I wrote were big, audacious, Rube-Goldberg-esque monstrosities of sentences that were designed to make people giggle as they went through the task of parsing out all the grammar necessary to decode them. That may be part of the reason I got away with it. I seem to remember trying on occasion to get all of the vocabulary words into one sentence, just to see if I could do it. Teachers actually rather like that sort of thing--it indicates spirit. :-)

But the Fairy has discovered the other trick as well, the one that teachers typically don't let slide. That is, it's much easier to write content-free sentences, than it is to write sentences that actually say something. There were always students out there who would respond to an assignment like:
Write the following words in sentences:
1. General
2. Underneath
3. Profound
4. Unfortunate
...with an offering like:
1. General is a word.
2. Underneath is a word.
3. Profound is a word.
4. Unfortunate is a word.
Every student who tried this thought he was being clever and original, not realizing that every other student out there had already tried it. Teachers typically did not like this trick, and assigned grades accordingly.

My wife hasn't actually worried too much about this fact yet. In a way she's already a step ahead of the Fairy, although the Fairy doesn't know it yet. You see, the thing that Tonya is
really getting after is the Fairy's writing--her letter formation. As long as the Fairy is filling the right number of pages each session with writing, she's practicing her letters just like mommy really wants--even if she thinks she's getting away with something sneaky.

Teaching the Fairy to read and write is a game of strategy, like chess--you have to think several moves ahead. ;-)

1 comment:

Carina said...

As you say, at least your daughter is writing. I'm sure the more creative sentences will come in time. I can't have been all that creative as I don't remember trying to add all my spelling words together into one sentence!