An Ideal Sequence for KISS across Grade Levels
This is a design (and instructional
materials and exercises) for a more comprehensive curriculum sequence for
grammar, reading, and writing for grades one to twelve than the "Grade
Level" books are. In developing the third book, I realized that the
first two can be better developed to integrate reading and writing. So
I will probably revise the first two.
This sequence is a suggested curriculum
plan for teaching grammar and improving literacy, especially reading and
writing skills. It needs feedback, especially from classroom teachers,
and, ultimately, classroom teachers (working together across grade levels)
should have the final say in states' standards--and on how to teach to
Perhaps the most important aspect of KISS is the sequence of instruction. More than one fourth grade teacher, for example, has written to me seeking help in teaching subordinate clauses. Most students, they say, cannot understand clauses. I understand the teachers' problem--my college students have the same problem. But the fundamental problem is that a clause is based on a subject / (finite) verb pattern. Students who cannot identify the subjects and finite verbs in what they read and write will have major problems understanding clauses. In most cases, it is very important that students master the ability to identify one construction (automatically, and in randomly selected sentences) before they add others. Exceptions to this are noted in the Teachers' Guides for each book.
One final group of comments here. Some people
are going to say that this sequence is overly ambitious, that our students
will not be able to master it. Those who say this are stuck in the Grand
Grind vision of the nineteenth century -- teach and learn the "facts."
What they really mean is isolated facts. In The Unschooled Mind: How
Children Think and How Schools Should Teach, Howard Gardener argues
that we should be teaching for "understanding," not just facts. John GATT,
in much of his work, has argued that if we teach students to think (and
not just memorize) students will do a lot more than we currently think
that they are capable of. In Finnish Lessons, Pass Sahlberg claims
that a large part of what resulted in Finland becoming an educational model
is that their curriculum plans focus on cognitive understanding. As a result,
he includes a section on "Less is More." (In some respects, by the way,
this is the KISS principle.)
Last but not least, much has been done about what we know about cognitive
learning. Victor Beans and his colleagues believe that these new insights
are so important that they put a good book about it on the web for free.
(And it is really "free." Like the KISS site, you can get it without signing
in or anything else.) It's called Applying Science of Learning in Education:
Infusing Psychological Science into the Curriculum (2014) [The free
pdf is available at: http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/asle2014/index.php
The lack of standards and coordination from
K to 12 in our public schools severely hurts students. Skills build upon
skills, but no public school teacher can currently assume that her or his
students can, for example, identify the subjects and verbs in their sentences
and thus build from there.
Most of the analytical exercises should take students no more than ten minutes, usually no more than five. If they take longer, the student is probably not working systematically. I've had a student tell me that he spent three hours on a short exercise on prepositional phrases. It turned out, however, that instead of using the given instructional material and following the directions, he (and others) spent a lot of time looking in books and on the internet for "more information" about prepositional phrases. (This suggests that students have been trained to expect to be given answers rather than to figure out the answers themselves. That is also the problem they have with math.) In addition, he did not work systematically. The directions for each exercise are numbered, and you should encourage students to follow them, working one sentence at a time. Students who do this usually "get it" without much time or effort. Other students mark a subject in one sentence, a verb in another, and wander about aimlessly. Among other things, KISS should teach students not only how to work systematically, but also the rewards of doing so. ("Homework" is in quotation marks because the exercises can also be done in class. I am, however, a firm believer in homework.)
My estimates for time required in class are
usually double the homework time, but that all depends on the teacher and
students. Teachers may simply want to put the analysis key on an overhead
(or computer projector) and let the students check their own. The teacher
would only have to answer questions. Having individual students give their
analysis takes longer, and if you want to occasionally spend an enjoyable
entire class period, you can review an exercise by having the students
play the KISS Grammar Game.
Various exercises on punctuation and capitalization are spread across every grade level. The most interesting of these consist of short passages from real texts from which the capitalization and punctuation have been stripped. Students are asked to "fix" it. In class they can discuss their different versions and compare them to the original.
The best way to improve students' vocabulary is to have them read, read, read. Currently, of course, most of them do not do that. (Interestingly, in Finnish Lessons, Pass Sahlberg notes that Fins have always loved to read. He's worried that younger people are reading less.) Teaching vocabulary is itself a complex question, but for now, the planned "Vocabulary" sections include exercises on synonyms, antonyms, fill-in-the-blanks with interesting verbs, abstract and concrete words, and word families prefixes, suffixes, and roots.
You will find writing assignments scattered
through all the grade levels in relation to grammar assignments. These
include sentence combining (and de-combining), revision to add details,
various other stylistic exercises, and plain writing assignments, including
learning how to use a thesis, how to outline and organize a paper. From
sixth grade on, there is a comparison/contrast project that can include
a writing assignment. The "Writing a Research Paper" projects begin in
grade ten. For those of you who do not know, for forty-five years I have
taught Freshman Composition at the college level. From my perspective,
in addition to problems with vocabulary and sentence structure, the primary
problems of weak writers are details and organization.
Beginning in third grade, these books will
include two statistical projects for each year. In each, students will
be asked to analyze a passage from one of their peers. These passages are
taken from state DoE writing samples, and are being statistically analyzed
as "Statistical Studies of Natural Syntactic
Development: An On-going KISS Project." Third graders, for example,
will be asked to determine the average number of words per main clause
in that sample. They will also be given a simple graph the average of each
writer in the KISS project. This gives them a fairly objective context
against which they can view their own writing.